Estimates for Public Services 2007: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, on Tuesday, 21 November 2006:
That Dáil Éireann commends the 2007 Estimates for Public Services (Abridged) published by the Minister for Finance on 16 November 2006.

As I said at the outset, we are debating a Book of Estimates that shows an enormous improvement in the funding being provided under the various heads. The Department of Education and Science Vote, for example, indicates a 30% increase under the special education subhead. There is a perception that those with special educational needs have been neglected for years. This increase will be of major benefit to such persons.

Some €730 million is allocated under the Department of Education and Science Vote to tackle disadvantage, an increase of 15% over the 2006 allocation. We could not have dreamed some years ago that we would be able to increase expenditure by 15% in any area. The Minister for Finance and his Department are to be complimented on the way in which the economy has been run for the last several years. It is this management that has ensured the funds are available to improve the education system. I hope the proposals in regard to school buildings will be sufficient to ensure that many of the projects for which Members have pressed will be brought to fruition in the coming year.

The Department of Transport Vote represents a phenomenal increase of 58% on the 2006 allocation. More than €1.5 billion will be provided for national roads development, €45 million for coastguard and marine safety, €10 million for the Road Safety Authority and €9 million for the rural transport initiative. Improved transport services have been of enormous benefit in rural areas and I am pleased that such provision is being established as a fully fledged programme. I hope to see the continued expansion of the Rural Lift schemes and other schemes which seek to assist those who are marginalised because of difficulties with public transport availability.

Expenditure on rural roads is phenomenal and we can see the improvements it is making throughout the State. Areas that were seen only recently as peripheral are now considered within easy reach of Dublin and other cities. The development of the M4 motorway, in particular, has been of great benefit to the north and north west.

The provision of €14 billion for social welfare services is an enormous amount and is similar to the allocation for the health service. I hope that both expenditures will lead to further improvements in the carer's allowance and other benefits for those who provide long-term care and attention to the ill and aged. I have encouraged the Minister for Finance to consider what may be done to make it more attractive for people to look after elderly or invalid relatives at home rather than putting them in institutional care. I hope further such supports will be put in place by the Ministers for Social and Family Affairs and Health and Children.

We have seen the significant benefits arising from the improvements in pension rates in recent years. I hope there will be similar increases for those who are marginalised and less well off.

I welcome the significant increase in the allocation for sport. Some will argue as to why money should be spent on sports funding. Those who have become involved in sport have benefitted in later life, particularly regarding their long-term health. This expenditure is to be welcomed. Grants available to local clubs under the sports capital programme should be allocated to smaller communities. It is harder for a small GAA club in the west to raise funds than it is for a club in a large town or city. It has been shown that these grants have been more beneficial to smaller communities.

The Estimates propose large increases in the grants for the agricultural sector. Disadvantaged areas payments will be increased by 8%, following the partnership negotiations. REPS payments will increase by 17%, a significant amount for those benefiting from the scheme. The early retirement scheme for farmers will be increased to a maximum of €15,000. This will encourage older farmers to hand over to younger ones at an earlier stage.

They are gone from farming anyway.

We will leave that to another day. Increases will be made in the forestry programme. The most important increase in agriculture payments is the proposed scheme of grant aid for suckler farmers. If Ireland wants to maintain its agricultural sector, it will have to be in the high-quality and high-value produce market. The day of the mass markets is over. They have been taken over by other economies which can produce agricultural produce at low costs. However, the consistency and quality of such produce leaves much to be desired. We must encourage our agricultural sector to develop the high-quality produce end of the market.

The CLÁR and Leader programmes will receive more funding. Those in CLÁR areas find the benefit when topping up various Government schemes to ensure they come to be completed by local authorities and State agencies. Some schemes are not priced outside of the local contribution, which must be welcomed. I hope those under the Leader scheme will receive more assistance than some of the other schemes. In the past, some felt they had been left in the margins under the Leader programme.

The increase in funding for the Western Development Commission is also to be welcomed. I hope, however, the commission will be easier to deal with and there is less red tape. While I accept the commission must do its job with due diligence, many voluntary organisations are frustrated by its red tape and unnecessary documentation being sought in some cases. Some of this is beyond what one would expect from any lending institution.

While I welcome the Estimates, when the budget is announced I hope many projects Members have promoted will be included in it.

The spending of public moneys forecast in the Estimates shows how much every taxpayer is forced to put into the Government's slush fund. The Minister for Finance has stated that an extra €6,700 will be spent for every man, woman and child. The question is, how effective is the spending? One needs only look at the health services and the vast amounts of money spent on it to see that throwing money at a problem does not solve it. The solutions to the many problems afflicting our public services require more than money.

From 2000 to 2007, current spending by the Government increased by an astonishing 120%. How has this spending transformed our public services? Do we have a first class health service? Do we have an enviable road transport network? This week, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources admitted some parts of the country will never have broadband services. The Government has presided over a First World tax haul but left the people with a Third World level of public service.

This morning, a constituent contacted me to express her dismay at the Government's ineffectiveness in tackling the prohibitive cost of child care. She likened paying for crèche care for her three children to a large second mortgage. The Government encourages women to enter the workforce to feed economic growth. Their taxes allow the Government to spend money like it is going out of fashion. What do they receive in return? Anecdotal evidence suggests the Government's €1,000 per child under six years scheme merely resulted in a corresponding rise in child care costs, meaning the working mother loses out again.

For many women, almost their entire salary goes to the crèche every week, a ridiculous situation. If the Government wants women to play a part in economic growth, it must invest those taxes it gains from mothers into child care. It is time to tackle this issue in a structured and systematic way. We can no longer make excuses for failing working mothers who make a vital contribution to the strong economy.

I welcome the plans to introduce more teachers at primary level. The Minister for Finance claims the pupil-teacher ratio will be reduced to 17:1 as a result of next year's investments. However, few classes will enjoy such a ratio. The Minister for Education and Science claims the pupil-teacher ratio stands at 22:1, yet all Members know of schools with class sizes of 30 or more. These pupils are at a serious disadvantage and their teachers' working day is exhausting. With this allocated funding, it is up to the Minister for Education and Science to ensure the additional allocation of teachers alleviates the problem of ridiculously large classes. The criteria for allocating teachers needs to be re-examined as a matter of urgency. I urge the Government to tackle these two important issues.

I wish to share time with Deputy McEntee.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

As the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera, is in the Chamber, I take this opportunity to wish her well on her retirement on 8 December. The Minister of State was always pleasant and nice in the House. She is not as arrogant as many of her colleagues on the Front Bench. I wish her well on her retirement. She never allowed having a ministerial Mercedes go to her head as so many of her colleagues did. They are now so arrogant and big-headed that it is time to rid Government of them.

I would like the Minister of State to do one job before she leaves the Department. Some of my constituents depend totally on social welfare. One who came to my clinic last Monday receives €12,000 or €13,000 a year in social welfare. His wife works outside the home and earns €5,000 a year. Their total annual income is approximately €18,000. If one's income exceeds €16,500 one does not receive the top-up grant. This couple have two children in third level education but do not qualify for the top-up grant from the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

For someone who has two or three children in third level education the grant guidelines increase in proportion with the number of children for the top-up scheme. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs has achieved some good in social welfare payments but he needs to examine this top-up grant immediately. There is something very wrong with the system when someone on social welfare whose annual income is €18,000 cannot receive the top-up grant for two children in third level education.

I urge the Minister of State to investigate that and to ask her colleague to change the guidelines to the effect that if someone has more than one child in third level education, the limit rises to €18,000, €20,000 or €25,000. Leaving it at €16,500 does not make sense. I want the Minister of State to investigate that before she leaves office.

In respect of the Estimates never has there been so much money in the country, and never so many unhappy people feeling let down by public services. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government spoke about local authorities. In the Estimates the local authorities will receive a 2% increase. That will be eaten up by benchmarking and increases in inflation.

This is a political move by Fianna Fáil because most local authorities are controlled by Fine Gael. Fianna Fáil will not give the local authorities central government money so they will have to raise it through stealth charges. Shame on Fianna Fáil and shame on the Government because if we do not have good local government the people will not be well served. The Government is not giving the local authorities the money they need and deserve. I wish I had more time to speak.

I thank Deputy Ring for sharing time. The two minutes in which I must say everything that needs to be said about road safety is about as much time as has been spent on the subject over the past ten years.

It is great to see an increase of 75% to €33 million being given to the Road Safety Authority. It will be money well spent although unfortunately two thirds of it will go on administration and wages. I have spoken to the Road Safety Authority about providing driving centres throughout the country. No doubt it would cost another €33 million or €70 million. There are 41 such centres across Europe where people can learn to drive properly.

On Monday I was in Kerry where I learnt about a company that wants to provide a centre, free of charge, and put up a proper circuit. I visited a centre in Oldcastle yesterday where young people of Oldcastle and Kells can go with their parents, day or night, to learn the rules of the road on an off-course track.

These centres exist in Austria, England and Germany. There are 41 top class centres throughout Europe but nothing here. Space, not a theory test, is necessary to learn how to drive. The penalties we impose on young people are not fair if we do not provide them with learning centres.

The centre in Oldcastle is run by someone involved in the car industry. He would love to see every young person brought to a centre for 70 or 100 hours. In America 15 year olds, as part of their curriculum are brought to centres where there are 17 to 20 used cars. The students are brought onto the course and must learn how to drive.

I welcome the €33 million provision for the Road Safety Authority. I have spoken to the authority and it intends providing centres for learning how to drive a motorbike. Unfortunately, this morning I witnessed a horrific motorbike accident, caused by a combination of speed and slippery roads. We must address driver education for young people through local authorities, with help from the Government and the private sector.

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to outline the proposed financial allocation for 2007 for the Office of the Minister for Children.

Following the Government decision of 7 December 2005, I announced that staff working on child care from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, on child welfare and protection from the Department of Health and Children, and from the National Children's Office would combine to form the Office of the Minister for Children.

The Government also decided that staff working in the areas of youth justice in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and education for early years in the Department of Education and Science, would be based together in the Office of the Minister for Children but continue to work for their parent Departments.

The establishment of the office has ensured that all policies and services for children are being developed in a new strategic framework of joined-up Government. I do not know what alternative Deputy Hayes proposed in the course of his contribution this afternoon or what policy Fine Gael has adopted in this matter but this Government has established a framework of joined-up Government for strategic planning of services for children.

In the context of the 2007 Estimates, announcements in respect of the areas of work which come within the remit of staff co-locating in the office are handled by the parent Department's Minister. I am satisfied that €16.2 million, of which €12.6 million is for capital purposes, is being allocated to the Irish youth justice service for this year. This will be supplemented by a further tranche of funding early in the new year which is being transferred from the Department of Education and Science. This funding will enable a programme of rejuvenation of youth detention and training and community facilities to begin in 2007.

In addition, a total of €16.8 million from other areas of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform Vote and the Garda Vote is being allocated to youth justice programmes, mentoring programmes and other initiatives comprehended by the Children Act. This includes €9.8 million for the expansion of Garda youth diversion projects by a further 16, bringing the total in operation nationwide to 100 by the end of 2007. This will facilitate the rapid and final implementation of the Children Act ahead of schedule.

I will outline the 2007 Estimates allocation being made available directly to the Office of the Minister for Children. An additional allocation of €143.083 million of current funding is being made available in 2007 in Vote 41. This, together with additional capital investment of over €76 million in 2007, represents a 46% increase on existing funding and is clear evidence of this Government’s commitment to children.

I wish to highlight the areas which will benefit from this increased investment. In budget 2006, the Government announced a major new Exchequer funded child care investment programme, the National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010, NCIP, with a budget of €575 million over five years and a target of creating 50,000 additional child care places. New capital grant schemes under the programme were introduced in the early part of this year and there has been a strong public response by way of applications from the child care sector. To date, over 900 capital grant applications, to a value of more than €170 million, have been received and funding of just under €15 million approved.

It is necessary to manage the annual allocation of funding over the course of the programme in a way that matches the timing of expenditure demand. For this reason, the intention is to increase incrementally the annual allocation to the NCIP, to maximise the programme's value to the sector. In 2007, the NCIP allocation is being increased substantially with a doubling of the capital allocation from €10.3 million to €20 million.

In addition to the new NCIP, the EU co-funded Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme 2000-2006, EOCP, is continuing in place and €113.346 million has been allocated to the programme in 2007, the final year in which funding will be available under this programme. In total, €499 million has been allocated to the EOCP over the course of the programme. This has resulted in support being provided for 56,500 child care places including 32,000 new child care places. The quality measures under the EOCP have also supported the development of national child care infrastructure, including the development of the network of 33 city and county child care committees, in addition to measures to enhance standards and training and to support childminders who play a crucial role in child care provision in Ireland.

The work of the EOCP, made possible by the significant level of Government and EU investment, paved the way for the new programme. In effect, the groundwork that has been laid by the EOCP has enabled the new programme to take a proactive approach to the further development of child care provision and to target identified unmet local needs. In addition, the new programme will target child care places with an educational focus for children aged three to four years and out-of-school child care for school age children. The new programme is accompanied by the National Childcare Training Strategy 2006-2010 which is expected to deliver 17,000 additional child care training places over this period. The training strategy is key to the promotion of quality in early education and child care provision in Ireland.

Another important element of the National Childcare Strategy 2006-2010, is the early childhood supplement, which came into effect last April and comes within the remit of my office. This is a direct, non-taxable payment of €1,000 per annum paid to parents of children aged under six years in quarterly instalments of €250. The final payment in 2006 is due to be paid on 11 December and some 275,000 families are benefiting. Taken together with child benefit, parents with two children aged under six years are now in receipt of a direct payment of €5,600 per annum. These payments are regardless of employment status and are intended to assist parents in whatever choices they make for the care of their children in their early years. The 2007 full year funding for the early childhood supplement is €381 million. This significant level of funding reflects factors such as the increasing birth rate and, therefore, an increase in the number of children aged under six years, and the fact that, to maximise the benefit to parents of young children, the supplement is being paid to parents for each quarter in which their child is under six years and in respect of the quarter in which the child reaches six years, effectively giving parents an additional quarterly payment.

