Prospects for Irish Economy: Statements (Resumed)

I am pleased to speak in this important debate on the economy. It is important that we mean what we say and try to give credence to the issues we talk about. I listened to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste speak yesterday. I do not know if it is all in their minds or all spin to be talking up the economy as they are. I notice their stated aim in the programme for Government is to reignite and regenerate the economy but we seem to be going the wrong way about it. It has now been recognised by the IMF that all the financial rectitude and austerity is not working. To prepare a budget that will in six weeks' time take another €3 billion to €5 billion out of the economy is just false economy.

We can talk all we like about new initiatives - and we have seen some, which I welcome - but those to do with microfinance and funding for small businesses have been too slow. The new schemes are not effective. There was talk of all kinds of supports for work, for example, during the Private Members' debate this week on the sick pay scheme, but I do not know where this is coming from. There is obviously a problem with sick pay, as the Minister accepted, and it is mainly in the public service. I listened to the debate last night and do not want to be repetitive. As a small employer, I know most employers have good relations with their staff. If staff go out sick, they are paid for the first couple of days; most come back within a day or two when they are fit to do so, and there will not be prolonged sickness. If that legislation comes in, on top of all the other legislation that has come in over the past 20 years, it will result in much duplication and replication.

It is said that when England sneezes, Ireland coughs. Now, when Europe says "Jump", we seem to say "How high?" As an example of legislation that has been taken in here from Europe, the nitrates directive that was passed some years ago is nonsensical in that it is based on calendar months. In most years, the weather has been so wet a person could not get onto land to spread the slurry. This year has been worse because cattle could not be taken out of the sheds and they are now in again because the land is so wet. We are approaching the final day of October with still no sign of an extension to the date. We have to spend time, energy and effort, with Ministers meeting Ministers and Departments meeting Department officials, to discuss this issue. It is nonsensical legislation because it should be related to climatic conditions rather than calendar months. This is one example that illustrates my point.

Health and safety is another issue. While it is badly needed and we must have due regard to the issue, it has gone totally bananas and over the top. It has become an industry for the people working in it, many of whom make quite a good living at it. What are they doing? They are persecuting ordinary business people. Many of those who come out to deal with health and safety issues do not have the first clue about it, as the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, will know, being in business himself. They have a folder under their arm or a briefcase and they have regulations to enact, but in many cases - certainly in my business - they do not know the function of the machines or how they operate. It is impossible for business people to continue because common sense seems to have stayed out on Kildare Street when these people were here drafting this legislation. I do not know what they were thinking about.

I am not here to criticise the public service; I am here to criticise the permanent government. Governments come and Governments go, and Ministers come and Ministers go, but these officials are there and neither hell nor high water would change them, their ideas or their thinking. There will have to be a whole dismantling of the government set-up that has been grown and created, which is self-serving rather than serving the public. This is at the basic root of our financial difficulties. I accept we are in a worldwide recession but we partied here, we were allowed to party and the party was promoted. As the last speaker said, everything was based around property, with the bankers and everyone else involved in firing out money recklessly. We had no regulation. The regulator was asleep, but what did we do? We rewarded him with a pleasant pension and a lump sum going off. Thankfully, some people have now been brought before the courts but nobody has yet been found guilty of anything.

Everybody was involved. The politicians paid the price, many from the party I was involved in, which I parted ways with because of the carry-on. However, not one official has been held to account for lack of regulation or any of the bad advice, the stupid advice, the non-advice or the warnings that were not given. I read recently in Deputy Ross's book that one medium-ranking official in the Department of Finance was sounding the warning bell but she was silenced and banished. That is not fit for purpose.

I attended a committee yesterday looking into the issue of Valentia and Malin Head. As I am not from those areas, I did not speak, but I listened, and I saw nothing but arrogance from officials. Reports have been commissioned and when the reports did not suit them, they dissected them and took out all the critical parts. What kind of a system have we grown into? When are we going to say "Stop"? When are we going to change it? The Government promised transparency and everything else but we got the exact opposite of what it promised. There seems to be ineptitude on all sides in dealing with the system. The system is dragging our economy into the mire and will keep it there, while fat cats can earn lots of money and enjoy expenses, foreign trips and so on. This includes ourselves. We are paid too much and we must take a cut as well. I am glad the Ceann Comhairle mentioned this morning that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission had made savings. However, what kind of a commission is it - what kind of a system is it - if the Independent grouping of 19 Members has no representation on it? We voted the Estimate through this morning-----

The Deputies over there are getting paid twice our salary.

Deputy Durkan is next to speak. He will get a chance to speak then.

I am getting the exact same payment as every other Deputy in the House. Perhaps Deputies who have been in the House for longer are getting increments. I do not know.

Excuse me, I have the floor.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is talking rubbish.

I wish to address the leader's allowance for which I get €42,000 a year. Deputy Durkan and his colleagues on that side of the House and this side are getting approximately €115,000 a year. I wish to put the myth to bed.

It is absolutely untrue. Deputy Mattie McGrath knows it is untrue.

Deputy Durkan might not be getting it but his party coffers are getting it to pay the handlers. It is true. It is a fact.

Deputy Mattie McGrath knows it is untrue.

I repeat that it is a fact.

Deputy Mattie McGrath knows it is untrue.

Please, Deputy Durkan.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is getting the money into his pocket.

Please, Deputy Durkan.

Yes, I admit the truth of what I get, approximately €41,000 in the leader's allowance. Deputy Durkan is getting it into his party coffers.

Excuse me, it is a fact. I want to put on record the fact that Deputy Durkan's party is getting €115,000 or €118,000 for his time as a leader's allowance which is being used to pay handlers, people who write speeches for the Taoiseach in Béal na Bláth. Those people were never in Béal na Bláth. The party is paying for spin.

The allowances are all accounted for, unlike what Deputy Mattie McGrath does with it.

Please, Deputy Durkan.

I am sorry, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. There is only so much nonsense I can put up with.

I am used to Deputy Durkan's bluster. The money goes to pay for the Taoiseach to go over to get pats on the head from Angela Merkel and it pays for the spin when he comes back.

When Deputy Mattie McGrath was on this side of the House he got a pat on the head as well.

Please, Deputy Durkan.

I could do without interruptions from the other side of the House. I have the floor.

Deputy Durkan is next to speak.

I wish to raise one other issue. I referred to the lack of transparency and interaction with elected representatives. The holding of a landowner is land-locked across the railway line in Kilross, County Tipperary. I made representations to Iarnród Éireann which has made a CPO to take the man's land off him - a total of 18 acres. Three alternatives could be used involving land swops and other such arrangements but the company is not interested. I have been told by senior officials in Iarnród Éireann that they do not wish to talk to me, that they do not want another meeting. Imagine that. How dare they? I am a public representative trying to represent the people of Tipperary to the best of my ability. The likes of a CPO did not happen when Cromwell was there or the landlords. We had to put up with that but we have a democracy now. Unelected officials must start to listen because they are dragging the system into the mire. The CPO is a powerful weapon given the expenses, costs and legal costs involved in objecting to it. I accept that it is required in certain cases but it should not be used in the instance to which I referred.

The Deputy's time is up.

Before I conclude I wish to repeat that what I said is fact. I get €41,000 of a leader's allowance, while Deputy Durkan and all his colleagues are getting €115,000 to €120,000.

It is a fact. I say it on the record.

It is untrue and Deputy Mattie McGrath knows it.

It is a fact. Deputy Durkan can challenge me anywhere. He can check the facts. He can come to the Chamber, bluster all he likes and attack the Independents. We are elected in the same way as he is and we are entitled to our representation.

It will be shown that Deputy Mattie McGrath gets an extra €40,000 into his hand, tax-free.

Expenses should be examined separately and reduced. It is a fact. It is on the record of the House. The Ceann Comhairle said this morning that he will publish the information on the website where it will be visible to all. Deputy Durkan can bluster then and see who is telling lies. It is a fact.

It will be shown that Deputy Mattie McGrath gets an extra €42,000 into his hand tax-free.

Deputy Durkan is getting three times as much.

I call Deputy Durkan. He will have an opportunity to address the issues, which is preferable to interrupting Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Yes. I do not do that. I put the facts to the House.

Whether the Member opposite interrupts or not, the fact of the matter is-----

I will not interrupt.

-----that unlike members of political parties, the Member who has just spoken gets a €41,000 bonus into his hand tax-free every year and every other Independent Member likewise. That is the end of that story. That can go on the website as well.

I wish to address an issue that is of some concern to many people in this country at present - it has been raised by Members of the Opposition also - who claim that we have a serious problem and that the Government is not doing enough about it. The Government took over 18 months ago when the situation was totally unpalatable. The level of debt imposed on the Government and the people of this country as a result of what happened previously was unlike anything ever known before. The Government has had 18 months of continuous frantic working, actively pursuing every possible avenue to try to ensure that something is done to alleviate the burden and lengthen the period over which the debts can be repaid, in short, to keep the country afloat. No regard has been had for that from the other side of the House. It is utter hypocrisy for people on that side of the House to jump up and down in the manner witnessed this morning about denial on the part of the Government. I remember when some of the people on that side of the House thought that “denial” was a river in Egypt. That is not so long ago either. We have a serious situation in the country. The Government is doing everything possible to address the issues and it is working very hard at it. At every opportunity we get nothing but cynicism and negativity. Every morning we listen to some expert popping up from that side of the House who has an answer for everything and who knows how to resolve every issue that arises but knows the cost of nothing.

The word “austerity” has been tossed around as if it were a wrecking ball, as if it was something the Government had introduced to punish people. Austerity is the wrong word to describe what we face. What we face currently is tight housekeeping that was forced upon us by the recklessness of those who were there before us. The Government has had to take punitive measures, which affect people. People worry and are suffering and under stress. There is no sense in those on the opposite side of the House coming forward and saying again and again that there should be no more of that; that we must have stimulus and more spending. At least the Member opposite who has just spoken is consistent. When he was sitting on this side of the House he did not want any savings ever. He wanted more spending all the time. He still wants more spending, as long as it is spent in a direction that suits him.

We must be honest with people and explain to them from day to day that we are achieving some results of a positive nature that are of benefit to the economy and the taxpayers of this country. It is also true that we have established some degree of respect internationally. The Government has put in place measures and has pursued vigorously the need to ensure that some degree of respect and confidence is restored in this country’s ability to rescue itself from its current position. From all the information available to us it is clear the Government is succeeding in spite of all the obstacles. That is a good thing. It is positive. Deputy Shane Ross on one or two occasions has acknowledged that, and to be fair to Deputy Gerry Adams, he has acknowledged it on a couple of occasions as well. That said, the majority of the response from that side of the House is that we should spend more.

Let us compare the country to the running of a business or a household. What happens when a household has overspent and is unable to service its debt? Cutbacks must take place. Of course there is hardship and people are worried, hurt and aggrieved, but that is the way it is. That is the way things happen at all times. We must have a target and programme. We are in a programme. Despite all the negativity we are still surviving within the programme. We have defied the laws of economic gravity and achieved a much better position than was anticipated. I respond to those who say we do not have growth that it was never anticipated that we would. Where in God’s name have they been? Only fools thought a few years ago that we would have growth of any significance by now. It is a miracle that we have any growth at all. It is a major achievement that we have managed to come so far and still maintain the rudiments of a structure on the economy. That was a great result from the Government’s point of view. I accept it is not easy. Much work still has to be done. The Government will stick with it. It will not get much recognition for what it is doing.

Some people on that side of the House are working on one premise, namely, that the public have a short memory. They should know because they have tested it on many occasions in the past. The presumption is that the public will have forgotten and that at some time in the not-too-distant futur they will suddenly greet with open arms those who plunged them into the mess e. If the public so decides, so be it, but there are consequences as well, in the same way there are consequences for backing away from people’s responsibilities when those responsibilities arise. The responsibilities that are being thrust on the Irish people are huge, to say the least, but they are not the fault of the people. Some people within the system did not do what they should have done. Some people in particular institutions did not observe the rules as they were put to them and as a result the people and the economy were put in jeopardy.

The magnitude of the task before us has not gone away - but neither has the Government. It intends to pursue the task vigorously to ensure that at the end of the programme this country will have achieved the kind of status it set for itself in the beginning.

I have another related comment. There has been much speculation about whether the previous Government made a mistake or did the right thing in taking responsibility for private debt, unsecured debt and unsecured bondholders. That must be weighed against the consequences of what would have happened had the reverse taken place. That would have been serious. I have spoken about this issue before in the House. With the passage of time a certain simplistic notion seems to have emerged to the effect that if we had welshed on all our debts we would be better off now. I am not so sure about that. The impact on this country's economy would have been massive; virtually everything would have come to a halt. If we had been in a position where we did not have to borrow on a monthly and weekly basis for current budgetary purposes it would have been different. We were not, however, and still are not and we must borrow for a certain length of time.

How much time have I left?

It does not take long in passing. Austerity is not a policy but something that was brought upon this country and its people because of unfortunate neglect on the part of others in the past. It is not something in which this Government takes any pleasure; nor does anybody in this House take pleasure in it. However, it exists and we must work at it and come through it. We will come through it, with increased credibility. The year approaching is when this country will assume the Presidency of the European institutions. This is a great opportunity for this country and its leaders to set new benchmarks and new standards in order to be able to achieve the goals they have set for themselves. Reflected in that will be a dramatic further improvement in confidence in the institutions of this State and, as a consequence, confidence in the euro and the eurozone in general.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. In recent years we have had regular debates in the House about the economy but unfortunately we may not have been as frank as we should have been. If one looks to the projections made by the Government and various different support agencies in recent months it is clear we are not reaching the targets that were set. As to past predictions, the Minister for Finance stated he expected the economy would take off like a rocket. Nobody today would say that is the case. At best, the economy could be described as bouncing along the bottom, as others have indicated.

We can look at the economy in terms of the statistics that are provided on a daily basis but people often get immersed and buried in those. In my view, the first thing we must look at is the lack of employment, the size and scale of the numbers of people who are out of work - the figure is heading for 15%. Until we are serious about tackling that we will not have a sufficient level of economic activity to bring about the recovery that is required.

The Minister for Finance and the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, have great interest and knowledge of small business. The Government has had made three or four announcements on job creation. Last year there was much talk of a jobs budget. By the time it came around, however, it was a jobs initiative and, eventually, a jobs statement. The Government introduced some measures that were helpful, for example, the reduction of VAT for the tourism sector. Now, however, it talks of increasing costs for business. Last night there was a debate in this House in which speakers reacted to the spin that comes from the Department of Social Protection. The intention of the Minister, Deputy Burton, is to seek to make employers pay for the sick leave of their workers. The standard mantra of Governments in the past ten years is "You don't tax work", because it is a disincentive for people to take up employment. The same applies if the cost of providing a job is increased. That is a disincentive to the employer and to those who would create or retain work. Some of the communications we have had from employers in recent weeks would certainly support that case. Until the Government focuses on real measures that assist business, first, to retain jobs and, second, to create them, much of this commentary is foolhardy.

The Minister of State is well aware of the issue of rates, and the size and scale of how they are computed. That was fine when we had a strong economy. Sadly, businesses that are based on floor area, such as furniture outlets or any other kind that requires a large display area, are being absolutely hammered in terms of the rates they must pay, even though they may not have much turnover in the current climate. It is incumbent on Government to find a solution to the redistribution of the rate base in a manner that recognises the true turnover, the profitability or otherwise of the enterprise, rather than operating by the crude methodology that existed and worked in the past. It is no longer fit for the level of activity in the economy and until we deal with that issue, we have a long way to go towards economic recovery.

The Government heads to Europe on a regular basis and tells its counterparts how well it is doing, while at home things are going the other way. The domestic economy continues to contract and retail sales are in a really bad state as a consequence of the way in which the Government levies charges and taxes. I do not suggest there is an easy way out of this but if the Government focused on job protection and job creation and took those as its starting point there would be a chance to understand the real scale of the problem and find the solution. Unless and until that happens, we have some real problems. Unemployment will remain high according to projections such as the latest ESRI figures which show it remaining at approximately 14.8% this year. However, according to the Government's growth and stability programme, the figure is 13.6%. In any case, it continues to ratchet up.

One in eight people currently in receipt of unemployment benefit is better off staying on welfare than moving to paid employment. These are the kinds of issue the Government should be finding solutions for rather than taking the macro-approach all the time, hoping those issues will resolve themselves. In a booming economy they do, but now is the time for micro-management of issues that can assist.

There is another issue the House discusses almost on a daily basis, namely, the lack of availability of credit. To be fair, at long last Bank of Ireland and AIB are beginning to show some level of support. It is not enough but they are starting by putting in place the kind of systems that will at least empower them to make decisions on lending to people who have come through a difficult period. In recent years, if people had a difficulty in regard to their accounts or credit rating they were just pushed away and left to wither on the vine. From the interactions I have had with constituents in recent months there seems to be a softening, a realisation that the only way we will achieve economic recovery is to assist those people who had worked hard but because of the way in which the economy faltered in recent years had found themselves in very difficult financial positions. Although the banks would not have wanted to deal with these people in the past they now realise this is the only way they will recover business and get matters back on track.

I appeal to the Minister of State, with his business experience and acumen and his understanding of the sector, to focus almost exclusively over the coming period on ensuring that small to medium enterprises, the bedrock of our economy, are given a break. The Labour Party took a very disingenuous position in the run-up to the last election and promised, to the retail sector in particular, it would change the upward-only rent provision in legacy leases.

At the time, I thought this was cynical and all the legal advice suggested that it could not be done. Again, however, it was a case of trying to win the election. In that context, hard-pressed people and businesses were taken by the nose and led to the cliff edge. As soon as the Labour Party entered government, it left those to whom I refer to their own devices. As the Minister of State is aware, many of them have since fallen off the cliff. The position taken by the Labour Party in this regard was outrageously cynical.

I recall the Public Gallery being full on one evening when the Labour Party introduced a Private Members' motion in which it excoriated the previous Government for accepting the legal advice of the then Attorney General. Labour Deputies waved the reams of legal advice they had obtained about the place and stated that there was nothing to preclude the abolition of upward-only rent clauses in existing leases. Labour has been in government for almost two years now. When he introduced his first budget last December, the Minister for Finance quietly stated that the Government would not be in a position to proceed with what had previously been proposed in this regard. That left Labour off the hook. Many small businesses are suffering as a result of what happened in this instance. Those businesses took a gamble on the basis that when the Labour Party entered government, this matter would be resolved. Sadly, that has not proven to be the case. What Labour did was particularly cynical. I have yet to hear any member of the Labour Party apologise for-----

Many people's rents have decreased.

I accept that. I also accept that landlords have been far more understanding. After all, many of them have had no other alternative. However, as a result of their location, etc., some businesses have gone to the wall because their landlords saw better opportunities and, in some instances, effectively forced them into bankruptcy. That is particularly sad.

The next speaker is Deputy Fitzpatrick, who is sharing time with Deputy Griffin.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Government's economic policy. As Deputies will be aware, economics is defined as a social science which analyses the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. In the context of Ireland and the benefits that are accruing as a result of the Government's policy, it is easy to identify numerous national successes. Each night, as I cross the Boyne cable bridge in my constituency of Louth-East Meath, I see the benefits that have accrued.

In 2011 Ireland returned to economic growth. Real GDP increased by 1.4%, the first annual increase for some time. In the first six months of 2012, it increased by 0.5%. This compares favourably with the Department of Finance's forecast of 0.7% GDP growth for the entire year. Between 2007 and 2010, GDP decreased by 17.1%. In the context of employment, the Government inherited a jobs market that was in free fall. More than 250,000 private sector jobs were lost from March 2008 to March 2011. The numbers on the live register peaked at 448,000 in August 2011. The number of jobs in the private sector has increased by 16,900, or 1.5%, since the first quarter of 2011. While total employment fell by 13,700 in the second quarter of 2012, the vast majority of these job losses were due to the public sector reform programme. There was a net increase of 6,000 jobs in IDA Ireland companies in 2011. This pattern has continued in 2012 ,with 5,000 new jobs announced in the first six months of the year. Major announcements since March 2011 include: the creation of 1,000 jobs by PayPal in the town in which I reside, Dundalk; the creation of 800 jobs by Sky, the creation of 500 by Mylan; and the creation of a further 500 by Apple.

One area in which I am particularly interested is that which relates to mortgages. The pace of mortgage arrears slowed in the first quarter 2012, following a rapid rise during 2011. The Government's strategy has four aspects, namely: the rolling out of resolution strategies by the banks; new personal insolvency legislation to incentivise banks to reach an agreed solution with borrowers; the offering of comprehensive advice, including via a new website and an independent financial advisory service; and a mortgage-to-rent scheme to keep families in their homes.

Another area of economic policy on which I am particularly focused is that of jobs and job creation. My constituency has been fortunate enough to have welcomed some large international companies since this Government entered office. The Government halved the 8.5% lower rate of employers' PRSI on weekly wages of up to €356, thus aiding employment in low skilled sectors. The OECD has welcomed this scheme and advised the government to extend the PRSI reduction past the end of 2013. The Government also introduced a reduced rate VAT of 9% in respect of tourism-related activities. Overseas visits in 2011, at 6.62 million, were up 7.9% on 2010. Under the Action Plan for Jobs 2012, more than 270 measures will be implemented by 15 Government Departments and 36 agencies to make it easier for businesses to commence operations, expand, export and create jobs. Employment in accommodation and food service activities is up by 10,600 since March 2011.

While great successes, these are only the beginning. The Government acknowledges this fact. In that context, we are determined to continue and not rest on our laurels. We are also determined to continue this good work and create a meaningful and lasting economic future for this country.

Táim fíor-bhuíoch as ucht an seans labhartha ar an ábhar an-tábhachtach seo.

