Issue of Writ: Dublin West By-election

I move:

That the Ceann Comhairle direct the Clerk of the Dáil to issue his Writ for the election of a Member to fill the vacancy which has occurred in the membership of the present Dáil consequent on the death on 10 June 2011 of Deputy Brian Lenihan, a Member for the Constituency of Dublin West.

It is with a true sense of sadness that I move the writ occasioned by the passing of a remarkable politician and good friend to so many of us in this House. It is hard to believe it is less than four months since Brian Lenihan left us. I know I speak for every one of his colleagues on the Fianna Fáil benches when I say we miss so much his enthusiasm, humour, wise counsel, political brilliance and, most of all, friendship.

I take the opportunity to thank the Taoiseach, the leaders of all the others parties and all other Members of this House who spoke so genuinely and generously about Brian Lenihan when we paid tribute to him in June. In Brian's case, all of that praise was well deserved and hard earned.

The loss of Brian Lenihan to Irish public life is immense. As I said previously, he was undoubtedly the outstanding public representative of this generation. We, in Fianna Fáil, are fiercely proud of him and what he achieved for Dublin West and Ireland. The courage and commitment he showed in staying in his post as Minister for Finance while battling a terminal illness and the exemplary manner in which he carried out his duties defined grace under pressure.

Brian Lenihan faced events of a scale and magnitude with which no other Irish Minister has ever had to contend. He did an outstanding job in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. He was prepared to take unpopular choices, knowing there would be a political price to pay for them, because he believed such decisions had to be taken for the long-term good of the country. He was criticised by many, especially at the time of the last budget, but that budget is on track and winning international notice, something the Taoiseach recognised last week. It is becoming increasingly clear the measures Brian set in train were the right ones to stabilise the economy. The very fact that those who walked through the division lobbies in this House in opposition to Brian's policies are now enthusiastically implementing them in government shows that he made the right choices and that he had the courage of his convictions. Irrespective of the political battles in which we engage at election time or in debate in this House, it is proper that this point should be acknowledged and respected by everyone.

We, in Fianna Fáil, are proud of Brian Lenihan's work and will continue to defend his reputation and protect his legacy. Nowhere is the inspiring Lenihan legacy stronger than in Dublin West. For 34 years Brian and his distinguished father before him gave remarkable service to their constituents across Dublin 15. It is hardly surprising that for many in Dublin West, the Lenihan name is a by-word for efficiency and getting things done locally.

Brian Lenihan was first elected to the Dáil in a by-election in April 1996 and the people of Dublin West returned him to the Dáil in four subsequent general elections. Even when the tide was out for Fianna Fáil across the capital last February, Brian's constituents in Dublin West stood by him. In the end they did not let him down in his final electoral battle, in which there was a sense of poetic justice because he had delivered day and night for people locally. He was a politician who was respected and admired across the political spectrum in Dublin West for his great work rate on behalf of the constituency.

Only last Thursday on the streets of Castleknock time and again I was reminded of the enormous regard in which Brian Lenihan had been held by the people he represented. I always knew about his huge commitment to the people of Dublin West and it was wonderful to meet so many people who remembered him with such fondness. People spoke to me about the tremendous work he had done in securing investment for Connolly hospital, the tireless support he had given to St. Francis's hospice in Dublin 15, his commitment to local sports clubs across Dublin West such as St. Brigid's and Castleknock Celtic, his work in delivering a new railway station on the Navan Road and his efforts in developing Blanchardstown Institute of Technology. There are so many issues on which and so many people for whom Brian delivered during his 15 years as a public representative. There can be no doubt he leaves behind a stunning record of achievement and accomplishment on behalf of the community in Dublin West.

That great tradition of service to his neighbours, community and local people that characterised Brian Lenihan's career is something the Dublin West Fianna Fáil organisation is determined to preserve and build upon in this by-election. We are proud to have Mr. David McGuinness as our candidate. It would be unfair to say no one could fill the shoes of a political giant like Brian Lenihan but in David McGuinness, Fianna Fáil has a candidate of immense potential and with a true commitment to his locality. He is a young man completely dedicated to the community in which he was born and bred. He is a teacher in Riversdale community college and passionate about education as a vehicle towards social opportunity. He is extremely active in the local community of Dublin 15 and serves on the boards of management of Castleknock community college, Coolmine community school, Luttrellstown community college, Blakestown school and Pobal Scoil Setanta in Ongar. His work locally has given him a strong insight into and grasp of the issues that matter to the people of Dublin West.

