Private Members' Business. - Ministerial Failures: Motion.

Tuesday, 6 March 2001

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 532 No. 1

First Page Previous Page Page of 287 Next Page Last Page

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  I move:

“That Dáil Éireann condemns the fifteen failures of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government namely:

1.his failure to contain house prices, which have doubled during his term of office and which have put home ownership beyond the reach of most working families;

2.his failure to protect the environment which has resulted in Ireland, with 1% of the EU population being the recipient of 10% of all EU Environmental Complaints, leading to legal action being initiated against this country by the European Commission;

3.his failure to reform local government despite the postponement of local elections to allow him introduce a local government bill;

4.his failure to manage the waste crisis, which has resulted in chaos and controversy over incinerators, dumps and refuse charges;

5.his failure to tackle homelessness which has resulted in over 1,000 homeless children in Dublin alone;

6.his failure to deliver on Ireland's Kyoto commitments on greenhouse gases and his long delay in producing the national climate change strategy;

7.his failure to publish the long promised road safety bill which would introduce a penalty points system to help reduce the carnage on our roads;

8.his failures on planning, including the shortage of planning staff, his introduction of a charge for the public's comments on planning applications, and his delay in implementing the new Planning and Development Act;

9.his failure to produce a national spatial strategy to give coherence to the National Development Plan and to integrated investment in infrastructure;

10.his failure to put a moratorium on genetically modified organisms despite his pre-election promise;

11.his failure to take effective measures to reduce traffic gridlock in all our urban centres, including his failure to introduce legislation to control road openings;

[76] 12.his failure to introduce legislation to protect the country's 150,000 private tenants, despite the recommendations of the Commission on the Private Rented Sector last July and whilst his Government has proceeded with financial reforms in favour of landlords and investors;

13.his failure to tackle the litter scandal including his failure to introduce his long promised tax on plastic bags;

14.his failure to provide homes for the 60,000 families who are now on council housing lists;

15.his failure to respond to the public demand for reform of political funding, specifically his intention to legislate for corporate funding to political parties of up to £20,000, his determination to increase Fianna Fáil's election spending by 50% and his blocking of the Labour Party Bill to ban corporate donations;

and that Dáil Éireann therefore requires the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, within one month, to make a special report to the Dáil setting out how he proposes to reverse these 15 failures of his Ministry.”.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Gormley and Deputy Stagg.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  I thank the Green Party for cosigning this motion with the Labour Party. In July 1997, almost four years ago, Deputy Dempsey was appointed Minister for the Environment and Local Government. Deputies Molloy and Dan Wallace were appointed Ministers of State at that Department. The Programme for Government which accompanied their appointments declared: “Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats are committed to the deeply held ideal of so many Irish people – home ownership”.

At the time of their appointment, the average national price of a new house was £73,523. Today, the average price of a new house is £133,459, an increase of 82%. On the day the Minister was first driven to his new office in the Custom House, the average price of a new house in Dublin was £84,001. Today it is £173,739, an increase of 107%. Take the case of two young teachers who got their first permanent jobs on the same day the Minister was appointed. They would now be on point six of the common basic scale and, adding their degree allowance, they would now have a salary of £20,000 each. The maximum home loan they would get from any lending institution would be three times their combined income, that is three times £40,000 or £120,000, far short of the amount needed to buy a house.

One might ask if they have some savings. They might have had savings if they had not been rent[77] ing accommodation for the past four years. The flat or house which they could have rented for £400 to £500 per month at the start of the Minister, Deputy Dempsey's, reign now costs £800 to £1,000 per month. For the first time in the history of the State, young professional couples, such as teachers, gardaí, nurses, public servants, industrial supervisors and managers, can no longer afford to buy a home. In less than four years the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, the housing face of this Fianna Fáil-PD Government, have turned the dream of home ownership into a nightmare hunt for affordable accommodation.

Tonight, the Minister will tell us again that house prices are moderating and that the Government's housing policies are working. That blind message has been the only consistent characteristic of this Government's housing policy and it has been consistently wrong. On 22 July 1999, the ministerial press release latched on to a survey published by the Irish Permanent Building Society and declared: “These figures back up what I have been saying for some time about moderation in house prices . . . ”. Since then the average price of a new house has increased by more than £20,000.

On 5 January 2000, the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, criticised the reporting of a house price survey by a firm of auctioneers which claimed that house prices would rise by 20% in the year 2000. “The coverage of such surveys once again shows a selective reporting of facts by certain newspapers to produce sensationalist articles”, thundered the Minister. A recent survey has demonstrated that prices rose by just over the 20% predicted in that study.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Not true.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  The price moderation spin from the Minister is missing the point. Tens of thousands of young couples have already been forced out of the housing market by the failure of this Government to contain house prices. Even if house price rises were to slow down now to the rate of inflation or the rate of pay movement, our two young teachers would still not be able to buy and would have to wait until their mid thirties before their salaries would have progressed to a point where they could afford to buy a house.

The Minister and his colleagues have rejected the many proposals made by the Labour Party to deal with the housing crisis, including our proposals for publicly owned land banks, a national housing authority, fair price certification, legislation to protect tenants and house buyers and for a major social housing programme. Instead, they continue to insist that housing is a market problem and that if supply is increased, prices will moderate. Housing output has doubled since the mid 1990's and stood at almost 50,000 last year. However, house prices continued to rise.

The Minister, Deputy Dempsey's, interventions in the housing market have been consist[78] ently on the side of the builder, developer and landowner, rather than on the side of the house buyer. He provided taxpayers' money to service building land, increased the density of housing which could be permitted and simplified the planning procedures. In an effort to encourage land hoarders to release building land, his Government halved the capital gains tax on residential land from 40% to 20% with a proviso that it would rise to 60% after four years, a classic carrot and stick approach. However, in this year's Finance Bill the stick is removed and land speculators, many of whom have already made massive gains from land rezoning, will now pay a lower rate of tax than a worker on the minimum wage. The net effect of the Minister's interventions in the housing market has been to put more money into the coffers of developers and landowners and to take more money out of the pockets of house buyers.

The Minister and his colleagues have made owning a home a luxury. Small wonder that during his term of office the numbers of applicants on council waiting lists have grown to unprecedented levels. When the Minister took office, there were 26,000 applicants for local authority housing. In the assessment of housing needs undertaken in March 1999, this had grown to 39,176. Last year, the Minister admitted that the figure would have increased by a further 15% over the year, and we can assume that it would have grown by a further 15% over the past 12 months, bringing to more than 50,000 the numbers now seeking council housing. The March 1999 assessment showed, however, that the number of applicants seeking all forms of social housing, including shared ownership and Traveller accommodation, was already 50,000 and, applying the Minister's own estimated rate of increase, that means there are now more than 60,000 applicants for all forms of social housing on council waiting lists.

Meanwhile, the number of council houses being provided has decreased. In 1999, 2,909 council houses were provided, fewer than the number in 1995. In the first nine months of 2000, only 1,201 council houses were completed, 50% less than in the corresponding period in 1999. The Minister has yet to publish the full figures for 2000, but it is clear that while private house building is sweeping ahead, the output of council housing is falling further and further behind. The Minister will no doubt respond that he has increased the financial allocation and the numbers of approved starts for local authority housing but that does not convert into real houses unless local authorities have the land, the professional support, the project management and the contractors which will enable them to build the houses. That is what the Labour Party has been telling the Minister for the past two years and, more recently, the NESF has told him that a national housing authority is required.

So far the Minister has failed to respond, leaving young families languishing on waiting lists, [79] living in overcrowded conditions with their families or being exploited in the unregulated private rented sector. Some have literally ended up on the street. During the Minister, Deputy Dempsey's, four years in office, the number of homeless people in this rich country has doubled. According to the Homeless Initiative, there are now 1,000 children homeless in Dublin. They stay overnight in hostels and bed and breakfasts with a parent – usually the mother – and are forced back out for the day to trudge around the streets and public parks of the city before returning in the evening. These children are the innocents suffering for the failure of the Minister's housing policy.

