New Millennium: Statements.

Thursday, 16 December 1999

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 512 No. 8

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Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney): Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  Since antiquity, human beings have set milestones by which to chart through time, their progress and that of their civilisation. We mark the seasons – the cycle of death and rebirth. We mark our birthdays and attach particular significance to certain big ones as being times for celebration and reflection. In this spirit it is appropriate that we mark the passing of one millennium and the start of another by trying to rise above our mundane day to day concerns and reflect on the lessons we can draw from progress to date and how we might do better in the future.

In political terms the past millennium could be characterised by the rise of liberty and the triumph of democratic politics, certainly as an ideal everywhere but, alas, only as a reality in part of the world. However, we should also reflect that the triumph was not inevitable and required constant struggle. In this century alone it was seriously threatened, on one hand, by the forces of barbarism and, on the other, by a monstrous conception of progress through social engineering orchestrated by a self appointed elite.

The memory of the fascist threat and actual threat from communism provided an impetus to democratic politics in the post-war era and made people more amenable to, and tolerant of the compromises, sometimes messy, that are the essence of making progress in a free society. As that memory fades we must guard against the dangers of impatience and cynicism towards the democratic process particularly on the part of young people. In order to do so we must restate and examine our core values, record what progress has been achieved in relation to them and consider how we can best continue to promote them in the future both in Ireland and throughout the world.

In my view the hallmarks against which the success of a truly liberal democratic society can be judged are the degree to which it protects and fosters the freedom and dignity of the individual, promotes tolerance of differences, ensures the security of its citizens and provides genuine economic and social opportunity. Ireland has made considerable progress against these criteria in the past century and in very important respects the pace of progress has quickened in recent decades.

In this State, having achieved self-determination, and despite a disastrous civil war we rapidly established the primacy of democratic politics and adopted a Constitution which protected the basic rights of the individual. While not perfect, [1898] it provided within itself the mechanism to achieve further rights through the Oireachtas, the courts and referenda. The achievement of these extra rights is in no small measure the result of the struggle of brave people who were prepared to push for social progress and who are the unsung heroes of the march of liberty.

At the beginning of the century the group in society most deprived of legal rights were women. In most of the world they were deprived of the right to vote and were, by and large, regarded as chattels of their husbands, if married, or of some other male relative, if not. While the franchise for women was introduced for the election of 1918 – Countess Markievicz was the first woman elected to the House of Commons – progress in other areas was slower.

Although the Constitution provides that all citizens shall be equal before the law, it was only in the 1970s that certain rights were obtained. For example, in 1973 the marriage bar in the public service was abolished but even then it allowed only widows or married women not supported by their husbands to apply for reinstatement. Equal pay became an obligation under the Employment Act, 1977. Maternity leave was introduced in 1981 and extended to part-time workers in 1991.

In the area of reproductive rights it was only under pressure from the McGee case that limited access to contraception was made available in 1979. In terms of representation in Dáil Éireann, 20 women were elected to the 28th Dáil as against three in 1969. While this is progress it is far from proportional with women's share of the population and suggests that, on the equality agenda, there is a long way to go in the next millennium.

Mrs. Barnes: Information on Monica Barnes  Zoom on Monica Barnes  Hear, hear.

Ms Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  Since the great famine of the 1840s economic failure in Ireland has always manifested itself in emigration with the consequent social disruption and personal tragedy. When, having ebbed in the 1960s and reversed in the 1970s, the outflow recommenced in the 1980s, it was similar to a hammer blow to the hopes and aspirations of our generation. It was little comfort that we were providing a better educated generation of emigrants. However, it was the availability of well educated people which provided the basis for solving our problems. When the key ingredient of education was combined with fiscal and industrial stability based on partnership, access to EU markets and EU Structural Funds support, fiscal incentives, and our ability to turn our strong cultural links with the US into strong investment links, it provided the basis for our current economic prosperity.

[1899] Membership of the European Union provided not just an underpinning for economic growth but also for the new Ireland emerging from the Good Friday Agreement. Tolerance is a function of knowledge and understanding other points of view. For much of this century the two great traditions on this island lived in mutual ignorance of each other, remembered ancient wrongs and perceived developments through the prism of anglo-lrish history. Membership of the EU opened our mind to other cultures, provided a model for the reconciliation of ancient enemies and a new context within which we could build relationships in these islands.

This opening of the mind, combined with the active support of both the EU and the United States, made possible the remarkable events that are unfolding as we speak. The Good Friday Agreement, enshrining the principles of power sharing, consent and progress only by peaceful means, is being implemented with the overwhelming support of the people, North and South; I stress peaceful means. We must never forget the hideous violence of the last 30 years and its victims. Their memorial must be a determination on our part to prevent it happening again on this island.

Thus, we stand at the edge of the new millennium with the prospect before us of a peaceful more prosperous Ireland where our people no longer have to emigrate to earn a living but can choose to do so successfully if they wish. However, these achievements are neither inevitable nor irreversible and prosperity brings its own challenges and obligations. It is essential that we work to foster tolerances and mutual respect between all the traditions on the island. This must extend beyond the historical traditions to embrace recent immigrants who have the potential to enrich our cultural heritage and increase our understanding of the world in which we live.

The social progress made in recent years must be built on in terms of respect for minority rights and, in the case of women, majority rights. With regard to the handicapped, we must facilitate their independence and full participation in the community. It must be recognised that the majority of people, male and female, will increasingly work outside the home and ensure the resources are available to them to integrate all aspects of their lives successfully. We must recognise that a productive dynamic economy is the essential bedrock for social progress. We will enter a new century of even more rapid change and it is essential that we remain flexible and adaptive to these changes. The key to this, as [1900] ever, remains education. We must be prepared to concentrate more educational resources on disadvantaged groups and be prepared to use innovative approaches.

Finally and most importantly we must recognise our obligations in the wider world and provide all the help we can to countries struggling to develop in the same way as others helped us in the past. Ireland must play an active role in assisting the candidates for membership of the EU to make the transition and we must place our voice and resources at the disposal of developing countries so as to tackle world poverty effectively in the next millennium.

The lasting and worthwhile achievements of the last millennium were achieved by people who believed in the freedom of the individual and the primacy of democratic politics. In the new millennium we can honour their struggle and achievements by rededicating ourselves to sustaining and advancing their ideals.

I take this opportunity to thank the Minister of State, Deputy Brennan, for the outstanding work he has done on the millennium committee. All his colleagues in Government were disappointed when he told us he will not chair the next millennium committee. I thank him and his committee for the many innovative suggestions they have come up with and for choosing some priorities. I hope we all have special memories of this millennium because none of us will live through another one.

