Leaders' Questions

Yesterday I received another large bundle of freedom of information documents on the selection of primary care centres and the addition of centres at Swords and Balbriggan. One might be suspicious on the eve of budget day to get such a large selection of documents because it is a classic way to bury material that the Government might not want people to see but, on a quick read through the documents, they clearly reveal a story of the selection of those sites which is much different to the one that was revealed by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, over repeated questions in this House, not to mention the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly.

The freedom of information documents show the list of 33 locations was signed off by the Taoiseach and Deputy Gilmore on Friday, 13 July and, significantly, that list does not include Balbriggin and Swords. However, on Monday, 16 July, there was a flurry of e-mails between the office of the Minister, Deputy Reilly, and the Department of Health and others. At 6.02 p.m. on the night before the Cabinet meeting, Swords and Balbriggin were still not on the list. By 6.22 p.m., 20 minutes later, they are on the list. Then written on a significant e-mail, at approximately half past seven that Monday evening, by officials is the following:

Monday evening ... discussed with Maureen Windle [who is the Minister's adviser]. Bairbre advised M Windle in relation to Swords - article in ... [the Irish Independent]. I advised M Windle in relation [to] Balbriggin - recent response to rep signed by Minister for Town Clerk in Balbriggin re leased PCC site location decided - latest is that price is agreed.

Ten minutes later, the adviser, Ms Windle, consults the Minister and gets the response from the Minister that "both Swords & Balbriggin will stay".

The key point here is that these are commercial decisions. A public private partnership, PPP, is a different model to a lease model. A lease model had been agreed. Is it right that a Minister should interfere in such a manner in the commercial arrangement which confers benefit on private sector stakeholders because the PPP model is a much more bankable proposition than the lease model? That is the key. Unfortunately, this is much more than mere political strokes.

The key question here is this. Does the Taoiseach accept that it is wrong for a Minister to get so involved in the detailed selection of public private partnerships and in the modality of the commercial relationship between the State and private sector consortia?

Deputy Martin has returned to this on a number of occasions. I am looking at the page here. I see somebody's writing that states "Taois", and then "Taoiseach" and "Tánaiste" stroked out, "signed off on Friday".

Let me be very clear with Deputy Martin. My only interest in this was in agreeing with the Minister, Deputy Reilly, that there should be more than 20 put on the list to bring about competition, to bring about buy-in from general practitioners and to ensure that under the PPP system at least 20 would get across the line. That was my involvement in it. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, had no function whatsoever in the selection of sites for primary care centres-----

That is not the point.

-----as distinct from locations that he would have determined by the expanded criteria that he set out.

Deputy Martin has been going on about this for a long time. He may take it with him and read it again if he wishes. When he states, "Taoiseach and Tánaiste signed off", that is what I signed off on.

No. Read that one, that is the key one.

I have got it here.

Stroked out, "Taoiseach" and "Tánaiste". Deputy Martin is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.

What I am interested in, and what you should be interested in-----

No. You keep giving a different answer.

Through the Chair.

-----is seeing that the foundations for these primary care centres are cut, contracts are put in place, workers are employed to build them and the patients and citizens of the country can have first-class facilities in primary care centres around the country.

We need a great deal more than the 20 mentioned, and that will get through from the expanded list of 35, as Deputy Martin will be aware. He himself was involved as Minister for Health at a time of unlimited funding and he failed miserably to reform the structure or to bring about a system that would provide decent health care for the people. He is coming back in here time and again trying to make a case that there was unwarranted political interference for some kind of commercial gain. Deputy Martin is wrong and he should be big enough to recognise that and get on with helping to ensure that these primary care centres are built in the interests of the people all over the country.

Deputy Martin's party invented political interference.

The Taoiseach keeps on answering questions he was never asked. That is his favourite tactic in this House. I refer to what is in black and white. I am not making this up.

The Government made this decision in July and it is now December when I get this information. That is because the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste nor the Minister would not tell the truth about it in this House.

We would want to be careful here.