Many of the new homeless are families who have been evicted from private rented accommodation. Threshold handled 341 illegal evictions in Dublin alone last year. In addition, there are the legal evictions Threshold did not hear about and the many evictions secured by landlords in the courts. In 21st century Ireland, where history teaches of the cruel landlords of the 19th century, tenants enjoy little or no legal protection. The Labour Party and organisations such as Threshold and Focus Ireland have called on the Government to introduce legislation to regulate the private rented sector. The commission on the private rented sector was established in June 1999 and reported last July. The Government did not respond until January this year and then announced that the measures in the commission report which benefited landlords would be introduced immediately in the Finance Bill but that tenants would have to wait for another two years for the legislation to protect their rights.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Disgraceful.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  This separation of landlords' benefit and tenants' rights flies in the face of the approach taken by the commission, whose recommendations were presented as a package. It also stands on its head the statement made by the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, when announcing the establishment of the commission on 24 June 1999. He said: “I am of the view that the issue of security of tenure cannot appropriately be considered in isolation from other issues such as rents, supply and quality of accommodation, investment return and market considerations and existing constraints to the development of the sector – all of which impact on the optimum operation of the private rented sector”. Why, then, has the legislation been postponed until mid 2002 when, one way or the other, this Government's term of office will have expired? The message is simple. This Fianna Fáil-PD Government will not introduce legislation to protect tenants. If the 150,000 tenants in this country were corporate donors to Fianna Fáil, they would not have to wait two years for their rights.

The housing crisis is one of this Government's biggest failures and the Minister for the Envir[80] onment and Local Government has overall responsibility for it. However, that is by no means his only failure. He has also failed on planning. The Planning and Development Act which he declared contained “radical new measures in relation to housing supply, particularly the provision of social and affordable housing”, has still not produced a single affordable house and will not do so for at least another two years, as was predicted by the Labour Party at the time of its publication. Most local authorities will not be able to adopt housing strategies until at least the middle of this year. In addition, they will not have revised their development plans until early next year and will not apply the new 20% land provision until well into 2002.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  That is all true.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  The Act was passed last summer and declared constitutional by the Supreme Court in July. However, most of it has yet to be commenced by the Minister. The reason for this delay is the critical shortage of planning staff throughout the system. According to a recent Dáil reply, there are now 328 professional planners in the system, less than half the number required, as estimated by the IPI. The result is that in some local authorities, planning decisions are made by staff other than planners, An Bord Pleanála has had to engage private consultants to assess planning appeals and there are lengthy delays and inconsistencies in making planning decisions.

Many of the so-called reforms in the new planning Act are against the public interest, including the decision, yet to be implemented, to charge the public for its democratic right to write to a local council about a planning matter.

At a wider level, the Minister has also failed in the planning of the country itself. The national development plan which will determine the physical development of this country into the new century contains £40 billion of proposed investment and is just a compendium of individual projects. The Minister has failed to locate this planned investment in infrastructure in any vision for the future of the country. To some extent he appears to have acknowledged the deficiency because on 29 September 1999 he announced the drawing up of a national spatial strategy. Eighteen months later there is still no sign of the promised strategy and the Minister would be well advised to adopt the draft spatial plan Vision of Ireland published by the Labour Party at the beginning of this year.

The Minister's failure to integrate housing, planning and transport is to be experienced every day in the oppressive traffic in our cities and on our over-crowded and dangerous roads. With the Minister for Public Enterprise, the Minister shares responsibility for traffic gridlock and the lack of public transport. This Minister has failed, for example, to legislate to regulate the epidemic of road openings by service providers which is contributing to the traffic chaos.

[81] The Minister has also failed to publish the long promised legislation on road safety. On 31 July 1998 he and the Taoiseach announced the preparation of legislation to develop a penalty points system for driving offences. Two and a half years later the legislation, which was apparently approved by Cabinet last July, has not been published. Even when it is published, the national driver file, which will give effect to the measure, will not be ready until the end of this year at the latest.

The Minister's lethargy in addressing the life and death issue of road safety is best described by the chairman of the National Safety Council, Mr. Eddie Shaw, who, on 22 December 2000, unequivocally criticised the Government for launching a strategy with no budget. Mr. Shaw described State funding as being in bits and pieces and all over the place, and stated that road deaths were twice what they should have been by international comparison and that if the strategy was on target, 50 people who had died so far that year would be alive. Has there ever been a more damning criticism of a Minister by the chairman of a State agency?

The commuter stuck in one of Deputy Dempsey's traffic jams has plenty of time to reflect on another of the Minister's 15 failures – his failure to effectively tackle the scourge of litter. Before the general election, Deputy Dempsey promised to wage war on litter. Instead, we now have a web competition for the dirtiest town in Ireland organised by business people who are understandably embarrassed at the filthy appearance of our towns, cities and countryside.

On 19 August 1999 the Minister declared war on plastic bags and told an impressed gathering of journalists that the day of the plastic bag was coming to an end. That has been a very long day because despite repeated announcements, his promise to put a tax on plastic bags has yet to materialise. It was to have been implemented by the beginning of this year. Then it was to have been in the Finance Bill. Now we are told to await the publication of the Waste Management (Amendment) Bill some time later this year.

This new Waste Management Bill is itself becoming a bit of a mystery. No amount of Dáil questions can prise from the Minister a straight answer as to what it is for. We continue to speculate that his intention is to remove from local authorities the effective decision making on the location of dumps and incinerators. The Bill is a belated response to a growing crisis in waste management on which the Minister has not given any leadership during his four years in office.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  How can the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, continue living with this situation?

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  In 1998 the Minister published a waste management strategy called Changing Our Ways which established ambitious targets for recycling. However, he has failed to put in place [82] any significant recycling infrastructure. In reply to a Dáil question on the subject on Thursday, 22 February, he told me that only £7.1 million had been spent on the provision of a recycling infrastructure since January 1997. Given that £650 million has been allocated in the NDP for waste infrastructure, the low level of spending on recycling confirms the Minister is paying lip service to the waste management hierarchy, that his real agenda is the construction of five or six regional incinerators and that the new Bill is intended to smooth a path for their introduction. In the meantime the waste mountain is growing, landfill dumps are closing, the EU is tightening the noose on our bad waste practices and industry is becoming increasingly concerned at the absence of a national waste strategy and of ministerial leadership and action on this crucial issue.

The Minister's failure on waste management is one of the more obvious examples of his failure to protect the country's environment which was entrusted to his care almost four years ago. Deputy Dempsey's failure to protect the environment will soon result in Ireland facing international embarrassment and, possibly, massive fines at the European Court. According to the EU environment director general, James Currie, Ireland, with just 1% of the population of the European Union, now accounts for 10% of the Commission's environmental complaints. There is a queue of EU legal actions against Ireland for failure to protect our own environment.

According to a Dáil reply on 22 February there are two cases, dealing with waste management and water quality, before the European Court of Justice for hearing. European Court proceedings are being initiated in two other cases. There are a further six cases on which reasoned opinions have been given under Article 226 of the treaty. Another 11 complaints are being investigated under Articles 226 and 228 and a further 17 cases are the subject of correspondence with the Commission.

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

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  The Minister has repeatedly replied that he responds promptly to Commission complaints and he has even suggested in one Dáil reply that he initiated the correspondence. That is not how the EU Environment Commissioner sees it. In a recent 19-page letter dated 9 February 2001 addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Commissioner Wallstro1m complained angrily about the lack of action and response from our Minister for the Environment and Local Government over a litany of environmental complaints. In respect of 11 complaints, the Commissioner stated in a letter dated 29 August 2000, that the Commission wrote to the Irish authorities in relation to complaints, details of which were given. The date for responding to the letter was 29 October 2000 but that, to date, no response had been received.

Surely it should not be necessary for the European Commission to take this country to the [83] European Court to force the Minister to protect our environment. Surely clean air, clean water, sustainable environmental practices and good physical planning are so obvious that the Minister should be seeing to them in our own interest, without being forced to do so by our European partners.

The laws of the European Union are not the only international obligations on which Deputy Dempsey is lagging behind. Another is our failure to honour commitments under the Kyoto protocolumn On 22 June 1998 the Minister announced Ireland's contribution to Kyoto and stated that, following consultation with his colleagues in Government and detailed negotiations in the EU Environment Council, he had agreed to limit the growth in greenhouse gas emissions to 13% above 1990 levels. He went on to state that this was a firm objective for Ireland which reflects our continuing need for sustainable economic growth and the necessity to make an ambitious but achievable contribution to the overall EU target.

