National Development Plan: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by the Taoiseach today:
That Dáil Éireann:
commends the Government on the progress made under the NDP as evidenced by the 2007 NDP Annual Report, particularly the substantial investment made in consolidating and enhancing Ireland's economic competitiveness;
acknowledges important economic and social progress made over the last decade and the fact that we face the present economic and fiscal challenges from a position of strength; and
commends the Government on the measures it is taking to address the current challenges, particularly the maintenance of policies that support economic and budgetary sustainability, thereby positioning Ireland to benefit from a future upswing in the global economy.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
notes that the Government has contributed to the current economic downturn through:
the introduction of reckless inflationary budgets, driven by electoral needs, that killed competitiveness;
implementing huge increases in day to day spending financed by unsustainable property tax revenues; and
stalling public sector reform and abandoning any credible value for money discipline;
condemns the Government for producing a package of measures which:
fails to introduce serious reform in the way the public finances are managed;
ignores the need for a credible medium-term strategy to address our declining competitiveness and provide training and upskilling support for the increasing numbers of unemployed; and
misses the opportunity to embark on a process of economic recovery through reform.
—(Deputy Enda Kenny).

It is in this context that investment in research and development becomes an all-important factor for success. The Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2006-2013, launched in 2006 and underpinned in the national development plan, has marked a great shift in the investment in research and development in Ireland. While this shows we are moving in the right direction, we must be mindful our competitors are not standing still. In the face of strong competition from other economies, it is imperative that we sustain our investment over the lifespan of the NDP and the strategy for science, technology and innovation and secure our economic prosperity for the future.

As Science Foundation Ireland funding drives the growth in the number of researchers, adding more than 30 world class principal investigator teams each year and contributing to the doubling of our PhD output by 2013, the demand from industry must be in place to absorb the research outputs and PhD numbers. Recent survey data from the foundation indicates that SFI-funded researchers are engaged in more than 500 separate industry-university collaborations, involving 400 separate companies. This is remarkable given the relatively short period during which SFI funding has been available. The launch of the €500 million research and development grant scheme last January was a significant milestone in making it as easy as possible for companies to access research and development supports. These new schemes bring together financial supports for company-led research projects, providing an integrated and unified approach capable of meeting company needs flexibly and efficiently.

I must ask for silence in the Visitors Gallery while the debate is ongoing. I cannot hear the Minister.

In 2007 the IDA concluded negotiations for 54 new research and development investments, resulting in a series of significant industrial and academic research collaborations. Enterprise Ireland has set a target of more than doubling the number of indigenous companies engaged in research and development in excess of €100,000 per annum and to increase fivefold the number of indigenous companies spending in excess of €2 million per annum on research by 2013.

However, these targets are only a means to an end. Indigenous companies that are innovative compete effectively internationally, drive our export performance and create sustainable employment. By continuing to win research and development investments from the multinational sector, the IDA is bringing the core knowledge creation activities of these companies to Ireland, enhancing the importance of the Irish operation to the global corporation and placing the Irish operation in pole position to sustain or win new business investment in the future. Enterprise Ireland and the IDA support a range of measures to develop and enhance collaborative links between industry and academic researchers. In 2007, Enterprise Ireland provided €73 million for schemes aimed at ensuring we have the capacity to capture and transform the ideas and advances coming from higher education research into commercial reality.

In the future, Ireland will make its living by producing innovative products, designs and services. Overall the trends to date from our investment in the strategy for science, technology and innovation are positive. It is critical to our future success that we continue to invest in the human infrastructure to achieve our goals of transforming Ireland into a cutting-edge knowledge economy. The ramp up in investment in research in Ireland is very recent by international standards and other countries are also investing in this area. However, by sustaining our projected strategic investment in research and development, we will realise economic and employment gains and improve our competitive advantage. The increased pressures of globalisation, and the emergence of newly industrialised players in the world's economy, lead to one conclusion. We must innovate or we will stagnate. Notwithstanding the difficult circumstances, the Government has chosen to put its weight behind planned, substantial, sustained investment in research development and innovation, which I am sure will continue to be justified and proven in the years to come.

Is the Minister of State sharing time?

I am sharing time with the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power, and Deputy Edward O'Keeffe.

Notwithstanding the decisions taken by Government yesterday, my Department will meet its target for spending on overseas development aid, ODA, this year, which is 0.54% of gross national product. We also remain committed to our 2012 target of 0.7% of GNP. Unlike other Departments, ODA spending is linked to GNP rather than year on year expenditure. Accordingly, the Government decisions taken yesterday reflect the realities of slower economic growth. This is the same for all countries that link ODA to GNP.

It is worth reiterating how great Ireland's contribution is to fighting world poverty. Ireland is the sixth largest donor in per capita terms. Even with the decisions yesterday, spending on ODA this year will amount to €900 million or more than €200 per citizen. This leaves us well ahead of most other European Union member states in terms of the proportion of our GNP allocated to this area. The measures announced yesterday are intended to restore the conditions for strong economic growth and to protect the future of the Irish Aid programme as with other areas of public spending, which is important. We were in a position to expand the programme almost fivefold over the past ten years because of our strong economic performance.

On the wider macro-economic issues, it is very much the duty of our generation of politicians, who were only in school the last time the economy was in free fall in the mid-1980s, not to repeat the mistakes of previous years. We should never return to borrowing to meet current expenditure. That would inevitably lead to borrowing to pay for borrowing to pay for interest on borrowing. Every penny paid in tax in the 1980s was used to service interest on our national debt. We can never go back to that and it is important to bear that in mind throughout this debate.

The spending priorities will remain as set out in the White Paper on Irish Aid. Assistance to sub-Saharan Africa will continue to be the top priority, as will measures to counter climate change and rising food prices, investment in education, health, the fight against HIV-AIDS, good governance and efforts to promote gender equality. These are issues that have the most impact on those least able to cope. Adjustments totalling €45 million will be made across the programme in such a way as to minimise the impact on any one area. The continuity of our programmes will be maintained, but funding timeframes in some cases will be extended and disbursement rates modified. I am particularly concerned that funding provided to Irish non-governmental organisations and our missionaries should be protected so that no reduction would be made in their allocations this year.

More taxpayers' money will continue to be channelled through the Irish Aid programme this year. This funding will allow us to continue to make a difference to the lives of people in developing countries. Within the last two weeks, I have seen how Ireland is considered a leader in the field. Our taxpayers' money is saving countless lives throughout the world. Two weeks ago I visited Malawi, a programme country where we have invested in increasing agricultural productivity among small holdings. More than 400 villages and tens of thousands of people have had their lives changed immeasurably by the money generously provided by Irish taxpayers. These real and tangible benefits have improved lives immeasurably. In terms of quality and quantity, the money provided by taxpayers is effective and is being used for its intended purpose. How much time is left?

I am somewhat confused, as there are three speakers in the slot — the Minister of State, Deputy Devins, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, and Deputy Edward O'Keeffe. Each speaker has eight minutes.

I am determined to maximise the impact of recent initiatives, such as the hunger task force and the rapid response initiative. Our target is challenging but realistic. While the precise details of how these savings will be achieved is still to be determined, the Minister, Deputy Martin, and I are confident that the Department will be able to make them without impacting on the delivery of frontline services to the public.

I will speak in support of the Government motion. Since 1998, our economy has been one of the most successful in the West and experienced growth until 2006. However, we are now the meat in the sandwich — the US economy entered a recession due to extensive subprime lending and the failure of its construction industry, and the UK economy has encountered difficulties and its construction industry is in trouble. Difficulties lie ahead for us.

I am critical of the Central Bank in its role as protector of the banking system. Due to the Standards in Public Office Commission, I must declare my position as a shareholder in many major banks. I got into trouble in this respect previously.

Is it a liability for the Deputy now?

I do not feed any meat or bonemeal now. The Central Bank claims that it has used stress testing. When I was stress tested recently, I was found to be a perfect candidate. The Central Bank lost control of the banking system. Many foreign banks have entered the island and some people were unhappy with the performance of Irish banks, but competition and a liberal approach to lending have left us in this serious crisis. Many banks will be short of capital. Day after day, I meet people who require further capital and must borrow if their businesses are to be successful, but the capital is not present. Liquidity in the banking system is an issue that is causing a crisis for the Government, which cannot do anything in this regard.

A number of corrective actions can be taken in one respect. We must not hide from the fact that there is a world recession, particularly in the West. We must consider increasing taxation, borrowing and cutbacks. There are many regulatory systems — the HSE, the Competition Authority and other agencies — with no role to play in this matter. Until recently, we relied on civil servants and Ministers to regulate and run the economy. The cost factor of the public service is an issue. I do not know the exact figure of how many people are employed therein, but I believe it is significant. The Central Bank has played a questionable role.

We have lost out in terms of capital tax. For example, honest, ordinary farmers sold development land on the outskirts of villages and towns for €1 million, developers built walls and sold the same land for €5 million. I know of more than one example in my constituency in which development land originally sold for €1 million subsequently changed hands for €40 million. This situation obtained across the country. The developers paid the same capital gains tax rate as the farmers who received €1 million. This situation is not good enough. We must place a capital gains tax on developments if we are to reduce the economic crisis.

Government policy did not bring the crisis about, given that Fianna Fáil has run the country successfully and ably for decades. One can see where the country has come from. With Deputy Brian Lenihan as the Minister for Finance and given his ability and his success at the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children and elsewhere, the economy will be put right. A stitch in time saves nine and he will place that stitch in the right place. We will be successful again.

The increasing unemployment rate is just one of the issues that must be addressed. We have lost our manufacturing industry. We must return to reality and examine what has occurred in the various economic sectors. In the past five to ten years, many factories closed because the chief executives of companies who saw the development and construction of houses and apartments as being more lucrative were given large cheques. The salaries of politicians and Ministers have been criticised, but they receive approximately 10% of that received by chief executives. We are moving towards asking for pay freezes and pay controls. How could one expect an ordinary industrial worker to agree to a 2% or 3% reduction when there are people in the private sector who are, via different mechanisms, earning millions of euro, particularly in terms of development?

