Thursday, 14 February 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Hyland: In the few remaining minutes I should like to deal with the agricultural industry. Coming from an agricultural background I have a feeling for the problems of the industry and I share the anxiety of the Minister and the farmers in regard to the farmers' future. Gone are the days when the fate of Irish farmers rested solely with the national Government and gone too are the days of food shortages in developed western economies. For the foreseeable future we will be forced to operate in a market of controls and limited production and there is very little we can do to resolve that problem. While quotas are a useful mechanism in stabilising prices for the more profitable enterprises like milk and sugar beet, the number of Irish farmers outside the national quota allocation is quite significant. For a small island nation with a greater dependence on agriculture than any other member state of the EC, we should, in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty of Rome, as a disadvantaged nation be in a position to negotiate a better deal in terms of supplying a greater percentage of the European food requirements, because we are good at doing this and we could do much better given the opportunity.
I acknowledge too the efforts of our national promotional organisation, CBF, and their success in marketing Irish meat products abroad. In particular I congratulate their chief executive officer, Paddy Moore, on his recent and most deserved award. The fact that he comes from County Laois has nothing whatsoever to do with my congratulations to him. His task is not made easier by the rumours of the continuing use of food additives in one form or another in the meat industry. I support the Minister fully in his efforts to eliminate such indiscriminate use of these drugs. However, I believe their use is on a very limited scale. The widespread publicity surrounding their alleged use is out of all proportion to the amount used and is damaging to the industry at home and abroad. Consumer reaction is understandable and we need to be positive in allaying their fears. Very  often in matters of this nature we are our own worst enemy.
I am very pleased that the Minister responded in such a positive way to the submission from farm organisations. I refer particularly to the young farmer installation aid scheme and the modification of the scheme to make it easier for qualification. The increase in the threshold for tax exemption on leasing is also a welcome decision which was requested by farming interests. Changes in the capital acquisition tax, particularly in the area of farm transfer, are to be welcomed. I urge the Minister to continue and if possible expand on these schemes.
I welcome particularly the Minister's assurance on stock relief and the fact that it will be retained at its present level for the next two years. It is vital in the national interest that this be so and it is particularly important for farmers who have been endeavouring to build up their individual herds over a period of years.
The Minister in his speech acknowledged in so far as he could the income difficulties experienced by farmers, and the decision to bring forward the increased headage payments is very welcome indeed. It is a practical recognition on the part of the Minister that there is a cash flow problem and, indeed, a serious income problem for the majority of farmers. However, I urge the Minister and the Government, bearing in mind incomes and the limitation on farm production, to maximise to the greatest extent the availability of EC funds for headage and other payments. For many farmers the social dimension of agricultural income support is going to be of growing significance in the future.
I wish to acknowledge the efforts of the Minister for Agriculture and Food in bringing about the biggest extension ever of the disadvantaged areas scheme. We have heard much lip service from the other side of the House about extending the disadvantaged areas scheme. The Opposition parties when in Government had the opportunity to bring about the maximum possible extension but they failed to do so. The present Government,  the present Minister for Agriculture and Food and his present Minister of State, Deputy Joe Walsh, have been successful in forwarding to Brussels one of the largest schemes ever submitted. My personal view is that every area and townland in Ireland which meets the EC criteria for designation should be designated, and the farmers and the country generally will benefit from it.
Mr. Kavanagh: Now, 15 days after the budget was brought into the House, we can say it was the most forgettable budget ever brought in. People did not come into the House on that occasion, we saw empty seats over there and that was a reflection that any really important decision had been telegraphed to the general public days beforehand. Nevertheless, the 15 minutes we get gives us an opportunity to pick out the various areas we feel should be mentioned and which need attention.
This morning in his contribution Deputy Garret FitzGerald dealt in a very able speech with the economic basis of this whole budget and the macro-economics involved in it. Let me say in that regard that the macro figures of the budget depend on two projections. There is a projection of 2.25 per cent growth over the next year and an EBR of about £400 million. One will depend on the other. If growth does not come about I think the predictions made by Deputy FitzGerald of an increasing number of unemployed, a very severe crisis in the farming area and the building industry, unemployment and emigration expanding over the next year and difficulties in the tourism area are highly unlikely to be realised. If that does not come about this year — I believe it will not, but I hope I am wrong — the Government will have to borrow over and above the amount included in the budget.
