Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Programmes for Government

Gerry Adams

Question:

1Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has any plans to review the progress made with the implementation of the Programme for Government. [11048/12]

Gerry Adams

Question:

2Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has any plans to bring forward a revised Programme for Government. [11050/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

3Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach his views on progress made in the implementation of the Programme for Government after a year in office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11241/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

4Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach his plans to review or change any aspect of the Programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11242/12]

Gerry Adams

Question:

5Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the launch on the 7 March of the report into the progress made on the implementation of the Programme for Government. [13812/12]

Gerry Adams

Question:

6Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the publication of a report on the progress the Government has made in its commitments over its first year in office and the priorities it has outlined for the next 12 months. [13923/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

7Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will detail the procedures whereby the review of the Programme for Government was prepared. [16236/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

8Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will detail any recent changes he has made to the administrative arrangements which he has put in place to oversee the implementation of the Programme for Government. [16237/12]

Joe Higgins

Question:

10Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach his views on the progress made on the implementation of the Programme for Government after one year in office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22692/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 8, inclusive, and 10 together.

On 7 March 2012, following one year in Government, the Tánaiste and I launched the Programme for Government Annual Report 2012.

As part of the planning of the annual report, I met with every Minister to discuss his or her area of work in relation to the programme for Government and the progress that had been made.

The report is an honest appraisal of the Government's work in its first year in office and highlights our achievements in the priority areas of stabilising the economy and our finances, improving our international reputation and focusing on the creation of jobs. I fully believe we have made good progress in all of these areas.

The report contains only those programme for Government commitments which we felt had been either fully or substantially delivered to date and I acknowledge that there are some areas we have not been able to progress as much as we would have wished. We still have a long way to go but the most important thing is that we have taken the first step in the right direction.

In its first year the Government has reformed the banking structure, successfully renegotiated the EU-IMF programme to see savings of €9 billion, and rebuilt the trust and confidence of the international community. This has led to a strong flow of investment decisions by multinational companies, leading to real job creation in Ireland.

Since taking office, the number one priority of the Government has been to get Ireland working again. We have introduced a range of measures in the past 12 months to create as many jobs as possible and to assist those on the live register including the Action Plan for Jobs 2012, Pathways to Work, the Jobs Initiative and JobBridge. All of these initiatives are aimed at getting people back to work and building both their futures and this country's future.

The Government continues to seek further enhancements to the EU-IMF programme, to free up credit for small and medium enterprises, SMEs, and to push through our reform plans across all sectors. Over the next 12 months, the Government will continue to prioritise job creation, support debt-distressed families, progress investment through NewERA and the Strategic Investment Fund, implement reform, and improve our international standing.

My recent visits to both the United States and China provided an opportunity to promote trade and investment, strengthen existing relationships and build new ones. I conveyed the message that Ireland is open for business and that this is an excellent time to invest in and benefit from Ireland's recovery.

The Programme for Government 2011 - 2016 is a five year plan, and there are no plans to revise or develop a new programme. We have made substantial inroads in bringing the programme to fruition and will continue to do so over the coming years. A programme for Government office was established within my Department last year and comprises of two staff from within existing resources along with an intern from the JobBridge programme. The office has an ongoing role in monitoring and driving the implementation of programme for Government commitments across all Departments.

I would like to deal with two issues. May I deal with the first before returning to the second?

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. While I welcome publication of the Government's progress report, the real measure of its first year in office is the 7,000 citizens who pre-registered for a jobs expo held at the RDS in Dublin last weekend. This means 7,000 people paid a pre-registration fee to leave the State. The programme for Government, if I reflect it accurately, contained commitments in respect of a strategic investment bank and jobs fund. Before the general election the Taoiseach promised a €7 billion stimulus package, yet he has not brought forward credible Government-led investment proposals. The progress report fails to deal with the Government's broken promises such as its commitments not to put one red cent into banks or increase third level fees and its commitment to make major investments in job creation. Is this the same progress report the Government planned to launch with great razzmatazz on Merrion Square before cancelling the event? I am disappointed the report commits to the failed policy of austerity which is stifling growth and adding more people to the dole queues and emigration trail. I ask the Taoiseach to address the failures I have outlined. I have put to the Taoiseach a genuine, costed proposition for a €13 billion Government-led investment package to get people off the dole queues and back into work. Will he commit to this package or, in the event that he believes it will not work or does not like it, outline a better proposition, given that the programme for Government contained specific propositions to deal with this very issue?

