Estimates for Public Services 2007: Statements (Resumed).

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. While all politics is local, all funding and decision making certainly are not. When it comes to local government, the perceived, and I fear very real, erosion of local independence and the continuance of the "Dublin knows best" mentality is constraining and restricting county and city councils' development. There are slim pickings for local government in the 2007 Estimates. Despite the fact that, according to the Government's own report, there will be a €1.5 billion shortfall in local government funding by 2010, it will receive a miserly 2% increase in budgetary funding this year. The Minister should get real. Control on one hand and a closed purse on the other is not realistic.

What does the Minister for State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, suggest? He says local authorities must get better value for the miserable funding allocation for this year. Is he advocating the cut-price, low-cost store approach to local services? He has the nerve to suggest this while the Government is pushing the sale of local authority land banks to private developers. At the same time, as has often been said in this House, the homeless cannot even get a roof over their heads or young people cannot get a foot on the property ladder. I cannot emphasise often enough that we can see people sleeping rough in alleyways not 100 metres from this House.

Local government provides a wide range of services, including housing, water, sewerage, roads, planning, fire services, environmental protection and the provision of recreational facilities. The major challenges facing local councils are restrained by their regrettable over-dependence on central government. The aims of local government, which are being frustrated by the Minister, are to improve the quality of the environment and to provide for diverse development. Local government is an essential element in a democratic state and it is the machinery by which important services are provided.

Once again the shortfall will fall to the taxpayer as stealth taxes are forced on hard-pressed councils. Householders and businesses will be forced to make up the massive shortfalls which the 2007 budget will not even come close to addressing. The tax burden on working families has increased under the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government. The figures in the Estimates show that this, allied with a greater lack of delivery, is bound to continue. As always, these charges will hit the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society but it is manifestly obvious that the Government simply does not care.

The chief executive of Chambers Ireland has said that the 2% increase in the Exchequer contribution to the local government fund will not even cover the increase in wages, let alone services. As local authorities look to meet the shortfall through increasing commercial rates and other business charges, this will inevitably feed into higher costs and drive people out of business. I am thinking particularly of small stores throughout the country that must pay exorbitant rates. I am also thinking of rural publicans who are crippled with heavy rates and very little business. The Exchequer's annual contribution to local government should increase at the same rate as expenditure in other public sector areas. That is a rate of 8% for 2007. These Estimates highlight the hallmark of this Government to tax more and spend more but deliver little, except on one money wasting fiasco after another such as electronic voting and the PPARS system. I could spend the next half hour highlighting the Government's waste over the past nine and a half years in office.

The record of a lack of delivery from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, continues. The increase for local authority housing programmes will not even come close to meeting the demand for housing from the 50,000 households on the waiting lists. The fiasco of decentralisation, doomed to failure since its initial announcement with a triumphant fanfare in the 2003 budget, has proven to be an empty promise for most areas.

It has been a success in Tipperary.

The most recent review of local government was undertaken in 1996 for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. That is now ten years ago. The report noted that Ireland has a highly centralised system of financing local government and highlighted the limited discretion for local authorities, insufficient revenue buoyancy and an inequitable funding system. Countrywide delays in sewerage schemes are a huge problem. The lack of investment in such schemes is a major threat to development, health and tourism in many areas. There are at least a half dozen outstanding sewerage schemes in County Longford. One of these is in Ballinamuck, a town made famous by a battle there in 1798. It was promised in the run-up to the general election in 1977. Albert Reynolds said he would never set foot in Ballinamuck again if he did not deliver a sewerage scheme during the term of that Government. So much for pre-election spin.

Aside from improved local government funding in the forthcoming budget, I want to see a realistic increase in old age pensions to a more equitable minimum level of €250 per week and a decrease in the age limit to 65 for all.

It is a costly affair.

The cost of decreasing the age of the non-contributory state pension from 66 to 65 would have been approximately €28 million to €30 million in 2006. This allows for the amount which would have been paid in the 2006 budget and the cost would not have been much higher this year. The main reason to raise the old age pension is to lift older people out of the poverty trap and make them as financially comfortable as possible in their retirement. After all, we are all heading in that direction some day. According to the latest Central Statistics Office figures released in 2005, without social transfers, the largest being State pensions, 88.1% of over 65s would be in relative poverty. Relative poverty is defined as 60% of average disposable income. To decrease the rate of pensioners at risk of poverty, a considerable increase in the old age pension is necessary. In 2005, over 65s made up 11.2% of the population but 12.1% of those were at risk of poverty.

In an era of ever-increasing costs, we are seeing an imminent increase in the prices of electricity and gas. In August, the regulator approved massive increases in gas and electricity prices based on the level of oil prices which have fallen considerably since the go-ahead was given.

He has since announced that he is to review those decisions.

This is factual. The Government allowed a 30% increase in electricity and gas prices. Circumstances have shown these price increases were based on a false assumption of worldwide oil prices. Oil prices have fallen dramatically since August but the regulator, with the backing of the Government, is refusing to reconsider such unrealistic increases.

He is reviewing the decision. The Senator should stop reading his script and debate the matter.

Please allow Senator Bannon to continue without interruption.

The losers will be our elderly, who are facing a harsh winter and are unable to meet the projected cost of heating their homes from their limited resources. In a time of plenty, what Government would allow the elderly to bear the burden of the senseless increases I have outlined? In the next few months and immediately after the budget, we will see an increase in stealth taxes. The people who will bear most of this burden are the elderly, sick and disabled.

With our lamentable record on Kyoto, what will the Government do to develop a sustainable energy sector? The Estimates show a 3% cut in funding for research and development and forestry which, when inflation is taken into account, is a significant cut in available funding. These are key areas for the future development of agriculture, especially for the food and bio-fuel industries. Their neglect indicates that the Government has no grand plan for agriculture and a lack of commitment to the future of farming.

The Senator should read the social partnership agreement.

Those opposite waffled about the figures yesterday.

The partnership agreement was accepted by the farming organisations.

We cannot have debate across the House.

Instead of increasing investment in forestry, the Government has decided to scale back——

It has decided to increase the premiums by 15%.