There is another way the Government can achieve the figures without this borrowing; and I think they have included, without mentioning it in any speech, what they will probably do and what they intend doing. That, of course, is falling back on the possibility of privatisation  and the selling off of the Sugar Company and of Irish Life to achieve the balancing of the budget. Therefore, that is being pressed ahead vigorously in order that that safeguard, that lifeboat, will be there when the figures go wrong over the next year. It is suggested that £150 million can be achieved by the privatisation of the companies I have mentioned. That will be the method. That was the method used in Britain to restore their economy to some degree of balance in recent years and as a means of offsetting any shortfall that might occur. As we have seen in Britain, that was a short term method used to balance budgets, but in some cases the flotation of public companies was a total disaster. If this Government go ahead with their policy of selling off the Sugar Company, whatever may be the relevant flotation, I hope it will be successful. While I am against that policy, I do wish them success. I want to remind the House, as I did last week before the debate took place on the Sugar Bill, that that possibility was completely rejected by the present Taoiseach four years ago, when in a letter to Mr. Peter Cassells, then assistant secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, he said:
Those were the comments of the then Taoiseach just about to face a general election. That pledge was given not merely to workers in those various semi-State bodies but to the country in the face of a general election. It amazes me that a Government that received the level of support they did on that occasion can come into this House now and blithely put forward a policy of privatisation of such semi-State bodies. It is my belief that, should the Government fail to achieve the required balance through their budgetary figures, privatisation policy will help them out.
In the time available, I could not, as spokesperson on Agriculture for my  party, do justice to that most important aspect of our economy or be sufficiently critical of the meagre help being offered farmers at this time of crisis for them. I would suggest, and I will be suggesting to our party Whip that we should have a full debate on agriculture here as a matter of urgency in order to allay the fears of the farming community and those industries closely related thereto. We must remember that daily they hear rumours, whether by way of statements or leaked documents from the Commission in Brussels, details of the problems encountered in the GATT negotiations or anything else, casting doom and gloom over the whole of our agricultural community. I would seriously suggest to the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Joe Walsh, present, that it would be enormously beneficial to that industry if we had a debate on the issue in this House, including Government policy in this area, whether it be with regard to the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy or their position vis-á-vis the GATT negotiations. I would suggest that a whole day should be devoted to debating the issue. It would do the country as a whole a great deal of good to know what is Government thinking on this area. We shall also be tabling questions on agriculture in an effort to elicit such Government thinking. But a 15 minute discussion is not sufficient for any in-depth analysis of that most important industry.
We have observed the Construction Industry Federations' criticism of our roads programme. As Minister for the Environment, in 1965 I introduced a roads programme on which we had made a good start. That programme was delayed time and again and reproduced by the present Minister with projected implementation dates into the future. Since then, under the operational programme for peripherality, the Government have obtained a great deal of money to help with the roads programme in the light of changes in the structural funds of the EC. It would be my hope that we would see an accelerated roads programme implemented as a result of the  moneys forthcoming from that programme.
I might add that the proposals envisaged under that programme have caused us in Region 7, in which my constituency is located, considerable anxiety in its reference to the build-up of ports and the moneys which should be expended in their upkeep, maintenance and expansion. There are something like 27 ports covered under the Harbours Act, 1947. While it must be recognised that most of our commercial activity is conducted through our ports, it amazes me that the ports of Arklow and Wicklow — of which I am a commissioner — do not feature at all in the programme accepted by this Government on behalf of the region to which my constituency belongs. Wicklow port has expanded its activity in recent years. A great deal of structural work has been undertaken there, almost totally at the expense of the commissioners themselves through raising funds from banks and operational activities. Therefore, it is very disappointing to discover that a port through which over 200,000 tonnes of goods are shipped will be excluded from this programme over the next four years. I hope it may not be too late for this Government to include the ports of Wicklow and Arklow, which suffered enormously from the huge storms of last year. In the case of Wicklow port it is hoped that as a result of new business obtained, and despite the total lack of interest in that port on the part of the Government, that its tonnage will double in ensuing years. As the deepest port on the east coast south of Dún Laoghaire right around to Waterford, I contend it deserved Government support in expanding, thereby ensuring improved access to other EC countries since it is ideally placed for traffic to Britain and to the Continent itself.