In respect of the first 12 months, we have included in the progress report only issues that have either been dealt with fully or very substantially. As I pointed out, there were a number of issues we were not able to develop or did not progress in the way we thought we could.

In respect of the economy and banks, the EU-IMF programme was renegotiated; the reduction of the deficit target for 2011 was exceeded; interest costs were renegotiated to achieve a reduction of more than €9 billion; reliance on ECB funding was reduced; and the cost of bank recapitalisation was €7.5 billion less than estimated.

In respect of employment, as I told the Deputy previously, we published the jobs plan for 2012 which includes more than 250 proposals to be implemented for small and medium enterprises; Pathways to Work was launched, as was the national JobBridge internship scheme which has filled more than 5,000 places; €20 million was provided for a labour market education and training fund; income tax rates did not increase and primary social welfare rates were not reduced; the minimum wage was restored; the corporation tax rate was left unchanged; a targeted reduction in VAT - from 13.5% to 9% - in the hospitality sector has resulted in the creation of more than 11,000 jobs; the lower rate of PRSI was halved on jobs paying up to €356 per week; and NewERA was established alongside the new strategic investment fund.

In respect of international trade which is important for exports and, therefore, jobs, we set up the Export Trade Council and the Global Irish Forum was successful and is being followed through. We also launched a €10 million international start-up fund to encourage overseas entrepreneurs to invest here. In the next two weeks I hope to announce the first positive results of this measure which involves companies which are investing in Europe expressing an interest in setting up here. The same applies to the areas of health and education.

In respect of debt distress and housing, we set up a specific Cabinet sub-committee on mortgage arrears which is to meet again this evening; mortgage interest relief was increased for first-time buyers who had purchased homes between 2004 and 2008; a pilot mortgage-to-rent scheme is under way; €5 million was allocated to alleviate difficulties in unfinished housing estates; and the National Asset Management Agency has made available up to 2,000 properties for social housing. There have also been a number of other reforms.

The Sinn Féin programme sets out the party's view that it does not want further assistance from the IMF or the European Union and the National Pensions Reserve Fund should be used up to create employment. Some employment could be created using the fund. As I have pointed out, the Government intends to acquire a loan from it for the development of the infrastructure associated with Irish Water which will be of such importance. However, there are other proposals in the Sinn Féin programme which I do not accept.

The Taoiseach sat on the Opposition benches for a long time, during which he asked questions and was not given answers. I would like to think that in his heart of hearts he appreciates that he sometimes waffles, avoids the questions he is asked and offends and insults Deputies who have a mandate and are trying to be constructive. If he does not like the proposition Sinn Féin has put forward, he should tell us the reason. My party argues for Government-led investment and contrary to what the Taoiseach charges every so often, we welcome job creation, as the record of the House will show. I know he is aware of this and that he is, therefore, spoofing. Incidentally, these jobs are being created in the middle of this period of instability. Why can the €7 billion jobs fund promised by the Government not be introduced? I ask the Taoiseach to explain the reason, given that he was elected with a mandate to introduce it. Why has the Labour Party not brought forward the strategic investment bank, one of the commitments on which it was elected?

The Taoiseach went through a list of measures about which I did not ask him. For the record, the Government is also introducing water charges and will use the National Pensions Reserve Fund to cover the cost of installing the meters required to charge people for water. It has also introduced septic tank and household charges, increased VAT and implemented cuts across a range of necessary social protections.

Will the Deputy ask some questions, please?

The cut that sticks in my craw is the reduction by 500,000 in the number of home help hours. Elderly people-----

This is Question Time and I ask the Deputy to put questions.

Gabh mo leithscéal, a Cheann Comhairle, but we are discussing the programme for Government and the Taoiseach will not answer a straight question seeking an explanation of what happened to two specific elements of the programme for Government. If a party such as Sinn Féin makes a common sense proposal for Government-led investment with which the Taoiseach does not agree, he should treat me like an adult, explain the reason it will not work and offer me an alternative and better proposition.

I do treat the Deputy like an adult. He has been elected by the good people of County Louth, as is their absolute right, and does his best to serve them in his way. He also puts forward his own propositions, with which I happen to disagree. He speaks of welcoming job creation; it is true that in recent months decisions made by investors and companies abroad have resulted in 1,000 jobs being announced every month.