When the Government came to power in March 2011, it inherited an absolutely unprecedented mess. Efforts have been made to try to improve our overall economic position in the interim. However, this is proving very difficult. We should not forget how we got here and the responsibility which lies with the political system in this regard. For the sake of future generations, it is important that we should learn this lesson. We must continually remind ourselves of all the events which led us to the current pass. There must never be a recurrence of what happened in this country in recent years. We must take measures to ensure that there will be no such recurrence. Significant reform will, therefore, be required in the context of how this House - particularly with regard to how Members are elected - and the entire political system operate. I accept this may be a discussion for another day but I am of the view that it is important to outline the position.

One of my greatest concerns at present relates to the fact that almost 450,000 people are on the live register and that a huge number of individuals, mainly the young, are being forced to emigrate each day. This is completely unacceptable and, as a proud Irishman, it makes me very sad. The impact of what has happened in this country really hits home when I go on Facebook or Twitter and see so many of my friends, and people with whom I grew up, living in Australia, America or the UK. One of the fundamental concerns for Ireland, as a nation, must be to provide work for its people in order that they might remain in this country and build their lives here. That challenge must be taken up not only by the Government but also by every Member of this and the Upper House. We need to put our shoulders to the wheel in respect of this matter because what is happening at present is heartbreaking and it must not be allowed to continue.

In the context of trying to grow the economy and create jobs, I am concerned that domestic demand will remain weak as long as there are a number of negative adjustment budgets in our future. This is a major problem and the Government must give serious consideration to introducing measures that will accelerate the corrective process relating to our finances. At the same time, it must be extremely careful not to implement any measures that would be deflationary or that would push us over the tipping point. As long as we are facing into three, four or five years of adjustments, demand and confidence will remain poor and, as a previous speaker indicated, we will continue to roll along the bottom. This is no way to try to grow an economy. We must, therefore, contemplate some of the low-hanging fruit that is still there to be plucked and be imaginative in the context of the budgetary process.

I had occasion recently to consider some statistics in the context of areas in which additional revenue could be generated through the adoption of certain taxation measures. I refer, for example, to the €525 million that is currently being paid - through the universal social charge - by those who earn over €200,000 per year.

There may be more leeway to collect additional revenue for the State. For example, I do not know of anyone earning more than €200,000 who is cold or hungry at night, who cannot afford oil for this or her home heating tank or who cannot afford to feed his or her children. Such individuals should be considered. More than €900 million is generated from those earning over €100,000. However, those earning €200,000 - equal to €4,000 a week gross, a very significant income - generate €525 million in taxes and perhaps there might be scope to get more from this group.

The issue of corporation tax was raised by speakers. The rate of corporation tax cannot be touched because it would be a negative move given the potential to attract foreign direct investment. There may be some leeway with regard to the very generous allowances currently paid in that sector such as capital allowances which cost the State €1.55 billion last year.

All of these measures need to be examined. Every euro we can collect by means of fair and just taxation measures is one that will not need to be taken from the allocation to fund somebody's home help or personal assistant's hours or to provide services for a person with a disability. Such cuts are unacceptable. Therefore, we need to look at alternatives. Talk of alternative taxation measures is not popular but we have to do this because of the mess in which we find ourselves. The quicker we can achieve fiscal rectitude, the quicker we can grow the economy, create jobs and bring our young people home to their native country from all over the world.

I wish the Minister for Finance and his team well in the preparation of the budget. It is not easy to cover all aspects in five minutes. A significant challenge faces us and we must all contribute in a positive and constructive manner. This is not the time for negative politics or scoring political points. It is a national emergency and we all need to step up to the mark.

The Fine Gael-Labour Party Government is wedded to its futile economic strategy of austerity. This strategy, inherited from Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, is being pursued with gusto. It is not working, yet the Government persists with it. It has not learned the lesson that if one tries something and repeats it year on year and it fails again, one must try something else. Austerity is undermining public services in a manner not seen since the 1980s. Nowhere is this more acutely in evidence than in public health services. We have had successive years of spending cuts, culminating in €1 billion being taken out in 2011 and €750 million in the current year. The spending over-run in the health budget this year was entirely predictable because the amount of money cut from the health budget for 2011 and 2012 was completely unsustainable. We are seeing the outworking of this cut in shrinking services and ever greater hardship for those who use the health service. Every Member is aware of this fact. Last week, regrettably, Members belonging to both Fine Gael and the Labour Party voted down a Sinn Féin Private Members' motion that had sought the reversal of the disgraceful cuts to home help hours and home care packages. The Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, has presided over cuts of almost 1 million home help hours since he took office. By their vote last week Government Deputies fully endorsed these cuts. There is no other conclusion to be drawn. They may claim sympathy with the vulnerable individuals who are losing home help hours or being denied home care packages, but they are shedding crocodile tears. They have signed up to a vicious regime of cuts.

The vulnerable and the elderly are being attacked on two fronts. The cuts in home help hours and home care packages are hitting people living in their own homes. There are now drastic cuts to the numbers of public nursing home beds also. The facts are much worse than even I had assumed in the past 12 months. I have received a reply from the HSE to a parliamentary question stating that from January 2011 to August 2012, a total of 1,201 public nursing home beds have been closed. These include both long-term and short-stay beds, meaning that provision for both long-term care and respite care is affected. Service cuts mean that many older people will have no choice but to seek residential care which, increasingly, will be private care because, side by side with its cuts regime, the Government, like its Fianna Fáil predecessors, is a champion of privatisation. That is some record for the Minister for Health and the Government - nearly 1 million home help hours cut and over 1,200 public nursing home beds closed in the period since the general election of 2011. We have now reached a position where vital services are collapsing or are on the brink of collapse.

Last night I met representatives of two providers of care services for people with disabilities. Sunbeam, based in County Wicklow, provides both residential and day care services for 350 people. In 2012 alone, its funding from the HSE has been cut by €798,000. KARE, based in Kildare, provides services for people with intellectual disabilities. In 2012 its funding has been cut by €840,000. These cuts are on top of the cuts made every year since the collapse of the economy. The cuts of recent years have amounted to 15%. In 2012 the rate is 3.7% alone. How do the cuts affect persons seeking these supports or services? Their most immediate effect is that new service users cannot be taken on and the waiting list is growing. I learned last night of a couple in their 70s who have been waiting many years for a place in care for their disabled son who is in his 50s. Because of the cuts they may never find a place for him. This disabled man is being denied a chance to lead a more fulfilled life and his parents are being denied a sharing of the care burden in their 70s, after a lifetime of caring for him. Now, in their twilight years, they face awful uncertainty and anxiety about what will become of him when their day is done. I have no doubt that this case is replicated in every county. That harrowing and stressful situation and fear of parents as they age about their special needs son or daughter must be a terrible drain on them.

As well as preventing the taking on of new service users, the cuts have hit respite care provision, as well as early intervention, transport and day services. All of the efficiencies demanded by the HSE have been achieved by these service providers, while staffing numbers, pay and non-pay costs have been cut to the bone. Those involved in this sector which include service users, families and service providers are literally living in dread of what faces them in budget 2013. The collapse of services has already begun and further cuts to funding for disability services will accelerate the process. I use the opportunity to appeal that no further cuts be directed at services for older people or people with disabilities. What has happened already is shameful and there can be no consideration or countenancing of further cuts in budget 2013. I appeal to Members opposite to use their special access to support the voices from the Opposition benches.

The Government, in particular the Minister for Health, constantly repeats the mantra that it wants people to be able to stay in their homes or be housed in community care settings rather than in outmoded and inappropriate congregated settings - another word for institutions. In the past people with intellectual disabilities were placed in institutions such as St. Ita's Hospital in Portrane. The sad news is that we are returning to those days. The service providers report that because of the cuts, community houses are becoming unsustainable in some cases. That is what austerity means in practice.

A further cut to funding for disability services in 2013 will most definitely be a cut too far and must be resisted by all voices in the Chamber.

A cornerstone of the Government's programme is supposedly fundamental reform of the health service. The programme for Government promised a White Paper on financing universal health insurance "early in the Government's first term". A Department of Health briefing for this morning's meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, which I attended, states the White Paper will be published "as early as possible within the Government's term of office". Where stands this reform?

We have decreasing numbers of people with health insurance, rising premiums for those who have insurance, more pressure on the public health system from those exiting private health insurance and the persistence of a two-tier public-private system in which the struggling public system subsidises the private health sector. As I have repeatedly stated, Sinn Féin favours universal health care based on equal access for all. We want such a system to be provided by the State, funded from fair general taxation and free at the point of delivery. This would have to involve a higher contribution in tax from the highest earners than they currently contribute.

While we do not favour the model of insurance-based funding, if health insurance is to be the basis for funding, it should be a State insurance scheme. The least desirable model is an insurance system based on competing private health insurance companies. In such a scenario, the profit motive and interests of shareholders rather than the provision of a quality public health service for all citizens become the paramount consideration. The Government is pursuing the privatised insurance or Fine Gael model. The Labour Party, which had a different view from the Fine Gael Party on this matter, seems to have lost the argument in the negotiations on the programme for Government, assuming it raised the issue during that engagement. Taking the insurance route is a mistake. It offers the increasingly remote prospect of reform while the deeply flawed current two-tier system deteriorates, especially as a result of the austerity policy and health cuts of the Government.

Today the troika returns, and I have no doubt the Government will receive another pat on the head for its punishment of the people who elected it. However, there is another troika, one which does not come to Ireland on visits, namely, the combination of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil. Despite the bluster from Fianna Fáil Deputies, their party shares the same economic approach as the coalition. It is committed to austerity with all its fatal consequences for the economy and society. Its hallmark is hypocrisy, which it displays at every turn.

I was not the only republican who was deeply touched by the Fianna Fáil Party leader's new-found interest in social and economic affairs in the Six Counties, which he reflected on in Bodenstown last Sunday. No one was fooled, however, because his words were nothing more than a thin disguise for taking a swipe at Sinn Féin on the basis of opinion polls. There is no doubt the Fianna Fáil Party is increasingly attempting to insinuate itself back into communities. It still has cheerleaders in the media and, together with them, it is trying to foster collective amnesia in the hope that many will forget its appalling record in destroying the economy and exercising a deeply corrupting influence on politics. No one should forget any of this.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to this debate. The House is discussing the economic position almost two years after we were compelled to enter the troika bailout and four years after the collapse of our banking system. If we are to learn how to prevent a recurrence of this disaster, we should reflect carefully on the factors that brought it about. Reckless lending by Irish banks was made possible by participation in the euro, a project whose flaws have threatened its survival. If the euro was to work, the European Central Bank required full powers of monetary policy. However, it was not given such powers and instead became an emasculated version of the Bundesbank, with the sole aim of controlling inflation. While the ECB was given the power to set the interest rate for the eurozone, it could not control credit creation by national banks or regulate such banks.

When Ireland entered the euro, interest rates fell and Irish banks could borrow unlimited amounts of money from large German and French banks without any exchange rate risk. Having borrowed this money, they lent most of it to property developers, who created the worst property bubble in post-war Europe. At the height of the property boom, building and construction constituted 15% of Ireland's gross domestic product, compared to a European Union average of 5%. The problem was compounded by the inability of the Central Bank to raise interest rates to dampen the frenzy. The boom inevitably collapsed, leaving a legacy of mass unemployment, ghost estates, the National Asset Management Agency, the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation and the ghoulish spectre of Anglo Irish Bank.

While I do not wish to focus excessively on the past, it is important to understand the reasons for the economic collapse. In September 2008, the then Government was compelled by the European Central Bank to offer a blanket guarantee to bondholders who had irresponsibly lent money to Irish banks. Having also paid more than €1 million to Merrill Lynch for advice, it succumbed to pressure from the ECB and established the bank guarantee, for which Irish people will be paying for the next 50 years. During the same period, Iceland experienced a banking crisis which, relative to the size of its economy, was worse than the Irish banking crisis. While the Government of Iceland guaranteed deposits in the country's banks, it did not provide guarantees to bondholders who suffered losses on their gamble. Despite the dire warnings of the "free musketeers", the sky did not fall in. The country suffered a severe recession but recovered quickly and its economy is growing at a much faster rate than the Irish economy is likely to grow in the next five years. As Iceland is not a member of the European Union, it could not be bullied into implementing a policy that would impoverish people who never gained from the speculation of reckless investors and bankers.

As a result of the Irish bank guarantee, the debt of the covered banks became sovereign and the levels of borrowing required as a result of the guarantee caused interest rates on sovereign debt to rise to levels we could not pay. In November 2010, the Irish Government and citizens had the humiliating experience of hearing the Governor of the Central Bank announce on RTE that Ireland would require a bailout. I recall the event well as I was travelling to County Donegal to take part in a by-election campaign. Ministers had previously denied that a bailout was required and it was significant that the announcement was made not by the Government but the Governor of the Central Bank, acting on instructions from the European Central Bank.

In the snows of the winter of 2010 the troika arrived at Government Buildings to instruct us on how to run our affairs in the interests of German and French bondholders whose loans we had guaranteed. The then Government, in a grim parody of the US educational programme No Child Left Behind, meekly accepted a policy of "no bondholder left behind". The most powerful element of the troika is the International Monetary Fund, whose policies have been compared to bloodletting, the main treatment offered by doctors in the 18th century, when patients who did not die of the disease were likely to die of the treatment. The troika insists on cutting Government expenditure and raising taxes, both policies that make recessions worse. I observed this approach at close hand when I was a member of the Government for nine months. The IMF is hostile to State enterprise and has insisted on the privatisation of profitable State companies. The Government had to wage a battle to ensure the troika agreed to allow the proceeds of the sale of State assets to be used for job creation. It is vital that moneys generated from such sales are used for this purpose.

Ireland has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the European Union and it would be higher if it were not for emigration. I am particularly concerned about youth unemployment as it has damaging long-term consequences. For this reason, I am pleased the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, has promised to seek EU initiatives on youth unemployment during Ireland's Presidency next year.

It is said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is one definition of madness, yet more belt-tightening, adjustment and retrenchment is the only policy the troika will countenance in dealing with the crisis. I know, having sat at the table with its representatives, that the troika wishes to lower the pay of public servants and reduce social welfare payments. It is as if John Maynard Keynes had not revolutionised economics by showing that output and employment are determined by demand for goods and services and consumer demand is the largest element of overall demand. Free market economists persist in regarding the market for labour as if it were the market for mobile telephones. If the price of mobile telephones falls, demand for them will increase, whereas it is self-evident that if one reduces wages, demand for labour will not increase unless people have incomes to buy goods and services. Free marketeers argue that if we cut social welfare payments, people will have an incentive to take up low-paid jobs. However, as there is already severe competition for even the lowest-paid job, this policy will simply increase poverty and reduce demand.

The possibility of escaping from the chilly grasp of the troika emerged recently as interest rates on Irish Government bonds have fallen and the possibility of being able to borrow again on the open markets arises. The first thing I noticed in government was that Ireland's reputation had suffered severely and our credibility had been severely dented but this Government spent the first six or eight months I was a Member working extremely hard to regain that reputation. That work has paid off, and we must acknowledge that. Commentators outside these Houses frequently blast the Government on the pages of newspapers. It is easy to suggest solutions but people had to work extremely hard. This development has occurred because the all-powerful but ever fickle financial markets thought we were to get a deal on our bank debt.

Chancellor Merkel and her finance Minister dismissed our case initially but the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have worked extremely hard to get us back on track. We have the conclusions of the summit of 29 June. We are now recognised as a special case with specific circumstances. François Hollande, who is not as subservient to Germany as President Sarkozy was, has accepted that economic recovery in Ireland will only occur if we can reduce the burden of our debt.

The Taoiseach was awarded the Golden Victoria European of the Year today by a German business group. I hope that when he is presented with that award he takes the opportunity to remind the Germans that after the most devastating war in history, and in the history of Europe, it was treated with great generosity by the allies and given long-term loans at low interest rates under the London Agreement, some of which have only recently been paid. It should now reciprocate that generosity by agreeing to a much more sustainable approach to Ireland's bank debt, and there are a number of ways that can be done

Domestically, people are suffering at all levels in our society. They are tied to crippling mortgage debt and are in negative equity but that can only be resolved by the banks and lending institutions facing up squarely to the issue and acknowledging that some mortgage debt will not be discharged in our lifetime and beyond. That cannot be done in a blanket fashion but a matrix should be devised and implemented which incorporates financial parameters which recognise when people are genuinely unable to pay as opposed to those who will deliberately not pay. Banks have already been recapitalised adequately to accommodate those situations. Therefore, we cannot allow the ostrich type behaviour of financial institutions to continue to the detriment of mortgage holders who are doing their best. Write-downs must be one of the solutions to be examined in the matrix proposed because many of the people in difficulty are consumers in the wider economy, and that feeds in at a micro level to a depressed consumer demand.

We are doing well in terms of securing foreign investment, achieving record export growth and so on but the collapse in domestic consumption and the impact of that on the retail trade is clearly visible in the significant continuous closure of high street premises. More important, however, is the significant effect that is having in rural Ireland where small corner shops and grocery shops selling provisions being forced out of existence. Many of our rural villages have been devastated. The collapse in trade was precipitated by and contributed to by loss of employment, the lack of employment opportunities, and emigration.

I predict that in the next five years many villages throughout the rural heartlands will be left without a shop of any sort - grocer, butcher, petrol, general provisions - and people will be forced to travel to the next largest town which could be ten or 12 miles away. I know some of those shop owners. They are important contributors to employment, especially in rural Ireland, offering one, two or three jobs, many of them to housewives who are facilitated with a part-time job. In the past year some of them have recorded losses of €9,000, €10,000 and €12,000, and they are being cross-subsidised by people's other incomes. The shops are being run by people who are in effect providers of social services where people in rural areas can go to, be made welcome and discuss issues of concern to them. As a result of these closures devastation will be wrought across rural heartlands, which will lead to further social isolation. We must address that head-on with an array of measures to help arrest this development. We must halve the rates and not impose levies on these premises or consider subsidisation or grant in aid. Otherwise, we will be shedding crocodile tears when the harm is done.

The Taoiseach might inform his German hosts, and indeed masters, that the distinguished US economist Martin Feldman, writing when the euro was being proposed, expressed scepticism about its success but argued that that if it went ahead in the flawed version in which it was actually implemented, its collapse could lead to another war in Europe. Those warnings must be taken seriously. That is the reason we are entitled to a proper deal. We are not begging for it. We are entitled to it because the solution was imposed upon us without our having any input into it.

All the Government contributors to this debate on the Irish economy over the past two days predicated their contributions on the claim that current policies are working, that the Irish economy is turning the corner, and that we will overcome this economic crisis within a few years. That is manifestly false on even the most cursory examination of the key indicators for the Irish economy. If the economy is turning the corner, why were 14,000 fewer people employed in quarter 3 of this year than in quarter 2? Why is gross domestic product crawling ahead at a possible 0.7% this year? Why are 440,000, or 14.8%, of our people unemployed or under-employed? Why was emigration, in the year up to the end of April 2012, at a level of 87,100? One would have to go back to the 1800s to find a comparable level.

The reality is that far from succeeding, the policy of austerity is causing economic disaster on a huge scale. It is destroying the domestic economy and causing huge suffering on a human level for hundreds of thousands of our people. That is inevitable because in the past five years we have seen an unimaginable transfusion of resources from the working class of this country to the bondholders, the speculators and the bankers in the financial markets of Europe and further afield. We have seen, and it is ongoing, a criminal transfer of massive wealth from ordinary people to the capitalist financiers throughout Europe and on a world basis, much greater than if we were in a war time period. However, those who are sucking up those resources out of the pockets of the working class of this country do not need an army of occupation. The political establishment, currently Fine Gael and Labour and previously Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, is managing their affairs and is their agent in this State.

We have a media, itself part of the market system, owned by multimillionaires and billionaires, major capitalists who despite the criticisms they will make occasionally of the Government fundamentally justify and defend this massive transfer of wealth on the basis that there is no alternative except to bend the knee to the dictatorship of the financial markets and that the working class must pay, abusing those who put an alternative viewpoint, especially from a Socialist perspective.

We have broadcasters including, unfortunately and shamefully, the main public broadcaster, RTE, which never question in any fundamental way the morality of a financial dictatorship of the markets that bleed the ordinary working people, the unemployed, the pensioners and the youth of our country to save the capitalist financial system within Europe and further afield. It is a media which refused to contemplate even a partial change that would see an increased demand on the wealthy elite in this country or on major corporations. It refuses to contemplate even a modest rise in corporation tax and the amount of tax big business pays.

Last year in an amendment to a Private Members’ motion, I pointed out that based on 2008 figures for corporation tax, for every 1% increase there would be an extra €500 million going into public funds. This year the equivalent would be approximately €390 million per year. We could have substantial extra resources by further taxes on big business and on wealth if there were a Government that would even contemplate or enact such an increase. That is prohibited, however, because the agenda of this Government and of the media is to protect the position and profits of big business even as our people suffer. We would not even have to go as far as the Danish economy or others which have 25% and 30% levels of corporation tax to achieve substantial increases.

In the face of this crisis and unprecedented attack on the living standards and livelihoods of working class people, we have a trade union leadership which, unfortunately, for all practical purposes has gone into hiding, resolutely refusing to lead any kind of struggle for a change of policy in the interests of working people. We need fundamental alternatives. We need to attack the austerity agenda and end it. We need massive investment, particularly in public infrastructure. If the taxes I outlined on wealth and corporations were levied, there would be substantial extra resources for significant national programmes of public works and investment such as, for example, the replacement of leaking water mains.