Additional funding is being made available to cover projects relating to the national children's strategy. Under subhead D of Vote 41, the national children's strategy unit had a budget allocation in 2006 of €3.53 million. This is being increased substantially in 2007 to €9.652 million. Much of this additional funding is being allocated to the national longitudinal study of children in Ireland, NLSCI, which was launched in April 2006. This level of investment firmly commits the Government to improving our understanding of children's lives.

The aim of this study is to examine the factors that contribute to or undermine the well-being of children in contemporary Irish families, and thereby contribute to the development of effective and responsive policies and services for children and families. The study will monitor the development of 18,000 children — a cohort of 10,000 infants aged nine months and one of 8,000 nine-year olds. The contract will run for a period of six years and nine months. During this period there will be two data collection sweeps of the birth cohort — at age nine months and three years — and two data collection sweeps of the nine year cohort — at age nine and age 13. An additional €4.01 million is being made available for the study in 2007, giving a total of €6.38 million for this purpose next year.

I am determined that we continue with our efforts to ensure children have a voice in matters which affect them. We will continue to support the development of vibrant local Comhairle structures. We will also continue to invest in educational resources for children themselves so that they know and understand they have a voice in matters that affect their lives under the national children's strategy and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This includes the development of student councils — giving students a voice in a domain of their lives which is so important to them. We will continue to ensure that hard-to-reach children and young people are included in participation structures and projects.

One of the key strengths to date of the Office of the Minister for Children has been its cross-cutting function, which allows it to work with Departments and other agencies in an innovative way. Time and again, we are finding that in the area of children's services, the biggest need is to get our services working in a complementary way so that children and their families experience services which are focused on their needs in an holistic way, which shows continuity and consistency of effort across services. In 2007 I will be using some of the additional funding to devise and support innovative programmes which bring together policy makers and providers with a focus on improved implementation of service delivery.

It is almost a year since the Office of the Minister for Children was established. The additional investment being made in the Estimates not only demonstrates the Government's commitment to improving children's lives but also the confidence of the Government in the work of my office in the first year of its existence. There is no doubt that the establishment of the office and the setting up of a dedicated Vote with significant additional funding this year will improve outcomes for children and young people throughout the country. The additional funding for this year is also a clear signal of the Government's belief that investing in children and young people is the key to Ireland's future.

The net total Estimate for the Health Service Executive in 2007 is €11.183 billion. My confidence in the executive and in its relationship with the Minister for Health and Children has been shaken in recent times. On 26 October 2006 I raised the issue on the Adjournment of the urgent need for the State to provide for the treatment of public cancer patients at the Whitfield Clinic, Waterford.

The final sentence in the reply of the Minister for Health and Children was, "I share Deputy O'Shea's view that we will be able to procure services at the Whitfield centre for patients from the Waterford region in advance of our investment opening there in 2011." The assistant national director of the HSE's hospitals office stated last Monday that public patients from the south east should be able to access radiotherapy in Waterford early in the new year. I cannot reconcile these two statements.

On 25 July 2005 the Minister for Health and Children announced the Government's approval for a national network of radiation oncology services to be put in place by 2011. Part of the network was an integrated satellite centre in Waterford. The capital cost of the national network for radiation oncology will be in excess of €400 million approximately, most of which, according to the Minister, will be funded through public private partnerships.

The Minister also stated at the time that one third of the population will suffer some form of cancer at some stage in their lives. Over half of all cancer patients should receive radiation oncology as an integral part of their treatment. The national network will achieve that objective by 2011. The Minister further stated in reply to the matter I raised in the Dáil on 26 October 2006 that the HSE has her full support in procuring quality services for patients from private not-for-profit independent providers or from the public sector. What all that boils down to is that treatment for public patients can be provided in Waterford once there is a service agreement with the HSE.

In reply to a letter which I sent to the Minister on my own behalf and that of the Labour Party councillors in the Waterford constituency regarding the provision of radiotherapy services for public patients at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center at the Whitfield Clinic in Waterford, I was informed that the Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive and, under the Act, the executive was required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. The reply further stated that responsibility for the provision of funding rested with the executive and that a copy of my correspondence had been referred to the chief executive officer of the HSE who would arrange for the matters raised to be investigated and a reply would be sent to me directly.

On Monday morning the assistant national director of the HSE's hospitals office announced on national radio that he needed to clarify that up until the middle of September the National Hospitals Office had received no contact from the Whitfield Clinic and that the HSE did initiate the contact themselves. In response to this, the University of Pittsburgh Whitfield Cancer Center issued a press statement qualifying the situation in regard to access to radiotherapy for public patients. Mr. Michael Costelloe, managing director of UPMC Cancer Centres International, operators of the cancer centre developed in partnership with the Irish health care firm Euro Care International said on Monday that there had been a clear commitment from the outset that the facility in Waterford would be open on an equal basis to all patients from the south-east region who needed it, irrespective of whether their treatment was funded by private health insurers or the HSE, and that contrary to what had been stated by the assistant director of the National Hospitals Office there had been repeated contacts between the project team at UPMC Whitfield Cancer Center and various HSE personnel from 2004 onwards. While Mr. Costello was not involved at that stage there may well have been initial contacts in 2003 when details of the project were first outlined by the original proposers. The then CEO of the South Eastern Health Board, Mr. Pat McLoughlin, visited the UPMC headquarters in Pittsburgh in October 2004 on a fact finding mission. Senior personnel from UPMC met the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, in Dublin in February 2005 to discuss the issue of how public patients could access treatments that were not available in Waterford and the south east.

In April 2005 a medical and technical group from the HSE south-east region visited Pittsburgh to view the UPMC facilities. In May 2005 at the sod turning at the Whitfield clinic it was emphasised again that the facility would be open to all. This was confirmed to the Taoiseach and the then Tánaiste at meetings in September 2005. Mr. Costello wrote to Professor Brendan Drumm, chief executive, Health Service Executive, on 14 February 2006, officially advising Professor Drumm that the centre would open later this year and stating the eagerness of UPMC to treat public patients. Even though Professor Drumm's office responded shortly afterwards stating the matter had been referred to the director of the HSE national hospitals office, there was no contact from the national hospitals office with UPMC. On 15 March 2006 Mr. Costello met with the HSE south-east network manager in Waterford and presented him with a copy of his proposal which had already been delivered. This was followed up by a letter a fortnight later.

What I find absolutely incredible is the apparent massive lack of communication within the HSE on major health issues. That this could occur within a very large organisation charged with delivering health and personal social services to the citizens that is to receive €13 billion gross in 2007 is a major indictment of the Minister for Health and Children and of the HSE.

How is it possible to have confidence in either the stewardship of the Minister or of the HSE in regard to the provision of vital services for up to 1,000 patients per annum in the south-east region, many of them extremely ill? I demand to know what the Minister intends to do urgently about acquiring radiotherapy in Waterford for public patients in the south east. Excuses are raised about national guidelines for radiotherapy services but it is the lack of response by the HSE to UPMC and the non-provision of funding that is really to blame. I trust there is sufficient funding in the 2007 HSE south-east region budget.

I shall refer to some of the areas surrounding my brief, particularly community affairs. Under the heading of improved co-ordination of local and community development services there is a cut of 49% in this year's Estimate from €4.2 million last year to €2.2 million this year. The improved co-ordination of local and community development services was a much heralded aspect of this new department. I see no evidence that objective has been achieved. Is the Government giving up on this issue by reducing the budget and moving away from it?

On the drugs initiative, the young peoples facilities and services fund has not been increased this year, which an allocation of €43 million this year and €43 million next year. Given the funding is at a standstill and not keeping pace with inflation, one would think the drugs problem had reached a point where the solution is at hand. Members on all sides know that is far from the position. A television programme last night indicated there is a need for a great deal more spending on prevention, medical services and so on. The country is awash with heroin. There is a culture out there that believes that cannabis, which is widely used, is not a harmful drug. There are similar views in regard to the use of cocaine. A worrying trend is the use of cocaine for leisure purposes by the middle class.

The Deputy's time has concluded.

Those who use it completely ignore where the money goes that accrues from this vile trade.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about the 2007 Abridged Estimates and the Office of Public Works' programme for next year. I am glad to report the published allocation of €612 million represents an increase of 10% over the 2006 provision. Through the allocation of considerable additional resources amounting to €170 million to the Office of Public Works Vote, the Government has once again demonstrated its total support for the rollout of the decentralisation programme.

As one of the biggest infrastructural projects undertaken by the State in recent times, this programme represents a major undertaking for the OPW. It involves the relocation of more than 10,000 civil and public servants, 50 Government Departments and offices and more than 50 different locations in 23 counties. From OPW's point of view there are two main aspects to the programme, one being the identification and procurement of suitable sites and the other being the construction and fitting out of buildings on these sites. I am happy to report that real progress is being made on both fronts.

To date, property acquisition negotiations have been completed or significantly advanced in 36 locations and 2007 will see the acceleration of the programme with a number of site acquisitions to be finalised in the coming months. To date, decentralising organisations have established a presence in 12 new locations with moves already having taken place to Sligo, Portlaoise, Thurles, Tipperary town and Na Forbacha in Galway.

In parallel with the acquisition of permanent accommodation solutions, the Office of Public Works has been involved in sourcing temporary solutions in 18 locations to accommodate advance parties. These temporary solutions will allow the early movement of staff to their desired locations.

The decentralisation implementation group in its most recent report expressed its satisfaction on progress to date in terms of property acquisition. The group noted that significant progress has been made as is evidenced by the fact that approximately 500 staff are currently in new locations and that more than 2,100 staff have already been reassigned to decentralising posts.

In providing accommodation, a number of procurement methods are being employed including client led design build, design build, and design build finance maintain. Although property solutions will include leasing and fitting-out of existing buildings, construction of new buildings is the preferred option in terms of providing accommodation for decentralising Government Departments and offices.

The public private partnership approach recommended by the decentralisation implementation group will see the construction of new offices for the Departments of Agriculture and Food, Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Education and Science in Portlaoise, Carlow and Mullingar, respectively. This project will be moved forward to the tender stage at the earliest possible date with a view to the buildings being in place in the first half of 2009.

During 2007 considerable progress will be made in establishing a number of new departmental headquarters buildings such as the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in Wexford, the Department of Defence in Newbridge and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in Knock. Planning permission has been obtained and contracts are expected to be placed in the near future for a new headquarters building for the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism in Killarney and a new facility for the Department of Education and Science in Athlone. In respect of my Department, a preferred tenderer has been selected and a planning application has been lodged for the new OPW headquarters in Trim. It is estimated that approximately 210,000 sq. m of office space will be required to accommodate the total numbers included in the programme. The cost of providing accommodation in provincial locations compared with central Dublin locations should yield considerable cost savings to the State over time in terms of site costs, capital build costs and maintenance costs.

As I have stated previously it is one of my principal objectives as Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works to transform underutilised State properties and turn them into realisable assets. This rationalisation and consolidation of office accommodation in Dublin has resulted in the release and sale of surplus office accommodation in Dublin. To date this year alone €221 million has been surrendered to the Exchequer following such sales and since the Government's decentralisation announcement OPW has realised €362 million on the sale of properties.

OPW will continue to be fully engaged across the entire range of its activities in 2007 and next year will see an increased emphasis on the capital element of the flood risk management programme. In 2004, following the review of flood policy that I initiated, the Government adopted a new policy on flood management in line with internationally changing perspectives. Lead responsibility for the implementation of that policy was assigned to the Office of Public Works. In acknowledging that information is critical to the process of sustainable development, additional resources were made available in 2006 on the engineering group of subheads to facilitate the studies required for the implementation of the policy on flood risk management. This has allowed and will allow for the development of comprehensive information databases, understanding and expertise in the areas of river engineering and hydrology that can only be secured with the most up-to-date gauging equipment.

A tangible measure of the progress in this area has been evident in recent months which saw the launch of the new flood mapping website. It is widely accepted that the availability of such maps is the essential foundation on which to build a comprehensive flood prevention policy. My officials examined best practice in other jurisdictions and availed of the experience gathered to launch www.floodmaps.ie. The flood hazard mapping website has been well received by all and has certainly raised debate and interest in many areas. The availability of these maps is the essential foundation on which to build a comprehensive flood prevention policy. OPW is also working with local authorities and other agencies in the preparation of flood studies for a number of urban areas and where necessary they will provide a basis for the design of flood relief schemes.

The increase in the 2007 flood relief capital allocation to €32 million will allow the office to accelerate the regenerated flood relief programme in 2007 and it is anticipated that major schemes at Clonmel, Waterford and Mallow will all soon start. This will provide much needed reassurance for the people and communities concerned, as is evident following the success of schemes in Kilkenny and along the River Tolka.

An allocation of €141.35 million is included on Vote 10 for new works, alterations and additions to Government accommodation. In recent years we have seen the successful provision of 400,000 sq. ft. of new accommodation for the State Laboratory, and Department of Agriculture and Food laboratories, and the relocation of the Marine Institute to Galway under this subhead. The emphasis in 2007 will switch to the Department of Agriculture and Food farm located in Abbotstown which will be relocated to a 350-acre farm in Longtown, Clane, County Kildare. The new facility will include animal compounds, an administration building and an experimental challenge building.

Other examples of the major projects to be managed in 2007 include the provision of accommodation for the Department of Finance at Merrion Row, a new Garda and Department of Social and Family Affairs building in Ballymun, and the refurbishment and additions to the Assay Office in Dublin Castle. The Merrion Row accommodation, for example, will comprise 46,000 sq. ft. at 7 to 9 Merrion Row with an underground pedestrian link to Government Buildings. It will be a signature landmark building adjacent to St. Stephen's Green and will account for €18 million of the allocation in 2007.

The OPW will continue its major programmes of refurbishment of Garda stations, cultural institutions and general office accommodation in 2007. The Office of Public Works will continue to implement the most up-to-date measures required under the recent Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act for all Government office accommodation. The Government and OPW are committed to the principle that all building environments should be accessible to everyone and an allocation of €5 million has been ring fenced specifically for the universal access programme in the new works subhead. However, this does not represent the full extent of OPW expenditure on disabled access, as all our major new construction projects, including the decentralisation programme, are accessible to all.

