Confidence in Government: Motion.

Friday, 30 June 2000

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 522 No. 5

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The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I move:

“That Dáil Éireann reaffirms its confidence in the Government.”

I am glad of the opportunity being given to me to have reaffirmed at the end of this session the confidence of this House in the Government as we successfully complete our third year. I want to pay tribute to all my ministerial colleagues for their hard work and, in particular, to acknowledge the important and valuable contribution made by our partners, the Tánaiste, Deputy Mary Harney, and her colleagues to our collective work in Government.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  Where is the Tánaiste?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  There will be ample time for other Deputies.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  For the information of Deputy Owen, there is an important North/South meeting this morning between the Tánaiste and Mr. Reg Empey. That is where the Tánaiste is.

This week has been an important milestone in the consolidation of the Good Friday Agreement, with the IRA carrying out its promised confidence building measure of putting arms verifiably beyond use. We have concentrated over the past three years on giving peace the highest priority and have kept our eye constantly on the ball. It is widely acknowledged that this Government, and within it the Fianna Fáil Party which I lead, has made a vital contribution to the remarkable progress of the peace process since 1997. Indeed, it is one of the main reasons we are in Government.

Following our return to office, we were able to get the IRA ceasefire swiftly restored. We managed to get inclusive multi-party negotiations started. We helped negotiate a comprehensive political agreement that replaced all previous constitutional settlements, and secure its overwhelming ratification by the people of Ireland, North and South.

[1306] Legislation to implement the Patten report and to provide a new beginning to policing, to which we have always given the highest priority, is at present going through the British Parliament. We have all the main institutions envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement up and working well, including the partnership Executive, the North-South Ministerial Council and the Implementation Bodies. The stumbling block that has been posed for so long by the decommissioning issue has at last been overcome. All of this constitutes the biggest achievement of a generation and has huge potential for the future. What has been accomplished is admired and supported worldwide.

None of this progress has come easily. It has required from all of us unrelenting time, patience and commitment at the highest level. There have been many occasions when the situation looked bleak, but we never gave up. Good working relations were required with all the pro-Agreement parties, and particularly between the two Governments. I worked closely not just with John Hume, Séamus Mallon, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, but also with David Trimble and his party, and with loyalist leaders. Indeed, I held the first ever meeting of a Taoiseach with the Reverend lan Paisley in his capacity as a religious leader in Government Buildings towards the end of last year. It is astonishing, but true, that the Executive stretches across the entire political spectrum from Sinn Féin to the DUP, something that can easily be obscured by strong blasts of rhetoric. We have confounded the fundamentalists who argue that the problem is insoluble except by the total victory of one side over the other which is unobtainable. We have also confused those ideologists, some of whom attempt to advise Deputy Bruton in the intervals when they are not claiming all the credit for advising Mr. Trimble—

Mr. B. Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Where is Mr. Eoghan Harris?

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

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  —these are people who are too ready to throw out cheap accusations of appeasement at constitutional leaders working for a genuine, just and lasting peace, in which true democracy can flourish.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Clinton and I will always be proud of the difference we have been able to make working with the parties. The personal trust that has been built up is vital.

Since some speakers in this debate will see parallels from the past, let me recall confident claims made in November 1994—

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  I thought the Taoiseach's memory failed him.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  —by parties opposite that they could handle the peace process as well or better, and even that they were better placed to [1307] negotiate an agreement. The reality showed otherwise. Even John Major, in his autobiography, refers to his dismay at the fall of Albert Reynolds and paints an unflattering picture of the disunited approach of his successors, which was common knowledge in diplomatic circles at the time. I am delighted to say that the approach of both parties in the present coalition Government to Northern Ireland has been, in contrast, completely cohesive and has ensured seamless co-operation, as there should be, between the Departments of the Taoiseach, Foreign Affairs and Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  Calling them in and carpeting them.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I accept of course that parties opposite made best efforts to mitigate disasters unforeseen that befell the peace process between 1995 and 1997. Nevertheless, I do remember that both communities in Northern Ireland in June 1997 for very different reasons badly wanted to see a change of Government here.

The peace process today is by no means entirely out of the woods. It will need to be carefully nurtured for some time to come. It is one reason we are determined to see out our full term of office, and give the Agreement the best chance possible of working and taking root.

The politics of conviction have also made a huge difference to our sustained record as the best performing economy in the western world. While all parties have contributed since 1987 to the remarkable economic transformation of our country, the Fianna Fáil contribution, based on its presence in Government for 11 and a half of the 14 years, and the PD contribution during our two terms of Government together have been decisive. It was Fianna Fáil and the trade unions who pioneered social partnership back in 1987 and brought employers and farmers on board. I have been personally involved in negotiating four out of the five partnership agreements as well as implementing Partnership 2000, on which the ink was scarcely dry when we came into office. Parties opposite have not always shown the same commitment to social partnership. Indeed, there have been times when they opposed it or tried to sabotage it for party advantage. Both Fine Gael and Labour were hostile to the Programme for National Recovery—

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Not so.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  —and voted against the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. Indeed, Fine Gael opposed all agreements up to the PCW, and Labour is lukewarm about the PPF.

Let us look at what has been achieved. We have ended the era of mass unemployment and emigration and are coming close to full employment for the first time in our history. When we [1308] came into office unemployment stood at 10%, half of which comprised the long-term unemployed, a group for whom little effective action was taken by the previous Government. Through our employment action plans and well targeted economic policies we have reduced unemployment below 5%.

Mr. McGinley: Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  It is 20% in Donegal.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The most dramatic fall has been in long-term unemployment which now stands at only 1.7%. This is because of the focus we have placed on helping the most disadvantaged to get jobs through new approaches to training, support and investment. Many of these policies were opposed or dismissed by the Opposition, but they have worked. There are almost 300,000 more jobs today than there were three years ago. At around 1.7 million, we have by far the highest number of people at work ever. Our young people have an unprecedented choice of mostly well paid career opportunities in Ireland while Irish people living abroad can choose to come home.

Under the national development plan, of which this Government can be proud, we are able to finance the most ambitious infrastructural programme in the history of the State without recourse to borrowing. The plan sets out a comprehensive blueprint for sustainable economic and social development. As well as dealing with roads and transport, it provides funding for major social inclusion measures such as developing disability and elderly care services, early school leaving intervention, developing youth facilities in areas with a heroin problem, modernising schools and including many areas never before included in a national development plan.

We are now members of the single currency, even though Britain is not. We are redirecting as much of the growth as we can to the regions so that they have a fair share of the new jobs, and we have negotiated a higher level of aid for the Border, midland and western region which continues to be Objective One.

Mr. Sheehan: Information on P. J. Sheehan  Zoom on P. J. Sheehan  The Government has forgotten the south-western region.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The unprecedented health of the public finances enables us to make prudent provision for pensions in future, to fund priority social improvements and to cut the tax burden on individuals and companies. We have proceeded rapidly with the liberalisation of the economy and the introduction of greater competition. We successfully introduced the highest minimum wage in Europe. It was a Fianna Fáil proposal at the last election which did not receive any support from the Labour Party. We have substantially increased retirement pensions far beyond anything enacted or contemplated by the Rainbow Government.

It is an indisputable fact through almost all periods of history that economic confidence and per[1309] formance have been better when Fianna Fáil has been in Government. To be successful in a global economy, one must be competitive and one must have a Government which delivers policies to build competitiveness. In the year before we came to office, Ireland was ranked 22nd in the world competitiveness league. Today we are seventh.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  That speaks for itself.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Last year we captured 23% of US greenfield investment in Europe. Our ambition is to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to do business while maintaining a high quality of life and a caring and inclusive society. We seek to combine US style economic dynamism with European style social solidarity—

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  A cliché.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  —in our own long standing version of what is being called in Britain, the third way, or in Germany, the new middle. Its principal characteristic is to stop putting the cart before the horse, in other words, to let the economic engine drive social improvement rather than assuming it will happen automatically the other way around.

The previous Government was ready to drastically reduce corporate tax rates but reluctant to provide any substantial tax relief to PAYE workers. It is an astonishing fact that, of the 27 point reductions in income tax rates since the Fianna Fáil budget of 1989, only one point occurred when Fine Gael or Labour was in Government whereas 26 were carried out by Fianna Fáil Ministers for Finance and all, bar the first five, occurred with the Progressive Democrats. I accept that improving personal allowances is also important, but our record is better on that score as well. Whereas the personal allowance under the Rainbow Government was increased over three budgets by £550 for a single person, under this Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government, the equivalent increase has been £1,800 plus a £200 increase in the PAYE allowance. I am also proud that we have done much to broaden the base, improve equity and introduce the tax credit system. There is much talk of fairness, but where was the fairness in confiscating up to half or more of the earnings of many working people?

One of the things which distinguishes this Government from its predecessor is that we are getting on with the business of planning for the long-term future of this country. We are not sitting back and expecting that everything will keep going well. We do not just want to protect our current level of prosperity. We want it to grow further because we are not yet where we want to be. We require a programme of modernisation of our infrastructure, legislation, education, training policies and the way we do business. In each of [1310] these areas we are developing and implementing policies which will have a lasting impact.

To see this in action one only has to look at the information technology area. There are many IT jobs at present, but we are determined to make sure that we have a long-term future at the leading edge of IT development. We have dramatically increased broadband capacity, connected every school to the lnternet, expanded technology training, introduced modern electronic commerce legislation and dramatically stepchanged the research and development policies of this country. As a result of these policies, our ability to be a world leader in technology, not just today but for many years, has been ensured. There is little evidence of any real interest or understanding of the new economy on the other side of the House where a more traditional and unreconstructed style of adversarial politics continues to predominate.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  What does the Taoiseach think his speech is?

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The Opposition will tend to claim that every advance owes nothing to the Government whereas every problem unsolved is the fault of the Government.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  That sounds fair enough.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I do not deny that there are vital challenges which we must overcome. Reversing the sudden rise in inflation is one of the most important. It is a real challenge to the continued prosperity no one wants to see fall apart. However, figures in the recent OECD outlook project continuing high growth with an easing of inflation.

With our expanding population and rising employment levels, pressures on house prices are inevitable.

Mr. Hayes:  You can sing that.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  As everybody in the House and throughout the country knows, housing cannot be built overnight.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  That is very deep.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  We must plan, provide services and train skilled professionals. The greatest difficulty the Government has faced in expanding housing provision is the fact, Mr. Michael D. Higgins—

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

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  —that for the previous five years the Labour Party did not do very well when it was in direct control of housing policy.

[1311](Interruptions).

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I apologise. Deputy Michael D. Higgins.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Will the Taoiseach take a question?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  No.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  No questions.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Taoiseach without interruption.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  It is instructive to examine the key election policy document of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Democratic Left for the 1997 general election entitled Our Next Steps in Government – 21 Goals for the 21st Century.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order, please.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Housing needs are absent, forgotten and ignored. Even a much longer 18 page Fine Gael document, Securing and Sharing Prosperity, has nothing to say on the subject. Our manifesto had three full pages on housing because it has always been a major policy priority for us.

Deputies:  There is no housing.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The problem with housing policy is the substantial lead-in times before houses can be built. We have worked hard on this area since the beginning of our term, and the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, has done a great deal of successful work in this area. The number of housing starts has been increased by a third in very difficult circumstances and we have developed a radical social housing policy. We have not achieved all our objectives yet, but the public knows that the Government is working constantly on the problem and it can look forward to results.

In many other areas we are providing the resources and implementing new approaches to long neglected problems. There was homelessness in this country before there were housing pressures but it has significantly worsened over the past five years. The changing nature of society and housing problems have caused this. We have published and are implementing a radical new approach to homelessness which abandons the failed approach of the previous Government in favour of one which combines emergency hostel places with health, education and welfare services and a new settlement service. This has been welcomed by organisations who work in the area as a new departure in homeless policy. We have also replaced the empty rhetoric of inaction, which characterised and still dominates the approach of the Opposition, with concrete initiatives in a range of other areas. New approaches to children's rights, Traveller accommodation and edu[1312] cation services and targeted supports for marginalised families have established a new agenda, one which was previously ignored.

Public transport suffered appalling neglect over the years through lack of investment and the short-sightedness of transport economists.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  What public transport?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  One only has to look at some other European cities to see the ground that needs to be made up. Many improvements are already under way, and over the next few months we will advance plans for a comprehensive network for the greater Dublin area. We have the necessary finance, and we have the commitment to early action which distinguishes us from our predecessors.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  There are no trains.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  If one wants to see the dramatic difference which this Government has made, education is one area to look at. Three years ago, there was no fiscal crisis but Deputies Bruton and Quinn introduced a budget to freeze school funding and cut back teacher numbers.

Deputies:  Shame, shame.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  They also committed themselves to providing £40 million to introduce a system of inadequate State control of schools, through informed educational councils which are being abandoned everywhere else in the world.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Not true.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  From day one, we have not only provided the resources our education system needs, we have been implementing much needed reforms. As a result, direct school funding is up by two thirds, primary class sizes are the lowest ever and the largest programme of modernisation in terms of buildings, curriculum and equipment, in the history of Irish education is well under way.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  What about the 10% of primary school children who cannot read?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  At the same time, we have introduced radical reforms in the areas of special needs provision, school attendance and the provision of early education services. None of the latter were even on the agenda of the last Government.

We have pumped economic resources into the health service since 1997—

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  The Taoiseach would want to pump something into his loss of memory.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  —with spending up by 59% from £2.7 billion in 1997 to £4.3 billion. We have also introduced the first ever serious multi-annual development programme for the health services, [1313] which will particularly help people with disabilities and the elderly. This Government has done more for people with disabilities and the elderly than any other Government in the history of the State.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  Tell that to the people on the waiting lists for hip and cataract operations.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order, please. Could we hear the Taoiseach?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I was glad to see that the WHO rated Ireland recently as the sixth fairest system in the world. We have much left to do, but we will continue to demonstrate a commitment to resourcing and reforming our health system unequalled by any previous Government.

This Government has faced the responsibility of cleaning up a legacy of unacceptable practices in politics and in tax compliance by individuals and businesses. We have established tribunals of inquiry to deal with these issues going back over many decades—

Mr. Sheehan: Information on P. J. Sheehan  Zoom on P. J. Sheehan  The Taoiseach cannot recall what happened at the tribunals.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  —the Moriarty tribunal, to further investigate payments to politicians; the Flood tribunal, to investigate irregularities in planning—

Mr. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  (Mayo): Tell us all about it.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  —the Lindsay tribunal, to investigate the contamination of blood products; the Costello inquiry into Ansbacher accounts; the Blaney inquiry into irregularities at National Irish Bank; the Murphy inquiry into abuse in swimming and the Laffoy tribunal to inquire into childhood abuse. Many of these inquiries are dealing with issues which have been left to one side by various Governments over many years.

I will repeat what I said to the Moriarty Tribunal yesterday—

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  Does the Taoiseach remember it now?

Mr. Yates: Information on Ivan Yates  Zoom on Ivan Yates  What about the things that never occurred to him?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  —that I have, at all times, directed all officials within the Fianna Fáil Party to fully co-operate with this tribunal.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  When they are found out.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order, please.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  This tribunal was established by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, with the support of the Fianna Fáil Party and me, as Taoiseach. I have been assured by party officials that they have and will continue to co-operate with [1314] the tribunal and I believe that they will continue to do so. I can give an assurance that we will do so.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  We face sustained efforts to merge past and present.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Merge past and present?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The present Government can be proud of its own record of public service with integrity. We have set up tribunals for the purpose of establishing the truth. The Tánaiste is rightly determined to see through the inquiries that she has established. In the past three years the Opposition seems only to have been interested in its potential to prematurely bring down the Government without putting a policy before the country. We remember today that the Fine Gael Party, in particular, has not been elected to Government since 1982—

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The Taoiseach's memory is back.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  —and given its policies, it is not likely to be long after the twentieth anniversary. It will be disappointed on this occasion also. The Irish people will see through parties that hope, as in the past, for power to fall into their laps without doing anything much to deserve it.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  The Taoiseach has forgotten Tipperary South very quickly.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The Labour Party still wants a complete ban on corporate but not individual donations, while its sister party across the water, the British Labour Party, is looking to recover corporate support. The effect, if we followed the Labour Party proposals, would simply be to make it easier for wealthy or well connected individuals to get elected, and to make it more difficult for the people who come from modest backgrounds to get elected.

I am happy this Government has helped this country do astonishingly well over the past three years, and I look forward to an equally productive two years that remain of our term.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  Some hope.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  We intend to serve every day of it. We are tackling every problem but there is miles more work to do, and we are ready to do it.

We have laid the foundations for lasting peace. We have created an engine for lasting economic success which generates the resources to build an inclusive society. We are building the framework for a politics that earn public respect. Politics should be about implementing policies that make a real difference to all our lives, not the sound [1315] bite culture of daily denunciations that do not indicate any policies.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  The Taoiseach would not know anything about that.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  People will ask about our solid achievements, not just about whether we can work together. At the next general election in two years' time, people will want to know what we have achieved in public life. I am not too sure what monuments Deputies Bruton and Quinn will have to point to, but this Government will have a proud record of achievement and of making a difference to this country. My party and the Progressive Democrats will present an ambitious and detailed programme for the future in the next election.

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  What about Hugh O'Flaherty?

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Deputy Ring was passed over again.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order, please.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Listening to the Taoiseach's speech, I was struck by how good his memory was of things affecting other people that happened in 1994, and the contrast with the very poor memory he seems to have of events affecting himself in 1996, as displayed in a tribunal only yesterday.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Like the Deputy with Councillor Morrisey and the casino.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  And Deputy Lowry.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I was also struck by the fact that the Taoiseach seems to be entirely in denial about the problems affecting his Government and the country.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  More negativity.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It is grotesque, at the beginning of this millennium, that we still have in office as Taoiseach someone who signed thousands of blank cheques for Charlie Haughey.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The Deputy is personalising it again.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It is unbelievable that we have as Taoiseach someone who is so disloyal to his Minister for Finance—

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  The Deputy has nothing to offer but invective.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order please, let the debate continue.

[1316]Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  He is the man who collapsed the ceasefire.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Deputies will have to cease interrupting.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It is unbelievable that we have as Taoiseach someone who is so disloyal to his Minister for Finance that he ordered him into the Dáil to answer questions on the Taoiseach's own radio comments on Hugh O'Flaherty, without ever explaining the motivations of those comments to the Minister who was forced to answer for them to the Dáil.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Does the Deputy have any policies?

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It is bizarre that we have a Fianna Fáil Party still in office that could select Ray Burke to be Foreign Minister, Deputy Foley as its senior representative on a Dáil committee to maintain financial probity, Deputy Lawlor as its representative on a Dáil committee on political ethics and Deputy Ellis to head a Dáil committee to protect the financial interests of farmers.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  That is ironic coming from Deputy Bruton.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It is unprecedented that we still have as Tánaiste whose loose words brought down the first ever criminal trial in northern Europe of a former Prime Minister and who has not yet apologised for what she did to the Dáil or to the people.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Does Deputy Bruton have any policies about which he wishes to speak?

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It may well be grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented, but none of this is accidental, nor is it unpredictable.

The core of the problem lies in the motor force of the Fianna Fáil Party. That party has elevated pragmatism to be the supreme political value. While it still retains some antique prejudices – these were displayed during earlier interruptions—

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Pragmatism beats the hell out of total confusion.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  —it has elevated pragmatism to be the supreme political virtue. There is no longer any principle for which Fianna Fáil would be willing to sacrifice office.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  That is absolute rubbish.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  That ultimate pragmatism, that vacuum of political principle—

(Interruptions).[1317]

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order, please.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  —has created an opening through which certain business interests were able to colonise and corrupt top level members of Fianna Fáil unbeknown to most of its loyal supporters throughout the country—

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Does the Deputy have any policies about which he wants to speak? Does his party have a single policy—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  If Deputy Roche continues to interrupt I will have to ask him to leave the House.

Mr. Hayes:  Hear, hear.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  The Ceann Comhairle should leave the Deputy alone because he is only trying to obtain a promotion.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Deputy Bruton, without interruption.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  That elevation of pragmatism as the only political value has created an opening through which people who simply want their own way or who are pursuing solely their own financial interests have been able to corrupt top level members of the Fianna Fáil Party. If Fianna Fáil had strong economic, political or social principles for which it would be willing to sacrifice office, that corruption would have been impossible. Until Fianna Fáil reinvents itself as a party, with strong and controversial beliefs with which some people disagree, it will continue to be, through an excess of pragmatism, prey to corruption by those whose only aim is to make money or get their own way.

It is time for plain speaking. This motion of no confidence in the Government is a gesture. The contrary motion of confidence which was moved this morning will be passed this afternoon. It is a sign of the extent to which modern language has been emptied of all meaning that the confidence motion in this disgraceful Government will be carried by the votes of Deputies who describe themselves as “Independents” and by four other Deputies whose party describes itself as “Progressive”.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  That is democracy.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Remember Eoin O'Duffy.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Deputy Bruton, without interruption.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The so-called Independents who are actually dependent on Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats are slowly but surely regressing back into the Fianna Fáil Party from which they emerged.

[1318]Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  That is right, you can see the seams.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It is indeed a time for plain speaking. There is little point in voting no confidence in a Government unless you are willing and able to inform the people how and by whom you intend to replace it. Under our constitutional procedures, Fianna Fáil will remain in office, even after a general election, until it is replaced. In a general election, the people will want renewal but they will also want certainty. Independent candidates who cannot say for sure whether, by vote or abstention, they will re-elect Fianna Fáil after the election will not be providing the people with the certainty they need.

Fine Gael will not support Fianna Fáil in Government after the next election by external support, by coalition or by any other method.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order, please.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Difficult as it may be for Deputies opposite to believe, I say this without antipathy towards any individual member of the Fianna Fáil Party and without lack of appreciation of the beneficial role that party has played in Irish history. I have acknowledged Fianna Fáil's contribution to this State on many occasions in the House and I will do so again.

In my opinion Fianna Fáil will renew itself. I believe it can, and probably will, again become a party of principle and a truly national movement. However, it will never do that from a base in Government Buildings. If Fianna Fáil is to renew itself, it must first be in opposition.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  We were in opposition prior to the last election.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The 54 Deputies for whom I speak are the ones in this House who guarantee that after the next election Fianna Fáil will be in opposition. That is the message I will be giving to the Irish people during the next three months.

Fianna Fáil will win this afternoon's vote. However, as far as I am concerned, whether it is to last two months or two years, the general election campaign will start at 5 p.m. today.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order, please.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  This country needs a real Government, not 15 tribunal watchers sitting in Government Buildings with their minds on other matters.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Sanctimonious humbug.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The country will only have a real Government after we have first had a general election, and the sooner that happens the better.

[1319] In his contribution on Fine Gael's motion last week concerning Government policy, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, asked my party to stop criticising Fianna Fáil and produce its own policies. I know that the Minister is a busy and rather distracted man – he will be even more distracted as a result of comments made by the Taoiseach at Dublin Castle yesterday – but even he should know that Fine Gael is the only party in Dáil Éireann to have published the first draft of its general election manifesto. We did this last November, with the approval of our full parliamentary party, when we published our Plan for the Nation.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  You have already been obliged to rewrite it.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I will send a copy of that document to Deputy O'Donoghue for his files. Fine Gael's Plan for the Nation provides detailed information as to how, in government, we will develop eight new major urban growth centres or cities – Letterkenny, Tralee, Sligo, Kilkenny, Dundalk, Castlebar, Athlone and Portlaoise.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Fine Gael forgot to include Drogheda and had to rewrite its plan.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  We have set out specific figures in respect of subsidising public transport, on a rate per mile basis. We have quantified the exact number of additional local authority houses we will build, over and above those being built by the current Administration. We have further proposed measures of quality of life to give an indicator to Government of whether its policies are working. In Government, we will be judged on quantified results. Our success will not be measured in terms of economic statistics or the amount of money people have in their bank accounts, it will be measured by the quality of lives people lead.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The people wanted jobs and we provided them.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  That will be our guiding principle. We are ready for an election now and the sooner it happens the better.

The people will not forget the Hugh O'Flaherty affair, even though the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach would like to assume they will. The people passed an intermediate judgment on the Government in south Tipperary, they will pass final judgment before long. The summer recess may bring a short-term reprieve, but the Government's sell-by date has passed. Like any food product which has passed its sell-by date, staleness is followed by deterioration.

The Government represents the last word in arrogance. It is typical that members of this Administration, particularly the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, [1320] and others, should blame the public's perception of it on the media.

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid  Zoom on James McDaid  The result in Tipperary South has gone to Deputy Bruton's head. Coming second is not—

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  The Minister should be quiet because he has already put his foot in it.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Deputy Bruton, without interruption.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It is a shame that a Government Minister in the person of Deputy McDaid is so shallow that he blames the media for the Government's problems.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

(Interruptions).

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid  Zoom on James McDaid  Play it again, John.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Good government is about delivering three key components, namely moral leadership, sound economic policies and social justice.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Who would be the leader, you or Ruairí?

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  This Government is failing on all three fronts. We have not seen any personal moral leadership or accountability from the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste. In the great tradition of the Fianna Fáil-led coalitions of former Deputy Haughey and Deputy Reynolds, turmoil, in-fighting and internal disloyalty are the norm.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Deputy Bruton would know all about that.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The Taoiseach tries to ensure that the Minister for Finance bears the brunt of unpopular decisions. The Progressive Democrats try to ensure that Fianna Fáil bears the brunt of unpopular decisions and Fianna Fáil goes out of its way to ensure that the Progressive Democrats bear the blame for unpopular decisions. There is no internal loyalty, collegiality, camaraderie or collective responsibility in this Government. It is simply staying in office because there is nowhere else to go.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Wishful thinking.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Government Ministers would not be welcome anywhere else. It is not surprising that they are trying to find jobs overseas for their friends—

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  The Deputy was good at that himself.

[1321]Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  —because they may soon need friends overseas to assist them to find employment. This Government does not have any sense of collective responsibility.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Deputy Bruton filled vacancies in all the State boards with his cronies on his last day in office as Taoiseach.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Members must cease interrupting.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It is not possible for the country's problems to be dealt with by a Government which does not act as a team. It is not possible for 15 individual Ministers to do a good job if the Government is governed by suspicion, half speak and no sense.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  This is pantomime stuff.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The O'Flaherty affair was a watershed for the Government. It changed the public's unease and doubt about the Government to outright distrust and dislike. Is it any wonder that Fianna Fáil did so disastrously in Tipperary South? Real polls tell real stories.

Mr. Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming  Zoom on Seán Fleming  Labour lost a seat.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The message from Tipperary South is clear; the longer this Government stays in office, the more the public will want it out. The longer it delays the inevitable, the higher will be the electoral price to be paid by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  Dream on.

(Interruptions).

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The Tánaiste's arrogance and contempt for the Dáil reached new levels this week. She, the holder of the highest office in Government after the Taoiseach, was ignominiously rebuked by a Circuit Court judge for reckless and irresponsible comments which led to the indefinite postponement of a criminal case against former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. Worse still, the Tánaiste made these comments and jeopardised the prospects of the trial proceeding in a belated and cheap attempt to ingratiate herself with the electorate through a wide-ranging, loose tongued newspaper interview.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Deputy Bruton stirred it up.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The worst aspect of the Tánaiste's behaviour was her claim that she was not referring to the current criminal case against Mr. Haughey when she said “he should be convicted and sent to jail”. I do not believe her. To what other case could she have been referring? There is not any other criminal charge in prospect. Judge Haugh may have accepted that she [1322] was referring to some other notional case which could be taken at some notional stage in the future about some notional offence but—

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  Is Deputy Bruton questioning the judge now?

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  —I do not believe she was.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Those comments will be very helpful to the courts.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  In an open and accountable Government, such a judicial decision would have led to the resignation of the person who made the comment which led to the postponement of a criminal case. However, there is no sense of accountability in this Government and the Tánaiste's total denial of accountability illustrates more than anything else the motor principle of this Government – stay in office, deny, hope the critics will go away and that the summer holidays will lead to amnesia.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  That is nonsense.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I assure the Government that public opinion does not work that way. There are two levels of public opinion, one of which is surface opinion. Members of the Government may find that people will be quite polite to them when they leave Leinster House this afternoon and travel home throughout the country but, deep down, public opinion has changed irrevocably as far as this Government is concerned.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Deputy Bruton reads public opinion very well; he went to the country three years ago and lost.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The Taoiseach displayed deplorable judgment in appointing Mr. Ray Burke as Minister for Foreign Affairs, notwithstanding the fact that he knew that this man received a donation which was far too large to be a normal political contribution. The detective employed by the Taoiseach to investigate the matter probably displayed his greatest misjudgment in even undertaking the task.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Where is Deputy Dermot Ahern's voice now?

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Interestingly, when Deputy Burke finally fell, the Taoiseach did not take the blame himself nor did he blame Deputy Burke. He blamed me for the fact that Deputy Burke had to resign. He actually believed I was responsible for bringing a good man down. Deputy Burke fell from the bough like a rotten apple and I was the one responsible for shaking the tree, although the gardener who planted the tree had no responsibility at all. The Taoiseach's behaviour in the Deputy Burke case is typical of his ability to eschew responsibility and allow anyone else – Deputy McCreevy, Deputy Bruton, [1323] Deputy Quinn, anyone – to take responsibility for the difficult decision for which our affable Taoiseach does not wish to take responsibility.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  The Deputy is a disgrace.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Affability is more important than principle or moral leadership. We need moral leadership in this country as we enter a new millennium.

Mr. Hayes:  Hear, hear.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  We need Governments and Taoisigh who are prepared to be unpopular if that is necessary.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Who would be the leader, you or Ruairí? They did not want you.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  According to the Taoiseach, popularity is the ultimate objective of political action.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  We would have a dictatorship if you were in office.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  This Government does not have a vision. Its economic plans are all about quantity, quantity of spending, quantity of cement, quantity of construction. It does not have any vision in regard to people's quality of life. Its members do not understand the stress which is a part of people's lives now to a greater extent than it was five, ten or 12 years ago. They do not understand the pressure brought to bear on two income families who cannot find child care services, people who, after spending hours in traffic jams, have neither the time nor the energy to talk to their children.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  They were all unemployed during your term in office.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The Government does not have any sense of the non-economic values which are, ultimately, the most important aspect of politics. Money is worthless if it is not accompanied by quality of life. Although the Government constantly congratulates itself on the increasing amount of money flowing into the economy, it does not have any sense of the deterioration in people's quality of life. It does not have any sense of the deepening inequality which exists in this country. The Government's tax priorities speak loudest about the Government's social philosophy. The priority of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government is to give the largest concessions to those with the largest incomes whereas the priority of the Fine Gael and Labour parties is to provide increases in tax-free allowances which would at least confer equal benefit on those in receipt of low pay as on those at the top end of the scale.

[1324]Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Deputy Bruton did not give anything to anyone.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Some £7 for old age pensioners. We rest our case.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It is no accident that whereas when the rainbow Government was in office Ireland had the lowest rate of inflation in Europe with Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in office we have the highest rate of inflation.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Hallucinations.

(Interruptions).

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  They cannot take it.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  We have the highest rate of inflation because the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats tax policies are designed deliberately to cede more money to the already well off who spend their money on speculation in second homes, additional rented accommodation or on status goods that are in inherently limited supply – bijou apartments and bijou country retreats. These are the objectives being pursued by the beneficiaries of Fianna Fáil tax policies' largesse. As anyone who knows a little about economics will know—

Mr. C. Lenihan: Information on Conor Lenihan  Zoom on Conor Lenihan  No-one in Fine Gael knows that.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  —if you give additional resources to people whose ultimate objective is to buy things that are in inherently fixed supply, as are bijou apartments and desirable residences, then prices will go up reflecting the increased resources.

