Ceisteanna — Questions.

Programme for Government.

Enda Kenny

Question:

1 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach the progress to date in respect of the implementation of those elements of the programme for Government for which his Department is responsible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15541/09]

Enda Kenny

Question:

2 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the agreed programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15553/09]

Enda Kenny

Question:

3 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15565/09]

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

4 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; if it is intended to publish a progress report on its implementation during the coming months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15591/09]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

5 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress made in implementing the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19975/09]

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

The Programme for Government 2007-2012 is, as its title suggests, a programme of priorities to be delivered over a five-year period. Progress in delivering the programme is kept under review. The Department of the Taoiseach website published, on 24 September 2008 last, statements regarding the progress made by Departments in implementing each of the commitments in the programme for Government.

The programme for Government is predicated on balanced public finances and, clearly, the crisis with which we are now contending means this is a major challenge and would be a top priority for any Government. As stated on a number of occasions, the period following the upcoming elections will afford the Government partners the opportunity to look at how we are progressing in achieving our goals set out in the programme.

The programme for Government makes clear that its delivery is based on a growth rate of 4.5%. It was negotiated prior to the worst global downturn since the 1930s. Our review involves ensuring the programme for Government reflects current economic realities. There is also a precedent for such a review. A mid-term review of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat programme for Government was undertaken. The review is consistent with our approach to take on board proposals seen to be in Ireland's best interests. We do not have a monopoly on ideas and we are willing to remain flexible in the face of this global recession.

In addition to evaluating the existing programme, a review will also allow us to see where the various policies we have developed over the past two years can be better integrated into our plans for developing Ireland up to 2012. I refer in particular to the ambitious smart economy document we published before Christmas. The review will also underline the considerable amount of the programme for Government which has already been achieved. To date, organisations such as the European Commission and the ESRI have broadly recognised that the policies we are pursuing are the right ones to get Ireland working again.

The Opposition wishes to suggest a divergence of views between Fianna Fáil and its partners. I am sorry to disappoint it but the parties in Government are working well together. We remain resolute in returning Ireland to economic growth and, more importantly, to job creation.

I note the Taoiseach's final comment that the parties in government are working well. I remind him of what the chairman of the party with which he is in government, Senator Dan Boyle, said:

There are too many unresolved issues. Too many policy errors remain that have not been admitted to, areas where responsibility has not been taken. The policy of pump-priming the property boom has been a disaster. The light-touch regulation of our financial institutions has been a disaster.

The programme for Government contains over 500 commitments. The response prepared for the Taoiseach states that this was predicated on 4.5% growth before the global recession.

This country is now consumed by the findings of the Ryan commission report into child abuse. It is on everybody's lips and the litany of shame that has gone on far too long does us down as a nation. I have listened to some horrific stories in the past few days. Any parent who looks at a child and thinks of what might have happened thinks: "There but for the grace of God go I." It goes through me and I cannot speak with the emotional power or emotional truth of those who have been in the public media recently, telling their stories. I admire their courage and salute them.

This question concerns the programme for Government. When the Taoiseach was the Minister for Finance he negotiated with the Green Party a programme for Government which includes, on page 48, a firm resolution to have a constitutional amendment on children's rights. This is not a grossly excessive, costly exercise; it is entirely within the remit of the Government. The all-party committee did useful work and produced a minority report. What is the Government's view on the firm commitment given on holding a referendum on children's rights? The programme states:

We believe the fundamental law of our land should fully reflect our commitment to value and protect childhood. That is why we have proposed the inclusion in our Constitution of a new dedicated Article on Children.

I know the response from different parties and I want to know the Government's response. Is the Taoiseach, as head of the Government, standing over a firm commitment to have a referendum on children's rights? This is entirely within the control of the Government, given this very sensitive, personal and traumatic time in our nation's history. I would like to hear the Taoiseach tell me now that the Government intends to hold a referendum on children's rights, as is included in the programme for Government. What is the Government's position on the matter?

As I stated last week in the House when asked questions on this matter, we have been able to find a legislative way forward on soft information. A proposal came forward from Deputy O'Rourke's committee and a legislative response was found for that as well. In recent weeks a report has come from the committee dealing with this area that has been asked to see if it is possible to build a consensus around the issue on which there were divergent views. That will be examined by the Minister of State with responsibility for children and he will report to the Government on it.