Instead, we have massive cuts in public capital expenditure. All the evidence from the financial press points out that all across Europe big business and capitalist enterprises are sitting on unprecedented amounts of uninvested profits. The ratio of investment to gross domestic product, GDP, in Europe is at a 60-year low. Capital refuses to invest because profits are not sufficiently high while 25 million people are unemployed across the European Union. We need a massive struggle by the organised working class and labour movement to change this. We need massive emergency taxation on these trillions of uninvested profits to channel them into major public infrastructural and job creation enterprises. We must realise capitalism is now a sick system and getting increasingly sicker, incapable of meeting even the basic needs of our society and people. A socialist transformation of society is now needed that would take the major wealth from the hands of a tiny elite and corporate sector and invest it for the common welfare and benefit of society. Instead of the major banks and financial market institutions such as Goldman Sachs being a law on to themselves and sucking up resources of society for private corporate gain, they must be taken into public ownership and democratic control. Only on that basis can we remake the broken economies of Ireland and Europe which have been destroyed by greed, gambling as well as the rash of privatisations and deregulation over the past 20 years. This is the only solution to this crisis and the only future for the ordinary people of Europe and this country.

I call Deputy Seán Conlan who is sharing time with Deputy Brian Walsh.

In undertaking the journey towards recovery, the Government had to evaluate the state of the nation, identify where we needed to get to and establish how we were going to achieve that end. The start point was bleak but the consequences of not undertaking the task of delivering the people from the precipice were bleaker still. The economy was in free fall, the banks insolvent, unemployment spiralling, a massive exodus occurring of capital and our young people from the country, industrial output falling, a run on the banks and our international reputation in tatters. That was just over 20 months ago.

This Government has offered leadership and hope while setting about the task of completely overhauling a dysfunctional economy, turning it around and getting it on a path to growth and recovery. International confidence is essential to our economy. The steps taken in meeting and, in some cases, exceeding the set targets of the EU-IMF programme have essentially succeeded in achieving a restoration of an international belief that Ireland can be trusted, is a responsible and safe economy with which and in which to do business. This has been recognised in international circles and has resulted in the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, conducting a phased re-entry into the markets and achieving a bond yield below 5%, which was beyond anything anticipated 12 months ago. We have also achieved a turnaround with GDP growth of 1.4%, a deficit reduction to 9% and growth in our exports with them for the first time in history exceeding €9 billion in the month of August. These are figures unmatched even at the height of the boom. The EU has now recognised our progress and our contribution as a nation to the stability of the euro by making a commitment to separate sovereign and banking debt which will make our debt burden more sustainable.

The banking sector had been a major contributor to the economic collapse suffered, so a root and branch review of its business model was conducted. When appropriate, a comprehensive recapitalisation of these previously dysfunctional institutions was effected. These institutions displayed a level of dishonesty, even in insolvency, which stunned the entire population. Many issues still need to be addressed regarding their bona fides, including their continued starving of the small and medium-sized enterprise sector - essential to our recovery plans - of vital investment capital even though full recapitalisation is completed. Enormous progress has been made in the banking sector, confidence is being restored while deposits have begun to rise, showing a 10% growth over the year. However, we are not just there yet.

All of these measures were essential to restoring the economy, securing stability to arrest the collapse and essential services. They were also essential in reaching the point where we can make real and meaningful inroads into restoring jobs and creating sustainable employment so that our people can have a fulfilling life, contributing to the future of their family and their country. This is not an easy journey. There has been, and will continue to be, pain and discomfort along the way. We are painfully aware of this and for this reason we have taken measures to ease the burden. We have removed 330,000 people from the universal social charge net, avoided raising income tax and heavily invested in job creation, making implementation a priority.

We will continue to follow this course and will remain sympathetic to the plight of those among us who are struggling to make ends meet and, in many cases, are unable to do so. The low-paid, those who have lost jobs or businesses and those depending on social welfare are a constant and ongoing concern of this Government. We must, for their sake, get the finances of this country resolved so we can offer protection to those needing it. As long as we remain weak and in the financial hands of foreign bankers we remain restricted in what we can deliver. In striking a budget for 2013, we must remain cognisant of those who are suffering and do all in our power to protect front-line services. We must protect those who care for the aged, ill and disabled in their own homes and who do this country a great service by keeping nursing home beds empty while providing those in their care with a dignity and comfort which cannot be equalled in any institution.

We should also remember that the way out of this crisis is through job creation. Finance must be made available to secure the growth of sustainable employment rather than those jobs advocated by members of the Opposition which would be of an artificial nature, lasting only as long as the National Pensions Reserve Fund.

The new Ireland must be built on the foundations of sustainability and fairness. When Moses undertook the most famous and epic journey in world history to deliver his people from slavery and penury at the hands of others, he was confronted with all the sentiments and difficulties that the Government faces, including derision, complaining, nay-sayers, those who bred discontent, those who jockeyed for position and those who would rather see him fail than admit he was right. We have certainly seen all of this. We have heard remarks about having egg on the face and something not being deemed as progress from Sinn Féin and remarks about mixed messages from those who caused the mess in Fianna Fáil, among others. The Government is doing its best to clean up the mess created by others and will continue to do so. I wish the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and all other Ministers well. I trust they will continue with the great work they have undertaken and hope sooner rather than later that we will get out of this mess and get the country back on the path to sustainable growth.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important discussion on the economy. When the Government assumed office a little more than 18 months ago, it succeeded an Administration, whose legacy, after 14 long years could be measured by the money it had squandered and the misery it had inflicted on the people. In many respects, the true extent of that wastefulness and misery is only now becoming evident. Fianna Fáil and its accomplices left in their wake a country in crisis and an international reputation in tatters. We are emerging from an era of auction politics during which successive Governments sought to inebriate the electorate with reckless policies that conferred short-term benefit on a few to the long-term detriment of the many. The country's finances were cannibalised by Administrations motivated only by a desire to retain power. They showed complete and utter disregard for fiscal rectitude and the national interest. As elections loomed, taxes were cut and spending was increased exponentially, but it was untethered to sustainable revenue or the reality that the nation was being marshalled towards economic collapse. Working age social welfare rates more than doubled under the stewardship of the previous Government. During four short years between 2004 and 2008 social welfare expenditure increased by more than €6 billion. This was at a time of low inflation and almost full employment. Between 2000 and 2009 the average salary in the public service increased by a remarkable 59%. At the same time, the standard and higher rates of taxation were reduced as part of reckless, unsustainable policies devised solely for self-serving, short-term electoral gain. Between 2008 and 2010 more than 250,000 jobs were lost in Ireland and by the time the Government came to office unemployment stood at 14.7%. At that stage GDP had fallen by 10%, housing prices had collapsed, lines of credit had dried up for businesses and the stock markets had collapsed, taking with them the retirement prospects of many ordinary people who had worked hard to secure their futures in old age. Banks had commenced the process of evictions and communities throughout the country were once again ravaged by the return of emigration. The nation was effectively bankrupt and is now in receivership.

It was against this background that the Government, in particular the Minister for Finance, was charged with the task of steering the country towards recovery. It is an onerous task in the midst of the most challenging economic circumstances ever experienced in the history of the State. However, as Deputy Seán Conlan noted, there is cause for both concern and hope and significant progress is being made. Last year the economy returned to growth, albeit modest. We are succeeding in reducing the budget deficit and meeting all of our key macro-economic targets. The interest rate on our funding under the stability programme has been lowered, saving in excess of €10 billion. Some 300,000 lower paid, part-time and seasonal workers have been exempted from the universal social charge, which allows them to contribute more to the domestic economy. Recently, a commitment has been secured at European Union level to address the issue of Ireland's legacy bank debt burden. Most important, our international reputation has been enhanced and restored. Perhaps the most tangible reflection of this is the reduction in Government bond yields. When the Government assumed office, bond yields were in excess of 14%, but now they stand below the 5% mark. Last Friday after Chancellor Merkel's comments on Spain bond yields here fell by more than ten basis points.

Against this backdrop, we have seen the unpatriotic race to the bottom between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. They have competed desperately to see which can muster the most negativity about the circumstances of the country. Unemployment, while still far too high, has stabilised and the numbers on the live register are lower than when we assumed office. In my constituency, Galway West, in particular in Galway city, more than 1,900 new jobs have been announced in the multinational sector since the start of the year. A host of additional jobs are created to service the industry that results from investments by foreign companies. Only a long road will lead us back to recovery, but there are tangible signs that we are advancing on this path. By confronting the many challenges and difficult decisions that we face we are laying the foundations for sustainable growth, on which we will build a stronger, better economy.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. I have listened with interest to some of the contributions made from all sides of the House. I am not in the least interested in negativity. I only wish to see an improvement in quality of life for people and an opportunity for them to re-enter the workplace. The more people there are unemployed, the less chance there is of the economy getting an uplift. However, we must face reality also.

The previous Deputy criticised Fianna Fáil, but there were many road and school developments, while social welfare rates were substantially increased, rightly so. It was only right to improve quality of life for people on social welfare at a time when the finances were strong. Thousands of extra special needs assistants and primary and secondary school teachers were recruited, all of whom were important in meeting the growth in the population in the country at the time.

Several key reports and economic statistics have been delivered in the past month. Taken together, they indicate that the economy is bouncing along the bottom, a far cry from the prediction of the Minister for Finance who said it could take off like a rocket. It is welcome that the Minister is in the House and perhaps at some stage during his reply he might inform us when he expects the economy to take off like a rocket because it is in all our interests that this happens sooner rather than later.

The Government appears to be in denial about the true state of the economy and the public finances. The mantra is that we are meeting all our targets under the programme, but, in fact, we continue to miss several key targets. A confused message is being delivered to our EU partners. At times they question why we need a reduction of our bank debt if we are performing as well as we claim.

There is clear evidence that there is a two-speed economy. The domestic economy is shrinking, while exports driven by foreign direct investment have performed reasonably well during the past year. This is welcome because the more direct investment we attract, the more exports we will produce and the more jobs will be created. However, the domestic economy is suffering greatly. This is evident in every town, where domestic spending is well down. Shops are closing at an alarming rate in every small town and in many large ones because there is not the money to spend at present. I have noticed in recent months in my town of Enniscorthy that at least half a dozen shops have closed down. People tell me they are not spending and even those who do have money do not have the confidence to spend it. As a result, shops are closing and jobs are being lost. Now the Government is considering reductions in social welfare payments and introducing extra taxes and so on. Such measures will further erode the spend. There will be household, water and septic tank charges, all of which will substantially reduce the level of spending in 2013 and beyond.

Since coming into office, the Government has undertaken the jobs initiative, a jobs-friendly budget and an Action Plan for Jobs. However, in the past 12 months the number working has fallen by 1.8% or 33,400 to now stand at 1.78 million. Some 1,200 jobs are being lost per week in 2012.

I welcome that there has been a number of job announcements in recent times, such as with Kerry Foods, and again in Louth today. There seem to be jobs announcements for certain parts of the country and other parts of the country are being excluded. Sometimes I think that neither the Government nor IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland recognise that my home county of Wexford is a part of Ireland and think that it is an outpost on the outskirts of Wales because we are certainly not getting any jobs announcements. Neither IDA Ireland nor Enterprise Ireland is taking any interest in us. The only jobs announcement in the past three or four years was a number of years ago when Coca Cola announced a 100 job company was to set up in Wexford. That company has now set up, but all of the major jobs announcements in the pharmaceutical sector, in companies such as Kerry Group and in other such areas seem to be going either to the major cities or to counties adjacent to major cities. It is important that counties like my own would get an opportunity and that Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland would show more interest. I understand from a recent parliamentary question that the number of visits to Wexford for a two-year period was nil and I would question the ability of Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland to be fair in how they encourage companies to look at sites in counties where there is a high-scale loss of jobs and where many are unemployed.

My county depended heavily on the construction sector, which has fallen through the floor. There are significant numbers of young people who left school at a young age, such as 15 or 16 years, when there were good earnings in the construction sector. They did not avail of the education facilities at the time. The lure of high earnings attracted them. Now they have neither a building skill nor any kind of skill. It is important that the Government would provide facilities to upskill and retrain them in that area for the jobs that might be available. Farming and the food sector is an area where there are considerable opportunities. There are opportunities in the wind and wave energy sector, and also for those with IT skills. We need to provide educational facilities that will encourage people to be retrained and re-skilled because too many are emigrating. There are considerable numbers - 50,000 or 60,000 young people emigrate a year - now in Canada, Australia and other parts of the globe when they should be working in their own country having been highly educated at home. There is a need to re-examine how we look at job opportunities, investment in jobs and job creation.

Recently, I read the Goodbody report. Sometimes I do not pass much heed of economic reports because some of them are usually very negative but Goodbody stated recently that it was downgrading its outlook on growth to 0.3% of GDP in 2012 and 1.3% in 2013. It also looked at the true state of unemployment and disagreed with the official reported rate of 14.8%, arguing the true rate of unemployment is closer to 20%. A major concern to all of us are those who are long-term unemployed. They are finding it difficult to get back into a position where there might be job opportunities available to them. It is an area at which we need to look.

An area on which the Minister for Finance has been working is funding for SMEs and bank lending. Bank lending seems to be at a standstill right across the country. Every week at my clinics - I assume it is the same in every other clinic - small business proprietors who would never have thought in the past of coming near a TD or a public representative are now coming in and stating the serious problems they are encountering with banks in trying to acquire loans to further develop their business or, indeed, overdrafts to survive in the present climate, only to find the door is being closed on them.

Also, I encounter a significant number on the housing list or in rented housing accommodation who wish to buy houses. As the Minister will be aware, house prices are at an all-time low. It is a trait of Irish people dating back generations that they like to buy and own their own home. Many are in a position to acquire loans but when they go to the bank, even though perhaps both the husband and wife are working, they find either the door closed in their face or they are offered 60% of the price whereas they probably need 75% or 80%. One could see a substantial increase in house sales and house building in certain areas in this country if the banks would only lend to those who are in reasonably good jobs and would be in a position to repay. There seems to be a "we shall not lend" attitude in the banks at present, regardless of the borrowers' ability to pay back. That is an area in which there should be further Government intervention. I understand that representatives of the Government, from the Taoiseach and the Minister down, have met the banks on a number occasions but there seems to be no movement or change of attitude in the banks. Certainly, this is an area that would generate house building. It would also create employment, if people were given the opportunity to buy their own houses.

I welcome the debate. It gives us an opportunity to put forward suggestions and ideas. It also gives us an opportunity to encourage the Government to change direction and to ensure that funding is available for the people of this country.

As the previous speaker stated, the debate is a timely opportunity to look back over the changes under way in the economy since the Government took office approximately a year and a half ago.

Sadly, the consequences of a long period of reckless ill-disciplined governance, which preceded the current coalition and which unleashed economic chaos in the State, are being suffered by citizens. Most people out there are taking some amount of pain. That will take time to erode because what was left was a mess. There was dysfunctional Government for a long number of years, even before the bailout. On simple matters, the management of the economy was wrong. I will give a few examples to prove the point.

In the years 2001 to 2008, public sector staff numbers rose by 70,000 or 80,000, but there was no major increase in service of which we could be proud. It is not the staff's fault because they were put into a system that was not reformed. Part of the new Government approach is trying to fix those systems of governance.

The spend in nearly every Department rose by almost 100% over the same period - in some cases, by 160% - with no real results and no real monitoring. The view was it did not really matter, there were plenty of incoming taxes and one should merely dish them out. Former Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, especially, and Fianna Fáil have a great deal to answer for in terms of the way they managed this country which ended up in us needing a bailout.

Another prime example would be the free travel scheme which was mentioned in a debate a couple of weeks ago. Over a short period of years, the costs of running the scheme rose from €45 million to €70 million and yet the numbers using it only rose by 20%. The costs rose by 60% plus where the increases in activity were only 20%.

The whole lot was allowed to get completely out of control. In the middle of all that, to fuel electioneering and stunts to win votes, taxes were reduced. There was an increase in public service expenditure, an increase in public service numbers employed and reduced taxes. It was not sustainable and it gave false hope. It was left to the Government to come in and reform that, and part of that involves adjusting the costs of running this country back to a sustainable level. The problem is that people were given false hope and they made commitments, got mortgages and short-term debts such as on credit cards, car loans, etc. It is painful, while one's income is being reduced and there are various additional charges, when disposable income is falling but debts are still there. Yet there is no other way round that. There is no choice because people were living a lie, thanks to the previous Government.

It was not sustainable and was built on false taxes. In my early years as a Deputy in this House I listened to Deputies Michael Noonan, Richard Bruton, Enda Kenny and many others telling the Government that what it was doing was not sustainable. It is always thrown back at my party that we wanted increases in services, but that is not correct. Whenever we put forward proposals for increasing services or for new spending, they were always well costed and worked out. They always came with the red-line warning that there were savings to be made with reform of the systems. If those systems had been reformed, the then Government could have achieved what we, in opposition, wanted without spending more or increasing taxes.

Our budget adjustments for the period from 2008 to 2014 will be the second largest after Greece. The bank rescue, which I referred to as the fault of the last Government, has added 26% to our budget deficit when measured as a percentage of GDP. This has not been easy and every man, woman and child has been affected. However, there are enough analysts willing to deal with the negative elements of this situation. I will try to focus on the positives because people need to know that there is hope. They need to know that there is a future for this country.

Given that Deputy Adams is currently in the Chamber, I wish to point out that his party has never made clear to the people that if there was never a banking crisis there would still be a problem with our budgets. There is still a massive deficit to be tackled. The actual cost, on a yearly basis, of the increased borrowings because of the banks is probably in the order of €1.5 billion but our deficit is between €15 billion and €16 billion and was over €20 billion at one point. If there never was a banking crisis, we would still have a budgetary crisis because of the way the country's finances were mismanaged for years. Money was spent and committed long term but the income streams were not viable in the long term. I have listened to Deputy Adams on countless occasions talking about this and he seems to continually want to mislead people and convince them that the bailout money we received from the troika is just for the banks. It is not. The majority of that money was to help to run this country for three or four years while we try to get the deficit down to a sustainable level. A year or two ago, Deputy Adams was advocating that we pay none of the bank debt, although he seems to have changed his stance somewhat on that. If we had taken Deputy Adams's approach, nobody would have given us the money we needed to run the country for four or five years. The evidence is that any country, be it Iceland or Argentina, that reneges on its debts has to be in a position to survive for four or five years on its own resources until the markets will loan it some money again. Deputy Adams has never explained how he would run this country for three to five years. He was able to talk his way around it and with his magic pen, produce figures for the first year. However, he and his party have never spelled out how he would run this country without outside assistance while not forcing people to take cutbacks of the full amount, in year one or year two, of approximately €16 billion. That level of cutbacks would wreck this economy. What we are trying to do, in a balanced and logical way, is to gradually reduce the deficit, in agreement with our European partners, to a level which is sustainable. Perhaps Deputy Adams will take the opportunity today to explain how he would run the country for three or four years without outside assistance.

I have seen the jobs plan launched by Sinn Féin this week and there are some nice ideas contained therein. There is not much that is original but there are some positive elements there and I have no problem in giving credit where credit is due. There are some good ideas in the plan and the Government must examine them all. However, many of the schemes are about scale, namely, scaling up schemes that are already in operation. The Government would love to do that if it had the money. Everyone is in favour of stimulus plans if we have the money. In that context, I must point out that within Sinn Féin's jobs plan there is a €3 billion shortfall, which we are told the party will find by budget time. It is not credible to produce a jobs plan, giving false hope to people, with a €3 billion hole in it. It is difficult to pick out the good elements of a plan when there is a large black hole in the middle of it. Furthermore, the majority of the plan involves increasing the scale of schemes that are already under way, which we would love to do if we had the cash.

I wish to speak about positives today, to outline the real strengths of the Irish economy and to highlight those areas that will provide economic growth, jobs for our citizens and assist in our recovery. Our economic recovery must be export led and indeed, it is thus. Between July and August 2011, exports increased by 16% or €1.26 billion. This followed on from an increase of €452 million between June and July. Comparing August 2012 with August 2011, the value of exports has increased by €1.27 billion or 18%, leaving a trade surplus in the year to date of €30 billion. The scale of our progress in this area is well demonstrated when we compare ourselves to our neighbours in the United Kingdom. The UK had a trade deficit of €4.2 billion in August 2012, up from €1.7 billion in July. This shows just how difficult conditions are in the international markets yet Ireland's exports continue to remain strong. That is because we have brought back stability, competitiveness and hope. This country's reputation has been repaired in the last 18 months and people want to do business with us and want to buy our products. Our exporters, be they multinationals or indigenous companies, are hungry to increase their market share and are out there, pushing very hard, with the help of various Ministers and Departments.

People might not realise this is going on, given what they hear from some of the Opposition speakers and read in the Sunday newspapers. There is a duty on everybody and particularly politicians and those in the media, to give people some hope. I do not want ever to sugar-coat or deny that there are tough times ahead but people need to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I meet too many people, on a daily basis, who have no hope in their eyes. Yet, if they looked at the facts, trusted the facts and believed what they are being told, they would have hope. If some Members of the Opposition, on the odd day, spoke positively about things when they are positive, that would be good. There is nothing wrong with criticising the Government for doing wrong, which is the job of the Opposition but there is also a duty on us to give people hope. Parents need to know that there is a future for their children. Without hope, we have nothing.

All of the facts and the signs point towards hope. New jobs are being created. I have heard people, chiefly members of Sinn Féin, claim that there is no private sector investment in this country but that is completely untrue. We could not have new jobs announcements every week if there was no investment. Figures are regularly quoted which are almost three years out of date. There was a reduction of private sector investment of €30 billion prior to 2010 but the situation has completely changed since then but that is not mentioned. For the sake of proper politics and for the sake of the sanity of our people, I urge Deputies to look at the positives sometimes. I have no problem with looking at negatives but we must find a balance.

Caithfidh mé a rá ar dtús go bhfuil mé an-sásta seans a fháil caint anseo. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil an tAire i láthair. D'éist mé leis an méid a dúirt an Teachta English faoin dóchas. Is fear dóchasach mé. Gan dabht, tá mé sásta go mbeimid ábalta ár dtodhchaí a chur le chéile. Níl mé dóchasach ar chor ar bith faoin Rialtas, ach sin scéal eile.

