That Seanad Éireann notes the supply services and purposes to which sums have been appropriated in the Appropriation Act, 1985."
Vol. 111 No. 1
That Seanad Éireann notes the supply services and purposes to which sums have been appropriated in the Appropriation Act, 1985."
The purpose of this motion is to provide an opportunity for the Seanad to have a wide-ranging debate on public expenditure in 1985 and on the management of the economy generally last year. Normally, the annual Appropriation Bill provides the vehicle for this debate but the pressure of pre-Christmas parliamentary timetable in the Dáil curtailed the time available to the Seanad to debate the 1985 Bill. Accordingly, I am pleased that this motion enables Senators to offer comments and insights on a broad range of issues affecting the performance of the economy and I will be most interested in what Members of this House have to say. Senators will understand that I must be circumspect in what I have to say today about prospects for 1986 in order to avoid anticipating in any way my Financial Statement in the Dáil next week.
It is often said that temptation is made to be given in to and I am quite sure that Members of this House and Senator Honan in particular, if I may say so, are uniquely equipped to tempt me into indiscretion.
You should not taunt everybody.
Total expenditure on supply services in 1985 was in line with the figures budgeted for the year. I am happy to have achieved such an outcome in each year since I assumed this office. Nevertheless, as a result of revenue shortfalls, the current deficit exceeded the budget estimate of £1,234 million by £50 million. Savings on capital, however, left the total Exchequer borrowing requirement virtually identical to the budget estimate for 1985. It is quite clear that we have now reached the point where the Government can direct spending in the sure expectation that it will stay within the overall target and achieve the results sought. Our progress in controlling public expenditure has restored the integrity of the budget process and has re-established its credibility.
In this connection the House should bear in mind the steps taken to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public investment. State investment has a pivotal role to play in the attainment of the objectives of growth and employment, not only because it constitutes directly a considerable element of overall national investment, but also because its influence extends to inducing a sizeable portion of private investment. The care and selectivity which should apply in determining what investment projects proceed is therefore critical if investment is to act as it should as a catalyst for growth.
The process of improving the system of appraisal and monitoring of public investment was given a major impetus in 1983 with the issue of detailed guidelines to all Departments aimed at:
(i) improving decision-making by improving the quality of the information on which decisions are based, through the use of systematic appraisal techniques and;
(ii) improving management control once projects are initiated.
Government approval for investment projects now depends on the outcome of rigorous evaluation based on these guidelines. The evidence suggests that the new procedures are bringing about a more cost-conscious approach to the planning and implementation of public investment.
It is self-evident that we have taken determined action to bring the public finances under control and have taken resolute, positive action to bring about the conditions in which sound decisions on public expenditure and economic policy can be taken and implemented.
The Government intend to build on progress already made and to bend all their efforts towards the attainment of the targets in the national plan published in October 1984 concerned with the reduction of our dependence on borrowing, which in turn will lead to a reduction in the pressure on our public finances and the balance of payments, caused by the extent of our debt.
Looking at the performance of the economy during 1985, we can derive satisfaction from an appreciable rise in GDP, principally as a result of a further rise in net external demand, aided by an improvement in domestic demand. Last year saw the first increases in both consumer spending and fixed investment since 1981. That this improvement in domestic demand conditions was accompanied by a reduction in price and wage inflation is particularly significant because it shows how improved living standards can go hand in hand with income moderation.
Despite the rise in personal consumption and fixed investment, the main source of growth in 1985 was provided by the trade sector. Although the rate of growth in exports was down, reflecting developments in the markets for Irish exports, so also was the growth of imports. As a result, export growth again outpaced the increase in imports and, aided by a small improvement in the terms of trade, the trade account moved into surplus for the first time since the forties.
With tourism having a particularly good year, the overall deficit on the balance of payments narrowed from over 5 per cent of GDP in 1984 to under 3 per cent last year. The reduction in the rate of inflation was another welcome feature. Last year the inflation rate fell to 5.4 per cent from 8.6 per cent in 1984. This was the lowest annual inflation rate since 1968. By end-year inflation was running at under 5 per cent, well in line with the average in our main competitors. The resultant easing of pressure on families in terms of living costs and on firms in terms of production costs can contribute greatly to the full restoration of consumer and investor confidence which is vital for sustained economic growth.
Despite the progress made during 1985 on many fronts, the fact that unemployment is still growing, although at a slower rate, emphasises the crucial need to improve our international competitiveness. At the end of December some 240,000 people were registered as being out of work. That is over one-sixth of our labour force. Unemployment is an international problem and one which will not be resolved quickly, but we need to achieve a better employment performance than most other developed countries. We will do this only if we outperform them on many fronts. Our competitors are also cutting down on price and wage inflation and in many cases their inflation rate is well below ours. The rapid reduction in the inflation rate achieved in recent years has not yet been fully reflected in commensurate reductions in wage demands. Domestic income developments will play a particularly important role this year in determining the extent to which Ireland can benefit from the growth in foreign markets and indeed the extent to which those now unemployed can themselves directly benefit from that growth. We cannot therefore afford to relax our vigilance on this front.
I should now like to recall briefly what I said about the Estimates and public capital programme for 1986 when introducing the Appropriation Bill in the Seanad before Christmas.
The pre-budget estimate for non-capital supply services is £5,698 million, a mere 1 per cent over the target for 1986 set out in the national plan. The chief reason for the variation is the provision of £2,600 million for public service pay, £75 million more than the plan target.
The published public capital programme provides for expenditure of £1,706 million on public sector capital investment in 1986. A very sizeable element of that, £1,237 million to be precise, will affect the building and construction industry, an increase of 5 per cent on the 1985 provisional outturn.
The construction industry generally has been going through a difficult phase in recent years. Last year was the fourth consecutive year of output volume and employment decline. An examination of the data shows how important the decline in private investment has been in contributing to the overall problems of the industry. This reflects an oversupply of office accommodation, industrial space and retail units and the pressure on rental levels which has discouraged new speculative investment. Private housing investment has also declined.
Output in those sectors of the industry that are financed mainly by public expenditure has in general either been maintained or in some cases substantially increased in recent years. In the period 1980 to 1985 construction output in the health, education and sanitary services sectors was maintained in real terms. Output in the local authority housing, public buildings and roads sectors in 1985 was substantially above the level of output in these sectors in 1980. By contrast, the volume of construction output in the semi-State sector in 1985 was substantially below the level of output in 1980, which of course reflects the completion of major projects in the areas of gas distribution, telecommunications and electricity generation.
The package of measures announced last October, in particular the expanded house improvement grants scheme and the new hotel and guesthouse reconstruction and development scheme, in so far as they shift the emphasis from direct expenditure on output towards grantaided expenditure which has a high level of associated private investment, coupled with the general thrust of the PCP in relation to building and construction, will help to make the overall effect of the 1986 PCP on the industry an expansionary one. I am confident that the direct effects of the Government initiatives together with the additional private investment they should induce will result in output in the industry in 1986 being at least maintained at its 1985 level and there are grounds for hope that it will increase slightly. If this is achieved, we could expect unemployment in the sector to stabilise during the year.
The PCP allocation for sectoral economic investment this year shows an increase in real terms on the 1985 outturn. With the likelihood of a better investment climate for 1986, the allocation will give the maximum possible support to investment and employment in the directly productive sectors of the economy. The provision for the farm modernisation scheme including the new investment aid scheme and western measures shows a large increase on the 1985 provisional outturn. The details of the new investment aid scheme will be announced by the Minister for Agriculture in the near future. On the industrial site, provision has been made for the expected start-up of the NDC. Their activities will be both innovative and developmental, with investment being targeted towards potential growth areas of the economy.
The overall provision for productive infrastructure is down on the 1985 outturn but as I explained before Christmas to the House this reflects the tailing-off of major investment programmes undertaken in recent years by the ESB and BTE. An extra £31 million, however, will be spent by Bord Gáis on constructing pipelines to Limerick and Waterford with spur lines to industries and co-ops. The continuation and completion of existing road works and the initiation of a number of major new schemes will be facilitated by the increased allocation of £130 million for roads in 1986.
Social infrastructure will also increase over 1985 with the bulk of the increase being in the housing area. While the provision for local authority housing is being reduced, reflecting the success of the £5,000 grant scheme for local authority tenants/tenant purchasers, an additional £26 million is being allocated for private housing grants, reflecting, in the main, the expanded house improvement grant scheme. The provision for capital expenditure on education has also been increased, mainly in the higher education area.
Those are the main areas to which I would direct the House's attention. I have no doubt that the Members of the House will wish to address other issues that came to the fore during the course of 1985 and I will be happy to have the opportunity of replying to those issues when I have the honour of concluding this debate.
While the country faces daunting problems on a variety of fronts the Minister for Finance has succeeded in his own inimitable and masterful way in introducing this Bill to the House indicating that things are considerably better than many of us would preceive them to be. The Minister in his statement says:
Despite the progress made during 1985 on many fronts, the fact that unemployment is still growing, although at a slower rate, emphasises the crucial need to improve our international competitiveness.
In the month of December 12,000 people were added to the live register, increasing the number of unemployed to 240,000 not taking into account the fact that there are as many as 70,000 in different training schemes, many of whom have yet to obtain viable continuing employment. It is extremely difficult to believe that unemployment, as the Minister says, is still growing although at a slower rate. While unemployment, punitive tax measures, extremely heavy borrowing and tremendous law and order problems combine to make difficulties for any Government, a formidable one in these times, we would be better off not trying to ease ourselves into a situation where we present these difficulties in a way which is not very credible. For those 240,000 people who, according to the Minister's statement, have little or no prospect of getting employment we should look at this Act to see what is incorporated within it which could generate confidence, help to create a climate in which innovation and all the kinds of dramatic and unparalleled efforts needed to be made at national level are made not just by the Government, because this country belongs to all of us. The people in private life, in Opposition parties and in Government have a vested interest in trying to help to eliminate or reduce some of these problems. For the time being the responsibility in Government rests with the Minister and his colleagues.
I have tried in the past not to fall into the trap of arguing both sides of the coin at the one time by saying we can reduce borrowing, taxation and unemployment simultaneously without asking anybody to pay more. I respect people enough to realise that these problems cannot be solved overnight. At the same time, they are serious and are tending to lead to many downstream problems. The imagination and the ability to think out new ways of developing our natural resources and to encourage people at every level to work towards improving the national climate are not to be found in this Act. I do not find anything in this Act which would indicate that the Minister is travelling down that road. I accept that inflation has been reducing and that interest rates during the past year have been reduced, and we hope the present increase will be short lived. This indicates that efforts are being made to try to examine in a more critical way than perhaps in the past, projects which are funded by the Government. But at this juncture in our society something more dramatic will have to be undertaken. The amount of money we have to find each day just to fund our social welfare programmes is demoralising society. While all those people who drift into criminality have not always come from the ranks of the unemployed, we have to face the undeniable and reliable statistics. If I was unemployed, if I had nothing to do, if I had no future ahead of me I do not know where I might drift, so I do not want to be misinterpreted about this, but the total national cost to individuals and individual families, and to the country as a whole in financial terms alone is astronomical.
I tried to argue about the millions of pounds that have to be found each day to be paid on condition that one just does not work, the automatic qualification for medical cards, consequent health costs, lower differential rents in local authority houses and so on, the drift into criminality, the cost of prison space and prison accommodation, courts, additional gardaí as the all-in cost of escalating unemployment, and it must provoke among society as a whole and in the Government in particular an awakening which will encourage everyone to pool their resources in a national, patriotic effort to cut out some of the selfishness in our society and to help to grapple with this crippling problem. I will be looking for some new initiative in everything that is done in Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann that will help us to travel down that road.
We borrow over £3 million a day just to pay for current expenditure and with our overall national debt, the Government on their own will not solve it. Any Government will have to face up to these problems in a more realistic way and try to encourage the social partners and people engaged in every enterprise to deal with that debt and to try to use existing resources the vast bulk of which are spent in trying to pay for unemployment and the other consequent problems to which I referred and which seem to develop from a society which has lost its way.
A study carried out in Derry a few years ago on the effects of continuing unemployment on young people should leave nobody in any doubt as to the wisdom and the absolute necessity to curtail that escalating and dangerous development in Ireland. That study demonstrated that a young person leaving school at 18 years who does not find employment for three continuous years up to the age of 21 is in danger of becoming unemployable, dependent, looking at society as if society owes him or her a living rather than being helped and encouraged to seize the opportunities that are there even in these difficult times. We see in our shops imports which all of us from time to time purchase, some simple products, some which require a lot of technology and innovation. Time after time we say to ourselves: Could we not process that here at home? While there are many enterprises in the country that have performed marvellously through the recession years and demonstrate a lot of hope — I congratulate them — there are others who lack the managerial capacity, the innovative skill, the technology that is required at this time. I would look to them for improvement but I would look to the Government to create a climate where more research, development and innovation are possible if we are to deal with this crippling employment problem.
Our punitive tax rates have been compared many times with rates in other countries in Europe. They are a demotivating force but there is no simple answer: we cannot reduce taxation, borrow less and develop more all at the one time. Apart from how we handle public finances and how we streamline our Departments and how we have commerce-orientated practices incorporated in everything we do as far as Government, State and semi-State organisations are concerned, when there is a continually declining work force and increasing dependent population whether in terms of growing numbers in society or in terms of increasing unemployment numbers, it is almost impossible to lighten the taxation load appreciably while those numbers of unemployed keep rising and the numbers working and gainfully employed and paying income tax are decreasing. To attack these twin problems the national resources at Government level, private investment level and the structures we operate to create that situation have to be directed in a much more imaginative way to catch the public interest and to encourage enterprise at all levels.