From our perspective, the Ryan report provides an opportunity for the Government to consider all its recommendations. As the Deputy knows, we will hold a special meeting on it this evening, and these matters will be considered by the Government in the context of how we respond to the Ryan report.

That does not answer the question. The Taoiseach negotiated this programme for Government with the parties in Government. He referred to the new article which would greatly strengthen the protection we afford children by permitting the carefully regulated exchange of information about suspected child abusers and by allowing the Oireachtas to introduce legislation which would make it impossible for those taking sexual advantage of children to claim the defence of honest mistake about the age of the victims. He also spoke of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the need to ensure the remaining sections of the Children Acts are implemented in full without delay.

The Minister of State with responsibility for children is appointed by the Taoiseach and he sits at the Cabinet table. The Government is in control of what it decides to implement in respect of the programme for Government. I know the responses of the parties and the issues debated. The all-party Oireachtas committee did its work well.

As head of the Government, the Taoiseach has given a specific commitment on the holding of a referendum on children's rights. That is not a matter for the Minister of State with responsibility for children, as the Taoiseach, as head of the Government, negotiated this programme which is set down in black and white. This will not be denied by a global recession; we have held referenda before and we can hold another.

At this sensitive time, what is the view of the Government rather than just that of the Minister of State with responsibility for children? If the Taoiseach puts an issue to the Government, I am sure its members will comply.

In this document, the Taoiseach has placed a solemn commitment to hold a referendum on children's rights. I want to hear that commitment reiterated by the Taoiseach now as head of the Government. Please tell the House that the Government, led by him, will implement its commitment and hold a referendum on children's rights. I do not want to hear about the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, and his views. The Taoiseach is in charge of the Government and the authority is vested in him. The programme is what the Government is supposed to stand for.

This issue is not affected by the world's economic position and I want to hear the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, tell the people of Ireland that at this sensitive time, the Government will honour its word and hold a referendum on children's rights. Will it do so?

I explained to Deputy Kenny in my previous reply the process by which the Government will arrive at decisions in these matters and the detail it wishes to provide in that respect. The rights of children and the family are interacting considerations and the fundamental laws of our State protect the rights of children. The great tragedy of the Ryan report on institutional childhood abuse is that it sets out graphically in great detail the great failure by the State to protect children in this instance. Those affected sought to have their voice heard for some time. I am glad my predecessor, Deputy Bertie Ahern, gave a full and unequivocal apology to them. Arising out of that, a redress scheme and other issues were put in place to assist them and ensure the State took responsibility for its part in that systems failure.

Regarding a referendum on children's rights, as I have said what is outlined in the programme for Government sets out the Government's objective in this area. The question as to how and in what way we would proceed is a matter for detailed discussions by the Government. The Ryan report provides us with a series of recommendations which we intend to discuss at our special meeting this evening.

I call Deputy Burton and I will try to get back to Deputy Kenny later.

If I could just ask one other question, I will not labour it.

The process by which this is arrived at is the programme for Government. The Taoiseach negotiated it on behalf of his party while the head of the Green Party negotiated on behalf of his. That is the process and the agreement. The discussion that takes place at Government is in respect of that objective. The Taoiseach's party members will comply with his wishes; the Green Party members will comply with their leader's wishes. All at Cabinet, therefore, are in agreement with the objective to have a referendum on children's rights. When does the Taoiseach propose to implement it? Can I have a guarantee that it will be implemented? The Taoiseach has signed up to it and made his case, an important one with which I agree. Fine Gael will support a referendum on children's rights. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment that he will honour the process arrived at after due and proper discussion between him and the other members of the Government?

I have just explained to Deputy Kenny twice that this is an important process.

The Taoiseach did not explain it very clearly. Not even I could understand it.

Is it not clear to Deputy McCormack? It is outlined in the programme for Government. The detail of bringing such a proposal is the responsibility for the Minister of State with responsibility for children. It would be discussed at Cabinet which would then be in a position to make a decision and promulgate it. That is how the process works.

Now that the Taoiseach has acceded to the Green Party's demand for a review of the programme for Government, will he inform us what form such a review will take and when it will take place? Will the Ryan report allow both parties in the Government to examine the various issues which have arisen? Will the request to reopen the deal with the religious orders, in which taxpayers have ended up paying the bulk of the estimated of €1.2 billion in costs and compensation while the religious orders' contribution is capped at €120 million, be examined? Will the review encompass a procedure where people, guilty of grave crimes against children incarcerated in institutions but who may have been given an indemnity, be brought before the courts and charged? This has been done with some concentration camp guards even though they were at an advanced age.