The Office of Public Works continues to manage more than 1 million sq. m of Government accommodation consisting of almost 2,000 buildings of which 41% is leased. Although a considerable allocation of €124 million has been provided in the Abridged Estimates for rents and rates in 2007, this represents only a minor increase on the 2006 allocation. Rented accommodation, however, is essential as it affords the office the necessary flexibility to respond to urgent requirements for Departments and is provided for under subhead F3 rents and rates.

The national monuments and historic properties service has responsibility for some 775 sites and will account for €42.7 million of the OPW Vote in 2007, a significant proportion of the overall Estimate. The management of national monuments and historic properties, including the provision of visitor services for the public has been successfully merged into the day-to-day operations of the office in recent years, which has led to a more coherent approach to protection and maintenance of our natural heritage and historic built environment.

The members of this House and the public can be assured that I have secured sufficient funding to enable the Office of Public Works to continue and advance its activities in all areas of responsibility entrusted to it by Government.

I call Deputy Allen. I understand he is sharing time with Deputies Olivia Mitchell and Crawford.

We will share as equally as we can. While I welcome the increase in overseas aid, I remind the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, that the target of 0.7% of GNP by 2012 represents a major shortfall in the promise made by the Taoiseach at the United Nations General Assembly, when he stated we would reach the 0.7% target by 2007. Will the Minister of State give a commitment to enshrine the 0.7% target in legislation? I know he will answer that it is a risky policy. However, if the 0.7% target is enshrined in legislation, at least there would be certainty and it would not be seen as just a pre-election promise. The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, need not reply now — he will have ten minutes to answer later.

The Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, has left. I wish he had stayed a little longer. He spoke about decentralisation in terms of offices and buildings. It is far more important than that. We should be talking about devolution of power to the regions. With the increase in funding for overseas development, we will have a major problem with the decentralisation of Irish Aid. The last figures I got from the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, indicated that of three principal development specialists serving in Irish Aid headquarters, none wanted to decentralise and of the 12 senior development specialists at Irish Aid headquarters none had applied to decentralise. How is the Minister of State dealing with the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General regarding the looseness in how moneys are spent?

At a time when the Minister of State is telling us about the increase in overseas development aid the Cork office of Comhlámh, the Irish association of development workers, is threatened with closure because of technicalities regarding aid applications with the EU and the Government. I ask the Minister of State to investigate immediately the proposal to close that office in Cork. It has a backup of approximately 500 volunteers and supporters and deals with a number of development issues and projects. To hear it is closing in a year when the Minister of State is announcing a major increase in funding is a total contradiction.

I welcome next Tuesday evening's debate on the situation in Darfur. I hope we will have some influence on what is not only one of the most catastrophic humanitarian disasters of our time, but is also a security disaster.

I ask the Minister of State to tell us what is happening on the decentralisation programme of Irish Aid and the effect it will have on the institutional memory of that organisation. People are genuinely concerned about what is happening and indeed what is not happening. The matter has been dealt with in a ham-fisted way. The comments of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who threatened people with certain measures unless they toed the line, in that regard were not helpful at a vital juncture.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute, however briefly, to the debate on the Estimates. It is timely that we should be discussing the transport Estimate when the number of calls to my office from people who are desperate regarding the level of congestion in Dublin city and other areas throughout the country continues to grow. People are at their wits' end because it takes them two hours to commute six or seven miles into Dublin city. Such commutes used to be occasional in nature, now they are a regular occurrence.

This debate is also timely because it coincides with the figures published today by the Dublin Transportation Office, which illustrate what we have already come to know through bitter experience, namely, that the level of traffic on the M50 increased by 11% in the past two years. Just when we thought that it would not be possible to fit 11 additional cars on the M50, we discover that the level of traffic has increased by 11%. The latter is occurring on a year-by-year basis, with no commensurate improvement in public transport. There has also been a 16% increase in the number of cars trying to cross the wall around the city that is the M50. When one considers that the M50 actually comprises the two major routes around the city, it is no wonder that people get up at 5 a.m. in order to try to make their short journeys to work.

To discuss the transport Estimate is really to discuss a fairy tale because the figures provided are purely notional. Last year's Estimate bears no resemblance to what happened on the ground. We have no reason to assume that this year will be any different.

There will be no improvement in public transport in the immediate future. The king of promises and press conferences, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, refers to things that will happen in 15 or 20 years time. There is nothing that will happen in the immediate future that will offer any relief. Each year the number of cars on our roads increases, while Dublin Bus carries fewer passengers than it used to during the morning peak hours. The number of cars crossing the canals is growing, squeezing an ever-increasing number of people into that small space. The increase in the subvention of 5% will not even cover inflation. This means there will be no increase in the number of passengers carried by Dublin Bus in the coming year.

At yet another press conference, the Minister promised that private buses would be introduced onto particular routes and that subventions would be paid in respect of them. Not only are there no private buses, there is no one in place to pay the subvention. The Dublin transportation authority was supposed to be established but money has not been provided in the Estimates to facilitate this. The authority has no board, chairman or budget at a time when the city is in chaos. There is no co-ordination and nothing is operating as it should. Even though Transport 21 was only introduced a year ago, slippage has already occurred.

There is nothing in the Estimates that will give relief in the short term to people living in our cities, particularly Dublin where conditions have reached an all-time low. The Estimates represent the worst possible Christmas present for Dubliners.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The Estimates are brilliant and outline the allocation of €54.3 billion. A total of €14.6 billion will be spent on health. This compares very favourably to the €3 billion allocated in this area ten years ago. However, where are the benefits and where has the money gone? How have the people of County Monaghan benefited? Monaghan General Hospital has half the number of beds it had ten years ago. It also has approximately half the services it possessed at that time. The major difficulty is that alternatives have not been forthcoming.

We are continually informed that nothing will be taken away unless an alternative is available but that has not proved to be the case. According to a senior executive in the HSE, it takes two years to get onto a waiting list for a first appointment relating to orthopaedic services. People are then obliged to endure a further wait following that appointment. We have been informed that the position relating to the provision of cancer services has improved. A lady to whom I spoke yesterday was informed that the bed set aside for her in the Mater Hospital would not be available until at least the middle of next month.

The actual increase in the allocation relating to agriculture is 10%, although the Book of Estimates appears to make out that it is 14.4%. There have been cutbacks in research and training and in forestry, two of the areas in respect of which assistance is most required if we are to maintain our place in international markets and do something similar to what was achieved 25 years ago when there was no funding available. The allocation in respect of farm buildings is quite small, particularly when one considers that very little money has been provided in the past nine years. I doubt that the funding provided will be sufficient. I welcome the increase in respect of rural development but I wonder what will happen to the Leader group. Perhaps the Minister will, as was the case with Dingle, do a U-turn.

The final issue to which I wish to refer is the fact that there does not appear to be any funding, in the Taoiseach's office or anywhere else, for Northern Ireland. A clear announcement was made by the UK Government — perhaps this was not adequate — in respect of the St. Andrews Agreement. However, funding does not appear to have been provided in respect of Ireland's commitments in that regard. Friday is the deadline for what we hope will be a new beginning. My party believes it is essential that the Taoiseach and the Government make their position clear to people in the Six Counties and the other Border counties who suffered so much during the past 30 years.

I am in a rather privileged position because, in the two years I have held this portfolio, I have achieved something unique in the history of the State, namely, a seven-year multi-annual agreement in respect of the funding of Irish Aid. That agreement stretches to 2012 and is being backed by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, and his Department, and not merely with hard cash increases. For perhaps the first time in the area of overseas aid, the Department is tracking percentage increases year on year. In effect, I do not have a serious negotiation process in which to engage in respect of the Estimates. I spoke to the Minister moments ago and he asked me what will be the percentage, and I indicated what we are going to deliver this year.

The total allocation for Irish Aid this year under Vote 29 — International Co-operation — will be €728 million. This is a significant increase of €128.2 million, or 21%, on the 2006 Vote. A further €85 million will be allocated through other Departments, making a total allocation in 2007 in respect of overseas development assistance, ODA, of €813 million. This is a unique challenge and represents the greatest ever expansion in our aid programme efforts. It is a genuinely historic development. Deputy Allen referred to the need to legislate in respect of this commitment on the part of the Government. In the history of the State, there has never been a commitment as definite or for as long a duration as the seven-year multi-annual package to which I refer.

A similar commitment was made in the past but it fell by the wayside.

When I took up office, people were criticising the Government and stating that it had not maintained the three-year multi-annual package. Not only did I restore that package prior to making a commitment to reach the 0.7% target by 2012, but I have now secured a seven-year multi-annual package. I know that this Government and that which succeeds it will honour this commitment.

The Government is fulfilling its pledge to reach the 0.7% target by 2012. I predict that by 2008 spending on ODA by Irish Aid will probably exceed the €1 billion mark. Again, that will be a truly historic development because it will represent a huge increase in funding. That increase will also ensure that Ireland continues to be one of the most generous EU or OECD donors in terms of its contribution as a percentage of GNP. In 2007, our ODA will stand at 0.5%. Deputy Allen and others who listened carefully to what I said when I took office will be aware that I said that we needed to achieve 0.5% by 2007 if we are to have a realistic opportunity of reaching the 0.7% target. As I predicted, we will achieve the figure of 0.5% next year. That is hugely important because it will make it much easier to reach the 0.7% target.

Five years late.

With the recently published White Paper on Irish Aid as our guide, the programme is entering into a period of considerable growth. The White Paper is a road map rather than a blueprint and it can be added to and improved as the major expansion of the programme is rolled out. Irish NGOs will remain key partners in this expansion. Increases in the Irish Aid budget will allow us to allocate greater funds to NGOs. In 2005, multiannual Irish Aid funding allocated to the five largest NGOs in Ireland was €46.2 million. This funding increased by 15% to €52 million this year.

Based on the Estimates for 2007, I expect to provide significant increases in allocations to Irish and international NGOs. These increases will be of a magnitude never seen previously and they will require careful monitoring by the NGOs and ourselves. During the recent Estimates process, I secured a strong commitment from the Minister for Finance to fund the recruitment of 20 additional staff by Irish Aid to monitor, evaluate and audit the money pouring into the organisation.

I anticipate the total allocation to NGOs will be in excess of €100 million annually over the coming years. I plan to give increased funding to the Irish Missionary Resource Service in 2007 to fund development work in more than 80 missionary organisations overseas. Irish Aid supports up to 1,500 missionaries in the field. This is an extraordinary task and we are delighted to recognise the valuable work that continues to be done by missionaries of all persuasions. This funding will be in addition to the allocation to the NGOs.

An area of considerable expansion for Irish Aid in 2007 will be emergency and humanitarian assistance. The organisation will increase its emergency budget line by 50% from €60 million to €90 million. The figure has increased from €20 million prior to the Asian tsunami to €90 million during my time in office, which is extraordinary. This increase reflects the fact that humanitarian crises, triggered by natural or man made events, pose an ever greater threat to human life and development. Over the past 30 years, natural disasters have affected five times more people than they did a generation ago. Increased funding in this area will substantially enhance Ireland's response to humanitarian emergencies globally, whether they are sudden onset emergencies such as the recent flooding in North Korea or more protracted situations such as the food crisis in Southern Africa.

As announced during the recent visit to Dublin by UN Under Secretary Jan Egeland, I am doubling this year's contribution to the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund, CERF. In 2007, this important fund will receive €20 million from Irish Aid. In the next few weeks I will travel to New York to examine how we can make a stronger commitment to that fund to make it effective. I will seek to forge a five-year partnership with CERF, which would amount, on current projections, to approximately €100 million. This will be done because a quick response in the first 48 hours after disasters saves lives. At international level, we need the capability to deploy funding quickly so that intervention is possible. CERF also plays a valuable role in providing relief in so-called "forgotten crises", where the crisis continues after international attention has moved on. It is important that we do not forget about people who were in the spotlight in the past.

Other areas that will likely receive emergency assistance from Irish Aid in 2007 are the Darfur region of Sudan and Somalia. We have not neglected Darfur and I pledged €16 million to the region when I took up office. We remain committed, as a Government, to assist in this dreadful crisis, which nobody with a conscience could countenance in the medium term. Irish Aid will also support a variety of longer term recovery interventions, including those aimed at stabilising post-conflict conditions in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Irish Aid provides considerable support for development through UN structures. Ireland has been to the forefront of efforts to support reform in the UN system. Irish Aid's preoccupations throughout the process have been the need to maximise the effectiveness of UN development agencies, to ensure coherence between UN bodies, both in the field and at headquarters level, and to secure value for money for member states and, thus, the taxpayer. As Deputy Allen stated, it must be ensured, as the programme expands, that the NGOs, the UN, our six partner countries in Africa and two partner countries in Asia achieve value for money.

The public must also be assured the money is being expended appropriately and properly and that we live up to the stellar recommendations, reports and assessments of international organisations such as the OECD and Action Aid, London, which recently stated Irish aid was among the best quality in the world. Ireland has developed a great reputation for the quality of assistance it provides. It is untied, uncomplicated and virtuously given and it is not strangled by ulterior motives of a geopolitical, strategic nature or relating to the exercise of diplomacy or military power.

For that reason, Ireland is a leader in development aid and we put spending in this area at the heart of our foreign policy. That is the purpose of the White Paper and of meeting the ODA target by 2012. Ireland will become a demonstrable, clear leader in this field. Funding has been earmarked and it is ready. The percentages are being tracked faithfully by the Minister and Department of Finance to achieve that target. I am proud we have set those goals and objectives.

What about decentralisation and Comhlámh?

I would prefer to return to the Deputy with a more detailed response on Comhlámh, as we fund a range of activities carried out by the organisation.

On 9 November, the UN high-level panel on system wide coherence presented a series of recommendations designed to improve the UN's ability to deliver development assistance. We will not countenance the diversion or corruption of Irish Aid funding and we will ensure value for money is achieved on behalf of the taxpayer.

The decentralisation programme will be implemented appropriately and correctly. A total of 69% of the staff, or 84 out of a total of 123, is in place in Limerick.

What about senior staff?

Senior officials are at an advanced stage of negotiations with their counterparts in the Department of Finance regarding development specialists to find a way through this industrial relations imbroglio, which affects technical grades throughout the Civil Service. I am confident this problem will be overcome and the development specialists, who are absolutely essential to the delivery of this programme, will be glad to travel to Limerick.