When we were debating public finances, budgetary statements and matters of this kind in the House a couple of years ago I asked the Minister for Finance at that time if the question of decentralising some of our services was being considered by the Government. In recent times two of the Minister's colleagues are coming up with proposals which seem to be further centralising our system of Government. I am not going to go into these matters in relation to health and education in detail and I am not speaking, as somebody on any of these benches — I have sat on different sides in Government and out of Government — who wants an opportunity to criticise everything that is done; I would be the first to applaud measures which I see have merit and no party has a monopoly of wisdom. But public representatives are clogging up the system of Government and management.
One might argue that proportional representation and multi-seat constituencies play their part in this. Far be it from me to argue against representing people in their difficulties but how many civil servants, how many efforts in duplication and triplication are we going to have trying to penetrate a system which the public are becoming less convinced about as to its capacity to cope with day-to-day problems when we take the system continuously away from the bulk of the people and then leave it to public representatives, who scarcely get enough time to go to the Library or even in some cases to read the daily papers through having to cope with parochial matters which many people should be in a position to deal with themselves and at least are in a position to do more about it if they can make contact with the services in their own region. There are other developments the Government are contemplating which instead of redressing the imbalance as I see it will worsen the situation.
While I am touching on parochial matters I hope you will allow me to ask the Minister to persuade the Government on the question of completing the EC Fourth Directive on Company Law and the finalisation of that Bill. In my constituency we had two major industrial disasters affecting the pensions of workers. Men and women, some of whom gave over 40 years in Castle Brand in Nenagh and in Roscrea Meats not only lost their jobs and were offered paltry redundancy payments but found that when it came to obtaining their pension rights that fund had been depleted and that there were no pensions available to them. There is broad agreement that information to workers in relation to the financial position of companies not only in relation to pensions but in other areas should be more widely available in order that individuals who pay into these systems can be guaranteed that when they come to the end of their working lives will be in a position to have some reasonable comfort and benefit arising from their efforts particularly where they have confidently expended their hard won earnings on schemes of pensions which they genuinely believed would be available to them at the end of the day.
Most people would be reasonably happy with the amounts of money which are available for the national primary and secondary roads but we have an appalling problem in the country areas. I am sure you, a Leas-Chathaoirleach, are only too familiar with the progressively disintegrating county roads network system the foundations of which were never intended for the weight of the vehicles or the traffic it now has to carry. Not only is it in danger of disintegration but it is becoming an alarming problem with regard to accidents. Obviously this is not something for which the Government alone can find the resources or for which they can transfer sufficient resources from other less essential areas. There is the question of what contribution is possible from the public at large and from private investment generally. This will have to be considered because by the end of the century, if we do not try to maintain that system or at least get to a point when we have a priority of investment on the more important routes, the amount of money that will be required within the next ten or 12 years will be unbelievable.
As a local representative I am very conscious of this problem. Members of this House might argue that it is in a sense parochial but I know from contact with my colleagues around the country that I am no different from most other representatives and there is a growing awareness amongst all political parties and representation at local authority level that some way will have to be found to try to cope with this problem.
In relation to the reduction of food subsidies or the amounts of money available for food subsidies — and obviously this will hit the poorer sections of the community — I believe that there is scope for having a totally new look at that scheme. There is no doubt that there are sections of the community who benefit from it but have no need of it. If the poorer sections of the community could be adequately compensated perhaps some of the waste which is in this scheme could be used for more beneficial purposes.
We probably have begun to see the last of Building on Reality. Some people said that it was “unreality” when it was introduced. But I am not too concerned one way or the other: The problems which affect the community are so deep-rooted and so much in need of very exceptional treatment that, in the case of law and order, borrowing, employment, taxation, and with the crippling needs that exist, they go far beyond mere political point scoring. Most people in public life, and particularly younger members, do not want to stay in public life in any political party where these problems persist at the present intensity unless they believe we can try to change them. All of these changes do not always have to await the outcome of elections or even change of Governments. They call for a kind of national patriotism which in many ways may be absent in our society and which we would like to believe could be cultivated.
All of us can probably show better example and, for my part, I would like to try to help in a healthy way in that development. I am only sorry that I am unable to support all of the measures in this Act. In my contribution I have tried to outline some of the areas to which I would accord a greater degree of priority.
Most people will not regret the passing of 1985. I do not think there will be many happy memories of it either nationally or internationally. It was a year of great financial difficulties and turbulence right across the developed and under-developed world. It was a year of war and strife in many regions of the world and a year that saw hunger and famine in many countries; we read of their suffering. It was also the year when we witnessed the great generosity of so many people, especially of the people of this country, in their response to the agonies of the people in Ethiopia and the other famine stricken countries. I think it is true to say that at home many sectors were adversely affected. Farmers will have cause to remember 1985 because most of them suffered a severe drop in income mainly as a result of the bad weather and the difficult harvest and the fodder shortage. However, while conscious of the difficulties being experienced in so many countries and by so many sectors, indeed all sectors at home, it was encouraging today to hear the Minister for Finance underline the progress that the Government have made during the year under review despite these difficulties.
The Minister, in his introduction, underlined that progress clearly and I offer my congratulations not only to him but to his colleagues in Government for being able to stick to their agreed Programme for Government. It is quite clear from listening to the Minister and reading his speech and examining the figures, that the policies adopted and pursued by the Government have paid off and this will be of tremendous benefit to all the people, whether they are taxpayers or whether they are depending on the taxpayers.
The Minister told us that the total net Exchequer finance expenditure, current and capital, was just 1 per cent below the budget. That was a great achievement. The yearly inflation was down to 5.4 per cent from 8.6 per cent and the figure in January of this year is down to 4.9 per cent, as we read in the papers this morning. Over 1985 the maximum allowable price lending rate of the associated banks fell from 14½ per cent to 10½ per cent, but it went up again last week from 10½ per cent to 12½ per cent. While nobody likes to see the lending rates going up, especially if we have an overdraft or indeed if we have some borrowings, nevertheless, we should remember that we are still 2 per cent better off because the rate came down 4 per cent last year. Let us hope that it may come down again during the coming year.
By and large the Minister for Finance has a record that he can be proud of. The OECD report would indicate that we are in the two dozen wealthiest countries in the world. It is difficult to explain that or to get people on the corners or on the highways and byways or in the pubs to believe that figure. Nevertheless if they say we have attained that status, then I believe they are in or about correct. What I can say from my own experience, limited though it is, is that the quality of services here is certainly second to none in the world, whether it is developed or indeed under-developed. Sometimes we do not appreciate the quality of services we enjoy as ordinary citizens. Great credit for that is due not just to the Government, but to the Civil Service, the local authorities and the people in the public service in general who operate those services. The only black spot in all of that silver cloud is the fact that they have to be paid for by a rather small percentage of people who contribute by direct or indirect taxation. I would hope that in the year ahead people will take a pragmatic look at the state of play in this country and start being grateful for having the opportunity of making a contribution to the maintenance of the very fine services we continue to enjoy here.
Everybody knows that money is scarce and there are great difficulties, but this is the time of the year when members of local authorities are faced with providing for the running of the local authority services for the coming year. If one reads the local papers and sees that the management at county level put up the excuse for everything that cannot readily be seen to, whether it is potholes or whatever services people might find curtailed or shortened, that there are cutbacks. Yet when we look at the figures over the last three years, the total revenue spending by local authorities and the level of State grants and subsidies to local authorities have increased well ahead of the rate of inflation. For example, in 1982 the local authority revenue expenditure was around £827 million and State grants and subsidies paid that year was £523 million or 63 per cent of the total expenditure. In that year inflation was well over 17 per cent. In 1983 the revenue expenditure of local authorities was £938 million and the State grants and subsidies amounted to £602 million, which is 64 per cent. That represented a 15 per cent increase on the previous year. Inflation was reduced to 10.4 per cent for that year. In 1984 the expenditure rose to over £1,000 million and the State contribution in grants and subsidies increased to £660 million, again 64 per cent, which was a 10 per cent increase on the 1983 figure. Last year, 1985, the estimated local authority revenue expenditure was £1,138 million, of which the State grants and subsidies amounted to £726 million, again 64 per cent, which showed a 10 per cent increase on the previous year. That is further enhanced by the fact that inflation last year came down to 5 per cent. This clearly indicates that the management at county level can no longer rely on the old cliché that the curtailment of services or difficulties in providing services are due to cutbacks, because in effect the moneys being provided from State sources have steadily increased over the period of this Government. One would hope that members of the local authorities will not accept clichés from managers or the management of county councils for shortcomings in their expertise when they come to strike the estimates for the coming year.
Dealing with the Department of the Environment, the Government showed great understanding of the problems in so many parts of the country when they introduced the greatly improved house improvement grant scheme towards the end of last year. These grants of £5,000 for certain houses, taken with water and sewerage grants, if those services are required, can total £8,000 for house improvements, if the house is over 40 years old. That is a sizeable contribution. It certainly will encourage householders to employ more people to improve their living conditions. If you are talking about farmers or people on small holdings, you are talking about both their living and working conditions. I hope that scheme is very well availed of. If the number of application forms that have been issued by the Department is any indication of the acceptance of this scheme, then I am sure it will be a huge success.
I hope the Department of the Environment will increase the number of inspectors in each of the counties to ensure that the work can proceed at the greatest possible speed because while the initial amounts indicate that the scheme of grants will continue to operate for three years, nevertheless people are a little impatient if they get it into their head to undertake a job. I hope the Department will be able to have the inspectors look at the work proposed to be done and allow people to start off at the earliest opportunity.
In each of the Departments of State over the last year great progress was made. It is not that they have spent more or less but the range of new and innovative schemes and improvements in administration are indeed very welcome. The new system of management with greater accountability introduced by the Minister for the Public Service must be welcomed especially when we realise that the Government here spend the equivalent of almost two-thirds of our domestic output. According to the latest OECD figures which I have read, in Ireland and indeed in Sweden Government expenditure accounts for over 60 per cent of national output while the average for the rest of the OECD countries is for Government expenditure to be less than 40 per cent of output, while some countries like Japan at 31.6 per cent or the US at 33 per cent or indeed Turkey, which has a standing army of 1 million people on the borders with the Warsaw Pact countries, have their Government expenditure down to 22.5 per cent.
The system introduced by the Minister, Deputy Boland, is based on a departmental plan which takes a methodological view of the overall aim and objectives of the Department. To enable this programme to be carried out to achieve those objectives and costs to be estimated within those programmes, the personal objectives and budgets of individual managers down to principal level were identified. These features facilitated a complete review of the Department's activities by the management committee. Following this review, I understand that the system has been refined and has also been expanded to include the personal objectives and budgets for assistant principals. The intention in this is that responsibility within the programme for resources used should be delegated as far down the management structure as possible, thus giving the individuals a more challenging and rewarding role in the Department's activities.
Work is also progressing on financial aspects of the system. The intention is that the total cost involved in any of the Department's activities will be identified with the relevant programmes and the objectives of the individuals. In this way a value-for-money attitude towards the various Department's activities is being increasingly cultivated. The benefits derived from these programmes can be viewed more readily in the light of the cost of the various programmes. I believe that this kind of approach to the reorganisation of our public service is long overdue and I very much welcome the initiatives taken by the Minister, Deputy Boland, because, as I have said, our Government seem to expend 60 per cent of the country's output. It is important that this expenditure should be reduced or pulled into a more commercial-orientated system that has all the cost savings and value for money built in.
Over the last year we have seen the Minister for the Public Service introduce a number of initiatives which I hope will get a fair airing and a fair chance of success. These include the job-sharing programme, the career breaks for the public service; the performance of which appraisal was long overdue; the job-creating schemes, the staff exchanges in order to give staff fresh experience and more challenging tasks as well as new ideas; and the input scheme introduced to encourage creativity and initiative from the staff. We had a couple of years ago from the same Department the establishment of the office of the Ombudsman which is of direct relevance to the ordinary members of the public who very often in the past and even now feel a certain amount of frustration at not being able to get through the amount of red tape that may exist in parts of our public administration.
I would hope that this kind of initiative would be ongoing in all the Departments of State. In the past year great progress was made. We noted the progress made in the Department of Foreign Affairs where the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Barry, took the heat off the day which culminated in the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. This week will see another round in the after effects of the launching of that agreement. I hope that the fairminded people in Northern Ireland will give the initiative a chance to operate.
Everyone with whom I have discussed this or heard speaking on it in the midlands, people of all shades of opinion, political and religious, would be happy to see this initiative get a chance to succeed to prove that we, the people of this island, can live together in harmony. The one great element which is missing is trust of one another. That is unfortunate. As a whole, Irish people can merge into communities all over the world and yet here on our own small patch, we seem to have very stark differences, differences that we cannot resolve too easily. I would hope that the hand of friendship and the initiatives which this Government have extended across the Border will be met with more understanding. I hope that we, for our part, will do all in our power to further the success of that initiative.
