Friday, 12 June 1992
Dáil Éireann Debate
That a sum not exceeding £86,000,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st December, 1992, for Increases in Remuneration and Pensions.
I have moved the Finance group of Estimates  excluding that for the Office of Public Works which will be dealt with by the Minister of State on a separate occasion. The group that I am dealing with here consists of 14 votes and the total net provision sought for 1992 is almost £357 million.
On the public finance front generally we have come a very long way since 1986. Central to the recovery in the public finances has been the continued strict control of public expenditure. Back in 1986 total Government spending stood at 52.5 per cent of GNP. This year it is expected to be closer to 42.5 per cent — a full ten percentage points lower.
The importance of past progress and of maintaining tight discipline cannot be over emphasised. As a Government we have consistently demonstrated our resolve to ensure that public expenditure is controlled and used productively. That determination was clearly shown last year when resolute action was taken to contain the expenditure overruns then emerging. In settling the spending allocations for the current year, difficult decisions were also required in relation, inter alia, to aspects of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, on which I will say more later. Government had to accept that full implementation of all of those developments would run counter to the requirement to achieve budgetary targets in 1992 consistent with the programme. That partial implementation of the pay aspects of the programme accounts almost entirely for the increase in the Finance group of Votes now under discussion.
As is usual, the pay element of the various Votes in the group accounts for a major proportion of the total expenditure of the Finance group — about three quarters. This is because most of the offices in the group are very labour intensive. For example, the great bulk of the Revenue Commissioners estimate is spent on pay. Whereas that office has very little of what we call programme expenditure, it is the work they do in collecting revenue which enables most expenditure programmes to proceed.
The allocation in respect of the cost in  1992 of implementing the package on public service pay, which I put forward on behalf of the Government on 17 January this year, is included in the Remuneration and Pensions Vote for 1992. It amounts to £86 million. This package was designed to ease the considerable budgetary difficulties which we were facing coming into 1992. It was also designed to take account of the concerns of the public service unions to the maximum extent possible, having regard to our budgetary difficulties. The main features of the package are; the imposition of ceilings of £5 and £6.50 per week on the 3 per cent and 3.75 per cent general round increases due to be paid in 1992 and 1993 under the Programme for Economic and Social Progress in the public service, the ceilings being lifted on 1 December of each year; and deferral of payment of outstanding special pay increases due to be paid under phasing arrangements agreed under the elaboration of clause 3 of the 1987 public service pay agreement, until 1 December 1992. Full retrospection to due dates will be made on 1 January 1993.
Notwithstanding the benefits of the package, however, the Exchequer pay and pensions bill in 1992 at £3,722 million accounts for a significant proportion of all current public spending. The bill for 1992 represents an increase of over 9 per cent on the outturn for 1991, while the implementation of the measures contained in the January package, in 1993 will lead to a further increase in excess of 9 per cent. Such increases in public service pay costs cannot continue indefinitely. Vigorous efforts will have to be made to ensure that costs are reduced by active pursuit of means to achieve greater efficiency. In future, movement in pay rates will have to be matched by offsetting improvements in efficiency and effectiveness.
As part of this process, it is essential that a fundamental review of the whole  pay determination system be undertaken with a view to ensuring that there is greater transparency in the system. Such a review would need to address a variety of complex and difficult issues, such as the problems with third-party adjudication when the ability of the Government to pay and the budgetary situation are not easily addressed and the basis for special relativity claims.
An approach to future pay bargaining with these aims in mind has recently been presented to public service unions. I have no doubt that with the assistance and co-operation of the public service unions, we can devise a system which will be in the overall public interest while also acknowledging the needs of individual public service workers for fair pay and satisfying careers. As the consensus based approach has worked so well for us all in the past, I am confident that the negotiations on pay bargaining will be no exception.
Under the provisions of the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices (Amendment) Act, 1992 additional expenditure arises this year in relation to reimbursing Members of the Oireachtas in respect of telephone calls made from constituencies and in respect of expenses generally. There will, however, be an offset on foot of the latter item on the income tax side in that Members will no longer be eligible for tax free allowances in respect of expenses.
These revised arrangements, which are taken account of in the Oireachtas Vote, will result in a much more satisfactory and equitable way of dealing with the remuneration and expenses of Members of the Oireachtas. They should remove any mistaken impressions among the general public that TDs and Senators receive special tax concessions.
Apart from the remuneration Votes the main expenditure in the finance group is incurred on my Department's Vote and on those of Revenue, and the Office of Public Works. In the case of my Department's Vote the provision mainly covers expenditure of an administrative nature.  In general, I have tried to contain overall administrative costs in line with the Government's policy of reducing public expenditure.
The greatest variation in expenditure in 1992 occurs in Subhead A.7. — Consultancy Services. This arises because costs associated with the formation and operation of the Sub-Regional Review Committee set up to monitor the Structural Funds did not fall due for payment in 1991 as expected. They are now falling due in 1992. I have also included an amount of £120,000 in this subhead to provide third-party technical support for my Departments' computer bureau. Consequent on advances in computing and on declining demand, the closure of the bureau is planned for end-1993. Given the remaining short life span of the bureau, it is not practicable to recruit and train new staff when vacancies arises. Third-party support is therefore the most cost-effective option.
Consultancy Services, flotation, includes an amount of £500,000 to cover the costs of consultancy services which will be required for the possible sale of the State's shareholding in ICC. Stokes Kennedy Crowley Corporate Finance Ltd have been retained to advise on the options available in relation to ICC's future development and capital requirements and to assess the possibility of a sale of the State's shareholding in the company. While a purchaser has been sought for the company, no suitable proposal has so far emerged. I am keeping the matter under review.
With regard to the Information Technology and Training Initiatives Fund, I recently launched a training and staff development package for the Civil Service which will be provided for under this Subhead. The successful management of the Civil Service is central to both the efficient running of the State's business and the development of national policy.
To this end, and in order to cope with changes in the commercial environment and other demands, the civil servant of the 1990s and beyond must be highly trained. A major objective of the training initiatives approach is the development  of a pro-active approach by management and staff to their training needs. Top management commitment and work-centred programmes are the cornerstones of the approach. Under this package, I have set up a fund to help Departments undertake training and staff developments which could not be met from their existing training budgets. The fund will also support a post-graduate programme for senior civil servants in strategic management.
I have allocated some £224,000 to the fund for 1992 — a generous allocation in light of the budgetary constraints we are faced with but indicative of my concern for the better training of civil servants. The balance of the provision under this subhead, £223,000, will be used to give financial support to Departments who wish to undertake advanced information technology related projects.
A new subhead, subhead M will provide for the expenses which will arise in the management of the assets and liabilities of Fóir Teoranta. Following the dissolution of that company in 1991 under the Fóir Teoranta (Dissolution) Act, 1990, the Industrial Credit Corporation plc took over the written down value of the Fóir Teoranta portfolio, some £10 million. This new subhead provides for recoupment to ICC of the management expenses associated with administering the portfolio, payment to be made in respect of costs incurred in the previous year. The precise amount to be paid to ICC in respect of their administration costs will be the actual audited costs incurred, plus a profit element to be agreed with this Department.
It has not been necessary this year to provide for any expenditure under the Former Repayment of Advances subhead. This subhead funded the special loans scheme. Under the scheme, the Exchequer bore the risk on funds which it advanced to ICC to be lent on to high risk business ventures. The scheme  helped provide finance to developing firms which would not have obtained loans on commercial grounds. In the case of write-offs, the subhead provided for repayment of the amount involved to the Central Fund in the following year. The total amount written off to end 1991 under the scheme was £6.881 million.
As I have already remarked, expenditure under the Revenue Vote is largely on pay which accounts for £102 million of the net Vote of £123 million. I do not propose to deal in any detail with taxation issues which are not appropriate to an Estimates debate. Suffice it to say that the Government are continuing to put resources into the improvement of the taxation system in 1992, particularly in the areas of self-assessment and measures to tackle anti-evasion and avoidance.
An essential element of the self-assessment system is a comprehensive programme of auditing to ensure the maximum degree of compliance from taxpayers. Such auditing must be done on a multi tax basis and requires training of staff on a very significant scale involving, in the cases of officers not based in Dublin, considerable expenditure on travelling and subsistence. An additional £1.8 million has been provided in 1992 for the programme of self-assessment audits, including training. This expansion will put a further 150 staff in the field and require the training of 300 officers. I have also asked the Revenue Commissioners to put together a new initiative for 1992, designed to release experienced staff for an increase in audits and, at the same time, to increase staff numbers engaged in collection of arrears, I have provided an additional £750,000 to finance new initiatives in tax collection and enforcement.
Deputies will also notice that there is an increase in the revenue provision for law charges and rewards. The main increase is accounted for by the inclusion of a sum of £600,000 in respect of the expected increase in the cost of lodgement fees for sheriff certificates. At present the lodgement fee is 35p per certificate but it has been proposed that this be increased to £5 as part of a package  to change the arrangements for remunerating sheriffs. The present system, which in practice allows for the limited retention by sheriffs of revenue collected in interest bearing accounts, has given rise to criticism in recent years. I hope to change that.
On the decentralisation front the Deputies may be interested to know that decentralisation of the Accountant General's office to Ennis has now been completed. A total of 122 staff was involved. Decentralisation of 203 staff to Nenagh has commenced and is scheduled to be completed on 15 June. Phase 1 of the decentralisation of the staff of the Collector General to Limerick is at present planned for April 1993 when 117 staff will be transferred. This will shortly be followed by the transfer of a further 132 in Phase 2.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): I thank the Minister for covering a great deal of ground in his preliminary remarks and I hope that when he closes the debate he will throw light on some other subjects which I intend raising.
First, I wish to comment on Vote 1, the President's Establishment. There is an increase in the Vote because extra expenses have been provided for the President's Establishment. We all agree that this is money very well spent and I compliment the President on her work. She is doing an extraordinarily good job on behalf of all our citizens both at home and abroad. I wish her well during the remainder of her period in this high office. If the Government in their wisdom come back seeking extra funding to allow the President to continue to do her duty as well and effectively as she is doing at present, there will be no objection to that from this side of the House.
I wish to make one or two points on the Vote for the Houses of the Oireachtas. I thank the Minister for his comments on the new arrangements that have been made for TDs' expenses. It is appropriate that greater transparency has been brought into the system. The TDs and Senators have been accused for years of benefiting from some special tax arrangement and I am glad the special tax allowance that applied has been abolished and that Members of this House will pay income tax the same as everybody else. I do not think we were treated in the past in any advantageous manner but simply that we were treated differently and this gave rise to misunderstanding and concern. We should be treated the same as everybody else. Will the Minister comment on the present status of the latest investigation by the Gleeson commission, particularly if they have commented in any way on the pension conditions of Members of the Oireachtas?
Frequently we complain about the physical arrangements in the Houses of the Oireachtas. There are two points I wish to raise with the Minister. First, when the weather gets warm at this time of the year it is very difficult to work in this Chamber especially if we have to work late into the night. The Minister's predecessor, who is now Taoiseach, promised on a particularly hot day when we were debating the Estimates last year that he would have ventilation system installed at the first available opportunity.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): It has not yet been installed. Will the Minister  comment on that? It becomes very difficult to work here in warm weather and it is no wonder that the only thing on Deputies' minds is how soon they can get out of this Chamber and go to a cooler atmosphere. It is not the tenor of the debate that is raising the temperature but the physical conditions under which we work.