What about senior staff?

We cannot operate a programme without them.

The Minister of State better be right.

I give a commitment to them that we will ensure the transition to Limerick is achieved in a proper and appropriate manner. Senior management is in place and an advance team will travel to the city in May to prepare for the transition. Limerick is one of the most popular destinations for people wishing to decentralise.

Understandably.

I wish to share time with Deputy Neville.

The Minister of State should be appointed Taoiseach because other areas of responsibility are coming to a full stop. Nothing is happening in the health area. Fianna Fáil is dragging the country back to where it was when Charlie Haughey was Taoiseach and Alan Dukes had to bail them out through the Tallaght strategy. What respect could one have for a Government that generates headlines such as "Overheated Economy Fear"? The article states: "The Central Bank warns that rising house prices allied with tax cuts and the stock market boom are beginning to overheat the economy". The same headlines, while pointing out the Minister for Finance's budget put an additional €800 million in people's pockets through tax cuts, highlight that spiralling prices for new houses are making builders rich and happy. Is that the type of Government people, other than builders, want for this country? I would welcome it if Fianna Fáil Deputies explained these headlines to people like me on this side of the House.

Events in the health service are important. Taxpayers will need every euro they have to get the health services they need. Due to the Government's failure to reform services, we continue to spend significant amounts on them, but considerable gaps in their delivery remain. Failure to deliver on the health or primary care strategies means that the only alternative to paying €65 to an accident and emergency department or between €40 and €60 to a local general practitioner is to pay between €85 and €260 to a private clinic. That is only the beginning of people's problems. Instead of getting a home help service, one is asked to pay between 13.5% and 21% in VAT on home care packages.

Compared to the preceding situation, Fianna Fáil has spent more than €10 billion extra on health every year since entering power, but it aims to force old people to sell their homes if they need private nursing home care. This contradicts some of the headlines about this great social, caring Government. Last year's surplus will go to the same elderly patients to whom the Minister could not repay money stolen from them via illegal nursing homes charges. Today, representatives of the Health Service Executive told the Joint Committee on Health and Children that there was a deficit in legislation protecting elderly patients, but it also admitted that no resources are available.

County Wexford is like any other part of the country in that there are not enough public health nurses, occupational therapists, community physiotherapists or counsellors. Wexford General Hospital, which operates on patients with bowel cancer, an illness the incidence of which is increasing, does not have a specialist nurse to look after patients with colostomy bags. That is the type of disjointed thinking the Government passes off as a reforming health service.

Not only is the Leas Cross report a live issue, and there are a number of similar nursing homes, but the HSE admitted that it does not have enough doctors and nurses to carry out inspections of nursing homes. This is a disgrace for the Government. Its overreliance on the private sector is to the detriment of elderly patients. While the private sector has a role to play in respect of low dependency and intermediate dependency patients, the public sector must be built up to look after high dependency patients. Phase 1 of St. John's Hospital in Enniscorthy, which looks after elderly patients in County Wexford, has taken more than ten years to build, but phases 2 and 3 remain to be completed. This is the slow pace at which the Government delivers service in the health sector and the reason people are losing confidence. A great deal of trust in the HSE has been lost.

The Government is in for a rude awakening because many people do not believe the headlines they read about it or that it is capable of protecting the economy. The Minister of State might give the impression that he is capable of taking over for the Taoiseach because he is doing his job so well, but there are many duds above him in the Cabinet. Some €160 million was thrown away on a computer system with an uncertain future; the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, is storing half that amount in perpetuity to see if he can get electronic voting machines working; and the Tánaiste is paying twice the market value of land to have a new prison built in his honour, epitomising the Ceausescu-like complex of the boss of the Progressive Democrats. This is the type of governance being delivered.

If Fine Gael were in power, it would turn the prisons into boot camps.

We would not throw away money like the Government.

The "Twomey Drink Tank".

I agree with the Deputy in respect of the former point, but not the latter.

I thank the Minister of State. There is not much else to say on the health service because the Government has done little for it. Unfortunately, we could spend a night criticising the Government's failures in that regard, but we will await the budget with bated breath to see if the Government can improve the desperate situation it created during the past decade.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate because I also wish to raise issues concerning the health service, particularly its Cinderella, namely, psychiatric services. It is a disgrace that in the Administration's lifetime, the contribution to psychiatric health services has fallen from 11% to 7% of the total health budget this year. Bearing in mind that at some stage in his or her life, one in four people will suffer psychiatric or emotional difficulties requiring assistance, the Government is neglecting an important issue. The Government is protected by the stigma surrounding the matter because people are slow to talk and complain about the treatment of the psychiatric health service.

In the past week, the debate between various psychiatrists and the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with special responsibility for disability and mental health services, Deputy Tim O'Malley, epitomised how little has been done because the same debate took place 20 years ago when a report was published. It was accepted as Government policy that there would be multidisciplinary psychiatric services with a significant input from the psychotherapy sector.

Despite an agreement to deal with the matter some 22 years ago, a Minister of State is today saying that we should debate it. Every Government since that time has accepted that psychotherapy and multidisciplinary teams, including family therapy, occupational therapy and clinical nursing, should be part of an holistic approach to psychiatric services, but the neglect in building those teams has created a neglect in developing the services.

I urge the Minister of State to change the reduction and increase substantially the percentage of funding needed to develop psychiatric services. Last January, a new report entitled A Vision for Change, which included 50% of the earlier report's recommendations, also accepted all of the recommendations. It was déjà vu. This time, we urge the Government to invest seriously in psychiatric services to bring them to at least the level found in neighbouring countries, namely, 12% of the total health budget.

In 2004, the Mental Health Commission, a State agency, stated: "Under funding is reflective of the prevalence of mental disorder and generally negative and stigmatised attitudes towards mental illness generally." It also stated:

The provision of and quality of mental health services have received a low priority over decades. Despite report after report on the need to properly resource, refocus and reorganise the mental health services to make them patient-centred, community based and comprehensively available, the services remain below par for many of those who need them.

It went on to state:

The standard of care for patients in large psychiatric institutions has been severely criticised by the Inspector of Mental Health Services in his 2005 report. Despite repeated Government pledges to close these institutions, just four have closed over the past 20 years and patients continue to be admitted to long-stay wards. Many of these wards have little or no therapeutic activity, multidisciplinary input, regular physical or psychiatric assessments or care plans for patients. Community residences for former long-stay patients were found by the inspector to be an "exercise in relocation rather than part of a rehabilitation programme".

Approximately 5% of people over 65 years of age suffer from some form of dementia and a further 15% to 20% suffer from other mental problems, such as depression and anxiety. These problems are normally of a mild severity but a significant proportion require specialist intervention, which is not happening. I urge the Government to address the needs of those people. Homeless people are far more likely than the general population to be mentally ill and very little is done to treat mental illness among the homeless and prisoners.

Earlier today I attended, with some of my colleagues, the launch of the consultation on metro west, the last major project of Transport 21 to be announced. In the Estimates this year the Minister has allocated €770 million for investment in public transport, a 58% increase on last year's Estimate. This time last year, when Transport 21 was announced, people said it would never see the light of day. Ironically, because of the speed at which the Railway Procurement Agency has worked, and the speed at which it has managed to engage with the public, I now hear complaints from Members opposite that we are moving too fast. The line has been identified for metro north, which will provide a transport link from St. Stephens Green to Parnell Square, Drumcondra, Griffith Avenue, Dublin City University, Ballymun and to Dublin Airport and beyond. Most of the route will be tunnelled and discussions are being held currently on that matter.

I do not look at these projects through rose-tinted glasses. As public representatives we have engaged with the Ballymun community to see how best metro north can traverse the new town of Ballymun. It is important the RPA receives a clear message that, for the sake of one kilometre, it would be foolhardy in the extreme to insist that metro north travel either at grade level or at elevated level through Ballymun. We seek a fully-bored section through Ballymun, which the community deserves and which is a necessity for the commuters using metro north. We are aware the line must be elevated to traverse the M50 to reach Metropark and travel onwards to the station below Dublin Airport.

We will have further discussions with the RPA later this week and I call on it to seriously examine the huge severance to Ballymun, a new town which is the largest refurbishment project in the history of the State and currently one of the largest in Europe, which will involve investment of several billion euro by the time it is completed. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with special responsibility for housing, Deputy Noel Ahern, handed over the keys to the 1,000th new house to be occupied as part of the project and we are more than half way there. Huge infrastructure has been delivered to Ballymun and it would be a great shame if we allowed a high-speed train through the town every 90 seconds. If it had to stop at two or three sets of traffic lights the number of commuters would drop significantly. The disruption to the residential and commercial life of Ballymun would be too much to contemplate and counterproductive and the costs of the alternatives proposed by the RPA are unrealistic.

I will turn to the area of justice, equality and law reform. This Government has ensured investment to tackle not just crime but also the causes of crime. That is a common cliché but this Government is putting its money where its mouth is. I was appalled yesterday, or the day before, to read of some of the proposals the Fine Gael Party has for dealing with law and order.

The Deputy should ring them as none of its Members is present.

I am sure they are glued to monitors as I speak. They effectively suggest the introduction of boot camps run by members of the Defence Forces. One Fine Gael representative, whom I know quite well and for whom I have much respect, proposes that deviant people, adults or children, be ghettoised in one part of the city. I hope Fine Gael is simply being facetious because if that is a real policy we are in serious trouble.

This year the Government is to introduce youth justice divisions in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and in the Department of Health and Children. Those Departments run programmes, such as crime diversion programmes, which are hugely important and should not be derided.

They are underfunded, at least in my constituency.

There is an increase of €16 million in funding for the youth justice service. The crime diversion programmes, as Deputy O'Sullivan knows better than I, thrive throughout the country. I have been critical of some and repeat that each should have two workers because employing a single worker is insufficient and represents bad practice. It is important to place young people in the care of such schemes because it will bring home the reality to them that opportunities will arise if they stay out of trouble, remain at school, participate in a Youthreach programme or attend a community training centre. I welcome the fact the probation and welfare service produces an extremely enlightened programme.

We are inclined to overlook small things. The graffiti removal programme, run jointly by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, is an important initiative because there is nothing worse for a community than to see walls daubed with graffiti.

I have often been critical of the lack of modern IT in the Garda Síochána and am pleased to note that €38.4 million has been allocated for IT infrastructure to enable the Garda to combat crime. Very often the equipment gardaí used was non-digital, i.e. analog, and gang lords were well able to listen in to what gardaí said to each other. I welcome the fact the national digital radio programme is to be enhanced, as I do the introduction and expansion of the Garda traffic corps. I have to use some of the clogged roads in and around the city and the traffic corps will make a significant difference.

I pay tribute to all associated with the construction of the Dublin Port tunnel, which is probably the most significant engineering project this country has ever seen.

I also welcome the amount allocated in the justice, equality and law reform Estimate for expenditure on Garda stations. I particularly welcome the fact that construction has begun on a new Ballymun Garda station, for which we have been awaiting a long time. Tenders have been accepted for a new Garda station in Finglas, also in my constituency, and construction will begin later in December. It will provide fine, suitable accommodation for the Garda in that area.

I note the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has signed a contract for a new electronic fingerprint system. Again, one of the ways to combat crime is to keep up with the most modern technology so gardaí are equipped to stay ahead of the criminal.

There is unprecedented expenditure on education, in which I have a particular interest. The 800 additional teachers coming on stream at primary level this year, the enhancement of school buildings, provision of new buildings and the delivery of upgrading schemes through the summer works scheme are particularly important.

I welcome the emphasis on expanding the National Educational Psychological Service. That is an increasingly important service for which there is great demand. It started from a low base and is now being rolled out to approach a level where, by networking with the other services available such as home-school and community liaison teachers and the National Educational Welfare Board, it will make a difference. There is no doubt that the needs of some schoolchildren are being addressed at too late a date.

I have a particular interest in adult literacy. There is a huge increase in the Estimates for that sector and I hope a new drive will be undertaken by the Department of Education and Science to address the serious deficiencies in that area. I commend the Estimates to the House.

I wish to share time with Deputy McManus. In the short time available to me I will address the Estimates for the education sector. Deputy Carey said there is an increase in provision and I welcome that. However, Ireland is still far below other European countries and OECD norms in terms of the amount of its national wealth that is spent on education. Ireland is 29th out of 31 countries in a recent OECD report.

There must be a substantial increase in spending on education if needs are to be addressed. There is a need for school placements for children. It has been estimated by the ESRI that the number of schoolgoing children will increase by 20% over the next decade. Obviously many of those children will live in the developing areas around cities, particularly Dublin. However, there is no evidence in the Estimates that this issue will be addressed either next year or in the future. I urge the Minister for Education and Science and the Government to address this problem seriously and ensure that schools are in place for children when they are needed.

A specific example of this, which has been highlighted in the media, is the problem in the Laytown and Bettystown areas. School places were not available for children in those areas this year and some of the children had to go to schools far from their homes. Others had to go to school in the afternoon. Despite the fact that I raised the need for a new school in that area in 2004 by way of parliamentary questions in March and May, there was no effective response by the Department. To judge from information given to the education committee recently, that continues to be the case. In fact, the public consultation process on the area development plan for north Dublin, south Louth and east Meath is only commencing in December this year even though the need already obviously exists.

The Government must change the system and purchase land for schools, rather than simply identifying sites, at an early stage in the planning process. That will save money. At present, developers can name their price when they know a school is urgently needed in a developing area. In my constituency Gaelscoil Sairséil has been in temporary and totally unsuitable accommodation for more than a decade. It urgently needs a site so the developers can simply name their price. That is a waste of public money and does not provide for the basic educational needs of children. This issue must be urgently addressed.

Educate Together is the body that deals with multidenominational schools. It has had to stop supporting parents seeking multidenominational education in new areas, even though that is the parents' constitutional right. The Council of Europe recently again made a statement about Ireland's need to support the provision of multidenominational education. I had a telephone call from a parent in Carlow last week about this. The parents are ready to make an application for a new school but Educate Together cannot provide the patronage for them or for parents in three other areas in the country that are ready to make these applications. It cannot establish the school and provide for the rights of parents in those areas who want a multidenominational school. I call on the Government to provide appropriate funding for Educate Together in the budget so it can be the patron body for the new schools in these areas where they are urgently needed. This is a crisis that must be addressed.