We had to wait until December to get a freedom of information document which tells the truth.

Fianna Fáil were pulling stokes 40 years ago.

Who was it got us the bank guarantee?

(Interruptions).

I will read it again. It states: "site location decided - latest is that the price is agreed". Therefore, the Minister did interfere.

Unfortunately, it is in black and white that the Minister interfered in a commercial arrangement.

Would the Deputy put a question, please?

He decided for some reason - and I do not know why - to switch this on the eve of a Cabinet meeting after the Taoiseach had signed off with the Tánaiste on 33, not including these two.

A question, please.

No one knew up to the Monday evening or indeed Tuesday morning. The Labour Ministers clearly did not know either, but for some reason they allowed their Minister of State to take the fall and resign.

A question, please. We are over time.

There is something wrong here. At the very minimum it is wrong for a Minister to interfere in moving a project that is significant for private sector stakeholders from one model to another which confers a better benefit ultimately.

First of all, I do not cast any aspersions on Labour Party Ministers about what they do or do not do. They are part of a Government that is focused on rectifying our economy, putting smacht again on our public finances and providing an opportunity for people to have jobs and investment in the country.

A Labour Party Minister of State resigned over this.

Second, the Deputy should not come in here and claim that I have told lies to the House about this matter.

He did not tell us the truth. He told a pack, a tissue of them.

The function of my interest in this is that it was part of the economic stimulus package of €2.5 billion introduced by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. It included health areas, education, justice, transport, and the major development of Grangegorman in Dublin city centre. My interest was in seeing that these proposals were signed off in terms of the stimulus package.

And no propriety.

I agreed with the Minister, Deputy Reilly, that instead of having a list of just 20-----

The former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, saw this and she raised the alarm. All these documents show that she was raising alarms about this the whole way along the line.

I am glad Deputy Martin got all the information.

The Taoiseach is not glad I got it because he would not give it.

There was a time when Deputy Martin sat on this side of the House and refused to give any information.

The Taoiseach would not give the information. With all his talk about transparency and all his talk about "Paddy wants to know", he would not give me the information.

Deputy Martin should behave himself.

(Interruptions).

Will the Deputy please resume his seat? I call on the Taoiseach to finish because we are over time.

I am glad Deputy Martin got all the information.

The Taoiseach is not glad. It is no thanks to him that I got the information.

I hope the Deputy reads it. There was a time when he was on the Government benches and refused to acknowledge that he left behind him a budgetary deficit of €646 million in the Department of Health.

Today our people face the sixth austerity budget since the economic crisis began. In that time, some €25 billion has been taken out of the economy in cuts and taxes. Today, another €3.5 billion will be taken out. In all this time the dig-outs for the bankers and bondholders have continued. Some €64 billion of the €67 billion that was borrowed from the troika has been given to the banks. There has been a bailout for bankers but no dig-out for ordinary citizens. The Taoiseach knows who is paying for this. They include the elderly and the sick, those who have lost their home help care, people with disabilities, the unemployed, lone parents and those who have been forced to emigrate.

The Taoiseach promised a democratic revolution but what we have got is Fianna Fáil mark 2 or Fianna Fáil light. He promised no more blank cheques for banks and progress on legacy debt. He is making the wrong choices and must know that in his heart. He must know - and certainly Labour should know - that he is making the wrong choices. He is ignoring the social consequences of the actions he is taking. Mar a deir an seanfhocal, is cuma le fear na mbróg mór cá gcuireann sé a chos. How can the Government stand over cuts in child benefits or introducing new property taxes while giving the bankers a dig-out? Was this budget equality-proofed and, as I asked about the previous budget, was it poverty-proofed?

