Committee on Finance. - Vote 3: Department of the Taoiseach.

Thursday, 25 July 1974

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 274 No. 12

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The Taoiseach: Information on Liam Cosgrave  Zoom on Liam Cosgrave  I move:

That a sum not exceeding £157,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the period beginning the 1st April, 1974 and ending the 31st day of December, 1974, for [2236] the Salaries and expenses of the Department of the Taoiseach.

I propose to deal briefly with the Estimate for my Department and, in accordance with the normal practice, to review national progress and the Government's policies and actions, particularly in so far as the greatest single domestic problem now facing us is concerned. I refer, of course, to the problem of inflation. I also intend to say something about our policies and attitudes in relation to certain aspects of international affairs. Other Ministers will speak in the debate and deal in greater detail with the matters which come within the ambit of their own Departments.

I do not intend to go in any detail into the Northern Ireland situation. We had a debate on developments affecting the North less than one month ago and, as I indicated in reply to a recent Parliamentary Question, the lines of policy enunciated by myself and other Government speakers in that debate remain valid. It is clear that a peaceful settlement based on justice can only be reached with the agreement of all sections of the Northern community. It is clear to all that the Irish dimension exists, as a fact. So far as we are concerned, the lines of policy are clear. We will seek by all means in our power to achieve peace and reconciliation between the communities in the North. We will help so far as we can in the achievement of power sharing there. And with the evidence so clearly before us of the pain and destruction caused by violence in the North, we will adhere to the policy of helping to contain it, so far as we in this part of the country can, and of seeking progress by discussion and consent.

In common with Estimates generally, the Estimate for my Department is based on the nine-month period 1st April, 1974 to 31st December, 1974. On a 12-month basis, there would be an increase of approximately £10,000. This is accounted for by increased expenditure on salaries, wages and allowances, attributable to increases in staff numbers, which more than offset a decrease under the subhead for information and public relations services, [2237] due to the termination of the Markpress account.

The OECD Economic Survey of Ireland, published in March this year, stated that “1973 was, in most respects, a particularly successful year for Irish economic management”. This success showed itself in many ways—in the growth rate of the economy generally which at 7 per cent was a near record; in the significant increase in living standards brought about by this expansion; in the quickening of interest in our country as a site for new industrial development; in the increase of over 6,000 in industrial employment; in the evidence of net immigration; in the prosperity of our agriculture; in the greatest distribution of all time to social welfare beneficiaries; in the achievement of the highest level of house-building ever recorded; in substantially increased public spending on education, health and other services; and in the completion, not only without serious mishap, but, I would venture to say, with a fair measure of success, of our first full year of membership of the European Economic Community.

When I spoke in this House last December on a supplementary vote for my Department, I mentioned the hope that the situation caused by the oil crisis would not become so serious that jobs would be threatened, the expansion of the economy halted and, indeed, our standard of living reduced. I expressed this hope as signs of these developments were emerging in many western countries in the wake of an unprecedented boom. The onset of the energy crisis turned the prospect of an economic slowdown into grim reality. Even though the initial impact of the crisis, in terms of actual and threatened shortages of oil has now been spent, the increases in oil prices are still working their way through international and domestic economies.

The increases have accentuated the pressures on prices being exerted by domestic inflationary influences in many countries and by the abnormal rises in other raw material prices. The latest OECD figures show that, in the most recent 12 month period for which they have information, the percentage [2238] rise in prices was in double figures in 17 out of the 24 member countries of the organisation. This experience is expected to be repeated again this year in all member-countries of the EEC, except Germany.

The impact of the increased cost of oil imports on countries' balance of payments has been dramatic. The OECD estimates that the aggregate deterioration in the current payments of oil-importing countries in 1974 will be of the order of $50,000 million— equivalent to between seven and eight times the total Gross National Product of this country. Most of the increased receipts will accrue to Arab countries. A number of the major beneficiaries have small populations and the economies of all of them have a limited capacity in the short term to absorb imports or indeed economic development. For some time to come, at least, the increase in their purchases will go nowhere near matching the transfer of purchasing power from other countries. Unless, therefore, their increased receipts can be recycled, back to the oil-importing countries, on terms which these countries can bear, the shadow of deflation hangs over the world economy for the present and the near future, at least.

The efforts so far made to arrange such recycling through international organisations have been attended with only moderate success. Recycling through international capital markets has been fairly successful to date. However, some doubts have been expressed about the ability of the Euromarkets to bear the burden on them involved in such a massive recycling operation and indeed there have been some signs of strain in these markets in recent months.

The appropriate response to oil-related increases in external deficits has been the subject of considerable debate in all the countries affected and in the international organisations concerned. It seemed to be generally agreed that there was nothing to be gained and much to be lost by efforts on the part of the industrialised countries to offset consequential increases in their deficit by short-term deflationary action or other traditional [2239] adjustment measures. The main result would simply be to redistribute the total deficit among them with the likelihood of a rash of competitive and mutually impoverishing actions. It was argued that there was little need for action to squeeze home economies so as to make room for increased exports to the oil exporters as it would only be gradually and over a period of years and decades that they would demand increased exports from the industrialised countries in payment for their oil.

However, some countries have introduced measures designed to curb demand and to improve their balance of payments. In doing so, they were doubtless influenced by the threat posed by double-figure inflation. In some cases, there was also a need to reverse a widening of what I might term the “non-oil deficit”. A further factor may have been recognition of the undeniable fact that over the longer-term, fundamental adjustments are needed in oil-importing economies in response to the increase in the price of this vital fuel and a feeling that the present was a good time to initiate these changes. No substantial consumer of oil can go on blithely as before, ignoring the effect on his domestic prices and balance of payments position of perhaps a threefold increase in price.

Whatever the varying reasons for the restrictions, they have led to some concern that an international downturn could be precipitated by a general extension of such measures.

An opposing view is that the greater danger is that of accentuating inflation running in most western countries at a rate, which if continued, will destroy belief in money as a medium of exchange, as we know it. In this view, any resort to widespread reflation could only increase the danger of runaway inflation. Faced with these starkly contrasting options most industrialised countries have accepted that growth expectations for this year are necessarily much lower than would have been possible before the increase in oil prices. Indeed, it is forecast that in Britain the growth [2240] rate will be negative, that there will be little, if any, growth in Italy and that German growth will be only 2½ per cent. Simultaneously, the growth of international trade, affected by curbs on demand and monetary uncertainties, is not expected to exceed 4½ per cent, compared with an estimated growth of 13 per cent last year.

For 1975, most official comment in forums such as the EEC and OECD suggests that economic growth in the main member countries will be somewhat better than in 1974. This view is dependent to a large extent on an upturn in the US and German economies as the authorities there pursue more expansionary policies. While this may not happen, the probability is that most industrialised countries will recognise the interdependency of their economies and accept the need to pursue policies that will ensure a continuation of growth.

I have gone in some detail into this rather sombre international background because as every Deputy knows, our economy, perhaps more than most in Western Europe, is influenced by what happens outside it. Exports and imports together form an unusually high proportion of our total Gross National Product. We cannot, even if we wished to do so, ignore what is happening elsewhere.

In common with most oil-importing countries, we have experienced a sharp deterioration in our balance of trade in the first six months of this year. Total imports have risen by £263 million or 48 per cent compared with the same period last year. The increase in exports was £125 million or 32 per cent. The trade gap, therefore, widened by £138 million.

The most important single factor responsible for this has been the increased cost of our oil imports, the value of which rose by £55 million in the first half of the year, despite the fact that there is likely to have been some decline in volume. There were also indirect effects on the prices of other imports arising from the oil price increase.

The figures also reflect the increases [2241] in the prices of a wide range of other basic commodities which reached a new peak in the first quarter of the year. These latter two factors are reflected in the increase of £147 million in the value of imports for further production. Overall, a rapid acceleration in the rate of increase in import prices has undoubtedly been a major influence in the huge rise in the value of imports. However, it is not possible to quantify the degree of this influence as import price indices are only available up to September, 1973, due to unavoidable delays involved in the changeover from the former official import and export lists to a new, integrated tariff/statistical list as the basis for compilation of all external trade statistics. The new list contains over 11,000 headings compared with about 1,200 import and 700 export headings in the former lists. Difficulties in the changeover to metrication have also caused delay.

Our exporters have faced considerable difficulties in the past nine months. First, there were demand restrictions in many countries. Depressed cattle prices have led to relatively slow growth in the value of agricultural exports. Exporters of industrial goods had to contend with the disruption of oil supplies, massive increases in price when supplies again began to flow and the scarcity of many raw materials exacerbated by the three-day working week in Britain. Despite these unfavourable conditions, industrial exports in the first half of the year are estimated to have increased by 42 per cent in value. Even when allowance is made for substantial increases in prices this represents an appreciable growth in the volume of these exports and great credit is due to exporters for this remarkable performance in most difficult conditions. Part of the credit is also due to the decision of the Government to set up a raw materials supply information service. Operated jointly by Córas Tráchtála and the Industrial Development Authority, the service has assisted firms seeking alternative sources of supply for a wide variety of materials.

Despite difficulties, may of them due to the situation in Northern Ireland—without which it has been [2242] estimated our earnings from tourism would be approximately twice what they are now—tourism earnings this year are also likely to show an increase. According to Bord Fáilte, tourist numbers so far this year were more than 5 per cent higher than last year.

Despite the increase in the trade deficit, the external reserves have remained at a high level. At the end of June they stood at £398 million, marginally lower than a year earlier. This indicates a sizeable capital inflow in recent months. It is worth nothing, however, that much of this inflow is now due to borrowing abroad by the Government and semi-State bodies to sustain their investment programmes. Overall, within the economy the level of investment in fixed assets is estimated to have risen last year by 13 per cent, and its ratio to GNP, at 23¾ per cent, reached its highest level ever. I need hardly stress the importance of these figures. Without investment in new buildings, plant and methods the country cannot prosper—nor indeed maintain even its present standards in the highly competitive world in which we live.

Consumer demand was exceptionally buoyant last year. The volume of expenditure went up by more than 6 per cent and the number of new cars registered was more than 18 per cent higher than in 1972. The energy crisis, however, dashed any hope of a continuation of this momentum, certainly so far as the early months of this year were concerned. The volume of retail sales in the first four months of the year, the latest available figures, was less than 1 per cent greater than in the corresponding period last year. The principal factor tending to depress sales was the poor demand for cars.

Some indication that the outlook for consumer demand is brightening is given by the 2 per cent rise in the volume of total retail sales in April. Current indicators of investment are few. I would draw attention, however, to the encouraging 35 per cent increase in imports of capital goods in the first quarter of the year and to the fact that the majority of respondents [2243] to the most recent quarterly survey of business intentions expected their investment to be higher in the coming year than in the previous year. The results indicated some decline in the buoyancy of intentions as compared with previous surveys.

I have been speaking so far about trends in investment and consumption as categories of demand on the resources of the economy. Hard statistics in output and employment trends are not quite so up-to-date. The preliminary figures for the first quarter of the year suggest that the output of manufacturing industry was over 8 per cent higher than in the first quarter of 1973. This is a most praiseworthy achievement in the unfavourable circumstances of the early part of the year.

The provisional results also indicate that the acceleration in the growth of industrial employment which continued throughout 1973 may have been halted in the first quarter of the present year. Employment in manufacturing and mining was over 7,000 or about 3½ per cent higher in March this year than in March 1973. These figures may reflect a time-lag before trends in production are manifested in changes in employment. Indeed, the most recent statistics of unemployment show an increase of almost 3,000 between the first weeks of July, 1973 and July, 1974. This was probably a reflection of the decelerating trend in the rate of growth in industrial employment. It is possible that continuing net immigration may also have been a contributory factor.

I will have more to say on industry and on agriculture later, but first I want to refer to the prospects for the economy as a whole this year and to the fiscal and monetary policies being applied in its management. When the Budget was being framed in the early part of the year, we were faced with a marked slowdown in growth. The best assessment that could be made was that without greater stimulus on current account than was given by the financial outcome for 1973-74, growth would be of the order of 3¾ per cent. As this rate seemed unlikely to sustain [2244] any increase in employment, the Government decided to give the economy a further shot in the arm by introducing a deficit budget. We had been exhorted to adopt an expansionary policy by various national and international organisations. Apart from this general theme, we were also advised against taxing commodities like beer, spirits and tobacco on the grounds that they would drive up the cost of living and in this way further increase the pressure for inflationary wage and salary claims. The budgetary measures were expected to add 1 per cent to the pre-budget forecast, thus raising the growth rate close to the average potential growth rate over the medium-term and maintaining the momentum towards increased employment.

However, as a result of a number of adverse factors whose effects can now be gauged more clearly, including the disimprovement in the external environment and the effects of industrial disputes, it now looks as if the growth rate aimed at will not be achieved. While the pace of economic activity is expected to continue fairly strongly throughout the remainder of the year, as domestic consumption and investment benefit from the stimuins given in the Budget, it is now estimated that the growth rate for the year will be of the order of 4 per cent. A comparison with the forecasts for other countries to which I referred earlier will show that the revised growth expectation for the Irish economy gives grounds for satisfaction.

Monetary policy for the remainder of this year, as set out in a statement issued by the Central Bank on the 21st of June, has been framed to support the Government's desire for growth, while helping to contain inflation and the balance of payments deficit. Towards the end of the first quarter bank lending resumed the rapid growth which occurred in the second half of 1973. The rise in non-Government lending was at an annual rate of 40 per cent and was clearly excessive.