The Minister announced that the Government would publish a greenhouse gas abatement strategy and set 31 July 1998 as the closing date for receipt of submissions. It then took him more than two years, until 2 November 2000, to produce the national climate change strategy, by which time he had to admit that the target of 13% which he had described as achievable two years earlier had now been exceeded eight years ahead of schedule. He said our real challenge is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 20% in the next ten years. The strategy sets out how that reduction could be mathematically achieved, but in almost every sector the Minister has deferred any effective action until 2002 or later, by which stage he expects to be well gone from the Custom House.

The first test of the strategy came in the budget when the Minister for Finance reduced the excise duty on motor fuels, presumably in response to the road hauliers protest. This was a humbling defeat for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government who then went off in the dead of night to announce and inaccurately describe as green taxation an increase in motor registration tax which we will debate in the House on Thursday. This type of back down was nothing new for the Minister. Prior to the general election, he promised a moratorium on genetically modified organisms. However, he slithered out of that commitment by setting up a so-called consultation process which was so flawed that all 19 NGOs with an interest in the subject walked out and the Minister ended up in October 1999 announcing that Ireland would pursue a positive but precautionary national policy position on the release of GMOs and the environment based on scientific risk assessment and management. In other words, he now supports GMOs.

Throughout his tenure in office the Minister has sought to portray himself as a reformer. We all remember the plans he had to reduce the Dáil [84] to 100 Members and to introduce single seat constituencies and a list system for elections. We should be grateful for the silver lining that he was too busy failing at everything else to do anything about that day dream.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  That could threaten the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, in Galway. He should think about that.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  The Minister also promised to reform local government. Local elections, which were due in 1996, were postponed until 1999 to allow the Minister to introduce the legislation. He had two years in office in which to do so but he failed to produce the legislation in time for the 1999 elections. The Bill was published last May, but it has still not been brought before the House. The only two so-called reforms which are in it, the direct election of mayors and the abolition of the dual mandate, are either being watered away or abandoned in the face of opposition from the Fianna Fáil Independents.

In almost every area of his portfolio the Minister for the Environment and Local Government has been a failure. The Labour Party has in this motion identified 15 failures. We could have added more, such as his failure to produce the ten Bills promised, queuing up on the legislative programme.

One would expect a Minister in such serious trouble with his portfolio to have spent the past year trying to improve his performance. Instead he has concentrated on producing an Electoral Bill, ostensibly to reform the conduct of elections but in reality to increase Fianna Fáil's spend at the next election. As was published in a recent issue of Magill, he gave the direction to increase election spending limits. The decision to increase the amount of money Fianna Fáil can spend at the next election, coupled with his attempts to block the Labour Party Bill to ban corporate donations, makes one wonder who is in charge at the Custom House – Deputy Dempsey, Minister for the Environment and Local Government, or Deputy Dempsey, the treasurer of Fianna Fáil. Whichever persona is responsible, he has been a failure in his ministry – a failure to the house buyer, the tenant, the housing applicant, the commuter, the citizen and the country.

This motion and our contributions to it are a political critique of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. This is not a personal attack. The Labour Party does not deny the considerable political experience of the Minister and the Ministers of State, Deputies Molloy and Dan Wallace, nor do we doubt their ability. We do not question their integrity or their commitment to their brief. However, we challenge their lamentable performance and we propose in this motion that they come back to this House within one month to account for their 15 failures and to tell us what they intend to do to put things right. There is something seriously wrong at the heart [85] of this Government when three high calibre Ministers with unprecedented money at their disposal cannot come to grips with the pressing national problems of housing, waste, environment and local services.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The Deputy should go easy.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  This House approved the appointment of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government almost four years ago. We are now well entitled to ask him to account for his 15 failures.

Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley  Zoom on John Gormley  I thank Deputy Gilmore for sharing his time with me. The Green Party motion of no confidence and the Labour Party motion before the House this evening are a litany of failure. However, it is more than the failure of one Minister. It represents the collective failure of this discredited Government which lacks empathy with the people, the necessary talent and innovation to run a modern democracy and the vision of the type of society to which people aspire and which is now possible. It is a cynical, populist and narrowly political Government. By that I mean a Government which looks to the next election and not to the next generation. Nowhere is that better exemplified than in the performance of the ministerial incumbent in the Custom House, Deputy Dempsey.

Collective responsibility will prevent him from blaming others in Government for his failure. However, even if it could, it could hardly explain his unprecedented record of under achievement. The reasons for this failure are fundamental. He has not been the Minister for the environment or for local government. How could he be? He is the treasurer of Fianna Fáil, the party of big business which wants power for itself at all costs and will not distribute that power. Fianna Fáil sees progress in terms of big business. Progress is measured in the number of cranes on the skyline and the number of cars on our streets and roads. However, the cranes are not building apartments or houses for those who need them or can afford them but for the speculators and the greedy landlords who generously contribute to Fianna Fáil coffers. Does this relationship with big business help to explain why the Government will not introduce legislation for security of tenure for tenants who face eviction on the whim of a landlord? Does it explain why the Minister will not introduce measures to combat spiralling house prices? Does it explain why he has not facilitated co-op housing or eco villages? It does. The Watergate maxim, “follow the money”, is relevant in this regard. If one follows the money, one will see the connections and discover the reasons for his lack of action.

An adviser to George Bush senior once famously said that one can fool all the people all of the time if one's advertising budget is big enough. If the Minister has his way, the Fianna Fáil advertising budget will be big enough. Will it continue [86] to fool the people? It did at the last election. Expense was not spared for focus groups, policy developers, hype and glossy manifestos full of promises. Tonight we remember those promises, such as the promise of a moratorium on GMOs. However, we did not get a moratorium but a quango, an expensive Fianna Fáil committee to fudge the issue. We got excuses. The Minister said he was precluded by European legislation from banning GMOs, which was nonsense. The real reason was that the Americans and the giant multinationals, especially Monsanto, did not want such a ban introduced. Sandy Berger, the national security adviser, had a quiet word in the ear of the Taoiseach when he attended the White House.

We also remember tonight the proposed tax on plastic bags. How many times have I raised this issue in the House? How many press releases and radio appearances have there been? How much spin has the Minister got from this issue? I was told before Christmas that separate legislation was not required. I was told it could be done by regulation or it could be included in the Finance Bill. We are now told that separate legislation is required and that it will be included in the new Waste Management (Amendment) Bill, which has appeared out of nowhere. What is all this foot dragging about? Is it that the plastics industry is not pleased about the prospect of a tax on plastic bags? Does the Taoiseach recoil at the idea of consumers paying a new tax close to an election? If the Minister wants to see the results of his lack of action on this issue, he should take a stroll in my constituency and look at the River Dodder which is polluted by plastic bags. He should look at the trees festooned with plastic bags. It is a repulsive sight. This is a reflection of the Minister's inadequacy and his legacy of failure.

The Minister promised to tackle the problem of litter. He set up an anti-litter forum and its report was published, but nothing was done. Irish Business Against Litter has lost all faith in the Minister. Litter is the biggest turn off for tourists. Yet when the Minister is confronted with this problem he says if people did not throw litter, we would not have a litter problem. Dear me, that is deep analysis. The next thing the Minister will be saying is that if people did not heat their homes we would not have global warming, if they did not drive cars we would not have all these road accidents and if people did not insist on living in houses we would not have a housing problem. He says it is always other people's fault, but now we have a waste crisis and it is not the people's fault. The Minister has insisted on pursuing an exclusively pro-incineration line at the behest of industry, yet ordinary people all over the country have rejected that resoundingly. The democratically elected members of councils have rejected it and the Minister has told them that their decision does not matter. Deputy Molloy has never been the Minister for local government.

The waste crisis is largely an industrial problem and it can only be solved if industry is made to [87] play its role. This will mean proper monitoring, insistence on the introduction of cleaner technology, producer responsibility and not letting them off the hook through Repak, which I hope the Minister now realises has not been a success. It will mean that the “polluter pays” principle must apply not just to householders but also to industry.