In the past year the great area that concerned people in public life was the big problem of unemployment. It is not just a problem in this country alone. At present in Europe, especially in the European Community and in mainland Europe as we know it, democratic governments are governing in a situation in which for the first time in the history of the European land mass there has not been a war for over 40 years. I hope that that situation will continue into the future. If you look at the haemorrhage that we have suffered here with two world wars, 20 years apart, you realise it is very easy to control the demographic figures if you are losing 40 or 50 million young men every 20 years. I hope that we shall be able to find ways of creating employment opportunities for all our population. That can only come about if people are encouraged not just to provide for themselves but to develop their own ideas. The Government's employment incentive scheme and the various youth employment schemes are bearing fruit though not perhaps in 100 per cent of cases where people avail of grants. The grants are not very large. I think it is £3,000 for the employment incentive scheme. Nevertheless, quite a number of people find a niche for themselves in the private sector. The Government should allocate greater finances to those five schemes which were organised mainly through the Minister and the Department of Labour over the past couple of years. People should be given a chance and I would hope to see the IDA strengthen their small industries section. One sees the large multinationals coming in and setting up some worth while industries while other fail.
There should be a greater risk taking on the part of the IDA in the small industries section. We should be able to take more chances. Instead of the IDA giving grants, especially to the larger combines and multinational companies, the State's contribution should be in shares or equity. At least then if a company failed, the IDA or the Department of Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism would have the fixed capital to offer to some other person with an idea who would wish to start a company. New equipment has to be put in, at enormous cost, if a company is to qualify for an IDA grant.
My experience in the midlands, where a few small manufacturing industries closed due to liquidity problems, was that the equipment and machinery was sold off and exported at knockdown prices. For example, a machine which cost £150,000 may be sold at scrap value for £5,000 or £6,000 to a competitor firm in the UK or in Europe. This is a disgrace. This is why I would like to see the IDA taking a share in the company instead of giving grants so that equipment can be passed on and young people with ideas can be given a chance. We lose a lot in the exportation of good secondhand industrial machinery from receivers' yards or compounds and there are a few smart aleck receivers making quite a packet on some of these receiverships. This is one of the great cribs I have with industrial development. I am not anti-bank or anti-credit companies but I have held the view for some time that if the lending agencies did not have the status of preferential creditors they might not be as ready to pull the rug from under some of these companies which, while providing good employment, are just barely ticking over. If some of these companies can get over the particular difficulty they may be able to go on and operate quite successfully.
It is very easy to criticise but I would like to compliment the manufacturing industries. In 1984 merchandise exports were up 28 per cent over 1983. Last year that figure increased by a further 18 per cent. In 1985 over £800 million of new industrial investment was negotiated by the IDA which is double the figure for 1984. Great credit is due to the IDA for this. It was with great sadness that we heard of the death of the former chairman of the IDA. It has created great sadness among those of us who watched the fortunes and placed such considerable hope in the Industrial Development Authority for the future development of our country. I would like to extend my condolences to his wife and family.
Last year, the IDA succeeded in attracting over 500 overseas companies who visited this country and investigated the possibility of investing here. This is a positive indication that we still are an attractive country for people to come to and invest in and offer employment to our people. If you look at the Estimates of the Department of Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism, the biggest single item is the grant-in-aid for the IDA to industrialists. This amounts to £142 million for last year. This is money that is well spent. I should like to see the small industries section being more open to greater risks.
I should like very briefly to look at the achievements of the Department of Justice which is one we very seldom mention on the Appropriation Bill as it is not an economic Department. Nevertheless, they go through a large amount of money in the year and since they have some real estate in the heart of my constituency we have to keep an eye on their progress. The Minister for Justice is doing quite a good job. The number of times he came to this House last year was perhaps a record for that Department. We had the Criminal Justice Bill, 1984, which was finished last year. It is one of the most comprehensive reforms of the criminal law undertaken in this country. The provisions of the Bill came into operation in March or April 1985. It is no harm to remember the important provisions which are, of course, of benefit to a large number of people. For instance, it increased the penalties for firearms offences and certain indictable offences. It also made a sentence of imprisonment for an offence committed while on bail consecutive on a sentence for a previous offence.
There are a number of sections in that Act which will act as a deterrent and make the work of the Garda a little easier. I am disappointed that the other half of that Bill to bring in the Garda Síochána Complaints Board has not been fully implemented. We should try to have that pursued in the coming year. That Department also introduced the Age of Majority Act in 1985. This was of extreme importance because, as all of us in local authorities know, we have had the problems of young people under 21, married with maybe a couple of children, but not being able to execute a mortgage in their own name without the consent or the support of the collateral of their parents or somebody else. The lowering of the age of majority is of significant benefit to those young people who have started up home and who can now own property and obtain mortgages. That was denied them heretofore. We also had an improvement in the civil legal aid and the establishment of a few new offices in Cork, Tralee and Tallaght. There was the provision of the Garda communications network not just in the Dublin area but throughout the country as well and this, coupled with the Garda computer facilities, will make the force a little bit more effective in dealing with the ever-increasing and better equipped law breaking brigade especially the people engaged in the civil crimes of housebreaking and the organised gangs going around.
The community services order scheme was introduced and I understand that almost 700 orders were made and over 200 of them are completed. I would like to have an early opportunity of hearing the Minister give an account of the way this system is operating and to see in what way it can be improved. During the year also a lot of criticism was aimed at the prison service and the provision of the facilities for housing prisoners. All of this work is quite expensive and perhaps by its nature rather slow. I would like to see greater finances provided for that in the coming year because it is quite evident that many of the older prisons, especially Portlaoise, should have the wooden doors on many of the calls replaced by steel doors. I know that steel doors were made for Portlaoise prison some years ago but whoever was responsible for measuring the doors measured the wrong prison for the doors. I do not know if they can be redesigned but when large sums of expenditure go astray like that I have great respect and expectation from the proposals of the Minister, Deputy Boland, on responsibility down the line. In fairness to the people who man these dangerous services, the actual structures of the prisons should be brought to 1986 standards.
There is one other point I would like to raise. Throughout the country there is great unease among the publicans. The winter is always a difficult time for publicans because people are inclined to make new resolutions on 1 January and they are no sooner broken than you are into Lent when they make more new resolutions. Many people take the easy option and give up the beer and this has a direct bearing on the income of publicans. I read in the newspapers that some unnamed senior officer in the Garda force has directed the force in general to bring in more prosecutions and more fines. It sounds very simple — just 500 per cent more. I do not know what they are going to do in the Courts, whether we will get a few more Justice Windle's and have half of them dismissed. There is a problem here. People have got to live and we are living in a very heavily taxed society.
I would hope that the Garda, and I certainly admire that fine body of men and women, will still be allowed to use their discretion. I do not know which Minister some years ago introduced what was called a courtesy cop. The term did not last too long. I think it was when the motor bikes were introduced, but the idea was that these people should be seen to be helping the population and to be friends of the people. I live adjacent to the town of Portlaoise which has 7,000 people and about 300 gardaí. Were it not for the fact that you would know most of them it would not take much to make a police state out of it. I would not like to think that the population were being harassed or that the population felt they were being harassed. We are a free people and we must preserve our freedom.
If you divorce the spirit of the Act from the letter of the law and if you put in people who do not use a lot of commonsense you can be almost on the verge of a police state and the population will not give the response and trust and certainly not the help to the police that they need if they are to be effective and efficient and have as their priority the security of the State. That is something the senior gardaí who give out these headline catching diktats should bear in mind. It is one thing to sit back in a swivel armchair and say they want to get in more revenue through fines. If they want to do that they should have on-the-spot fines. It is not a big problem to be caught for a £5 on-the-spot fine. All you have to do is pay it and utter a few expletives but if you have to go through the procedure of going to court it is very difficult.
The publicans have a problem and that is that it is now possible to lose your licence for just one offence because there is a change, as far as I can see from talking to publicans. Publicans are being convicted for having people on the premises even though they may not have been serving. We need to look at this law as a matter of urgency because in a free society such as ours there would be very few owners or managers of public houses who would be causing so much disturbance to the public as to deserve to lose their licences. The family publican in a rural area who is eking out a living in the rural pub, if he cannot get his house cleared 10 or 15 minutes after the time by virtue of people standing around talking, he can lose his livelihood. That law is not fair and is not in accordance with the Constitution. I ask the Government to bring in early amending legislation to give these people some hope and some security for the future. The Minister for Justice has a difficult job at present and I would appeal to the public at large to co-operate with the police. At the same time, I expect that the law should be updated so as to ensure fair play and security for the ordinary citizen.
I should now like to deal with agriculture. Agriculture is one of the most important sectors of our industry having regard to the total agricultural exports in any one year and also the large number of people who are either involved in the agricultural input industry or the agricultural processing sector. The Government were very effective in representing the case for Irish agriculture at the EC annual price reviews since they came into office and Deputy Austin Deasy as Minister for Agriculture has proved himself to be a very able negotiator and, together with his two Ministers of State, represent quite a formidable team in the Department of Agriculture. The farm price package which represents an average increase in farm prices of 9½ per cent with an estimated annual value to the Irish agricultural sector of £255 million is something that we can be thankful for.
In 1984 the satisfactory outcome in relation to the milk super-levy was achieved and that agreement gave us an entitlement for 1984 of the 1983 deliveries plus 4.6 per cent and that is something that no other country in the Community achieved. It brought considerable benefit to the industry, both to the farmers and to the many people who work in the coops, both large and small.
In addition, we have had the EC carcase classificaton grade introduced and that, again, was a very far-sighted and worthwhile innovation in as much as it has for the first time paid a premium for quality. That is something we need very badly because we must be conscious of being able to produce for export the type and quality of produce, especially meat and dairy produce, that the international market wants. That particular classification grade is one that will benefit the industry on a long term basis.
Last year, I think we will all agree, was a year of severe financial stringency and the Government negotiated gains worth an annual sum of about £50 million and in the case of milk the price increase is worth the equivalent of about 3p per gallon. The application of the second phase of the carcase classification grade to intervention purchasing is worth an increase of about 1 per cent or £9 million to the beef sector alone. The changes in the sheepmeat sector should have strengthened the lamb prices in France which still remains our main market and the basic price for lamb was also increased over the last ten or 15 days.
The Government secured a statistical adjustment in our super-levy quota which consolidated the achievement of our negotiators in 1984. While the Department of Agriculture is quite a big Department with a long and proud history the new schemes introduced in the last year are very worthwhile. We also saw from 1 January the extension of the disadvantaged areas scheme following a submission made by the Government in the previous year or towards the middle of 1984. The EC Commission has put to the EC Council for its approval a proposal which increases from 62 per cent to 68 per cent the proportion of agricultural area in the country classified as disadvantaged. An additional 407,000 acres are designated as less severely handicapped while the more severely handicapped area is increased by about 869,000 acres and farmers in the reclassified areas are eligible for new or increased cattle and sheep headage payments. On that, I would like to ask for a review of the extended area as regards the Slieveblooms: in the Comer, Munasup and Cardtown areas of the Slieveblooms and also a few small townlands in the Luggacurran area, which for some obscure reason which I have not been able to extract from the officials of the Department, have been excluded even though those few small townlands meet in full the criteria that are laid down by the Department.
Of course the great benefit to the disadvantaged area lies in the cattle grant schemes. Under the scheme I have just mentioned farmers who have been ineligible for grants under the disadvantaged areas scheme because their farm income exceeds £3,500 will now qualify for grants because the Minister has raised the limit to £6,400. That is a welcome regulation and I would like to compliment the Minister for that. The increased headage payments as from this month will mean the maximum headage payments will increase from £872 to £1,010 for cattle and sheep.
The progress that the Minister for Agriculture has recorded under each of the farm husbandries should give great encouragement to farmers in general. ACOT, which is the farm education service, have consolidated their new approach to agricultural education and the fact that so many people are availing of their courses is indicative of the value of the courses. The professional staff in ACOT have succeeded in bringing their major reorganisation to fruition and the restructuring of the advisory and training services in my view was most successful. There are some 2,800 farmers in the present winter farm schools currently participating in the three-year course for the green certificate or the certificate in farming, while at the same time 1,200 students are attending the agricultural colleges and an estimated 10,000 are attending various part time courses this winter.
Last year the two sections of farm husbandry who fared, perhaps, worst were the people in grain farming who suffered substantial losses due to the bad harvest. Unlike the people who experienced fodder shortages, there was no scheme to ease the burden on them. Similarly as regards people who were involved in beet production, with the bad weather towards the end of October, towards the end of the beet harvest, whatever system the Sugar Company have of ascertaining the over 20 per cent tare which was levied on practically every farmer is little short of daylight robbery and even despite that they only made a very modest profit the year before.
Another worth while initiative that the Minister took last year was the extension of the reduced interest scheme for farmers in severe financial difficulties. Since that scheme was introduced almost 4,000 farmers have been able to get back on the straight and narrow. The fact that this scheme has been continued for a further year will ease the problem for many farming families in the coming year. It was a very appropriate step for the Government to take and I would like to compliment the Minister on that.
The Minister for Education was under great pressure at the end of last year. If we look closely at the output of that Department I think that Minister must be one of the more progressive Ministers. We had last year the ages for learning, the capital programme for third level education and the publishing of the Green Paper. These were all indications of a department which is moving into the present. The pressure on the Department of Education to provide places and courses for such a high percentage of our population must be enormous and the fact that the Minister and the Department and all concerned can meet that challenge is something that we as a nation should be proud of.