——its investment. There was a fanfare with the Minister announcing the delivery of funding for forestry, but it will not happen. This is a blatant acknowledgement by the Government that its ambitious plans for the forestry sector have failed dismally.

In the run-up to the previous general election, the Government promised 2,000 extra medical cards to vulnerable and less well-off people.

The Senator has got that wrong. It promised 200,000 extra medical cards.

I apologise. It promised 200,000 extra medical cards but those cards have not been delivered. In my part of the country, in excess of 2,000 people have lost their medical and hospital services cards under this Government. Last Monday at my clinic 12 vulnerable people——

That is because rising incomes are taking people out of the poverty net and into the higher taxation brackets.

——came to tell me they had lost their medical cards because of neglect by this Government. It moves the goalposts all the time and more vulnerable people are suffering because of bad government by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.

It is a tremendous Government.

My colleague opposite has been on a rather confused and complicated odyssey of some kind to the land of nowhere. In welcoming the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, I wish to comment on his spending plans for the coming year. He has responsibility for overseas development aid and in the short time he has been in office, he has made spectacular progress in securing a substantial increase in funding for overseas development aid.

I am pleased to welcome the €813 million the Minister of State has secured. He has reached the target of 0.5% of gross domestic product, GDP, to which he committed himself. At the beginning of his Ministry, he made it quite clear where he stood and I acknowledge that. He has a target of 0.6% of GDP by 2010, which he is determined to achieve, and a target of 0.7% of GDP by 2012. One of the most spectacular achievements for the coming year is the increase of 50% in emergency aid for famine, drought and other unanticipated difficulties which occur worldwide. I have no doubt the Minister of State is ensuring Ireland is living up to its international obligations in terms of humanitarian aid. I am very impressed with his performance and am glad he is in the House to hear me say that.

I commend the Minister for Finance on his overall approach to the Estimates for the coming year. There is widespread acknowledgement, although perhaps there might not have been three or four weeks ago, that the Minister's spending plans are appropriate, responsible and sustainable, to use his words. The yardstick by which we should analyse and judge his plans are their appropriateness, responsibility in regard to spending for next year and future years and their sustainability in terms of a successful economy.

The economy is working very well and is the envy of the developed world. It is second or third from the top of the league table in performance terms and our people are at work. A nation that is at work is, by and large, a happy one. Last year alone 80,000 additional jobs were created. When one looks at the extent to which we must use migrants from abroad, both EU nationals and, to a lesser extent, non-EU nationals, we have full employment. Our job creation rate is three times the EU average and the real challenge is to ensure we do not do anything which puts this achievement and momentum at risk. The manner in which the Minister for Finance presented recent budgets and these Estimates ensures that momentum continues. After all, jobs mean wages and salaries and they are an obvious solution to poverty. We can come up with many commendable schemes to deal with poverty but at the end of the day, jobs are the best way to address poverty because by giving people wages and salaries, one restores their dignity. Jobs reduce the number dependent on social welfare and create revenue to fund public services through income tax.

Gurus in certain places have been prophesying profligacy, recklessness and auction politics by the Minister for Finance but they have been proved very wrong. There is a considerable amount of money because of the very successful way the Government has overseen the operation of the economy. I also accept partnership is at the core of that. The phenomenal performance has manifested itself in a significant surplus of money. Instead of profligacy, there has been prudence and instead of recklessness, at which some people in the media and elsewhere were hinting, there has been responsibility. Now those same gurus are trying to anticipate the Minister for Finance's next moves. Some of them are still hinting that recklessness will break out in the budget but they will be proved very wrong in that regard.

Nowadays when we look at the Estimates, we see many different figures. We no longer count in hundreds of millions but in billions. The figures are mind boggling. No matter how large the amount of money, it is important it is targeted in a way which creates a better quality of life for all. No matter how well an economy performs and irrespective of the surplus of money, if we do not improve the quality of life for people, we are not successful.

The clear principles which should underline any spending plans and programmes are family and community — our children and older people — and the quality of service we provide for everybody. As we know, the services are delivered through education, health and the environment. Senator Bannon had some negative things to say with which I disagree.

The Senator was named as a waster by a businessman in this city.

I do not wish to engage in an argument with the Senator.

I refer to one service as a type of yardstick for the manner in which part of the considerable bundle of money available to the public is targeted, that is, the welfare of our children and the opportunities they get through education. There is no doubt from the substantial increase in money being given to, and the emphasis on, education that we are giving priority to our children and the opportunities they should get. We have seen the largest ever increase in capitation funding for our schools. It has increased by €18 per pupil, the largest increase in the history of the State. It means heating, lighting and insurance costs, which seem trivial but which are very important to schools and can impose a burden on principals and staff, are adequately covered. The considerable increases the Minister has secured this year to fund those items will lessen the burden on principals and staff and enable them to concentrate on their educational and pedagogic duties. This year primary schools will receive more than €163 for every pupil attending while secondary schools will receive approximately €316 per student. As I said, this is the largest capitation increase in the history of the State.

One of the major issues in public debate recently has been class size. Pupil-teacher ratio is no longer the criterion because it has been greatly reduced in recent years by the phenomenal number of additional staff brought into schools, more than 11,000 in the last eight or nine years. However no Member of either House would disagree that class size has rightly become an issue. I am glad to see an extra 800 teachers are being assigned to reduce class sizes further this year and to support children whose first language is not English. This brings the number of new teachers in schools since 2005 to 1,900. I have always said education must be about making the world better for all children and not just those who can afford an elite education. This issue arose in the House last week. Our education system should give that assurance for future generations.

The most vulnerable who need most help are children with special educational needs, the disadvantaged and those who missed out on first chance education through no fault of their own. I welcome the decision to increase funding on special education to more than €820 million, including covering the cost of almost 8,000 special needs assistants who the Government are rightly targeting as a priority for those most in need. The special needs assistants give essential back-up and support to special needs children. Their rights have been enshrined in law, extra money has been directed at special education and over recent years there has been a phenomenal aggregate increase in the way special education is funded.

The Senator may dream on.