I take this opportunity to wish all my colleagues, particularly the leaders of the Opposition, members of the Government, Members of the House and you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and your staff a happy and peaceful Christmas and, hopefully, a prosperous millennium.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Go raibh míle maith agat, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Tá áthas orm seans a fháil labhairt ar an ócáid seo roimh an bhliain 2000 ach tá eagla orm chomh maith. Mar Chríostaí is ábhar ceiliúrtha go mbeidh breithlá Chríost romhainn agus an bhliain 2000 romhainn ag an am chéanna. Nuair a fhéachann tú siar, sa chéad mhílaois mhéadaigh líon an chine daonna ó 250 milliún go dtI 350 milliún, sé sin méadú 100 milliún. Sa dara mhílaois mhéadaigh an cine daonna ó 350 milliún sa bhliain 1000 go dtí breis agus 6,000 milliún inniu. Sin fás timpeall 5,650 milliún.

Cúpla bliain ó shin bhí daoine ag caint mar gheall ar “breeding like rabbits” ach mar chine daonna níl aon dabht anois ná go mbeidh daoine amach anseo ag caint mar gheall ar “breeding like humans”. Beidh an-bhrú ar an domhan agus [1901] caithfimid machnamh a dhéanamh ar sin ag an ócáid thábhachtach seo.

Tá prionsabal ag Glasaigh a iarrann orainn go léir a bheith ar an airdeall go domhanda ach gníomhú go háitiúil. Tá prionsabal a deir nach linne an domhan is cuma cé mhéid scaireanna i gcomhlachtaí a bhíonn againn. Tá sé ar iasacht ó na glúnta atá romhainn. Fágann sé sin go bhfuil fáilte roimh an díospóireacht seo agus roimh chuairt an Uachtaráin anseo. Bhí sé an-mhaith éisteacht léi ag caint mar gheall ar cheisteanna na mbocht agus ar cheisteanna domhanda.

Le linn na mílaoise, tháinig forbairt sa chóras daonlathach agus caithfimid fáilte a chur roimhe sin. Ar dtús ní raibh guth agus cumhacht ach ag na tiarnaí talún ar mhaithe leo féin. Níos déanaí san 19ú aois leathnaigh an cumhacht sin in áiteanna chun guth a thabhairt don lucht oibre.

Ba cheart dúinn machnamh a dhéanamh ar 1913 sa tír seo nuair a bhí sé sin i mbéal an phobail.

Ag an bpointe seo is gá agus an bhliain 2000 romhainn éisteacht le guth na farraige, le guth ainmhithe, le guth na n-éan agus le guth na foraoiseacha atá fágtha.

Is léir anois go ndéanfaimis neamhaird orainn féin má déanaimis neamhaird ar an saol nádúrtha. Muna bhfuil uisce glan ann, muna bhfuil cré ann is iad na daoine is boichte a bhuailtear ar dtús, ach taréis tamaill buaileann sé gach duine againn.

Éiríonn leis na daoine saibhre teacht ar bhia de bharr rialacha “free trade”. B'fhearr liomsa gan an téarma “free trade” a úsáid mar níl sé “fair”. Cuireann free trade isteach ar chothrom na Féinne do dhaoine, go mór mhór na daoine is boichte.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Níl sé sin ceart.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Cuireann, agus tá an cruthú ann. Cuireann free trade isteach freisin ar an dtimpeallacht chomh maith mar fágann sé cumhacht ag na comhlachtaí is mó agus cuireann sé leis an méid fuinnimh a chaitear ar thaisteal agus atá in ainm is a bheith ar fáil do na glúnta atá romhainn.

Ó thaobh bia de, de bharr go mbíonn iompar earraí thar na mílte míle i gceist le globalisation bíonn ceimicí á n-úsáid níos minicí san fheirmeoireacht dhomhanda. Tuigtear nach féidir linn mar chine daona leanúint ar aghaidh ag cur isteach orainn féin agus is í an timpeallacht cuid den saol sin againn.

Le déanaí, chonacamar agóidí fíochmhara i Seattle i gcoinne an World Trade Organisation. Má tá todhchaí in ann dúinn caithfimid cumhacht éigin a bhaint den WTO.

[1902] Tá sé scríobhta in Ethical Consumer Magazine:

Under WTO rules, bans on the grounds of health risks are allowed only in the case of ‘scientific certainty'. The onus is no longer on the company to prove its goods are safe, but on governments to prove otherwise.

Chuir an WTO i gcoinne neart rudaí a chuireann isteach orainn anseo, genetic modefied labelling, ísliú truailliú ó pheitreal, cosaint do dheilfeanna agus do dhúlra na mara, cosaint do dhaoine bochta a fhásann earraí ar nós bananaí agus mar sin. Tá sé sin déanta cheana féin.

Deireann an iris Ethical Consumer Magazine December 1999/January 2000 comh maith:

It is thought that other ethical purchasing policies could be challenged in this way – such as policies in favour of recycled paper, sustainably produced timber, or buying services from locally-owned businesses.

Is iad na comhlachtaí a bhíonn i mbéal an phobail mar lucht tacaíochta WTO ná na cinn a bhíonn i mbéal an phobail go minic sa tír seo. Is iad sin American Express, AT&T, Bayer, Citibank/Citicorp, Daimler Benz, Federal Express, Mitsubishi Electric, Nestlé, Philips, Toyota, Warner Lambert, Arthur Andersen & Co, BAT Industries, British Petroleum, Chiquita, Eastman Kodak, IBM, Monsanto, Nissan, Shell agus Unilever.

Is iad sin na comhlachtaí is mó a bhíonn ag iarraidh ar an WTO brú a chur orainn go léir.

Go bunúsach, ní bheidh saol againn agus ní bheidh cumhacht ag aon pharlaimint nó ag aon phobal amach anseo go dtí go n-iarrfaimid ar phobail áitiúla saol a chruthú dóibh féin chomh maith. Tugadh an vóta do dhaoine agus tá saoirse éigin acu anois ach caithfimid ceachtanna a thabhairt ar conas saol a chruthú dóibh féin. Níl aon locht agamsa ar thrádáil domhanda ach is gá cur leis an trádáil áitiúil.

Ba mhaith liom ag an bpointe seo píosa a scríobh fear ón 19ú aois Chief Seattle nuair a bhí sé ag caint i mBearla le rialtas Mheiriceá, a léamh. He asked for this to be remembered and on the eve of this millennium it is a sentiment on which we would do well to reflect. He said:

Will you teach your children . [as] we have taught our children . [that] the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons and daughters of the earth. This we know. The earth does not belong to man. Man belongs to the earth.