What annoys me is that quite frequently, whether summer or winter, in warm weather or cold weather, a smell of boiled cabbage wafts into this Chamber. from the restaurant. There are various smells and scents that I like, but essence of boiled cabbage is not one of the scents I would normally order going through duty free. I do not think food smells should be waiting into this House, as they do frequently. For those of us who spend a great deal of time in the Chamber — and the Finance spokespersons spend more time here than anybody else — it is no harm to draw attention to these matters.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): They are not cooked this year. Conditions in our offices have improved over the years. When I came here in 1981 I shared an office with seven other Deputies and their secretaries but today I have an office to myself. In warm weather and sometimes in the middle of winter the office becomes unbearably hot and I cannot ventilate it. When one works very long hours, often late into the night, this is very uncomfortable. I do not know the solution. The heating system in Leinster House must be one of the most antiquated systems to be found because it does not appear to be possible to regulate the temperature. Half the time it is too hot and on other occasions it is as if there is no heating system and there is no attempt at air conditioning. If we do not draw attention to the conditions in which we work and merely put up with them we do not deserve any better but I do not think they are appropriate.
Secretaries to Members do an enormous amount of work. I do not think  they have a proper career structure or that the best of them are paid in accordance with the amount of work they do or in accordance with their ability. Frequently it is their loyalty to a party or their loyalty to a particular Member that keeps them here because certainly they do not work on the basis of pay and remuneration. I would ask the Minister for Finance who is extremely well experienced in the whole area of labour relations to examine this matter. There is a case to be made for the ungrading of every Deputy's and Senator's secretary to a higher level in the hierarchy of grades within the Civil Service. Perhaps, their grade could be raised from that of CA to EO. There is a case to be made for a career structure for senior secretaries who work in the House for Front Bench Members and who are involved in research and so on where they can not only work to their potential — which they are doing already — but where their potential can be recognised in terms of the reward system. I think all of us in the House would like if the Minister took a personal interest in that matter with a view to bringing forward proposals.
The Revenue Commissioners are doing a good job in difficult circumstances. I am glad the Minister said he would bring in additional people to get involved in the audit on self-assessment. A self-assessment system cannot work if the word goes out that one will get away with putting in any kind of an estimate. It can only work on the basis that if one is found out the most rigorous sanctions will follow. It is not enough to audit in cases where there is reason to suspect that assessments are wrong, there must be a significant random audit to make self-assessment work. At present that is not the case. We established at Question Time recently that the random audit was of the order of 0.4 per cent of returns. That is much too low, it will have to be moved to between 1.5 per cent and 2 per cent. I am aware of an audit on persons the Revenue consider not to be compliant taxpayers but I am not talking about those.
There is much to be said for upgrading the State Laboratory. There is concern in criminal justice circles that many court cases are processed on the basis of confessions alone. It would be appropriate that all the resources of technology be used in support of the Garda Síochána. I should like to ask the Minister when DNA testing will be available here. It is ridiculous that in the number of high profile court cases which have occurred already, we have had to send members of the Garda to England so that they might follow, every step of the way, samples going from here for DNA testing. This is done by way of ensuring that there is no intrusion or interference with the material. We should be providing those facilities here.
In regard to the Vote for the Office of the Attorney General, while it would be easy to be critical of the present Office holder, I will not do so. However, the case of X v. the Attorney General leaves many unanswered questions. I do not see a great shining beacon showing us the way forward either in dealing with the issues of travel and information, arising from that case, or in dealing with the substantive issue of abortion but that is a matter for the Cabinet.
It is time we had a review of the legislation dealing with the Office of the Attorney General; on the one hand he is a servant of the State and on the other he holds a political office. I feel uncomfortable in making any criticism of him while at the same time I think his activities should be subject to the same scrutiny as those of everybody else. The Attorney General does not come into the House and answer questions. Ultimately he is responsible to the Taoiseach, yet the Taoiseach does not answer questions on his behalf. The whole issue of the accountability of the Attorney General, who has made so many decisions which have impinged on the lives of everyone in this country and, indeed, on the fortunes  of all of us in this House, must be open to greater scrutiny.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): Yes, and he would have been here quite a long time. He would have taken up as much time in this House as he has taken up at Cabinet meetings, if my information is correct. There is one specific thing I would like to say and that is that the beef tribunal is becoming increasingly expensive, having already cost between £20 million and £25 million. So far as it relates to the Attorney General's office he is responsible for appointing the State team. The State counsel represent the State through the Attorney General's office. I have gone on record at the tribunal indicating my unhappiness with certain aspects but I will not wander into the area of the tribunal. I will say merely that the role of the State counsel in any tribunal has not been clearly defined. I would like to put a proposition to the Attorney General which I would like him to take up, arising out of the Vote here. The State counsel should represent the ideal State, the State as ideally run under the Constitution and the law and as a matter of first principle they should not represent the agencies of the State or the personalities involved in those agencies. If it was approached in that manner — that their role was to represent the State as ideally run under the Constitution and the law — and if everybody, whether Minister or former Minister, Taoiseach or former Taoiseach, civil servant or former civil servant, had their actions measured against that criteria, the State side would then stand for the public interest and the people in the same way  as happens in similar judicial situations in the US. The problem with the State counsel at the tribunal is that they are representing the persons who were involved or who are still involved and the agencies and Government Departments who were involved and who are still involved while not representing per se the State, the people, the public interest or the taxpayer. The only way this can be done is for the Attorney General to redirect counsel. I suggest that the redirection should be: “represent the State as it should be ideally run under the Constitution and law and measure everybody's activities against that.”
I have similar problems with the Vote for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Director of Public Prosecutions, the main prosecutor in the State, does not seem to be subject to any scrutiny whatever. This is becoming increasingly disturbing and we may need to change the legislation. I believe there is something wrong in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions but I do not know whether this is because of under funding or lack of personnel. In any event, changes will have to be made there and somebody must examine the position. The Minister for Finance, in his reply, will probably say: “I am only supplying the funds, it is my Estimate but I have no policy control over the Director of Public Prosecutions.”
If I put down a question to the Taoiseach he will say that the Director of Public Prosecutions reports under the Act to the Attorney General and that he cannot reply directly on his activities. If I put down a question to the Minister for Justice he will say that under law the Director of Public Prosecutions is independent in carrying out his functions. Any time there is consultation on the political side it runs through the Attorney General's office up to the Taoiseach's office. In a democracy it is fundamentally unsatisfactory that in matters of general policy there is no accountability. Nobody is suggesting that the Director of Public Prosecutions should have accountability in regard to individual cases because he has to proceed without prejudice in  accordance with the law. However, as a matter of policy, there should be some system of accountability.
There have been cases like the Gallagher case where Mr. Gallagher was jailed in Northern Ireland and was not even charged down here. The Sinnot case is proceeding at the moment. The revelations of the beef tribunal would seem to give rise to concern in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and possible criminal charges. In the Greencore inquiry an extraordinary number of allegations were made and substantiated by the inspectors who carried out that inquiry. I do not know what the status is in regard to the Telecom affairs into which Mr. John Glacken is now conducting an inquiry. There are matters like the Waterford murder case and the murder in the Phoenix Park. Could anybody be happy about the murder of a young German tourist camping in the Phoenix Park and those accused of it walking free on a technicality and nobody else being charged? Why would a thing like that happen? Is the Director of Public Prosecutions not responsible ultimately for something like that?
We do not talk about these things because we are not sure where the responsibility lies. There is increasing concern about the judicial process in this country. I am sure that, as one of the very good constituency TDs, the Minister for Finance knows exactly what I am talking about. I am putting these things very calmly today on this Estimate because they arise on this Estimate. They will have to be addressed. We look at things like the Phoenix Park murder, the Gallagher case, the revelations at the beef tribunal, the Sinnott case, the Greencore inquiry and a whole host of others and yet the Minister for Justice came into the House a couple of months ago and informed us that there are 21 people in jail because they did not pay their television licence. We wonder, then, what the priorities are in terms of the administration of justice in this country. People are losing confidence. There is no one with a good suit of clothes and collar and tie in Mountjoy. Yet at  one point in the last couple of months there were 21 or 22 people in jail because they did not pay their television licences. Then the same Minister will tell us that it costs £600 a week to keep someone in jail. One wonders what the priorities are.
I would ask the Minister in his capacity as the Minister who is supplying the funding for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to raise the issue in Cabinet to see if the Director of Public Prosecutions is short of resources, if he needs extra consultancy services, if he needs extra staff, what kind of help he needs, if his arrangements for relating to the Garda Síochána are inadequate, because there has been a series of situations now where the public are increasingly unhappy about the lack of activity and about the fact that people can walk free because of a loophole in the law.
The Minister did not comment at all on Vote 15. I would ask him to comment on the new arrangements being made in relation to ordnance survey staff and their redeployment to new locations in the regions. Will he tell us what is the position now of the policy to re-survey the country and bring out a new set of maps which would provide the kind of topographical base which is required for proper planning in our economy?
I take it from what the Minister said that Vote 44, on pay and pensions, applies to the new pay arrangements across all Departments, that it is a holding Vote in Finance but that it will be redistributed across all Departments. When will the information be available on a departmental basis? In other words, when will the £88 million be redistributed in a manner that will enable us to know which Departments are picking up the extra on the pay side?
Finally, does the Minister envisage a Supplementary Estimate for any of the Votes under his control? With half the year gone by, is everything on line or are there indications of overruns which will require extra money at the end of the year?
Mr. Quinn: First, I would like to follow  what Deputy Noonan said in relation to the job being done by the office of the Presidency. In the past, tradition has obliged us to avoid controversy in the context of the office of the Presidency. However, the whole office of the Presidency has been transformed with general approval and agreement on all sides of the House. I would like to pay tribute to the Government and the previous Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, for the generous response to the transformation of that office and the additional funds that were made available after President Robinson was elected. I do not think there is any public feeling that that money has not been well spent.
I would invite the Minister to consider a proposal that I put on the record of the House in relation to Áras an Uachtaráin when he was Minister for Labour. There should be a museum of the Presidency in Áras an Uachtaráin. The number of requests made to me and, I am sure, to every Deputy in this House, for an opportunity to visit Áras an Uachtaráin is enormous. In the spirit of open Government, which is supposed to characterise this Administration, I would invite the Minister, through the Office of Public Works and through his own Department, to consider, in consultation with the office of the Presidency, having a museum facility that would portray the history of this Republic in terms of the various incumbents who have held the office of the Presidency and, indeed, the history of the building itself. It would be another addition to our capital city and there is an enormous number of people who would like to visit it on a regular basis.
I now want to turn to the Houses of the Oireachtas with which the second Vote deals. I want to say to the Minister that there is something rotten in the State of the Republic of Ireland when elected Members can be allocated a lump sum in consultancy fees of £110,000. This is to enable them to be better informed to do their job of evaluating the spending of over £7,000 million. The Department of Finance which has the cream of the Civil Service intake, is bristling with administrative  officers who have honours degrees in every hip pocket, requires £906,000 for consultancy services.