Share options can make millionaires of a few people. While I am an investor, I believe in equity. Without a proper taxation system, there is no equity, making the poor poorer and the rich richer. Fianna Fáil has never been about that. From Eamon de Valera in the 1930s onwards, it has driven the economy. This side of the House must return to such a policy and I am confident that the Minister for Finance will do so. We must also consider the capital taxation structure, but we have missed the boat. We would have significant funds in the Exchequer had we got the structure right. I have provided examples of land being sold in my constituency.

Unemployment is a hardship on the people. A figure of approximately 200,000 has been cited. We have heard about auctioneers, builders, architects and solicitors letting people go because they cannot face the challenging times. Due to high costs, Hibernian Insurance's parent company, Aviva, will relocate it to India. However, we did not hear anything when other companies, of which there were many, relocated their administrative staff to India. We must put our house in order and get the cost base right. If we do not do so, the job of the Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs, Deputy Kelleher, will become untenable. What is wrong in the economy is our cost base. It must be corrected. The people at the top — those I have identified — have a major role to play in this regard because their large salaries and share options are causing jealousy among lower paid people.

We have a job to do and I am confident in the Administration. We have kept our borrowings as low as possible and within the framework of EU regulations. The national development plan has been successful in respect of infrastructure. When I drive from my constituency to Dublin, I can be proud, as can the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher. We will open another section of that road from Mitchelstown to Cashel on 27 July. This will be a significant step forward in the infrastructure.

Our cost base is wrong and more people will be going to India if this is not corrected.

I call Deputy Ring who is sharing with a number of other speakers.

I am sharing with Deputies Hogan and Connaughton. We will have seven minutes, six minutes and five minute respectively. I ask the Acting Chairman to tell me when my time is up.

I listened to Deputy Edward O'Keeffe and I want to remind him that in 1996 and 1997, when Fine Gael and Labour were in Government, we handed over this economy to Fianna Fáil with the first surplus in many years——

The Democratic Left as well.

And Labour now.

The Deputy is correct. It was a very good Government. The country was in great shape. Fianna Fáil claimed it created the boom but it has busted the bubble and the economy. Now they are blaming Fine Gael by saying we are talking down the economy. What they want us to say when it is raining is that the sun is shining and they want us to say that Fianna Fáil gave us the fine day.

This Government squandered and does not know if it is a cutback or a saving. If this is a saving, why was it not done during the past ten years? Did we allow every Department and every agency squander away for ten years? If that is the kind of Government we had, it is no wonder this economy is in the state it is in. Those who are going to suffer will be the sick, the weak, the old and people with mental illness. It has started already with cutbacks in my constituency. The Mayo mental health service has been cut back, the home care package is gone and enhanced subvention is gone. Now they are talking about reducing the home help service and they cannot provide a bed in hospitals or in nursing homes for people who are sick. The weak will be the first to be hit by the cutbacks. Why do we not start at the top with the millionaires? Why do we not target the people who spend six months in this country, come back for the all-Irelands and the race meetings yet do not pay tax in this country? Instead we start with the weak, the sick and the old.

I agree with Deputy O'Keeffe; Fianna Fáil has lost its way, but not today, nor yesterday. They lost their way many years ago because they spent too much time at the Galway races and in Leopardstown, Punchestown and at all these race meetings because these people meant more to them than the grass roots and the ordinary people of Ireland. They forget about the people who put them there for the past 20 years.

The Deputy accepts my views so he might join me.

I would if he were independent enough to come with me because I believe I am the only Independent in this House.

I want to ask a few questions of the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, as I am spokesperson on community, rural and Gaeltacht affairs, and I hope he will answer them. What is the position about decentralisation to Mayo? Will it go ahead? An agreement has been made about a site. Has the site been purchased and will the building be constructed? I will be happy if it goes ahead and if not, I will have things to say.

What cutbacks will there be in that Department because it represents rural Ireland? Deputy Flynn will agree with me. We both met the National Roads Authority and Iarnród Éireann. The NRA will not forget meeting me today because I spelled it out for them. It has let us down with the N5 and the N26.

The west has no developments that compare to those on the east coast. This is the third round of infrastructure funding which the east and south coasts have received but in the west we have not been given the necessary infrastructure since the foundation of the State. I come from Westport and Deputy Flynn is also well acquainted with it and she is very welcome there. I would like her to start shouting a bit more about the N5 which was ready to commence in 1997 but now it has been decided to design a new road. In 20 years the Deputy may still be here but I will not be and that road will not be ready. This is what I told the NRA today. I am asking the NRA and the Government to make this road a priority because it is necessary infrastructure. We need that infrastructure and it must be put in place if Westport, Castlebar and the county towns are to develop.

Gaelscoil na Cruaiche is waiting for the Minister for Education and Science to announce funding but nothing has happened. The school is in temporary accommodation and this is the third move the school has made and it is not fair to children who must wait. Now that there is a downturn they will probably have to wait another few years and the same applies to Bonniconlon national school. The planning has been completed and it is waiting for funding to be approved.

I ask the Government not to make the same mistakes as in the past. I refer to what action Departments should take to make savings. I put down a parliamentary question to all Departments requesting their expenditure on programme managers, consultants and advertising. I ask Deputy Hogan to note that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has 2,239 mobile phones but when one rings the Department, one cannot get anyone behind any phone. It goes to Mr. and Mrs. Voicemail. The person is not there but they will not hand out the mobile phone number of the person and yet there are 2,239 mobile phones in the Department. A total of €950,000 was spent last year on mobile phones in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food while schemes such as REPS and payments to farmers are being discontinued all over the country because they are over-regulated.

I have dealt with the old, the sick and the weak. It is time to look at the wastage in every Department with expenditure on consultants and reports. Last week I raised with the Tánaiste and the new Minister of State, Deputy Curran, the publication of lovely booklets with photographs dealing with drugs. Someone is making a fortune out of printing them but people put them in the bin when they are delivered to homes and taxpayers are paying for them.

It is time a decision was made about e-voting. The Minister should announce that there will be no e-voting and he should get rid of all the stored machines and save the money being paid for storage of these machines. The machines could be distributed to schools to educate children about politics and to show them how to vote. That would at least give some value to them but they should no longer be in storage.

This Government has probably been the greatest waster since the foundation of the State. We are in crisis and there is no point blaming the Opposition or the people. The Government did not take corrective action on the building industry even though it was warned three years' ago by Deputies Hogan and Bruton, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, that they needed to take action. We all said this economy was built on the building industry and that we would have a problem when it dried up. We need to do something now to revitalise it. The banks give the umbrella on the fine day and they take it back on the wet day.

I am very reluctant to interrupt the Deputy but time has expired.

The Government has got us into this mess and it must make decisions to get us out of the mess.

I wish to say a few words on this motion and to acknowledge the confirmation by Government in the announcement of its package of measures yesterday that it has taken 11 years to blow the boom. It ignored all warnings from the IMF, the Central Bank and the National Competitiveness Council that there was a problem on the horizon with jobs and the construction industry. I agree with Deputy O'Keeffe that there should have been a financial framework under the auspices of the Minister for Finance to ensure the construction industry did not become such a dominant feature in the economic welfare of the State that we would inevitably be in difficulty when the housing market softened. Nobody could predict what has happened but we could certainly have introduced anticipatory policy initiatives that might have ensured a softer landing.

What is disappointing about the package of measures announced by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance is that it provides no economic stimulus to deal with the harsh reality of such a precipitative and speedy deterioration in the construction industry. That deterioration has had a significant impact on the Exchequer finances as a result of declining capital gains tax, stamp duty, VAT and excise duty receipts. The State benefited by as much as €100,000 from the sale of individual properties in recent years. This source of funding provided for the development of services in many other areas.

The Government has not addressed the extent of the current difficulties in so far as it has professed satisfaction at the increasing prevalence of negative equity. It is satisfied that no initiative is required to help people on to the first rung of the property ladder through reform of the social and affordable housing schemes. The capping of local authority borrowing for capital programmes at €200 million by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will mean a reduction in services and the scrapping of many of the projects that were promised. In the case of projects to meet local infrastructural needs, for example, an allocation of €10 million or €12 million in the past was often supplemented by the local authority by the same amount to ensure the project was viable. That additional €10 million or €12 million which was generally heretofore sanctioned by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will no longer be available to the local authorities and, therefore, these projects will not proceed. This will have an impact on essential infrastructural development in respect of which promises were made last year before the election.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, must reduce payroll costs by 3%. That 3% will have to be taken from the local government fund, which will impact on services such as libraries, roadworks, footpath repairs and so on. I welcome the abolition of consultancies, public relations agencies and quangos, of which an additional 260 were created in the past seven or eight years. These quangos and consultancies were always a waste of money. That funding could have been used to provide essential services throughout the public services. It is only now, however, with its back against the wall, that the Government has decided to get rid of some of its friends in these agencies.

The Minister, Deputy Gormley, says he must achieve cutbacks of €48.3 million, but he has not outlined in detail where those cutbacks will be made. Like other Members, I suggest he begins with the e-voting machines which were purchased at a cost of €51.3 million and have accrued storage costs of €2.8 million in the past four years. To dispose of those obsolete machines would be a popular and meaningful way of yielding savings. The Minister has acknowledged they will not be used in the local and European elections next year — it is clear they will never be used — so why are they being stored at enormous cost to the taxpayer when available funding is much reduced?