The Central Statistics Office produced new emigration figures which show that 87,000 citizens have moved to Australia, Canada and other parts of the globe. The Minister for Finance once described emigration as a "lifestyle choice" but the real reason people have moved is that there is no work at home. Currently there are 435,000 citizens on the live register and Government policies are making this situation worse, not better. In my own constituency of Louth there were 17,193 people on the live register at the end of September. I welcome today's jobs announcement for Drogheda and my party has been very consistent in that where the Government has delivered, we have commended and acknowledged that. Even though the unemployment figures have been stubbornly consistent, the thing that has kept them from increasing is that old social safety valve beloved of successive governments, namely emigration. I wish to make it clear that emigration is not a solution. It is not a solution to have a whole generation away off in far parts of the globe.

I listened to what Teachta English said about the thousands of home owners who are trapped in negative equity and about the increase in poverty. The Government debt now stands at €160 billion or 120% of GDP. That is unsustainable and a good starting point would be, as I have said many times, to acknowledge that.

The Labour Party and Fine Gael are committed to an austerity strategy. Arguably, Fine Gael would be committed to such a strategy, even if we were not in an economic crisis, because that is the nature of right-wing parties.

It is remarkable that despite its criticism of Fianna Fáil, which is justified, the Government has slavishly followed that party's policies. The four year plan produced by Fianna Fáil has been copied by the Government almost down to the last comma and full stop. Domestic demand is on the floor, not least because of a series of punitive measures that have reduced wages, child benefit payments, disability allowances and social welfare payments at the same time as attacking social provisions for carers of older citizens and people with disabilities. A range of stealth taxes have been introduced such as the household charge, the universal social charge, VAT increases and septic tank fees.

The problems cannot be boiled down to economics because we must also consider the social consequences of the Government's austerity programme. Government Deputies will be aware that the elderly have been hit by the closure of public nursing homes and the slashing of home help hours. I met senior citizens from the Older and Bolder organisation who were lobbying for an immediate reversal of the cuts to home help hours and home care packages. What the public cannot accept is the way in which money is always made available for the big people, the bankers and unsecured bondholders but not for the small people. Even the IMF now acknowledges that austerity is not working. The Government has to get real because it cannot cut its way out of a recession.

Sinn Féin will be bringing forward a fully costed alternative budget which sets out our view on how the deficit should be closed. We have done so every year since the crisis began. We also produced an alternative job creation strategy which I shared with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance. I am glad to find that Deputy Damien English read our strategy, although I do not know if the Minister for Finance has done so. Our detailed plan sets out a socially responsible method for reducing the budget deficit, while creating and retaining jobs. We call for an investment of €13 billion in job creation and retention measures. The money is available from the National Pensions Reserve Fund, the European Investment Bank and the private pension sector. It not rocket science. We would build 100 schools and refurbish a further 75 in the next three years, establish 50 new primary health care centres at appropriate locations rather than according to ministerial patronage, develop a €1 billion investment programme in sustainable wind and wave power project and invest in the roll-out of next generation broadband across the State. People in rural parts of County Louth cannot get access to broadband services. The State ranks 17th out of 27 in European league tables for broadband access. I invite the Government to take some of these ideas on board.

I do not agree with those who say we have no options. We always have choices. Instead of investing in stimulating job creation, the Government has chosen to fritter away the National Pensions Reserve Fund on bank bailouts and payments to unsecured bondholders. Backbench Deputies can protest all they want, but that is what happened.

The Deputy missed the €3 billion.

I do not make this up. It is in the manifesto which formed the basis of Fine Gael's electoral mandate. Fine Gael promised an additional investment of €7 billion in energy, communications and water services to give Ireland a first-class infrastructure. I did not make up the promise to announce a jobs budget within the first 100 days of the Government coming to power. That was watered down to a jobs initiative. In February, after being in office for one year, the Government unveiled an action plan for jobs. The Taoiseach announced that the plan would help to create an additional 100,000 jobs. I welcome every job that has been created and envy the Taoiseach his great energy. However, while I welcome the successes, I remind the House that 33,000 jobs have been lost in the last year. Prior to the general election the Labour Party promised to create a jobs fund worth €500 million to support new ideas and create employment in strategic sectors of the economy. It also promised to establish a strategic investment bank with lending capacity of €2 billion from the National Pensions Reserve Fund. None of this happened. In September 2011 another strategic investment fund was unveiled which would draw from the National Pensions Reserve Fund to provide capital for small and medium enterprises. One year later the legislation for this fund has not even been published.

I acknowledge that the Government is in a difficult place, but we should not pretend we are all in the same boat or suffering equally. Few Deputies are suffering, comrades. Our constituents and citizens are suffering. Deputies who cry crocodile tears about the plight of working people are just displaying hypocrisy of the highest order if they then walk through the Government lobbies to vote for austerity measures and cuts. The Government is on the wrong track. I encourage it to consider the alternatives we have proposed because they cannot all be bad or wrong. Some of them might make sense. I urge it to overhaul its philosophy and reflect on the fact that it cannot cut its way out of a recession. The only way out is growth through investment in job creation. Stop putting our money into bad banks and invest it instead.

Earlier today 120 new jobs were announced in my home town of Drogheda. An American company, Yapstone, is setting up its new European headquarters in the town. It is an Internet payment company and will be hiring people for software development, finance and communications roles. These are the high-end technology jobs that we are trying to attract to Ireland. One of the reasons these jobs are being created in Ireland is our highly skilled workforce. This is why education is one of the Government's key areas for investment. The Minister for Educations and Skills has outlined his five year school building plan which will ensure every child is accommodated when he or she reaches schoolgoing age. Seventeen schools will be built in County Meath to accommodate its growing population of young families. The capital investment we are making in the education sector will ensure not only that we continue to educate our children but also that we create local jobs in the towns and villages in which these new schools are to be built.

The Government is focused on attracting investment into Ireland. We are trying to create jobs that are sustainable. The State agencies are targeting dynamic and developing industries and emerging economies for export opportunities. A new tax regime has been introduced to support Irish companies looking for new export markets.

We have also changed how our embassies work and seek to attract investment into Ireland. The Tánaiste has changed the remit of our embassies so that selling Ireland as a place in which to invest is central to their role. Embassies are telling international businesses that, for example, our labour costs have reduced and are now 14% lower than they were and we are now one of the most efficient labour markets in the European Union. Our exports are growing and have reached levels we have not seen since the mid-noughties. We are members of a European market base of 500 million people and we have one of the youngest populations in Europe and an education system that produces world class graduates.

Ireland is an extremely good place in which to invest, as evident from the number of jobs being created here. However, I agree sufficient jobs are not being created and the unemployment rate is far too high. Deputy Adams accused some people of hypocrisy for saying one thing in their constituencies and something else here. I see it as hypocrisy on the part of Sinn Féin when 90 miles up the road the party is voting one way on cuts to services in the North of Ireland, but down here it pretends that is not happening. Deputy Adams cannot have it both ways. If he wants to accuse people of hypocrisy, he should be keenly aware of what his party is doing on the other side of the Border.

I accept the point we are not creating jobs as fast we would like and that is the reason we need reform. We are making reforms in areas such as social welfare and education and it is important we continue to do this. We need to ensure that people are being trained for the jobs available and provided by employers. This work is part of the remit of the new national entitlement and employment service that is replacing FÁS. This service will ensure that local employment needs are central to any new training scheme in their area.

We had the announcement today of an additional number of jobs in Drogheda, but we also had the announcement of the eighth review of our bailout programme by the troika. These outside agencies are judging whether we are keeping to the terms of the agreement entered into two years ago. We all want to put these reviews behind us and regain our economic sovereignty so that such reviews no longer need take place. The Government is working day in and day out to try to achieve this. We are on the right track. We want to see further job creation. Jobs are not being created as quickly as we would like, but we are making and will continue to make progress.

I want to use this opportunity to raise a number of key issues this country must consider. This year's budget will be tough, but despite the measures we must take, the deficit will remain 7.5% of GDP in 2013. This is well above what we can afford to borrow on a continuous basis. Unemployment remains far too high, at almost 15% and we are continuously working to implement measures to reduce it. The hard reality faced by many people I represent who worked most of their lives in the construction industry is that their jobs are not returning. Therefore, we must invest in retraining, reskilling and innovation.

Unfortunately, Deputy Adams has left the House. He mentioned many programmes, but he failed to mention the €2.5 billion stimulus package being invested in infrastructure and projects we need. He should have mentioned this. This programme will help some of the unemployed in the construction industry, but we need to do more. We need to examine and concentrate on how we can develop jobs for young people. The recent NESC report on climate policy identified retrofitting as a key measure to help us meet our emission target of a 20% reduction by 2020 from that of 1990. We can meet this target by making our buildings more efficient.

We need a large nationwide programme urgently for the retrofitting of insulation and upgrading of housing stock. Investment in retrofitting pays for itself through reduced energy costs, makes us less dependent on fossil fuels, reduces imports and is a good investment overall. The save-as-you-go is a good programme, but it will not deliver the reductions we need. We should consider a retail bond or public private partnerships to fund a programme, using long-term savings on energy costs to refund the money invested, whether from domestic savers, pension funds or companies. A huge stock of public buildings is in need of retrofitting in every corner of Ireland, schools, Garda stations, libraries, public offices, social housing, hospitals and care centres. Getting a retrofitting programme under way would provide work for many people.

Funding is key to this. I believe there is a digital dividend of over €200 million to be gained from the sale of spectrum frequencies freed up due to the end of the analogue television signal. That money could be ploughed back into the development of next generation broadband infrastructure. We also need to ensure that taxation measures we implement are fair and that all sections of the economy contribute to our recovery. The recent stories of extensive oil and gas finds off the Irish coast are good news, but perhaps we should consider a 10% levy on profits.

As the Minister for Finance is in the House, I would fail in my obligations if I did not raise the issue of the financial transaction tax. Some ten EU countries are going ahead with the measure to enhance co-operation. We should consider supporting this as we need some return following the havoc the financial markets have wreaked on Ireland. I believe we could raise up to €500 million in this area alone. Stamp duty on financial transactions raises some money from shares and bond sales, but more transactions are exempt from stamp duty than must pay it. Financial transactions are also VAT exempt and the taxation burden on them currently is low or non-existent. All sectors should make a contribution. I believe ESRI studies on this area are flawed. I also believe the example cited of what happened in Sweden is flawed, because it was just one country standing and acting alone. I believe it is possible we could introduce a financial transaction tax without affecting employment. However, we must be careful in choosing a mechanism for such a tax so as to ensure we do not lose the 15,000 jobs in the sector.

I would like to touch briefly on the issue of reducing pension reliefs. The Minister could raise up to €470 million by removing pension relief from high earners and this must be considered in the upcoming budget.

What the Minister, the Tánaiste and Taoiseach have done in negotiation on the separation of the legacy banking debt must be commended. I urge the Minister to continue negotiating hard for the country. However, we should also put out the message that if we cannot make a deal with the ECB or with our colleagues in Europe, we do not rule out reneging on the promissory notes.

I have no doubt it is very difficult to run a country in difficult times. I do not take anything for granted and realise it is a massive challenge for the Government to make ends meet. It is unfortunate the austerity philosophy is being dictated from Europe and I believe that in a couple of years, if not sooner, there will be a U-turn on it and people will change tack. Sadly, the austerity programme is doing significant damage from which it will take a long time to recover. Austerity is making life difficult for many people and it will be difficult to reverse this.

The top priority for the Government with the upcoming budget must be to avoid any further deterioration in our social support infrastructure. Last year's budget seriously undermined this and it would be good if this could be redressed, at least in part.

Some bodies have recommended that the ratio of tax increases to expenditure reductions should be reversed. They believe we should be looking at a 2:1 ratio, with tax increases the greater of the two. Given that the money has to come from somewhere, Social Justice Ireland has recommended the imposition of a 2.5% levy on corporation tax. It argues that such a move would bring in €750 million. The Minister will recall that when I spoke in this House two weeks ago, I pointed out that Microsoft pays a corporation tax rate of 7.3%, rather than 12.5%, in this country. If that company had paid 12.5% corporation tax on its 2011 profits of €6.5 billion, the State would have received another €340 million, which would have been dramatic. I emphasise that this phenomenon is repeated in many of the multinational companies that operate in Ireland. It would be great if we could do away with many of the prevailing tax avoidance schemes-----

The Deputy knows all about them.

-----and maximise what we receive under the 12.5% rate, which by any measure is light. Given that the rate of corporation tax in the United States is 35%, I do not think companies will run away from here if we ensure we receive our full 12.5% rate.

When the Minister, Deputy Bruton, was on "Morning Ireland" this morning, he was at pains to point out that tax avoidance is legal. I agree that it is. That is the sad part about it. I do not think it should be. Tax avoidance is not just a problem here - it is a worldwide problem. It is creating problems for all Governments as they try to make ends meet. In 2002, corporation tax accounted for 3.65% of this country's GDP, but that figure had decreased to 2.25% by 2011, representing a reduction of approximately 40%. That was a big change. I have pointed out previously that in the US, corporation tax accounted for 7.2% of GDP in 1945, but that figure had decreased to 1% by 2009. I do not think this can continue. We have had the courage to tackle welfare fraud and rightly so. Governments throughout the world should deal with tax havens in the same way because they represent a massive problem. Irish companies can move to Holland, for example, and pay 1% over there. It is a bit crazy. I appreciate that Ireland cannot solve this problem on its own, but it would be good if we could speak out and encourage others to take action. I also think we should give our approval to the transaction tax idea. The financial institutions have caused many problems. They caused the financial collapse. They are not really rectifying the problems they have had. In 2008, there was a great deal of talk about things being regulated in a different fashion. We have seen a gradual erosion of the will to regulate financial institutions in a way that would make them more responsible and transparent in how they operate.

The fact the lending environment is so difficult continues to be a massive issue for the Irish economy, especially the domestic economy. Having listened to their constituents, I am sure most Deputies are aware that many people are finding it difficult to access money. Sadly, it is difficult to believe the banks when they say they are meeting their lending targets. They have already lost a great deal of credibility. We can be forgiven for suspecting that they are being economical with the truth when they tell us they are meeting their lending targets. I have heard many stories of companies that appear to be doing reasonably well, but are finding it difficult to access finance from the lending institutions. I was interested to note last week's decision by President Hollande to establish a state-owned investment bank, in line with one of his election promises, that will offer €42 billion in financial backing to small and medium sized enterprises in France. I regret that the Irish Government has not established a strategic investment bank to lend to small and medium sized enterprises here. It has proven fruitless to depend on the existing banks and financial institutions to do so. We need a strategic investment bank that we can control. We need to be 100% certain that such a bank is open for business and eager to assist the economy and the businesses that participate in it.

We were informed by the credit union movement today that credit unions are in a position to make €7 billion available for lending. The Government has asked where it can find the money it needs. I remind it that the credit unions have money that can be used for investment purposes. If we do not invest in the economy, I do not see how we can make serious inroads into our unemployment figures. We need to invest if we are to create a serious number of jobs, especially in the domestic economy. We cannot depend on multinational companies to create jobs for us. When one of them opens, another one closes. We have to start looking after our own house. We need to invest more in indigenous industries. We must get involved in developing our infrastructure once more. Such an approach will create the jobs needed to deal with the huge problems in our society at present. Until we manage to do that, it will be difficult for us to get out of the very difficult place we are in.

I would like to share time with Deputy Lawlor.

I am grateful to have an opportunity to contribute to this discussion on the economic situation. I pay tribute to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance for the work they are doing to seek a better deal for this country in relation to its bank debt. Last week, our media learned a little lesson in how quickly things can move in European circles. RTE possibly learnt the folly of broadcasting a prerecorded current affairs programme. We all watched a programme that referred to the failure and the confusion caused by Chancellor Merkel, despite the fact that Chancellor Merkel and the Taoiseach had issued a communiqué earlier in the evening to clarify the matter. Things move quickly in Europe. As the Minister for Finance put it, we sometimes have to take two steps forward and one step back. Perhaps politicians and people in the media need to become more familiar with the way the European institutions are working with regard to the complicated ongoing negotiations the Government is involved in.

I do not want to use any of my time to talk about how our economy got into the position it is in. That is well documented and we have strong views on it. To be frank, I think the people are beyond caring about it at this stage. The people really want to know what sort of economy we will create. That is why every Deputy in this House was sent here. We all have a duty to make it clear that we are not trying to recreate the Celtic tiger economy. We are not going back to the way this economy was. We do not need to return to the era when the poor dog could not pick up the newspaper because of the weight of the property supplements that came with it and we were all talking about the economy on the basis of the value of the houses we were selling and trading with each other.

We need to create a more sustainable economy. I would like to set out how I envisage and hope such an economy will develop with specific reference to four areas. I will speak about what real public sector reform should involve; how our society can support the self-employed and job creators and encourage enterprise; how our society and our economy should scrutinise the banks, particularly as long as taxpayers have a stakeholding in them; and how society can move away from what I call Bertie Ahern economics, whereby people with disabilities and others are viewed in terms of how much money we can throw at them to keep them happy.

Rather than dealing in dole-outs, we should deal in providing dignity for people and enabling them to reach their full economic potential. We have to stop looking at the costs associated with people with disabilities and start looking at the supports we can put in place which can actually save money for the State while improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.

With regard to the Croke Park agreement, there has been much debate on public sector reform, a lot of which has been rather unintelligible. This Government did not negotiate the Croke Park agreement and it is a statement of fact that it is due to expire in roughly 14 months' time. The discussion we must now begin to have is what we want the public sector to look like and what a post-Croke Park public sector will look like. We all know about the reforming element of that but I would like to place two issues on the record. First, never again as a country can we have a discussion about public sector reform which treats all people in the public sector, from the person earning €25,000 or €30,000 to the person earning €120,000, €150,000 or more, the same and offers them the same level of protection. Second, we can no longer have a public service that does such a disservice to those working in it by just throwing allowances at them - which is the situation that evolved over many years - instead of giving them a simple, easy-to-understand pay structure. The Committee of Public Accounts, of which I am a member, has been examining public sector allowances over the last number of days and, to be frank, I have found no conspiracy or gravy train. What I actually found is that successive past Governments of every colour, instead of grappling with the issue of public pay, threw allowances at many low-paid public servants as opposed to giving them a decent salary. For example, instead of looking at the wage of the caretaker in Mayo who might have been earning X amount and was carrying out extra responsibilities, it would give him an allowance for eating his lunch. This sort of thing was going on and it is the reason we have such complexity.

The Action Plan for Jobs 2013 needs to examine job retention and, in particular, the issue of rates. Job creation and foreign direct investment are welcome but the 2013 plan must deal with job retention and a safety net for those who are self-employed. I know the Minister is looking at this and it is something we need.

In regard to the banking sector, we must hold the banks to a greater level of scrutiny. Only four of my constituents in Wicklow, according to a reply to a parliamentary question, have ever referred an issue to the Credit Review Office, and this is despite the fact that in more than 50% of cases the Credit Review Office has come out in favour of businesses.

We also need to examine poverty traps in regard to disability. There is another way. Rather than just cutting, we can reform and save money at the same time. The programme for Government details this, as does the value for money report and policy review, and the Irish Association of Supported Employment outlines ten things that can be done. Simply cutting without reforming is failing to do what we were elected to do. I trust the Government will address this in the budget.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the economy. Most of the points I will raise concern the budget and, like the previous speaker, I like to think in a positive way about the future. The strange thing is that when the negativity comes out, it initially comes from the media, which have a terrible habit of starting off by giving a piece of good news, at the end of which there is the word "but", and it suddenly expands into what they want to put out, which is a negative message. The negative message is then permeated through the Opposition. We rarely hear anything positive coming from the Opposition. This is a real opportunity for it to come forward with positive ideas on the economy and the budget.

I will speak on two issues: that of jobs, and that of the housing and construction sector. While we have a high unemployment rate of some 15%, we actually have the fastest growing workforce in Europe. Each year there is an increase in the workforce of 1.1% and, as a result, the generation of 23,000 jobs per annum just maintains the number on the live register. To reduce the number on the live register, we must increase the net number of jobs by more than 23,000 each year.

The announcements of recent weeks have been very welcome, particularly in my own constituency with regard to the Kerry Group moving into the Millennium Park in Naas. What we need to do now is to take advantage of the situation created by a large indigenous company such as the Kerry Group generating 800 jobs and look at the potential to generate associated jobs, which is huge. It is vital that bodies such as Enterprise Ireland work closely with the Kerry Group to determine exactly what it needs in regard to spin-off companies that might potentially start up as a result.

A group of transition year students from Naas CBS visited Leinster House earlier and we had a brief discussion. They have an opportunity to decide the direction of their future with regard to the subjects they will choose for the leaving certificate next year. Obviously, given the fact that companies such as Kerry Group, and other indigenous companies on the high-tech side, are setting up in the Kildare area, I mentioned that they should focus on the STEM subjects. They said they would do their best to consider the science subjects and the jobs that might come up in the IT sector, but they made the point that not all of them would be involved in these areas and that, for example, some would go back to farming or potentially become young entrepreneurs. When I looked at the Macra na Feirme website later, it dawned on me that although we have so many schemes available through the budget for young farmers, we have nothing for young entrepreneurs. One of the points I raised when the microenterprise loan fund legislation was going through the Dáil was that we should ring-fence funding within that for people under 24 years of age, as unemployed young people aged between 18 and 24 would need an opportunity to access seed funding for ideas they may have. I hope the Minister will include some measure in the budget that will ring-fence funding for young entrepreneurs.

My second point concerns housing and construction. The Minister introduced a scheme last year to allow mortgage relief for first-time buyers and I would like him to extend this for another year. The advantages are clear. We have a depressed housing sector at present and only around 8,000 new houses will be built this year, which is well short of what is needed, with the result that a shortage will arise. I ask that the Minister extend this scheme for another year.

The Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform have a difficult job ahead of them with regard to the budget and I wish them all the best. I encourage them to listen to the points I have raised and try to introduce them into the budget.

I thank those who made this debate possible because it is vital to talk about this and we need discussion and debate to establish how well we are actually doing. My idea of a successful economy is one that takes care of its people and leaves them with enough to live and to have a decent life. The survey undertaken by the Irish League of Credit Unions has been quoted on umpteen occasions throughout this debate. The more often it is said, the more chance it will be listened to.

As the House has heard, 1.8 million people are left with €100 or less after paying their bills, which is an increase of 35,000 on the last time the survey was done. Alarmingly, 602,000 people had nothing at all left after they had paid their bills, so one would have to conclude the economy is not working for these people. It also states that 42% of consumers have had to borrow money to pay bills in the past 12 months. That is obviously not sustainable. People cannot be borrowing money to pay bills because that will eventually catch up with them.

In the last couple of weeks, information came out on how successful our economy is. It is so successful that one in ten people do not have enough to eat. With a group of Independents, I met the troika last week and this issue was put to them. In fairness, they came back with a fairly decent answer. The problem is that the amount of money needed to survive in this country is so high in comparison to anywhere else.

The idea that one could not feed one's family on €65,000 a year amazed them. They pointed out that they had economists with the highest possible qualifications working for them who were only getting that amount of money. It brings us to the nub of the issue; the problem in this country is that the cost of living is too high. One of the major reasons why the cost of living is so high is because people have unsustainable mortgages. The most recent figures available indicate that 83,251 people are 90 days behind in their mortgage repayments. If one is paying €400 and €500 a week on a mortgage the level of pay required to sustain it does not exist. Mortgages are too expensive and the economy is being crushed by them. We must help the people affected. It was my understanding that when stress tests were carried out on the banks that such factors as people not being able to follow through on mortgage repayments were included in the calculations. Reference was made to various figures, but approximately €9 billion was put aside for that purpose. Unfortunately, now the banks have the money, they do not want to use it for that purpose. They should not have been given it unless they were going to use the money for its intended purpose. As a result, people cannot afford to live in this country.

Another major issue when it comes to the cost of living and the economy is the lack of a real Competition Authority. We were supposed to have moved on in that regard with the Competition Act but many decent recommendations were ignored. For example, many people recommended the introduction of civil fines. The reason we need civil fines is because there is a gulf between “beyond reasonable doubt” and the “balance of probability” when it comes to proving whether a cartel is in existence or there are dodgy dealings. Civil fines were not introduced but they should have been. In addition, rewards should have been introduced. The introduction of financial rewards for information which helps in the detection and investigation of cartels leading to fines and-or criminal prosecutions are a key tool used by the Office of Fair Trading, OFT, in the United Kingdom. The OFT makes up to £100,000 sterling available to individuals who assist in successful prosecutions. I do not know what figure we would use in this country – perhaps €150,000 - but we need such a measure. We will be told that we cannot afford it. We can afford it because it would result in much greater savings.

We need adequate funding for the Competition Authority, a several-fold increase in the amount of resources given to it, to provide for effective public enforcement, including investigation and market studies. Currently, two gardaí work with the authority. There are more gardaí in west Roscommon trying to solve our crime problems than the number involved in trying to solve the entire range of crime in the area of competition. The number provided is grossly inadequate considering that there are so many anti-competitive practices which are costing the economy €4 billion annually according to Dr. John Fingleton, the former head of the Competition Authority. Something must be done about it because otherwise people will not be able to afford to live in this country, unless one calls living having nothing left at the end of the month. That is not living; it is merely surviving. I have higher ambitions for the Irish people. We must get rid of regulatory capture, but unfortunately in this country we are going in the opposite direction. We are encouraging more regulatory capture. As a result of a lack of competition and the fact that people have exorbitant mortgages, one cannot afford to live on what would be a reasonable amount of money in other places in Europe. There are times when one does not spend money because one does not have it but when the money is spent, more money can accrue from it.

I met with the IFA yesterday. I am not its biggest fan. I have been open about that. It provided me with interesting facts on the suckler premium scheme which, if cut in my county and in surrounding counties where it is most required, will end up costing the State even more. For the sake of the economy we must tackle the notion of saving money while ignoring the fact that it could mean we will lose more money down the line.

In discussing the economy we do not talk enough about the local economy. In the run-up to the general election I carried out a survey on a few different products in the local economy. I examined fruit and vegetables for a start. In the Roscommon-South Leitrim area in 2010 we spent approximately €9 million on fruit and vegetables, virtually none of which is produced locally. We must encourage local production because it is the salvation of small towns such as the one I come from. If €9 million were spent locally it does not just remain as €9 million. The man who grows the cabbages and carrots will need to have his house painted at some stage or need to have a door hung. That means more money will go around in the economy because the farmers will then have the money to do such work. The person who hangs the door will also no doubt like to eat cabbage and carrots so the money will go around. At the moment that is not happening. In fact, we are going in the opposite direction.

I also examined the sale of draught beer and stout. We spent €14.5 million on them. It says something about us that we spent more on draught beer and stout than we did on fruit and vegetables. We must encourage more production to take place locally. An incentive is provided for microbreweries, which means they pay half the level of taxation of those involved in bigger operations. I suggest that we reduce the taxation even more because if a product is produced locally the money will go around locally.

A total of €430 million is earned by Galway in tourism revenue every year. Roscommon-South Leitrim earns €52 million. We are never going to reach the levels of Galway but with a little ambition and direction we could definitely treble the amount. We have the longest border with the River Shannon in the country. We got great news this week. As a result of “Moon Boy”, Chris O’Dowd’s television series, hotels.com reported an increase of 160% in interest in the county. We must take advantage of that. The way to do so is to vest as much power as possible locally. Unfortunately, local government reforms have thrown that to the wolves. The Government is getting rid of the very authority that could have driven the fact that Chris O’Dowd comes from Boyle - Boyle Town Council. We need proper local government and proper input from local people to drive the economy.

I thank the Minister and the Chief Whip for facilitating the House to provide time for this important debate on the economy. I have spoken previously about the importance of having an open budgetary process. Since it came into power the Government has been more transparent than any previous Government in terms of the information that has been provided on the economy and where we hope to go in the next three to five years. However, we can do better. We should benchmark ourselves against best practice in other countries where a budgetary committee might sit throughout the year examining various issues. A budgetary committee would be a forum for a debate such as we have had in the Chamber in recent days and the various ideas that have been brought to the table. It would allow people to come forward with ideas, debate them and have them fully costed. If ideas are on the table there would be a clear understanding of what measure A would achieve or what measure B would yield in tax or how it might help the economy. All Members would benefit from such an open process conducted throughout the year. It is an aim of the programme for Government. I hope the current debate can evolve into something more detailed and open for next year as we approach the budget for 2014.

Related to that and relevant to this debate is a Bill I published earlier this year, the Tax Transparency Bill. As Members of the Dáil, we are well informed about the details of the budget and the different possibilities that exist in regard to taxation, cuts and expenditure, but the general public may not be as informed or as clear as to what the Government is doing with their money. The purpose of the Tax Transparency Bill was to allow the Minister, with each budget, to send a statement to every person who pays taxes, detailing what taxes they would pay for the following year and how those taxes would be spent, in euros and cents, across the different Departments and according to the different programmes in each Department. People would actually know where their money was going. The benefit is that people would be brought closer to the process and could see the value of the money they are paying in taxes, how it actually helps people in terms of social protection, how it pays teachers' salaries and everything else. It might also bring into starker relief the challenge we face in terms of the deficit, the correction we must make and the debt we face. If one were able to look at that figure in terms of how it is proportioned per person it would bring the challenge we all face into closer relief. When we talk about the different choices facing us, people could see what the Government was doing with their money. If a government's stated priority was education, people would see that reflected in the tax transparency statement they received. They would see spending shifting to the Department of Education and Skills and increasing year on year, whatever the difference might be. Will the Minister, as part of this process, consider that Bill? The United Kingdom is to adopt a measure of this kind in 2014. Its budget comes out in March. If we could link in with UK officials, given the good relationship we have with that country, we could study what they were doing and when they moved to act on this for March 2014 we could do the same thing that year, but at the end of the year.

This year we have had growth for the first time in a number of years, which is incredibly positive. The fact that the economy is growing must be at the core of everything we discuss. Deputy Lawlor spoke about the basic increase in employment we need to make each year just to keep our head above water, but if we want to take people off the live register we must make an even bigger increase. Growth gives us a platform for that. Of course we need to grow more. The domestic economy is where growth must happen if we want to see the high unemployment figures really come down. It is incredibly important that we focus on that area.

From a macro perspective, some weeks ago we debated the Fiscal Stability Bill and the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council that was set up in tandem with the Bill. I made some points then which I reiterate now. Three essential points stood out for me in regard to the advisory council's report of 2012. First, we should make a bigger correction this year. We are anticipating a budget correction of €3.5 billion, with a number of corrections still to come in subsequent budgets. With a deficit so large, we remain too exposed to external events. It is necessary to close that deficit as quickly as possible so that we can regain control and again make decisions for ourselves in terms of the economy and what we want to do. I support that assessment by the FAC. We should cut more and should do so more quickly.

The second point that stood out for me in the report concerned the options to be considered when framing the budget. All options should be considered. We should look at everything, including possible tax increases, although that would not be my choice. There are changes in social welfare we could make. There are other costs which we are not currently able to examine, but it is important to the debate that we examine the opportunity costs of keeping a certain policy in place or what could be gained by moving from one policy to another. These are the decisions we make and, in order that we can stand over them, it should be possible to see, page by page, why we make them - that it is because we believe we are getting such and such a benefit and that is the reason we are deciding to take such and such an action.

The third point made in the advisory council's report was about groupthink, particularly in regard to our assumptions for growth for the coming years. That is an important warning. When we talk about the boom and bust people say that nobody saw what was coming. Some did, but they were not listened to because society in general was going in one direction. We do not want to see groupthink evolving between our troika partners, the Department of Finance, the Central Bank and the ECB, because there is a risk that we could be wrong. When that happens, it happens, but we want to be prepared for that eventuality in case it transpires that our assumptions for growth next year are not as robust as we think they are. If we made a bigger correction in the budget this year, that would help us get past that fact. In that way, I believe the three points link in together.

Another point I wish to pick up in today's debate relates to the upcoming budget. We need an ethical investment policy for the National Pensions Reserve Fund. At present we do not have such a policy for our fund; our only restriction is that we do not invest in companies that manufacture cluster munitions. Other countries such as Norway, whose policy is very successful, have a progressive ethical investment policy for their pension fund. Currently, there is just over €5 billion in the discretionary part of the NPTF. Some €10 million of that, which is Irish taxpayers' money, is invested in companies that develop nuclear weapons. I do not agree with that and believe it is a direct contradiction of our foreign policy and our history in this area. This is only a small issue, but if the Minister is to make any changes to the use of the discretionary fund in the NPRF, he might adopt components of the Nuclear Weapons (Prohibitions of Investments) Bill, which I introduced earlier in this term. That could be done quite easily and would not involve much work. The precedent already exists in the prohibition of investment of the fund in cluster munitions manufacture, and the language is practically the same. We could adapt that to achieve a clear ethical investment strategy for the NPRF, thereby building a more robust strategy for ethical investment for the country, because this is taxpayers' money. It is a good fund to have although, unfortunately, much of it has now gone into the banks. It is important that we invest what remains properly, according to what we believe our values are as a nation.

Let us stay on the macro side of the economy and consider the banks before discussing the budget. There is a clear problem with the banks. There is no proper credit market in the country at present and we must continue to focus our attention on this. The Government has its own microenterprise loan fund scheme, which is welcome in the current climate. However, we should not need to have this and if there were a properly functioning banking market it would not be necessary. We must focus our attention on getting credit flowing again and getting it out of the banks. We might consider the deposits of Irish householders in the banks. Irish household wealth on deposit in Irish banks is just short of €100 billion, which is huge money. I do not believe the answer is to tax that money but, rather, to release it from the banks using some mechanism we might have at our disposal, perhaps a taxation policy or investment scheme policy which would encourage people to take the money out. They are not making any money because of inflation and because interest rates are so low - in fact, they are losing money. We need to get them spending and putting money into the economy again, in their local towns, investing in small businesses or offering small loans to friends who are trying out some enterprise, whatever it may be. This money is not made up of huge amounts owned by a small number of people, but smaller amounts owned by many people. Many people are saving and we need to get confidence back about the economy so that they can start spending the money. The €100 billion on deposit owned by Irish people is where the stimulus will come from in the domestic economy. We must get it out of the banks. That is key.

I have a general point on taxes, which relates to the last point. We should keep taxation as low as possible for as many people as possible. We have to give the responsibility to the people to spend their money as they think best, and allow them to spend it in the economy, whether through investment or through buying and consuming. That applies also to the VAT we level on services and to the corporation tax rate and the income tax rates. In that way, people can spend their money as they see fit.

I have some other small points, which I will make quickly as my time is running out. I refer to the property tax. I have already corresponded with the Minister and offered my thoughts on how the tax might look. It is important to bring in new taxes, something we will do in the coming budget, and to give some certainty about the duration and cost of such taxes. If we are to bring in a property tax we should say what the amount will be and that it will be fixed for a period of, for example, three to five years. People can then have certainty and this will give them confidence in their own situations, just as we want to have confidence in the national economy when we spend that money. The decrease in VAT that we introduced as part of our first jobs plan has been successful, and we should extend it to other sectors of society. We should keep taxes for employment as low as possible because we want jobs to be created. That is important.

There are a number of enterprise investment schemes in operation. These are good, but are a little complicated for people to use. The maximum amount a person can get back through the system is in the region of 30%, whereas in the UK there is an enterprise investment scheme that operates at 50%. If a person decided to invest €10,000 in a company, a friend's enterprise or a local business, in time they would gain a return of €5,000.

I will communicate the rest of my points to the Minister in correspondence.

It is obvious, and has been stated time and again, that the programme of austerity is not working. It has resulted in the collapse of the domestic economy. Only one statistic is required to show the level of collapse, namely, the 25% fall in demand, which is the worst such fall in any EU economy since the Second World War. We see this in our communities and our local villages when places close down. The shops where people go to buy their bits and pieces every day of the week are closing. I came down Dame Street recently and saw that a well known Chinese restaurant had closed, leaving a vacant premises. I noticed today that another shop had closed, Peats of Dame Street.

People just do not have the money to buy goods. Where do we go from here?

The jobs initiative programme has been a complete failure. It is not having the required effect. A few speakers indicated that there has been an increase in the number of jobs being created. I welcome that development but I do not have the wherewithal to raise a fanfare in respect of the creation of 300 jobs by a company - the ethics of which I would question - that promotes gambling. We are not really dealing with the issue of creating jobs. Since the beginning of the year, some 33,000 fewer people are at work. This means that 1,200 fewer individuals are in employment each week. This is not the way to deal with the jobs issue. There must be an injection of capital to drive a programme of public works throughout the country. We are aware that the level of private investment has fallen by 67% in recent years. Some 60% of those without work are long-term unemployed and 30% of these are young people.

The Government's complacency in the face of the collapse of the economy and employment is staggering. A jobs initiative based on an investment of €2.2 billion over seven years is meaningless and will not solve our problems. Said initiative will not ensure that people return to work and neither will it lead to more money being invested in the economy. The Government's strategy in this regard is only going to lead to further economic collapse.

People have condemned public sector workers because they have permanent pensionable jobs. I was encouraged to join the post office in 1979 because it offered permanent pensionable employment. The thinking was that if I needed a loan from a bank in the future, the fact that I was in such employment would stand me in good stead. Banks will not offer loans of any shape or form to people who have jobs where they might work 18 hours one week, five the next week and 20 the week after that. In such circumstances, having people in permanent pensionable jobs is good for the economy because this assists the process of individuals borrowing and paying back money, buying goods and services, etc. Unless the jobs that are being created are permanent ones with real wages attaching, they will not have an impact on the economy.

Reference was made to the Irish League of Credit Unions, ILCU. The latter is extremely important because it is in a position to highlight, by means of the surveys it carries out, the reality of the challenges people face on a daily basis. For example, almost 2 million adults have less than €25 to spend each week when they have paid their essential bills. This does not taken account of the fact that electricity, gas and food bills are all going to increase in the coming months. The recent bad weather experienced across the globe has had an adverse effect on the agricultural sector and this is going to lead to the increase in food prices to which I refer. As a result, inflation will increase and people will have even less money to spend each week. The ILCU has also highlighted the fact that this year there has been an increase of 28,000 in the number of adults have nothing left after their bills have been paid. In one of its surveys, the ILCU also points out that last year some 42% of adults were obliged to borrow money on at least one occasion in order to pay their bills.

During a briefing we had with the ILCU recently, we were informed that people are saving more and borrowing less. Only 42% of our credit unions' available funds are on loan. This is because people cannot access loans and are saving more money as a result. The ILCU also indicated that it has between €5 billion and €7 billion available in its funding system. If the Government were prepared to issue bonds, this money could be released and could be invested in social and job-creation initiatives in our communities. It could be used to finance schools building projects, support community projects, etc. In addition, some of the properties in NAMA's pool that are sitting idle could be given to communities and used to create jobs. Such a development would inject life into these communities.

Some €70 billion is held by Irish pension funds. It would not be beyond the bounds of imagination that these moneys could be freed up and used to remove people from the dole. The United Left Alliance will develop proposals in the coming period and put them forward in the form of a real jobs programme. We have put forward similar proposals on previous occasions. Action must be taken by the Government because we cannot wait for private investment. People are just not investing. The Government should not only be supporting private companies in creating jobs, it should also be creating employment itself. In the past, the Labour Party's philosophy would have included investing money in order to create jobs.

The type of necessary public works to which I refer include the replacement of all non-compliant water mains throughout the State, including connections to houses in order to ensure that pipes are laid below potential frost levels. During the property boom, such pipes were not laid at the correct depth. There should be a national rainwater harvesting programme and this should include all public buildings and infrastructure such as schools, public housing, Government buildings and motorways. I put forward a proposal to the effect that one of the schools in my area be allowed to avail of public funding in order to put in place an environmental system which would lead to its electricity, heating and other fuel costs being reduced.

Other public works would include the implementation of sustainable urban drainage throughout the State. In addition, there should be separation of all combined sewer systems in order to achieve separate foul-fluid and stormwater sewer systems. All flood relief schemes throughout the State should be completed. We could replace and upgrade all cesspits, septic tanks and percolation areas and prioritise connections to upgraded effluent treatment plants. In addition, we could accelerate the development of all planned effluent treatment plants and prepare and advance designs for treatment plants in all areas of high-density housing and areas outside urban centres. Wetland reed beds could be constructed on all farms which contain slurry pits or which discharge effluent into groundwater.

We should put in place works to construct a new road base and wearing course in order to ensure that all national secondary and county roads will have adequate base and surface layers to survive 25 years of the weather extremes experienced in recent years. We should retrofit all public buildings with insulation, while ensuring proper ventilation. Another initiative would be to ensure that works on public housing are completed estate by estate rather than individually. All public buildings and sites which are currently not in use should be upgraded, renovated or refurbished in order to provide public facilities such as public elder care, public child care, public playgrounds, heritage centres and museums. There should be no sell-off of any public properties. We should consider demolishing all unfit social housing and replacing it with environmentally-sustainable and aesthetically-pleasing alternatives.

We could train and employ 30,000 child care workers to provide high-quality public child care within a national child care infrastructure. This would fit very neatly with what the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, proposes to do in the context of reviewing the age limit relating to lone parents and would ensure that everyone could access proper child care. In light of the significant literacy and numeracy problems identified by the OECD, we could train and employ 10,000 adult education teachers in order to provide literacy, numeracy, computer applications and language courses to the long-term unemployed. The target in this regard would be to have the latter attain FETAC level 5 within five years in order to open their way to third level courses.

If it possessed the necessary will, there are many actions the Government could take in order to drive forward the type of initiatives to which I refer. We know that there is wealth in this country and that there is money available. Again, it all comes down to a question of choice. People cannot take any more austerity. Some 83,000 households are more than 90 days in arrears in respect of their mortgage repayments and the Government has stated its intention to introduce a property tax. What are the Labour Party and Fine Gael doing? They are putting the banks first and citizens second. The position in this regard must be reversed and the Government much change its social and economic tack. If we do not take the kind of actions to which I refer and if we do not change our political direction, then we will be obliged to endure ten or 20 years of depression and recession in Ireland and across Europe.

I listened to the previous speaker's contribution and I would simply state that we have lost our economic sovereignty and that we do not control our own cheque book. There are those on the other side of the House who seem to think that this is some kind of illusion.

If we were to go into the international money markets to borrow the money to which the Deputy refers, the rates would make moneylenders look like Franciscans. It is not realistic. I would like to engage with the Deputy on this issue, but we are speaking two languages.

(Interruptions).

We can learn from what has happened in this recession. We have to be very clear that we cannot go back to where we were, building houses we did not need for people who could not afford them and pretending we were all getting rich. It was nonsense and a collective mania. I will never forget how it started and the way in which it was asserted.

The Minister's party supported it.

We did not support any of it. The lesson we can usefully learn stems from what happened to a country not unlike our own with a very similar history and on the periphery of Europe - Finland. In 1991-92 when the Berlin wall came down and the Soviet Union economy collapsed, Finland discovered within four to five months that one third of its entire export market which had been based on a system of barter and, therefore, more favourable to it had disappeared. It would be like Ireland losing the United Kingdom market overnight. In the midst of that crisis, with massive austerity which the Finns had the courage to impose on themselves, high levels of unemployment and disruption, the coalition government parties worked together. The government decided that in order to have a new kind of Finnish economy, since the old one could not be rebuilt or replicated, it would invest in education. That is what we are doing. I will explain to the House how this is being done.