The programme for Government was posited on average economic growth rate of 4.5% over its expected five years. It also undertook to lower the top rate of tax to 40% and to review upwards tax credits and allowances. All of these have clearly gone by the board. Will the Taoiseach be making a fresh economic statement? Will both parties put forward requests as to what they want from the programme for Government?

It is remarkable that although the Green Party signed up to many positive measures in the programme for Government, it then agreed, for instance, to the withdrawal of medical cards from the over-70s and to the withdrawal of the cervical screening vaccination programme.

The Deputy must confine herself to seeking information and must not furnish information.

Is the review to be comprehensive? Obviously, people would like an immediate answer from the parties in government regarding the response to the Ryan report. In particular, I refer to the fact that there seems to be an indemnity in respect of anyone who is guilty of the horrible bestial actions against children outlined in that report, which only have been seen in places like concentration camps, to the effect they now appear to be immune from any prosecution by the State in any form.

The Deputy is imparting information. We will have the Taoiseach answer her question.

While the Green Party's Members are not in the Chamber, can the Taoiseach state the Fianna Fáil Party will bring this matter to the review of the programme for Government? I refer to a reopening and a re-examination of the deal that was done by the Government's predecessors. People welcome that the former Taoiseach made an apology on behalf of the State.

We cannot have speeches on this issue now. The Deputy must confine herself to questions.

However, the Ryan report's findings move——-

The Deputy is not entitled to impart information at this time.

——the material and issue of redress into a completely different league. I refer in particular to apparent immunity for people, even if they are of an advanced age, from prosecution for terrible crimes and bestial acts.

The Deputy cannot continue to ignore the Chair in this fashion. I call the Taoiseach.

First, the review will take the form of a discussion between the parties in government and arising from that review, certain decisions will be taken. Second, the Ryan report makes no recommendations regarding the indemnity agreement and is silent on the matter. It makes no recommendations about it.

The Deputy asked whether the Government would revisit it in the context of the Ryan report.

Yes, because that is the question.

However, there is no recommendation in respect of that issue in the Ryan report. The question of the agreement that was drawn up at the time was examined in some detail by the Committee of Public Accounts, subsequent to that issue becoming public. I also make the point that the criminal law continues to be operative in respect of any issues that arise regarding any offences committed in the past and the indemnity agreement is not involved in that. The issue also is that the indemnity agreement related to a specific timeframe and was not an open-ended indemnitysaecula saeculorum. Consequently, it is important to indicate that the provision by the report of graphic detail of all that happened is a very important contribution, which has been very much welcomed by survivors in that context. The entire purpose of the redress scheme was to avoid a legal confrontational approach and to avoid people being obliged to vindicate their rights through the courts.

As for the questions before the House, which pertain to a review of the programme for Government, as I stated it will take place in a similar manner to a mid-term review that took place previously and will be between the parties to the Government and arising from that, a reviewed programme will be presented.

There is a suggestion in the Ryan report that because perpetrators are not named, in addition to the indemnity the deal between the church and the State actually offered immunity and impunity to perpetrators being brought before the courts in respect of the terrible things they did. If there is to be a review of the programme for Government, it is important that neither Fianna Fáil nor the Green Party would wish to see perpetrators of appalling acts against children who were incarcerated in institutions being able to walk free with immunity or to have impunity in order that, as with war crimes in Nazi Germany and Rwanda, such perpetrators could walk free. It surely must be a critical issue for any review of the programme for Government that, with regard to acts carried out by religious orders, the perpetrators are not named in the report, although in some cases they are clearly identifiable and are probably still alive. Will it be a matter for the review of the programme for Government whether perpetrators will be subject to pursuit by the law or whether they will, in effect, get immunity from being taken before the courts in regard to acts they committed with impunity against children?

It is important to point out that under the legislation it is entirely a matter for the commission to decide whether any information gathered during the course of its inquiry will be forwarded or shared. It would not, therefore, be appropriate for me to comment in that regard. There is also, of course, the decision by the Garda Commissioner that an Assistant Commissioner is reviewing the report to see if any further action will be taken by the Garda in the matter.