Much of our prosperity was built on the construction industry. In addition, we have moved from a position where we had a low rate of personal debt to a situation of high individual indebtedness. We will hear many difficult personal stories in the coming years. This situation has been exacerbated by the lack of Government action on competitiveness and other issues. Many people are struggling to meet loan and mortgage repayments as they grapple with the nine interest rate increases that have occurred in the past two years. Professional jobs will no longer be available to the same extent as in recent years. The housing market is at a standstill and there is no economic stimulus to rectify that. As Minister for Finance, the Taoiseach was stubborn about reforming stamp duty. He said he has no problem with the fall in house prices and the decline in construction activity. He acknowledged that the housing boom was unsustainable but did nothing about it for the four years he was Minister for Finance.

These proposals represent a confession of failure by the Minister for Finance. This package of measures is a clear indication that he has delivered on the low-hanging fruit. However, the devil will be in the detail in regard to decentralisation, the 3% reduction in payroll costs and so on. A commitment has been given that frontline services will not be affected, but we are already seeing the effects on those services with cutbacks, for example, in many health and education programmes. A tightening of the purse strings, with the resultant impact on frontline services, has been apparent since last January or February.

All the elements of this package point to wilful inadequacy. I did not hear the Minister, Deputy Gormley, say whether he will withdraw the funding of €15 million for the climate change promotion package, which is an advertising contract for the purposes of promoting himself rather than explaining the important aspects of climate change. People are aware of the importance of taking action on this issue. It does not require €15 million to tell them that. What is needed now is action to resolve these issues.

The Fine Gael Party, through our spokesperson, Deputy Bruton, has put forward constructive proposals in recent days to deal with some of those issues. However, it is only right that we should expose the failure of the Government to reform public services. It neglected to do so through the benchmarking process and it missed another opportunity yesterday by not going far enough in many areas.

It seems we have gone from riches to rags, the opposite direction to what one would desire, and from imprudent spending to hair shirt misery in just six months. The deterioration in the public finances has necessitated a move from the culture of immoral recklessness where problems were overcome by throwing more funds at them, without due attention to value for money. That is where the problem lies. Ministers were cock of the walk in this House in recent years, with phoney forecasts such as the decentralisation programme. I will never forget the day the former Minister for Finance, Mr. Charlie McCreevy, let fly in the middle of a budget on his wonderful proposals for decentralisation. It was an act of sabotage which gave decentralisation a bad name forever as a result of the way the initiative was handled. It should be a source of shame to the Government that it has tarnished what is an absolutely positive concept by the manner of its delivery.

One can only imagine what might have been achieved if moneys expended in recent years had been managed more wisely. The road-building programme is an obvious example. A price tag of €6.6 billion was placed on the inter-urban project four or five years ago, but it ended up costing €16 billion. Even allowing for inflation, €6 billion or €7 billion could surely have been saved if there had been any degree of effective management. That €6 billion or €7 billion could have been used, for example, to upgrade the N17 and N18 and construct the Tuam health campus and the Tuam bypass. Despite the protestations of the Minister for Transport, we can have no doubt that the verb "pause" will feature prominently in the coming months. Projects will be "paused" throughout the State.

The Taoiseach outlined this package of measures because he had no choice but to do so. He was brought screeching to this point because something had to be done. He introduced it in a clever way because many people will have responded to the proposal for a 3% payroll cut with the conviction that it will not affect them. However, when these cutbacks are implemented, we will all feel the impact. To achieve the saving of €1 billion next year which the Taoiseach has said is necessary, somebody will have to endure a significant amount of pain. If the economy deteriorates further before the end of the year, there may be a shortfall of €2 billion or €3 billion. Anybody who has a part-time job or is employed in a temporary capacity is on thin ice. Many people are up to their necks in debt through the credit card system and there is no doubt that there will be misery as a result. Only this time last year, the Government was talking about 4% growth, but it is now less than 0%. I had hoped it would be otherwise but that is the way it is going and against that background many people will be hurt.

The building sector has been rattled. It was obvious three or four years ago, however, that a number of people had become wealthy at the expense of thousands of young couples who will pay through the nose for the enrichment of those fat cats. Unfortunately, the service industries are now being hit, which is something the two Ministers opposite know a lot about. Confidence has gone out of the domestic market, while people back away from buying furniture and other hardware. In recent years, our economy was built on services but we have a problem when the service industry begins to dip. I sincerely hope that for everyone's sake the situation is not as bad as it looks. In years past, no matter what the problem was, the Government knew the goose would continue to lay golden eggs. It never thought the goose would die, but she did.

I wish to share time with Deputy Beverley Flynn and Deputy Frank Fahey.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity of contributing to this debate on foot of announcements by the Minister for Finance on the measures agreed by the Government to take action in addressing our public finances. Yesterday, the Taoiseach made a particularly apt comment when he said:

While we must not overstate the difficulties, equally we must not understate the necessity for decisive action. We must act responsibly to secure the long-term future of our economy and our people.

I agree with the Taoiseach's succinct analysis and the Government has made decisive interventions to address and manage the pressures on our public finances. Our tax revenues are significantly lower than expected and it is incumbent on the Government to tailor planned expenditure within the resources available in a manner that contains the emerging pressures.

The adjustments that have been announced by the Government are measured, appropriate, proportionate and targeted in a manner that minimises the impacts on frontline public services that we are delivering in the current year. It is to be acknowledged, however, that we are in a period of change from sustained economic growth to more challenging conditions nationally and globally. Higher energy costs, tighter credit and economic conditions internationally are having an inescapable impact on our ability to sustain domestic growth. This is a challenge we face, however, and the Government has moved in a decisive way. Corrective action is needed now and it will carry through into the budgetary position for 2009. Taking action now to curb public expenditure lays a sounder foundation on which public spending in 2009 can be better managed within the resources available.

It is my responsibility as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to oversee the spending of over €3 billion in current and capital expenditure. This is a substantial public expenditure and I assure the House that we will continue to implement our key programmes as vigorously and effectively as ever. My Department's capital expenditure of €2.233 billion will be reduced by €40 million this year. There are some capital areas where expenditure has been less than expected in the first half of the year or where capital spending has not begun as in the case of the Gateways innovation fund. Rather than unspent capital being available to me to carry forward into 2009, as is normally allowed under the multi-annual capital arrangements, this amount is to be returned to the Exchequer. None of this is being taken from the local authority housing construction or the water services investment programmes. These are key infrastructural areas for economic development and environmental protection.

As regards current expenditure, the provision of €964 million is being reduced by €8.3million for 2008. Essentially this reduction is focused on achieving more effective administration and I am reviewing various current provisions to achieve this level of saving overall. I accept that we have to find greater efficiencies in the way we operate and this will be a challenge for my Department and the agencies that operate under it. There will have to be new discipline in managing administration and no area is immune from retrenchment because expenditure reduction will have to carry through into 2009 and subsequent years. This will certainly cause discomfort for current practice. Tough choices will have to be made but they will be based on prudent judgment.

My Department plays a pivotal role in framing policies and delivering a wide range of programmes that impinge on the lives of citizens across the length and breadth of the country. The major programmes are delivered mainly through the local government system but the Department also has a critical role in delivering on key measures. Our overarching objective is to ensure that the appropriate frameworks are in place to progress sustainable development and to foster a local government sector that is capable of high quality service delivery across a diverse agenda. In practical terms, this means we must provide for good planning and balanced regional development, ensure that the appropriate infrastructure is in place to deliver quality water supplies and improved waste management practices. We must continue to provide for a broad range of housing needs as well as using the resources available to us efficiently and effectively.

Nowhere is the test of environmental sustainability greater than in relation to climate change, which is much more than an environmental challenge in the traditional sense. It threatens the world as we know it and the future of people everywhere. We know we have a relatively short time to act decisively. While the Kyoto Protocol fell far short of an effective solution, it represents an important first step on the international response to climate change. This is what we are trying to do not just concerning the Kyoto Protocol, but also the post-Kyoto situation. As I said at today's leadership forum on climate change, I am confident that we will have a binding agreement in Copenhagen in 2009.

In presenting my first carbon budget last year, I said it marked the beginning of a new era, one in which climate change moves to the heart of Government decision-making. It puts our responsibilities to tackle climate change on an equal footing with our responsibilities to manage the economy. That is real progress on which we will build to make an effective transition to a low-carbon society. It is absolutely essential therefore that any investment decisions are taken in light of our international climate change commitments. That was part of the Government's decision announced yesterday by the Minister for Finance. I was very glad when I heard it.

We have ramped up our performance, moving forward in the first six months or so of this Government's term, with regard to vehicle taxation, building standards and energy standards for lighting. We will measure the impact of climate measures in presenting the second carbon budget later this year.

My responsibilities include heritage matters and I am pleased that substantially increased funding is available this year for the programme of work undertaken by my Department's national parks and wildlife service. Over the past 20 years, Ireland has experienced an unprecedented period of growth and development that has seen us narrowing the historic development gap with our western European neighbours. Substantial population growth, large increases in our housing stock, major expansion in transport infrastructure, changed farming practice, more intensive development and climate change have placed increasing pressures on our natural heritage. The issue here is sustainability. Increased emphasis on heritage protection will ensure that as Ireland continues to develop, the quality of our environment will not be compromised. Investment of the kind we are making is vital to safeguard our architectural heritage and the increased funding, which the Government is providing this year, underlines our commitment in this area. I am confident the package of funding measures we are undertaking is encouraging an integrated and multidisciplinary approach to built heritage conservation as a whole.

Local authorities will spend over €10 billion in 2008, supporting increased investment in housing, water and waste services, national and non-national roads, and an ever-expanding range of other services. Between capital and current funding, my Department will contribute more than €3 billion of this figure. Deputies opposite who have expressed concerns about that can be assured that the funding for major infrastructural projects will continue.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, and I welcome the corrective action that has been taken by the Government in the last few days to bring the public finances into line. Public confidence is critical and we have seen great improvements over the last 15 years. As a percentage of our GDP, national debt was almost 100% in 1991, while in 1997 it was 64% and 25% in 2007. Debt interest absorbs 4% of our tax revenue compared with 27% in 1991. As an economy, we are certainly in a much stronger position to cope with the current downturn that we are facing.