The balance is all wrong and it must be corrected. The Minister has made a good start in the context of the levelling of the method of remuneration of Deputies so that we are not open to the cheap “Gay Byrne” type give that we have some kind of special tax deal. We have not. We are paid like everybody else, and, like everybody else, we pay our tax. However, unlike everybody else we have enormous expenses that we are obliged to pay out of our own pockets. There is not a Deputy who does not receive a request to make a contribution to this community week or that festival, function or charity. The Minister shares a constituency with me and knows precisely what we are talking about. Between now and September not a week will go by that we will not have to spend at least £50 to £100 in connection with these matters, and there is no tax relief on that. A start has been made, but it is only a small start.
I want to make some specific points in relation to this House. We cannot function as a parliament, scrutinising the operation of this democracy with the resources we have at the moment. There is a serious dereliction of democratic duty on the part of this Government. Not only does the air conditioning in this particular building not work, because it is non-existent, but the back-up resources in terms of staff are inadequate. Is the Minister aware that during the course of the Select Committee on the Finance Bill, in which the three of us here participated, there was such a shortage of reporting staff that a newspaper reporter had to be drafted in as a favour to the Houses of the Oireachtas? The staff work in the same conditions as we do. They are overworked because of the nature of the loading of parliamentary time. They do not have the back-up resources. I would have to say that they are treated with something verging on contempt by Department of Finance officials, who seem to take the attitude that their job is just another line Department job — it is not.  Those same departmental people think that the Minister and the Department themselves need £900,000 worth of consultancy advice and that Members require only £110,000. At present we do not have the staff to function and service the existing committees yet the present Government — the Government of which the Minister is a member — now propose to increase the number of sitting days and increase the number of committees. Nevertheless they have consistently made cutbacks, as is shown by an examination of the demands made from this House for various kinds of assistance. Those cutbacks contrast greatly with the amount that has been spent across the road in “Albert's Hall”, as it is now called — renamed after the days of its previous incumbent's occupancy. The contradiction is just not good enough.
We as politicians are too shy when it comes to arguing for better working conditions. I am delighted that in the past ten to 15 years the Civil Service have had their office accommodation significantly improved. The efficiency that has derived from that improvement is manifest to anybody who wants to see it. I am pleased that the decentralisation programme appears to be working well. We now have to focus our attention on the working conditions inside this Chamber and in the buildings around it. For example, this year a sum of £50,000 was sought to clean the facade of this building but it was refused on the grounds that provision for that work is now included in the Office of Public Works Estimate. Could the Minister indicate that that money will in fact be made available and that either out of this Estimate or the Estimate for the Office of Public Works provision will be made to have the front facade cleaned? Part of the facade is in need of repair. The work will not involve just washing down the stone. This is an old building construction of which started in 1752, and we must remember that it is the national Parliament.
That illustration takes me back to the attitude that seems to emmanate from a culture — I am not saying that it comes  from one individual within the Department of Finance, because I consider civil servants to be citizens like anyone else — that says, “Starve the Parliament”. It is not a republication culture; it is a monarchical culture that comes from across the water, from the palace. It is a culture that reluctantly admits entry to the Commons and then starves them. It imbues its officials with the attitude that the representatives of the citizens, the Deputies of the citizens, should not be allowed the resources to do their job, for fear that the collective monarchy of the Treasury — now renamed the Department of Finance — would be caught offside. Just to be on the safe side, the officials consider it wise to get extra advice for themselves and commission £900,000 worth of consultancy. That is not good enough and there is collective political agreement to change that culture. I invite the Minister to change it.
I shall instance some other areas in which change will be needed. I am on the Joint Services Committee and I am aware that last year a request for £193,000 to upgrade our restaurant facility was refused. That restaurant is probably about 25 years old, the air conditioning does not work — nobody knows how to turn it on — and the windows are fixed. A procession of people come to the seat of our democracy, yet in many cases we cannot afford even the basics for our restaurant. I put the Minister on notice that a formal request will come from the Joint Services Committee next year for a capital sum of £250,000 for refurbishment of the restaurant.
I wish to nail a lie that goes out about our restaurant. Most of the public think that because the restaurant and the bar are subsidised we get subsidised drink. They are quite amazed to find that the price in the bar for a pint or for a short is the normal going rate. They say, “Oh, but your restaurant is subsidised”. The restaurant at Irish Life is subsidised, too; so is the one at the Department of Agriculture and Food; so is the one at the ESB; so is the one at Poolbeg, where the Chair and myself share a constituency — and it is very nicely subsidised. Members do not know, I suspect, that last year the Joint Services Committee returned in excess of £30,000 to the Department at the end of the trading year and that came on top of PRSI and income tax paid in the normal course of events. About half of the overall grant of approximately £230,000 towards the restaurant goes back, either directly or indirectly. The subsidy is no big deal for people who are in the buildings from 9 a.m. and who on occasions have to be here until 10.30 and 12.30 at night. We cannot do our work as well as we should. What galls me is that, while we are being denied literally pennies to scrutinise the work, the Comptroller and Auditor General is getting less than £2 million in relation to the operation of his Estimate. I am surprised that Deputy Mitchell is not yet here to bang the drum for the Attorney General, but no doubt he will be soon — and no better man to do it. At the same time the beef tribunal is getting £40 million effectively, because the House was not able to do its job in the first instance. The whole Estimate is off the rails. We have to stop and re-examine it in a very fundamental way.
Time constrains me from making any other points in that regard but I suggest that the Minister might do himself and the House a favour by coming to a meeting of the Joint Services Committee and giving consideration to the plans for facilities in this House, including a proposal to open this House to the public in a way that would enable them to see fully the splendour of this seat of democracy and the way in which it is maintained by the Office of Public Works and by the staff here. People should be able to see the work that is being done and to recognise that a very good job is being done in such difficult circumstances.
I put on notice to the Minister that the harassment by the culture of the Department of Finance of the Houses of the Oireachtas will have to stop. I consider that we should have the autonomy to write our own budget, because it is we who have to face the public after every election and account for the way in which  we spend our money. There has been a constant hand-tripping of this House because of the monarchical culture that emanates from what used to be the Treasury up the road from us.
The allocation for the Revenue Commissioners is probably the largest component in expenditure terms of this series of Estimates. Five Deputies from County Donegal entered a rather negative confrontation with tax inspectors in that county. The Minister should reply to that at some appropriate stage in his response. I have here the statement issued by the trade union representing the tax inspectors. It is a very balanced statement.
There is a real need for proper training and for public information as the culture of taxation has changed from one of collection in the traditional way to one of self-assessment, and substantial resources should be put into it. In order to make that work, the Revenue Commissioners themselves should engage in much more consultation with tax practitioners. As the Minister knows, there is considerable dissatisfaction and anger at the stringent requirements written into the current Finance Act in relation to taxation due for this year and onwards. However, the Revenue Commissioners have said that it will be at least two months before they publish their own guidelines on the way in which compliance with the new regime should be made by tax practitioners. The Revenue Commissioners should meet the tax practitioners now and talk in advance about the final form and shape of the kind of information wanted and the way in which it should be presented.
A series of changes and efficiencies could take place and the Revenue Commissioners could streamline many of the queries about the operation of the taxation system. One example concerns the assessment of mileage rates for payment to employees in the private sector. If the mileage rates are in accordance with the Civil Service rates, then surely those rates should be accepted, subject, of course, to verification of the accuracy of the amount of mileage claimed. I am informed by various accountants and tax  practitioners that if there were proper consultation between the Minister, the Revenue Commissioners and the tax practitioners, much time would be saved and great deal of inefficiency eliminated.
I want to refer to the Ordnance Survey section. I am informed — and I should like the Minister to make inquiries in this regard — that there is a need for a modernised version of mapping facilities, that modern technology, including aerial and satellite photography, would enable us to do this well. I was informed that a very cost-effective and efficient proposal was made by Canadian interests, with the support of the Canadian Government, to enable us to do that some time ago but that it was rejected on spurious grounds. The allegation was that there was a very comfortable and cosy relationship — not unrelated to security concerns — between ourselves and the British authorities and that the Ordnance Survey Office were actively dissuading the Canadian interests from making the kind of cost-effective offer which was available to us. As a result we are still without this facility. I do not necessarily expect the Minister in the House today to be able to go into detail regarding what I said and I can give him additional information later if he needs it. I ask him to take note of the matter and to make inquiries in relation to it.
I have already referred to the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General; Deputy Gay Mitchell is absent but the points he made repeatedly in the House should be reiterated. We need legislation to update what the Committee of Public Accounts do. When one thinks of what is going on in Dublin Castle at present, there is something obscene in relation to the scrutiny of expenditure and activities when, if extra resources had been available, those scrutinies could have been carried out at a fraction of the cost by the Comptroller and Auditor General on behalf of the taxpayer; less than £1.85 million was made available to him in relation to this matter.
I am glad that the office of the Ombudsman is now well resourced after  a rather difficult relationship with the Government and that there is general satisfaction with the relationship between the Minister's office and the level of funding and resources available to them. Other points may be dealt with in the Minister's reply which I await with interest.
Mr. Roche: I compliment the Minister on the Special Committee which considered the Finance Bill and which has an implication for what we are debating today. The Special Committee operated earlier this year and Members who participated in it — and Members from all sides of the House participated — acknowledge that it was an outstanding success. I hope that the initiative will be followed next year when the Finance Bill is being debated. However, I suggest that the matter be taken a step further. We are dealing with Estimates——
Mr. Roche: Deputy Quinn anticipated the point which I intended to make. As he and, indeed, all Members know, I have been interested for some considerable time, not just as a Member of the House but as an academic observer of the way we operate, and as a member of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, in looking into the privileges of this House. I thank Deputy Quinn for reminding me of this matter and I will pick up a point which he made——
Mr. Roche: No, it is just that when right minded people sit in the same Chamber they frequently have the same idea. We all anticipate and hope that Deputy Rabbitte will, in due course, see the way, the truth, and the light. However, I will return to the issue we are debating and come back to Deputy  Rabbitte's predicament on another occasion. Indeed, I know that his thinking would not be that far removed from mine in this area.
The Special Committee on the Finance Bill gave us an ideal model to emulate, not just in the case of the Finance Bill and the budget but later on in the Estimates. A number of very positive things flowed from that committee. First, we handled an extremely complex Finance Bill — the largest in the history of the State — in a non-controversial manner. More to the point, people, particularly leading spokespersons from the Opposition parties, were given an opportunity to have an input in the formation of the Bill and to have a very significant say as to how the Bill ultimately came out of the system and was reported to the House in plenary session. Humble backbenchers from the Government party, who do not always have an input to these matters, were also given an opportunity to have their say. People on all sides of the House were pleased that the Minister was very amenable to our suggestions and willing to accept change and progressive suggestions.
The other interesting thing about the committee was that it was conducted in a non-confrontational manner. The reality of a parliamentary debate in this Chamber is that it is gladiatorial in its nature and if we want to make progress on complex issues of legislation — on Estimates or specific legislative proposals — we will have to move into the committee system. This brings me to the issue of how the committee system should be structured. I am chairman of a committee and I am very lucky that it is an extremely hard working one. However, it is underfunded; there has always been confrontation between the Civil Service and the committee. Senior civil servants do not welcome parliamentary scrutiny, parliamentarians, whether in Government or Opposition, generally welcome the committee system and are anxious that it should develop.
