6,000 BC, to be precise. Of all the generations who have lived in this land since that time, this generation of Irish people are the best fed, the best educated, the best housed and the best trained. In economic terms they are outperforming any previous generation. We now have a short-term difficulty. We must recognise that it is there, and we will not solve any problem by saying who was directly responsible for it. That would not redress the needs of young people, or elderly people, or middle-aged people.
As politicians we have to speak the truth, initially to ourselves and secondly to the public. The public are becoming extremely cynical about politicians promising what they think the public want to hear while in reality the public know that those promises cannot be delivered, however attractive they may be individually. We owe that to the democratic political process to which we are all committed and which regrettably is still at risk in our society and on this island.
This debate is a second run, so to speak, on the national plan which was debated at considerable length. The debate is confined to a claim by Fianna Fáil that certain facts and figures in relation to the statistics have emerged since the publication of the plan, and since the substantial debate on it in the House, which would totally invalidate the premises and the assumptions — and some of them have to be assumptions since we are talking about 1987 — and that somehow these assumptions are wrong or have been wrongly assembled by the Government in order to minimise the case.
I would have thought any Government, and particularly this Government, a coalition of two separate political parties, who came forward with a plan and indicated that after three years of hardship and difficulty in some cases we will still have an unacceptably high level of unemployment, could hardly be accused of trying to cook the figures. If we wanted to cook the figures — and that is the assertion in this debate — we could have been a little better at cooking them than to say that at the end of three years, despite all the efforts and despite harnessing the taxpayers' money and the enthusiasm of young people, we would have that kind of output at the end. If we wanted to cook the figures we could have done so a little better than that. We published a plan that says to everybody: "The situation is bad, but it is not disastrous. It is difficult, but we can overcome it. In large part it is of our own making, but we can unmake it." The figures are there and the assumptions upon which the rest of the edifice of the plan rests are there for people to see. As the Taoiseach said at the launching of the plan in Iveagh House, and as other Ministers have said, we have taken the best assumptions which were available to us and we have given the sources. If people can show that the economic experts of the OECD are wrong, we will change them. If they can prove that the economists in the European Community are wrong, and show us where and how, we can change them. If we are wrong on the pessimistic side this will be a bonus at the end of the three year period.
The basis of the Opposition's argument yesterday and tonight was that somehow or other the statistics upon which this plan rests are wrong, inaccurate or mispresented, to use that euphemistic phrase. It is up to Fianna Fáil to show up precisely where. If we have been too pessimistic, nobody will be happier than myself if somebody can tell us that our estimates of world trade increase and growth or GNP growth were too low and should be higher. If they are higher the unemployment figures will be lower and that will be a bonus for everyone on this island.
Deputy Wilson referred to the philosophy which underpins the document published by the ESRI and asked whether I would not be more in sympathy with that philosophy than the one which permeates this document. This is the product of two parties with separate traditions and separate philosophies in Government. I am not happy with the philosophy. I never made any secret of that. We have 9 per cent of the vote and 16 seats in this House and a mandate from our party to participate in Government on an agreed joint programme. I am not responsible and the Labour Party are not responsible for the fact that 90 per cent of the electorate of this democratic society in free elections voted for two parties espousing separate philosophies. That is their perfect democratic right.
I want to say something to the largest party in the land, the Fianna Fáil Party, who are part of that conservative 90 per cent. In every country with a mixed economy where capitalist parties rule, despite the enormous success they had in creating wealth in pushing forward the frontiers of science and all the other marvellous things which have been done in those large countries, the one thing that they have never done, even in the most successful prolonged periods of growth in countries like the United States, West Germany and Britain, is to eliminate unemployment.
Let us be consistent and rational and, at the invitation of Deputy Wilson, let us look at the philosophy. It seems that Fianna Fáil in their conservatism refused to adopt radical socialist measures. The Irish electorate, as is their right, have not voted for parties that propose such measures. Yet, that electorate want the conservative party, on this island with a weak economy, to produce full employment while the US, France, Germany and Britain over very many years have never solved that problem. That is the philosophical response I would give to Deputy Wilson in relation to that issue.
Regrettably, we have lived with unemployment in our society for a long time. What is acute now, not just here but throughout the whole of the EC, is the traumatic increase in the level of unemployment in every part of the European Communities. Politicians in a democratic society have an obligation to provide leadership and education to a public that want to listen, not to the slogans trotted out at election time, with the paper hats and pop tunes with which they are festooned, but to what we think is actually happening because we are elected by them to try to provide leadership. We should start by trading in facts rather than myths. It is traumatic to have people in one's family suddenly lose their livelihood and have their skills for a lifetime eliminated overnight by a microchip. It is necessary for us not to curse the darkness but to try to explain what has happened and show ways in which we can counteract it and ameliorate the journey from where we are now to where we all want to be as soon as possible.
I want to put on the record of the House some broad historic facts. Today the United States, the wealthiest democracy in the world, is celebrating its expression of democratic choice. Approximately 120 years ago, 40 per cent of the then population of that country were engaged in the primary production of agriculture, working on the farm in Oklahoma, New England and right across the board to the opening-up land of California. Today, less than 3 to 5 per cent of an enlarged population are currently engaged in agricultural output. They are producing too much, far more than was ever produced 120 years ago. What happened to the other 25 per cent of that growing population? They moved in most cases into manufacturing employment because the first industrial revolution which brought about factories and industries in different parts of the United States absorbed that employment. The percentage of manufacturing employment out of the total of all employment in the United States was at its highest in 1950 to 1952. That was the peak in terms of young people having jobs in factories. From that time it has been declining and that pattern can be repeated in countries similar to the United States, like Britain, France, Germany and indeed Ireland.
