Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 3 Feb 2009

Vol. 673 No. 2

Expenditure Control and Economic Strategy: Statements.

Ní raibh dúshlán eacnamaíochta riamh roimh Éirinn mar atá sa lá atá inniu ann. Tá cúlú domhanda oll-mhór ann faoi láthair, cúlú eacnamaíochta atá chomh dona le haon cheann a chonaic an tír seo fós.

Socróidh na cinntí atáimid ag déanamh anois an dtréigfimid an dul chun cinn atá déanta againn go náisiúnta nó an dtabharfaimid saol eacnamaíochta níos fearr dúinn féin agus na glúinte atá ag teacht fós. Ní raibh an oiread tábhachta riamh ag baint leis na roghanna cearta a dhéanamh maidir le polasaí eacnamaíochta.

Just before Christmas, the Government published its strategy, Building Ireland's Smart Economy: A Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal. Its primary objective was to outline a pathway forward for the Irish economy which acknowledged the severe short-term challenge, while focusing on how we could return to sustainable growth in the medium term. At that time, the Government committed to engage intensively with the social partners on how we could develop and implement that framework, beginning with the need to devise a credible timeframe in which to close the gap in the public finances. We decided to work together, with a specific focus on agreeing an approach to managing those challenges we now face.

Those challenges are immense. As we pointed out last week, we are experiencing the most profound global economic crisis in 70 years. In addition to the effects of an international financial and banking crisis and a worldwide recession, the economy is suffering from the aftermath of a large housing and construction boom and a loss of cost competitiveness after a period of sustained growth. This is being exacerbated by the decline in the value of sterling relative to the euro, which is placing extreme pressure on Ireland's base of exporting companies.

Intensive discussions with the social partners on these challenges resulted in the agreement last week of a framework for a pact for stabilisation, social solidarity and economic renewal. In this framework, the Government and social partners agreed that we would only achieve the prosperous future that the people deserve if, during these extremely difficult times, we take urgent and radical action to restore stability to the public finances, to maximise short-term economic activity and employment and to improve competitiveness. This approach is rooted in the belief that stable public finances are essential for the future of our economy. Every action that we take in the period ahead must be motivated by that objective. Without stable finances, there will be no economic recovery.

I hesitate to interrupt, and I apologise, but what the Taoiseach is saying is very important. Is the normal convention of the circulation of a script intended this afternoon? It would facilitate a meaningful response from this side of the House.

It is on the way. The framework agreed with the social partners endorses the fiscal plan submitted to the European Commission and commits to working together to eliminate the current budget deficit by 2013.

The difficulty in achieving this cannot be overstated. The social partners have agreed that a credible start requires an immediate adjustment of the order of €2 billion. This must be followed with adjustments of €4 billion in 2010 and again in 2011, €3.5 billion in 2012 and €3 billion in 2013. Today, we are announcing the first steps towards achieving those targets, and coming to the House at the first available opportunity to do so.

During intensive negotiations with the social partners over the past week, progress was made on a range of issues under the framework. In the context of the discussions, the Government tabled proposals to achieve a full-year saving of €1.4 billion through the introduction of a public service pension levy. The unions decided that they were not in a position to agree to that proposal. While this is regrettable, it does not mean that the engagement with the social partners has failed. The overall framework has been agreed. The need for an immediate adjustment of €2 billion on a credible basis was also agreed. The need for a significant contribution to be made by the public service pay bill in achieving that adjustment is also agreed, as are links to the Government's strategy for economic renewal, published in December. I am grateful to all those involved in the discussions for the quality and the sincerity of the engagement that took place over the past four weeks.

The Government considered the position at its meeting this morning and took the necessary decisions in respect of the fiscal adjustments required, as I indicated we would in the absence of a final agreement. Our decisions take account of the views expressed during the discussions.