The last time the Minister was in the House at Question Time, he insisted that those who were opposed to incinerators were scare-mongering. He said that Ireland has low levels of dioxins, yet it has the highest level of cancer in Europe. This is absolutely true. If we increase dioxin levels through incineration we will have even more cancer, but the Minister is missing the point entirely. Why does Ireland have one of the highest cancer rates in Europe? Some 80% of cancers are environmentally linked, according to the World Health Organisation. It has to do with the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink – the quality of our environment. Under the watch of the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, our environment is going down the tubes. Reports have shown a marked decline in environmental quality. Our rivers and lakes are polluted, mostly from agricultural sources. Eutrophication is a major problem, according to the EPA's millennium report, yet the Minister does nothing. The air in our cities is polluted, mostly from car fumes. In Pearse Street, not far from here, the levels of PM10s, VOCs and nitrous oxides are alarming. Three times as many people are dying from car emissions as die from car accidents. Does the Minister care?

The European Commission has more or less given up on the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and his Department. He has shown nothing but contempt for EU environmental directives. All this comes about because of a failure to understand the concept of sustainability The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, claimed that his budget would improve people's quality of life. It did anything but that. It improved superficially their standard of living but under the Government and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, the quality of life has actually decreased. In terms of sustainability, the Minister is bringing us back to the dark ages.

The Green Party demands nothing less than the ecological modernisation of our country. That cannot be attained if the Minister and the Government are in power. For the sake of our people and the environment, the Government must go.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  When the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, was appointed I knew that he would be a disaster as Minister with responsibility for housing. I knew that because before, when he was Minister with the same responsibilities, he was an unmitigated disaster. At that time, he had thousands of houses built around the country which are known as Molloy's botháns. They had [88] wooden walls, no foundations, flat roofs and no chimneys. The only council that refused to build them was Kerry County Council, and fair play to it for not doing so.

When I was Minister with responsibility for housing I spent much of the available resources retrofitting Molloy's botháns to make them habitable. These houses started to fall asunder as soon as the builders left the site. They were known officially as low cost housing and after that term were the words, in brackets, – like the term republican party in the Fianna Fáil title –“and anything is good enough for the workers”. That is exactly what we got. Tens of millions of pounds have been spent since then in trying to put that disaster right.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Just name three estates.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The Minister is directly responsible for them.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Name three of them.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  He should not try to get out from under that.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  The Deputy cannot name three of them.

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

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I am glad the Minister woke up because he seemed to be hibernating up to now.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  It is an old tactic of the left – tell lies and tell them often.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The most acute housing needs are faced by families waiting for council houses. Under this Administration, however, such families have been thrown to the tender mercies of private landlords, with no rent control and no enforcement of standards at the rag end of the rented market. When the Minister took office there were 26,000 families on the waiting list, there are now 60,000. Despite the Minister's target of building 25,000 houses in four years, less than 3,000 per year are being built. At the rate the Minister is providing houses, it will take 20 years to clear the backlog without any new families joining the waiting list. This situation is absolutely unacceptable. The Minister has allowed the housing list to go out of control without making the necessary provision. The Minister has loads of money. The leader of his party said the Government is awash with money, yet he has not made the necessary financial or management provisions to ensure the necessary houses are built. Even with the money the Minister provided, he did not ensure that local authorities had the ability to make proper use of it, so moneys were returned to his Department. The recently announced failure of the Minister's programme to set even the minimalist target he had set is a [89] serious indictment. Families in dire circumstances are waiting for what they are entitled to, a proper standard of housing.

Most of us live in houses that we could not afford to buy now.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  That is right.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Since this Government came to power the value, or price, of my modest house has trebled. If I wanted to buy the same house now I could not obtain a mortgage on my TD's salary. Children of white collar workers in my constituency have no hope of purchasing a house there. They are crucified by uncontrolled high rents demanded by the people who support the Minister, Deputy Molloy's, party and the party of his colleagues in Government. Many of them are forced on to the social housing list for sites, affordable housing schemes, the voluntary scheme or the council waiting list. They have swelled these lists. These are people who, previously, on moderate incomes, could afford to buy a house with a council loan. Operating my clinics, I have not assisted people in filling out a form for a council loan for three years because the council loans that are available would only constitute a deposit on houses in my area. I am not referring to fancy houses, I am talking about three-bedroom, terraced houses. The example of the two young teachers that my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, gave during his contribution tells the whole story. Two people earning £20,000 each now have to travel about 50 miles outside Dublin before they can afford a house.

The homeless are at the end of this logjam that the Minister has created. Young and old people without hope are being forced to live on the streets because of the Minister's lack of action on housing.

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 Deputies Michael Kitt, Brendan Smith, Haughey and Killeen.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  I move:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“commends the action taken by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to promote sustainable development through infrastructure provision (including securing record levels of housing output), environmental protection and policies to advance balanced regional development and social inclusion and, in particular, welcomes and endorses:

in relation to housing

–the comprehensive range of initiatives [90] which has been taken by the Government and which has

–maximised and expedited housing supply; secured house price moderation and balance in the housing market,

–addressed social and affordable housing need and

–improved the institutional arrangements and facilitated the delivery of housing related infrastructure;

–the record levels of new housing output which have been achieved in each year since the Government took office;

–the achievement of the highest level of per capita housing output in the EU;

–the trebling of resources allocated to housing since the Government took office, with a total provision for housing of over £1.1 billion in 2001;

–the expanded four year multi-annual local authority housing programme which has been introduced, together with a greatly expanded voluntary housing programme, and the significantly increased financial resources provided by the Government for these programmes under the national development plan;

–the Government's integrated Homelessness strategy, which has provided for substantially increased resources, additional accommodation and improved inter-agency co-operation;

–the completion last year of the comprehensive report by the Government's Commission on the Private Rented Residential Sector, the recommendations of which are now being implemented with a view to achieving expanded supply and ensuring the long-term viability of the sector;

in relation to the environment

–the high priority given by Government to environmental protection and, in this context, notes that Ireland has implemented 96% of environment-related EU Directives;

–the clear policy leadership which has been provided by Changing Our Ways, published in September 1998, towards the long overdue modernisation of waste management practice, based on the internationally accepted hierarchy of prevention, minimisation, reuse-recycle, energy recovery and safe disposal, and the Government's firm intention to bring the waste management planning process to an early and satisfactory conclusion;

–the publication of a comprehensive and ambitious National Climate Change Strategy in November 2000, which will ensure that Ireland meets its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, and the [91] intensive action already under way to ensure effective implementation of the Strategy;

–the value of the ground-breaking consultation process which led to the policy statement on GMOs and the environment, published in October 1999, and the major strengthening of safety and transparency provisions in the EU regulatory framework, adopted by the European Council and Parliament in February 2001, and, in going forward, endorses the importance of placing primary emphasis on precaution, well grounded in scientific risk assessment and management;

–the intensified anti-litter measures introduced since 1997, including

–support for National Spring Clean;

–increased enforcement, including, since 1997, a threefold increase in the number of litter wardens, a fourfold increase in the number of litter prosecutions and an increase in the number of on-the-spot fines from less than 1,000 to over 16,500, and

–greater education-awareness measures,

culminating in the litter action plan published in February 2001 in response to the work of the National Anti-Litter Forum; and notes that the levy on plastic bags will be provided for in the forthcoming Waste Management (Amendment) Bill;

in relation to road safety

–the putting in place of the first ever Government strategy on Road Safety and notes that–

–the end-2000 interim targets under the strategy have been achieved in full, with the road fatality rate per million population falling to 112 by end-1999, compared to an end-2000 target of 116 and accident reduction schemes having been completed at 268 locations by end-2000 compared to a target of 240, and

–considerable progress has been made towards meeting the overall targets of the strategy, with road deaths falling by 13% between 1997 and 1999, relative to the strategy target of a 20% minimum reduction by end 2002, and serious injuries decreasing in the same period by more than 15%, relative to the 20% reduction target by end-2002;

–the forthcoming Road Traffic Bill which provides the legal basis for the introduction of a system of penalty points, to track infringements [92] of driving behaviour of those who commit these offences on a recurring basis;

in relation to traffic management

–the £14 billion strategy for a comprehensive and efficient transport system for the Greater Dublin Area, outlined in the recently published Dublin Transportation Initiative Strategy Update, “A Platform for Change”;

–the investment of £1.6 billion under the National Development Plan, 2000-06, for public transport and traffic management in Dublin, including £200 million in respect of traffic management grants;

–the provision of £650 million for a regional transport programme under the National Development Plan;