Everybody in this House shares the view and objective of restructuring and re-engineering the scale of bank debt that was inherited following the incompetence of the previous Administration. It is not as simple as just pressing a button and saying it is over. Ministers and Department of Finance officials have undertaken direct discussions both at the European Council and the European Central Bank. I have been through this before and a great deal of work has been done. I do not want to see a situation where we have to pay out in excess of €3 billion next March, as is the requirement following on the introduction of promissory notes. Deputy Adams is aware of what the Government did this year in respect of the payment which was due in March 2012. I am being serious with Deputy Adams. Some very clear discussions have taken place and are taking place at ECB level with our Minister for Finance and his officials. We have had support for a restructuring of that from many quarters which are not just confined to Europe but beyond. We are pursuing that. As I said in answer to a question yesterday, patience is always an element of negotiations with Europe. We have shown a degree of patience and would like to move these discussions on.

In regard to drafting the budget, I listened to Sinn Féin's proposals which do not want to touch anything. They seem to have a mythical figure of taxes that will run the country and protect everybody's interests and which will be drawn from an extraordinarily small number of people whom Sinn Féin assumes have extreme wealth. These figures just do not add up.

Would the Taoiseach not even try a wealth tax?

Everybody in this country knows we face a very challenging time. The Deputy asked me if this budget has been poverty-proofed and I was asked this question yesterday also. In so far as we can, we try to protect those who are vulnerable, isolated, lonely and who need attention and care as strongly and to the best extent we can. There are always cases that are exceptional and come to attention, whether they concern people in the cystic fibrosis unit at St. Vincent's Hospital or others with a range of difficulties. I empathise with them and understand how to deal with those matters. However, this is a case where the Government is required by the programme we are in to meet the requirements of moving our country on, to restore our economic good health, to grow our economy and continue to attract investment. We must also make an improvement continuously on the live register figures with particular reference to unemployment, which will be published at 11 a.m. They show an improvement.

There are 70,000 emigrants a year.

As Deputy Adams well knows, it is not by any means the harbinger saying we are through all of this. There are challenges ahead but we are moving in the right direction. Our people around the country tell me that I must keep at this because the problem will not go away unless we deal with it. That is what both parties in Government are setting out to do. It is not with any great pleasure or satisfaction that any Minister has to stand up in these straitened economic circumstances and say that we have to make hard decisions. Tough decisions must be made, however, in the interests of all our people and our country. Our ambition is to retrieve our economic independence, to come out of this programme, to be able to see the troika go home, and fly on our own where we continue to be competitive, attractive for investment and as a location for jobs to be created. That is our ambition and today's budget will build on that platform and move us further in that direction.

Labour opposed all those policies when in opposition.

The problem is that austerity is not working, except for the tiny minority who are benefiting from it. The Taoiseach must be talking to different people than those who speak to me. Does he talk to carers or the parents of children with disabilities? Does he talk to the people who are denied home help care or those on the dole? Does he talk to people who invested, worked and paid their taxes over the years and are now in trepidation about what is coming this afternoon?

What does Deputy Adams tell them?

It is a no-brainer. If it is a choice between not giving money to big bankers and other elite groups and taking tax money from those who can best afford it, or taking money from those who cannot afford it, then the Government has to take the money from those who can most afford it. Those who can pay most should do so. It is a disgrace that Labour have tied themselves to something which would have James Connolly spinning in his grave.

We never tied anybody up.

We did not tie them up and shoot them. You have a bloody cheek.

Order, please.

Even on the cusp of taking a further €3.5 billion out of the economy, would the Taoiseach not concede that austerity is not working?

Second, will the Taoiseach not state straight out the Government did not equality-proof this budget? The Taoiseach is in a position to state that in so far as it could, the Government either equality proofed it or did not.

Deputy Adams comes in here every day and makes the same argument.

Actually, he misses a lot of debates.

There has been a long tradition here in the country that in the run-in to budgets, all parties are entitled to submit their claims for alternative budgets to the Department of Finance to be assessed and valued independently. Deputy Adams's party did not bother to do that.

Deputies

No, they did not.

(Interruptions).

I cannot believe the Taoiseach pulled that one.

Consequently, it ill behoves Deputy Adams-----

We sought views from all the Departments.

It is a facts-free Taoiseach.

Settle down please.

It ill behoves Deputy Adams to come to this Chamber and castigate the Labour Party or anyone else.