All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he [1903] does to the web, he does to himself. One thing we know, our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator.

We love this earth as a new-born loves its mother's heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children and love it as God loves us.

As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you. One thing we know, there is only one God. No man, be he red man or white man, can be apart. We are all brothers and sisters after all.

Ba mhaith liom críochnú mar sin leis an ábhar machnaimh mar is léir go bhfuil an-chuid oibre le déanamh sa chéad Mhilaois eile má tá cothrom na Féinne le bheith ann dúinn go léir. Ba mhaith liom Nollaig shona a ghuí ortsa, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, ar an Cheann Comhairle, ar fhoireann an Tí, ar na ceannairí anseo agus ar gach ball den Dáil agus den Seanad. Ba mhaith liom chomh maith buíochas a ghabháil leis an Taoiseach agus leis an rialtas as an méid maitheasa atá déanta go dtí seo. Nuair a bheidh síocháin ó thuaidh i ndiaidh na mílaoise seo ceapaim gur féidir linn an-chuid a bhaint amach má tá an cur chuige ann.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Maith an fear.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  The end of the year is usually an opportunity to take stock of what has happened and to prepare for the future. New year resolutions are built upon a desire to progress, to move forward and to improve upon the achievements and performance of the past. The end of a century, not to mention a millennium, reinforces that process. It obliges us to look at how far we have come together, but more, it also requires us to examine the direction we wish to pursue as we face the future.

Ireland today is truly at a crossroads. For the first time in our history, we are a rich and prosperous country. The good news is that we will remain so into the next decade and beyond according to the economic forecasts of the ESRI and other independent economists.

After 30 years of terrible violence in the North a new political agreement has been put together and is being carefully implemented. It resolves, perhaps finally, the conflict of identities which has dominated the political landscape of this island [1904] for centuries. It has not been an easy process for some people on all sides. It has involved a redefinition of concepts like sovereignty and territory, concepts fundamental to both nationalisms and dearly held by many people. They are at the centre of this island's understanding of itself and its history. Ironically, we have best expressed our sovereignty by pooling it with others within the European Union. In so doing, we transformed the relationship with our sister island and broke free from the divisions of the past.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Hear, hear.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  Yes.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  We now work together side by side as equals, and our joint membership of the European Union has been at the heart of that process that has brought about the wonderful transformation in Northern Ireland. On another side, there has been quite substantial change. Since independence we have moved, slowly and often reluctantly, from a society that was introverted and authoritarian to one that is both pluralist and tolerant. We are moving too from an Ireland dominated by the ethos of one religious denomination to an Ireland open to all religions and none.

We recognise the damage done to our fellow citizens by the prejudices of the past. We have some way to go, but we have also come a very long way. The journey is ongoing. The Ireland of the 21st century will be multi-ethnic and multi-cultural.

To truly learn from the errors of the past, we would do well to recognise and welcome that fact now and prepare properly for it. Our grandparents might not recognise the modern Ireland, but the Ireland of our grandchildren will bear little resemblance to ours.

However, our recent advances must not blind us to the many problems which remain and the new problems which are increasing. For example, inequality in modern Ireland is increasing. The gap between the rich and poor has widened substantially in the past few years as a result of our economic growth. Poverty has been the defining experience of our independence, but its obscenity has been compounded in an Ireland of plenty.

Proper housing, health and education still remain out of reach for far too many people. Travelling to and from work has become a nightmare for all in our major cities. Finding a place of care for an elderly parent who can no longer live at home on his or her own is increasingly difficult for those who can afford it, and simply impossible for those who cannot.

Rural Ireland, so long the embodiment of the [1905] traditional way of life of this country, is in crisis. Changes in agriculture, uncertainty regarding the future and pressures of urbanisation are transforming the face of Ireland. It is, sadly, no longer a clean face. Our lakes and rivers, once a byword for purity, are now polluted by a combination of intensive farming methods and untreated urban sewage. The physical waste we now generate is growing faster than our ability to dispose of it. Proposals for new dumps, recycling methods or incineration increasingly meet with local opposition, effectively paralysing national decisions.

However, there is more. In a land of increasing material prosperity there is a growing spiritual impoverishment. Rates of suicide, particularly among young men – which is impossible for someone of my age and from where I come to comprehend – and the incidence of violence and abuse in the home against women and children are rising.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  And the elderly.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  The sense of community, which we once took for granted, is diminishing as individuals are encouraged to do their own thing. Enhanced personal freedom is becoming synonymous with indifference to the needs of others. Volunteers who once provided the backbone of so many of our sporting clubs, social services and community associations are available in smaller numbers. That will resonate with all of us who are active in party politics. Pressures of time at home and work have taken first place with many. The pace of life and its demand for individualisation in so many of its aspects, is changing the nature of our lifestyle at a frightening speed.

Never have the Irish people at home been so well off, and yet so uneasy with the prospects for the future.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Exactly.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  The fundamental paradox we face at the turn of the century is how to integrate our new found material wealth into a socially prosperous community and create a new society from a wealthy economy.

For myself, the Labour Party and all of us on the left, the choice now is clear. We reject what is being offered consciously by the Leader of the Fianna Fáil Party as the “low tax, high enterprise” model for future development. It amounts to embracing the American, Anglo-Saxon model of individual responsibility. It promotes a low tax regime to encourage individual effort. It sees a minimal [1906] role for the State in the daily affairs of the community. It is the stuff of trickle down economics.

It intends that the share of public wealth invested in our communities would decline dramatically. It is a vision of the future imprisoned by the poverty of the past. This view contends that taxation and public spending are heavy burdens to be, at best, reluctantly borne. There is no sense that a contrary view might exist and that, perhaps, taxation and public spending are how we express our solidarity as a community. This view contends that they may be the instruments we use to invest in our children and their education, to provide for our sick and care for our infirm. It also contends they may be the resources for protecting our environment, conserving our future and, perhaps, that taxation and public spending are the way a mature and vibrant economy can transform itself into a thriving and successful society.

I am one of those people whom the Taoiseach called “well meaning” who believes that the “social cart is as important as the economic horse”. I believe the social agenda should drive the economic engine. I believe it is surely right, now more than ever, to concentrate on how we distribute our new-found wealth. That is, for me and my party, the social democratic agenda for Ireland in the next century – the creation of a real republic in accordance with the values expressed by the first Dáil in the democratic programme. It is a view of a community that at last we can now begin to build.