The Minister's model earlier this year for the Special Committee on the Finance Bill could valuably be picked up and  could show that there is no confrontation between administrators and the good operation of a parliamentary assembly. Quite the opposite is the case because good public administration is about producing legislation which can be democratically endorsed and which, therefore, can have the maximum support in the community. That is what happened in relation to the Finance Bill, very complex — potentially very critical proposals — were, in a non-confrontational manner, explained. The valuable input of the Opposition could be measured and integrated with the Minister's thinking.
The officials from the Department of Finance were very accommodating, they met Members from all sides who had queries or who wished to tease out issues on the margins of the committee itself. It was an exercise in consensus and in bringing people on the administrative and political sides together. I hope that, next year, the Minister and his colleagues will handle all parliamentary Estimates in the same manner. I hope that Estimates will be grouped with individual Ministers, particularly if there is an overlap between Estimates coming before specific committees. For example, Agriculture and Food could be in one group and the industrial and promotional side taken together. Members of this House have particular interests and it gives them an opportunity to develop those interests and to have a say in the areas of public administration which interest them. The model produced this year by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Ahern, should be followed by all Members of Cabinet. I look forward to that idea being adopted.
The Minister referred to a number of issues relating specifically to Revenue. One aspect of the Finance Bill which has come in for an extraordinary amount of special pleading is the DIRT tax. While we were lobbied on everything from the internal measurements of the Hiace van and benefits-in-kind to special tax concessions for co-operatives, it is intriguing that while the Special Committee were sitting, we did not hear much about the DIRT tax.
It was even more intriguing in recent  weeks to observe the extraordinary footwork of certain key individuals in the life assurance sector and the finance houses and to note the condemnations in relation to the changes made by the Minister in the deposit interest retention tax code which, incidentally, were agreed without controversy at the Special Committee on the Finance Bill. It is true that Deputy Noonan expressed a particular view and the Minister responded but if the contributions that have been made by our finance houses are an indication of the way they are thinking in relation to the way an economy works God help us all.
It is significant that they have been silent for seven to ten days — perhaps I will provoke them into making further comment — but it has been suggested during the past two weeks that somehow or other it amounts to a negative if people save. However, it should be said that the bankers and the building societies who are putting savings packages together at this moment are not going to dig big holes in the back garden and place the savings in them. It is fatuous in the extreme for the financial services sector to argue that because a change has been made — it was necessary to make this change, incidentally, given the movements of capital — that somehow or other money from the productive sector is going to be soaked up.
When has the small industrialist been able to go to a unit trust manager or a life assurance manager to ask for £50,000? As we are all aware, we have an extremely conservative banking sector but the managers of funds in the unit trust sector and, more particularly, the life assurance sector have never been known for their support in recent years for Irish enterprise and industry. When it comes to small industry, as we are all aware——
Mr. Roche: They may contest it but the fact of the matter is that they have invested the bulk of their funds during the past five years outside the State. Their  argument is that there are few investment opportunities available. I contend, however, that there are many investment opportunities within the State but that each of them carries an attendant risk. While I accept that Deputy Quinn is being helpful in prompting me, as can be seen, there has not been a dearth of investment managers are not willing to support Irish enterprise and make venture capital available. So far as small and medium-sized industries are concerned, bad and all as the banking sector is — I would be the first to condemn it for being conservative — it is still the main source of venture capital even though I admit there are many strings attached. It is difficult therefore to take the special pleading of that sector during the past few weeks.
In the two to three minutes that remain I would like to refer briefly to the referendum that is due to take place next Thursday and to the impact it may have on the economy. Let me regale the House with a story about an incident which took place while I was canvassing with youth members accompanied by some reporters in the Greystones area last night. We banged on some doors and three or four people in succession — these were very sensible people to my mind — said that they would be voting “Yes”. When a reporter asked one man why he would be voting “Yes” he replied that he did not want to find himself in a situation where he would be wringing his hands after the interest rates had gone up. He made the argument, which has been made by many of us, that we would send an appalling message to the rest of Europe and the world if we vote “No”. If I had more time I would address the economic aspects but it is interesting that this man said that the best reason to vote “Yes” is to keep interest rates, which are already too high and higher than they should be, at tolerable levels.
Mr. Carey: It was heartening to hear Deputy Roche defend the deposit interest retention tax given that his party  roared and shouted about it at the hustings. I am sure the Minister for Finance had something to say in relation to its usefulness to the economy when it was introduced. I am sure that it was not complimentary and would not be of much value to the electorate. However, I am glad that they now consider that this tax has some value. It is surprising that the rest of Europe do not share this view and believe that the Minister is moving in the wrong direction. The other member states are moving in the opposite direction. The Minister is now championing the cause and has adopted a self-righteous attitude when it comes to raising revenue, in particular by way of the deposit interest retention tax. I will not debate this matter any further as it was dealt with on both Committee and Report Stages of the Finance Bill.
I would like to refer to an issue which was not addressed by the Minister in his speech and it relates to some august bodies which do a great deal of work on the world stage. I have just returned from Rio De Janeiro where people working on the margins spoke about the attitude adopted by the World Bank and the IMF. I have yet to hear a Minister for Finance speak about the contribution Ireland has made to the policies pursued by the World Bank. What concerns those who work on the margins and who are anxious about the standard of living enjoyed by those in Third World countries and about childrens' lives is that the World Bank do not seem to supervise their investments properly. As a result some Third World countries have built up substantial debts and will never be able to resolve their problems.
They cited as an example a nuclear installation in the Philippines which was to be financed by the World Bank and claimed that the land was acquired fraudently. However, having invested millions of dollars, it was discovered that the installation was to be built close to a volcano with the result that the project could not proceed. As a consequence, the attitude of the World Bank towards the question of supervision and the Third  World has since been called into question.
I would like the Minister to indicate in his reply, having regard to the fact that the conference is proceeding in Rio De Janeiro, if his Department have ever been in contact with the World Bank to discuss their policies or this investment. Would the Minister like to see the standard of living enjoyed by those living in South America, Africa or the Far East improved and will he indicate the attitude of the Department towards overseas development aid?
The forum which I attended called on the World Bank to carry out environmental impact assessments before they invest money in any of these large projects. I do not know if such an assessment was carried out with regard to the project in the Philippines but at least some positive action was taken by 11 Indian tribes in South America. They objected to the proposal that a dam be constructed as it would have a serious impact on their way of life and they paraded in the city to ensure that they would be seen by the world.
Of course, ultimately the whole subject is about people. If our Government, as a member of the World Bank, have been insisting that this major body would do something about environmental impact assessment, then I cannot ascertain how that is reflected in or relates to schemes here. For example, the Office of Public Works are involved in investments here. In the case of investments made by the office of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, or on the part of any of the other agencies, one must ask how much attention is paid to the matter of environmental impact assessment? Have officials in the Department of Finance any interest whatsoever in such assessments, or is there any involvement at all on the part of that Department? Will the Minister say whether any consideration will be given, to or will there be any concern felt in regard to future investments that there should be proper regard to all forms of life? Then there is the matter of property. Many Members  spoke about the widespread crime throughout the motion.
I might refer to one other matter about which I have been in correspondence with the Minister, that is the deployment of staff in Customs and Excise. I have received much correspondence from people in my constituency about the manner in which it is proposed to move such staff about. Whatever solution is arrived at it should be satisfactory to people who have given long service to this State and, I might add, without there being any objection to the manner in which they conducted their business on behalf of the State. Deputies have received very few complaints about the manner in which those people have conducted their business to date. The examination of luggage that takes place in customs areas constitutes an intrusion into people's lives, whether they are citizens or foreigners. It has to be said that the staff of Customs and Excise have treated people generously and courteously. In my constituency, in County Clare, at Shannon Airport and in the industrial estate they have done an extraordinarily good job.
I should like to see the staff of Customs and Excise being treated generously in the Minister's negotiations with the Revenue Commissioners. I hope that full agreement can be reached on both sides, thereby avoiding any confrontation. It is my belief that staff members did the right thing in consulting people, informing them of exactly what was happening. The Minister, having been Minister for Labour, I am sure will be keen to ensure that this matter is dealt with satisfactorily, leading to an amicable agreement all round.
Mr. Rabbitte: I beg your pardon, a Chathaoirligh, it has been agreed in this House for some considerable time, and for the remainder of these Estimates, that, after the second Government speaker, I would be called.
Mr. Rabbitte: I intend to make my brief comments. This is completely wrong of you, Mr. Chairman. You called Deputy Carey out of turn. There is a pattern that has been agreed to in this House for the remainder of these Estimates. I sat here patiently. You, Sir, were remiss because it had been agreed by the Clerk that that is the way it should have been. I am not prepared to tolerate it.
Mr. Rabbitte: I am entitled to my slot in the House. It was my turn but Deputy Carey took it. It had nothing to do with Deputy Carey, it was your problem, Sir. I indicated that I wished to contribute and you said that you would call me next.
First, I want to be associated with the remarks made concerning the additional provision for the office of the President. We are all immensely proud of, and the country has benefited from the performance of the present occupant of the office. All sides of the House are very  much in agreement with the Minister in that respect.
A case has been made by all my Opposition colleagues here concerning Members of this House having the basic tools of the trade to do the job. Specific reference was made by Deputy Roche and others to the experience of the Select Committee on the Finance Bill, 1992 and to the difficulties the staff of the House had in servicing that committee. A case was made for additional staffing in that regard. I am somewhat surprised that none of my colleagues drew the attention of the Minister, or of the House, to the reference in the Minister's introductory remarks to the question of the future of pay bargaining, which is very much related to that issue.
The Minister drew our attention to the fact that the public service bill now stands at £3,722 million, representing an increase of 9 per cent. He then went on to say — what I interpret him to mean — that the whole system of pay determination within the public service is up for consideration. I should have thought that was worthy of comment in this debate because it is such a significant and far-reaching issue. The Minister said that the increase in public service pay costs which we have experienced — and I quote him “cannot continue indefinitely”. He went on to say:
I absolutely concur. I have no difficulty at all with optimum efficiency being introduced into the public service or into any area in which it does not already obtain. However, having said all of that, the Minister went on to speak about a fundamental review of pay determination. I should like the Minister to be somewhat more specific with the House. It is proper that, since public pay is such a huge element of the Estimate, this debate would deal with that matter rather than slide over it, as has been done to date.
In the proposals the Minister has put to the public service unions, is he proposing  to revise the entire pay comparison system on which pay determination in the public service is built? He did refer specifically to the question of third party adjudication, giving some cause for concern, when decisions of the adjudicator do not seem to be capable of being met within budgetary constraints and the parameters of public policy generally. That does seem to me to hint that it is leading to a fairly fundamental review which challenges the entire traditional pay comparison system in the public service. If that is the case and is about to happen, without at all wishing to intrude in the negotiations between the Minister for Finance and the public service unions, I should like him to address that question because it is a positively revolutionary one in the context of the way public service pay has been determined to date.