In contrast if, as Fine Gael and the Labour Party believe one should do, one gives tax concessions to those on the lower end of the income scale—

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  Why did you not do so?

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  —that money will be spent almost entirely on consumer goods which are in unlimited supply and can be supplied to respond to any additional demand that is generated by the tax concessions and which will have no inflationary effect.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  That is the economic theory.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Those economics did not work.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Our level of inflation, which is a deep worry to so many people, is directly caused by the tax choices of the Government which reward those who are status seekers and who seek to use that money to buy goods that are in inherently fixed supply and create inflation whereas the tax policies of Fine Gael and, for that matter, the Labour Party which would help the [1325] low paid in terms of priority will not increase inflation but simply increase welfare.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Rubbish. That is poppycock.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Inflation under Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats is not an accident. It may have caught the Minister for Finance and others by surprise but it is a foreseeable economic consequence of the tax choices this Government has made.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  Poppycock.

Mr. O'Flynn: Information on Noel O'Flynn  Zoom on Noel O'Flynn  If we had the rainbow coalition there would be nothing to inflate.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  The Deputy is well inflated.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Our economic problems, inflation, housing, transport and traffic have all one thing in common – they are evidence of a structural bottleneck in society. There is an insufficient supply of people to work so inflation is increasing. There is an insufficient supply of serviced land for housing so house prices are rising. There is an insufficient supply of outlets for various retail products so retail prices are rising and are far higher here than elsewhere in Europe. There is an insufficient supply of child care places so parents and children are suffering. There is an insufficient supply of public transport and road space for cars so traffic jams are getting worse.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  The Deputy's policy is one line.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Structural problems such as these can only be solved by structural reform. Such reform is needed but a Government that is nearing the end of its natural life and which is looking over its shoulder all the time at tribunals,—

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  It is not looking over its shoulder at the Deputy anyway.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  —at what it heard yesterday and knows is coming up tomorrow and which is looking suspiciously and furtively across the table at one another wondering who will pull the trap door first—

Mr. O'Flynn: Information on Noel O'Flynn  Zoom on Noel O'Flynn  The Deputy got a reprieve himself yesterday.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  —is not the kind of Government that can undertake the structural reform this country needs. It is in the objective interests of the country that we have a general election. We need a new Government. The problems that faced us in 1997 and for which this Government got a sort of a mandate—

Mr. C. Lenihan: Information on Conor Lenihan  Zoom on Conor Lenihan  A sort of a mandate?

[1326]Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Yes. You did not get a majority and you never will.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Denying democracy.

Mr. C. Lenihan: Information on Conor Lenihan  Zoom on Conor Lenihan  It is better than the Deputy's mandate.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order, please.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Those problems are no longer the problems the country is now facing. We need a new Government to face the new deep seated structural problems that society and this economy face. The only way we can get the kind of new Government this country objectively needs is through a general election. The sooner it happens the better.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order, please. I am calling Deputy Quinn.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I wish to share time with Deputy McDowell. A “no confidence motion” is a procedure that should not be overly used. It seeks to end the parliamentary mandate of a Government and forces it to seek a new mandate from the people. However, the events of recent weeks have left us with little option but to table this motion today. Given the arrogance displayed by the Government, the contempt for public opinion and its total disregard for parliamentary accountability, we would have been in dereliction of our duty not to have tabled this motion. Mind you, the Labour Party never had any confidence in the ability of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats to deal adequately with either the problems or opportunities facing this country. Now we believe the Government has exhausted the patience of the public that gave it its mandate three years ago.

Those who support this bankrupt Government this evening do so at their peril. The public is watching and waiting. The Government may win this battle but the war is already lost. The responsibility lies squarely with the Taoiseach. His election to office three years ago was accompanied by hope and some little expectation. One newspaper editorial at the time laid out the challenge before him. It was clear and concise:

He has come to office as the new face of Fianna Fáil, marking the change from the days of golden circles, business deals and strokes. Time alone will tell if that change is real or cosmetic.

The answer today could not be clearer. Even before that editorial was written, the Taoiseach had been up every tree in north County Dublin and appointed Ray Burke to cabinet. Within a [1327] few months Ray Burke was gone and with him the Taoiseach's credibility and, the hope which had been expressed in The Irish Times . More was to come. The Taoiseach excluded the Ansbacher accounts from the terms of reference of the Moriarty tribunal. His role in signing blank cheques for Mr. Haughey had to be prised from him. The Taoiseach even misled the Dáil in a vain effort to prevent these facts becoming public knowledge.

He was no more forthcoming about his representations on behalf of Mr. Sheedy. Despite telling the Tánáiste that he would inform the Dáil about his involvement in the case, he did not do so. When he was informed that Deputy Foley was an Ansbacher account holder no action was taken, not that we expected any to be taken. The Taoiseach has tested our credulity on more than one occasion since taking office. In recent weeks we have been asked to believe there was no arrangement with Hugh O'Flaherty prior to his appointment to the European Investment Bank. However, yesterday we were taken to new heights. When the Kavanagh donation story broke last week, I questioned how an inquiry failed to determine how a donation given to Fianna Fáil amounted to four times the figure recorded in its books. As I suspected, there was no inquiry. It was hardly a query.

Yesterday we were asked by the Taoiseach to believe a series of events that is simply incredible. We are asked to believe that he had a heated discussion about a non-receipted donation with the donor but at no stage did either mention the sum of money involved. Having raised the issue of not receiving a receipt with Fianna Fáil, Mr. Kavanagh was not, even at that stage, provided with one. If he had, the missing £75,000 would have become obvious. A strange coincidence.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The Deputy did not get to the bottom of Woodchester.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Was Mr. Kavanagh contacted immediately to assure him that his £25,000 was properly received and the failure to issue a receipt was an unfortunate oversight? Obviously not. Did the manner in which the money was receipted in 1989 raise concerns for new Fianna Fáil in 1996? Obviously not. Stand over this nonsense, Tánáiste, wherever you are, if you will.

It is simply not possible to believe the Taoiseach and his party were unaware until last week of the size of that donation. Is it conceivable that his party's head office failed to pass on records to the tribunal without recourse to the party President? Is it conceivable that he would be taken for granted by his staff? That is not the form of the most cunning and devious of them all.

These were important records, the meat and drink of the Moriarty tribunal and no amount of clever spinning disguises the fact that Fianna Fáil [1328] failed totally to pass on necessary and critical records to the tribunal.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Let the tribunal decide that.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  It is difficult to think of an innocent explanation. The records do not appear to have been lost, given the speed with which they were produced after the TV3 exposé. So much for the Taoiseach's promises of full co-operation with the Moriarty tribunal. So much for the boasts that he personally established the tribunals.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Some of the Deputy's own people were not so forthcoming at the tribunals.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  They were at the tribunal for weeks.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputy Quinn without interruption.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  After today it will be so much for the Progressive Democrats. The reality is that every day this Taoiseach remains in office represents a missed opportunity for this country.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Rhetoric as always, no action.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  His single and sole interest is in hanging on to power: power for power's sake. Not power to achieve political goals, not power to map out new directions for our nation, but power because it alone is the holy grail he learnt from his former master, Charles J. Haughey.

Power lets you look after your own with misplaced political patronage, as Deputy O'Donnell referred to it—

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  The Deputy was well able to do it.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  —like rescuing Mr. O'Flaherty because deep down he never really believed that he had done anything wrong. Political expediency dictated he should go, so he did, but he went with a nod and a wink.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  The Deputy's man said he should go.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  That is how Haughey operated and it is how Fianna Fáil continues to operate. Against these priorities, the concerns of the public are secondary.

It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I find it difficult to believe that Mr. O'Flaherty did what he did without some kind of political input. In his interview with TV3 he studiously avoided answering the question as to whether political contacts had been made with him and instead he stated he had not been influenced by political figures. That is not the same thing.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Any proof?

[1329]Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The Deputy should say that outside the House.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Why else was it imperative for Fianna Fail to ensure that Mr. O'Flaherty could not be asked to appear before the Joint Oireachtas Committee?

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The Deputy should say that outside the House.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Those Fianna Fáil backbenchers who colluded in this decision, but who deep down know they should not have done so, are the real losers.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The Deputy is taking a person's character.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputy Quinn without interruption.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  To protect their party's political establishment, they have been thrown to the wolves and they will regret it.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  Hypocrisy.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  The Progressive Democrats were elected to prevent these worst excesses. Unfortunately the days of Dessie O'Malley are long since gone and in his place we have Deputy Harney, who is presiding over the slow death pangs of that party. She is the person so appalled by the 1994 tax amnesty that she sits – or at least used to sit, when she sat in here at all – at the right hand of the man who introduced it and who defended it recently before the Committee of Public Accounts inquiry.

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

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Was Deputy Quinn not party to that?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Her raising of this issue in recent days can only be read as a thinly coded attack on her colleague and Taoiseach.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Backbone of a jellyfish.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Deputy Ahern should be sent to investigate.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Hercule Poirot.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  We will find some trees for Deputy Ahern to climb.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Deputy Harney thinks the O'Flaherty affair will be forgotten, but she is wrong and she will pay the price for that error. She may have spent most of the week hiding away from the media, but she will not be able to hide from the electorate for her part in what Deputy O'Donnell has described as a wrong decision and one which [1330] will poison every other decision made by Government. Deputy Harney will be remembered as the only party leader who achieved precisely the opposite of what her party was established to achieve – the calling to account of Mr. Haughey. It is a particular skill that allows one to be so inept as to be able to grab defeat from the jaws of victory in so spectacular a fashion, but Deputy Harney has it. She still believes she does not owe an explanation to anybody for her actions, least of all the Dáil, which has been treated with increasing arrogance and contempt by the Government.

We have heard in recent days, speeches about the achievements of this Government and no doubt there are more to come, comparing its record with its predecessors. It is an indictment in itself that three years into its term this Government continues to look over its shoulder rather than ahead. The reality is that this Government has had an opportunity to transform this country in a manner denied to any of its predecessors. It has an opportunity to address issues that no other Government could have conceived of. This is an age in which we should be ambitious and radical and in which we could bring to fruition the nobler visions of our forefathers.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The Deputy wanted to close local hospitals.

(Interruptions).

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Minister should allow Deputy Quinn to continue without interruption.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  It is difficult to put up with this nonsense.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  That it has not failed but refused to even try will be its worst epitaph. There has never been a time in which it has been more inappropriate to have a Taoiseach afraid of the big issues, who is constantly looking over his shoulders to see where everybody else is and whose political instincts are to do nothing and say nothing if it involves charting new waters and taking tough decisions.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  Nonsense.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  The Government's record is pitifully clear. Inflation is at its highest level for 15 years and the Taoiseach has conceded that it will rise a further full point to 6.2% before the year is out. People on basic social welfare payments will get poorer in a year that the Minister for Finance dispensed more than £1 billion worth of tax cuts to the better off.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The Deputy fixed it—

(Interruptions).[1331]

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Minister should allow the Deputy to continue without interruption.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Those who have protested or even suggested that the Government might think again have been subjected to vulgar abuse from the Taoiseach and his contemptuous Minster for Finance. Both men are committed to similar tax reductions this year, to buy off the electorate in inimitable Fianna Fáil 1977 style, which will further fuel our inflation problem.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The hypocrisy.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Hospital waiting lists are higher than they were when the rainbow Government left office.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  Now Deputy Quinn is looking back in time.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  The cost and availability of nursing home care for our elderly remains prohibitive, respite places for people with disabilities remains inadequate, child care is in crisis and public transport is totally inadequate and increasingly expensive. Nobody has an idea where stands public transport policy for Dublin. Young couples cannot buy a house in their native cities. Evictions are up, housing lists and homelessness are rising, traditional communities are being destroyed and a quarter of children live in poverty. Violent crime continues to destroy lives and devastate communities, yet the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform thinks he is living in the 1950s. The list is endless and appalling.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  What will Deputy Quinn do about it?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  So wedded to the past and so arrogantly out of touch is this Government, that it is even incapable of acting in its own interests. The issue of corporate funding is a good example. The Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, the Taoiseach's patsy on more than one occasion, and Deputy Fleming would do well to consider why their politically astute solo runs on the issue of political funding have been stymied by their own party leader.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  We have debate in our party.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Nothing would serve politics better than a complete break with the past, but it would serve Fianna Fáil best. It cannot be done according to the Taoiseach – will not be done is closer to the truth.

The era of corporate funding is over for us all, even if the Taoiseach is intent on wearing his fingers to the bone holding on to the old regime.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  What about trade union funding? Mr. Quinn brought in a Bill to limit what he could get to £30,000. This is hypocrisy.

[1332]Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I suspect the next leader of Fianna Fail – and it will not be Deputy Dermot Ahern – will not have to be taught this lesson.

The Government has one solitary substantial achievement and I pay tribute to it for that. It has done well on the North, but it is so desperate to play this up it is intent on writing out of the equation all others, including former leaders of Fianna Fáil. Success in Northern Ireland is more attributable to David Trimble, John Hume, Séamus Mallon, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness than to either of the Prime Ministers.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  That is nonsense.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Neither should the Taoiseach forget that unlike his predecessors he had the luxury of working with a British Prime Minister who had a comfortable and supportive majority.

If there is one issue on which the Government and the Taoiseach has shown itself spectacularly unwilling and unprepared to show political leadership, it is the issue of asylum seekers and immigration. A 21st century problem has elicited a 19th century response. The Taoiseach's only notable intervention was designed to solicit short-term and short sighted electoral support.

Racism is becoming a prevalent and ugly feature of our society. It has no place among a people who have suffered at its hands for centuries as the Irish have. Despite an increasing number of racist attacks, this issue has been met with stoney silence and inaction from the Government.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  That is incorrect. The Deputy should check the record.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  There has not been an information or public awareness campaign despite the promise of £1 million for that purpose. Most importantly, we will not get from this Government or the Fianna Fáil party the reassessment of what it means to be Irish in Europe in a globalised world economy or in the 21st century.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The Deputy's remarks are racist in themselves.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Much hot air will be expelled here today. The Government fight back is on, we are told. Ministers, Deputies Cowen and McDaid have been on the airwaves announcing the same. They need not have bothered. Attacking the media is the last refuge of the desperate. Attacking the tribunals, as senior Ministers did yesterday, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. The die is cast and the public are waiting for them. They have found that there is no new Fianna Fáil and that the Progressive Democrats is anything but progressive. There will be little mercy for the so-called Independents who seem intent on keeping this arrogant and deeply unpopular Government in power.

[1333]Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  Who lost a seat in Tipperary South?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Fianna Fáil lost all five by-elections.

As a unit they do a disservice to the title “Independent”. They are the Government's political props, and they will suffer the same fate as it.

The Government may survive another few months. However, those few months will be as confused as the last few. There is one issue facing this Government – how it ends. After yesterday I am sure the Tánaiste lay awake at night dreaming of an exit strategy. Her ineptitude in recent weeks has left her none. She has bartered her credibility for office. For three years we have wondered how much the Progressive Democrats could take. The answer is – more than we ever imagined.

There are a few simple lessons in politics but one is more simple than the rest: Do not treat the public with contempt and expect to get away with it. That is what the Taoiseach, his Tánaiste and his Minister for Finance have done. The choice facing their supporters today is whether to sink or swim with him. They still have a chance to regain some of their credibility. Many of them have been deeply alarmed at the performance of the Government they support in recent weeks. They, unlike their masters, still have a chance to redeem themselves.

Motions of “no confidence” in a Government are not tabled lightly. The decision to be taken this evening is an important one. The behaviour the Government is asking its supporters to endorse today falls far below that which our citizens are entitled to expect. It is demeaning politics and our democracy. Those who stand over it will ultimately pay the price.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The Deputy made not one suggestion as to how to cure anything.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Derek McDowell  Zoom on Derek McDowell  It is time for the Government to go because it is, by some distance, the most ideologically right-wing Government the country has had for some time, it has shamelessly used the fruits of economic growth to benefit the better off, its mismanagement of the economy threatens to derail the best opportunity the nation has ever had, the party which leads it is hopelessly tainted with the corruption of its recent past and the behaviour of Fianna Fáil threatens to destroy the faith of our people in the very institutions of our democracy.

The Taoiseach said it all yesterday. Once you go beyond £8.5 million you do not get shocked any more. The Taoiseach is not shocked any more, none of us is nor are the people. At first they were shocked and amazed but with each sickening detail and piece of naked effrontery, they became angry and resentful. After Dunlop, all of that has given way to a corrosive cynicism, a belief that all politicians are on the take and a widespread belief that politics itself has failed.

[1334] Not all of this is the fault of Fianna Fáil but much of it is. People at all levels in that party have been shown to be in the pockets of rich people and to have lined their pockets with money from those people. A Fianna Fáil Taoiseach lived off big business for every day he held office. Two of his Ministers, Deputies Ray Burke and Pádraig Flynn received huge sums of money from wealthy supporters who benefited hugely from Government decisions.

The Taoiseach reappointed Mr. Burke to one of the most senior positions in Cabinet in the full knowledge that he had received large sums of money in suspicious circumstances. Since Christmas Fianna Fáil has driven out two of its Deputies because it could no longer defend them in the face of overwhelming evidence that all was not right. That said, the Government is more than happy to depend on the support of those Deputies in the lobbies. Dozens of councillors accepted donations of one kind or another from people who were looking to make huge profits from rezoning in Dublin county.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Were none of them on the Deputy's side of the House?

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  None.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Derek McDowell  Zoom on Derek McDowell  No Labour Party member, councillor, Minister or leader has appeared before the tribunal. That remains the position, as of today.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Deputy Noel Ahern is a coward.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Derek McDowell  Zoom on Derek McDowell  This week is important. We learned this week that Fianna Fáil failed to provide the tribunal with vital information until a story had broken in the media. We learned that Fianna Fáil maintained a separate list of donors, at least some of whom were listed as anonymous in the party's cash receipts book. We learned that Charles Haughey directed that those donors were not to be sent receipts by head office but he would deal with the matter directly. This must surely have struck someone as strange at the time. Ten years later when a request came from the tribunal for information it must surely have occurred to someone in Fianna Fáil that this was precisely the sort of information in which the tribunal was interested yet the information was not sent. It may be that the second list was lost or they forgot they had it, but surely that makes it all the more curious that it turned up again as soon as the Kavanagh story broke in the media. We have not heard the last of this story. I suspect there is much more to come. So far the Fianna Fáil story is sticking together but it stinks to high heaven.

I listened yesterday to the Minister for Foreign Affairs on radio. Beyond the spin and the bluster there is one substantive point with which I strongly agree. People are fed up with the politics of sleaze. The nation needs to move away from [1335] the politics of sleaze to the issues which affect the lives of our citizens: education, health, housing and the economy. Where this Government has a problem is that it is no longer possible for it to get us back to normal politics. It is dogged and tainted by the corruption of the recent past and damned by the fact that it tolerated it for so long.

I do not have time to assess the Government's management of the economy but a few things must be said. No objective observer would accept the contention that this Government has been primarily responsible for the economic growth which we have enjoyed in recent years. We have experienced sustained high levels of growth since the early 1990s. If one asks any reasonable person, he or she will list social partnership, foreign direct investment, a well-educated and flexible workforce, prudent fiscal policy and a host of other factors as the key elements of success. All of the last several Governments, including this one, have made their contributions and to pretend economic growth started in June 1997 is silly.

However, this Government is responsible for the way in which it has used and misused the opportunity presented by this sustained growth. In two of the last three budgets, tax cuts have been unapologetically skewed to benefit the better off. So lopsided was the last budget that the measures would not have passed this House had the Members sitting behind the Ministers realised into what they had just been bounced. The Minister for Finance was later forced to introduce a mini-budget to neutralise the effect of the first effort. This did not happen because of incompetence, it happened because the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, still believes in the trickle down economics to which the rest of the world was happy to bid goodbye when we lost Margaret Thatcher and George Bush.

This has been a time of unique opportunity, a short but vital time when we could have transformed our services and invested in the future, a time when a Government with the political will could have realistically made Ireland a fairer more equal place in which to live. It has not been all bad. It would be difficult for any Government with the money available to this one to get it all wrong but, nonetheless, the facts are damning. After three years the hospital waiting lists are as long as ever. We have no idea of the Government's public transport policy. There are 40,000 people on local authority housing waiting lists. Most important of all, inflation is headed for a 20 year high and everyone, bar the Minister for Finance, knows the economy is overheated. The message is clear – we must do better, and we must do better soon. If we do not, we will squander an opportunity the likes of which no generation of Irish people has ever had.

As others have said, the Government will likely win the vote today. It will win the vote not because it has enough votes of its own – we all know it has not – it will win if, and only if, it [1336] wins the support of several Deputies who presented themselves to the electorate in 1997 as Independents. It is true Deputy Fox allowed herself a few moments of silent contemplation on these benches a few weeks ago, and I commend her on that, but other than those few moments not one Independent Deputy has expressed the slightest unease at what has happened in these last few months.

The country is outraged by the O'Flaherty appointment. Even Fianna Fáil backbenchers are less than happy. Even Deputy Noel Ahern might be coming around to that view. Yet the so-called Independents are all sitting pretty. They have nothing to say about a Fianna Fáil decision taken by a Fianna Fáil Minister to look after a Fianna Fáil man. Each has sold his or her soul and political judgment for the sake of a few constituency favours. They should give up the pretence of independence and apply to Mount Street for their cumann cards.

Then, of course, there is the Progressive Democrats. I do not intend to goad them or kick them while they are down – it would serve no purpose. It would serve no purpose not least because I know and they know that sooner or later they will join us in the níl lobbies. The process of getting from there to here is not pleasant, but it can be remarkably quick. At first one's heart wants one to move, then one's mind persuades one that one ought to move and then events force one across. There is a point when the process becomes unstoppable and we have reached that point this week. The sooner it happens, the better.

I remember ten years ago hearing Deputy Spring on the benches comment on Charles Haughey. He said that Haughey was a cancer in the Irish body politic. I remember thinking at the time the language used was over the top, but how right he was. The spread of that cancer has continued ever since. It threatens to consume our democracy. It has already infected this Government and make no mistake, it is terminal.

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): Information on James McDaid  Zoom on James McDaid  May I share my time with the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid  Zoom on James McDaid  I would like to start my contribution to this no confidence debate with an extract from a fascinating book I have been reading called The New Prince by Dick Morris which is about American politics and—

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The Minister should try the old prince by Machiavelli.

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid  Zoom on James McDaid  —it has an uncanny resonance in terms of what we have seen today. He states that in the past few decades voters have become vastly better informed, more centrist, more [1337] sophisticated and increasingly disgusted with the negative tone of our politics but that politics and the news media do not get it. He further states that politicians only dish out and the media cover only the most negative, simplistic, distorted and partisan rhetoric possible.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Are we back to Nazi Germany again?

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid  Zoom on James McDaid  He also states that too often our elections are a race to the bottom, a contest to see who can sink the lowest and that that is not just bad government, it is stupid politics.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  The Minister is an expert on stupidity.

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid  Zoom on James McDaid  That is what I have heard here this morning – a race to the bottom. After his display in the House this morning, when historians come to write about the Fine Gael Party under the leadership of Deputy John Bruton, it will probably be known as “Brutonism” or a form of McCarthyism whereby if one does not have any policies, one must resort to personal attacks.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  Is that why the Minister left Fine Gael when he was a young man?

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid  Zoom on James McDaid  This country and many in Deputy Bruton's party are getting tired of his sanctimonious, empty rhetoric which constantly keeps Deputy Noonan and his party fixed to the bottom of the opinion polls. South Tipperary has gone to their heads. They celebrated finishing second but then finishing second is not a position Deputy Bruton or the Fine Gael party occupy too often.

Whether our opponents or critics like it, no Government in modern times has been able to approach the Dáil on a confidence motion with a comparable record of progress and achievement. The Opposition and our other critics cannot dispute this. The evidence is plain for all to see and the record is clear. The success story of today's economy began about a dozen years ago when an incoming Fianna Fáil Government took over from an incompetent Fine Gael-led coalition that had brought the country to the threshold of bankruptcy.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  Fiction.

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid  Zoom on James McDaid  One does not have to be very old or even middle aged to remember when the economists were suggesting that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund would have to intervene to tell us how to run the country.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  That was after Mr. Haughey was about.

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid  Zoom on James McDaid  As I have pointed out previously in this House, one could characterise the state of the nation in those years by prefixing a litany of negatives with the word “massive”– massive [1338] inflation, massive taxation, massive unemployment, massive emigration and massive national debt.

Whatever the Opposition spindoctors or commentators try to tell them, the people are able to compare and contrast the situation today with the dismal prospect which prevailed under the last rainbow Government. After three years of Deputy Bertie Ahern's leadership, the country is more prosperous than at any time since the establishment of the State. We now have a very healthy budget surplus. In three budgets, the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, has brought about record tax reductions so that working people today have more money in their pockets than ever before. He is committed to giving people more of their own money back in his next two budgets. Our pensioners are now getting decent worthwhile increases. Instead of the chronic unemployment which habitually marked the periods of Fine Gael-Labour Government, we are now approaching full employment and experiencing actual labour shortages in some sectors for the first time in the history of the State. Emigrants are now returning to employ their experience and skills in our own country.

If one comes down the Ballymun Road, as I often do on my way back from Donegal, one can, on a clear day, get an excellent view of the city of Dublin. I had a visitor with me one evening recently and he noted the countless construction cranes on the city skyline. Those cranes may not be an artist's ideal but they are clear indications of a thriving economy, of progress and of jobs. My friend remarked that if the rainbow coalition was re-elected it would not be long before the construction cranes began to fade from the scene. The rainbow coalition is full of theories but does not know how to make things work.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  Unlike Mark Kavanagh, he knows how to make things work.

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid  Zoom on James McDaid  The Deputy is infamous for making 24 appointments to health boards one month before they were due to be made, and just before he left office. He is some man to talk.

In the past three years we have seen how good government can get the economy moving in top gear. We have created the wealth which enables us to set about providing the social dividend that our community deserves and has earned. The central theme of the Taoiseach's campaign in the last general election was Making Ireland a Better Place.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I thought it was People Before Politics.

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid  Zoom on James McDaid  The national development plan comprises £40 billion investment in better services for our people – better infrastructure, better communications and better provision for the marginalised and vulnerable in our society – and is the instrument through which that objective [1339] will be attained. We are now in a position to deliver on that commitment. Across the whole sphere of national endeavour – education, services for older people and tackling inner city and urban disadvantage – the measures in the national plan will be implemented to serve a new, confident and caring Irish society in this 21 century.

As an Ulsterman from Donegal, I point with particular pride to the truly remarkable progress made in our search for a just and equitable solution in Northern Ireland. Last week we had an historic and truly unprecedented event when the IRA demonstrated to distinguished and impartial international experts that its arms are well and truly beyond use. It must be clear to all but the most sceptical that the threat of violence, certainly from the established republican side, is effectively banished. There are also grounds for hope that the threat of armed violence from the loyalist side will recede and disappear.

Every Deputy must acknowledge that the extent of the transformation in Northern Ireland would not have been dreamt of even ten years ago. Deputies would also acknowledge that the progress we see today derives in the main from the courageous initiatives of successive Fianna Fáil leaders with the co-operation of enlightened political leaders on all sides in the North. I readily acknowledge that in their patient quest for a new way forward since the first ceasefire, Deputies Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern enjoyed the constructive support of the Opposition, and we are grateful for that support.

It is a measure of how far we have come that this morning the Tánaiste is meeting the Northern Ireland Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Sir Reg Empey, to discuss areas of co-operation which will mutually benefit North and South. Sir Reg Empey's portfolio also embraces tourism and this afternoon I will meet him to discuss the enormous potential of tourism for further growth in the economies in both parts of this island. From the perspective of ten years ago, the fact that such meetings can take place surely represents enormous progress.

Perhaps there is a lesson for us in the approach taken by all parties in this House to the problem of Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, when we come to deal with other important policy matters we habitually allow ourselves to be caught up in the tension-filled mood of adversarial politics. This tradition predisposes us all to a knee-jerk reaction. Once the Government proposes, the Opposition automatically opposes. We search for weaknesses in each other's ideas and arguments instead of conceding there may be merit on the other side. No side of this House has a monopoly on wisdom.

Fortunately, we see examples of how the Dáil could work in a constructive way. During Committee Stage of Bills we often see useful and positive exchanges. The discussion on the Shannon estuary in this House on Wednesday night was [1340] exemplary, reflecting credit on Deputies on all sides. If we adopted the approach taken to Northern Ireland in dealing with other major policy matters we might do a better job for the people.

The progress made in tourism and sport provide convincing grounds for confidence in this Administration. Tourism has been a major success story and 1999 was the best ever year for Irish tourism. If one considers that, in addition to revenue from overseas visitors, domestic trips in 1999 were valued at over £879 million, one can appreciate the true economic value of our thriving tourism industry. That industry is worth £3.38 billion and provided jobs for 135,000 people in 1999. Last year more than 6,000,000 overseas visitors came to Ireland, representing an increase of over 6% on the previous year. This further demonstrates how tourism is rapidly on its way to becoming our biggest industry. If we look after it, keeping up our promotional efforts and maintaining our competitive advantages, tourism will be worth a massive £4.5 billion to the economy in 2005.

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Fahey): Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  It is clear this motion is a last, dying kick on the part of Deputy Quinn and the Labour Party as we come to the end of this session. There have been many attempts over the past 12 months to cry wolf, particularly by the Labour Party, but it is evident this has disintegrated into a damp squib.

The Labour Party has many questions to ask itself when one considers its record.

Ms O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  It is clear the Minister is not adopting the same approach as Deputy McDaid.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  It is difficult for the Deputy to accept facts, but I am the newest member of the Government. I spent two and a half years in the Department of Health and Children and Deputy Noonan did a good job when he was Minister. However, towards the end of the previous Government's term of office, it decreased the amount of money provided for the most vulnerable children from £10 million to £5 million. The last budget provided an increase of £40 million for this area. The Labour Party professes to be socialist and concerned about the less well off. However, it is disinterested in the less well off as proven by its actions in Government.

Ms O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  So much for the constructive approach suggested by the Minister's colleague, Deputy McDaid.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Please allow the Minister speak as time is limited.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  The Labour Party gave the two fingers to the less well off by proposing free university fees for the children of the wealthy while its supporters in housing estates throughout the country could not get near a university. In that [1341] context, the Labour Party has some nerve to profess itself as being a socialist party.

It is important we get back to fundamentals in a debate such as this. At least Fine Gael had the good sense to move on and revamp its Front Bench. However, once again the Labour Party is pandering to whatever part of society believes there is nothing but negativism in politics.

In a recent radio interview with Rodney Rice, Deputy Quinn gave the most pathetic response I have heard from any spokesperson when asked about inflation. There is no doubt we must all be concerned that inflation may reach 6%. However, when asked what he would do about the problem, Deputy Quinn said the next budget would have to undo the damage done in the last budget by unashamedly concentrating all tax concessions on the low paid and those on fixed incomes. He also said that increases in pensions for people reliant upon pensions must be concentrated in that area, and that the internal thresholds aggravate people very seriously. That was Deputy Quinn's response when asked what the Labour Party would do about inflation. It shows an absolute lack of policy in respect of major issues of Government and economy.

In regard to inflation, I have been looking at reports in recent days and the responses of the top economists and economic commentators. They bear out that Deputy McCreevy is doing the right thing. The last quarterly economic focus of AIB Corporate and Commercial Treasury—

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  All right-wing economists.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  —stated that the Government is under pressure to do something, but the rate of inflation could decelerate to 3% in 2001, and doing nothing could be the best strategy.