These adjustments will deliver in excess of €2 billion on a full year basis and represent a huge political, economic and social challenge for every person in the country and will be achieved through the following full year expenditure savings: €1.4 billion on the public service pay bill, the great bulk of which will be achieved through a new pension-related payment to be made by all public servants, including employees of local authorities, with a small element of the total to be secured through reductions in travelling and subsistence rates and other savings; the increases provided for under the review and transitional agreement with effect from 1 September 2009 and 1 June 2010 will not now be paid on those dates — this will deliver savings of €1 billion in 2010; €95 million through a reduction in overseas development aid; €80 million through a general reduction of the order of 8% in all professional fees, for example, in the legal and medical areas; €75 million through a reduction in the early child care supplement, from €1,100 to €1,000 per year, and a restriction to children under five; €140 million through general administrative efficiencies and savings, including those arising from the non-payment of the scheduled 1 September pay increase arising under the Towards 2016 agreement, through further savings in advertising, public relations and consultancies, and through savings on Defence equipment; and €300 million through an across-the-board reduction in the 2009 budget Exchequer capital allocations.

We are in a position to reduce the €8.2 billion capital allocation by €300 million because of the fact that we are achieving far more output for less money than was the case in the past, due to the fact that competitive tenders for capital projects are coming in at prices 20% less than before. We, therefore, expect to maintain the level of output on capital projects while achieving this saving.

I wish to make the House aware that legislation will be urgently brought forward to give effect to the pension-related measures which I have outlined. This will include legislative provisions to realise the payroll saving in respect of local authority staff for the benefit of the Exchequer, through a reduction in the Exchequer allocation to the local government fund. Implementation will be discussed in the normal way with the public service committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

The Government has been guided by the principles of fairness and prudence in making these tough decisions. The new pension-related payment will be graduated to reflect different income levels in the public service, while our other expenditure adjustments seek to ensure all sectors of society contribute on an equitable basis.

In addition, we have already introduced highly progressive tax-raising measures in the 2009 budget which will raise an estimated €2 billion or 1% of GDP additional taxation. The income levy targets higher incomes while protecting those on lower incomes, social welfare or in receipt of redundancy payments. A total of 20% of the money raised will come from those with incomes over €250,000. In addition, those with second homes will pay tax on those homes for the first time.

Today's measures build on our decisions last July to secure an initial round of savings which delivered €440 million in 2008 and €1,000 million in 2009. These included a 3% payroll reduction by the end of 2009 and reductions in spending on consultancies, advertising and other measures. We introduced further administrative efficiencies and savings in the October budget including a proposed reduction in the number of State agencies.

We will continue to target expenditure and tax measures on those most able to bear the cost, and we will support those who are most vulnerable in our society consistent with a responsible budgetary policy and an assessment of what is sustainable in the current circumstances.

We are conscious of the many challenges people face but it is in everyone's interest that we deal responsibly with the situation and safeguard the country's future prospects. In doing so, we will utilise the social partnership process which is about engagement and the sharing of analysis as well as the forging of specific agreements. The social partnership discussions over the past few weeks have deepened our shared understanding of the challenges facing the economy and the appropriate direction for a response.

The Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and myself have devoted a large amount of time since the beginning of January to these discussions, in formal meetings and through many informal contacts and discussions, including over several nights and weekends. No greater priority could have been given to these efforts and I believe that the social partners themselves would acknowledge this fact.

The inability of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to agree to the Government's proposals does not mean that the partnership process has failed. The overall framework remains in place and will be built on. Congress has indicated that it is available to continue discussions on the implementation of the overall framework, as have the other social partners. The Government will continue to engage with it over coming weeks as it implements the strategy agreed in the framework document regarding support for enterprises, refining price regulation in the energy sector, stabilising the financial and banking sector to meet the needs of the Irish economy and society, implementing a pro-active labour market approach appropriate to Irish conditions to support vulnerable employment and those who lose their jobs, developing a new national pensions framework, and completing the reform and economic renewal agenda to which we are committed.

The decisions taken by Government lay the foundations for the next phase of our development. Despite the budgetary constraints, the Government is maintaining proportionately the largest capital investment programme in Europe at over 5% of GNP. We will continue to commit considerable expenditure on roads, schools and housing. We are investing significantly in important infrastructure and research and development to drive competitiveness, growth and jobs in the future. We have proportionately the largest investment programme in the EU. This is an investment in the future as well as being our own stimulus package for the Irish economy. We have also decided today to re-prioritise €150 million of capital expenditure to employment-intensive activities in the areas of school building and energy efficiency improvements.