There are many other areas in education I could mention but time is limited. Deputy Carey referred to the problem of young people dropping out of school and the need to support them. He was speaking in the context of the justice area. I welcome the fact that the National Educational Welfare Board has been allocated an increase of resources from €8.1 million to €9.8 million, but it still does not have the money to carry out some of the functions for which it is responsible under the legislation. One of those functions is to track early school leavers and ensure they are appropriately directed to education, training or whatever course suits and interests them. The board does not have the funding to do that; it barely has the funding to deal with crisis situations where children are missing school.

It cannot deal with cases where children are missing for fewer than the 20 days that must be reported, even where parents request it to do so. I am aware of a parent whose son is not going to school when she sends him there. She has been told that until it reaches a crisis the board cannot deal with the problem. It cannot pre-empt these problems and deal with them when they can be dealt with.

Capitation is another issue. It is not keeping pace with the increased cost of electricity, gas and so forth. I could say more on this subject but I will have an opportunity to do so at a later stage.

I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for sharing time with me. It is welcome that there is additional money this year to fund public services. The taxpayers are ensuring that we are in a position to provide for increases in the Estimates. Frankly, the big concern among many people is how the money is spent and how it is wasted due to incompetence. There is a litany of incompetence on the part of the Department of Health and Children and, indeed, the Minister for Health and Children in recent times. Whether it is nursing home charges or PPARS there are significant milestones of incompetence and waste that are disturbing.

Given that it is taxpayers who pay the bills for the health service, the general expectation would be that their needs should be met. However, these Estimates simply reinforce the status quo and, indeed, will deepen the two tier nature of the health service rather than alleviate it. That deliberate, ideological imprint has been put on the Estimates by the Minister for Health and Children. The Labour Party opposes this and will highlight it in every way possible. The 5% increase in the allocation for medical cards, for example, shows that the Government has no interest in providing for people on low and modest incomes who cannot afford to go to the family doctor. They do not have a medical card because they are just above the income thresholds and are being crucified for the cost of medication when they get a prescription. That is one of the great scandals with regard to Government promises and the actual outcome of those promises.

The other issue that must be highlighted relates to the Minister's agenda of privatisation. This idea came, presumably, from her political advisers. It will certainly increase the number of private beds but will not necessarily increase the number of public beds. The policy is costly, wasteful and will deepen the divide in the health service. Frankly, nobody outside the Progressive Democrats' coterie of ideologues sees the point of the venture other than those who will make a great deal of money from it.

It is estimated that 2,200 beds are required in the acute hospital sector. We will not get them. In fact, the capital fund has been cut this year. On radio last Saturday I had an argument about the matter with the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, but it is clear that I am making a valid point. We need to see an expansion of the capital programme but instead we are seeing an unnecessary and undesirable shift towards private hospitals which will not deliver the results the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, claims for them.

It is worth noting that the accident and emergency task force will now produce a report which will include a reference to the issue of acute beds, even though that was not the original intention. Acute bed capacity is a significant issue among a population which is expanding and growing older. It is time for action by the Government, yet the only clear signal coming from the health Estimates is that we will not have the additional capacity we need.

A curious series of allocations has been made to the HSE area boards which are essentially the former health boards in a new guise. An explanation is needed regarding why certain HSE areas receive so much more than others. For example, the mid-western area will receive a 3% increase, whereas the north east will receive12%. It is not good enough to allow such disparities, given that a figure of 3% represents a cut in real terms once one allows for medical inflation. We need to know why there are disparities. In view of the fact that the north east has experienced a number of problems, is it the case that more aid is given to such areas, whereas more efficient areas find their budgets cut?

It is regrettable that the opportunity was not taken to address people's needs rather than exacerbate the two-tier system. Unfortunately, we have a Minister who has a certain ideology, although the time when we can replace her is, one hopes, approaching.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the 2007 abridged Estimates. The provision of more than €54 billion for supply services reflects an ongoing commitment to strategic infrastructural development and the improvement of critical public services within the overall context of responsible government and good governance. Within this context, it is clear that support for the agrifood sector continues to form a vital part of the strategic development framework. When capital carryover is taken into account, the 2007 provision for the Department of Agriculture and Food will be €1.658 billion. This represents the highest ever allocation for the Department and reflects the fact that agriculture remains a central part of economic, social and cultural life.

My colleague, the Minister for Finance, has outlined the dramatic expansion in the economy in the past eight years. Between 1997 and 2005 the economy grew at an average annual rate of 7%, the rate of unemployment fell from 10% to around 4.25%, while the number in employment expanded to more than 2 million. Even in the context of such a rapidly expanding economy, the agrifood sector contributes 8.5% of employment and some 8.5% of exports. However, while I am confident that agriculture will continue to make a vital contribution to the economy, that does not mean the future will be free from challenges. Greater competition than ever before, increasing consumer expectations and a heightened awareness of the environmental consequences of all economic activities, including agriculture, mean that public investment in the sector must be more focused and discerning than heretofore if it is to contribute to the long-term viability and profitability of the sector.

The 2015 action plan outlined a path for the future development of the agrifood sector. Recognising that we are entering into a period of lower EU subsidies and increased competition, it set out a programme based around the three themes of innovation to meet the demands of a fast changing food market, competitiveness at farm and processor level with high value EU and world markets and a focus on what consumers in high value markets want in terms of food safety, animal welfare and environmental responsibility. The 2007 Estimate for the Department of Agriculture and Food is consistent with these aims.

Under the heading of innovation, we want to encourage investment in research and development. The food industry has become a high technology sector and we need to be at the forefront of developments if we are to compete in sophisticated markets. Some €13 million has been provided for the food institutional research measure which funds pre-commercial research by public research institutes to support innovation in the food industry and underpin food safety. In addition, €6 million has been provided for the research stimulus fund programme which provides grant assistance on a competitive basis for agri-production research, including agri-environment, non-food crops and agrifood economics, and which fosters inter-institutional collaboration. Funding for the kind of research that represents an investment in the future competitiveness of the industry simply could not be provided without the public support offered through the Department of Agriculture and Food. These funds come in addition to the more than €128 million provided in grant aid for Teagasc to fund its research, training and advisory activities in 2007.

In terms of competitiveness, the €42 million for an expanded marketing and processing scheme includes provision for new and vitally important investment programmes for the dairy, beef and sheepmeat processing industries. Together, these schemes will involve €150 million in State support and are intended to stimulate some €420 million in gross capital investment necessary to equip processors to develop their strengths and ensure their long-term viability. It is essential these key sectors set standards internationally if they are to survive the full blast of global competition in the coming years.

Similarly, we need to put in place the necessary incentives at farm level to encourage structural change and promote investment among the most progressive farmers who will become increasingly important in the future. Our draft rural development programme 2007-13 which provides for public investments of €6.8 billion contains important actions on farm structures, on-farm investment and a new suckler cow measure. The abridged Estimate for 2007 includes almost €900 million for rural development and farm waste management measures. This total includes more than €9 million for capital investment in the horticulture, organics and potato sectors.

While generous supports are in place for organic farmers in REPS, it will be possible from 2007 for registered organic farmers to obtain organic support payments without having to be members of REPS. With regard to consumer focus, it is important to understand that schemes such as REPS and the animal welfare dimension of the proposed suckler scheme not only deliver real environmental benefits but also underpin production systems that deliver the kind of products our customers in Europe are demanding. We are also providing an additional €4.1million to assist Bord Bia in delivering its strategic vision plan to develop strategic market intelligence and more focused marketing activities in high value EU markets and the emerging markets of the Far East so as to ensure we not only produce the right products but that we also sell them successfully in a crowded market place.

The contribution of the Department of Agriculture and Food to the World Food Programme has been increased to €8.5 million. This contribution is an important part of Ireland's overseas development aid commitment and helps to provide food in the most efficient and direct manner possible to some of the neediest people in the world.

In summary, this is a well thought out and integrated package which flows from our in-depth consideration of future strategies in the 2015 plan. It provides support for the agrifood sector that exacts a price in terms of increased research and development, investment in improved facilities at farm and processing levels, the maintenance of food quality and safety standards and an improved environment. This is the kind of strategic focus required to further the evolution of the agrifood sector at this critical time. I am satisfied that the 2007 Estimate for the Department of Agriculture and Food maintains this focus and will make a significant contribution to the delivery of these strategic aims in the coming year.

The themes in the Agri Vision 2015 action plan include innovation, competitiveness and a focus on consumers. We are implementing the commitments laid out in the plan. Given the very substantial funding committed for the next year and that committed in the rural development plan for the period 2007 to 2013, we are satisfied we are providing resources sufficient not only for the food industry to maintain its market share but also to grow that share in the EU and Asian markets. Bord Bia is opening new outlets for the top-quality food products of companies throughout the country. All Members are particularly aware of the contribution the food industry is making to development in all the regions. Approximately 600 food companies, mostly of small to medium size, are contributing not only to the national economy but are also providing jobs throughout the regions. It gives me great pleasure to commend the Estimates to the House.

I wish to share time with Deputies Gormley and McHugh.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Government is trying to sell the Estimates package and the Opposition is trying to determine whether it will bring about substantial change for the people. The Government has been in a position to eradicate poverty on foot of the unprecedented generation of wealth over the past decade but it has failed miserably in this regard. While Ireland is one of the richest states in the world per capita, OECD figures indicate our poverty levels are shameful.

Families on low incomes are finding circumstances more difficult and these are the people on whom the Government, through the Estimates, needs to focus. It is true that the gap between rich and poor has widened to an unprecedented level since the Government came to power.

A recent report on homelessness in my area indicates there has been a 3% increase in the number of people entering the Tallaght unit for the homeless. Some 5,500 people are homeless in the State, representing an increase of 375% since 1989. This demonstrates how many have been left behind in spite of our unprecedented wealth and economic growth. What is the economy for if not to bring about positive change?

Reference was made to investing in disadvantaged areas where people have missed out on education. The Book of Estimates alludes to breakfast clubs. Government statistics concern the RAPID and CLÁR areas, which experience the most disadvantage, but there is only one breakfast club in many of these areas and the groups running them are not funded by the State. Rather, they are funded by organisations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The lack of State funding is crazy. In some areas, such as Blanchardstown, the breakfast clubs operate perhaps two days per week, implying that children go to school hungry on the other three. That children go to school hungry in this Ireland of plenty needs to be borne in mind. My area has experienced population growth and schools are therefore using their PE halls and libraries as classrooms. Is this acceptable in this wealthy Ireland? We have enough economic growth to address this.

Mention was made of the high employment rate but having a job does not guarantee freedom from poverty. The Estimates will be judged on how they transform people's lives.

Let me refer to the speech made by the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, who referred to the additional money being allocated for flood protection measures. He spoke glowingly of the flood maps. While the flood maps are fine and indicate to people that they are in a vulnerable area, they do very little to protect people. Deputy Parlon is the Minister of State who told people that if they lived in a vulnerable area, they should ensure they did not put an expensive carpet on the ground floor and that they should put their valuables upstairs. This is of very little consolation to my constituents in Ringsend, Irishtown, Ballsbridge and Sandymount, in addition to those living along the Dodder, because they are not receiving any extra money to implement flood protection measures. They want to know what the Government is doing.

Members have referred to the €14 billion allocated for the health service. I agree that we require more money for the health service but it should be spent on an efficient one. Many measures that could be taken in respect of health cost absolutely nothing. In this regard, I applaud the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, who decided quite courageously to introduce a smoking ban in pubs. I gave him my full support. The ban cost absolutely nothing and will save money in the longer term.

What is the Government doing about alcohol? There is nothing of significance in the Book of Estimates to address this very serious problem, which costs us €2.6 billion every year. Alcohol poisoning is causing considerable health problems, including chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. Alcohol is also related to suicide. The number of admissions to accident and emergency units as a result of alcohol is astounding. Some 40% of road deaths, 30% of road accidents and 37% of all drownings are related to alcohol.

The breakdown of health care costs reveals that those pertaining to alcohol amount to €433 million. Road accidents cost €322 million and alcohol-related crime costs €147 million. Given that the Government has refused to tackle the problem of alcohol abuse, this represents money down the drain. The alcohol products Bill, to which I referred time and again in this House, was shelved at the behest of the alcohol industry. It is disgraceful that a powerful lobby can affect legislation in that way. It is about time the Government got real on the alcohol problem.

I welcome the publication of the Estimates. The amount of money to be spent in this country next year is enormous by any standards, but there is an imbalance in spending between the east and west. As a Member from the west, who represents East Galway, I must reiterate that my constituency is not getting its fair share of the national cake. I can instance the inadequate investment in roads, water and sewerage schemes, schools, broadband and rail. These are but a few infrastructural areas that have been neglected by successive Governments down the years. In County Galway there is now the scandalous situation where work on 20% of the 25 water and sewerage schemes due to start construction in 2007 will not now commence. There are several reasons for this, many of which are grounded in red tape, which is farcical.

The Department grants initial approval in principle for a project to proceed, after which the local authority concerned must set about employing private consultants to design the scheme. When their preliminary report is complete, they forward it to the local authority, whose officials must vet it. If they are not satisfied, they return it to the consultants who, after correcting any deficiencies, return the documents to the local authority which once again vets them. If they are satisfactory, it passes them on to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government which vets them and inevitably seeks further information from the local authority which must revert to the consultants to elicit the information sought. The consultants must provide it with the information sought in order that it can vet the documents again. If they are all right, the local authority forwards them to the Department which also vets them once again, inevitably seeking clarification from the local authority.

Time does not allow me to complete the hazardous journey that a sewerage scheme must make between the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the local authority and the consultants, but what I have outlined clearly shows our bureaucratic wasteland. It is an absolute joke that, in the scenario I have described, at consultant, local authority and departmental level the officials vetting the documents for the three bodies are equally qualified. This does not make sense and the Government should sort it out, since it is a waste of time and resources.

