Go ndeonófar suim nach mó ná £175,000 chun íochta an mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníochta i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31ú lá de Mhárta, 1973 le haghaidh tuarastail agus costais Roinn an Taoisigh.
Usually, on the Estimate for the Department of the Taoiseach the economy generally and other general matters are debated and the substance of the Taoiseach's Estimate is not usually debated to any considerable extent. However, a feature of the Estimate this year is the subhead which relates to the Markpress contract providing for expenditure of £53,000. This sum covers both the contract fee and the expenses arising from the operation of a network service which is, at present, operating in London, Paris, Milan, Geneva, as well as the local office in Dublin. Since the date of the initial contract eight months ago, the total amount paid out of public funds was £35,000 approximately but this amount does not include the backlog of sums paid by the contractor on our account and not yet recouped to him by my Department.
The Markpress contract has been the subject of comment in this House on a number of occasions and one of the charges made has been that the State is not getting value for the money we spend. Quantifying value received is always a debatable exercise but I should like to tell the House that I have recently brought together an informal committee who will give advice, assistance and guidance in relation to the operation of the contract. The members of the committee all have experience in the information field. That is all I propose to say at this stage about the Estimate. Naturally, I shall in my reply tomorrow deal with any points any Deputies may raise in relation to the Estimate.
To proceed to the other aspects of this debate, I should first inform the House that on its adjournment at 5 p.m. tomorrow the House will rise until Wednesday, 25th October, 1972. I have already informed Members that this does not rule out the special recall of the House in the event of the Government deeming such recall necessary. I want to repeat my indication yesterday in that connection that I will remain in close contact with the Leaders of the two Opposition Parties.
The session of the Dáil which is now drawing to a close has witnessed a further unfolding of those events which will decisively shape the future of this nation. In some cases the developments have been happy and decisive, as was the endorsement by the Irish people of the decision to become a member of the European Economic Community. In others, the pattern has been one of continual change and anxiety as instanced by the troubled course of events in the North. Whether for good or ill, and whether in a decisive or a dimly perceived manner, each area has contributed its own portion. This is an appropriate time, therefore, to take stock of our present position and to indicate the desired course of future progress.
I propose first to deal with the EEC question. A year ago negotiations on entry terms were still in progress and while there was confidence that a successful outcome would emerge there were a number of major issues still to be resolved. In the event, our confidence proved fully justified for the terms subsequently agreed can be regarded as very satisfactory. It is not necessary to review these terms in any detail since they were fully debated and discussed in recent months but two noteworthy achievements of these negotiations may justifiably be recalled. One was the retention of the tax relief on export profits, which is a powerful incentive in the attraction of new industries to Ireland. The second was the special protocol for Ireland which gives formal recognition to the special problems of economic development which we face and which pledges Community support for achieving our development objectives. These special arrangements coupled with the guaranteed markets for agricultural products made available by the EEC Common Agricultural Policy provide a sound and attractive basis for the future development of both industry and agriculture.
Since the negotiations themselves were solely concerned with the terms of entry, it was understandable and, perhaps, inevitable that in the national debate prior to the Referendum in May, more attention would be paid to these immediate issues rather than to the wider and longer term consequences. Nonetheless, these more general questions did receive a welcome degree of examination and discussion.
The people, in recording their verdict on this question, did so after a full debate of the issues involved. Their verdict was a decisive endorsement of the policies pursued and the attitude adopted by the Government and the major political parties. Following the referendum the way is now clear to push ahead with the preparations for entry. So far as the Dáil is concerned one of the first items of business in the next session will be the European Communities Bill which will give legal effect to the decision to become a member. Work on other tasks, such as the selection of Irish personnel for the Community posts and the composition of the Irish delegation to the European Parliament will continue during the coming months. In the wider political field the Council of Ministers have been holding preparatory meetings for the proposed Summit Conference of the Heads of State or Government of member and applicant countries. It is becoming increasingly clear that decisions are required on the next phases of developing the Communities and outcome of these decisions could have important bearings on the course of our future development.
One such issue which has attracted considerable comment in recent weeks is that of Economic and Monetary Union. A timetable for achieving the first stages of such a union was agreed upon by the present member states in 1971 and was accepted by the applicant countries including Ireland. International monetary developments over the past year have both increased the emphasis on the specifically monetary aspects of this question and have retarded the formulation of detailed proposals for implementing the plans for economic and monetary union.