The Central Bank have now directed that all additions to credit should be reserved for the purposes most productive in terms of increasing output [2245] and employment and have requested banks to permit no net increase in lending in the coming months.

The results attained by the Industrial Development Authority recently in the field of job creation indicate the benefits to be reaped if only we can maintain our attractiveness to promoters of new industrial projects. The last year was the most successful to date. Actual job creation in grant-aided projects in 1973 was 10,700. Even more significant was the fact that projects approved for grant by the authority during the year ended March, 1974, have a total employment potential of 22,000 which is over 50 per cent higher than the level in the previous year and also significantly higher than the target of 16,000 which the authority had set for the year. The planned investment in the projects approved reached £280 million compared with £135 million in 1972-73. This deflects the high capital-intensity of a number of projects. The promoters include companies of wide international repute such as Gillette, Syntex, Wellworthy, Black and Decker, Alcan, Courtaulds, Berck, Hollister Asahi.

The capital investment planned by Irish industries also increased substantially, especially in the food processing sector where the IDA approved grants of £9 million towards fixed investment of some £30 million. IDA capital expenditure in the year to March, 1974, was almost £25 million. Among the principle factors contributing to this encouraging performance were the resurgance of interest in Ireland by British firms, the greater number of proposals resulting from the increased tempo of the IDA's marketing programme in previous years. Ireland's accession to the European Economic Community, as well as, of course, the general boom conditions which prevailed last year.

The IDA will be endeavouring to maintain last year's level of job creation throughout the remainder of 1974 and the authority have set a target of 16,500 potential jobs from approved projects for the nine months April to December, 1974. Present indications are that the high level of [2246] job creation is being maintained and that there are good prospects of achieving the target. I recognise fully the contribution to this record of success made by the staff of the IDA and all others involved in industrial promotion whose efforts, indeed, I warmly commend. I think it is fair to say that the increased interest shown by investors and entrepreneurs is a clear demonstration of international confidence in the soundness and potential of our economy and in its handling by the Government.

Indeed the pace of industrial development is creating other problems. The number, size and type of project require that careful assessments and judgments be made of the likely impact on the environment. Control powers are being strengthened by the amendment of the 1963 Planning Act and new legislation is in preparation to deal with water pollution. The tempo of industrial development must also be co-ordinated with the provision of the necessary infrastructure, particularly water and sewerage, for which a substantially expanded programme is now operating. Schemes to a total value of £31.7 million were approved up to the 1st April last and a further £6.4 million has since been approved.

A noteworthy feature of industry and services in this country is the multiplicity of trade unions. This has created problems in many ways. Where there are too many unions in a firm this complicates negotiations. There is also the likelihood that where so many individual unions cater for workers the service available to the ordinary member will not be up to the standard which he requires in today's conditions. We have in Ireland up to a half-a-million workers organised in 100 trade unions whereas in, for example, West Germany 6½ million workers are organised in 16 industrial unions. We have, therefore, introduced the Trade Union (Amalgamations) Bill, 1974, to facilitate rationalisation. I should make it clear there is no compulsion involved in the Bill, but it is our hope that it will facilitate further cohesion of the trade union movement, and its [2247] development in the way best suited to Irish conditions and the prosperity of the Irish people, as a whole.

In a situation where the incentives offered by many countries to attract foreign capital are extremely competitive, one of our greatest advantages is our labour force. Training in itself is important in that it enables individuals to realise their full potential, something which has been denied many Irish people because of lack of opportunity in the past.

In view of the importance of industrial training, the Government intend expanding our training capacity in our direct training centres fourfold by 1978. Centres are already in operation all over the country and it is intended to increase their number still further.

As a contributor to the national income, employment and the balance of payments the agricultural industry remains of vital importance in the economic life of the nation. In the past two years there have been remarkable increases in both agricultural output and income. Last year the value of output rose by over £140 million or 30 per cent on top of a rise of 24 per cent in 1972. Farm income rose by 32 per cent to £364 million on top of a rise of 38 per cent in 1972. While these income increases were much greater than those secured by other sections of the community, it must not be forgotten that in the past farm income lagged behind and farmers had considerable leeway to make up. One very welcome feature of the improvement in farmers' income is the fact that farmers are now able to secure the bulk of their income directly from the market so that the burden on the Exchequer is greatly reduced.

One of the most important tasks of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries has been the negotiation in the EEC Council of agricultural prices which are fixed in the context of the Common Agricultural Policy. For 1974-75 the Commission's original price proposals provided for an overall increase in farm prices of just over 7 per cent but after hard bargaining [2248] an improved price agreement was negotiated which represented an overall price increase of around 9 per cent. Due to a variety of reasons—not least, consumer resistance to higher retail prices—market returns for cattle have been far from satisfactory. The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries has been working to improve this situation.

Deputies will be aware that important remedial decisions were taken at the meeting of the Council of Agricultural Ministers on 15th-16th July. I would refer, in particular, to the ban until 1st November on imports from all sources of all cattle, beef and veal, with the exception of certain quotas to which the Community is committed under GATT. Another important measure designed to promote more orderly marketing and consequently improved returns to farmers was the authorisation to member States to grant premiums to farmers who hold on to adult cattle, excluding cows, for varying periods: the details of this scheme will be worked out in the coming weeks. Measures like these should renew the confidence of farmers in the common agricultural policy which the Government are determined, will be maintained and developed in order to ensure increased incomes for our farmers with all the resulting benefits to the economy.

The EEC measures mentioned will be supplemented by the new loan scheme announced by the Agricultural Credit Corporation on 12th of this month which is designed to aid farmers who want to hold on to their store and young cattle during the present period of poor prices for these categories of cattle. Loans are expected to be for up to £2,000 and no security is required.

Conditions in the dairying industry are satisfactory. Although weather conditions so far this year have been somewhat unfavourable for milk production it is expected that total deliveries to creameries will approximate to last year's level which was 35 million gallons up on the previous year. Average milk prices for the year should be about 12½ per cent above the 1973 level. The effects of the prices [2249] for store and fat cattle have, however, had their effect on calf prices. Cattle numbers, particularly the breeding herds, are continuing to rise. The December, 1973, returns showed total cattle numbers up by 548,000 head and breeding stocks up by 172,000 head.

Farmers, of course, in common with others, have had to meet increases in their costs of production. This has been particularly the case with feed, fertilisers and fuel. Efficiency in the use of inputs is now more important than ever.

Considerable progress is being made in the implementation of measures for the structural reform of agriculture. The farm modernisation scheme introduced earlier this year provides realistic levels of assistance towards investment on Irish farms. The scheme introduced earlier this year provides realistic levels of assistance towards investment on Irish farms. The scheme is a comprehensive one and involves all our farmers, large and small. The aids are provided so that our farmers have every incentive to undertake the degree of investment needed to expand our agricultural industry for only in this way can we exploit the opportunities and meet the competition facing the industry in EEC conditions.

In addition, of course, to the new scheme to which I referred a few moments ago, the Agricultural Credit Corporation make loans for a wide range of agricultural investments. The high level of resources available to the corporation—some £34 million for the nine-months' financial year, an increase of 17 per cent on the amount disbursed in the same period last year—should ensure that farmers should be able to fill their present requirements.

A major social measure introduced this year by the Minister for Lands is the new voluntary retirement scheme for farmers. The object of this scheme is to enable the smaller farmer, who so wishes, to retire with dignity and reasonable financial security while he can still pursue an active life.

Progress is also being made in the [2250] formulation of two other structural reform measures. The first is the scheme of assistance for the hill and disadvantaged areas. This will supplement the income of farmers in the poorer areas and encourage them to remain in farming thus helping to maintain population numbers and to protect the environment. The second measures will apply the socio-economic directive of the EEC in order to provide the farming population with information and guidance as to the choices and opportunities open to them for the purpose of extending the facilities available for training in the skills required for modern farming.

Before leaving the subject of agriculture I should like to say a few more words in connection with certain aspects of the common agricultural policy. First of all, may I say that some of the criticisms made in this country about the Community's agricultural system relate to matters that were settled even before Ireland joined. We had to accept the position as it was, and seek modifications as part of the on-going work of the Community.

Some people seem to think that we can pick and choose in regard to the Community's agricultural arrangements. They seem to be under the impression that we can accept or adopt only those parts of the Community system which benefit us and those parts which involve some disadvantage or inconvenience for us, or impose some burden on us, can be ignored or readily altered. Some of the other member states do not like certain parts of the Community agricultural system which we regard as most attractive, and indeed of vital importance. But no member state can have the agricultural system precisely as it would wish. Of course, there is a tendency for member states to try to bend Community rules in one way or another. However, in view of our particular dependence on agriculture and our position as one of the smaller member states, it is in our overall long-term interests that the Community system should operate as uniformly as possible over the entire Community. All member states have [2251] to take the rough with the smooth, and it is quite definite that so far the advantages and benefits for Irish agriculture have greatly outweighed the very limited disadvantages.

What I have said about the application and operation of the Community agricultural system does not, of course, mean that we should not seek adjustments or modifications to meet our circumstances. Indeed, the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries has been most active in seeking, and securing, special arrangements to solve particular problems which we have had or to meet difficulties which arose. Thus, in order to offset a temporary subsidy on pigs slaughtered in the UK, Ireland is currently receiving a special FEOGA subsidy on pigs slaughtered here. Similarly, during the three months, August to October, Ireland alone will be receiving FEOGA funds to meet the cost of a cattle slaughter premium. This again will not apply in any other member state. The Minister has also secured a special arrangement whereby Irish cattle slaughtered in the UK will qualify for the same slaughter premiums as will be paid on similar UK home-bred cattle.

These examples of special arrangements secured by the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries are of major importance to the livestock sector. The pig subsidy has been of the greatest assistance to our pig producers during the current market difficulties, and the FEOGA aid for cattle slaughtered here and the application of the UK premium to Irish cattle slaughtered in the UK will contribute significantly towards strengthening cattle prices and helping our producers to overcome the critical beef market situation that exists at present not merely throughout the Community but in world markets generally.

I have referred already to some of the effects of the increase in oil prices in the past year. The crisis of last winter underlined how dependent on imported oil our own and other European economies were. The Government have given a lot of attention [2252] to energy policy in recent months and, although it is difficult to determine the final shape of policy until the position in relation to possible oil and gas reserves in our continental shelf becomes clearer, a considerable amount of progress has been made.

I should like to advert for a moment to the common agricultural policy to say that the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries has been pursuing the question of a formal proposal relating to the “Green £” made to the Commission, to the Council of Ministers, and urging the Council to approve it. He is pursuing this matter actively both in the Council of Ministers and outside it. It was specially discussed at the Council meeting last week. It is now being considered by the Commission and will come before the Council of Ministers again in September.

In connection with the oil supply situation, both the supplies of crude oil and petroleum products are at present satisfactory and all restrictions on the distribution of oil have been removed. The supply situation is kept, however, under close surveillance, by the Department of Transport and Power and, as a safeguard against further shortages, fully up-to-date plans have been drawn up for oil allocation and petrol rationing based on the experience of the last period of restricted supplies.

Steps are also being taken to increase this country's strategic oil reserves. Discussions have been going on with representatives of the oil companies over recent months to ensure compliance with the 65 days reserve requirement of the EEC. This requirement as Deputies are aware will be raised to 90 days as from 1st January, 1975. The provision of the necessary storage facilities will involve substantial capital expenditure by the industry. We are also playing our full part in the discussions which are taking place on energy matters in various international organisations including the EEC, OECD and the Energy Co-ordinating Group set up following the Washington Energy Conference last February. The co-ordinating Group has made good progress in formulating a programme for allocating oil among participating [2253] countries in the event of an emergency. We are naturally interested in this matter as any disruption in oil supplies would have very serious implications for the economy as a whole.

The most obvious response to the difficulties recently experienced in both the supply and cost of energy is to economise in its use. There are a number of schemes under which grants are given towards expenditure to increase fuel efficiency. These are operated by the Departments of Transport and Power and Local Government and by the Industrial Development Authority. The question of establishing some central unit to co-ordinate and develop conservation schemes and practices in all sectors of the economy is under examination.

The recent substantial increases in the price of oil have made turf more competitive as an energy source and have made it feasible to develop bog areas which had earlier been regarded as uneconomic in face of low cost imported fuels. Bord na Móna are preparing a third turf development programme with the aim of bringing these bogs into production. Details of the programme have not yet been completed but it is hoped to increase substantially the production of milled peat for the generation of electricity. It must be emphasised that the financing of this scheme will cost a lot and will, of course, require detailed examination at Government level. In addition to increasing the level of assured supplies of energy sources and reducing our balance of payments problems, the scheme should provide a substantial increase in employment. While any further development of traditional power sources is to be welcomed, we will have to look largely to new sources for future growth. Significant discoveries of hydrocarbons in our off-shore seas could transform our situation. So far, only a relatively small find of natural gas about 29 miles south-east of Kinsale has been confirmed.

It is intended that the gas will be piped ashore adjacent to Cork city and this will in itself attract a certain amount of industrial and constructional activity in the area. The deposit [2254] should, when fully developed, be capable of giving a daily flow rate of 125 million cubic feet of natural gas for a period of about 20 years. Of this Nitrigin Éireann Teoranta are being allocated 52 million cubic feet a day and the Electricity Supply Board will initially be using 13 million cubic feet a day at a 75 megawatt gas fired plant at Marina. In subsequent years up to 1982 ESB usage will rise to about 89 million cubic feet a day; a number of gas-fired plants will be provided at Whitegate which with the addition of steam turbines using the waste heat will generate approximately 500 megawatts.