There will be a meaningful beginning to the provisions of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act in the coming year. A few years ago the entire special education sector received only crumbs. Special education teachers worked hard to bring about a service to meet the needs of these children. There was no framework and despite the best endeavours of teachers, it was hit and miss. We now have a framework, their rights are enshrined in law and substantial additional resources are being targeted to ensure a quality of service is delivered to them.

I am heartened by the fact that, consistent with the Minister's approach to give priority unashamedly to those in greatest need, the increase in the capitation grant for special schools is greater than that of other schools. The rate for children with physical disabilities has almost doubled. The increase in the money for special education is to the extent of about €180 million, almost 30%, and this is significant. At the same time the Minister accepts that much work remains to be done to ensure we bring services to the optimum level for these children.

Tackling disadvantage is another area that has posed a challenge to the education system through the years. Many schemes were devised to try to address this and provide greater equality of opportunity for children who were economically, socially or educationally disadvantaged, or all three, and the links between the three are obvious. It goes without fear of contradiction to say this Government has recognised the important influence parents have on their children's education. Recently the Minister announced an expansion in the number of home-school-community liaison teachers.

They are being withdrawn everywhere.

This link between home and school is being more closely developed and school principals tell me these programmes have a significant impact on the communities where they are targeted. There is a huge follow-on advantage in reducing loitering, truancy and anti-social behaviour. The school completion programme is familiar to me in my constituency. I have frequently spoken to those who operate it and to school principals and staff. The outcomes are spectacular. I am glad the Minister has decided to extend the pilot programme.

I would like to say more and I will have the opportunity to do so at next week's debate on education. I would like to single out the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera. In the few years she has been in charge of youth work, adult and further education, literacy and other supports for second-chance people she has made a significant impact. I will quote from the National Youth Council of Ireland, NYCI, president, Mr. James O'Leary. When he became aware of the Estimates last week he stated that, "NYCI and the member organisations it represents owe a debt of gratitude to Minister de Valera, who has proven herself to be a powerful advocate for the youth work sector." That is a glowing, strong and unequivocal tribute. He went on to say she, "has delivered once again for young people in the form of a 14%, €6.2 million, increase for the youth sector in 2007". He added that NYCI regrets that this is her last budget for her Department but wants to put on public record how much it values the commitment, sincerity and time she has selflessly given.

The priorities set out by the Minister in the Estimates are correct. They are socially progressive and people most in need are getting funding for real improvements in their quality of life, as I have tried to demonstrate through the example of education. The quality of our education service is improving at every level by strongly favouring the most vulnerable and needy. I commend the Estimates.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to the House in the absence of the Minister for Finance. To say the Estimates as presented are of any significant importance is overkill in so far as most people say this is a book exercise delivering figures and their meaning. If this is the sum total of the Government's intentions for the coming year, it is a retrograde step. The Minister has the opportunity to target areas where need is greatest. I see no evidence that the Minister has used this opportunity to target the weakest areas in society. I would welcome correction on this.

I want to highlight two areas in particular. In the Estimates the Minister makes a contribution to IDA Ireland, industrial development and where we are going. If it is policy that we are to have a fair, level field for development and job creation throughout the country, we have serious problems, especially in the west. It has been highlighted time and again that IDA Ireland concentrates on a few large urban centres, namely, Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. When one crosses the Shannon at Athlone there is no worthwhile contribution to job creation by the IDA, the body charged with creating jobs. The only time we see the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on television is when good news is announced. We will never again see the major job creation by American companies as has happened, except in elitist positions for graduates. This is welcome as part of research and development.

Enterprise Ireland is doing a reasonably good job in job creation. Its work is targeted at local level but it supports only the endeavours of local entrepreneurs to create jobs and employment. The IDA has abandoned job creation outside the centres to which I referred. It is doing so because it claims it cannot attract people.

The former Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, and the current Minister, Deputy Martin, have established task forces. One example is the case of Ballinasloe, a town that lost three flagship industries in recent years. The response was to establish a task force of local agencies, the local authority, councillors, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland. The task force is only a talking shop, an excuse to soften the blow and announce the delegation of training, for example, to FÁS. Deputy Harney's response to the closure of the last major industry in Ballinasloe was to suggest workers travel to Athlone and Galway by train for jobs. If that is the response of the Minister who had responsibility for industrial development, is it any wonder the west has been abandoned by the IDA?

AT Cross, Square D and Dubarry were major industries in Ballinasloe. The first was a high tech company, Square D was an industrial engineering process facility and Dubarry was a traditional shoe manufacturing company. All three are no longer on the scene. An important tax incentive designation for the upper Shannon has been a major success. This was introduced by a former Minister as a pilot project. If the Government is serious about regenerating an industrial black spot, such as Ballinasloe, the Minister should focus some incentives on the middle Shannon region, south of Athlone, around Ballinasloe, Portumna and Killaloe. Those in the Shannon area, as distinct from the IDA, have been positive in supporting the development of local industry from the Shannon industrial authority area as far as Birr, on the other side of the Shannon. On the western side of the Shannon there are serious difficulties with development. At a time of plenty the Minister should target this area for an extension of the pilot scheme. Anyone who visits the region can see the improvements made to the upper Shannon area. It can be extended to the middle Shannon area, where industrial jobs have been lost, agricultural output has declined and people are exasperated by the flight from the land. I hope the Minister for Finance, a neighbour of the area, can recognise the need for such a pilot scheme in this area.

We have another example of the callous disregard for those who are most vulnerable in society, namely, the decision to appeal the tribunal ruling in favour of the Equality Authority on behalf of two people challenging the supplementary addendum to leaving certificate results. This may have been done by Department officials or the curriculum examination section, acting unilaterally without the knowledge of the Minister. If the Minister sanctioned it, it indicates and verifies her failure to recognise those who are vulnerable in society. The addendum highlighted the inadequacies of the people who received the leaving certificate. It was unbelievable and unprecedented that any Department would highlight the special needs of those candidates and that they were inadequate in areas of spelling and grammar. Traditionally, the Department of Education and Science made special provision for those types of students to receive assistance in the examination, which may be a traumatic event in view of the students' special needs. Instead of challenging this ruling once more and bringing further trauma, I ask the Minister for Education and Science to examine this matter and withdraw the appeal. It will have the most serious consequences ever known in an educational process.