The biggest tragedy of the current difficult circumstances is the loss of jobs. Protecting jobs to the best extent possible and supporting those who become unemployed is of fundamental importance. The Government will continue to deploy every means at our disposal to help minimise the impact of the credit crisis and the severe downturn in global markets on employment prospects in this country.

The Government is also working to significantly improve access for unemployed persons to job search, training and education, and employment programmes. Relevant Ministers and their Departments are working together to maximise opportunities for up-skilling and re-skilling so that people will be better placed to avail of new job opportunities where they become available.

Immediate steps are being taken to adapt to the unprecedented pace and scale of change including increasing the monthly capacity of job search from 6,500 to 12,250 persons to assist individuals through the provision of guidance on employment, education and training opportunities and development; planned creation of an additional 51,000 training places for newly unemployed people; design and delivery of further courses in sustainable energy and green technology techniques and work towards providing redundant apprentices with the opportunity to complete their apprenticeships. The Government will bring forward further measures in these areas which ensure that we get the maximum impact from resources available and that innovative approaches are used to maintain people in employment as well as assisting those who lose their jobs.

As I stated before, this further saving of €2 billion is the next step in stabilising our public finances. We will continue to work with the social partners on the basis of the framework we agreed last Friday to address the short-term issues, in order to maximise economic activity and employment in the short term and helping those who lose their jobs. The Government is committed to working with all stakeholders to confront the challenges this country faces in a global recession. We will provide the necessary hope and direction and we will take the difficult decisions now in the interests of the country and our people.

I am conscious that as we rise to speak on this motion we expect Exchequer figures to be published shortly which will not bring good news for the Government or for our people. Tomorrow, we expect unemployment figures to be the worst ever and we also expect a probable downgrading of the financial standing of this country internationally.

As Leader of the Opposition, part of my job is to oppose the Government and the way it does business. We have gone beyond the stage of merely point scoring. We are in a much too serious position to involve oneself principally in the business of cross-party fire. However, a number of things need to be said. It is clear the country has yearned for leadership and a sense of direction and coherence for some time. The morale of the people is at an historic low.

Everyone in this House, which represents all sectors and people of the Twenty-six Counties, has spent the past two months listening to a soaring increase in the number of horrific stories being told in offices throughout the land including the fact that 10,000 people per month are losing their jobs, the real shock of a person becoming unemployed with no prospect of a future, people who worked for up to 40 years seeing the pension rights they thought they had accumulated disappear and those who face repossession of their homes and the social stress and consequences of this fact.

In all this time, the Government, led by the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, effectively turned its face away from its people. It put the people on hold and real life into suspended animation by continuously stating it would come up with a grand plan and have a clear strategy for the future. Patience was shown while pain was suffered. For the past two months, the Government outsourced decision making to social partners. It is a most disgraceful abrogation of a leader's responsibility in the politics of this country.

Trust was vested in the Taoiseach and today he has stood before us and proved beyond doubt that the way business has been conducted in recent months means he did not merit the placing of this trust in him. His speech marks a unique moment in Dáil history. It is the first time that a Dáil has had placed before it a plan which has already been rejected by the social partners who played such an important part in the development and sustaining of our business during the past 30 years.

Deputy Kenny did not want them last week.

Deputy Kenny cannot have it both ways.

Deputy Kenny without interruption.

Yes, and for the past two months everyone in the Government wanted the cloak of social partnership wrapped around him or her. At every public meeting, members of the Government stated that social partnership is the way forward. Last night, the Government's philosophy was tried and tested and obviously it did not bring the results the Government wanted.

As a result of two months of wasted time, the Government's vessel is holed below the waterline. I cannot understand how it is reported that at 3 a.m. the Government's proposals were put on the table before a large number of civil servants and union officials. During the previous two months €3 billion was added to the national debt because of the Government's prevarication and indecisiveness. Worse than wasted time is the fact that people who placed their trust in Government that a coherence would emerge have been betrayed.