Ms O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  The Minister is hardly taking his line from the banks.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  Yesterday, Jim O'Leary, one of the most respected economists in this country also gave a positive response on the way the whole inflation question is being dealt with. The fact of the matter is—

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  The fact of the matter is that the three of them got it wrong.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  —that the economic projections for growth in this economy year on year between now and 2006 is an average of 7%. That is a phenomenal growth rate in an economy, and those are realistic figures. They are not my figures. They are the most realistic figures available. The economic growth for this year was 10%. We have an economy such as we have never had before, when one remembers the difficulties we faced in 1987.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  Remember 1981, and 1979?

[1342]Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  These are the issues on which the public want us to concentrate. People want employment, lower taxes, housing. They want traffic problems dealt with. Deputies should bear in mind the proposals of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey, for new motorways from Dublin to Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Sligo and Belfast. That is an indication of the kind of development taking place in this economy.

I became Minister for the Marine and Natural resources only in the past six months, but I was very pleasantly surprised, having read what the papers say about differences between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, by the exceptionally good working relationship that exists between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats both in Cabinet and outside. Deputy Harney is, for the most part, responsible for that. She has been an exceptionally good Tánaiste and Minister, and she has been put under pressure unfairly by the Opposition whenever there was a crisis. She has been the star of this Government in her performance right across the spectrum.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  I hope the flattery works.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  Let the Opposition be in no doubt but that the parties in this Government are co-operating and working well together.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  They do not look too happy.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  Fianna Fáil are good for the Progressive Democrats, and the Progressive Democrats are equally good for Fianna Fáil.

It is my intention to make the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources a major economic development agency for this country. We will spend more than £170 million during the period of the national development plan. We are driving forward in development in fisheries, in aquaculture, in marine tourism, in natural resources and in forestry. I will deal with natural resources as an example. Right now there is stronger interest in mineral exploration in Ireland than we have ever had in the past, with more than 460 licences currently on issue. In the past three years, Ireland has held its own to world-wide acclaim in exploration expenditure. In terms of some areas of exploration such as base metal, Ireland is now fifth on the world scale as a producer. That is the result of continuing development and investment. One oil rig found gas last week and another is starting to explore off the south coast with considerable chance of success. This Government is doing well. It is sad that the Labour Party is wasting our time on this useless debate today.

Deputy Noonan rose.

Ms O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  Now that the Minister for Finance has arrived, would the Minister repeat that it is Government policy to do nothing about [1343] inflation? That is what he just said. Is that Government policy?

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  Let me clarify that.

Ms O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  That is what the Minister said.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  I quoted from the AIB Corporate and Commercial Treasury report.

(Interruptions).

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I ask the Minister to allow Deputy Noonan to speak, and I ask Deputy O'Sullivan not to encroach on Deputy Noonan's time.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  This Government is arrogant, incompetent, riven by internal dissension, and probably dishonest, as it stumbles punch drunk into the recess. It is presided over by a Taoiseach whose inability to remember important events casts a doubt over his capacity to govern, and by a Tánaiste whose judgment is now so bad that her colleagues are terrified every time she makes a decision.

This Government, having inherited an economy which was the envy of Europe, has a Minister for Finance whose handling of the economy is reducing confidence and who by ignoring the canker of inflation is putting Ireland's prosperity at risk. The O'Flaherty affair is the touchstone of this failed Administration. The display by Fianna Fáil and the Taoiseach at yesterday's hearing of the Moriarty tribunal sent a shudder through the country, and the Tánaiste's ill-considered remarks about Mr. Haughey have prevented the courts from proceeding with his trial for the foreseeable future.

We are surely living in marvellous times when the Taoiseach's brother-in-law, a Revenue appeals commissioner, wrote off £2 million tax owed by Mr. Haughey and the Tánaiste's ill-considered intervention has ensured that Mr. Haughey's trial cannot proceed. That a woman who has dedicated her political career to eradicating “Haughey-ism” from Irish politics is now the instrument through which he escapes, will surely enter the textbooks as the classic example of dramatic irony.

In the minutes available to me I do not wish to concentrate on the sleaze-generating capacity of this Administration. I wish to speak on a matter which is almost as serious – the likelihood that the Minister for Finance, Mr. Charlie McCreevy, will sink the economy, and the likelihood that the Government, as it slides into a swamp of sleaze and misjudgment, will try to recover lost ground by buying the next election with the next budget.

No Minister for Finance has ever had the resources at his disposal that this Minister has. One would have thought that he would be the most successful Minister for Finance ever—

[1344]Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  He is, and there is no doubt about that.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  Sycophancy is a polite description of that kind of intervention.

One would have thought he would be the most successful Minister for Finance ever, and that his wisdom and generosity would be toasted throughout the land. Instead, he has staggered from one bad decision to another, has caused dissension within the Government, has had his backbenchers throwing their hands up in horror, and has made his name a synonym for wilfulness and arrogance.

Everyone recalls the appalling mess he made of the last budget. His arrogance in refusing to meet the Irish Credit Union Movement has appalled many people. His nomination of Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty to the European Investment Bank and his stubborn insistence in proceeding with the appointment, his failure to deal with rising house prices, his failure to take control of spiralling inflation, and his frequent refusal to answer questions in the House have appalled many observers.

The Government has been forgiven much by the people because of the success of the economy. There is now a danger, however, that the rust of inflation will corrode the economy and that the Government will introduce a dangerously inflationary budget to buy back the favour it has lost with the electorate.

The last budget will never be forgotten. The Minister, with billions of pounds at his disposal, caused chaos by the foolishness of his decisions and had to row back to such a degree that the budget implemented by the Finance Bill was a total reconstruction of that which the Minister introduced on budget day and cost about £300 million more.

There is one fact about the budget that has not been fully understood. The Minister for Finance could have achieved all the benefits he claims for the individualisation of the tax bands by proceeding in the traditional manner, and having increased the range of the standard rate band for single persons doubled its range for married couples. The Minister refused to do this on cost grounds, not on policy grounds. This approach would have cost an additional £130 million. One week later the Minister spent more than £130 million in balancing measures which he was forced to introduce for stay at home spouses.

The last budget was unfair. Its principal benefits were awarded to the better off sections of society. Those on low and middle incomes got little enough relief and those on social welfare got an average increase of 5%. The Taoiseach has predicted that inflation will reach 6.2% this year – the Central Bank and the ESRI predict that annual inflation will reach 5%. Rising inflation has eroded much of the tax relief in the budget, cancelled out social welfare increases and negatived the wage increase negotiated under the PPF. If we apply the Taoiseach's figure of 6.2%, most people on low pay, social welfare and fixed [1345] incomes will be poorer at the end of the year than at the beginning. That is not much of a record for the most prosperous economy in Europe. It is an appalling record for a Minister for Finance in such prosperous times.

It will be very dangerous if the Minister's next budget is as expansionary as this year's budget. His backbenchers are expecting an election budget and he is committed to the social partners to introduce further tax relief, but with inflation at 6.2% a budget along the lines of this year's will endanger prosperity and further fuel inflation. The Minister for Finance must do something he has so far failed to do, namely, listen to the advice he is receiving both within his Department and from independent, objective commentators.

One of the most astounding displays of arrogance from the Minister for Finance has been his treatment of the Irish League of Credit Unions. It wanted to meet him to discuss a modification in the manner in which credit unions are taxed, but he refused to do so, even when the Irish League of Credit Unions was met by both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. Since then he has hidden behind a contrived European controversy on the taxation of financial institutions, and still refuses to meet with the representatives of hundreds of thousands of small investors and the volunteer corps who organise the league. Mr. McCreevy seems to be an advocate of Government of the aristocracy for the aristocracy, and the longer he and his colleagues remain in Government the more they forget their roots and insult the people who put them in power.

Nothing has grasped the imagination of the public more than the nomination of Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty to the EIB. Just over 12 months ago Mr. O'Flaherty received a letter from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, which, though couched in diplomatic language, threatened Mr. O'Flaherty with impeachment if he did not resign. One year later the Minister for Finance nominated him to a job in Europe which is equivalent to a European commissionership in status, pay and conditions. The Government seems to have lost all touch with reality when it agreed to this nomination, and yet despite the manifest anger of the people expressed in opinion polls and in the result of the by-election in south Tipperary, the Minister for Finance continues to insist he is right, that Mr. O'Flaherty is the best possible candidate available for the job, and he is proceeding with the appointment regardless of the opinions of his colleagues in Government, Fianna Fáil backbenchers, the House and the public. There is only one word for that, and I think it is on everybody's mind.

At the end of the day, however, inflation is the Achilles heel of the Government. The Minister for Finance introduced an inflationary budget and claimed annual inflation would be held at 3%. Last month he raised this estimate to 4%, last week he raised it to almost 5% and this week the Taoiseach predicted inflation would peak at [1346] 6.2%. Last week's CPI figures set inflation at 5.2%, three times the European average. The claim by the Government that inflation is due to external factors such as rising oil prices and the weakness of the euro no longer wash. Oil prices have risen all over the world and have affected all European economies. The euro is weak not only in Ireland but right through euro-land, yet our inflation is three times higher than the European average. There is no point putting forward explanations for inflation which are common across Europe when our rate is three times the EU average. The springs of Irish inflation are in the domestic economy and the Minister's failure to deal with inflation is the rock on which this Administration will perish.

Last week's whitewashing attempt to deal with the escalating price of houses is as good an example as we are likely to get that the Government has no intention of taking the necessary steps. Most independent commentators believe the Government will do nothing about inflation and will continue with the Fianna Fáil tradition of hoping it will come right on the night. What terrifies sensible people, however, is that the Administration, in continuing to ignore the threat of inflation, will make a bad situation worse by introducing a budget to once more buy the electorate and in so doing will wreck the economy.

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  It is a sad morning as 114 people in north Mayo have lost their jobs. Last week the IDA published its annual report and said it had created 18,000 jobs. The increase in jobs in the west was 127 – that is what the IDA and the Government did for the west last year. This morning I got a telephone call from a woman in north Mayo who said her son, who works in Warners in Belmullet, received his notice this morning. She told me both herself and her husband are pensioners and that of their family of seven, six are in England. That is the only son living at home and she said they wanted to keep him there.

The response of the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, is to establish a task force, I am sick and tired of task forces. We are great at setting up task forces and authorities, with the Border and midland authority, the Western Development Commission, the western regional authority, the Leader programmes and Údarás na Gaeltachta. Last year the annual report of Údarás showed that it created 114 jobs in Mayo while 117 jobs were lost. Last year I called for the abolition of Údarás na Gaeltachta, and I repeat that call this morning.

The Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, runs around the constituency putting a few pounds into bog roads here and there for his cronies all over Mayo, giving the impression he is a great Minister. This is the Minister who allowed Norsk Hydro, a company with an investment of £28 million, to be sold to a man from Cavan when it could have been bought for £300,000 by Údarás na Gaeltachta as an asset. On behalf of the workers [1347] who lost their jobs in Belmullet, their wives, families, mothers, sons and daughters, I want to ask what the Government will do for north Mayo. It will do nothing because it has done nothing for the region for the past three years. These people, who have to pay mortgages, have no work, which is very serious. What proposals does the Government have to bring investment to north Mayo?

I wish to discuss the health services. I am delighted the most recent appointee to the Cabinet, Deputy Fahey, is in the House. I wish him well and like to see people from the west joining the Cabinet. Before his appointment it was the first time in the history of the State that we did not have a Minister from Mayo or Connacht. It was reported in the national media that a life was tragically lost during a power cut in a hospital with which the Minister is familiar, University College Hospital, Galway. A lady died on a trolley while waiting to enter for an operation. Is that what the Government thinks about the health service, that we should let a person die for the want of £2 million at a time when the Minister for Finance informs daily of the rate at which the economy is progressing and the tax revenue being generated? This is wrong.

A total of 114 people have lost their jobs this week in north Mayo. The Government has let down the region. Its people have lost confidence in the Government, just like I have.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  It is not often the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, inspires me to do anything but what he said on “Morning Ireland” on Wednesday inspired me to take part in this debate. He tried to deflect attention away from the appointment of Hugh O'Flaherty to the European Investment Bank and the fact that the Taoiseach had been summoned to appear before the Moriarty tribunal by stating on two or three occasions that the debate should not focus on these issues but on the everyday lives of the people. I will take him at his word.

In a time of economic boom how have we improved the everyday lives of the people? Three months ago the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, said we should all celebrate the budget surplus of £3 billion. How should the 1,600 people on the housing list in Galway city and county, the 3,000 people on hospital waiting lists in the Western Health Board, the 36,855 people on hospital waiting lists nationally, and the man waiting two years for a prostate gland operation at the regional hospital in respect of which he has had his appointment cancelled on six occasions celebrate?

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid  Zoom on James McDaid  How could the Deputy's party have possibly lost the last election?

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  A woman came to see me in my clinic in Bóthar Mór on Monday morning with a letter she had received from the Western Health Board indicating that a relative of hers [1348] would have to wait more than six years for an appointment. The tragedy is that her relative has been dead for five years and is buried in Bóthar Mór cemetery. How can such a family celebrate?

Many people have to wait between 12 months and two years for an appointment. I know of people who have been waiting four to five years for hip, knee and other orthopaedic operations and who may never be called. I wish the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, more success than in their previous positions in the Department of Health and Children. When the Government took office there were 2,129 people on the waiting list in University College Hospital, Galway. It now stands at 2,508, an increase of 18%.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  The Deputy has a proud record in Galway for which he has not secured tuppence. He is the greatest bluffer in the House.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  If the Minister cannot take it he should be silent. He is hurting.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  I can take it.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  The Minister said the Progressive Democrats were good for Fianna Fáil and that Fianna Fáil was good for the Progressive Democrats. They are like fish and chips; they are very good for each other but they need a little vinegar. While I agree that we should have a general election—

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid  Zoom on James McDaid  Such hypocrisy.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  —I do not agree with the analysis that we will simply because the Progressive Democrats want to remain in Government for its full term. If they do not cling together they will hang separately. The Minister has no authority to be proud of his record in the Department of Health and Children. He was a disgrace. I challenge him and every other member of the Government to visit University College Hospital, Galway, and state the service provided is as good as when Deputy Noonan was Minister for Health and Children.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  The Deputy has delivered nothing.

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy): Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy  Any person who examines rationally the record of the Government in the economic and social field can only come to one conclusion. The Government has a fine record of achievements which stands up more than well when compared with that of the previous Administration.

What are the facts? I wish to remind everyone of what the Government has achieved in the three years affected by my budgets, note what the previous Government achieved in the budgets of 1995, 1996 and 1997 and let everyone judge whether the Government has made a significant and positive contribution to the development of [1349] the economy and society generally. Let me mention a few key economic facts from which it is clear the Government has a proud economic record.

Economic growth has averaged 9.9% over the three years ending this year compared with 7.7% in the previous three years. Our growth rate has been twice that of the United States – the miracle economy – and more than three times that of the euro area generally. Under our management employment is now more than 250,000 higher than when we took office. In the previous three years 160,000 jobs were created. The unemployment rate has averaged 7.9% compared with 12.9% in the previous three years. The scourge of long-term unemployment is now down to 1.7% at the latest count compared with 5.5% in 1997.

This has not just been vision stuff; it is all real – real jobs, real investment and real progress. We have managed the country's finances well also. By the end of the year I will have reduced debt by £1,300 million over the lifetime of the Government, even after allowing for a very effective debt rescheduling programme. This means effectively that I have reduced debt by more than £3,000 million whereas it increased by more than £600 million in the previous three years.

We took action to address the future problems of ageing. I have set aside more than £4 billion, the first time this has been done and I plan to do more. I have put forward proposals to ensure the long-term sustainability of the public finances is preserved. This is an achievement of which I am particularly proud, one which will benefit society and of which the rest of Europe has taken note and I hope will follow in the years ahead. We must never again let the public finances get into the unsustainable state that they were in the 1980s. I know I can look forward to widespread support for the proposals I have tabled on the long-term pension needs of society.

What about our record on investment in our economic and social infrastructure? We have spent nearly £8 billion in three years compared with a figure of about £4.5 billion in the previous three years. That represents real progress. Is this not a good record on investment, the economy and the public finances?

On the tax front, what are the key points to remember? There has been real action and real tax cuts which have made a difference where it counts—

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  For whom?

Mr. McCreevy: Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy  —in people's take-home pay, in rewarding effort and enterprise, and in creating jobs. What have we done on the tax front? We have reduced the standard tax rate by four percentage points compared with one percentage point in the previous three budgets. The top rate of tax has come down by four percentage points, the first reduction since 1991. Tens of thousands of low-paid workers have been removed from the [1350] tax net, five times the number removed by the previous Government.

The growth in retail spending shows the impact this has made in people's pockets. Overall, retail spending is now 38.7% higher than it was when we came into office.

Mr. Wall: Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  That is the problem.

Mr. McCreevy: Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy  People have more money in their pockets, they are spending it on goods and services and this leads to increased employment. It also leads to more revenues to Government and lower employment costs.

Is this good for the country? I will go into our record on taxation in more detail. I am happy and proud of it and it will stand the test of time. When the Government came to office it was on foot of a set of tax promises made to the electorate. We delivered on these. We did what we said we would do. We set out a strategy before the election and we stuck to it. We followed our mandate and we also secured the support of the social partners.

I have made it clear on many occasions that I believe in making radical, not incremental, change. When it comes to taxes, these radical changes have cut income tax rates by four percentage points off the top and standard rates, removed 175,000 low paid and elderly from the income tax net since 1997, cut the average income tax on ordinary wage earners by between seven and ten percentage points and kept 162,000 off the top rate of income tax. The previous three budgets only managed to remove 38,000 people from the tax net in 1995-97. For all the huffing and puffing about taxation, the outcome was hardly inspiring.

I have also set out a strategy for reducing the percentage of taxpayers on the top rate to 17%, from way over 40%, something the previous three budgets did not even dream of putting forward. Actions speak louder than words. In management speak, this Government walks the walk on tax cuts. The previous three budgets only talked the talk.

We have shown that lower taxes increase the incentive to work, increase the reward for working, and bring more people into the labour market. Lower taxes also increase employment and reduce unemployment. The Government is proud of this achievement, and it will do more.

I have also made bold moves by cutting capital gains tax and incidentally the capital gains tax revenue, much to my Department's amazement. I also reduced capital acquisition taxes for all taxpayers—

Mr. McDowell: Information on Derek McDowell  Zoom on Derek McDowell  Not difficult for a Government that is selling off State assets.

Mr. McCreevy: Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy  —and not just business people, as did the preceding budgets under Deputy McDowell's party leader. I gave pension savers greater control and flexibility in regard to [1351] their pension funds, introduced innovative tax reliefs to stimulate urban and rural renewal and I acted quickly and decisively to bring relief to the housing sector.

This Government pressed ahead with measures only talked about in previous budgets – the introduction of tax credits and the reform of the standard rate income tax band. Anyone looking back at this period of tax policy will see it as one of the most radical and innovative periods in income tax and taxation practice generally. The changes the Government made produced real tax reform, real tax change, real reductions in tax and a real and substantial increase in every single taxpayer's pay packet since 1997. Action speaks louder than words.

I put through a series of changes to Revenue powers which previous Governments would have balked at. I did not succumb to special interest group pressure, as did the previous Government in 1995. The Government acted to restore faith in the equity of taxation and in seeing to it that the tax collection arm of the State has the powers to do its job. The Government dealt fairly with all interest groups and the value of this policy approach will be seen in time. When the public finally spoke on these changes some commentators were surprised to find a more broad-based support for my measures than they thought possible.

I have more changes in taxation to deliver on behalf of the Government. I know the electorate and the social partners expect us to deliver on this, and we will. I look forward over my next two budgets to putting more of the Government's tax policies in place.

The national development plan is the most comprehensive investment plan in the history of the State. It is action, not words. The plan is designed to make the economy more competitive, to provide the foundation for future sustainable economic progress, foster balanced regional development and promote social inclusion. Is there any need to remind ourselves of the scale of this, of the almost £50 billion that will be spent? Will that be good for the country?

The plan is more wide-ranging than any of its predecessors. It provides for not just the traditional economic areas such as roads, water, public transport, training, programmes for the long-term unemployed, sectoral development and local development etc., but also provides for areas such as housing, health and recreation. It has been clear for some time that our infrastructure needed a major upgrade. To reflect this, £21 billion is devoted to economic and social infrastructure. This expenditure will be concentrated on investment in roads, both national and local, public transport, water services, waste management, environmental protection, ports and regional airports, energy, information technology and e-commerce, cultural, recreational and sports facilities, social housing and health capital. The Government has delivered on the infrastructure [1352] front, but there will be more action across the country on public transport, public housing, water and waste treatment to bring more housing land on stream, hospitals and schools.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  There are no nurses or teachers.

Mr. McCreevy: Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy  As Minister for Finance I have provided the resources to my Government colleagues to address the social needs of our society. I will outline some of the measures we have taken – my colleagues will go into more detail.

We have made major improvements in the education area. There are now almost 66,000 staff working in the sector compared to 62,100 in 1997. That means a better service for all. I could single out major improvements in the provision of special education, where substantial resources have been allocated for additional teachers, child care assistants and other facilities for this important area.

The Government has taken a very proactive approach on the skills issue where we acted quickly and fully in co-operation with the third level education institutions on the recommendations of the expert group on future skills needs in so far as extra resources were recommended for the education sector to increase the output of graduates, especially in the IT area. We have provided an unprecedented amount of resources for research and development in the national development plan. Over £2 billion over the period of the plan, both in the education area and under Technology Foresight, will transform the research capacity in the country and enable us to sustain the major progress under the Government in the development of high tech growth sectors of the economy.

The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness will build on the many initiatives contained in the Government programme, the national development plan and the New Deal – A Plan for Educational Opportunity. The programme underlines the Government's strong commitment to continuing investment in education at all levels from pre-school to third level to adult and continuing education. We see life-long learning as the key to a future of sustained economic growth and social development in a time of ongoing change. At the same time, we are giving a clear priority to measures designed to tackle educational disadvantage at all levels and to target additional resources at those areas most in need.

Turning to the Government's achievements in social welfare, a few simple examples will illustrate our comparative performance with that of the previous Administration. For many years unemployment was the scourge of this country. When we took office in June 1997, 254,000 people were registered unemployed. Three years later the live register figure stands 100,000 lower. This improvement represents a remarkable advance in terms of getting the unemployed, particularly the long-term unemployed, back to work, thereby [1353] restoring their self-esteem and facilitating a considerable reduction in poverty levels.

My three budgets have successively contained record social welfare packages, including overall improvements costing over £940 million in full year terms. This is more than 50% greater than the additional spending provided in the previous three budgets. While all social welfare recipients have received significant real increases, pensioners have been a priority for the Government.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Not true.

Mr. McCreevy: Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy  Over the past three years, single old age pensioners have received increases totalling £18 per week.

Mr. S. Ryan: Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  Not after inflation.

Mr. McCreevy: Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy  This bears repeating – £18 a week which compares with a total of £7 per week given by the previous Government in its three budgets.

Mr. S. Ryan: Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  What did the trades unions say?

Mr. McCreevy: Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy  People can draw their own conclusions about who really cares about the vulnerable members of our community.

Mr. S. Ryan: Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  What about “the dirty dozen”?

Mr. McCreevy: Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy  The Government is this year spending £4.1 billion on our health services. That compares with £2.7 billion in 1997. This has financed a dramatic improvement in the level of services – there are now approximately 10,500 more people employed in the health services providing additional services. Right across the whole field there has been a series of policy initiatives to improve the services and to improve the quality of the physical environment in which people work and in which patients are treated.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Still the waiting lists grow.

Mr. McCreevy: Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy  Am I happy with what has been achieved in the spending area generally? Yes, but there are more challenges to be faced—

Mr. S. Ryan: Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  He should ask the ordinary people of south Tipperary.

Mr. McCreevy: Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy  —whether that is in the area of public transport, social housing, the health or education services.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Briscoe): Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  The Minister is entitled to his 20 minutes and he will get his 20 minutes. I would ask the Opposition not to interrupt. They will get the same protection in their turn as I would give to the Government speakers. The Minister to resume.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  In fairness, it is hard for them to take those points.

[1354]Mr. McCreevy: Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy  We have the problems of success, and the Government will address them.

I can promise this House, that over my next two budgets, this Government will continue to deliver on its proud record of tackling the key needs of society in the infrastructural and social services areas. I will deliver on this, in the same way that I will deliver on the taxation front, in a balanced way which will allow enterprise to flourish, encourage employment, ensure investment by the private sector is encouraged, ensure all our citizens share in our increased prosperity, reward effort and hard work, ensure the weak and vulnerable in our society are looked after and ensure that all taxpayers comply with their obligations to society, personal and corporate, employed and self employed. I will return to these themes in my next budget at the beginning of December, but I thank the Opposition for the timely opportunity to review the vast achievements of this Government since coming into office. We are committed to continuing the good work we have done in the past three years. We are determined to deliver on the commitments we made in the programme for Government and despite distractions we will succeed in making Ireland a better place for all our citizens.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Nobody believes them.

Acting Chairman:  I understand that Deputy Fitzgerald wishes to share time with Deputies Boylan, D'Arcy and McGinley. Is that correct?

Ms Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  That is correct, yes. It is clear from the public that a list of economic successes does not tell the full story. There is far more to Irish life than listing economic successes, and it is clear that the public is disillusioned with politics. If it is all going so well, why is the Government in so much trouble? Why is there such disillusionment with politics in Ireland? If the Taoiseach and the Ministers had come in here this morning and acknowledged and accepted some of the concerns out there, if they had acknowledged the deep unease among the public, they would have done more service to the future of politics in Ireland.

Instead they have come in and stonewalled and denied, and given us the list of successes. They have not highlighted the challenges out there, particularly to the body politic. They have not shown a real understanding of the statistics which tell us that there are 400 homeless children on the streets of Dublin, and that 4,000 child care places have been lost in recent years. They have not acknowledged the need to put policies in place which will address this issue. Day by day child care places are lost while one Department has announced funding for child care. There is a complete lack of co-ordination between the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on this key issue.

Instead of attacking the Opposition on Northern Ireland policy, as the Taoiseach did this [1355] morning, he would have been better to have acknowledged the role everyone in this House played in the resolution of problems in Northern Ireland. If he had acknowledged the deep unease felt by the public, he would have done more to restore faith and confidence in politics than he did by the approach he took.

However, the approach is typical of the Government. The Government finds it difficult to acknowledge and face problems. The most recent example was this week when Fianna Fáil, in the justice committee, adopted a negative attitude and blindly vetoed issuing an invitation to the former judge, Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty, to come in and explain his actions in the Sheedy affair.

The leadership we are seeing is disturbing, particularly for our young people who are understandably cynical about politicians in general. The result of all the current sleaze is that political life has been undermined to an alarming degree. The Minister for Finance gave all the statistics on economic success. However, it is extraordinary at a time when there is such economic success, such opportunity to create an inclusive and just society and when there was never such an opportunity to create trust in politics, that we have not ever seen such cynicism about politics in general. It proves that economics is not the full story.

A modern pluralist society must be based on a balance of economic prosperity, social inclusion and ethical leadership. If we are to create an Ireland of which the public can be really proud, we need all three working in harmony. It is clear that something has gone badly wrong in some of those areas.

A number of my colleagues have already quoted the statistics on the health service and the education sector. Many people feel excluded and are untouched by the Celtic tiger. They feel marginalised. Many feel their voices are not being heard. It is very disturbing, despite the statistics which the Minister for Finance quoted this morning, that the latest United Nations quality of life survey has shown that Ireland has the second highest poverty rate among developed nations. If we are to live up to our moral responsibilities, we need to listen and deal with the problems of the homeless, the elderly who live on limited incomes, the disabled, children who are in poverty and many other sectors.

Mr. Boylan: Information on Andrew Boylan  Zoom on Andrew Boylan  The failure of the Administration is its unwillingness to deal effectively with wrongdoing and clear the air once and for all. It has stifled the working of this House. I have been a Member of this House for 13 years and I have the highest regard for 99% of the people I have met and who have passed through here. They are honest, hardworking and diligent people. However, a small number came into this House for the purposes of lining their pockets and the Minister for Finance and the Government have a duty to deal with them. They are the people with the power to do it and they failed to grasp that nettle. I cannot [1356] understand it. They have so much to gain which would benefit all of us.

Some people felt I went overboard in my comments here on the O'Flaherty case. I was angered, outraged and annoyed and I stand over what I said. I did not explain my reasons. I cannot explain them in detail. Suffice to say that a somewhat similar case in my county brought very different results, but then the person in my county did not have access to Herbert Park. That is not a fair administration of justice. I am annoyed and people are annoyed, and it is wrong.

I acknowledge Deputy McDaid's recognition of the support of all the parties for the Government in tackling the difficulties and problems of Northern Ireland. I acknowledge the great progress made. I acknowledge that the inspection of arms is a tremendous step forward. I agree with the Minister that the opportunities for tourism in that region are immense, and that the potential for cross-Border co-operation and interaction among people offers a great opportunity which we will be prepared to grasp. I acknowledge the Government's decision not to go ahead with rates on bed and breakfast accommodation, which is a small business generally associated with small farm activities, and is used to supplement small incomes. While we appreciate that, it is the end of the positive aspects. I can see nothing else on which I commend the Government.

On the negative side, the most recent IDA report recorded an increase of 921 in the unemployment register in my constituency. It is a sad indictment of the contribution of the Government to the Border region. The Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs represents a Border constituency, yet he is not present. While the rest of the country, such as the south, the south-east and Dublin city, has seen an increase in employment, the Border region and the constituency of Cavan-Monaghan in particular has experienced net losses. The rising tide has not lifted all boats. People are being left behind. I would be failing in my duty if I did not draw attention to the fact that the wealth is not being spread evenly throughout the country and that there are areas in which the Government obviously has no interest and for which it has no intention of doing anything.

In 25 years, for some of which we were in Government, a decent industry has not located in my constituency. That said, Fine Gael, when in Government, was responsible for sanctioning and building an IDA complex for a modern industry. Two and a half years later, there is no tenant and no sign of one because there is no commitment on the part of the Government. The best young people are leaving the region, either leaving the country or seeking jobs in Dublin, the south or the south-east. We are losing the brains and talent to sustain our communities in the region.

As regards health care, Cavan General Hospital has lost four junior doctors and this will add turmoil to an already difficult situation. It [1357] was the ineptitude of the Minister for Health and Children which meant that this difficulty was not foreseen and dealt with in time. The reason this has happened and is happening in many areas, which results in ordinary people not receiving their fair share, is that the Government has been distracted by issues which are not relevant to ordinary people's needs but which it seems hell bent on covering up. We should turn over a new leaf, remove the accusation of sleaze from the House, uphold the great name and tradition of the House which people have strived and will strive to uphold and give all people an opportunity, irrespective of which part of the country they live in. Infrastructure can be improved but it can only be done if the Government has a will to do it. I do not see that it will so a change in Government is necessary before it will come about.