These have created spin-off opportunities for many small and medium enterprises to provide them with services and products in a competent fashion. The fiscal stability treaty, and a very strong "Yes" vote, will strengthen that confidence.

The Taoiseach knows that is not true.

The Deputy states that these jobs are being created at a time of instability. The reputation of the country has been restored in the last 12 months to the point that investor confidence, economic comment and political comment and business leaders now look at Ireland as being a country that is going in the right direction, difficult though that is. If the Deputy seeks to destroy that level of investor confidence by calling for a "No" vote in our own future, then he destroys the very proposition he is talking about. Jobs will only come from confidence and from decisions to invest. People from abroad wish to continue to invest in Ireland due to the package we offer, based on our demographics, our talent pool, our technology, our tax rates and our track record.

The Government created NewERA which has a role in the valuation of State assets. It renegotiated elements of the memorandum of understanding with the troika on the disposal of State assets, and the use of the resultant funds for job creation and for investment in infrastructure. These will be Government led propositions-----

Investments, not propositions.

-----in addition to the €17 billion capital fund which has been set aside by the Government over the period of this plan for investment in infrastructure and in much needed facilities, such as the national children's hospital, school buildings that need to be replaced, and primary health care facilities that need to be provided for people. The programme is over five years and will not be implemented in the first year. Government led propositions include NewERA, the State assets issue, the National Pension Reserve Fund and the implementation of the €17 billion capital programme, which is taxpayer funded and will be used for the development of very necessary facilities all over the country.

The Taoiseach committed in the programme for Government to protecting the vulnerable and to burden sharing on an equitable basis. The programme also placed a big priority on job creation. Yesterday in Athlone, a man who worked for 30 years in a small business but who recently lost the business challenged the Taoiseach about the Government's policies, and was told by the Taoiseach that "You could do with a day's work". That is a very demeaning and insulting comment to a man who had worked very hard for 30 years. Aside from the need to apologise to Mr. Gordon Hudson for that dreadful comment, does this indicate a new shift in policy from that outlined in the programme for Government? Is the new policy now contempt for people without work and contempt for people who have worked all their lives and who tried to contribute to our society? What about the glib comment on emigration that we heard earlier today? Tens of thousands of our young people are being forced out of the country as they cannot find work here, because the Government has failed to deliver on its promises to get the country working. The Taoiseach now simply describes that as a fact of life, when in fact it is a fact of politics and economics and the disastrous policies of austerity.

Is it the new stance of the Government to be contemptuous of people like Gordon Hudson, contemptuous of the people who are forced out of the country, contemptuous of the fact that one in three young people in this country is without work? Is that just a fact of life? Does the Taoiseach feel any responsibility whatsoever to update the programme to deliver on his party's campaign slogan to get the country working and the programme for Government slogan to protect the vulnerable and burden sharing on an equitable basis?

I am not sure what the Deputy's question is. He certainly likes listening to himself. This is a free country and a free society. When the Deputy speaks of glib comments and smart remarks, I understand what can happen in times of challenge when people are under stress. I was the victim of several comments, probably from some of the Deputy's own acquaintances, which are not repeatable in this House.

My philosophy is to make Government decisions that will help this country and its people. Unlike Deputy Boyd Barrett, I really have an interest in creating jobs for our people. Anybody who is out of work and is seeking employment deserves to have the very best opportunity brought about by government decisions and the opportunity to help themselves. The Deputy has pursued a policy of making reckless comments about the Government's decisions in all forms. He has put forward the proposition that a "No" vote would require €10 billion extra in taxes, which would mean that many more people would be out of work, more people would suffer from hardship, and many more people would have to leave our country. I frankly do not share his view. While he is quite entitled to express his opinion, I do not share that. I do not deal in glib comments and I do not deal in demeaning attitudes towards anybody. My job, as head of the Government, is to use the resources of the Government and work with the people to create the opportunities for employment. That is why this programme for Government is focused both on rectifying the problems in our own public finances, but having as a priority the opportunity for business to be able to thrive and for people to be able to go to work.

I empathise with everybody who wants to work but who cannot find employment, or who does not have the opportunity to retrain themselves or up-skill themselves to find employment. That is where the emphasis of the Government is being placed, through the JobBridge scheme, Pathways to Work, the jobs initiative and the various facilities that are being made available for small and medium enterprises and for very small businesses to employ new people and create that sense of confidence in our local economies.

