Leaders’ Questions

The Taoiseach will be aware of the comments of the Minister for Finance yesterday in this House, when answering questions about the Exchequer figures. The Minister commented that the fiscal figures for April show that the tax profile is beyond the budget Estimate for December and that expenditure is below the budget Estimate. The Minister also said that for the first four months of the year, "things are better than on track and we hope that continues for the rest of the year." However, he said this does vary. He concluded by saying "we will not have any degree of certainty until we get the June figures. It will be early July, therefore, before I would be firm on the figures, but so far so good."

Will the Taoiseach confirm to the House and to the country that he agrees with his Minister for Finance that Exchequer Estimates were broadly correct, and that the recovery programme that was in place is working?

I agree with the Minister for Finance. I also agree with him that the Government of which the Deputy was a member entered into commitments for which there was no back-up to provide the wherewithal to deliver on them. For instance, €50 million was supposedly left aside by the previous Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for an agri-environment options scheme, but we found nothing there at all. There is a raft of commitments entered into by the Government of which the Deputy was a member, but for which no moneys have been provided.

I agree with the Minister. He will be in a much clearer position when the June figures come in. The figure bandied about around budget time for dealing with the requirement for bank debt was €10 billion. After the PCAR exercise that was raised to €24 billion. There has been an increase in interest rates and in the cost of fuel, a decrease in consumer demand, and an increase in the savings ratio. All of these things have had an impact on the circumstances surrounding our economy. For that reason, one of the central features of this Government will be to promote the creation of a stronger economy through the development of jobs and opportunities. That will be central to the Minister's statement on the jobs initiative next Tuesday.

In fairness to the Minister for Finance, he was very emphatic about it. He said that the figures were better than on track. He said that the Estimates were broadly correct, as defined by the outgoing Government. The Taoiseach rightly mentioned the agreement with the troika. Central to the ongoing certainty mentioned by the Minister for Finance yesterday will be the revised agreement with the troika, which I believe has been published today. Page 16 of that report states that it is important that we make effective use of our State assets, and where appropriate, dispose of them, to help reduce our Government debt.

This is a new, clear commitment to privatisation. Given that the Cabinet will have had to agree this document, how is it that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, who controls many of the State's most valuable assets, was able to state categorically in a national media interview on 24 April that he would not dispose of State assets merely to write down debt? Has the traditional Fine Gael ideology won the day? Or has the Government performed yet another U-turn that it hoped people would not notice?

This Government is not into performing U-turns or pirouettes like the Government of which the Deputy was a member. The Minister with responsibility for public expenditure and reform has asked every Department to respond to him by the end of May in respect of the possibility of the potential for disposal of non-strategic State assets. This matter was raised on several occasions during discussions between the Ministers in the Department of Finance and the troika. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources set out clearly a strong view that in the event of any non-strategic State asset being sold at the appropriate time, it should be used for the purpose of investment in job creation measures. Very few people would disagree with that.

It is not what the Government has agreed to.

The conclusion of the discussions between the troika and the Government was that this could be dealt with on a case by case basis.

No, it states that there should be a disposal of assets to help reduce the Government debt.

From that perspective, elements of the original deal done by the last Government with the IMF and the EU have been changed following discussions between this Government and the troika about stronger and greater efficiency measures and greater investment in the growth of our economy. When the Minister with responsibility for public expenditure and reform receives, by the end of May, the view of each Department on the McCarthy proposals and the disposal of non-strategic State assets, then if the Government decides to dispose of any of these assets in due course, the return on that will be a matter for discussion between the Government and the troika.

I call on Deputy McDonald.

We are discussing this document today. We cannot discuss a document that the Taoiseach is resiling from an hour or two after its publication. It states that the Government will dispose of assets to reduce the debt.

Deputy, please resume your seat.

He comes in here now and says something different. He is taking——

Did you hear me Deputy?

The troika has a clear understanding with the Government in respect of the sale of any non-strategic State asset and what it can be used for.

I call on Deputy McDonald.

The Government has tied us to an EU-IMF deal that explicitly envisages the sale of State assets to write down debt, and that imposes vicious austerity on ordinary people. The result of this is real hardship for people.