I will outline the Ireland that we can build on this island. I will outline the ten pillars of the new Republic which we can now construct for our society as we move into the future. Every citizen should have a constitutional guarantee of fundamental social and economic rights. There will be full employment in a vibrant and enterprising economy. We will ensure the elimination of poverty and homelessness. The physical infrastructure of the island of Ireland will be transformed by a sustained programme of public investment in public and private transportation, building the environmental needs of all our people. Adult illiteracy and educational disadvantage, which leads to adult illiteracy, will be eliminated. The State will guarantee every disabled and elderly citizen a place of appropriate care and shelter within our society so no one will have the nightmare of wondering what will happen to their disabled children when they pass on.

We will put in place a constitutional recognition of the rights of children and a guarantee of their protection and care. Recent sad revelations behove us to do so, as a minimum. We must have and we can now afford a universal health service open to all on an equal basis, where access is determined by medical need and not ability to [1907] pay. In other words, why can we not just become like normal northern Europeans? There will be the promotion of a tolerant and pluralist civic culture, respectful of minorities, old and new. Finally, the island of Ireland, at peace with itself and its neighbours, will play an active and positive role in the European Union and in the rest of the world promoting peace, tolerance, justice and international solidarity.

Economic vibrancy and flexibility are desirable if not essential components in any modern economy. However, they are not impediments to the creation of a compassionate and just society based on citizens' rights. At the centre of a vibrant economy and a caring society is the Government and the State. Its role is to act as a guarantor of citizens' rights, either through direct provision or support for voluntary activity. It must promote the bond of solidarity between the citizen and the community.

We cannot construct the type of society described in the ten pillars unless we are prepared to significantly invest in our people, our community and our environment. We should be consciously aware of our need to make up ground lost in decades of economic under-performance. Its legacy can be seen in how we treated people in the past, particularly minorities and the underprivileged.

There is no consensus in this House on how to proceed on this issue. My party does not support the vision of Ireland contained in the Government's stability programme prepared for submission to Brussels. We reject the philosophy which underpins that document and we vigorously contest the economic and social rationale which informs it. There is a radically different alternative. Labour wants to see Ireland redefine the European social model and transform it so that it meets the needs of our people in the 21st century. We want an Ireland that will mobilise all our energy to create a new bond between the State and its citizens – a society committed to using its resources to eliminate poverty and homelessness; a society committed to rooting out public squalor; a society that takes equality seriously and does not attach it to a Government Department. We can do this – it is not a wish list.

Coming from the tradition of the left, we must ensure that we avoid the mistakes of paternalism and bureaucracy. The days when self-appointed social engineers could ride roughshod over the lives and rights of individual citizens are happily a thing of the past. I am not calling for their return. However, the mistakes of the past – bad as they were – should not limit our ambitions for the future. Success in creating a more equal society will not only transform our quality of life, but –[1908] as I passionately believe and as the President echoed earlier – will set an example for the rest of Europe and the world.

We are entering the final days of a century that has seen extraordinary change throughout the world. It has not been a century in which the human race and Europeans in particular have covered themselves in glory – or perhaps not. We should focus on both World Wars which were European civil wars. The carnage of those wars stands as a stark reminder of the worst side of human nature. We know from recent bitter experience that in certain conditions, human beings remain more than capable of acts of barbarity. The second half of the century, in western Europe at least, has been somewhat better, thanks in large part to those who inspired the fledgling European Union. However, the concepts of rights and welfare established in this era need not only to be protected but to be expanded to areas of the world where their writ clearly does not run, which includes Seattle. Today, we can face into a new century and new decade with genuine hope and optimism. We need to build on what has been achieved, both in relation to political developments in Northern Ireland and our economic successes in the South. Let me put it another way. We should no longer accept second best. The opportunity we now have to build a new Ireland may never return if we do not embrace it fully. We should think about how different Irish society was 15 years ago and how different Europe was 15 years ago when it was divided by the Iron Curtain. We should then think forward and imagine the scale of change we in this House will witness over the next 15 years. The challenge is ours to determine the nature of that change, to make our country, our continent and our world a place where all human beings can live with basic dignity.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I wish to take this opportunity, on behalf of myself and my party, to thank you and the staff of the Ceann Comhairle's office for your help and assistance over the year and to express my support for our collective endeavours in this House, regardless of our differing views. I wish everyone a peaceful and prosperous new year and a happy Christmas.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Míle bliain ó shin ba í an Ghaeilge an t-aon teanga a bhí ag muintir na hÉireann. Ó shin tháinig cuairteoirí anseo len a dteangacha féin ón Danmhairg, ón Bhreatain agus ón Fhrainc. Inniu, buíochas le Dia, táimid go léir le chéile. Sin é mo mholadh arís don mhíle bliain atá ag teacht. Ar an cheist sin aontaím leis an Teachta Quinn agus leis an Teachta Sargent.

I wish to refer briefly to the words spoken in this House by Uachtarán na hÉireann. I would describe the President's speech as a celebration [1909] of humility and vulnerability. In recalling the birth of a Jewish baby in a stable in southern Palestine 2000 years ago, the President celebrated the ultimate in humility. She also celebrated vulnerability in recalling the work of a doctor saving the life of an unborn child, the most vulnerable of all humankind. The President, in recalling the humility and vulnerability of humankind in the face of history, put all our struggle and strife in this House and in all other places where human beings contest in its proper perspective. I thank her on my own behalf and on behalf of all the other Members of this House for an inspiring address.

At the end of December 1899, life for most people in Ireland was dark, boring, cold, insecure and impoverished. It was much the same at the turn of every previous century. This time, for the first time, it is different. On a widespread scale, we enjoy prosperity, security and peace. In the last decade of this century we have seen momentous steps taken to develop our society and our relations with each other on this island.

One hundred years ago, an emigrant leaving Ireland – and there were many – for the United States of America almost certainly did so in the certain knowledge that he or she would not see their native land again. Today they can pick up the telephone and call home, even when they are in mid-air, send an e-mail when they arrive, and can be home again in a shorter period than it takes me to drive by motorcar from one end of the country to the other.

We are no longer an insular people – inward looking and self-obsessed. We are now an integral part of a wider European and global family. Our young people travel and see the world. After that, most of them choose to come home again, something that is very unusual in previous Irish history. We have created an Ireland in which our young people want to stay, and to which many people from other countries wish to come. This is a great positive. Our prospects are brighter now than they ever have been.