I am sure that the present difficulties there vis-a-vis the rates of pay for teachers is a problem that will pass. Those three fine professional bodies have overreacted. By no stretch of the imagination, bearing in mind the incomes as distributed across the country to the various sectors, the various professions, the public in general, I do not think that their claim can be taken by the general public as one which should merit a high priority. In a country like ours which is certainly a developing country, I do not think that any of us, whether we are in politics are any other job, can say that the State owes us a living. I think we must be prepared to make a contribution to society and to the State. Many people will not agree with that.
If an award, is made, I quite accept that that should be honoured; at the same time, it is difficult to indicate from whom the cost is to be screwed. That is putting it very bluntly. I would prefer that those professional people would have talked the matter out to the very last before they took to the streets. It is the last straw when the people in whom the present generation of youth have implicit trust and implicit hope go out on strike every second or third week and it leaves a very unfortunate headline for those people to follow.
That is the only sad note in my contribution to the Appropriation Act. I would like to compliment the Minister. He is well able to take a lot of flak but, nevertheless, from the Appropriation Accounts themselves, from the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, from the figures as they reveal themselves, I think that the policies enunciated and implemented by the Minister for Finance have proved that his policies are working in the interests of the country and the taxpayers as a whole.
My contribution will be brief. While we do not have an Adjournment Debate in this House or a discussion on the budget, traditionally and rightly there has been great latitude in regard to matters raised here. Nevertheless, I feel that in the areas in which I have a special interest I will have adequate ways of bringing them up later on rather than losing them in the fullness of a wide-ranging debate.
With regard to Senator McDonald's contribution, I would have no bouquets to throw to the Minister for Finance. This Government came into power and they had as a priority and as a chief objective to balance the books, this notion of fiscal rectitude. That was their primary objective. Not alone have they not achieved that but the debt has almost doubled. Therefore, in that situation I feel the Government have failed on their own terms. That has been spelled out in detail and there is no need for me to go into it and give figures. I can see nothing in that area but a total failure.
There are many areas we could pinpoint to identify the failures further. One of them must surely be in the area of employment. Taking into consideration those drawing unemployment benefit and those engaged in the mini schemes, approximately 30, which the Government have set up to help in this area, I do not want to be over critical of those schemes because anything that would help I would favour. The majority of those schemes, while they are intended to help, at the end of the day bring nothing but despair and frustration to those people who take part. There is nothing at the end for them. They are set on a specific course for six or twelve months. Their income is not all that high, nevertheless they seem to get by; but at the end of that time there is nothing for them and so there is despair and frustration.
Most people would agree that the only way unemployment can be reduced is to get into an area of productive employment. It is necessary to identify the areas where products are needed. There is no point in creating an artificial need. This can be done. One area that comes to my mind is the purchase of toys for our children at Christmas time. Through advertising on television and radio many of those toys which would not sell in their own right were sold out; an artificial need was created there. That is useless. The only way unemployment can be solved is through research to identify areas where products are needed. We also know the difficulty of this and I am not minimising it.
With modern technology the tendency has been to reduce or cut out employment altogether. In many firms they hired experts to reduce the number of employees on their books and the work was done by computers and by machinery. So the whole trend was to eliminate employment. It would be easy to solve the unemployment problem if people were prepared to go back to the spade and shovel, perhaps not altogether that far, but in that direction. Taking into consideration that people want to move with the times, to progress and enjoy a decent way of life, have a better expectation and that they want more from life than they did in the past, it would be wrong to say that the unemployment problem cannot be solved. This would lead to despair. It must be solved.
It is difficult but it will have to be done and the only way it can be done is through expenditure on research. I hope in the coming year the Government will carry out some extensive research to see in what ways the unemployment problem can be solved. Unemployment does not simply mean people staying at home without work. It results in crime, vandalism, the use of drugs. Therefore, solving the unemployment problem must be a higher priority for the Government than balancing the books. Not alone have we not seen progress but we have gone backwards.
Roads are in a deplorable state in every county. I have spoken to people who travel from the North of Ireland and they say the roads are in perfect condition. Our main roads and county roads are deplorable and so are urban roads and estate roads. In one case, through an accident because of a pothole between Kells and Navan, one man was hospitalised and had to get nine stitches.
It is extraordinary that some members of local authorities have suggested that ramps in estates would slow down traffic. I am sure they would and in private estates ramps are widely used but it would be illegal to construct a ramp in a council estate or in a local authority area to slow down traffic. Traffic is slowed down more by potholes. The main roads were never intended for the traffic we have now. They do not have the foundations for articulated trucks. The local authorities are out of date in repairing the roads. There is no difference in the methods used by the different local authorities.
Potholes are there and workers come with tar and chippings and fill up the potholes; the traffic comes and the rain falls and the roads are in the same state as in the beginning. In this area tarmacadam should be used and consolidated and left even though far fewer potholes could be filled. At least it would be a permanent job. People throughout the county have complained to me that the only time potholes on the roads were filled was during wet weather, which was a total waste. We need infrastructure for main roads because slowing down the traffic and articulated trucks means that we have extra cost. In this country the average speed is around 45mph for articulated trucks as against 60mph on the Continent. The EC should contribute — I know they do — to the national primary routes but it is essential to provide the foundations for heavier traffic. When I was involved in roads in the early fifties in Meath it was said that the soil was sufficient foundation to carry any traffic. It was so at that time but since then conditions have changed so much that that no longer applies. We want to improve the road structure. I come through Navan, Dunshaughlin and Clonee to Dublin, and from Clonee to Blanchardstown is the worst stretch of main road in the country. It is hoped to have a new road constructed in the coming two years and I hope that that will be done. We have good roads from the North and Donegal into Cavan town, Kells and Clonee and suddenly there is a bottleneck where the traffic is held up. Coming to Dublin or going back between Clonee and Blanchardstown, if motorists are unlucky to get behind a JCB they have to stay there until they reach the end of the narrow road where there is only a narrow path on one side and no grass margin on the other. In that area the public are entitled to complain bitterly.
With regard to the taking over of estates some local authorities have refused to take over the estates because of potholes in the roads in the estates. When I was employed by Meath County Council on the design of roads most of the materials were provided by Meath County Council. They had a materials account. They had their own quarries, their own gravel pits, their own sandpits and they manufactured their own tarmacadam. I do not see why it would not be possible to go back to that system and provide more employment. A private firm was set up and they gave keen prices to the local authorities, prices at which the local authorities could not supply the materials. The firm started production and got the orders. The works which the local authorities had set up were no longer utilised and they no longer have that system. All those quarries, which gave work to about 20 people as well as helping the farmers and landowners who owned the quarries, were closed. Serious consideration should be given to reverting to the former system. The money which the local authority would get would be put into productive employment.
The major drainage works which have been carried out have come in for some criticism. I have a question on the Adjournment regarding the Boyne drainage scheme and I hope to get time to make the case that the certificate of completion should not be signed by the Minister for Finance until certain essential works are completed. The works about which I am concerned have to do with fishing and angling. I do not intend to raise that aspect now but, with regard to drainage, more research will have to be done. Since the arterial drainage scheme started considerable progress has been made with regard to research. I understand that drainage benefits farmers, that it improves a certain area of land.
Many people would claim that the cost per acre is very high where arterial drainage is concerned. The cost would be in excess of £10,000 per acre and in some cases it should be far in excess of that. If a farmer decides to sell his land when it is improved he will not get any more than £2,000 per acre for it. I agree that for production of crops the land will be improved. In Kells and Kilmainham Wood which — the oldest people who live there never remember growing anything but rushes — in the last two or three years, since the works have been carried out, the land has grown good crops of wheat and barley. In that area there is a benefit. Some people would say that other land, not necessarily low-lying land of this kind, but marginal land, could be improved at less cost. The conservationists would say that these drainage works have disturbed the ecology of vast areas, that plant, animal and bird life has been totally changed. The fishery inspector for Kells, County Meath, Mr. Thomas Barrett, has told me that he was assured by the head of the tourist board in Dusseldorf in 1971 that if he could provide good fishing he would guarantee 300 tourists per day. Three hundred tourists per day is an enormous number. So there is a loss in that area because the inspector could not guarantee fishing mainly because of the drainage works carried out on the Blackwater and the Boyne.
The disturbance to wildlife should be taken into consideration when talking about arterial drainage. If it were considered necessary or desirable to create a situation where wildlife would be sustained it would be a very costly operation. We have an environment suitable for wildlife, as we have known it, for angling and fishing. Almost overnight, through drainage works, the ecology of the area is destroyed. More research should be done before drainage is carried out. I understand that drainage works, by and large, benefit farmers whose lands are liable to continuous flooding particularly over the winter period but, apart from that it seems to me the benefit is doubtful where the water table is lowered considerably. In Kilmainham Wood, outside Kells, the Office of Public Works compensated people where the water level was brought down so low that their wells went dry. I would not take a resolute stand on any particular issue but what have we got through drainage schemes, taking into consideration the altered character of the rivers which have been changed from meandering, lazy streams to virtual canals dangerous to fish form, if the fish were there? The boulders and rocks which generated oxygen in the water were removed. They should be replaced. Weirs which helped to collect silt were removed. Since the works started modifications have been made and improvements have been brought about because of pressure. No doubt more improvements will be brought about but it is time the matter were investigated thoroughly not just in terms of finance but in terms of the environment, the amenity, the ecology, the fauna and flora and all the other matters that would come within the ambit of such an examination.
There has been considerable pollution of rivers, most of it accidental. There has been poaching. Fish have developed diseases. Is it not strange that none of these factors has done as much damage as the drainage works? Is it not strange that this wanton destruction has been carried out, not by a foreign country, but by ourselves? I would make a strong plea for research so that there can be reasonable compromise in this area.
With regard to forests, the trees were removed from along the rivers. People involved in angling and fishing realise that the fishing industry would not be possible without shade because the fish would not survive in the river. Fly life on which the fish live would not survive. Shade is important for fishing. The trees and bushes which were removed from along the rivers should be replaced.
On the more general subject of forestry, there are vast areas of marginal land which could be used to grow softwoods and hardwoods, which take much longer to mature. We should have some overall land policy which would dictate where exactly afforestation could best be carried out. In some counties, for instance Leitrim, land is being bought up for forestry, and much of this land would be more suitable for agriculture. Some of this land was bought for forestry partly because it was near main roads to give access to the forest. This is really a bad approach because in any policy of afforestation, new roads should be built. We should not be dependent on the roads we have at present. Indeed land far remote from roads would be more suitable for afforestation. In this area, to reduce our imports, to reduce our dependency on imports, far more should be done. Even in the area of housing far more should be done to promote timber framed housing, which in many ways is more satisfactory than traditional buildings because it is faster to erect, it is better insulated and therefore promotes greater conservation of energy. In many ways timber framed housing is superior to traditional housing but while we do not have sufficient timber of our own, it would be wrong to promote timber framed housing.
Fisheries is another area that I dealt with recently. Today's papers illustrate that the problems of the fishermen are being compounded. It seems extraordinary that an island country traditionally had potatoes as the staple diet. Fish should really have been the staple diet. Even to go back to the times of the Famine and the many times we had famine, it is hard to understand why fish could not have helped to solve the problem at that time. Now we seem to be restricted by EC regulations. We seem to have struck a bad bargain. We seem to be confined too much and this is in an area where the outlay is very high. Some boats can cost almost £1 million. That is an enormous amount of money to pay back. There is no question whatever about it, for an island country we started from too low a base. I would have every sympathy with the fishermen. Some time ago in the restaurant in this House, we had the successful promotion of fish, but by and large we seem to be losing out. In the past carrigeen moss was quite common in all the houses around the country. I very seldom see it now. Something should be done there for the fishermen.
In the area of housing I welcome the increased reconstruction grants. The last time a survey was carried out in this country on housing stock was in 1980 and it showed that by and large our houses were in a pretty bad way. Those of us who tried to get application forms in the early stages realised how difficult it was, there was such a demand for them, which goes to show that the problem is a major one as regards reconstruction and refurbishing of houses. I hope that the number of engineers and personnel in the Department who are handling those applications are adequate so that there will not be a slowing down of this process. I understand that already there is some delay and this is unfortunate. I hope that it is not deliberate.
There are a few aspects regarding reconstruction grants with which I would find fault. One is the fact that the house must be inspected before the work is started. I mentioned this before on a number of occasions. It is penal and it is wrong. I agree that it would be desirable that nobody should start until a certificate of approval is received in respect of the work, but this does not apply with regard to new houses. Application for a new house grant may be made within one year of taking up residence in the house, which may be a considerable time after the erection of the house. With an old house, in most cases, it seems that the people in those houses would be struggling to get the work completed; yet we have this penal clause that if the work is started no grant will be paid. If there were a considerable fine of some description to urge people to apply in time I would agree, but to withhold the complete grant is wrong. The Minister stated that it was in order to help people so that they would know exactly what they were to get. I would not accept that. I agree that the personnel in the Department of the Environment are very helpful and could not be more helpful. I have no criticism of the personnel in the Department of the Environment in this regard, but I would not believe that this condition was introduced primarily to help people. It is unfair and should be removed. Most of the people I have dealt with are of moderate means, often with a young family scraping every penny to try to get the job completed. The man who is anxious to improve his house for his family, and for the benefit of the country in that the children will have more space and more anemities, is penalised because he did not wait until an inspector called. It is wrong. I certainly condemn that condition.
In relation to reconstruction grants, a further condition is that the works should be carried out only by a registered contractor. This is wrong. I realise there is a problem about the black economy but most of the people with whom I have dealt are people who did most of the work themselves. They were blocklayers, plasterers, plumbers, carpenters. These people are no longer given that opportunity to build extensions. There is something seriously wrong there.