I might refer also to the question Deputy Noonan raised concerning the cost of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the beef processing industry. I should like the Minister to comment specifically on the figure of £40 million which, it seems to me, has been plucked out of the air and bandied around in newspapers — it was mentioned in the House today by Deputy Quinn — as the cost of the beef tribunal to taxpayers. I should like him to tell the House how much the tribunal has cost to date and whether there is any basis for that figure. I am concerned that a campaign now seems to be under way to denigrate what is going on in Dublin Castle and the other investigations which have been set up under the Companies Act, 1990. I am not saying that the most efficacious way to pursue alleged fraud and white collar crime is by means of a tribunal of inquiry, but I am saying that, where this House falls down in its duty and cannot elicit reasonable answers to reasonable questions, allegations of wrongdoing of the scale we have seen in the beef industry must be pursued and must be seen to be pursued.
I am worried about campaigns which try to denigrate such tribunals, suggesting that nothing will come out of them and that they cost a fortune and laying the  blame on those who caused them to be set up in the first place rather than on the alleged perpetrators of the wrongdoing. I sincerely hope the Government are not party to putting this impression abroad. I notice that one of the Government backbenchers has been jumping up and down like a jack in the box on a number of occasions on the Order of Business and during Question Time to raise this issue. Whether it is the most efficacious way of dealing with these matters, it is the route we have gone and it is important that justice is seen to be done.
Deputy Noonan raised a point which is quite distinct and separate and on which public fears may be allayed when we progress that far, which we have not yet, that very few people with white collars, ties and pin-striped suits have been imprisoned in Mountjoy in the history of the administration of justice in this country. That is something which is still down the road, but it is palpably unfair to those charged with the very complex, pains-taking and difficult task of handling the beef tribunal for it to be nibbled away at and public confidence in it eroded by this type of campaign which seems to have been started.
On the Vote for the Office of the Attorney General, one wishes to be careful about what one says in this regard. However, there is widespread public questioning about whether it was necessary for us to have been sucked into this vortex of constitutional political and, indeed, moral turpitude for many people. It seems extraordinary that at a time when we have such fundamental economic problems to address — for example, almost 300,000 unemployed — that the Cabinet are preoccupied with the outcome and results of that fateful decision. It seems reasonable to say that the Office of the Attorney General needs to be examined in the sense that it is something of a constitutional curate's egg and that there should be some method of scrutiny by this House of decisions made by the Attorney General.
I should like to refer to the remarks which have been made about the Revenue  Commissioners. As I pointed out during the debate on the Finance Act, the main trade union representing tax inspectors have continually made the point that they are concerned about the operation of the self-assessment system in so far as the random sample referred to by Deputy Noonan seems to be inadequate. There was much brouhaha during the debate on the Finance Act about the new measures which would give powers to the Revenue Commissioners. I did not get very hot under the collar about this issue, but I accept the point made to the effect that tax compliant business persons are theoretically being subjected to extraordinary powers on the part of the Revenue Commissioners while others, because of the manner in which the self-assessment system is being operated, are able to continue avoiding or, in some cases, evading their proper income tax liability. That random sample and the efficacy of the manner in which the system is implemented needs to be reconsidered. Perhaps the Minister will look at this area when staff are being redeployed.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick West): I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The Minister's speech was optimistic and offered great hope for the future. He said that we have come a long way since 1986 on the public finance front generally. He went on to say that central to the recovery in the public finances has been the continued strict control of public expenditure. He pointed out that in 1986 total Government spending stood at 52.2 per cent of GNP while this year it is closer to 42.5 per cent, a reduction of 10 percentage points.
Since 1987, the Government have made great strides in maintaining strict discipline on the public finances. This is the only way we can make real progress in the year ahead. Following the enactment of the Treaty on European Union further financial disciplines will be imposed on us. I believe we are well disposed towards the realisation of the principle enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty. The progress made by the  Government since 1987 in the area of our public finances will enable us to meet the principles contained in the Maastricht Treaty. The Programme for Economic and Social Progress which has the unanimous support of the social partners and, I believe, all Irish people, outlines what needs to be done if we are to prosper in the future. Both the Programme for National Recovery and the Programme for Economic and Social Progress have enabled the Government to achieve and maintain a stable exchange rate within the EMT and to achieve — the Minister can be very proud of this — one of the lowest inflation rates in the EC. They have also led to better control of the rates of pay in both the public and private sectors, thereby making us as a nation more competitive and more efficient in the use of our scarce financial resources. We have maintained Exchequer borrowing at between 2 per cent and 2.5 per cent of GNP for three years in a row and I have no doubt that this trend will continue throughout this year and in the years ahead.
These achievements would have been almost impossible six or seven years ago. As a result of leadership by the Government from 1987 onwards, and a hard-headed approach, we have laid firm foundations which are absolutely necessary to take advantage of the recovery which took place in other countries, particularly the UK and the USA. It is important that we maintain this progress and growth in 1992 and into 1993 and 1994. In 1991 GDP growth was about 2 per cent, which was not far short of the original 1991 budget forecast of 2.25 per cent. Export growth has been maintained fairly well in difficult trading conditions, with exports exceeding £15 billion for the first time. Progress has also been made in industrial exports, with an increase of 6.5 per cent. That is a tremendous achievement in a year when export markets expanded by only 2 per cent. We have maintained a trade surplus on a continuous basis since 1987 with a current surplus of more than £2.1 billion.
Our inflation rate at 3.2 per cent is well below the EC average. Exchequer  borrowing is only £40 million above the original budget target. In July last year the necessary corrective measures were taken to bring our public finances back on course. Growth continued in Ireland despite a background of recession for some of our main trading partners. Our GDP output increased by about 2 per cent while the volume of GDP fell by 2 per cent in the UK. That is quite an achievement on our part. Our joining the EMS has been beneficial to this country, and interest rate differentials with Germany have narrowed significantly.
In the one minute I have left I would like to say that in spite of all our achievements there remains one area of paramount importance, the creation of employment. There are sufficient reports on the issue, including the very fine Culliton report. We should forget about further commissions, forums and committees. Recommendations have been made; what we need now is action on them to provide jobs.
I would like to compliment the Minister on the decentralisation of Government Departments. I am very glad that the decentralisation of the Revenue Commissioners to Limerick city is well on target. There will be a transfer of staff to that area in early 1993 and the balance of staff will be transferred shortly thereafter, bringing the total number of staff transferred to Limerick to 550. I support the Estimate. It contains great food for thought and is a matter that should be worked on in the years ahead.
Mr. Dukes: Quite a number of Estimates are being dealt with in this group, and that is not unusual but it means that we can only briefly draw attention to some of the issues that are perhaps overlooked in the main consideration of the Estimates. One matter to which I would like to refer, which was mentioned by Deputy Quinn and has been the cause of some controversy, is the position in County Donegal where a number of self-employed people feel they are being unfairly treated by tax inspectors based in the Letterkenny office. A federation of self-employed people there, with about  2,000 members, feel they are being harassed by officers of the Revenue Commissioners — by two people in particular. It would be wrong to name these people in the House. I had a meeting with representatives of that group in Buncrana last Monday and I formed the impression that, whatever people outside may think of them, they feel a strong sense of grievance.
I am aware that the union to which the tax inspectors belong have made a counter claim to the effect that the tax inspectors are being unfairly picked out for attention and that they are being harassed. The allegation was made that the people making the complaints in Donegal show little disposition to paying their taxes anyway. That kind of confrontational treatment of the issue is not required and will not resolve whatever problem exists.
I am happy that the Taoiseach seems to take a similar view to that taken by me. I am given to understand that a couple of weeks ago the Taoiseach while on tour in Donegal promised representatives of the group to arrange a meeting between them, the Minister for Finance and the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners. Will that meeting take place in the near future? It seems that rather than allow a slagging match to take place in public between the taxpayers, who feel aggrieved, and the union representing the tax inspectors, who equally feel aggrieved, it would be better for the Minister and the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners to get to the bottom of the matter by examining it with the people concerned.
One point concerns me about this matter. In response to one turn in the case, the Revenue Commissioners' National Director of Audit Policy wrote a letter to some of these people on 5 May last during the course of which he said that a copy of the charter of rights which was issued some time ago by the Revenue Commissioners is therefore sent to any taxpayer whose return is selected for revenue audit before that audit takes place. That has not happened in County Donegal  as far as I can determine, because up to 90 per cent of those taxpayers who have a grievance and who have been selected for audit, have not been given a copy of the charter of rights in advance of the audit. I thought, at the time, and still do, that the Revenue Commissioners decision to produce a charter of rights was excellent and that it should help in the proper administration of our tax system. It would appear that something has gone a little out of kilter in that case because people have been selected who have not got the charter. That has not helped to increase understanding on the two sides.
The Revenue Commissioners could give some attention to the question of uncertainty as to how much re-examination of previous years will be carried out after the first audit on the self-assessment basis. As far as possible, the Revenue Commissioners should ensure that on the first occasion at least when an audit is done on the self-assessment basis it should be regarded as being carried out in a way that brings the taxpayer's affairs up to date, up to and including the end of the year of the audit, so that there is no uncertainty about any possible requirement in subsequent years to go back over the ground already covered in that audit. If assurances can be given that that will be the procedure from now on, it may help to take the heat out of some of these discussions.
There is another item which I hope the Chair will regard as being proper in the context of a debate on the Estimates for the Revenue Commissioners. It is a quirk which has come to light in the operation of our VAT system in the case of licensed premises, usually hotels, that are used by various organisation to run functions. It appears that this year's Finance Act requires the operators of hotels to account for value-added tax on the full amount of the cover charge made by organisations running functions in their premises, even though part of the cover charge relates to services supplied and food supplied on the premises, and the remainder of it is, typically, what it costs the organisers of the function to pay the  band who provide the music. In nearly all cases the operator of the premises is not paid the full amount of the cover charge but under the law he is required to account for VAT at 21 per cent on the full amount of the cover charge although his only return is a small amount for the provision of the space and the premises. The remainder of the cover charge relates to the supply of food which is not chargeable to VAT at 21 per cent. That will cause a deal of difficulty for these premises. The Minister ought to look at how that provision is working out in practice.
On the Houses of the Oireachtas Vote, I appeal to the Government to stop the nonsense of promising to examine the idea of having new committees, but to do something about it. There is a case in point which we have been discussing now for the better part of five years and nothing has yet happened. That relates to a foreign affairs committee. I strongly advise the Government against the ploy that the Taoiseach seemed to have in mind, which was changing the Joint Committee on Secondary Legislation of the European Communities into some kind of a wider foreign affairs committee. That is not what is needed. We need a foreign affairs committee that can debate foreign policy issues comprehensively and in depth. We are seeing the result of not having such a committee in the way the anti-Maastricht campaign is being run today. There is a fair suspicion that information is not being made available as widely as might be desired, but worse than that some people are campaigning against this Maastricht Treaty without any regard for truth or fact and they can hide behind the fact that there has not been enough debate in this House. I beg the Government to acknowledge that that can be avoided.
Why have we in the last day or two received another copy of the circular of 30 January 1990 from the Joint Services Committee, or at the instigation of the Joint Services Committee, claiming that some kind of nuisance has been caused in this House by secretarial assistants and “other unauthorised staff” going down to the Library? For goodness sake, who  is gone made? A Deputy in this House is surely entitled to ask a secretary to go down to the Library to collect publications. I have nothing but the highest of praise for the Library staff. Whatever Deputies are behind this bit of nonsense should cop on to themselves and stop harrassing the rest of us with this kind of petty problem?