The Green worm has recently wriggled — a rare moment in itself — and the Taoiseach has now agreed——

The Deputy must confine himself to the questions.

——to undertake a review of the programme for Government. The Taoiseach is unclear in his responses as to how long this review process will take. In the interim, would he be prepared to have a full substantive debate in the House on the current programme for Government in the lead-up to the summer recess and in advance of address of the report of the review? Will he bring forward the reviewed programme for Government for a full debate on the floor of this Chamber?

The existing programme for Government in regard to health indicates that the Taoiseach believes the interests of public patients must be protected and that the best way to do this is to invest in expanded services and to end practices which serve to reduce public capacity, among other commitments. How can he possibly reconcile that commitment in the current programme for Government with what has actually taken place in our health services across the State? Does he not see the absolutely blatant contradictions between that alleged commitment forged with the Green Party and others following the 2007 general election and what is actually happening at hospital sites across this State today, given the impending closure of acute medical services at Monaghan General Hospital in the very near future, the loss of services at other hospital sites such as Dundalk, Nenagh, Ennis and the signalled further threats to services at hospitals in Kerry and Cork?

When, as I understand he will, the Taoiseach visits Cavan-Monaghan on bank holiday Monday, will he take the opportunity to visit Monaghan General Hospital to meet the consultants and nursing staff and to meet the general practitioners of the area, the Oireachtas Members for the constituency and the County Monaghan Community Alliance, whose members have campaigned tirelessly and courageously over many years to protect those services and to ensure that we have a hospital continuing in operation there of which we can be proud? In the context of the programme for Government, will he try to convince some of the people of our constituency that there may be some small element of the commitments made just two years ago to which he is still holding at this point in time?

As I said, the programme for Government review will be undertaken during the course of the summer and we will discuss with our colleagues where we go from here in regard to it. While the economic realities have changed, all programmes for Government including this one are subject to maintaining balance in our public finances. Without doing that, one cannot provide for our people the prospect of a sustainable level of service.

I note the Deputy regards any reconfiguration of services throughout the health service as being something to which he is opposed. He mentioned various issues in his contribution, including the configuration of services at Nenagh and Ennis——

And Monaghan, of course.

The Deputy mentioned what is happening in the mid-west. He also referred to the north east. We are trying to reconfigure services in a manner that is consistent with public safety. We will provide the best possible service to the people, within the confines of the finances available to us. A considerable amount of resources continues to be provided for our health services. Outputs are increasing, in line with best practice, and the number of day cases being seen is increasing. The improvement in community services is a welcome aspect of the development of our health service. I do not regard the facilities that offer acute health services as stand-alone institutions. Our hospital network is in the best position to deliver such care to our people, in the context of the current budgetary situation. It is only right and proper that we should support that network. I will continue to travel to various parts of the country, as planned, in advance of next month's elections.

I understand the Taoiseach proposes to visit counties Cavan and Monaghan next Monday. Will he indicate whether he is willing to meet elected representatives and qualified professionals to hear their opinions?

Questions on such matters of detail should be put to the relevant line Minister.

I appreciate that. I am making a brief point.

We are dealing with the programme for Government in a general way.

I hope he will meet consultants, representatives of nursing staff, general practitioners, Members of the Oireachtas and campaigners on the ground.

The Deputy can put more specific questions to the Minister for Health and Children.

Given what is imminent in relation to Monaghan General Hospital, surely the least the Taoiseach can do is meet us and listen to us.

That has nothing to do with the programme for Government.

Having addressed the issue of health, I would like to address another aspect of the programme for Government. In the programme, the Government promises to make sure that all children will be given an opportunity to enjoy childhood and to develop to their full potential. How can the Taoiseach reconcile that commitment with the cuts that have been imposed by his Government? In this context, it is worth mentioning the terrible report on the abuse of children by religious orders in residential institutions over many decades, which was published by Mr. Justice Ryan last week. How can the Taoiseach reconcile the recent actions of his Government, such as the cut in funding to the all-Ireland centre of excellence for autism in Middletown, with the commitments outlined in the 2007 programme for Government?

We cannot go into detail on matters that are more appropriate to the line Minister, in this case the Minister for Health and Children.

How can the promises in the programme for Government be reconciled with the cuts in special needs education?