There has been much mention in this debate of the business expansion scheme and the revision of its provisions. As the provisions relate to my constituency, I must express the complete horror felt in Wicklow at the changes proposed. Four major hotels in Wicklow were in course of expanding, had received Bord Fáilte  approval therefor and had expected that the benefits of the business expansion scheme would be forthcoming in order to promote Wicklow as a tourist county, thereby providing the proper facilities so badly needed. We must remember that unless tourists can be attracted into a county and remain there overnight the county will not benefit. The County of Wicklow, being geographically located so close to the city of Dublin with its one million people, has had the name of being a tourist county but has not received corresponding benefits because of lack of facilities for hotels and their attendant requisite infrastructure. For example, there were many good small hotels that had plans to expand, such as the Grand Hotel in Wicklow, Tinahely House, the Glenview Hotel in the Glen of the Downs, the La Touche in Greystones. All had submitted their plans and, I understand, had been approved by Bord Fáilte for business expansion scheme support. We are told now that all of these plans have been set aside. Before this debate will have concluded the Government should re-examine that proposal. Before the introduction of the Finance Bill there will have to be changes, taking into account the expenses firms and hotels have incurred to ensure that their plans to secure a fair share of the relevant finances are not lost to the tourist industry in one of our most beautiful counties.
A sum in the region of £17 million was being put forward for a large plan in relation to the Powerscourt estate. Part of the financing came through a BES scheme. I hope we will not close schemes like that in my constituency. I support all the Deputies from Wicklow who have spoken in this debate on that basis. I am sure Deputies from all sides of the House have had similar problems in their constituencies. It can be accepted that there was some wastage under the scheme and that some proposals as far away from tourism as one could get, benefited. The Minister was right to make a correction here but in doing that he has put genuine tourist proposals in jeopardy. I would ask him to look at the situation again.
 I am glad to see a change in Government policy in relation to local authority housing and the reintroduction of grants for reconstruction and to allow local authority tenants to buy their own homes. It is a great pity that the Government only go into action in this area when an election is on the way. That has spurred them into doing something, although they ignored the problem for the past four years. In the four years between 1984 and 1987 Wicklow County Council built 600 houses and in two of the last four years not one house was built. Certainly, cottages were built, but not one house. Something like 12 houses were built this year. I hope that as a result of pressure from county councillors from their own parties, the Government have seen the error of their ways in relation to local authority housing. I look forward to seeing the change of policy here.
Members on the other side of the House referred to the state of public finances in 1986. We know that finances were corrected because they stopped doing everything. The Taoiseach said that in 1986 the Irish pound was worth 2.67 DM and that it is still worth 2.67 DM four years later. I would have thought there would have had to be reinflation of the DM and that the Germans would have to change because of the economic miracle that had taken place. It is amazing that the exchange rate has been maintained over the four years. If we had had this economic miracle, surely we would have had to get out of the EMS and have a special arrangement made for us to bring the DM up to our level. It did not happen because we know that the economic policies of this Government were pursued on the basis of 160,000 people emigrating, rising unemployment and doing no work in the public sector area. That is how Fianna Fáil have brought us to the position we are in today. I am glad to see they are beginning to reverse that trend and I look forward to progress in the next year.
Mr. Callely: At this stage of the budget a lot has been said but I will focus on a  few issues. The January 1991 budget has received general criticism inside and outside the House. I, too, have some criticisms, but in the present climate it is an appropriate budget. Most speakers on the opposite benches have criticised the budget without offering alternatives. As a relatively new member of the Dáil — and as a member of the general public I had first hand experience of the last Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government from 1982-87 — I am now beginning to understand the retarded mentality of some of the members on the Opposition benches.
Mr. Callely: We all know the record of that Government and I will not speak about history which is best forgotten. The successful record of the Fianna Fáil led Administration since 1987 speaks for itself and will not be forgotten. It is sad  that we are coming to the end of the successful era of the Programme for National Recovery. One must give due recognition to that programme and congratulate all involved in it. We are closing one chapter but, with our social partners we are opening a new Programme for Economic and Social Progress.
When Deputy Noonan from Limerick-East spoke on the budget his contribution included the words “phoney drama”, “leaked documents”, “scud missiles” and “cartoon figures”. Thinking of cartoon figures, one can easily think of many suitable cartoon figures for Deputy Noonan. The Deputy referred to a cartoon figure with the Taoiseach and Deputy Reynolds. One might think of the cartoon figure of Humpty Dumpty sitting on the wall for Deputy Noonan. What is wrong with Deputy Noonan is that he resembles the cartoon figure and that is the way we found the state of the nation when we came into Government in 1987 — in a shambles.