Those are fine words, but does the Taoiseach seriously believe that it is appropriate to tell a man who has worked for 30 years in a small business, and who only recently lost that business, that he looks like a man who could do with a day's work, in response to him expressing his concerns about the impact of austerity policies? Does the Taoiseach not think that was a serious error of judgment and that he should simply apologise for it? What worries me, taken alongside his comments that the high levels of emigration from this country are just a fact of life, is that there is something glib and callous about the way the Taoiseach sees the problems affecting real human beings out there, who are at their wits' end-----

Can we have a supplementary question?

-----because of the failure of this Government to deliver on its promise to protect the vulnerable and to get the country working again. The facts speak for themselves. I do not know people in Athlone, but I understand that Gordon Hudson was not threatening the Taoiseach or anything like that, but was expressing his frustration. This is someone who has worked all his life-----

Is it okay to spit at people?

-----and cannot believe that he finds himself in this situation now. He is like so many other people who want to work and contribute to society and cannot believe our Government is unable to allow them to contribute their skills and abilities to getting our society out of the mess it is in.

Is the Taoiseach going to help people like Mr. Gordon Hudson and prevent the outflow of our talented, willing and able young people who want to contribute to our society and are being forced out of here or being forced to protest because there is no work for them, or is he going to continue with insulting comments such as, "You look like someone who could do with a day's work", when people are looking for work and want work, but cannot find any because the Government has failed them?

What the Government wants to do for every person, whether employed or unemployed, is to provide the greatest possible opportunity for them to live their lives as they see fit and in their best interests. I share the view of every Deputy regarding people who lose their employment or whose firms fold. That is no shame on anyone. Companies are formed and go out of business on a regular basis, as the Deputy is well aware. For anyone who was self employed or had a business which, unfortunately, came to an end, the Government does not regard that as some sort of failure. We want to look on the other side and ask what the Government can do to improve the atmosphere and environment in which jobs can be created and companies thrive. That is why the specific remit of the Minister of State with responsibility for small businesses and the jobs action programme of 2012 is to focus on those small businesses, to enable those that are in business to continue and thrive and to enable new businesses to be set up and get on with whatever they are involved in. That covers a range of issues, including dealing with PRSI, taking people off the unemployment lists and the live register, providing access to credit and so on. It is not a simple matter of waving a wand and putting everything in place. Structures must be put in place and tenders and models arrived at for the implementation of those schemes.

Whether someone is unemployed in Caherciveen, Carlingford, Carnsore or wherever, the focus and priority of the Government is the creation of jobs and job opportunities. That is why we make no secret of the fact that the priority and focus of Government is on getting Ireland back working.

The Taoiseach should have said that to the man in Athlone.

That is why we need the confidence and strength of the decision of the people on 31 May to send out the message that this is working.

Deputy Boyd Barrett is aware, whether he likes it or not, that public finances have been stabilised, growth has returned to the Irish economy in small measure for the first time in a long time, the independent analyses of growth projections for this year and next year are in the right direction and consumer confidence has risen in the last four consecutive months.

There are very challenging issues outside this country but our decision is to be made by the Irish people ourselves. We want to maintain that level of investment confidence and retain access to the insurance fund of the permanent mechanism for Europe, should that be required in the times ahead. At home, the Government intends to include in our own legislation good housekeeping conditions so that we rectify our public finances and ensure we never return to where we were when the economy ran off the rails.

Having listened to the Taoiseach I feel he needs to change the administrative arrangements for overseeing the implementation of the programme for Government. The Taoiseach identified three headline issues. They are consolidation of the public finances, restoration of our international reputation and jobs.

I agree with the Taoiseach that public finances have stabilised. They did not stabilise in the last year. It has not been acknowledged that the budgets of 2009, 2010 and 2011 were fundamental to the consolidation of the public finances. Although Members opposite voted against those budgets and railed against them, they were central to the consolidation and stabilisation of the public finances. One shudders to think what unsustainable fiscal pathway we would now be on if those budgets had not happened. That should be acknowledged when people talk about the consolidation of the public finances, irrespective of the politics of the matter, which were serious and grave as a consequence.