–the traffic management grants for Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, which were introduced by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government in 2000, with a further allocation of £1.75 million for this purpose in 2001;

–the Communications (Regulation) Bill being finalised by the Minister for Public Enterprise, which will include proposals to modernise legislation in relation to road openings by telecommunications operators, with appropriate and updated powers for road authorities to regulate road openings in the public interest, and the commitment of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to also consider the need for wider legislative updating to deal with this important matter;

in relation to local government renewal

–the major programme of local government renewal which has yielded–

–constitutional recognition for local government,

–an enhanced role for elected members through the Strategic Policy Committees,

–significantly increased local authority funding which, in addition to massive increases for capital investment, is providing local authorities with over 63% more for discretionary spending in 2001 compared to 1997,

–modernised financial systems,

–strengthened management structures,

–a wider role for local government through County Development Boards, and

–measures to improve efficiencies and customer services,

in relation to electoral reform

–the comprehensive proposals in the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2000, for [93] reform of electoral law generally, including provisions in relation to electronic voting, electronic vote counting and the inclusion of photographs and logos on ballot papers;

in relation to planning

–the enactment of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, which provides for the most radical overhaul ever of the modern Irish planning system, including–

–improved arrangements for public participation in the planning process,

–provisions which will ensure an element of public gain from rezoning decisions, through empowering local authorities to acquire, at ‘existing use' prices, up to 20% of residential land for social and affordable housing, and

–measures to meaningfully address, for the first time ever, the vexed issue of unfinished estates,

–the increased staffing resources being made available for local authority planning departments and An Bord Pleanála; and,

in relation to the National Spatial Strategy

–the fact that the national spatial strategy will be completed on time, by the end of 2001, and notes the extensive consultation and participation arrangements related to the development of the strategy which the Minister for the Environment and Local Government has put in place.”.

I am pleased to open the Government's response to the motion. The rank hypocrisy implied by it is very hard to take. It implies that the new red and green axis was the prime mover in the infrastructural, economic and social development of the country. In reality, it is most likely to hold up, in every way possible, badly needed local authority housing, key roads and water services projects, planning permissions for major housing developments and so on. The list is practically endless.

One would imagine, from the motion in its name, that the Labour Party had bequeathed to the Government an idyllic situation. The implication is that our infrastructure was fully geared to meet the needs of a modern economy; that there was an orderly housing market with supply and demand finely balanced; that our levels of environmental protection were the envy of the modern world and that no foreseeable difficulty had emerged in relation to waste management.

We all know, including those behind the motion, that the truth is different. It was left to the Government to take action to increase invest[94] ment in infrastructure right across the board. The unparalleled levels of funding available under the national development plan are redressing our infrastructural deficit as rapidly as capacity constraints in the construction industry allow. The housing market is coming back into balance thanks to the measures taken by the Government. Our record on environmental protection includes action on waste management and climate change to mention but two of the many effective and progressive initiatives taken since the Government took office.

The Government has not failed to deliver on any of its commitments. The Labour Party, however, knows about failure, having “been there, but not done that”.

In today's newspaper it is reported that a Green Party councillor is strongly critical of Dublin Corporation's housing strategy because it involves zoning additional land. Criticism of the Government on the issue of house prices and meeting social housing need is heavily ironic from a party whose approach to the provision of housing and infrastructure, so obviously needed by our growing population, is to “build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone”.

The Government has never shirked its responsibilities in relation to housing. Whereas the previous rainbow Government had scarcely lifted a finger, despite the ominous trends already established, we immediately set about tackling the issue. From day one we put in place a comprehensive range of measures to maximise and expedite housing supply, to secure house price moderation and to meet the increased need for social and affordable housing. Those measures have yielded positive results and will continue to do so.

Last year we again saw record housing output with almost 50,000 new houses being constructed. In spite of continuing high demand and lower interest rates, the effects of this increased output are being reflected in moderating house price trends. The most recent house price figures available provide strong evidence of a moderation in the rate of house price increase, particularly new house prices, with annual increases in the 10% to 14% range, compared to a peak of 42% in early 1998. It is widely accepted that the Government's actions have been a critical factor in achieving house price moderation. There is also firm evidence that first-time buyers are gaining an increasing share of the new housing market in particular.

Conscious of the increasing level of social housing need, which our colleagues opposite took no effective action to allay when they had the opportunity to do so, the Government responded by introducing, for the first time, multi-annual programming for the local authority and voluntary housing programmes instead of the old year-on year-off system. We have increased funding for housing programmes threefold over what was provided in 1997 by the previous Government. [95] This clearly reflects the priority we afford to meeting social housing needs.

Increased funding is only part of the equation. In 1997 the number of local authority housing starts was 3,500. It has now been virtually doubled with latitude to front load programmes as much as possible. The multi-annual approach adopted by the Government will allow for greater forward planning and efficiencies of scale in delivering the 41,500 additional local authority houses to be started under the national development plan. The four year programme of 25,000 starts, is pitched at the maximum level that can be delivered.

One of the problems I have encountered in expanding the local authority housing programme is the degree of local opposition to individual schemes. That opposition is often orchestrated by members of the parties which have put their names to the motion. It is ironic to hear the Labour Party and the Green Party being concerned about meeting social housing need. I can find no evidence of a strong push from Labour Party councillors for more local authority housing in their areas. I challenge them on that issue. The absence of support where it is most needed, at local level, only serves to show the hypocrisy of the motion.

Let there be no doubt that the Government is fully committed to tackling the problem of homelessness. We have launched an integrated strategy to ensure a comprehensive response from all the statutory and voluntary agencies providing services for the homeless. I am confident that the direct involvement of local authorities and health boards in a more collaborative manner will strengthen the overall response to homelessness and secure the appropriate solutions which voluntary bodies have identified as not being made or being deficient. The action plan for the Dublin area has been completed and adopted. The measures in the plan are being rolled out, with specific targets to ensure the level of homelessness in Dublin is reduced.

Substantial current and capital funding has been made available to local authorities to ensure the accommodation measures in the strategy are implemented. Additional funding will also be available from health boards to fund the necessary care and welfare services. I am well aware of the importance of the private rented sector and its potential in meeting our housing needs. Actions taken by the Government include specific incentives for the provision of rented accommodation in urban renewal areas, as well as for students. We have doubled the income tax relief in respect of rent paid by tenants and introduced a new “rent a room” scheme to encourage home owners to provide additional accommodation.

In 1999, I took the initiative to establish a commission on the private rented residential sector in order to address the issues of security of tenure, dispute resolution mechanisms, the regulatory regime for the sector and how best to secure [96] increased supply of accommodation. I announced proposals for major reforms in the sector on 5 January last following careful consideration of the recommendations of the commission. It is disingenuous of the Deputies opposite to suggest that legislation on landlord and tenant issues can be introduced out of a hat. As anyone familiar with the subject will know, landlord and tenant issues are subject to a highly complex and integrated legislative code which falls within the remit of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In collaboration with that Department, we are committed to completing this legislative programme as quickly as possible and the necessary staffing resources have been committed.

The Government has rightly proceeded with implementation of measures to boost the supply of private rented accommodation which will be of considerable benefit to existing and prospective tenants. The motion tabled by the Labour and Green Parties implies that we should have delayed the introduction of these initiatives. I see no merit in that approach given the extent of housing need.

By next autumn we will establish a private residential tenancies board on a non-statutory basis. This board will primarily deal with disputes between landlords and tenants and will also provide a research, advice and information service in this important sector.

The priority afforded by the Government to the housing area and the direction and force of Government policies are widely acknowledged as correct. We will continue to give priority to ensuring higher housing output to meet the needs of our growing population and particularly the needs of the most vulnerable groups in society.

In the matter of road safety, this is the first Government to prepare and adopt a national road safety strategy. The Government has led the heightened political priority now being given to road safety. We have set quantified and clearly stated objectives and deliberately made ourselves more accountable than any previous Government for progressing the road safety agenda. The strategy sets, as its primary target, the reduction of road fatalities by a minimum of 20% by the year 2000, relative to 1997, with a similar reduction in serious injuries. The annual toll of road deaths has been reduced by over 12% in 1999 and again last year. When the proponents of the motion were in government there was no national strategy to reduce road fatalities, which were rising rather than being reduced. The interim target of the strategy regarding road deaths was to reduce Ireland's rate of road fatalities below 116 per million population. We have already exceeded this target. Nevertheless, there is no acceptable level of road fatalities. We must continue to strive for reduced fatalities and fewer serious injuries on our roads.