This party has long recognised the magnitude of this economic crisis. It is not today or yesterday that we were pointing out the wrong direction in which the Government was moving and the need to secure big savings in public spending that are fair and balanced. As the crisis in the economy and the public finances escalated over the past 18 months, there has been a clear vacuum of leadership at the heart of the Government. Instead of setting out a clear recovery strategy and seeking to win popular support from those who count in the country, the Government, from its analysis and proposals, pursued a strategy of denial, delay, obfuscation and what eventually amounted to secret negotiations in respect of which all the Members elected to this House by the people were left in the dark.

The people and their representatives were, at all times, excluded from this process. Proposals put forward in this Chamber for cuts in spending, pay moderation and public service reform were dismissed and cast aside arrogantly by the Government. Instead of accepting them, Fianna Fáil turned again to its once-tight network of power brokers and vested interests, as it has always done, to give its inept Government some political cover and to make some attempt at credibility. This approach to government has always relied on Fianna Fáil's ability, particularly over the past 11 years, to dish out the goodies to well-connected interest groups. As the bubble economy implodes, there is no more room for political patronage from the Fianna Fáil Party.

The public coffers have been emptied, the developers and the banks are bust, and trade unions have little to offer. The game is up, the Taoiseach's strategy has failed and his network of power and patronage is disintegrating around him. Now, we expect, public servants, small businesses and PAYE workers will be asked to bear serious pain to help solve problems created by catastrophic failures on the part of politicians, bankers, business leaders and regulators.

Legitimate recovery cannot be just about dishing out pain to public servants without making decisions that begin with what has been described as a revolution in the way public services are managed from the top down. The failure to achieve this demonstrates the real failure of the Government to address the governance of the country, the scale of that governance and the way it has proceeded in the wrong direction over recent years.

For our part, we have stated on many occasions that everything about the Taoiseach's style of leadership and government must change if we are to escape this meltdown. The only way to recovery is through serious reform. The Taoiseach says he is moving ahead to make the decisions outlined in his statement today. Where are the decisions to break up the cosy relationships between Ministers and senior civil servants that conceal waste in Departments, evade scrutiny, duck responsibility or reward gross failures with golden handshakes? Where is the strategy to deal with these?

Where is the strategy to clear out from our financial and regulatory systems the people who have so damaged trust in our banks? Without trust one cannot have confidence and if one does not have confidence our economy cannot develop and prosper.

We require a strategy to end the practice of Ministers and Taoisigh appointing friends to State boards and we must open up the appointments to scrutiny by the Oireachtas. We should implement the recommendations of the Competition Authority to break up the price gouging practices in the professions and the retail, energy and transport sectors. The Taoiseach has referred, in part, to some of these. We must break the stranglehold that public and private sector monopolists — Eircom, the ESB, CIE and Aer Rianta — have over the development of key infrastructure and networks vital to the country's development and put the consumer, individual and small business first.

We must bypass the vested interests that perpetuate a deeply unfair and grossly inefficient health system and transfer control of the considerable resources being spent on health care from HSE bureaucrats to patients and their doctors. It is necessary to focus on the clear opportunities and the potential that exists for job creation and the restoration of confidence.

What we are seeing now is the unworkable — rejected in advance by those whom the Government said were pivotal to its success — presented as a solution to problems that have become worse on a daily basis while this non-plan was in fermentation. This is the Taoiseach's way. He said he would do things his way. His way involves denial, indecision and delay and his way refused any notion of bipartisanship. On a number of occasions we offered opportunities for discussion on a way forward but they were all spurned and rejected by Fianna Fáil. Even as late as today, the philosophy and direction being followed by the Taoiseach has failed. Tragically, it is the ordinary taxpayer, home-maker and small businessperson who will pay for that failure.

Against the scale of change that is needed to bring about economic recovery, this proposal is a €2 billion sticking plaster designed to cover a gaping wound that has not been treated at its roots. It brings us all to a point where our country faces a financial crisis of an unprecedented scale. From that perspective, sadly the Taoiseach has evolved into a politician who will not listen to any advice or proposal. He is a leader without credibility and a Taoiseach without a mandate. That is because his party has been in Government for too long and has lost touch with what is happening on the streets.

The days of the Taoiseach's Government may well be numbered and the real cause of this is that he has been in power too long and is thus too removed from what is happening. When the people next get the opportunity, they will make a different choice.