The claim to have restored our international reputation is bogus. There has not been any substantive political or diplomatic initiative. Given the gravity of the eurozone crisis, I have long been surprised at the lack of head to head meeting with European leaders by the Taoiseach or by the Tánaiste as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Much was promised in the area of jobs. In fact, too much was promised on all fronts. As a result, there has been a huge sense of betrayal and underachievement when people compare the last 12 months with the commitments made. Where is the NewERA commitment now? We were told 100,000 jobs would be created under the NewERA proposal. The strategic investment bank was meant to release significant capital funding, in addition to what had already been spent, to create jobs in the economy. There has been no appreciable change in access to credit, either by householders or, more particularly, by business people who wish to create jobs.

At the core of the programme for Government is a pledge to protect front line services. Clearly, this has not happened. The Taoiseach should admit that he has broken that promise. Everyone can see that for schools, gardaí, hospitals and nearly every front line service, the pace of cuts is growing and not receding. I ask the Taoiseach to comment on the fact that, for the first time in years, hundreds of young school leavers with disabilities cannot access placements in centres across the country because the additional funding provided every year to facilitate an increased absorption of students with disabilities from second level has not been provided. This is causing immense distress across the country.

This goes to the heart of what the ESRI said, that the 2012 budget was the most socially regressive of the last four or five years. For some reason the most vulnerable and least well off have been targeted across the board. Women have been targeted in their pension entitlements and in lone parent payments. The decision to cut funding to DEIS schools had to be revisited, for urban but not for rural schools.

Does the Taoiseach accept that the Government has singularly failed in its core commitment to protect front line services and that the least well-off have suffered the most?

Deputy Martin will appreciate the unprecedented scale of the challenge that faced the Government when it took office. The uncertainty surrounding our corporate tax rate was a cause of a great deal of anxiety for would be investors. It took some time to rectify that. As I said to Deputy Martin on a previous occasion, the Tánaiste recalled every ambassador and consul to explain the nature and philosophy of the priorities being set down by Government. That is reflected in the decisions made by many multinational companies since then. I outlined these to the House in recent weeks. Multinational companies continue to decide to make big investments in Ireland. We want to keep that level of investment flowing in.

It is obvious to everyone that the complaint, from small business in particular, is about access to credit. That is why when the Economic Management Council had a number of meetings with the banks, the two pillar banks gave a commitment to increase lending by €3.5 billion this year. The banks set out their strategy for that. Deputy Martin is aware that it is difficult to force banks to lend at a time of challenge and recession. The entire philosophy and culture has changed in this country. Where small businesses previously went to banks and requested assistance or increased loan facilities, it was always on the basis of property or land but that is not the case any longer. Loans must be based on cashflow projections and the risk assessed by the bank. In that sense quite a lot of small businesses have not had the experience themselves of putting together cashflow projections for six months or 12 months. That has been a cause of some delay as well. We intend to meet with the banks on a regular basis to see how their commitment to the lending of €3.5 billion of new money is being implemented.

I referred to Deputy Adam's question on NewERA and its function in assessing valuations in respect of State assets that might be potentially considered by Government for disposal. The creation of jobs through that investment could be considerable. The programme sets out the Government's belief in the creation of 100,000 new jobs by 2015.

Deputy Martin referred to front line services. While a range of positive actions are taking place across the spectrum of the Department of Health, there is still a long way to go. I pay tribute to the medical teams and all those involved in front line services such as nurses who, in the face of a perceived catastrophe when people left the public service at the end of February, measured up in terms of the implementation of hospital plans for each individual hospital and have carried them through with great effect. We want mental health to be central to the delivery of normal health services. It is clear that in a number of counties where there were big institutions and where significant numbers of nurses left the service the balance between retaining an institutional facility and having a community programme is one that is difficult to get right.

In respect of the disability services, it has been identified that there will be 700 school leavers in 2012 with intellectual disabilities. The HSE is now carrying out intensive work and discussions with non-statutory providers so that the emerging needs of those people can be met. The Disability Federation of Ireland and the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies are working closely with the authorities in that regard. It may be the case that persons with intellectual disability leaving school this year would require a range of activities. Some may require FÁS funded vocational training. Others may require approval to extend their educational placement for a specified time or they might remain in the class or the school for a further year. A further group will require rehabilitative training or day services provided by the Department of Health. The numbers are identified. Not all of the students will require support when they leave school. A small number will be able to move into mainstream employment and education. There is a challenge within the budget that is allocated. The voluntary federations and the HSE are now working intensively with regard to the 700 individuals who have been identified as leaving school this year.