Some people may object that the use of the natural gas for the generation of electricity is not the most efficient use of high grade fuel. However, we must base our power generation on domestic fuel sources as far as we can. Moreover, the combination of gas-fired gas turbines with the subsequent addition of steam turbines using the waste heat will ensure that the gas is used with the greatest possible efficiency. The gas is suitable for the manufacture of ammonia. Nitrigin Éireann Teoranta are setting up an ammonia plant at Cork which will meet the potential demand for ammonia of the nitrogenous fertiliser industry in the next decade.

The recent news of an oil “show” increases our hopes that substantial deposits may be found on our Continental Shelf. However, we all know the danger of counting chickens before they are hatched. The Government are anxious that drilling in the areas of our Shelf not covered by the exclusive exploration licence held by Marathon Petroleum should be started soon. Consideration of the financial and other terms for the issue of further exclusive licences is at an advanced stage.

In November last, the Government approved, in principle, an ESB proposal to construct a nuclear power station for the generation of electricity. Preparations are being made by the Board to give effect to the Government decision. It is anticipated that planning of the project will be sufficiently advanced by the end of 1975 [2255] to enable a final decision to be taken at that stage. Selection of the site is primarily a matter for the Electricity Supply Board. The Nuclear Energy Board which was recently established has the responsibility of advising the Minister for Transport and Power and the Government on all aspects of proposals for the construction of nuclear power stations. The Electricity Supply Board have expressed their preference for a site at Carnsore, Co. Wexford but a final decision as to the choice of site must await further investigation and the advice of the Nuclear Energy Board. Through our membership of the specialised committee of Euratom and the International Atomic Energy Agency we are keeping in close touch with all developments in the nuclear field.

I want to say something about the Government's commitment to social reform which is being implemented by direct improvements in social security and health schemes, by reforms in the taxation system and by changes in the law governing working conditions and the rights of the disadvantaged in our society. Full implementation of this programme will transform the quality of life in Ireland and ensure social justice for all our people.

Everyone who cares to examine the record of social legislation enacted and introduced and the many non-legislative steps taken by the Government will see that we have already made major advances on the road to those objectives and redeemed most of the specific pledges we gave.

In money terms the yearly rate of spending on social welfare has increased from £167 million, based on the 1972 budget provisions to £295 million, based on the Budget this year—an increase of 77 per cent. These figures do not include the cost of the changes in the taxation system which have also, in themselves, contributed notably to the benefit of the recipients of social welfare. They cover only social welfare payments proper and, large as they are, they do not take into account the increases which have taken place in other cognate areas such as health and housing.

[2256] Translated into benefits for the individual, the changes made in the 1973 budget provided for what were then the highest ever increases in social security payments. Weekly benefits, pensions allowances were raised by £1.00 in the personal rates and by at least 50p in respect of every qualified dependant. The monthly allowances under the children's allowances scheme were increased by £1.50 for each child. This year's budget maintained the pattern established in 1973. The improvements provided for in these two budgets resulted, for example, in a married man with three children receiving an increase from £13.00 to £19 a week in unemployment or disability benefit— that is an extra £6.00 a week or an increase of 46 per cent. In the case of an elderly married couple receiving contributory old age pension the increase meant an extra £4.65, or 45 per cent, a week. The percentage rise in the monthly children's allowances was greater still. For example, one-child families received an increase of 360 per cent, two-child families received an increase of 180 per cent and three-child families received an increase of 127 per cent.

In addition to increase in benefit rates, many more people have been made eligible for social insurance and assistance payments by other improvements and extensions in existing schemes and by the introduction of new schemes. The qualifying age for old age pension and for free travel, free electricity and free television licences has been reduced from 70 to 68 years—the first reduction since old age pensions were introduced—increasing the number of old age pensioners by about 25,000. A further 12,000 persons have become eligible for pensions as a result of the substantial relaxation of the means test. Provision has also been made for the payment of an extra £3.65 a week to a non-contributory old age pensioner whose wife, or invalid husband, was not receiving any personal payment. The age limit for receipt of children's allowances has been increased from 16 years to 18 years in the case of children who are continuing in full-time education, are apprenticed or are [2257] incapacitated and likely to remain so for a prolonged period. This improvement has brought an additional 70,000 young persons within the scope of the children's allowances scheme. In the case of deserted wives, the period for which they have to be deserted to qualify for payment was reduced from six to three months.

A new scheme of allowances for unmarried mothers who keep their children has been introduced. The Commission on the Status of Women recommended the introduction of such an allowance for a period of not less than one year after the birth of the child but the new allowance continues in payment until the child ceases to be a dependant of the unmarried mother— age 18 years or, if the child remains at school, 21 years. Some 1,800 unmarried mothers are already benefiting under the scheme. A new benefit, based on insurance, has been introduced for deserted wives as an alternative to the means-test allowance already in existence. We have also provided for two new social assistance schemes applying to single women aged 58 and over who were unable to benefit under the existing schemes and to the wives of prisoners serving sentences of six months or more.

Social insurance was extended to all employees on the 1st April of this year, with the abolition, from that date, of the £1,600 remuneration limit which applied to non-manual workers. In the same month a system of pay-related benefits was introduced for insured workers who became sick or unemployed and for women entitled to maternity allowance. Title to children's allowances has been vested in mothers instead of fathers as the Commission on the Status of Women recommended.

Further improvements and extensions are being considered. The home assistance scheme has been reviewed in detail and it is hoped that changes will be possible in the near future on the basis of recommendations drawn up by the Department of Social Welfare. An examination of the implications of extending social insurance to [2258] the self-employed—a development which is seen as a priority—is in progress in that Department. The establishment of an Advisory Committee on pilot schemes to combat poverty in May last will, I hope, help in dealing with the problems of poverty and their solution—which depend more often than we may realise, not so much on money as on sympathy and understanding.

Another very important step has been the Government's decision in principle to support the establishment and operation of community information centres in a number of areas to advise and help people concerning all aspects of the social security services administered by the Department of Social Welfare. This network of information centres will be established as rapidly as possible.

The changes introduced by the Minister for Finance in his recent budgets have also contributed in their way to the social programme of the Government. In the aftermath of the lengthy debate in some detail in this House on the Finance Bill to implement provisions of the last budget it is not necessary for me to go in detail here into these changes.

In so far as the law governing working conditions and the rights of the disadvantaged are concerned, the Government have given workers the right to three weeks' holiday and have added an extra public holiday this year. We have given workers the right to a minimum period of notice of up to eight weeks in the case of dismissal and we have improved considerably the position of workers who become redundant.

A Bill was introduced last week by Long and Short Titles to tackle the problem of child labour and to protect young people who are at present open to exploitation. Following the Report of the Commission on the Status of Women, we have enacted legislation to eliminate discrimination and improve the position of women in our society. Women are now guaranteed in law equal pay by 1975 with the enactment recently of the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Bill, 1974. The marriage bar in the public service [2259] has been removed; allowances have been given to unmarried mothers keeping their children; wives can now be paid children's allowances; improvements are being made in regard to desertion, maintenance and so on. Later in the year it is intended to enact further legislation to improve the position of women in employment. It is our objective as an administration to enable women—who account for 52 per cent of our population—to play a full part in the life of the State and to eliminate those barriers which prevent them from doing so.

The recent adoption legislation will, among other desirable changes, make it possible for couples in a mixed marriage to adopt, while the Maintenance Orders Act, 1974, enables effect to be given in this country to a proposed agreement with Britain and Northern Ireland for the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance and affiliation orders, which should relieve the position of deserted wives.

As Deputies will be aware, the Government decided, as part of their general programme of social reform that every member of the community, irrespective of income and type of employment, should be entitled to free hospital in-patient and out-patient service, free maternity services, free infant care services and assistance towards the cost of drugs, so that no family would have to pay more than £4 a month for drugs. Difficulties with the medical organisations have delayed full implementation of the scheme. However, since 1st April last, there has been a partial easing of the restrictions on entitlement, including the rasing from £1,600 to £2,250 of the annual income limit for the eligibility of insured, non-manual workers for certain services. I would hope that it will soon be possible to resolve the difficulties which have been experienced so that free hospital services can be made available to all.

The Government's achievements and policies in the field of housing were set out by the Minister for Local Government in his Estimate speech last week. I would simply refer to the announcement last Friday that we are [2260] making available an extra £9 million to local authorities for home loans in the current nine-month period. The total provision is now equivalent to more than £35 million in a full year, compared with expenditure of £11 million in the year before the Government took office. This is clear evidence of our commitment to providing decent housing for all our people. We are keeping the whole situation in relation to house building and housing finance under close and continuous review so that changes and developments which may occur will be watched in order to ensure that adequate facilities are available for the industry.

Ba mhaith liom anois roinnt a rá faoi pholasaí an Rialtais i leith na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta. In oráidí a thug mé le bliain anuas, ag labhairt dom faoi Thuaisceart na hÉireann agus faoi phobal na hÉireann uile, thagair mé do na snáthanna eágsúla sinsireachta agus dúchais as ar fáisceadh muintir na hÉireann sa lá atá inniu ann. Ní hé a bhí i gceist agam ins na tagairtí sin céimsíos a thabhairt don Ghaeilge ná don chultúr Gaelach. Is amhlaidh a theastaigh uaim an fhírinne a léiriú mar atá sé.

Aithníonn an Rialtas gurb í an Ghaeltacht foinse agus tobar an snáth Gaelach inár bhéin úiacht, agus is é an beartas atá ná lánfhostaíocht agus caighdeán maith maireachtála a chur ar fáil do phobal na Gaeltachta sna seachtóidí. Chun forbairt eacnamaíoch, shóisialach, theangaíoch, agus chultúrtha na Gaeltachta a chur chun cinn ar na bealaí is éifeachtaí bunófar Údarás na Gaeltachta ina mbeidh guth láidir ag pobal na Gaeltachta féin. Is faoi scáth Roinn na Gaeltachta a bheidh an tÚdarás agus beidh cumhachtaí leathana feidhmiúcháin aige chun clár uileghabhálach a chur i bhfeidhm.

Beidh Acht le rith chun na socruithe nua a dhéanamh, agus, idir an dá linn, tá Roinn na Gaeltachta agus Gaeltarra Éireann ag brú ar aghaidh go tréan le forbairt na Gaeltachta agus tá méadú mór déanta ag an Rialtais ar an airgead a bhíonn ar fáil dóibh. Ní beag an dul chun cinn atá déanta cheana féin.

Mar shampla, na tionscail nua ar fud na Gaeltachta a bhfuil cúnamh [2261] ceadaithe ag Gaeltarra Éireann dóibh, meastar go gcuirfidh siad fostaíoch ar fáil do suas le 4,000 cainteoir Gaeilge ina gceantair dhúchais.

Is mian leis an Rialtas freisin an pobal a spreagadh ar thaobh úsáid na Gaeilge ar fud na tíre agus, don chéad uair, beidh an phríomhfhreagacht i bhfeidhmiú an bheartais ghinearálta sin ar Roinn ar leith—Roinn na Gaeltachta. Faoi scáth na Roinne bunófar Bord na Gaeilge agus cumhachtaí feidhmiúcháin aige chun leas na Gaeilge a chur chun cinn. Bord reachtúil a bheidh ann tar eís Act cuí a rith ach bunófar go luath é ar bhonn ad hoc. Chun freastal ar na socruithe nua don Ghaeltacht agus don Ghaeilge déanfar atheagrú cuí ar structúr Roinn na Gaeltachta agus aistreofar oiread agus is féidir d'obair na Roinne go dtí na Forbacha i nGaeltacht na Gaillimhe.

Our membership of the European Economic Community has extended now for a period of more than one year. While there are features of our membership which may have been the cause of disappointment, we have, on the whole, gained substantial benefits both material and otherwise, from membership. The net flow of funds from the Community towards our country was of the order of £33 million in 1973 and further substantial sums have been approved but have yet to be paid. We have benefited from Community arrangements in agriculture, and as members of one of the largest and most dynamic industrial markets in the world, we have become an even more desirable location for new industry—as the figures I have quoted earlier for the value of new industrial projects approved by the Industrial Development Authority imply. Further, there is for us the intangible, though nonetheless real, benefit arising from the development of our sense of identity with our European heritage. The Third Report on Developments in the European Communities, laid recently before both Houses of the Oireachtas, ranged in more detail over developments in the various areas of Community activity.

As Deputies will be aware, the [2262] British Government have tabled in the Council of the Community a number of requests for amendment of the existing arrangements of the Communities. The most important of these requests related to British contributions to the Community budget. The British have here made the case that the present provisions are “inequitable”. In response to the British case, the Commission is examining the economic and financial situation of the Community as a whole since enlargement and its likely future development. Other British requests relate to Community agricultural arrangements, trade policy, development aid and national industrial, regional and fiscal policies. These matters are all being considered as part of the on-going work of the Community and within the existing framework.

In general, we take the view that Community solidarity requires serious examination of problems raised by any member state. We also wish to see the Community maintained with its present membership. In the light of these considerations we have been happy to note the British intention to negotiate within the terms of the Community treaties. Our reactions to any proposals designed to meet the British case will, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs has pointed out, be largely conditioned by the degree to which these would promote the prospect of achieving real progress towards a democratically-controlled European union.

