This resource tax is a cruel tax and can have disastrous effects on the farming community who are already reeling under increasing taxation and falling prices. It comes at a time when it was never more important for the farmers to have the confidence to display initiative and increase production, to export more to help to get the country out of the crisis that it is in today and to reduce our huge balance of payments. The last election was fought on the basis that we were trying to tax the farmers out of existence. We know that Deputy Mark Clinton improved the standard of living of the farmers; their income increased from £350 million to £900 million in a very short time.
I remember the performance of Fianna Fáil Ministers at that time and the promises they made to the farmers in relation to taxation. The farmers were told that we were trying to tax them out of existence but that if there was a change of government things would be completely different. They were not told at that time that the threshold for taxation purposes was to be reduced from £75 to £40. They were not told that the 2 per cent levy was going to be introduced. They were not told that on top of that they would have to pay a resource tax. All this was done by a government that made so many misleading promises to the farmers at that time. In the past farmers have been in the front line trenches in many wars here, national, social and economic. All they want is fair play from any government. They have pride, they wish to pay their fair share but they want a fair system that will not discriminate against them as this resource tax certainly does. They have no wish to be beggars, to be carried on the backs of anyone; they are willing to make their contribution towards alleviating the burden which this nation has to carry.
When well paid members of some unions want to indulge in farmer bashing they should also remember that the 70,000 self-employed people, like fat cats, many of them supporting this Government, are only paying a little over £60 million. That works out at a little over £800 per individual. Is that fair or just? I do not think it is. What we all want to see here is an equitable system of taxation. Indeed, when the present Taoiseach was in opposition he waxed eloquent about equity in taxation. He said, and I quote from the Official Report of 5 April 1974, column 1787:
We in Fianna Fáil want an equitable tax system. We want that equitable tax system as a basis for social justice.
Where is the equity in this tax where certain sections of the people have to pay this taxation? A farmer with a poor law valuation of £70 who has a wife and ten children would pay, on top of the other tax and rates he has to pay, £245 extra in resource tax, but a bachelor farmer with a valuation of £69.99 does not pay one penny extra. Where is the equity there? All forms of tax should be seen to be equitable to all sections of people. We have heard so much in the past about cherishing all the children of the nation equally. I certainly do not think that this is chershing all the children of the nation equally.
When Deputy Crinion was speaking about the resource tax he denied that the Taoiseach changed his mind the day after introducing the tax. The Minister spoke at length here and mentioned all these taxes. He never mentioned that this resource tax was only a temporary form of taxation. But the next day when the farmers' organisations made their voices heard he very quickly changed his mind and, let us remember, it was not the Minister for Finance who made this statement but the Taoiseach himself; he said it was only a temporary form of taxation. We are inclined to ask why. Was it because the farmers' organisations spoke out so vehemently against this taxation, or is the Taoiseach keeping his options open? The Minister may look at me in surprise, but their disastrous policy has led this nation to a crisis and we are at the edge of the precipice at the moment. His idea may be either to run away from it or have an election instead of staying on in power, knowing as he does that unless the Government change their policy things are going to go from bad to worse. This is a selective form of taxation. Deputy Crinion also mentioned a man who appeared on a television programme and said that that man was not given time enough on that evening to explain what he owed the banks because if everything was taken into consideration he possibly should not have been paying income tax but that, in any event, the full story was not told. So far as we on this side of the House are concerned, neither we nor Deputy Ryan when he was Minister agreed with tax evasion. We were one government that did more than any other government to catch up on the people who were avoiding paying their fair and just share of tax. We closed as many loopholes as we could at that time.
The country today is in a mess and it is of the Government's own making. They gave the impression that everything was up for grabs a few years ago. The Government abolished wealth tax. They abolished rates on castles and on millionaries' residences. Even a person with, say, six houses let in this city is exempt from rates. All of this has put the Government in a situation of having to get money from somewhere and they are taking this money from the large farmers in an effort to placate some other people. The dead hand of Fianna Fáil is descending again on our farmers. We know that the Government are short of money but the situation is of their own making. When we left office in 1977 there was a growth rate of 6½ per cent and inflation was of the order of 9 per cent. Today the inflation rate is 18 per cent and we have a growth rate of perhaps half of one per cent. The Government have borrowed and have squandered the people's money and they are now imposing this unfair and unjust tax on the farmers in order to get money to run the country.
Our farmers are the backbone of the country. The majority of them work very long hours every day of the week unlike some of those who are calling for farmer taxation and who work a five-day week for about five months of the year. The Minister should realise that if the farmers are prospering, the nation generally will prosper but that if the farmers are poor, all other sectors will be poor also. If the farmers are ground down with taxation they will not be in a position to increase production. Their confidence is being eroded by those who pretended a few years ago to be their friends. They were fooled by this Government. What is needed is the type of action that will restore confidence on the part of farmers. They need a Minister for Agriculture and a Minister for Finance who will ensure that there is fairplay for the farming community. If the farmers are allowed to prosper, their prosperity may be the means of getting us out of the crisis we are in now but they will not be in a position to prosper while the Government continue to impose further taxation on them. If there is any further loss of confidence among this section of the community the country may well slip over the precipice on which it rests now.