I do not know whether the Taoiseach saw last night's RTE "Prime Time" programme, which showed the kind of hardship experienced by many communities in Dublin and beyond in this State who have been abandoned, and the conditions in which they are living. Does the Taoiseach agree the conditions we saw on last night's programme are unacceptable?

Sinn Féin has raised this issue many times previously, here in the Dáil and elsewhere. We have worked with residents in St. Teresa's Gardens, Dolphin House, Croke Villas, O'Devaney Gardens and many other areas across Dublin and in Limerick and beyond.

The conditions in which many citizens are living——

Do you have a question?

——are not fit for human habitation. They live in flats that are damp and overrun with rats. We saw last night children with asthma and other medical conditions——

A question, please.

——living in circumstances which a senior microbiologist described as reminiscent of refugee camps.

Deputy McDonald is a public representative for the area.

I want to know what the Taoiseach and his Government propose to do about that.

The Government proposes to sort out the economic mess it has been left with by a Government which wrote into an agreement that it denied was taking place. They denied that the IMF was coming to our shores. They denied in public, time and again——

Answer the Deputy's question.

——that this country was not in a position to borrow money——

——and that its banks were not in a position to borrow money. This Government will use the mandate given to it by the people to sort this out in Ireland's interest, to restore the public finances to good health and to be in a position to provide through proper and efficient government, facilities for those whom Deputy McDonald mentions.

The Taoiseach is sorting it out in a very different way to that which he promised in the election. He was going to burn the bondholders.

Can we have a bit of quiet, Deputy Dooley?

I am aware of the circumstances of many of these people.

Deputy Dooley's party ruined the country. Will he have a bit of modesty?

In a modern country, we should not have the situation of the disparity that exists in many of our sectors. I remind Deputy McDonald of the words of the second previous Taoiseach who stated that anybody who thinks the boom in housing and construction would end should go off and commit suicide, for which he had to apologise and which has been a matter of debate in this House for the past three days.

The Deputy asks me what will we do about this. We will tell the people the truth. We will explain to them the scale of the reality of the mess the Government has inherited——

It is a complete U-turn.

——and we will deal with it through direct Government.

Would Deputy Dooley please give a chance to others?

Please answer the question.

I remind the Deputy, and Deputy Martin, that the line she refers to in that document was a line inserted by the Government of which Deputy Martin was a member which put into it that non-strategic State assets being sold would be used for debt reduction. That line is continued in the current document——

Do not rely too much on the property bubble.

The Taoiseach was going to be able to negotiate it. Why did he not take it out?

Deputy Dooley, please.

The Troika has a clear understanding with the Minister for Finance in respect of Ireland's achievements in dealing with the fiscal targets that have been set, that on a case by case basis they are quite prepared to listen, as they have done already in respect of changes where there is a stronger commitment to job creation and a demonstration that we are serious about that.

I do not need the Taoiseach——

Fianna Fáil lost the election, remember that.

Would Deputy Buttimer give the Deputy an opportunity?

Deputy Dooley has not spotted it all——

——to tell me or, indeed, those who live in these appalling conditions about the record of the previous Administration.

I must say it is getting a little tedious in this House that when a straight question is put to the Taoiseach, he runs for cover behind the record of his predecessors. That is not acceptable. His answer in this House today will be cold comfort to those living in these Third World run-down conditions.

What did the previous Government do?

A supplementary question please.

The fact is that Fine Gael, in government, has been quite satisfied——

Fine Gael is in power now.

——to continue with the failed policies of those who it criticises, but it will not hold out any hope or any real alternative to the people who suffer from its collective view that it cushions the rich and punishes the poor.

Could we have a question, please?

Tell me this. Will there be a social dividend from NAMA? If there are unfinished or unsold houses, how will the Government use these to address the housing crisis? Can some of the housing stock currently in NAMA be given to not-for-profit housing associations to relieve the waiting lists? Can the Taoiseach give an assurance on behalf of the Government that he will give more than lip-service, rhetoric or abuse towards these boys here on these benches——

(Interruptions).