The Opposition gave no credence to the success of our Government since 1987 and they have not suggested alternatives, just criticisms. This budget is formulated having regard to the world economic scene, revised growth rates and the Gulf uncertainty. There was little room to manoeuvre but the budget clearly indicates the Government's determination to continue on the road of success in stabilising the economy, continuing the policy of good financial management, reducing borrowing to acceptable levels and continuing tax reform so that we have two bands of tax. We are also promoting job creation and industrial peace and placing emphasis on catering for the less well off and the the elderly.
Mr. Callely: It was, when the Deputy's party were in power. I am satisfied with the Programme for Economic and Social Progress and the Government's strategy in addressing and attaining targets set out in the programme. The programme is a comprehensive charter for development over the next ten years. I particularly  welcome the job targets and development initiatives set out in the programme and the policies relating to training, education, special employment and other enterprise measures. Employment must be treated as a priority. For too long now many of our young well educated people have had to go overseas to seek employment.
In my constituency of Dublin North-Central many of my friends have had to take a plane across the water, but many people have remained and have been frustrated by temporary employment, unemployment and promotion prospects. I particularly welcome the job targets set out in the new programme. I welcome, too, the focus on employment equality and the Government's commitment to the integration and participation in the workforce of people with disabilities. I look forward to further developments in this area.
An issue about which I was concerned even before my election to this House was education and I am delighted that education is highlighted in the new programme. Recognition is given to the importance of our educational system. I am glad the Government have tackled the problem of unacceptably large classes and I welcome the alterations in the pupil-teacher ratio.
The main Opposition spokesperson on health referred to the crisis in the health services, the breakdown in community care services, the plight of the mentally handicapped and the lack of plans for new services. One might excuse him due to the fact that he has held this brief only for a few weeks but he is totally wrong in these matters. I can confidently assert in relation to the Eastern Health Board, the largest health board in the country, that he is mistaken. We should recognise that in excess of £1.5 billion will be spent on the health services this year. New services and schemes have been introduced on a national basis. These include the community drugs scheme which has been a great success. People can now avail free of all prescribed medication for the treatment of prolonged illnesses, other than  the first £32 monthly. Benefits for recipients of DPMA have been extended. Their allowance has been increased to £50 and they are allowed free travel together with a companion, even if they are in residential care.
The availability of free hospital consultant services to all is to be welcomed. There has been a reaction by hospital consultants which has received widespread press coverage, including in one case the banner headline, “Consultants seek £100,000 salaries”. The consultants themselves have indicated that they may disrupt the health services in a day protest if the free hospital services plan goes ahead. I do not believe this is the right way forward. I spent many years as a medical representative and I understand the workload and the commitment of most consultants. I urge the consultants not to proceed down this road but rather to sit down and talk. In my role as a public representative many people query aspects of the health services such as entitlement to medical cards, long term illness categories and so on. One can easily explain entitlements when guidelines are laid down, but it is more difficult when someone asks why a consultant cannot see him or her as a public patient but can do so privately or if that person is a member of the VHI. This is when matters become more difficult and this is the reason I invite the consultants to sit down and talk.
Some Opposition Deputies do not appear to realise that there have been great developments in relation to general hospitals, particularly in the Dublin area. More than 24 months ago the Minister for Health introduced a very welcome change in the accident and emergency services. Prior to that there was a rota  system and one might have to pass the gate of a hospital if it was not on call, even in the case of accident and emergency. Hospitals in the Dublin area are now on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, on a community catchment basis.
There is one local matter to which I wish to refer. I would ask the Minister for Finance to consider releasing appropriate funds to continue the development of the Hospice Foundation at Raheny. They are carrying out an excellent day programme and intend to construct a suitable purpose-built hospice on a site allocated to them. I would ask the Minister to give favourable consideration to releasing appropriate funds.
It is important to touch on some other matters, especially in the light of what has been said by the main Opposition spokesperson. I would refer to the development and expansion of services in the Eastern Health Board area. We have an excellent AIDS programme working at pavement level. Units have been set up in St. James's Hospital and at Cherry Orchard, including the provision of respite care beds. The board have expanded and developed the community care programme, home helps, meals on wheels, social workers, doctors, public health nurses and so on.
