Financial Resolutions, 1988. - Financial Resolution No. 4: General (Resumed).

Wednesday, 16 March 1988

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 379 No. 2

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Debate resumed on the following motion:

That it is expedient to amend the law relating to customs and inland revenue (including excise) and to make further provision in connection with finance.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  I wish to express serious concern about the development of a monopoly in construction products, road materials and tar industries. There is evidence that Cement Roadstone Holdings are engaged in tactics designed to squeeze out small competitors throughout Ireland. The tactics employed with a view to creating a monopoly in these industries would appear to include below-cost selling and overpricing. A subsidiary of Cement Roadstone Holdings, John A. Woods Limited, is understood to have offered road-making materials to Kerry County Council in mid and south Kerry for £1.25 per [418] cubic yard, including VAT, whereas the normal price is £3 per cubic yard inclusive of VAT. Another subsidiary of Cement Roadstone Holdings, Irish Cement Limited, sells cement to smaller competitors of the group at £52 per metric tonne ex their Limerick and Drogheda works, but exports cement for between £38 and £39 per metric tonne from the same outlets. There is considerable evidence to suggest that John A. Woods Limited succeeded in 1983 in taking over one of their major competitors in Kerry, Ardfert Quarries, by adopting similar tactics.

It is now in the public interest that an immediate inquiry be held into the tactics in respect of which Cement Roadstone Holdings and their subsidiaries stand accused. There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that there is a blatant attempt to create a monopoly in the industries to which I have referred, which would ultimately give Cement Roadstone Holdings the power to do what they wish with prices and orders.

In County Kerry, for example, the only distributor of ground limestone is Ardfert Quarries in which Cement Roadstone Holdings now have a substantial interest and the price per tonne is £12.50. This is a higher price than is charged in other areas where there is competition. There have been suggestions that Cement Roadstone Holdings are using much of their estimated profit of £46 million last year to purchase smaller companies outside the country. Smaller competitors are now being forced to purchase cement abroad and this has obvious implications for the economy. It is important that this stranglehold be broken. It is quite clear that Cement Roadstone Holdings have a vested interest in keeping up the price of cement for competitors. In view of the implications for the entire construction industry, I call on the Minister for Industry and Commerce to take urgent steps to prevent the creation of an undesirable monopoly.

I should also like to refer in general terms to the state of the construction industry. Falling interest rates are an obvious benefit to the construction industry. There are other tangible ways in [419] which the construction industry can be assisted without putting a drain on the public finances which are so limited at present. In the short term with a view to assisting the construction industry I propose that the Government should give consideration to extending section 23 reliefs to the public sector as this would kill two birds with the one stone. First of all, it would allow the continuation of the local authority housing programme by private builders who could then lease back the houses they would construct to the local authorities. This would have the effect of creating employment in the construction industry while, at the same time, providing local authority housing throughout the country.

I would now like to move on to deal with fisheries. It is quite clear and has been for a number of years that the obvious solution to the problems facing the fishing industry is for the country to get involved in high quality consumer packs. At present the concentration is on primary processing. There are difficulties, of course, in getting involved in high quality consumer packs and they include the fact that our onshore facilities are very poor. For example, Valentia Harbour which is possibly the best deepwater harbour in the country is in a deplorable state and, as a result, very often fishermen are unable to land large catches there. Dingle Harbour which is another important harbour on the west coast is silted up and I was very gald to hear that there is now a proposal to develop this harbour. One of the very best shellfish and mussel industries is based in Cromane outside Killorglin, County Kerry, and one of the difficulties there is that there is no pier. Therefore, we have a major problem with infrastructure and this certainly needs to be addressed.

There is also a problem in regard to location due to the fact that we are so far from the markets. Of course, there are also factors such as time and the cost of transportation but while these are major factors undoubtedly the biggest item militating against the secondary processing of fish is marketing. It is true that fish [420] and consumer products from this country have never been properly marketed on the international stage. It is quite clear the industry should be encouraged to produce better quality products but even if the industry was to do this the problem of marketing would remain.

Small processing industries set up throughout the country do not have the necessary finance to market on a professional basis. Accordingly, it is clear that we need to get professional marketing people and, in effect, allow the industry to be market led. I believe the majority of customers for Irish processed fish are, in fact, the same customers in the agricultural industry to whom we export. Accordingly, the argument for utilising An Bord Bainne for marketing our fish and fish products must be very strong.