During the first six months of 1975 Ireland will hold the presidency of the Council of the European Communities. It will be Ireland's opportunity to provide chairmen for all committees and working groups of the Council as well as meetings of the Council itself during this period. Preparations are currently being made in Government Departments to enable this country to discharge fully its responsibilities.

Our presidency next year also covers the inter-governmental political co-operation activity of the member states which is quite separate from the Community framework. We will have the responsibility in 1975 of chairing all meetings of the Nine in this political framework. The major difference of [2263] organisation between these two sets of activity is that European political co-operation meetings are held in the capital of the presidency, which means that we will be called upon to provide in Dublin all the necessary secretarial and infrastructural services in addition to performing the function of chairman. As well as a number of meetings of Foreign Ministers and conceivably a meeting at higher level, there will be a large number of meetings, at official level, possibly 30 or more, over the six-month period. Apart from preparing those meetings and presiding over them, Ireland will have the important and demanding task of acting as spokesman for the Nine in their collective dealings with other countries.

The objective of this political co-operation procedure is to ensure close co-operation in foreign policy matters between the Governments of the Nine with a view to achieving better mutual understanding on major international problems and to strengthen their solidarity by harmonisation of views, co-ordination of positions and, where possible and desirable, common action. Ireland has participated actively in the framework since our accession to the Communities in January, 1973. At present consultations are held among the Nine on a wide range of foreign policy subjects. This framework has provided a valuable opportunity for the elaboration of common positions and attitudes on subjects such as the conference on security and co-operation in Europe, the situation in the Middle East, the proposed Euro-Arab dialogue, relations with the United States, and the situation in countries such as Chile, Portugal and Cyprus.

One of the topics which has been of particular interest in the past year has been that of arrangements for consultations between the Nine and other countries, and in particular the United States. It has now been agreed that consultations on issues of interest to the Nine and to the US should be carried out through the presidency in each case where the issue is raised by one of the Nine and where there is consensus in favour of such consultations. [2264] This appears to be a very satisfactory foundation on which to develop future relations and Ireland, as a member state of the Nine with many strong links of friendship with the United States, welcomes this agreement which ensures that the interests of both the Nine and the United States receive due consideration at all times.

An important initiative taken this year by the Community, acting together in the framework of political co-operation, was the decision to open a long-term dialogue with the states of the Arab world. Agreement in principle has been reached by both sides on this dialogue, the detailed content of which remains to be elaborated.

The broad aim of this dialogue is the long-term development of relations between Europe and the Arab world and co-operation over a wide variety of fields. We have participated fully in this initiative and we have indicated our willingness to contribute as far as possible to the successful achievement of its objectives. Discussions are also in hand among the Nine on the coordination of European proposals for inclusion in the dialogue; this is a matter of particular significance to us in the context of Ireland's tenure of the presidency in 1975.

We have been co-operating closely with our partners in the Nine in the conference on security and co-operation in Europe, the second phase of which is currently in session in Geneva. We share the concern of our partners that the results of this conference, the first major East-West dialogue in post-war years, should be sufficiently positive in all fields—that of increased freedom of human contacts and the diffusion of information, no less than those of trade and security—to enable it to succeed in its basic objectives of the furtherance of detenté and ensuring the future stability of the continent. I believe that we have been able to make a useful contribution both towards the development of a common position of the Nine, and in the conference itself, where we have, of course, benefited from the support of our partners in [2265] putting forward the Irish position where questions of particular interest to us arose.

I would now like to refer to a matter in the area of international affairs, not directly related to the EEC, but which is of tremendous potential importance for this country. The Law of the Sea conference which is being held at present in Caracas ranges over a very wide area, including such matters as territorial seas, contiguous zones, international navigation, exclusive economic zones, marine environment, marine research and an international regime for the sea bed.

One of the main purposes of the conference is to seek a new regime for the ocean bed outside national jurisdiction, with the probable creating of an international authority to control this area and its exploitation with particular concern for the needs of poorer countries. While international conventions do already exist, they do not in the light of present technological advances and the growth of the economic needs, deal with large areas of the law of the sea.

While acknowledging that the seas and their fruits are the common heritage of mankind and supporting the establishment of an international authority with an effective constitution, we will also be looking for the recognition of the preferential rights of coastal states. We will be seeking for this country the largest profitable area of national maritime jurisdiction in the form of an extension of the territorial seas and contiguous zones, and a wide economic zone. We see this as the most beneficial way of exploiting the seas both for the coastal state and, internationally, by ensuring the control of pollution, the conservation of living and non-living resources and the promotion of marine technology in these areas.

I said at the outset that inflation was probably the greatest single problem facing us. I want to preface what I have to say by some remarks on the growth of public expenditure. In the 12 months to March next, the Government have budgeted to spend £180 million more on the current side and [2266] £65 million more on capital development than in the previous 12 months.

Public service pay increases, that is the pay of civil servants, teachers, Army, Garda and health board staffs, account for a very significant part of the overall increase in current Government expenditure. The cost in 1974-75 of meeting standard increases under the national pay agreement 1974 for the public service is about £40 million and increases in staff numbers account for a further £14 million. These increased numbers are required for expansion in the fields of social welfare, education, health, telephone development, in EEC work and in the security forces.

These pay increases, together with the annual rise in the cost of servicing the national debt—now estimated to cost almost £190 million annually —absorb a very high proportion of tax buoyancy and limit the Government's room for manoeuvre in regard to desirable expansion in other areas. Nevertheless, in 1974-75 the Government are spending an extra £34 million on social welfare mainly on improvements in benefits, including children's allowances, and the lowering of the old age pension age to 68. An extra £17 million—not including pay—is being spent on various expansions and improvements in the health services including the cost of transferring a further instalment of health charges from the rates to the Exchequer.

In 1974-75 the Exchequer will provide £126 million towards current health costs and the rates will provide £19 million. In education apart from the increased costs of teachers' pay and the cost of increases in teacher numbers, about £6 million is being provided for various improvements, including increased expenditure on teacher training, school transport, higher education grants and free education grants. In local government an extra £5 million is being provided for housing subsidy, the Road Fund grant is being increased by £3.1 million and provision is made for continuing the interest subsidy to building societies which the Government introduced in May of last year. There are also substantial increases [2267] in the amounts provided for expenditure under the Public Capital Programme on services like housing, industrial development, agriculture and so on.

The rapid increase, in recent years, in both current and capital expenditure has resulted in a sharp rise in the amount of total expenditure not covered by tax or other receipts. This increase in the net borrowing requirement has been all the greater because of the limited room for manoeuvre on the tax front combined with the necessity to revise the personal tax allowances. Not only do we get a higher proportion of our revenue from indirect taxes than any of the other EEC member states but the burden of taxation in Ireland in recent years, has been growing faster than in most other member states.

The net borrowing requirement is financed from two major sources viz:- (a) normal Exchequer resources, and (b) residual Exchequer borrowing. While there is a reasonable assurance of realising most of the amounts under the ‘normal resources’ heading, sales of securities to the public are exceptionally volatile and react sharply to events outside the Government's control, in particular to trends in international interest rates, and cannot, therefore, be predicted with any degree of accuracy.

Because the domestic resources available to the Exchequer have failed to keep pace with the growth in expenditure, there has been a rapid increase in the amount of money raised abroad in recent years. Apart from the element of uncertainty if not hazard which this gives rise to, there is also the consideration that foreign borrowing is becoming increasingly costly and the repayment period increasingly shorter.

All of these factors point to the need for a most careful and critical appraisal of State expenditure both in the current and in future years. This leads me to deal with a subject closely related to the high rate of increase in public expenditure in recent years. I mean the phenomenon of inflation. [2268] Inflation has been described as the enemy of economic progress, of social justice, of the young seeking jobs in Ireland, of the saver and, indeed, of democracy itself. With these sentiments I fully concur.

The extent of inflation in our economy is indicated by the rise in the 12 months ended mid-May last, of over 16 per cent in the consumer price index. This compares with a rise in the year to December last of approximately 19 per cent in average industrial earnings.

Much of the rise in prices is due to external influences. In fact, nearly 50 per cent of the increase in 1973 is accounted for by the rise in the price of imports, as compared with only 10 per cent of the increase in 1972 and less than 20 per cent in 1971. The effects of the oil price increases are reflected in the dramatic increase in the contributions of fuel, light and transport to the total increase in consumer prices. This was 31 per cent in the second quarter of 1974 as compared with about 10 per cent in the final three quarters of 1973.

Over the last 12 months, increases in material costs generally have become important as causes of price increases. In December last, they accounted for nearly 90 per cent of total cost increases. In the first four months of this year the corresponding figure was about 80 per cent. This fell in May and June but the explanation for this decline lies not in any reduction in the absolute size of the rise in material costs but rather in the increase in the percentage accounted for by wage costs claimed in price applications as a result of the 1974 national pay agreement.

In the drive against inflation it is obviously necessary to ensure that only price rises justified by increases in costs which cannot be avoided or offset are permitted. The main agency for this is the National Prices Commission whose work has ensured substantial savings to consumers. Increased annual costs of £119 million were claimed in nearly 1,200 applications for price increases considered [2269] by the Commission in the 11 months up to 21st May, 1974. Only £100 million were actually allowed. It is, of course, impossible to say the purposes on which the money saved to consumers would have been spent if it had remained with the firms the subject of the controls. Part of it may well have been invested, directly or indirectly, in increasing or improving methods of production. This is one of the costs of price control, which though not quantified, we should not forget. It is one of the inefficiencies which inflation compels us to build into our economic structure.

In dealing with prices we are dealing with the symptoms, not the causes, of inflation. I have not referred to the external pressures forcing prices up to distract attention from the domestic causes of inflation. Even in a period when import prices soared, domestic causes accounted for more than half the rise in consumer prices.

The dominant influence here is the increase in incomes of all kinds, far in excess of the rise in the volume of national output. For example, the rise of 19 per cent in employee incomes in the industrial sector in 1973 compares with a productivity increase of only 7 per cent. This resulted in an increase of 11 per cent in unit wage costs. In itself, this might not be too dangerous if trends in other countries were similar. But the rise in unit costs here has been well above the increase in most industrialised countries.

I need hardly spell out the consequences of a continuation of this trend. If our prices are not competitive we will be unable to sell the goods and services we produce. Persons will lose their present employment and the attractions of the country as a location for new industry —on which our future prosperity depends—will be diminished or dissipated.

The 1974 national agreement which was ratified only after months of hard negotiation will be one of the key factors here. Not only did it sort out and provide a solution for various problems arising from widely differing terminal dates of industry [2270] agreements, but it is producing and will produce very substantial pay increases for workers generally. In addition, it has guaranteed that increases in the cost of living index in excess of 10 per cent in the 12 months to November, 1974, will be fully compensated for.

In strictly economic terms, however, the agreement, will add to, rather than alleviate, the pressure on costs and prices. It is essential, theremore, that its terms should be observed and supported by all. The basic pay increases provided for are substantial, by any reckoning; indeed the economy will have great difficulty in trying to absorb the increased labour costs involved. Even before the agreement expires, moderation in pressing anomaly items over and above the standard increases could be of significant help. Indeed, the extent to which claims have been pressed for increases over and above the standard provisions has been a source of disappointment to the Government.

Also discouraging has been an increasing readiness to ignore the peace clauses of the agreement. Over the past few years our economy has been transformed from one characterised by a high strike record to one in which our industrial relations performance has been amongst the best in Europe. Unfortunately the trends which have developed in the first half of this year are in the opposite direction. In that period we have lost about twice as many man-days through strikes as we lost in each of the three preceding years. A few disputes accounted for the vast majority of the man-days lost. If this trend were to continue we would as a community lose one of the prime advantages of national agreements.

The over-riding priority on the economic front now is for Government and other various interests concerned to work out ways and means of winding down the present rate of inflation. Luckily, the external pressures seem to be easing. The rise in food prices is slackening, commodity prices have declined in recent weeks and may well declined further. The future course of oil prices is more difficult to predict. [2271] The moves towards fuller State participation by the Governments of the producing countries may tend to raise prices somewhat. On the other hand, the supply demand situation points to the likelihood of some fall in prices. We may hope, at least, that any increase will be moderate. In these circumstances, we must ensure that this opportunity of turning back inflation is not thrown away by actions in areas within our own control. The Government are fully conscious of the influence of expenditure within their own programmes on the pressures of demand within the economy generally.

Basically, as I have indicated, we must concentrate on the domestic causes of inflation. This is not to deny or minimise the extent of imported inflation. It is simply to recognise that externally generated inflation is largely beyond our control. We will, of course, support any well conceived international initiatives to moderate it and it will be the Government's concern to cushion the poorer sections of the community against its worst effects. But the hard fact remains that it is only on the domestic elements of our inflation that we can exercise any really significant influence.

To exert such influence demands a certain minimum of agreement between the main parties concerned on what needs to be done and, most important it demands the will to do it, despite the sectional pressures that are bound to arise. As I have said, the most powerful of the domestic causes of the present inflation has been the extent to which the rate of increase in money incomes has out-paced the growth in national productivity. The national agreements made so far have, despite the other advantages which encouraged the Government to support them whole-heartedly, added to inflationary pressures. What may have been good enough when the rate of price increase was lower, however, cannot be risked when the rate is running, as it is at present, at over 16 per cent. It is not too early, therefore, for urgent examination of the ways in which whatever new arrangements replace the [2272] current agreement can help to slow down inflation drastically.