I also record my absolute dissatisfaction with the lack of progress on construction of the new N17 and N18 and the long-fingered approach to restoration of the western rail corridor and the delivery of broadband to east Galway.

With the permission of the House, I would like to share time with Deputy Ó Fearghaíl.

Last week I was delighted to be able to announce a 12% increase in 2007 in the financial provision for the adult and further education sector, compared with an increase of roughly 8% for the Department of Education and Science as a whole. Adult and further education expenditure will rise to approximately €169 million in 2007. Since taking responsibility for adult and further education, I have increased the budget by 56%, or 50% since 2002.

The additional funding for 2007 provides for a 21% increase in the budget for adult literacy and community education which will allow for 3,000 additional literacy places. That will bring the total number of such places to 38,000, compared with 28,000 in 2002. The increased literacy provision includes €1 million to allow a doubling of the fund for intensive literacy tuition as a result of the very positive evaluation of an intensive literacy project piloted last spring. That project enabled literacy and numeracy learners to participate in a programme of six hours per week for 14 weeks, compared with the current provision of two hours.

The increase of €3.5 million for Youthreach in 2007 will allow an expansion in the number of places by 400, bringing the total to approximately 3,700. An increase of €1.35 million for the expansion of part-time options under the back to education initiative in 2007 will allow the number of training places to increase by 1,000 to 9,000, catering for in excess of 24,000 participants. This year for the first time child care assistance which is already provided in VTOS, Youthreach and senior Traveller centres will also be provided for those participating in the back to education initiative. A sum of €1 million has also been provided for the further roll-out of the adult educational guidance initiative which is now almost nationwide.

Looking to the future of the PLC sector specifically, I announced last week, in parallel with publication of the 2007 Estimates, that provision would be made to enable my officials to table proposals and enter into negotiations with management and unions. The aim of the negotiations will be to arrive at an agreement that will enhance the programmes and services provided for those attending post-leaving certificate courses.

Funding for youth work has increased by 14% on the figure for 2006. Since I took responsibility for the sector in 2002, there has been a 123% increase in funding. This means an increase of €6.2 million on the figure for 2006. The 2007 Estimate is therefore €51.2 million. There has been an increase of nearly €5.9 million, or 16%, on the figure for 2006 for the main funding line that supports the 31 national and major regional youth work organisations, the special projects for youth scheme, a network of 32 youth information centres, as well as other youth initiatives. The 2007 provision will now be €42.6 million. There will also be an increase of €336,000 on the figure for 2006 for the young people's facilities and services fund, bringing the total to over €8.5 million. This refers specifically to young people at risk.

Increased funding for 2007 will enable continued delivery on the following priorities: increased support and baseline funding for organisations funded under the youth services grants scheme; the continuing development of special projects for youth to two-worker projects, as well as increased support in baseline funding; extra financial support to meet the costs arising from the newly introduced Garda vetting procedures for the youth work sector; and the further roll-out of the Youth Work Act 2001 and the national youth work development plan as set out in Towards 2016. There is also increased provision to support the national youth work development unit in its remit to research and develop guidelines for youth work, manage and co-ordinate research, and plan innovative initiatives.

Since 2002 there has been an increase of over 50% in spending on school transport and I secured a 9% increase in the 2007 Estimates. Funding will increase from €152 million this year to €165 million in 2007. The overall increase since 2002 is €69 million. In the past 15 months more than 300 additional vehicles have been hired from private contractors to address capacity shortfalls arising from the phasing out of the three-for-two seating arrangements. It is expected that three-for-two seating will have been eliminated by the end of the year. Bus Éireann has given approval to purchase 111 modern second-hand coaches and 50 new dedicated school buses, many of which are already in service. It is expected that the target date of the end of December for one seat with a seatbelt for all eligible students will be met and that the extra funding will increase safety measures such as the extension of the pilot warning flashing lights scheme to school buses in several areas in 2007, with arrangements also being made for advanced training for drivers.

The Minister of State has done such a good job that she should remain for another 12 months.

I thank the Deputy for his endorsement.

I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera, for sharing time with me and congratulate her on the major contribution she has made to the Department's work. I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute briefly to this important debate on the 2007 Estimates.

It is important for me to acknowledge the outstanding work of my fellow Kildare man, Mr. Charlie McCreevy, during his tenure at the Department of Finance with responsibility for the nation's finances. I congratulate the current Minister, Deputy Cowen, on the manner in which he has built on the successes of his predecessor and the exceptionally effective manner in which he has managed the nation's finances in the past two years leading to the compilation of this well crafted, properly balanced and well targeted Book of Estimates.

While other major economies across the developed world continue to endure high levels of unemployment, inflation and taxation, ours has seen phenomenal levels of growth, moderate rates of inflation, decreasing levels of personal taxation and a daily increase in the national workforce. With over 2 million people now at work, the challenge is to sustain the progress achieved and continue to create the environment which will facilitate economic growth and a consequential improvement in social services. This Book of Estimates represents an important element in the continuing Government drive to achieve these objectives.

County Kildare is experiencing extraordinary levels of growth and the areas of health care and policing are uppermost in residents' minds. To that end, I welcome the significant increases provided by the Minister for Finance to the Departments of Health and Children and Justice, Equality and Law Reform. There must be ongoing investment at Naas General Hospital and St. Vincent's Hospital, Athy. In particular, the HSE must make additional public nursing home beds available to our growing elderly population.

The increase of 9% in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform Vote is welcome. The increase of 10% in the allocation to the Garda Síochána must result in a greater Garda presence and significantly higher Garda visibility on the streets of towns and villages in Kildare and throughout the country.

In the education area, the Estimates provide some €742 million of additional funding. In County Kildare in the last several years, the emphasis has been on capital funding, with the provision of new schools, additional classrooms and refurbishment of buildings. Major progress has been achieved, particularly across south County Kildare, not least in the last two years.

While there will continue to be demand for ongoing capital provision to facilitate local population growth and the continuing reduction in class sizes, it is important that emphasis has also been placed on providing additional funding for the day-to-day operation of primary and secondary schools. As a member of several boards of management in my constituency and as a parent, I say with certainty that the increased capitation allowances, together with the increased ancillary services grant, will reduce substantially the pressures which some boards of management and parents' associations are under to fundraise locally.

The agriculture sector has been struggling for some time to cope with massive changes brought about largely by decisions at European Union and World Trade Organisation level. One of the aspects that attracted me to Fianna Fáil in the 1970s was the party's commitment to establish as many families as practicable on the land. Although we are unfortunately living through a period where the number of full-time farmers is declining throughout the developed world, it is reassuring to note that Fianna Fáil in Government retains its strong commitment to the farming community. I pay particular tribute to the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, on the highly effective manner in which she has managed her portfolio and her success in securing a 16% increase in her Department's Estimate for 2007.

We must strive to ensure that farming represents an attractive career option for young people and that they can look to the future with confidence. Our key objective must be to maintain as many families as possible on the land and to ensure that those committed to full-time farming can enjoy a standard of living and income comparable to those enjoyed by workers in other sectors.

I compliment the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on what he has achieved. The increased allocation for his Department brings with it a major onus on local authorities to take ownership of their own budgetary situations and to ensure that they deliver, for the citizen and the State, the value for money that is required.

The Government should provide them with the funding to do so.

That will be the day.

I propose to share time with Deputies Durkan and Naughten.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

According to the Indecon report, €1.5 billion is required by 2010 to give local authorities the freedom to do the work they aspire to do. That funding will not be achieved unless the Government provides it. Deputy Ó Fearghaíl is correct; the Government has failed absolutely to support the local government fund. The 2% increase for local authorities is below the rate of inflation. The Government is engaged in doublespeak when it says that local authorities must increase taxation locally. Its purpose in saying this is to wash its hands of responsibility for local government funding.

It is inevitable that development and local charges will increase as a result of this deficiency in funding. I received a letter some days ago informing me that development charges in County Louth are to increase by more than 7%. Local government is being crucified by the Government. Local authorities are not being provided with sufficient funding even to keep pace with inflation. The Government is telling county councillors they must increase charges but is abdicating its own responsibility by failing to provide adequate funding.

Moreover, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, is failing to collect the tax that is due for local government. He has ignored a report which indicated that funding for local, regional and county roads is deficient. Some €50 million is needed to keep them in a safe state of repair but only €31 million was allocated last year.

It is unacceptable for the Government to speak out of two sides of its mouth in this way. The State has never been better off and the coffers never so full, yet never has so little been given to local government. The Government's policy in this regard is unacceptable and a charade. The reality is that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is not doing his job. I estimate that he is failing to collect €40 million per year that is due from car tax dodgers. He will make up his sums by letting these people off the hook and increasing motor tax.

It is impossible in the short time available to describe comprehensively my reaction to the Book of Estimates. Government press releases in recent days have described it as wonderful and have observed that more money is being spent than ever before. Are we expected to believe that the Government might reasonably spend less in the current climate? Frequent reference is made to the percentage increases in funding since 1997 in various areas. Why does the Government not go back to 1947 or 1847 and pat itself on the back for the changes that have taken place since then? The reality is that the price of a house in 1997, an average humble domestic dwelling, was approximately one sixth of what it is today. All this fuss and bluff about the Estimates means absolutely nothing.

I do not have time to go through the Estimates in detail. In regard to energy and communications, which is my own area of responsibility, it is sufficient to appeal for divine help. A target of 100% broadband provision throughout the State has been set. Everybody on the Government side of the House is praying that will be achieved, but there is no possibility of it happening in the next several years. As the Wicklow man said, they started from the wrong spot. The longer it goes on the more ridiculous it becomes. The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is a nice guy and I am fond of him, but he has made a mess of this area.

Energy provision is currently a sore subject because we must, for a variety of reasons, reduce our dependence on imported energy. If we do not do so in the short term, we will be obliged to purchase carbon credits, which are harmful to the environment, and we will be subject to fines from the European Union. The major increase in funding in this area only points to the appalling deficiency of last year's allocation. The €10 million or €14 million proposed in the current year is entirely insufficient to meet the necessary targets in the given timeframe.

What is needed is adequate investment not only in research and development but also in assisting the fledgling industries that are trying to generate energy by way of biofuels, wind energy and so on. The proposed funding for growers — those who are involved already on their own volition — is seriously deficient. There must be a far greater injection of funding in this area.

Changes in broadcasting regulations will be handed down from the European Union in the near future and TG4 will be separated from RTE. This is an area that will require monitoring and an ability to change with the times.

Serious efforts must be made to develop our natural resources extraction industries, be it oil, gas, tin, lead or zinc. These industries must be encouraged to provide the wherewithal to process their products to the highest possible standards and be of direct benefit to the economy.

It is a pity Government Members easily delude themselves every year, admiring their own budget, saying it is marvellous. They are the only ones who do so.

Sadly, the Estimates are nothing more than a paper exercise. The Minister for Agriculture and Food has underspent by €2,500 per farmer in the past three years, at a time when investment in the agrifood sector is desperately needed. This is a clear indication of how low a priority this important economic sector is for the Government.

In the past three years nearly €316 million has been left unspent by the Department of Agriculture and Food, money vital to the development and modernisation of our agrifood industry which is the country's most important manufacturing industry, accounting for more than 8% of economic activity. This is further compounded by the agriculture Estimate, with its welcome headline increase but a 3% cut in the allocation for research and development and forestry. When inflation is taken into account, it is a significant cut in the available funding for the two most important growth areas in agriculture. These are key areas for the development of agriculture, particularly for the food and biofuels industries. Their neglect indicates the Government has no grand plan for agriculture and lacks commitment to farming.

The cutbacks in the research and development budget are further evidence that the Minister for Agriculture and Food is failing to understand farmers will have no future, unless funding to develop and promote the food industry is significantly increased. The aim must be to make Ireland the world leader in food production. These cutbacks make the achievement of such an aim remote. The Fine Gael Party wants the same priority to be given to investment in research and development for the food industry as has been given to other high-tech industries. The agrifood sector should no longer be the poor relation.

Despite all the talk at Government level about meeting our Kyoto Protocol commitments and developing a sustainable energy sector, it has decided to scale back its investment in forestry. This is an acknowledgement by the Government that its own ambitious plans for the forestry sector have failed. The existing sector is worth over €700 million annually and has the potential to meet 30% of Ireland's total renewable heat and power requirements. The Government's ambitious plan for the sector has failed. It must review its forestry policy, setting clear targets for the wood energy sector. The existing forestry grant aid schemes must be better integrated with REPS, as the two are currently in competition. Forestry grants must be repositioned to promote and develop sustainable forestry, with a greater emphasis on short rotation coppice forestry such as willow.

The Government's agriculture policy lacks direction. Earlier this year the Minister for Agriculture and Food announced a €300 million fund for the development of the dairy industry, a welcome development if properly focused. However, the Minister's failure to set down any direction for the fund or a plan on its objectives means it will become nothing more than another lost opportunity. This is not the first time the Minister has taken a back seat on such critical issues. The nitrates directive mess is a prime example of bureaucrats taking the upper hand over practical farming as the Minister sat idly by.

The 2007 gross Estimate for the Department of Transport at €2.8 billion is an increase of 17%, or €415 million, on the 2006 Revised Estimate. It allows for the continued high level of investment in the development of an integrated transport infrastructure as envisaged by Transport 21 in 2007.

There will be significant further improvements in public transport in 2007. The additional capacity and increased frequency of services already in evidence as a result of the massive investment of almost €2.8 billion since 1999 will be further augmented by an investment of €777 million in 2007. Over €1.5 billion will be invested in the national roads development programme, while €28 million will go towards the support of regional airports. Funding of €45 million will be provided to support the vital work of the Irish Coast Guard and marine safety.

In 2007 the Government will invest €777 million in public transport, an increase of 58% on the 2006 Estimate. This is an unambiguous signal that Transport 21 is gaining real traction and evidence of the Government's commitment to the development of a world-class public transport system. These are exciting times for the development of the rail network. Ireland will soon have the newest intercity rail service in Europe, with a total of 217 new intercity carriages arriving between 2006 and 2009.