The computer systems needed to support a national driver file, with penalty points functionality, will be in place this year. I intend that [97] the legislation dealing with this matter will be published shortly and that it will be processed urgently by the Oireachtas to tie in with the new IT system.

Our road safety strategy is ambitious and hard-edged and it has set demanding and quantified targets for achievement within its five year period. We have sponsored this strategy and we have made ourselves more accountable to progress on road safety activities than any of our predecessors. Accordingly, we have made greater progress.

For these and many other reasons which, because of the time available, I am not able to adduce, I am happy to commend the Government's amendment to the House.

Mr. M. Kitt: Information on Michael P. Kitt  Zoom on Michael P. Kitt  I welcome the opportunity to support the comments made by the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy. I also welcome the Government's investment in water and sewerage schemes, particularly those in County Galway. The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has shown his support, in a practical way, by the provision of water from the Corrib to supply Tuam regional water project, which not only supplies the town of Tuam and its environs but extends towards Galway through towns such as Athenry, Oranmore, Headford, Milltown and areas on the county boundary with Mayo. The Minister has also supported the idea of low cost sewerage schemes, based on a reed bed treatment system and this has reduced the cost of these schemes and given us good value for money. It has also led to additional housing construction and other developments. I pay tribute to the work done by the Ministers of State, Deputies Molloy and Dan Wallace, in respect of those programmes.

Galway County Council, in particular, has benefited from these developments. The council has a four year housing programme up to 2003 under which 568 local authority houses are to be built. It also has plans for the building of 364 voluntary houses and 245 affordable houses in the same period. There are also 50 improvement works in lieu planned in house extensions.

There is no reference in the Labour Party's motion to water schemes or group water schemes. That is not surprising because, when he was Minister, Deputy Howlin abolished domestic water charges but, initially, he made no reference to group water schemes. A vacuum was created which was filled by the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, which highlighted the discrimination against rural areas. The Labour motion refers to 15 failures on the part of the Minister. To continue to alliteration, there were, perhaps, 100 howlers when Deputy Howlin was Minister dealing with group water schemes alone.

We now have a situation where funding and proper support structures for group schemes have been put in place. Grants have been increased from £1,600 and £1,200 for houses and farms to £5,100 per house to upgrade the schemes. Indeed, there is 10% extra on offer in Gaeltacht areas and [98] there are 100% grant aid packages where there is no public water supply. We are now extending town supplies to rural areas by way of regional schemes. A good example of this is the Ballinasloe regional water scheme. However, people do not realise that it costs householders at least £1,000 to join a water scheme in rural areas. Many group schemes will not be able to continue if costs increase. I inquired recently about an extension of water supplies from Ballinasloe to Aughrim and the Department informed me that the cost for this is now £12,133 per house. In my opinion, funding should be provided to extend regional schemes.

The Minister should try to obtain European Regional Development Fund moneys from the EU for these schemes, particularly in light of his past success in obtaining European funding for many schemes throughout the country in the past. If funding is available from any other source in the EU, for example, through FEOGA, we should also try to obtain it because it is important to the agriculture and food industries.

The Government has had considerable success in bringing price moderation back into the housing market. We are now well positioned to make even further progress in the months ahead thanks to the social and affordable housing provisions in the Planning and Development Act. On this side of the House we have had to listen to all sorts of comments from the Opposition in respect of house prices. However, talk is cheap.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  It is cheaper than buying a house, in any event.

Mr. M. Kitt: Information on Michael P. Kitt  Zoom on Michael P. Kitt  Action requires courage and there has been no shortage of that from the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, who introduced the radical provisions whereby local authorities can acquire, at existing use prices, up to 20% of residential land for social and affordable housing. This is a clear example of the Government's commitment to action and of the Minister's ability to take brave decisions. Contrary to Opposition suggestions, the staffing resources in local authority planning departments have increased dramatically in recent years. In the period September 1999 to January 2001, the numbers of staff rose from 895 to 1,090.

Another first for the Government and the Minister is the preparation of the national spatial strategy, which represents the first concerted effort by any Government to give effect to the concept of balanced regional development. As a Deputy representing a constituency in the west with first-hand knowledge of the effects of unbalanced regional development, I look forward to this strategy spreading the benefits of the Celtic tiger economy more evenly. The Government has set down a two year period for the completion of the strategy and the vast amount of work the Minister has done so far ensures that he will meet his target date at the end of the year.

[99] The Labour Party in particular seems to believe that any half-baked set of ideas can be thrown together between two covers and called a spatial strategy. Its spatial planning document, which was published quite recently, is best remembered because of the unusual suggestion it contains for the banning of developments within one mile of the coastline. The Government is developing a comprehensive strategy which will fulfil its purpose and withstand the test of time. I have no doubt that the Minister will deliver this on time at the end of the year. I compliment him on his record of achievement to date.

Mr. B. Smith: Information on Brendan Smith  Zoom on Brendan Smith  I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. The Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats document, An Action Programme for the Millennium, set out a progressive programme for the Government's term of office. The Government's record of delivering on the commitments in that programme and in the revised version from 1999 is second to none. Its performance will reach even greater heights during the next 15 months when the delivery on our commitments will be completed to an extent that has never been achieved by any previous Administration.

The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, and his Ministers of State have been working tirelessly to a radical and reforming agenda. Their achievements are evident across the wide spectrum of issues which come within the ambit of their Department. It is obvious, particularly to public representatives, that no area within the Department has escaped the Minister and his Ministers of State.

I understand that of the 145 items of legislation enacted from June 1997 to the end of the year 2000, 15 were sponsored by the Minister. There are at least two Bills sponsored by him before the Oireachtas at present and work is advancing rapidly on a number of other Bills dealing with areas as diverse as waste, housing, water services and environmental protection.

In the time available I wish to concentrate on the area of local government. Before doing so, I must state that the Opposition motion displays a frightening level of innocence by suggesting that local government reform is predicated on the Local Government Bill alone. The Bill underpins a massive programme of reform which is already under way and bearing fruit. The Minister believes in local government. That is evident from the ambitious programme for local government reform set out in An Action Programme for the Millennium and has been even more visible in the extent to which the Minister has delivered on that agenda. Implementation of any major reform programme, let alone one as ambitious as that pursued by the Government, is never without its difficulties. However, by remaining steadfastly committed to the principle of ensuring that local government regains its rightful place at the heart of local communities, the Minister has shown great initiative.

[100] Given the state of near collapse in the local government system, which became so pronounced under the Fine Gael-Labour-Democratic Left Government, short-term life support would have been useless. What was needed was radical reconstructive surgery and this has been provided under the Minister's leadership. For the first time ever, widespread consultation was undertaken by the Minister with councillors throughout the country. Most importantly, the Government acknowledged from the outset that the reform programme would be superficial unless the system of local government funding was radically overhauled.

The funding issue, therefore, became the Minister's first priority. Before the end of 1997 he had finalised plans for a new local government fund which came into operation in 1999. The Minister's new funding arrangements are now delivering massively increased resources to the local government system for discretionary spending. The allocation to the fund for local authorities this year is well over 60%, up on the equivalent amounts provided by the Labour Party's Minister for the Environment in 1997. Crucially, in terms of the future financing base of local authorities, the legislation setting up the fund ring fences it exclusively for local government purposes. Deputy Kitt properly outlined the major progress made in the rural water programme. The announcement today by the Minister of State of funding for local improvement schemes shows that particular funding has been increased by 167% over a four year period.

I know public servants working in local authorities who openly state that it is a great time to work in local government with the very substantial funding provided by the Minister and with the new additional powers being devolved to local authorities. With additional resources being provided to the local authority system, the Minister has recognised the importance of ensuring efficiency, value for money and customer service.

I welcome also the new financial management system for local authorities which has been developed. The structures of the local government system have also been reformed by the Minister. Strategic policy committees are now up and running with the elected members working with sectoral interests. These new arrangements are being supported by a package of measures including a proper training programme for elected members and the introduction of new directors of service.