I would be the first to say to Deputy Martin that we still have a long way to go in this and in a number of other areas. However, the Minister, Deputy Reilly, and both of his Ministers of State have made significant decisions that are making an impact but in time that will become more obvious with, I hope, a benefit for everyone.

The answer to the question on the 700 school leavers with disability is absolutely unsatisfactory. The situation has been going on for months. It is a budgetary issue. They did not get a budget this year in terms of the additionality that is required to provide for placements for those young people. That is the problem. It goes to the heart of a failure of prioritisation to ensure there is provision for those with the greatest need. Notwithstanding the significant challenges with which the Government and the Oireachtas have to deal, it is unacceptable that people have been left in limbo without any certainty. It is now May and we are taking about placements for individuals who will leave school in a month's time who were told they were to get placements months ago.

The Deputy must ask a question, please.

I have seen the letters outlining that due to a lack of provision of additional funding a place will not be provided for one's son or daughter as the case might be. It is a disgrace and it reflects badly on the Government in terms of prioritisation. It is reflected also in the increasing number of special needs assistants who are being cut.

I put it to the Taoiseach that he needs to change the way he is overseeing the implementation of the programme for Government. The promises on health are not being delivered at all. We have had cuts to local services, on which the Taoiseach made promises. The benchmark is the commitments made in the programme for Government. There is no other benchmark. A commitment was made to protect front line services but the Taoiseach is not protecting such services, in health for example, where waiting times are climbing dramatically because of changes introduced by the Minister, Deputy Reilly. There is no substantive reform agenda. It is directionless. Most people in the health arena acknowledge that when one meets them on the front line.

The Government was put together by parties who had a joint approach to unsecured bondholders. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, was perhaps the most celebrated when he said "Not a red cent more". That was greeted with great acclaim across the country, in particular by the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party. Could the Taoiseach indicate whether there is any effort under way to implement the particular promise which both he and the Labour Party made or will he take the opportunity to declare formally that the promise has been well and truly abandoned by the Government?

I do not accept Deputy Martin's premise that significant change is not being carried through in the health area. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, has introduced the special delivery unit which Deputy Martin is well aware is making a considerable impact in respect of waiting lists and entry to hospital. The Deputy is also aware of the fact that even quite recently the comments on health recognise the value of the care given within the health sector. The comments made by the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, have been open and straightforward that waiting times are too long and that people who have to be on trolleys in hospital, unfortunately, do so for too long. The intention is clearly to reduce both the admission times and the times people have to remain on trolleys.

The 2012 budgets were reduced by 3.7% this year in respect of the range of services to be provided. The moratorium on staff recruitment clearly gives rise to challenges in a range of areas. It was also laid out clearly in the 2012 HSE service plan that at least 2% of those reductions should not impact on existing needs and services but had to be generated from other savings and by achieving greater efficiencies. The Deputy is well aware of the range of areas within which greater efficiencies can be carried out and, I hope, will be carried out as people focus on them in the future.

Deputy Martin inquired about unsecured bondholders.

Has that commitment been formally abandoned?

Compulsory burden sharing for unguaranteed and unsecured senior bondholders in wind-down banks requiring additional capital was considered in the first half of 2011. Government discussions with the troika resulted in a change of direction in that regard with the priority now being to seek a reduction in the cost to Irish taxpayers of the long-term financing through the IBRC promissory notes for the bailout of IBRC's creditors. Discussions are clearly ongoing. The latest €3.6 billion instalment on the promissory note was settled with a 2025 Government bond rather than cash. As I pointed out, what may arise in other countries in their banking sectors may well have an impact in dealing with this matter by an alternative method. The Government cut the cost to the taxpayer of recapitalising the covered banks from an initial estimate of €35 billion in the programme of support to €16.5 billion through a combination of avoiding asset fire sales, burden sharing with junior bondholders and securing private capital investment in the State. In addition, the State is committed to acquiring Irish Life for €1.3 billion to complete the recapitalisation of Irish Life and Permanent. It is expected that the proceeds from the onward sale of Irish Life in due course will reduce the amount the State has committed to bank recapitalisation. The Central Bank and Credit Institutions (Resolution) Act 2011 puts in place a special resolution regime for future bank insolvencies.