In 1899, the aim was that the Irish people be free to determine their own affairs, independently certainly, but also in harmony with one another – orange and green, Unionist and Nationalist working together. It has taken a full century. It was only in this year of 1999, 100 years later, that it can be said that goal was fully achieved. It was achieved by peaceful politics and constitutional agitation, not by violence. Violence throughout this century slowed down the process towards independence and harmony much more than it accelerated it.

I pay tribute to all who helped to contain violence, and who helped constitutionalise politics. I pay tribute to the Irish Parliamentary Party in Westminster, and to all the parties who have [1910] taken their seats in this House. All are part of the Irish constitutional tradition that has brought us such an achievement as we enter a new millennium.

Politics and politicians on all sides in this House, and our predecessors in all parties, can take pride in the contribution they have made to this century. They have helped build Europe's fourth oldest democracy. This is a legacy we politicians should pass on with care and pride to succeeding generations. At a time when there is so much cynicism about politics, these are the successes of Irish democratic politics, and we should proclaim them. I sometimes wonder if cynicism about politics arises because cynics have lost a sense of history, lost a sense of where we have come from as distinct from the sense that we have arrived.

When we look around the Ireland of late 1999, there is much of which we can be proud, and yet many people in Ireland live lives that are more stressed than ever before. We work longer hours. We spend more time in cars or buses or trains getting around. The working week gets longer and compresses more and more so-called leisure time into weekends which even now are becoming times of work as well as leisure.

Is there any space left in our lives for really living? That is the major underlying problem we face as a nation as the millennium turns. Our lives are more crowded than ever, but are the things that are being crowded in more important than those that are being crowded out? Is our quality of life increasing as fast as our gross domestic product? The fundamental desires of many people are not being met in the modern world. Jean Vanier said: “Man's primal cry is to be loved”. He was speaking in the broadest meaning of the term. He could have said that people's basic need is to be accepted and valued for what they are and what they see themselves as being. In the modern, pressurised world we are not giving ourselves the time we need, to give enough of ourselves to others, so that that answer to our basic needs can be given. We live life in compartments. The work compartment is getting larger and larger, while all the other compartments of life are getting smaller. This is a legitimate topic for political debate at the turn of the century because it is politics that shapes the context in which people are forced to live these compartmentalised lives and that is a challenge all of us as legislators must address.

As Professor Joe Lee recently put it, children and the elderly get in the way of economic man and economic woman. The way people treat their elderly is one of the surest guides to the level of a civilisation and against that background, there must be concern about growing evidence of physical abuse of elderly people in caring insti[1911] tutions and also by their own families. This is one of the least reported forms of abuse and yet it is quite prevalent.

The pressure in our daily lives is created by four factors: the shopping culture, globalisation, the disproportionately large home building obligation imposed on one generation – the young – and the traffic problem caused by disjoined planning of the location of homes, workplace and transport links. It is said that teenagers are victims of peer pressure and, as the father of three of them, I can observe that closely. However, are older people any different? The newness of cars, whether the registration is 95 or 99, the exoticism of holiday locations and the size of houses and number of bathrooms one has are consumer choices that are driven, to some degree at least, by peer pressure.

Another pressure is the globalisation of our economy. We now have a global market in which an Irish worker is in direct competition with a worker in India and vice versa. The resultant insecurity makes people acquisitive as well as anxious. Globalisation is happening because the cost of air transport per revenue mile has fallen from 40p in 1930 to 8p in 1990 and is probably much less now; because the cost of a three minute phone call between Dublin and New York has fallen from several hundred pounds in 1930 to a few pence today and because the cost of computing information has declined by over 99% since 1930.

The world is shrinking because these technologies are allowing it to shrink and that is why globalisation is inevitable. Global trade now represents 15% of all goods and services produced in the world. Globalisation brings efficiency and can thus help overcome needs that are not met, such as needs for food, medicines and other requisites of a decent life – here I reflect what Deputy Sargent said. Globalisation makes people depend on one another and it thus builds a structure of peace. The challenge is not to turn away from globalisation but to harness it for these socially valuable ends. Globalisation can be reversed, but the consequences would be unpleasant. During the closing decades of the 19th century there was also a massive increase in global trade. By 1913 global trade had reached 9% of global income, not far from the 15% of global income today. That process of globalisation was reversed by the imperatives of militaristic nationalism which ignited the First World War. This led in turn to the Depression, to high tariffs in the 1930s and to the Second World War. We do not want to go back to that, therefore, we must manage globalisation politically so that human values get at least as much importance as financial ones.

[1912] The failures of the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle is a warning about the lack of political legitimacy of globalisation. The public is not willing to allow issues like food safety, environmental degradation or the right balance between the protection of copyright and the public good, to be left to a small coterie of top officials meeting behind closed doors. It wants a say in how the world is governed. That is the lesson of Seattle. Unless it is learned, the process of globalisation will be reversed, with potentially dire consequences of the kind that were unleashed in 1914 at Sarajevo, a place we have again become mournfully familiar with. The reform of the United Nations that creates popular legitimacy of worldwide decision-making is a key issue for the next century.

The pressure on people's lives in Ireland today is aggravated by a special factor – housing – that will affect this generation of young people far more severely than any previous generation or any future one. There is the need in the next 25 years to build 40 new homes for every 100 homes in the State today. That is the scale of the construction project that this one generation – a small segment of our total current population – must undertake. The building of these houses is a national task that we are asking a minority in our society to finance out of their private means. That is not fair.

The minority being asked to finance this massive building project are people between 20 and 40 years of age. Older people are enjoying tax free capital gains as house prices rise, while those between 20 and 40 years of age are sometimes being forced to work inhuman hours and sacrifice other aspects of their lives, perhaps more important aspects, to service the mortgages they have undertaken to build or buy houses for their families. This is the pressure that is being placed on people that forces some of them into a two-income lifestyle, even though that may not be their preference nor what they necessarily believe is best for their children.

There is a fundamental issue of inter-generational fairness here. Is it right that one generation of young people, those between 20 and 40 years of age, should be asked to bear this one-off construction cost on behalf of previous generations and future generations? The homes now being built will last for three or four generations and they will be inherited cheaply by the children of today's children.

We must also remember the effect of housing policy on crime. Most of the calls in the media for ever harsher penalties for criminals come from people who exonerate themselves from any responsibility for the social conditions that lead to crime. Criminals are seen as objects, not people.