Aged only 25 years, David McGuinness was the youngest Fianna Fáil councillor elected in the country at the last local elections. He also ably supported Brian Lenihan in February in a very difficult election for Fianna Fáil. Brian was determined that David would run alongside him in the last general election, even when some party strategists argued that running one candidate might be the best option to retain the Fianna Fáil seat. It is a measure of the man that he still managed to keep his eye focused on the needs of the future. He felt it was important that a young candidate be given the experience of running in a general election in the hope this would stand to the party and the constituency at a later date.

David McGuinness was someone Brian Lenihan had encouraged in politics from the first day David joined Ógra Fianna Fáil in Dublin West. Brian was a firm believer in the necessity of bringing forward young people as a force for renewal and vitality in our political system. David's career in politics is testament to this. We look forward to him fulfilling all the potential Brian first saw in him when he encouraged him to seek a career in politics and give of himself to public service.

David McGuinness is young man of integrity and ability and has a phenomenal work rate. These are all values he learned working alongside Brian Lenihan during the years. With all our Fianna Fáil members in Dublin West, he will be doing his utmost to ensure that distinguished tradition of local representation continues in Dáil Éireann.

In the next four weeks Fianna Fáil will be campaigning hard to support our candidate, David McGuinness, in the by-election. David's campaign will be a positive one highlighting the issues that matter to local people and articulating the concerns about which he hears on the doorsteps of Dublin West in places such as Corduff, Ladyswell, Huntstown, Hartstown, Clonsilla, Ongar, Clonee, Tyrrelstown, the Ward, Blanchardstown, Carpenterstown, Porterstown, Castleknock and Swords. Dublin West is a constituency which has been particularly badly hit by many of the problems of the economic crisis. Both long-established and new communities are struggling with mortgage debt, unemployment and new pressures on local schools. There has been a 3% increase in unemployment in Dublin West in the past six months and David will campaign on the need to create and defend IDA jobs in the constituency.

Until recent times Dublin West was one of the fastest growing suburbs in Europe and even today the population of the constituency is far younger than the national average. These demographics tell their own story in the context of a harsh recession in which many young families are grappling with unemployment, mortgage debt and negative equity. Commuters are also suffering as Dublin West is far above the national average for the time residents spend in getting to and from work or school. This is not helped by the recent illogical move to upgrade Chesterfield Avenue during the busiest traffic months of the year and the inexplicable decision by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to block the shovel ready status of metro west, a project for which he had vehemently campaigned when on this side of the House.

With two Ministers immersed in Departments, Dublin West needs sensible and hard-working representation at local level. David McGuinness is that candidate. The problems the people of Dublin West are experiencing will not be solved by the parties of the hard left which offer nothing but the politics of protest, empty rhetoric and, in the final analysis, no credible solutions. Dublin West also does not need another voiceless Government backbench Deputy whose election would serve no purpose but to bolster an already massive majority. What Dublin West needs is a hard-working, enthusiastic local representative who is committed to holding the Government to account and delivering sane and sensible solutions to the problems and issues of concern to the people of the constituency. David McGuinness is that candidate and Fianna Fáil will be making the case for his election on 27 October. We believe he is the best candidate and will be doing our level best to ensure he follows in the footsteps of Brian Lenihan, a politician and friend whom we all miss greatly.

When the people voted for change in February, it was not change as a buzzword or empty rhetoric but as meaningful root and branch reform and a new departure from the old corrupt and unsustainable way Governments have operated in the State for generations. Unfortunately, the political class sold them empty rhetoric and buzzwords and a people crying out for hope bought the line. Eight months on, they can see what change means for Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Nearly 500,000 people are still on the dole and we are facing a regime of austerity not seen in a lifetime. The Government is subservient to the EU-IMF bank bailout schemes which are not about economic sense or living up to responsibilities but about foisting the burden of a European banking crisis on the people of the State.