Mr. D'Arcy: Information on Michael D'Arcy  Zoom on Michael D'Arcy  I welcome this debate. It gives us an opportunity to examine what is happening and to air our views on what is wrong in our constituencies rather than the broader picture. I wish to deal with two issues, unemployment and housing. The Government announced on 1 June 1997 that tax incentives would be available in the Rosslare harbour enterprise area from 1 July 1997 to 31 July 2000. The area consists of two plots of land, one recently reclaimed from the sea and the other bound by the N25 – both total 130 acres approximately. The incentives were in respect of the construction or refurbishing of buildings which would be used for projects certified as suitable by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment following a consultation process involving Forfás, Forbairt, IDA Ireland and the Minister for Finance. The Government and the industrial development agencies were required to play a lead role in promoting the two areas, with local authorities facilitating the provision of services and local promotion. In the event of industrial development proceeding in the designated areas, the council made preliminary arrangements for an access road costing £400,000 to be provided by it and an extension of the Rosslare harbour main drainage scheme costing £1.5 million. The only provisions were those made by the county council. We turned to the Government and it failed miserably as far as the constituency of Wexford is concerned.

I will give the figures in respect of unemployment in the county at present. In the Wexford town area, 2,200 people are unemployed, it is 1,700 in Enniscorthy, 1,120 in New Ross and approximately 900 in Gorey. That is a total of 6,000 unemployed in Wexford which equates with some of the western constituencies. That is scandalous. We made the tax designated area available near the port and the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government promised, as did the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, on a deputation representing all parties and interested people in Wexford, that we would receive special treatment [1358] on account of the high rate of unemployment. Unemployment in Wexford is approximately double the national level. That is the situation and it is scandalous that the Government has done nothing for Wexford. One would think, listening to the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, that we had rid ourselves of the scourge of unemployment. That is not the case in Wexford and it is worse now than ever. It creates serious social problems when a constituency of 100,000 has 6,000 people unemployed. The Government can be blamed fully for that.

As regards housing, there have been three Bacon reports and all we have managed to get out of them is burned rashers. I will give the figures for Wexford. Three years ago, in 1997, when the Government came into office, 850 people were on the local authority housing waiting list. Today, that has increased to 1,500 and is rising, and that is serious. The industry has been taken over by builders and speculators. Builders are buying all available land at a very high price. They have even reached my home town of Gorey where they are paying up to £140,000 an acre for land which makes it impossible for ordinary working people to acquire a loan sufficient to buy a house and justify it on the wages they are paid. Speculators in Dublin try to dodge tax, so to speak, by using their resources and profits to buy houses and sell them to people at £140,000 each.

That is the situation which pertains in Wexford and it is scandalous. They are two major issues and the Government has done nothing about them. Inflation is another issue, as is agriculture. I have never seen an industry decimated in the past three years as agriculture has been. Investment in it has fallen from £250 million to £110 million. That is the position, there is no investment. Young people cannot be interested to enter agriculture and that will tell its story in the next four to five years. We were proud of the agricultural industry and the contribution it made to the economy down the years. Today, it is declining and the Government is to blame. Unfortunately, the Minister claims credit. Last year, the decrease in net profits in agriculture was 17%. The Minister allowed a situation to develop where farmers had to picket factories to obtain a reasonable price for their cattle. He acted as honest broker but he did nothing. The farmers did it themselves. Those are three areas which are in a disastrous state in my constituency. Having listened to the Minister for Finance, one must wonder what he is doing.

Mr. McGinley: Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  Ar dtús tá lúchár orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an mímhuinín seo sa Rialtas, mímhuinín atá thar a bheith tuillte ag an Rialtas seo. D'fhéadfá a rá le cúpla seachtain anuas go bhfuil géarchéim úr sa Rialtas lá i ndiaidh lae. Sé an rud a thóg an vóta mímhuiníne seo chun cinn ná an ceapacháin fíor-aisteach a rinne an Rialtas cúpla seachtain ó shin, sé sin an t-iar bhreitheamh O'Flaherty a cheapadh mar leas-uachtarán ar Bhanc Infheistíochta na hEorpa. Tá [1359] sé do-chreidte go mbéadh Rialtas ar bith sásta duine a cheapadh go phost chomh tábhactach sin a raibh an Rialtas céanna ag brath é a bhriseadh as a phost blian ó shin sula éirigh sé féin as oifig. Ní amháin gur rúndiamhair an ceapacháin seo do pháirtithe an Fhreasúra, de réir na bpobalbreitheanna, ní aontaíonn lucht tacaíochta na bpáirtithe sa Rialtas leis an cheapacháin ach oiread. Dár ndóigh, tá a chruthú sin le feiceáil againn go soiléir ó sharú an fho-thoghcháin i dTiobraid Árain a chas seachtain ó shin. Tá an ceapacháin mar ábhair scannúil do mhuintir na hÉireann, agus is í an cheist atá acu ná cad é an greim rúndiamharach atá ag an fhear seo ar an Rialtas gur thoiligh siad é a chepadh sa phost. Tá daoine go leor sa Dáil féin agus taobh amuigh a bhfuil na cáilíochtaí acu do phost dá leithéid a líonadh.

The so-called economic boom is not evident in every part of the country. There is an obvious regional imbalance. The west and the north-west are trailing behind other regions in employment, infrastructure investment and development, medical services and public transport. The list is endless. Last year, a record number of 18,000 jobs were created by the IDA. Of those 18,000 jobs, only 300, less than 2%, went to the north-west and Donegal. In the same region during 1999, there was a net job loss of 1,235, which is by far the highest on record. It is estimated that 1,200 of those job losses were in County Donegal. The 1999 figures are not a one-off phenomenon. The north-west has consistently lagged behind the other regions each year since 1993. While the national unemployment rate is at 4.6%, in Donegal it is a massive 20%, more than four times the national average. This is intolerable and cannot be allowed continue.

The Government is presiding over the worst housing crisis ever. There are about 40,000 people on the national housing list and about 2,000 on the list in County Donegal. The Government has failed dismally to address this huge social problem in a meaningful and effective way. Houses are becoming more expensive by the day. Average income families cannot afford mortgages and the Government, despite shelves of reports, merely tinkers with the problem.

The health services are in a mess. Nurses, junior doctors and other health workers are forced to take unprecedented industrial action. According to the latest available figures, there are 636 patients waiting for a year or more for admission to hospitals in the north-west, mainly Letterkenny and Sligo. Many of these patients have serious complaints and are subject to constant suffering and discomfort. It is completely unacceptable that so many have to wait for more than a year before being called for surgery and treatment. While the waiting lists may be marginally shorter, the waiting times are certainly longer. Our health service is becoming a two tiered service. If one can afford private medical treatment, it can be obtained within days. However, if one is depending on the public health [1360] system, one has to go on a waiting list. Unfortunately, people are dying before essential treatment becomes available to them. This is unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

The Government has exceeded its sell by date. Its initiatives are feeble. Its energies are entirely devoted to survival as it lurches from crisis to crisis, between the Dáil, the tribunals in Dublin Castle and the Four Courts. Its immediate objective is to survive to 5 p.m. this evening and be saved by the bell. The Government will probably survive this no confidence motion, mainly because the four Independent Deputies, two from my county, will support its continuance in office. However, it will be merely a reprieve and, hopefully, before the end of the year the people will have an opportunity to elect a new Government that will address the difficulties of this country.

Acting Chairman:  I understand the Ministers, Deputies O'Rourke and Martin, are sharing time.

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I am very honoured and glad to have the opportunity to speak on this confidence motion. The tabling of the no confidence motion has given us an opportunity, as a party, to put forward our own very comprehensive motion of confidence through our Taoiseach and parliamentary party.

Over the past weeks, I have been amazed at how easily it has been forgotten that the rainbow Government, which was in office for two and a half years, was not elected by the people. The people had elected the previous combination—

Mr. S. Ryan: Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  Who was responsible for that?

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I am not talking about who was responsible. I am just saying—

Proinsias De Rossa: Information on Prionsias De Rossa  Zoom on Prionsias De Rossa  Never talk about who is responsible.

Acting Chairman:  We are trying to give everyone time, without interruption.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I have just listened to the greatest claptrap one could ever hear and I did not open my mouth. I hope I will get the same respect. I am sure I will from Deputy De Rossa, anyway, whatever about anybody else.

Mr. S. Ryan: Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  Is the Minister singling me out?

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  No.

Acting Chairman:  Let us proceed with the debate.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  The Deputy is as good as Miriam O'Callaghan. It sounds as if the media wants the same thing to happen, which it is not. As the Taoiseach said this morning, Fine Gael has not been voted into Government since 1982. When our five year term is finished, it will be 20 years [1361] since the electorate decided it wanted it to be in Government, although Deputy John Bruton is very fond of saying it is a natural party of Government. I read in a book the other night that when Harold Wilson had a majority of three for the short period of two and half years, he developed the mantra, “we are a natural party of government”, which he told all his Ministers to keep saying. Deputy Bruton and I must share the same reading tastes and he must have come to the same conclusion, because every so often I hear a Fine Gael person saying “we are a natural party of Government”. However, nobody else thinks it is. It is 18 years since the electorate gave it enough people to form a Government. That is amazing.

Fine Gael stumbled into office for two and a half years and formed a Government with two other parties. The idea that that was a rosy bed of tranquillity, which is trotted out all the time by all the spokespersons, and that the three parties loved one another, lived harmoniously together, expressed the same ideas and had the same polices is a nonsense. The idea that any 15 grown men and women would sit around a table and bob their heads together when a policy is proposed is another nonsense.

I remember that Deputy De Rossa had some very fine ideas. He was very much in favour of the minimum wage, which this Government has now implemented. He expressed that very strongly at meetings, which were reported in the newspapers. Nobody said “fie, fie, fie” and danced around, as if to say—

Proinsias De Rossa: Information on Prionsias De Rossa  Zoom on Prionsias De Rossa  The Minister's party leader opposed it at the time.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  And so did Deputy Quinn, very strongly. We put it in our manifesto and implemented it. My point is that Deputy De Rossa had a different policy, which was listened to with respect, and nobody felt it was a dreadful thing. He also had different ideas on the abolition of third level fees. He expressed that at various seminars and meetings and people accepted it was his policy. However, he was part of a Government which adopted collective responsibility and did not implement the minimum wage but did abolish fees. I am sure there were many other such issues. He was the leader of a party and he had to express his viewpoint, particularly to his own constituents.

It is legitimate for parties in Government to have different policies. There is nothing wrong with that because, in the end, it is the 15 people who take collective responsibility on the adoption or not of policies. The idea that people can have some different ideas and not come to the same conclusions, but can take collective Cabinet responsibility, is correct. However, it seems it is now incorrect if we do not all dance to the same tune all the time and bob our heads together around the table. That is nonsense.

[1362] I remember saying during the divorce debate in the House that my views had evolved, developed and changed over the years. Everyone was giving his or her tuppence ha'penny worth and Deputy De Rossa said that a person who does not change and develop is an arid person because he or she cannot think through and beyond positions. That is a general point.

The rainbow was a Government of the last century, which is where it would have kept us if it had continued in office. This Government is unleashing the powers of competition in telecommunications, electricity and transport. We are not afraid of the pace of change. I am flabbergasted when I hear we are paralysed. If we are paralysed, what I am doing working from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.? I am certainly not paralysed and I know of no Minister, Minister of State or Deputy of any party who is paralysed. If one is attending to one's brief and constituency there is no time for any kind of paralysis.

We are not afraid of the pace of change, we relish its challenge. We do not postpone, delay or fret about what this or that group will say. We say to trade unions “this is the future but we will address that reality together”. That is part of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness and the previous programmes, three out of four of which Fianna Fáil were engaged in. The Labour Party merely worries about certain matters because it cannot face new market realities. The Government has no hang-ups about private sector involvement in projects.

I thank Deputy Yates and the Labour Party's spokesperson for the atmosphere of consensus they helped to create in the debate on the Electronic Commerce Bill. I attended a business function last night and people expressed great delight that the Bill had been passed. There was no sign that such a Bill would appear in May 1997. We have made radical changes by embracing market liberalisation.

With regard to public transport, the previous Government and its predecessors had not made any decisions about the closure of rail lines or about investment in infrastructural development. Following the Knockcroghery rail crash, a rail safety study was carried out and it was recommended that £500 million should be invested in upgrading rail lines. I cannot understand why previous Governments did not foresee that jointed rail tracks were outdated and should be replaced by continuous welded track.

We are putting in place a transport system which will meet the needs of Dublin for decades to come. We have introduced competition in the electricity generating market for the first time ever and we are well on the way to opening further markets. Private bus services have already been introduced at Dublin Airport and ten further private companies will be licensed next week. Additional private companies will be licensed in the future. The price reductions and service improvements people desire are being delivered because of the energy we have invested [1363] and commitment we have shown towards market liberalisation, on which the future of thousands of jobs and business depend.

Our track record demonstrates our ability to grasp the issues. We have helped to create the best ever opportunity for peace on this island. Ireland has the best performing economy in Europe, it has the best employment record, the best programmes to eliminate long-term unemployment and the best opportunity to marry wealth creation with social inclusion. Opposition Members speak of paralysis but we are delivering progress.

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  I warmly welcome the fact that we have been given the opportunity to debate the Government's performance at the end of a period during which we have produced more reforming legislation, invested more in public services and initiated more reforming policies on long-neglected issues than any of our predecessors.

Barely three years in office, we can point to a record of solid achievement and clear vision. Three years ago there was no peace, today there is in place an historic framework for a just and lasting peace; three years ago unemployment stood at 10%, today it is less than 5%; three years ago crime figures were on the rise, today they are 21% lower and are still falling. We have replaced the empty rhetoric of shallow posturing with real and concerted action on the issues that matter. This is a Government striving to ensure that all citizens receive the very same physical, economic and educational opportunities. It is a Government of vision and action. We have already made a difference and we will continue to make a difference.

The people chose change in 1997. They obtained that change and the Government they elected is working. The self-described “rainbow Government” lacked vision and acted without strategic planning or the core ideal of social inclusion so paramount in this Administration. What the rainbow Government prized above all was office rather than substance. It is instructive that the first point of its 21 points for the 21st century did not refer to people, it merely promised that the parties which held power in that Administration would cling together if they were returned to office.

Three years ago, we took their place and brought to Government a commitment to real action on socially progressive policies. This Government has combined major increases in resources with new long-term strategic approaches to the problems this country is facing. In the Department of Health and Children, as in many other Departments, today's problems are compounded by the lack of strategic planning, the lack of vision and the lack of a long-term approach which the Opposition parties brought to the Department when they were in Government.

[1364] The Opposition Members who attack this Government, who harangue and protest, governed a health system in which staff and systems were stretched to the very limit. Those who have made accusations against the Government, ran a health service which was coming to standstill – where neglect extended into every sector. Not any amount of high-sounding rhetoric from the Opposition benches can cloak their neglect of capital and day to day spending, research, information technology, mental health and autism services, waiting lists, hospice services, heart and lung transplant services, child remand services, nursing homes subvention, protection of children services, respite care, physical and sensory disability services and services for the elderly. The Opposition failed to take action in respect of each of these areas. The list is by no means complete but I cannot add to it because time is against me.

One of the many ways the Government has distinguished itself in facing up to tough issues has been its willingness to address the issue of child abuse. I have met many survivors of child abuse and heard their stories of hurt. Their pain was compounded by a system unwilling to listen. The Taoiseach took an historic lead in respect of this matter. He took the unprecedented step of issuing an apology on behalf of the State and its citizens. As with so many areas where we have been taking the lead, the Opposition's response has been typically cynical and it has made desperate attempts to get ahead of the issue. The Opposition parties have not fooled anyone.

A number of victims – I refer here to survivors of industrial schools – told me stories about trying to meet Ministers in the last Government, about how meetings were cancelled at short notice, about how they were treated as if they were making their stories up. They believe they were treated with disrespect and, on occasions, they were not even offered a cup of tea. People who recall the “Dear Daughter” documentaries will be aware that many survivors were given false promises. I could not understand or believe the way these people were treated by Ministers in the rainbow Government.

I respectfully suggest that the abuse suffered by the survivors of the institutions to which I refer far transcends any other public issue that is dominating today's headlines. It is one of the major issues with which the State and its citizens must come to terms. The previous Government displayed an attitude of indifference about this issue and it refused to deal with it or to grant to those involved the dignity and respect they deserved. That was one of its greatest failures. The Laffoy commission, which met yesterday, will usher in a new era when Irish society will finally be obliged to come to terms with what happened in the past. People will at last be allowed to tell their stories in an atmosphere of credibility and dignity.

The previous Government neglected the issue of health and the parties of which it comprised continue to neglect it in Opposition. The Labour [1365] Party does not have a health policy, it merely has a discussion paper which is—

Mr. S. Ryan: Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  The Minister must be joking, it is widely acknowledged as an excellent document.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  —uncosted and unspecified and it attempts, like the snake oil salesmen of the American South, to sell a vision of health nirvana.

Mr. S. Ryan: Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  The Minister has taken a number of our recommendations on board.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  I have great respect for many members of the Labour Party. However, when it was in Government, why did that party not deal adequately with the issue of people with disabilities. It cannot argue that its failure to do so came down to a mere lack of funding because it spent a great deal of money on other areas when it was in Government. Why are Labour Party Members not gracious enough to acknowledge that my predecessor, Deputy Cowen, was the first Minister for Health in the history of the State to deal, adequately and comprehensively, with the issue of people with intellectual disabilities? The former Minister for Health and Children secured a three year budgetary framework for people with disabilities and he decided that the Government would deal with this issue by providing for the needs which have been identified and assessed.

I acknowledge that there is a great deal more work to be done. However, all the Opposition seems to want to do is offer simplistic denunciations and condemnation. The area of people with disabilities was shamefully neglected by the previous Government. I am particularly aware of its failure in this area from my time as Minister for Education and Science and the dealings I had with children with special needs. God knows there is more work to be done and a great deal of progress to be made. However, I cannot understand why the Opposition parties neglected this matter when they were in office.

The Government, among other things, has been accused of being arrogant. Cynicism is a worse crime than arrogance and a great deal of cynicism was displayed in the approaches taken to issues of this nature in the past. Many of the children and people to whom I refer could not offer the votes which would guarantee electoral survival.

I recall visiting St. Michael's remand centre and being shocked by the conditions there. I made an immediate decision that we would refurbish that facility and the facilities at Oberstown and Trinity House. Why was that not done previously? Do not tell me it is because we have the money today but did not have it then. Children with behavioural difficulties and children in trouble constituted a small minority and the system neither cared about them nor gave them the priority they deserved. The rainbow Government did not address this issue, nor did it prioritise the needs of Travellers in terms of education rights [1366] and so on. The funding which would have been required to do that would have been very meagre but the record shows that the former Government simply did not address these issues which comprise a litmus test for any Government's performance and which should always be to the forefront of debates such as this.

The Opposition makes the argument that because the previous Government did not have surpluses, it could not address these matters. That is not true.

Mr. S. Ryan: Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  We laid the foundation.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  When I announced a new template for special education in 1998, the estimated cost was £4 million although we ended up spending £14 million a year later due to increasing costs. The point is that that amount of money is not insurmountable and could as easily have been provided in 1995 or 1996 but it was not because the previous Government did not prioritise these matters.

The Government aims to provide a high quality health system which is accessible to the poorest of our citizens and which avoids undue delay or inconvenience. We have a long-term vision for the health service and have the necessary strategic planning to put this system in place. This year we are spending £4.2 billion on health, an unprecedented 59% more than the figure expended by the former Government. We are using this funding to implement the largest programme of modernisation and development in the history of our health system. This is a Government which puts patients first. Some of the initiatives we are taking will take time to feed into the system in terms of new buildings, operating theatres, equipment etc.

We are tackling waiting lists in a long-term, structured and planned way. Waiting lists must be reduced. The first quarter figures for this year show a reduction of almost 2,500. I recently launched a £10 million package to improve the number of procedures which will occur between now and Christmas. We do not plan to reduce or cut the funding dedicated to public health waiting lists as the previous Government did in its last year in office.

Over the past three years, the Government has implemented policies in regard to research and innovation, infrastructural development, manpower and human resource issues across the board. Those policies will stand the test of time and will provide yields over the next five to ten years. In a debate of this sort, people are not interested in taking a long-term view.

This is the first Government to step-change the level of investment in research and innovation in the areas of higher education and others. Funding in excess of £240 million was provided over the past two years and more than £1.1 billion will be provided over the next six years. Such research will guarantee Ireland's future competitiveness and development. I am proud of our record in [1367] making a difference to the quality of life of ordinary people. We will continue to make that difference.

Mr. Yates: Information on Ivan Yates  Zoom on Ivan Yates  I wish to share time with Deputies Jim Higgins, Ulick Burke and Connaughton.

Acting Chairman (Mr. McGinley): Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Yates: Information on Ivan Yates  Zoom on Ivan Yates  The Minister for Health and Children stated that cynicism is a worse failing than arrogance, and he is probably right, but the Government suffers severely from both. Nothing illustrates that better than the appointment of Mr. O'Flaherty to the European Investment Bank, the most cynical appointment made by any Government in living memory. A man whom the Government sought to impeach last year has now been deemed fit to serve in one of the highest and most well paid positions in Europe. The Government is so arrogant that it does not see any problem with this. Members of the public can identify the Government's cynicism and arrogance.

I was very proud to be a member of the rainbow Government and I stand over its record of economic and social development. Over the past three years, we have witnessed a litany of events which have sent Fianna Fáil into a tail-spin. It started with the appointment of former Deputy Ray Burke as Minister for Foreign Affairs when the Taoiseach knew there were unanswered questions. Aside from Mr. Haughey, we have had Deputy Denis Foley who was responsible for dealing with financial probity as vice-chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts but was an Ansbacher holder throughout. We had Deputy Ellis who knew he was caught up in certain difficulties in regard to the farming sector. Deputy Lawlor, now an Independent, still has many questions to answer at the tribunal. We had the Taoiseach's performance at the tribunal yesterday. It is simply beyond belief that if a person received a complaint about a particular issue which he then pursued and investigated, he would claim not to know anything about it a few years later. That is incomprehensible. Even if the Government is in denial, the public is drawing its own conclusions.

We are witnessing the beginning of the end of this Government. Frankly, it is somewhat rich for Fianna Fáil Ministers to comment on Fine Gael's electoral record. In the last general election, Fianna Fáil's performance was its second worst in the history of the State – the party has fewer Deputies now than ever before and the number will continue to decrease. The Minister for Health and Children knows better than I that the party will not hold onto three seats in his constituency, nor will it retain them in Cork North-Central.

Aside from all the sleaze, the person shoring up this Government's credibility, the Tánaiste, has suffered two body blows. Her compliance with the O'Flaherty appointment was simply unpar[1368] donable as far as ordinary people were concerned, but her gaffe in regard to Mr. Haughey has angered people beyond belief. They are incensed that Mr. Haughey is off the hook indefinitely due to the Tánaiste's injudicious and reckless remarks.

All this is tinged with the beginnings of the Government's economic failure. Inflation is currently running at 5.2% and heading for 6.2%, the highest inflation level in 20 years. The inflation level here, which is the highest in the EU and three times the EU average, will result in a loss of competitiveness and the beginning of economic deterioration. The Government inherited a situation in which it could perform economic and social miracles even on auto-pilot because of increased revenue and employment growth. The Government's record on housing, health care, child care, waste management and public transport is now reduced to being perceived as three years of photo opportunities and public relations stunts. We have seen very little substance.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  (Mayo): Normally, when the Dáil adjourns for the summer recess, there is a festive air in the House. This morning's three-line Government whip which resulted in the dejected troops coming into the House to applaud the Taoiseach's address did not fool anybody. The punter simply does not buy this kind of thing any more. The Taoiseach's speech was not an adjournment speech, it was a graveside oration.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  Who wrote the Deputy's speech?

Mr. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  (Mayo): No Government in the history of the State limped to the dressing room so dejectedly as the current discredited lot. No Administration slithered so ignominiously out the doors of Leinster House in order to lick its wounds. The Government should make the best of the summer recess because it is a political certainty that it will be its last.

The Government is in tatters. People have lost confidence in it and nobody trusts it anymore. Fianna Fáil failed to hold onto Ray Burke's seat in Dublin North and failed to win seats in Limerick East, Cork South-Central and Dublin South-Central. The Taoiseach presides over a party which failed to win even one out of four by-elections, two of them in his beloved Dublin.

Last week's by-election was a real watershed for Fianna Fáil and Irish politics generally. In the traditional Fianna Fáil heartland of Tipperary South the party was hammered, coming third place and being eliminated in a by-election which it would have won hands down on the first count a few years ago. Fianna Fáil's core vote is in meltdown and people have finally woken up. They are fed up with sleaze and with Fianna Fáil blowing hot and cold about standards in public office while at the same time its financial entrails are being tossed out on the tribunal tables. Shame and embarrassment have never been considerations for Fianna Fáil. Survival was the party's [1369] one core value, but now it has even lost the capacity to survive.

We would like to think that the Opposition played no small role in exposing the Government's frailties. The prospects for the Government's survival are terminal due to its arrogance, stubbornness, stupidity and failure to realise that Irish people have woken up to what Fianna Fáil is all about. Did the Taoiseach seriously believe he would get away with appointing Ray Burke to Government? Obviously he did. He knew what Ray Burke was like and what he was at but the Taoiseach hoped he would not be found out. Did the Taoiseach seriously think he would get away with appointing Deputy Ellis to preside over the Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine? He knew what he was like and what he had done. Hundreds of thousands of pounds were owed to small farmers in the west. Again, he simply hoped he would get away with it. Did the Taoiseach seriously think he would get away with appointing Deputy Denis Foley to the DIRT inquiry? He knew what he had done. Deputy Foley told him that he had an Ansbacher account. The Taoiseach claims he cannot remember it. He remembers it all right, he simply thought he would get away with it. The Taoiseach ratified Deputy Liam Lawlor as a Fianna Fáil candidate and accepted his support. He knew Deputy Lawlor was hopelessly compromised by his wheeling and dealing in rezoning. He ratified the Deputy because, once again, he hoped he would get away with it.

The Taoiseach intervened in the Sheedy affair. His best, forever friend, Joe Burke, was a central player. It led to the most unprecedented constitutional convulsion in the history of the State. Most people simply do not buy into the story that it all started with an innocent encounter in Herbert Park. There is a much more sinister explanation as yet unexplored and unexplained. However, it will have to be explained. The Sheedy affair is littered with loose ends and contradictions.

Fianna Fáil has, traditionally, had the capacity to show good political instincts. The public is angry and confused but it is determined. It is angry at the determination of the Government to smother and cover up the Sheedy affair but nothing could rival public anger, as Deputy Yates said, at the appointment of Hugh O'Flaherty to the European Investment Bank. It is obvious that the day Mr. O'Flaherty was forced to resign by the Government the deal was done. He was promised he would be looked after and that did not mean the £40,000 generous pension we gave him. It meant his appointment to the European Investment Bank. The initial appointment was bad enough but what has really antagonised the public is the admission by the Tánaiste that, had she realised the political fall-out, things might have been otherwise – but sure, it will all be forgotten in three months or so, or the admission by Deputy O'Rourke that it was wrong but they will still go ahead with it or the public huffing and [1370] puffing by Deputies Roche and McGuinness who then troop sheep-like into the division lobbies behind the Government.

Fianna Fáil has traditionally had a marvellous capacity for standing logic on its head and managing to face two ways at the same time – the Treaty negotiations, the oath of allegiance, the abortion issue, divorce, Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution – but the Progressive Democrats attempt to have it both ways is not credible. The pouting pretences of Deputy O'Donnell will not wash. On this occasion it is the ambulance, next time it will be the political hearse.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  In his speech this morning the Taoiseach said there were many occasions when the position looked bleak but they never gave up. Today it is bleakest of all and it is time to give up. After the record of recent weeks, how could anything be more bleak than the Taoiseach suggested in his speech? Did he read the speech before he delivered it? Many other matters in that speech are on his doorstep but he does not realise that. He has forgotten again.

Each time there is a crisis in Government we are told there will be a new beginning. However, the Government has been in office for three years and we are still awaiting the new beginning. It is a new end that is at hand. We hear the record of the Government trotted out by various Ministers. I am delighted the Tánaiste is present because she visited—

Mr. Yates: Information on Ivan Yates  Zoom on Ivan Yates  The Riviera two are back.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  —Ballinasloe earlier this year with Deputy Treacy. She realised there was a jobs crisis in Ballinasloe and was responding to an emergency. The record speaks for itself. Not one IDA grant assisted job has been created in Ballinasloe for the past 27 years. The Minister, Deputy Treacy, said in a letter that grant assistance was not given by the IDA to any project in the west or midlands region. In the IDA report issued last week it is stated on page 17 that in Athlone, William Hill successfully fitted out an advance factory and recruited 100 people. That was grant assisted. At least the IDA claim responsibility for that. At the same time, the Minister denied he could provide assistance in a similar case for a new advance factory in Ballinasloe. That is the record of this Government and there are other instances of it.

What has resulted from the task force the Tánaiste established in response to the crisis? It met on four occasions. Those who participate in it have reported to me that they are as wise today as they were then, on the efforts of the Government to bring employment to Ballinasloe. We cannot have it both ways. I know the Taoiseach's typical response is that, on the one hand, it is this way and, at the same time, it is that way but it cannot be both ways. Some of it is rubbing off on the Tánaiste. Either she is endeavouring to provide jobs in Ballinasloe or she is not.

[1371] The waiting lists at University College Hospital in Galway have increased dramatically and the housing list has never been so great.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  There is great investment.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  It is not a matter of pride to the Government that this is the real record. It is not a matter of policy. It is what the people believe. There have been occasions when the position looked bleak but none more so than at present.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  If the Progressive Democrats and the Independents had any backbone and reflected the mood of the electorate I know what they would do at 5 p.m. I know what the Tánaiste would like to do and what she has spent a lifetime saying she would do. She is caught, trapped with no place to go. That is her problem.

Ms Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  I know what the Deputy wants us to do. Opposition Deputies have been telling us for the past few days.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  The Independents and the Progressive Democrats know their goose is cooked. There is no place to go on this occasion. They know that, after the Tipperary by-election, Fianna Fáil will not be smiling on that side of the House for too long more.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  We will continue to smile no matter what happens.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Anyone, be they Independents, Progressive Democrats, or whoever, who had anything to do with Fianna Fáil in coalition came out of it badly. They backed the wrong horse. Every partner Fianna Fáil have had since the first day Mr. Haughey was forced to go into coalition has been run out of Cabinet. Fianna Fáil managed that one way or another. The Tánaiste should not forget that she is next.

Twenty years ago on that infamous night when Mr. Haughey asked the people to tighten their belts, which they did, they did not know that the person who espoused this philosophy, and others, lined their own pockets at the taxpayers expense. This motion is as much about the present day leaders and many members of the Cabinet as it is about Mr. Haughey.

In my part of the country there is an old saying “black cat, black kitten”. There is no question but that the Taoiseach and some of his Ministers who have been around for a long time knew what was going on during Mr. Haughey's time or should have had grave suspicions about it. There is a very good reason the Taoiseach has developed a poor memory. He does not want to think about Mr. Haughey, Mr. Burke or the others. He had a good reason to lose his memory yesterday, but the electorate will give him a bigger reason to lose his memory shortly.

People will not wear this any longer. The south Tipperary by-election proved that even when the [1372] economy is doing well the public will not wear this outrageous conduct. The public despises arrogance above all else. Since Fianna Fáil was forced into coalitions no other party has ever lasted the pace with them and as I have said, we are on the point of a major break-up. It may not come today but will come shortly.

The people will not allow Fianna Fáil to forget the O'Flaherty case. As long as we are in politics they will remember that case for the wrong reasons for Fianna Fáil.

Mr. McCreevy: Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy  Like Ernest Blythe and the pensions.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  They will know. The electorate is also now aware of the distrust and bickering at the Cabinet table. Can one imagine what that was like last week and the week before? They could not even look each other in the face.