I am not sure as to the method of payment. On the grant application form, it is necessary to give the contractor's name and tax number. One does not have to get in touch with the contractor to do this as the information is widely available. Having nominated a contractor, could the applicant engage another contractor? The contractor would be asked to tender and the details would be submitted to the Department of the Environment. As a result an inspector would call and the applicant would be notified of the grant to which he is entitled. I am not sure if change of contractors is allowed. If not, then the regulation is unfair as it is possible that another contractor will do the job at a keener rate. What happens if there is another contractor? There is a radical departure from established practice which is unfair and should be reconsidered. This could be extended to the area of new housing. This departure was mistakenly made when details of the grant and the actual cost of the work are revealed, persons who are most in need will not be able to have the work carried out. This is sad. Prior to the introduction of the 1985 scheme an applicant filled in a form, sent it to the Department and was notified of the work to be carried out and the amount of grant to which he was entitled. He knew the amount of the grant, and the work to be carried out. He could go to as many contractors as he wished and they all had a fair chance. He gave them the information he received from the Department of the Environment and on that basis got quotations. The system has been changed totally, which is regrettable. There should be reconsideration.
It is very easy to be critical. I have praised and welcomed the grant scheme as being necessary. We pleaded for it some months ago in this House. There was a motion from this side asking for higher grants. Naturally, we welcome any improvement but there is an unfortunate tail to it. It is like the contrary cow that gives the bucket of milk and then kicks it from under her and as a result one is left where one started. I hope something will be done in that regard.
Education is a subject on which many matters could be discussed which perhaps it would be best to deal with at another time. The standard of education here is very high. There are persons who have doctorates and very high degrees in jobs which could be carried out by somebody with primary school level of education. Some time ago Meath County Library were looking for an assistant, and recruited on a temporary basis a young man who had passed the leaving certificate with some honours. He carried out his duties in a satisfactory manner. The staff were very pleased with his performance. Then the position was advertised for a permanent assistant. This man applied and of course there were hundreds of applications. This man who was satisfactory and doing his job as well as it could be done was not even called for interview. He came to me to make representations for him, not to get the job but to be called for interview. I failed him. This position could have been filled by anyone who had passed the primary school certificate examination. The same situation applies in many other areas. I know of persons with very high degrees in positions for which a much lower standard of education would be sufficient. The result is frustration. These persons are not being stretched intellectually. In the long run society and the country suffer. The best brains in our country are being exported. Unfortunately, we are losing qualified persons.
Many changes could be made in regard to unemployment benefit. I recall meeting a young councillor whose wife, a qualified nurse, was unable to get employment in her profession. She was drawing unemployment benefit and during that period she began a secretarial course in order to move out of the nursing profession and when it was discovered that she was doing this secretarial course she lost her "dole." It seems there was something very short-sighted there. This individual who could not get employment in her profession was trying to move into a new area and by succeeding in that she would have cost the State nothing. She was prevented from doing that. That is an area which needs looking into.
With regard to agriculture, last year must have been the worst year that farmers experienced, certainly in my lifetime. The summer was very poor and therefore confidence is at a very low ebb. We have super-levy restrictions with regard to milk and the beef market is poor. Then we have the extraordinary situation of food imports in this agricultural country. At present if you go into any supermarket it is difficult to get Irish produced vegetables, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. I know that some small attempt has been made to make progress here. Some years back I recall that we had incentive schemes in various counties whereby cottiers and those with small plots were given grants to grow potatoes and other vegetables. By and large, this scheme was successful but it has been discontinued. Even in this out-of-date way progress could be made again if we were to revert to that situation. Even taking into consideration the fact that the climate is unfavourable for horticulture there should be some way of ensuring that we would produce enough material ourselves and not have to import vegetables.
A friend of mine last year had 20 acres of peas and he lost the best part of £10,000 on the peas because of the wet harvest; the combine was unable to lift them properly, as they were not in a suitable condition. A couple of years before that another friend of mine had cabbage in the Dublin area — I have mentioned it before. He brought two loads of the best cabbage that could be grown to the Dublin market and was unable to sell them and had to bring them home and dump them. I know of a man in Navan who some years earlier erected a big glasshouse. He grew tomatoes in it for the first year and had a marvellous crop. He could not sell £10 worth of those tomatoes because he had them at a time when everybody else had them and the price was low. In this area, as regards marketing and as regards a policy to ensure that we would produce sufficient vegetables ourselves, surely a start could be made. I do not say that we should prohibit imports because I am sure we could not prohibit the import of vegetables under EC rules but in a country that is suitable for horticulture it does not make sense to have to import them to the present extent.
I recall even further back, maybe 20 years ago, a man who supplied vegetables to my own town of Kells had a one-acre garden and at the time, I suppose, he intended possibly to grow vegetables. He found it was cheaper to come up and buy them in the Dublin market than to grow them in his own plot. He could come up to the Dublin market, pick out the best, buy them and bring them home. Certainly, in that area of agriculture I am confident that some worthwhile progress could be made in order to be self-sufficient.
The building industry, where I am personally concerned, is in a very poor way. In my lifetime I have never seen things so bad. As I have said before, people who are longer in the business than I am tell me that they never saw things in such a state. The number of new houses erected per year has gone down and it seems it is going to get worse. We have 50,000 trained carpenters and tradesmen out of employment. When the building industry is in bad shape like this there are many other industries that suffer, upholstery, carpeting, furnishing etc. In all of those areas the people suffer so that something will have to be done because the situation is getting worse. While I have already spoken about the reconstruction grant and that it may result in some improvement, in my view it will only be minimal. Something more will have to be done in that area.
We have an all-time "high" in crime. Old people are threatened in their homes all over the country, something that was never experienced before. The prison space is too small. We were told in this House before that the cost of keeping one prisoner for one year would be in the region of £30,000. That is an enormous figure. Certainly, crime must in some way be related to the unemployment figures. We have this problem of crime which I am not sure is reversible. We see crime on television in our own homes; we see explicit sex scenes with apparently no control over them. I think that is wrong. There is no need for me to mention any programmes but "Dallas" and "Dynasty"— and I do not watch them myself because I do not have time — are corrupting the youth of this country. I am not saying that they should be banned but if they must be shown perhaps it should be at times when it is less likely that young people will be watching them.
There has been a great change in society in my lifetime and it is not for the better. It is contended that greater affluence has brought this about but certainly a major part of the responsibility could be attributed to television. I am not in favour of banning any programme but it is important to recognise that great damage has been done and great damage is being done. I recall the type of society we had when in our school books we had prose and poetry telling us that manners make the man and urging us to be kind and considerate to others, especially to old people. I recall the poem about the old woman standing at the street corner, afraid to cross the road, and one little boy going over to her and saying: "I will help you across if you wish to go". Later on, it said: "She is somebody's mother, boys, you know". That was the attitude at that time, that any woman was somebody's mother and women were respected because of that. That respect is being eroded. Affluence has been a cause but to a greater extent it has been the result of television.
I spoke earlier about roads being in bad shape. The greatest development in my time, which necessitates good and proper roads, is the motor car. The motor car made it possible for people to live away from their work, to commute from a rural base to the city. It brought some kind of equality to a class-ridden people and I would say that we were and are a class-ridden people. To some extent, the motor car balanced that out. I recall in my youth walking to Mass and maybe a big farmer would pass by in his pony and trap and perhaps he doffed his hat and perhaps he did not. Then in a few short years that man had to pull in out of the way because maybe a farm labourer, like myself, got a car and passed him by. You had a whole upheaval of the social structure. But that class-ridden description still applies to some extent. I was in one of the islands off the west coast one time and a priest passed by on a motorbike. I was with a few friends and one of them said: "Even the motor bikes in this country are priest-ridden". We are certainly class-ridden; I will not say we are priest-ridden.
There are many other matters I could go into such as the hospital services and the entire health services. Hospitals have closed because of insufficient funds. In the county hospital in Navan, about six months ago a relation of mine, who was not as old as I am, was a patient. Apparently they were short of beds and a number of the men were asked to move into a women's ward. It would not have been too bad, I suppose, if they had to move inside the door of the women's ward but they were asked to move into the women's ward, to go through one to get to the one they would have to move into. My relative did not move into it and I am not sure if the others did but it was an extraordinary situation.
There has always been a footwear factory in Kells. One closed down and another one started and it is going in fits and starts because at different times of the year demand varies and, of course, demand is a result of the weather.
Sandals are only required and bought when the weather is good and wellingtons are only bought and required when the weather is wet. This small factory, which is trying to keep a number of people employed, has this continuous problem. Its products are not required at certain times and for long periods.
I have spoken about the tourist industry on another occasion at some length and do not intend to go into it now. We mentioned at that time the VAT rates problem. A uniform VAT rate on hotels would be a great help to tourism and the country generally. There are many areas we could go into. I have covered those I was mainly interested in. It has been said that there are only three producers, the farmer, the miner and the fisherman and this may well be so. There are other areas that could be farmed and that must be farmed.
One final point is in relation to the Boyne drainage scheme. I do not think it is inappropriate to bring it up at this time. Meath County Council got a demand for £725,000 from the Minister for Finance as a contribution from the local authority for the works that were carried out. Some £30,000 of this would have to be contributed by the three urban councils, Trim, Navan and Kells. The contribution for Kells would be £11,000. I believe that the Minister was within his rights and statutorily correct in issuing this claim but I want to point out that this was done under the 1945 Act. At that time local authorities had power to levy rates on agricultural land and domestic properties. Under those circumstances the increase in the rates would be 5 per cent and would not be considerable but now, with rates on commercial properties only, the increase would be 50 per cent. That is an astronomical figure.
I strongly believe that as power was taken from local authorities to levy rates on agricultural land and domestic buildings the State should bear all of these costs. I urge the Minister to make whatever regulations are necessary to do that because this claim would be a severe strain on Meath County Council and on the three urban district councils. Conditions have changed drastically since the 1945 Act; the powers of local authorities have been reduced with the result that there would be severe hardship in this case. I urge the Minister to examine this as a matter of priority.
In the first sentence of his address to the House, the Minister expressed the view that the motion could serve as a catalyst for a wide-ranging discussion on the economy generally and later on in his address he referred to how improved living standards can go hand in hand with income moderation. Then he went on to talk about the successful reduction of the inflation rate from 8.6 per cent in 1984 to 5.4 in 1985. I got the view that somewhat superficially the Minister made reference to the fact we have almost one-quarter of a million people unemployed. It is with these aspects of the Minister's address that I should like to deal briefly.
Current streams of economic thought have been subsumed by the acceleration in growth of technological data and expertise. Economic thought as we knew it and grew up with it has become virtually obsolete. I am not against the simple arithmetical conclusion of balancing expenditure with income. Far be it from me to argue with Charles Dickens: he put it very succinctly when he said that if you spend £1 and earn £1, the result is happinness, whereas if you spend 21 shillings while earning £1, you are in deep trouble. However, that may be a simplification. There is an impeccable pursuit of financial rectitude manifesting itself right throughout western society. The chase for financial rectitude and stability and for the diminution of the inflation rate as it has been practised in western society and particularly in this country carries within it the seeds of its own destruction. As we learn more about it, it appears that the success of the chase has been achieved primarily on the basis of what is tantamount to a denial of the right of the average citizen to what is his greatest entitlement, which is, the right to work. This is being achieved. Whatever success is attendant on this pursuit of financial rectitude or the handling of the inflationary problem is being achieved by an unholy marriage of crippling taxation and unemployment which is at a horrendous level but which nevertheless by statistical and economic thought is regarded as being acceptable.
The Minister referred to the fact that we have one-quarter of a million people unemployed, one-sixth of our labour force. This is set against the background of the awareness, realisation and the absolute knowledge that what has served as the traditional panacea for our unemployment problems since the formation of the State is no longer available to us. I am referring to the historical emigration haemorrhage that we endured as a nation for the first 40 to 50 years of our existence as a State. The people to whom we traditionally sent our second-level students and our third-level graduates are experiencing the same problems, are applying the same techniques, are pursuing the same financial rectitude and accepting the same crippling figures of unemployment as ourselves. There is nothing new in this. We have a tendency to being the essential and ubiquitous copycat. Whatever happens elsewhere is regarded as being the complete answer to our problems. It never occurs to us that the acceptance of this type of approach illustrates a distinct lack of originality on the part of our planners and of those charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the citizens of the State have the right to the dignity of labour in advance of any other pressing necessity or urgency that might be imposed upon us by economic factors.
I am in sympathy with the main provisions of the Bill as dealt with by the Minister. I frankly confess that my approach to economics is a subjective one. I accept that I come from within a discipline which is frequently charged with making the illogical appear logical. I usually defend myself against that charge by saying that I represent to a substantial degree a consensus viewpoint of the people who are under siege and under attack by the policies which are being practised and which have resulted in the horrendous level of unemployment that we have today.