While we are producing more from our factories than ever before, we are doing it with fewer people. We are doing it more efficiently and competitively, but with fewer people. Everybody in the working line knows this. We are, however, doing it very successfully in terms of output. It may come as a surprise to most Members of this House tonight that the Irish workers, men and women, are producing two and a half times more and exporting two and a half times more per worker than their counterparts in the UK economy. We have in many respects a healthy manufacturing base producing more than we have ever produced but with fewer people. That is a fact. It is not a very acceptable fact, but anybody who talks to industrialists or anybody in the trade union movement who talks to companies rationalising and bringing in new processes and new systems of extracting more value out of the productive process in which they are engaged knows very well that more can be produced with less in this instance. Every time you bring in a word processor, a forklift truck, or some kind of automated system that enables you to sell more goods abroad, one of the consequences seems to be fewer people needed in that enterprise.
About three years ago throughout the EC — and it is a very rich part of the entire globe — approximately 6½ million European citizens were unemployed. Of that number, approximately 100,000 were Irish citizens. Today that figure has doubled, not just in this country but throughout the whole of the EC — 12.4 million at best estimate, and I use that phrase because our statistics, as Deputy Wilson indicated in his contribution, are inadequate. We do not know for sure and where and for how long, but we do know that it is at least twice what it was before. It is happening in countries like Germany, the UK and France. Germany and the UK, on the one hand, and France on the other have applied radically different economic policies to combat the same phenomenon, but both economies and Governments — and certainly the public in those economies — would concede that, whatever else they have done, they have not dealt with the problem of how to reduce unemployment.
What can we in this country do against such a background? The first thing we have to do is to be in a position where the resources of the State can be used to provide productive employment, where the taxpayer's money that Deputy Wilson referred to can actually be channelled into processes, factories and services — any kind of economic activity that will generate wealth and thus generate jobs. That is what Fine Gael and the Labour Party want to do and I know that is what Fianna Fáil want to do.
Already, the net effect of previous policy decisions by previous administrations — and I am not going to be partisan in this debate because there have been different administrations over the last three to five years — has been to borrow so much money abroad that now requires to be repaid that by the time it is taken, and taken very painfully, from everybody — TDs, Senators, staff of the Oireachtas, civil servants and every other worker paying tax — by the time some of the moneys due have been repaid, we do not have the freedom for action that we all would like. That is a reality, too. It is not a very pleasant reality and is one that I would love to be able to wave away. However, as a society we have been paying ourselves, in global terms, more than we have been earning and have had to borrow to close the gap. Everybody in this room tonight knows that some day that kind of policy results in the bank manager, money lender or debt collector saying that enough is enough.
I would ask the House, and in particular the Fianna Fáil Party, to cast their minds back to December 1982 when this Government came into office. At that time, that Government were attempting to address themselves to major problems of which everybody was aware, so much so that we were then contemplating the formation of the third Government within the space of 18 months unprecedented in the history of this independent State. A little speech was made by the outgoing Minister for Finance — or rather he was then ex-Minister for Finance — before the Government in effect got going fully. I refer to Deputy Mac Sharry. He said that, irrespective of who was going to be Minister for Finance, the incoming Government were going to find it extremely difficult to borrow minimal sums of money from the international money markets to keep Ireland going and pay for salaries, grants, the provision of schools and all the other necessities because of the way the international market for money was and many countries much richer than ours had got themselves into major difficulties in relation to borrowing. That is a reality. We did not invent that. Deputy MacSharry from his traumatic experience of being Minister for Finance was painfully aware of it. He knew that that reality constrained severely the freedom for manoeuvre that any administration would have in trying to organise their affairs and deal with the evil of unemployment, an evil the description of which I will share with Deputy Burke and Deputy Wilson.
The Irish people have a marvellous reputation for playing with words and for mixing myth, fantasy, and mysticism on occasion, to the delight of our tourists. We do it fairly well. The tragedy is that too many people who practise the art of politics brought those unique skills into the mainstream of economic debate and would like to think that somehow or other the same kind of magic that beguiles our foreign tourists should be used to beguile the taxpayers and the banking institutions of this economy and outside. This Government confronted that problem that has afflicted too many administrations for too long, and we say that these are the facts, the realities. They are very unpleasant, painful realities which perhaps should not exist, but they exist because of decisions which were taken in the past and we are going to confront them. They have been made more difficult by decisions taken by Irish people in the past and now they can be turned around. That is what the documentBuilding on Reality is about. That is why the very title is stitched in to the third word of that document.
What does it say? It says to the taxpayer, "We know you have been crucified over the last three to five years and that is going to end. We know you have had a rough time." The biggest peaceful demonstration that the streets of Dublin ever saw — leave aside 1916, 1918, 1921 and 1922 — was the taxpayers' march in 1979. Deputy Burke was in Government at the time. No doubt he recalls it.