There is not just distrust between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, but there is also distrust among Fianna Fáil Ministers. That is the beginning of the end. All the gains achieved so painstakingly in the past ten years are being frittered away. The Government seems powerless to deal with inflation. It had the answers to everything when things were going well and there was money, but when stark choices have to be made the Government is beaten. That is why it is not a cohesive unit; it is doubtful if it was ever cohesive, but it certainly is not now. The Government does not know how to deal with inflation; it is apparent there are no future plans to minimise the effect of inflation on the economy, but it is one of the most serious issues confronting the nation. If it continues for a year no worker will be satisfied with his wages and we all know the vicious merry-go-round that will start as a result. I have listened to Fianna Fáil Ministers speak about this for the past couple of months and each has a different answer to the inflation problem.

The Government has shown it is incapable of dealing with the matters I have outlined and there is only one position for it – in Opposition. I call on the Independents to show how independent they are. I have made that call in relation to sectoral matters in recent years, but they stuck to the Government for self-preservation. However, the electorate will ask great questions of the Independents this evening and when they vote they will do so with heavy hearts, as they know if they bail the Government out on this occasion, they are likely to sink themselves for ever.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney): Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  Deputy Ulick Burke has left, but I assure him I know a great deal about Ballinasloe. I was born there.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  A pity the Tánaiste would not do something for Ballinasloe.

Ms Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  I also know that of the 1.69 million people at work in Ireland 124,000 of them work [1373] in IDA companies, while the rest work in indigenous Irish companies and the public sector. I accept the IDA companies contribute approximately £1 billion a year in corporate taxes and generate approximately 75% of our exports. However, we must recognise that not all the answers to our problems come from foreign direct investment.

I have been a Member of this House for almost 20 years and during that time it has been my privilege to serve as a Minister twice and in Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats coalitions on both occasions. The first of those Governments had to contend with enormous difficulties but still managed to achieve a great deal. It is fair to say the climate was much more favourable when the present coalition was formed in 1997 and this coalition has taken full advantage of that climate. It has given Government to all the people and I am proud to vote confidence in it.

This Government has been in office for just over three years. Its achievements in that period have been spectacular by any standards and are in stark contrast with the picture painted by the Opposition. The Government has been widely criticised for not doing enough to share our new-found wealth as widely as possible with the people. How does the Government go about sharing wealth? In the 1980s we tried to do so with punitive levels of personal taxation and we know where that got us. The fact is one shares wealth by sharing employment and opportunity. By this measure the Government has been extraordinarily successful.

Just before this Government took office three years ago, 1.38 million people were at work in Ireland. That figure has risen to 1.65 million today, which means that in just three years we have succeeded in increasing the number of people in employment by more than 270,000, an extraordinary achievement by any standards. That means 270,000 extra people with a stake in Irish society and 270,000 extra people who are able to share in the wealth generated by economic growth. Many commentators now suggest the employment situation has nothing to do with Government decisions; I doubt they would say the same if we had lost 270,000 jobs instead of gaining them.

The Government has been criticised for not doing enough to promote social inclusion and we are portrayed as being unconcerned by such matters, but the facts suggest otherwise. Just before this Government took office three years ago, the unemployment rate was 10.4%, one of the highest in Europe; today it is 4.6%, one of the lowest in Europe. We have cut the unemployment rate in half in just three years, an achievement of which any Government should rightly be proud. That is what social inclusion is all about in my book – giving those who are out of the workforce the chance to participate and to become fully involved in society again.

One of the most corrosive evils in our society is long-term unemployment, a trap which ensnares [1374] people in poverty not just for a lifetime but for generations. How has the Government fared on this front? Once again the figures speak for themselves: three years ago 86,000 people were classified as long-term unemployed, having been out of work for a year or more. Today that figure is down to 29,000 and is still falling. The tremendous progress made in this area is due to several factors. Tax changes have encouraged people to move from unemployment to employment and the employment action plan has given people real assistance with and encouragement to seek out the opportunities on offer. The overall thrust of economic policy has ensured there are plenty of employment opportunities to be pursued. Many families in our society now see someone going to work for the first time in two generations. The introduction of the national minimum wage has given a further incentive to people to move into the world of work. The Labour Party had five years in Government to do something about the minimum wage, but Deputy Quinn and his colleagues did nothing. What is now happening to long-term unemployment is little short of a social revolution. People are back at work having been out of work for years and for some families a person is going out to work for the first time.

The progress has been tremendous, but we intend to do more and we will do more. I am confident that with two more budgets and two more years in office the Government can achieve the effective elimination of long-term unemployment as a social problem in Ireland. That would be a marvellous achievement and would demonstrate that politics still has a role to play in bettering the lives of ordinary people. The Government has been criticised for not doing more for marginalised groups, but our policies in relation to older people clearly give the lie to that.

The rainbow coalition took little interest in the concerns of old age pensioners. In three budgets Deputy Quinn, as Minister for Finance, gave increases of £3 in 1997, £2.20 in 1996 and £1.80 in 1995: a total increase of less than 10% in three years. There was not a crock of gold for old age pensioners at the end of that rainbow. Compare that with the performance of this Government. Three years ago the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil committed themselves to raising the old age contributory pension for a single person to £100 per week within the lifetime of this Administration and we are well on the way to achieving that important goal. In our first budget we increased the pension by £5, by £6 in our second budget and last year we increased it by £7. That brings the basic rate for a single person to within a whisker of our £100 per week target. During the lifetime of this Government the old age pension has been raised by a total of 23% over three years, compared with less than 10% over the previous three years. That represents clear recognition by the Government of the enormous contribution the present generation of pensioners has made to the development of the pros[1375] perous modern society which we live in and enjoy.

Within the remit of my own Department I am glad to have been able to help a group of pensioners whose problems had been neglected by several Governments. I refer to the former Hospitals' Trust employees. They have been pressing their case for several years but have found it hard to get any Government to listen. This Government was prepared to listen to the case put forward so eloquently and persuasively on their behalf by their spokesperson, John Slevin, and to do something about it. Deputy Quinn accuses this Administration of being arrogant and out of touch and of not being willing to listen. What a pity he was unable to hear the modest needs of this group of elderly women, many of whom had worked in the company for 40 years and many of whom were constituents of his own, during the three years when he held responsibility for the public purse. I know he heard what they had to say because they told me yesterday they had been to talk to him.

The Progressive Democrats have always believed in tax reform and tax reduction as matters of political principle. When the party was founded 15 years ago we were attacked from all sides for suggesting that substantial and significant cuts in personal tax rates were not just desirable but essential if economic decline was to be reversed. Fifteen years on, we have won many converts to our cause and I am delighted this is so because the whole country has benefited as a result.

Our achievements on taxation in this Government have been significant. The basic rate of income tax has been cut by four points in three years and now stands at 22%. Do not be surprised – and I am conscious the Minister for Finance is present – if it falls to 20% in next December's budget. The basic rate of income tax has fallen by ten percentage points since 1990. Nine of those points came off while the Progressive Democrats were in Government; only one was taken off when the Labour Party was in Government. The higher rate of income tax has been cut by four points in the past three years, bringing substantial relief to hundreds of thousands of people on middle incomes. It has fallen by 12 percentage points since 1990 and all 12 points came off while the Progressive Democrats were in Government with Fianna Fáil.

One of my party's longest held ambitions was to secure the introduction of tax credits and we succeeded in doing that in the budget of 1999. This was one of the most imaginative and far reaching reforms ever effected in the Irish personal tax system and its true benefits will become manifest over the next couple of years.

The issue of standards in public office is centre stage in politics once again. It seems as if the issue has been permanently at the centre of political debate for the past ten years or so. The Govern[1376] ment's record on standards is good. We have got rid of the invidious passports for sale scheme, discontinued the export credit insurance scheme, established a tribunal to investigate the blood transfusion scandal and set up a special commission to inquire into child abuse. One of the hallmarks of a modern healthy democracy is the ability to expose and confront corruption. We should recognise that on that score, we are at last beginning to do well. The Government has been instrumental in establishing the Flood and Moriarty tribunals to investigate various allegations of serious wrongdoing in public and business life. Both tribunals are working well and I am confident their final reports will be an important contribution to the conduct of our public affairs. Within my own Department I have used the powers available to me under the companies legislation brought in a decade ago by my predecessor, Deputy O'Malley, to launch 13 different inquiries into various suspected breaches in company law. When these tribunals and inquiries have completed their work and published their reports we should have a clearer picture of the kind of country in which we live.

Ireland is not a corrupt country. Corrupt countries do not set up tribunals and inquiries to investigate corruption. That is not to say Ireland is without corruption. The truth remains to be established but it would appear there were many powerful and influential people who felt political access, political favours and even on occasion, political representatives could be bought. The question now is how do we respond to all this. Early signs are not encouraging. If people really believe all politicians are the same there will be no political penalty for political corruption. The crooked and the straight will go down together.

Mr. Yates: Information on Ivan Yates  Zoom on Ivan Yates  What about the penalty for Mr. Haughey?

Ms Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  If people turn their backs on the party political system at a time when it has never been more successful in delivering a better life for all our people, we are heading for real problems.

Political stability has been fundamental to the Irish economic miracle. That is often not recognised because it is taken for granted in our well developed parliamentary democracy. Political stability is essential if we are to cope with the challenges which lie ahead. Those challenges are great. We will need to create truly competitive conditions in every area of the economy if we are to ensure that inflation is kept firmly under control. Inflation is a thief which can rob those on fixed incomes. Real social solidarity requires us to keep it in check and that may mean facing up to vested interests at times.

We must create a first class transport infrastructure and this means developing a national motorway network linking the major urban centres and allowing jobs and investment to flow freely into all the regions. We must upgrade and modernise our public transport system. A key [1377] part of that process will be the introduction of competitive tendering to ensure the best possible service for the travelling public. We must make Ireland an attractive location for electronic commerce so we do not lose out in the battle for mobile international investment in this important area. We must look at our system of regulation and taxation to ensure we are up with the best. We must keep a constant eye on developments in Northern Ireland to ensure that the prize of peace is not lost and to promote the development of a partnership society in an area more used to sectarianism and strife.

I do not deny the Government has been through a very tough time in recent days and weeks but sometimes people can perform all the better for being tested in the fires of adversity. As leader of the Progressive Democrats I am determined to continue to give good Government to the country. I know from what I have been told by Fine Gael and Labour Party Members they were so worried—

Mr. Yates: Information on Ivan Yates  Zoom on Ivan Yates  The Tánaiste has not said a word about her comments about Mr. Haughey. What has she to say about accountability?

Ms Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  Unlike Deputy Yates I always know where I am. He gets confused about that from time to time. I know the difference between a pub and an airport.

Mr. Yates: Information on Ivan Yates  Zoom on Ivan Yates  The Tánaiste owes the House an explanation for her injudicious remarks.

Ms Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  There is so much I would love to say but I do not wish to abuse the privilege of the House.

Mr. Yates: Information on Ivan Yates  Zoom on Ivan Yates  The Tánaiste may say what she likes in the House.

Ms Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  We have two Governments to bring forward.

Mr. Yates: Information on Ivan Yates  Zoom on Ivan Yates  I think the Tánaiste means two budgets. The Taoiseach almost fell off his seat when he heard her say that.

Ms Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  We will have two Governments as well as two budgets. Work on the first of those budgets is already under way. This will give us another opportunity to deliver on our commitments to working people, pensioners and all those still affected by social exclusion. That will be the seventh budget to which the Progressive Democrats will have had an input. This is not bad for a party which was founded only 15 years ago. My aim is to ensure the Progressive Democrats leave their distinctive mark on that budget and the one after it so that we can face the electorate with confidence at the next general election.

Acting Chairman:  Deputy Michael D. Higgins will share his time with Deputies Broughan, Moy[1378] nihan-Cronin and Gilmore. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  When a motion such as this is debated the first thing to give way is often language itself, but this can be revelatory. Thus, for example, the Minister for Finance used the following piece of corporate guff in his speech: “In management speak, this Government walks the walk on tax cuts. The previous three budgets only talked the talk”. It is a very significant moment in any parliament when that kind of rubbish is put into a speech by a Minister for Finance but it is revelatory of the Minister's attitude to the economy and politics.

His invitation in the budgets for which he has been responsible is for people to become prisoners of the economy rather than the economy serving them. Thus he set about systematically destroying the choice of people to choose to work at home or in the paid formal economy. He is sometimes described by the fan groups which surround him from the small withering Progressive Democrats Party and the Fianna Fáil Party, the radical rump, as a radical. He is a radical – he has radically shifted tax benefit from the poor to the rich. He has made the rich richer. In fairness, there is something about the Minister for Finance which is fairly honest. He is a right-wing, conservative Tory when it comes to finances. When he comes to speaking about tax cuts, it is interesting how well he is able to sing from the Progressive Democrats hymn sheet.

I listened to the Tánaiste speak about tax reform and tax reduction in the same breath as if they were the same thing. Tax reform is about shifting the burden of taxation to those who should pay. Tax reduction, as she speaks about it, is about treating tax reduction for those at the top in the same way as for those at the bottom. The Tánaiste and her colleague, the Minister for Finance, when hit by an inflation problem will turn around and will gaze not at those who got the main benefit from the reduction in capital gains tax, inheritance tax and so on, but they will turn around and ask for wage restraint by those on modest and low incomes. That is the kind of politics which is there and the point I want to make in this debate. The Government, which is drifting in a surplus, could do so much in health, education, housing and the rights of children and so on and could make these projects which the economy could serve, but it has not done so.

Then there are these little quaint phrases or McCreevyism which broke out in the Taoiseach's speech. He mentioned that grand old folksy phrase of Fianna Fáil about carts before horses and horses before carts. He said he was in favour of US-style economic dynamism with European-style social solidarity. Where are the health and environmental services and the services available at national and social level in every civilised democracy in Europe? The Taoiseach said we should let the economic engine drive social improvement. Are all matters to be left to the [1379] economy or are there matters of social provision which simply cannot be left to the marketplace and which are so important that they should not be left to competition or the market? Are there public institutions which should not be privatised because it is not in the public interest?

Members will have noticed that everything I have said has been an attempt to move beyond what I call the politics of scandal but on this, I want to say a word. It is time the public discovered their courage and looked clearly at what they see on television and read in the newspapers. The people appearing before the tribunals could be called the speculative building wing of the friends of Fianna Fáil. If the Government thinks that those of us who never took a corrupt penny will be classed the same as people who were on the regular take for a generation flowing from the Lord of Kinsealy, it must think differently. It is an outrage, they own the scandal. They made the tribunals necessary and will appear before the courts if they are allowed by their Cabinet colleagues. Let them clear up their own scandal and deal with the politics of scandal. The public wants a Government which will get on with the issues I have described, which are beyond marketplace thinking and which are genuine issues of social solidarity.

Mr. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  The key element of the general election result three years ago was that the Government received no mandate from the people. The Progressive Democrats programme was soundly rejected and then that party and the motley crew of Independents helped Fianna Fáil into office. Since June 1997, the Progressive Democrats influence, through its small rejected right-wing party and the Progressive Democrats wing of Fianna Fáil, has been in the ascendant over economic and social policies. Even the Blairite soundbite policies absorbed by Fianna Fáil spin doctors during the 1997 campaign have not been implemented and the Taoiseach now presides over one of the most divided societies in the European Union. Again and again over the past three years, as the Celtic tiger economy soared, the interests of the rich and powerful have taken precedence at every turn and in every budget and Social Welfare Bill.

A major commitment in 1997 was to redress the balance against those on fixed incomes, like pensioners and the long-term unemployed. Yet despite the much trumpeted increases in contributory pensions, our senior citizens have been cruelly deceived by Fianna Fáil. The firm commitment to deal with the pro rata increases and anomalies and pensions for former public sector employees, like civil servants, teachers, nurses and gardaí, have been abandoned by the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, and the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and senior citizens are rightly angered by the Government. Their representative bodies, like the senior citizens parlia[1380] ment led by stalwarts like the late Mattie Merrigan who died last week, are rightly furious at the growing gap between pensioners on fixed incomes and younger citizens recently highlighted so graphically in The Irish Times.

It is also shameful that the carer's leave Bill will not be passed before the Dáil goes into recess. We passed other Bills but not that one. The introduction of carer's benefit in early October is in real doubt. It was typical that no Fianna Fáil or Progressive Democrats representative turned up at the large carer's conference a few months ago in All Hallows, Drumcondra. Why is the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, still refusing to abolish the means test for carer's allowance which his officials indicate could be achieved for less than £150 million? The Labour Party will abolish this despicable means test and we will also address the absolute right of carer's to respite places and their own health needs for the first time.

In his three budgets, or is it five budgets, the Minister for Finance has refused to address the huge needs of citizens in relation to child care. His only initiatives so far have tinkered with the problem and avoided the necessity to provide real resources for caring and working parents. The parsimonious attitude of the Government has coincided with the publication of EU reports showing that one quarter of Irish children live in poverty. The leader of the Government need only walk down the streets of his constituency and neighbouring constituencies on the north side to verify the sad truth of the findings in yesterday's newspapers.

At the wealthiest time in our history, this Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government has kicked into touch the issues of basic income, benchmarking and social welfare individualisation. The current basic assistance rates of £77.50 and £47.50 have fallen catastrophically in relation to the average industrial wage of nearly £400 per week or, indeed, to lower to medium incomes. Minimum rates of £100 per week were indicated by our massive incomes growth, but the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs were unmoved. How can we expect an adult to live a decent life on £47.50 or even £77.50 per week?

This appalling situation has been greatly exacerbated by the disaster of inflation. I note the Tánaiste had little to say to people on social welfare. What are basic increases of 5.2% to 5.7% with inflation now nearing 6%? Will the four Independents who support this discredited Government and the Fianna Fáil backbenchers explain to people on social welfare and benefits why their rates are falling as the cost of living spirals out of control? I note one of the Fianna Fáil backbenchers told his parliamentary party the other day that half the Ministers in the Government should be kicked out for incompetence.

Recent years have marked a sad decline in the social concern of the Minister for Finance. This [1381] was highlighted again last week when he arrogantly refused to consider a second Social Welfare Bill in 2000 to compensate for inflation. He told the 1.5 million citizens who depend on social welfare for all or most of their income that they could wait until May 2001. In terms of social welfare, this country got a Government in 1997 which it did not want or need. For three years, despite a booming economy, the Government has refused to address the real social and economic needs of our communities as it wrestles with one scandal after another. The Government was always lethargic and is now thoroughly discredited. It is time for it to go.

Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin: Information on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  Zoom on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  I was born with politics in my blood. As a child, politics was as much the sustenance at the family dinner table as the food on our plates. My appetite for politics was born out of the determination of my father. That determination was about serving the public good. I am in politics because I want to deliver policies which make life better for the electorate. That is my only motivation in politics and that will be my sole motivation as long as I contest elections, local or national. However, the damage caused to politics in recent years has done no favours for honest, hard-working politicians. This Administration does not seem interested in serving the public good but in self-justification and self-interest. Occasionally that self-interest is unravelled by a few Independent Deputies who are equally self-serving. The four Independents who prop up this frail Government were bought very cheaply and their meagre demands have not made this country a better place in which to live. I would ask them to reflect on their role over the past three years and suggest they have achieved little.

Fianna Fáil used the slogan “People Before Politics” in the 1997 general election campaign. Since then, it has become clear who those people are. They are not those on social welfare or families struggling to meet large mortgage or child care payments. Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats made clear who they want to serve, as reinforced by the budget. There are now more disenfranchised groups than when this Government took office. The Government seems happy to trip over the homeless on our streets. It preferred to halve capital gains tax for the very well off instead of providing homes for the homeless.

As a female Deputy I continue to be vigilant about the Government's policy of building a society in which women and men can participate on a equal footing. When it took office almost three years ago the first measure it introduced to undermine women was the merger of the Department of Equality and Law Reform with the Department of Justice. From then on, equality was a non-issue for the Government. When it belatedly introduced the Parental Leave Act it made no provision for payments to parents, mainly women, considering taking leave.

[1382] In the budget, the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, included three measures which were inherently anti-women. First, the controversial individualisation of the tax code was an attack on women who choose to stay at home. Even women in the home whose income threshold was too low to be affected by this change saw it as an attack on the work they do and have always done. The second act was the Minister's failure to address the child care crisis. The third, and perhaps most drastic anti-women measure in the budget, was the Minister's decision to award the largest tax breaks to the highest income earners. Those in low-paid jobs, the majority of whom are women, were virtually ignored.

In his contribution to this debate, the Taoiseach spoke about building monuments in Government, but this Government will be remembered for the monument of relegating women and women's issues. The other monument built by this Government is the dark and damaging cloud which hangs over politics. The politics I wish to uphold are being damaged and the longer this arrogant Government stays in office, the more damage will be done. I did not take the decision to speak on this motion lightly, but I am saddened I found it necessary to express my lack of confidence in this Government.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  In his contribution this morning, the Taoiseach's only response to the housing crisis was to tell us what was not in the rainbow coalition's manifesto at the last general election. The summer of 1997 is a good starting point for the debate on housing, and I would like to give the Taoiseach and his exhausted, battered Government a few more comparisons for the benefit of his scriptwriters.

When the rainbow Government left office any young working couple could afford to buy a home. Three years later, owning a home has become the impossible dream for the generation whose work is fuelling this prosperous economy. Three years ago the average price of a new house in Dublin was £84,000, today it is £162,000 – almost double. In 1997 it was possible to rent good family size accommodation in Dublin for about £400 per month, today the same accommodation is difficult to find at £800 per month. In 1997 there were 26,000 people on local authority waiting lists with a reasonable hope of being housed. There are now over 50,000 people on those lists with diminishing hopes because the Government managed to build fewer local authority houses last year than in 1995.

The difference on housing between the rainbow Government and this Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats minority Administration is not to be found in manifestos but in the record. Under the rainbow Government, people could afford and obtain housing to meet their needs. In three years this Government has turned this situation into a crisis. All morning, Government backbenchers, smarting from criticism, bellowed for policies from the Opposition. The Labour Party has [1383] no shortage of policies on housing and I recommend that during the recess Government backbenchers read the report of the Labour Party housing commission, published in May 1999; the proceedings of the Labour Party conference on housing in September 1999; the Labour Party housing campaign document of December 1999 and, more recently, the comprehensive ten-point plan on housing published by the Labour Party during Private Members' time on 13 June 2000.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  The Deputy should get the word out to the Labour Party's local authority members who vote against everything.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  This Government is not going to solve the housing crisis and that is clear from its latest feeble effort on foot of the third Bacon report. The Labour Party's message to those who cannot afford to buy a home, those being exploited and robbed in the private rented sector, those on local authority waiting lists, those who are homeless, those who care about housing and, particularly, those facing eviction, is that the first necessary step to solving the housing crisis is to evict this Government from the offices it has occupied so badly for the past three years, and then to implement the Labour Party's policies.

If housing was the only issue in the Environment and Local Government portfolio on which Ministers Dempsey, Molloy and Wallace had failed they might just escape the charge of incompetence. However, after three years in office, this country is recycling a smaller proportion of its waste than when this Government took office. Almost every county is in turmoil over dumps, incinerators or waste charges as this Government has no waste management policy.

The European Commission is taking the Government to court on nine different charges of failing to protect the environment. We are over-shooting our commitments under the Kyoto Protocol by a factor of two and, after three years, the Government has not produced a draft of the greenhouse gas abatement strategy. Our cities are choked with traffic and exhaust fumes, our rivers and lakes are choking with eutrophication and our streets and public places are filthy with litter.

At a time when the country is being told that developers and builders were able to buy planning permissions and rezonings, this Government's only reform of planning is to charge individual citizens and residents' associations who wish to express an opinion on a planning matter to a local authority. Despite all we have heard from Dublin Castle, the Government's reform of the planning process is to make it harder for individual citizens and communities to express a legitimate opinion about a planning matter and to make it easier for the very builders and developers who caused the problem in the first place. This Government, and Fianna Fáil in particular, never learned. It has failed the country and it is time for it to go.

[1384]Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  I wish to share my time with Deputies Walsh and de Valera.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  It is said that any fool can complain and most fools do. I have listened to the tone of this debate with a growing sense of wonder. Ireland is a liberal democracy undergoing a major economic boom. We have virtually full employment for the first time in living memory. As a result we are making major inroads into overcoming inequality and social exclusion.

At a political level, a major programme of investigation is fearlessly unmasking the wrong-doing of the past with the result that the standard of integrity in public life has probably never been higher. However, listening to the situation as described by Opposition Deputies, one might imagine we were living under conditions similar to Haiti under the regime of Papa Doc Duvalier.

As it comes to the end of its third year in office, the Government has a record of achievement. Ireland has enjoyed a sustained period of economic growth, the curse of emigration is at an end, the Exchequer is in surplus and we have undertaken a major process of tax reform. To secure our economic future, an unprecedented programme of investment in our infrastructure is under way. In Northern Ireland, after so many false starts and disappointments, there are growing hopes that the peace process will lead to a lasting settlement.

I freely acknowledge that at various stages members of all parties have been instrumental in our national success. However, I do not believe in false modesty. Fianna Fáil has been in Government, either alone or as the senior partner, for most of the period since our national economic recovery began in 1987. Fianna Fáil in Government has a solid record of delivering the results.

We entered Government on the basis of an Action Programme for the Millennium. I am particularly proud of the diligence which the current Government has shown in implementing the agreed programme. No other Government in recent times has been as meticulous or as focused in pursuing policies to deliver what has been promised. The problems we face today are for the most part the problems of success. I do not wish to diminish the importance of developing policy responses to these very real issues. However, given our national economic revival, we have a sound basis on which to look with confidence to the future.

There is a reason I find it necessary to begin by labouring these very obvious points. The success or otherwise of a Government can be measured only by its record in delivering on its agreed programme. On this basis, we are perfectly happy to be judged by the results achieved by this Government. We have delivered over a wide range of issues, and the facts speak for themselves.

[1385] Regarding my Department, I am proud that targets have been met and in some instances exceeded. The first ever White Paper on Defence was approved by Government on 29 February 2000. The White Paper sets out a very positive, developmental approach to defence in Ireland for the next ten years. It involves the reshaping of the Defence organisation based on a revised total manpower level of 10,500 for the Permanent Defence Force, with the option of an additional 250 recruits in training to free up the necessary resources for equipment and infrastructure investment. This will result in a £250 million investment programme in addition to existing equipment programmes. There will also be a development of the Reserve Defence Force involving better equipment and training. This plan will include a continuation of the policy of regular recruitment which is now in place in order to achieve an improved age profile in the Permanent Defence Force. A campaign to recruit an additional 750 personnel has begun.

The £250 million investment programme includes about £55 million over three years on the purchase of new aircraft for the Air Corps with procurement of new helicopters being given a special priority; more than £20 million for a second new state of the art offshore patrol vessel for the Naval Service, similar to the LE Róisín which was delivered last year; about £25 million over three years for investment in light infantry tactical vehicles, modern effective anti-armour weapons, night vision equipment, engineer equipment and medical field equipment.

All of that is in addition to almost £40 million for a new fleet of armoured personnel carriers for the Army, the first of which will be produced by the end of the year with deliveries completed by early 2002; more than £20 million for a new state of the art offshore patrol vessel, LE Róisín, which was delivered last year; and more than £10.5 million for new tactical VHF radios; more than £6.5 million this year on specialist transport cargo vehicles deployed to KFOR, and on new troop carrying vehicles.

I am perplexed, therefore, that in recent weeks, the tone of public debate in Ireland would lead one to conclude that we are in the middle of some sort of national crisis. However, I search and search in vain for the evidence that we are in crisis. This Government took office on the basis of an agreed programme. We have successfully implemented that programme and all of the welter of hysterical and defamatory comment should be seen in that context. In factual terms, the Government's record leaves little scope for censure. However, the facts apparently have little influence over the demeanour of the Deputies on the opposite benches. We in Government are going to be lectured and patronised no matter what. Confounded by the facts and prevented by our successes from berating us on our record, we are treated instead to a condescending exposition on the subject of integrity.

[1386] There are many different approaches to politics. However, at the end of the day there are only two really distinctive styles of opposition – issue based politics attempting to show that the policies of the Government are flawed, or personality based politics attempting to show that the people in Government are in some way flawed. I regret that some of my parliamentary colleagues on the other side of the House, frustrated at the very limited scope afforded by our successes for criticism of our policies, have chosen instead to mount an assault on the character of the Government.

There is an audacious assumption at the heart of the sermon being preached at us from the other side of the House that the parties opposite have a monopoly of virtue. It is an assumption which evaporates on contact with reality.

A reasonable measure of forbearance surely forms an integral part of any real ethos of integrity in public life. There is a world of difference between maintaining a high standard of integrity and conducting a witch hunt, a difference which, sadly, seems lost on the Opposition. Moreover, in the daily life of the Government, as in daily life everywhere else, mistakes are commonplace. All mature political cultures recognise this. Perfection is an ideal to which we aspire. It is not a standard by which we judge the conduct of others.

However, nothing is impossible for the man who does not have to do it himself. The present leader of Fine Gael is untroubled by the complexities of the real world; he seems genuinely unable to distinguish between real integrity on the one hand and a narrow-minded and vindictive demand for a scapegoat at very turn in the road. In practical terms, if we applied this impossibly high standard of perfection to every action, we could empty the House in six months. However, in this instance, only the Government benches would be emptied. Like true puritans, the rigid and unyielding standard of perfection is employed solely for the purpose of judging others. An entirely different and less demanding set of standards is applied at home.

This approach to politics cannot produce any winners. On the contrary, there is a danger in forever setting out to undermine the integrity of others. Often, the only lasting result achieved is a rise in general cynicism which casts its shadow equally on all of us in public life. Why then engage in a policy of undermining the honesty and integrity of others?

I have been particularly repelled by the feeding frenzy stirred up against the Tánaiste. Every day, politicians from all sides of the House are required to answer questions, to speak in public, to constantly tread a tightrope where a wrong word or a particular turn of phrase taken out of context can have unforeseeable consequences. Like other mortals, Ministers, Deputies, Taoisigh and Tánaistí can sometimes fall short of perfection.

[1387] In a perfect world, there would not be any mistakes. The Tánaiste has laboured long and hard to ensure that allegations of wrongdoing are investigated in a comprehensive and impartial manner. Is she now to be sent to the stake because of one chance remark? There is an important distinction to be drawn between integrity and the sort of sanctimonious humbug which demands a scapegoat every time we encounter a reverse. Let nobody labour under the delusion that standards in public life can be raised through the dismissal from office of manifestly honest people.

One could become angry at the hypocrisy of those who fail to live up to the standard of integrity which they demand from the rest of us. However, when one thinks about it, one realises they have no choice. They are compelled to operate a double standard. No ordinary mortal could reach the standards of perfection being demanded of Fianna Fáil by Deputy Bruton, certainly not the members of his own party, based on experiences in the past. To be fair to him, he has been haphazard and inconsistent rather than uniformly hypocritical in the application within his own party of his wondrous standards of virtue. Perhaps the leader of the Opposition really is so unreasonable that he would have dismissed the Tánaiste if he were Taoiseach, and perhaps that is the reason he is leader of the Opposition and not Taoiseach.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  It is ironic to have to respond to a “no confidence” motion when confidence in our future, North and South, has never been greater as a result of an unprecedented range of achievements in the country's socio-economic and political life over the past decade. Today's motion is truly an appalling indictment of the failure of the policy formulation capabilities of the main Opposition parties.