Deputy McDonald, please.

——I think many on the Government benches are boys——

Sinn Féin was going into the Seanad bed with them.

Would the Ceann Comhairle ask the poodle to be quiet over there?

(Interruptions).

Put that poodle back in its box.

——and address the issues that affect people? I have asked the Taoiseach directly about these communities in Dublin and Limerick.

Can I have a have a supplementary question?

I have asked him about NAMA. I would like answers to those questions——

I thank the Deputy. We will get an answer now for her.

——rather than a ruaille buaille with Deputy Martin and the Taoiseach.

A Deputy

How would Deputy Martin feel about that?

It is not the big issue now. Housing is the issue.

Obviously, Deputy McDonald's leader is away canvassing in Northern Ireland.

It is part of this island. It does not stop at Dundalk.

The Taoiseach to reply, please.

Neither does it stop at Fair Head.

Maybe the Taoiseach would answer the question.

I listen to the same repetition from Deputy Ó Caoláin week after week.

There will be repetition unless the Taoiseach gives his answer.

Let me tell Deputy McDonald something. I have been a public representative for many years. I know exactly the kind of conditions of which she speaks. On each occasion I must visit any constituency in an official capacity or, indeed, when I go to Britain or the United States, I make a point of dealing with those who look after the vulnerable in society, in the case of those who are abroad who are of an Irish Diaspora. Deputy McDonald should not come into this House and assume that the Sinn Féin Party is the only one which has an interest in those who are underprivileged, deprived or disadvantaged.

Would the Taoiseach answer the question?

(Interruptions).

It is beneath Deputy McDonald, coming in here from Cabra——

——to lecture us as if she is the only one who understands these difficulties. Every Deputy in this House of all parties and none deals with this on a regular basis.

Fine Gael is running the country.

(Interruptions).

Deputy McDonald asked me, in her first question, what the Government will do for the disadvantaged, and I will tell her again. The Government will deal with the challenges of the economic legacy it has inherited. The mandate which has been given is to sort out the public finances and deal with the issues with which those of whom she speaks must suffer as a consequence.

What about the NAMA problem?

In respect of her question on NAMA, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government with special responsibility for housing and planning, Deputy Penrose, has done a great deal of work in the short time that he has been appointed on an number of issues in so far as housing is concerned with the NAMA stock and he will report to the House on that in the not too distant future. From that point of view, I expect there will be a social dividend. One cannot do it all over Ireland but one must start with some measure of facility provision for people who are disadvantaged.

The editorial in The Irish Times yesterday stated, "The US special forces team was under orders not to take him [Osama bin Laden] alive, as confirmed by a US national security official to Reuters." We now know he was shot dead unarmed.

The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and leader of the Labour Party and presidents of the EU Commission and Council, all categorically supported the assassination of bin Laden. Since when is it the policy of the Government and of the European Union to support a shoot-to-kill policy of somebody suspected of serious crimes? Is it only justified if the target is a reactionary anti-democratic, anti-human rights obscurantist like bin Laden, whose organisation slaughtered thousands of innocent people, not only in New York but, massively, in Pakistan and elsewhere? Are there other circumstances? Before the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste join the chorus of sycophantic congratulation, did the Taoiseach consider some more profound and subtle issues, for example, that bin Laden was being increasingly isolated because the heroic revolution for democratic, economic and human rights sweeping Arab nations and led by the youth and the poor in their millions did more to undermine al-Qaeda than all the US military might and their missiles and bombs? Did he consider the rank hypocrisy of the United States and EU countries such as Britain which armed and supported dictatorships whose brutal repression was grist to the mill of the reactionary al-Qaeda organisation?

The Deputy's two minutes are up.

Did the Taoiseach not consider therefore that this assassination was no more than a naked political stunt to project military and political power which was——

A question to the Taoiseach.

——-slipping away from the US because of the actions of the Arab people? I want the Taoiseach to justify his stand.

That was a speech from Deputy Higgins, not for the first time.

There were questions. Can we have some answers?

The fact of the matter is that Osama bin Laden——

Answer the question.