For our part——


——let me again offer support to the Taoiseach, the head of the Government pro tempore. I do so in the sense that if he is prepared to listen to the proposals that this party forwards in terms of tax, job creation, public service reform and cutting the public pay bill, it will not be found wanting. The direction, method and implementation of the Taoiseach’s plan has been seen to be a failure, as is evident from its rejection last night.


Hear, hear.

There was no fire——

I call Deputy Gilmore.

——over there today.

There was no standing ovation today.

The Fianna Fáil tyre has gone flat.

Deputy Gilmore, without interruption.

A Deputy

There was no standing ovation today.

Please, there can be no sideshows. I call Deputy Gilmore.

With the exception, perhaps, of budget speeches, no statement from a Taoiseach has been as much awaited as that of the Taoiseach today. For some time, the country has been waiting to hear what the Government will do to deal with the economic crisis and the state of our public finances. We were expecting the major statement last week but we did not receive it because the Taoiseach said he was going to do it his way and that he was engaged in talks with the social partners. We now know the talks with the social partners came to an end late last night or early this morning. Everybody has waited for the Taoiseach to make the statement to the House about the momentous decisions the Government has made to deal with the state of the public finances.

People listening today who are concerned about their jobs or businesses or who, perhaps, have lost jobs and want to know when they are likely to get one back, or who are considering all the speculation of recent weeks and asking what it means for their family budgets, have got no answers. There is nothing in what the Taoiseach has said today that tells people how the proposal will impact upon their jobs, businesses or income.

What the Taoiseach has given us is what we already know. We know the Government has set out to reduce public expenditure by €2 billion this year. We know also, from the document the Government has submitted to the European Commission, that it is not the full story and that there must also be a reduction of €4 billion next year and the following year, €3.5 billion the year thereafter and €3 billion the year after that again. People want a sense of where the proposal is to lead and what it means in practical terms. We still do not know. In effect, the Taoiseach has told the House and the country nothing that we did not know already. What we do know or what we have seen is a certain amount of speculation and leaks in the newspapers about what this means in practice. The big information — it is not news today — is the idea of the pension levy. Figures have been speculated about over the course of the past 12 hours, in particular since the breakdown of the social partnership talks that set out what the Taoiseach calls the "graduated" way in which the pension levy will be applied.

If those reports are correct then let me try to translate what all of that means for a public servant such as a garda, a nurse or a teacher on an income of €45,000 per year. They are already paying approximately €5,000 of that income, between PRSI, pension contributions, health levies and income levies. What that proposal will mean — not that the Taoiseach has given us the figures, but if the figures that are reported in the media are correct — is that such a person will pay an additional €3,375. That is approximately €8,500 from the pay of a person in the workforce for approximately ten years before she pays tax, child care or her mortgage.

What she wants to know, and what the Taoiseach has not provided an answer for, is for what is she paying that. She did not create the problem. She did not borrow money from a bank to buy shares in the same bank. She is not somebody who drinks champagne in the hospitality suites of racecourses. She is just somebody who has gone out to work every morning, worked hard, tried to make a living, rear a family and provide for herself. All she wants is a modest standard of living. She understands that the country has economic problems at the moment and that there is a need for everybody to put their shoulder to the wheel. She is prepared to do that as well but she wants her Government to level with her and the Taoiseach has not done that today.

The first problem is that he has not spelled out the details of what he is going to do. Second, he has dealt only with the issue for the current year. We are talking about €2 billion over the course of 2009. What will the Taoiseach do in 2010? If he has to double that amount in 2010, as his own figures state he will do, where will he get the money then? How much more of a pension levy will he apply? What extra taxes will he impose? What services will he cut? If the only place the Taoiseach is looking to address this crisis is on the expenditure side then he is leading the country into a downward spiral that will only make the problem worse.

That is where the Labour Party has its biggest fundamental difference with the way the Government is dealing with the country's economic problems and with the public finances at the moment, namely, that it is fixated solely with the public expenditure side and that it is not addressing the need to generate employment, get the economy moving, get people spending and get revenues buoyant again. The Government has created all of the uncertainty because of the delay and the fact that it is constantly playing catch up with the economy. It has been playing catch up since the beginning of 2008. The turn in the economy did not happen overnight; it has been coming since the beginning of 2008. The Government failed to deal with it. As recently as just before the summer the Government was still in denial about what was happening with the economy. The best it could do in July was to announce that it would cut €440 million from public expenditure.