The measures that have been taken to date and those that appear to be emerging on the horizon are not sufficient to correct the situation prevailing. The Minister makes a point about the discipline of wage moderation. I have yet to come across a situation where acceptance of low wage rates of itself has served to generate employment either in the particular enterprise involved or in any other enterprise elsewhere. I am patiently waiting for some of our economists to produce some evidence to substantiate the observation that this is, in fact, an economic truth. It may be simplistic on my part — I have a reputation for being somewhat simplistic in this area — but it suggests to me that in the final analysis what we need is not a programme designed to display to the world that we have achieved financial rectitude, not a programme to prove to the world that we can do exactly as they do, that we can compete with them, given the difference between the size of our nation and the size of nations frequently classified as our direct competitors — this is not the name of the game — but to approach the whole concept of the development of a programme designed to get our people back to work. There is not much use talking about an increase in the consumer figures if, at the same time, everyone is keenly conscious of the fact that those who earn are becoming fewer and fewer in terms of numbers and those from whom you extract the necessary wherewithal to maintain the national infrastructure are becoming correspondingly fewer and fewer. This type of philosophy takes on all the shapes and appearances of the dodo bird, the bird that flies around in ever-decreasing circles until it disappears. Eventually, that is where we are going.
Before the break, I was making the point that we particularly need a programme, no matter how simplistic that programme might appear to be, designed to accept what has been accepted right across the spectrum, that the two major problems facing this State are unemployment and taxation and the two are so inextricably linked as to defy solution on an individual basis. There is a need for the Minister and his colleagues to develop a programme which will have as a complete and exclusive priority the provision of what our people are entitled to expect, that is the dignity of work.
I am not going to rattle any martyrs' bones here in the Chamber because that has been done for the last 50 years in this State but one of my predecessors, James Connolly, once remarked — I am not quoting him explicitly but in substance — that Ireland and all the chemical elements that went to constitute this land that we call Ireland meant nothing at all to him without its people, and that is the name of the game: the people of this State and not how well we run its infrastructure, not how well we develop its mechanisms for government, but how well we take care of the people who inhabit this island of ours.
At the outset I said I would be brief and I would refer briefly to the economic observations made by the Minister during the course of his address but I now want to make some comment on the observations made by Senator McDonald in the course of his contribution to the House. In a wide-ranging address — it was my first experience of sitting for four hours in this Chamber — he covered almost every subject mentioned by the Minister. He mentioned one of particular and specific interest to me and that was the industrial relations problem which exists in respect of the teachers. On the information available to me Senator McDonald is from the farming community and no matter how hard we try there will always be some chasm between the rural and urban communities. That is the nature of things. But whenever anybody from the farming community sees fit to criticise the activities of the industrial sector it would be as well if they remembered that they enjoy a facility which has been denied the urban dweller for centuries. They at least have equity. If they decide to disappear, if they decide to give up, if they decide to seek some other form of occupation, at least they have equity that they can translate into the material that will enable them to make that change. The ordinary urban worker has nothing except the mortgage which hangs around his neck or his ability to work and if you take from him the right to work and leave him with the mortgage how can you expect him to react?
Senator McDonald was rightly appreciative of the skill, expertise and dedication of the teaching profession and so he should be because all of us are in some shape or form the product of the efforts of those who constitute the teaching profession. For good or for bad they have the most important function in this State, which transcends even Government itself, because they are responsible for the moulding of our youth and each generation is a mere image, a manifestation, a reflection of what they have been able to achieve within their discipline and they should be paid for that. They should be paid a salary commensurate with the contribution that they make to the national scene. Senator McDonald was rightly appreciative of that and he professed to accept it and I have no doubt that he did because if anybody benefited from our educational system it was the people in the farming communities where — it may sound a little illogical or a little strange — they had the benefit of small schools and almost individual attention. I do not know of anybody in the provinces, and I am married to a country girl, who went to a school where there were 70 or 80 in a class as is frequent in urban centres but the teachers do a wonderful job and Senator McDonald acknowledges this. He said he was not at issue with the award itself but that he felt constrained to point out that the major problem facing the Government was their capacity to meet the terms of the award.
The award came from machinery which had been painstakingly set up by Government and by the teaching profession, not only the teaching profession but all of the Civil Service that comes within the parameters of the conciliation and arbitration scheme. The Government are a party to that and they knew in advance that once they went to arbitration they were in dragons land, they knew not where they were about to go. They knew the arbitrator could come out with a reward which might not be consistent with what they regarded as within their ability to pay. It was a gamble the Government took. If the arbitrator had come out with a reward much less than he did the Government would presumably have considered themselves in a position to meet that award and would have got all the plaudits that would have fallen due if that situation had arisen. But it did not arise and the bet that they placed did not come off. The award was much higher than they anticipated.
Nobody can blame the teachers for that unless one is prepared to blame them for displaying that advocacy which is necessary and essential if one goes to an arbitration tribunal or if one wants to condemn them for the articulate qualities that one would normally expect from those in the teaching profession. But they won their case and in racing parlance the Government welched. They welched on their obligations to the conciliation and arbitration scheme. They welched on their word that they would accept arbitration.
It is not good for Senator McDonald to express concern and chagrin that the school teachers should take to the streets to display their irritation at not being given what they regard as their natural right, having gone through the painstaking process of the conciliation and arbitration machinery. Senator McDonald said this was infra dig for those who had the responsibility of teaching our youth. That is like a cry in the wilderness because if everybody were to accept that the nature of the job, because of its social content, deprived them of the right to physically demonstrate against what they regard as an injustice we would be in a mess and certainly we would not have had a long history of war since civilisation dawned. Human beings are frail, they are full of imperfections and they will demonstrate in the only way known to them. The teachers took to the streets, not for weeks, not for months but for a day and unless observers on the scene were in a coma or were unconscious they could not have failed to take into account the significance of the attendance of 20,000 teachers in Croke Park. I know of semi-finals that have not attracted that type of audience but they were all there from every part of the land.
Finally, they are not unique in taking to the streets. In the traditional parlance of the trade union movement, although it is losing favour now, the blue collar workers, as we used to be called, had a penchant for doing that when we experienced a sense of irritation. Charlie's own people took to the streets on a number of occasions. I can recall that legendary figure of the Irish Farmers Association——
Which Charlie is the Senator talking about? Is it the Leader of the Opposition?
The Laois man, Charlie McDonald. It is not so long ago since one of his leaders——
Senator Kirwan, if you would just give the distinguished Senator his proper title.
Senator McDonald had the experience of watching one of his legendary leaders, complete with Basque beret, sit in front of this establishment, not for an hour, not for a day but for a whole week. We also had the situation of the farming community blockading this and other cities. It ill becomes people to criticise actions which they feel are justified in respect of their own province and I want to say to Senator Charlie McDonald that the teachers have every intention of striving with might and main to effect a settlement. Within the public service generally we have managed to arrive at a stage where at least the majority of the workers concerned, through their unions, have reached some form of consensus which may lead to peace in that sector. The teachers are unique in the sense that we owe them a debt, a debt which measures up to the absolute moulding of generation after generation of the citizens of this State and they will not lightly destroy the very edifices that they helped to build up. If there is at least an element of goodwill on the other side to accept the merits of their arguments they will be prepared to sit down and talk their way towards a settlement.
I would like to join in the tribute to the work and dedication of teachers since the foundation of the State. I would like to concur with Senator Kirwan in most of his remarks and tributes to teachers. My contribution will be short as I know there are other speakers who want to get in.
Throughout the country the Government have effectively turned their back on millions of pounds of European aid. It is a condition of this aid in the areas of regional development infrastructure and improvement to the telecommunication system among others that the central authority spend at least as much as the Community grant-in-aid. If we do not spend, we do not get the money. As the whole of Ireland is considered a country needing special assistance the European Commission is willing to grant 55 per cent of the overall cost of the special projects, especially in the west. That is a very generous and encouraging amount of the total money spent for any Government to be offered. It is one of the big tragedies of the present Government that they are not providing the opportunities that other political parties could give if they were in power. I say that genuinely and sincerely as one of the youngest Members of the House. The help being given from the EC is not being exploited to the fullest extent by the Government.
The underlying principle of the European Community is to raise the living standards of the poorer regions up to levels comparable with the rich areas of the EC. The Government seem determined with their budgetary policies, to turn their back on this basic concept and what the Community is all about. I do not accept that the gap between Ireland and the rest of the Community should be widened. I protest in the strongest possible manner.
At the beginning of 1986 Ireland faces an economic and social situation that has had no parallel since the fifties. There is no sign of any real recovery in this respect. In most respects the economy is in a much worse state today than it was three years ago when the Coalition took office. We now have mass unemployment, high levels of taxation and a national debt that has grown to over £20 billion in three years. Living standards have been seriously depressed but the fall in living standards has not been matched by any increase in jobs or healthier public finances. No Government in recent times have been guilty of such an appalling record of failure or presided over so much damage to the national economy as this Government have. Everyone is prepared to give a Government a fair chance when they get a majority and this Government have a good majority to implement policies. They have been in power for the last three and a quarter years.
The reality of the situation is that the more people who are unemployed the more it will cost the State and the more money that has to be borrowed for nonproductive purposes. We know, as politicians, and we are prepared to respect the problem the Government have but they are not facing it in a manner that will create jobs. If the Government are not facing it in a manner that will create jobs there is only one thing at the end of the line and that is further unemployment. Further unemployment is what we have seen over the last two years. It is in that light that I criticise the performance of the Government. I am not mentioning any political parties, I am mentioning the Government. I believe it is the Government's responsibility to govern——
——and lead the country. That is what people today are looking for. They are looking for hope and a future in this country. It is necessary to try to follow the path indicated in the Joint Programme for Government. A great deal of that document on Government economic policy was abandoned within a few weeks of the Government taking office. Unemployment is the problem that we will all be faced with. The projections in the Government document Building on Reality are so far off course that they are no longer relevant. Unemployment is the highest in the history of the State. It is not because we are in Opposition that we want to get up here to highlight the fact. This is a fact and irrespective of what may be said on television and radio or in the papers or what reasons may be given, the facts speak for themselves. When people go to the polls to vote it is those matters they bear in mind. Most people, particularly the younger generation, are not interested in what the problems are, they are not interested in why that did not happen or why this did not happen. They are interested in results. They have given many years of their youth to be educated properly and at the end of the day there is nothing worthwhile to work for. The new generation is as good as our generation, has all the same aspirations that we had when we were coming out of school. We were looking forward to making a living in our own land.
In the Joint Programme for Government this Government promised firm, decisive action to halt and reverse the growth of unemployment. Unemployment then was 170,000 and today it is a massive 240,000, the highest ever in the history of the State and if something is not done in the very near future this trend will not be reversed. The Government's only argument now seems to be that this figure of 240,000 was anticipated. If this is true is it not a further reason to abandon the worthless document Building on Reality? No one will condemn the Taoiseach or his Government if they say they misread the situation, that they did not think the situation would be so bad and that something serious will have to be done. This is the only approach left to the Government. They are two-thirds through their term of office and will continue for another third if at all possible. We do not condemn them for that but we condemn them for their policies of the past three years. Whatever policies they were pursuing they were not the correct ones. We urge the Government seriously to consider abandoning those policies and going for policies that might bear some fruit. The policies they pursued have failed and if they pursue them any further they will be seen as probably one of the worst Governments that ever governed this country. I say this reluctantly.
In 1984, an astonishing number — 39,000 young men and women — left this country, in 1985, the figure is believed to be in the region of 75,000—80,000 and this year the figure could be 100,000. They may not all be young people because I met people as far away as Australia, carpenters, seeking employment. I have noticed from meeting people in my clinics that some of the people leaving the country are very well educated and others have trades and professions. This is going to have a serious effect when the economy is turned around because the people with the expertise and trades will not be available. They will be abroad giving the benefit of their expertise to some other nation. This is the situation in which we find ourselves. Local authorities have houses on their hands as happened during the emigration of the 1950s. Most of these people have been highly educated and an enormous number of tradesmen are gone from the building industry.
The decline in the construction industry was accelerated in the 1985. The index of employment in September shows a 15 per cent decline compared with an 8 per cent decline in September 1984. There are no major construction schemes being undertaken at present. The submission of the construction industry of September 1985 states that the most critical factor facing the economy and the construction industry is a lack of confidence and that there will be no improvement until there is positive Government action. The increase in VAT from 3 per cent to 10 per cent between 1983 and 1985, the abolition of the residence-related tax incentive scheme, the abolition of section 23 and the residential property tax are listed as factors that have greatly accelerated the decline in the industry.
The decline in output was 15 per cent in 1983 and 8 per cent in 1984. This Government's discrimination against the building and construction industry has dismayed many thousands who have relied on the industry over the years. The neglect of the industry is as clear and effective as it is inexplicable. The positive contribution which the construction industry has made in the past and is capable of making to the overall economic development cannot be questioned. It is a valuable part of the overall economy in the employment that it gives, in the infrastructures that it provides and in the fact that in the main it uses indigenous materials and resources.
I do not have to tell any person in business with shops providing goods to the general public, whether he is a publican of a hotelier, a grocer or a supermarketeer, how important the building industry is to our economy. It is as important to this country as agriculture is. When there is a decline in the building industry things get bad but when there is a decline in agriculture as well we are on the road to disaster. I know that Christmas 1985 was the worst Christmas for business this country has had in 20 years. Friends of mine in business have never witnessed anything like it. The books are now being totted and everyone is prepared to agree that the people do not have the money. The bare essentials are now being purchased because 52 per cent of the building industry is unemployed. Ninety per cent of building industry materials are Irish made, so that all goes back into the economy.
