Private Members' Business. - Public Services: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann condemns the Government for having failed abysmally:

– to improve our public services, noting that:

– there are 26,126 people on hospital waiting lists, unacceptably long delays for hospital treatment and people on very modest incomes denied access to free medical care;

– 64,000 children at school have serious literacy problems and up to 850 primary schools are in a critical state of disrepair;

– house prices have soared by more than 80% over the past five years and home ownership is now beyond the reach of average wage-earners;

– no new road projects will start this year because of Government failure to provide funding;

– traffic congestion in Dublin and other urban centres has reached chronic levels; and

– to tackle the underlying problems affecting the quality of people's lives, despite five years of unprecedented economic prosperity.

I wish to share time, 15 minutes with Deputy Flanagan and ten minutes with Deputy Gerry Reynolds.

RecentlyThe Sunday Tribune printed evidence of the Department of Finance confirming that medical card income limits being applied by the Department of Health and Children are “too low”. They are being kept low for the poor in order to pay for medical cards for the rich. The result is that only 29% of the population is covered by a medical card, down from 37% when the Government took office.

The current agreement with the Irish Medical Organisation allows for up to 40% of the population to be covered, but now a person living alone on €128 per week is over the limit because the Minister has used up the available resources giving medical cards to millionaires who vote, in the knowledge that the election turnout in poorer areas can be as low as 30%.

ESRI research shows that the death rate for males aged 55 and over is 32 per 1,000 among the poorest classes. This is three times the death rate for well paid males of the same age. Despite this, the Minister for Health and Children, on the eve of a by-election last summer, extended medical card cover to everybody over the age of 70 irrespective of income. He paid the Irish Medical Organisation five times the normal rate to overcome its resistance as it had been campaigning for an increase in the limit for the poor.

The scandal does not end there. The cost of the Minister's actions was forecast at £14.75 million, €19 million. The cost is now turning out to be more than twice that amount but the Minister, in a desperate bid to mislead, told me in a reply to a parliamentary question last week that he did not know the full cost. Following is the question and the reply:

Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the annual forecasted cost of providing medical cards for persons aged 70 and over when the scheme was approved and the cost in 2002?

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): The original forecasted cost of providing medical cards for persons aged 70 and over was €19 million approximately. This figure was based on a possible 39,000 eligible persons and is predominantly made up in capitation payments to doctors, other costs considered would include increased practice support grants and allowances. The most recent figures available to my Department suggest that the number of people in this age category is now in the region of 71,000.

In relation to 2002 costs, my Department is working with the health boards and the GMS (Payments) Board to determine the likely full year costs having regard to the evidence which suggests that people in the age category continue to register. As part of this work an assessment will be made of the offsetting savings emerging within the drug payments scheme following the transfer of persons aged 70 and over to the GMS scheme. It is not possible, therefore, to put an accurate figure on full year costs for 2002 at this time.

What ever happened to accountability? Surely the accounting officer of the Department of Health and Children knows what the cost is? If the accounting officer does not know, what do the Estimates procedures in the House mean? We provide €19 million for this purpose for a possible 39,000 eligible persons and when it turns out to be 71,000 the Minister tells the House he does not know what it will cost. What an extraordinary claim to make in this House. I do not accept that is a truthful answer. Somebody in the Department of Health and Children or in the Department of Finance must know what the cost is and we, as the representatives of the taxpayer, are entitled to know the cost. This is either gross misleading of the House or gross incompetence. In either case it is totally unacceptable.

The result of this is that there is no money left to fund medical cards for the poor and the Minister for Finance will not pay the new rate for poor people who need medical cards. Is it any wonder that accident and emergency departments are swamped with people who cannot afford to go to a GP?

Patients' representative bodies should consider seeking a judicial review of this typical example of medical apartheid. It is a scandal of enormous proportions that health spending can be manipulated for political benefit in this way.

I challenge the Minister for Health and Children to confirm or deny this during this debate and to debate this matter with me so that the public may judge for themselves as to the accuracy of my claim. Fine Gael is committed to doubling medical card income limits immediately on return to Government as part of our detailed policy proposals to take pressure off secondary care hospitals by a targeted investment in primary care, GPs and pharmacies. Deliberate apartheid in the medical services is costing lives. It has got to stop.

In a few weeks' time the electorate will face a decision whether to re-elect the current Government or to elect a Fine Gael led alternative. The Government tells us it has provided good government. I tell this House it presided over chaos and has perpetuated and extended apartheid in the health services. Some of us might feel smug if we are on the inside track but some day it may be one of us who is left out, or a spouse, child, parent or brother or sister. Those left out are somebody's loved ones. We must ensure that when it comes to health services nobody is left out.

In the most basic function of the State, the provision of an adequate health service, the Government has failed. Fine Gael will deliver an imaginative, costed reform package which will work and which will be our priority in government.

This Government mistakes spending money for achieving results. It tells us correctly that it has doubled health spending but neglect to mention that with more resources than any other, has failed dismally to improve the health system.

The Taoiseach, like his mentor Mr. Haughey, was obviously unaware of the crisis facing the health services. The Taoiseach told us before the Ballymascanlon Cabinet meeting on health that we had a first class health service. This was at the same time as waiting lists in the Mater Hospital, in the heart of his constituency, were growing by nearly 50%.

This has been a great Government for grand announcements but no follow through. The Minister, Deputy Martin, and his predecessor, Deputy Cowen, at last count had commissioned over 107 task forces, forums, expert groups and implementation bodies, but precious little has been delivered. After five years and €30 billion of expenditure, the Fianna Fáil Government's record on health shows that over 26,300 people suffer on public waiting lists and thousands more – theIrish Examiner states perhaps 100,000 more – wait on a list to get on a waiting list. Ordinary decent hard working people are denied access to a medical card as the Government refuses to properly raise the eligibility thresholds while planning to spend hundreds of millions on the Bertie bowl.

A person earning over €130 gross a week is denied a medical card and must face a doctor's bill of €35 per visit and medicine costs of up to €53 per month. As a result poor people delay going to the doctor or go to already grossly overburdened accident and emergency departments. There are delays of over eight years in some areas before receiving orthodontic treatment even though a treatment purchase scheme was announced over 12 months ago but has still not been delivered.

The childhood vaccination programme is in chaos. Poor distribution systems and a totally inadequate public information campaign to address parental concerns have left our children vulnerable to preventable illness and maybe even death.

Pensioners in nursing homes have had their pitiful savings illegally taken by the State and, in some cases, they still have not been repaid nine years later. We have the worst life expectancy in the European Union and grandchildren are deprived of the company of their grandparents sooner than anywhere else in Europe. In life expectancy, we compare badly with Europe but the House might note that Europe itself lags behind Canada. Why do we continue to accept these standards?