Mr. Dennehy: Because of the large number of Estimates involved here the debate has been fairly wide-ranging. It could take the rest of the day to debate the number of issues that have been raised, but we have only ten minutes each.
I commend the Minister for continuing the policy which has been implemented since 1986. The continuing trend in growth rates and in controlling inflation is welcome. Some of the fringe groups campaigning on the Maastricht Treaty have suggested that Europe will take control of our budgets and that we could not meet the targets which will be set for the member states. The progress made since 1986 indicates that we will meet the targets being set and that we are well within the parameters. Because of our progress in the past five years Europe will not interfere.
As a member of the Public Accounts Committee I have on many occasions referred to the question of public inquiries. A number of people have referred to the beef tribunal. There have been many other inquiries, and it seems that it costs a minimum of £1 million to £1.25 million to establish the smallest inquiry. We must consider the end product of such inquiries and whether the public got good value for their million pounds. Not too many procedures have been changed throughout the years as a result of inquiries.
I have consistently argued for a strengthening of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I appreciate that it is almost impossible to regulate all areas where new technology provides opportunities for white collar crime. However, if we strengthen the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General we can have confidence in the  State's ability to conduct their internal inquiries.
Many Members referred to the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Industry. Deputy Rabbitte focused on the fact that Deputies cast aspersions on the exorbitant cost of this inquiry and use it to blacken the holding of public inquiries. At the end of the day this is not productive because if there is a need for an inquiry it will have to be held. At present the State has no control over the cost or timescale of an inquiry and this worries me.
While I accept without question that we cannot interfere with the Judiciary, we have to consider whether an alternative system of conducting public inquiries would give us better value for money. No matter who is in Government, when issues arise public representatives will call for public inquiries. It is ludicrous that one profession can submit a bill for an indeterminate sum of money. When one of the Ministers involved took steps to ascertain how long the inquiry might take he was rapped on the knuckles. We should examine whether the Comptroller and Auditor General should play a greater role in these inquiries.
The Minister, his predecessor and, indeed, the Government must be praised for the innovative steps they have taken to control the general finances. One such innovation was the establishment of a unit to manage the national debt. The figures available to the Committee of Public Accounts show that this unit have more than paid their way and saved the State a great deal of money. It was unprecedented to set up an expert unit within the Department and bring in outside experts. We should examine the value for money element of the project and union involvement. It is a very successful unit.
I was a Member of the Special Committee on the Finance Bill. The sending of that Bill to a special committee was an innovative step which allowed the Dáil to conduct other business while twice the usual amount of time was devoted to the  Committee Stage of the Bill. However, this special committee tested the Minister's endurance because he had to be present for the entire debate over three long days. There were so many amendments tabled to that complex Bill that the Minister could not leave the Chamber for even five minutes during the course of the three days. This will have to be looked at. While the Minister managed to do this once, it would be very difficult for him to stay the course too often. This system worked extremely well and it serves as a pointer for the future. Everybody seemed to be totally satisfied with it.
Mr. Dennehy: The Chair is being less generous to me than he was to Deputy Dukes. I join with the sentiments expressed by those Members who referred to the Vote for the President's Establishment. The funding made available has been used well and the public agree totally with an increased allocation for that Vote.
I welcome the steps taken to decentralise the Central Statistics Office to Mahon in Cork and I have been assured by the Director of the Central Statistics Office that he will occupy the new building in Cork in January 1994. This Government decision to reverse a decision of 1982 is more than welcome. It means much to the province and I commend the Minister for the part he played in this.
Mr. Durkan: The Minister asserts that we have come a long way since 1986. Indeed Governments have come and gone, Ministers have come and gone and, indeed, Taoiseach have come and gone. The Minister said we have come a long way since 1986 but that is not what he meant.
The Minister is trying to give the impression that by some strange miracle things suddenly changed for the better in  1987, that the day dawned bright and new and people realised things had changed for the better. That is only half the story. The Minister should have acknowledged that since 1977 Fianna Fáil in Government took many a wrong turn, ended up in many a cul-de-sac but never apologised to anybody. The Minister did not acknowledge that mistakes were made since 1977, but the public had to pay the price. In that regard I am disappointed that nobody on the Government benches gave due recognition to the Government who ran this country from 1982 to 1987 and took on the abominable task of turning around the ship of State which was heading for the rocks. This was done in the face of the most unremitting opposition from the then Opposition who were not prepared to accept responsibility for what had happened or to assist in redeeming the situation.
We should have learned two lessons: first, mistakes have to be corrected and, second, those who make the mistakes should acknowledge them and try not to let them happen again. This has never happened and therein lies the danger for the future. I wish to make a passing reference to the role of the European Central Bank in view of next week's referendum.
A great deal of misinformation is being bandied about our ability to control our future in the event of the Maastricht Treaty being ratified, whether we will have to relinquish control of our finances. I see nothing wrong with this. It is a very positive move if all Governments in the EC are kept on the same track and I hope this will eliminate entirely the possibility of a political party of any shape or hue appeasing the people by giving them money when at the end of the day it is they who will have to pay the piper. It is important to address that subject now. Those who are pro-Maastricht are accused of scaremongering and scare tactics. There is a suggestion that if the Maastricht referendum is passed the European Central Bank will be controlled by two people. That is meant to destabilise people and to scare them into thinking otherwise. The idea of the European  Central Bank is a good one from our point of view and it will be of tremendous benefit to us in the future in achieving the same level of development and financial constraint as our colleagues so that we will be in a position to avail of whatever opportunities are presented.
I should like to say one thing about finances. I opened on a critical note and I will continue on it for a moment in relation to 1977-81, 1982-87 and the period of miraculous recovery in 1987. Some time ago I watched a television programme called “Market Place” on which it was quoted that after the then Minister for Finance, Mr. MacSharry, took over in 1987, both interest rates and inflation decreased. Inflation did not fall in 1987. Inflation was almost at 20 per cent in 1981; it fell between 1981 and 1986 when the main recovery took place, not in 1987. It is time people on the other side of the House recognised that fact and gave us some semblance of credit for the work which was done — despite their best efforts to undo it — over a period of four and a half years.
Another thing for which we get very little recognition is the balance of trade surplus which on our leaving office, was almost £1 billion, our having come into office at a time when there was a £1.2 billion deficit. I have no difficulty in giving credit to those who deserve it. It is fair to say that we on this side of the House have given more constructive support to any Government than have any party in the history of the State. I have no objection to the accolades being thrown in whatever direction one may wish but it is time people on the other side of the House gave some semblance of recognition to the people who made the sacrifices to get the train back on the tracks when it was in danger of going over the precipice.
In his contribution the Minister referred to pay bargaining, the revised Programme for Economic and Social Progress, the revised pay awards and so on. There smacks in that contribution shades of the past, that of postponing until tomorrow what cannot be done  today it is unpalatable for one reason or another. The moral of that story is that some future Government, in 1993 or 1994, will have to face up to the responsibility of recovering the ground which was postponed in the last 12 months, commitments which were entered into and which were reneged on and postponed to force somebody else to take responsibility at a later stage. The national finances can take on a very positive appearance in the interim but at the end of the day those finances will be affected by the pay awards when they come into force because deferral does not mean non-payment nor would I advocate non-payment but that is the way it has been done and it is something that people will have to recognise at a later stage. It is something that will emerge in the next 12 or 14 months.
I do not want to delay the House but like other speakers I could spend a considerable length of time debating the issue of the national finances. The state of the national finances is the single biggest factor preventing this country from participating fully to attain the equality of investment we should obtain in the European arena. If we had had our national finances on a tight rein over the past 20 years or so we would not have a 21 per cent unemployment rate now. We would be on a par with those in Germany, France and Holland and our generation and future generations would be able to look forward on the basis of equal treatment and equal opportunities.
Mr. Garland: I should like to refer briefly to Deputy Durkan's contribution. I agree with him totally in his last few sentences in which he has admitted that in the past 20 years this country's finances have been misgoverned to an inordinate degree. His party, the party opposite and the Labour Party must accept responsibility for that. The Green Party, Comhaontas Glas have no part in that responsibility. Earlier in his contribution the Deputy made the point that if and when the Maastricht Treaty is accepted by this country — that is a very big if at  present — much power over our interest rates and our credit rating and so forth will pass to the European Central Bank.
Mr. Garland: The Deputy, amazingly, put that forward as a good idea. This is defeatism. It shows the lack of confidence which is apparent by the Government parties and the Fine Gael and Labour parties. Their attitude on Masstricht is a vote of no confidence in our ability to govern ourselves. I agree, unfortunately, that we have mismanaged our finances but we should not need the European bankers to tell us how to manage our finances, we should be able to do that for ourselves. We could have, as some countries have, a clause in our Constitution which prohibits deficit budgeting. This is something to which we should give serious consideration. When our Constitution was put in place in 1937 we had an extremely good record of not exceeding our budget requirements. That record continued for many years afterwards where there was always very frugal husbandry in our Government resources. About 20 years ago there was a rush to populist government, to spend money and build up huge budget deficits. That should never have happened and, as Deputy Durkan said, it is one of the reasons we have so much unemployment today and why people feel they are heavily taxed on the one hand and are getting very little return for that on the other hand. This point has been made by countless speakers in the past few years. I should like to put down a marker that I totally agreed with that point.
I should like to refer to the Minister's contribution and his general overview of budgetary finances. I agree with him that Government expenditure was out of hand in the eighties. Clearly that could not continue. Nevertheless, the huge reductions in Government expenditure during the past few years have hit the poor, the sick, the elderly and the unemployed. As the Minister said, the ratio of Government expenditure to GNP will be approximately 43 per cent this year which  is a ten point reduction on the 1986 figure. Reductions have been made in the wrong places. For example, we would like to see people take more responsibility for their own health but that would have to be phased in gradually. More emphasis on primary health care would make big inroads into the health budget. In the meantime, the health services should have been maintained at or near previous levels.
Where cuts should have been made in Government expenditure, they were not. For example, huge amounts of money have been wasted by the IDA by pursuing, on Government instructions, the policy that attracting foreign industry would solve our unemployment problem. This has cost the taxpayers in excess of £500,000 per job. In the ten years from 1981 to 1990 the expenditure was £1.6 billion. This gross mismanagement of public funds has at last been recognised. In October last year, when he was Minister for Finance, the Taoiseach stated: “Creating a native industry base takes longer, is slower and perhaps is not as glamorous as announcing an American firm with 1,000 jobs, but it is the only way in the end.” This view has been mirrored in the Culliton report which has called for a major restructuring in the way we grant-aid industry. There is nothing new about this. We in the Green Party have been saying this for years but nobody listened.
It is not appropriate at this stage to talk about the unemployment problem in any great depth, but the public service could provide leadership in the area of job sharing and career breaks. The contribution to reducing unemployment that these two ideas could make is obviously very substantial. I call on the Minister for Finance to advise all Government Departments that career breaks should be available to all employees except in the most exceptional circumstances and that all State and semi-State jobs, where at all possible, should be advertised on a job-share basis. There are many families with both spouses working full-time where one of them would prefer to work part-time.