If the Deputy does not ask general questions about the programme for Government, I will have to ask him to resume his seat.

How can they be reconciled with the shortfall in funding for Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin, which has resulted in the closure of wards and theatres?

We cannot have this level of detail.

These are valid questions in the context of the programme for Government.

No, they are not. They would be more appropriate to the line Minister. The Deputy should be asking questions about the programme for Government, in general.

I am referring directly to the programme for Government.

I must make the ruling, not you. I have made the ruling. Members cannot get into matters of detail on questions such as this. The Deputy's questions should be put to the line Minister. The Taoiseach cannot be expected to answer them. I cannot allow them, in fairness to other Members of the Oireachtas.

The Taoiseach is one of those who signed the programme for Government.

The Deputy should ask about the programme for Government.

I have described some of the commitments outlined in the programme for Government. The Taoiseach has absolutely failed to live up to those commitments. That is a fact of life.

The Deputy should ask a question.

Looking at the situation in relation to children——

The Deputy is not allowed to impart information at this time. If he does not ask a question, I will have to move on.

I have asked many questions.

Several Members are offering.

How can the Taoiseach justify the outrageous cuts that are affecting children across this State today? I refer not only to cuts in the areas I have mentioned, but to cuts in areas I would have mentioned if the Ceann Comhairle had allowed me to doso.

I cannot allow that.

The cuts in question cannot be reconciled with the commitments made by the Taoiseach and his colleagues, including the Minister, Deputy Gormley, two years ago. How can the Taoiseach continue to face the electorate in such circumstances?

The Deputy has asked his question.

How can he have the gall to do that, while throwing the programme for Government's commitments in our faces?

Other Members are offering.

I will conclude with this point.

You certainly will conclude with this point, because I cannot listen to it anymore. Other Members are offering.

Is it not the case that the programme for Government is an absolute dead letter and the Government is a dead duck?

We are talking about the programme for Government, for goodness sake.

It is time for the Taoiseach and his Cabinet colleagues to resign their positions.

I call the Taoiseach.

They should give the people the opportunity to pass judgment on their stewardship over the past 12 months.

I have called the Taoiseach.

The chickens are coming home to roost, particularly for those whose Ministries predate the establishment of the current coalition.

If the Deputy continues, I will have to ask him to leave.

As I have said in previous replies, the luxury of opposition is to suggest that there are infinite resources for infinite numbers of things that can be provided at the flick of a switch.

The Taoiseach will have that luxury soon enough.

The programme for Government is predicated on the continuing balance of our public finances. I have to reiterate that time and again. Without that the prospect of providing any sustainable level of services is at risk. The Deputy does not have to consider or worry about that point since he can continue to come into the House and seek more funds for this, that and the other in every area of policy while at the same time pronouncing that he is interested in the country being run on a sound basis with public finances that equate expenditure with income. That is not possible. All the commitments to which he refers are predicated on the overriding consideration that, as resources allow, these commitments will be implemented.

Resources have increased in recent years for people with disabilities and other areas. The level of services has greatly improved. While it is true that some adjustments will have to be made this year there has been steady improvement year on year for a considerable time in a way that has greatly enhanced the experience not only of those who require those services but also of their families who support them so lovingly and with such commitment. I do not accept the criticism that Government has made no commitment in these areas. We have ensured that by pursuing policies in good times to provide resources we have allocated unprecedentedly large resources to those areas. Issues remain to be dealt with. Needs change and the need to adapt to them is a continuing discipline for those who provide services and for the Department that provides the resources for those services.

I do not accept the premise of the Deputy's question that suggests that we have shown less than full commitment to this area. We have shown a great deal of commitment to this area and will continue to do so.

What has happened to the commitment in the programme of Government to pursue the issue of Oireachtas procedures and strengthen the role of committees? Is any progress being made and when will the Government bring forward any proposals of any shape, size or form in this area? Does the Taoiseach agree that reform is badly needed in this area and that probably part of the reason we are in the present mess is that this House is very weakvis à vis the Executive? For example, does he agree that reform is needed in respect of the various quangos and State agencies that are not directly accountable to this House, such as FÁS, the NRA, RSA, HSE and RPA? Does he agree that we need to make these agencies accountable to this House? How soon will he bring forward proposals from Government that we can discuss here?

