This motion has been put down by the Government to provide an opportunity for the Opposition to substantiate in this House, and before the community as a whole, the series of allegations and innuendoes about members of this Government that they have been orchestrating for the last few weeks. The fact is, of course, that the Opposition cannot justify the rash and reckless claims they have been making. The longer this debate goes on, the more puerile and asinine are their tactics made to appear and the more feeble and flimsy do their claims become. The contribution of the Leader of the main Opposition party was pathetic and the other Opposition contributions have involved no more than slavishly putting on the record some of the revelations and allegations already well reported on in the media over the past number of weeks.
But then on reflection, why should we expect any better from the Fine Gael and Labour parties? Are these not the same people who failed so miserably to deal with the problems of this country when they had their chance in Government? Are they not the same people who ran the finances of this State into the biggest mess of all time and then ran away themselves, leaving it to us to pick up the pieces? In short, are they not the very last people who should come in here to lecture us about conduct in Government, or responsibility in Government, or the need for effective management of the nation's affairs?
The Government's record of solid achievement in fiscal and economic management is in sharp contrast to that of the Fine Gael and Labour Parties who now have an instant solution for every problem but could find none in Government, in spite of the interminable Government meetings that their memoirs are now telling us about.
The remarkable feature of the last four and a half years is the fact that severe cutbacks and strict controls over public expenditure have been accompanied by the development of new policies and programmes in many areas. Prudent use of the available resources and effective management have seen to this. Here are some examples from my own area of responsibility.
In housing we have launched the Plan for Social Housing, the most comprehensive response to social housing needs ever presented by a Government in this country and it is working. The plan has the right mix of measures to deal effectively with the needs of those seeking social housing. Housing has always been a top priority with Fianna Fáil but we are not locked into old style and outmoded thinking that takes no notice of changes in population, family make-up, and other demographic matters. If the Opposition have nothing to offer but the same old tired and failed methods of dealing with housing, well Fianna Fáil have, it is in our plan and it will succeed. The housing plan sought by Deputy Quinn yesterday will be published in the near future.
On roads, State expenditure on maintenance and improvement has been increased from £166 million in 1986 to nearly £240 million in 1991. Discretionary grants for county and regional roads have been increased from £23 million in 1986 to £68 million in 1991 bringing the three year total to £182.4 million.
Our concern for the environment is shown in the comprehensive Environment Action Programme — the first by any Irish Government — published in January 1990 and being implemented on schedule. Under Fianna Fáil, the environment is no longer seen as a peripheral issue or even as a burden or constraint. The environment and its protection is a major part of the Government's programme. We take the balanced approach to enable economic and social development to take place while, at the same time, ensuring that such development does not have an unacceptable impact on the environment.
In sanitary services, a major programme of investment over the present decade is going ahead, with a price-tag of nearly £1 billion.
We fulfilled our commitment to enact major local government reform legislation in time for the June local elections and and we are committed to taking further steps in the years ahead.
We have actively promoted and developed the urban renewal programme and have expanded the scheme substantially into provincial centres and additional areas in the five county boroughs. Our urban renewal programme has been an outstanding success, removing dereliction from our cities and towns, creating jobs and investment opportunities. The success is there for all to see. It is permanent and has been acclaimed by all sections of the community and especially by our visitors and tourists.
My Department's legislative programme is an impressive one. The Roads Bill, the Environmental Protection Agency Bill and the Electoral Bill are already on the Order Paper, and drafting of other very important Bills on planning and housing, to mention only two, is nearing finality. This shows just how determined we are to press ahead with reforms, and the great regret is that consideration of these very important matters is held up by Opposition tactics of posturing and simple headline seeking.
All of this is just the beginning. We need time to build on our achievements and to break out into a situation in which our country can enter a new phase of self-sustaining growth. We cannot afford to be diverted by recent difficulties in the semi-State sector or elsewhere, or by the antics of the Opposition.
My colleagues who have general responsibility for the semi-State bodies in question have already explained clearly the resolute action being taken to deal with the specific matters at issue. Their statements demonstrate that the Government response has been swift and effective and the House can be confident that, when the various inquiries are completed, the Government will take whatever further action is called for.
It is important, however, to recognise the need for a measured, responsible and considered response. We must not overreact and deprive the semi-State bodies of the very freedom which has been crucial for their success. Neither do we want to create an atmosphere where people of real calibre will not wish to give their services to these bodies as directors.
Let me come now to the case of the Custom House Docks Development Authority whose mandate is to secure the redevelopment of the Custom House Docks area. It goes without saying that the chairman and ordinary members of the Authority must be persons of the highest calibre, people of experience and with particular and relevant expertise. My predecessor, John Boland, appreciated this when he appointed the first members. They included a prominent hotelier, a partner in a financial services practice, a consulting engineer and an estate agent. I am not in any way critical of these appointments but I want to draw attention to the fact that the people involved had, quite legitimately, a variety of business and other interests. My predecessor obviously found it impossible to avoid this, if people with relevant experience and expertise were to be appointed.