We have among the highest rates of death from cancer in the European Union but there is still no nationwide breast screening programme. Nursing shortages have lead to the loss of nearly 66,000 bed days in our hospitals in the 18 months from January 2000 to June 2001, despite the fact there are over 20,000 qualified nurses not currently working in the state health system but available if an attractive enough package was made available to them. How does the Minister, Deputy Martin, respond to the nursing situation? The House will have guessed – by announcing another forum last week. It is time for leadership not more prevarication.

Michael McDowell, the Attorney General, spoke recently about how this Government had achieved social justice. There is nothing socially just about a 68 year old man waiting two years for a hip replacement while a neighbour with the money to pay can have it done tomorrow. There is nothing socially just about a family with two children earning just above the national minimum wage of €178 having to pay €35 per doctor's visit and €53 a month for medication for their asthmatic child while a retired 70 year old banker gets totally free GP care and medication.

It is time for change. It is time for a Government committed to building a fair, efficient and accountable health service. Fine Gael, in its health proposals, has set out how over the next five years it will construct a health service where medical need not material circumstances will determine access to care. Fine Gael will invest in an enhanced primary care system not just flagship primary care centres in urban areas and ensure access to primary care through the provision of medical cards to those in need. We will on return to Government immediately double the current paltry income medical card eligibility limits. We will introduce a free GP service targeted at those most in need, the lowest paid 60% of the population, children up to 18 years and beyond that if in full-time education and those aged 65 and older. We will add asthma to the long-term illness scheme to ease the burden on the 250,000 asthmatics and their families of a monthly bill of €53 for essential medication. We will introduce an insurance-based scheme for all to ensure access for all to necessary hospital care. We will introduce a system of citizen based hospital boards and make hospital managements tender every seven years for the contract to run the hospital facility. In short, we will introduce the most comprehensive reform of the health services since 1940 when the Department of Health itself was set up. We will create the Office of Surgeon General to work directly for the Oireachtas in securing greater accountability. We will introduce a covenant of rights and responsibilities for patient's to be overseen by a dedicated health ombudsman. We will provide the resources but we will insist on accountability for their use.

Some 54 years ago a Fine Gael-led Government transformed the health of the nation when Noel Browne virtually eliminated the scourge of TB. The challenge now may even be greater. However, with a targeted plan we can achieve the necessary change. We can ensure that people need no longer fear that when they get sick they will not be able to afford or access care. Fine Gael, as a Christian Democrat party, believes centrally in enterprise and social justice. We must create wealth and the jobs that go with it. We must use that wealth to deliver social justice. We will, in government, continue to nurture and encourage enterprise but unlike the current Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Administration, we will also seek to ensure social justice and nowhere more strongly than in building a reformed health service.

In the coming election, people face a real choice between a Government committed to building a new health system or a Government committed to more public relations gimmicks but no real improvements. It is time to make the change and start delivering the health system our people want and deserve. I make this House a promise: we in Government will end apartheid in the health services. We will give this country a health service second to none and available to all and which is fair, efficient and effective – a health service which is the envy of Europe.

The words to describe this Government in recent times and as we enter the dying days of this Dáil are "lack of management". I have no doubt the key focus in the election campaign will be in the area of management. Good sound management of the economy is needed by the next Government if we are to maintain the success of recent economic growth. Never before has a Government spent so much public money and delivered so little in terms of improved services and quality of life.

Irish people are quite rightly proud of the economic progress here since the early 1990s. Since 1993, we have raised output almost 100%, increased the total number at work by over 0.5 million and reduced unemployment from 16% to 4%. By any standards, these have been wonderful achievements. We have been the envy of many countries.

Predictably, the present Government likes to claim all the credit for these achievements. This is a false claim for two reasons. One reason is that the rapid economic growth in recent years was due in considerable measure to what was happening in the rest of the world, that is, the buoyancy of the international economy, particularly in the US and UK, the tremendous vitality of the global high-tech sector, the unusually low level of international interest rates and so on. A second reason is that while Ireland was well positioned to take advantage of these favourable circumstances, this was principally due to policies put in place in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s rather than policies implemented over the last five years. I am thinking of the great expansion of our education system throughout the 1960s and 1970s; the opening up of our economy to overseas investment; the fine work of the IDA throughout this time; the enhancement of our infrastructure, especially the upgrading of our telecommunications infrastructure in the 1980s; and the painful correction of our public finances also in the 1980s after the disastrous policy errors of the previous decade, most notably the infamous Fianna Fáil manifesto of 1977.

The Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, or anybody on the Government benches cannot claim any credit whatever for these policies which provided the necessary foundation stones for our recent success. Indeed, the current Government can rightly be accused of dissipating this wonderful legacy by its handling of the public finances and its inad equate response to the economy's infrastructure requirements. A Government should be assessed on the policies it pursues and not on its good fortune in reaping the harvest from the sound policies pursued by its predecessors.

Of course, statistics on GDP, employment and unemployment tell us only part of the story of the so-called Celtic tiger era. There is another side to the coin which requires examination. Consider the circumstances of a typical young couple, both working, with small children. Ten years ago one or both of them might have been unemployed or might have had to emigrate. Their take-home pay is considerably higher than that of a corresponding couple ten years ago. Their jobs are likely to be more interesting and more highly skilled. They are also likely to own a bigger, better and brighter array of consumer goods. In all these respects, they reflect the success of the economy – higher output, higher employment and lower unemployment. However, what about their quality of life? They are not happier and their quality of life is a good deal inferior than the corresponding couple a decade ago for reasons that reflect Government policy failure.

In the first instance, they are likely to live much further from their places of work. If they work in Dublin, for example, there is a good chance that they live 30 to 50 miles away. Hundreds commute on a daily basis from my constituency to the capital. I dare say thousands commute from the Minister's constituency of Meath. The reason is that this is where affordable housing is now being built, namely in small rural villages and towns that do not possess the social or economic infrastructure to cope with substantial population increases. This is a crazy and has its roots in policy failure. There has been policy failure in planning, the provision of housing and the location of employment.

Of course, our couple will have to devote a much larger proportion of their day to travelling to and from work. This is not only because the distance they have to cover is much longer, but because they are likely to be competing for limited road space with large numbers of others making the same journey. It is not now uncommon for people to spend two to four hours a day in their cars getting to and from work. One does not have to travel from Laois-Offaly or Meath to spend three hours in a car, one can do so travelling within the confines of this city. Sitting in a car for hours on end represents an enormous loss of quality of life. The economic statistics of which the Government likes to boast are entirely silent on this issue and again reflect policy failure. In particular it reflects the failure to provide an adequate system of mass transit in a small island. This failure is a failure of management.

There is also the matter of child care. The rapid economic growth of the past decade or so has seen a big increase in the proportion of women with children deciding to remain in or re-enter the workforce. Indeed, a significant fraction of the growth that has occurred would not have occurred were it not for this factor. This has hugely increased the demand for child care. At the same time it has reduced the number of women available to provide child care facilities for others and has resulted in a big increase in child care costs. The problem of accessing affordable and reliable child care has become serious. It is a particularly serious problem for couples whose search for affordable housing brings them to rural areas with a social infrastructure utterly inadequate to cope with the increase in population that has been thrust upon them. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government speaks of the national spatial strategy working in conjunction with the national development plan. Because the national spatial strategy requires Deputy Dempsey to make choices it will not be published during the lifetime of his Government.