From the Finnish experience, we know that investment in education pays for itself. Even in the midst of the economic crisis, I am working with the education partners to reform the entire education system. We know that the quality of teachers impacts directly on the quality of education. The McKinsey study, among others, points to the fact that all of the world's best performing systems have a single common factor, that the quality of teaching is essential to the quality of the system as a whole. That is the reason we are reforming the entire teacher training system. Primary school teachers will now go to college for four years rather than three; secondary school teachers will complete a two year postgraduate course in teacher training instead of the current one year course. A number of other changes will be made to improve the teacher training curriculum because the current system is badly in need of reform. A total of 19 separate institutions provide teacher training education for primary and second level teachers. This is contrasted with the position in Singapore which has one such institution, Finland has eight, while the province of Ontario has 13. It is recommended that these institutions be consolidated into six entities. I am pleased to inform the House that the response from the affected institutions, by and large, has been positive and they are beginning to collaborate with each other.

I wish to inform the House about the scale of reform of the education system which will consequently form the basis for a new economy when we regain our economic sovereignty. A new national literacy and numeracy strategy has been introduced. This will affect every child in primary school. We are also promoting an awareness of numeracy and literacy among preschool children. We want to empower mothers, in particular, because they have much more direct contact with young toddlers than fathers, regrettably, with the same cohort of young children. This changes as a child grows older, but mothers have a key role to play. We need to empower and liberate young women, particularly those who did not have a great experience of school themselves, to be confident and assertive about empowering their children by reading and talking to them. We will help them in that regard.

A standardised system of assessment has been introduced, with assessments at age eight when in second class; at age ten in fourth class; and at age 12 in sixth class. Children will be assessed at age 14 when in the post-primary system. It has been found that 50% of young people moving into second level education become disengaged by the age of 14 years. Working-class boys are particularly affected, but other disadvantaged groups are also affected. Literacy and numeracy skills are the key to all further learning.

I have moved to change the nature of the ethos and patronage in the primary school system. I want to rebalance it in order that it reflects the contours of modern Ireland rather than the contours of the last century. The legacy is that 92% of all national primary schools are under the patronage of the Catholic Church. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin indicated he wanted to make that kind of shift and called for the establishment of the forum.

School self-evaluations is being introduced for the first time and with the co-operation of teachers and leaders in education. Schools will carry out critical self-examination and post information on their websites on how they believe they are performing. I invite Members to encourage parents and others in the community to read these self-evaluations which are to be open and honest. The first step to recovery in any walk of life is to recognise a problem and to start talking about it, followed by examining options for interventions and solutions.

The most significant change will be reform of the junior cycle. The upgrade and reform of the primary school curriculum were carried out in 1999. Professor Tom Collins, when congratulating principals and deputy principals in the primary school system, famously said he wished to salute them for achieving something that nobody had thought was possible and which we now take for granted. Children no longer fear going to primary school. They no longer cry about going to school; they cry if they cannot. In the main, they love the experience. The way in which our children are taught in primary school is a credit to all concerned in the 3,200 primary schools. Sadly, that experience of learning by discovery and learning through group work - children sitting in clusters helping and supporting each other in their work - is cut off, savagely, when children move to second level education. That is the reason for the reform of the junior cycle. I hope the House can debate the details of the junior cycle reform at some stage because it is truly radical and extraordinary in its composition. I do not claim credit for it because it was not my idea; it was generated within the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. The council attempted to promote this reform on three or four separate occasions in the past but without success. I have taken its advice and, with the support and assistance of the Department, I have decided to implement the reform.

Reform does not stop there. If the junior cycle is changed, the leaving certificate cycle is changed and the critical bridge from second to third level is also changed. Students will then enter third level education with an ability to learn. Learning how to learn is a critical component of the skills needed by the young students who can solve problems and work together. These are the skills required by both foreign direct investment and indigenous companies. There is a current worldwide shortage of certain skills and this country needs more workers with ICT and problem solving skills. Students who can address the needs of a growing market economy such as ours will be guaranteed employment.

We have started work on achieving efficiencies in the vocational education sector, in the 33 VECs. It is hoped to enact legislation to merge them into 16 education and training boards by the end of the calendar year.

I refer to a decision of the previous Government which I supported in principle. The FÁS brand had been irreparably damaged and it was decided to transfer FÁS to two separate Departments.

The labour market activation measures and related services for the labour market were transferred to the Department of Social Protection, while the training and skills component of what used to be FÁS has been transferred to the Department of Education and Skills. For the first time in the history of the State, responsibility for the full spectrum of preschool, primary, secondary and tertiary education as well as further education in the training sector, has been placed under one roof in the Department of Education and Skills. It is my intention to introduce legislation before the end of 2012 to place on a statutory basis the institution that will be known as SOLAS. This new organisation will exercise the same function in respect of further education, lifelong learning and retraining as the Higher Education Authority exercises in respect of the 33 third level institutions.

While Deputies have differing views on how to fix the economic disaster the Government inherited, we probably agree that when Ireland regains its economic sovereignty and returns to growth rates such as those mentioned by Deputy Joan Collins, we must not return to a business as usual approach. We need to create a new type of economy, the basis of which must be a new and reformed education system. For this reason, I am using the opportunity presented by the current crisis to introduce the reforms I have outlined to the House. I will be pleased to provide greater detail later.

I am also pleased to be able to inform the House that, notwithstanding the great difficulties in the education system, including cutbacks and adjustments, I am receiving wonderful co-operation from the broad range of stakeholders in the education sector. Despite the difficult period we are experiencing, they know education is the future and are committed to ensuring we do not waste this opportunity and instead put it to good use.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on one of the most important issues facing the country. I say this because it would be naive to suggest that everything begins and ends with the economy. While the economy matters, in and of itself it is not the key factor which has led to the current maelstrom. The real issue of significance is the political ideology which underpins and informs economic policy. As thousands of men, women and children know all too well, the Government's particular brand of political economy does not serve ordinary people well, nor does it have their interests at heart. Let us make no bones about this issue; the Government favours austerity over growth and does not have a problem blatantly and defiantly pursuing the weakest and most vulnerable, while unashamedly bailing out banks, bankers and unsecured bondholders to the tune of billions.

Like obedient robots, the Government lacks imagination or any sense of social justice and is willing to slavishly implement the failed policies of the previous Administration, in particular, those crafted by the Fianna Fáil Party. That party's leader and Deputies appear to have developed a severe case of collective amnesia, as shown by the righteous posturing in which they engage almost daily in the House.

A cursory examination of unemployment and emigration figures shows the severe human cost of the failed policies of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party. More than 450,000 people are on the live register and thousands more are under-employed, while large sections of the workforce work long hours with poor employment conditions for low rates of pay. The domestic economy is in tatters, with thousands of small and medium sized businesses closing down, while thousands more are barely managing to keep their heads above water. It is estimated that on average nine people emigrate every hour and that more than 200,000 people left the country in the past three years, including 87,000 to date this year. If that were not enough, Government debt has reached €169 billion, an increase of 17% on the 2011 figure.

This is an appalling list of figures and testimony to the severe crisis in which the country finds itself. However, what is truly shocking about the current circumstances is the callous and determined manner in which the Government has deliberately and consciously targeted some of the most vulnerable groups in society. As we know only too well, Government Deputies do not lose much sleep over being part of an Administration that has removed resource teachers from Traveller children while pouring billions into recapitalising the banks and paying unsecured bondholders. The Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, proposes to reduce funding to the home help service by €8 million, thus reducing the provision of care to the most vulnerable. This will result in more people having to avail of full-time care in a hospital setting and increase the hardships faced by the low-paid workers who provide home help services, the overwhelmingly majority of whom are women. Home helps are only a small section of a female labour force that is increasingly characterised by low pay, part-time contracts, uncertainty about working hours and low rates of trade union membership.

The ongoing dismantling of the welfare state is part and parcel of the Government's bizarre logic that austerity will lead to recovery. Its outcome, namely, the privatisation of key public services, has resulted in untold hardship and misery for significant sections of the population. This week, the Irish League of Credit Unions stated that 1.85 million people live on less than €100 per month. Many families are in arrears with their mortgages and have difficulty paying their debts, while many more cannot pay electricity bills and are being cut off. An increasing number of households are finding it hard to make ends meet and put food on the table. What is even more worrying is that a growing number of families with children are at increased risk of poverty. The most recent figures from the Central Statistics Office reveal that since 2008 there has been an increase in the number of families with children at risk of poverty and material deprivation or in consistent poverty. To put this another way, as the Government bluntly implements its austerity policies, rates of poverty and material deprivation continue to increase at an alarming rate for women, children and families.

Adults and children are going without decent winter shoes and proper clothing. Many children do not have a winter coat, rarely eat meat or fish and are going to bed hungry. Given that children do not have an income in their own right, they are dependent on the households in which they live to provide them with basic essentials. Poor children have lower levels of educational achievement, are at increased risk of emotional and behavioural problems and have poor health outcomes. Despite this and other compelling evidence, the Government is not committed to women, children, the vulnerable, the under-employed, the working poor and low and middle income families. On the contrary, it is committed first and foremost to itself and, second, the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund, international financiers, unsecured bondholders and the markets.

In my constituency of Cork East, the number of people on the live register has doubled in the past two years. During this time, we have witnessed the almost total destruction of the area's manufacturing base and the obliteration of its construction industry. The end result of this process has been that the once thriving towns of Youghal, Mallow, Cobh, Mitchelstown, Midleton and Fermoy are struggling to survive. Inward investment is non-existent and thousands are dependent on social welfare and other social transfers, with the result that the local economy continues to stagnate. Austerity measures cannot kick-start economic recovery. In a recent series in The Irish Times entitled "How do you fix a broken town?", Youghal's main street is described as having "an air of near devastation", while the commercial centre is in "slow collapse, the result of a sharp downturn in trade". The article continues:

Youghal’s town centre is dying. Unemployment has soared with the closure of old industries, and the economic centre of the town is in danger of collapse. Young people are leaving in search of work elsewhere. Poor planning decisions at the height of the boom have also left it with unsightly and largely empty apartment blocks.

Similar words could be written about most towns. Unfortunately, the series failed to add that many towns have fantastic community groups, sporting organisations and volunteers who help make them what they are.

The image of a town on its knees is a fitting metaphor for the current state of our country. It is the policies of austerity which are being pursued and surgically implemented by Fine Gael and Labour that are causing this state of affairs, and all the pain and suffering that goes with it.

Sinn Féin, in its job strategy document, Investing in Ireland's Future: Create Jobs - Create Growth, clearly shows that there are alternatives. Our children do not have to go to bed hungry, and our poor and vulnerable do not have to live in a constant state of dread and fear. If we are to have a future with dignity and decency, growth and not austerity is the way forward.

I call Deputy Kieran O'Donnell who I understand is sharing time with Deputy Paschal Donohoe.

That is correct, a Cheann Comhairle. You might indicate when I have one minute remaining.

On the day we passed the most recent troika review it is fitting that we examine the review in terms of the economy. In the short time available to me I will touch on a few key themes. I hear a great deal of sound and fury from the Opposition but in many cases we are on common ground. We want to look after the vulnerable, but we are challenged with the task of ensuring that we have the resources in place over a sustained period to enable us do that. Government must make difficult decisions. If we reflect on the past two years, our economy is in a much different place now than then. We were looking over the precipice when we came into office in February 2011. We have pulled back from that. Ireland Inc. is on a sound financial footing. We want it to be sustainable and for growth to take off. That requires other elements such as bringing down our level of overall debt as an economy. It requires the level of debt in the banks and the level of personal debt to be addressed equally.

We have seen the multinational sector do well. Jobs are being created, particularly in my constituency in Limerick where nearly 1,000 foreign direct investment jobs have been created since February 2011. That is to be welcomed. We have restored confidence in the public image of Ireland abroad, which is extremely important, first with the Taoiseach appearing on the cover of Time and second him being honoured by a German business association. These things matter because we are a small, open economy. We are export driven. Our foreign direct investment sector is extremely important but of equal importance is our small and medium enterprise sector in which over 600,000 or 700,000 are employed by up to 200,000 employers, many of those in the export sector. We are looking to export into markets and it is extremely important that our public image is restored.

In terms of the challenges we face in the coming period, the first is the need to regain our full economic sovereignty and exit the bailout programme. Second, we must restore a higher level of consumer spending. Consumers are not spending to the level we need as an economy to achieve growth. A significant section of our GDP comes from consumer spending. Third, unemployment is the most serious issue for this country, and it is not a complicated issue. If someone is taken off the live register there is a saving to the State of approximately €20,000 made up of savings on social welfare and the contributions in terms of income tax. That is often overlooked. It is clear that is the next major challenge.

Another key element would be that credit becomes available in the banks. The banks are not lending at the required level. They have their part to play. I want to send them a message in that regard. People say banks will be banks. I do not accept that. The Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, made reference to that earlier. We live in a different age. The banks cannot do what they did in terms of the DIRT inquiry and what they did successively in the 1970s with farmers. They cannot go back to the way it was previously. They must play their part. Taxpayers' money has gone into them and they need to show cause.

I will make two points on the bank debt deal. First, on the promissory note, the late Brian Lenihan stood up in this House as Minister for Finance and said that Anglo Irish Bank will have a residual value at the end of its life. That residual value must be factored in to the current value of the promissory note and bring down its value, so to speak. That is a key. It should be extended over a long period because that will lighten the load.

Second, they speak about legacy debt in Europe. Ireland had a special case. No bank was allowed to fail in Europe because of the overall situation and many bondholders were repaid in Europe out of Irish banks. They need to examine the long-term economic value of banks into the future and factor that in. Ultimately, what is good for Europe is good for Ireland and what is good for Ireland is good for Europe. We have a very good relationship with Germany and other countries but we need to see them walking the same road and giving Ireland a break.

I will begin on a positive note on our economy before I acknowledge all of the great difficulties we face. Listening to some of the Opposition speakers one would think there was nothing of any merit and nothing positive happening in any part of our economy or business life. We live in a country where every day there are between 80 and 100 business start-ups. We live in a country which already this year has been successful in attracting thousands of jobs in foreign direct investment that could have gone elsewhere. We live in a country that still has 1.8 million people working. We are a struggling economy that is selling abroad the goods and services we produce at a greater rate and at greater value than we have done at any other point in our history.

There are hugely positive dimensions to what is happening in our economy which we must build on and harness. The grave difficultly we face is that they co-exist with the trauma of an economy coming through an horrific credit bubble and the consequences of an horrific housing crash. In addition to that, hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed. Many people are struggling with the level of disposable income they have at the end of each week or month and the means available to them to look after the wants of their family. We have the ongoing tragedy of people leaving our country through no fault of their own and through no choice of their own.

Despite that terrible difficulty we still have, the positive elements of our economy I touched on earlier and many parts of society are trying to respond to that challenge as best they can. I have just come from a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts which spent most of the day meeting with representatives of the Irish Prison Service to discuss the issue of allowances. They made the point that they have fewer staff and an increase of between 25% and 30% in the number of people serving custodial sentences, all of whom they can cater for and supervise in the right environment. They have made overtime savings with the same amount of staff of €30 million per year. That is an example of the way different parts of our society are collectively responding to the terrible difficulty we all face.

In terms of that collective response, I heard two points made from the Opposition benches in recent days criticising what we are doing as a Government. I ask two questions of those Members. If they are against narrowing the gap between what we take in in tax and what we spend each year, of what are they in favour? Are they in favour of not narrowing that gap and ensuring we have less money to spend in future on our public services because we must spend more money on debt repayments and debt interest payments? Are they in favour of narrowing that gap in a different way? If so, they should spell that out with credibility and honesty. They should not put forward ideas such as a wealth tax and pretend that will not affect our banks, ordinary people who have deposits in banks, and the ability of businesses and families to get the credit from banks that they need.

They are putting forward the economics of Harry Potter, fantasy ideas as credible solutions to the trauma in which our country finds itself. If that is what they believe the answer is, then they need to spell it out.

Some Opposition voices also claim they are against the idea of recapitalising our banks. No Government wants taxpayers’ money going into recapitalising the banks. However, do these Opposition voices believe we would be in a better position if our banks were not capitalised or secured? If it is not the taxpayer who will pay for recapitalising the banks, then the Opposition Members need to spell out who will. Over the next several weeks, as the Government sets out what it will do to respond to our economic difficulties, the Opposition should honestly answer those two questions.

The Government got into power under false pretences. It has no mandate for the various economic policies it has pursued since its election. We all remember what was said back in February 2011 by the parties which now make up the Government: “We were going to burn the bondholders”; “there would not be another cent for the banks”; “it was going to be Labour’s way, not Frankfurt’s”; “the vulnerable were going to be protected and-----

They are protected.

-----hundreds of thousands of jobs will be created.”

The opposite has actually happened. This Government simply took over the policies of the previous Fianna Fáil-Green Government, lock, stock and barrel. The Government’s economic policy has absolutely failed, destroying jobs both in the private and public sectors. It is most certainly Frankfurt’s way, not Labour’s, as we tip our hats to the robber barons of Europe. The Taoiseach is to receive a special award from a German business group for being a good European. With the Government’s satisfaction rating in recent polls, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste would certainly not make the greatest Irish person of the year.

This Government is a job destruction Administration. Central Statistics Office, CSO, figures – in other words Government figures – show a complete failure in its job creation policy. In the past 12 months of the Government’s tenure, 33,400 net jobs have been lost, meaning there has been a decrease in the number of jobs in the economy. The Government is clearly operating a jobs-destruction policy with 10,000 jobs lost in the private sector while 20,500 public service jobs have been eliminated, mainly in front-line positions such as nursing and policing. Unemployment has increased and emigration continues unabated. Based on the Quarterly National Household Survey, the CSO estimates the excess of emigrants over immigrants is approximately 37,000 with 70,000 people leaving the country each year. Without emigration, unemployment would have reached even more horrendous proportions than it has. Six out of ten unemployed persons are classified as long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for over 12 months.

The blanket bank guarantee and the agreement with the troika was an act of national treachery by the previous Fianna Fáil-Green Government. Continuing it is another act of treachery by the Fine Gael-Labour Government. Billions in Irish money is paid out to big European banks and international investors to bail out the European financial system. Since the Government came to power, it has paid €20 billion to banks and bondholders which it claimed before coming into office it would not do.

The truth is Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Greens and the Labour Party have another agenda, one that protects the super-rich while making low and middle-income earners pay the bank debts. The people are being played for fools, not just by Angela Merkel but by the Government as well. The fact interest payments of €7 billion a year will leave the State coffers shows the Government is carrying out the policies of the bagmen for the European banks, the troika. Up to €25 billion has been taken out of the economy over the past several years without any serious decrease in the deficit.

Austerity is simply not working and will have to be changed, a widespread view and one accepted by many including the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and Social Justice Ireland. Jack O’Connor, president of SIPTU, the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union, has accused the troika of sabotaging Ireland’s chances of recovering from the economic crisis by insisting on sticking to a strategy which has failed spectacularly in Ireland and across Europe, piling misery on working people and their families. Even the International Monetary Fund, IMF, has now accepted its cuts are deeply damaging to the Irish economy. It initially suggested that every euro taken out the economy would take another 50 cent out but now accepts it could be as high as €1.50. The European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, László Andor, has said that too much austerity is being prescribed in the current crisis and a better way must be found to ensure growth. Not just nationally but across Europe, it is accepted austerity is simply not working and will have to be changed.

What has this austerity done to families here? There are very many people going hungry. Caroline Carney, the General Council of the Bar of England and Wales, and Bertrand Maitre, the Economic and Social Research Institute, have shown that more than 10% of families experienced food poverty in 2012.

The austerity visited on the country since the Government came into power has surely added to the impact of existing austerity measures. There have been various other reports, including one from the Irish League of Credit Unions. Another from the Central Statistics Office stated more than 200,000 children in the country were living in poverty, some 500 children were homeless and 35% of lone parent families were living in relative or consistent poverty. It is time to state clearly that reaching the deficit target set by the troika represents absolute failure, not success. We must stop the collusion with what are effectively European robber barons. To paraphrase the words of James Connolly, it is time for the reconquest of Ireland by the people. To do this we must change what is happening and change the economic policy of the Government. The British landlords of old have been replaced by European finance houses. Unfortunately, the Government is acting as their agent and bailiff.

Several things need to be done. We need to stop the austerity measures and targeting low and middle income families. We must also stop the repayments. The repayments on the outstanding bonds and promissory notes are to meet private, not public, debts, for which the people have no responsibility. We must tax the assets of the super-rich. I heard it said yesterday morning and again this morning during Leaders' Questions that everyone was challenged by the current situation. That is not the case. A small proportion, approximately 5%, the wealthiest people in the country, do not pay their fair share. A wealth tax should be introduced to ensure they do. A wealth tax is an accepted form of taxation throughout the globe. We need a large-scale job creation programme overseen by the Government rather than private industry or individuals since such efforts have failed. We also need to stop making cuts to public services and benefits.

When the Government took over, Ireland was a sinking ship. The then Taoiseach was lampooned internationally, portrayed as a drunk at the wheel. Nobody would lend us money, apart from the troika which had been called in under cover of darkness by the Fianna Fáil Government. The Government has gone to great lengths to restore and rebuild confidence in our nation, set the ship of State afloat again and steam forward in the right direction. The image of the Taoiseach on the front page of Time magazine and the associated article, The Celtic Comeback, is not to be laughed at; it is in stark contrast to images of his predecessor.

One of the core economic missions of the Government is to create a stable economic and political environment, one in which people will have the confidence to invest. International investors are once again showing faith in Ireland, investing and creating jobs. There has been positive news on the jobs front, with such firms as PayPal, Paddy Power, the Kerry Group and many more announcing thousands of new jobs. The National Treasury Management Agency is once again active in the international money markets and paving the way for our full return to them. We are working towards exiting the EU-IMF bailout programme next year. This is the critical evidence that the Government's rescue plan has worked. This is proof that the Government is succeeding and will succeed. This is a considerable achievement in only 18 months in office.