Every time there is a Coalition Government in power the building industry collapses. When Fianna Fáil are in power the building industry booms. I do not blame the political parties in the Government but I blame the Ministers, the Ministers of State, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. I do not blame any other member of any political party. The Government are there to govern and they are neglecting the building industry. It is an industry with which much can be done and to which many incentives can be given. When you drive from Castlepollard and come through the Phoenix Park and drive down the quays you will see the state of decay on the quays at the bottom of O'Connell Street. It is a shambles. You would not see it anywhere in Castlepollard and we have not got 1 per cent of the wealth that Dublin has. The Minister could give the incentive by the stroke of a pen and it would not cost the country one penny.
There is a lot of money in the country; it is being hidden in the North and everywhere else in the world because there is no incentive for a man to invest here. You are taxed at 60 per cent and then take your chances on a profit. I am speaking to the Government. There is enormous potential to develop this country without it costing the State one penny, if the incentives are given to people to invest. Most people I know are looking outside this country to invest. The top men of the country are now becoming the top company executives in America and all over the world, giving their expertise, starting up new companies, making the grade in other countries and our Government here cannot give the incentives. If the Yanks can give the incentives to the people who are tops in the world, why can our Government not do it?
The only difference between Fianna Fáil and the Coalition is that we will do it when we get in or we will try to get our Government to do it. We may not succeed but that is the only alternative. You have no chance in this country if you have not got the man to create the employment. It is only going to be done by private enterprise. The sooner the people are given the incentives the better. They have incentives in America for their tax schemes. The only chance we have is to give incentives. I am talking about Irish people investing in their own State.
I want to move on to the proposals that our health boards be done away with and brought back to a 25-member board. I am a member of the Midland Health Board and we have these hospitals in my electoral area. I am opposed to the idea of the 25-member board. I am opposed to the idea of health boards because the problems at one end of the health board area do not relate to a member who may be coming as far away as 100 miles at the other end. In the four counties of Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Longford in the Midland Health Board there is at least one member elected by the people for the people to highlight the problems in each electoral area as is set up at the moment. If there are going to be 25 members and it is reasonable to assume that half the members will be from the cities, what representation or what sort of interest will be given to the small, very important problems of the rest of the country? I cannot understand this. Maybe it is a political decision and when you do not win the game is it a matter of changing the rules? That is the only conclusion I can come to. I think it is a political decision and is not in the best interests of health in general and the massive contributions that all members of the health boards have made since 1976. I am totally opposed to it.
The Minister for Education wants to split up the VECs and appoint them in the same areas as the health board areas are now set up. The Minister for Health said that they are not serving their purpose, I fail to see the clash of interest between the two Ministers but I am totally opposed to the VECs also. I am thinking about my own area and my own parish. I want to highlight the problems of my own area. I would get lost in the health board scheme; I would not get totally lost but I definitely will not get the attention that we can all get by having our VECs representing each county as they are doing at present.
We have individual attention which is going to benefit the teachers and most important of all the students and the system serves the area very well. I am a member of the VEC in Westmeath since 1979. Every VEC deals with the problems of their area and relate to the people, the students and the teachers in the area. We are going to get totally lost if we enlarge the area. In our area we have 59 schools, and 15 members are to be appointed. It is a far better idea to leave it as it is. If this was a discussion document or a rumour document or a feeler to the people, I think this whole House should get together and reject the idea by the two Ministers. They are Government Ministers and we all represent the people who elected us because at the end of the day when the votes are tossed out it is not the parties that count but the names on the papers and the votes that count. We represent their needs and the day we stop representing the needs of the people is the day we stop being members of any House.
I would like to comment on communications which is the brief I am responsible for here. I am very disappointed that the new Bill is not coming in. To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. I thought this Bill would be in a long time ago. It is three years now since the Government took over and I had great hopes that we were going to have the legislation. There are many abuses happening here at the moment but the greatest abuse of all is that RTE Radio 1 and Radio 2 on RTE need competition. A monopoly of any kind is a bad thing in any walk of life but the monopoly that exists on Radio 1 and Radio 2 at the moment needs a bit of competition.
The Appropriation Act deals absolutely with administration and public expenditure and I do not think I can allow the Senator to discuss or criticise legislation that has not come before us or the legislation he would like to have before him.
I thank you a Leas-Chathaoirligh, for letting me make the statement. During the past 12 months an enormous amount of money was spent on a great deal of blue paint. I would like to know who decided to put this blue paint on the post office boxes. Are the powers that be now ashamed of the green, white and gold colours of this country which we adopted at the beginning of the State. Every country in the world has its national colours on their post office boxes and I think it is a shame and a disgrace to see all this dark blue paint, which is not attractive at all, on these post boxes. I totally oppose it and I hope in the near future to get clarification from the Minister on this. If it is a trial period, it is not a winning colour.
They are the Dublin colours.
They are not the Dublin colours. I beg the Senator's pardon. They are not the Dublin colours which are nice colours.
The blue is a winning colour and it has All-Irelands to prove it, but this dark blue is a terrible colour.
If Senator Belton has a contribution to make, he might make it later on. Could we just take one at a time?
I said that blue is a winning colour.
Let us continue without further interruption.
I would say that this should be looked into straight away before more harm is done. I am very thankful that they left the two post boxes in my town of Castlepollard still green, white and gold. I dread the day they are going to come into that town to paint them blue. I feel very strongly about that apart from all political considerations. The national colours on our telephone boxes are very attractive. The dark blue is a very dull colour and not very attractive. I would ask the Minister to see that this is the future policy. I certainly would agree with anything that can be done to make post boxes attractive. We are a tourist country in the main and that should be borne in mind when colour schemes are being decided upon. We should be more nationalistic in our approach. The National Anthem should be taught in Irish in our schools. The flag should be in our schools and the photograph of our President should be displayed in our schools.
These are points I wanted to highlight and I will conclude by once more criticising the Government for their lack of job creation. If they did nothing more than create jobs in the future, they would be seen to be doing something constructive because we had a lack of legislation here for the past three years and we have a lack of an enormous number of things. This debate should focus on one thing alone, the creation of jobs. The Members on the Government side could go back to their parties and highlight what they could achieve during the rest of the life of the Seanad and Dáil and provide some sort of incentive to create employment. These are the main things I should like to see happening in the coming year and which have been done in the past few years.
I propose to express a few random thoughts on different Departments as they occur to me. Senator Cassidy referred to the colour scheme. It is a rather bright and attractive one he is wearing today which I am sure has the approval of his architectural friend beside him. I think we all know the difficulty this Government faced when they took office. We would all like to be investing but the first thing we must do is repay our debts. While that is not an easy job, I would rather face it now than have my sons and daughters or grandchildren having to pay the same debts.
We have in my own county one of the best shell fish areas in the world. It is second only to one in Japan. I refer to Mulroy Bay. The Minister promised to set up a co-ordinating body in regard to Mulroy Bay. As yet that is not forthcoming. It is not yet too late and I would hope that he would do that. Rathmullen, more particularly because of the traffic at Greencastle, needs major expenditure. Major expenditure has been promised for Greencastle and I would hope that would be forthcoming fairly quickly.
I want to refer briefly to the potato industry. I do not have to remind anybody of the weather we had over the last year. Donegal is the county of potatoes. In fact, it accounts for something like 75 per cent of the total potato crop. The position has been disastrous this year. In fairness, if you are a farmer you must accept the weather that God provides. I would like to see the Potato Marketing Board headquarters situated in Donegal. It is ludicrous to have it situated anywhere else, even in our capital city.
I hope the replacement for the Farm Modernisation Scheme will come soon and that there will be a major capital injection into replacement of buildings. That is needed for the farming industry.
I am very pleased that the Government have introduced, as they did on 1 December initially, reconstruction grants. I hope extra staff can be made available so that applications can be processed speedily and work can commence. There is real value in reconstruction grants. They save the housing stock. It is hoped to provide employment for registered contractors. These are the two major advantages of the scheme.
I also welcome the increased new house grant £2,000 and the £5,000 local authority grant. My own idea is that the £5,000 grant, for whatever reason, has not been properly sold. Where it is being used allied with the Housing Finance Agency scheme, it helps many people to house themselves. I regret that for some reason or other some local authorities have not sold it as well as others and it is not being taken up. The message should go out from the Department of the Environment fairly clearly that it is now possible for anybody on almost any income to purchase or even build his own house. That is a great achievement for any Government. That can be done now and it is hoped more and more people will take up the offer that is being made to them.
I move on to transport. I have not got any statistics in front of me other than one statistic, that transport to Donegal is almost non-existent. We have not had trains for a number of decades. We have an express bus service that is not suitable from the point of view of timing, lack of toilet facilities on board, various things. We do not expect luxuries but public transport to Donegal is almost non-existent. Public transport within Donegal is virtually non-existent. Many rural parts of Donegal have no service. I cannot see why I, or anybody else, taxpayers, should have to pay tax towards subsidising a transport system that does not give Donegal any service.
An idea was floated on one or two occasions by the previous Government and by this Government in regard to school transport. It should be more than floated. School transport should be handed over to private enterprise by which it would be done better and more effectively and with a greater degree of control of children because the people who would provide the service would be local people; the people monitoring the service would be local people. It should be subsidised from Dublin rather than having CIE act as agent. CIE should be pulled out of this scheme completely.
I move on to small businesses. The last speaker named a number of businesses all of whom suffer if the construction industry suffers. But what he did not say is that all of those businesses in themselves are suffering and some of them are becoming extinct. Those of us from rural Ireland have seen over the last number of years under successive Governments small rural shops disappearing. Now small urban shops are disappearing because of the big supermarkets. Supermarkets employ a substantial number of persons but they do not employ the spread of people that small businesses have provided since the foundation of the State, small grocery shops, small drapery shops, even small pubs. I do not know if the proposed new licensing laws have been published. I will have a thing or two to say when I read the document. The small family pub has been killed by the non-application of the licensing laws as they now exist. If the Garda Síochána are to blame, then let them be to blame. If the law itself is to blame, then the law must be reviewed. But one thing has become very clear: this country has become a country of big licensed disco halls running every night of the week and I mean 363 nights of the year and sometimes 364 nights of the year. The small publican who is trying to raise his family in that small business has been put out of business. Read the papers any day of the week and you will see public houses advertised for sale. It is almost impossible to sell them.
I want to refer to the renewed outbreak in rural Ireland and particularly in County Donegal of attacks on old and defenceless people living alone. We had a breakthrough recently in Donegal; somebody has been charged. It is sad to think that that person or persons could run riot for over a year without being brought to justice. I hope that the full rigour of the law will be applied to anybody who is caught and convicted for these cowardly acts.
Many speakers referred to the teachers' salary claim. The teachers have a case and they are making a case. They are making it hard. They are making it the way that they know through their unions. The one comment I want to make is this: I taught for a number of years. I never saw teachers so united on educational questions as they now have become united on money questions. I say that with a degree of sadness because I never saw so much co-operation between secondary teachers and primary teachers on educational matters as I now see on this salary claim.
Somebody referred to the health services and the health boards. I have absolutely no doubt that the formation of the health boards has contributed in no small way to the mess that this country is in now. The salaries paid at an early stage set an irreversible trend the rest of the country could not keep pace with. More importantly — and I say this quite openly — the abuses within the system without anybody actually breaking the law as such, are costing the country a mint. It is difficult for any Minister or for health boards to reduce expenditure without hurting the people most vulnerable, the poorer section, but some way must be found to stop people tripping to the doctor for the sake of a day out or to stop the doctor prescribing simply for the sake of sending a patient away from the surgery a little more at ease. Prescribing has in itself a curing effect. The patient feels he is getting a cure. But, at what cost to the country? I have not got the answer. I do not know what it is but the health boards as they exist are not the answer. Every time an official goes out to investigate a case more money goes down the drain.
Tourism has been mentioned by the Minister. He speaks of having a good year. I do not know where the Minister saw the evidence of a good year. It most certainly was not in Donegal. He goes on to talk about the overall deficit and the balance of payments and so on but as to the figures on tourism that the Minister mentioned, in Donegal we do not have it.
As a Member of this House, I was supplied with documents by An Bord Fáilte showing the performance in 1984. The first question I would ask is, why do we have to wait until January 1986 before we can get the figures for 1984? What is wrong with Bord Fáilte when figures cannot be issued a little earlier? On close examination of the figures one can see that not one penny of grant aid was paid to County Donegal. We are tied in with Sligo-Leitrim. I have nothing against the people of Sligo or Leitrim. In fact, I have very many good friends in both counties. There are differences between Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim. I am told there are plans to expand the areas. Whatever I have in common with Sligo and Leitrim, I certainly have less in common with other counties further afield from Donegal and there is talk of Longford and Westmeath coming in.
The people in charge of tourism should wake up and do something for tourism. It would appear that if an American comes into the country, Ireland only extends northwards as far as Galway and eastwards as far as Dublin and down the east coast. The American tourist is not directed anywhere north of that line. The most beautiful part of the country is left out. Quite frankly, all I can see in tourism is a few fat cats getting fatter. Last night I went through brochures provided by Bord Fáilte. Naturally, I had an interest in Donegal. I went over all the nice hotels in that county. I did not realise that so many existed until I read these booklets. There are beautiful hotels which do little or no business. We have to concede that there is a recession. There is no incentive for the tourist to come to this country. When the tourist comes into the country why not let him see all of the country.
The town of Letterkenny, at the moment, is under construction. There is a tourist information office almost one mile outside the town. Who would locate an informatin office so far away from the centre of town, bus depot or taxi rank? The grants that have been offered for tourism are not substantial enough. There will have to be conversion of hotels into self-catering apartments if tourism is to develop.