The Department of Agriculture and Food, which had been traditionally associated with challenges, goes through court processes every year to challenge minor routine matters that it has failed to discuss with various parties involved. I do not know why this is the case. Perhaps officials in a Department believe they can make a name for themselves and use the court decision as a benchmark of success. They fail to acknowledge this costs the taxpayer money. What does it achieve? A further putdown to those disadvantaged in our society. I urge the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Lenihan, to ask the Minister for Education and Science to withdraw the appeal.

Regarding the Estimates, over the years the Department has proposed public private partnerships for building schools, school management and the provision of services and maintenance afterwards. In three examples, Cork, Sligo and Monaghan, the project was completed at a cost 13% higher than the estimate of the Department. The Department of Education and Science has withdrawn the idea that it would go through that same process in Donabate where there is an urgent need for a second level school. Nonetheless, when I examine the Estimates, I see the provision under the heading of public private partnerships is increasing by 58%. Is this a failure to recognise that the use of public private partnerships in the provision of schools has not worked given that we are now withdrawing from the process because three of the schools provided under it cost 13% more than the sum for which the Department could have provided them, never mind the sum for which the local communities could have provided them had they been given the chance? There was a move towards allowing local communities provide for and build their own schools. They could have done it much more cheaply than in other instances. Can the Minister of State tell me why, on the one hand, we seem to be abandoning the process of public private partnership in education and, on the other, there is a 58% increase in the funding for this specific element according to the Estimates?

With the Chair's permission, I will discuss one further aspect.

The Senator's time is almost up.

I appreciate the Chair's indulgence and will be very brief. Throughout the country, especially in County Galway, we are told there are many projects for improvement in water and sewerage infrastructure. At the same time, IDA Ireland says it cannot provide jobs in a particular area because it lacks the infrastructure. Although, we are told by Government public representatives that there is an abundance of funds for various water schemes and sewerage projects, there has still been no progress on any of them over the past three or four years. No new projects have come on stream. The two things are not reconcilable. The situation involves nothing but spin. There is money available but these projects cannot be progressed. It is not possible to meet the Minister to finalise matters exactly and get a definitive answer when they will take place. As a result, the local authorities are blamed. I hope we will get the opportunity to expand on these issues later.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, to the House and congratulate the Minister for Finance on what is another step along a very successful path he has followed during his time in the Department of Finance. Probably the most obvious and quantifiable sign of the success of the policies that have been followed to date is employment and the changes we have seen in this area. According to the Minister, we now have a country at work and an economy that is working. Anybody who went through the Estimates in detail over recent days will have seen where our priorities lie. They will also have seen that the priorities we have chosen are based on talking to and listening to people and taking their views on board. This is very evident from the way the Estimates have been framed and in the policies that have been followed up to now.

We are not where we are today by chance, but rather by taking measures at times when it was difficult to take them, when we put up with much criticism and when the Government, in particular, was criticised for spending too much and, shortly afterwards, criticised for not spending enough. One must take account of circumstances over recent years which were outside our control, such as the events of 11 September 2001, fuel and oil prices and problems with the economies of other countries. By sound government and the hard work of the people of this country, we are where we are today.

For us to be able to have sustained and continued an average yearly growth of 7% over the past ten years is a phenomenal achievement when one considers that we had increases in population and significant immigration. We have continued to pursue foreign direct investment probably more successfully than any other country in the world. The fact that a country of this size is in a position to say that, at one stage, it was the leading producer of software, not just in Europe but in the world, and was competing with the likes of the US, India and China must be taken into account. Some credit must be given for the prudent and sound way the Government has managed our economy over recent years.

I worked in employment exchanges in the early 1980s when the queues were out the door and when people had the choice of signing on at the employment exchange or emigrating. It was as simple as that. When I left school, the only choices we had were to go into the Civil Service or the bank or to emigrate. They were the three choices we had. Very few people were lucky enough to get into the Civil Service and even fewer were lucky to get employment in the banks. For many people, there was no question at that stage of going on to third level education. Very few people at that stage could do so. That has changed considerably.

A relatively short time ago, we had unemployment rates of up to 20%, which were higher in what were called "blackspots" at the time. There were nightly news reports of unemployment blackspots and the jobless figures for these areas spiralled upwards. It took us a long time to tackle and stop that spiralling figure. One can look at the changes today and see an unemployment rate of 4.5% and a long-term unemployment rate of 1.4%, which is one of the lowest such rates in Europe. Long-term unemployment was a significant issue when I worked in employment exchanges. The long-term unemployment figures we sent in every week from the Department of Social Welfare were enormous and the rate kept increasing.

I see the benefits of today's changes every day. Recently in the North Wall an old lady told me that the recent situation reminded her of the 1940s and 1950s when the port of Dublin and its docklands were at their height and streams of people went to work very early in the morning. She told me how after generations of unemployment in a devastated area where there was no hope and which contained drugs and low-quality social housing, young people and both parents of families were now working again. There was a chance for their children to get a job, finish their schooling and possibly enter third level education. The people had come out of the problems that faced the area.

If a person had been told by someone else five years ago that there would now be a third level college within 300 metres of Sheriff Street, he or she would have laughed at them. Today, the National College of Ireland, one of the leading colleges in the country, is located there. Again, young people from this locality have the opportunity to attend this college. These are the changes we have seen.

The management of our economy is not just for today; it is also looking to the future. We should not apologise for this. The National Pensions Reserve Fund of €17.6 billion, which we have put in place over recent years, is for our future and that of our children. We should not have any qualms about telling people that this is what we are doing.

Next year, we will spend €149 million every day in this country. Again, we should not apologise for this. We have listened to the doom and gloom merchants for many years. Like everything else, if one says something and repeats it long enough, it is bound to happen at some stage. Economies, including the world economy, are cyclical. There have been troughs and peaks in this economy but we have managed our way through the crises. This did not happen by accident; it required firm decision making and leadership.

