I welcome the continued involvement of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, in this issue. He sponsored and promoted the Bill during his term as Minister for Health. In many ways, it overlaps with his new departmental portfolio because it is very important that we encourage children not to engage in the filthy habit of smoking. I am proud to say this Dáil, under the guidance of the Minister for Health and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, has made significant progress in fighting the tobacco industry in this country. Upon enactment of this legislation, Ireland will be poised to become only the second country in the world to introduce standardised tobacco packaging as a measure to combat smoking. We are leading the way internationally in the fight against an extremely harmful drug that is deeply rooted in our society. In fairness to the party opposite, Fianna Fáil, it did a considerable amount when in government to make progress in tackling this serious problem. The smoke is clearing, so to speak, and we can now see our way towards having a tobacco-free Ireland by 2025, which is the vision of the Government.
Many in the House and beyond were sparing in their praise of Deputy James Reilly during his term in office as Minister for Health, but even his most ardent detractors must applaud the determined efforts that have brought us to this stage in the fight against tobacco. His work will have a lasting impact on the health of the nation. Although it might be overshadowed by some of the Government's significant economic achievements, it will ultimately constitute a very important part of its legacy, including that of the former Minister for Health and current Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly.
This initiative is part of the Government's broader programme of reform which aims to overhaul radically the health service. There is a lack of appreciation of the merits and scale of that challenge, not to mention a lack of appreciation of the fiscal constraints within which it is being undertaken. The Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, is in the unenviable position of embarking on the most ambitious programme of reform of the health service since the foundation of the State, against a backdrop of drastically reduced resources.
It is important to note that since 2008, almost €2 billion has been taken out of the health budget and the numbers employed in the health service have fallen by in excess of 14,000. No other Department has had to face these types of cuts. The budgets of some Departments were increased. I support the calls of the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, for a neutral budget for 2015 - for the projected outturn for this year to be matched in terms of his budget allocation for 2015.
I believe there is an inadequate understanding of the predicament concerning the Department of Health, whether that is because the message has been poorly communicated or has been misrepresented. For instance, much has been made of late of the overruns in budgets, but these have always been a feature of Department of Health budgets.
I welcome this important legislation and commend the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs for his work in this regard.