In the monetary sphere one of the steps agreed earlier this year was that the Ten States should narrow the extent to which the rates of exchange for their currencies can fluctuate. We supported this arrangement since, among other things, it facilitates the operation of the common agricultural policy of the Community. However, if the Community were to achieve, in effect, a system of fixed exchange rates among themselves, then some method other than changing the exchange rate must be used to deal with any economic imbalances which may arise between the Member States. In our view a comprehensive regional policy for the enlarged Community is an essential part of the measures necessary to deal with these economic imbalances. There is already a wide degree of agreement on this topic among the different States, but the Community has recognised the need to remedy structural and regional imbalances as being an important objective, and the first steps in setting out a detailed policy for the different areas of the Community have already been taken. It would be our desire to see further major progress in the formulation of the Community's regional policies in the coming year. It is our belief that securing the basis for harmonious development of the less-favoured regions will enable more rapid progress to be made towards economic and monetary union.
Apart from clarifying and strengthening its own internal economic arrangements, it will also be necessary for the enlarged Community to press ahead with the task of defining its policies and relationships with other States. It is probable that a Summit meeting would discuss the basis on which such policies would be formulated. Among the more urgent aspects of this topic is the question of trade with the United States, since the Community is due to undertake negotiations on this subject in 1973. Relationships with Japan and also with the less-developed countries are other topics which may be expected to acquire a degree of urgency. While it is unlikely that any major impact on the Irish economy would result from revised trading arrangements with other countries, there are some subject areas in these discussions in which we may be expected to have a special interest and which will accordingly receive our particular attention. Some of these questions are also of more general concern, so that, while we would not be pressing for any specific or unique solution, we would be anxious to see a generally satisfactory outcome produced. The Community's relationships with less developed countries, for example, fall into this category. There is a wide measure of agreement among the ten in recognising the need for more positive Community policies towards these countries, but, as yet, there is no consensus as to the precise scale of support or the actual forms which aid for these areas might take. Questions such as these ought to serve as an important reminder that although the initial emphasis may be on economic issues the Community ultimately embraces a much wider set of social and political questions.
The Community was born out of a desire for continuing peace. It is composed of like-minded democratic countries who seek to promote the prosperity and freedom of their peoples. As the Community evolves it will seek to strengthen its friendly relations with other countries so that it may become a more powerful force for peace and progress throughout the world. These are aims to which we fully subscribe and we will seek to play a full and positive role in their achievement.
An important part of the preparation for EEC membership is getting our firms and enterprises geared for the more competitive climate which they will then face. This leads to my second topic—the economic situation. The past year saw a gradual improvement in economic performance resulting in a gross rate of about 3 per cent for 1971. This can be regarded as moderately satisfactory given the continuing difficulties posed for some sectors by the unsettled situation in the North. A number of factors contributed to this improvement. One important element was the satisfactory working of the National Wage Agreement which served to slow down the rate of increase in prices and the number of days lost by industrial disputes. It is welcome to note that last year the number of days lost was about 270,000 compared with more than 1,000,000 days in 1970. In the case of prices the most recent figures show that the increase is now at an annual rate of about 6 per cent and compares favourably with the rate of about 9 per cent for 1971. This downward trend is expected to continue despite the recent increase in some food prices, so that for 1972 as a whole there should be a distinct improvement on the performance of the past two years.
A second factor which has contributed to the improved economic performance has been the budgetary policies pursued by the Government. Capital spending has been stepped up substantially in order to boost employment. The current budget saw major improvements in social welfare benefits and income tax reliefs. While these changes were made in order to protect and improve living standards of lower-income groups, they also released extra spending power into the economy and so helped to stimulate output and employment.
One welcome feature of this economic recovery is that it has been accompanied by improvement in our external trading position. For the 12 months ending in May, the import excess showed a reduction of £47 million by comparison with the 12 months ending May, 1971. This improved trade performance was partly due to higher prices for our agricultural exports, a factor which should continue to have beneficial impact in the coming months. This better trade performance, coupled with a large capital inflow, has resulted in a considerable increase in external reserves. At the end of May the reserves were over £400 millions compared with £380 millions at the end of 1971 and £290 millions at the end of 1970. The high capital inflow can be regarded as an indicator of foreign confidence in the strength and potential of the Irish economy, and in view of our entry to the EEC this trend may be expected to continue.
Despite the undoubted progress which has taken place over the past year, it is essential that a further improvement in economic performance be made.
The slowing down in the pace of inflation must be continued because even the most recent rate of increase of 6 per cent is unacceptably high in the light of experience both at home and abroad and its continuation would lead to a loss of exports and employment. Since the level of unemployment is already high, due to the continuation of the slow economic growth, coupled with the present halt to emigration, there is clearly a need not alone to preserve existing employment but to generate new jobs as rapidly as possible. The Government has acted, and will continue to act, where necessary to increase employment. I have already referred to the extra spending and budget reliefs introduced in recent months. Allied to this there can now, in the light of our EEC entry, be a determined drive to attract new industries into the country. These steps, in conjunction with the programmes for assisting industry to adapt to free trade, should produce a decided improvement in employment. But there are limits to the extent to which Government action by itself can lead to success in this area. Irrespective of any steps the Government might take it is fair to say, for example, that if the 1969-70 pattern of excessive pay increases and protracted industrial disputes had continued, it would have destroyed thousands of jobs and dissuaded any potential foreign investors from establishing factories here.