I was very pleased to learn that a task force on tourism set up by the Government have presented their case and that tourism is now being treated with the seriousness it undoubtedly deserves. In this regard the work of the task force has to be highly commended. It is clear that one of the greatest ways of attracting tourists is to have in one's country a major international occasion and I believe with the building of the new indoor sports centre in Dublin efforts should be made as a matter of urgency to seek an international sports event for the centre.

The allocation this year to Cork/Kerry Tourism amounts to only 37 per cent of its total budget. Cork-Kerry Tourism have in the past raised by way of local funding 51 per cent of its total budget. The Cork-Kerry region has the highest number of registered bedrooms in the country and it is unfair of Bord Fáilte to allocate to Cork-Kerry Tourism only 37 per cent of its budget as this, in effect, penalises them for their excellent performance in raising funds at a local level over the past number of years. I believe they should reconsider this because of the importance of the region.

I would now like to refer briefly to the horticultural industry and to commend the Minister for setting up An Bord Glas and for the tremendous strides he has made. However, it has become clear that [421] there is a need to introduce legislation to prevent below-cost selling in the vegetable, fruit and potato markets. It has become quite clear since the passing of recent legislation relating to other goods preventing below-cost selling that cheap foreign vegetables, fruit and potatoes are being dumped on the Irish market and being sold in Irish supermarkets as an attraction, very often at below cost. I believe it is necessary to introduce restrictive practices legislation in this area in order to protect home grown vegetables, fruit and potatoes.

I would now like to refer briefly to the question of excise duty on alcoholic drink. As we all know, the Vintners' Federation of Ireland proposed that VAT be levied at the point of purchase. They explained this would have the advantage of avoiding a build-up of arrears in VAT, would allow the Revenue Commissioners to catch up with those who will not pay and would streamline the collection process. While this idea was very good I understand it had to be rejected under EC regulations. I propose that the Government reduce the rate of VAT on alcoholic drink from 25 per cent to 10 per cent and compensate for the loss of revenue by increasing excise duty pro rata. This would have a number of considerable benefits not just for those in the licensed trade but also for the Government and the Exchequer. In such a situation the arrears would be less and those who are at present not paying VAT would have to pay the 15 per cent excise duty. A rebate could be given to those who are below the VAT threshold and it would also mean that off-sales and on-sales could compete on a more equal footing, thereby hitting below-cost selling.

Mr. Boylan: Information on Andrew Boylan  Zoom on Andrew Boylan  I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the budget. It might be considered that it is a bit late in the day to speak on the budget but I do not accept that. It is important to have continuing discussion on a budget which sets targets for perhaps five or ten years. In this House there should be regular updating announcements as to how targets are being met. In good management, [422] middle and senior management come together regularly to discuss the projections set at the beginning of the year, to see how targets are being met and if targets are not being met changes are made. If we find after two or three months that certain targets set in the budget are not being met, changes must be made in this House.

The people who should first be made aware of progress are the Deputies involved in discussions leading up to the budget. If a team is not doing well an astute manager will make changes and he can turn a losing team into a winning team. But those changes will not be made five minutes before full time. They will be made earlier on, perhaps when the game has just started when he sees a weakness. In this House we should set aside one day every month so that we can be informed as to the progress of the country and as to whether budget targets are being met. A 12 hour day from 10 in the morning until 10 at night should be set aside once a month for that purpose. We on this side of the House have as much of an input as the Government, especially in a minority government situation. The decisions we make as to support or otherwise will be tempered by the facts put before us in this House.

I am not a preacher of doom and gloom. I believe in people doing an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. About 90 per cent of our people are anxious to do that. Young people are very keen and because of our economic difficulties it is sad that so many find it necessary to leave the country. This will only change if we admit the facts. The recent announcement made, referred to the updating of the western package. From listening to the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Fianna Fáil MEPs in Brussels one would think that this was a new western package with increased moneys and major benefits. That is not the truth. I object that the facts are not being placed fairly in front of people. This is not a new western package; it is an updated western package. In fact less money is being spread over a wider area. I pay tribute to the Ministers [423] in that the red tape that snarled up the last western package to such an extent that farmers became totally frustrated with it, has been removed. Off farm income has been removed, and the necessity to draw up a farm plan has been removed. What we want is buildings and systems to prevent pollution. When a farmer with his ACOT adviser or farm development adviser has a plan that is accepted by the Department, an assessment is put on that plan to define what amount of grant he will get; then the farmer does the work and he gets paid for it. That is the right road. There is no point in saying that there is extra money. There is not extra money but there is money available. There will be a tremendous take-up in this area and the people should get out there and apply immediately because the money will not last for long.