The Government is carrying out a review of its capital programme, and it must focus on areas that benefit the country economically, socially, educationally and regionally. I agree with Members of the Opposition that we need to stimulate growth in our economy. In particular, it is vitally important that we continue with the schools building programme. This is critical because the programme represents a lot of small projects that are strategically placed around the country. They mainly involve local builders and keep many local construction workers in jobs. It is necessary infrastructure and it represents an investment in our future. I urge the Minister for Finance to ensure that the Department of Education and Science has the necessary funding in place to enable the schools building programme to continue.

I also think it is important to front-load spending from the national development plan on affordable housing. House prices have been reduced, and in many counties it is now cheaper to buy a house on the open market than under the affordable housing scheme. It is important to free up money at this stage when housing is cheap, and these houses could be located in towns and villages across the country.

However, the key issue is to turn the tide on sentiment in Ireland. It is currently very negative, especially in the property market and construction. Representatives from the banks have been before the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service and they have said that all is well, and that their loan books are strong. However, the evidence form the marketplace is that banks are effectively closed to new loans. We should get an open statement from the banks on their affairs in order to generate confidence in the economy and the banks themselves. If the banks are in a position to return to lending, we will not need any other message on their confidence in the Irish economy.

The perception is that the banks are not open for new business. This is partially due to the global downturn, but is also due to our own domestic situation. If the banks are in a position to assure the public that they remain strong and represent a good investment, then we will have to look at ways of injecting liquidity into the market. How can we do that at the moment? The banks could sell their mortgage books to third parties to generate capital. We could also look seriously at raising a rights issue through the banks. However, at a time when confidence in the market is low, this would have to be underwritten by the National Treasury Management Agency. If this were to happen, it would bring about the necessary liquidity and free up money in the market that is not there at the present time. It would also represent an opportunity for the NTMA to show confidence in the Irish banking sector. This would have a very positive influence and could create the necessary momentum to turn around the current economic situation.

The Government should look at this proposal seriously. The NTMA is independent and it is important to bring liquidity into the marketplace. There are many people in a position to buy. They are sitting on the fence, possibly because they feel house prices and commercial property might fall further. The reality is that even if they approach the banks in order to enter the sector, the banks simply do not have the money to lend them in the first place.

The Government should also examine a reduction in stamp duty on commercial property as a once-off measure. It could be a 4% reduction for one year. I ask that the Government do this as a stimulus to the market. Stamp duty on UK commercial property is at 3.5% and many Irish investors have gone overseas as it is cheaper to make such investments. This could be done as a specific contained measure for a 12-month period, purely to stimulate growth in the economy.

While it is important to take corrective action, any measures taken on capital spending should be focused on the regions. If projects have to be cut back, I would not like to see projects on the west coast suffer while projects on the east coast move ahead. Any change in capital programmes should be made on a strategic basis so that the economy of the entire country can be kept afloat. I welcome the action taken by the Government, but the banking community and the Government also need to take measures to stimulate growth in the economy.

Our economy is currently experiencing some difficulties, but a sense of perspective is required as we seek to adjust to the changed circumstances. We must acknowledge that the housing market is going through a painful but necessary correction, that conditions in global financial markets are very challenging, that the outlook for our trading partners has deteriorated and that our currency has appreciated markedly on international exchanges. The immediate outlook is difficult and growth this year will be modest by our recent standards, but there is still much for us to be positive about. We should discourage any attempts to talk down the economy. I have little time for the prophets of doom. Now is the time for us to pull together and do our utmost to return the economy to its previous position of high growth.

The measures announced yesterday by the Minister for Finance are designed to ensure that public spending in the current year is managed so that emerging pressures can be accommodated within the planned expenditure level for 2008. It is about laying down a sound strategy for the next few years. This is a period of transition for our economy. We are moving from a time of unparalleled economic growth to a reduced rate of growth. It is worth bearing in mind that our economy is still one of the best performing in the EU. Now is the time for us to lay the groundwork for our economy to take advantage of future upturns in the international market.

Government is about confronting challenges. This particular challenge, as the Taoiseach has made clear, will be managed in a form that will protect the most vulnerable in our society and will minimise the impact on those who are dependent on crucial public services. We all have a role to play in the successful management of this difficult economic period. Compromises will have to be made, but we should keep the long-term view in mind at all times.

Our remarkable economic progress has not been reversed overnight. Talk of Ireland returning to the dark days of the 1980s, when emigration was rife and taxes high, is unhelpful and untrue. Our economy continues to be strong and dynamic. We have a very low level of public debt, which is down from 53% of GDP in 1998 to 25% at the end of 2007, that is 14% in net debt terms. We have very flexible markets, a low burden of taxation, and we have over 2 million people at work. Budget surpluses have been produced in ten of the past 11 years, so the Government's record speaks for itself.

Now is not the time for panic merchants to be espousing messages of negativity. Careful and sensible management of the economy over the last 11 years has positioned us well to weather the current economic downturn. The Government's policy has always been focused on improving the competitiveness of the Irish economy, and that is the most important issue that must be addressed. The indications are the next few years will require corrective action if we are to sail through the choppy waters we are experiencing. The Government will not resort to quick fixes. There will be no borrowing for the time being, no cutbacks in capital investment and no increase in taxes. Capital investment is still a priority for the Government. Prudent and intelligent management of the economy is what is required and is what will be delivered.

We can learn from others' experience. Germany regained its competitiveness over the past decade by containing wage growth and inflation, resulting in a boom in German exports. The Opposition is promoting policies reminiscent of the Italian experience. In Italy, wage settlements have not properly reflected economic realities in that country. Wage growth has been too rapid and, as a result, Italy's exports have performed poorly. Ireland needs to follow the German model rather than the Italian one.

I disagree with my colleague and good friend, Deputy Beverley Flynn, on the housing market. Making an intervention in the housing market by lowering stamp duty or other short-term measures will not solve its problems. The Japanese Government tried to prop up an ailing property market for years with the result that its recession lasted ten years. The housing market must be allowed to bottom out. It will be difficult, particularly with failures in the construction industry, but that is part of the economic cycle. For the Government to intervene and not allow the housing market bottom out would be a disaster. We must hold our nerve.

There will be people in difficulty but one of the sliver linings is that house prices will fall over the next six to 12 months. It gives an opportunity and incentive for first-time buyers to get on the market. I am equally confident the housing market will come back and the market will grow again.

We must all work together to ride through the economic turbulence we are experiencing. Our economy is one of the most robust in the EU and, thanks to prudent management, will be in a strong position to take advantage of any future upturns.

In my 26 years as a Member, there have been two defining moments in politics. The first was the policy pursued by the then Minister for Finance, Ray MacSharry, after the 1987 general election. He decided to stick to his guns and bring in the hard medicine. The second was the Tallaght strategy of Alan Dukes, then leader of Fine Gael, in which he decided, in the interest of the country, the only way forward was to control public expenditure. I hope we will see that type of responsibility from the current Opposition.

Deputy Fahey can dream on.

I can guarantee the Opposition will gain more votes by taking that courageous and responsible approach.

Deputy Fahey should start pretending he is in the Opposition.

I wish to share time with Deputies Jan O'Sullivan, Shortall and Kathleen Lynch.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

When debating an economic downturn, the obvious course of action is to plan our way out of it. There is no use in being negative when faced with the economic statistics we have. Some of the suggestions to tackle the downturn by the Taoiseach in the past several days, however, do not augur well for forward planning. When it is proposed to save €10 million from FÁS apprenticeships, it is difficult to see this as a thought-out process. Having an apprentice's background myself in the good days when many were offered by the Irish Sugar Company, Bord na Móna and the ESB, I know there is a need to positively plan for future industrial development. If this funding is taken away from current FÁS apprenticeships, it will be a negative approach to industrial development and erasing unemployment.

Last week, Mr. Rody Molloy, a fellow Kildare man and chief executive of FÁS, explained to the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment his plans to negotiate the completion of apprenticeship courses for those unfortunate apprentices in the building trade who have been laid off. It must be devastating for a youngster who was proud of being, say an electrician, to believe FÁS would look after him with a placement. I have heard the developers and others claim the upturn will come. However, the tradesmen necessary to ensure the upturn happens are being ignored by the Government's proposal to save funding in this area. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy McGuinness, will argue for the importance of having tradesmen for the next economic phase and industrial development. Unfortunately, the Taoiseach has not seen this and this negative approach does not augur well for us planning our way out of this recession.

Small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, are vitally important to every town, village and city. They have always been a solid source of employment. Some counties have never experienced the massive job creation by one factory. It was the SMEs that provided employment in those areas.

In Kildare South, IDA Ireland acquired four sites for industrial development in the past 30 years. A farmer is grazing cattle on one since 1973, an absolute disgrace. The local football club used one of the other sites but the authority tried to move it on. For the remaining sites, IDA Ireland sold them to the local authorities and the county enterprise board not at the price it paid for them 30 years ago but at today's prices. It wanted to get the profit out of its own failures.