In recent years the rail network has been virtually rebuilt and saved from decline and extinction. Passenger numbers have increased substantially as a result. Last year Iarnród Éireann carried nearly 38 million passengers, making it the fastest growing rail network in Europe. Over €2 billion has been invested in CIE-operated transport services since 2000 under the national development plan and Transport 21.

The €450 million provision for Iarnród Éireann's capital envelope in 2007 will fund the completion of the Portlaoise train care depot in time for the 150 new intercity carriages costing €324 million. These will start to arrive next year for service on the other intercity routes between Dublin, Westport, Ballina, Sligo, Galway, Tralee, Waterford and Rosslare. They will provide for a consistent standard of service across the intercity network and improvements in time-savings, reliability, service frequencies and comfort. The 2007 provisions will also enable Iarnród Éireann to proceed with the construction of the first phase of the western rail corridor which will have immense social and economic benefits for the region and promote balanced development.

In the Dublin area the new Docklands station will the first station to be built in the city centre in over 100 years. Other projects to be funded in 2007 include the DART refurbishment programme, the planning and design of Dublin city centre resignalling programme and the Clonsilla to Dunboyne section of the old Navan rail line. Work will also begin on the Kildare route project which will transform commuter services, with service frequency set to double. The project will allow the separation of intercity and commuter services and improve speed and capacity for commuter, regional and intercity services.

Similarly, the Cork commuter rail project, expected to get under way subject to a satisfactory outcome to the railway order process, will provide a new and regular commuter service between Cork city and Midleton. It will also provide a greatly enhanced commuter service from Mallow to Cork city and new stations at Blarney, Dunkettle and Kilbarry, with extensive park and ride facilities. The 2007 provisions will fund the new 67 intercity carriages on the flagship Cork to Dublin route.

The 2007 Estimates provide for payments due in respect of additional buses for Dublin Bus and €12 million towards the cost of replacement buses in 2007. Exchequer funding of €30 million was approved in the last quarter of this year for the purchase by Dublin Bus of 100 additional buses, delivery of which will be completed by the end of January 2007. Exchequer funding of up to €50 million, including €25 million in 2007, is to be provided for up to 160 additional buses for Bus Éireann commencing in 2007. The provision for the annual subvention to CIE in respect of its public service obligations at over €306 million is a 7% increase on the expected 2006 out-turn of €285 million. The increase reflects the policy in recent years of giving annual increases in the subvention taking account of increased operational costs. The increased provision for 2007 also takes account of the additional costs associated with the extra buses, which were approved in September. The increased capital and current funding for rail and bus services will enable the CIE companies to further improve services throughout the country.

The 2007 provision will facilitate the continuation of progress on the Luas and metro elements of Transport 21, including the commencement of construction on the Luas extension to Cherrywood and the Point Depot; increased tram capacity with a 10 m extension of the Tallaght line trams and continued work on metro north. Planning of the remaining Luas and metro lines will also continue. Today we launched the public consultation on the route selection process for metro west.

In line with Transport 21 and Towards 2016, €9 million is provided to bring the rural transport initiative into the mainstream from 2007. The pilot phase of the initiative will conclude at the end of 2006 and preparations are now being made to focus on the provision of rural transport from 2007 onwards. The programme will build on local community and voluntary commitment in providing rural community transport services in areas where there are unmet transport needs. Further details of the development of rural transport will be announced in the coming weeks.

Continued funding will be provided in 2007 for Transport Access for All, my Department's sectoral plan under the Disability Act 2005. I am pleased to say that considerable progress has already been achieved towards improving access to public transport for people with mobility, sensory and cognitive impairments.

The improved project management and cost estimation and control arrangements, which have been put in place by the National Roads Authority, NRA, in recent years, have resulted in a very welcome trend of projects being delivered on time and within budget. For example, up to the end of October this year, ten of the 12 projects delivered have been on time and within budget. The N8 Rathcormac-Fermoy project came in eight months ahead of time, the N25 Kinsale Road interchange six months ahead and the N8-73 Mitchelstown relief road four months ahead. These projects all opened well in advance of their original scheduled dates. We are delivering on time and on budget and we will continue to do so.

In the early years of Transport 21, investment in the national road network will focus on the completion of the five major inter-urban routes by 2010. After that we will concentrate on upgrading the remainder of the national primary network with particular emphasis on the routes to the west and north west of the country and on the Atlantic corridor route.

What is the Minister going to do for the north west, for the N2 and the A5?

There is a great deal going into the north west as the Deputy knows. Under Transport 21, the total spend on the national roads development programme in 2007 will be €1.543 billion. This, together with private sector funding of some €540 million will maintain the high level of investment in this major infrastructural programme.

The level of funding being provided will allow the pace and momentum of the programme to be maintained during 2007. Several roads projects will be completed next year, including the N1 Border to Dundalk, the N6 Kinnegad-Tyrellspass-Kilbeggan and the bypasses of Castleblayney and Gorey. Six projects, with a combined total length of more than 200 km will begin construction during the year. These are the public private partnerships, the N3 Clonee-Kells, phase 2 of the M50 upgrade, the N7-N8 Portlaoise-Cullahill bypass, the N9 Knocktopher to Waterford, and the N6 Galway-East Ballinasloe. The N4 Leixlip-M50 junction will also begin next year. A further 12 projects will continue in construction including the N6 Kilbeggan-Athlone, the N8 Cashel-Mitchelstown and bypasses of Charlestown, Carlow and Waterford City.

The 2007 Estimates will continue to provide for regional airports, aviation consultancies, air accident investigation insurance and payments to the Irish Aviation Authority. Regional airports provide a significant level of access to their catchment areas for tourist and business traffic and thereby contribute to balanced regional development. During 2007, my Department will contribute €15 million to support public service obligation flights between Dublin and the regional airports to underpin this role.

An important development during 2006 was the launch of a capital expenditure grant scheme for these airports. The proposals received under the scheme from the regional airports are being assessed and I hope to announce the allocations to the individual airports by the end of the month. A sum of €11 million is being provided in 2007.

I also envisage that at the same time, I will be in a position to announce the allocation available under a separate scheme, which I launched this year to provide for annual subvention of the operational expenditure incurred by these airports in providing core airport services.

In 2006, funding associated with the Department's marine sector ensured the continuation of vital work related to the Irish Coastguard and maritime safety generally. Almost €45 million in 2007 will be allocated to the marine sector to enhance these functions. The Irish Coast Guard has responsibility for search and rescue in addition to marine pollution and salvage response. The 2007 capital allocation of over €2.8 million provides for continued investment in this building programme in addition to providing for the upgrading and expansion of the Irish Coast Guard's radio communications network. The total funding provision for the Irish Coast Guard in 2007 is almost €33 million.

One of the key aspects of the maritime safety function is accident prevention through an appropriate combination of regulation, heightening of safety awareness and enforcement. The 2007 Estimates will provide for a grant to the Commissioners of Irish Lights and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. It also provides for funding towards the new aids to navigation vessel, The Granuaile, the national network of marine data buoys and the redevelopment of the headquarters of the Commissioners of Irish Lights in Dún Laoghaire.

For over two years, the Department has also been funding works to protect the fabric of our regional harbours. The resources available have been concentrated on essential remedial works pending the transfer of the harbours to local control. In 2006, funding was allocated to harbour works at Sligo, Westport, River Moy, Tralee and Fenit. The funding of €4.2 million for 2007 will ensure the continuation of a similar programme of works.

An increase of 21% in the capital investment in transport is a major commitment by the Government to bringing Transport 21 to life, upscaling and taking a quantum leap into the future.

I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Book of Estimates 2007. The finance spokespersons for all the parties have dealt with the global figures and macro-economic issues but like any Member of this House, I am examining the Book of Estimates from the point of view of my constituents in Kerry South and the projects and services which are in need of funding.

I wish to deal in particular with the health Estimates. The most notable exclusion from the list of capital project priorities for 2007 is the long-promised 14-bed extension to Kenmare Community Hospital. Members have heard me refer to this matter for many years now and I have no intention of giving up.

The extension to Kenmare Community Hospital was top of the list of priorities for the then Southern Health Board in 1999-2000. After a long campaign, dating back to the 1970s, the people of Kenmare hoped that the extension to their hospital would finally be delivered. Unfortunately, and for reasons that have never been explained, this project has not advanced one inch in the past six or seven years. The health board had allocated £2 million in 2000 but suddenly the project disappeared from the radar and yet again, despite repeated promises, the people of Kenmare remain in limbo. What happened to the £2 million that was promised in 2000 for the Kenmare hospital?

The project was included in the National Development Plan 2000-2006. We are almost at the end of 2006 but still there is no sign of the 14 bed extension to the hospital. The hospital provides a valuable service in the area. It has 300 admissions per annum for 24 beds. Ten patients occupy one ward, which is totally unacceptable. There are fewer beds in the hospital than there were a decade ago. The matron and the staff are second to none but are not being provided with the optimum nursing conditions or support from the Government.

I recently attended a public meeting on the matter in Kenmare. There is very deep anger and frustration among the residents of Kenmare. Despite many flowery promises from their local Minister and others not one sod has been turned or block laid. Many of the people at the public meeting were elderly and expressed concern that despite the Government's stated commitments to care of the elderly and the health services, they may not have a bed in the hospital when they need it. It is apparent from this Book of Estimates that the people of Kenmare must wait again.

The population of Kenmare has increased by 33% in recent years. In a recent worldwide survey, Kenmare was among the top five places to where people wished to retire. At a time when the population is increasing the number of hospital beds is decreasing. I would warn Ministers against going near Kenmare between now and the general election because if they do they will need proper answers for the people there on why the hospital extension has not been delivered after a decade of Fianna Fáil Government.

Two decades.

That is correct. The people of Kenmare are still waiting. There is an urgent need to provide funding for a sexual assault treatment unit, SATU, at Kerry General Hospital. I pay tribute to the leaders and staff of the Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre in Kerry for their tenacious campaign on this issue. These people are now at the end of their tether. The sexual assault treatment unit was run previously on a pilot basis at Kerry General Hospital. It was a major success in tending to the needs of the victims of rape and sexual assault. However, due to a lack of space and funding commitments, the pilot scheme was discontinued and since then there have been calls for a sexual assault unit to be reinstated in Kerry General Hospital. Currently, there is no local service to support victims of sexual assault in Kerry.

The Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, may be aware that if a man or woman is raped or sexually abused in Kerry at present, he or she has to be transported to Cork, and sometimes Waterford, for forensic examination. One can only imagine the trauma and psychological pain caused by having to ask a victim to endure a three to five hour round trip in a car or taxi in the immediate aftermath of an assault. In some cases, victims may not be medically fit to be sent to Cork or Waterford and this further adds to their trauma. It is estimated that approximately €250,000 would be required to get the SATU in Kerry up and running. The sum of €250,000 out of the €12 billion allocated to the health service in 2007 is not too much to ask. The National Crime Council stated that such local centres are needed to increase the low reportage of sexual crimes. This is most worrying. We must support victims of sexual assault and encourage them to report crimes, otherwise the perpetrators will get off scot free to reoffend. The Book of Estimates does not provide funding for a SATU for Kerry despite all of the promises and the long campaign for the service by many dedicated people. I appeal to the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Finance to bring in a Supplementary Estimate to address this matter. This is a human rights issue.

Approximately 1,200 people in my constituency are waiting for houses. My philosophy is that the least to which our citizens are entitled is a comfortable home. Approximately 400 people in my constituency are waiting for enhanced nursing home subventions. Although Cúram home care grants were promised, people did not receive anything. Almost 1,000 people are waiting for orthodontic treatment. Children in my constituency with an intellectual disability have had their classes discontinued indefinitely.

I have listened all day to Ministers and Government backbenchers hailing the great successes of the Government. These are our most needy people and they have been let down by the Government. After the next election we will have a change of Government and these people will be top of our priorities.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the 2007 Estimates recently published by the Minister for Finance. The 2007 Estimate for the Department of Agriculture and Food demonstrates the Government's continuing commitment to the development of the Irish agrifood sector. Over the past ten years, the gross provision for the Department has grown from approximately €990 million in 1997 to €1.638 billion in 2007. The 2007 provision will be augmented by a further €20.2 million of capital savings carried over from 2006, bringing the total funding available next year to €1.658billion. This is an increase of €227 million, or 16%, over the projected gross outturn in 2006.

The 2007 abridged Estimate is a milestone, in that it includes the first year's funding for a significantly enhanced package of rural development and farm waste management measures, following the recent conclusion of partnership discussions with the farm organisations. The measures finalised in the partnership process involve agriculture related schemes worth €6.8 billion over the period 2007 to 2013, including Exchequer funding of €4.7 billion, compared to €2 billion in the current round. This is an increase of 135% in the Exchequer contribution to agriculture-related rural development measures, compared to the previous programme. The agriculture measures in the new rural development programme will also attract €2.1 billion from the EU.

In 2007, we are making provision, as part of the rural development programme, for an important initiative aimed at improving welfare and quality in the suckler herd. The suckler cow herd welfare and quality scheme will, subject to EU approval, involve an Exchequer provision of some €250 million over the next seven years. This measure is part of a structured and coherent approach to the beef sector, designed to enable it to meet the significant challenges that exist and to exploit the opportunities available over the coming decade.

Substantial provision is also made for the main rural development schemes. This includes €257 million in income supports for disadvantages areas, the rates for which are being increased by 8%, €328 million for REPS, for which a 17% increase in rates has been agreed, €79 million for the early retirement and installation aid schemes which, under the new rural development programme, will involve a maximum payment of €15,000 under each scheme and €114 million in subhead L for the forestry programme, for which a 15% increase in premium rates has been agreed.

Ireland's forestry cover is approximately 10% of total land area, compared to an EU average of approximately 38%. It is clear that the sector has significant potential for growth. We are making the funds available through the afforestation provision in the Department's Estimate for the continued development of the sector. Almost €1 billion will be provided over the seven-year life of the rural development programme. Forestry can be a major player in the development of the rural economy. It currently generates employment for 16,000 people, while another 16,000 people are established as forest owners in their own right.