I note the Deputy's continuing interest in this area. The Chief Whip is pursuing this matter in Cabinet. He has not yet finalised those arrangements. He is open to any ideas that people around the House have on these matters and as soon as he has concluded his consideration of these issues they can come in due course to the House to see how the House might be rendered more effective.

Would the Taoiseach agree to a rolling reform to bring in procedural change? Is he aware that the Opposition parties have already put forward ideas and proposals in this area? Will he ensure that Government engages with this matter urgently?

I am aware that the various ideas have been promulgated and that the Chief Whip is considering all those issues in the context of proposals he wishes to make himself.

How soon will that happen? Will he make the proposals before summer?

The Chief Whip is taking up this matter and his thinking on it is quite advanced.

On page 36 of the programme for Government a reference is made to reforming the use of hospital beds to ensure equity of access and that patients are treated quickly, and to increase the number of consultants in accident and emergency units. In light of speculation that the HSE and the Department of Health and Children are to rationalise certain hospital facilities in the south east, particularly accident and emergency services, will the Taoiseach assure us categorically that there will be no closure of accident and emergency facilities in Kilkenny, Clonmel or Wexford and that the accident and emergency trauma facilities will not be centralised to Waterford Regional Hospital?

We cannot go into that much detail, it is not possible to do so. The Deputy will have to put that question to the Minister for Health and Children. I told Deputy Ó Caoláin the same.

I have quoted the references in An Agreed Programme for Government.

I know that. The Deputy went into detail to the extent that his question has become one for the line Minister.

I will ask the Taoiseach a general question.

He cannot be expected to answer that question.

Does he agree with what is in An Agreed Programme for Government, namely, that the number of accident and emergency consultants for the south east region will be increased?

He cannot answer that question.

He can, of course.

Putting patients first must be the priority in respect of any reform of our health services. The services require continuing reform. In light of our economic circumstances, any suggestion that we can improve services or maintain existing levels of service without reform or addressing the need to have far more flexible work practices and redeployment is questionable. Addressing the needs of the health service is an absolute must in the context of public service reform and in the interest of those of us interested in promoting public services and showing we can be sufficiently responsive to the needs of the people. That presents a continuing challenge and commitment to which all social partners have subscribed and to which we need to give practical and visible effect. It is important that everyone has a positive agenda that will help provide services to a greater extent than is possible under present arrangements and agreements and help to provide these services to the extent and within the timeframe the people expect given the moneys hard-pressed taxpayers are providing for services.

An Agreed Programme for Government reiterated the long-standing commitment to overseas development aid of 0.7% of GNP, as enunciated by this Government and its predecessors over the past ten years. The two most recent budgets resulted in disproportionate cuts to overseas development aid. Is it the Government's policy that overseas development aid will reach 0.7% by 2012? Can the Taoiseach indicate how this might be done incrementally in view of the fact that the percentage has decreased over the past year?

No, I cannot give any indication for the coming years because we must take all these areas of expenditure into account in the context of the budgetary realities. A very significant improvement has been made in this area. We made a commitment prior to the financial crisis that we would reach the target of 0.7% of GNP by 2012. It remains an objective — whether it is achievable will have to be determined according to the facts and circumstances as outlined. A commitment of almost €800 million this year, compared to €116 million when we took office, is a fair indication of the commitment the Government has made in this area over the 12-year period and of the need for us to continue to strive to achieve the UN target. We are fifth or sixth per head of population in the world in terms of the contribution we make. All of us would subscribe to trying to improve that goal and to accelerate it to the greatest extent possible. We would all acknowledge that no area of expenditure, however worthy, is immune from consideration given the financial state of the country at present.

In the context of the capital infrastructure plans in the programme for Government, the concept of a national recovery bond was put forward by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and was mentioned in the budget speech by the Minister for Finance. Has the Taoiseach had discussions with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the construction industry with regard to using a national recovery bond to provide capital infrastructure? It has been suggested such a bond might be used for the construction of Thornton Hall prison. Is it also being considered for necessary health and education infrastructure? Have there been discussions in this regard? Is it likely that this could be a mechanism for some of the capital plans within the programme for Government?

Those discussions are continuing between various parties, including the Department of Finance and the Construction Industry Council, and we have had discussions in this regard with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and as part of the social partnership talks. Trying to find sources of off-balance-sheet income that would meet with EU requirements and other rules is a continuing issue, but good discussions have taken place in this regard.