The Opposition leaders have the honourable and challenging option of building on the outstanding rate of progress achieved by this Government for the good of all of the people through the development and vigorous discussion of exciting and innovative policies. The performance of some of their members on various Oireachtas Committees and on the floor of this House indicates the substantial potential of such an approach. Instead, the Opposition has elected for a parliamentary strategy which places expedience over principle, opportunism over effort and cruel personality-based attacks over the most elementary concepts of fair play.

While the extraordinary lack of balance and absence of even a token pretence of objectivity on the part of a minority of media commentators might entice an unprincipled opportunism in this regard, surely our Opposition leaders should be expected to show greater moral fibre and national altruism. The facts are that confidence in our economy and especially in agriculture has never [1388] been greater. Even the most cursory glance over the record of this Government shows a range of achievements in agriculture difficult to better and certainly way ahead of the anything achieved by the rainbow Coalition which was all colour but little substance.

This Government places agriculture in the prime position it deserves. Even in these booming years of the tiger economy the Government recognises agriculture as the most important indigenous industry. Its importance extends beyond simply being an industry but is the mainstay of life in our rural areas in protecting the country landscape for the benefit of all. Agriculture is of course changing and demands dynamic and progressive policies. Not only does the Government have these policies but we have shown we can deliver on them.

In the Agenda 2000 negotiations last year, for example, against all the odds we turned a potential loss into a resounding gain, with a turn-around of £2 billion. As a result total payments to farmers and the food sector will be in the order of £10 billion over the period. That achievement alone surpasses anything in the record, such at it was, of the previous Government. It laid a firm foundation for the development of the agri-food sector and the basis for the upturn in farm incomes which farmers are currently experiencing.

The Government did not rest on this achievement but reinforced the success by providing unprecedented support in the national development plan for the maintenance of a vibrant rural Ireland. In doing so the Government was also conscious of the need for a counterbalance to the problems of urbanisation. In total, £6.7 billion has been committed in the plan under the special chapter for investment in rural development, of which £3.7 billion is specifically provided for agricultural development, again showing the Government is delivering.

In this case we delivered on the vision and aspirations contained in our White Paper on Rural Development, a revolutionary document providing a comprehensive framework for rural development. It provides, for example, that all policies which come before Government are subject to rural proofing, a procedure which was not previously a feature. Building further on the framework it had already put in place, the Government under its partnership arrangement made significant commitments for the benefit of the agriculture sector in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. These commitments will also be delivered.

Independent economists are predicting a 15% increase in aggregate farm incomes this year. Direct payments to farmers are also increasing to over £1 billion as the benefits of Agenda 2000 begin to arrive in the post. The foundations for this turn around were laid during the past two years. This included not alone the Agenda 2000 success, the successful outcome of the Structural Fund negotiations and the national development [1389] plan, but other actions in specific areas such as the removal of obstacles in the way of trade to our traditional markets for cattle and beef and the food industry, the enactment of the first statutory-based beef assurance scheme in Europe, the achievement of record levels of live cattle exports, the introduction of a range of measures to improve farm structures and protect the environment and the improved delivery of direct income payments.

To thrive and advance confidently into the future, the Government realises that agriculture needs youth, capital investment and environmental protection which will be ensured through measures such as the early retirement scheme, targeted capital investment on farm and for the food industry, the regional operational programmes and the continuation of REPS.

The future of Irish agriculture will be shaped by the prospect of new and major challenges in the marketplace and by changes in EU policy driven by enlargement, EU budget pressures and the outcome of the next round of world trade negotiations.

In the short time available I have outlined a number of the constructive measures for the development of our major natural resource industry and I ask the Opposition not to stand around for another two years in this spiteful vigil of waiting for the Government to collapse and to contribute in a more constructive way to the development of the economy to even greater heights.

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): Information on Síle de Valera  Zoom on Síle de Valera  I have found it difficult to take the arrogance and hypocrisy of the Labour Party since this debate commenced, but then arrogance and hypocrisy are the hallmarks of that party. It would do well to remember the words of one of its late Deputies, Jim Kemmy, who, commenting on the high moral ground, said: “The air is very thin up there”. Indeed the Labour Party does not have much business being there in the first place. Looking at the recent past of the Labour Party it is impossible to understand why it feels entitled to pretend it has a foothold on that high moral ground. Such a foothold, no more than much of its recent performance, is a very slippery one. I find it equally galling to have to listen to lectures from a party that is as lacking in policies as it is full of self-interest. It must be galling too for some of the decent rank and file Labour members working under the current party regime.

“Ban corporate donations” has a fine ring to it. Ask business to pay a big sum to play in a golf classic and meet the leader of the Labour Party this summer – that also sounds reasonable, except one cannot have it both ways, no more than one can rationalise the Labour Party's new-found loftiness with a former Labour Minister responsible for ethics legislation offering people, including business people, on official notepaper “a rare opportunity to gain access to the Minister [1390] for Finance”– that is for £100 a plate, of course. Ban corporate donations, indeed.

Deputy Quinn seems to have the ability to look both ways at the same time. The Labour Party has expressed grave concerns about the interaction between business and politics. This clearly was not an issue at the time of the Woodchester loan to that party and its subsequent write-off. Deputy Quinn was deputy leader of his party and director of elections for the 1994 European elections when the loan was taken out. Despite these pivotal positions he is on record as saying he had “little or nothing to do with finances”.

At our most charitable we can only assume he is an extraordinarily naive politician with little grasp of the qualities needed to be a good party leader and a good member of Government. Maybe this naivety can explain how the advertising agency, Quinn McDonnell Pattison, which is headed by Deputy Quinn's brother Conor, was granted in somewhat unusual circumstances a Government contract during the divorce referendum. Perhaps Deputy Quinn should get a copy of the Golden Pages and look under advertising agencies of which there are many.

A robust Opposition is vital for democracy. A good Government strives constantly to govern better. The arrogance, posturing and hypocrisy of the Labour Party achieves nothing except to besmirch the face of democracy. It is time for the Labour Party to get real and get its own house in order.

Before addressing the achievements of the Government, I must say a few words about Fine Gael – just a few words. This is the party which does not believe in second chances, except of course when there is a by-election in Deputy Michael Lowry's backyard. Then Cupid can strike again for friends forever, but Deputy Lowry said no. However, one must expect a rather eccentric view of politics from the man who held the highest political office in the land and cites meeting Prince Charles as the greatest moment in his life. I rest my case.

Let me now turn to the fundamental issue of the day. The Government has served the electorate well for three years. It has made mistakes, but they weigh light in the balance of our achievements and there is much more we can and will achieve. The Government stands and answers to the people on its record.

I will now turn to the achievements in my Department. First, with regard to legislation, eight Bills have been published in the areas of broadcasting, the Irish language, the built heritage and the natural heritage, a vast improvement on the record of the previous Government. Major initiatives to support the arts include the adoption of the three year arts plan by Government and the provision of the necessary funding of £100 million, the Academy for the Performing Arts at a cost of £35 million and a new capital investment scheme known as ACCESS, with a budget of £36 million.

[1391] In relation to film, the Government has taken positive steps to support the industry, including the extension of section 481 for five years, the restructuring and strengthening of the film board and the establishment of the Screen Commission on an operational basis to promote Ireland as a location for film and television productions.

Funding for our national cultural institutions has been increased on average by 53% since we were elected to office. The major Broadcasting Bill, dealing with digital terrestrial broadcasting and other important issues, is on Committee Stage, and earlier this week the Government agreed to my proposals regarding the appropriate structures for digital TV and the level of shareholding to be afforded to RTE in the proposed transmission entity. The Major Events Television Act was enacted last year to seek to protect the availability of major sporting and cultural events on free-to-air television and the statutory process of consultation will move shortly to the public consultation phase.

In relation to the built heritage a comprehensive package of measures to protect the architectural heritage has been implemented. I also wish to mention the code of conduct which has been drawn up between my Department and the NRA, Waterways Ireland which was established under the Good Friday Agreement, An Foras Teanga and the tremendous work done by the Minister of State with regard to overseeing a range of significant initiatives in relation to the Irish language and the islands.

Unfortunately, there are so many achievements we do not have the opportunity to outline them all.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Carlow-Kilkenny): This motion suggests the Government should resign. Having listened to many of the Ministers' speeches, it is time the script writers were taken out and allowed enjoy the sunshine, because decent Ministers are reading out the greatest drivel I have ever heard. They should not lower themselves in that way. It does not do them any good.

Miss de Valera: Information on Síle de Valera  Zoom on Síle de Valera  One has to do the work first.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne   (Carlow-Kilkenny): It is my own fault if what I say is drivel. At least I have thought of it myself and it costs the country nothing.

Miss de Valera: Information on Síle de Valera  Zoom on Síle de Valera  We are underlining the achievements of the past three years.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Carlow-Kilkenny): The Government has been very lucky. It took office at a time when the economy was booming – it still is. There is a surplus of £3 billion. Even part of the proceeds arising from the Eircom flotation could be set aside for pensions. In such circumstances it is not difficult to run the country. If we had a good Government we would be doing much bet[1392] ter. The Minister's great former leader had us all tightening our belts.

It is ludicrous for intelligent Ministers to make comparisons with the position eight to ten years ago. How can one compare something which is not similar? We had budget deficits for years.

Miss de Valera: Information on Síle de Valera  Zoom on Síle de Valera  Why?

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Carlow-Kilkenny): Because of the 1977 Fianna Fáil election manifesto which nearly wrecked the country—

Miss de Valera: Information on Síle de Valera  Zoom on Síle de Valera  That was 22 years ago.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne   (Carlow-Kilkenny): It has taken all that time to recover.

Miss de Valera: Information on Síle de Valera  Zoom on Síle de Valera  The Deputy's party has been in government since. It could not manage the finances.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Carlow-Kilkenny): Everything was free, the people were of the view that they need not pay for anything. I am glad the Minister has allowed me an opportunity to explain why we got into trouble. The people no longer believe a word the Government says.

The Government has lost the run of itself. It is also arrogant. Listening to the Taoiseach I had a flashback to the days when I participated in Gilbert and Sullivan operas. I could hear Philip Hennessy from Castledermot singing, “I am the very model of a modern major general.” All we were short of was Deputy Healy-Rae as a backing orchestra as the chorus shouted “yahoo” and said “hear, hear” together. A producer would have been proud of their precision as it trouped in to give a gee up in what was the greatest nonsense of all time.

After the greatest gaffe of all time the Tánaiste did not say she was sorry for what she did. She thinks it is marvellous. I heard on radio this morning go bhfuil fadhb in gColáiste na hOllscoile, Gaillimh, ó thaobh iarrthóir nach bhfuil Gaeilge aige. Luaigh an tAire féin an Ghaeilge. Tá sé mar phríomhaidhm ag Fianna Fáil dul chun cinn a dhéanamh i gcúrsaí Gaeilge agus í a athbheochan. Níl focal ag an gcuid is mó díobh. Tá siad ag magadh faoin teanga. Níl siad i ndáiríre faoin agus ní raibh siad riamh ach leanann siad ar aghaidh leis an rud seo. Ba chóir go mbeadh gach Aire a bhaineann le Fianna Fáil in ann an Ghaeilge a labhairt go líofa. Nílim ag cur milleán ar an Aire go pearsanta. Ach más é athbheochan na Gaeilge an príomhaidhm atá acu, an bhfuil Fianna Fáil dáiríre nó macánta faoi nó díreach ag déanamh ceap magaidh den teanga? Níl meas agam ar an Rialtas ó thaobh na Gaeilge de, agus ní féidir liom aon mheas a bheith agam orthu.

Miss de Valera: Information on Síle de Valera  Zoom on Síle de Valera  Far more work is being done now with regard to the Gaeltacht and the Irish language.

[1393]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Minister should allow the Deputy to continue without interruption. Time is limited.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne   (Carlow-Kilkenny): Nuair a tháinig mise isteach sa Teach seo, bhí Gaeilge le clos ó gach Aire beagnach ag tús a óráide. Ní chloistear focal Gaeilge anois uathu ach ón Teachta Hanafin agus ó dhuine nó beirt eile. Is uafásach an rud é.

Mr. Coveney:  The motion is about whether we, as citizens and fellow parliamentarians, can continue to have confidence in the ability of the Government to manage the country effectively in the best interests of the people. Less than two years ago it looked as if the Government would last for as long as it chose. It was then seen as balanced with a large Fianna Fáil Party, supposedly newly reformed with a new clean image, accompanied by a watchdog for standards and good practice in public life in the Progressive Democrats and Independents. It had a popular Taoiseach and Tánaiste whom a large percentage of the public seemed to like and trust. The economy was booming with no visible cracks and there was generally a feel good factor which made life very pleasant for the Government and challenging and difficult for us in opposition. At the time people seemed, in relative terms, content with the way the country was being governed. That was then, this is now.

The public has lost faith and trust in the Government, and I can understand why. On standards in public life, it can clearly see that Fianna Fáil has not turned over a new leaf, as promised. People are sick to death of watching this fire brigade type Government trying to put out the flames of scandal every single week, both in the House and through the media. That is not why the people elected it. They expect more from it.

The Progressive Democrats, the party which claimed that it would keep its larger partner in line in relation to standards, has been shown to be a party which on a regular basis, to use the phrase criticised by the Minister for Finance, is able to talk the talk but clearly not willing to walk the walk when called upon to show courage and principle.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  The Deputy's party would not know what courage means.

Mr. Coveney:  The Progressive Democrats finds itself in an uneviable position whereby if it chooses to pull out of Government on a point of principle it will suffer at the hands of the electorate. Yet, if it does not and continues to ignore scandal it will continue to lose credibility in the eyes of the people who supported it. The Progressive Democrats is, therefore, paralysed as a party into doing nothing. As individuals and Ministers, they are talented. Yet, as a party even people within its own ranks are asking what the future holds for them.

[1394] I agree with the Tánaiste when she said recently that everybody is entitled to make mistakes. Her biggest mistake is continuing in government with Fianna Fáil in present circumstances. We need an opportunity for a fresh start which ironically was the Fianna Fáil slogan in the most recent by-election. This can only happen in a general election.

My new responsibility within Fine Gael is to concentrate on the challenges facing us in the areas of drug abuse, crime and policing. The Government, despite its economic boasts, is presiding over a country with massive problems with regard to heroin and cocaine addiction. It is estimated that 66% of crime in the capital is drug related. We have the highest level of ecstasy abuse in the European Union among 15 and 16 year olds. Almost one in five of our mid-teenagers use cannabis. We have the highest drug related death rate in the European Union and it continues to grow annually. It has become the norm for teenagers in school to experiment with illegal substances. We have a revolving door prison system with a 70% return rate.

When one examines these facts and recognises the massive resources available to the Government one can hardly be surprised that the people have lost confidence and want a change.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  It is with sadness that one reviews the lifetime of the Government. I do not want my words to be construed as personal but when the Government took office all the fundamentals, economic, social and political, were right. We were the envy not just of Europe but of the rest of the world. All the economic fundamentals, including inflation, were on target. I can remember what the slogan was on the day of the general election. It was obviously inspired by the then Opposition. It read, “It's payback time.” It would now send a shudder down the spines of the population.

The Taoiseach mentioned that Fine Gael has not won a general election for 18 years. Fianna Fáil has been in government for 15 of those 18 years. Let us look at its performance on roads, housing and infrastructure in general as well as health services. It is an absolute disgrace. It is easy to say that the position is better than it was, but that is no basis on which to boast. It is easy to say that there was a 100% increase in the number of houses provided in 1990 over the previous year when almost none was provided. That is the reality.

It is sad, at a time when everything is in the Government's favour, that suddenly, because of a series of errors, the public is embarrassed. That is the lesson to be learned from this Dáil term. The public is embarrassed that a Government that had so much money, goodwill and public support – all opinion polls indicated massive support for every Minister, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste – should find itself in a position where it is all washed away. How did it happen?

[1395] A number of speakers mentioned arrogance. That has been a key factor. I do not know how true is the old saying “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, but it is very worrying when people begin to behave and act as if there was no right to raise questions if something goes wrong. I hope the Government will take a well earned holiday during the recess, but it should not rest on its laurels because the people are waiting and they are fed up. If the Government thinks the result of the Tipperary South by-election was an isolated incident it will find the opposite to be the case, sooner or later. The Government's attitude will get worse before it gets better.

The time allocated to this debate is insufficient to do justice to the seriousness of the subject matter. The economy is the issue that will repeatedly haunt the Government. It is the area about which it boasts most. I note the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, is present. Two years ago I asked about the housing crisis in the House. The reply was that there was not a crisis. Something extraordinary must have happened in the past 18 months, because now a crisis is admitted. The same can be said about the road network. There are plans for the future, but what about the present? The major party in Government has been in power for most of the past 15 years. A trip throughout this country reflects poorly on this economy by comparison with others.

Greater time and energy needs to be applied to the economy. The Government has been, and is distracted. It is attempting to extinguish too many fires on a daily basis. I do not wish to reduce anybody – that has never been my intention, although that does not apply to the other side of the House. Much of what I have heard today is not a departure from the past. For whatever length of time the Government continues in office, I ask it to concentrate on the economy and to try to address the issues that cause people deep concern. If the Government does not do that there will unfortunately be a harsh price to pay. At some future time the House may contain a multiplicity of parties from which it will be impossible for anybody to form a Government.

Mr. Perry: Information on John Perry  Zoom on John Perry  In business when one loses sight of the customer one loses the business. The Government has lost sight of the electorate in many areas. The inflation rate, now apparently out of the Government's control, is a serious threat, especially to the small business sector. Small businesses rely on an element of certainty and stability in the economy. The Government's constant promise that the current high rate of inflation will fall back is beginning to ring hollow. It is becoming increasingly difficult for small businesses to factor in a realistic figure in their projections.

The introduction of the minimum wage is welcome, but the taxation element means it falls [1396] from £4.40 per hour to £3.50 per hour. It is not a minimum, but a gross figure. The Government is incapable of providing decisive economic leadership. It constantly caves in to the threats of interest groups rather than taking into account the good of society as a whole.

A clear vision of where the economy is heading is required, and not only an instinctive reaction to day to day events. That is a seriously flawed approach. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment is sitting on the report on the Grocery Order. The abolition of the order, in an attempt to deflate the economy, would lead to the elimination of many independent shops. We must not repeat the British mistake, where 42% of villages no longer have a food shop and where the UK Competition Commission is considering a ban similar in effect to the order.

The removal of the Grocery Order will not reduce inflation. Since the introduction of the order, food inflation has been lower than general inflation and lower than the rate in the UK. Inflation is now running at a rate of 6.5%, in the UK it is 0.7%. This is a huge problem.

I am pleased the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is present. An amendment to the Intoxicating Liquor Bill, introduced by the Minister, requiring retailers to attach the name of their premises to all liquor sold is unworkable and unenforceable. The provision would oblige retailers to place their names on every bottle and can of alcohol sold on their premises. As a practitioner in the trade, price labelling has become obsolete in favour of scanning. Furthermore, youngsters caught with alcohol products bearing the name of an off-licence may have obtained it from somebody who bought it legally or they may have altered the label. This point was raised in the Seanad yesterday. It is an example of how important it is to be in touch with reality when legislating.

The Celtic tiger is in serious danger of falling flat, making us once again look very foolish in the eyes of our European neighbours and the World Bank. While we speak of success, we must remember that a huge portion of the electorate has not benefited from the Celtic tiger. The inflation rate of 6.5% has eroded the recently negotiated wage increases. That is very regrettable.

When the electorate judges the Government it will find that many people have not gained from the booming economy. Many people are mortgaged to the hilt. In many instances almost three salaries are required to meet high mortgage repayments. When interest rates increase by 1% or 2% people with mortgages of £100,000 or more will find it impossible to meet their repayments. Caution is required in this area.

Under this Government, the rich are getting richer but the poor are being left behind. Their position has not changed. There was a reference to old age pensions of £100 per week, yet the Minister for Finance recently referred to his sal[1397] ary of £90,000. Senior citizens are being asked to live on less than £5,000. We must not forget the most vulnerable in society, the aged. The Government has failed them dismally. Concrete benefits, rather than lip service to people in need are required.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy): Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  I wish to share my time with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue. We are debating a Labour Party motion of no confidence.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  It is a motion reaffirming confidence in Government.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  I suggest to the House that it should have no confidence that the policies of the new Labour Party could address the housing situation in any meaningful or positive way. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the mixed up policies on housing of the Labour Party would wreak havoc.

My record as Minister of State with responsibility for housing and urban renewal and that of the Government is one of action where there had been only inaction by the previous Government in which the Labour Party played such a prominent role. The Labour Party stalwarts, Deputies Howlin, McManus and Stagg, some of whom I am glad to see here in the House, were in charge of housing before I came into office.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Double the prices in three years.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  If I might instance just one area where one might expect the Labour Party in Government to have a particular concern—

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Double the prices.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Let him speak.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  —that is, the area of social housing provision, when I came into office the levels of assistance available for the provision of voluntary housing had, despite rapidly rising house prices and construction costs, not been revised for a number of years. When I say that the maximum level of assistance available under the capital assistance scheme in urban areas in 1997 was £33,000 per unit and it is now £120,000, including an entirely new site subsidy which I introduced, the hypocrisy of the Labour Party's criticism of the Government's housing record can be seen clearly. What was the effect of the Labour Party neglect of the voluntary housing sector? Simply this, output fell from 1,000 units in 1995 to 750 units in 1997, and because of their failure to maintain realistic levels of Government assistance for voluntary housing, I found on coming to office that the pipeline of new projects was almost dry, resulting in a further fall in 1998.

[1398]Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, will the Minister yield?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Does the Minister wish to yield to a question?

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  It has taken three years, three separate significant increases in assistance for the provision of voluntary housing accommodation, to restore confidence and output.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputy Howlin wished to know whether you wish to yield?

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  No, I am not yielding. He knows I have only a limited time.

This year voluntary housing output—

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  He knows there were fewer houses built last year than in 1995.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Please, Deputy Howlin, allow the Minister speak.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  —will reach the 1,000 new unit mark, a level which I believe the sector could have been producing every year since 1995 but for the cut-backs in support under the Labour Party which undermined completely previous progress and confidence in the sector.

What about the local authority housing programme?

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Yes.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  The previous Government, with a Labour Party Minister for the Environment, provided just £175 million for the provision of local authority housing in 1997.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  More houses were built in 1995 than in 1999.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  This year the funding allocation is £312 million. For the first time a multi-annual local authority housing programme has been introduced. Local authorities know that whatever funding they require to front-load their programmes to the greatest extent possible will be provided.

They should look at their record on housing starts. In 1996, there were 2,600. This year there will be 5,500 starts, and hopefully next year we will reach a level of 7,000 or 8,000 starts.

As long ago as 1995, house prices were increasing significantly ahead of inflation. The momentum of house price inflation, driven by an imbalance between supply and demand, was there for all to see. However, the difference between this Government and the preceding one is that we did not stand back with a sense of awe and helplessness. In negotiating the programme for Government before we took office in 1997 we recognised this and wrote proposals into that programme.

Therefore, shortly after coming into office I commissioned a comprehensive and rigorous [1399] analysis of the problem. Indeed, in late 1997, at the same time as we were commissioning the first Bacon study, we were launching the serviced land initiative. It was perfectly clear to us, and should have been to the rainbow coalition, that immediate action was required to increase the amount of serviced land for housing.

Should we have any confidence that the Labour Party in Government would do any better if it was given another chance? That party states that it would introduce fair price certificates for new houses, an approach which was tried in the past and proved ineffective and in many ways counter productive. It would not cause a single extra house to be built, and would add a new bureaucratic layer and consequent delays.

What happens when a new house becomes a second hand house? The Government is acting to curb speculation on housing. Artificial control on the price of new houses, as proposed by the Labour Party, would facilitate speculation and, indeed, would create a bonanza for the speculator in a market with such high levels of demand.

The Labour Party in Opposition states that it would nationalise all of the development land in Ireland, another rigorously analysed proposal. It would send out housing officers all over the country with cheque books to compete for land, and then what would happen? It would drive the price up further. This would not bring land into development more quickly or at a cheaper cost than can be achieved at present. There is no quick fix or bargain basement solution to moderating housing prices through wholesale acquisition of land.

The Labour Party in Opposition states that it would impose rent control, another short-sighted, populist notion. Rent control proved disastrous for the private rented sector in Ireland, as it did in any country in which it was imposed. In fact, European Union countries are now trying to get rid of any vestiges of rent control which had sent their private rented sectors into decline. Rent controls would hinder any attempts to increase the supply of rented accommodation. They convey an enormous advantage on persons already in rented accommodation and of course effectively ensure that no accommodation would be available for those who seek rented accommodation in the coming years. and this was the outcome of the main thrust of the speakers addressing a Threshold conference organised last year.

The Labour Party in Opposition states it will build 50,000 local authority houses in four years – it built 2,600 in its last full year in office. Will they be supported in this by their councillors around the country? I can find no evidence of a strong push for more local authority housing from Labour Party councillors around the country in their own local authorities. In fact, the opposite is the case, with Labour Party councillors in many local authorities throughout the country delaying the construction of badly needed additional housing, whether social or private. When we see the [1400] evidence of their campaign for more social housing at a practical level in terms of positive support for individual schemes in each local authority area, then we might be able to take seriously their policies stated in this House.

The Government has consistently prioritised housing issues. Our response to overall housing needs is comprehensive, multi-faceted, responsive to the developing situation and combines various programmes of action to form a connected strategic response. Our housing strategy is essentially three-pronged: to create the conditions for increasing supply to the new increased target level of around 55,000 private house completions per annum, which will be required on average over the period 2000-05 – this is an enormous challenge and well ahead of the estimated requirements of just a year or two ago; to stabilise the market by reducing speculative or brought-forward demand; and to improve affordability by focusing on first-time buyers and increasing the provision of social and affordable housing.

Two weeks ago we announced in Action on Housing a broad range of measures to address housing demand and supply, to improve social and affordable housing provision and to improve institutional arrangements. I am confident that these new measures will build on our significant progress to date and increase our capacity to deliver affordable housing to all our people.

Action on Housing forms part of the ongoing drive by Government to ensure that we have the housing required to provide for our rapidly expanding population. Never in the history of the State have we achieved a better performance in terms of housing output. However, this remarkable performance in increasing housing supply must not only meet new demands arising but also address the deficit of a relatively small housing stock. Measures taken by the Government have led to the achievement of a record housing output of 46,500 units nationally last year, the fifth consecutive year of record housing output. We are building new houses at a rate of 12.5 units per 1,000 population, five times the rate of building in the United Kingdom, and the indications are that the upward trend in new house completions is set to continue.

This rapidly increasing output and the real prospect of a further increase in output is beginning to show very positive effects. The rate of house price increases has slowed considerably. In fact, average prices in Dublin for the first quarter of 2000 show reductions of 1.1% and 2.7% for both new and second hand houses respectively, the first time that average prices have dropped since 1995.

The Government is not only addressing our short-term need for additional housing. We are putting in place a strategic framework to ensure planned and sustainable long-term development. We are preparing a national spatial development strategy, which will identify broad spatial development patterns for areas and set down indicative policies regarding the location of indus[1401] trial, residential and rural development. The strategy will attempt to deliver more balanced development between and within the regions. Strategy planning guidelines have been launched by the Government which will form the basis of a development strategy for the overall Dublin and mid-east region.

Good progress has been made under the serviced land initiative and output under the initiative is expected to exceed the 100,000 units envisaged originally. In fact, by the end of the year schemes providing 100,000 sites nationally would either be completed or at construction.

Additional staff have been recruited by An Bord Pleanála and local authorities to help accelerate the planning process. We have provided for a massively increased investment in economic infrastructure such as roads, water, sewerage and public transport which, of course, is essential to support housing development in the period to 2006 and beyond. We are ensuring a greater supply of serviced land and more effective use of that land through higher residential densities with proper safeguards.

This pathetic no-confidence motion is a poor substitute for policy. It is an attempt to cover up the Labour Party's failure in Government. It is a low form of political opportunism from a party that is desperately headless, leaderless and unsure of why it even exists.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  The House will shortly be asked to vote confidence in the Government. I have no doubt that the answer to this naked piece of political opportunism by the Opposition will be a resounding and emphatic “yes” to the confidence motion. At the same time, the House will also, by definition, give its verdict on the Opposition and will vote “no confidence” in it. Going by its pathetic record, that is the only verdict which can be reached by the House. It is a tired Opposition which is bereft of policies and imagination and which has lost its way. Instead of an Opposition which takes its fight to the floor of the House with policy alternatives, we have an Opposition struggling to catch its breath as it struggles to keep up with the breakneck speed of the Government as it reforms, modernises and reshapes Ireland in the 21st century.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  I think the Minister believes it.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  We have an Opposition incapable of looking forward and outward and envisioning how things might be. It is out of tune with the needs, aspirations and hopes of an Ireland which, under the leadership of the Government, is experiencing social and economic well-being on a scale which is truly without precedent.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  There will be comely maidens at the crossroads next.

[1402]Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  It is true that we have an Opposition whose political philosophy is that of the politics of denunciation, misrepresentation, rumour, innuendo and of the gutter.

I am proud to have played my part in this Government. I throw down the gauntlet to anyone across the floor in the House to compare the record of the Opposition in Government with ours in dealing with the myriad issues in the justice area. They should come out from the shadows of Fascist rhetoric so that we can have a real debate instead of the phoney, ill-judged, mistimed and miserable attempt to hound out of office the best Government in the history of the State.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  It is like “Scrap Saturday”.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  We know the tactics now: start a rumour, layer it with misrepresentation, snigger, sprinkle it with innuendo, throw in a few allegations and seek to present it as the truth.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The Minister is becoming a joke.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  Then Deputy after Deputy comes into the House and speaks inanely about arrogance.

No one in this country believes for a single moment that the Taoiseach is arrogant, but I know what many people thought about the Labour Party in the previous Administration. There is no party in this country which should know more about arrogance than the Labour Party. We all know that. The record is there for everyone to see. When the people went to the polls at the previous general election, they were thinking about arrogance all right.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  They will be thinking about it this time as well.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  They were thinking about the arrogance of the so-called representatives of the working people and of people who stated they would bring higher standards into public life but who never illustrated the story of Animal Farm more clearly or vividly. That is the truth.

Questions have been asked by the sniggering Labour Party on a number of occasions in recent days—

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  It is like Dr. Strangelove.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  —and questions have also been asked by the sniggering Fine Gael Party. I have a few questions to ask myself—

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The Minister has several questions to ask himself.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  —and I would like if they were answered. I want to know why, in the dying days of the rainbow coalition after the previous general election, it fell over itself to sign the contract to allow the country's second mobile phone [1403] operator access to the network of Garda radio masts. I want to know why the rainbow coalition Government, which granted the licence to Esat Digifone, was so concerned to have the contract signed that it made sure that it did so before it left office and before the incoming Government was elected.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Deputy Conor Lenihan was the lobbyist in that case.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  I am entitled to ask questions. I want to know about the passports which were granted by the rainbow coalition in the dying days of that Administration. It seems to me that its frozen indifference and studied inactivity over the previous two and a half years was in inverse proportion to its frenetic activity in the few days before it left office. Why did it grant the passports at the time given that it had, as it were, closed the shop and had not granted any passports for the previous nine months?

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The Minister should publish the file.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  Did it seek the advice of the Attorney General? Did the Attorney General agree with his Government colleagues on their “about turn” on this issue?

What is happening in the House at present is a clear smash and grab attempt to wrestle power from the Government and it is being done by seeking to undermine the reputation of the Taoiseach. I want to know how much lower the Opposition will go and how much more grasping it will become. It is truly pathetic to see an Opposition so eager to get into Government plumb to such depths.