In relation to health I would be the first to acknowledge the decision of the Government when they realised that their earlier decision was wrong. We must always realise that we can make mistakes and that none of us is infallible. If we are not prepared to acknowledge mistakes and come in here and correct them, we will not make progress. I refer here to the decision to allow all of the benefits available to people suffering from long term illness. It was wrong in the first instance to even think of removing those benefits. I am sure every Member of the House has the height of admiration for handicapped people and for those suffering from long-term illness because of the manner in which they face their problems. The least we can do is to give whatever support we can. I compliment the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Health for reintroducing those aids to them.

Will the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Health reconsider the transfer of the excise and VAT duties from the Revenue Commissioners to the Department of Health. That scheme will not work. The health boards will not be in a position to organise this scheme which worked satisfactorily under the Revenue [424] Commissioners. Until now a handicapped person got a licence to drive an especially adapted car, got a note from his doctor as to his handicap, and then applied to the Revenue Commissioners for a refund of excise duty and VAT. Since 1973 the State made that refund. It was a gesture to those people who were making a tremendous effort to go out into the world. It is unfair to say that there were abuses as there would only have been minimal abuse. Is there a scheme where there are not abuses?

That was not a sufficient reason to transfer the scheme to the Department of Health and then to the health boards. There will be different standards in different health boards and where health boards are short of cash those people will suffer. All Members of the House are concerned about this change of attitude and there is general consensus that that scheme should be returned to the Revenue Commissioners and left to them to operate with modifications. The Irish Wheelchair Association, the Spina Bifida Association and the Disabled Drivers Association are all prepared to talk to the Minister and put their views forward. I know that the scheme can be reorganised if necessary.

An aspect raised is that a car could be changed after two years. I accept that this is unnecessary. If a disabled person's car breaks down he cannot get out to thumb a lift nor can he tinker with it to see if he can get it going. A disabled person needs a reasonably good car but it will not be necessary to change the car every two years. The car could be used for three or four years. The mileage would not be excessive in any one year. As regards the size of car there are different views. On seeing a handicapped person driving a BMW or maybe a Mercedes one might ask if less would do but that might not be so. If the handicapped person's arms are weak he will need power steering and therefore will need a car with that type of mechanism which is not available in smaller cars. That is the only reason a handicapped person would consider a car which might seem to be in excess of his needs. Such people do not usually abuse [425] schemes. In regard to this financial motion this matter should be left as it has been for years past.

Regarding health, we have a problem in Cavan in the county clinic with regard to orthodontic treatment. Where there is a waiting list, going back five or six years, of young people, boys and girls, needing corrective treatment for dental problems. I am asking the Minister to make extra funds available for this. This is a very serious time in a young person's development when, if corrective measures are not taken, problems could manifest themselves in adulthood and probably eventually the defects could not be corrected. Even though we know funds are scarce it is important that these young people at this critical stage in their development — this trouble could affect their outlook on life if they are embarassed at the condition of their teeth — receive appropriate treatment. If the Minister cannot make funds available for this I ask him to consider giving a certificate to the parents to enable those young people to be treated by a private practitioner. If he cannot get a person qualified in this area to work for the North Eastern Health Board I believe that, rather than finance, is the answer to the problem.

