Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 19 Jan 1989

Vol. 121 No. 16

Appropriation Act, 1988: Motion (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Seanad Éireann notes the supply services and purposes to which sums have been appropriated in the Appropriation Act, 1988.
—(Senator Lanigan.)

This is a very wide-ranging subject and I would like to start on a positive note. Part of this will be to compliment the Minister in relation to the package of incentives available for urban renewal in the major cities. It was introduced by the last Government and has been extended to some other named towns by the present Government. In Waterford city a very large commercial development will begin in March of this year. It will be an £18 million shopping development. On that site a very important archaeological find was made. I should like to compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, for the very positive role the Office of Public Works played in regard to that find. The funding supplied helped greatly to push ahead this very important project.

In relation to the package of incentives, there is now a need to extend it further. It should be extended to our major seaside resorts. In Tramore, Tramore Fáilte, a company set up by Bord Fáilte to develop the resort, have employed consultants to prepare a development plan, part of which is a £6,500,000 project which will commence this year. In order that the total programme can be implemented, incentives are needed to attract investment. I should like to ask the Minister to bring this request to his Department with a view to having provision made for it in the budget. Prospects in regard to employment exist in the tourism-leisure related area which is a major growth industry in the EC. There is a prospect of an 8 per cent growth in that area. The type of incentives offered for commercial redevelopment, which are having very positive effects throughout the country, have been extended to seaside resorts and I have no doubt that as a result there will be a major improvement here in terms of job creation. With our climate we do not have a sufficient number of fine days to make our seaside resorts attractive and there is a need to develop all weather facilities there. That requires a very major investment. I am proposing that the package of incentives be improved along those lines.

The Government have earmarked tourism as a major contributor to employment in the economy but what has been happening to our local authorities with the cutbacks is very detrimental to their development role. For instance, the condition of many county roads is deteriorating rapidly. Eighty-eight Waterford County Council workers availed of the early retirement scheme. This meant that the road gangs which have developed over a number of years are now well dispersed. Many of our tourists travel along our county roads.

The Government are effectively eating the seed potatoes because to get our roads back to a proper state will require major investment at a later stage. We must invest now to keep the roads in a reasonable state of repair. That is very important. Local authorities do not have sufficient workers to keep the roads open with the result that the roads are holding a lot more water and damage is done more quickly.

Local authorities can do a great deal to further tourism by developing picnic areas, refurbishing places of historic interest, etc. and the Ministers Department can play a major role there. I compliment the Minister on his very effective work regarding the Waterford development and I would ask him, in the same spirit, to consider the other points I have made.

Senator Harte dealt in great detail with the problem of poverty and the area of employment, emigration and so on. I do not propose to go back over that ground again but I would like to deal with a number of areas. I am concerned about access to education. Firstly, I will deal with third level education. Income limits applying to grants for third level education are very much on the side of keeping things too low. I know of many parents in my area who have had to take out substantial bank loans to keep their children in third level education. The parents of children who live in the university cities can manage a great deal easier than those who live in rural areas. In the south-eastern region children have about half the chance of children in Cork city or county of aspiring to a degree. The time has long passed when we should raise the income limits for grants for third level education to make it possible for such children to pursue third level courses. Their parents may be over the income limit for grants and may not be in a position to get involved in borrowing. It will take many parents in their fifties who have very substantial bank loans years to clear them. At that time in their lives they should have a fair element of financial comfort. They have worked hard throughout their lives and paid their taxes but in some cases they have to wait for gratuities when they retire to clear bank loans.

I was a national teacher for 21 years and I have a great deal of concern for what is happening in primary education. In the Book of Estimates for 1989 there is a proposed reduction of £5.7 million in the provision for school transport. We have not been told how this will be done but one way it could be done, one I will oppose, would be to charge the primary school children who are at present travelling on school buses free, £1 a week, and double the weekly payment for secondary school children. That would come out at £5.7 million. Any reduction in the provision for school transport will be detrimental to education. If the measures I have outlined are adopted by the Government I will oppose them, and the Labour Party will oppose them. The overheads of parents in rural areas whose children use school transport are greater than those of parents in urban areas. Any further increase in their costs and their liabilities for their children's education should be condemned.