 On the question of career breaks in the Civil Service, I am at present compiling a record of the various Government Departments in this area because I have put down a series of questions. A very poor picture emerges of career breaks not being encouraged. I will return to this at another time.
Let me turn to the brief reference the Minister made to decentralisation. The kind of decentralisation that he is talking about would be better described as dispersal in that it disperses staff to rural areas although they will still be dealing with problems on a national basis. This is not real decentralisation. Real decentralisation is where power is decentralised to regions or communities, not more moving of staff who are still working under national guidelines. It can be argued that sections of Government Departments who have to deal directly with the public, if they must be all in one place, should be in Dublin where at least there is reasonable access by public transport from most parts of the country. An example of a problem which arises is that a rather vibrant part of the Department of Social Welfare is now operating in Sligo where inquiries from all over the country have to be dealt with. This is not satisfactory. A real effort should be made to decentralise functions and decision-making so that people in rural areas can have access to the decision-making authorities.
Finally, I would refer to the latest draconian measures incorporated in this year's Finance Act giving sweeping powers to the Revenue Commissioners to examine books, enter premises and take away documents. I hold no brief for people who are evading their tax liabilities but the powers taken by the Revenue Commissioners are clearly excessive, even without the new powers contained in this year's Finance Act. Taxpayers from all over the country are complaining about harassment from income tax officials. A balance must be struck in this area. Clearly, the Revenue Commissioners have gone too far.
Mr. J. Mitchell: I am glad of this  opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Estimates for the Department of Finance. I am sorry that the time allowed in this debate is so brief that I cannot cover adequately all the points I would like.
I want to address myself to two principal points. One is the myriad of poverty traps and other traps that the Department of Finance are spending millions of pounds to create because of the lack of co-ordination between different policies and Departments. I want to address also the question of expenditure in urban areas, expecially in the inner city. I will be saying a few hard words about the performance of the present Minister in that respect because he shares a constituency with me which is grossly neglected. I make no apology for making that criticism.
The State here are creating poverty and social problems because of the way they spend money, and by their failure to properly co-ordinate income tax with social welfare and meanstesting. I come across this every day of the week in my constituency. This has been happening for many years. I remember writing an article for the Irish Independent published on the Monday of budget week back in 1988 in which I showed by way of a table that a couple with two or more children will unavoidably be worse off working for the average industrial wage than they would be on social welfare. That is not to say that they would be well off on social welfare because that, manifestly, would not be the case. Couples with children are trapped in poverty on social welfare because of the way we do things. People on social welfare who have children get a weekly allowance for each child but if they work they get no allowance.
In Great Britain that anomaly is avoided because children's allowances are paid weekly to everybody. However, we pay children's allowances monthly to everybody. In addition to that, we pay child benefit weekly to those on social welfare. I am not saying that that allowance should not be paid but the fact that  those in employment get no such allowance contributes to the poverty trap whereby people on social welfare cannot take up a job at the average industrial wage; many of the jobs pay less than the average industrial wage, so a typical couple with four children would be as much as £33 a week worse off when things like differential rent, mortgage assistance, transport costs, tax, PRSI, medical card, etc. are taken into account. There is the other anomaly that under the 1981 Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act one cannot get supplementary welfare benefit if one is working, no matter how badly off one is. The person who is not working but who may have more disposable income than the person next door who is working may get assistance with fuel bills, rent, school uniforms, school books or emergencies of different kinds. According to the law, if one is working one cannot be helped under any circumstances.
Let me quote an example which I heard from someone I know. A man who has a job and a mortgage is working all the overtime he can to pay that mortgage. His wife, at 33 years of age, had a brain haemorrhage and will be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. This man has arranged with his employers that he will work from 5 a.m. until 1 p.m. every day. He has arranged with a neighbour to come in as a home help for two hours each morning to get the children out to school. He rushes home and has to take care of his wife and drive her to therapy sessions; he does all the washing and cooking. That chap is out the door; he cannot keep up his mortgage payments because he has had to give up all his overtime. Yet the Minister for Social Welfare confirmed to me in the House in the past two weeks that no exception could be made for him. I suppose that is an exceptional case, but it is the kind of trap that our policymakers have allowed to develop. It is not that the issue has not been drawn to their attention. In 1988 in an article in the Irish Independent I pointed out the difficulty that existed. I got a favourable reaction at the time and believed that the budget  of that year would improve matters but the budget made things worse and the gap widened by about 100 per cent. In January 1989, the following year, I wrote an article for The Irish Times before the budget and expanded on the table, as we were then able to include the average cost of a medical card, which at the time was £9 a week. In that way I was able to give an all-inclusive comparison. The 1989 budget made things worse and the two subsequent budgets continued that trend. It could go to the stage where a couple with four children will be £33 a week worse off on the average industrial wage than they would be on social welfare assistance, badly off as that would be and I emphasise that on social welfare they would be badly off. I cannot understand the way in which Ministers, who represent constituencies, allow such a trap to develop. About eight months ago Deputy John Bruton highlighted this matter in a speech that I helped to write. One newspaper correspondent attacked Deputy Bruton and asked what differential rent and medical cards had to do with unemployment. In a sense, that attack highlights the ignorance of commentators and, I regret to say, of policymakers. They do not understand that such factors do affect the price at which people can take up employment. If as a result of taking up employment one's differential rent is hiked up and one loses one's medical card that does affect the price at which one takes up the job. We all know that the gross figure at the top of one's pay slip is not the amount available for spending. The amount that can be spent is much less. The gross pay is also much less than the total cost of one's job to one's employer because of additional costs such as public liability assurance, employer PRSI, insurance generally, sick pay, protective footwear and subsidised meals, etc. On average, the mark-up in Ireland is 35 per cent. The addition of 35 per cent to the average industrial wage pushes the cost to the employer to well over £300, perhaps as high as £340, while the employee ends up with perhaps £140 in the hand. That is what our policies are doing and that is  why we have such high unemployment. Why has the Minister for Finance not started to change things? Why did he make matters worse in this year's budget? I confront this kind of anomaly every day of the week.
When in Government in 1986 I wrote a memorandum which was perceived by Labour Party colleagues as an attack on social welfare. It certainly was nothing of the kind. I am all for very good social welfare but I am not for silly social welfare whereby people can be better off while out sick from work than when they are at work because of the way in which taxes are imposed on some elements and not on others. I am not in favour of a social welfare system that traps people in poverty; a system that makes sure that the one thing they must not do is take up a job because if they do they will be worse off, even though they are already badly off. I am not in favour of a system of social welfare under which the one thing an unmarried mother must not do is get married because if she does she will be worse off. That is the system that has been perpetuated.
It is evident that the injection of about £20 million to the inner city would solve many of its problems. People are living in very adverse environmental circumstances. For example, accommodation in blocks of flats may be excellent but the public area outside a complex is often a disgrace. Dublin Corporation have submitted proposals to the Department for refurbishment schemes for areas where there are severe problems and for other environmental improvement schemes for areas in which the residences are well kept but where there is significant need for improvements to window concrete and the areas surrounding the complex. There is no money available for any such improvement. I make no apology for seeking priority spending for those areas. If we do not make such provision we will allow the creation of many additional problems. I know that the Minister may feel that as Minister for Finance he has to show that he is prepared to make cuts that affect his own constituency, too. I  can understand that but if he were not a Deputy representing the inner city I have no doubt that priority would be given to expenditure on several inner city estates. Such expenditure is needed urgently and if there is any concern at all for the urban environment, such expenditure will be made available.
I hope the Minister is following the discussions at Rio de Janeiro and the proposals that have been put forward concerning carbon taxes. A tax on carbon fuels is a concept that has to be embraced. It may well be the key to both improving our environment by reducing energy consumption and to obtaining the resources to get the State off the back of workers and of work and to begin to solve our unemployment problem.
Acting Chairman: As no other Deputies are offering, I may call on the Minister to reply, but I must remind the House that under an order of Dáil Éireann five minutes are allowed in which Members may request the Minister to clarify specific issues raised during the course of his reply.
Mr. J. Mitchell: Does the Minister accept the principle that means testing for all State entitlements, whether at local or central level, should be made on the basis of net pay rather than gross pay? Does he accept that the position whereby people are disqualified from entitlement to medical cards, higher education grants and so on because of their gross pay is a distortion and an anomaly that has given rise to a great many problems and that Ireland should take a simple policy change, as has been made in the United Kingdom, that people's means is defined as what they get into their hands and not their gross pay?
Would the Minister not agree that it should be accepted in principle that a person who takes up a job should not be worse off than they were before taking up employment? In other words, we should ensure that they will not lose their medical card, entitlement to higher education grants, and so on and that there would be  an adjustment through the family income supplement or some other scheme where necessary.
The British national debt as a percentage of GNP is a good deal less than ours but their national debt has been reduced by way of the sale of semi-State bodies. Therefore, a comparison of the Irish national debt with that of Britain is not a comparison of like with like. Would the Minister accept that a sum might be written off our national debt by way of putting a certain value on our semi-State companies? In other words, would it not be advisable to put a value on the group of semi-State companies and reduce the national debt by that amount? That would certainly give a more realistic and more soundly based comparison with the position in Britain, for instance. It may be necessary to do that as we approach European Monetary Union and it may be a more palatable approach than the sale of semi-State bodies. In relation to semi-State bodies, does the Minister see a role for them being the foundation on which to build Irish multi-nationals in the new European Union which will have a commitment to Ireland and to employing our people?
Minister for Finance (Mr. B. Ahern): Many questions were asked and I do not know if I will be able to cover them all in ten minutes. I will at least try to answer those asked by the spokespersons. This particularly applies to Deputy Noonan (Limerick East). I did not organise Fridays to discuss Finance business but I appreciate that the Deputy stayed.
I will not argue that there is not a problem in regard to ventilation in the Chamber. I do not know what costs would be involved in rectifying the matter but I will take advice in that regard. I will bring the remarks of Deputy Noonan (Limerick East) regarding the votes for the Office of the Attorney General and  the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to the attention of the Taoiseach. It would be inappropriate for me to comment further on his remarks.
I will shortly be examining the comprehensive report of the Gleeson Committee, not just as it relates to us but to the higher grades of the public and Civil Service. I share the Deputy's concern in relation to superannuation. In my short time in the Department of Finance I have pointed out the problem but the reality is that the turnover in the House shows that the period covered for superannuation purposes is not realistic. To my knowledge only a half dozen of the 166 Members have served for the specified period.
Mr. B. Ahern: Yes. It was very kind of my backbenchers to give me credit for setting up the Special Committee on the Finance Bill but the idea emanated from the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. It has worked well and, indeed, I have strong views on Oireachtas reform which should be looked at at Committee on Procedure and Privileges level. If it is done in a piecemeal fashion we will not resolve the issue.
I can claim some credit for the secretarial position at present. In 1982 I prepared a report for the then Taoiseach on how we should deal with the position in regard to the secretarial assistants. At that time one secretary worked for five Deputies but it was recommended that there should be one secretary per Deputy. However, because there were a number of elections in the early eighties the system advocated in the paper has never been put into effect. We were trying to get a career structure for those in the House and for the remainder of the staff we were trying to operate a  system whereby the Deputy would get a secretarial allowance.