The people have been reminded of the old adage of the new boss being the same as the old one, but they will not go back to the old days of believing nothing better is possible. The imagination and hope of the people have been ignited and they will look past the Government and seek a better way forward. Sinn Féin is that better way. We have shown in opposition here and government in the North that we have the drive, capability and conscience to lead from the front to deliver for the people. In the North we have stood fast when faced with Tory cuts, in stark contrast to the capitulation by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. We have fought the cuts and saved services and jobs. We have made job creation a priority. Mr. Martin McGuinness has travelled to America to meet CEOs and business people and results and investment have followed.

In the South we have been the voice of those struggling against a Government more concerned with meeting the targets of the European Union and IMF than the needs of the people. We have stood up for local hospital services, distressed mortgage holders, children with special needs and struggling families and low paid workers. Deputies Adams, McDonald, Doherty and others have held the Government parties to account and shown them up as uninspired opportunists implementing Fianna Fáil's failed policies while bringing very little to the table. Thus far we have seen the continuation of the bailout and further moneys being thrown on the bonfire that is Anglo Irish Bank. Prior to the general election we were told by the parties now in government that Anglo Irish Bank would not receive another red cent. They were barely in the door when they handed over billions of euro of the people's money for nothing. They spoke about burning bondholders, but all they have burned are the fingers of those who chose to believe them.

In this context, I am glad to commend to the people of Dublin West an opportunity for change and a voice for ordinary working families. That opportunity is presented by Mr. Paul Donnelly, the Sinn Féin candidate in the Dublin West by-election. Aged 42 years, Paul Donnelly is chairperson of Sinn Féin in Dublin and a member of the party's ruling ard chomhairle. He is the father of four children and has been living in Clonsilla in west Dublin for over 15 years. He is a project worker with the school completion programme in Coolock and also works in Bonnybrook Youthreach, a second chance education centre for young people. His involvement with Sinn Féin can be traced back many years to election campaigns in the north inner city where he was born. He joined Sinn Féin in Blanchardstown in 1995, became the party's public representative in the area in 1996 and has stood in various local and general elections. He polled 2,597 first preferences in this year's general election.

Paul Donnelly is extremely active in the community, having served as a community representative in numerous projects. He is chairperson of the Mountview-Blakestown community drugs team, a project in which he has been involved since its inception in 1996. He was also a founding member of the Blanchardstown local drugs task force and the Mountview-Blakestown youth initiative. He is also a community representative in the safer Blanchardstown forum, a community policing project which tackles crime and anti-social behaviour in significant parts of Clonsilla, Hartstown, Huntstown, Corduff and Mulhuddart. An ardent Dublin GAA supporter, he is involved with his local St. Peregrine's GAA club as a juvenile mentor.

Paul Donnelly is acutely aware of the challenges the people of Dublin 15 will face in the coming years, most notably the deteriorating economic situation, spiralling unemployment, the escalating drugs problem, the disgraceful waste of funds spent in renting portacabins in local schools while millions of euro are sent back to the Exchequer by the Department of Education and Skills, the shameful lack of purpose built youth facilities and the fear of closure of existing community centres. Paul is committed to working hard to represent the whole community and will continue to fight to ensure the people's voices are heard. He is determined to fight for all those who feel they have been let down by the politics of corruption, greed and self-interest.

Paul Donnelly and I have been involved in the Save Connolly Hospital campaign and have campaigned regularly on the issue. He will put people first. He shares Sinn Féin's vision of treating everyone on the basis of equality rather than wealth. He got involved in politics to make a difference and challenge injustice and inequality in his country. He will work to create jobs, a fair and equitable taxation system that ensures those who can afford to pay the most pay their fair share and a health system that treats people as human beings when they are ill and need treatment rather than as customers to be sold health care packages. He will continue to strive to ensure policing is focused on the problems the community faces, in particular, anti-social behaviour, drug dealing and intimidation, and that the justice system is reformed to focus on rehabilitation in order to address the revolving door prison system.