The Government recognise, of course, that in such arrangements, since price increases cannot be stopped overnight, real moderation by workers in their wage demand may need to be matched by provisions which, as far as possible, protect their existing wages against the ravages of price increases.

I have spent some time on wages because of their importance but all other forms of incomes and prices need equally critical scrutiny, the criterion in all cases being, whether developments in these areas can be harnessed in the fight against inflation.

One of the matters which will engage the Government's attention is whether, and if so what, improvements are needed in the relationship between the way we determine income increases and the way we take decisions at national level on major economic, fiscal and social policies. It is important that decisions on income increases should harmonise with the community's decisions on those wider issues. On the institutional side this means looking at how such bodies as, for example, the Employer-Labour Conference, the National Prices Commission and the National Economic and Social Council relate to one another in their work and aims and how they, in turn, relate to Government Departments and the legislature. Mere tinkering with institutional machinery can do more harm than good and that is not what I have in mind. It is, however, obviously desirable that income increases be determined with full awareness of how they fit into the wider context of the country's economic and social policies. The institutional framework can help or hinder this.

To sustain employment for a labour force which is expected to increase in the years ahead, while maintaining a rising standard of living and an equitable distribution of income, requires, in turn, an increasing level of public expenditure which is incompatible with the existing high rate of inflation and with the likely lower growth rate [2273] which this inflation will ultimately engender. There is now before us as a community an unavoidable choice between a stabilisation policy aimed at safeguarding employment and social equity or the persistence of the existing rate of inflation with its dire consequences for employment and living standards. The Government will ensure that the course in the best interests of the entire community is followed and the only course in the national interests.

Mr. J. Lynch: Information on John Lynch  Zoom on John Lynch  The Taoiseach's review of the economy has been, at least, a comprehensive one but when all the figures are scrutinised and the verbiage of the Taoiseach's script has been digested I think it will be clear that there is no indication that the Government have any specific plan or programme, or even the will to implement it, to deal with the current serious and deteriorating economic situation. There is nothing in the tone or content of the Taoiseach's statement that would in any way stimulate the flagging spirits of many Deputies who listened to it and who have had a sleepless or almost sleepless night.

It is not surprising that the Government were reluctant to permit this Adjournment Debate and have done so now, which is not unusual, by introducing the Taoiseach's Estimate in which the Taoiseach is usually expected to review not only the economy but the overall performance of his Government. This performance during the past year has been characterised by one continuing and dominating feature, the total lack of will to face up to difficult or unpopular decisions. This cowardice or desire to buy public popularity at all times is the one common trend that has run through all aspects of Government administration and behaviour in all fields.

We had, for example, the head-in-the-sand approach to the oil shortage last winter when, for a long time, there was an attempt to pretend that no problems existed. We had the paralysis of the Government in the face of industrial disputes such as the ESB dispute last winter and, more recently, the Dublin bus strike. We [2274] had the spectacle of the Government first announcing, and then running away from its capital taxation proposals. We had the pathetic attempt at pretending that inflation was all the fault of world events over which the Government had no control as an excuse for failing to honour the Coalition election promises about stabilising prices. It is at least somewhat reassuring to hear the Taoiseach in his statement today say that there is at least 50 per cent of this inflation over which we can exercise some control—yes, certainly if the Government had the will and ability to do so. For the crowning touch we had the spectacle last week of the Taoiseach disclaiming a Bill brought in in the name of his Government. The list could be extended but the examples I have given are sufficient to make the point.

Allied to this lack of courage to which I referred there has been a second feature of the Government's performance which should be highlighted, and that is their continuous attempt to have things both ways by a barrage of propaganda and public relations exercises designed to conceal the unpleasant facts from the public or, in some way, to misrepresent them. Also, there was, and is the extraordinary lethargy on the part of the Government to introduce and implement important legislation. There are so many examples that one hardly knows where to begin. The most recent one was the unfortunate situation which developed here yesterday and throughout the night. The Government introduced the budget on 3rd April this year and it took three months, coming up to the last days of the Dáil, before we at last saw the Finance Bill. Because of the necessity to have that Bill enacted before the end of this month the usual time was not available to the Opposition. Sufficient time was not available to discuss the implications of that Bill fully. That is entirely due to the Government's lethargy, to which I referred, in bringing forward legislation.

We have now been told that the long-awaited mining taxation Bill [2275] will be introduced during the current summer. This was promised during last summer also. We hope that at last it will ultimately appear.

I want to deal with three main issues which I think will show up these features and the ineptitude of the Government to handle the current serious situation. Since it is still fresh in people's minds I shall begin with the Contraceptives Bill. Again, we have an example here of Government lethargy. The need for the Bill was apparent after the Supreme Court decision last December: the Bill was introduced six months later.

Since it is still fresh in people's minds I shall deal with it in some detail. Here, the line was being put abroad up to last Tuesday that the Government was being civilised, reasonable and enlightened in allowing, not only an open debate, but also a free vote on this issue, and that Fianna Fáil were the villains of the piece by trying to make party political issues out of something which was to be treated as a matter of conscience and outside the normal party arena. We were told that this Bill was being discussed in a free vote situation.

That is what Government Deputies were told but, unfortunately, they seemed to discover in the process of the Bill going through the House that the contrary was the case. I am sure that is why so many Members on Government benches, especially those of Fine Gael, felt deceived and betrayed last week. There was no free vote for them; they had been whipped into voting for a measure, despite the reservations which many of them felt, because they were led to believe that their party, their Leader and their Government Ministers supported it.

The Government Whip, Deputy Kelly, tried to cover up the confusion and dismay by what might appear to him to be a brave speech last weekend in which he—not surprisingly— attacked Fianna Fáil and tried to suggest the debacle was in some way our responsibility. However, the shock of last Tuesday's events must have still affected him when he made that speech on Thursday because he also made [2276] some remarks which I certainly interpret as criticism by him of the Taoiseach. He spoke of the 61 Deputies—“five-sixths of the total Government strength voted freely to change the law in a manner which respected the minority's rights and conscience”. The clear interpretation of that assertion must be that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education, who voted against the Bill, are not persons who would respect the minority's rights.

He went on also to say—I quote from The Irish Times of July 19th— that 61 Deputies freely supported the Bill in the interests of reason, order in law, and national reconciliation. Again the implication is very clear. The Government Deputies, the Taoiseach and the Minister who voted against the Bill did not have these interests at heart. He continued with the extraordinary statement, which in the usual way of The Irish Times report on these things says “according to the supplied script”:

This is the proud and historic side of Tuesday, the 16th day of July, and if we are ever to have an all-Ireland day of national brotherhood this would be no bad date to choose.

If this ever happens the Taoiseach will take no comfort in taking part in this day of national brotherhood—16th July which may be chosen from now on as that date.

I want to make the attitude of the Fianna Fáil Party towards the Bill perfectly clear. It was perfectly clearcut. We did not support the Bill because we regarded it as a bad piece of legislation and impracticable in its application. We recognise that the existing situation following the Supreme Court decision in the McGee case is one which needs to be redressed and which calls for legislation. Were we in Government we would bring in such legislation and stand over it, but it is not our function to do the work of the Government for them. If the Government sought to redress the situation following the Supreme Court decision it was their duty to bring forward a practicable Bill for this purpose. Since it was asserted by the [2277] Minister that it was essential legislation, it was also their duty that they should use their parliamentary majority to ensure that the Bill would be passed and enacted, but this was not done.

Many people who oppose contraception applauded the defeat of the Bill. They felt it meant that contraceptives would not now be legally available. Many people still think this following the defeat of the Bill in the House last week. It is necessary to state again what the actual position is. The Minister has done so himself on at least two occasions during the course of the passage of the Bill. Prior to the Supreme Court decision in the McGee case it was not lawful to import, sell or expose for sale contraceptives. That was in accordance with the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1935. The Supreme Court decided that that part of the 1935 Act which prohibited the importation of contraceptives for personal use was against the Constitution. Therefore, from the date of the Supreme Court decision in December, 1973, it was and is legally permissible to import contraceptives for personal use but not to sell or expose them for sale. That is a fair statement of the position which now obtains.

In effect, since the Supreme Court decision contraceptives have been and are now freely available. The purpose of the Government Bill is to continue to make them legally available but under certain restrictive conditions. These were conditions with which our party did not agree on the grounds of practical enforcement and public morality. In effect, the Government Bill would have made contraceptives available through chemists' shops or other retail outlets amounting in all to some thousands throughout the country without any obligation on the shopkeepers requiring them to sell them only to married people.

I believe that this widespread and almost indiscriminate availability of contraceptives would be against public morality. I also believe and want to make known my personal position that there are personal circumstances, for example, for valid health and social reasons, and where religious [2278] beliefs or conscientious convictions allow, in which people ought to have reasonable access to the use of contraceptives. The health considerations involved were clearly illustrated by the evidence in the McGee case. Apart from the force of that evidence it is clear that the State ought not to legislate in such a way as to endanger a citizen's life or health.

As for religious beliefs or conscientious convictions, I accept that in no matter what capacity I do not have the right to dictate to married persons on their use of contraceptives in lawful wedlock. Apart from the other considerations I have mentioned this is a matter of private morality. I do not condone any legislation which would make contraceptives available to single people. The possible alternative suggested by Deputy O'Malley, the Fianna Fáil spokesman on this issue, of making available contraceptives to married people through the agency of the health authorities on a non-commercial basis was an alternative which the Minister should have considered and accepted. However, he chose not to do so.

The position now is worse that that which would have obtained if the Government Bill with all its faults had been passed. This is something which must be remembered in the present situation. There is now the danger of uncontrolled or uncontrollable illicit sales of these devices, especially among young people. It is the duty of all responsible persons and groups, churches or otherwise, to indicate to people who think otherwise what the position now is. There is no use pretending that because the Bill was defeated contraceptives are no longer available. Those who opposed the Bill, as I did, knew that without alternative practicable legislation contraceptives would be and are now freely available. The Minister for Justice stated that he is satisfied to leave the situation as it now obtains, that is, complete freedom to import contraceptives for personal use.

Apart from the extraordinary and unprecedented action of the Head of the Government and the Minister for [2279] Education in voting against the Government measure this action strikes at the very credibility of this administration. It is another blatant example of their lack of coherent policy. The Bill was not a vote for or against contraception. Therefore, it is nonsense for any Member of the Government or any Deputy supporting the Government to say, or to have it said on his behalf, that he voted against the Bill because his conscience dictated that he should oppose the availability of contraceptives.

That was not the issue. The issue was whether the Bill adequately controlled the availability of contraceptives. We read in the newspapers that hundreds of letters complimenting the Taoiseach on his act of conscience have poured into his Department and this now gave thought to the other members of the Government that perhaps the Taoiseach was right after all.

The Taoiseach did not vote against contraception, because by his vote he made contraceptives more freely available than under the Bill. It was a Government Bill. If the Taoiseach felt that it did not adequately fulfil its purpose, it was his duty to have acted within the Cabinet and not to come into the House and by his action in voting against this Bill be misinterpreted by the public at large. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Education by voting against this Bill are striking an irreparable blow to the credibility of this Government and to the confidence which the public can have in it and in any future difficult decisions with which it might be faced—and there will be many.

I will now deal with the second area in which the Government have failed to offer any coherent policy and in which they have continually run away from difficulties and unpopular decisions, and that is in the management of the economy. The Coalition Government took office at a time when the economy was expanding at a record rate and was set fair for further steady progress. Successful growth, even at the rate of 5 or 6 [2280] per cent per annum, cannot guarantee instant prosperity for everybody nor can it enable all problems to be immediately resolved. The Coalition Government, unfortunately for them, had made many extravagant and expensive election promises which they then could not admit were beyond the limits the country could afford. So they embarked on a programme of excessive spending. The figures the Taoiseach gave in his speech are a clear indication of that, and I will refer later to more objective authorities to illustrate my point. One consequence of this was to add to the already high rate of inflation. Far from stabilising prices, as had been promised, they were worsening the position. We have now reached the stage of almost complete frustration on the part of the public as to whether this Government can in any way help them in their dire economic circumstances.

One would have thought that to a Government which was alleged to have so much talent learning would be quicker and easier for them than for others. Instead, the Government have continued their policy of excessive spending this year also. At budget time we pointed this out in detail and showed what was necessary to deal with the prevailing economic difficulties. Deputy Colley, in his first statement after the budget speech, said at column 1478 of the Official Report of 3rd April, 1974:

In our economic circumstances, some of which are outlined by the Minister in his speech, and having regard to the international climate particularly in relation to oil prices and the shortage of various raw materials, it is gross irresponsibility on the part of the Government to bring in a budget providing for a deficit of more than £66 million.

That was the biggest single simulation of the inflationary trend for which this Government was responsible.

The Minister for Finance literally strutted into this House on the 3rd April, 1974, with his budget statement under his arm and then read it. The very first line read:

[2281] The success of last year's budget policy is illustrated by the near record rate of 7 per cent growth achieved in 1973.

We claim that this expansion had taken place during 1972 and up to the first half of 1973 and thereafter it declined. The Taoiseach repeated the unsupportable claim of the Minister for Finance in his statement here today.