Having rebuilt confidence and credibility in the international arena, the Government has taken a series of practical steps, introducing measures to further build confidence and rebuild the economy. These include a microfinance scheme and a credit guarantee scheme, introduced to increase lending to small businesses. The Personal Insolvency Bill is being introduced to help families who are struggling with unsustainable mortgages. The Government has introduced a €2 billion stimulus package to create jobs, while building schools and roads. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, has launched the successful JobBridge scheme. This was sneered at initially by Opposition Deputies, but it helps young people to gain the necessary skills to compete for positions in the workforce and has already helped thousands to find work. The list goes on.

Challenges, however, remain. The greatest challenge to restoring and rebuilding the economy is presented by the level of unemployment. It poses a considerable challenge to individuals and families. These are people who want to work and pay their way, but they cannot get the opportunity to do so. Unemployment levels remain far too high. Almost 500,000 people are out of work and further action is necessary to tackle the problem.

Economists refer to unemployment as if it were evenly distributed geographically. However, it is not evenly spread; rather, it is clustered. Statistics show that certain areas are affected far more than others and many urban communities suffer most. Areas of chronic unemployment face additional serious challenges which undermine the well-being and competence of communities. These challenges can have a damaging effect on family life and are hurting thousands of individuals on a personal level. This cannot be allowed to drag on. The budget must introduce action and new interventions to give these communities hope. We must consider different categories of employment schemes, including environmental, training and education schemes. Such measures should engage and keep people engaged until the opportunity to return to regular work re-emerges.

There are challenges, but the Government is committed and determined to address them. There is light at the end of the tunnel. There are Deputies in the House who appear to want to build a wall at the end of the tunnel to shut out the light. They are putting political gain and the advancement of their personal and party interests before the national interest. They seek to undermine the Government's work in every area, whether in securing a deal on our bank debt, solving the personal debt crisis or creating jobs. Often I get the impression that they would prefer it if we did not succeed.

History will not reflect kindly on Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, the remnants of the United Left Alliance and others who in an opportunistic way seek to undermine the Government and the State at every opportunity. I take particular issue with the stance taken by Sinn Féin which preaches against austerity in the South while practising it in the North. Early this month it baulked at the opportunity to stop the savage Tory welfare Bill in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It will play its part through the Northern Ireland Executive in implementing savage Tory cuts that will impact disproportionately on women, children, young people and the disabled. Its cynical posturing on this issue was exposed when the SDLP challenged it to sign a petition of concern, a mechanism that would have stopped the Bill in its tracks. However, it would not pull the trigger. Is this the same Sinn Féin that is represented in the Dáil? Are there two Sinn Féin parties?

The Government has made a great start in putting the economy back on the right track. It is a long road, sometimes bumpy, but the Government has the resolve and determination to fix what was a broken economy. I urge every Member to support the Government in its great struggle for national recovery.

I have no doubt Deputy Seamus Healy and many of his cohorts would have preferred to see an immediate default when the Government assumed office. Such a default would have entailed an immediate €18 billion increase in the deficit because that is what the deficit was when the Government assumed office. Reducing it by the required €18 billion would have necessitated a reduction in spending on social welfare, education and health services, that is to say, the big ticket items. This would have been combined with an increase in taxation, property and incomes taxes and the universal social charge. I have no doubt that the Deputy would be the first to oppose any reduction in spending on health, education, social welfare or any of the other services on which the Government spends money.

Likewise, no doubt he would be the first to oppose any increase in income tax, in the universal social charge and in any other charge, including the household charge. He is a notable member of the anti-household charge brigade and the anti-property tax brigade. In fact, last night I heard him and many of his cohorts campaigning here against the introduction of employers' contribution to sick pay. Where is that €18 billion to be found if not through co-operation with the programme which the Government inherited?

That programme is flawed in many regards. A central element of it is pacta sunt servanda, that is, agreements will be followed, no matter how immoral are those agreements. Regardless of whose debt is the €64 billion that has been taken off the back of the Irish taxpayers and put into our banks, that debt must be paid by Irish citizens. Do I agree with that? No. Do I think it is moral? No. Do I see any alternative for the Government at this time or did I at the time that it took power? Unfortunately, I do not. That requires renegotiation and those negotiations are ongoing.

Those negotiations are at an advanced level, as we all saw last week when Chancellor Merkel, on Friday night last, caused quite a bit of confusion when she stated that there would be no retrospective recapitalisation of the banks. It is quite clear that Chancellor Merkel's first instinct is to protect German bankers at the expense of Irish citizens and, indeed, citizens of Spain and peripheral countries right across Europe, and that is very much Frankfurt's way. There is an alternative in Europe. We have seen M. François Hollande, the new socialist President of France, sign up to a growth and debt restructuring agenda which is very much the way of socialists across Europe. There will be elections next year in Germany and in Italy which will very much determine the future of Europe. As I stated, we are not free to act on our own, unless, of course, we are to slash Government spending in a way which would entail significant pain for ordinary people, but I do not advocate us being mere passive bystanders in those elections. We must reduce our deficit, first, because it is a condition of the programme we are in and, second, because any serious economist who advocates a default will first state that one cannot default until one's deficit is down to zero. We must contemplate a default but in order to be able to even contemplate a default when this programme ends - I would far rather see a default than enter into another programme on the same terms as this one - we must reduce our deficit. There is no alternative to a deficit-reducing budget at this time.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important matter.

Last night, I was present when the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, addressed the House. He spoke with passion, conviction and belief. Equally, I attended many debates in this House when he was on this side of the House and he spoke with passion, conviction and belief. The only difference between the passion, conviction and belief on this occasion was the content, which was at complete variance with what Deputy Gilmore used say when he was on this side of the House. On every occasion, he would have opposed the decisions of the previous Government in trying to address the budget deficit. What I find hard to comprehend is that he then spoke about the need for honesty, no "fairytale economics and the politics of denial", and that we "need to be up front with people about how we got into this crisis", and what we need to ensure that it does not happen again. When one looks back at the record of what was stated when Deputy Gilmore was leader of the Labour Party sitting on the Opposition benches, he opposed every measure to reduce the budget deficit.

Deputy Michael McNamara is correct in stating that if one was to contemplate a default or if one wanted to strengthen one's bargaining power with the troika, the Commission, the ECB or bond holders, one would want to be in a position where one could live without them if they said "No" because if one is depending on the lender of last resort, it is difficult to negotiate from a position of strength. That is where the previous Government found itself.

The idea that we embraced the IMF and everybody else and went out hawking the sovereignty of this country to try to bail ourselves out is simply not correct. There are two reasons this memorandum was forced on this country. Some of the policies that were pursued were inflationary and when the crash came we had a massive hole in the public finances, but the policies were by and large supported by everybody in this House. When I was on the Government benches, we were scurrilously attacked on every occasion for not spending enough on public services and not reducing enough in taxation. I took a lecture from the Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte. When he was leader of the Labour Party, with his programme for Government under his arm in 2007, he promised that he would reduce the standard rate of income tax to 18%. If one wants honest debate, let us start with a bit of honesty in the Chamber and let us be real about the challenges and difficulties facing this country. It is at least hypocritical for the leader of the Labour Party to be able to do a somersault from the Opposition benches to the Government benches, a mere distance of five or six yards, and to turn on its head everything that was said on this side of the House as being nonsense and opposition for opposition sakes when that is exactly what Deputy Gilmore stated when he was on this side.

There are significant challenges. Deputy Peter Mathews has advocated in this House for some time that there must be a renegotiation of debt. I would be the first to support it. My party has never undermined the Government when it went abroad to negotiate a debt settlement for this country. We have advocated and encouraged them at every turn to use whatever their diplomatic powers and contacts throughout Europe to find a better way forward. As I and everybody else in the Chamber knows, and as the Government knows but cannot state publicly, the bottom line is there will be a debt settlement. It will be either by default or by negotiation. We are quite definite that this country with a population of 4.3 million simply cannot sustain the level of debt that is being placed on it, in terms of the deficit itself, the national debt and all the other arising contingent liabilities with regard to pension difficulties, etc.

The Minister for Finance may as well go back and tell the Department its projections are la-la land economics. At present, the growth projections are 0.2% of GDP for this year and 0.9% for next year. The Government is basing its figures on growth forecasts for 2012 that it projected and that will not be achieved and the forecasts for 2013 look dismal to say the least.

Let us be clear and honest. There is a very difficult time ahead for our citizens. I will accept my portion of blame in terms of the policies that were pursued that got us to where we were but at the same time everybody in this House encouraged us, begged us to spend more and promised to reduce taxes. We must use all our efforts to encourage those who are presently supporting this country to come up with solutions to make the debt more sustainable to unshackle the country's potential.

When one looks at what is said now about the bank guarantee, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade conveniently forgot last night that not only did Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and Sinn Féin support it, but Fine Gael supported it also. They supported it with the right intentions. At the time we were facing a difficult situation. I stood in this Chamber on the night we had to make that decision and we were told quite clearly - the Governor of the Central Bank and others said it - that banks would have closed the following day if a guarantee was not put in place. We can argue and debate forever more the extent of the guarantee, but one aspect was sure, that the banking system in this country was on the point of imminent collapse and a decision had to be made. If we had followed other parties' lines, we may not have had the massive debts placed on the Irish people but we would have had significant dislocation of society the following day - ATM machines would have had no money and cheques and salaries would not have been able to be paid. In terms of the decision that was made about a bank guarantee, that is clearly accepted by most rational people. As I stated, the parameters of it can be debated by historians but we had to deal with the position at the time.

I genuinely regret if the decision we made in government was the wrong one and we burdened the people and the generations to come with debt that was unnecessary. However, the bottom line is that at the time, it was the only decision possible.

People make great play of the idea that the European Union, the ECB and the European Commission are foisting austerity on us. They are doing that, to a certain extent, but there is also an obligation on this State to make every effort to become self-sufficient and sustainable into the future. I believe, however, that the European Commission has singularly failed to place growth at the heart of European policy. We now have a situation where the European Commission has been emasculated, with the Bundestag and the German Chancellor dictating European policy. I understand full well that the Germans make the largest contribution and that they have a lot to lose but we simply cannot continue with the situation whereby the European Commission is answerable to the Bundestag and the Chancellor when it comes to policy decisions. We had a situation where the Heads of State agreed on 29 June that there would be a move towards debt resolution. In that context, Ireland was mentioned as a special case and we were very pleased that such a commitment was given to the Taoiseach by his peers at that Council meeting. Then we had a retreat from that statement. While we did eventually get clarity, it was from Chancellor Merkel. She was the person who decided to give the clarity on Sunday night through a joint communiqué. We have had no words from the Commission on its obligation to implement decisions made at Council meetings. The Commission is failing in a most appalling manner. President Barroso and others must step up to the plate and be counted in terms of their obligation to ensure small countries are treated fairly and equally, as described in all of the treaties that found the European Union.

On the broader issues, as we face into the budget, everyone, including the Minister of State, knows the projections from the Department of Finance are no longer valid. It is simply untenable for the Government to continue to say that the levels of growth it has predicted will be achieved. It is just not happening. As we speak, the figures are unravelling. I know the difficulties the Government faces in terms of trying to address the budget deficit while also attempting to stimulate the economy. However, there must be an acknowledgement, first and foremost, that the present position is not sustainable and this economy will shrink further if something is not done. My party will publish a detailed budget that adds up and that will have some answers to our difficulties. There is no font of wisdom on this side of the House but, equally, there is none on the Government side in the context of the difficulties we are facing.

The European Union must take a more proactive role in addressing the recession that is now creeping across the rest of Europe. Many references have been made to the fact that Ireland is a trading nation. Ours is an export economy, which is small and open and which is influenced by external factors to a greater degree than most other economies because of our dependence on trade. If the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe slide into a recession, the job of the Government, in trying to bring about economic growth here, is made much more difficult. The only way that there can be a stimulus package in Europe is through the European Commission advising national governments on the way forward, based on the Lisbon strategy and all that unfolded from it.

I applaud the Government's efforts in trying to secure a debt reduction but it is also time for it to encourage the European Commission to wake up and realise that there are millions of citizens throughout Europe who are unemployed today.

This an Irish, European and global financial crisis. This country is part of the problem but it can be also part of the solution. Light touch regulation in the banking sector and the wrong decisions being made by the previous Government were part of the problem here. As a country we lost our way too. Unfortunately everyone, from employers to employees, from home owners to the homeless have suffered greatly. I have been to Taiwan to talk about the global financial crisis. I was also in Australia, which is doing pretty well at present. In Europe and Ireland, we are feeling the impact more than in other parts of the world.

I have an anecdote I wish to share. We are fighting with Germany and saying various things about that country right now. I flew home from Frankfurt to Knock a number of weeks ago and most of the passengers were upper and middle income Germans. When the Ryanair staff went along the aisle of the aeroplane offering refreshments, not one person bought a cup of coffee or a sandwich because they knew it was bad value. They preferred to wait and spend their money wisely when they landed. If that had been a flight with mostly Irish people, the staff would have spent half an hour at least selling refreshments. One guy would have wanted a can of beer and a sandwich, the next a cup of tea and so on and the money being spent would be the money the Germans are giving us. That anecdote proves that we have a lot to learn from the Germans about good financial housekeeping.

Ireland is a template for getting out of this crisis. We were the first country to enter a programme and we will be the first to leave. We are stabilising the public finances and are dealing with the debt crisis. Ireland is a template for the stabilisation of the public finances in Europe as a whole. We are so close now to getting back into the bond markets. I hope that when history is written, it will note that this country and Europe got back to work. The euro zone will stabilise, which will benefit Ireland enormously. The global financial crisis will end. Ireland, by putting its people first in its policies, will prevail. Europe and the world will recognise the sacrifices made by our people. I have no doubt we will be the first country to get out of a bailout programme and get back to work.

As a newcomer to this Chamber I ask Deputies to park the petty, partisan politics of the past. We are in a slow motion crisis that has led to job losses, emigration, financial stress, family break-ups, family worries and even suicides. We have actually managed, despite that territory of ruin and misery, to start the work of site clearance. The Government, which is a coalition government, is doing its honest, level best to try to get a read of the situation, to measure it and to get a degree of correspondence and communication with Europe and beyond on how to deal with it.

Last Thursday and Friday at the summit the Taoiseach did his very best for Ireland. We can all see that. It is obvious. There was backsliding on the part of Europeans, particularly some of the stronger European countries. They tried to hog, as it were, the higher and firmer financial ground of the European Union over September. The Taoiseach went back to determine and assert the position of Ireland. It meant that he had to lift the telephone on Sunday to have a very strong and direct conversation with Angela Merkel, the upshot of which was a joint communiqué indicating that the intention of the summit was to bring about a framework that would lead to the separation of bank and sovereign debt in the EU. We are on track for that and must now build on it. The Taoiseach is to be commended because he did the business-like thing and lifted the telephone. Phone calls do not happen simultaneously at both ends and it is highly unlikely that Angela Merkel would have lifted the telephone to call him.

We should get behind the Taoiseach, say "Well done" and ask him to continue spearheading the direction of that conversation.

This week's must-read article on the eurozone crisis is The Eurozone Debt Crisis: The Options Now by Lee C. Buchheit and G. Mitu Gulati. Karl Whelan goes to the trouble of digging these articles out. I do not necessarily read everything he recommends, but he gives us good tips on reading and he should not be ignored. I recommend that Members read the aforementioned article because it explains in stark terms what has happened at ESM level in regard to monetary transactions and what Mario Draghi and the ECB are doing. I tried my best at a meeting of the governors of the central banks of OECD countries in September 2011 to draw attention to the real effects of debt. I also reminded the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform about the issue but my concerns were summarily dismissed. This is the core issue for the economies of the world.

There are three types of debt. To make it easy for everybody to understand, a country, an economy or a society is like a body, and the working arm of that body in terms of the state is normally the right hand. Some people are left-handed but for purpose of the analogy I will use the right hand. In Ireland and the other programme economies of Europe - that is, Greece and Portugal - the right hand has been damaged by fiscal imbalances and accumulating debt that becomes unsustainable. Programmes, like injections of cortisone and antibiotics, have gone into that arm. The troika's examination every three months takes the blood pressure, checks the blood count and examines whether the proteins and vitamins are working in the right arm, but one cannot concentrate on that arm alone when there is household debt on the left arm and corporate debt on the right leg, which does the weight lifting in the economy. Corporate business is the engine of production of goods and services outside of the public sphere. In the case of Ireland, these two limbs have gangrene, which has been ignored or overlooked.

That is where the argument about debt sustainability links with the legacy bank debt. I do not have enough time to explain exactly how it happened, but Ireland contributed €65 billion to €70 billion to save the eurozone system. That can be proved beyond doubt, but we have not passed the lesson on to our colleagues in Europe. Let us go back to the start of the European project. Martin Schulz mentioned solidarity. Where is that solidarity? Where is the Delors and Kohl heart of Europe? Mrs. Merkel may not have understood this because she comes from the centralised command economy of Soviet East Germany. She does not understand markets and, perhaps, the financial system, what makes them work and how negotiations and transactions work, but the US understands because it has been a market economy for a long time and it has been influenced by the cultures of many countries. The US put $16 trillion of liquidity into its financial system. The eurozone financial system is like a bad central heating system. Last week I referred to an article by Simon Johnson, Will the Germans Pick up the Tab for Deutsche Bank, Too?, which examined Deutsche Bank's €2.2 trillion balance sheet. To set what we have done for Europe in context, Ireland's €65 billion equates to 50% of our national income. If Germany was to invest a proportionate level of effort in saving the eurozone system it would provide €1.2 trillion. That message has not dropped, but we should not be reticent about pressing our case. If it means going to the wire, the next time a fully owned bank is due to redeem a bond we should argue that it has a mixture of cash and liquidity and we are not in a position to pay out on the bond until we have a clear discussion on its composition. That is how we will concentrate minds.

Like the previous speaker, I am a first-time Deputy. I agree with him that we should have a respectful debate in which we listen to each other. Politicians and decision-makers must listen to each other and to the public because we need a national effort to resolve our problems. As Deputy Peter Mathews is aware, however, a chorus of jackals starts to bay in this House whenever suggestions are made. Instead of respectful debate we get Deputies trying to shout each other down. This is unedifying and distasteful behaviour, and as a Deputy I sometimes feel embarrassed at the performances on display in this House, including this morning.

On Tuesday afternoon I witnessed an extraordinary event in the audiovisual room. The occasion was a pre-budget briefing by the community and voluntary sector. There was a good attendance by Deputies and Senators from all parties, as well as a large number of staff. The invited presenters outlined the impact of cutbacks in the voluntary and community sector on those who receive services and supports. They also described the damage that is being done to the fabric of social services in this country and presented seven key initiatives which they believed could be incorporated in budget 2013 to facilitate a strategic approach to solving the problem and delivering a sustainable future for our nation and our people. A question and answer session followed the presentations. It is a sign of a well-functioning democracy that political decision-makers listen to the public and engage with organisations representing a wide range of citizens. What happened next, however, was extraordinary. A Government backbencher, whom I know to talk to and who I do not doubt is an honourable, decent and caring man, said that he had hoped the speakers would present an alternative budget but all they came with was a vision and a begging bowl. He asked the presenters whether they thought Government Deputies were evil people. I was gobsmacked at these comments and asked myself what would prompt a decent, honourable and caring politician who undoubtedly entered political life for all the right reasons to react in such a way to organisations that suggested possible better ways of doing business. Why would any Deputy feel threatened by alternative views of societal and economic planning? Why would any party or Government believe that it alone has the correct answers to the myriad of problems this country faces?

Then it struck me that we had seen this before with the previous Government. The Nyberg report found that the Government had made decisions based on a flawed analysis of false information. I recall the taunts from members of the previous Government against those who questioned their decisions. One of the worst of these was the wish that people who talked down the economy should commit suicide. We were all told to don the green jersey because the Government considered it unreasonable for people to question the choices it was making.

What we had was inaction or bad actions, based on blind panic and a failure to listen to cautionary voices.

I suggest budgetary proposals made by groups such as Social Justice Ireland and Sinn Féin should not be dismissed with contempt as they are. Those who question the vision and direction of the Government and suggest different ways of doing things should be listened to with respect. There should be discussion of and debate on their suggestions. I am sure our pre-budget proposals will not be perfect, but they should be discussed and debated and their better parts should be adopted. Similarly, Government proposals may not be perfect, but they should be debated and discussed and their better parts adopted in order that we end up with a composite of what is best. That is how it should be done.

We need to clarify the direction we want to take. A satnav is useless unless the driver knows where he or she wants to go. We need that vision and to set our direction. We also need to hear what others have to say. We need a nation of people and organisations working together to restore our economic freedom and fairness and decency to society.

I begin by quoting what the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, said last night:

Welfare expenditure acts as what economists often call a Keynesian "automatic stabiliser". This means it acts in a counter-cyclical manner to support the domestic economy by putting money into the hands of consumers and thus into the tills of businesses, many of which are small and medium-sized... We must ask ourselves what is the impact of social welfare payments on domestic business. It is very strong.

In saying this, the Minister demonstrated a clear understanding of the economic impact of social welfare spending. However, actions speak louder than words. The Minister and the Labour Party clearly lacked the courage or conviction to follow through on that understanding because it was she who was responsible for cutting social welfare spending by €800 million last year and she is now gearing up to cut at least a further €540 million this year. We now see that she has not been cutting social welfare payments in ignorance of the implications for the economy and those on social welfare; rather, she is proposing and making social welfare cuts wilfully and in full knowledge that in doing so she will continue to depress demand in the domestic economy, costing further jobs year on year. She opened her speech by talking about the Government's twin track approach to increasing employment and reducing unemployment. This approach comprises the Action Plan for Jobs and the Pathways to Work programme. However, she neglected to mention that despite promising 100,000 new net jobs by 2016, the economy had lost some 33,400 net jobs since the Government's twin track approach had been launched.