When the programme for Government stretching from 2011 to 2016 was drawn up, we had not heard to a great practical effect about the austerity treaty the Taoiseach is now pushing on the people. Have the Government and its economic council factored the effects of the structural deficit targets and automatic debt reduction mechanisms mandated in the austerity treaty into the programme for Government and the targets contained therein and how they will be affected by this new element? Does the Taoiseach accept that the automatic correction mechanism mandated in the austerity treaty could involve severe cuts, tax increases or a combination of both in 2015 and onwards? Does he agree that this could have a serious effect in creating further deflation and recession in the economy? Does he accept that the treaty will seriously reduce the flexibility of the Government or whatever Government is in place, if it is bound by these straitjacket regulations, and hand to the European Commission control of the size, timeframe and method of correction? Does he see the contradiction and can he explain to us whether he has factored it in and what he expects the effect will be?

Does the Taoiseach agree that when his party members run posters up poles promising stability and investment in job cretion and yet more stability, they are making a fraudulent claim? The Government is bowing down to the sharks in the financial markets which create instability with their speculation and drive for mass corporate profits at the expense of society. Does the Taoiseach accept that these sharks will not give a fig about what is written in the austerity treaty if their punts on Spanish and Italian bonds and so on do not bring in enough profit or if there is a question over them? How does the Government square the fact that these powerful forces, these faceless, unaccountable and unelected financial marketeers, are way outside its control, with its promise of stability if it succeeds in frightening people into voting "Yes"?

The Taoiseach has spoken about growth and pointed to the jobs created by multinationals. I welcome every case in which a worker gets a new job. What does the Taosieach have to say, however, about the downside of his policy and its impact on the domestic economy? What does he say about the fact that gross national product fell by 2.5% last year? This reflected a huge crisis in the domestic economy which is what dictates and determines the level of unemployment. In that regard, why has the Taoiseach not been screaming about the necessity for growth and investment? Why has he not been screaming in Europe that some of the €1 trillion given by the European Central Bank at 1% interest to European banks should be mandated to be invested in job creation, small enterprises and so on instead of being speculated on sovereign bonds? A few sentences may be tagged onto the austerity treaty to make it look a little better, but does the Taoiseach agree that it is not convincing in the slightest?

I do not accept the Deputy's premise that this is an austerity treaty. It is an intergovernmental agreement and treaty about stability. From our perspective, it is about creating the conditions to get Ireland working again. I disagree with the Deputy's proposition that it is foisting austerity on the people. The country is in a programme until the end of 2013 and the intention is that we will emerge from it and be in charge of our own economic affairs. To do this, we will have to go back to the markets. Markets do not react; they anticipate. One rating agency has indicated that if Ireland was to vote against the treaty, the country would be downgraded. I have heard other rating agencies indicate that if something catastrophic were to happen in Greece, there would be a downgrading of a range of countries. How does the Deputy expect this country to get back to the markets and be able to borrow as a sovereign entity if we downgrade ourselves at the end of the programme from which we expect to emerge?

It is not fraudulent behaviour for a political party to state clearly that the treaty is about stability because that is what it states. The fiscal stability treaty seeks to provide a measure of confidence both in terms of good housekeeping, whereby we put our own affairs in order and continue the strong line of investment into the country, and by the State guaranteeing itself, through the vote of its citizens, access to the permanent bailout mechanism of the eurozone were it ever to be required. When the Deputy refers to GNP falling by 2.5%, he ignores the fact that employment also rose during that period. The Government's emphasis is on stimulating the indigenous economy. As I said to Deputies Gerry Adams and Micheál Martin, the focus of the Government is on the jobs action programme because we will only improve confidence in the indigenous economy if small and medium enterprises thrive. They are the key to the growth of the indigenous economy. I had the opportunity to travel to China recently accompanied by representatives of 90 Irish firms, all of them small and medium-sized enterprises. Every one of these companies was able to make its own connections, and contracts to the value of €35 million were signed. The new products being made by these firms will result in jobs being created for young people here.

It is not fraudulent behaviour for any political party to state clearly that this treaty is about stability, as it says in the treaty itself and as suggested in its name, fiscal stability treaty From that point of view, the markets anticipate things. That is why it is even more important that a strong signal of confidence and strength be given by our people to the fiscal stability treaty which, as Deputies know, refers in Article 1 to employment, social cohesion and competitiveness. They are the fundamentals of a strong economy and a good country. Far from foisting austerity on our people, in empathising with the challenges faced by so many of our people these days, we have no intention of turning back in the direction of where we were last year, when international comment equated Ireland with Greece. We are now in a very different position, heading in the right direction, and a strong "Yes" vote on 31 May will consolidate that and send out a message to those investors who are considering Ireland as a place for investment that they should continue to do so. The sooner that message of strength, clarity and confidence is sent out, the better for all our people. This will allow the Government to refocus its efforts on our own jobs programme for the indigenous economy and participate vigorously in the European summit on growth, which I expect will be the first of quite a number.