I recall that during the currency crisis in the 1980s there was a sense that there was no hope for our economy. The rate of inflation was massive and interest rates were touching 18%. There is much talk of people not being able to afford to buy a house now but at that stage people had no hope of being able to buy not because they could not afford the mortgage repayments but because houses were not being built. There have been major changes since then, for which we should not make an apology.

I wish to concentrate on two areas in regard to the Estimates, the first being education. There is a record increase in the Estimates again this year in terms of expenditure on education. Some €8.4 billion will be spent on education next year. That level of expenditure represents a massive increase and a trebling of the level of expenditure in the past ten years.

Members on the Government side of the House have always believed in the power of education and in everybody having an opportunity to fulfil his or her potential. Generations of members of Fianna Fáil and other parties have worked on that basis for many years and we have proven the benefit of that belief. The current Minister for Education and Science stated her position and priorities from an early stage, as did her predecessor, and the Minister has adhered to those priorities. She has continued to support investing in the future of our children for the benefit of the country, to which priority is rightly given. As the Minister said, she will continue to invest from first level to fourth level. She has prioritised investment in innovation, technology and the sciences with the future in mind. As a former teacher, the Minister realises what needs to be done in these areas.

We are bottom of the league.

The Minister has a good record in this respect. People employed in the education sector would say the difference in education now compared with ten years ago is huge.

Class sizes have increased.

An additional 800 teachers will be allocated next year, which will bring to 1,900 the number of new teachers who will have been allocated in the past two years. Those additional teachers will reduce class sizes. We have to start somewhere. Successive Governments have ignored this area.

The Minister pointed out when she took office that to reverse the trend of the policies in place and to target the areas where there had been a lack investment, she had to start somewhere. One cannot argue with the progress made in recent years. We are not only investing in education from an economic perspective but from a social perspective. The Senator opposite was correct in pointing out that a society is judged by how well it treats its most vulnerable people. Major resources have been invested in the areas of disadvantage and disability which has resulted in massive changes.

I see those changes every day in the north inner city area of my constituency. Children are more confident. They know they will have opportunities in education in the future. There is hope for them that did not exist for many young people ten years ago. Children in that area did not have the hope of aspiring even to complete their leaving certificate. A major issue in the north inner city is to encourage young people to go on to third level. Access programmes are in place. Many of the universities and colleges are recruiting in that area. The International Financial Services Centre is eager to recruit young people to work in banks and other financial institutions. This is where the changes are evident.

Great strides have been made in addressing needs in the area of special education. There is a 30% increase in provision in the Estimates for this area. It will provide for the allocation of additional special needs assistants, streamline the assessment process by facilitating the carrying out of assessments in a shorter period and provide more accessibility for parents. A greater exchange of information is possible between teachers and parents which was not the position previously because teachers were too busy. They did not have support services and they had to deal with children with a range of different abilities in one class and they could not cope, but now they have the necessary support and assistance. Special needs organisers throughout the country consult parents and teachers, listen to their needs and report that information to the Department which then provides for those needs. That provision would not be possible without the prudent management of the economy. We were not in a position to pay for such provision ten years ago.

Home-school-community liaison officers have been withdrawn.

More must be done but we had to start somewhere and great progress has been made. The Minister will continue to increase capitation funding for special schools and more special needs assistants will be allocated. The home-school-community liaison scheme, which has been a great success——

Those officers have been withdrawn.

Many parents may not have been in a position to complete their schooling, as a result of which many of them have a difficulty with reading and writing. Those parents cannot help their children in sixth year in secondary school with their homework, but the home-school-community liaison scheme is in place, which is greatly supported. That scheme is available to those students and it has made a major difference. The involvement of parents in the education of their children is crucial. Such involvement should be encouraged and, in that respect, small changes make a significant difference. The participation of teachers in parent-teacher meetings after school hours is a major change. It means both parents can attend if they wish and single parents can attend after work. Such a small change makes a significant difference.

The Estimates provision will result in the allocation of an additional 1,900 teachers over the next two years, which will reduce class sizes. In most schools principals have time to walk around the school and check the position, which was not the case previously.

Particular attention is paid in the Estimates to provision for the areas of disability and disadvantage. The focus is on educational inclusion. The exclusion of people from education is detrimental to their future potential. That was recognised on the Government side of the House at an early stage. The more we can do to continue to pour resources into that area, the better. The figures for education speak for themselves. Any teacher throughout the country will confirm that teaching is a difficult job. It has always been so but it has been made a little less difficult now owing to the changes that have taken place, especially in the area of special needs education and disadvantaged areas.

The benefits achieved are not only for those areas but for the country as a whole. We have a young, vibrant, well educated workforce, the members of which are much sought after throughout the world. As has been said here many times, we are the envy of most of Europe and elsewhere in the world. That achievement did not happen by chance or without strong governance. We can be accused of many things, but not of a lack of success in that area.

We are bottom of the league.

I wish also to raise the matter of the security of communities. We have had many debates on people's sense of insecurity, an issue that is raised regularly in advice centres and when talking to people. With the changes that have occurred in society and having regard to the vulnerable members of our communities such as older people, it is welcome that a 10% increase in Garda resources alone this year will increase spending in this area to €1.4 billion. Despite all the naysayers and doom and gloom merchants, we will have a Garda strength of 14,000 on our streets. We see the benefits of the increased Garda presence in our communities. A person mentioned to me that they saw three reservists and a Garda on the beat in Raheny yesterday. People want to see such a Garda presence. People demand the presence of gardaí on the beat and that is where they will be. The resources invested in increasing security in communities will pay benefits. Many Opposition Members and some members of the media lose out because all they see is the negative side. They only see the negative and continue to portray everything as being a burden and not in people's interest when it is not the case.

The Garda Síochána will be better equipped and supported by the Garda reserve. The PULSE system is up and running. This extra investment will result in better Garda stations, better communications equipment and 1,200 new vehicles being put on the road. We listen to people and take their views on board. As a Government that is what we must do. We must also take action, specifically where people need to see action being taken.