The Taoiseach denied in this House on foot of a Labour Party motion that there was a real problem in the economy and he hared off for the summer recess, a period when 40,000 jobs were lost, and then he came back with the big idea that he would bring the budget forward to October. He brought the budget forward to October but he did not get it right. We then had the banking crisis, following which the Government introduced one measure in September, and there have been five different attempts to deal with the problem in the Irish banks since then. We still do not have a full recapitalisation programme for the Irish banks.

In the meantime the economy is in a state of suspension. People are not spending. They do not know what the future will be for their businesses. They do not know whether they will get credit from banks or what banks will be there to provide them with credit or what kind of supports will be provided. They know there is a problem with the public finances and they look to Government to address that. What has the Government done in recent months? It has dithered. The social partnership talks did not start until after Christmas when it was manifestly clear that things were going the wrong way in terms of the pay agreement that was reached in September. It was certainly clear after the budget that there would be a requirement for talks with the social partners. The Government did not start the talks until after Christmas. It ran it up until the eleventh hour before it put its proposals on the table and it imposed a deadline. What did the Government expect? Of course, it was not going to get agreement on them.

The Taoiseach is missing an opportunity. The people are ready to put their shoulder to the wheel to get our economy out of its current difficulty. People understand the problems we face and they want to do something about it but they expect leadership from the Taoiseach and the Government. Time and again the Taoiseach has disappointed in failing to provide that leadership. The country expected the Taoiseach to come to the House to announce details of the Government's decision. The country expected him to have a roadmap, not just about how he would deal with the public finances for 2009 but about how he would get us to the point in 2013 when the public finances would be back in order. People expected to hear about how we were going to move the economy from a situation where we are losing jobs at an enormous rate to one where we could start creating jobs again.

People expected to get an idea about how it would affect their lives if they lost a job and what measures would be in place. There is no point in saying to them that €150 million is available for training. They need to know what losing their job would mean in practical terms; what would happen, where the courses are and the means by which they can re-train, upskill and get back into the workforce again. We are not getting that information from the Taoiseach. He has missed an opportunity. He has a country that is willing to play its part. People in all walks of life — the private sector, the public sector, people everywhere — are willing to play their part in getting the country moving again. The problem is the Taoiseach is not providing the leadership or the roadmap and he has not done it today. In fact, all he has done is added to the uncertainty, confusion and difficulty.

I hope we will have an opportunity when we come to Leaders' Questions to tease out some of the things the Taoiseach listed in today's statement. He certainly has not contributed to solving the country's problems today. His statement is a big disappointment that will have added more to the uncertainty and climate of despair in many cases that people are now beginning to feel, rather than what it needed to do, which was to give people a lift, and a sense that the Taoiseach has a handle on the problem and that he was going to lead us out of it.

We are addressing the economic crisis once again in extraordinary circumstances. The breakdown of the talks with the trade union movement leadership in the early hours of this morning raises major questions about the intent of the Government in those negotiations and about its competence as negotiators. Why was the detail of the public service pension levy only tabled at the last minute? Was this a game of brinkmanship that the Government lost? Did it take the ICTU for granted or was it simply ham-fisted negotiation tactics? The result is an even greater mess that further undermines confidence in the economy and in the ability of the Government to plan and implement a strategy for recovery.

The Taoiseach's decision to start discussions on the pension levy at the eleventh hour would seem to indicate he was never fully committed to getting across-the-board agreement from the unions and employers. In contrast to the unions it was very noticeable that the representatives of IBEC were pleased with what has taken place and seemed to have few complaints about what they had seen of Government plans. This was an ominous sign for ordinary workers across this jurisdiction. Sinn Féin is not opposed to taxation and other measures to redress the country's ailing public finances. However, we agree with the trade union movement that low to middle income earners cannot carry the substantial burden. Proposing a 3.8% pension levy on those on the lowest public service incomes while the chief executive officer of the ESB continues to earn an annual salary in excess of €500,000 and senior bank executives, who have undermined the country's banking system and exposed Irish taxpayers to astronomical liabilities, keep their jobs and a massive income is simply outrageous. The Taoiseach has told us of "immediate legislation" to put this new levy in place. Where is the immediate legislation to bring the swindling bank bosses to book? Where is the immediate legislation to give relief to mortgage holders facing untenable debt and the repossession of their homes?