An important measure introduced by the Minister was his promotion in 1999 of a referendum to give constitutional recognition to local government. Following an overwhelming vote in favour of the amendment, our Constitution now provides for such recognition in line with most other European constitutions. It also guarantees that the interval between local elections is constitutionally guaranteed, thus ending a practice of [101] postponement of local elections which in the past tended to devalue the local government system.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  If there was a prize available for Members of this House who excel in great works of fiction, the clear winners would be the Deputies from the Labour Party and the Green Party who have put their names to the motion before the House tonight. This House is not about fiction. It is about fact, reality and home truths and it is about time a few home truths about the Labour Party and the Green Party entered into this debate.

Where better to start than environmental issues, where there are home truths aplenty. Let us first take the issue of legal actions by the European Union. One of the areas where the Commission has initiated legal proceedings against Ireland is in relation to water quality. The Labour Party Deputies may have short memories but let me remind them that their spell in Government left nothing but a legacy of open warfare with the group water scheme sector. The Labour Party spent its time in Government arguing with the Commission as to whether the relevant directive applied to privately sourced group schemes. It completely missed the point that whether the directive did or did not apply, a serious water quality problem existed which needed to be tackled.

The Labour Party and the Green Party failed to even recognise the problem, never mind tackle it. It fell to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, to pick up the pieces on this issue. He quickly entered into a constructive process of dialogue with the group water scheme sector and it has been working in close partnership with the Government for more than three years, as Deputy Kitt outlined. In addition, the Minister has secured a massive increase in funding for the rural water programme and is implementing a range of initiatives to ensure that water quality issues are fully addressed by the end of 2003. If Ireland is dragged through the European Court of Justice on this issue, the Labour Party should bow its head in shame.

We should get real on the issue of waste, which also features in the Opposition motion. When the rainbow Government left office, there was not even a hint of a national policy on waste management. We were destined to continue with our environmentally disastrous practice of almost exclusively burying our waste in holes in the ground. It fell to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, once again to respond to this challenge and once again he came up trumps with a comprehensive policy document, Changing our Ways, published in 1998. He also recognised that difficulties with a number of local authorities finalising their waste management plans cannot be allowed to hold up progress on this issue, and he will shortly announce details of his proposals to bring this planning process to an early and satisfactory conclusion.

[102] I notice a reference in the Opposition motion to chaos in relation to refuse charges. The only place where there is chaos on this issue is within the Labour Party whose members speak out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand they say they subscribe to “the polluter pays” principle while on the other they find all sorts of spurious reasons for not supporting it in practice.

The word “chaos” might also be better associated with the Green Party's approach to waste management. While its ten point plan plagiarises many proposals from the Government's policy document, it sees no role for energy recovery in dealing with our waste. For a long time the Greens have been pressed by the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, to come clean and outline how they propose to deal with residual waste. They have consistently dodged the issue, preferring instead to subscribe to what the Minister has described as the Paul Daniels school of waste management, where the waste conveniently disappears. However, in its ten point plan the Green Party finally had to come clean. What is its solution? It will store residual waste. Anyone who knows anything about waste management knows this is probably the most environmentally unsustainable policy position, reflecting the usual inability of the Green Party to face up to difficult decisions.

In terms of our infrastructure, it would be laughable if it was not so serious to see the Green Party and the Labour Party condemning the Government in relation to the delivery on a wide range of infrastructural projects. In my experience, and I have no doubt it is not confined to Dublin, proposals for housing, roads and water and sewerage facilities are regularly opposed by the “build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything” lobby. As the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, said, the Green Party or the Labour Party will always be actively involved in leading these campaigns. It is bad enough that they put so much time into negative campaigning and knocking, but what is sickening is the inconsistency they show in this House by slamming the pace of progress in addressing our infrastructural deficits.

Despite the negativity of the Opposition, the parties in Government will continue to press ahead with building a better Ireland for all our people. The national development plan, which we published just over a year ago, provides the framework for achieving that. In many respects the plan is without precedent. First, it has broken new ground in terms of the strategic vision it sets, guided by the objective of achieving balanced regional development.

The breadth of the plan is entirely new. In the area of economic infrastructure, for which the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, is primarily responsible, the plan addresses our infrastructural deficits in an integrated way. Roads, both national and non-national, housing for the first time ever, public transport, waste-water services and health infrastructure all feature strongly in the plan.

[103] I am proud of Deputy Dempsey's achievements which are succinctly summed up in the Government's amendment to the motion. On that basis, I am delighted to support the Government amendment and to have had the opportunity to speak in support of it this evening.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  I call Deputy Killeen, who has one minute and 30 seconds.

Mr. Killeen: Information on Tony Killeen  Zoom on Tony Killeen  I am sorry to hear that because I was looking forward to being grateful to the Labour Party and the Green Party for affording us the opportunity to outline the wonderful improvements in infrastructural areas that have been attained under the stewardship of the Minister, Deputy Dempsey. Deputy Kitt referred to many of those in the area of water and sewerage and in County Clare we have benefited under this Government as we never have previously.

There is also a massive commitment to the national road network where there was a serious lack of planning during the previous two years which delayed the implementation of many of the projects. There has been a massive increase in resources for local and regional roads. Even in the recent bad weather we saw a first class response from local authorities to something that would have ground the State virtually to a halt in previous years.

There is only one effective means to address high house prices, that is, to dramatically increase output. Under this Government we have the highest level per capita of housing output in the European Union. It is vitally important that this level of output be sustained for the foreseeable future. The Minister should continue on his present course and avoid the daft proposals which come from some of the Opposition parties. He should bear in mind their failures to address this problem when they were in Government.

There has been a trebling of resources allocated to housing since this Government took office to £1.1 billion in 2001. The Planning and Development Act, which the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, enacted, has stood the Supreme Court tests of its constitutionality, which many people said it would not. Nobody ever pretended that it would have an immediate effect on the housing market but it will have enormous long-term benefits and future Governments and populations will benefit from its effects. I also pay tribute to the Minister for having addressed the vexed question of unfinished estates in that legislation.

Ms O. Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell  Zoom on Olivia Mitchell  Fine Gael supports this motion and I welcome the opportunity to speak on it. I wish to share my time with Deputies Timmins, Deenihan and Crawford.

The growth of the economy undoubtedly has placed enormous pressures on local government and on our environment generally the growth in the economy, population, increased mobility, changing work practices and changing production [104] practices. The population from the youngest to the oldest has also experienced these pressures but has responded well to the demands. People are more conscious of the environment. They work harder and longer. Women in their thousands have returned, against all the odds, to or remained in work and emigrants have returned to help the Celtic tiger. People have changed work practices. The service industry, construction, manufacturing, tourism have dramatically increased their output in recent years.

There is huge public frustration emerging at the Minister's failure to respond accordingly, to put in place the infrastructure – and I mean that in its widest sense – the services and facilities urgently required to meet the needs of families, communities, businesses and society generally. He fails to give the guidance and leadership to ensure that the pattern of growth and change is enriching, sustainable and civilised for future generations as well. On the Minister's watch, all the constraints, bottlenecks and barriers to growth are concentrated in his Department, holding up and putting at risk his own work and everyone else's. The infrastructural deficit has grown to massive proportions with housing, planning and traffic gridlock at crisis point. A massive waste management catastrophe is unavoidable.

Deputy Gilmore spoke about the growing waiting lists for social housing which, despite the Minister's figures, are growing. Can the Minister explain why this is happening when for the first time in my memory we have full employment? Well paid couples who in other times would expect to buy a house have no hope of buying one. They join that unknown and unknowable list of people seeking affordable housing. Not one such house has been provided but it gives them hope that at some time they might get one. The serviced land initiative which was to solve our problems is inadequate. It is timid and does not provide the investment to meet the needs in a reasonable time scale. Despite the Bacon reports, the changes and the talk about housing, the Minister fails to identify the single underlying cause – supply.

One of the Minister's first moves was against the rental sector. It was intended to be a move against profiteering but it decimated the sector. Supply in that sector decreased. He discouraged anyone from going into that business and created a cartel of those already there availing of existing tax benefits. Rents are going sky high. The people at the bottom of the rung, the poor, the homeless, the elderly, people with no hope of getting on housing lists are suffering most.