A few days ago the Economic and Social Research Institute issued a report, a Quarterly Economic Commentary, dated June, 1974. On page 9 they provided a table entitled “Volume of Production in Manufacturing”. In the column immediately under that table it says:

It is clear from the table that the upsurge in activity occurred in the second half of 1972 and continued into the first half of 1973. For the remainder of the year the level of production actually declined.

That is possibly the most objective comment which could be made on the performance of the economy in 1973—an improved performance that ended long before the first budget of the Coalition Government could have had any economic effect whatever.

I now refer to the stimulus given to inflation by an unnecessary and dangerous budget stimulus. Again we have comments from a source which nobody could suggest was anything but objective and, as is its purpose, critical. I refer of course to the Central Bank Report and, in particular, to the report recently published for 1973-74. On the first page of the General Review, on page 7 of the report, it says:

Again Ireland was one of the most inflationary areas in the world. To review such a year of monetary depreciation would, from the Central Bank's viewpoint be bleakly depressing if no remedial action were possible or no hope of relief, however adventitious, could be foreseen.

Again this is a clear denunciation of the Government's failure to tackle this inflationary problem. In the next paragraph it says:

It is a fallacy, even for the open [2282] Irish economy, that inflation is due more to external than internal causes and that it is beyond our power to curb or control it. If this were true, and the only armoury a country had against a mainly imported inflation was price control, the situation would be a sorry one. Price control, as is obvious, can prevent only “unjustifiable” price increases; those justified by increased costs of imports or of home products and services it can do nothing about.

That is quite true. We know that inflation is now divided into three categories —home generated inflation, export inflation and imported inflation. There is little, if anything, any Government can do about imported inflation. Export inflation refers in the main to the kind of prices we get for our commodity exports and, if these prices are high, naturally the price on the home market will be almost correspondingly high. But there is an area in the third category of home generated inflation which the Government not only can but have a duty to control and this Government have made no effort whatever to do so.

If I might refer again to the Central Bank's Report 1973-74. The Minister for Finance, in his budget of 1973 and again in 1974, seemed to have become politically intoxicated with the flowery phrase “expansionary policy”. The Taoiseach repeated it today as being the greatest virtue that the Government have had in this field. Expansionary policy is good as long as due regard is had for the necessary means of obtaining it. The Central Bank, on page 10 of its report, speaks about this expansionary policy in the following terms:

The 1974 budget was merely another, though major, advance along an expansionary road which has carried the annual rate of increase in public current and capital expenditure from just over 13 per cent in 1969 to 23 per cent last year.

Further on, at page 11, it says:

The growing extent to which this rising volume of public expenditure has to be financed by external borrowing [2283] is a special cause for concern. At end-March, 1974 about £165 million of external government debt was outstanding, as against only £55 million five years before,

That is a three-fold increase in that five-year period. The report goes on to say:

and the indications are that this figure will be of the order of £300 million at least by end-March, 1975.

The Taoiseach referred to the need for external borrowing and I should say, in fairness, referred also to the dangers of deflation or reflation by countries from which we have borrowed. There is also the fact that we are denied the tax that would be payable if money was borrowed from within the country, payable on the interest earned on those borrowings. Suffice it to say, Sir, that indiscriminate borrowing abroad is not only highly dangerous but adds considerably to the public debt. This, of course, has to be financed. A simple illustration of how this affects the ordinary person, an illustration of what I consider to be the irregular progress of the Government in this sphere is the increase in servicing the national debt which rose from £80 million just two years ago to £130 million this year. A simple division exercise will show that, firstly, this is an increase of over 60 per cent in two years and, secondly, in more simple terms, reflects an increase of about £1.25 in each and every household on average in this country. Therefore, this external borrowing about which the average person may not think too much, deliberately undertaken by the Government, deprives every household, on average, of an income of £1.25 per annum.

That is not the only reference I could quote which, again, I would regard as in no way—I will not say as objective as the other two but certainly in no way would tend to be unfavourable towards the Government. It is worth noting that the Irish Transport and General Workers Union publication Liberty is also [2284] critical of the budget and supports the Fianna Fáil view that the emphasis should have been on policies to boost investment, exports and growth. In its current month's issue on page 11, it says:

...it is necessary——

I have omitted a preamble to this but I think what I am about to quote gives a proper indication of what it is intended to convey:

——it is necessary that further investment in capital equipment should also occur. It is for this reason that it can be argued that it might have been preferable for Government economic strategy to have concentrated on improving the environment for increased investment rather than hoping that increased investment production would result from the boost to consumer demand arising from such a large budget deficit.

It continues to say:

Indeed such a strategy could just as easily backfire in terms of an accentuation of inflationary and balance of payments problems of the Irish economy.

Those are comments from three separate sources—the Economic and Social Research Institute, the Central Bank and the official journal of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union. This budget—which, as we have been told always, is the cornerstone of Government economic policy —not only failed to help investment and exports but the other economic policies of the Government seem to be designed to destroy the economy rather than build it up.

The best example of this appalling bungling was the capital taxation proposals. These were introduced in the name of improving the equity of the tax system and reducing the inequality in the distribution of wealth. The Government had taken a whole year in which to study this problem before announcing its proposals. These were announced at the end of February. Therefore, it would have been reasonable to expect that any scheme would be well thought out and supported by [2285] adequate information but, as the events of the past five months have clearly shown, that was certainly not the case. It was not surprising that an ill-conceived mixture of tax proposals of this sort would be amended, as they have been, but the extraordinary manner of their change is incredible. When modifying the wealth tax the Minister for Finance dropped the pretence at distributing wealth which apparently is supposed to be its raison d'être.

There is no longer any talk about equity; instead, he was saying two weeks ago that the only test was whether or not the new taxes could bring in the same amount of money as the old death duties and that if the other new taxes—capital gains and capital acquisitions—could do this, then the wealth tax could be dropped. We still do not know what will be the ultimate decision of the Government in this respect. But certainly it has caused widespread uncertainly amongst many people, many people of moderate means; many people who have capital to invest in this country; many people who have capital already invested in this country and who have been letting it go out of the country. Certainly, it has given these people no cause to have confidence in the future, the kind of people on whom we depend to generate productivity and employment.

This is one of the results of inadequate Government preparation; the result of lack of coherent policy; lack of firmness of purpose by the Government in pursuing any policy.

I think the situation in the house building industry is something that ought to be highlighted. For weeks past we have been treated to a barrage of words and statistics by the Minister for Local Government denying what has been asserted by those who are in a position to know best—the building contractors and the Construction Industries Federation who have been warning of the grave crisis not only developing but having developed within the industry. There are many reasons for this situation, but the main reason for it lies at the door of the Government and, in particular, at the door of the Minister for Local Government. [2286] The failure of building societies to attract adequate investment is having serious repercussions in the industry and especially among those involved in the construction of private dwellings.

As we know now, many builders are left with completed houses on their hands because intending purchasers have failed to obtain the necessary loans. Naturally in such a climate builders are reluctant to proceed with any expansion in their output and inevitably most builders are now cutting back on housing starts. Builders who accepted the Government's commitment to achieving an output this year of 25,000 houses expected, as they were entitled to expect, that the necessary finance would be forthcoming to achieve the target set. A couple of days ago the Minister for Local Government announced that £9 million more would be made available for local authority housing. There is no mention of anything in respect of housing provided by the building societies.

The Minister said that the £9 million would be available from savings in other Government Departments. He did not specify where these savings would be made. But even if this money is to be made available to local authorities it will not be usable by them because the maximum local authority loan is £4,500 while the average price of a new house, in the Dublin area and in other areas also, is £8,500. Therefore, these loans will not solve the problem because they leave too large an amount to be made up by the applicant—as much as £4,000—and we know that those who build houses in this category are not people who would have that kind of money available to them.

We are satisfied that steps taken so far will not ease the situation and that unless positive steps are taken to ensure an adequate amount for home loans the industry can be thrown into the blackest depression experienced by it since 1957. That can happen within months. It is happening already to a small extent in many areas. Hundreds of building workers have been laid off. A serious problem faces builders' providers who, in the light of the Government commitment to a target of 25,000 new houses, stocked up with supplies [2287] which they cannot now distribute. Unless some definite action is taken by the Government within the next week or so—I am not referring to the type of action announced by the Minister for Local Government—many more workers in the industry will be laid off before the holiday season commences.

Approximately 80,000 are employed in the construction industry and about 25,000 of these are engaged in house building, and it is this latter group who will be the first to feel the pinch. If the rot sets in there, all other workers in the industry will be affected.

Within the past couple of days in this House, the Labour Party Whip, Deputy Desmond, has said that it is Fianna Fáil who are endeavouring to create a housing scare. Fianna Fáil have their own means of ascertaining facts, but it is not necessary for us to do a great deal of research into the industry when we hear from those involved directly that there is a grave housing crisis, a crisis which apparently, the Minister for Local Government has not heard of or, which, if he has heard of is something with which he has not come to grips.

The report of the Economic and Social Research Institute says that, while 1973 appears to have been a specially favourable year for the building and construction industry, the difficulties faced by home buyers in obtaining finance in 1973 which led to a sharp divergence between houses completed and houses purchased in that year, have now worked through to new housing starts in 1974 and that it seems likely that this will be reflected in a reduction in houses completed during the year. Here again is an example of the grandiose and flamboyant promises of the Government. It looks now as if their target of 25,000 new houses is incapable of being reached. The same can be said of most of the other Government promises.

It is idle for the Government to try to assert, as the Taoiseach has done again today in his speech, that a record number of houses were completed this year. It is idle for the Taoiseach to imply, as he has done on [2288] many other fortuitous occasions for his Government, that they can claim credit for this achievement. We all known that there is at least a three to four year cycle between the start and the completion of a new house because of the time involved in such matters as the examination of title, negotiation of loan and the physical start in the building process. Therefore, if a record number of houses are built this year, the Coalition Government cannot claim the credit, but if the indications that have been given by those involved in the industry and by the Economic and Social Research Institute are correct, and I have no doubt that they are, the Government will have to take the blame for the downturn in house building that seems to have set in now.

The Taoiseach referred briefly to the Northern Ireland situation and I intend to refer to this question only briefly, also. We need a clear re-definition of our relationship with the North. In his speech the Taoiseach said that so far as the Government were concerned, the lines of policy are clear. I wish to tell the Taoiseach that, so far as we in Fianna Fáil are concerned, the Government's lines of policy are not clear, and it is for that reason that we need a clear re-definition of our relation with the North and of what is policy in connection with that problem. We are suffering from a surfeit of Government spokesmen speaking with varying nuances on the need to keep our mouths shut on the subject of reunification.

The Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, in particular, has said that unity is simply not obtainable in present circumstances or in the foreseeable future and that, therefore, it is not a practicable goal. Lest any Minister should like to suggest that this statement has been taken out of context—and such a suggestion was made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs—I have here a script of the recording of the Minister's interview on Radio Éireann from which that statement was taken. There is no question of this statement being taken out of context or of its being capable of being taken out of context although, [2289] a week after that interview had taken place, the Minister for Foreign Affairs went on the air to make such assertion. Far from being taken out of context the fact that the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs even held the aspiration of unity was only drawn from him reluctantly and in a qualified sense and he repeated that he did not regard unity as a practicable goal. We know that it is Government policy, as it has always been Fianna Fáil policy, to bring about peace and reconciliation. It is very important that this should be highlighted. Indeed, the Taoiseach highlighted it today.

It is not my intention to make the aspiration towards the reunification of the country a party issue and I hope that never again will it become a party issue. However the responsibility of ensuring this rests mainly on the Taoiseach and the Government generally. It is not sufficient for the Taoiseach to point out that the general tenor of Government statements on the Northern situation is towards the national aspiration we all cherish, when a member of the Government makes specific statements that are deliberately divisive of the unified approach towards the Northern problem which has been established in recent years. The statements should be specifically repudiated as not representing Government policy if that is the case.

I do not know if the Taoiseach will reply to this debate but I hope whoever is replying, or the Ministers who may speak in this debate, will deal with the specific issues some of which I have raised and others that will be mentioned by my colleagues in the course of the debate. The Government should tell the people what they are doing with regard to hardship and economic depression to ensure that there is some hope that the country will emerge in the not too distant future from the kind of depression now being created.

All of us have experience of situations like this being allowed to drift, when decisions, however unpalatable, are not taken in time and ultimately the crunch coming at a time when perhaps the country can least afford having [2290] to face up to these decisions and their consequences. The Government are not doing this. I would ask them to face up to the realities of the situation and to stop substituting solid performance by a well-orchestrated public relations exercise. Indeed, the discords of that orchestration have begun to jar on the ears of the public.

As I have pointed out, the only remedy is to take courageous decisions. If the only courageous decision the Government can take is to go to the country and have a general election, contrary to what some commentators seem to suggest, Fianna Fáil are ready, willing and able to take on that situation. We are ready, willing and able to take on any issue or a combination of issues that must inevitably predominate in the next election. Above all, as we have done before, we are ready, willing and able on behalf of the people to tackle in a serious and realistic way the economic and other problems from which this Government appear to be continually running away.

Minister for Education (Mr. R. Burke): Information on Richard Burke  Zoom on Richard Burke  My intervention in this debate is not for the purpose of making the kind of speech one makes in introducing a departmental Estimate and, in common with the other Deputies, I speak after an all-night session of Dáil Éireann. It is difficult to avoid some elements of a departmental speech on this occasion but I am conscious of the fact that the presentation of the Estimates for my Department will provide later this year an opportunity for a fuller debate. Therefore, I do not propose now to enter into too much detail on matters that will be taken up shortly. However, there are some points on which I wish to make my position clear.