We have heard a terrible abuse of the English language over the past several days. We have heard terms such as "adjustments" and "corrections". Deputy Fahey used the term "a time of transition". The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, has described the cutting of €144.35 million of her budget as budgetary conciliation measures. They should be talking about cuts, because that is exactly what we are faced with. They are standing by watching this as if it were an act of God, as if it was like thunder and lightening that they could do absolutely nothing about. What we need is leadership, and sadly we have not had it. The economy was handed over to this Government in perfectly good health, with 1,000 jobs per week being created. It rolled on the crest of that wave and all that was made in the construction industry — much of it went back to its friends. There was no sense that it needed to intervene at some stage and actually lead the country. At some stage a hard or a soft landing was going to happen and matters were not always going to be quite so good. There was a need to plan and do the type of things my colleague, Deputy Jack Wall, has just talked about as regards apprenticeships. There was a need to transfer investment from property to, for example, small industry and innovative ideas. I can cite the example of two young men in my constituency, the Collison brothers, one of whom won the Young Scientist exhibition, who had to go to Silicon Valley to get somebody to invest in their ideas in relation to the Internet.

We have had an absolute paucity of ideas and leadership from Government, and now the weak and afflicted are paying for the consequences. I want to quote from the Fianna Fáil manifesto of 21 years ago for the 1987 general election. I do not know whether the Minister of State, Deputy John McGuinness, remembers it.

The words were: "Health cuts hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped". We would use the term "disabled" now instead of "handicapped". That is exactly what health cuts do, and the Department of Health and Children has borne the brunt of this, despite what was said yesterday to the effect that somehow or other health and education would be protected. Precisely the opposite has happened. The Minister of Education and Science said today that the 3% cut would apply to his Department after all. The Minister for Health and Children has admitted that €144.35 million will be cut from her budget. A very small part of it will be cuts in advertising, consultancy and so on. The bulk of the cuts will affect precisely those three categories of people, the old, the sick and disabled. My colleague, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, will talk about what is happening to the disabled. However, some €110 million was set aside on foot of the fair deal legislation concerning the elderly and practically all of that — €85 million — is going back into the Department and the HSE to be spent on God knows what, but certainly not on the elderly.

We have, in that context, people who cannot afford to pay for nursing homes and cannot get public beds. In some cases they are in acute hospitals, where they should not be, when other people need those beds. They are at their wits end and should not have to worry at that stage in their lives about the type of things they are concerned about. If it is not too late, I again urge that this money be used to alleviate that level of hardship.

There are other savings which we are told are coming from the development funding in the budget. That money was identified for things such as care of the elderly, the disability sector, the roll out of cancer services, national screening services, radiation oncology and immunisation. Are we to see these things cut and no effort to bring about any type of proper planning as regards what should be done about the HSE? It was set up with an enormous bureaucracy and the Minister, Deputy Harney, explained this last week. The entire edifice was put in place, and then she said, "Now is the time to take out the bits we do not need". That is like building a 50-room house and then deciding that only six are needed. To take out the rooms is a crazy idea. The HSE should have been properly set up from the outset.

In the few minutes available I want to talk about what are, basically, cutbacks in the area of social and family affairs. The Minister concerned, in effect, pre-empted Government announcements last week as regards these cutbacks or savings, when she said there would be no cuts in frontline services in the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Patently, that is not the case. When one examines the details that have started to trickle out, and the Minister's contribution last night, one can see that cutbacks are taking place within the Department of Social and Family Affairs and these are affecting frontline services, contrary to what the Minister had given us to understand.

For example, five new family resource centres will not now be approved this year, in spite of the fact that they had been promised for some time. There will be no expansion of staff in the existing centres, as promised under the national development plan. The personal advocacy service for people with disabilities has been postponed indefinitely. If these are not the most vulnerable and weakest people, I do not know who are.

There is an increasing problem as regards family breakdown and problems associated with children in general. Most communities are crying out for greater supports for family support services and more funding to be provided so early intervention can take place and problems are not left to become almost insurmountable before any State agency gets involved. There is a crying need across the country for improved investment in these services, yet they are to be cut back, in line with yesterday's announcement. People with disabilities have been campaigning and fighting for a personal advocacy service for many years. They thought they were going to get it eventually this year. Indeed, just last week on Question Time, the Minister told me funding had been secured and that the service was going ahead. Apart from the extreme disappointment at the Government's failure to put the service in place as promised, I am interested to know what will happen as regards the director of this service, recently recruited. That person was to have staff provided over the coming months, but this is not going to happen. So what will the director be doing? The person, I know, has been recruited. Has he or she been appointed yet and what is his or her role?

We see cutbacks in other areas, without doubt. There has been an extraordinary delay in the proposed expansion of services to lone parents, for example, which are desperately needed to facilitate them in moving from welfare to work. They need help in identifying what their education and training needs are to enable them to apply for employment. This seems to have fallen victim to the Government's cuts because so much was promised as regards the document it launched some time ago, entitled Supports for Lone Parents. However, there is no funding for it this year it seems, and people will have to wait yet again before they have an opportunity to move into employment.

The focus of the Government should be on trying to ensure there is growth in employment, not cutting public service jobs. The latest unemployment figures show astonishing increases right across the country, with 54,000 extra people signing on since June last year and 67,000 since May last year. The most recent live register figures show an increase in all local social welfare offices since May 2007, indicating major problems right across the country, particularly in those commuter areas surrounding Dublin and in some Border counties.

We must ensure the people who become unemployed today are not among the long-term unemployed next year and in future years. That is why it is so important to ensure those services required to provide retraining for people are put in place before they get deeper into debt. We know that people attending MABS have been presenting with higher levels of debt over the last couple of years. Those people are most vulnerable, for example, if one partner in a couple loses a job and they are already overstretched as regards their mortgage. Very quickly they can get into a very difficult debt situation. That is the focus on which the Government should be concentrating.

As Deputy Jan O'Sullivan has said, the English language has taken a battering over the last two days. I have never heard cuts defined in so many different ways, and with words that we normally do not associate with withdrawal of funding. We spent six years waiting for the Disability Bill to be published and it was then withdrawn because of objections from the disability sector. When it was eventually introduced we spent six months going through page after page of amendments, meeting delegations from all the various groups, bearing in mind that the disability sector covers a wide area. We consistently asked during all the debates that funding be ring-fenced for the sector and that future embargos would not apply to it. At the time we were told there would be no cutbacks and that there never be another embargo. As the disability sector was starting from such a low base, we consistently asked that it be protected from any embargo on the recruitment of staff. We were told there was no need for such a provision, that we should not worry about it and that capacity would be built in the sector. The first people to fall off the end of bench when things got a little tighter were those in the disability sector.

Last week I asked the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, about the €50 million that was earmarked for disability services for this year. We were told in no uncertain terms on two different nights that the €50 million was protected and that it would be rolled out within the next ten days. We heard today that only €33 million of that funding will be rolled out. The excuse given is that as we are half way through the year, we could not possibly expect to get €50 million funding; that funding was supposed to be only for one year. By virtue of the sheer location of the population, the bulk of that €33 million will have to be spent in the Dublin and Leinster area. What are those in the rest of the country to do?

Last week I met representatives of the Centre for Independent Living in Cork. They had put in place a service system of personal assistants. Personal assistants do not have medical training but they have other training. Their training is in respect of the individual who needs their help. They get people out of bed, wash them, feed them, take them out, take them to work, drive them on holidays and ensure they can do, in so far as possible, the activities we take for granted. This service is equivalent of our having a helper and a carer in circumstances when we would need one. The funding for that service in Cork was pulled; it was never given, therefore, it did not exist. Some €220,000 was needed to maintain the service and last week they were assured they would get it, but this week that is not so certain.

When one reflects on what has been achieved in this economy in recent years and on those who contributed to achieving that, one will note that the people who contributed most are those who will be hit first. They are various areas that need to be considered in this respect. We have heard that some €85 million has been withdrawn from the fair deal scheme, but such funding was never given. I am not certain how such funding can be called a saving if it was not given in the first instance.

How can we possibly stand over a situation where a woman is living in a nursing home, the cost of which is €950 per week, and she is in receipt of a subvention payment of only €140 per week? How can the Government stand over that? How can it stand over a situation where because of one's age, one is treated differently in this country from other people? One does not suddenly lose one's citizenship on reaching the age of 65. Someone someday is going to take a case about this and that person will be successful. We would not say to a 30 year old who became chronically ill and was in need of long-term care that he or she had to sell his or her house to obtain such care. We would not dream of saying that——

——but we say it to the elderly. What is being done is a disgrace. It is fundamentally wrong and immoral. That is what is happening in this country because we now care more about developers than we do about our citizens.

I wish first to extend my sympathy to the Brennan family on the death of Séamus Brennan, a colleague with whom I worked in Fianna Fáil headquarters when I participated in the 1977 general election campaign. I learned a good deal from him at that time. I found him to be a very compassionate and decent man. He will be a great loss to his family and to the political system.

I listened carefully to the four Deputies who spoke before me. I listened even more carefully to Deputy Bruton, whom I have heard interviewed on many television programmes on the debate on the economy. I respect greatly what he has said. I served with him on the Committee on Finance and the Public Service. I have respect for his point of view and for the manner in which he puts it across. It is both constructive and informed. As much as I would learn from the Opposition, particularly from colleagues such as Deputy Bruton, I hope they will learn from the process in which we are now engaged and that we can share our views in a constructive way.

I could also raise many of the issues, raised by my four Labour Party colleagues, namely, specific personal issues with which one cannot argue because they touch one's emotions and one probably has experienced some of these issues in one's family. However, that must be put in context. First and foremost, I wish to advise those present and my colleagues in Cabinet, the junior Ministers and the backbenchers in government that it is hugely important that the Government ensures that those who are less well off, the marginalised and the elderly are looked after in terms of what is currently happening and the changes that are taking place in the economy. That must be uppermost in the minds of those who are doing the adjustments and in the minds of the staff, whether they be in the HSE, local government or the various Departments. That must be not only their priority, but there must be a set piece beyond which they cannot go.

To take up a comment on the English language made by one of my colleagues who has left the Chamber, I do not care what this process is called. I do not care whether it is called a U-turn, a cut, a recession or whether it is dressed up or dressed down. The fact is we are at this point and, regardless of what language one uses, this must be addressed. I take the view that what gets counted gets done. Therefore, we will start from that point.