Paul Donnelly stands for reform of the political system. As a former councillor, he saw at first hand how much power was in the hands of a very small group of powerful council officials. He recognises that the political system needs root and branch reform at local and national level if citizens are to have more of a say in what happens in their communities. Mr. Paul Donnelly pledged to only take the average industrial wage from the disgracefully huge salary awarded by previous administrations to themselves, including Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Green Party. The surplus will be shared out between local community groups in Dublin West and will also be used to build Sinn Féin across the constituency.

I have known Mr. Paul Donnelly for more than 20 years. I commend him to the people of Dublin West and call on them to look at the Government's record, the inaction on jobs and the continued adherence to the deflationary cuts and the bank bailout started by Fianna Fáil. They should look to the real candidate for change and progress, that is Mr. Paul Donnelly.

We understand that this is a difficult time and that the by-election will be a difficult time for the family and close personal friends of the late Deputy, Brian Lenihan. The Socialist Party and the United Left Alliance, our candidate, Councillor Ruth Coppinger, and me as director of elections understand that and pledge that this will not be a personalised campaign with the type of abuse and vitriol now filling the air and airwaves in the presidential election. It will be a campaign on the real issues affecting the ordinary people of Dublin West and putting forward the left and socialist alternative to the problems we face in society and in the constituency.

The Dublin West by-election gives an invaluable opportunity to the people of Dublin West to speak not only on their own behalf but on behalf of the entire country to pass judgment on this Fine Gael and Labour Party coalition and its record since it assumed power almost seven months ago. The Socialist Party and the United Left Alliance and our candidate, Councillor Ruth Coppinger, will highlight the serious breach of promises by Fine Gael and the Labour Party made prior to the general election campaign and contrast that with their record since then.

The Labour Party and Fine Gael promised change from the clapped-out policies of the Fianna Fáil Administration and its Green Party appendage that preceded them. However, the Labour Party and Fine Gael have utterly embraced the savage austerity initiated by Fianna Fáil in conjunction with and at the behest of the EU-IMF and the ECB — the establishment institutions of Europe which had one agenda only, not the interests of the Irish people but to bail out the major European financial institutions, speculators and gamblers from their reckless dealings in Irish property. Not only is it immoral and unjust but it is causing an economic disaster, with mass unemployment, cuts to the education and health services and tens of thousands of people, especially young people, being forced out of the country.

The Labour Party and Fine Gael promised that they would make the bondholders and gamblers take severe cuts but what we have now is an abject U-turn. For example, the €3.5 billion in payments to unsecured Anglo Irish Bank bondholders that the Minister for Finance said some months ago would be severely cut is to be paid in full between now and June 2012. It is almost a similar figure to the savage €3.6 billion in cuts that this Government intends to implement in the budget in December. After promising that it would not introduce water charges, the Labour Party with Fine Gael now propose to impose a household tax and a water tax that will quickly go from €100 to €1,000. Those are impossible new burdens for many households and increasing strata of society.

The people of Dublin West can take a stand against this austerity with its disastrous economic consequences, immorality and injustice. The people of Dublin West can take a stand in the by-election in favour of and to support their crucial local health facility, Blanchardstown hospital, which is enduring savage cuts — €104 million in its budget two years ago and €84 million this year — leading to ward closures and serious problems to the extent that doctors are even concerned about whether they can continue to provide a safe service. That is a betrayal by the Labour Party and Fine Gael of the people of Dublin West and what they said previously.

It is ironic that the leader of Fianna Fáil would attack the left in Dublin West in the context of the by-election. Fianna Fáil is the party that has reduced our society through its 14 years in government and consequent disastrous austerity policies to the crisis we have at the present time. The Socialist Party and the United Left Alliance will fight for the alternative in this regard. We will resist austerity. We will campaign with people power and invite the people of Dublin West to stand with us. We will advocate the economic alternative, to stop paying the gambling bondholders and to invest instead significantly in public ownership of financial institutions, introduce democratic control and, in terms of the euro zone crisis, to bring the catastrophic financial markets to heel with a democratic and socialist alternative to how they should be run.