It is inevitable, of course, in such circumstances that conflicts of interest can arise. When this happens, it is incumbent on the person involved to take no part in the relevant decision nor to seek to influence it. This is the normal code of ethics, well understood, and not really needing to be spelt out. Nevertheless, to copperfasten matters, my Department wrote to the docks authority in March 1987 stressing that they should regulate their affairs in accordance with the principles and standards appropriate to a public body accountable for the expenditure of public funds; that they should be able to demonstrate, either generally or in any particular case, that appropriate standards and procedures are being applied; and that conflict of interest does not arise on the part of any member or employee in the discharge of the business of the Authority.
I appointed Mr. Séamus Páircéir as chairman of the Authority with effect from 1 July 1990. Mr. Páircéir had been chairman of the Revenue Commissioners from 1983 until his retirement in 1987. He had experience of administration and management at the highest levels in a complex area, and had an intimate knowledge of taxation practice and taxation law. I therefore regarded him as a person eminently suitable to chair the Authority. Prior to this appointment, Mr. Páircéir had served as consultant tax adviser to the Authority and had been appointed by the Government to a representative group who were set up to promote interest internationally in the Financial Services Centre.
Before his appointment as chairman of the Authority, Mr. Páircéir informed me, through the appropriate Assistant Secretary in my Department, of his chairmanship of UPH. In his earlier role as consultant, he had similarly informed the former chairman and relevant executives of the Authority of his position with UPH. Having regard to Mr. Páircéir's reputation, track record, experience and expertise, I took the view that his involvement in this company should not disqualify him from serving as chairman of the Authority. I am happy to say that I stand over that decision. It was made on the understanding that the usual obligations with regard to disclosure of interests would apply, where these interests were material, and that Mr. Páircéir would, in line with accepted practice, take no part in, nor seek to influence, any decision of the Authority which might have a bearing on any interest of his.
The Custom House Docks project is perhaps the single most important construction project to have been undertaken in Ireland this century. It goes without saying that a development as important as this must be run on proper lines and that no one involved in it is seen to be associated, however remotely, with unresolved controversy even in other unconnected areas. In his radio interview on 22 September, the Taoiseach suggested that Mr. Páircéir should temporarily stand aside from participation in the Authority while investigations were being carried out into the Telecom site controversy. That suggestion was made without any implication whatsoever that Mr. Páircéir was involved in anything improper — indeed, the Taoiseach was at pains to stress that Mr. Páircéir was "an impeccable man with a good, fine record in the public service." It was important, nevertheless, to ensure that the work of the Custom House Docks Development Authority was not adversely affected by controversy focused on particular individuals. That is why Mr. Páircéir was asked temporarily to stand aside; he was not asked to resign. That was his own decision and it was with regret that I accepted it.
The whole issue is now closed as far as I am concerned. Tremendous results have already been achieved at the Custom House Docks and a simple viewing of the extent and quality of the development so far will confirm that. Investment is being attracted to Dublin, jobs are being created, training schemes are being run for local people, a once derelict site is being transformed. The docks project can only be built on confidence and the Government are playing their part in generating that confidence. But the Opposition parties have equal responsibility for ensuring that nothing is done to erode confidence. Petty small minded muck-raking is the last thing we need — the same kind of muck-raking that Opposition Deputies have indulged in by reviving baseless allegations about the Feltrim/Kinsealy sewerage scheme.
Over two years ago, in response to a Dáil question from Deputy Owen, I gave a full and detailed account of all the considerations involved in my approval to this scheme — Official Report, Volume 391, Columns 282 to 284. Deputy Owen and her colleagues had many months in which to follow up on this reply, to seek clarification of it, or indeed to challenge it. I have seen no evidence that they did this in 1989; or that they did it in 1990; or that they did it during the first eight months of 1991. They only decided to challenge my explanation — over two years after it had been given — because the Fine Gael leadership cynically decided to escalate the atmosphere of controversy which had arisen over other unrelated issues.
Apart from being blatantly opportunistic, the allegations by Deputy Owen and others are quite without foundation. The history of the Baskin cottages and the Feltrim/Kinsealy sewerage schemes will bear this out.
Dublin County Council originally conceived a proposal to provide sewerage facilities for Baskin cottages in late 1973. This scheme was actually completed in the late seventies and was financed from the council's own resources. Sewage treatment was provided by a mechanical so-called "package" plant, and the effluent was discharged directly into the nearby Sluice river. In view of allegations now being made, it is important to note that the main pipes leading in to this treatment plant were of 225 mm diameter.
Small treatment plants of this kind are recognised as a low cost and reasonably serviceable method of providing sanitary facilities in rural situations. They do not, however, represent an optimum solution and it makes good engineering sense, where possible, to integrate them with larger and more serviceable treatment facilities, which also offer operational savings.