Housing is also the responsibility of Deputy Dempsey's Department. There are 1,800 people on the housing list in Laois, almost 1,000 of whom are in Portlaoise. Never before have we had such a waiting list. Nor have we had a Government which shows such little intent of dealing with the matter. Planning in rural areas is another matter for which Deputy Dempsey has responsibility. He refuses to bite the bullet on this issue. The sons and daughters of farmers are now being denied the opportunity to live in areas near their families and friends. They are told they must get a site of at least two acres in size, otherwise they will not get planning permission from the local authority.

The complete lack of managerial competence at Government level is exposed in the operation of the national development plan, with which Deputy Dempsey is much associated. The national roads programme is grinding to a halt. No major road project will commence this year. The Monasterevin, Ennis, Carrickmacross and Cashel bypasses and the Sligo town relief road are all at construction stage but no funding is available for these projects. The Kildare bypass will be completed in about three year's time but the Monasterevin bypass will only be starting. Traffic is being rushed from one bottleneck to another six miles further down the road. The National Roads Authority reveals a total absence of any kind of forward planning.

As we begin year three of the national development plan there is an immediate need for an urgent review of all aspects of the national roads programme. Specifically the Government needs to put in place a management system and professional expertise capable of implementing the plan within the timescale. The national development plan proposes to eliminate the infrastructural deficit which is severely hindering Ireland's ambition to be a world class economy. Business and enterprise is suffering. The failure to meet targets under the NDP is just one of many failures on the part of the Government. Essentially the Government lacks management.

Given the ramshackle state of our transport infrastructure, the deficiencies in relation to child care, the shambles that is our health service and the 850 schools in need of urgent repair, one would be forgiven for thinking that the Government had been penny-pinching in public spending. Of course the opposite is the case. Education facilities in my constituency have been left in abeyance over the past five years. The programme promised by Deputy Martin and his successor at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Woods, to facilitate funding under public private partnerships for two new secondary schools in Portlaoise, a new vocational school and three new primary schools remains unattended to as we enter the dying days of this Administration. Children occupy little more than a live-in shed at Lumcloon school in Cloghan, County Offaly. Charleville national school in Tullamore, Clareen national school in Birr, Daingean national school in north Offaly, Crettyard national school in south Laois, Rathdowney nation school – whose amalgamation five years ago was never completed as one half of the school is at one end of the town with the other at the other end – Clonenagh Church of Ireland school in Mountrath, Rathdowney Church of Ireland school – unattended despite an application of many years standing for grant aid and funding from the Department – all require funding. Instead of building or renovating schools and meeting the targets set for school development, the Government's legacy for education in Laois-Offaly is the closure of Ballyfin College, one of the finest secondary schools in the land.

Poor transport infrastructure, deficiencies in child care, the shambles that passes for our health service and the 850 schools in need of repair are the hallmarks of a Government engaged in a such a high degree of fiscal rectitude as to require cut back after cut back. Of course that was not the case. Penny-pinching has not been a mark of the Government. Rather it wishes to approve hundreds of millions of taxpayer's euro into ego monuments in west County Dublin and national acquatic centres which now unravel as very serious questions begin to be addressed.

Government spending is now growing at a record rate. As recently as 1999, gross current supply services spending amounted to less than €20 billion. This year the figure will be more than €30 billion, an increase of more than 50% in just three years, or over 15% per annum on average. Over the same period, capital spending will have risen by 70%, or almost 20% per annum. These are frightening rates of increase. If sustained, they would either require big increases in tax rates or a return to large scale Government borrowing. The Government has not committed itself to either. It has ducked the crucial question as it has no management structure in place that amounts to any form of medium to long-term planning. Deputy McCreevy tells us to party as we have never had it so good, that the Celtic tiger continues to roll along, and that we should spend, spend. This is leading us to this position where if the Government sustains the current level of public spending, it must either increase tax rates or return to large scale borrowing, both of which it refuses to countenance. Will the Minister present tell us which choice it will make? We do not hear about this as it is a hard choice and the Government does not make hard choices of any description.

The immediate question that must now be posed is how public spending can grow so rapidly while the quality of so many public services remains appallingly low and others continue to deteriorate. I represent a constituency embracing two rural counties in the midlands stretching from the River Barrow at Carlow to the Shannon at Clonmacnoise and, in the dying days of this Government and the Celtic tiger, there has been very little investment or progress there but a great deal of job losses and neglect. There must be a shake-up in the country's leadership and Administration as far as the midlands are concerned.

The fault for this massive failure lies clearly with the Taoiseach and the Tanáiste. In essence, they, and Deputy Dempsey, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, have squandered the greatest economic boom the country has ever seen. This is the last Private Member's motion of the current Dáil. Clearly, there has been management failure over a wide range of areas. This Government must be replaced before any further damage is inflicted on the Irish economy, or any more trauma inflicted on the hard pressed people.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. It is a fact that the Government has not improved public services. The points made in this motion stand up to scrutiny and the Government has failed in many areas. Our public services are in a shambles and the national development plan is a year and a half behind schedule with a 40% expenditure overrun. Fine Gael proposes that, when in Government, it will borrow money to complete the plan's capital projects by 2006, which is the type of radical thinking needed.

There are many issues regarding education that I could raise. The response from the Minister, when I raised these issues before, was totally inadequate. I have two letters from educationalists in my constituency. One is from Ballinamore post-primary school, which is inviting its two local Deputies to a meeting next week, because a decision was taken to amalgamate the town's three schools over a year ago but nothing has been heard from the Department of Education and Science since. I tabled a parliamentary question some months ago and was informed that this matter would be dealt with. Unfortunately, since then, an inspector has visited the area only once. The people of Ballinamore, my native town, are frustrated because they have no information and do not know when the money will be made available for the new school. This is unfair.

The second letter is from St. Brigid's national school in Drumkeerin, County Leitrim, whose board of management is unable to fill two posts because of the scarcity of teachers. The school is not included in the new rural disadvantage scheme, although it is located in one of the most disadvantaged rural areas. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government visited it recently and knows that it is disadvantaged in many ways. I cannot get any answer from the Minister responsible as to why the school is excluded from the scheme. The primary school in Mohill, County Leitrim, is in a deplorable condition. The Minister gave the go-ahead to build a new school and the board of management was told to gather the local contribution, which it did, but the Minister has not responded and the building cannot go ahead. The same situation has arisen in Carrowreagh, County Sligo, where the school is also awaiting the Department's contribution. No one knows what the Minister for Education and Science is doing. He has often been asked to draw up a priority list to fund schools but will not do so. Why will he not provide the funding for the Ursuline college in Sligo? Such bad politics creates cynicism and explains why the educational system is in uproar.