[1913] If we push all people of a socially excluded class together into one housing estate, where doctors, teachers, social workers and all other carers are visitors who come in from outside, is it any wonder that crime will result? Zero tolerance makes little sense if ghettos are deliberately created by public policy, which has been the case for the past 25 years. We do not want to follow the example of the United States where the number of people in prison has risen in the past 25 years from 380,000 to 2 million. This represents a sixfold increase in the numbers of people in prison in the land of zero tolerance.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Three strikes and you are out.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The land of zero tolerance is not an advertisement or signpost for the future.

Crime is encouraged by a design of urban Ireland that prevents natural communities being created across class lines and crowds those who are well off into one part of a city and those who are less well off into another, so that never the twain shall meet. It is in respect of that division, that lack of “united Irelandism” and that unwillingness to create a society that is whole in itself that we must show zero tolerance. We must not have zero tolerance of the criminal but of the cause of the crime.

We also have a design of urban Ireland which makes people commute such long distances that they have no time or energy left for building a community in their own locality. How can we ensure that our civilisation is enhanced and not diminished by the opportunities and choices offered by globalisation?

The anthropologist Margaret Mead said:

If you look closely you will see that almost anything that embodies our deepest commitment to the way human lives should be lived and cared for depends on some form – often many forms – of voluntarism.

Voluntarism means doing good things for free – not for paid work, not to qualify for individualisation, but for no reward. Volunteers are people who help others because of the intrinsic value of what they are doing, not because they are paid for it. Every Saturday morning and afternoon, for example, clusters of small children congregate on public parks and playing pitches all over the country to compete in under-age football leagues. These leagues, which offer joy, excitement and physical well-being to so many children, only exist because a small army of volunteer mothers and fathers organise clubs, drive teams to away matches, referee matches and coach teams. This is work of immense value – thousands of person hours per year – account of which is never taken by statisticians in the Central Statistics Office. [1914] They do not even attempt to evaluate the value of this work. Nobody attempts to count effort once it is not paid for.

Night after night in this city and other cities throughout the country volunteers with the Simon Community bring soup and food to children who sleep rough on the streets. They are the last ropes of hope for young people who have already been neglected at multiple levels of society and have gradually fallen down from an initial loving birth to an ultimately lonely death. The work of these volunteers can, in the most extreme cases, be a matter of life or death. However, this work, because it is not paid for, is not part of what counts for the Central Statistics Office, no account of it is taken in the GDP and it does not exist as far as stockbrokers reports on or economists assessments of the economy. If you are not paid, you do not count. In Ireland we evaluate a person's contribution to society in terms of the statement “unless it is paid for it does not count”. That is wrong. The work of volunteers is ignored in calculations of the gross domestic product. It counts only what is paid for in cash. The voluntary unpaid work of a parent who cares for a child in the home is not counted in the GDP. Being there to listen, to encourage is not counted in the GDP. The voluntary unpaid work of a person who helps the St. Vincent De Paul Society is not counted in the GDP. Yet this work is, by any standard, part of the nation's social capital. Social capital is a network of relationships of trust and co-operation between people.

Ireland suffers from a cash illusion. We appear to have an increased GDP only because so much work in Ireland is paid for, where it was previously done for free, and it appears as though we have more than we had previously. The enhancement of social capital should be a key national objective and measure of success. If we try to measure social capital – unpaid work – we will go some way towards devising a language of political discussion that will lead us to the right conclusions. As long as we continue to use the language of GDP, we will be drawn inexorably to the wrong conclusions and a world of private affluence and public squalor.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Deputy has overrun his time.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I will not impose too much longer on the time of the House as I have only one page to deliver, if I may.

Mr. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  Agreed.

Mr. Power: Information on Seán Power  Zoom on Seán Power  It is in the spirit of giving that one receives.

[1915]Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  That is very generous of the Deputy.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  It is in the spirit of the millennium.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Or the words of a bookmaker.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  The Minister should wait until all of us light our candles.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  In the new millennium, our towns and cities must be planned on a human scale, allowing people to get to know their neighbours as all of us get to know each other even better. I thank Deputy Power for his generosity. It is a characteristic which I had not recognised in him previously but I do so now. It is something I particularly appreciate from somebody from County Kildare because he has suffered for so long.

In 1899 James Connolly said that what we must do is “Organise for a full, free and happy life for all or for none”. That should be our aim for the new millennium. I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, the staff of Leinster House and their families and the political correspondents, who are thinking of us even though they are not here.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  They are in absentia.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I know we are very much in their thoughts and they love us as much as ever, which is not much. I thank all my fellow Members of the Dáil and Seanad, who love one another, much more than they are willing to admit.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  A Cheann Comhairle agus a chomh-Theachtaí, teachtaí tofa mhuintir na hÉireann, ní fada uainn críoch na mílaoise seo, mílaois a bhí rí-chorraithe do mhuintir an oileáin iath-ghlais seo. Tá muid ag druidim freisin i dtreo deireadh céid a bhí cinniúnach i stair ár dtíre. Agus muid ar bhruach mílaoise nua, cuimhním ar theitheadh na nIarlaí, agus na línte a scríobh an file, Fearflatha Ó Gnímh:

A Thríonóid ag atá an chumhacht

an mbeidh an dream seo ar


nó an mbeidh an t-athaoibhneas againn?

Those lines were forced out of the pain and the despair of a people defeated after the flight of the Earls, people from whom government of their affairs had been torn away. However, in that last line of the verse, one can detect the indomitable hope of the Irish nation, the expectation that a bright new era of freedom and prosperity could yet dawn, the expectation of a second flowering, a second period of happiness.

I thank President Mary McAleese for her inspi[1916] rational address this morning, that took a sweeping look back across the millennium, as well as being a review of where we now stand as a nation at the end of a remarkable but also difficult century.

The millennium has a Christian as well as a secular significance. I would like to see our religious traditions continue to be cherished in the years to come. In their diversity and faithful witness, they represent a priceless expression of the human spirit as it has evolved on this island. Our Christian heritage is a bedrock of idealism as well as an antidote to selfish materialism. Between Church and State, we should encourage maximum co-operation and partnership in a totally open and transparent way, welcoming the enduring contribution of religious values.

The coming year of jubilee provides an opportunity for reflection on where we are as a people, especially in the light of the teaching of the Christian faith. It is an opportunity to step back and take stock of our relations with each other, and with the wider world.