——was responsible for mass murder in New York, Madrid, Bali and London.

We all accept that.

Many of his victims in the Twin Towers in New York were of Irish descent or directly Irish. The avalanche of material published yesterday following the announcement of his death has in many cases been altered as new facts emerge. I did not join any sycophantic group, as Deputy Higgins crudely put it. I did make the point that the world is now a better place without Osama bin Laden.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

From this perspective, as a non-aligned neutral country it is important that vigilance be maintained in respect of the safety of citizens throughout the world.

It is a fact of life that atrocious murders have been committed in the name of political and religious beliefs at various times throughout the world. Osama bin Laden is no more, and from this perspective the world will now move on and I hope that good politics can bring about a situation where peace, which is so difficult to achieve, can reign throughout the globe. A total of 3 million people have died in the Congo but I have not heard Deputy Higgins speak about them. I have not heard him speak about the citizens of Benghazi who were about to be massacred by Colonel Gadaffi and his forces. Those difficulties are ongoing and the European Union has a distinct interest in them with regard to the protection of human life.

Deputy Higgins has one minute to ask a further supplementary question.

Thousands of people have been murdered by reactionary terrorists. I suggest to the Taoiseach that the answer to this is not to do likewise and use their methods. In 2003, the Taoiseach stated that under international law and order the war in Iraq was wrong, unjust and unnecessary. Tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis were killed.

Could we have a supplementary question please?

The two figureheads of that invasion, Messrs Bush and Blair, were responsible for that. If a group of aggrieved relatives of those tens of thousands of dead mounted an assault on Mr. Blair's luxury compound, wherever that might be, would the Taoiseach equally justify that——

That is an outrageous suggestion.

——because the same logic would apply——

Thank you, Deputy.

——and they would no doubt argue——

The minute is up.

——that they could not get justice in Britain? I put it to the Taoiseach that he has no mandate from the Irish people——

Deputy Stagg is more right-wing that Fine Gael.

Through the Chair, Deputy McGrath.

The Ceann Comhairle is also heckling.

——for his support for this assassination, albeit of an utter reactionary. In my view, if there was a debate among the Irish people——

——while they would excoriate Osama, his likes and everything that he did as we have done and we did——

Thank you, Deputy.

——to the US and Britain which supported these reactionary regimes, they would not agree with his position.

I call on the Taoiseach to reply.

Justify why you support shoot-to-kill policies in some instances.

Answer the question.

That is some question.

The Taoiseach has one minute to reply.

I was not aware that Deputy Higgins was a supporter of Osama bin Laden.

Answer the question.

It is not your question.

There are too many leaders over there.

That remark should be withdrawn.

As Deputy Higgins is aware, my views on the Iraqi conflict were well known——

Withdraw that remark.

——and if Hans Blix had been let finish his observations and analysis——

Withdraw your remark. You know very well——

——the proof would have been there——

You are not in the Chair.

——my position on reactionaries like al-Qaeda.

You had your chance and you did not ask a question.

Please resume your——

Withdraw your remark.

Answer the question. What is your position on shoot-to-kill policies?

Will you please resume your seat? Would you mind your own business? You stay quiet.

That is an outrageous remark and it should be withdrawn. The man has always opposed terrorists and terrorism anywhere in the world.

I will be asking you to leave the Chamber if you are not very careful. Do you want me to ask you to leave the Chamber? Would you mind resuming your seat?

If Hans Blix had been let finish his analysis weapons of mass destruction would have been proven not to be in Iraq. It seems to me from the confused statement made by Deputy Higgins that he is extremely concerned about what has happened here without showing the due concern and consideration for the thousands of people——

That is not fair. He did not say that.

——who were murdered by mass activity by Osama bin Laden.

That is not fair by any objective criteria.

You know, and as former Prime Minister Blair found out, had Mr. Blix been let finish his analysis, weapons of mass destruction would not have been found in Iraq, which might have changed and altered the course of history.

Will the Taoiseach not answer the question on shoot-to-kill policies?

That remark should be withdrawn.

That concludes Leaders' Questions.