We have a new regional general hospital in Cavan. The handing over ceremony took place some months ago. It is a magnificent building and it is only right that I pay tribute to the people who brought it to Cavan, namely Deputy Tom Fitzpatrick and Senator Andy O'Brien. They played a major role in ensuring that that hospital was built in Cavan, not for the Cavan people merely but for the region surrounding the county, taking in Monaghan, parts of Leitrim, Meath, Westmeath and Longford. The hospital is now completed and much of the more expensive equipment is in place in it but the general furnishing has now to be done before the hospital can finally be opened. That will cost something in the region of £2 million. I want to pay tribute to the builders, Sisks, a firm well known here and internationally, who did a magnificent job in record time and, most [426] unusual in these times, from the date work on that hospital started until it was completed there was not a single strike. That is a tribute to the Sisk team, their management and the people who came to work there. This bears out what I have said, that people are prepared to respond if there is an initiative and obviously the initiative there was they were well paid for doing an honest day's work. We have invested £25 million in that hospital. It will be detrimental if it is not equipped and opened immediately. I am alarmed at talk of a phased opening. That would be disastrous for this major hospital in Cavan. With a phased opening you have partial services. You may have one surgeon, one doctor and one anaesthetist. This hospital was built to give a 24 hour service with all services readily available. Partial opening would be the hospital's deathknell. It might be an embarrassment to the Minister for Health, coming as he does from the Cavan Monaghan constituency, that he could be running into difficulties, but that would not be a good enough reason for not opening Cavan Regional General Hospital fully before this year is out. I make this appeal to the Minister in the interest of health care and of good management of scarce resources and finances.

The hospital is being heated and that is necessary to ensure that the building is kept in good care until it is finally open, but does it make sense to heat a hospital of that extent while the surgical hospital and the Lisdarn hospital in Cavan are also being heated and maintained? That is not good economic sense. In the interest of economic sense and good medical practice the surgical hospital and Lisdarn hospital should be closed down and all the resources moved in to the new hospital, under the one roof, thereby bringing about a saving in terms of the cost of heating these other two hospitals which are totally inadequate for the needs of the people. Again I appeal to the Taoiseach, the Minister and the Government not to renege on their responsibilities in regard to this hospital at this time. That would not be acceptable.

The environment can present another [427] major problem with regard to funds for local authorities. In Cavan we are no worse off than anywhere else. We have a problem with regard to county roads. This came about through the removal of rates on houses and of tax on cars. Here I am speaking on a national problem. Local councils found themselves starved of much needed capital. Funds previously supplied from rates and car tax were to be made good from central funds by VAT increases on various items. That did not come about and the amounts of money local authorities received were decreasing at a time of rapid inflation. There were some slight increases in 1984 and 1985. Last year Cavan County Council's allocation was reduced and this year it was reduced further.

Activity in County Cavan at county council level is well nigh at a standstill. County roads are a major problem. I am not talking about the national primaries or secondaries. I am moving into the heartland of the county where the roads are impassable in many cases. They are totally broken down and the council have not got the funds to repair them. This is not good enough for rural Ireland or for the people who have to use the roads daily, be they farmers going to and from their farms and creameries or bringing their children to school, or private house-holders, many of whom have moved out from towns and villages and built bungalows because they like the freedom of the country. Now they find that was a costly venture because their motoring expenses have risen dramatically as a result of the condition of those roads. More important, the condition of those roads will not attract tourists into the area for sightseeing, an area in which we have a great deal to offer. We have many lakes and rivers which are unique. We can boast of a lake for every day in the year, 365. Sad to relate, many of them are inaccessible because of the condition of the roads. The blame lies first with Cavan County Council but it must be taken from them and passed on to the Government who have not made sufficient funds available for repair.

[428] I appeal to the Minister for the Environment to come into this House immediately and announce a county roads policy. This problem can be allowed to go on no longer. In the town of Arva 400 people turned up to a meeting to organise themselves to campaign and the campaign will finish in this House. They will be seeking a meeting with the Minister for the Environment. They have made representations to me and the other Deputies in the county and constituency. They came to Cavan County Council last Tuesday to make their presence felt outside the council chamber. They have sought a meeting with the councillors and they hope to meet them on the first Tuesday in April when the Cavan County Council meeting takes place. They will be then coming to Leinster House to meet the Minister and impress upon him the urgency of having these roads brought up to standard.

It is not a good book-keeping exercise to allow a situation like that to develop. It is like letting the slates fall off one's house and not repairing them; we all know the consequences of that policy. The old saying about a stitch in time holds true. If a slate is replaced immediately after a wind storm no further damage is done but if it is left the timbers will rot and suddenly it is a major job. That is what is happening with the roads in this country. I may be seen here as very parochial but I cannot help that. I must voice the problems and difficulties in the Border region. Even if the same situation exists in regard to county roads on the other side of the country, I make no apology for saying that priority should be given to the Cavan-Monaghan area because our difficulties are greater than those in any other part of the country.