Sinn Féin believes the primary goal of the Government's economic recovery plan must be to safeguard the livelihoods of low and middle income workers and to deliver a job creation strategy; that cannot be emphasised enough to this Government. Sinn Féin last October in its pre-budget submission found almost €2 billion in savings for the Exchequer yet the Government is still flailing in the dark. Confidence is crucial in steering us out of economic turmoil but thanks to the Government's lack of strategy, confidence is ebbing away at both national and international level. We have to remember that the Taoiseach was Minister for Finance at the time private housing construction rose at an untenable rate. It was on the Taoiseach's watch that much of the irresponsible and reckless lending practices of the banks took place and it is now the Taoiseach who is responsible for the past six months which has seen the Government make one U-turn after another in its response to this economic crisis.

What makes the Government's proposals even more difficult to swallow is that while money is being cut out of incomes of Irish workers, it continues to pour billions into the banks with almost no strings attached. We have also seen the nationalisation of Anglo-Irish, which was simply a bail out of its property developer friends and which leaves the taxpayer to pick up the bill for an ever increasing toxic debt.

We recognise our public finance deficit. Sinn Féin has identified a key source of wastage of public spending in the private companies that are operating on the back of our public services. Yesterday the Minister for Health and Children once again opened another private for-profit health clinic in County Kildare, which was substantively funded from taxpayers' money.

It was not taxpayers' money.

She has had the brass neck to call on everyone to share the pain of public spending cutbacks to finance her friends in the private health care industry. Shame on the intent she has driven with the support of Fianna Fáil throughout all of these years. This hypocritical approach to our public deficit has led to the collapse of the partnership talks and has resulted in the Government imposing cutbacks in health, education, transport and other vital public services.

Given the Government's almost complete obsession with cutting back on public spending, not a single thing has been done for workers or small and medium sized firms in this jurisdiction over the past six months. In the past four weeks we have seen Dell announce 1,900 job losses with a further related 4,000 jobs to go. A total of 400 workers have been made redundant in Dundalk and, only last Monday, it was announced that 750 workers in Ulster Bank will join the growing queues at our social welfare offices. We have a crisis in Waterford Crystal that the Government has done almost nothing about and our SMEs are still being strangled by the credit drought due to the Government's failure to put pressure on the banks.

A crisis is still developing with our mortgages and, despite calls from economists and examples of a number of other countries launching initiatives to help struggling mortgage holders, the Government has yet to come up with a single concrete proposal. We are willing to provide the Government with ideas to tackle the deficit in our finances if it is willing to listen. Only last week I outlined a number of possible steps in the House but to date I have been given no response by the Minister because the Government's attitude to this Dáil and the voices in this Chamber from the Opposition benches is, "We will go through the motions. We will not listen and we will not heed. We will do it our way", as the Taoiseach indicated last week. He will do it his way and nobody else's opinion matters.

However, it is not simply a question of balancing the books; it also about producing proposals to get the economy moving again and, thereby, raise additional revenue. There is a need for a job creation strategy, as I have repeated, and there is a need for the State to take a real lead role in our telecommunications infrastructure and our gas resources, given the failure of private companies to enhance our economy in those areas one whit. The real front line in this economic crisis is not here in the Dáil or in the partnership talks. It is in the workplace where workers face cuts in income, if they are lucky, and redundancy, if they are not.

I take this opportunity to express solidarity with the workers occupying Waterford Crystal and to support their demand that this flagship Irish industry be saved. Government intervention is needed and deserved. This is one immediate example of the type of leadership the Government is expected to give. People are watching and they will, unfortunately, continue to watch while the Taoiseach trundles out the type of medicine he has offered this afternoon as his response to the current crisis. Get real and look at the way this can be addressed. A job creation strategy is the only way to do it.