Starts are down no matter what the Minister claims. There is evidence, and not just anecdotal, that land hoarding is increasing, not decreasing. The Minister introduced a welter of subsidies, grants, incentives and disincentives. He changed them. He has been back and forth to the point where everyone in the market realises that he does not know what he is doing. He is not tackling the fundamental problem. He has introduced [105] uncertainty. Builders are leaving land that might have been used for housing or they are changing it to commercial use. They are leaving to build in London, Bradford and elsewhere.

That is a result of not understanding that the basic problem is supply which is land based. Land inflation means house price inflation. Until land inflation is dealt with the housing problem will not be solved. If the Minister signals he will deal with the land problem, certainty may be introduced into the market. The only measure the Government brought in which might have increased the land supply was the threat of a penal capital gains tax. A few months after it was introduced, it was removed. What was behind that? Whose interests were served? It was not in the interests of the homeless, those on social housing lists or those trying to buy a home. What signal did that send to the market – that we have enough land?

While the national development plan is proceeding and money is being spent across the country, we have no spatial plan. This is inextricably linked to the housing problem. Houses are built in the wrong place, in an ad hoc unplanned fashion. Unfortunate Dublin couples buy houses in Mullingar or Carlow, condemning themselves to a life of commuting. This does no good to the towns and even less good to the environment because of commuting. This is also damaging Dublin communities. In a private enterprise economy, spatial plans can only direct investment. Time is of the essence. We are at the top of the economic cycle, even on the downward side, and, unless we catch that tide of investment and expansion, the national spatial plan will remain aspirational with catastrophic consequences for the environment and sustainable development, to which the Minister pays lip service.

I was there when the Minister announced the plan in Malahide but he is at odds with local authorities. The hinterland guidelines are unclear, requiring leadership from him. I do not understand what principle underlies them, what is being directed. Why is development directed to towns within commuting distance of Dublin but outside the green belt? To what principle are they conforming? The Minister must explain this. A letter requesting them to explain why it is in line with the strategic guidelines is not enough.

Mr. Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  The Minister will be tired of hearing that house prices and rents doubled during his time in office. Last week I raised the issue of 9% stamp duty on investor homes with the Minister for Finance. Supply is the kernel of the problem. I believe that the Minister for Finance, judging by his body language – because he is curtailed by Cabinet confidentiality – was against the measure. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government supported it. The Government is correct to do a U-turn. I point out to colleagues in the Labour Party that Fine Gael was the only party who disagreed with this [106] approach and we are proved right. It had a negative impact on supply.

I support integrated housing but the 20% public housing requirement, part of the Planning and Development Bill, is unworkable. The Minister is very ambitious. He tried to replicate what de Valera did in the 1940s and 1950s, or what Parnell did at the turn of the century. He is trying to leave a legacy by putting his own style on housing, but I do not think it can work. Those of us lucky enough to be here in a few years will have to change this plan. When housing strategies are drawn up, we will see the shortcomings in it. Deputy Killeen mentioned the planning and development Bill, but regrettably large sections of it have yet to be commenced.

The national development plan proposes to develop the road between Blessington and Tallaght. I put down a question on this, only to be told that it is the responsibility of the NRA. Has the Government responsibility for this element of the national plan? The dual mandate aspect of the local government Bill is causing a lot of difficulty, but upon examination there is very little in it. Councillors will be given more remuneration but no power, which they must be given if we are serious about local government.

Political funding is a topical issue, but many of us are missing an aspect of it which follows on from the evidence of former Deputy Ray Burke at the Flood tribunal. I refer to political spending between elections. He seems to have spent an inordinate amount, although I am not the judge of that. People who can gather and spend large amounts of money between elections, perhaps by buying drinks or sponsoring golf outings, are surely given an unfair advantage. We need to put a limit on contributions, on the amount that can be spent at election time and on how we conduct ourselves between elections. If I had £50,000 to spend between elections, I would be well able to feather my nest, so to speak. It gives an unfair advantage in the democratic process. The Minister, in conjunction with his colleagues, should address this problem.

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  As a former teacher, I am sure the Minister would agree that these 15 failures constitute a bad end of term report.

Mr. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  We will not issue that for another 12 months.

Ms O. Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell  Zoom on Olivia Mitchell  It is only the mocks.

Mr. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  We would have a much fairer marker.

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  As regards waste management, surely the Minister will accept that there is a crisis. In county Clare, there is a proposal to use a landfill site in Muingnaminane, County Kerry, as a solution to their looming crisis. Local residents in that area are blockading the dump and not allowing Kerry County Council to take their [107] waste, as a protest against the proposal. Unless the Minister adopts a hands on approach, there will be a crisis in Clare. The reaction of county councillors from all parties in Kerry shows they will not allow Clare to use the Muingnaminane site.

I remember when we were trying to identify a site for a dump in Kerry, we visited about ten sites and there was a protest at each one. Eventually, we stuck out our necks and decided on a site, which was difficult for those of us who had friends living close to it. We thought we were selecting a site for life, but if we allow Clare County Council to use it we will shorten the lifespan of it and have the same problem in a few years time, as Clare will not have its own site for three years. There will be a major problem, and the Minister should contact Clare County Council immediately to look for a solution. The Doora dump in County Clare has been given an extension to be used until July, but I am sure extra waste can be put there beyond that date. There may be other solutions, but the Minister has to act.

I am also concerned about the issue of EU directives on the environment. We are developing a bad reputation in Europe as regards environmental protection. Many Europeans come here on holidays or on Commission business, and those who take trips around the country can see the destruction that is taking place. The Minister must act.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  I would like to discuss serious matters that we must deal with if we are to keep this country moving. Monaghan County Council has asked me to raise the issue of the Local Government Bill, 2000. As the Minister is aware, Councillor Patsy Treanor is chairman of the national body dealing with this. He and the other members of Monaghan County Council asked me to make sure the Bill is dealt with as quickly as possible so that county councillors get their just reward.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The Minister knows he is sure of a majority in the House on the matter.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  I realise the Minister's Mercedes wheels are under threat from four Independent Members. Councillors were promised something at the last local election and they believe it is time it was delivered.

Ms O. Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell  Zoom on Olivia Mitchell  The Minister should backdate the payments.

Mr. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  I thank Deputies for their support.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Put it to the test.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  I was in the Nuremore Hotel and was impressed when the Minister said he was increasing the money for county roads by 21%. However, Monaghan only received 15%, Cavan [108] 13%, Meath 55% and Kildare 110%. Although there are all sorts of explanations, the poor condition of the roads of Monaghan makes it difficult to tell people they are receiving fair play. Although there has been a sizeable increase in the amount being paid, costs have increased, as has the demand for better road structures. The Minister's engineers are rightly demanding extra funding. Without making a political issue of this, I beg the Minister to ensure the needs of the people of rural Ireland are looked after. There is an unfair 15-year waiting list for county and tertiary roads.

The regional road from Cootehill to Monaghan, which passes through Newbliss, has not received any money. The road from Ballybay to Scots Corner, which serves the Monaghan county dump, is impassable, and has not received a shilling. When looking through the books, given that there is money not utilised elsewhere, the Minister should keep this in mind.

There is only one artery road in Monaghan for people to transfer goods to market, or to go to and from major hospitals, and that is the M2 motorway. Not one sod has been turned in County Monaghan as far as bypasses are concerned. Many people will have had bypasses on their hearts before anything happens. The grandchild of a County Monaghan family lost his life on another section of that road through Slane, and we cannot continue to ignore the bridge there. It is difficult, but we have to decide which is more important, funds or people's lives. Many lives have been lost on that bridge and on that road, partly because delays going through towns means that people speed. The Belfast to Galway route goes through Monaghan town and Clones. It is truly a cross-Border route, and I urge that it be considered. With all the talk about money in the country, for whatever reason only 30 houses were built in Monaghan town in the past two years. The Minister is not totally to blame, but I urge him, by whatever means possible, to make sure that a town the size of Monaghan receives better treatment. I want to emphasise—

Mr. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  The dual mandate is not working very well up there.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Do not provoke him. He has exceeded his time limit.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  An application for 361 houses was turned down at one meeting in Monaghan County Council because of the lack of sewerage and other facilities. There is much to be done.

Debate adjourned.

Last Updated: 10/09/2010 23:16:13 First Page Previous Page Page of 287 Next Page Last Page