I will refer again to the local authority scene and to housing and housing loans. In relation to housing loans, in October 1987 the conditions relating to local authority loans were changed and the subsidy was removed. We no longer have fixed interest on local authority loans and the reduced interest applying to the loans moves up and down with the market. Taking the highest and the lowest rates that applied during 1980, on the maximum ordinary loan of £21,000 one could have an increase of £90 a month in repayment. Those loans are available only to people who are on an income of less than £10,000 a year. This change was a very detrimental step which puts people into a very difficult position.

In relation to housing loans, I would like the Minister to consider the people who took out loans while working and subsequently ended up in receipt of social welfare payments. An employed person paying tax gets tax relief on his mortgage interest but the person on social welfare gets no such relief. There can be some short-term help from the community welfare officer but the emphasis is on the short term. I dealt with a case this week where a couple had an income of £113 a week comprised of disability benefit for the husband and unemployment benefit for the wife. The wife has now gone on to unemployment assistance and the income dropped to £92 a week while the mortgage repayment is £37. There is huge inequity in how we give relief on mortgage interest. We should introduce a subsidy system so that people who end up on social welfare are given a real concession to get them over a difficult time. We all look to the day when employment will improve and, hopefully, people now on unemployment benefit will be able to get back to work and carry their own financial commitments. I am sure the Minister is aware that quite a number of people have fallen upon hard times and realises that there is an inequity in the distribution of help from the State where high earners are getting tax relief on the interest portion of their mortgage repayments while others are not.

The housing lists are of major concern to the Labour Party. In 1987 1,040 housing starts were made throughout the country but this year that has been reduced to 100. In 1987 we had a national housing list of 18,000 people. Over 1988 this increased by a further 7,000. Since this Government came to power the local authority of which I am a member have made no new starts. During the life of the previous Government Waterford County Council were building about 50 houses a year but this has now dropped to a very small number. All the signs of a developing crisis are there. The Labour Party want a sum of £100 million to be put into the public capital programme to build local authority houses. People, particularly in the urban areas who are on the housing list, are being forced into flats. As the list gets longer and houses are not being provided people are being forced to move into totally inferior and unsatisfactory flats.

In relation to education, a rather extraordinary circular emanated from the Department recently. The circular related to the grants made available by VECs. The circular instructed that where self-employed people returned their tax estimates as agreed by the Revenue Commissioners, if the CEO or the Vocational Education Committee suspected from lifestyle or whatever that there was undeclared income, this should be investigated further. The spirit of this circular is an indictment of the Revenue Commissioners and their methods of assessing income. The VECs should be allowed to fully accept the returns from the Revenue Commissioners as being the absolute statement of income of the people involved. That circular should be withdrawn. It is up to the Revenue Commissioners to tackle their problems in arriving at the total income of people applying for education grants. The responsibility for this assessment should not be passed on to an organisation not equipped for doing that job.

Recently at Waterford Corporation a motion was unanimously passed, calling for the free television licence provision to be extended to people who are long-term unemployed. People on long-term unemployment assistance find that the television is their only means of entertainment and it is not right that they should have to pay the licence from their meagre incomes. At the moment the free television licence available to pensioners and people on invalidity pension relates only to black and white television. Although it was not part of the motion from Waterford the concession should be extended to cover the colour television licence. The free colour television licence should then be extended to people on long-term unemployment assistance.

To refer again to education, particularly in the primary school area, the employment of teachers is causing grave concern. We have the highest pupil-teacher ratio in Europe yet in 1987 only 55 of almost 600 graduates from the teacher training colleges got permanent jobs. The future for 1988 is even smaller. Teachers are taking jobs in Britain and are being paid less that they should be paid because their qualifications are not recognised in the UK. Indeed, many of our graduates are working at whatever kind of work they can get in Britain. This is totally unacceptable when our pupil-teacher ratio is the highest in Europe. We have a declining school-going population and if the Government keep the teacher provision at its present level the situation will correct itself and we will have a much more acceptable pupil-teacher ratio.

Finally, I should like to deal with the subject of taxation and farm taxation. The Government have expressed themselves as being totally against the reintroduction of land tax. In terms of tax equity, particularly in the case of larger farmers making a proper contribution to the Exchequer, I believe land tax is the answer. If we argue along the lines of the ICMSA, that something like £35 million tax has been yielded from farmers.

Debate adjourned.