As I indicated to the House last October, the broad lines of my educational policy are firmly based on the main objectives set out in my statement of intent published by the National Coalition before the general election. These are first, to introduce genuine consultations with parents, school authorities, teachers and students; secondly, to transfer to an independent educational body authority [2291] for examinations and courses; thirdly, to see to it that the policy of selective compulsion which has proved so disastrous for the Irish language in the last 50 years be replaced by a genuine policy based on respect for and promotion of the Irish language and culture.

I should like to dwell a little on the first of these objectives—the introduction of genuine consultation—because the implications of the change of policy in this area do not seem to be sufficiently appreciated. It was generally understood there was goodwill in principle for many of the changes proposed. However what troubled us was the attitude of confrontation adopted in implementing those policies and the lack of sensitivity to genuine local community hesitations which characterised that approach. I have been endeavouring since taking office not just to improve the position in that respect but, in fact, to restore morale which was badly shaken on many sides.

In the last year I have had ample confirmation of my original expectation that this would be no easy task. It is essentially a slow process and a less showy one than trying to over-ride local wishes and aspirations. Although it is more rewarding in the long run, the shifts of emphasis necessary during the slower pace can give rise to misunderstandings. I should like to cite one example in particular.

In the matter of community schools, the impression was given—whether consciously intended or not it had been very deeply ingrained in many quarters—that there was to be only one pattern for the future, namely, the community school, irrespective of any other wishes. When I faced the task of correcting this impression I found myself the target of the unworthy suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition. I quote from the debate on Northern Ireland, from column 1590 of the Official Report dated 26th June, 1974, when he said:

... The present Minister for Education seems to have pulled back from the purpose and concept of community schools.

[2292] He also added the interesting invitation:

I think it would be interesting to hear some of his Government colleagues, who I am sure would support me in what I suggest, comment on the action now being taken, or rather the lack of action, by the Minister for Education in this sphere.

I leave that invitation without comment. There is no foundation whatever for this charge. I told the House in October last year that there were then 12 community schools in operation and that negotiations were in progress for the establishment of others in a number of centres. I had also expressed my appreciation of the value of the contribution such schools can make, particularly in the area of adult education, where there is general agreement to their establishment. I told the House in February of this year that three further community schools are under construction and that 12 more had been agreed upon but were not yet under construction. Notwithstanding all this I find Deputy Wilson in his contribution to the Supplementary Estimate debate on the University of Florence and on the National Museum and Library last evening echoing his leader's baseless suggestion and asking me to unfreeze the financing of community schools. I find it difficult to understand this perversity.

One of my reasons for mentioning this matter today is that it involves a piece of reality which tends to be overlooked. The degree of State financing in community schools is very great and the cost of building and equipment have risen enormously. The running of community schools is also an expensive matter, far more expensive in fact than was made clear by their more committed protagonists, or perhaps being charitable, than was anticipated by them. Traditional sources of secondary school provision were in any case becoming inadequate for the burdens they were bearing but it should be recognised that over-emphasis on the State commitment does tend to make the operation of community schools more expensive by discouraging very [2293] valuable voluntary local assistance. It has become traditional to pay tribute to the extent of the voluntary aid to education in Ireland, particularly at second level, but it is now being borne in upon us as never before how much of a hard fact of economic life we would have to face without that aid. I, for one, will do my utmost to retain that aid and to preserve as far as possible the morale of those who mainly provide it. This is one of the reasons why I am not prepared to be doctrinaire in my approach to school organisation and re-organisation. I feel that in difficult times we have need of all the resources we can possibly call upon and that we neglect at our peril sources which have been incredibly generous in the past.

I am speaking for the moment almost purely in economic terms. This is because I find myself as a Minister for Education seemingly headed for more difficult times. In common with other countries, we in Ireland have undertaken enormous educational commitments—and rightly so. There is, of course, much more to be done. But some of the glamour has worn off investment in education. We, in educational ministries still recognise its importance. But other very pressing priorities are developing an urgency that cannot be denied. The problem in the immediate future for me, as for my colleagues in other countries, is to try to retain the impetus we have gained rather than make any spectacular advance in our share of the public purse. We must, therefore, see to it that we get the very best value out of the resources we can command and endeavour also, where possible, to improve productivity.

There are, however, terms other than the purely economic which are no less practical and, perhaps, in many ways more important. There are values enshrined in our traditional approaches to the educational process which should not be sacrificed for the sake of rationalisation or other equally desirable objectives. Our aim should rather be to refine these values and enable them to permeate our newer structures. Let us innovate [2294] certainly but let us not rush off after concepts such as “integration” as ends in themselves, particularly when they have no meaning whatever over the great bulk of our particular field of operations.

My desire as Minister for Education has been, and will continue to be, to develop harmony, co-operation and mutual understanding amongst all those connected with our schools and colleges at all levels—parents, teachers, managers, officials and the community in general—and to ensure that all will recognise that the educational interests of the children and young persons will be by far the most important, if not, indeed, the sole consideration by which they will measure the worth and merits of any proposals with regard to the educational system in general or to a particular problem in an individual school. I hope to realise this desire through constant consultation and exchange of views.

I am well aware that one must avoid the danger of allowing discussion to become a substitute for action rather than a preparation for it. Lest, however, there might be any misunderstanding on this score I feel it is useful to refer at this point—without going into detail—to some of the positive things which have been accomplished in the relatively brief period since I took up office.

In the area of education our aim is to encourage the fullest participation of all interested in the formulation and promotion of educational policy. It is in this context that I initiated discussions with various educational interests in relation to proposals for regionalisation which envisage greater local involvement in educational matters and that I recommended appropriate arrangements for wider participation in the management of schools. I will refer to that a little more fully later.

Furthermore in the course of my address to the annual congress of the Irish vocational teachers at Westport on 28th May I proposed that vocational education committees should consider exercising the powers vested in them under the Vocational Education Act, 1930 to establish sub-commitees to act as boards of management [2295] of vocational schools. Within the last few weeks I have sent a circular to the chief executive officers of the committees inviting the committees to set up such sub-committees and I have suggested the composition procedure and functions which might be considered appropriate to the sub-committees as boards of management.

It might also be helpful to remember in this context that in the period of my tenure of office as Minister for Education we have had in County Wexford a dispute which has lasted over a number of years but which was settled earlier this year after a public inquiry by a solution based largely on the boards of management suggestion to which I am now referring.

The teachers in that area withdrew their services from all of the vocational schools in the county imposing severe hardship on the pupils. A public inquiry was held in February and the teachers continued to withhold their services until the end of March. I am glad that an initiative on the part of the Department of Education brought about an amicable settlement which has seen to it that the schools were re-opened and that the pupils received tuition until the end of the school year.

An expansion of educational facilities at second level is being developed on the basis of full educational opportunity for all through co-operation between schools and the maximum use of resources. Schools of different traditions and specialities are being urged to develop their complementary roles and functions in harmonious and mutually advantageous relationships. In this connection, I refer later to my suggestion, which is commonly known as the Thurles experiment or more correctly, combined secondary schools proposal. It was this concern for balanced development in the educational system at third level that has led to our support for the regional technical colleges, which were brought in under previous administration, and our support for the higher institute the National Institute for Higher Education in Limerick and the technological colleges in Dublin.

The courses in these colleges, as we [2296] know, should complement those course in the universities and to an increasing extent meet the need of students seeking qualifications for employment in a wide variety of occupations. I am at present actively engaged in deciding the whole future of third level education and until I am in a position to put the final proposals to the country I think I will leave it at that.

I am conscious of the fundamental role which the primary school plays in our educational system and, in particular, its significance for the children of less well off families. I am aiming, as indeed I know were my predecessors, at a pupil teacher ratio of one to 30 in national schools. I am glad to be able to record a significant advance in this regard in 1973-74 with the injection of 380 new teachers into our larger schools. These measures have brought about a very desirable reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio and I think this is to be welcomed by all Deputies. The reduction which I made in July, 1973 resulted in the appointment of additional teachers in schools having teaching staff of nine teachers or more. From the 1st of July, 1974 I have given the benefits of these proposals to schools in the four to eight teacher range.

The educational merits of these decisions are so obvious as not to require any elaboration. The augmentation and improvement in the numbers of the teaching force were 150 in 1973-74 and 200 in 1974-75. It should be remembered that this is in addition to the normal increase in the number of teachers consequent on the growth of the primary school population.

Another matter which I am very conscious of is the need for remedial teachers. The sanction for remedial teachers additional to the number of teachers warranted in the normal staff is steadily increasing. In the year commencing 1st July 1974 there will be 150 teachers sanctioned for remedial work in schools in which the need for such teachers is greatest. Another matter which has engaged our attention, and which is very important, is the area of in-service training. In-service training for national teachers has been almost entirely on summer [2297] educational courses organised by my Department, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation and by other institutions approved by my Department. The extent to which teachers availed themselves of these courses is impressive and I think due recognition must be given to this profession which avails itself to the extent in the current year of 50 per cent to 60 per cent of national teachers having enrolled for the vocational courses.

An obstacle to the development of in-service training has been the absence of any provision for the appointment, recognition and payment of part-time teachers who would serve in place of teachers who might be released from school duties for portion of the school day in order to attend courses. I shall be announcing shortly the details of a scheme under which suitably qualified persons may be appointed and paid on a part-time basis in place of teachers who are attending in-service training courses.

One of the earlier decisions which I made as Minister for Education was the undertaking which I gave on taking up office that it was my intention to extend as from this year, 1974, the teacher training course from two to three years and to provide for the taking of a university degree at the end of the course. The three-year course comes into operation as from October next and the different training colleges are well on the way to completing arrangements with the several university institutions for the award of a degree.

Another matter in this area which has had my attention in the area of teacher education is the proposal which was put up by the Higher Education Authority in their report on teacher education. In October, 1973, having regard to those proposals, I set up an ad hoc planning committee to advise me and to make recommendations in regard to the setting up of a body which would have functions in the area of first and second level teacher education and teacher registration. This committee carried out a most thorough and expeditious examination of the whole question. The results of [2298] its deliberations were presented to me early last May in a very comprehensive report which proposed the setting up of a statutory body to be known as An Chomhairle Mhúinteoireachta. I arranged for copies of this report to be circulated on a confidential basis to major teacher organisations, teacher educational institutions and other appropriate educational associations in order to obtain their views as a matter of urgency. I have already received the observations of a number of these bodies in the matter and I am looking forward to hearing from the remainder in the very near future, as I believe these observations will be both valuable and helpful to me. As soon as I have received these and have had an opportunity of considering them I hope to arrange for an early meeting of the interested parties in order to discuss the implementation of the committee's recommendations.

As is widely known, three months after taking up office as Minister for Education I had proposals put before the managers of the primary system in regard to a revision and an extension of the school management system to include parent representation on management committees. These discussions are well advanced and there is every reason to hope that a revised management system, which will be acceptable to all the interests involved, will provide improved educational advantages for the children and these proposals will evolve in the coming months.

It is the custom of the Department of Education to review regulations governing the appointment of vocational teachers from time to time but this year I have had undertaken a far more comprehensive review under which every paragraph of the rules came under the spotlight. This was a very detailed undertaking, involving consultation by the Department with the main bodies concerned with vocational education, namely the Irish Vocational Education Association, the Chief Executive Officers' Association and the Teachers' Union of Ireland. The revised regulations are now in the final drafting stages and the result will be published before the [2299] commencement of the next school session. Our desire here is to co-ordinate regulations for vocational schools and those for secondary schools particularly in the context of our proposals on regionalisation. While this is important it cannot be rushed because there are legal, contractual and psychological difficulties to be overcome as Deputies will appreciate.

I have also extended the teacher quota in secondary schools to provide for remedial education where circumstances warrant an extension. I have given increased representation to the Association of Secondary Teachers (Ireland) on the Registration Council and I have also given, for the first time, representation to the Teachers' Union of Ireland. While my predecessor had signed pension schemes I actually introduced them in the Dáil and Seanad to provide pensions for comprehensive school teachers, mobility between national, secondary and comprehensive schoolteaching and to remove certain long standing associations. We have initiated an amended pension scheme which is now at the draft stage to provide general mobility between the teaching and the public services and to provide pensions for community school teachers.

One of the first actions I took was to remove the necessity to pass in Irish as a condition for the award of the intermediate, group and leaving certificates. When I announced that it had been decided to do this I felt I had the approval of the House and the country and the decision, I believe, has contributed to the creation of more positive and favourable attitudes to the Irish language among parents and children who were previously somewhat inhibited by the sword of Damocles of examination failure. This is shown by the increase in the number of pupils attending the Gaeltacht this summer where there is an increase of about 30 per cent. I pay tribute to those who run summer colleges for their efforts but if the Irish language had suffered a downturn in popularity, even their worthy and increased efforts would not have met [2300] with success. I am very glad to see this success and will do all I can to augment it, if possible.

As an incentive to pupils to study Irish in an intensive manner and to a high standard I amended the relevant examination regulations so that the leaving certificate would be awarded to candidates who obtained grade D or a higher grade in at least five subjects or in four subjects including Irish from the approved list of subjects. This was greeted with dismay by some pessimistic people. Some Deputies thought that the study of Irish to a high level would have been interfered with by my decision. The House should know that the total number taking higher level papers in Irish in 1974 at 8,781 showed an increase of over 10 per cent on 1973, when the number was 7,954. Facts and figures speak and the number of pupils taking higher level papers shows that the subject is being studied at a high level.