The people are living through an extraordinary period of transformation, which has no precedent in our history. The achievement of peace and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement brings to a close, a conflict in these islands that has lasted not just for the past 30 years, but intermittently for centuries. Never before has Ireland been so prosperous or faced a brighter economic future. There is hope, optimism and self-confidence among our people in place of the doubts, and often despair of earlier years. As we approach the millennium, so many new possibilities are opening up before us. However, we have to recognise that progress in solving old problems will often reveal new ones. The management of prosperity brings with it great responsibility. We need to ensure that our society adapts to rapid change in a harmonious, cohesive and inclusive manner, and that we do not leave behind any section of our population.

Economically, we have moved from being a poor, primarily agricultural economy which was totally dependent on the British market, to the cutting edge of the world economy. Socially, we have moved from being a country with high levels of poverty, poor education, low tolerance of diversity and low levels of self-confidence due to the haemorrhage of emigration, to a society with decreasing poverty levels, a highly educated young population, a wide range of political, cultural and religious diversity and a strong confidence in our ability to make our way in the world. We now live in a more open and more equal society, which has far more opportunities than our parents and grandparents would have dreamt of. We can be modestly proud of the progress we [1917] have made, while maintaining our distinct sense of national identity.

The quality of our democracy and our institutions is fundamental to everything else, and must be safeguarded. At the beginning of this century, we were not in any sense self-governing. The struggle for national independence was successful, but came at a price. That included partition, and a lingering reluctance on the part of some to accept the full constitutional legitimacy of the democracy we had established on this part of the island.

Creating a viable independence did not come easily or quickly, but great credit is due to the first generation of nation builders who set up institutions to serve all the people impartially and with integrity, Eamon de Valera, Michael Collins, W.T. Cosgrave and Seán Lemass. I also pay tribute to the vital contribution of the labour movement founded by James Connolly and Jim Larkin. My party, Fianna Fáil, played an important role in completing our independence, in giving us our Constitution and in the early economic and social development of the country. All parties should be generous in the credit they are prepared to give to the contribution in good faith of their political opponents.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The vast majority of politicians work hard, emulating each other, to do the best for our country and for our constituents, whilst critically scrutinising the best course ahead.

As a result of the efforts of thousands of Irish men and women since independence, we have today, among those countries that achieved independence this century, an enviably resilient and accountable democracy, with lively national debates on public policy issues. Irish public representatives have remained close to the people. We encourage a high degree of participation in consultation and decision-making through social partnership.

Our democracy is underpinned by a free media. We have a police force that is trusted, a loyal defence force that contributes to internal security and international peacekeeping, and a public service of great integrity. Civil society is strong and the role of voluntary, community and non-governmental bodies is vital to the tapestry of our political and social life. Faced with a declining interest in public participation in elections in recent years, it is our duty to try to renew Irish democracy. A core challenge as we move forward is to build faith among our people in politics as public service – politics makes a positive difference and politicians are committed to honesty, transparency and accountability in public affairs.

[1918] Today gives me a welcome opportunity to acknowledge the recent ground-breaking work of the Oireachtas and other public bodies. This year for the first time since the State was established powers of compellability and privilege have been used by a parliamentary committee of this House to investigate matters of current and serious public concern by the Legislature and it has done a good job.

A cornerstone of accountability in the future for those in public life will be a standards in public office commission. The Government proposals have received a strong welcome from the committees of the Oireachtas, and we will now press on to prepare and enact the legislation. The tribunals' findings and recommendations also have a central part to play in this vital work.

No one can deny that there have been instances of untoward aberrations in the high standards of public conduct which we wish to see upheld, but we are establishing in both letter and spirit firm ground rules, making absolutely clear what is acceptable. I want to see the strong ethos of unselfish public service, as lived by our founders, rigorously maintained, especially in the vastly different economic conditions of today. Over the coming years, we can expect to see further constitutional and institutional reform, to respond to the changing needs of society.

Our democracy and our national progress rests on, and has been greatly strengthened by, the participation by women at home, in the workplace, in voluntary bodies and in political, social and cultural life. This century has seen historic and welcome advances in equal participation by women. Much more remains to be done to promote equality of opportunity for women in formal decision-making structures, be they in politics, the public service, trade unions or business life.

From my perspective as Taoiseach I remain concerned about the political under-representation of women – only 13% of Deputies and 15% of local elected representatives are women. This imbalance must be changed for the sake of the future of representative democracy in Ireland.

Ms Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  We have now only begun a new journey as we set out to work with an inclusive system of government in Northern Ireland. Devolved government there, reflecting the special needs of a divided society, will be conducted on a partnership basis. A prosperous and violence-free Ireland, where people can work together on everyday economic and social issues, notwithstanding deep-seated and unresolved political differences, represents a huge advance.

[1919] It is difficult to think of any other development which is more vital to our country's future than stable and permanent peace. Irish Governments have been involved in the peace process from the beginning, in preparing the ground for the two IRA ceasefires and in the negotiation and implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, working with other parties, North and South, and the British and US Governments. Since the 1920s, we have collectively been the standard bearers of the values and principles of constitutional republicanism and we have been proved correct in our shared conviction all along that force would never solve the problems of a divided society or country, or substitute for agreement.

The Good Friday accord provides a magnificent opportunity for a new beginning in democratic politics in Northern Ireland, backed by a strong public mandate. No tolerance will be shown for any group which seeks violently to challenge or overturn the will of the people.

We can look forward to real co-operation and common action across many areas in the North-South Ministerial Council, which met in Armagh for the first time on Monday, and in the implementation bodies. We wish efforts to create an inclusive prosperity in Northern Ireland every success. We look forward to working with the Unionist tradition, which we respect, and to fruitful interaction with devolved regions of the UK, such as Scotland and Wales, in the British-Irish Council, whose first meeting takes place in London tomorrow.

The nation is changing rapidly. The population is growing fast and will probably reach four million within the next ten years. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that by the middle of the 21st century the population on the island will recover to close to pre-famine levels.

The buoyant state of the economy is not merely leading towards full employment but to the attraction of both EU and non-EU nationals to work in Ireland to fill some of the many vacancies that now exist. We need to deal with the problem of refugees and immigrants in an organised, structured and humane way. The Ireland of the future will not just be a pluralist but a multi-racial society, with our inherited political and cultural traditions being enriched and diversified from outside.

The buoyant state of the economy gives us the resources to tackle long-standing as well as newer problems. For several years, Ireland has been at the top of every OECD growth chart. Annual exports, which ten years ago amounted to some £15 billion, are now close to £50 billion in circumstances of modest inflation. The numbers of long-term unemployed have fallen from 138,000 more than 11 years ago to 38,000 today and that is with [1920] a rising population every year through the 1990s. Social partnership, the political achievement of which my party is exceptionally proud, has underpinned our success and means that we can tackle problems together coherently and effectively. I am confident that we can renew it because of overall improvements in the quality of life and the social wage that everyone can gain out of it.