The Minister proudly championed the handful of Intreo offices now in operation, claiming they would enable people to get back to work more quickly. She gave an example of how this would operate, telling us that if an employer in Sligo had three jobs, the local Intreo office would be able to offer that employer suitably qualified and interested individuals. That is logical and all well and good, but according to the European Commission's figures, the reality is that there will be 150 jobseekers eagerly pursuing and in need of those three jobs. Pathways to Work, or plank two of the Government's approach to the unemployment crisis, is almost redundant in absence of a credible plank one, namely, a strategy to create and deliver jobs.

The Minister spent her first year in office cutting social welfare allowances and claiming that anyone in difficulty could always go and talk to the community welfare officer, but in many cases one can no longer do this. If people experience a crisis, for example, with regard to their rent allowance payment, they are directed to make contact through a PO box number. This is great news for those in crisis.

The Minister spoke in unreserved congratulatory tones about the turnover on the live register. However, she did not mention the damning statistics that prove the approaches of the Government and the previous Fianna Fáil-led Government have been an abject failure. In the past year, while the Labour Party has been in power, unemployment has increased from 14.1% to 14.8%. Long-term unemployment has reached an all time high of over 200,000 people, six times the number in 2007. The long-term unemployed now account for 60% of the unemployed, up from a figure of 54% a year ago when the Labour Party took up office.

Underemployment is also growing but is often overlooked in a crisis. Since the Government came to power, the level has increased from 120,000 workers to 150,000. These are workers who would work more hours if they were available. Since the Government came to power, 167,700 have left the State. The number has risen from 80,600 to 87,000 in the two years the Government has been in power. The largest component of this group appears to be workers in the 20 to 34 year age group. We must conclude from this evidence and evidence published today by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul that the Government and its approach to the economy are an abject failure. I urge the Government, even at this late stage, to consider an alternative way, one proposed by Sinn Féin and others. It might be pleasantly surprised by how our approach would turn the economy around.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, and pay tribute to him for the way he has demonstrated the ability of the Government to govern. People like him, the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and other members of the Cabinet are now in charge. I listened to Deputy Peter Mathews' remarks and would not like to disagree with him. A famous line from a previous American presidential debate went, "Show me the beef." We have seen no beef, nothing, from the Opposition. In fact, the architects of our misfortune are missing from the Chamber when they should be present.

The backdrop to this debate is the position where the Government has repositioned Ireland to return to the financial markets, as demonstrated by the report of the troika today and the press conference on it. I welcome the comments of the Minister for Finance informing us a paper will be published before Christmas outlining the options for exiting the position we are in and returning to the markets. This is good and positive news that demonstrates the Government is working with the people to ensure future generations can live in a free and independent Ireland in which their economic sovereignty has been restored. If people want to engage in voodoo economics, that is fine. However, they should level with the people and not conjure up mock money that does not add up. They must be honest. Sinn Féin is in government on another part of the island and making cuts and hard decisions, while getting a block grant from Westminster. It must live up to its responsibilities down here, not the opinion polls.

We accept we have responsibilities. We publish our proposals annually, using figures from the Department.

Do not live by the opinion polls. As the Deputy knows quite well, there is no pot of gold, despite what Sinn Féin might think.

Nobody said there was a pot of gold.

Let us put the matter in context. We were told the Government would not succeed in getting a €10 billion reduction from the troika. We were told we would not get a stimulus plan of €2.25 billion and that there would be no result at the euro summit in June. Last Sunday there was an outpouring of ridicule of the Taoiseach and the Government, but the position changed on Monday when there was a joint communiqué from Mrs. Merkel and the Taoiseach. Where was the green jersey of Ireland on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday? It was abandoned in favour of point-scoring in order to see and increase in the opinion polls. It was abandoned in the hope the Government was wrong. I challenge opposition Deputies, including those present in the Chamber, to set out where they stand. Do they want Ireland to restore its economic fortunes? Do they want the country to get its people back to work?

Do they want the Government to fail? Their policies do not add up.

They add up to a lot more than the Government's policies.

As their policies are a load of rubbish, they should be burnt in a bonfire outside the gate. The Government has announced a €17 billion capital programme. It is spending €2.2 billion to build 40 schools and develop 180 major school projects. It is allocating €2.9 billion for roads projects and €1.4 billion for rail and light rail projects. It is designating €1.5 billion for water services infrastructure and €1.4 billion for the regeneration of social housing. NAMA has committed to invest €2.2 billion over the next five years. We were told that could not be done.

Deputy Healy quoted what James Connolly said about the re-conquest of Ireland by the Irish people. That is what is happening today. The Government is taking Ireland back for every single one of its people. We need to get real and live in the world of reality. Our citizens have made huge sacrifices and endured huge pain. Every one of us can tell stories of family members, friends and fellow citizens who have suffered through emigration, unemployment and making hard decisions. I appeal to the Minister for Finance to ensure the forthcoming budget is fair. It must widen the gap between work and welfare. We cannot allow a welfare state to continue in our country. We must put a value on a job. We must give men and women who want to go out to work, and who can work, an opportunity to do so.

A woman who came into my office last week told me she lasted three days in a particular type of employment because she did not like the job and she realised she would get more money if she was unemployed. I accept that the State has a responsibility to look after people who cannot work, but are we seriously prepared to allow those who are living on welfare to be better off than those who have jobs? Is that what we want? I do not, and I am no right-wing conspiracy theorist. I want people to work. I want the Government to continue with its task of ensuring they are able to do so.

I accept that this is difficult, but our economy is on the cusp. Our people have played their part. The year 2011 was a year of growth. We returned to growth. I heard Deputy Healy speaking about the jobs issue. Private sector employment has increased by 16,900 jobs, or 1.5%. Our economy is driven by exports. Deputies should reflect on how well our exports are doing and on the perception of Ireland abroad. Those who have spoken about Time magazine should be honest and admit that if the President or Prime Minister of any other country was on the front of an international magazine, they would think the level of investor confidence in that country was being restored. The people of that country would collectively decide to get things back together again. That is not what happens here, however.

We need people to come to this country to invest. As the Minister said, we have a small and open economy. As Deputy Donohoe said, there are 1.8 million people working in this country. We need to get more people working. It is a huge source of concern that people's disposable income is diminishing. That is why it is so important that the budget in December is fair, just and balanced. I emphasise to the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, that those who can pay more should pay more. Today's troika briefing is just as critical. We have been portrayed as the poster boys and girls of how to get things right. We must tell our people that we are doing this. It is not easy, but it is about the future of our country. I am in politics to make sure we have an Ireland of equals and of opportunity. Many of my past pupils have gone abroad. We want to give them an opportunity to return to Ireland to live, work, invest and raise their families in a country we can be proud of.

I heard the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on the radio this morning speaking about our corporation tax rate of 12.5%, which underpins much of what we are doing right. It allows people to come in and invest. We must be allowed to continue to invest in areas like research and development. We must keep research and development companies here. As a small and open economy, we require investment. I am pleased that the substantial pharmaceutical industry in the city and county of Cork is playing a pivotal part in research and development, job creation and the payment of corporation tax. I welcome the deal that has been agreed by the Minister for Health and the pharmaceutical industry regarding the cost of drugs. I hope we can continue to make such savings - €400 million is not a small amount - in the health budget.

We are rebuilding our country. We are doing more with less, as the Minister, Deputy Quinn, said in his speech earlier this afternoon about the education sector. The same thing applies to the health sector. I pay tribute to the many men and women who are employed in the health services industry. They have done a great deal of work. They have shown that the Croke Park agreement is working. I call on the Irish Hospital Consultants Association and the HSE to get together. We need the hospital consultants to sit down with the HSE to ensure the savings and reform projects can be delivered in our hospitals. It is very important.

I would like to conclude by quoting from an e-mail I received from a small service provider - I will not name him - who employs some people. This is of relevance to what has been said about the banks and about small and medium sized enterprises. The e-mail states:

I have today received a six day demand notice from [a council] by registered post. This is a notification to take legal proceedings against our business if we do not pay the outstanding rates for the premises we have occupied since March 2012. We paid €500 in September and €500 yesterday. There is a balance of €1,426 to be paid. I am very disappointed with this threat as I have already given verbal assurances that the rates would be paid before the end of the year. As we are a young business, we are trying to manage our cash flow effectively and these types of communications are not helpful.

The person who sent me that e-mail is an employer. We have done an awful lot of good and we should do more by encouraging such people. In this context, €1,400 is a small amount of money.

We must restore our sovereignty. We must continue to raise consumer confidence if we are to get our people to spend money. We must create jobs. The budget that will be presented to this House must widen the gap between jobs and welfare. The Government is working to get jobs back to our country.

It is a positive thing that we have had this debate. Deputies on all sides need to take part in good faith in a serious debate about the desperate plight we are in and what we can do to get out of it. Most people find it pretty galling that these troika people come along every three months to tick all the boxes and tell us how well we are doing. If we are honest, we will admit that it grates on us. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the credit the Taoiseach does or does not deserve, it does not really help the morale of the Irish people when German magazines tell us that our Taoiseach is the European of the year or when Time says it thinks we are wonderful. Frankly, the fact that some magazines in a country that is one of the key architects of austerity and of this country's plight want to tell us how well we are doing at a time when ordinary people are suffering does no more than rub the noses of the Irish people in it. If it is up to him, the Taoiseach would be well advised to refuse such an award. If anyone deserves an award, it is the ordinary citizens of this country who are being crushed by austerity.

I do not want to waste much time on what austerity has meant for ordinary people because we are all aware of it. As we try to chart a way out of the crisis, we must start by dealing with the people and the situation they are in. If we do not start with the people and their situation, we are guaranteed to get the issue wrong.

If we start with categories such as debt, deficit and growth - economic categories - rather than starting with where the people are and what they need in order to have a civilised, dignified, decent and sustainable existence, we will get it wrong. Frankly, I believe that is part of the problem. Not just in this country but across the world for the past 25 to 30 years, we have been pursuing a philosophy that does not start with the people and what they need. There has been a doctrine that states that if profits are made, they will trickle down and it will be all right for the rest of us at some point. It has not worked. There is not really an acknowledgement of the fundamental fact that the doctrine that has been pursued almost without exception across the globe has failed catastrophically and we need to rethink. We in this country are suffering particularly badly from the consequences of that, with disastrous levels of unemployment and huge numbers of our young and talented people leaving the country. When I hear people talk about our export success, I think the biggest export out of this country - and it certainly is not a success - is our young, talented and educated people. That is a tragedy. Those are the people who would help us recover, but they are leaving. It is a failure and an indictment of our system. The cuts in public services, which are sometimes euphemistically called reform, mean that disabled people have had to sit out overnight in front of the Dáil in order to retain their personal assistants, suicide is going through the roof and despair in our society is rampant. That is the reality and the starting point of where we are at.

I put it to the Minister and - as it is not just the Irish Government - to the European leaders that the plan has not worked, however well-intentioned it might have been. I do not doubt that most of the people who pursued the strategy that has been pursued honestly believed it might work. It can be summarised as follows: bail out the banks, not particularly because we want to but because we think it is necessary to have functioning private banks in order to get the economy restarted; and pay for that with severe austerity affecting ordinary people, with the idea running behind it that if we cut costs in the economy, we will make ourselves competitive. The thinking was that these two things would lead to renewed lending and investment. We have pursued that strategy for four years and it has absolutely not worked. We have recapitalised the banks to an extraordinary extent and they are still showing no sign of lending. We have cut our costs and the result has been a contraction of our domestic economy. As the same prescription has been applied to the rest of Europe, the European economy is now contracting as well. That is a fact and even the IMF has now had to acknowledge that what it calls in its technocratic language the spillover effect and the multiplier effect have been much worse than expected. I am not saying "I told you so", but we said this two or three years ago, as the Minister of State knows. There should be some acknowledgement that the argument we and others, including Krugman and Stiglitz, made two or three years ago has turned out to be true, as the IMF is now admitting. The next question is, having acknowledged that the multiplier and spillover effects, which we could just call a vicious circle, have been worse than expected, is it or the Government planning to change course? The answer is "No; we are going to continue on the same road".

The Deputy has three minutes remaining.

What is the alternative to this? It is hard to explain in three minutes, but I will say this. First, the debt is unsustainable. Our debt was €25 billion in 2007. That is our debt. All the rest is odious debt which results from the crisis and the recapitalisation of the banks. We cannot pay it and we should not pay it. We should tell Angela Merkel we cannot pay it and we will not pay it, either acting unilaterally or to force her to the negotiating table, but it simply cannot be done.

The Government's argument all along has been that, if we do this, we will be cut loose and we will be left with a €15 billion or €18 billion deficit. That is not true. The Government should own up on this one. Most of the deficit it is talking about is debt interest next year. The Government has to admit this as it is in the troika figures. Currently, our primary deficit is €3.1 billion. That is what we actually spend over what we get in tax revenue. The rest is debt interest.

So the Deputy would default.

Yes, if they will not give us a deal. We default and we are left with a deficit of €3.1 billion to cover. Can we cover a deficit of €3.1 billion? The answer is "Yes", through progressive income taxation on wealth, on profits and on higher incomes.

Tell us then - €10 billion.

We would increase the effective tax rate on incomes over €100,000 from the current levels, ranging between 33% and 39%, to a range from 35% up to approximately 60% at the top-----

No; an effective rate of 60% at the top. That is more reasonable than attacking people on social welfare, the disabled or people on low incomes because, by attacking them, the Government has depressed the economy as well as pushing them into poverty. Why is it unreasonable to take €100,000 more in tax from somebody who earns €500,000 while it is not unreasonable to attack somebody who is on the poverty line? I just do not understand the logic.

Second, as I pointed out yesterday in regard to corporation tax, despite gaining €61 billion in profits last year, corporations paid only €4 billion in tax, an effective rate of 6.5%. If we enforce the 12.5% corporate tax rate, the Government will get an extra €4 billion. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Bruton, responded to this by saying these allowances are for research and development and all the rest. I have the details in front of me but they are not transparent. For example, there is a €4 billion discount under the category "Other Deductions". Can the Minister of State explain what those other deductions are?

I ask the Deputy to conclude.

Yes. A 2% wealth tax on the top 5%, excluding the family home and over a threshold of €1 million, would raise approximately €3.2 billion.

On mobile assets.

To house people in empty houses would save us €500 million in rent allowance and generate rental revenue for the State. We should assert control over the banks so they write down the unsustainable mortgages of 160,000 people who are on mortgage relief, for which they have been recapitalised, and dictate their investment and lending policies in order that money starts to go into the economy, which it has not. It is our money that the banks are refusing to invest in the economy.

If we have defaulted, no one will give us the money.

Deputy Boyd Barrett must conclude.

It can be done if there is a will. Will the Government even discuss it?

I call Deputy O'Mahony, who has three minutes.

I thought I had ten minutes, so I will have to pack a lot into three minutes. I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution. It is appropriate that we should discuss this in advance of the budget. In February of last year the Government was handed the most difficult task of any Administration throughout Europe. I compliment the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, who is present, for working day and night on this. We saw glee, if one likes, over the weekend, and the naysayers were out immediately. Again, I compliment the members of the Government for the work they did behind the scenes. Although they had to do it in public, they showed resolve in obtaining recognition from Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande that Ireland is a special case.

I wish to refer to a few points made by the Opposition. All of this negotiation was done against the backdrop of a Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government running for cover, throwing in the towel, telling us before the crash came that the economy was sound, that it was a blip and that there would be a soft landing.

Sinn Féin is doing the opposite in the Six Counties to what they are doing in this State. When the issue of small schools was being debated in the House last year the Minister, Deputy Quinn, took some of the arguments into consideration and rowed back on some of his decisions. In the North Sinn Féin is closing schools through cuts to administration. We like to deal in facts.

The education budget in the North has increased.

Sinn Féin is not in charge of fiscal matters in the North. That is a fact. I accept that but the party still has choices.

We have a bigger budget for education.

Sinn Féin is still signing off on the closure of 45 schools in the North. They would love the solutions and the savings the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, has proposed.

Deputy O’Mahony has absolutely no idea what he is talking about.

Keady and Aghavilly schools in Armagh have been signed off for closure. That is a fact in the same way as the fiscal issue Deputy Ó Snodaigh raised.

I have a problem with the populist statements from some Independents who never have and never will have an opportunity to make decisions themselves. Deputy Boyd Barrett said it was hard to come up with solutions in three minutes. He has not provided any solution in the past two years since he has been a Member of the House, except populist ones that would not work. He brings people to the House every Thursday morning whom he says have been affected by cutbacks. If some of his solutions were implemented there would not be any money for them. It would not be a case of dealing with cutbacks; they would be wiped out altogether. That approach is scaremongering. It provides less confidence and results in less spending.

There is a general acceptance across the House that there is a need for growth in addition to savings and cutbacks. Agriculture could provide much of the growth. I compliment the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, on travelling the length and breadth of this country to explain to farmers about his hopes and efforts in making alliances across Europe to guarantee the CAP budget for the next six years to take account of the opportunities that exist. I very much support his approach. I urge the Minister for Finance to take into consideration changes in agriculture that would allow for the transfer of land and farm consolidation which would make farms far more efficient, without incurring capital gains tax.

Fuel laundering is another important issue. In recent days three or four fuel laundering premises were raided and equipment was seized, saving the State approximately €40 million in lost revenue. I urge the Minister to put the necessary resources into areas that we can put to good use in the forthcoming budget.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to reply to the debate. The Government genuinely welcomes the debate that took place today and yesterday and the suggestions that were put forward.

Yesterday, my colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, outlined recent developments in the economy and the nature of the short-term and medium-term economic challenges we face. He also outlined the Government's priorities and the actions we are taking to address the challenges. He emphasised the fundamental strengths of the economy which will enable us to grow again. I welcome the constructive input into the debate from many of the Members of the House.

In closing the debate, I wish to address some of the comments raised. First, it is important to emphasise and reiterate a couple of key messages on behalf of the Government. While the challenges ahead are not to be understated, both domestically and internationally, there is, however, a clear understanding and agreement that we in Ireland have moved into a position of stability where we are now engaged in the task of rebuilding the country. Considerable progress has been made.

It was never the case that there was one simple magic bullet solution to the collapse of the economy from 2008 to 2010 where, in effect, 14% of GDP was wiped off the slate of this country. The solution was always going to have to be taken on an incremental basis. It is worth saying that progress is made step by step. That is the progress on which we must build to sustain the economy through these difficult and challenging times.

The progress made is well known. The eighth quarterly review of the EU-IMF financial assistance programme was successfully completed at staff level today. By our count, 160 conditions have been met by the end of the third quarter of 2012. That will clear the way for the disbursement of €2.4 billion in programme funding in the coming months. It is worth saying that the funds that come to this country as a result of the programme do not come en bloc on a yearly basis. They come every quarter as a result of the report that is made to the board of the IMF, the European Commission or the European Central Bank. The fund which is given to us that keeps the economy going is predicated on the report of the troika based on the progress we make. That was clear in the report issued today.

Our bond yields at all maturities have come down considerably since early summer. It is forgotten that when the Government came to office the nine-year cost of Irish paper was 15.5%. The current cost is 4.6%. The cost of German paper is approximately 1.3%, which is the level that should exist in most cases for nine-year money. However, there has been an astonishing reduction in the cost of debt from 2011 to now. We want to reduce the cost further. It is the ambition of the Government to return to the markets. This year alone more than €5.5 billion has been raised on the markets, admittedly in short-term money, but it is an important incremental step in fully re-engaging with the markets again.

The Minister of State has three minutes remaining.

I apologise. I will not get a chance to read my script. Perhaps you are lucky, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

It is a good yardstick of the progress that has been made in a short period. Deputy Boyd Barrett said he is seeking default as an alternative approach. I heard him say in the course of the debate on the fiscal treaty that he believed it was possible to obtain an extra €10 billion in new taxes next year. I hoped he would come to the House this afternoon and set out in a clear practical way how it could be obtained. I heard a lot of noise from him and much discussion about wealth taxes, taxing those earning more than €100,000 and forgetting about everyone else but I did not hear a specific proposal. There is a responsibility on all Members of this House, be they Independents or members of small or large parties, to produce documents on what they would do in terms of tax and expenditure. It would also be useful for the fiscal council to comment on those documents in the same way it comments in a credible and coherent way on Government proposals. If we want a proper, functioning Parliament where people’s views are taken seriously, they must be confronted by the reality of the situation. There must be serious engagement. I put it to all political parties to produce their pre-budget submission. We will examine them in an open and coherent way.

We have done it every year.

But the submissions must be credible.

We have done it every year.

I look forward to Sinn Féin’s submission.

We would welcome comments from the fiscal council.

The Minister of State should be allowed to speak without interruption.

We hope the Government will make the submission available to the fiscal council.

I genuinely look forward to Sinn Féin’s submission. I note that Sinn Féin wants a wealth tax. It is an interesting proposal but it is one based on information contained in a Bank of Ireland report that is six years out of date. In making a submission Sinn Féin did not tell us about it.

All I ask is that people be credible.

It was the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, who suggested that figure.

Deputy Boyd Barrett stated he would hike up corporation profit tax. The truth is that last year some €3.9 billion was obtained on the tax side from this source. Will the Deputy double the tax or treble it? Will he raise it by four or five times? He needs to set out the rationale and the underpinning statistics. That is the challenge I give to everybody, including the Government. Let people set out what they would do differently but let them do it in a document rather than by speechifying, which is easy. Putting it down in hard numbers is more challenging but it is the very least people should expect from their parliamentarians.