We will produce 275 gardaí every three months next year and I know from speaking with gardaí this is welcomed within the force. Changes have taken place in training and facilities in Templemore. Everybody knows incidence of certain types of crimes have increased and crime is a major issue in some areas. In other areas, it is under control. The fact we continue to invest money and resources into these areas can only be of benefit in the long run. Particular targeted operations, such as Operation Anvil, are major successes. I am delighted to see it will continue to be supported.

I welcome the link between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the RAPID areas which have suffered and been neglected under successive Governments. As a result, they are completely disadvantaged. Many have been ravaged by drugs and suffer major social problems. I am pleased they will be provided with what are termed "community protection measures". While they may seem simple and insignificant, they will make a huge difference to local communities. We will spend €7.5 million on CCTV and €3 million on graffiti removal. This can make a huge difference to a person's quality of life. A total of €16 million will be spent on a new service for youth justice. We must concentrate resources and continue to improve the service, particularly regarding the introduction of anti-social behaviour orders.

I congratulate the Department and the Minister. To quote the Minister, these Estimates are "fiscally sustainable, economically appropriate and politically responsible". This is crucial because we take responsibility for the decisions we make. We listen to people's concerns and we act on them.

I am glad to have an opportunity to acknowledge the volume of work, the time taken and careful consideration given by the Minister for Finance, the Minister of State and staff at the Department in the preparation of the Estimates and gathering the facts and figures. It enables the country to continue to develop in the rapid way it has during recent years. Any assessment of the Estimates must acknowledge the huge amount of work done. It indicates the economic prosperity we have seen during recent years will continue and accelerate.

I wish to comment constructively on issues which arise and require further consideration. The points of view I will put across will be recognised as being held by many public representatives on issues we believe should be accelerated. I am conscious of the large volume of work which went into preparing the Health Estimate. The figures in the Estimate and the additional funding we hope will be in the budget indicate the Government's commitment to the provision of health services.

We must put in place an implementation body which will ensure the plans for next year laid down in the Estimates are implemented. I am aware money provided for certain matters and initiatives included in the Estimates last year has not worked its way down through the system. Sometimes it is necessary to ensure decisions made to undertake worthwhile projects are implemented and accelerated and not held up by red tape and bureaucracy.

This has happened with Ennis Hospital, where an outline development plan has been in place and funding allocated for a number of years. However, the expenditure has not been undertaken because of a necessity to rigorously re-evaluate a project which has already been re-evaluated on a number of occasions during the past five or six years. The longer re-evaluations continue the more likely it is that costs will increase. The total of €20 million set aside for Ennis Hospital a number of years ago has become €30 million. If this type of delay continues, it will increase to €40 million or €50 million. An implementation team should be established at the Department of Finance to ensure that when decisions are made on issues such as hospitals or other matters the projects are implemented.

Many voluntary organisations consider further funding is required to deal with issues such as Alzheimer's disease, depression and dementia. A recent conference held in Dublin indicated the problems which will arise in this country during the coming years. I am aware of people who work on a voluntary basis to provide facilities for people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. In particular, I mention the community in Clarecastle who provide a day-care centre for Alzheimer's disease and dementia sufferers from a large surrounding area. People are bussed in and return to their families at night.

Most of the funding is done on a voluntary basis with little, if any, funding from the Health Service Executive. The community has campaigned for a number of years and has done a great deal of work through voluntary effort. However, people cannot continue to work on a voluntary basis on such projects. The State must intervene and work in partnership with local communities. I am sure many other such communities exist throughout the country. In Clarecastle, approximately €500,000 is required to finish planning and building an extension. The community has done Trojan work but it requires support from the Health Service Executive.

I strongly urge the Minister for Finance to identify in the budget a fixed amount to plan for shortcomings in dealing with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Perhaps he will set down a separate allocation for it in the additional funding for health to be provided in the budget and which he identified in his speech.

I also draw to the attention of the Minister the funding for national secondary and regional roads in the west. Substantial funding has gone into the national roads network and I particularly welcome the Limerick bypass and other new national road developments to the west coast. The national secondary roads network requires more funding as it is deteriorating at a fast pace. Perhaps the Minister can examine this matter. Many accidents are occurring owing to the poor quality of such roads. Therefore, extra funding is required.

There has been a dramatic change in investment in county roads in recent years, on which I compliment the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, his Department and the county councils. There are shortcomings in the national secondary road network, however, which need to be addressed fairly soon. We should not lose sight of this issue, which requires additional funding from the budget. It may be a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government rather than the Minister for Finance but ultimately the latter Minister picks up all the bills.

The essential repairs grant scheme has been run by county councils and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, with some funding from the Health Service Executive to repair houses for disabled people. A sizeable number of single parents with young children are living in inadequate conditions. Shortcomings have been identified in showers, toilets and other facilities. It should be possible within the existing mechanism to extend the essential repairs grant to cover single parents who are struggling to raise young children. Such parents do not have the necessary finances to modernise their plumbing facilities, so the work should be covered by the essential repairs grant scheme.

For a number of years, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, who is present in the Chamber, have provided funding for heritage projects. I have seen the work undertaken by the Commissioners of Public Works in dealing with heritage issues. An amount of important work has been done which provides examples of good craftsmanship. I wish to place on the record the work that has been achieved by the dedicated people of the OPW.

Some buildings of national importance are in the care of the OPW. Others in private ownership are threatened, however, owing to a lack of investment in conservation and maintenance work. I am referring to places such as Leamanagh Castle, which is at the gateway to the Burren in north Clare. It was the home of Máire Ruadh Mac Mahon, a famous woman who made a big impact on life in Clare at a particular period in history. The castle is a good example of how the skills and expertise of the Commissioners of Public Works could be put to good use to restore and protect the building. In recent years, much work has been done on a number of ecclesiastical buildings by parishes and local conservationists.