As a former member of the Joint Services Committe I was interested in the points raised by Deputy Quinn. However, I am sure they all contain discretionary expenditure which means they are done in a piecemeal fashion. Deputy Noonan (Limerick East) asked about the Supplementary Vote. I gave a commitment previously regarding the Joint Committee on Employment and I have also agreed to look at the committee on inter-parliamentary affairs, of which the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is a member.
Excluding the number I mentioned earlier, 550 staff will be decentralised to Limerick. The five phases of decentralisation will commence in the second quarter of next year and will continue in 1993 and 1994. In regard to self-assessment, 3,500 audits have been carried out to date and the percentage covered in each calendar year since the programme got under way is as follows: in 1990 it was 9.5 per cent; in 1991 it was 0.9 per cent and the level of audit envisaged as the programme builds up will compare favourably with any other self-assessment jurisdictions. I agree with Deputy Noonan (Limerick East) in relation to this issue. It is important that it does not just apply to non-compliant people, it will be applied across the board and anyone can be examined. That is why we need powers and I will go into that question at another time. The only chance of getting the system right is to have powers to deal with self-assessment and not to chase innocent people. It is the strong wish of Revenue that this is the direction in which we should go. I spent much time recently talking to officials in the Revenue Commissioners asking them how they will use their powers. They have a very clear vision of what they want to do.
Mr. B. Ahern: Yes, they have already started discussions at that level. I want to answer a question raised by Deputy  Dukes. There has been a further follow up on the position in Donegal about which he particularly inquired. I want to assure Deputy Carey that the question of staff in Customs and Excise is being dealt with as carefully as possible and detailed discussions are taking place. Employment relocation issues are being discussed and a sum of £750,000 has been made available for the necessary changes.
The World Bank meeting will take place in September and many items, including the environment, will be discussed. The incidence of high fees over the delegated limits is comparatively low, there were two cases in 1991 and two in 1990. The current limit is just over £1,000 with a maximum limit of £3,000. In relation to Vote 44, it will be late in the year before the figures are available but, normally, the distribution of money begins in November when the various Departments put forward their position.
Deputy Rabbitte asked about pay bargaining. As I said the discussions have started but I should say that an increase of 9 per cent in the cost of pay is inconsistent with the budgetary targets contained in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress and the Programme for Government. We must reduce our borrowings so that the debt-GNP ratio is somewhere near 100 per cent by 1993. These matters must be dealt with. The pay and relativity linkages have to be realistic. We cannot continue the policy of linking pay increases where nothing is given in return. This will be dealt with by way of negotiations and they have started.
It seems, however, that Deputy Rabbitte heard about this for the first time this morning even though his former colleagues in the public service unions have been discussing these matters for some months. It is obvious he has lost touch with the trade union movement in recent times and does not know what is going on.
In relation to the beef tribunal, there is no final figure available. Therefore, I am not going to argue with Deputy Quinn  who mentioned a figure of £40 million or with Deputy Rabbitte's comments.
Mr. B. Ahern: In relation to the cost of the special pay increases, as I said in my Budget Statement, this matter had to be dealt with. While we have encountered some budgetary difficulties this year that does not mean that we will encounter difficulties over a number of years in relation to the public service pay bill. When we come to discuss the next pay round what happens in 1992-93 will be taken into account. To be fair to the public service unions, they have always adopted a responsible attitude in this regard.
In relation to the issue of means-testing on gross pay, I acknowledge that Deputy Mitchell has been pursuing this for a number of years now and tried to bring about changes when in Government but without success. He will also acknowledge that I supplied him with some very valuable information when he was his party's spokesperson on Labour. Rather than try to fudge issues I provided all the data that was available. I am not now going to adopt a different attitude. Most of the articles that he wrote in 1988 and 1989 for The Irish Times and the Irish Independent were based on the information I had supplied to him in reply to questions in the House. I am glad, however, that he used his initiative. I wonder if he received the usual fee for writing those extensive articles but I am sure he did not.
In negotiating the Programme for Government I followed a specific line of thinking through in regard to the family income supplement. I am not saying that the problem has been resolved but the family income supplement scheme could be used to resolve it. In addition, for the first time this year disability and unemployment benefits are to be taxed. Major policy issues are involved and to his credit the Minister for Social Welfare is examining  a number of the outstanding issues. However, there are no easy solutions but it would be of help if we could get a number of Government Departments working together.
Mr. B. Ahern: He took offence at what Deputy Durkan said in relation to the benefits to be gained under the Maastricht Treaty and if we had a European Central Bank. I was involved in the negotiations, and I will give Deputy Garland some of my briefing notes after there has been a “Yes” vote so that he will learn how the system will work. His party, and others, have been providing disinformation. Indeed, his speech this morning was so off the wall, to put it politely, that it would be hard to expect him to disseminate proper information to people outside the House.
It should be made clear that two people will not run the European Central Bank or control the Community's currency in the future. That is not how the system will work. Almost all Members believe that European Monetary Union will be the prize for all the work we have done in recent years. All the hard work has been done — we have a low inflation rate and low costs and the economy is being managed better. The move to European Monetary Union and a single currency will be of help and lead to stability and lower interest rates. That should be of help not only to business people but to mortgage holders also. It should also lead to extra investment and job creation.
At each press conference and interview I gave I refrained from saying anything negative about the markets. It is beyond belief that someone would suggest that we should link our currency with sterling and that we should no longer follow the policies which have been pursued by successive Governments to link our currency  to the Deutsche Mark. It has worked to the benefit of the country and helped us control inflation and public expenditure. The Maastricht Treaty and the Treaty on European Union propose a single currency which I have no doubt in the years ahead will lead to stability and flexibility and that, in turn, will lead to lower costs. The European Commission has forecast that there will be growth of 5 per cent in GDP in the Community in the years ahead.
Deputy Noonan's final question related to the ECOFIN meeting. I have no doubt that each country in under pressure following the decision of the Danish people but I do not think that the outcome of the recent meeting was as negative as some reports suggest. It would not be too strong to say that Norman Lamont, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, would almost take back the money we have been given but the other countries were extremely positive. In relation to the proposed ceiling of 1.37 per cent, some reservations were expressed at the meeting. However, I cannot be held responsible for what happened on the day because there were 27 camera crews covering the meeting were under great pressure to give interviews. Indeed, at one stage there were nine Ministers giving interviews and I had to join them——
Mr. B. Ahern: The argument Finance Ministers were putting forward, to move from a ceiling of 1.2 per cent of GNP on “own Community” resources to a revised ceiling of 1.37 per cent would represent a £21 billion increase on the ceiling on budgetary commitments between 1992 and 1997. Finance Ministers, who must raise this money, contend there are other ways of looking at this. What else would they say? Some of them say that the five-year period should be lengthened. Some say that a ceiling of 1.37 per cent is not at all necessary, or that in the latter years the move may be faster. Others argue that if there is more growth in Europe than is at present predicted, 1.37 per cent would not be needed at all because a larger cake would afford more room for manoeuvre. Those were the concerns of the Finance Minister, other than the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the United Kingdom, who appeared to have an ideological or philosophical objection to it all. Everybody else was very positive. Indeed the German Minister, Herr Kohler, was extremely positive and, each time he spoke, mentioned Ireland and the Cohesion Fund, to which he was totally committed.
As I have said a number of times during the week, if the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom have both signed the Maastricht agreement — which quite clearly states they are in favour of Cohesion Funds to cover environmental issues and a trans-European network — and then contend they are totally opposed to it, or that they do not know anything about it, that they will not have anything to do with it, I cannot answer for that. That is what is written into the Treaty on European Union signed by both of them.
Mr. B. Ahern: It is my strong belief that we will get a significant increase in allocation from the Structural Funds. I cannot tell the House now precisely what will be the final figure, but President Delors spent 11 hard hours the other day batting for £6 billion for this country. I  am glad that none of the major political parties have said this, but if anybody in the country thought I should stand up at a meeting and say: “Please, President Delors, stop looking for £6 billion for Ireland, it is against our interests”, that would be absolute nonsense. We will get a substantial increase from the Structural Funds which will be used for the benefit of our infrastructures, for the development of tourism, industry and training here. What we must do is ensure that I can continue to participate in those negotiations beyond next week in an endeavour to achieve whatever will be the final figure for this country. I know I would have the agreement of everybody in the House in my endeavours to bring that about in the weeks and months ahead.
Mr. B. Ahern: This is a broad issue which warrants discussion, in that there are huge difficulties being encountered in the House at present with regard to both accommodation and staffing under the present system. Perhaps we might revert to the manner in which the system, drawn up in 1982, was meant to operate, and have meaningful discussions on how the system was intended to be operated at the beginning; we might then be in a position to deal with the issue. As Government Chief Whip I was involved in devising the system over many years and am very familiar with it. The system, as it was revised, means that every elected Member now has a secretary. But, as parties and Members move in and out of office — as happened this year when there were changes in the case of many officeholders — that creates major difficulties within the present system. It means that secretaries then move back to Government Departments, and it is very difficult to devise a career structure on that basis. The system devised and approved in 1982 was intended to ensure that secretaries would be personal to Deputies, so that Deputies could be  remunerated by way of allowance or some other method for that purpose. That would have meant that those remaining within the core staff of Leinster House could be dealt with in another manner, but that is made difficult by the present system, under which people of a certain grade in Leinster House transfer to Government Departments when somebody moves in or out of office.
I might give an example without mentioning names of individuals. There may be circumstances in which people have felt over the past five or six years that they were at No. 2 in the pecking order. Then, because a number of my colleagues may have reverted to being backbenchers, those people would go down the line. It is impossible to operate a career structure on that basis. I might add that, from my experience of industrial relations, one will never get that system right——
Mr. B. Ahern: The difficulty there is that the criterion under which they enter Leinster House is not the same as that under which a civil servant enters the public service, which is based on open competition. Perhaps the Whips would be the most appropriate people to carry out an overall examination of the system. Not alone is the system not being operated in the way that was intended when it was devised in 1982 but even individual parties are now operating the system on a different basis. It is not a satisfactory system, and if I can help in any way, certainly I will do so.
Mr. Quinn: In regard to the matter which has been raised, surely the Minister would agree that what is needed is that the staff in the House be put on a statutory basis? The Minister, from the preparation of his paper in 1982, will be aware that the absence of a proper statutory basis for the scheme prevents all of the improvements to which Deputy Noonan referred. Since the Minister's Department have been threatening to draft such a scheme on a number of occasions, could the Minister say whether such a scheme is in draft form or whether he can bring one forward?
Mr. B. Ahern: I would examine any system to deal with this. My view is that the system, as at present operated, will never be correct unless and until it is fundamentally changed. I do not think merely putting secretaries on a statutory basis is the proper way to deal with it either.
Mr. B. Ahern: The system for which I got approval just before the November  1982 General Election, provided that every Member of the House would be allocated a secretary; that the 35 or 36 personnel then here would have to form part of that pool. In addition, the intention was to endeavour to make a secretary personal to each Member. That meant that, when the Member went, so did his or her secretary. We have move along way from that. Perhaps the Whips or the Committee on Procedure and Privileges could examine the matter again. I would be quite happy to endeavour to restructure the system in a way that would take us back to what had been intended in the first place.
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