The area of mental handicap has received much press coverage recently. The Eastern Health Board have made major strides in the provision of day care services, sheltered working environments, crisis care beds, respite care and residential treatment programmes. Excellent work is being carried out and I congratulate those involved. The health board have also set up a central planning committee for mental handicap who have made a submission to the Department of Health indicating priority needs. Following detailed assessment, the health board have identified the necessary provision of all day and residential places relating to specific named clients. It is wrong to say there are no plans and that there has been no development of services.
Mr. Callely: A special allocation has been made, but I agree it is totally wrong that people should have to wait three or five years for such treatment. There may even be a speech impairment if the individual does not get the required treatment. We should also recognise that the health board have tried to recruit appropriate professionals to meet the need but they have found great difficulty.
Mr. Callely: I make a plea to the Minister to look urgently at this matter. I am also concerned about ENT in regard to young people. It has been brought to my attention that in some areas there is a waiting list of three to five years. The young early learner of 12, 14, 16 or 18 months with the simple problem of glue ear will have deafness and will not be operated on for a three year period. That is totally unacceptable and it will only fall back on the health services at a later stage. I know my time is just up but I want to touch on——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy's time is up. The Deputy had 15 minutes. We have to accommodate other speakers. We may appear to be cruel in the matter of time but that is the way it is ordained and I have the unpopular duty of carrying it out.
Mr. McGrath: I am sure the Chair is absolutely delighted to know that Deputy Callely will not affect him in his own constituency in the future. I am delighted to see that Deputy Callely actually took the opportunity of speaking today. We can recall an occasion when he stood down in favour of one of the greater mortals around the place, but I am glad the Deputy came out and said his few words today.
This 1991 budget, as introduced by the Minister for Finance, is yet another episode in the failure of this Government to address the problems of unemployment and emigration and their failure to provide adequately for our health and educational services. It is yet another year of despair for the homeless and those 20,000 people and their families on approved housing waiting lists around the country. It is another year when the Government have failed to address the problem of tax reform, a year of concern for the tens of thousands dependent on the agricultural industry and a year when the social welfare increases are held to a mere 4 per cent.
In the short time available to me, I wish to address some of those areas. The 1991 round of health cuts in the Midland Health Board area have been described as the most savage yet, and this is not the  phrase used by members of my party to criticise the allocations but by members of the Deputy's own party who are very critical of it and by civil servants in the Midland Health Board itself. On the invitation of the Minister, the Midland Health Board prepared their estimates for 1991 based on a requirement to maintain services at their current levels. Their estimate was £63.6 million. The approved allocation was £1.4 million short, forcing the administrative staff to make cutbacks to live within the budget. These cutbacks have to be taken in the context of many years of belt-tightening and rationalisation, of trimming and scrimping to live within their means.
Mr. McGrath: The Minister must admit that the Midland Health Board have been exemplary in this respect and have always adopted a responsible attitude to budgeting. Speaking earlier this evening, Deputy Hyland admitted this. He is one of Fianna Fáil's Deputies and he called on the Minister to do something about this terrible situation.
Former rationalisations have seen the closure of a hospital in Longford, the downgrading of Athlone Hospital and the development of a general hospital in Mullingar as a modern efficient unit to cater for counties Longford and Westmeath. The Minister has now directed that 17 surgical beds in this hospital must be eliminated, lengthening the queues for operations. I was visiting there a couple of days ago and this surgical ward was filled to capacity. The Minister is proposing to eliminate these beds and is not prepared to respond to the need of sufferers of piles, hernias and the like. Must they wait until they are admitted as emergency cases? The management of this general hospital has, within budgetary constraints, set itself the target of building, equipping and staffing a highly modern paediatric unit and they saw this target realised with the opening of this unit some time ago. The opening of this unit  brought a sense of security to mothers in the catchment area, who heretofore would have had to travel to Portlaoise. It relieved the stress on an already overworked staff in Portlaoise and generated employment in the Mullingar area. Is it not ironic that the Minister, who presided over the opening of this new wing within the last few months, is now presiding over the closure of the surgical ward in the original hospital?
Mr. McGrath: St. Mary's Geriatric Hospital is also due for the Minister's knife with the proposed closure of a further 34 beds in this hospital. This is against a background of previous ward closures and staff losses.