I pay tribute to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, for the funding he provided to protect Ennis Cathedral, including its spire and other unique architectural aspects. Last year, the Minister provided €150,000 for restoration work there. The cost of restoring such ecclesiastical buildings is very expensive so much depends on voluntary collections. I am referring in particular to the expensive work being carried out on St. Senan's Church in Kilrush. The church edifice, including its spire, was in danger of being seriously damaged unless some remedial work was undertaken. The restoration and conservation work on the church will be an expensive operation. I ask the Minister to set aside a budgetary allocation to enhance work on such heritage projects. Attention must be paid to buildings of architectural and historical significance around the country which are in need of conservation and restoration. In some cases it may not be possible for voluntary community organisations in small parishes to undertake such work alone.

I thank the Minister and Minister of State for the work they are doing. I look forward to the budget which will provide a further boost to the work that has already been undertaken by the Government. It will ensure that much valuable work can be done over the next year by taking advantage of economic opportunities, enhancing the environment and generally making life better for all of us in future.

Like other speakers, I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, to the House. Earlier, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, outlined the Estimates programme to the House. We are fortunate to be living in such times. Those who were involved in politics back in the 1970s and 1980s have witnessed Ireland's changing fortunes in more recent times. Twenty or 30 years ago, the Estimates presented a different story of severe economic and social problems, including unemployment and emigration. Our country has now turned the corner thanks to difficult decisions taken by politicians, ably assisted by those in the public service. Those decisions ensured that we can enjoy better times today.

Many of the increased resources have been targeted at areas in need of investment. The fruits of that investment are evident to many who in the past would have felt themselves to be economically disadvantaged and unable to access quality public services. The situation is changing but more needs to be done. The most topical issue of all is the health service.

The Estimates show that within less than a decade we have quadrupled investment in health. It is fair to say, however, that the quality of the health service has not kept pace with that increased investment. There is a real challenge to provide effective management training and input so that the leadership providing such services matches current investment. Significant improvements have been made in the health sector but difficulties remain. These are based more on personnel management issues than on the problem of financial resources.

The same goes for education where much needed improvements have taken place. The quality for many schools, particularly at primary level, left much to be desired due to a dearth of investment in such resources over decades and probably even since the foundation of the State. In former years we did not have the necessary resources so it is good to see improvements coming about in the education sector.

The same argument applies to the Garda Síochána where we have witnessed an improvement in numbers. Resources constitute an important issue in this regard. The safety and security experienced in society is attributable to the calibre of the Garda. In this regard, it is important sufficient funds are set aside in the Estimates to ensure the best possible training to international standards. Often in the private sector high quality training is sought for people in important executive positions and I have not seen the same concentration of priority on this matter in the public sector. We tend to depend on the Institute of Public Administration, IPA, to a large extent and we should look to other suppliers of training to ensure those occupying senior positions in the State sector operate to the highest standards.

Many of us have experience in the area of local government and it is enjoying far more resources today than in the past. My colleague, Senator Daly, alluded to secondary roads and so on but I remember when the resurfacing cycle was heading for 30 years, which had a huge impact, owing to scarce resources. I spent a long time as a councillor at both county and town level and there is a wide variance in the standard of senior executive at that level. We must concentrate on different levels of management within the local government system, including county manager level. The same applies to the private sector, where I have worked a great deal. Those who come from a business background will concede that, where companies generate significant income and are profitable, cost controls can slide and the status of value for money as a priority can fall due to the generation of high income.

This system does not exist in the public sector and the discipline that derives from competition is not there. We must constantly examine areas for improvement and cost effectiveness without diminishing the quality of public service. There is now a heavy concentration on the development of infrastructure where there was a deficit for many decades and it is great to see investment in road and rail. This is something our modern economy requires and, as a country on the periphery of Europe, it is essential if we are to remain competitive with other European states. We need a transport system that will allow us to trade effectively and competitively.

I have seen recent road improvements, going through greenfield sites, that disregard improvements made within the past decade and this typifies a lack of proper long-term planning. I do not understand how planning can look 15 to 20 years into the future when the infrastructure in question may have a lifespan of 100 to 120 years or longer if properly planned. Motorways built today with two lanes may require a third or fourth lane in 20, 30 or 40 years, however no provision is being made for such a possibility. Development is taking place beside such motorways which leads me to believe new motorways will be required in 30, 40 or 50 years to accommodate traffic flow. This represents appalling planning and it is an area we should examine to ensure taxpayers receive value for money and know that infrastructural developments are sustainable in the long term.

A seven hour delay on the N11 yesterday, alluded to on the Order of Business this morning, is an example that typifies a mindset that needs to change with regard to infrastructural planning. Someone should have foreseen an enormous delay to traffic and ensured the works took place at a time when such consequences could be avoided or mitigated.

On a recent bank holiday weekend I travelled from the south east to Dublin on the N9 and there was a 40 to 45 minute tailback around Moone.

Did the tailback occur at Castledermot?

No, it was beyond Castledermot at Moone after the straight stretch. I did not know whether an accident had occurred but it transpired roadworks were the cause. My passenger was amazed it had not occurred to an official in the county council that traffic would be greatly increased on a bank holiday weekend and that the roadworks should be postponed until a more suitable day. If one makes such mistakes in the private sector one tends not to be allowed repeat them. However, such discipline does not exist in the public sector and I believe this should be examined.

The increased expenditure we are discussing has come from enhanced resources. Those resources come from a stronger level of activity which was led by difficult, far-reaching decisions made by Government, pursued by dedicated officials in the public service and greatly assisted by enterprising people in the private sector. Many of these resources derive from the property sector and we have become dependent on the construction industry. There seems to be something of a slowdown in that sector at present, especially regarding the sale of houses, and I compliment the Minister on making certain concessions on stamp duty for first-time buyers in recent years. I would like to think this policy will be extended and that those buying above a threshold will pay stamp duty at the higher rate only on the excess above that threshold. A great deal of revenue comes to the Exchequer from the sale of a house to a first-time buyer through income tax on the workers involved, stamp duty on the purchase of the house and value added tax on furnishings and so on. This area, therefore, should be considered for change.

I have mentioned value for money and I feel it is a huge issue in the public sector which should be prioritised by Government. My experience in business makes me think some €4 billion to €5 billion is being spent unnecessarily which if stopped would not affect quality of service. It may not all be waste, but some of it is and the area should be examined.