Speaking as spokesman on western development, some proposals are necessary to develop the western region. Fine Gael believes that the region's population should double over the next 15 years. All infrastructural development in the national development plan for this region should be completed by 2006, which the Government is failing to do because it will not borrow the necessary money. The Sligo inner relief road, for example, which is vital to develop Sligo town, was supposed to receive funding. The National Roads Authority gave it only €1.27 million, when €12 million is necessary to complete the project. A local Fianna Fáil Deputy said that the Department, in a kind of three card trick, would finance the funding of a loan from Sligo County Council to allow €2 million to progress the road, but that money is not enough. Is this a new departure by the NRA which is supposed to have responsibility for roads instead of the Department? Perhaps the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, would clarify that.

I raised on the Order of Business the issue of Deputy Jacob, the Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise, misleading this House over the Bill on gas regulation when he said that towns were selected for the new gas pipeline on a commercial basis. Then the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, sent out a statement to the local and national press to the effect that if it were not for his intervention with Bord Gáis, there would have been no pipeline to Galway. He had the temerity to stand up in the House and say that two pipelines would be connected to Galway. We could do with a few pipelines in other western regions, and I am sure the Acting Chairman would like to see one connected to Donegal rather than connecting two pipelines to Galway. If that is political expediency in the name of regional development, it is time it was stopped.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

1. acknowledges the Government's achievement in relation to health care and in particular:

– commends the Government for its unparalleled increases in health funding;

– commends the Government's new Health Strategy which is firmly grounded in the principles of equity, accountability, fairness and people-centredness;

– commends the Government for extending eligibility for medical cards to all people over 70 years of age;

– welcomes the Government's commitment in the Strategy to extending medical card coverage to cover more people on low income including targeted increases to ensure more children, in particular, are covered;

– recognises the increased number of patients receiving treatment in Acute Hospitals;

– continues to endorse investment in initiatives such as the Waiting List Initiative and the Treatment Purchase Fund;

– commends the Government's commitment to the provision of an additional 3,000 Acute Hospital beds over the next ten years and to fund the commissioning of 709 beds in 2002 as a first step in increasing bed capacity in the acute hospital sector,

2. notes with approval the unprecedented increase of 85% in funding for education to €5.4 billion during the Government's term and the huge advances made in providing high quality, accessible and inclusive education, including:

– greatly improved pupil teacher ratios in schools;

– the targeting of substantial extra resources and support services for disadvantaged children and children with learning difficulties, including specific measures to improve literacy levels;

– major progress in upgrading, modernising and providing new school accommodation as a result of a fourfold increase in capital funding for this purpose; and

– looks forward to the continuation of these positive developments over the coming years,

3. welcomes the significant achievements by the Government in the housing area since 1997 and notes:

– the comprehensive range of measures introduced to increase the supply of housing which have given rise to successive levels of record housing output in each of the last five years, culminating in the completion of 52,000 housing units in 2001, and the overall provision of 216,000 housing units in the Government's term;

– the significant moderation in house price increases from a peak of 40% in 1998 to about 5 – 6% in the 12 months to end-September 2001;

– that first-time buyers have been afforded greater participation in the housing market; and

– the record level of funding of €1.7 billion for housing in 2002 which is 3 times the amount provided in 1997,

4. welcomes the fact that good progress is being maintained with the development of the roads network as mandated in the National Development Plan and, in particular, notes that:

– the total 2002 Exchequer provision for the national roads improvement programme is €958 million, which represents an increase of €50 million on the 2001 outturn, is more than three times the 1997 level of expenditure;

– the Exchequer investment of nearly €2.5 billion which will have been made in national road improvements for the first 3 years of the NDP (to end 2002), is already more than €260 million or some 10% in excess of the planned NDP profile;

– the NRA programme will see over 20 major projects being taken forward during 2002;

– record funding of over €438 million is being provided to maintain and improve the non-national road network,

5. welcomes the achievements of the Government in tackling traffic congestion in Dublin and other urban centres and, in particular:

– welcomes the progressive implementation of the NDP which provides for the investment of €12 billion in transport over the 2002-06 period and the demonstrable progress made in 2000 and 2001 in implementing this investment programme;

– welcomes the significant increase in capital investment in public transport during the lifetime of the Government, including the provision of over €400 million in Exchequer capital funding for public transport in 2002;

– welcomes the progress being made with regard to the Dart network, Luas and the Metro and the significant increase in bus numbers both in Dublin and provincial areas;

– notes that the DTI Strategy update "A Platform for Change" provides a comprehensive, updated framework for meeting Dublin's transport needs;

– notes the progress being made in the upgrading of the national road network in the Greater Dublin area where work has commenced on the Dublin Port Tunnel, the South-Eastern Motorway, the Cloghran-Balbriggan Motorway, Kildare bypass and Glen of the Downs project and in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford where major projects have either been completed in recent years, are under way or are well advanced in planning, and

6. congratulates the Government on five years of unprecedented economic and employment growth and the many successful steps taken during that period to tackle the underlying problems affecting the quality of peoples lives.

I am delighted to tell Deputy Reynolds that some time ago the Government gave a commitment that the gas pipeline would go to the north west, which I am sure he welcomes. I am sure also that Leitrim will continue to benefit from the other measures that have been put in place by this Government over the past five years, particularly in the upper Shannon region. I have visited Leitrim on several occasions and it is thriving.

It is just as well the Minister is not living in it.

The Deputy would find it difficult to deny that.

I will not encroach into the area of responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, but I was intrigued by some of the mathematics used by Deputy Gay Mitchell who said Fine Gael would extend medical card coverage to up to 60% of the population and give medical cards to everybody over 18 and over 65. If my understanding of the demography of this country is correct, he has approximately 110% coverage of the population in all of that. The Deputy appeared to have great difficulty with the idea of the over 70s getting medical cards, as announced by the Minister for Health and Children last year. He talked about bankers over the age of 70 getting a medical card yet he is proposing that bankers over the age of 65 should have a medical card. He either agrees or disagrees with the principle of free medical cards for everybody, but he should make up his mind. The public will not be as confused about these matters as Deputy Mitchell appears to be currently.

When I saw the Fine Gael Private Members' motion before the House tonight I thought to myself that some things never change. Here we go again; the same old Fine Gael scatter-gun approach. It is a motion that does not have the slightest hint of any kind of focus and includes everything bar the kitchen sink. It shows that the Fine Gael Party is in complete disarray in terms of policy and does nothing more than justify its abysmal showing in the poll ratings. It cannot even agree on a focused motion.

The Minister should wait for the real poll.

I can picture Fine Gael putting the motion together. I will do it the credit of presuming that somebody in the cabal sitting around the table made the suggestion—

The Minister should withdraw the word "cabal".

—that it should focus on one or two key issues.

Withdraw the word "cabal".

Not at all. Did you not have one to change your leader not so long ago?

Acting Chairman

The Minister should address his remarks through the Chair.

The Minister was involved in changing leaders also.