Councillor Ruth Coppinger has been a public representative for the past eight years. She is an outstanding activist with a record second to none in fighting for proper planning and development in the area, in opposition to unjust charges, water taxes, bin taxes and the privatisation of services, education cuts and in support of her local hospital and many other issues. As a Deputy she would use her position as a lever of power for the people of Dublin West. What is the point in sending another backbencher to join the 113 that are already slashing the living standards of people? She will be a representative on the average industrial wage. Her election will be a signal that the United Left Alliance, the Socialist Party, and the left generally will begin and continue the process for a new political party of ordinary working people that will represent an alternative to the failed policies of austerity and those parties that implement them.

This by-election is an opportunity for the people of Dublin West to hold the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government to account for the raft of false promises made before the election and the rapid series of betrayals that have occurred since then.

In the typically cynical fashion of the political establishment here, Fine Gael and the Labour Party exploited the despair and anger felt by ordinary people who have been devastated by the economic crisis created by the greed of bankers, speculators and developers. People have been devastated by the brutal austerity imposed in the aftermath of the crisis to protect those self-same bankers, speculators and developers. They exploited the despair and anger to hoist themselves into power and into office promising change from the policies of the Fianna Fáil Government, but no sooner had they achieved office than they moved quickly to give us more of the same failed policies of protecting the super wealthy, bondholders and bankers, and doing the bidding of the EU-IMF at the expense of ordinary working people and the vulnerable in society.

Fine Gael promised on every election poster to get Ireland working. Since then what has it done? It has continued the massacre of jobs in the public sector.

It, along with the Labour Party, incredibly, is now promising to privatise vital State assets to corporate vultures to pay off the gambling debts of bondholders, something everyone knows will lead to more job losses for ordinary workers in this country. The parties in Government promised before the election to protect public services and the vulnerable. Instead, they have closed down hospital accident and emergency units and cut resources for those with special needs. They talked about fairness before the election, and instead they have moved to attack the few protections for low-paid workers and raided the pensions of ordinary workers in this country to pay off the gambling bondholders.

This election is a chance for the people of Dublin West to pass verdict on the Government's betrayals and false promises, and to point in a different direction of saying that the needs of ordinary people and the vulnerable sectors of society, and the priority of getting people back to work should be the first priority of any government that claims to represent the people. Councillor Ruth Coppinger, standing in opposition to the Government, is someone who has a track record of standing with working people as they fight for justice and fair play. It would be a tremendous message for the Government to elect Councillor Coppinger. The people of Dublin West can be sure if they do that, she will stand with them in the battles ahead as the Government continues its reign of betrayal and austerity on the innocent people in this country who bear no responsibility for the crisis created by the corporate and political class in this country and in Europe.

This by-election is an opportunity for the people in Dublin West to send a clear message that they want action, not empty promises, from the Government to tackle the mortgage crisis. This is an area, ranging from Swords in north Dublin to Clonee on the Meath border, where over the past decade there have been huge developments of housing and apartments during the property boom. Many of the 10,000 unemployed in Dublin West bought their homes in this period. There was a deliberately inflated bubble, bringing significant profits for developers, builders and banks which forced people to take out huge mortgages on massively over-valued houses and apartments. The United Left Alliance and Councillor Ruth Coppinger reject any notion that there is a moral hazard in assisting people who are victims of a bubble deliberately inflated by bankers and developers with the assistance of the Fianna Fáil-led Governments.

Four key groups need assistance and Councillor Ruth Coppinger will fight tooth and nail on these issues. People in their family homes, who are in arrears and who need short to medium-term assistance cannot be left to the banks. We need an independent agency to assess their ability to pay. Those who want out of the huge debt they cannot pay should have an option to be tenants in their own homes. Those who, unfortunately, have already been evicted from their homes should have outstanding debt after sale written off. This is a huge noose around the necks of ordinary people. The problem of negative equity means we will have to bring mortgages into line with the value of property. The banks have already been bailed out in this regard and we must bail out the people in the case of their homes. The bankruptcy laws must be changed in order that no person in his or her family home is affected by bankruptcy laws and no person in a family home will see himself or herself caught up in the bankruptcy laws for up to 12 years.