The Labour Party will be judged by the people on the next occasion. If it believes it can impute the stance of arrogance, which it portrayed in Government, on to Fianna Fáil or its partners in Government with a view to getting into office, I have a message for it. We have too many examples of what it did when it was in Government. It has many more questions to answer than we do.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Out with the charge. Less of the innuendo.

Ms McManus: Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  It is Fianna Fáil which is before the tribunals.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Less of the double talk and innuendo.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  We know what it is against. It has made that clear over the past three years.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The Minister should make his charge. He should come out with it.

[1404]Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  The difficulty I and the people have is that we do not know what it is for.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The Minister has nothing to say.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  I challenge the Fine Gael party and the Labour Party to put forward coherent policies which will improve the lives of ordinary working people, vulnerable people and future generations. Until such time as it does that and does it in a cohesive and coherent way, it cannot expect the electorate to take it seriously.

Mr. Belton: Information on Louis J. Belton  Zoom on Louis J. Belton  Fianna Fáil got 23% of the vote in Tipperary South.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  The record of the past three years is there for all to see. We know what happened when Fine Gael was in Government. It became the poodle of the Administration. We know what happened to the prison in Castlerea. Its construction was cancelled while the Minister for Justice was out of the country.

Mr. Belton: Information on Louis J. Belton  Zoom on Louis J. Belton  The Minister is raving.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  Within the next two years we will have provided an additional 2,000 prison spaces and ended the revolving door syndrome in the criminal justice system once and for all.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  They will be calling shortly for the men in white coats.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  We will have increased the number of gardaí to 12,000, the highest level in the history of the State.

Mr. Belton: Information on Louis J. Belton  Zoom on Louis J. Belton  Every one of them will be needed.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  We will have succeeded in establishing a pilot project for drug courts for the first time in the history of the State. We have provided the sum of £250 million in the child care area to ensure children will have adequate quality child care. In addition, since I came into office, we have published or passed in the House 47 items Bills, a record in the history of the State.

The Opposition should forget the nonsense and compare the record with that of the rainbow coalition Government. It will be seen that, throughout its period in office, crime spiralled. We have reduced crime in a short three year period by 21%. There have been massive improvements in every sector of the economy. We promised the people four things before the previous general election. We promised them that we would cut crime, taxation and unemployment and that we would bring peace to Northern Ireland, and we did all four.

Ms McManus: Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  The Government promised Hugh O'Flaherty it would look after him and it did.

[1405]Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  What has been going on in the House for several days is McCarthyism which is unworthy of the tradition of the Fine Gael and Labour leadership.

Mr. Belton: Information on Louis J. Belton  Zoom on Louis J. Belton  That finishes it. That is the final act.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I understand that Deputy Sargent is sharing his time with Deputies Ó Caoláin, Joe Higgins and Healy.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  The Green Party – Comhaontas Glas will vote against the confidence motion for many reasons, not least, because its policies are rushing us headlong down a cul de sac of greater social inequality, consumption and waste, greater dependence on finite resources and greater destruction of biodiversity in remaining habitats. To add insult to injury, the Taoiseach had the arrogance to claim earlier that the Government is “tackling every problem”. In reality, the actions of the Government are creating more problems than they are solving.

The Green Party has advocated for many years that where a budget surplus exists, it should be invested with long-term sustainable living in mind. Two thirds of deep wells in parts of Ireland are already polluted by agricultural waste, for which there is no effective Government policy. Yet, farmers already in crisis, are starved of research into organic alternative methods and are forced to either leave farming or become more intensive, at the expense of the most basic need – drinking water.

The Taoiseach earlier responded to the legendary gridlock by saying “we will advance plans”, not action, and “we have the necessary finance”. However, look where the money is spent. Under the national development plan, £6.3 billion will be spent on roads and £2.2 billion on public transport. The only beneficiary of this Government's transport policies are the new car sales showrooms and the car manufacturers, none of whom are Irish. The losers are business, due to congestion, asthma sufferers – Ireland has the fourth worst level of asthma among teenagers – public transport users, cyclists, pedestrians and the taxpayer, who will be asked to cough up the money for the fine levied on Ireland for our total failure to slow down, not to mention reduce, our energy consumption levels, as agreed at Kyoto in 1997.

The Government is reckless in the way it accepts uncritically the import of its own propaganda. Given that the Government is landing Ireland in the European Court of Justice for lack of action to protect habitats all over the country, it once again stands accused of a crime. No doubt, the Government will claim it cannot get a fair trial due to the bad publicity it has received.

The Government also has a low opinion of people's intelligence. Not only has the Tánaiste said people will forget about the O'Flaherty affair in a few months' time, but the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, who I am [1406] glad to welcome to the Chamber, is happy to allow small communities be victimised by the developers super dumps and incinerator plans. Other countries, such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia, consult first and then introduce options which encourage local and personal responsibility for waste. Out of sight, out of mind is the classic Fianna Fáil approach to waste and its own internal problems.

Mr. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  The Deputy has the Paul Daniels solution.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  The Progressive Democrats, on the other hand, are more ready to admit that its Government has failed. The words of the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, as reported on 16 May 2000, make damning reading. While speaking to voluntary groups dealing with social inclusion, she said:

The quality of life has deteriorated, and I am not just talking about traffic problems . Solvent abuse has become a much bigger issue than I could have imagined.Even those that are out of education less then ten years have very high levels of illiteracy . The sad reality is that thousands of jobs that are being created in our society cannot be accessed by people who are unemployed.

She also said that a great number of “unsavoury matters” had been revealed by the tribunals which showed “society perhaps being run in the interests of a tiny few”. Well, there is the truth.

The Tánaiste is not alone in expressing the truth about society under the misguided stewardship of this Government. Next Monday, I will be taking part in a conference about child poverty to be held in, of all places, Dublin Castle. There, we will be told one in four Irish children under 14 years of age lives in poverty, according to UNICEF, and there was a 52% increase in the number of children in care in the past ten years, 61% of whom are from one parent families. CORI told us last September that one in five of the population receive income below the EU accepted poverty line of 50% of average household income.

I had hoped the Government would act on the Green Party recommendation to introduce a guaranteed basic income to ensure some level of social equity and to eliminate poverty, especially child poverty. No doubt, many now will tell us we were wrong to have any hope in a Government whose members and associates are more likely to be appearing in the witness box of a tribunal in Dublin Castle than at a conference on child poverty.

It is incredible and appalling to think that so many Independents and a majority of Deputies will later vote confidence in a Government which has both power and money to solve the housing crisis, where prices have doubled in three years; the child care crisis, where in 1999 between £200 million and £300 million was estimated to be [1407] needed and the Government has given us £40 million; and the health crisis, where in the past three years waiting lists have grown by 18% and 14,000 adults and children have now been waiting more than a year for a hospital bed. On top of this, the Government stands over the bizarre decision of the Irish Medicines Board to ban St. John's Wort and other remedies which would prevent people becoming ill.

The handling of so many issues by this Government has let down so many people that the only decent option it has is to do a long therapeutic session in Opposition. The Taoiseach spoke of leaving a monument in his wake. Sadly for him, whatever monument he wishes to carve out of his imagination will be coated with a thick layer of sleaze.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Ba mhaith liom tacú leis an rún a bhfuil mo ainm sínithe leis. Níl muinín agam as an Rialtas seo. Níl muinín ag an pobal astu agus níl muinín fiú ag a lán dá Theachtaí anseo, cé go mbeidh siad ag vótáil ar a son ag deireadh an lae. I support the motion of no confidence, as tabled by myself and other Deputies. I have no confidence in this Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government.

I acknowledge that this Administration has played a positive role in the peace process. Notwithstanding my disappointments and continuing concerns, the focused approach of the Taoiseach and the current Minister for Foreign Affairs have been important in achieving progress.

I voted for Deputy Bertie Ahern for Taoiseach in 1997, solely on the basis of his and his party's inclusive approach to the peace process. At that time, we were seeking to rebuild a process that had foundered on the rock of Unionist and British Government intransigence. I believe I made the correct decision at that time. Through all our efforts, the peace process has been rebuilt and we can at last look forward with more confidence than ever to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

The peace process is bigger than any one leader or any one party. Nor can it be dependent on the survival of any single Administration in this State. My party, Sinn Féin, is not a single issue party and no Government can be a single issue Government. Therefore, I cannot vote confidence in this Government solely on the basis of the peace process. For Sinn Féin, the aim of the peace process is the achievement of true equality in society and it is that deep commitment to equality which makes me so critical of the overall record of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats coalition.

This coalition has done nothing to address the fundamental inequalities which blight our society. The inequalities in health, education, the workplace and the desperation of tens of thousands of our people to put a roof over their heads are glaring, and the gap between those with excess wealth and those without the basic necessities has grown wider. At the same time, the ordinary supporters [1408] of the two largest parties, but in particular those of Fianna Fáil, have been sickened by the betrayal of their trust which they have seen exposed almost every day. Those who posed as the party of the people were and are, in reality, the party in the pocket of the privileged.

During the course of this Dáil I have refrained from the politics of play-acting, of laying the blame for all ills at the door of the Government. In this Dáil and at local authority level my approach has been to eschew opposition for opposition's sake. I have come to each issue constructively and with a will to work with those of different political opinion in order to deliver for the people. Again and again, I have been disappointed and I have had to make clear my opposition to the course followed by this Administration. It has no will to share the wealth in this society.

There is a real Opposition in this Dáil, but it is not on the Fine Gael or Labour benches. Those parties share in the responsibility for the long-term failure of the political establishment in this State to cherish all the children of the nation equally. I have no confidence in them either. The deeply flawed approach of Deputy Bruton to the peace process, which he demonstrates almost on a weekly basis in this Chamber, means that his would be a most undesirable nomination for the position of Taoiseach. As for social and economic policies, the difference between his party and the Taoiseach's is wafer thin. On key issues they are at one, and on a night of shame they stood together here last October to bring this State into NATO's Partnership for Peace in clear violation of the Taoiseach's promise to the electorate.

The real opposition is rising in the country. The development of Sinn Féin on both sides of the Border is part of that movement. So also is the growth in support for principled independent candidates, such as Deputy Healy, and for the smaller parties. I look forward to a general election when the change in the political landscape which we have seen as a result of the peace process will continue and when we can shape a new political dispensation throughout this island. The Irish people deserve and demand no less.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  (Dublin West): There is a section of Irish society which has confidence in the Government. It is, however, a very small but very rich and powerful section which is comprised of land speculators, housing profiteers, rack-renting landlords and tax dodging Ansbacher men. The members of this section of society, bearing bags of money and brown envelopes, trundled their way to the luxury suite in the Westbury Hotel where Fianna Fáil set up shop in the weeks preceding a general election in order to purchase the favours of the party they hoped would enter Government and later return the compliment.

The natural habitat of the Fianna Fáil Party is smoke filled Conway's pub in Parnell Street. Fianna Fáil councillors regularly went there during the period when the planning scandals where [1409] taking place and, sometimes in concert with their counterparts in Fine Gael, swilled whiskey and brandy at the expense of speculators and land developers while brown envelopes were passed across the counter in order to buy planning and other favours. The members of this cabal have been rewarded beyond their wildest dreams.

The Government has not lifted a finger to stop working men and women being ripped off as a result of obscene profiteering in the housing market. It has done nothing to alleviate the appalling suffering and trauma experienced by those who cannot afford to purchase a home. Not one finger has been lifted to curb the massive profiteering of the banks which use every trick in the book to hoodwink ordinary people in order to swell their growing profits and which prey on publicly owned concerns.

Two weeks ago I was stunned to receive a reply to a parliamentary question from the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in which I was informed that since 1987 an incredible £188 million has been paid in interest to the lending banks in respect of the debt – £164 million – of one semi-State company, Nitrigin Éireann Teoranta. That is an outrageous rip-off and the Government has not lifted a finger to put a stop to such behaviour.

It is obscene that, in a State which has £5 billion on deposit in the banks, tens of thousands of people are on local authority housing lists, thousands of suffering people are on hospital waiting lists, thousands of children are obliged to wait many years for orthodontic treatment, cities are clogged with traffic because the public transport system has been systematically neglected and public service companies such as Telecom Éireann and others have privatised in order to fatten greedy financial investors at the expense of the public purse.

The Government, which is being propped up by the Progressive Democrats, is staggering from crisis to crisis and it will barely make it to this evening's 5 o'clock deadline. Three years ago, the Progressive Democrats signed on for what they thought would be a cruise but to their horror they have found themselves on a manic rollercoaster ride and have screamed their way through crisis after crisis. They are completely disoriented and, unfortunately, are unable to disentangle themselves from their Fianna Fáil partners for fear of what the people lying in wait for them in the grass will do.

The by-election in Tipperary South and the most recent opinion polls point to the future of political life in this State. The Tipperary Workers' and Unemployed Group, which is made up of ordinary working and unemployed people, in the person of Deputy Healy defeated not only Fianna Fáil but also the combined efforts of the other two establishment parties, Fine Gael and Labour.

Ordinary people are looking to the left for an alternative. The Socialist Party is campaigning for a new, humane, democratic and socialist society where the needs of our people come before those [1410] of speculators and where democratic planning of the economy and the outlawing of speculation will provide a dignified life for each person and preserve our natural environment. While campaigning for those policies, we will work harder in the coming months with all those in political life who are serious about challenging a corrupt system in order to provide an alternative to the bankrupt political establishment which, unfortunately, continues to dominate political and economic life in this State.

Mr. Healy: Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  The Taoiseach has learned nothing from the by-election in Tipperary South. He promised to listen and learn in his response to the result of the by-election but it is clear from his contribution to this debate that he is done neither. He stated that “the country is doing astonishingly well”. At the beginning of the by-election campaign in Tipperary South, he visited Clonmel and stated that “unemployment had been sorted” and that anyone who made jobs an issue was a “has been”. He was referring to me when he made the latter comment.

Only the upper tier in our society is doing astonishingly well. For the vast majority of people, the Celtic tiger is merely a sleeping cat in the corner. Why are one in four of children under 14 years of age living in poverty? Why is the House not sitting next week to make our children the members of a new golden circle? Why is unemployment in Carrick-on-Suir and Tipperary town approximately three times the national average? Why are 36,700, or 49% of the population of south Tipperary, living in professionally designated deprived areas? Why has the advance factory in the town of Cashel been vacant for the past two years? Why is the council in south Tipperary restricted to building 120 local authority houses when 1,000 families in the area are on the housing waiting list?

The Government has a huge budget surplus, something in the order of £6 billion. Must the poor and the majority of the people wait in the wings while members of the top tier in our society cream off the benefits of our booming economy? There is no excuse for using the old refrain “Labour must wait”. If the problem of poverty is to be tackled, it must be tackled now or it never will be tackled.

The job of parents and teachers has been made impossible by the established political parties during the past 20 years. All the parties to which I refer supported the creation of a two-tier society. Those in the top tier were facilitated in their efforts at tax evasion and were never sent to jail while those in the bottom tier suffered the consequences in the form of hospital queues, underfunded schools and PAYE deductions. Bribery, tax amnesties and officially tolerated bogus non-resident accounts were the mechanisms used by those in the top tier.

How can the Taoiseach claim that the Government is “building the framework for a politics that earn public respect” when he has prevented [1411] Hugh O'Flaherty being called before a committee of this House to explain his role in the Sheedy affair? Are disgraced individuals and the makers of sleazy payments to politicians in a position to blow the whistle on senior political figures? That is the question people throughout the country are asking?

The political parties would do well to listen to and learn from the message so clearly sent by the people of south Tipperary. The prospect of facing the people in an immediate general election would concentrate the minds of the political parties. Only the advent of a general election will hasten the cleansing of public life that is so necessary in order to enshrine decent human values in our society and to restore confidence in the conduct of public affairs.

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  With the permission of the House I wish to share time with the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  During the past three years, the two Ministers of State at my Department and I have dedicated ourselves to delivering on the commitments we made to the Irish people at the last election. Those commitments are contained in the Action Programme for the Millennium. I am delighted to say that we are now in the healthy position of having completed a huge programme of work, with many commitments fully honoured and significant work under way to deliver on the remainder.

Across so many areas, the Government has rejected the tinkering approach employed by the previous Administration and replaced it with an agenda which is grounded on real and radical reform. A prime example of this is the Planning and Development Bill, which is the product of the most comprehensive review of the modern planning system in its 35 year history. Similarly, in the local government area, the first dedicated fund – the local government fund – which is geared to provide dedicated and buoyant funding, has been put in place and we have just published the Local Government Bill, 2000, the most significant piece of legislation in this area for over 100 years.

In spite of the legacy of neglect we inherited in the housing area, we introduced radical measures across the entire range of housing tenures, details of which were outlined to the House by my colleague, Minister of State, Deputy Molloy. We have put in place a major programme to remedy the country's infrastructural deficits in roads and water services, providing the basis for our continued economic well-being. In the environment area, we have not shied away from taking on the major challenges of climate change, air and water quality and modernising what had been an [1412] environmentally disastrous approach to waste management.

Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley  Zoom on John Gormley  The Minister must be joking.

Mr. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  My Ministers of State and I spent many hours in the House detailing all of the issues surrounding our performance in Government either during debates on legislation, at Question Time, in Adjournment debates and so on. The Planning and Development Bill took up more time in the Oireachtas than any other piece of legislation during this session or, indeed, many previous sessions. I do not propose to go back over the details of the Department's achievements.

In the time available to me, I would like to talk about where politics in Ireland now stands at the start of the third millennium. My entry into politics almost 30 years ago reflected a conscious decision on my part. I wanted to contribute to the process of shaping a better Ireland and I believed politics was the route to achieve that. Practically everybody on all sides of this House enters politics for that reason. Being involved in politics is not about anything, if not public service. Having said that, if I were 20 years of age again faced with deciding whether to enter politics, and had seen at that stage what has happened to politics in this country over the past two to three years, I might make a very different decision, not because I have lost faith in politics – indeed, the importance of politics is, if anything, stronger now than it has ever been – but because I find it difficult to deal with what now passes for politics in this House and in this country.

Politics is no longer grounded in meaningful debate on issues of policy, a fact which is evidenced by this debate today. A debate on policy requires at least two competing policy platforms. While this Government has a very clear policy platform which it has implemented over the past three years, the Opposition is now more devoid of policy than at any time in the history of this State.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  That is not true.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Minister, without interruption.

Mr. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  The independent socialist Deputy who has just left the House probably offers more opposition than any of the other Opposition parties. With no semblance of a policy platform, the Opposition has spent the past three years engaging in cheap and cynical attacks on the integrity of this Government and its individual members, the integrity of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats and the individual members of both parties. It is quite sickening to hear the most hypocritical clap-trap coming from the Opposition benches in “holier than thou” tones.

[1413]Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  Ridiculous rubbish. The Minister is living in a different world.

Mr. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  As far as the Labour Party is concerned, there is something inherently wrong with corporate donations in support of the political process. Yet, at the same time, it is out canvassing business support for a £1,000 per team golf classic. I wonder whether the participants will be entitled to the same sort of “rare opportunity” to gain access to Deputy Quinn as was promised by former Deputy, Eithne Fitzgerald, in a previous fundraising exercise. The least we should be able to expect, even from the Labour Party, is that if its members are going to preach in lofty tones from the high moral ground, they would have the courage of their convictions and practice what they preach.

I do not deny that there have been bad eggs in politics in the past which were not confined to any one party. I accept that there were bad eggs in Fianna Fáil. However, I do not intend to take on the sins of my predecessors. To use events which occurred ten years ago as a brush to tar all of the current Members on this side of the House is the lowest and most reprehensible form of politics.

Tribunals have been established by the Government to get at the truth and they are proving to be successful in completing the task which has been set for them.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  Very successful.

Mr. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  The tribunals should be allowed to get on with their work and bring their proceedings to a conclusion as quickly as possible in order that balanced and fair judgments can be made on the cases before them.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  The available information should also be provided to the public.

Mr. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  We now have a position where tribunal-related stories, half-stories and the selective quoting of evidence are being rolled up together into one big political football and people, myself included, wonder why politics is in disfavour. To me, the answer is simple. It is not because members of the public who, thankfully, take a huge interest in politics and follow it closely have a preconceived notion that everyone involved in politics is corrupt, rather it arises from the attempts of some politicians to use the wrongdoings of a few to tar the many. Young people clearly see the cynicism in this approach to politics and who would blame them for wanting nothing to do with it? The ultimate victim of this approach is politics itself and we all suffer as a result.

The Opposition has been heard proclaiming loudly about how much the Government cannot wait for the Dáil to go into recess for the summer in order that it can re-group. The reality is far different. This Government has a strong policy [1414] platform which it has been implementing for the past three years. It has outlined a strong programme for Government for the next two years and, through the national development plan, has outlined a vision for the next six to seven years. In contrast to Fine Gael's mishmash – a Vision for Ireland in 2010 – the national development plan has put in place the basis for the future prosperity of our country well beyond the next election in two years' time, a future which will be based on the Government's commitment to spread the benefits of prosperity across the country and across all sectors of society. It will be a future which will ensure that Ireland continues to be one of the best places in the world in which to live.

The people who really need this three month break are the Members of the Opposition. It would be nice if they were to use the three month recess to fill the policy void on their side of the House and provide the basis for the resumption of real and meaningful politics in this country.

Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  This motion is yet another political stunt on the part of an Opposition which is paralysed by inaction and which is devoid of policies on almost every issue of concern to members of the public. Every Minister in this Government has tackled the issues the rainbow coalition merely talked about. Day in and day out, we heard what it was going to do but it was left to Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats to take on the job and bring about the greatest economic and social advances this country has ever seen.

The rainbow coalition had its chance but got it wrong. Its proposal for regional education boards was fundamentally flawed in educational and financial terms. It was incredible that any Government would propose, as the Opposition did, spending over £40 million on a new layer of bureaucracy.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Will the Minister bring in a new layer of bureaucracy to deal with adult education?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Minister, without interruption.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  You would have wasted scarce resources needed to tackle disadvantage and special needs.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Will the Minister give way?

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  I will not. We scrapped your senseless plans and spent the money instead on vulnerable children.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  No, he will not. The Minister does not want to hear the truth. He just wants to talk.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Fianna Fáil introduced free secondary education in 1966 for every child. This [1415] courageous decision was a key foundation stone for Ireland's future growth, prosperity and social development. Education is the engine that drives the Celtic tiger. It is through education that we, as a people, have the wealth and resources to develop a truly inclusive society and that is what this Government is doing. We have never in our history invested as much in education as we have over the past three years.

This year alone my budget for education is £3.29 billion. This is 40% above the highest rainbow coalition spend. From these figures it is easy to see that the Government has made education a priority for its term of office. I have set as my key priorities the urgent tackling of literacy, numeracy, special needs and disadvantage. We will continue with major developments at the leading edge of research and development but I will ensure that those who are disadvantaged or have special needs get extra special support and attention.

Over the past three years the Government has achieved dramatic success across all major areas, from pre-school to adult education. On these achievements alone, it is hard to understand how any Member could support this motion. Similar achievements apply to each member of the Government.

The Government is keenly aware that much remains to be done. I am particularly concerned at the continuing evidence of literacy and numeracy difficulties among children leaving Irish schools and in the population generally. I will not allow this to continue. The Government is committed to ensuring that no child will leave our primary schools without an adequate standard of literacy and numeracy. Every citizen must be equipped—

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  The Minister has been committed to that for three years and the number of children leaving school with literacy problems has increased. The Minister is not even aware of it.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Is ignorance a family failing? The remedial teacher is the backbone of our strategy for addressing the needs of pupils with serious learning difficulties. The Government has significantly increased the number of remedial teachers in primary schools to 1,463 and at second level to 560. It has undertaken an unprecedented level of development in special education services. We gave all primary school children with special needs an automatic right to a response to those needs. Unlike when the rainbow coalition was in power, parents no longer must spend months or even years fighting in court or out of it to receive the support their children need to participate in education.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  There are 183 court cases pending.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  We increased the number of resource teachers at primary level from 104 in [1416] October 1998 to 450 at present. We also dramatically increased the number of special needs assistants from 299 to 1,095 over the same period. The Government increased the number of psychologists to 100 from the rainbow's 37.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Not one of them is in place.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  We established a national educational psychological service and our objective is to ensure that all schools will have access to that service over the next few years. To do this, I will further increase the number of psychologists to 200.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Spoof.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  It is the truth but Deputies do not like it. The provision for adult literacy was increased substantially from a rainbow base of £0.85 million to £8 million this year. Our plan is to provide £74 million in the coming years. We are now tackling the problems faced by those whom the rainbow forgot and the Celtic tiger missed out on. During my term of office I intend to tackle educational disadvantage head on.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  How about expanding Breaking the Cycle?

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  We must make our education respond to and include people who are less advantaged, who have special needs or who leave the system early. They deserve a second chance. I am preparing a multi-sectoral three year programme costing a massive £193 million to support people at risk of educational disadvantage at all levels, including pre-school.

The Government's plans provide for a third level access fund totalling £95 million. This is essential to promote the participation of students with disabilities, students from disadvantaged backgrounds and mature “second chance” students.

To advance my plans I am setting up an action group on access to third level education to advise me on the most effective ways of increasing participation by disadvantaged groups at third level. I have asked Dr. Cormac McNamara, the eminent GP and former President of the European Association of General Practitioners, to chair the action group. It will commence work immediately and provide an interim report to me within three months.

I am delighted to announce today the establishment of the Irish Centre for Deaf Studies in Trinity College, Dublin. This centre will offer courses to improve communication between the deaf and hearing communities—

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  For Government partners.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  —and enhance the employment prospects for members of the deaf community. A core function of this centre initially will be to train qualified interpreters to address the short[1417] fall of skilled personnel in this field. There is a clear need for sign language interpreters. The low participation of deaf people at leaving certificate and higher education levels arises from the difficulties encountered by students in acquiring the services of qualified interpreters to assist them.

Ireland is now the number one exporter of computer software in the world – the United States is number two. This achievement depends on our education system but to keep it up we need more skills.

The Government's ability to provide for skills needs as they arise is another key component in building long-term economic success nationally. Unlike the rainbow's inaction, the Government's response over the past two years has been rapid and flexible when dealing with identified needs in the information technology, teleservices and professional trades areas.

In our Programme for Government we set the objective of achieving computer literacy in all our schools. We have achieved this and given every student access to modern technologies. The success of our schools IT 2000 programme is undeniable. Every school is now connected to the Internet. When we came to office three years ago the schools IT cupboard had been left bare by the rainbow but this Government brought us to the front line of international developments.

The development of post leaving certificate courses has been one of our great successes. This was helped by the removal of fees and the introduction of student support grants. We ended the total neglect of this sector by the previous Government who ignored the plight of PLC students. From next September onwards we will have 24,900 full time PLC places.

Acting Chairman (Ms McManus): Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  The Minister has one minute remaining.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  We are increasing the number of apprentices. The achievements I have outlined are proof of our unmatched and undeniable commitment to education. We still have much to do and we will do it.

This highly effective Government is there for the long haul. It is committed to good public service and administration. I strongly believe in the honesty, integrity and hard work of the vast majority of our public servants and public representatives on all sides. We have our problems and we are addressing them in a forthright, if painful, process. Fianna Fáil is co-operating fully with all the tribunals and will continue to do so, but the tribunals must be allowed to do their work and come to their own conclusions. It is wrong to second guess them, potentially damaging the characters of innocent people in the process. Unless we ensure fair play and natural justice, especially in this House, we will fail to give the leadership needed and we will undermine the democratic processes and institutions of the State.

[1418]Acting Chairman:  The Minister's time has run out.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Thank you. As a people we have made great progress in recent years.

Acting Chairman:  The Minister's time is up. I call the next Deputy.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  For the people, let us build on that progress in the years ahead.

Deputies:  Chair, Chair.

Acting Chairman:  I call Deputy Howlin who is sharing time with Deputy Rabbitte.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  That is what we plan to do in Government over the next two years—

Acting Chairman:  I ask the Minister to stop. He has run out of time.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The Deputy's time is up. He is over time.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  —under the leadership of the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  I wish to share time with Deputy Rabbitte.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The response of the Government to this motion has been an insult to the Dáil and the intelligence of the Irish electorate. The Government sent in a succession of Ministers who read scripts – we have just heard another – provided by their Departments listing the supposed achievements of each of them in office. It totally ignored the facts that have led to the crisis in confidence in the political system and the collapse of the Fianna Fáil vote in the South Tipperary by-election, plunged the personal standing of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste into free-fall and convinced the Labour Party that it is time to test the confidence of this House in the Government.

The Taoiseach's speech set the tone for the debate. There was not a mention of the procession of current and former Fianna Fáil figures to the Flood tribunal, the extraordinary revelations of Frank Dunlop, the mystery surrounding the cheques signed by the Taoiseach which ended up funding the former Deputy Haughey's lavish lifestyle, only a minor embarrassed reference to his less than convincing appearance at the Moriarty Tribunal yesterday; no mention of Deputies Ellis, Foley or of Philip Sheedy and certainly no mention of the late Anne Ryan. There was no mention of the O'Flaherty appointment to the European Investment Bank, no mention of the outraged public opinion that that decision provoked, no mention of the Taoiseach's extraordinary attempts to distance himself from the [1419] decision in a media interview and no mention of the Tánaiste's interview with Eamon Dunphy and her decision to throw a tantrum. It is back to the old Fianna Fáil reliable “Crisis, what crisis?'

I doubt the public will be impressed by the Cabinet's collective impression of an ostrich. Neither will the public be impressed at crude attempts by Fianna Fáil Ministers to blame the media for their problems. When a Minister compares the legitimate questions being raised by the elected Opposition and the nation's media about the activities of a democratic Government with the situation in Nazi Germany during the 1930s, as the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation did, it is the clearest indication yet that the Government has lost it.

It is even more worrying when senior Ministers are sent out to engage in thinly veiled attacks on a tribunal of inquiry established by order of the Oireachtas. When we see that there is real cause for alarm. If anyone was in doubt about the appropriateness of this motion of no confidence those doubts must surely have been dispelled by the attempts by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Defence to undermine the credibility of the Moriarty tribunal. We heard the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform today make base, crude innuendoes – not a scintilla of a charge being placed – and go back to the old fashioned Fianna Fáil tactic of spreading muck. The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, a decent Deputy, must have been embarrassed with the script she was presented with and required to read into the record.

The recent sequence of disasters which have befallen this Government has its origins in the extraordinary decision to nominate Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty for appointment as vice president of the European Investment Bank. We are no clearer six weeks later in understanding why senior members of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats believed that the only person suited to fill this important post is the one person in the history of the State to have resigned from the Supreme Court under threat of impeachment by the Government. As has been said, the O'Flaherty nomination galvanised public opinion from a sense of disquiet about the Government to a sense of revulsion at the activities of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. This revulsion has been compounded by the decision of Fianna Fáil this week to impose a whip at the Justice Committee on Tuesday evening. The Fianna Fáil Members were dragooned in like compliant soldiers to slam the shutter down on any prospect of securing answers from Mr. O'Flaherty about the Sheedy affair. The open minds much vaunted in national and local media slammed shut with a vengeance. That was the last straw for us.

The Tánaiste's pathetic hope that the people will forget about the O'Flaherty affair in a few months is hopelessly misplaced. The people will remember it and carry the memory into the polling booths when they get a chance to pass [1420] judgment on this Government. If the outcome of the Tipperary South by-election is anything to go by, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats are likely to get the greatest electoral hiding ever recorded.