One can picture the discomfort rippling around the table as no one could find a single area of Government policy on which to have a full debate. Why? Because they knew they could not sustain an attack on the Government in any one area and that its record gives them barren soil on which to try to sow the seeds of anything like a meaningful attack. It does not make any odds to those of us on this side of the House. The more issues Fine Gael wants to raise with us, the more opportunity we get to set out the strength of our record. That is what my colleagues and I will do during the course of this debate. I should have said at the outset that my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, intends to speak for 15 minutes with the approval of the House.

Since taking office in 1997, this Government has prioritised the upgrading of our economic and social infrastructure. Our vision was, and still is, one of a first class infrastructure supporting the development of a first world economy yielding a first rate quality of life. This Government's superb management of the economy delivered the resources necessary to upgrade our physical infrastructure. Our national development plan provides a total investment of €24 billion in infrastructure programmes, coming within the remit of my Department, in key areas like national and non-national roads, housing, environmental infrastructure, waste management and urban and village development. Excellent progress has been made in the first two years of the NDP in the roll-out of this investment programme. That is due to the fact that we have a clear view of what we wish to achieve. Building on our success in obtaining record levels of economic and employment growth, which have greatly improved the living conditions we enjoy, the NDP provides a clear framework for the transformation of our economic and social infrastructure. That is in stark contrast to the Opposition parties which have achieved the exalted status of failing to articulate a single coherent statement of what they see as the key challenges, never mind how they might be remedied.

I want to examine road investment, one of the key programmes within my own remit. In relation to national roads, excellent progress has been made with the development of the national network as mandated in the national development plan, including the advancement of the five major inter-urban routes. The NDP provides for investment of €5.6 billion in national road improvements over the period 2000 to 2006, a threefold increase on the previous NDP.

In relation to national roads, the irrefutable facts are that the Exchequer provision for 2002, at €958 million, is more than three times the 1997 level – the last time the rainbow Government was in coalition – and nearly twice the 1999 level. Over the period 2000 to 2002, the Exchequer provision for national road improvement, at €2.488 billion, is more than €260 million in excess of what is provided for in the NDP. Not only does Fine Gael get its figures wrong about medical cards, it also gets it wrong in relation to roads. We are €260 million ahead of what we provided for in the national development plan.

I would like to invite the Minister to County Cork.

That level of investment has enabled a rapid acceleration of the national roads development programme. Since 1997, a substantial number of towns, including Nenagh, Portlaoise, Roscrea, Balbriggan, Cavan, Donegal and Arklow, have been bypassed, with obvious benefits accruing to the towns from the removal of through traffic and an improvement in quality of life for the people living in those towns. The implementation of the national roads development plan provided for in the NDP will remove through traffic from more than 60 towns and villages

The 2002 provision will fund ongoing construction on over 20 major projects throughout the country. The programme has not come to a halt, as Fine Gael appears to think. The provision will also fund forward planning and design of major projects on the major inter-urban routes as well as many others, details of which are set out in the material circulated to the Deputies. By any standard, this is a major programme of work and when taken together with all of the projects completed since 1997, it represents a major upgrading of the national road network.

The Opposition motion claims, in particular, that no new road projects will start this year. That overlooks the following facts: the N22 Ballincollig and the N11 Ashford-Rathnew bypasses have recently got under way; the NRA anticipates that contracts will be awarded later this year for the N4 Kilcock-Kinnegad and the N25 Waterford bypass PPP projects; and over 20 major projects already under way will upgrade some 200 kilometres of national roads – 130 kilometres to motorway or dual carriageway standard.

Investment in national roads is being complemented by record investment in non-national roads. Almost €2.5 billion is to be invested in this backbone of rural transport over the life of the national development plan. This year alone, over €438 million is being provided in State grants, a doubling of the 1997 provision.

More than €221 million is being provided on the restoration programme which aims, by the end of 2005, to restore local and regional roads in county council areas which were deficient in 1995. Nearly 25,000 kilometres of non-national roads have been improved under this programme.

The 2002 allocations include a further €50 million in non-national road grants to support housing and other related developments. That will provide grant assistance to local authorities in the greater Dublin area, the cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford and adjoining counties where housing demand is highest and for certain strategic non-national roads to support housing, industrial-commercial and other developments. That Exchequer funded scheme will provide grant aid of more than €246 million in the 2001-04 period to 42 projects. If the most extensive road building programme in the history of the State seems to be regarded as one of the best avenues of attack on the Government, what does that say about the Opposition? It says we have an Opposition that is even more nervous, desperate and misguided and out of touch than ever before.

Meeting mobility needs and dealing with traffic congestion is not only about investment in roads. The sustained economic success and prosperity the country has experienced in recent years has resulted in real and tangible benefits in terms of jobs, living standards and quality of life generally. One of the more obvious challenges posed by this growth is increased traffic, particularly in urban areas. The Government has been proactive in responding to this challenge and to the urgent need to upgrade our transport infrastructure in Dublin and other urban centres to alleviate traffic congestion. While the Opposition may wish to deny it, we have made good progress in the implementation of an integrated and well functioning public transport network.

Investment in roads has been complemented by our sustained and coherent programme of investment in public transport. Government capital investment there has risen from €8 million in 1997 under the rainbow coalition Government to €424 million in 2002 – that is a total capital investment of more than €1.2 billion during the lifetime of this Government.

The resulting improvements are significant and they have been outlined in the House in great detail by the Minister for Public Enterprise on many occasions. I do not intend to go back over them. If only for the purpose of making one more attempt to educate the Opposition on this issue, the material circulated gives comprehensive details on what has been achieved in terms of the rail network and Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann networks.

In addition, the Luas project continues to advance. A preferred bidder to operate the service has been selected. The trams continue to arrive at the rate of two per month and the contract for operating the system will be awarded shortly. The lines from Tallaght to Connolly Station and from Sandyford to St. Stephen's Green are progressing and are still on target for completion by end 2003. The depot at the Red Cow is completed and fitting-out is taking place. Work on laying a test track from the depot to Kingswood in Tallaght has begun. It is expected that track testing will commence in April 2002.

In January, the Government approved the commencement of the procurement process for phase 1 of the Dublin metro, which will make a major contribution to resolving Dublin's traffic problems. The metro will be developed as a public private partnership and the Government has approved a policy framework for rail based PPPs, which will be used in the implementation of the metro project. The Railway Procurement Agency is carrying out passenger modelling and route alignment studies on the proposed metro route.

In addition to investment in individual modes of public transport, we recognise that better integration between public transport modes, and between public and private transport, is of major importance. To that end, a total of €63.5 million has been set aside to promote integration in the greater Dublin area in a practical way. The provision of quality bus corridors, the deregulation of taxis, traffic management and other measures have been put in place. The Government is committed to a greater Dublin area land use and transportation authority, in respect of which the heads of a Bill will be submitted to Government shortly. In addition, the DTI strategy, A Platform for Change, outlines more than €16 billion in investment over the next 15 years, which will go a long way to resolving the difficulties that exist in Dublin.