If one faces a crisis in one's business, one would assess the business finances and the delivery of the service to the customers and make adjustments and the necessary cuts and decisions to ensure that business stays afloat and the customers are retained. What is different about that and what we are doing today? I suggest there is no difference. We are being prudent in setting aside provision for what must be done, namely the protection of the marginalised, the infirm and elderly.

What about the nursing homes?

The economy must be managed in a prudent manner. We are now living in different economic circumstances. What the Deputies opposite have failed to accept and I have heard all them debate——

I have not made my contribution yet.

They fail to accept that there should a difference in the management of the economy when a barrel of oil is $142 as against when it was $50 a barrel.

We fully accept that.

The Deputies opposite do not accept it because their colleagues have not accepted it.

What about food prices?

The necessary adjustments must be made. We must decide what we will do and we must show leadership. What we have done here in the past few days is set out our stall for the remainder of the year, how the Departments will function and how we will prepare for the budget that must be delivered at the end of this year. In that context, I will not refer to any politician but to business people and use the example of Enterprise Ireland. In the course of 2007 when things were going bad on the global markets, it was able to generate €13 billion worth of exports. It broke all the records it had set to be achieved. While it set the trend and the policy, it was Irish businesses that achieved €13 billion worth of exports. Irish businesses went to that global market and were successful. In the start of the first quarter of this year as they entered the Latin American market, they proved they can perform just as well out there, gaining €15 million worth of business in one trade mission. That is not Fianna Fáil or the Government telling the House that, but Irish business saying it can trade abroad, be successful and competitive and it knows what it is doing. I encourage Enterprise Ireland with those companies to continue to do that because those companies represent 154,000 jobs in the Irish economy, all of whom are paying taxes.

The Opposition can say what it likes about developers who made money in the boom time, they also contributed through their taxes. I am not defending them, but a balance needs to be understood. They also paid into every local authority through their charges and gave significant gains to local authorities, which passed those gains on to community projects. They made it worthwhile for the communities that local councillors represent. Maybe we should have caught them much earlier and got much more from them, but they did all that, gave employment and paid their taxes, so let us recognise the contribution they made.

Let us help them.

I hope that in the context of Enterprise Ireland and the new arrangement we have with the county enterprise boards, which performed well creating 1,100 jobs in their time——

They are cash starved, and the Minister of State knows it.

That is not true.

I have the figures here.

I also have the figures. I take them regularly.

I will be down to see Deputy English's enterprise board very soon and he is welcome to come with me because I would like him to see and recognise at first hand exactly what they are doing.

I hope the Minister of State does that. They are doing a great job. I will go with him. They do a brilliant job.

I compliment them on their work. Deputy Wall raised a question on funding for another enterprise board. I sat with the enterprise board section of my Department this morning. I went through the figures and they need to be examined in terms of the measures, draw-down and so on. However, I want to recognise what they have done.

They have done brilliant work; we agree.

It costs approximately €7,000 to create a job and 1,100 jobs were created, and they give other supports. Let us recognise what is going on.

I agree with the Minister of State.

Not all Opposition Members agree and they do not always say it outside this House so people understand it, so let us be honest about it.

Absolutely not. I complimented them but they need more money. The Minister of State knows that.

Deputy English must allow the Minister of State to speak without interruption.

During this year, in spite of how difficult Deputy English says it is, those companies continue to perform. They continue to come in their numbers to the enterprise boards. There is always going to be a case of needing more money and I will continue to address that as best I can in our current economic situation.

I thank the Minister of State.

Let us recognise where we are going with it and get back and work with them. Let us also recognise the fact that 55% of those who come to enterprise boards are women creating new companies and jobs.

There was a promotion recently through a mobile unit that went out to different counties. That mobile unit generated 1,000 new queries in the current economic situation. That is not me telling the House, but business people saying the environment we created for them to work in over the last ten to 15 years is working for them. They are able to operate in it, although there are issues on competitiveness which we have to address.

Having done all that for enterprise, the public sector needs to do something. I ask the public sector to adopt the same ISO9000 accreditation businesses have to adopt. There should be a pay freeze in certain sectors among those that can afford it.

Yes, that is in Deputy Bruton's policy.

That should go right across the board. We must become more efficient and 10% or another percentage point should be taken off the back office in terms of promotional material and all that goes on there. That is the saving that should be made. If they make a saving over and above that, it should go back to delivering front-line services to their customers. That is the type of imaginative approach we need in the public sector to reform it and make the sector as efficient as the private sector. I am not talking about individuals but the system within which they work. Having said what I said about ISO9000 I ask that all Secretaries General examine that and begin to benchmark themselves in a real way against the private sector.

I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this very important debate. It is good to see the future generation of Fine Gael leaders here to support us.

The Deputy can dream on.

The lads are not even from Tallaght.

I have had a very long day. As chairman of the Irish parliamentary friendship group with the Ukraine I had the opportunity to meet the Ukrainian President, Viktor Yushchenko, who is the true hero of the people. I reflected during the day on something he said, which I will paraphrase as follows. If one sat in the Parliament and listened to the various debates one would be afraid to go outside the door because one would think people will not be going about their business, driving their cars, enjoying themselves and going about their normal business.

Deputy O'Connor should open his eyes.

My eyes are very much open. I am very much on the ground and will not say things I do not want to say. It is very important we do not close down Ireland, that we do not give a totally negative message to the people that Ireland is closing down. The Minister for Finance has already made this point. I have no problem with people making their political points. We are all entitled to do that. However, it is important we inspire confidence.

There was a chance to do that yesterday but it was not done.

Listening to the Minister of State, Deputy McGuinness, I am reminded of that. Deputy Jack Wall made that point. If I had lots of time I would debate with Deputy English, but as I do not, I will get through my four minutes as best I can.

It is important we understand that with the economy being challenged, a number of issues are important, and one of these is to inspire confidence and ensure investment is still forthcoming, including from abroad, and jobs are being created.

Deputy McGuinness's contribution reminds me that 24 years ago I and other colleagues living in Tallaght got involved in an organisation called Get Tallaght Working which was involved with local enterprise. That organisation is thriving in Tallaght and providing jobs. It is very important that we continue to do that. To balance that, I agree with everything that has been said about the need for all of us to remain loyal to our social inclusion policies and ideals. When the economy was thriving, Deputy Bertie Ahern, my fellow Dubliner, said that when boats are rising one must remember the little boats. This week we must look after the little boats.

We could have told him that.

Deputy Hanafin's brave statement was correct. It is right——

Deputy O'Connor is provoking the Members on this side of the House.

The Deputy will have his opportunity shortly. Deputy O'Connor without interruption.

I will also have only five minutes.

Will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle give me some of Deputy English's time?

I am hoping the Deputy will allow Deputy O'Connor to speak without interruption.

I would never give the Leas-Cheann Comhairle trouble, as he well knows. It is very important we support what Deputy Hanafin said, namely, that we look after the disadvantaged, unemployed, elderly and people who need our help at this vulnerable time.

I want to acknowledge that the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cúiv, needs our support as he fights for resources. He knows I am a fan of his so he will not mind my saying so. The RAPID programme has been of great benefit to many of our communities, certainly in Dublin South-West and particularly in the Tallaght area. Deputy Curran would want me to say the same about Clondalkin. The Minister should understand that funding is still required for these programmes. The visit by the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, to Tallaght also reminds me that we should be careful that drugs and family support programmes that are required at the best of times are certainly required when times are a little more challenging. It is very important we make that point.

I do not want to be parochial but the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's good friend, Deputy Quinn, was kind enough to mention a school in my constituency, Our Lady's secondary school on Templeogue Road, which will be the subject of a debate on the Adjournment tonight. We could all list all the projects we want, and I would want to support that school and Holy Rosary national school in Ballycragh. The Minister for Education and Science should understand that, as supportive as we on the back benches will be, we must also maintain pressure regarding these very important projects. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and look forward to Deputy English's contribution.

I wish to begin by passing on my condolences to the family of the late Séamus Brennan. He was a marvellous politician and a true gentleman.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important national debate tonight. The situation the Irish economy is now facing is not one for which any one party or individual is responsible. Despite what Opposition Deputies might suggest, the fault does not lie with the Government. Ireland is a small member in an international marketplace and we are suffering an economic downturn in the same way as our European counterparts. However, because of the Government's measured lead in the last decade, Ireland has not been hit as hard by the worldwide credit crunch of recent times.

Undoubtedly, there are pressures emerging. However, we all realise that economic growth is cyclical and we are experiencing a period of readjustment from the strong growth we had in the late 1990s and in this decade. The Government measures announced yesterday are designed to cope with these pressures within a framework of continued capital spending. The Government is acting in a responsible manner. We are moving forward in a dynamic and pragmatic way. We are not relying on further borrowing and are not blindly continuing on in the hope that the worldwide economy picks up. We are taking the positive action that is needed now.

I echo the Taoiseach's remarks yesterday about maintaining a clear focus on our capital investments. Priority infrastructural investment must continue because they are the key ingredient of the country's economic recovery. The national development plan and, specifically, projects such as the Luas, the metro, road-building programmes, water and sewerage programmes and broadband must be maintained to continue the momentum for growth. Infrastructure is the one factor which sustains our tourism and trade industries and it encourages foreign investment. To continue to remain attractive and competitive we must continue investing.

The decisions that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance have to make are not nice and I am sure they would prefer not to have to make them, but we must remain pragmatic and continue forth in a constructive manner. Comparing this situation to the 1980s is unfair. There are now fundamental strengths in our economy due to the many years of solid growth, unlike the 1980s, which were characterised by zero growth for a prolonged period and bank interest rates of over 20%. Ireland today is a totally different country. We must not talk ourselves into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Doom and gloom could frighten off a number of inward investors, even the current metro bidders.