It is necessary to say this because we are now in a decisive phase for the course of wage rises during the coming year and it is important that the people, particularly the workers concerned, should understand what is at stake. All the evidence suggests that the present National Wage Agreement made an important contribution to slowing down inflation during the past year. Equally important, the data show that this curbing of wage and price rises did not mean any sacrifice in the rate of improvement in real wages and real living standards of workers. The reason for this is clear. A slower rate of increase in wages means in turn a lesser rise in prices and hence an improvement in real earnings. It is important to emphasise this point because there are some who believe that moderation in wage rises leads to a reduction in workers' living standards. This is just not so. Improvements in living standards are decided by the increases which take place in annual output. At the present time that means a rise of about 3 per cent to 4 per cent per annum. There is no method whereby this nation can vote itself a faster rate of increase than this. Consequently, when wages and salaries rise by more than this amount all that happens is that anything over 3 or 4 per cent is swallowed up in higher prices. Any one group may be able to gain a temporary advantage for themselves from a large pay rise but other groups will quickly follow and then price rises will just as quickly swallow this temporary advantage. The national wage agreement was designed to bring a halt to this pointless chase between higher prices and wages. Because of the undoubted benefits which it has brought both for workers and other sections of the community attempts are now being made to produce another such agreement to cover the coming year or so. It is the earnest wish of the Government that these efforts should prove successful. A reversion to free-for-all bargaining can only be expected to damage and disrupt the economy at this delicate phase in our affairs. In a free-for-all situation any attempt by some sectors to secure large pay rises would quickly prove self-defeating because other groups would quickly demand the same treatment and ultimately all would be made the poorer by the higher prices and loss of employment which would then follow. The argument advanced against national pay agreements that they remove the freedom of workers to seek improvements in their living standards and working conditions is not borne out by the fact. In particular, it should be emphasised that any one section or group of workers cannot successfully improve their pay differentials in comparison with other workers. Hence the apparent freedom of each group in a free-for-all situation is largely only a freedom to hurt other groups of workers and damage the economy in general.
This argument that freedom for individual bargaining is largely ineffective is one important reason for wishing to see a continuation of the National Wage Agreement. There is a second reason. As I have already indicated, and as is widely accepted, our economy is now at a delecate and decisive stage in its development. A wrong set of actions now on our part, coming on top of the other stresses to which it has been exposed, could set back the progress of the economy for years to come. If, on the other hand, we can act responsibly and decisively, there are reasonable prospects that substantial improvements in employment and living standards can take place, despite the various obstacles that lie in our path. In such a situation the Government are entitled to ask for, and are entitled to expect, the constructive support of all sections of the community. They are entitled too to point to the consequences of sectional behaviour and to demonstrate that the damage caused by economic strife is no less destructive, even if less dramatic, than that that resulting from other forms of conflict. The Government for their part can be expected to reciprocate mature and responsible action. The past year has shown that tackling problems in a constructive manner creates conditions in which progress can be achieved for all parties. There is in effect a virtuous circle, in which one positive step makes possible a second just as there is also a vicious circle in which one area of conflict engenders another.
Reference to conflict leads me to my third topic, that of events in the North. The question which faces our communities, North and South, and one which has been posed with increasing brutality and starkness over the past three years is whether the common development of our peoples will be dictated and shaped by violence and antidemocratic factions or whether it can grow peacefully from a mutual recognition of our common interests and a sharing of our common burdens. The coming months will decisively affect the answer to that question. It is because we care and care passionately, about the form which that answer may take that we must both voice our concern and our views and work constructively to bring our aims to fruition. The Irish Government have repeatedly over the years declared their abhorrence of violence and their opposition to the use of force as a means of achieving Irish unity. This is not just the policy of the Government Party. It is fully shared by the other two parties in Dáil Éireann. The unity we seek is a free and genuine union of those living in Ireland, based on mutual respect and tolerance, and guaranteed by a form or forms of government authority in Ireland providing for progressive improvements in our social, economic and cultural life in a just and peaceful environment.
Tragically, the environment in which the people of Northern Ireland have had to live for the past two years has been anything but just or peaceful. Their agony, indeed, has been beyond endurance. Killing and maiming, indiscriminate bombing and destruction, brutality, intimidation and humiliation, internment without trial, fear, distress and insecurity have been their lot. No one with any sense of humanity could want to see this go on. For the sake of the whole community who are suffering in this cauldron of violence all men and women who can bring any influence to bear in restoring peace and stability and re-creating a civilised and orderly framework must use that influence now. It is to be regretted that the recent truce should have been so shortlived and should have been marred by so many senseless killings. However, the apparent failure of this initial attempt must not impede the efforts to restore peace and sanity. This requires a generous and magnanimous approach. Risks must be taken for the sake of peace. So long as the British army remains, and it is hoped that this period will be as short as possible, its role should be to protect all and to harass none. All aggressiveness must be held firmly in check and the safety of individuals and property must be defended.