I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to this debate. I would like, specifically, to address the part of the Fine Gael motion where the House is invited to condemn the Government in relation to the health service.

While the advisers to its leader are busy attempting a last minute dramatic reinvention of his style, the basic thrust of the motions put before the House remains the same. Every week we hear another tirade, using selective or invented statistics in an ever more desperate attempt to undermine the Government's standing.

The Opposition as a whole has been extremely inventive in the different tasks it has taken. My favourite remains the way in which Labour and Fine Gael believe that we should be held accountable for the major increase in waiting lists which took place in their last six months in office. To that can be added the display we saw in the House earlier when Fine Gael attempted to attack the Minister for Defence and the Government for implementing a decision for which its leader had lobbied. Never letting facts get in the way of an attack and never missing an opportunity to trade on innuendo, the tactic of playing the man not the ball is alive and well and played out with ever more predictable regularity on our airwaves.

The bottom line on our record on health is that we have cut waiting lists, dramatically increased investment, provided new services, hired new professionals and provided the most comprehensive blueprint for development and reform in the history of our health services. Let us nail one lie here and now, implementation of the health strategy is not only well under way, critical aspects of it are ahead of time. More than €250 million is being spent to develop the services outlined in the strategy. In just one area, hospital treatment, the first expansion in bed capacity in decades is under way – 709 beds are coming onstream this year versus an original target of 650 beds. Some €113 million is being provided to reduce waiting lists and waiting times.

Compare this to the record of the leaders of the Opposition when they were taking the decision. Deputies Noonan and Quinn looked into their hearts and decided that waiting list funding needed to be cut and reduced it to €10 million in 1997. Five years on, in spite of regular requests, both refuse to justify this decision.

When coming into office the Government recognised the need to improve the level of investment in the health services. I am pleased to record that we have achieved our goal, but we recognise that more is required. Future policy is clearly set out in our health strategy and the reviews of primary care and of bed capacity. I am continuing these improvements during 2002. Some basic facts, which cannot be refuted, are that ongoing revenue spending on the health services for 2002 is approaching €7.7 billion; on the capital side, the 2002 spending level is €497 million; and, as a percentage of GNP, health revenue expenditure now stands at 7.8%, which is the highest figure in almost 20 years. We, as a Government, have delivered an increase of 125% in funding for the health services.

The establishment by Government of a national development plan represents the single most important event in the development of the health capital infrastructure. In 2002, funding of €497 million is available, the largest ever capital programme agreed by a Government for the health services. The 2002 funding represents a 33% increase on the 2001 outturn. This funding will allow for the continued progression of major projects in the health sector such as hospitals and community facilities. Every region in the country has a major investment programme in its health facilities and equipment.

The staffing of our health services continues to be another of those critical issues affecting our ability to meet the increasing service demands across all programmes. The total staffing figures for the public health services have increased from about 68,000 in 1997 to about 86,000 at the end of 2001. That is an extra 18,000 people. As a consequence of the increased funding provided in 2002, this number will rise by approximately 6,000 to 92,000 overall.

I will give the House some more facts. A total of 1,640 places nationally will be available from this year on the new nursing degree programme. This is a record number of places. The recruitment of nurses continues to run strongly ahead of the numbers leaving with a net increase of 1,896 as of 31 October 2001. There are 340 more consultants than in 1997. We have developed the National Health Strategy to move away from short-term approaches to planning and to provide a blueprint for the whole health system to realise ambitious and wide-ranging change over the next seven to ten years. The Government's commitment to health as a key priority area is underlined by the ambitious targets set in the strategy. As I said at the outset, this year is seeing major funding for the strategy and major progress in implementing it.

Equity in health care is one of the principles on which our new health strategy is based and one which this Government is committed to addressing in the implementation of the strategy and through service developments across the board. The overriding necessity here is the need for access to services. Services need to be built up, waiting lists reduced and activity increased and specific groups such as children and those with disabilities require targeted service developments to address previous neglect and unmet need to ensure equity. A broad strategic focus is essential to deal with these sort of problems and no single narrow approach will address the real need for better, more equitable health care services for all.

The health strategy, Better Health for Everyone, sets out a range of actions which are specifically directed at disadvantaged groups and are concerned with ensuring that these groups do not continue to suffer the most ill-health. Actions to reduce inequality include the implementation of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy and targets for the reduction of health inequalities. These include targets for reducing gaps in premature mortality between the highest and lowest socio-economic groups. In addition, there are provisions to eliminate the barriers that exist for disadvantaged groups in terms of making healthier choices easier for these groups and supporting them at community level to understand and access services. There are also specific programmes of action for groups such as Travellers, the homeless, drug misusers, prisoners and asylum seekers and refugees, all of whom have a real risk of poor health status.

The second national goal of the strategy is fair access. It is concerned with ensuring that equal access for equal need is a core value in the delivery of publicly funded health services. There are three strands to this goal. The first is to clarify eligibility through legislation and communication with hard-to-reach groups. The actions set out in the strategy will ensure that all those eligible understand their entitlements, can easily access services they need and can be sure that no matter where they live, there is a standard approach to their eligibility for services. As part of ensuring fair access the strategy identifies the need to provide equitable access to services. This is primarily concerned with improved access to hospital services for public patients. It also attempts to recognise other barriers which affect people's ability to access services.

The strategy recognises that health for disadvantaged groups is a complex issue which needs to be tackled in a number of ways. We need to ensure, firstly, that people are healthier and therefore less likely to need health and personal social services and, secondly, that when they do – once they are deemed eligible – no other barriers such as transport or opening times prevent them from accessing the services they need. The Government has set out a range of measures to make more people eligible for services. Our commitment to their introduction is clearly stated in the strategy. The proposals are broadly aimed at the most vulnerable in society. Those on low incomes, especially families with children or a child with a disability, will be targeted. There is also provision for young children and the elderly. All of these groups have very high health care needs compared to the rest of the population.

These proposals are a key element of the fairness part of the strategy. However, the strategy also recognises that extending eligibility will not guarantee that people get the services they need. There are other barriers to equity in the system and dealing with these has been prioritised to ensure the eligibility framework in the future can really support equal access for equal need. The Government is fully committed to extending medical card coverage to more people on low incomes and there will be targeted increases to ensure more children, in particular, are covered by these measures. Such actions always have to be considered in the light of the whole range of priorities for the health services.

I will now outline some of the developments this Government has been responsible for implementing during its term of office in the past five years. Since coming into office it has placed heavy emphasis on the development of new accident and emergency services. A total of 16 major capital investment projects have been initiated, catering both for new facilities and for extensive refurbishment and enhancement of existing facilities. Some 1.2 million patients are now seen annually at accident and emergency departments. Funding of €7.3 million is being provided in 2002 to further these developments.