I believe the four Independent Deputies, who through their records have shown themselves to be anything but independent, will not be treated any differently by the electorate in comparison with the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrat backbenchers who maintain this discredited Government.

A significant feature of this debate has been the total absence of any Fianna Fáil backbencher. This is not by accident but by design. The instruction came down, as one of them told me, that this was Front Bench Members only.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Wrong.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The Government sent in a succession of Ministers; it is afraid to risk letting a single backbencher utter a word. That says a lot about the confidence the Taoiseach has in the backbenchers who support him. Where are Deputies Roche, Flynn, Lehihan, and the other princes of the plinth today?

At the end of this debate Deputy Harney may still occupy the position of Tánaiste, but that says much about the collapse in the much vaunted values of the Progressive Democrats. A few weeks ago she said that the Progressive Democrats would not stay in any Government which depended on the support of any Deputy who was guilty of wrongdoing. Where does she stand now?

Deputies McDowell and Michael D. Higgins have put the economic performance of the Government on the record. An ideologically right wing Minister for Finance has taken money from the poor and given it to the rich. He has cut taxes most for those who have the most. He has halved capital gains tax and ensured that those dependent on social welfare will be worse off this year because of his inability to control rampant inflation, which is at a 15 year high. The rich prosper and the poor get poorer. The legacy of this Government will be waiting lists – housing lists of 50,000, hospital lists of 40,000 and waiting lists for trains, if there were any trains.

A new multi-cultural, diverse and vibrant Ireland is being created. A major challenge to society is the accommodation of difference and the promotion of tolerance. The Government has failed spectacularly under this heading and that failure will take years to rectify. I wish I had time to spell out the lack of progress on immigration policy or for a progress report on any effort to create an integration policy that will welcome diversity and multi-culturalism. The only contribution from the Taoiseach on this issue has been an utterance when he was in Australia to the effect that we should consider detention centres.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Untrue.

[1421]Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  That is the sum total of his contribution to one of the most critical issues facing our society. Enough is enough. Governments are entitled to be given the parliamentary space to govern, but the Opposition has a constitutional duty to hold Governments to account. This is the hour for Deputies to do their duty.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The Taoiseach concentrated first this morning on Northern Ireland, where he has enjoyed bipartisan support to build on the work of preceding Governments and also on the economy, for whose relative success the two previous Governments share the credit. Otherwise the Taoiseach avoided the issues that precipitated today's debate other than lamely remarking that he has directed all officials in Fianna Fáil to fully co-operate with the Moriarty Tribunal. Those covering the tribunal who followed the evidence seem to have taken the opposite view, but the Teflon Taoiseach has always someone else to blame.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The pot calling the kettle black.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  On 22 July 1999 the political editor of the The Sunday Tribune, Stephen Collins, commenting on the Taoiseach's last tribunal appearance where he explained that the reason his name was on the presigned Haughey cheques was that it was normal that the Chief Whip be the second signatory noted:

Six of the seven cheques which the Tribunal lawyers are investigating, including the one made out to Celtic Helicopters, were signed in 1991, long after Ahern had left the Chief Whip's post to take a cabinet position. The Chief Whip from 1987 to November, 1991 was Vincent Brady, but his name was never put on the account.

Neither was the name of Albert Reynolds put on while he was Minister for Finance. Whatever the explanation for Mr. Ahern's name being used to facilitate Mr. Haughey's appetite for other people's money, being Chief Whip is not it.

Stephen Collins went on to remark that the Taoiseach also told the tribunal it was not until the autumn of last year (1998) that it was brought to his attention that collateral use, as he delicately termed it, might have been made of the account. Where does that leave the 1996 investigation which Ursula Halligan told us about, initiated by Eoin Ryan and in which Mr. Ahern participated?

To boast, as the Taoiseach and successive Ministers have done in this debate, of our economic boom is as fatuous as the pretence that economic growth started in l997. Far from managing the prospering economy inherited from the Rainbow Government, the manic recklessness of Deputy McCreevy threatens to destroy our hard earned progress.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  I thought Deputy Rabbitte was better than that.

[1422]Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Inflation which the Minister for Finance told us on budget day would be 3% will now exceed 6%, according to the Taoiseach. A new social contract is already undermined before it starts for thousands of workers, and the very cornerstone of social partnership itself is put at risk. The £90,000 salary boasted of by Deputy McCreevy is alien to most workers. Already phase one of the PFP has been wiped out by inflation. Amazing as it may seem it is only a few months since champagne Charlie scorned the prospect of worsening inflation and invited the nation to party with him. Now, like a drunken sailor he threatens in the next budget, if he gets that far, to sink the successful economy that he inherited.

Yesterday morning Minister, Deputy Brian Cowen told us how everywhere he goes foreign statesmen approach him to know the recipe for our successful economy. I am reminded of the radio advertisement where an Irish traveller meets a policeman who tells him, “My grandmother, he was Irish”. One hopes that Deputy Cowen briefs international statesmen more accurately than he briefed “Morning Ireland” on Fianna Fáil's interaction with the Moriarty tribunal. It will not be long before we have a CD-ROM on “The Life and Travels of Brian”. I wonder when accosted on his travels if Deputy Cowen tells his counterparts about the mess he left behind in the Department of Health and Children, where a public patient is a second-class citizen, that there are more than 50,000 people in the best of all economies on public housing waiting lists and that returning emigrants can not afford to buy a modest home in the land of their birth? Does he tell them of the large urban clusters of poverty where multi-deprivation and drug abuse is rampant, that citizens have stopped reporting crimes because it is fruitless to do so or that his Government cannot tackle these problems because it is so paralysed by tribunal watching?

Today's media commentary understandably concentrates on whether the Fianna Fáil Party led by Deputy Bertie Ahern deliberately sought to conceal from the tribunal the key to its major anonymous donors.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Is this the pot calling the kettle black?

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  It concentrates also on why Fianna Fáil did not mention the 1996 investigation involving Deputy Ahern as Leader of Fianna Fáil which manifestly related to the conduct of Mr. Haughey and on why the seriously annoyed Mr. Mark Kavanagh gave Deputy Ahern a “verbal bashing” but never mentioned the amount of his unreceipted donation. Mr. Justice Michael Moriarty will in due course decide these issues.

Two other hugely important related matters arise. The first is the deafening silence of Deputy Mary Harney and Deputy Cullen's former colleagues in the Progressive Democrats.

[1423]Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  That is an old song. Deputy Rabbitte has been singing it for nine years.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The questions that arise from yesterday's exchanges at Dublin Castle are far more fundamental for this Government than some of the issues that caused Deputy Harney previously to retire behind closed doors refusing to come out until Bertie promised not to do it again.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The Tánaiste seems not only to have lost her moral authority to keep Fianna Fáil on the straight and narrow but she seems to have lost confidence in her will or ability to do so. The standard she set in today's speech was that we are not a corrupt society because if we were we would not be investigating corruption. “Radical” or “redundant” has been replaced by “grin and bear it”.

The other important issue is the glimpse we have been given of the awesome scale of Fianna Fáil fundraising. Is it any wonder that Deputy Bertie Ahern, on corporate funding of politics, has taken a stand not only against the Labour Party Bill but against the public mood? Corporate donations on the scale hoovered in by Fianna Fail moneymen confer a monstrous advantage on Fianna Fáil as compared even to Fine Gael not to mention this party. What other party could afford to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds in 1989 alone and not even miss them?

Only when a valued donor like Captain America, Mr. Mark Kavanagh gives Deputy Ahern a verbal bashing is there an inquiry that goes nowhere, is soon forgotten and in respect of which nobody asks what precisely is being inquired into or how much was being searched for. If all that money could be siphoned off by Haughey, Burke and Flynn in 1989, how much was coming in? What was it about the construction of the IFSC that led Fianna Fáil to believe it could put the screws on Mr. Kavanagh for a modest donation of £125,000?

What is a contribution or two in the flood of 900 recorded in that sweltering June by Deputy Fleming? Imagine the pressure on Mr. Paul Kavanagh and his small staff as they sweated in the Berkeley Court suite for three long weeks to receive donations. Can anyone seriously contend that such huge donations from the most active businessmen in the economy do not distort our political system? Can it be argued that such a connection between the country's most powerful businessmen and most powerful politicians is healthy for democracy? If the young generation in Fianna Fáil is genuinely interested, as they proclaimed in Tipperary, to be a fresh start, why will the Government not support the Labour Party Bill to ban business funding or introduce its own Bill to do so?

[1424]Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The Labour Party Bill is hypocritical. The limit of £30,000 on trade union donations will facilitate the Labour Party.

Mr. Perry: Information on John Perry  Zoom on John Perry  If the Minister looks in a mirror he will find hypocrisy looking back at him.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The only answer would seem to be that Fianna Fáil, deprived of its corporate millions, would be a greatly weakened organisation. Its capacity to wield power and dispense what Deputy Liz O'Donnell called misplaced patronage would also be weakened. Big money can buy expertise and influence and by holding on to the present system, Fianna Fáil hopes big money can help retain power. For Fianna Fáil retaining power is everything.

My constituency colleague Deputy Conor Lenihan usually goes a bit of the road with me. Deputy Lenihan has reportedly called for the sacking of half the Cabinet. In that he is half right. This Government has lost the authority to govern. The Progressive Democrats are only guests in power. Hanging on beats the alternative. A Government that awaits every news bulletin with trepidation cannot tackle the problems facing our people. The people have no confidence in this arrogant Government and nor should this House.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen): Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  I wish to share time with my colleagues, Deputies Cowen and Dermot Ahern.

I thank Deputy Rabbitte for his dissertation, filled as usual with superficial comments on the economy, shallow knowledge and wilful and winsome at times.

This Government has a very proud economic record. We have delivered the strongest economic growth that has been seen in the history of the State. As measured by GDP, the economy has grown by more than one quarter since 1997 and at an annual rate of over 9%. Under our management, employment has expanded rapidly. We have achieved a major reduction in the live register and the unemployment rate is now 4.6% compared to 10.25% in 1997. Long-term unemployment has been reduced to 1.7% at the latest count compared to 5.5% in 1997. We have managed the country's finances well.

We have also reduced the national debt substantially from 75% of GDP in 1996 to just 52% at the end of 1999. We have delivered three very imaginative budgets providing substantial reductions in taxation. The Government has delivered over £2 billion of personal tax and PRSI reductions since 1997. We have cut both standard and top rates of income tax by 4%. We have raised personal PAYE allowances enough to remove approximately 176,000 low paid persons from the tax net. The list goes on, but most of this has been said today.

I listened to much of the debate today starting with Deputy John Bruton's dissertation this morning. I felt he was almost slandering of any[1425] body who sat on this side of the House. He has a wonderful ability to spread tar in every direction when it suits him but when it comes to dealing with matters of substance in a way which would merit constructive criticism and critical in-depth analysis, his usual flaws come to the fore.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  He has a better memory than your man, the current one.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  He has. I will remind him about his memory in a moment, Deputy Quinn. Fine Gael is in no position to lecture anybody about ethics. Deputy Rabbitte was going to rock the foundations of the State a few years ago. That is more of the type of politics which comes from the other side of the House.

A senior Fine Gael front bencher once boasted that heads in baskets was what politics is all about and their approach to Hugh O'Flaherty's appointment personifies this attitude. By Fine Gael's logic, it is unchristian not to forgive Deputy Lowry for mass corruption but it is fair game to target Hugh O'Flaherty for his humanitarian motives. Recently, Deputy John Bruton sought to identify his party with public anger over taxation. This stands in stark contrast to his statement that the door is open for Deputy Lowry to return to Fine Gael. For many decent Fine Gael members and supporters, the picture Deputy John Bruton has painted of the return of the prodigal son will soon be too much to bear. Deputy Shatter has already shouted stop.

Deputy Bruton is on record as saying the electorate is scandalised by evidence of systematic tax evasion, yet the record of Deputy Lowry is clear. He engaged in massive personal and corporate tax evasion. He lied to the Revenue Commissioners when he availed of the tax amnesty. He deceived the then Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, about his tax affairs on appointment as Minister. He evaded the exchange control statutes of the State and he deliberately misled the Dáil about his offshore accounts. Deputy John Bruton considers such a person fit to represent Fine Gael—

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  It sounds like he joined the wrong party.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  —while individuals like Senator Cosgrave are deemed unworthy of ratification by Fine Gael at future elections. This says something about Deputy John Bruton's political judgment.

I make this point not because it gives me any particular pleasure to do so but as a practising politician, I feel sick to my stomach at the personal way politics has been characterised in recent months in matters that have been said on both sides of the House.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The Minister of State should read the last page.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  Deputy Rabbitte may laugh.

[1426]Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The Minister of State is a hypocrite—

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  I am not a hypocrite.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  —and he is supposedly sick to his stomach.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  I do not need any lectures from Deputy Rabbitte or anybody else on those benches.

Acting Chairman (Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin): Information on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  Zoom on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  Will the Minister of State continue with his speech?

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  There is a big difference between the ground on which I stand and that on which Deputy Rabbitte stands.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Yes, it is much lower.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  I have not spent my time in the Dáil running from the Worker's Party to Democratic Left and everywhere else. You need not lecture me about my background.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  What a valuable acquisition.

Acting Chairman:  Will the Minister of State address his remarks through the Chair?

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  I am doing my best to address my remarks through the Chair but I am being provoked by the Acting Chairman's colleagues in the Labour Party.

The reality is that what we have witnessed today is an attempt by the Opposition to suggest that all that matters in Ireland today are issues which have little to do with running this economy, little to do with the betterment of the people and little to do with the development of the economy over the next ten years. It seems that if one tries to be radical in politics and to change and improve the way one does business, which we need to do to sustain and continue economic growth, one is accused of being arrogant for taking major steps forward and for being innovative and tough in what one does.

I refer to many of the things my colleague, the Minister for Finance, has achieved over the past few years which he has stood by and delivered on. The sustainable growth of the economy continues today. Because the Opposition and sections of the media do not like it, one is accused of being arrogant. That is not what politics is about and is not what the development of Irish society is about – it is about what we have produced in the national development plan. That has set under every heading about which one could think what we intend to do in government and what the Fianna Fáil Party intends to do over the next six to seven years. When I listened to the Labour Party, Fine Gael or anybody on the Opposition benches today, policy driven ideas were absent. They were dealing with matters on the periphery.

[1427]Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  We produced 14 Private Members' Bills.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  So what. It would not matter if it was 24. The reality is that—

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  They were all rubbish.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  —all those Private Members' Bills, as Deputy Quinn well knows, were picking at the edges of the core of what was being driven by the Fianna Fáil-led Government. The ability of those on the Labour Party benches to come up with an original thought process is sadly lacking. I am afraid the move to the Labour Party has not improved Deputy Rabbitte's position one bit, but I wish him well in his marginalised position within the Labour Party.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Has the Minister of State any words of praise for the Progressive Democrats?

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Say something nice about them.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  About who?

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The Minister of State is the only one who did not say something nice about them.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  The reality is that the only hook that appears to be available to the Labour Party, as far as I am concerned, is to try to obfuscate and muddy the waters—

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Talk about the zeal of a convert. The Minister of State is more Fianna Fáil than Fianna Fáil itself.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  —but I am happy to support this motion of confidence in the Government. I am proud to serve in this Government, of what it has delivered in the past three years and, indeed, of what it will deliver in the next two years.

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this motion. The motion is a ridiculous publicity stunt by the Labour Party desperate to revive its fortunes after losing a long-standing Dáil seat in Tipperary, but it will not succeed. Deputy John Bruton already admitted that this is a futile gesture doomed to failure.

Deputy Quinn has given us an opportunity to remind the Deputies opposite of the achievements of the Government and paucity of policy thought on the Opposition benches. We will come back in the next session ready to start another two years of good Government. The Opposition does not want to hear the truth because the truth is bitter. This is the best Government we have had in years. The economy is booming, unemployment is at its lowest level since the start of the 1980s and we finally have the basis for a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

[1428] In my area, old age pensioners have received the biggest real increase in their standards of living in decades. I increased pensions by £18 per week during my three years as Minister as opposed to only £7 during the rainbow Government's three years. We took over 100,000 people off the dole queues compared to the minimal reductions in the previous years. We increased the numbers on the carer's allowance by 60%, with spending going up from £36 million when we came into office three years ago to £78 million, a 115% increase.We now face new challenges. The success of the economy has created new issues we must and will address. However, is it not better to deal with the problems of success than to return to the dire politics of economic failure such as those of the Fine Gael-Labour coalitions of the 1980s? They were failed Governments which brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  On a point of order, the order of the House stipulated the reply should start at 20 minutes to 5 p.m.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Minister is replying to the debate.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The Minister started at two minutes to the time when the reply was due to start.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Minister is replying.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  He could not be replying.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Deputy Stagg should speak to the former Acting Chairman, Deputy McManus, with whom I checked before I rose to speak. Perhaps Deputy McManus might clear the record because it was very clear.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  A Cheann Comhairle, the order of the House was very clear.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The Deputy is trying to prevent me from speaking.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I am making more time for Deputy Cowen.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Minister is replying to the debate.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Deputy McManus was in the Chair.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The order of the House was very clear.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  I am totally in order and I cleared this with Deputy McManus before I rose to speak. However, she does not have the good grace to say so to the Deputy.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Minister is replying to the debate.

[1429]Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Fianna Fáil led Governments turned the country around after 1987. We put in place a system of social partnership which the Opposition opposed but which it now recognises as the basis of our success. We reduced unemployment from 12% in 1996 to under 5% today, and brought long-term unemployment down from 7% to under 2%. We have created almost 300,000 jobs in three years. We can and will address the new challenges which face the country.

The alternative to the present Government is the bad old days of rainbow coalition politics. It accuses us of patronage but how it wishes to erase its own record, such as Democratic Left's convenient fires. When I entered office I was confronted by an array of jobs created by Democratic Left for the boys and girls of Democratic Left – cabals, advisers and programme managers.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  The Government replaced them with consultants.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  It even unashamedly advertised the jobs in its party magazine for the party hacks to apply and they did at the taxpayer's expense – £100,000 per year.

The Labour Party also filled programme managers' positions with the usual suspects – Finlay, Sparks et al.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Decent people.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  I categorically refute the Labour Party's attempt to smear, misrepresent and denigrate the Government concerning the Sheedy affair. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform had and has the power to release any person sentenced to a term of imprisonment. This power was not exercised in this case by the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue. This is the plain, unvarnished truth and no amount of smearing, spinning and mistruths by the Labour Party or its followers can alter that fact.

Let us consider the Labour Party's recent hypocrisy about party funding. Deputy Quinn says that corporate donations have corrosive and destructive effects on the political process, yet this has not stopped him or the Labour Party constantly seeking such donations. Deputy Quinn received £27,000 in donations in 1997 – the highest amount received by any Member.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Deputy Quinn declared those donations.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  They were the highest declared donations.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  As Minister for Finance, we all remember how he was willing to trade access in return for attending Labour Party fund-raising events.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Not so.

[1430]Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  This is not just a thing of the past. The Labour Party's head office recently wrote to large businesses seeking support for its £1,000 a team golf classic to be held in July, despite its soundbite rhetoric. Its Bill to ban corporate donations conveniently leaves in place the £30,000 it receives every year from the trade unions.

Who remembers the Woodchester four? Where did they go? Who remembers the skewing of private party polls to win the leadership? These are more examples of Labour Party rhetoric, yet Deputy Quinn has the brass neck to say the era of corporate funding is over for us all.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  It is over for us all.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  His arrogant, bare-faced hypocrisy and political dishonesty take some beating.

Deputy John Bruton's speech was more designed to love-bomb the Labour Party than for the Government's ears. However, we got no insight from him or Deputy Quinn as to who would be Taoiseach in the unlikely event of them being in Government. Who remembers the sheer arrogance of the Labour Party when it demanded that Deputies Bruton and Spring be alternate Taoisigh year on year? Would head-on-a-plate Deputy Quinn be so arrogant again?

We should also remember how Spring would not let Bruton out of his sight with regard to the peace process in case he put his foot in it.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Members should be referred to as “Deputy” in the House.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Remember how Deputy Bruton refused to meet John Hume and Gerry Adams at a critical stage in the peace process. People do not want this again.

Deputy Bruton's Front Bench reshuffle, if that is what one could call it, is a clear illustration of how rhetorical Fine Gael is in action. It was hardly a reshuffle but more like “one for everyone in the audience”. I congratulate Deputy Jim O'Keeffe on his move to what Deputy Sheehan sees as his rightful position in the Department of Foreign Affairs, while Deputy Sheehan looks after local affairs. Poor old Deputy Ring will have to shout even louder to impress Deputy John Bruton.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The Minister is spending too long in the bar. He needs a holiday.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  What about Deputy Quinn? He told the nation in all seriousness that recent events obliged him to table this motion. We all know the real recent event he is worried about is his party's pathetic performance in the by-election.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Fianna Fáil got 15%.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The Labour Party was the real loser in that by-election because it gave up a long-[1431] standing Dáil seat. The Labour Party has been one long blunder since Deputy Quinn took over. What about the much heralded take-over of Democratic Left? Did Deputy Quinn inquire about its extremely colourful past?

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Deputy Quinn will not ask the Minister to carry out an inquiry.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Someone should have told Deputy Quinn that two into one will not go. The democratic rat deserting a political ethos sinking ship has clambered onto the Labour Party lifeboat. However, far from lifting the lifeboat, it has only succeeded in making it sink lower in the water. The Labour Party is in danger of being totally swamped.

What do the Opposition parties stand for? Do they have a coherent policy between them? The answers are nothing and no. There was not a single suggestion in the contributions of Quinn and Bruton as to how they might cure some of society's ills. They have no vision but just offer empty rhetoric and personality politics.

Mr. Belton: Information on Louis J. Belton  Zoom on Louis J. Belton  On a point of order.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Deputy should resume his seat.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  We got one glimmer—

Mr. Belton: Information on Louis J. Belton  Zoom on Louis J. Belton  On a point of order.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  What is the point of order?

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Louis is one of the 12 left off the Front Bench so he should sit down.

Mr. Belton: Information on Louis J. Belton  Zoom on Louis J. Belton  The Minister is an arrogant little man.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  What is the Deputy's point of order?

Mr. Belton: Information on Louis J. Belton  Zoom on Louis J. Belton  Is it in order to refer to Members by their first name? Is it not in order to call Members “Deputy” or by their surname? This is a disgraceful attitude by an arrogant little Minister.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Chair has ruled on that matter.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  I take that as a compliment coming from Deputy Belton. We got a glimmer of Fine Gael's thought processes when Deputy Gay Mitchell recently stated he wanted to raise the retirement age and make older people work longer to pay for their pensions. Is this Fine Gael's idea of supporting older people?

Mr. Belton: Information on Louis J. Belton  Zoom on Louis J. Belton  Columbo.

[1432]Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Fine Gael wants to make the elderly the victims rather than the beneficiaries of our economic success. One should check out what the Deputy said. Does the Labour Party agree? Deputy McManus's plans were to close local hospitals, including my own in Dundalk.

Ms McManus: Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  We want to get the health service moving so it treats patients.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Is this the way forward? Deputy Broughan accused me and Fianna Fáil of being Blairite. Does the Labour Party have a problem with New Labour? This is the reason to vote confidence in this Government. Our vision is clearly enunciated in the original action programme and its review carried out a few months ago.

Mr. Yates: Information on Ivan Yates  Zoom on Ivan Yates  Bring on the real Rottweiler Bring on Deputy Cowen.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  We have delivered the right policies and will continue to do so. We will go on to give good Government for the next two years right up to the general election in 2002.

When we took office we promised to cut crime and it is down by 20%.We promised to cut unemployment. It is down by more than 100,000. We promised to cut taxes. They are down by more than £2 billion. We promised to bring peace to Northern Ireland and we did.

Mr. S. Ryan: Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  When will you bring peace into Government?

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  We delivered on these commitments, and we will continue to do so. I urge this House to vote confidence in the Government.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order, please.

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  I will not take much time to dismiss this Opposition motion.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  It is a Government motion.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  In relation to the Opposition's requirement that no confidence be voted in this Government, I will not take long.

Any confidence motion must be seen in the context of the comparative performance of this Government with that of any of its predecessors, particularly Governments formed by members of the Opposition when they have had the opportunity to serve. Given the type of open economy we have and the integrated European economy in which we operate, there is a need to look at our performance in comparison with that of our competitors. On any objective analysis it is indisputable that the performance of this Government has surpassed that of any of its predecessors in [1433] terms of the targets it has set itself in cutting crime, in cutting unemployment—

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  What about inflation?

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  I presume one of the principles on which we all agree is that of freedom of expression, so let us have a chat about it.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Let us have the truth.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  The Deputy has had an opportunity to speak. I would like five or six minutes.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Speak the truth.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  I certainly will. I have been here 16 years. I have a chance to say a few words, and I would like to say them.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Let us hear the Minister without interruption.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  In relation to the comparative performance of this Government, we have had unprecedented levels of economic growth and we have brought about a situation where this is the location of the greatest amount of foreign direct investment in the European market. Since we came into office we have invested in education and health. In relation to preparing us for jobs, the employment action plan has been an unprecedented success. All of that detail has been given in previous contributions from the Government side in relation to this motion.

I will make a couple of points which have been touched upon already. I noted from Deputy Bruton's comments yesterday after his Front Bench reshuffle that when asked about the appointment for the first time of a Front Bench spokesperson on Northern Ireland, Deputy Bruton said he did not think Northern Ireland was an issue which required attention at the level of the leader “as much as it might in the past”. I challenge that contention very strongly. It revisits for me the very serious reservations I have about Deputy John Bruton's positioning himself as an alternative leader of this country when he continues with the naive assumption that, on the basis that this Government has, with others, successfully re-established the institutions in a very complex negotiation, the job is now done rather than that it is only starting. That says much about Deputy's Bruton's understanding of Irish affairs, North and South. It also indicates a limited vision as to the potential and benefit to be derived from full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It also reminds me that throughout his tenure as Taoiseach, Deputy Bruton supported and endorsed and was in full agreement with the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when, in his Washington III speech, he spoke about the need for prior decommissioning in order to bring about a successful conclusion to the peace process. That fundamental political misjudgment remains an indictment on Deputy [1434] Bruton's capacity at any time in the future to be given the responsibility that being Taoiseach involves in terms of Northern Ireland affairs. That is the view I hold.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Will the Minister yield?

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  No, I will not yield. I am sorry.

(Interruptions).

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  That is a view that I sincerely hold, and I believe it is a view that the Irish people need to reflect upon when this Administration seeks a renewed mandate. I make that point very seriously because the one thing one cannot do when one is Taoiseach is alienate the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland on the basis of simply misunderstanding that the peace process is not about obtaining ultimate surrender, covert or overt, but about conflict resolution based on equality, putting a line under the past and recognising that no tradition, even constitutionalists who have always opposed the militant republican tradition, will ever have an inclusive peace process based on the principle of surrender. Deputy Bruton's failure to understand that basic fact in relation to the resolution of the problems that have bedevilled this country for the past 30 years will remain an indelible indictment on his capacity to sit in that chair again as Taoiseach. That is a partisan view.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It is definitely a partisan view.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  It is not unanimous, but I believe evidence can be adduced to support it to the extent that enough people here will continue to have reservations in the future.

Deputy Bruton decried pragmatism. If one issue in this debate can be crystallised as a result of the debate on this confidence motion, it is the question of whether people want a verbalising, self-indulgent, Government coming from the high moral ground, that does not do the business—

(Interruptions).

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  —or a pragmatic Government that recognises the reality of what can be achieved, and has the ambition and, more important, the political will and determination to implement a programme. I put that contention to this House this evening. The reason I do so is that I do not question the sincerity of people in this house who are doing the best they can by the people they represent. I question those who verbalise on the high mountain of principle. When they got the opportunity to put principle into practice, what happened? I recall a legal opinion being elevated to the status of principle in relation to the refusal by the former Administration to release papers in relation to Brigid McCole, a matter that I resolved within two months of my appointment to office. I recall another issue being elevated to the status of prin[1435] ciple. I recall people talking to me, and speaking very sincerely I am sure, about the need to deal with intellectual disability here and the fact that the State had failed to support that sector of our community under successive Governments for many years. When I went into office, I found that the new service development for 1997 was a paltry £1 million. Now we have come forward with a three-year £80 million programme to deal with the requirement for residential, day care and respite places by a long-suffering and silent part of our population, and this was done in a pragmatic way by this Administration.

Let me turn to those who talk about the need for a fair society. When the Labour leader was Minister for Finance, when there was no fiscal crisis and the total spend in three budgets was £40 billion, and there was an opportunity to pull low-paid workers out of the tax net, he took 35,000 out of the tax net, and I compliment him on that. However, that should be compared to the performance of the present Minister for Finance, who has been personally attacked in many ways in recent weeks. He was able, by his budgetary policy, to take 135,000 more people on low pay out of the tax net. If the Opposition wishes to indict us on pragmatism, we stand proudly guilty of it.

[1436] There was much talk by the last Administration on the need for a minimum wage. This Administration introduced the minimum wage. When the then Minister for Finance, now leader of the Labour Party, and the party president who was then Minister for Social Welfare, decided that £1.50 was sufficient for a pensioner, it did not reflect a pragmatic exercise of power which would win Dáil seats in the future. This party and the party with which we share Government have come forward with a record of solid achievement. As a member of a Government that values public service as much as anyone else I say that far from having no more to do, as politically charged, this Government remains undeterred.

The ambition of the Government, which values public service in public life as much as anybody else, remains undeterred. We will pursue the policies set out in the national development plan and the social partnership programme which we agreed. We will go to the people confident that on the basis of a comprehensive agenda – economic, social and otherwise – any unpopular decision will be seen in the context of solid achievement. Members should never underestimate the discernment of the public who know a good Government when they see one.

Ahern, Bertie.
Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Ahern, Noel.
Andrews, David.
Ardagh, Seán.
Aylward, Liam.
Blaney, Harry.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Browne, John (Wexford).
Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Cullen, Martin.
Daly, Brendan.
Davern, Noel.
de Valera, Síle.
Dempsey, Noel.
Dennehy, John.
Doherty, Seán.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.
Fox, Mildred.
Gildea, Thomas.
Hanafin, Mary.
Harney, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Killeen, Tony.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael.
Kitt, Tom.
Lawlor, Liam.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, James.
McGennis, Marian.
McGuinness, John.
Martin, Micheál
Moffatt, Thomas.
Molloy, Robert.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Donnell, Liz.
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Flynn, Noel.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Malley, Desmond.
O'Rourke, Mary.
Power, Seán.
Reynolds, Albert.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan. [1437] Tá–continued
Smith, Michael.
Treacy, Noel.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
[1438] Wallace, Mary.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael.
Wright, G. V.

Ahearn, Theresa.
Allen, Bernard.
Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Bell, Michael.
Belton, Louis.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
Burke, Liam.
Burke, Ulick.
Carey, Donal.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Creed, Michael.
Currie, Austin.
D'Arcy, Michael.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Enright, Thomas.
Farrelly, John.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Gilmore, Éamon.
Gormley, John.
Gregory, Tony.
Hayes, Brian.
Healy, Seamus.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Joe.
Higgins, Michael.
Hogan, Philip.
Howlin, Brendan.
Kenny, Enda.
Lowry, Michael.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McDowell, Derek.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Jim.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
Noonan, Michael.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
O'Keeffe, Jim.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Owen, Nora.
Penrose, William.
Perry, John.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Reynolds, Gerard.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, Seán.
Sargent, Trevor.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Spring, Dick.
Stagg, Emmet.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Upton, Mary.
Wall, Jack.
Yates, Ivan.

Question declared carried.


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