Does the Taoiseach agree it is not really about the words that are written down in any treaty? We must deal with the reality. I ask him to deal with reality - which he has consistently refused to do, even up to today - by being concrete and honest with the Irish people about the impact of the structural deficit reduction and overall debt reduction proposals. Can he give us something concrete? Have his economic advisers sat down with him and explained that the impact of implementing these measures from 2015 onwards will be further severe cuts? How would that in any way promote growth in the economy when, as we know, the experience of austerity Europe-wide has been disastrous? Does he agree the tragedy of the people of Greece is that they are the victims of excess and relentless austerity, which is wrecking the economy?

Does the Taoiseach agree it undermines the possibility of a free democratic choice by the Irish people in the referendum on 31 May when he continues to hold a gun to their heads by saying that unless they vote "Yes" they will not have access to European Stability Mechanism funds? Could he today remove that gun from the heads of our people by saying that if the Irish people vote-----

That is not the question with which we are dealing.

If the Irish people vote "No", that is a mandate for the Taoiseach to go to his European colleagues and tell them he will not agree to the underpinning of this new fund in EU law until that blackmail clause is removed, which he has the power to do. I ask the Taoiseach to do the Irish people a huge favour and give them the freedom to make a democratic, free and fair choice rather than forcing them to vote under compulsion and threat, which has been the strategy of his Government and the "Yes" side.

There is no additional fiscal consolidation required under this treaty.

From 2016 onwards, as the Deputy is aware, if Ireland has a structural deficit above 0.5% of GDP, it must implement a plan to bring it down to 0.5% of GDP over an agreed period and in accordance with accepted methodology that applies in each individual country. This certainly does not represent an additional cost of anything like €6 billion, about which the Deputy's colleague has been ranting for some time. It is incorrect to say the only way of dealing with a structural deficit is through expenditure cuts and tax increases. As I have pointed out on many occasions, the Government is dealing with the structural deficit through the obvious methods-----

Through cutting. Eight billion euro of cuts.

-----of addressing structural economic problems - that is, through structural reforms to help people back to work using improvements in technology and change in the structure of our economy. That is how we deal with this. Growth, as I said, will be the big lifter in this regard.

There is the small matter of €3 billion in cuts this autumn.

I do not accept at all what Deputy Higgins says. We do not have a veto over the ESM. The ESM goes ahead when the contributors of 90% of the funding have agreed to it. Our contribution is about 1.6%, so we do not have a veto over the ESM.

In any event, as the Deputy is well aware, the preamble to the treaty states clearly that countries that ratify the fiscal stability treaty will have access to funding from the ESM should they ever need it. These are measures of confidence that I think are fundamental to the way people in this country are now thinking about the treaty. People want to know that the line of investment into our country can continue to be strong. They like to hear that the corporate tax rate will be unchanged. The Deputy will be aware that tomorrow, I think, the Intergovernmental Conference will sign off on the vote taken by the European Parliament recently on the adoption of the protocols to the Lisbon treaty. There will be two countries that cannot actually meet the deadline - France and the Czech Republic - because of the national elections in France in the next month and the Czech Republic's internal measures.

Could the Taoiseach clarify the ESM in one sentence? This would be a big favour.

Both of these will sign off on the corporate tax rate before the end of the month, which is also of importance for us.

Deputy, could you sit down?

If the Deputy is suggesting to me that this country has a veto over the ESM, he is wrong.

Let me put it to the Taoiseach.

The Deputy will not be putting anything, because we have completed Question Time for today.

I ask him to finalise the matter in one sentence.

I am sorry; the time is up. Everybody got a fair chance. We spent an hour on nine questions.

There is another minute to go, actually.

A Cheann Comhairle, I tabled four of those questions.

I know, but we have run out of time. They all cover the same topic. They are questions on which we could stray into talking about all sorts of things.

Is it the case that we do not need to amend Article 136 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union-----

It is the nature of Question Time. It does not happen every day.

-----to legally underpin the ESM?

Deputy, resume your seat.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.