There is a saying that when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and this applies to the Government and the action it is taking. I welcome a number of the measures announced and in particular I welcome the Government's commitment to the national development plan. It is wise for the Minister for Finance to seek to prioritise capital infrastructural projects. On a personal note, I welcome the Taoiseach's comments on metro north yesterday.

I welcome the Government's stalling of decentralisation. I never believed that full-blown decentralisation was correct in economic terms. While I accept that the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is doing a fantastic job, there are other ways of promoting the rural economy.

The Mahon tribunal should be closed down now rather than in few years' time. The public has lost confidence in it and it has only sought to make fat-cat lawyers even fatter. The public has lost interest and we would save a lot of money by closing it down now.

With regard to the construction sector, the National Treasury Management Agency should be allowed to lend to banks on a strictly commercial basis as a way of promoting house building. Many Irish investors abroad should consider investing in this country, particularly as this is where they made all their money. Perhaps the Government should introduce measures to ensure that moneys will come back into the country. Similarly, I suggest that the worldwide shortage in food presents us with a major opportunity in terms of food exports. We should not be tying up good agricultural land with bio-fuel crops, particularly when they have a minimal impact on our energy supplies.

I wish to share time with Deputies Dinny McGinley, Terence Flanagan and Denis Naughten.

It is a pity that the Minister of State, Deputy McGuinness, has left the Chamber because I hoped he would come in here and give us a ten-minute talk on how he would help businesses. We all know that Enterprise Ireland and the enterprise boards do plenty of work, but they need more help. They need the rules to be changed and they need more cash to distribute to the people who need it. They cannot give enough to help businesses. While there are some incentives in place, they are not enough. That is what I wanted to hear from the Minister of State, Deputy McGuinness. I wanted him to outline the wonderful things he is planning to do, not what was done in the past. We know all about the past and how wonderful it was.

It was suggested earlier that Deputy Richard Bruton and other members of my party should listen to the Government in terms of how it conducts its business. The Government has decided to refocus after ten years in office. In yesterday's announcement, the Government told us about the new arrangements, as follows:

The measures agreed by Government are clearly focused on:

savings in administrative spending,

economising on the services we buy,

driving efficiency,

reducing the proliferation of agencies,

squeezing consultancy and PR spending,

streamlining the delivery of services,

re-prioritising certain capital spending going forward.

This is the new focus of a Government that has been in power for over ten years. The Minister of State, Deputy McGuinness, claims that the Government acts like a business, but the seven points listed are actions that all businesses engage in all the time, not just as of yesterday. That is how one runs a country, with all those priorities in place. One does not just start to do it in the middle of a recession. That is the way businesses are run. Deputy McGuinness has been a Minister of State for the past few months but it is a pity he does not have any influence in the Government because this is the way business should have been done before now.

Yesterday we were told that the Government had a big plan that would restore confidence in the country but it will do no such thing. The plan contained no concrete announcements and did not bring clarity to the potential cutbacks. It left everything in limbo. It referred to a 3% payroll reduction, as if it could be achieved just like that. It is not as simple as that. Such a reduction will result in reduced services and will affect the work of county councils and other bodies. It will result in cutbacks in services.

Yesterday, the Minister for Finance did not have the guts to announce the cuts and passed the job of relaying the bad news down the line. Details will come out every month for the next 18 months, through announcements by county councils, enterprise board, FÁS and various other bodies. We will have announcements by everybody except the Minister in this House, who will not take responsibility for cutbacks. The announcement yesterday has not restored confidence but has simply fudged the issues. People are still not sure what will happen. They will continue to wait and wonder what the Government will do in September or December in the budget. It has not restored confidence or given anybody reassurance. It has stalled the process again and we know what happened when the Government stalled on stamp duty — it created serious problems.

I wish to take issue with a comment made by the Minister of State, Deputy Billy Kelleher. He claimed, as did the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, that the Government has been wonderful in reducing the national debt. However, while it may have reduced the public debt, it most certainly did not reduce the private debt. Public debt has gone down but private debt has risen enormously. We are probably the most privately-indebted country in Europe, if not the world. The people of this country are carrying the Government and have been for a long time. They are paying for houses, 42% of the price of which went into the Government's coffers in tax. The Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, spoke about previous Governments causing his generation major problems because of the spiralling national debt. I wish to remind him that the Government has caused my generation major problems by saddling us with 30 or 40 years of a burden in terms of mortgages for houses that are not worth even half what we have paid for them, given that almost half of the price was tax. I ask the Deputy not to try to tell me that the Government has done the country a favour.

Part of the plan announced yesterday was supposed to be related to cost-savings. Part of our job as politicians is to point out where savings can be made, but yesterday's plan did not do that. There are a number of areas from which savings could be gleaned. In the past few months I managed to obtain a number of replies from the Government to parliamentary questions. I found out that consultancy costs in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 2007 were €10.5 million, the Department of Transport, €3.3 million and the Department of Social and Family Affairs, €10 million. The plan refers to cutting back on such costs but does not give any figures. To what level will such spending be cut back? We were also told that the Government will cut staff but if it does that, it may have to hire more consultants. Was this plan really thought out properly? I do not think so. The Government has been talking for a long time about e-procurement. It produced a report in 2000 telling us that it was going to introduce e-procurement which would save us €177 million per year. Seven times that figure for the past seven years is well over €1 billion. Why was this not done?

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform boasted about all the shared services we are going to have. We did not have them. It was recommended years ago that we should share services yet this Government spent €60 million or €70 million on putting a new financial services system in all 15 Departments when two or three shared would have done it.

I have a long list of things we could do but I will not go into them tonight. There are plenty of things we could do to help this country but we do not see any plans here to save or protect jobs or to give confidence. Hopefully, the Ministers might listen to my ideas in September when I return. We must have a proper plan, not a load of crap like that which we received yesterday because this is what it was.

Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam cúpla focal a rá faoi seo. No matter what side of the House we are on, we all agree at this stage that there is a very sudden downturn in the economic situation in this country. It took the Government some time to recognise that and to try to face up to it because the alarm bells had been ringing for some considerable time.

It is almost unbelievable that from June 2007 to June 2008, more than 55,000 people became unemployed in this country. This is probably a record number for one year. I do not think it ever happened before, certainly not since I or perhaps anyone else entered this House.

Inflation in this country is well above the European norm. The rate of 4% or 5% is three times the European norm and will make our production costs more expensive. We are losing jobs, mar atá a fhios ag an tAire, fiú hamháin sna Gaeltachtaí. The jobs were not lost to the world economy. They went to eastern Europe, north Africa and the Far East and that was a contributory factor.

As my colleague, Deputy English, noted, the national debt is down. However, every young man and woman in this country for the next two or three generations will be paying the huge personal debt incurred because the price of housing in the past ten years has increased by almost 400%. I could not believe it. I am talking about the price of a simple home in this country. As far as I know, it did not happen anywhere else in the world.

At the same time, we were building 90,000 housing units every year for a population of 4.5 million. The UK, which is our next door neighbour and has a population of 50 million or 60 million, was building 160,000 new houses per year. We are talking about 160,000 units for 60 million and 90,000 units for 4.5 million. This is unsustainable.

The Government allowed this to continue year after year simply because, as Deputy English said, it was getting the money hand over fist. It was very pleasant being in Government during the past ten years. If any problem arose, the money that was coming in was thrown out like snuff at a wake. No preparation was made for- fá choinne lá na coise tinne. An dtuigeann an tAire é sin? Is é an botún atá déanta ag an Rialtas ná dearmad a dhéanamh airgead a chur i dtaisce le haghaidh lá na coise tinne, agus de thoradh ar sin táimid san áit ina bhfuilimid.

What happened yesterday lacked courage. The Government was very vague and had no targets only ball park figures. The only definite decision I can find in it relates to overseas aid which will be cut by €45 million. This is a very cheap shot. Any Government, or indeed any fool, could come up with that. I do not like saying it but the poor Africans who depend on this sort of money do not have any vote and will not have any effect. The Minister should name one other definite decision there and I will back down but that is the only one I can find. It is a real cheap shot.

Maidir le mo chontae fhéin, tá ardú de 27% tagtha ar an dífhostaíocht le bliain anuas. Tá lúcháir orm go bhfuil an t-Aire anseo. Beidh sé in ann déanamh cinnte de nach gcuirtear isteach ar Údarás na Gaeltachta, atá ag déanamh oibre iontach tábhachtach. Tá súil agam go gcuirfí na hacmhainní ar fáil fá choinne an obair atá á dhéanamh ag an túdarás sna Gaeltachtaí. In respect of health services in Donegal, the day unit at Letterkenny General Hospital is being closed down and 20 beds will be closed down indefinitely. These are more knocks from the local HSE area for the general welfare of the people of Donegal. What about the Ballybofey-Stranorlar bypass and other infrastructural projects in the county? Will they suffer? What about all these schools on the waiting list? Tá Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair ag lorg halla spóirt agus tá muintir Gort a' Choirce agus an Bhun Beag ag lorg scoileanna úra. Tá cúpla scoil á lorg i mBealach Féich agus i Srath an Úrláir. What effect will these so-called cuts have on these projects for which we are waiting?

It is very easy being in Government when times are good but it is a different matter when they are difficult. The Government has presided over what has happened in the past ten years so it is the Government's responsibility to ensure this mess is cleared up as soon as possible without hammering the less well-off and the vulnerable sections of our society.

I agree with fellow Deputies on this side of the House that Fianna Fáil has blown the boom. Certainly, it has brought us to where we are now, namely, a recession. I agree that there are international factors which have contributed to this situation but the Government has made some really bad and silly decisions which resulted in millions upon millions of taxpayers' money being wasted.