I call on the people in Dublin West to use this opportunity to use their vote to send a strong message to the Government, especially the Labour Party, that they want change, not broken promises of change. They want real change to put people's needs before profits and greed. Bail out the people, not the bankers. The Socialist Party and United Left Alliance candidate, Councillor Ruth Coppinger, will make this issue one of the key issues in this by-election and, if elected, will bring that fight into the Dáil as a strong Opposition United Left Alliance TD.

I sympathise with the family and friends of the late Deputy Brian Lenihan. The next couple of weeks will be a difficult time for them.

This by-election has given a unique opportunity to the people of Dublin West to reject the false promises made by those in the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government in the run-up to and during the last general election. I refer to the politics of the big lie that stated during the course of that election that the vulnerable would be protected and that there would be no austerity for those who were already poor or were under pressure on low and middle incomes. Of course, the opposite happened. Ordinary people now find themselves being ruled by a Government which has simply changed its clothes. The same failed policies and austerity of Fianna Fáil are now being imposed by Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

There are 10,000 unemployed in Dublin West and we need an emergency job creation programme for them. Money can and should be made available to create emergency jobs for thousands of people in public works programmes right across the city and throughout the country.

Another area where significant promises were made was social welfare. Deputy Burton's so-called Department of Social Protection is cutting off people regularly. It is taking 20 and 26 weeks for people to get a decision, for instance, on carer's allowance. Home help services and the provision of special needs assistants are being cut. These certainly were not the actions we were led to believe the Labour Party would pursue in this Government.

Ordinary people on middle and low incomes are being hugely pressurised, not by one tax but by three. There is the household utility charge, starting, we believe, at €100 and which will probably end up at a minimum of €500, the refuse tax, and now the water charge as well. Ordinary families under huge pressure to pay their way will soon face a minimum bill of €1,000 a year, if not €1,500.

This is a unique opportunity for the people of Dublin West to send a clear message to the Government to stop the austerity and put people back to work. Councillor Ruth Coppinger of the Socialist Party and United Left Alliance is the candidate to do that. I ask the people of Dublin West to support her and elect her to the Dáil, where she will stand up for them. They can be assured that what she says before and during the election will be exactly what she says after her election to this House. She will show that elected politicians can be truthful and honest in their campaigning.

With the permission of the Acting Chairman, Deputy McConalogue, I wish to share my time with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar.

It hardly seems like months have elapsed since Brian Lenihan so sadly died. I again offer my condolences to his wife, Patricia, and his children, Clare and Tom, for whom I am sure this has been a difficult and painful period. I had many political arguments with Brian. We disagreed over the bank guarantee — he managed to persuade everyone else in the House to vote for it — but we still had a very friendly relationship and we worked together at all times for the best for the people in Dublin West. We remember him.

It is a reform of the Government that, unlike with the previous Government, by-election vacancies will be filled within six months of the vacancy arising. That is good. It gives the people of Dublin West an opportunity to fill the seat which was filled by someone as distinguished and as thoughtful in relation to his constituency as the late Deputy Brian Lenihan.

The Labour Party has nominated my colleague, Councillor Patrick Nulty, to contest the by-election. Councillor Nulty is a young councillor. He was elected at the head of the poll at the last local elections. He stood with me in this year's general election. Mr. Pat Nulty comes from a family that has lived in Blakestown and Clonsilla for many generations. He was brought up in Corduff and went to school in St. Patrick's national school in Corduff and Riversdale community college. He studied at Trinity College before doing a master's degree at UCD. His family and the local community can be very proud of the contribution this young politician has sought to make as a public representative of integrity, hard work and commitment to the people of Dublin West.

When all the rhetoric is put aside, it cannot be denied that Dublin West has been the home of developers, as Deputy Joan Collins alluded to. The Labour Party has been to the fore in ensuring the precious green belt in Dublin West has been maintained to some degree. We inherited a terrible problem when we took office. Good individuals throughout Dublin West have lost their employment through no fault of their own, but as a result of the greed of bankers and developers. I agree with the analysis of some Opposition Deputies in this regard. This Government is facing a difficult uphill task. I am determined that we will turn the country around. We will get people back into employment and decrease their dependence on social welfare. Contrary to what some Members of this House think, people want to be financially independent, to work in jobs and to own their own businesses. That is what most families and individuals want. People do not particularly want to be on social welfare. That is why the introduction of the jobs initiative was one of this Government's first acts when it took office in May. Slowly but surely, the initiative is bearing fruit.