At this stage I also announced that I proposed to introduce a new subject, Irish Studies, into the secondary schools' curriculum. A departmental working party is engaged at present in drawing up a draft course on which the syllabus will be based. The proposals are at an advanced stage and will be introduced first at junior secondary level and later at higher level.

On 14th May, 1973 vocational education committees were informed that additional money would be provided in the school year 1973-74 for the allocation of an increased number of new scholarships to the regional technical colleges. The extra money provided for that school year was £180,000.

In addition committees were advised that the value of the regional college scholarships could be increased to bring them into line with the value of the higher education grants. I have affected some changes in regard to these grants as follows: Students who are awarded grants may defer taking up these grants for a period not exceeding two years. Prior to 1973-74 candidates were required to pass the leaving certificate in any one year. Now, candidates may pass the leaving certificate and obtain [2301] the four honours in separate years. Prior to 1973-74 honours in mathematics counted as two honours for the purposes of higher education grants. Now honours in either mathematics or Irish counts as two honours: the concession or incentive now applies to Irish also.

Perhaps the most fundamental administrative change that I have suggested while I have been Minister for Education has been the regionalisation of the educational system. Again, I was acting in conformity with our undertaking to consult when I put proposals before a number of teaching managerial organisations, 17 in all. I want to put on record the names of these organisations to show that when we say consultation we mean consultation; the Irish National Teachers Organisation, Teachers Union of Ireland, the Association of Post Primary Teachers in Ireland, the Irish Vocational Education Association, the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, the Chief Executive Officers' Association, Catholic Headmasters' Association, Teaching Brothers' Association, Conference of Convent Secondary Schools, Church of Ireland Lay Secondary Schools Joint Managerial Body, Catholic Clerical Managers' Association, Conference of Convent Primary Schools, Irish Headmasters' Association, the then Irish Headmistresses' Association, Protestant Headmasters' Association, Federation of Catholic Lay Secondary Schools.

In putting these proposals, I, as Minister for Education felt I was reflecting the policy of both parties in the National Coalition Government. The Fine Gael Party in its document Planning a Just Society in 1965 and Towards a Just Society in 1969 made the following statement:

“We accept the principle of subsidiary function and believe that it is wrong for a larger and higher organisation to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by lower societies and in our plans for reform we will be guided at all times by this principle.”

The Labour Party document on education produced in 1969 in Section 36 [2302] states: that the general level will be guided by regional educational authorities.

I am, therefore in the main stream of thinking of these two parties in putting forward these proposals. We all know why such proposals are desirable. For historical reasons the administration of the educational system in Ireland has developed on a highly centralised basis. Primary, secondary and vocational systems have come into being at different points in time, established on a pragmatic basis by the society of that time. The Department of Education on behalf of the Minister exercises detailed day-to-day control over a considerable area of the educational system. It is in direct contact with thousands of schools and their managers. It undertakes considerable executive functions in relation to the personnel work of teachers, payment of salaries, conduct of examinations and the day-to-day administration of schools, by tradition and practice going back to the establishment in the last century of primary and secondary education and in the case of vocational education, to 1930 and the passing of the Vocational Education Act.

The Minister through his Department has to give a considerable number of individual sanctions for specific actions by managers, teachers and committees. The growth in the past decade of the complexity and diversity of educational institutions and services has put an intolerable strain on the capacity of the Department. I mention in this context community schools which are increasing in number and in detail of administration and also the regional technical colleges and comprehensive schools.

I want to refer briefly to a proposal which I made at the end of last year about the Thurles combined schools. I want to correct a false impression which seems to be abroad that there was proposed for this area a community school. There was not. Therefore, those who alleged that in some way or other the Minister for Education is watering down the concept— I think that is the phrase used by one individual—have got it completely wrong.

[2303] The Minister has taken two separate schools which had indicated earlier their ideas in this matter. The suggestion is to place them on a single site where they could co-operate for the better education of the children of the area. The proposals were basically that the school run by the Christian Brothers and the school run by the vocational education committee should have separate schools for an agreed range of subjects on a single location, each one to own the site and premises of its school. The schools would be physically linked to a shared block of specialist facilities. This shared block was to be the property of the Minister for Education. The Christian Brothers would receive a more favourable grant towards the erection of this school than would normally be given to secondary schools—80 per cent instead of 70 per cent, and a loan of 20 per cent instead of 30 per cent.

There would be separate boards of management in each of these schools and four nominees of the conductors of the school and two nominees of the Minister, who would be parents. The board of management of the vocational school would be a sub-committee under article 21 of the Vocational Education Act, 1930. The State aid towards the running of the Brothers' school would be in accordance with the recognised aid to secondary schools. The financing of the vocational school would be in accordance with the provisions of the Vocational Act, 1930. There would be the closest possible co-operation between the two schools so that there would be available to all the pupils a broadly-based, balanced and varied curriculum. I consider that the educational advantage of such an association of schools on the basis of shared facilities of staff and other resources, as against the provision of schools operating entirely independent of one another, are impressive. Killarney has now agreed in recent times to this proposal.

Such an arrangement would, while achieving the desirable objective of ensuring the optimum use of expensive facilities—the duplication of which in separate schools would be avoided— enable the shared area to serve as a [2304] unifying element which would generate a sense of unity of purpose between schools which have traditionally seen themselves and have been looked upon by pupils and parents as distinctly separate institutions with different emphases and objectives. Time does not permit me to go into further detail on that matter.

I want to draw the attention of the House to another proposal which I made to the Teachers' Union of Ireland, which was a proposal that between the intermediate certificate course and the leaving certificate course there would be what has properly become to be known as a free year in which the children could be taken off the academic treadmill and given some time to look at themselves as persons and to develop their total personalities.

I suggested that subjects like logic, philosophy, psychology, media criticism, appreciation of music and art, religion and other suitable subjects could usefully be put on this course for these children. I am glad to tell the House that a number of schools have taken up this suggestion. From the beginning of next year they will be undertaking experiments and trying out the idea. I would like to quote from the Education Times of 18th July, 1974 where a headmaster in Northern Ireland said in regard to this plan that it would seem to be “a teacher's dream”. It reads:

It asks the young person to lay aside, for a year at least, the hitherto inexorable commitment to the race for marketable qualifications. During this year he will develop himself emotionally and aesthetically, while discovering for himself the stark realities of the world he is preparing to enter.

He also said:

The Minister's proposals, nevertheless, deserve to be treated with respect, if only for their conception of a community where every child will have access to the best influences of a liberal education.

In the final paragraph he says:

Against him (the Minister) will be the hitherto unquenchable demand [2305] for marketable qualifications and the scepticism of a profession which has always been geared to meeting this demand.

I want to refer briefly to the subject of media criticism which I mentioned in April to the Teachers' Union of Ireland meeting. This is a very important subject. I have included it on the suggested curriculum for a number of reasons. We all know that those who work in the media are in a most important position in society. Depending on the medium they are working in, they are trying to satisfy and at times create a demand for their product. I am thinking particularly of television. It is time our pupils were given some tuition to enable them to achieve discriminiating taste and to demand quality from the various media which are pouring out the news and comment day by day.

If the schools are responsible for inculcating a sense of the importance of the truth they should realise that education in the use of media is vital to the complete fulfilment of this task. I would assert that education in the use of media would fit into those other elements of the curriculum I have just outlined which are designed to make our pupils constructively critical. Media education should include a study of how news is collected and transmitted. I saw recently an excellent one-day course at the Communications Centre. A whole class spent the day compiling a news programme. Pupils were separated into different roles such as interviewer, interviewee, editor, newscaster and so on. The day's news was examined. Pupils were brought through a progress of choice, selection, omission and interpretation. This experience led them to an appreciation of the pressures of bias, and prejudice and they are only two of the forces at work which have to be counteracted by those working in this area.

I can see pupils benefiting from a similar exercise in other media forms. A skilful teacher reading leading articles, feature articles and others, could scrutinise them and his pupils would emerge with a heightened critical sense and perhaps also with an [2306] understanding of the pressures which every good communicator must withstand if he is to continue to earn the high regard of the public. As was pointed out at the annual meeting of the Irish Vocational Education Association, at Westport, as Socrates has put it, the communicator and the media are the gadfly of democracy. A critical and sound relationship between the public and the media is of vital importance.

In conclusion, may I say that the two things which I did at the beginning of my term as Minister, the opening of Dún Chaoin school and the abolition of compulsory Irish, were symbolic. The former act revitalised the spirit of a small community, the latter had a beneficial psychological impact on the general attitude towards the Irish language. Both acts were in recognition of a deeply felt spiritual and practical need and they were widely acclaimed as such. It is my desire and intention to endeavour to continue to approach educational problems under that kind of inspiration. I would hope to have the general support of the House to that end.

However we may differ as to means, there should be no doubt as to our common interest in preserving those fundamental beliefs and aspirations which the Irish people have for long centuries striven to uphold and which they will not lightly throw to the winds of change. It is our joint responsibility in this House to strengthen and foster the reality of this heritage. It is our responsibility as representatives of the people. It is we who are answerable to the people for this responsibility and we cannot allow ourselves to be deflected from courses which we think are clearly correct by commentators, who one day think they have the answers but may not have the cure for all our ills. There is no universal cure-all. I, as Minister for Education, will continue to pursue with your co-operation, as diligently and as conscientiously as I can the task entrusted to me of ensuring that our educational system at every level is adequate to the present and future needs of our country.

[2307]Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  Having heard the Minister for Education for the last 45 minutes, it is easier for me now to understand the present chaos which exists in the Government. He spoke of his achievements for the last 12 months. If he was a greyhound and that was his track record I have no doubt that he would be put down immediately. He said that his first job was to restore confidence in his Department. I respectfully suggest that before he restores confidence anywhere he should start with his own Coalition group. Recently we heard what members of his political alliance had to say about the Minister for Education, and they were very blunt. If the Minister is interested in restoring confidence let him take down the telephonic wall which he has put around the Department of Education. He has turned the Department into a criminal-like institution where nobody can talk to any civil servant. By doing this the Minister has shown that he has no confidence in any civil servant in his Department. It is time to expose the humbug which the Minister has been preaching for the past 12 months. Before this debate is finished I hope the Fianna Fáil speakers on education will avail of this opportunity to do so.

It is a great pleasure for me to have an opportunity to participate in this Adjournment Debate on the Taoiseach's Estimate. I strongly condemn the Government and the Taoiseach for their reluctance to facilitate the Opposition with this debate. It is standard practice that an Adjournment Debate be provided at the end of a session so that those who are not happy with the Government progress or record will be given the opportunity to voice their constructive criticisms in this democratically-elected Parliament. This is their right. It is obvious that the Government, and the Taoiseach in particular, will be only too anxious for many reasons, to brush everything into their political carpetbags or hold-alls and disappear for the next two or three months. These carpetbags and hold-alls are safely locked [2308] away and the keys are out of reach.

Prior to the last General Election of February, 1973, and in the days immediately following, we were told many times by the Coalition Members that they believed in government through consultation, that they believed in open government. This is a phrase which was used very often in the media. When in Opposition, Members of the Fine Gael and Labour Parties made many promises of what they would do when they were in Government. We all know that the pseudo-liberalism which we saw from the leading lights of the then Opposition, who are now in Government, has been put aside over night.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  Name them.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Order please.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  Name the promises we have not fulfilled.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  The Deputy will have an opportunity to speak for 45 minutes if he is allowed to do so by his own party. Now that they are in Government we hear the same type of talk and the promise of Government by consultation being propounded by members of this Government. We should ask the Taoiseach or any of the members of his Government who might be close to him—if any are—if we are to have government by consultation. If we are why did he try to have this session finished without an Adjournment Debate? If consultation is to take place the Taoiseach and his supporters should realise that the Fianna Fáil Party have the support of practically half this country.

If we are to have consultations the Taoiseach should respect the democratic institutions of this State. He would like us to believe that he has great respect for this Parliament. Therefore, let him try to show his contempt for this institution by refusing, or hoping to refuse, a debate on the close of the session.

If the Taoiseach thinks that he will be forgiven for any contempt he might [2309] show this Parliament, I would like to assure him that he has another guess coming. Everybody knows that the Coalition Government is on the verge of breaking up and on the road to economic disaster. If the Taoiseach knows anything about keeping his Coalition Government together and hopes to avoid criticism of his failures by refusing us an Adjourment Debate, he is not the man I thought he was. He is not the manly type of person whom many thought him to be. He is not the person who is as responsible as we would like our Taoiseach to be. I believe he has lost out in his role as Taoiseach. He is not giving the leadership one expects or demands from a Taoiseach. This has been seen very clearly in many ways in recent months, and more particularly in recent days.

If he is to be captain of his ship, then let him be the captain. If he is to be the leader of his team let him play the role of leader of this particular team, irrespective of how second-rate or third-rate it may be, because of all the odd-balls in it. If he is to lead us on our way, let him do so immediately. Up to this he has failed miserably in this regard and in every other way. I will not go into any detail about the functions of this institution because I have not the time to do so. Parliament can only be what we want it to be. Parliament is not a magic word or a magic place. It is only as good as we allow it to be. Parliament can only be what we help it to be or what we want it to be. If we contribute well in Parliament, Parliament will be respected for what it is meant to be by the people who elect and support it in every way.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.


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