The debate on the budget has been going on for a few days and it is remarkable for a number of things. The most important one, I think, is that some people on the Government side of the House do not seem to understand that this is not the first budget introduced by a Fianna Fáil Government since the last general election. In fact the budget was introduced by this Government and despite what the Taoiseach has said and what a number of his Ministers have been echoing this is not a new Government, not a Government elected by the people a few months ago consisting of Members who were not members of the previous Government. The new Government we hear all the talk about consists of ten outgoing Ministers, ten people who, if we are to believe the statements made by the Taoiseach, by his Ministers and particularly by the Minister for Finance a few days ago, were the people who put the country into such a bad state that very severe action had to be taken to bring it back on course. It would be amusing, if it were not tragic, to listen to the way in which again and again we have reference to the "new" Government, and to how bad was the condition of the country before they took over and the effort they will have to make in order to straighten things out.
Not only have the Government members been using this device but the propaganda has been fairly effective, as is borne out by the fact that the cummann menbers througout the country are now using the same terminology. Unless they are very careful, I fear that the former Taoiseach will become as unpopular as Cromwell in this country because about a half-dozen times this week I heard the former Taoiseach being described as a weak man who did not run the country properly, all of this coming from Fianna Fáil people trying to boost the new leader at the expense of his predecessor. This is very unfair and wrong.
The other scapegoat was the Minister for Economic Planning and Development. I had intended suggesting that he should intervene in this debate but before I could do so he did intervene. I listened to him with great interest because it would be amusing if it were not tragic for somebody who had been the author of the success which Fianna Fáil had in the last election and who attempted to carry out the policies in which he believed, with the assistance of the Taoiseach and other members of the Government— although, as appears to be the case, a terrible mess was made of it; they just would not work—to come here and to attempt first, to blame the economic chaos we are in on the National Coalition Government and then to attempt to say that everything was all right.
Deputy O'Donoghue did make one comparison. He said that the efforts necessary to get the economy into the position in which they wanted it were like a space probe in which there were three stages; the first stage was fired—it seemed to be going slowly but in the right direction—the second one was reasonably successful and the third one went off course. He did not seem to remember that it was a manned spaceship that was sent up, that he happened to be one of the pilots, that a new director to control outer space was appointed while he was in orbit and that he was sent off into the wilderness, into empty space. Obviously it was his voice coming back here in an endeavour to straighten out what he had done or what he felt should be done. I felt it tragic that we should have such a situation. While I and a lot of other people believe that his theories were all wrong, he did his best and thought he was doing the right thing.
First of all, before the last general election—and I shall not bore the House with the Fianna Fáil Manifesto, a copy of which I still possess; some of the Fianna Fáil people say they have lost theirs and they can make a photostat copy of mine—what was suggested could be done was something which we said at the time, and which time has proved to be correct, could not be done without creating chaos. Fianna Fáil got into power, produced their budget and believed that there was such a practice as spending money without worrying where that money was to come from. The result is that we find ourselves in a fairly sad mess.
How that mess is to be straightened out is what we are now talking about. We have had the first O'Kennedy budget before the House. I was in this House when the present Taoiseach was Minister for Finance. I can recognise his finger on an awful lot of proposals in this budget. I believe he is the person who was sitting at the Minister's shoulder pointing out what should or should not be done. It is important to remember that what happened here on budget day is one small facet only of the overall economic chaos. A typical example of what I am talking about is that during the Minister's budget speech he made great play of the fact that bottled gas in this country cost considerably less than in Britain. If the stories we hear about the left hand of the Fianna Fáil Government not knowing what their right hand is doing are not true, then the Minister, sitting at the Cabinet table, must have been aware that an increase in bottled gas had been sanctioned to come into operation two or three days later and which completely reversed the position. It was a very bad joke to play on the many poor people who depend on bottled gas for heating and cooking. The fact that the Minister picked out that item shows that the person who wrote the document read in this House either was not aware that this was being done or, if he was aware, could not care less. It passed for the time being and got him out of an awkward position. It was a good political point while it lasted, two or three days. That typifies the attitude of the present Government to what is happening at present.
Since the New Year we have had so many budgets, all of them budgets, that it is almost impossible to keep track of them. Early in the New Year the Taoiseach wisely decided not to go ahead with the proposed Taoiseach's residence in the Park. That was a major decision. It could have waited a couple of weeks and could have been included in the budget. Indeed such a proposal should never have been mooted in our current economic circumstances. Mark you, there was nothing about the executive jet costing about half or a third of the proposed Taoiseach's residence—£2 million or £2,250,000, I think, was the figure. There were no gold taps on the £2 million one, so the £2,250,000 one was bought instead. That should have been scrapped along with the Taoiseach's residence. If we so short of money that we have to cutback as we have been doing, then it was wrong to have spent that amount of money. God knows we would send an awful lot of Ministers and officials to Europe on £2,250,000. And that is only the beginning of it because the running of the jet must be added to everything else and will be very costly.
Early in the New Year cigarettes went up by 1p, coal by £3 per ton, gas in Dublin by 60 per cent, the fourth increase in eight months. Gas in Limerick, the homeland of the Minister for prices himself, went up by 30 per cent. The price of flour was increased. On 18 January there was a notification to the effect that local authorities would receive only a 10 per cent rise in 1980 to carry on their activities. I heard some people talking here today about how little would be required to carry on the business of local authorities. It is interesting to know that one rural authority of which I have knowledge estimates that their cost this year of maintaining the level of last year will be approximately 32 per cent to 33 per cent more. Raw materials and everything else have increased and, on top of them, wages. Therefore, there is no way in which they can maintain services at the same cost.