Deputy Higgins referred to the issue of the debts owed by Anglo Irish Bank. I remind him that during its short period in office, the Government has successfully concluded a renegotiation of the interest rate. I said during the general election campaign that such a renegotiation was possible. On the night the IMF deal was negotiated, I said that it was very onerous for Ireland and that the interest rate would have to be renegotiated. I am glad to say that a Government comprising the Labour Party and Fine Gael has renegotiated the interest rate down from just under 6% to approximately 3%. Fianna Fáil said it could not be done. Others thought it could not be done, but it was done. We now have to do some work on the Anglo Irish Bank promissory notes. I suggest, with due respect to Deputy Higgins, that this is the most significant issue in relation to Anglo Irish Bank. The arrangement that was made regarding promissory notes involves a charge of €3 billion, plus interest, on the budget of this country every year for ten years. Fianna Fáil took a two-year interest holiday on the promissory notes, which currently attract an interest rate of 8.5%.

A great deal of ingenuity and effort will be required from every member of this Fine Gael and Labour Party Government. The recovery is slowly beginning to happen. More than 900 people have taken up internships under the JobBridge scheme. A further 500 people have transferred from the work placement programme to the internship scheme. I am sure many Deputies feel it is not enough. We have to try to nurture the process of recovery and reform. We are reforming the social welfare system at a time when money is tight. That is always difficult. It is important that we reform the social welfare system. It is not good enough to leave people on social welfare indefinitely, without hope of being able to work and look after their families independently. Some people have such a patronising attitude to those who have unfortunately lost their jobs. There has to be a key focus on getting people back into employment. As a country, we will be better off when fewer people are on social welfare and more people are back in employment or starting businesses. That is the formula this Government has adopted with regard to Ireland's economic recovery.

The Money Advice and Budgeting Service, which is funded by the Department of Social Protection, is assisting tens of thousands of people throughout the country who are experiencing difficulty with mortgages and other debt. The Department is spending €77 million a year on rent supplement for approximately 18,000 families that are in trouble with their mortgages. The Deputies opposite may suggest that these measures are not sufficient, but they are important for the families that benefit from them. When people cast their votes in Dublin West, I am sure they will consider thoughtfully the achievements this Government has chalked up in six short months as part of its reform agenda. The country is now facing forward. Slowly but surely, we are emerging from the disastrous bank guarantee, which was introduced by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party and supported by many parties and individuals in the Opposition. Unfortunately, Sinn Féin voted in favour of the guarantee on the night we voted on it.

That is not true.

I welcome moving of the writ for the Dublin West by-election. Before I say anything else, it is important and appropriate to for me speak about Mr. Brian Lenihan, whose sad departure gave rise to this by-election. He was a very good constituency colleague. He always wanted to solve problems locally. He often solved them quietly rather than running to the media or the barricades as others tend to do. He was always willing to share information and to give the secret story of what was going on in government, even if that might not have been in his interests much of the time. We had some very interesting chats. He was very generous to the Opposition Deputies in his constituency. He will be sadly missed by Fianna Fáil supporters and everyone in the Dublin West constituency, including those who did not vote for him.

One of Brian Lenihan's last achievements was to obtain €3 million in funding from the Vote of the Office of Public Works for the upgrading of Chesterfield Avenue, which runs through the Phoenix Park. In the very last leaflet he dropped in Castleknock, he claimed credit for securing the funds for the work in question. It is happening in the winter rather than the summer because the tender was delayed. I am pleased that Mr. Brian Lenihan's final achievement is being delivered on now, even if Deputy Martin and Councillor McGuinness think it is a terrible thing to do. I agree with Mr. Brian Lenihan on that one. The work needs to be done, even if it causes disruption in the Phoenix Park over the next few weeks. Given that the money might not be there next year, it is important that the work is done this year. At least the road will not fall apart altogether if we have a very cold winter. I am grateful to my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, Deputy Brian Hayes, for ensuring this money is being spent. Of course, the Minister of State is Fine Gael's director of elections for the Dublin West by-election. I hope the success he enjoyed as director of elections for the Dublin South by-election two years ago will be repeated on this occasion.