People in business will attest that the Irish worker, long recognised as committed and dedicated, may be starting to reflect their counterparts in Germany where people, as they became more affluent, did not wish to work long hours or as hard as they did in the past. They sought to enjoy the fruits of their labour. In some sectors employers are not certain Irish workers will turn up for work on Monday mornings, do overtime or work on Friday afternoons. No such difficulties arise with Polish employees. A campaign should be introduced to inform people throughout the public and private sectors that hard work and commitment delivered economic success and that these qualities remain priorities in times of affluence.

I thank Senators from all sides for their wide-ranging contributions to the debate on the 2007 Estimates. Before addressing the specific issues raised, I reiterate that in framing the Estimates the Government sought to strike a balance between providing for spending on improved public services, meaning social and infrastructural priorities, and preserving the sustainability of public finances. In day-to-day expenditure on services, the Government has again given priority to spending on health, education and social welfare, with 76% of current expenditure on a pre-budget basis allocated to these top three priority areas.

Senator Daly referred to the importance of expenditure on national monuments. The Office of Public Works, for which I am responsible, has responsibility for 775 national monuments and historic properties, and expenditure on this area will amount to €42.7 million in the coming year. A significant proportion of the overall Estimate for the Department will be spent on this important work.

Senator John Paul Phelan sought clarification on the reduced allocation for the CLÁR programme. The overall allocation for the programme decreased by €2.7 million to €20.2 million in 2007. Given that its expected 2006 outturn is €18.5 million, the 2007 allocation provides for an increase in actual expenditure.

The reduction of 15% in the provision for the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland is due to a once-off purchase of new equipment in 2006. The Senator also referred to a number of offices which show a decrease in their administrative budget. The administrative budgets in Departments and offices are set within agreed limits with savings carried forward into subsequent years. These savings will be added in the Revised Estimates Volume when it is published in February. In addition, value for money expenditure is reclassified between administrative budget subheads to increase transparency on value for money and IT expenditure.

Senators expressed scepticism regarding the Government's commitment to value for money and Estimates reform. In the 2006 budget the Minister for Finance introduced significant reforms of the Estimates process. Under these reforms, Dáil consideration of the 2007 Estimates will be better informed than in previous years. After the Revised Estimates Volume for 2007 is presented to the Dáil in February next and referred to the various select committees for detailed consideration, each Minister will table with his or her Estimate an annual output statement covering the Departments and offices under his or her aegis. The statement will set out the high level goals of the Departments and offices, as contained in their strategy statement, and the programmes and strategies being followed to achieve each goal. For each programme, the statement will outline the financial resources contained in the Estimates and the human resources deployed. On the output side it will give the key output targets to be achieved in 2007.

Under the improved value for money and policy review arrangements announced last June, 90 value for money reviews with an indicative minimum coverage of 10% to 15% of each Department's budget will be carried out in the period from 2006 to 2008. These and other general reviews that impact on value for money carried out by Departments and agencies must be sent by them to the relevant select committees. This will complement the information which will be available in the new annual output statement. Select committees giving detailed consideration to the Estimates in 2007 and beyond will have available to them high quality, comprehensive information to assist their deliberations. As a result of the robust value for money framework established by the Government, most major projects are being completed within budget and ahead of schedule.

I reject suggestions that large amounts of overseas aid are being contributed to international organisations. The large increase in overseas development aid expenditure in recent years has resulted in tangible achievements in the countries assisted by Irish funding. In Lesotho, for example, where Ireland is the largest donor, the mortality rate of children aged under five years has declined by 32% since 1990. In Tanzania, with Ireland's support, the number of children in primary school increased from 4.8 million to 7 million between 2002 and 2004. Over the same period, 32,000 new teachers were recruited and 30,000 classrooms built. In Mozambique Irish Aid, through a partnership with the Clinton Foundation and Government of Mozambique, is making a major impact on the treatment of people who are HIV positive.

I also reject claims that the 2007 Estimates are based on stealth taxes or that the significantly increased levels of public expenditure under this Government have been funded through increased taxation. Aside from a technical increase in the employees' annual ceiling for PRSI purposes, which is in line with normal practice, the Estimates are not based on increases in charges, nor did increases in charges form part of discussions on the Estimates.

The overall amount available to local authorities under the local government fund will be approximately €1.5 billion in 2007. The Exchequer contribution to the fund continues to be in excess of the statutory minimum set out in the 1998 Act establishing the fund.

Deputy Bannon raised the impact on the elderly of increased fuel prices. The Estimates for the Department of Social and Family Affairs provide an additional €59 million for the free schemes to improve provision for elderly people in meeting their fuel costs. The number of electricity units carried by the free electricity scheme will increase from 1,800 to 2,400 per annum for example.

Criticisms were levelled at the Government's approach to health. Major improvements in health services have been made possible by significant increases in the front-line staff provided for by the Government. Since 1997, almost 2,400 additional medical-dental personnel, almost 8,400 additional nurses and more than 8,000 other health professionals, such as speech and language therapists, physiotherapists, social carers and social workers, psychologists and environmental health officers, have been recruited. In addition, more than 750 additional consultant posts have been filled.

The large increases in expenditure under this Government have led to real improvements in health services. Total patient throughput in hospitals has increased by more than 300,000 to more than 1 million per annum. Waiting times for operations have been dramatically reduced from years to months. Cancer patient hospital admissions have increased by more than 40,000 and more cancer sufferers are being treated and surviving the condition. More than 3,000 home care packages are in place for older people. In 1997, no home care packages were available. Approximately 1,500 additional acute hospital beds are in use. The health service has, therefore, benefited from major improvements in a range of areas.

The Government will maintain the stability orientated approach to the public finances which has delivered prosperity and social progress. It will continue to improve the quality of public services through the provision of sustainable levels of resources and the pursuit of value for money. Gross pre-budget provision for public expenditure in 2007 will increase by 8.1% to €54.3 billion. The Minister for Finance will announce a social welfare package and additional expenditure on health on budget day. The National Development Plan 2007 to 2013, which will be published in January next year, will set out the Government's seven-year investment programme for sustainable social and economic development over the medium term. I commend the 2007 Estimates to the House.