Leaders’ Questions

The days of bluffing and false promises are over and the harsh reality of truth has dawned. The major parties in the Dáil have accepted the need for a reduction in the deficit to 3% by 2014. I have not heard the Taoiseach comment on this matter. Will he indicate whether the announcement by the Minister for Finance regarding the €15 billion in cuts to be imposed on the Irish people during the next four years represents a decision on the part of the Government or whether that decision was imposed on it by the European Commission?

This is a decision reached by the Government.

I thank the Taoiseach for that confirmation. I noticed the Ministers of Government arriving at Farmleigh on Monday last like members of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy returning to the big house. In the aftermath of two days of deliberation at Farmleigh and Government Buildings, has the Government reached a conclusion on the cuts that are likely to be imposed this December and for the following three years? Has it arrived at a decision with regard to how the total of €15 billion in cuts is to be broken down? I recognise that all the relevant tax receipts have not yet been taken in and that the Government will be obliged to wait for a period until this happens. However, is the Taoiseach in a position to inform the House — to within €200 million — of the total amount of the cuts to be imposed in the December budget? Will he also outline the Government's proposals for the following three years?

As the Opposition spokespersons were informed by the Minister for Finance yesterday, the Government, having considered all the relevant matters, came to a decision that €15 billion is the amount of the adjustment that will be required between now and 2014. We have also stated clearly that we will set out the annual components of the four-year plan that will be published in the coming weeks. Those components will be informed by ongoing discussions among members of the Government and will be based on various variables and incoming data.

For the past two weeks or thereabouts, the Government has offered briefings to the finance spokespersons of the Opposition parties in respect of budgetary matters. These briefings have been represented as the Government opening the books to the Opposition. It is fair to say that what the opening of the books to the Opposition has amounted to is three meetings in the Department of Finance. The first of those meetings related to the process involved and to seeking undertakings that the confidentiality, etc., of the information being provided would be respected. The content of the second meeting could be summarised by the three-page document which was given to the finance spokespersons and which contains lists of tables. At the third meeting, which was held yesterday, the spokespersons were presented with a folder of information, most of which was already in the public domain as a result of replies given to parliamentary questions.

There is key information which we have not been given. We have not been given the definitive growth forecast for next year, nor have we been given the detailed macroeconomic growth forecast for the next four years. The latter would include forecasts and projections relating to consumption, investment, interest rates, wages, exports, imports and unemployment. We have also not been given the proposed adjustment for next year, not have we been given a template for the four-year plan, final information on how the cost of the bank bailout is to be treated in the Government accounts or details on the proposed savings to be made on foot of the Croke Park agreement.

The House is due to take statements on the macroeconomic and fiscal outlook. It will be difficult to debate such a matter in the absence of the information to which I refer. The Taoiseach just informed Deputy Kenny that the Government has decided that the total adjustment for the next four years will be €15 billion. Did the Cabinet have access to the information to which I refer when it made its decision?

The Cabinet, as the Deputy is aware, has been considering these matters for some weeks. As has been stated, officials from the Department of Finance have been made available to the relevant Opposition spokespersons during that period. Those spokespersons, as they seek to formulate the proposals they wish to have costed or considered, will continue to have access to the officials between now and the introduction of the budget in order that any queries they make have with regard to various policy options can be dealt with.

In the middle of November we expect to publish a four-year plan which will outline in detail, based on Government decisions to be taken in the interim, how best to deal with this adjustment. The debate today offers a very strong opportunity to consider, on the basis of an adjustment of €15 billion and taking an average GDP growth rate of 2.75%, how the adjustment should be dealt with in regard to taxation, expenditure, prospects for growth, whether people agree with the figures and updates on the international scene. It also offers the opportunity to air microeconomic policy views or initiatives that would be of assistance and should be incorporated into any plan.

That is the state of play with regard to current deliberations and I do not believe any of us are disbarred from coming forward with strong views on all those areas. When the plan is provided and finalised we will clearly have the opportunity for a detailed debate in that respect as well.

The Taoiseach has completely avoided the question I asked him. I listed key information that the Labour Party has not been provided with, including the definitive growth forecast for next year, the projections on which macroeconomic growth forecasts for the next four years would be based, the proposed adjustment for next year, the template for the four-year plan, the way in which the bank bailout money is to be dealt with in the Government accounts and the proposed savings from the Croke Park agreement.

The Cabinet had a meeting in Farmleigh and the Taoiseach has told us it decided that the overall adjustment would be €15 billion. Did the Cabinet have the information I listed when it made the decision? It would be extraordinary if it made a decision for a €15 billion adjustment in the absence of the information I have indicated. If the Cabinet had the information, why has it not been provided to the Opposition parties?

I have explained to the Deputy that the basis upon which that decision has been taken is a result of the assessment by the Government based on advice from the Department of Finance and its consultations with international organisations, as well as views from the Central Bank, etc. The level of adjustment required is based on an average growth rate of 2.75% of GDP as a realistic figure upon which one could project increased output in the economy over the period. Working back from that, the adjustment from taxation, expenditure or the impact of growth is calculated in getting the deficit figure back to 3% of GDP in 2014.

I am thankful that all the main Opposition parties have indicated a commitment to getting a figure of a 3% deficit by 2014. This debate affords us an opportunity to translate, if we like, how we can go about making those adjustments for that commitment which we estimate to be in the order of €15 billion between now and 2014. The four-year plan will outline in detail that position.

The final assessment on growth next year, as well as some other issues being raised by the Deputy, will depend on final Government decisions on the component years and the movement to that figure over the period. That can have its own impact.

The €15 billion figure is a guess.

The €15 billion figure is a forecast, like every other forecast. If we perform better than 2.75% annual growth, the level of uplift we must take with regard to cutting expenditure and raising taxes will not be as great. We believe one must take a prudential view, acceptable based on forecasts that others make of prospects for world and European growth in the coming years. Based on all the discussions we have had, we believe that prospect is provided for.