This vacancy is being filled within a six-month period. That is a good change. When we were in opposition, we promised that if we got into government, Dáil vacancies would be filled within six months. We passed legislation in this House to facilitate that. It is welcome that by-elections will be held to fill vacancies within six months from now on.

The Leader of the Opposition mentioned metro west. I assure him it was nowhere near shovel ready. It was planned to proceed with an oral hearing in a few weeks' time. That would have cost the State and the many local interests who were objecting to the project a great deal of money. We all understand that even if a railway order had been secured, the project would not have gone ahead during the period of the order. We would have had to go through the entire process again after several years, by which time the planning and environmental laws and railway technology may have changed. On the advice of the National Transport Authority, I decided it was prudent to save the taxpayer at least €500,000 by not proceeding with the oral hearing. When it appears that we have the money to fund the project, we will go ahead with the oral hearing. I am very glad the decision has been welcomed by An Taisce and by some of the community groups, particularly in the Lucan area.

What we had under the previous Government was denial. Three years ago, the economy collapsed and it was very clear at that stage to anyone who could add and subtract that many of the major capital projects could not be afforded. The last Government could not face up to this so it spent hundreds of millions of euros on planning, design, consultants and all the rest for projects it knew it could not fund. It is my job as Minister responsible for transport to put a stop to this and to ensure our limited funds go, first, into maintenance and, after that, into improving existing infrastructure. Only then will we put money into new projects. It is important that instead of spending money planning ten or 15 projects we cannot afford to build, we would perhaps go ahead with one we can build. In that way, we can at least improve people's lives.

I visited James Connolly Memorial Hospital yesterday with the Ministers, Deputies Burton and Reilly, for the opening of the new endoscopy suite, which is a major part of the investment in the hospital. I am very pleased the Minister, Deputy Reilly, confirmed that there is no question of the hospital being closed and that there are no plans to end the 24-hour accident and emergency service. That is not even in the back of his mind and would not make sense in any case. I thought it was very important that he made those statements publicly. I call on members of Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party to stop scaring people and trying to scare up votes by peddling mistruths on the issue of accident and emergency services.

The hospital is 5% over budget. As a result, there will have to be some cutbacks in services between now and the end of the year. This is what has to happen if people go over budget. For example, I have to bring my Department in on budget and one of the measures I have taken to achieve that is to reduce the size of my office by 25%. I would expect people in the health service to co-operate with whatever is necessary to bring hospitals in on budget. The era when people overspend, knowing they will get extra money at the end of the year, is over. Hospitals get their budget at the start of the year and they stick to it. That is the way proper government works.

I referred earlier to Deputy Martin's comments on Chesterfield Avenue in the Phoenix Park. I watched the Socialist Party candidate last night belittling and mocking the fact that the Government has provided money for all-weather pitches in Hartstown and Clonee, and she suggested that, somehow, these would not be built following the by-election. I can assure the House they will be as I will make sure they are. I look forward to greeting Councillor Coppinger when I open those pitches in the new year and I look forward to providing many other all-weather pitches throughout the Mulhuddart electoral area and other areas where they will be very much needed in coming years.

I commend Councillor Eithne Loftus, the Fine Gael candidate. What Dublin West desperately needs is a local TD, working hard on the ground, one who is a member of a Government party and will actually have an influence on what happens, rather than one who just complains and knocks the area in the way other politicians do. Councillor Loftus is originally from Mayo but has lived in Castleknock for more than 30 years. She is a true community activist, who campaigned for a secondary school when there was none, who served on the board of her children's primary school and who gave so much voluntary time and effort for so long. I commend her to the House and to the people of Dublin West.

Let battle commence.

Question put and agreed to.