It is worth reflecting for a moment on the waiting lists that existed when the Government came into office in 1997. At that point there was the equivalent of just €10 million available to tackle waiting lists. My predecessor Deputy Cowen and I have increased this figure substantially each year and it now stands at almost €44 million. Fine Gael showed with its recent national campaign that when its members do not like the waiting list figures they simply invent their own. The mass indifference which has greeted its campaign showed clearly that it is fooling no one. I recently released the hospital waiting list figures for December 2001. The total represents a decrease of 6,080 or about 19% since December 1997. These figures should be seen against the background of a hospital system which is continuing its high productivity. The total number of people treated last year as in-patients or day cases in acute hospitals was 920,000. Compared with the 786,000 people treated in 1997, this is an increase of 134,000 or 17%. This is the biggest ever increase in hospital activity in this country.

This Government has ensured that more people are being treated and they are being treated more quickly. There is much more to do, but there has been progress. Some €65 million is being provided in capital and revenue to meet the requirements of the first phase of a programme to provide a total of 3,000 new acute beds in the next ten years. Our target in the health strategy was to increase acute beds by 650 in 2002 but I was able to announce plans for an additional 709 beds in the current year. I am confident that these additional beds will bring much needed relief to the acute hospital system. A sum of €30 million is being provided in 2002 for the purchase of treatments for public patients. The treatments will be purchased either from private hospitals in Ireland or, if necessary, from abroad. I have appointed a person to head the team and consideration is being given to a number of options. This, together with the waiting list initiative and bed capacity funding, will ensure that significant improvement in access to acute hospital facilities can be achieved in 2002.

This Government has allocated more than €103 million to cancer services. Since 1997, 64 additional consultant posts have been created including support staff. In recognition of the need to develop cancer services further, the National Health Strategy has identified the need for the preparation by the end of this year of a revised implementation plan for the National Cancer Strategy. This plan will be developed by my Department in conjunction with the National Cancer Forum and will set out the key investment areas to be targeted for the development of cancer services over the next seven years. I notice that Deputy Noonan has toured the country promising new services and new developments wherever he thinks they might help the Fine Gael patient to live a bit longer. I have no doubt that this will continue to fool no one.

Additional revenue funding for the development of services for older people has increased significantly from €12.7 million in 1997 to an additional €72.9 million in 2001. This has resulted in the approval of more than 1,300 additional staff for services for older people. From 1998 to 2001 more than 550 additional beds were provided in new community nursing units and more than 1,250 day places per week have been provided in new day care centres. This year alone, additional funding of €87.8 million is being made available for further development of the services.

While it likes to posture on this issue, I never hear the Opposition defending its record on disability services. We have no problem defending a record which is delivering the largest ever expansion in services. Additional revenue and capital funding has provided around 840 new residential places, 296 new respite places and more than 1,500 new day places in addition to the enhancement of other services. We have provided additional funding for physical and sensory disability services – capital and non-capital – of more than €175 million since coming into office. Additional developments in the period from 1997 to 2001 include more than 550 care places and 125 therapy posts. By any yardstick it must be acknowledged that in the last three years of this Government there has been a huge change in the level of funding for people with disabilities. It has been unprecedented. We readily acknowledge that there is some distance to go to meet all of the needs identified in the Intellectual Disability Database. We are currently developing the physical and sensory disability database which will give us a clear and objective picture of needs against which we can allocate sufficient resources to meet them.

We will not pretend the agenda is complete or adopt the complacent approach which characterised health policy when Deputies Noonan and Quinn were making the decisions. We have no problem defending our record. We are targeting investment, increasing services, developing new approaches, hiring new professionals and delivering in the acute, primary and continuing care areas. We have produced the most ambitious and comprehensive strategy for investment and reform in the history of our health services and are funding and implementing that strategy.

I am very pleased to reject the Opposition's typically superficial attack and look forward to putting our record before the people.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Michael D. Higgins and Gilmore.

This Government came to office on the very simplistic promise of reducing taxes. What it did not tell people was that it was going to cut taxes in the capital area and slash taxes for the better off. It did not inform the public of the other side of that coin, namely that public services would be diminished and would not be able to meet modern day standards and expectations.

There has been much concentration on health in this debate. It is rather pathetic that the best the Minister for Health and Children can do is talk about the blueprint he is drawing up for the next five years. With the health services in a shambles after five years in office, it is a pretty poor record. I wish to address issues in the area of education. It is interesting that the current Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, had responsibility for both areas during the past five years.

The image of modern and dynamic Ireland, as presented by the Government, rarely features any footage of the condition of many of our schools. It is difficult to believe that outdoor toilets, leaking roofs and sub-standard prefabricated classrooms remain a daily reality for pupils. It is hard to accept that an Ireland which has been fortunate enough to enjoy the riches of the fastest growing economy in Europe allows its young people to be educated in schools with no budget for repairing broken windows or providing basic hand-washing facilities. The reality, however, is that conditions associated with early 20th century Ireland have been allowed to prevail in schools. Their persistence is an indictment of a Government prepared to spend the nation's surpluses on the whims of Ministers rather than on the needs of school children.

A recent INTO survey of primary schools found that many schools remain vermin infested, over-crowded and totally inadequate in terms of basic hygiene. Exactly 50% of schools lack facilities for pupils with special needs. It is quite ironic that the Minister for Education and Science is this evening in the Seanad trying to ram through the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2002 to provide for the needs of people with disabilities and is doing so in a school building setting which is an absolute mess.

Only 24% of schools are lucky enough to be able to afford a small library. More than 62% of primary schools operate daily without a principal's office from which to organise the school's business. There are currently 850 applications for major building projects before the Department of Education and Science. It is deplorable that so many school buildings and facilities have been neglected at a time when we have had such strong economic growth. The situation has been worsened further by a complete lack of transparency on the part of the Government which has failed to disclose which schools are priority cases. The consequence has been a tremendous amount of frustration for principals, teachers and parents in urban and rural Ireland. Schools are justifiably angry when they hear of other schools receiving money for repair work while their claim appears to wallow in a backlog of similar claims.

The Minister, despite having given a number of undertakings to publish the list of sub-standard school buildings has, to date, refused to do so. Clearly he has two objectives in mind. He is trying to hold on until as late as possible before the election to give the good news to those schools who will receive the go-ahead. The other reason is that many schools on the list will be disappointed because there is not enough money available this year to carry out essential works. He does not want to be up-front and straight with schools by telling them exactly where they stand.

Another area which has been severely neglected by this Government is literacy. One of the most fundamental obstacles to eradicating educational disadvantage are the high levels of illiteracy which continue to plague so many of our communities. If ever evidence of that were needed, it is contained in yesterday's report on access to third level education. Despite the great number of very wealthy areas in Dublin, it is at the bottom of the list with only 38% of students going on to third level education. There is also a huge variation in participation rates within the Dublin area. We go from areas in parts of the Minister's constituency and close by in south Dublin where there is a participation rate in excess of 78% to areas like west Dublin and north Dublin where the participation rates are less than 10%. Less than 10% of our young people in certain communities are proceeding to any form of third level education. If that is not a serious indictment of the waste of Government resources over the past five years, I do not know what is. Few children in working class communities in Dublin, in particular, remain in education to junior certificate level let alone leaving certificate level. What chance is there of them ever going on to third level education? There has been no targeting of resources in relation to educational disadvantage.