What about the Taoiseach's backbenchers? There are a few right-wingers there.

While Sinn Féin can have its rows with Fianna Fáil if it wishes, the test for Deputy Adams and his party was why they did not submit their alternative budgetary propositions to the Department to have them costed independently.

(Interruptions).

No one can hear anything. I ask Deputies to stop shouting.

A Deputy

Lads, this is senior hurling.

Did the Department get the Technical Group submission?

Deputy Adams should be clear about the following point. Members should see all those young people in the Visitors Gallery. When those young people grow up and become adults in this country, the Government seeks to have achieved a situation in which Ireland's economic good health has been restored, where there is an engine to drive the economy efficiently and competently-----

Earth to Taoiseach.

----- and that we never again will have a situation in which the Government runs riot with the people's money. The Government seeks to have restored that good health to the economy in order that investment can be attracted and jobs can result. This is what is important in this regard.

Reality is important.

The Government seeks to protect those front-line services and those who are vulnerable in as fair a way as it can.

The Government is not doing that.

This is the reason that if, for example, Deputy Adams has decided there is an alternative to a property tax, it means one loads on income taxes, as well as taxes on work, and that will not help in a scenario in which one must develop one's economy. In the vast majority of cases, the moneys that will come in from that tax will be retained by local authorities for services for local people.

The Government reduced the local government grant.

Local people wish to see good competent government delivering in their interests.

The next time, Sinn Féin should send its proposals over to the Department of Finance-----

----- to have them costed and then Deputy Adams will see how daft they are.

The Taoiseach should not worry. They have had their figures checked by the quartermaster. They even had them checked in sterling.

(Interruptions).

The Ceann Comhairle should throw out the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley.

I see Deputy McGinley is getting uptight.

I call Deputy Ross. Could we all settle down for a while and give Deputy Ross a chance?

Are Members being charged for this?

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I think Deputy Adams would be best served in sending his budget submission to Brussels or Berlin instead of sending it to Merrion Street.

It is Labour's way.

Today, middle Ireland is waking up with a feeling of foreboding. It is well aware that a draconian budget has been written elsewhere. Property owners, pensioners and people with mortgages they cannot pay are converting their anger into fear. This fear is not simply of what the Government is doing to them but of what is happening in Brussels and Berlin. They fear the property tax and they fear child benefit being cut.

They fear big Phil.

Moreover, they fear that those who have been victims of the banks will now become victims of the Governments whose banks have imposed this austerity upon them. Members can discuss the property tax, because it has been announced by the Government many times. The blow of that tax is not softened by the leaks coming from the Government benches. In particular, I refer to the kind of obfuscation when Members are presented with the fact that there will be a mansion tax. That does not soften the blow-----

I did not think Deputy Ross would like that.

----- for those people who will be obliged to pay large sums on small properties as a result of property tax. What the Government has succeeded in doing is highly dangerous. By allowing European and foreign forces to write this budget, it is creating an unlikely coalition of the unwilling and those who are unable to pay in Ireland today.

Thank you Deputy.

Moreover, the blow is not softened by the fact-----

This is a speech. Where is the question?

It is not softened by the fact that in view of the fact-----

Can the Deputy think of a question?

If Deputies do not mind, I will look after the chairing of the session. When Deputy Ross is ready, he should put the question please.

He is an angry man.

In view of the fact that last Monday, the Government and the French and German Finance Ministers closed the door-----

Thank you Deputy.

----- to any Greek deal for Ireland, would the Taoiseach consider taking the fight about this budget to Brussels, to Berlin and to Paris? Would he consider getting a bank deal first and producing a budget second?

The answer to that question is "No". I thought Deputy Ross was one of the four angry men going around the country.

That is how he lost his voice.

I am not sure how well the show was going-----

They got a full house and were sold out wherever they went.

Sorry, Deputies.

I wish him the best of luck with it. The Deputy is well aware that the position of Greece is very different to that of this country. We have a particular request, which is what I referred to when replying to Deputy Adams.