According to the records there are 250,000 people unemployed. In County Donegal there are miles upon miles along which there are drains which have not been cleaned and hedges that have not been cut for years. Obviously, there is need for work to be done and yet there is so much unemployment assistance and benefit being handed out. The social employment scheme is good. Will it be allowed to take off? What is the position with the unions? It is an attractive scheme financially, particularly for the single man who collects £70 per week for a half week's work and does not have to hide what he earned for the other half of the week. The scheme has a lot of merit but when will it be implemented?
I have a document which refers to the present numeracy, distribution and proliferation of potholes. It is an indication of the condition of the roads. While roads are bad elsewhere, in Donegal we have suffered two distinct opposite phenomena during last year. One was frost heave as a result of the type of weather we had earlier in the year and the second was the flooding that occurred later in the year. For those who might not know what frost damage is, it is generally accepted that frost will penetrate to a depth of 300 millimetres after 50 degree days. Degree days are made up of the number of days multiplied by centigrade degrees below freezing point. My colleague in the Front Bench agrees with my definition.
We are told that frost would penetrate to that depth after 50 degree days. According to Donegal meteorological records, there were 193 degree days in the first 27 days of the month of January alone last year. Frost penetration went well below the 300 millimetres or 12 inches. With the raising of temperatures and thaw which took place in mid-February major damage occurred due to what is now known as frost heave. The total estimated damage during that period of frost heave in County Donegal was £946,000.
No additional funds were made available to alleviate this massive damage and the cost of repair consequently and of necessity carried out on the worst affected roads, made heavy inroads on the maintenance budget.
There is a report drawn up by the senior executive engineer of County Donegal in November 1985. I attended a meeting last week of the Donegal County Council Roads Committee. The only real decision we could take as regards our roads was not to do any improvements on any parts of the roads throughout the county during this year. We have asked the new assistant county manager, who was formerly a county engineer, not to carry out any repair work on the roads either next year or the following year until such time as we at least get our roads surface dressed. He talked in terms of the turnover of surface dressing which should take place once in every ten years on every road. At the rate we are going it would average once in 60 years. What shape will our roads be in then?
While I congratulate the Government on having some money for reconstruction of roads included in their plan, I plead with the Minister to use his good offices with the Government to make some decent moneys available for county roads. It is not just a case of making my car ride a little easier. A national stock is fast disappearing and the further it is allowed to deteriorate the more expensive it will be to restore it, which may involve building a whole new network of roads. If oil was found it would probably be the easiest solution of all. The fact that the destruction of roads is related to the manifesto of 1977 does not need going into. It is an accepted fact among all county engineers that the withdrawal of funds at that time caused this damage that we may never recover from.
I have expressed a few random thoughts I have on various Departments. All is not well — there is no doubt about that — but all is not as bad as it might have been if certain brakes had not been applied and certain development had not taken place.
To try to set up a business is like walking through a minefield. It appears that some sort of form will catch one before one has successfully set up one's business. Some clause will stop or discourage one. Would it be possible to remove three-quarters, if not all of the red tape that exists and to encourage people? As the century proceeds, more people will have more leisure time. The people of my own age will be retired at the age of 55 or even younger and with the lifespan increasing people will spend up to 30 years or longer in retirement. A big part of business in the future will cater for leisure hours. People should examine the possibility of setting up businesses in this area.
A lot of lip service is paid to our young people who are more numerous that ever before. We have a good young, healthy population. However, we do not encourage our young people to travel. Every time the word "travel" is mentioned, it is associated with emigration and emigration has become a bad word with a bad meaning for everybody. It is not all that bad. We belong to the European nations. Why should we not travel among those countries? I regret very much that when I was younger I was not offered the chance to travel more. If the Minister's views are adhered to we will not get to travel much in the future either. For young people to travel on their own initiative, to move around within the member states to see how other people live, is perhaps the greatest education of all.
Young people should be encouraged also to use their own initiative to establish their own businesses. What seems to have happened over a number of years is that the middle class people who could afford education prior to free education, set out to ensure that each member of their families was educated and put into jobs related to that formal education. One had to do a degree course or become a teacher or something else of that nature. A lot of people came from a small business background but they were not encouraged to go back into business or to form their own businesses. It was as though there was something wrong with being in business. More training should have been given towards business in the earlier days. Now it is being spoken of. It is something that I would ask the Government to keep in mind.
I have a very small business going but there are three relatively small businesses attached to it. I am in the auctioneering business. I need signs. I cannot get people to do signs despite the fact that over a number of years in the Regional College in Letterkenny there has been an arts department. There are jobs we do not see though they are staring us too straight in the face. Here is a small service to another service and I have difficulty having that service provided. Photography is also related to my business but I find it difficult to get a photographer. I can go out and take snaps myself but obviously not as professionally as somebody who has the training to do it. Yet, I cannot find somebody to do photography and to paint signs. Those are two services which are directly related to my small business. Other auctioneers in my area have the same problem.
There are far too many job related committees. None of them knows where the other is going. They are not in contact with each other. If I suggested forming a co-ordinating committee then I would be adding to the numbers. The country is going through a bad time but there are very few starving and there are few homeless, although there is a homelessness problem here. If we look around and if Ministers and their Departments look more keenly around, there are places where jobs can be created. I hope that when I am speaking on this year's Appropriation Bill the country will be heading in a more forward direction than it has been over the last year.
What can be said with certainty is that 1985 was a most depressing year. I am not referring to the weather but to every sphere of Government. In the area of health we have had a clearly disastrous year. We have had cutbacks in every aspect of the service. We have had wards and units closing, and medical cards withdrawn. It has been generally a year of decline in the health service. Unlike the Government, I am in favour of looking after the needs of the people who are unable to provide for themselves in terms of health care. Indeed, if we study the Estimates we will see that the cutbacks in respect of health will affect the people who are most under-privileged and most vulnerable. The Estimates for this year show that the voluntary hospitals will not receive any increase and that the health boards will receive an increase of just 2 per cent. When inflation is expected to be at 5 per cent there is a real loss in terms of money. That has certainly been in keeping with the traditions and the beliefs of this Government over the past three years.
In the near future, health boards will receive formal notification of their financial allocations for 1986. They are very unhappy that they have not got this information before now. There is unease in many health boards regarding this delay and it is not fair that this situation should be allowed to continue. It has been suggested, and I would not be surprised, that the delay has come as a result of Cabinet unease because further cutbacks are on the way.
Every day there are further cutbacks in the area of health. At the end of 1985, for example, the Minister announced an increase in the charges for private beds in public hospitals and we now have the ludicrous situation where a private bed in a public hospital is more expensive than a private bed in a private nursing home. It is recognised generally that more facilities are available in many of these nursing homes. Indeed the VHI recognise this, say that they do not intend to pay the full maintenance cost in hospitals in which that extra facility that their subscribers expect is not available. Even before the increased charges were announced private beds in public hospitals were costing more than beds in nursing homes. A private room in one of the large hospitals in Dublin would cost less than a private room in a health board hospital. While this may or may not result in some revenue to the health boards around the country, it is an indication of how matters are proceeding in the health services generally.
Another area of concern which has been referred to in this debate is the GMS scheme. It has caused a problem for the Government from the point of view of finance. For some peculiar reason the Government have decided that the GMS should be funded by the health boards. This is a new departure, because it was always funded from the general medical payments board. This too has put health boards in an impossible position. They were responsible for funding a service over which they had no control. The allocation they were given was what the Minister for Health decided and they had no control over the level of spending, which depended on demand, and demand for service depended on the number of inmates or the number of times a person visited his doctor. The result, in 1985, was that there was over expenditure, and consequently we have had a Supplementary Estimate brought to the House in December, to allocate more funds for this GMS scheme.
We have been told that the Government intend to terminate contracts with doctors in the GMS in the first three or four months of 1986 as a means of further curtailing expenditure. Six or seven weeks ago the Minister told us that one of the reasons for the increase in the visiting rate in 1985 was that negotiations were in progress on this service. This is not a correct answer. If the Minister and his officials think that the visiting rate went up because doctors made a conscious decision to increase the visiting rate to influence negotiations, there will not be a successful outcome to whatever negotiations are envisaged. The Minister must see the real reason for the increasing visiting rates. It is increasing because of the Government's economic policy. It is recognised that where there is rising unemployment and poverty, sickness and general bad health continue to increase putting an extra demand on the various health services.
In that situation it should be understandable that patients will require visits at home more often from their family doctors. The bad summer and the bad weather generally was another factor in 1985. Because of bad weather there was an increase in flu and infections generally. It is important that these issues should be recognised whatever negotiations are taking place in this area. The Minister is using every excuse to reduce the level of services and to reduce the funds from central Exchequer to the various health boards.
The most recent proposal is to eliminate or to reduce the health boards by introducing a new board known as An Bord Sláinte, a 25-man team, nominated by the Minister. This is typical of the Government. We have had the same scene in regard to VECs in the area of education. I appeal to the Minister and to those who have any influence with the Minister not to proceed with this scheme which would be a retrograde step. Many members feel that the old county system was a better system. If it is to be centralised organisation in Dublin, it will be a disaster for the people living in the country. I appeal to the Minister not to proceed with this scheme. It is a scheme that will take power from the people and give it to a centralised body in Dublin. At the moment politicians and people who are members of health boards have a degree of accountability, but in this new scene that situation will not apply and I hope it will not be implemented.
The heart transplant programme has been criticised by some people notably politicians here in Dublin. Having been a classmate and a great friend of Professer Harold Greene who died last weekend, and knowing how he felt about the whole matter, my hope is that the heart transplant programme will continue. If we recall the coronary bypass operation in the early days, we would have to say it was not the success that we would have liked. As time went on they improved. The very fine people in the Mater Hospital, Mr. Neligan, Mr. Woods and their team who are doing this work should be congratulated for their efforts in this area. It is a new venture for them and I know they are as disappointed as anybody that three of the four people who had the heart transplants died. But I would urge them to continue with their research, their investigations and their operations.
Mr. Harold Greene whom I knew so well, realised that it was only a matter of months before he would die. He knew the consequences of the heart transplant operation but he was probably better equipped for it because he knew the consequences of the operation, he knew what he was letting himself in for. Knowing Mr. Greene as I did, his attitude was "if I am going to die anyway in a matter of months, and I die having the operation, it will be in the best interests of research and for the benefit of future generations." I appeal and hope that the necessary moneys for this programme will continue to be made available.
The year 1985 has been dreadful from the point of view of maintaining law and order. Murders and personal attacks of one kind or another have increased at a menacingly high rate. There have been robberies, burglaries, kidnappings and drug-related crimes on a frightening scale. These crimes are happening in large towns and surburban areas. Old people are living in fear in cities and big towns and in many rural areas. People are becoming increasingly fearful of being attacked and robbed in their own homes.
Those who have not suffered directly are paying indirectly through huge increased insurance premiums for comprehensive house policies. A few years ago one would get a household contents policy for £1.80p or £2 per cent. Now some companies are charging £11 per cent and they are insisting that the house be occupied day and night. A husband and wife team who are working who seek this cover are being refused it. This is indicative of the high level of crime. This must be a worrying feature for the Government and for all of us.
Many people feel that more could be done by Government. They view with dismay the prospect of more gardaí being taken off the streets and being sent to the areas close to the Border. Garda strength has not been brought up to the levels planned when the previous Government were in office. At the moment the Garda are about 600 short. If the level of gardaí was increased it would greatly improve the situation.
I will refer to the contribution by the State for public highways as distinct from county roads. Athlone requires a new bridge and a major highway. Mr. Kavanagh, the Minister for the Environment, opened stage one of an important new road, which is a vital new gateway to the west. While it is important to have large highways, what about the potholes on county roads and boreens? More consideration should be given to this area.
I do not have to remind the Minister of the position regarding the insurance industry which has got out of hand. Both the ICI and the PMPA have suffered severe setbacks and both are now owned by the Government.
PMPA is very close to it.
It is still owned by the shareholders.
My apologies to the Minister, but he knows what I mean. Nonetheless, in the areas of public liability and employer's liability there is great concern. Businesses are going out of business weekly because they cannot get adequate public liability insurance at a reasonable premium. I am handling a case where the premium was a mere £250 two years ago; last year it was £600 and this year the company are looking for £5,000 with the same risk and no claims. Companies, and sports organisations are finding it impossible to get cover. Insurance companies are criticised but they are business people the same as everybody else, who like to make a profit. They have to make their profits whether it is on the investment side or on the under-writing side. For motor insurance young drivers are being charged as much as £1,000 for cover, if they can get it. The market is very limited. There are one or two companies giving very shoddy treatment to customers. There is a case, for example, where a 24 year old driver with an open driving certificate and with a driving licence had an accident. The company informed him that they will not indemnify him. This kind of treatment has to be stamped out. Insurance companies will have to take the good with the bad.
I did not understand the Senator's point about the insurance company refusing to indemnify a customer. If he has a specific case in mind I would be glad to hear it.
Yes, I have. I am not saying this as a general statement. I know of only one case.
I will be glad to have the details.
We have a situation in relation to awards in courts. Companies like to make a profit, and why not? They are paying staff and are investing here. I hope the new Jury Bill will result, if not in cheaper premiums, in holding the rate and stopping the spiral of increases that we are experiencing at the moment.
When is it proposed to sit again?
It is proposed to sit again at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.