This Minister, like his predecessor, has taken the political approach to spending in education by spreading everything around. Spending never takes place on the basis of priority resulting in few, if any, targeted measures to tackle the problem of educational disadvantage. Ireland's record on illiteracy reveals a particularly miserable performance. A recent assessment of English reading found there had been no improvement in reading skills among Irish school children in the past 20 years. Many students experience serious difficulties in literacy and more than 20% function at least two years behind their chronological age. We have not seen any targeted measure over the past five years to combat illiteracy among school children. That 20% is not spread around the country; it is concentrated in disadvantaged areas where between 50% and 60% of children have serious literacy problems.

Clearly this Government has no interest in those disadvantaged areas because no initiatives have been taken to tackle the problems. We also have major problems in the area of adult literacy. We hear much about the introduction of initiatives to bring people into the workforce but if people find it impossible to read even the most basic instructions, what chance have they of ever getting into employment? These are two of a number of areas that have been neglected over the past five years. No attention has been given to the area of pre-school education. There are now fewer State funded pre-school places than there were in 1997.

How can Deputy Martin, as the Minister for Health and Children, not be ashamed of his Government's deplorable and pathetic record on funding for schools? Surely the State should be meeting the full running costs of our primary and second level schools in this day and age. We should be paying the full wage costs of the essential staff needed in schools. The Government never kept its election promise – to restore the pupil-teacher ratio in relation to career guidance counsellors. It has forgotten about that and has only managed to appoint a miserable 50 additional career guidance counsellors during its term of office. The Government has also failed to make a significant difference in regard to third level grants. Is it any wonder 40% of third level pupils drop out? The performance of the Government in regard to education over the past five years has been deplorable.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this motion, which deals with the Government's performance. I was intrigued by the Minister for Health and Children's comment that he is looking forward to facing the people on the Government's record. When the Government faces the people and the Minister is defending his record, they will have a number of questions. How could Ireland have become the eighth richest country in Europe by 2000 but the second worst provider in terms of social protection? They will ask how we could have generated such massive surpluses one year after another and still experience the conditions that prevail in accident and emergency wards and in hundreds of schools, which are in a deplorable state and do not meet even basic health and safety standards. How could we, above all else, have arrived at a position where a new generation of young people may not look forward to purchasing their own homes without entering a form of slavery?

The Government will also be pushed to answer other questions. Ministers, in the dying days of their terms of office, will give us long lists of expenditure but the real test is what percentage of GDP was spent on health and the other indicators of social protection. The argument is that, politically, the Government claims credit when the economy is doing well, sometimes for reasons over which it has little control. However, when economic growth slows or a deficit appears for the first time, it is not the Government's fault at all. The Government manages the good news and is never responsible for the bad news.

With regard to housing those who have destroyed Ireland as I knew it have a vested interest in supporting the outgoing Government. Those who wanted to make a speculative profit out of the housing market, for example, have a loyalty to the Government. One report that was published highlighted that speculation in housing was making it impossible to provide houses for people who simply needed shelter but another report stated housing output could not be managed unless speculators were allowed back into the market in the classical Fianna Fáil way. Back in they came and the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, went on television to say he was pleased he was a right of centre Minister and provided capital gains tax remission on speculative profits. Shame and disgrace on him.

Meanwhile the Progressive Democrats Members, in preparing for the election, are saying "Put us four Progressive Democrats back because we will be able to tame Fianna Fáil". The Minister for Finance said Fianna Fáil did not capitulate to the Progressive Democrats but he was really saying "I am a PD in Fianna Fáil clothing myself". The reality is the housing crisis has torn the heart out of our society. The election will be about the kind of society that is the legacy of the Government. Is it, for example, acceptable that the average price for a house is €187,000 when it was only €87,000 five years ago? One does not need to be a rocket scientist or, as the Taoiseach puts it, one of those people who is very good with figures in the party, to take the cost of a house, subtract the increase in the cost of building materials and wages and examine what is left, which is the speculative gain.

Young couples must get €50,000 from their parents to put down as a deposit on their first house and both must work. They no longer have the choice to work at home. Both must start early in the morning and must provide child care if they have children. They must work all day, some in virtual offices as they adopt new technologies, and return home late at night. They have little time for participation in the community or interacting with friends. How is this to be measured? It is not measured, but economic performance is measured without considering the affect on people. The Fianna Fáil-PD version of the economy is one which is depopulated.

People will ask how could the housing list double, how could conditions be so bad in accident and emergency departments and why do children still have to go to school in degrading conditions while the economy is doing so well. Does a civilised version of society require this? In other European countries such as France the working life, the working year and the working day are being reduced and compulsory paternity leave is being extended. All of these initiatives use the economy to provide a version of society that is built on certain values.

There was a time Fianna Fáil was not anti-State, anti-welfare or anti-collective provision. Are we to leave the provision of shelter to the market or are we to accept there are basic rights of citizenship such as health, education and housing, which should be provided collectively with a role for the State? That is the issue on which the public must make up its mind. I challenge the Ministers of State and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, who was in the House earlier, to conduct a survey on home ownership. The reality is that of the housing finishes to which Deputy Dempsey referred recently, 25% involved holiday homes which were built at the cost of inflating the price of a site for rural dwellers who want to build houses. Of the remaining 75%, some investors own 12, 14 and up to 20 houses. They generate money from rents and re-invest it in the dozens of tax avoidance schemes that are available, and on the spiral goes.

When one asks why the housing lists have doubled, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, refers to demography, the number of people who have returned to their native areas and the number of young people seeking housing. Even if that were true, is there not a case for local State action to establish land banks? What about the case against speculative and windfall profits on building land? That will never be to the fore when a Fianna Fáil-PD alliance is in power.

The cabal that is the vanguard of a certain section of society engaged in speculative building has always known where to go. There is no confusion in their minds and they will be seen heading in the same direction again. I will be an old person before the likes of this Government says the right to housing will come before the right to speculate on building land. Is it right that a person can own 12 or 14 houses and contribute to spiralling rents? The equivalent of a rent of £500 in 1997 is £1,200 today. These are facts. Are we to live in a new kind of slavery in society while the economy we are told by the right of centre Minister for Finance is doing very well? Frankly, it is a tragedy that there have been huge surpluses of more than £1 billion every year, but now we are heading for a budget deficit while all the gaps must be filled.

Perhaps the Minister of State will also answer why there was no action on the private rented sector. The report of the commission on the private rented sector has been published but why was legislation not introduced to protect tenants? Why are more people being evicted now than were evicted during the Land War? There was an opportunity during the years of surplus to work on the estates that were built in the 1950s and 1960s without adequate provision of recreational facilities and so on. Why did we not refurbish them and improve the environment?

Debate adjourned.