Yesterday I said that the budget would do nothing to help the economic situation. If there had been an objective behind the budget it would have been more helpful. Unfortunately the only motivation I could detect in the budget proposals was one of returning gratitude to the electorate for giving the Government a very slim majority on the basis of what they promised in their election manifesto. That slim majority was given to them on the basis of a manifesto which differed in only two or three degrees from what the outgoing Government provided in their 27 January budget.
Last night I referred to the imposition of VAT at the point of entry and the difficulties this would impose on importers of raw materials particularly. We must be cynical about this matter and say that the Fianna Fáil Government, being so concerned with votes, saw by the imposition of this measure that they would only lose the vote of the importer, whereas if they retained VAT on footwear and clothing they would have lost a greater number of votes. However, in the long term it may mean that many votes will be lost but Fianna Fáil are not concerned about that at present.
When one takes into consideration the points of difference between the two budgets and looks at the balance of the Fianna Fáil budget, one is left with a tweedledum tweedledee situation. In that situation the public representative must observe certain dangers for the democratic and parliamentary systems. One could argue a case for the abolition of food subsidies at this time. Indeed, such an argument was made by the outgoing Minister for Finance, who said that they never found their way through to the people they were intended to benefit. That was a good argument and one which, when money is scarce, should have been taken into consideration by the Government. Subsidies have come and gone over the years. The public would have accepted their abolition as they would have accepted the logic behind it. Their maintenance by Fianna Fáil at a cost of £60 million is an additional cost which must be met from revenue. Whatever one may think about where that money could have been found a month ago, when one observes the ease with which £45 million for PRSI changes could be found in the last few weeks it makes one wonder where we are going and what this will mean in a year's time.
The Coalition intended to tax short-term social welfare benefits. There was a logic behind this. It is obvious that there have been widespread abuses of short-term welfare benefits. It was with the objective of introducing an incentive for people to work that we sought to have a tax on this. This would have been acceptable to the public at large. Just as with VAT on footwear and clothing, a tax on short-term welfare benefits would have been unpopular particularly at election time. That was the dilemma in which the Coalition found themselves. It was their fault and their undoing and was to the benefit of Fianna Fáil. Such is the twist and fate of politics.
The same deplorable situation still confronts us. We have a 20 per cent rate of inflation, unemployment has gone up by 70 per cent over five years, the national debt has doubled in the same period, the balance of payments deficit is escalating out of all proportion, there is an air of cynicism, frustration and disillusionment abroad and a feeling among manufacturers that the imposition of VAT at the point of entry will not only endanger their own position in business but will affect many jobs. The same situation which the Coalition tried to face up to is still with us. That is why I said this budget will do nothing to help the economic situation.
The gallery was packed this morning with school children. I mentioned tweedledum and tweedledee and they will know all about them. The public have great difficulty in distinguishing between the position of the main political parties. That is part of the reason why we have been going from election to election with nothing better to offer than bid and counterbid. We have been indulging in auction politics. There is a great danger in that and the situation has been worsened by this budget. Fianna Fáil have done nothing but bestow ingratitude to the electorate what they promised them in return for their votes. This has been going on since the early seventies. In the same period there was a very high level of expectation from the public in regard to the services which should be bestowed on them by the various Government Departments and local authorities. It is all part of the material age in which we live. It was something the Governments could cope with to a certain extent as long as not only this economy but the economies of the western world were in a healthy position.
I do not recognise any interval at all between the recession which commenced in late 1974, early 1975, and that which is still in progress. Since this continuous recession commenced in the mid-seventies these high expectations just cannot be realised. I attribute a certain amount of blame to the people who are now on this side of the House as well as to the Fianna Fáil Government for contributing to the maintenance of such a high level of expectation on the part of the public in the past decade. One has found in every budget significant increases in social welfare benefits and sometimes significant reliefs in taxation. All these things pandered to those high expectations when the economic circumstances did not justify them.
The public are finding it harder and harder to distinguish what each political party stands for today. Fianna Fáil were once known as the party of reality. How could one so describe a party who fly in the face of economic reality with a budget such as the 1982 budget? Slogans identifying each of the parties have been bandied about. Fine Gael are the party who put the country first. Fianna Fáil are the party who do things better and the Labour Party are the party who care. In each case we find contradiction between what they say they stand for and what they sometimes do. On this side of the House we but the country first — I think we did — we forgot about the political reality. If Fianna Fáil put political reality first they forgot about the country's economic interests. At times the performance of the Labour Party has seemed contrary to that of a party who claim that they care. The Workers' Party have now come on the scene in this House, but they must themselves be honest and admit that they are here because of good grassroots work of their three representatives.