The national development plan sees development spreading out from all of our cities and a number of important regional towns. We will tackle remaining employment blackspots and areas of deprivation, both urban and rural. We will improve transport and communications across the country. We are committed to maintaining a viable family farm structure combined, where necessary, with other livelihoods.

We can be proud that we are able now to fund a major national development plan without recourse to borrowing. We no longer have to mortgage the future. On the contrary, we are able to set money aside to cover part of our future pension liabilities, so that the problem other European countries call the pensions time-bomb can, in our case, be defused.

We want a competitive tax system that will fund the public services we need, but that encourages both individuals and enterprises to work hard and invest. That Ireland is now one of the best centres in which to do business is not empty rhetoric, but proved by every conceivable indicator. No other country has followed such a coherent corporate tax policy. This Government has followed a steady and consistent policy of lowering the tax burden substantially each year to reward workers and underpin wage moderation. We are committed to greater fairness in the tax system, as well as taking the low-paid out of the net.

We must have a caring society as well as a prosperous one. We are improving and expanding educational opportunity and facilities. We are investing heavily in health care. Our housing production is running at 50,000 a year, way beyond any previous peaks, and we are determined to maintain a high supply in order to slow down the price increases which would put affordable housing beyond reach. Social welfare payments are being reoriented towards earnings increases and we are trying to improve the income levels of pensioners, while encouraging people to provide for their retirement.

Our social philosophy is to improve steadily the general standard of living and quality of life for all our citizens, with special regard for the excluded. While we have a great deal still to do, [1921] employment opportunities, housing conditions, health care and educational standards have all been raised enormously. The agenda for the future also includes the eradication of homelessness, the housing of travellers and improvement of their life chances and life expectancy, the reduction of hospital waiting lists, improving community services for child care, the elderly, and more facilities for the handicapped.

This is a very exciting period. We are making substantial progress on all fronts. We are developing our own economic and social model, which seeks to combine the virtues of a dynamic enterprise society with the virtues of social solidarity. I pay a special tribute to the National Millennium Committee, to its Chairman, the Minister of State, Deputy Séamus Brennan, and all its members who have given so much of their time over the past year. They have devised a comprehensive and exciting programme. They have selected hundreds of projects all over the country with money going to almost every parish and community. The committee's five flagship projects are the people's millennium forests, the last light ceremony on the final day of this millennium, the children's hour, the presentation of the Battle of the Boyne site, and the restoration of lightkeeper's houses. There are many other worthwhile social, cultural and environmental projects, and in particular, projects with special Christian themes. Through its awards initiatives, the committee has reached out to every corner of the country to make the millennium relevant to the lives of the people. I thank the committee members for the work they have done and will continue to do throughout next year.

The Ireland of the 21st century will be an Ireland of cultural opportunities. For years now we have been able to fund more ambitious arts development plans. The next major project will be the setting up of the Irish Academy of the Performing Arts. Our commitment to the Irish language will be maintained and developed. World standard sport facilities are also on our agenda, while providing facilities in each area that make sport accessible to all.

We are blessed with a remarkably beautiful and attractive country. Much investment will be needed in maintaining and improving environmental quality, with the farming as well as the industrial sector having a particular role to play in that, as well as each individual and family exercising personal responsibility. Increasingly, in recent years [1922] Ireland has sought to place itself at the cutting edge of technology, with plants from Silicon Valley to be found in the Liffey valley and elsewhere. We have mustered substantial new resources for third level research and technology and helped to provide the infrastructure and training necessary to develop the information society. We have put ourselves on the international financial services map in a major and distinctive way also. The Government has decided to establish a European branch of the world renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab in Dublin, which will place Ireland at the leading edge of global Internet and e-commerce applications. We can make ourselves one of the most prosperous countries in Europe. Those who live and work here can enjoy both high living standards and a high quality of life, provided we plan our strategy carefully and give workers a real stake in the workplace.

The Irish success story, including the peace process, gives us a new international audience and helps win access to new markets. Being the only English speaking country to belong to the single currency has already brought risk-free trading from the point of view of currency fluctuations within the zone and we remain exceptionally competitive with the UK. There will be even bigger advantages when the currency comes into circulation, from both a trading and tourist point of view, from 2002.

We will continue to be an active and responsible partner in the European Union and will work constructively with all our neighbours, in keeping with our best independent foreign policy traditions. Our development aid contribution is rising along with our wealth, and that should be an active dimension of our foreign policy, extending to new parts of the world. We will continue to support the campaign to reduce the burden of debt relief on poorer countries and to encourage voluntary assistance.

In the 20th century, Ireland was put back on the map as a country in its own right. It has been, in many ways, a long, hard journey to where we are today. The opportunity facing us now is, in a relatively short space of time, to go out in front, setting no limits to the onward march of a nation while catching up in areas where we are still behind.

President John F. Kennedy addressed the Oireachtas 36 years ago. In his final remarks on 28 June 1963, he made an appeal to the House thus:

Great powers have their responsibilities and their burdens, but the smaller nations must fulfil their obligations as well ... My friends, Ireland's hour has come. You have something [1923] to give to the world, and that is a future of peace with freedom.

A Cheann Comhairle, you are the only serving Member of these Houses to have heard those prophetic words in person. President Kennedy's remarks ring truer with each passing day. His words echo with great faith in the Irish people, in our destiny to be a nation which plays its full and active part in international political and economic affairs.

I wish you, a Cheann Comhairle, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, your staff, the staff of the Houses, the political staff, journalists, the gardaí and all those who work with us during the year, my colleagues in Government, particularly the Tánaiste—

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  That is very necessary at this time of year.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  —whom I have worked with for the past two and a half years with great success and whom I hope to work with into the new millennium—

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  What about the four Independents?

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  What about the Minister for Finance?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  What about the Minister for tax?

[1924]The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  He will be here for several more budgets.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  He has already done five.


The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I also say to Deputies John Bruton and Quinn, the Leaders of the Opposition, who play that role successfully and, I hope, will do so long into the next millennium—


Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The Taoiseach would be quite good at that role a second time around.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Been there, done that.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  He deserves a second chance.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  On a serious note, Members of this House work extremely hard and their families suffer a lot. I hope all Members have a truly good break over Christmas and the new year.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Hear, hear.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  I wish all Members, all who serve in many varied capacities in this House and its Members, a very happy Christmas and new year.

The Dáil adjourned at 4.05 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 26 January 2000.


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