The Taoiseach should demand, not ask.

The Government is in discussion and negotiations with the European Central Back about the question of the promissory notes. As has been outlined by the Minister for Finance, the next payment is due in March 2013 and the Government does not wish to be obliged to pay that. At the other end of this issue, I note the European finance Ministers yesterday did not reach agreement on putting in place the legal framework for the banking union and its supervisory capacity and that a further meeting has been scheduled for next week. Deputy Ross is well aware that one cannot have these discussions unless one has a legal framework in which they take place. I hope this can be achieved before the end of the year at the meeting to be held next week. As I outlined yesterday, the Greek situation is different than that of Ireland. We will exit our programme in 2013 and the Government is in discussions with the troika about what might be appropriate in respect of the nature of that exit. Greece will still be attempting to get its debt-to-GDP ratio down to 124% by 2024, whereas Ireland will exit its programme next year. In itself, this will add an attractiveness to this country as a location for continued investment and job creation. However, what the Government would regard as being fundamentally helpful to Ireland, and what it is in discussions on and pursuing with the European Central Bank, as well as at European Council level, is the question of sustainability arising from the bank debts that were put on the backs of the taxpayers. The Government continues to deal with that in a serious manner.

The point I was trying to make is that middle Ireland now sees that on one side are the Government, the Department of Finance and others in positions of great power here, allied with Mrs. Merkel and other powerful European nations and European banks, while on the other side are the people of Ireland, who will be obliged to suffer this austerity budget today. I acknowledge the sums will add up at the end of the day but people are not going to be able to pay some of the taxes the Government intends to impose. A new situation is being entered into, in that the property tax will not be paid by some people because they will not be able to pay it. There are people with mortgages who cannot pay their mortgages and they will not be able to pay an additional tax on the debts they already owe.

What is the Deputy's suggestion?

What will the Taoiseach do? There has already been a strike in respect of the household charge. What will the Government do if the people decide this is a bridge too far-----

Bring in the sheriff.

----- and that they will resist the taxes - through poverty and not through unwillingness - as a result of what the Government has done and what it intends to do today?

We have set out our position. The requirement of the programme that we, as a country, are in requires that a property tax be introduced. The Minister for Finance will give the details of that today in his budgetary contribution. We are one of the last countries in Europe not to have a property tax, and we want this to be as fair and equitable, and it should be seen as progressive.

The alternative is to increase income tax and put taxes on work.

The Government is doing that anyway.

That is not the direction in which we want to go. Some 20,000 new jobs were created in the past 12 months in the private sector.

How many were lost?

There has been net loss of employment since the Government took office.

There are signs of confidence, as I have noted, in the economy.

What is the number of jobs in the economy?

They are by no means the be all and end all but the fact is that Bank of Ireland was able to raise €1 billion without a guarantee and AIB is also out raising money without the State guarantee. There is also the case of the ESB and Bord Gáis, as well as the sale of licences to three major telecommunications companies. One of the rating companies has also put the country on an improved rating. These are signs of importance.

The live register for November will be 2,895 lower than the October level and 12,290 lower than the November 2011 total.

The people are all gone. They have emigrated.

Less than half of the fall is attributable to increases in the numbers on the Tús and JobBridge scheme over the past 12 months. The figure is 7,500 lower than the November 2010 total. The seasonally adjusted total is down 1,500 to 432,000. That is much too high but the rate is down to 14.6%.

The figures for jobs in the economy are decreasing. They were down 5,800 in the last quarter, 8,000 in a previous quarter and 40,000 in the 12 months to last June.

We are beginning to go in the right direction and we want to build on that with today's budget. The property tax to be outlined by the Minister for Finance today will be of benefit to the people in the localities who will pay it. It is progressive and it will be fair. There are arrangements, as will be outlined by the Minister, for those who find themselves in particular circumstances.

Middle Ireland has risen to this challenge. We must get through the challenging period ahead and beyond that there will be an opportunity to grow our economy, continue to attract investment and provide for opportunities for our young people to have work in this country.