Something which I think has added to the confusion in the public mind is this grassroots politics as distinct from national politics. Every constituency now at a general election time becomes almost the scene of a local personality contest in which the issues are sometimes pushed out of the way and the personalities of the candidates and the work they perform at grassroots level for the constituency take precedence over the national issues, and this process has been helped by the media. This brings me to the point which I think is the real issue in 1982 for all political parties.
If we are to have budget after budget which amount to no more than one party saying, "You did away with something, we will re-introduce it", and the other party saying likewise when they get back into office and all political parties seeking votes rather than facing economic reality, we will have cynicism, disillusionment and a feeling of "a plague on both your houses" which may result in a place such as this House becoming an anomaly in present-day society. When I look across this floor at Members on the other side I recognise personalities and individuals of ability who, like myself, like to think that a balance must exist between political reality and the national economic interest. I have no doubt that Members on the far side of the House look across here and see individuals on this side whom they would regard as being in the same arena as themselves. A re-alignment in Irish national politics may well have to be faced up to. How long can we continue with the wasteful luxury of political parties bidding against each other at election after election which all the time costs more and more money and not only panders to a vulgar taste but makes little of the responsibility of public office? That issue this year is more important than what is in the budget.
Speakers before and after me have spent and will spend days pursuing the argument and logic of why such was introduced in the budget and why such was forgotten by the present Government which was in the previous Government's intended budget, but it is all rather sterile and sometimes futile. We have a responsibility to educate just as educationists have. If we want to foster in the electorate an ethos where the national interest must take precedence, where work is a pre-eminent factor in daily and yearly life and where certain standards of honesty and integrity exist it behoves us to pronounce on these things. Perhaps the educationists and Church authorities have not done their best in this regard, or they may have done their best but the results have not been too satisfactory. That is where the work of politicians should lie in the future. If we continue to pander to a taste which sometimes can be a very low denominator, then not only time but something else may see all the faces in this House changing at a much quicker rate than that to which we have become accustomed.
I have not much time today to speak on the budget proposals. That budget has been introduced, and it is apparent to most Members that the public are paying very little heed to what is in the budget now. They were promised certain measures some months ago. They expect those promises to be fulfilled and they go on to think about something else such as what is happening in Argentina, the football match, where they are going tonight. That is a vacuum we have to fill in trying to imbue a sense of national responsibility, not forgetting that at all times we must have a balance between political reality and the national economic interest. I have no doubt that whatever is in the Fianna Fáil budget will do little towards solving the economic problems which confront us. Whether the previous Government's intentions would have helped in that matter time alone will tell. Fianna Fáil should not attempt to take any credit for a budget even like this one which contains — as they maintain — so many goodies until that budget has been seen to be successful. That is the only test. If words were to solve all the problems they would have been solved a long time ago. Imagery and terms like "gloom and doom" and "boom and gloom" add up to nothing in the end. One new job is better than a thousand words.
Looking, for instance, at the field of employment, one sees Fianna Fáil abolishing the intended national development corporation and introducing in its stead the National Enterprise Agency, and one begins to lose all sense of the logic behind such a move. No matter what arguments Fianna Fáil put up for such an abolition and replacement, the money which they have put forward for the launching of the National Enterprise Agency is a mere pittance in terms of jobs which need to be created. I say that Fianna Fáil should not take credit for this budget until it has been seen to be successful. That cannot be judged until next January. It was illuminating yesterday to hear the Taoiseach announce that the prospect of additional taxation might have to be faced. This was quite different from the budget statement where it was stated that the cost of subsidies would be met by alternative cost-saving methods or revenue buoyancy. We are facing up to the hard facts and it is good that the Taoiseach is beginning to say, even on the eve of a by-election, that additional taxation may be necessary. This was always the pronouncement of the outgoing Government. Unfortunately they landed themselves in the dilemma of having to fight a general election because they did not count the votes beforehand to get through unpopular motions. That is something with which this side of the House has to live but it is something which could be cancelled out by the adversity of Fianna Fáil.
This budget contains very little to help the man seeking work, the school leaver or the manufacturer who must know what his costs will be from one month to the next. It will do little for social welfare recipients in the face of an increasing inflation rate. It will do nothing to help ease the air of despondency and cynicism which is rampant. This is a matter which the House should be prepared to tackle, no matter what alignment may occur during the next decade or two. We will all be gone by then. We can lay the ground work for our successors to form an alignment which is necessary for the political and economic health of the country.