St. Loman's Psychiatric Hospital in Mullingar, despite the promises of local Fianna Fáil councillors approaching election time, is steadily being depopulated and the staff complement is being depleted. They are once again being asked to take staff reductions and a 10 per cent reduction in premium pay. The situation is so bad that it is also proposed to sell off the farm at this hospital. Is it a case of selling off the family silver, or is it a vote of no confidence in the prospects for agriculture in the coming years?
The skilful and resourceful management of these hospitals has kept morale within the excellent staff at a high level, but I question whether the Minister is familiar with the ever-increasing workload on these dedicated workers. Does he see them merely as functionaries doing a job, or does he recognise the dedication and commitment of these people to their work?
A question I would like to ask the Minister for Health to address is why the average percentage increase for health  boards is 5.6 per cent nationally while many of the voluntary hospitals have received a much higher percentage increase. For example, Beaumont Hospital will receive an 11 per cent increase, St. Vincents Hospital at Elm Park will receive a 14 per cent increase and the Mater Hospital will receive a 12 per cent increase. Can the Minister justify these increases when the health boards are laced into straitjackets?
I would now like to address the educational allowances within the budget. I welcome the Minister's announcement that the pupil/teacher ratio will improve to a figure of 25:1. That must be acknowledged as a step in the right direction. Our Minister has finally turned around and is moving in an acceptable direction. However, we must be realistic and face the facts. Teachers will still be faced with large classes. We will still have the largest class size in Europe. It is appropriate at this stage to pay tribute to the 40,000 or so teachers operating very often in overcrowded conditions almost devoid of modern teaching aids. These teachers day after day provide an excellent education to our students.
The Minister for Education must face the facts of her stewardship. It is her duty to provide education of a quality and a standard to enable our student population to take its place in the adult world of the 20th Century. Since 1987 she has brought about a reduction of over 1,000 jobs in the teaching profession. There are over 1,000 fewer teachers working now than there were when this Minister came into power. Her now infamous circular 20/87 will forever remain as a blow against the children of Ireland. Since 1987 she has presided over the closure of over 100 schools nationwide. This is indeed a sad reflection on the Minister and the attitude of the Fianna Fáil Government.
I recently heard the Minister say that her mission in life was to eliminate the many pre-fab “villages” attached to our schools. This was indeed a marvellous speech for the opening of a three classroom extension, but had she forgotten that it was she, as Minister for Education, who cut the capital expenditure on  schools by 50 per cent? Even this year she has again reduced the building programme for education. How can she then be so hypocritical as to say she would like to see these prefabs being wiped out?
I ask the Minister for Education to take account of the estimated 3,000 job losses in primary education alone in the next nine years, as outlined in the report of the primary education review body which was recently issued. I hope that, instead of bringing about these job losses and enforced teacher redeployment, the surplus will be used for a badly needed teacher remedial service to all schools, especially in rural Ireland, where the social and educational deprivation can be just as prevalent as it is in urban schools. This could be a golden opportunity for the Minister for Education to indicate a positive input to our schools.
Mindful of the time constraints on this debate, unfortunately I cannot address the difficulties faced by the farming community and those dependent on them. It appears to me that this Government are systematically dismantling the rural community. This is indeed very sad and will have serious consequences for our future.
Finally, I wish to express my thanks, the thanks of the horticultural industry, the gas companies and those who are conscious of keeping the environment pollution free, to the Minister for Finance for his commitment to remove the 15p per gallon duty imposed on the LPG used in the horticultural industry. This was anomaly which, happily, I was able to bring to the Minister's attention last year. I thank him for giving the matter his attention and for promising to abolish the duty in the Finance Bill.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: He is entitled to refer to anything he likes and I was going to indicate to Deputy Callely that the patient-doctor relationship between himself and Deputy McGrath, while friendly, was not in order.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am now calling Deputy Séan Power. May I indicate to Deputy Foxe that I regret that his patience cannot be satisfied. But, if it is any consolation, when calling the next speaker from the Opposition benches I will be happy to call Deputy Foxe. Unfortunately, however, that is not going to happen today.
Mr. Power: I welcome the opportunity to make my contribution to the 1991 Budget debate. This budget is very similar to the last few budgets which we have had. The Government must be complimented for continuing this approach. These policies have transformed the economy; and, while some of our national commentators have been slow to recognise this, it has not gone unnoticed on the international scene. In a recent article in The Guardian, the change was described as “the economic miracle.”