Forestry also has the potential to contribute towards a wide range of environmental issues, including climate change. Over the period of the first Kyoto commitment, our forests will sequester some 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. Our forests will also supply a sustainable source of timber for building as an alternative to steel and concrete, and for the growing energy market. This is an area which we wish to develop further, and one which is being examined carefully in the context of the national bioenergy action plan. In addition, forests provide wonderful opportunities for recreation and amenity. This is an aspect of the forestry investment which we are at last beginning to value properly. The new rural development programme will, subject to approval at EU level, increase the forestry premium by 15%, maintain premium payments for the full 20-year term currently enjoyed by farmers, and retain the 100% establishment grant for new planting.

Reference has been made in recent days to the Department's projected savings in 2006. Savings are likely to occur in schemes which are subject to variables, such as farmer demand, animal disease trends, the pace of progress on approved projects and market conditions. In recent years, the effect of these variables was further exacerbated by considerable uncertainty in regard to the introduction of the decoupled single farm payment, the impact of the nitrates directive and question marks over derogation and, in the case of some rural development schemes, the relative proximity of a new rural development programme. In the case of forestry, issues such as the price of land, and competing alternative uses for it, were also a factor. It was, nonetheless, absolutely necessary to make provision for potential demand for these schemes in recent years, for which we make no apology. While estimation of the expenditure under these headings will always be subject to uncertainty, there has been considerable clarification of the nitrates directive and the probable shape of the new rural development programme. In addition, the single farm payment is beginning to bed down. We will see the impact of this in demand for a number of our schemes in the future. We will continue to make the necessary funding available for the agrifood sector in the coming years.

There are significant opportunities for all those involved in the agrifood sector to avail of the generous schemes administered by the Department of Agriculture and Food. I urge all those involved in the sector to avail of these opportunities to secure the future of their businesses and for the sector generally.

I wish to share time with Deputies Finian McGrath and Gogarty.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the indications that the Government is focusing on ways of increasing the use of renewable energy. Hopefully, this will lead to increases in tax incentives to use biofuels and to improving the take-up of grants for the growers of energy crops, and to improved energy efficiency in homes. Perhaps the Government would consider including all recipients of fuel allowances in grant schemes, such as the greener home schemes and that covering installation costs. Both involve considerable initial outlay but would prove cost effective in the long run in terms of savings on energy and in savings for many of those caught in the fuel poverty trap as a result of illness which imposes a considerable cost on the health services.

On the issue of biofuels I refer to the loss of the massive potential represented by former sugar factories at Carlow and Mallow. The beet crop and the facilities being destroyed could have been redirected towards this end. Instead Greencore has chosen to go into property development while leaving its formers workers, growers and contractors high and dry. I propose that the State make a compulsory purchase order on the former Carlow and Mallow sites. By doing so the State would recoup the public interest in what was a successful public enterprise before being handed over to Greencore which stands to make a massive profit through asset stripping. The State could buy the sites at agricultural value and ensure they are used in the best interests of the people of Carlow and Mallow in terms of attracting employment, including biofuel processing to Mallow, affordable housing and all round balanced development.

Today I was contacted by a farmer in the Mallow area who told me that along with other business people he could guarantee to raise an investment of €150 million if the Government or Greencore was prepared to do likewise and convert the factory at Mallow and, by extension, the factory at Carlow into biofuel production sites. I ask the Minister to consider that proposal.

I welcome the indications in the Estimates on renewable energy and I hope we will see concrete measures in the budget.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. Let me knock the current myth about spending on education and health and the hype from the Government on this matter. I challenge the waste of taxpayers' money by different Ministers. On the projected figures for spending on education let us have a reality check and look at the facts. We need investment in education. The OECD education indicators have shown that individuals and countries that invest in education and skills benefit economically and socially from that choice. At each level of education — pre, primary, secondary and tertiary — Irish spending per student is below that of the OECD average, most notably for primary and second-level schools.

Ireland's level of expenditure on education, whether expressed as a percentage of GDP or GNP, fell in the period 1995 to 2003. In spite of Ireland being one of the wealthiest countries, our expenditure on education at 5.2% of GNP in 2005 leaves us languishing in the bottom half of the OECD countries, ranking 24th out of 30 countries. Spending initiatives to combat educational disadvantage must be refocused to benefit children when they are young. Government reports emphasise the importance of early intervention to help tackle disadvantage but this does not apply to the funding initiatives. Only a fraction of disadvantage spending benefits primary school children. Spending on primary school and disadvantage initiatives amounts to €60 million compared to €300 million at third level. The result of this policy is that many children experience failure and drop out early because the Government refuses to provide adequate support where it is needed most. Disadvantaged children and those with special educational needs must be given priority.

Given that the Minister was positive a number of years ago I ask him to focus spending on services for adults with an intellectual disability. Some 1,906 people require a residential service, 1,877 require a respite service, 296 are on a waiting list for the services of St. Michael's House on Dublin's north side, 74% of whom are from the north side. To reduce the waiting list in St. Michael's House all that is needed is 70 places per year.

I raise these issues because it is important that the Minister and the Government focus on two priorities in the budget. I urge the Minister to focus on education, the poorer sections of society and children with disabilities. There is a need to fund children with disabilities particularly at second-level education because a gap is emerging. It is important that the Minister introduce a caring budget.

I wish I had the same amount of time to debate the Estimates as the Minister has for his annual budget speech. Unfortunately we on the Opposition benches do not have that opportunity. I reiterate what my colleagues have said, particularly in regard to education. I have constantly harped on about the need to fund education because it pays in the long term. Borrowing from Progressive Democrats speak and Charlie McCreevy speak, I argue that investing in education and frontloading it will cost the taxpayer less. That has not happened, instead we have had incremental increases, welcome as they may be.

Three weeks ago during Question Time with the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, I dared to table a question about the need for additional teaching places in second level; I had raised a similar need for primary level previously. I asked, notwithstanding the welcome investment in special needs, the reason she was not investing in education given that we ranked 24th or 29th in the OECD league tables depending on which way one looks at them. She stood up and said, "How dare the Deputy criticise me for prioritising special needs." I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this matter further with her next week. It is not a case of either-or, it is a case of funding education.

We have talked about class sizes and the McIver report in the past, I now wish to speak about the National Educational Welfare Board. Since I was elected as a Deputy, the board has consistently called for the full roll-out of educational welfare officers. Time and again we get a measly amount from the Government. This time the increase is 20%, and laudable as that may be it comes nowhere near implementing the full roll-out of the board. The Rochford report which envisaged the funding requirements when the Education (Welfare) Bill came before the House suggested a spend of approximately €25 million. In modern day funding €28 million would be required to roll out the National Educational Welfare Board. It needs 300 people on the group but has fewer than 100. As I said in the committee approximately 1,000 children in classrooms are absent more than 40 days per year. The statutory amount that requires reporting is 20 days per year. Why are those children absent? What is happening to them and their education? That is a central issue from a social justice point of view.

From the Progressive Democrat-Fianna Fáil economic point of view those children who are absent from school for that length of time will end up costing the State money. They will lose out and end up on social welfare, in prison and not paying into the taxation system, all because of a lack of investment in education. To frontload it now will cost the people, the taxpayers and voters. It is short-sighted voodoo economics.

During the course of this debate on the 2007 Estimates the Opposition sought to deny reality and claimed that this is more of the same and that there is no indication of how the money will be spent, no strategy, no coherent approach to value for money and no proper scrutiny by the Dáil of the Estimates. The reality is that in its contribution to this debate the Government side has clearly set out the main outputs that will be delivered across the sectors in the provision for 2007.

In transport we indicated that the €1.5 billion capital for roads will fund the continuing upgrade of the major interurban routes to motorway or high quality dual carriageway standard and fund some eight roads projects involving more than 84 km in length which are scheduled for completion in 2007 and some six projects amounting to 212 km in length which will commence next year. We spoke about the €1.3 billion capital for housing that will fund the Government commitments under Towards 2016 of planned increases in social housing output to the target of 27,000 social housing starts and 17,000 affordable housing starts over the next three years. There will be a €7.9 billion current provision in 2007 for education that will fund service improvements in a number of key areas, including 800 additional teachers, which will bring to almost 1,900 the number of new teachers provided since last year in order to reduce class size and help tackle problems of disability and disadvantage; more than 1,400 additional special needs assistants to significantly improve the experience of education for people with special needs; and the 13% increase in capitation grants for schools. I could go on and repeat the outputs cited by my colleagues in the debate.

I reiterate my personal commitment to getting value for money and better accountability. In last year's budget, I introduced significant reforms of the Estimates process. Under these reforms, consideration of the 2007 Estimates will be better informed than in previous years. After the Revised Estimates Volume for next year is presented to the Dáil in February and referred to the various select committees for detailed consideration of the 2007 Estimates, each Minister will be tabling with his or her Estimate an annual output statement covering the Departments and offices under his or her aegis. The output statement will set out the high-level goals of the Departments and offices as contained in their strategy statements. It will set out for each goal the programmes and the key strategies being followed to achieve them. For each programme, it will outline the financial resources contained in the Estimates and the human resources deployed and, on the outputs side, it will give the key output targets to be achieved next year.

Under the improved value for money and policy review arrangements announced last June, some 90 value for money reviews, with an indicative minimum coverage of 10% to 15% of each Department's budget, will be carried out in the period 2006 to 2008. Contrary to claims, neither the health area nor the Office of Public Works is excluded from these arrangements. These reviews and other general reviews that impact on value for money carried out by Departments and agencies must be sent by them to the relevant select committees. This will complement the information that will be available in the new annual outputs statement. When the select committees consider the Estimates in detail in 2007 and in future years the quality of the information, which will be available to them to assist their consideration, will be far more comprehensive.

I reject claims that the 2007 Estimates are based on stealth taxes or that the significantly increased levels of public expenditure under this Government have been funded through increased taxation. Aside from a technical increase in the employees' annual ceiling for PRSI purposes in line with normal practice, these Estimates are not based on increases in charges nor did increases in charges form part of the discussions with my ministerial colleagues on the Estimates.

The money available for local authorities through the local government fund will amount to approximately €1.5 billion in 2007. The Exchequer contribution to the fund continues to be in excess of the statutory minimum set out in the 1998 Act establishing the fund. Since 2000, nominal GNP has grown by an average of just under 9% per annum, while the increase in Exchequer total expenditure, which includes infrastructural investment, has averaged approximately 9.75% per annum in the same period, which is broadly in line with GNP. For every year in the period with the exception of 2002, we have run a general Government surplus and by the end of this year our debt ratio will have fallen from approximately 38% to approximately 25% per cent, which shows that the public finances are in a very sound position indeed.

Claims about increased taxation are simply not supported by the facts. The average tax rates have fallen for all categories of taxpayer since 1997. All employees have seen their average tax rates fall since 2002. People are earning more and paying proportionately less tax. There is greater equity in the tax system and more people are paying no income tax at all. Approximately 80% of people pay less than 20% of their wages in income tax. This year, more than 750,000 people on low incomes will pay no tax at all compared with fewer than 400,000 in 1997. For a married one-earner family with children on 150% of the average industrial wage, the reduction has been from 24.4% to 16.8% of gross income.

I refute the accusation that the Government has adopted an approach to health care that is driven by profit rather than care. The approach of seeking to meet priority health care needs though an appropriate combination of public and private provision of services on a value for money basis means that greater progress can be made in meeting those needs than would otherwise be the case. Health has consistently been a key priority for the Government. On a pre-budget basis, we will be spending some €14.6 billion on health next year. Health spending is set to reach 7.7% of GDP next year, which is 9% of GNP. This compares favourably with international trends and is above the EU average.

The major improvements in health services outlined in my opening statement in this debate have been made possible by the significant increases in front-line staff provided for by the Government, with almost 2,400 additional medical and dental personnel, almost 8,400 additional nurses, more than 750 additional consultant posts bringing the total to more than 2,000 and more than 8,000 other health professionals, such as speech and language therapists, physiotherapists; social care and social workers; psychologists and environmental health officers. The Government has undertaken radical reform of health services through the establishment of the Health Services Executive to improve the management of the health services. The Health Bill 2006 is continuing this process of reform and will set up an independent statutory body, as part of the Health Information and Quality Authority to establish standards and inspect all nursing home places, both public and private.

I wish to address claims that no provision has been made in the Estimates for environmental issues arising from energy use. As indicated in the recently published Green Paper on energy, the overall aim of our energy policy is to ensure that Ireland can develop sustainable sources of energy, increase our energy efficiency and improve the security of our energy supply. Investment in research is vital in order to support national energy policies. Some €14.7 million has been provided for energy research next year, which represents an increase of more than €10 million over the amount provided for energy research in the 2006 Estimates. Some €2.5 million has also been provided for energy efficiency initiatives, including the continuation of the national advertisement campaign designed to highlight the changes that individuals can make in order to reduce wasteful energy consumption.

The Government's commitment to the environment is further demonstrated by the substantial investment in the environment across a number of Votes. More than €81 million has been provided for the farm waste management scheme to help farmers meet requirements of nitrates directive while the allocation for forestry is €114 million. An additional €28 million, bringing the total capital provision to €427 million in 2007, is provided to support enhanced investment in water and sewerage services. An additional €7 million in current expenditure is being allocated to the Environmental Protection Agency to support its ongoing work and in particular the new demands of monitoring the EU water framework directive.

On the issue of the purchase of carbon credits raised by Deputy Boyle, the Government is strengthening arrangements in this regard. Under legislation to be introduced by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the National Treasury Management Agency will purchase the carbon allowances by making a drawdown, as and when required, from the central fund. This will give the NTMA the flexibility it requires to purchase the credits. There will be an Estimates provision in the Environment Vote the following year and subsequent years to repay the central fund, which will ensure full accountability and transparency in the purchase of the carbon credits.

Through the robust value for money framework now in place and our reform of the Estimates, the Government is determined to ensure full value for money and accountability in the delivery of public services. Before the budget, we are providing an extra €4 billion for spending on public services, an 8.1% increase. Of this, more than €3 billion is for current spending on day to day services and almost €1 billion is for capital purposes.

We remain committed to pursuing the sound fiscal and economic policies which have provided the resources to fund real improvements in public services and to target priority social needs. On budget day I will provide for a social welfare package and some additional expenditure on health. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 67; Níl, 58.

  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Keeffe, Ned.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.

Níl

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, James.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Gerard.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg.
Question declared carried.