We have had talk in this House about appointing Ministers for this and that. I honestly believe we should appoint a Minister for potholes because there are now more in this country than there ever were. It is true that many people have had a lot of damage done to their motor vehicles. In fact one county manager—although he was not responsible for the cutback in expenditure—had the back axle of his car broken. And there is no point in talking about suing the local authority because apparently it has been ruled by the courts that unless some type of repair has been carried out on the road at the particular time the local authority are not responsible.
In my county there are three swimming pools—I was glad during my time to be able to assist in their building—fairly well used but it has been decided now that one only will be used in any one week, leaving the remaining two closed. This is life in Ireland under Fianna Fáil. We built them and Fianna Fáil cannot even afford to run them. Yet they tell us they know how to run the country and the local authorities. There is no money available for the repair of roads or the resurfacing of roads. Local authorities are now in a catch-22 situation in which, if they keep all their employees, they have no money with which to buy materials and, if they dismiss their employees, they will be in trouble with everybody particularly the trade unions.
I read in the papers yesterday that the Minister for the Environment had announced that £50 million was to be spent on roads. It was announced at a place and in such a way that many people who would not know the facts would be under the impression that this was an additional £50 million being found somewhere, that nobody knew anything about. The Minister just found out and announced it. That is a lot of cod. What is being spent is the minimum amount which must be spent to try and keep the roads in repair. Similarly we hear a lot of talk at present about the building of various types of motorways around this city. I expressed my views on the subject when I was in the Custom House. My view has not changed. Apparently now some people have made the decision that they should go ahead, but they cannot because the money is not there with which to do it. However, it looks good in a newspaper for somebody to say that they will rebuild portion of this city. I know better than anybody else what was done about the centre city by Fianna Fáil for 16 years. I was in the Custom House at the time. I know there was absolutely no effort made by anybody either in the Fianna Fáil Government or in local authorities to get anything done. The city centre was simply falling down. I was glad to be a part of an organisation which helped to revitalise and rebuild the city centre. Now we hear talk of an expenditure of something like £800 million on the rebuilding of portion of the city when we know that that sort of money is not available. But such statements look nice and it is hoped it will keep people happy, thinking that something is being done about it.
As regards home loans, this matter was tied up with the budget and the money was not available. I remember when I took a decision in the Custom House that we should not allow grants to people who wanted to repair their homes if they were wealthy, in other words I had a means test, Fianna Fáil were foaming at the mouth. It was the most terrible thing anybody could do and they gave me a thousand reasonably good reasons why. In their manifesto they said they would increase and improve grants for home owners. Instead of that they abolished them completely. When they did, they did it in such a way that over a period of three or four weeks about 47,000 applications were received in O'Connell Bridge House. The average number received each year was about 15,000. That means that a person waiting for a grant will be put at the end of a three-year waiting period because in normal times it would be three years before that number of applications would be dealt with.
This is the kind of muddle the Government are in. At the same time they are trying to give the impression that they are running the country properly. They increased the number of people who could borrow money for the purpose of building houses. That is something I would not have done. They also increased the income limit. What they did not say was where the person would get the money to repay the loan. The repayments are now approximately £30 per week for a loan of £12,000 over 30 years. They told me we were building too many local authority houses. They proved they thought that because they built fewer houses. The outlook this year is very bleak and more people will be pushed on to the private loan. I do not know where they are to get the money to repay loans. Sites are ranging between £5,000 and £7,000 throughout the country and these are not select sites. This is the kind of mix-up we have at present.
Grants for solid fuel heating were abolished. The object of the grant was to get people using oil to switch to a different system. It did that in a big way but what was forgotten was that grants would have to be paid. About one-tenth of my mail every day is from people wanting to know when they will get their heating grants. The administration of this grant was wrong because people who used solid fuel and oil were eligible for the grant and no effort was made to close that loophole. People who had the job done and really need the money cannot get it. I was touched by questions asked yesterday by a Fianna Fáil Deputy who wanted to know if local authority tenants who bought their houses but who had not got fireplaces would get the grant. The Government he supports did away with those grants. I produced them but they did away with them.
On 28 January CIE fares went up by 20 per cent. As regards the standard loaf which the Minister, Deputy O'Malley, did not hear about—he said it was not a very common loaf—obviously he does not do the shopping or he would know that the loaf on which 5p was put is a common one. Milk went up to 13p. On 1 February the ESB increased their charges by 20 per cent, that is 60p a week on a £25 two-monthly bill, and this followed on a 10 per cent increase in October last and a 20 per cent increase last June. Coal went up by over £2 a ton. In February the pint went up by 2p and a half glass of spirits by 3p. On 18 February petrol went up by between 7p and 10p a gallon while home heating oil went up between 6½p and 9p per gallon. On 20 February massive cuts were announced in education, housing, health, agriculture, public spending and the Public Capital Programme cut all forms of social spending.
The Minister for Education has just left the House and that is a pity. I put down a number of questions for written answer to him on Tuesday as I do not believe in cluttering up the House with oral questions if I can get the information which I require for my constituents by way of written answers. I am not in the habit of getting discourteous replies from Government Departments because they are not made up that way. It would appear that if these are coming the officials have been told to do them that way. The majority of the replies suggested that they were not intended to give me the information I was looking for. What they intended to do was politely to tell me to go to hell.