Despite the tremendous upturn in our economy we are by no means out of the woods and we will have to continue making great sacrifices. We must realise that we have only started to climb the mountain. Commentators have differed over this year's budget; indeed, so have many Deputies. Some felt it was overcautious, while others felt it was a little optimistic. I have no doubt but that it is a cautious budget and we need not apologise to anybody for that. This is what the country needed. With such uncertainty throughout the world any other type of strategy would be nothing short of lunacy.
Mr. Power: A prudent approach to the country's finances was necessary. It was vital that we did no go for a big spending budget for which we would be paying years down the road and which would have undone all of the good work over the past four years. While everybody agrees that our national debt should be tackled,  all organisations look for more money at budget time. Let me just refer for a moment to the burden which the national debt has placed on us. The Minister told us in no uncertain fashion of the problems we have as a result of the huge national debt.
Mr. Power: We are still borrowing Deputy but not at the same rate as the Government which your party was involved in — I do not think the Deputy was a Member at that time — which still has the record for doubling the national debt.
Mr. Power: Rubbish. Despite the restraints imposed on the Minister in formulating the budget, it must be accepted that the Minister made a sincere effort to help the needy and the lower income section of our community. While we would all like to be getting a little more, we must tailor our expectations to the resources available.
This year's budget clearly demonstrated the desire of the Government to assist the farming community in these difficult times. The farm lobbying role of the Government was at its most effective in the framework for the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. All agricultural commitments were honoured. The bringing forward of headage payments, which will put £100 million into rural areas, is a move which will be very beneficial at a time when it is badly needed. At a time when cash is so scarce among farmers we have to commend the  Government on bringing this about. It is badly needed.
Mr. Power: When we give a commitment we will stand over it. At a time when people are beginning to realise the importance and necessity of protecting our environment the Minister must be complimented on his decision to continue the 50 per cent accelerated capital allowances for approved expenditure incurred by farmers in the control of farmyard pollution. While farmers have been responsible for polluting our rivers, in many cases due to carelessness, we must acknowledge that the number of incidents is on the decline and farmers throughout the country are playing their part in protecting our environment. The Minister's decision to continue with the accelerated allowances will help the farmers to control pollution in their farmyards at a reasonable cost.
The treatment of agricultural land under the capital acquisition tax is to be examined immediately with a view to ensuring that the tax does not prevent early transfers of land. It is vital that we provide encouragement and assistance to young people who want to enter farming. It must be accepted that the capital acquisition tax has acted as a deterrent to young people who are keen on making a career in agriculture. While the rate of agricultural relief goes up to 55 per cent, I am disappointed that the present ceiling of £220,000 is to be retained.
Improvements are to be made to the young farmers' installation aid scheme. Account is to be taken on leased land and the Government have given an undertaking that they will consider increasing the tax threshold in respect of income to be disregarded in the case of long term leasing of land. In addition, there is a commitment that when the outcome of the GATT talks and the CAP reform proposals are known, the Government will enter into talks with the farming  organisations to decide on what compensatory measures need to be negotiated with the EC. This is a further indication of the Government's determination to ensure that the maximum number of people is kept on the land.
A number of significant improvements has been made in the area of social welfare. The lowest payments, short term unemployment assistance and supplementary welfare allowances are to be increased to £50. This represents an increase of up to 11 per cent. Long term unemployment rates are to be increased by 6 per cent to £55. Weekly social welfare payments are to be increased in general by 4 per cent. Unfortunately, these increases will not take effect until the end of July. I raised this issue in my budget address last year and I feel very strongly about it. A budget is all about give and take. Unfortunately, in this instance it is “take and reluctantly give”. The price of 20 cigarettes was increased by 10p and the increase took effect from 31 January. If the increase on a packet of cigarettes can take effect immediately, there is no reason that weekly social welfare payments cannot be increased at the same time.
We have seen a number of changes in the taxation front and this is in line with commitments given by the Government. The 30 per cent tax band has been reduced to 29 per cent while the 53 per cent tax band has been reduced to 52 per cent. While the reductions are small, when one considers the series of reductions in successive budgets we can then fully appreciate the progress that has been made on this front.
A number of other provisions has been made in order to help the disadvantaged in our community. A sum of £500,000 is to be given to women's groups and £1 million is to be provided in an effort to tackle disadvantage in our educational system. A pupil/teacher ratio of 19: 1 is to be phased in for second level students. That move will be welcomed by anyone interested in the education system.
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