In this new situation those who resort to violence must be denied support and resources, and no person or section must be the subject of coercion or discrimination. When a peaceful climate of this nature has been created, the elected representatives of the community must come together to work out a new political framework in which they can act responsibly and effectively for those they represent. The questions that they will face are in the first instance a concern for the Northern people themselves. But they are also of major importance to us. The facts of geography and history demonstrate the strong and inseparable bonds between our communities, North and South.
There are four possibilities for the future form of political entity in the North. One of these is total integration with the UK. That is advocated by some but it would be unacceptable to a large body of opinion in the Six Counties as it would be unacceptable, too, to the people of the rest of Ireland. It would strengthen and perpetuate the terrifying impulse in some to seek through violence the achievement of the deep aspiration for a united Ireland which is held by the vast majority of Irishmen but which that vast majority want to achieve only by peaceful means and by agreement with their fellow-countrymen.
Another possibility is that of a complete break with Britain and the setting up of a completely separate State. This is termed the UDI solution. One can appreciate the sense of independence and enterprise from which this attitude springs, but again the question must be asked: is this desirable or possible? Again the answer must be "No". Such a step would clearly cause major social and economic upheaval. It would bring about a drastic fall in living standards. These in themselves need not necessarily be adequate arguments against such a move. We know that there are people and communities who are willing to pay such a price in order to secure the political framework they desire. We know that, unfortunately, this is not the only price that would have to be paid but there is no evidence that within the Northern community there is any widespread support for such an isolationist form of political unit.
A third possibility is to seek some amended form of Stormont administration which would provide both an adequate role for the minority and would create a realistic prospect of ending one-party rule. On the face of it such a development might appear to hold out the prospect of providing a stable and permanent solution to the question of Northern Ireland's political future. But would it? When the Northern State was created half a century ago neither the British nor the Irish people in general nor the Northern Unionists themselves believed that the arrangement was a permanent one. Nothing that has happened throughout this 50 years span and nothing in the present or future prospects gives any reason to alter that belief. Any amended Stormont administration should therefore be an interim step along the path to a harmonious, secure and lasting basis for the future development of the Northern community.
It is our conviction that this basis can be found only in a wholly Irish and fully Irish context. We ask the Northern people to seek their future development in partnership with us. We are not seeking to dominate a community that would be a minority in an over-all Irish context nor are we asking that they should surrender any of their traditions, values or loyalties. What we do ask is that they use their great qualities of courage, enterprise and independence in creating a new Ireland of which both they and we can be truly proud.
We do not ask them to forget or forgo their past but we ask them to accept that it is the past. Now is the time for Irish people, North and South, to make history again and not simply to endure it.
Recently, at the invitation of the quarterly publication Foreign Affairs, I took the opportunity to state in detail the Government's views about the origin of conflict in Ireland, the way to a solution of this vital problem, the means by which the interests involved should proceed and the terms on which the permanent solution can be based. There is a growing belief in Britain and in the North, as well as internationally, that the situation in the North cannot be solved in vacuo. That has been the consistent view of this Government. In the meantime I have taken and will continue to take such initiatives as are open to me. I have welcomed, and continue to welcome, the considered views of all the relevant parties, including those representative of Unionist opinion. Constitutional, legislative and other issues which might affect in a positive way Northern attitudes and North-South relations in every respect have been discussed and this process is one which I would wish to see continued and extended. It would be unrealistic to expect that the process of transforming political and social structures throughout the island could take place overnight, but it is not unrealistic to expect that there could be a speedy beginning to strengthening the many things that we share in common and the removal of those obstacles which separate us.
The British Government will receive all the help that the Irish Government can give them in measures taken to further these objectives. For our part we will expect their continuing support in creating a new Ireland free of the divisions and disabilities of the past in which Irishmen, irrespective of creed, class or conviction can live together constructively and at peace.
In a speech in Kingscourt last month I indicated my welcome to the efforts of Mr. Whitelaw to convene a conference of the people of Northern Ireland as a necessary step towards reconciliation. I regard this step not only as necessary but immediately necessary. I would hope that these talks would pave the way for the wider discussion to which I referred in Kingscourt because as I said in my Foreign Affairs article, Northern Ireland cannot be dealt with without reference to the Anglo-Irish relationship as a whole. I have said before that we cannot allow private armies to use the territory of the Republic to impose their will on the people of Northern Ireland.