Tenders were sought for 11 rural cottages in County Cavan. It is wonderful to see people still anxious to live in the rural parts of the county rather than in the towns and villages as was the policy down through the years. We need life in the rural areas. Tenders have been sought and agreed and were sent to the Department of the Environment over eight months ago for sanction. That sanction [429] has not been forthcoming to this day and I cannot get information from the Minister as to what stage it is at. Housing is always important but rural cottages are more important. I know practically all of the 11 families in this case because they have made representations to me. I know their conditions are deplorable. They are living in prefabricated houses and some are living in caravans. The roofs are leaking, the floors rotting and the council are saying there is no point in doing repairs as they are going to build new cottages. Yet, the sanction is not forthcoming. It is a Catch-22 situation. The Minister is the man who can give the sanction and I am appealing to him, on behalf of those 11 families, to immediately give that sanction. This is a development in the right direction and any help would be very much appreciated.

Finance is a wide-ranging subject I could discuss for a long time, aspects of which affect my own region. We would all agree that the PAYE sector are overburdened with tax. People who want to do an honest day's work should get an honest day's pay, but when they open their pay packet and get the slip that goes along with it and see all the deductions they become very disheartened. People should have more control over the money they earn. We should be looking at introducing indirect taxation so that people will have the money in their pocket and will not be treated like school children who get so much to spend, with the Government keeping the rest. The money should be given to them and they should be trusted. However, if we are to reduce taxation in that area we must raise it some other way, on a broader base of indirect taxation. That sounds simple. I know it is not that simple but it is a possibility we should be looking at.

It has been mentioned to me by people who are crucified in regard to PAYE and who have large families that there is no allowance for the children of PAYE workers. Yet people on social welfare have an allowance for each child. I am not slating people on social welfare. Many are dependent on social welfare because they cannot get work. Some are [430] unemployable and are just not anxious to work, but these are a small minority. At the same time, it must be recognised that when one goes on social welfare, every child in the house is taken into consideration and there is an allowance, but when one goes back into the PAYE sector the allowance is immediately dropped. If the child of the social welfare worker is taken into account, surely recognition should be given to the children of the PAYE worker?

VAT and all its implications takes me back to the Border area. We have a major problem with regard to cross-Border traffic and shopping. I make no apology for raising this again. I will keep harping on it until we get the message home and there is a major problem in that area of the country and I want action taken on it. Much was expected of the present Government. By wink and nod Fianna Fáil Deputies implied that if Fianna Fáil got back into power they would change the situation as it was under the previous Government, that they had a trump card up their sleeve.

We now have two Ministers in this constituency and people thought we would have four or five Christmases in the year. Christmas has not come. The trump card was the 48-hour imposition on people crossing the Border and was of no benefit to the immediate Border region. It certainly stopped the coach tours from Dublin, Galway and as far afield as Cork but these people were out more for a sightseeing trip or a day's outing. I welcome the fact that they travelled north of the Border. It is a good exercise that people should travel between North and South and it is sad we have to create this barrier because of the wholesale one-way traffic. What we need is more integration between North and South but this will only be achieved when we bring our costs down so that we can compete with the business people north of the Border by offering goods at the same price or almost the same price. People are not that pushed when it comes to 10p or 15p per item but when one is talking about 50p or 75p per item then one is talking about a large amount of [431] money for the ordinary household shopping basket.

The 8p per gallon on petrol was the death knell of any hope we had. I attended a number of meetings in Monaghan with Border traders who have now organised themselves into a group. They were hoping before the budget when petrol was about 53p per gallon less in the North, that there would be some slight reduction to bring the difference below the 50p barrier where there would not be all that much difference but, lo and behold, instead of a reduction, we have a substantial increase that pushed it over 60p and again the traffic began.

Petrol is the main reason people travel north and when they travel north to fill their car with petrol they also do their shopping. For the benefit of Deputies who do not live in that area or have not travelled to it, from Clones back to the Border and outside of Redhills, on every half mile of the road there is a petrol pump and a supermarket. One man paid over £40,000 for a two-acre site and is surely spending another £80,000 on the development there. Obviously these people see that this business is going to last. It is sad, it is serious, and it will have to be dealt with in this House. It is not good enough to say when taxation levels in the country as a whole are brought down that the Border region will be all right. It cannot be left that long. Nor can it be left until 1992 when we are talking about equalisation of our taxation system and a single market.

Debate adjourned.

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