As Deputy McGinley said yesterday, there is a lack of detail in the recovery package. There is no full breakdown of where the €440 million in savings for this year will come from or where the €1 billion in savings for next year will come from. There is no detail on the cutbacks that will be enforced in health and education and no guarantee has been given that front-line services will not suffer. The decision to halt decentralisation is certainly correct. It is a belated recognition of the waste of taxpayers' money on this project. I wonder why this did not happen a lot sooner.

The Government's so-called recovery package does not address the lack of competitiveness in this country. Last week, Deputy Richard Bruton produced a detailed plan entitled Recovery through Reform which contained many key action points on how to deal with the economic crisis facing the county. We need to cut down on avoidable waste and keep prices, particularly food prices, under control and inflation down. We need to change the way our finances are managed. There are many inadequacies and inefficiencies in the way the budget process is dealt with. We need to scrutinise expenditure more regularly than we do at the moment. Our public services need to be reformed and regulated far more.

This Government certainly wasted millions and millions of taxpayers' money. A total of €52 million was wasted on electronic voting machines which will not be used in next year's local and European elections. Yet thousands upon thousands of euro are being squandered each year to keep these machines, which will probably never be used, in storage.

Our Fianna Fáil-led Government has created 250 quangos over the past number of years. The HSE is a bureaucratic nightmare. Deputies who write to the HSE and the Department of Health and Children find that it takes a very time to get a response if they do get one. The downturn in the construction industry over the past number of years has had a devastating effect on this country. A total of 25,000 construction workers are out of work. There has been a record increase in unemployment this year and this is expected to exceed 6% by the end of the year. Unfortunately, 19,000 more people have joined the dole queues between May and June of this year.

There is no detail about reforming the housing market and providing for the thousands of people on social and affordable housing lists who have very little chance of getting a home. If reform had taken place regarding stamp duty in the housing market earlier last year, it might have improved matters for young people. The NDP target for 2007-13 is 17,000 affordable homes but it is hard to see that being delivered. As we face a downturn, the Minister for Finance and the Government have insisted that the NDP projects should be prioritised by undergoing a cost-benefit analysis. It should apply to all projects over €30 million. Unfortunately that is not happening in the case of the Dublin Airport Authority, which avoided doing such a cost-benefit analysis for the new runway, terminal and Pier D projects. Perhaps the Minister can revisit this and prioritise the projects in the NDP. In this way we can see the priorities for the years ahead, particularly at a time when the money has dried up.

We could all speak for 20 minutes on this subject and highlight savings. It galled me to hear the Minister for Social and Family Affairs refer to her savings plan. Some €25 million will be saved in anti-fraud initiatives. Why were these not done over the past 11 years?

The fact we are paying child care costs in Warsaw, Tallinn and Riga has been highlighted by my colleagues. This is because we do not have our act together to bring in legislation in respect of the early child care supplement. The Minister did not refer to that during her contribution. It was brushed under the carpet. Some €1,100 per year is spent on every child under the age of six in Warsaw, Tallinn and Riga or other member states when the parent resides in Ireland. I have no difficulty with every child resident in this country, no matter what his or her background, receiving that payment but I cannot see the justification for the current situation. The Government continues to ignore it, while we are subventing the payment of child care in other EU countries. The Minister made no reference to that.

The Minister referred to €25 million of extra savings in anti-fraud initiatives yet in respect of child benefit, some €36 million per year in fraud is being detected by the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Of all the areas, child benefit should be easy to resolve because we should know whether a child was born in this country and registered. Some €30 million of that €36 million refers to Irish born children. Another €5.4 million concerns children, many of whom do not exist in other countries, where child benefit is being paid by the Irish taxpayer. Nevertheless, the Minister is only talking about savings of €25 million across the board.

Another galling area is justice. At the moment, in respect of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Social and Family Affairs, social welfare and accommodation for asylum seekers is costing the taxpayer €521.25 per asylum seeker per week. It is taking up to eight years to process an application. It is not fair on those who genuinely seek asylum. It is not fair on the Irish taxpayer who must fund it. It would make more sense for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to use its consultancy money to bring in experts who can process these applications, ensuring people are dealt with fairly and quickly so that they get a decision rather than spending eight years wasting away in asylum accommodation.

Regarding the quality of the asylum accommodation, some €83 million was spent on asylum accommodation last year. In one facility, the public health nurse reported that the accommodation was so cramped that there was not room for babies to learn to crawl or toddlers to learn to walk. That is not value for money but it is occurring up and down the country.

The level of vacancies in the immigration services is one in five. We do not have the staff resources to process applications. It would make more sense to fill these vacancies, process the applications, give refugee status to those entitled to it and send home those who are not entitled to it rather than the way we are funding it at present.

Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt sa dhíospóireacht seo. Ar ndóigh, tá go leor le phlé agus tá go leor moltaí le déanamh ag an bhFreasúra, cuid acu a bhfuil bunús leo agus cuid eile atá bunaithe ar míthuiscintí maidir leis na fíricí. Tá mé cinnte, má phléimid na fíricí, go mbeidh an bhFreasúra sách mór le hadhmháil nach bhfuil cuid de na rudaí atá ráite acu cruinn.

Tá dualgas ar an Rialtas déanamh cinnte go gcoinneofar srian ar chaiteachas ag am go bhfuil cúlú eacnamaíochta domhanda agus dúshlán nua ann. Á dhéanamh sin, caithfear a chinntiú go ndéanfar cosaint orthu siúd is mó atá faoi bhrú sa phobal. Maidir le mo Roinn féin, tá na sábháiltí ar fad bainteach le cursaí riaracháin agus pá na Roinne agus na háisíneachtaí atá ag obair faoin Roinn. Níl aon athrú ar an méid airgid atá ar fáil le haghaidh na cláir éagsúla atá á reachtáil ag an Roinn. Tá sé seo amhlaidh mar go bhfuil tábhacht faoi leith ag baint le cláir na Roinne atá ag plé le cuid de na pobail is leochailí sa tír agus atá ag cur seirbhísí riachtanacha ar fáil.

Ní shin le rá, áfach, nach mbeidh mé, agus nach bhfuil mé, agus nach bhfuil mo Roinn, ag scrúdú an caiteachas iomlán atá á dhéanamh ag an Roinn féachaint leis an tairbhe is fearr a bhaint as agus freisin féachaint le déanamh cinnte go bhfuil an t-airgead atá á chaitheamh ag an Roinn ag dul chuig na daoine ar an talamh agus go bhfuil a laghad agus is féidir á chaitheamh ar chúrsaí riaracháin nó oraibh súid atá ag riaradh na gcláracha éagsúla. Le bliain nó dhó anuas tá comhtháthú déanta idir an clár Leader agus na comhlachtaí páirtnéireachta. Tá an obair sin curtha i gcrích anois. Céim sa treo ceart é seo. Chomh maith leis sin, ar ndóigh, cuireadh curamaí Bhord na Leabhar Gaeilge faoi chúram Fhoras na Gaeilge agus ar ndóigh Dé hAoine seo caite rinneadh cinneadh gur faoin bhforas a bhéas riaradh an tionscnaimh Colmcille. Fógraíodh an chúig phost do Ghaoth Dobhair freisin.

An mbeidh siad ag dul ar aghaidh mar sin?

Beidh go deimhin. Ná bíodh imní ort faoi sin.

Tá, áfach, gá le hathscrudú a dhéanamh ar gach líne den chaiteachas atá á dhéanamh ag an Roinn, féachaint go bhfuil an tairbhe is fearr á bhaint as. Cheana féin, tá scrúdú géar á dhéanamh ar chuid de scéimeanna na Roinne agus beidh mé ag teacht ar aghaidh le moltaí éagsúla á dhéanfaidh cinnte go bhfuil gach scéim atá ag an Roinn ag freagairt do na riachtanais nua atá ann i láthair na huaire.

Ar an mhór-scála, taispeánann cinneadh an Rialtais i leith mo Roinne, an tábhacht a fheiceann an Rialtas leis an obair atá ar bun ag an Roinn maidir le mí-bhuntáiste, ceantair tuaithe, Gaeltacht, oileáin agus an Ghaeilge, i measc nithe eile.

In reviewing all of the policy options of the different Departments, we can ensure that all our programmes are focused towards delivery to our citizens. It is incumbent on us, particularly at this time, to ensure that a minimum amount of money is spent on administration and intermediaries and that all schemes are the best schemes for delivering services to people on the ground. In recent years, my Department has been active in a number of ways in cutting down on duplication and ensuring better services. Amongst the decisions taken was to transfer responsibility for administration and decision-making in respect of the dormant account funds back into the Department.

The Minister could teach his Cabinet colleagues a few things. He is doing a good job.

The Minister has less than half a minute left. Deputies should let him continue.

We are complimenting him.

He will give way for that.

The cohesion process, by which the number of partnerships, community partnerships and Leader companies has been reduced dramatically, from 95 to 55, was part of an ongoing process in my Department to examine structures to ensure efficient delivery.

Regarding the Irish language, Bord na Leabhar Gaeilge, which had existed for many years, has been subsumed into the work of Foras na Gaeilge, as has the administration of the Colmcille initiative which was decided by myself and Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr. Campbell, last Friday. With the Minister of State, Deputy John Curran, and the officials in my Department I have been engaged in an exercise to examine every programme and every line of expenditure in the Department to ensure they are focused in the best way.

Despite the challenging times, major new opportunities can be exploited, particularly this year with the commencement of the largest ever rural development programme. I look forward to the building of a strong diversified economy in rural Ireland through this programme which is due to come into operation later this year. I fully recognise the challenges faced by people at this time, particularly by individuals who have lost their jobs. My heart goes out to them because I worked for a long time in employment creation. However, I am equally convinced that if we have courage, vision and confidence, we can overcome these challenges, ensure the resumption of economic growth and at the same time protect the weakest in society.

Debate adjourned.