Wednesday, 29 April 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
Deputy Liz McManus: In case there is any mistake on the record, I wish to make it clear that I was not canvassing with the Minister of State, Deputy Dick Roche, and the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, at any time.
I welcome the Private Members’ motion. This debate could not be more timely. Today’s analysis by the ESRI shows that we are now suffering the worst recession of any advanced country since the 1930s. Working our way out of this crisis will require leadership and radical thinking. We live in a fast-moving world especially in the communications area and we must ride the tiger if we are to catch up with other countries who have developed vital infrastructure. If Ireland is to maintain high productivity and to compete internationally as an open economy with the highest services exports per capita in the world, we must become leaders rather than followers. Broadband provision, next generation networks and high quality education are key drivers of economic growth. To be competitive we must be among the best. In 2003 this was acknowledged when the then Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, committed to placing Ireland in the top 10% of OECD countries for broadband connectivity within three years.
The harsh reality is that since then Fianna Fáil failed this country terribly in many ways. It failed to regulate the banking sector, drove up the property bubble until it burst and failed to deliver on broadband. Today Ireland lies 22nd out of 30 countries and is floundering near the bottom of the league. Universal access to good quality, good value broadband is critical, especially for the small and medium sized enterprises sector. We must also make the shift towards next generation networks. However, at the basic level of clearing the bottlenecks for operators trying to access existing ducts to deliver new services, there is no mechanism in place to make progress.
Smart Government is required in these challenging times but too often it seems that silly Government is what we get. Instead of strategies to tackle unemployment, we get squabbles in the Fianna Fáil party aired on “The Late Late Show”. It is not simply a result of one party in power. It is a silly Government that sets up yet another quango at a time of such stringency. However, because the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, refuses to address the matter or change policy, we will have two communications regulators which make no sense when one regulator would do the job better. This is especially the case when the roll-out of digital terrestrial television, DTT, has received a severe blow with the recent withdrawal of the Boxer consortium. Last August the Minister, Deputy Ryan, was standing over a commitment that 80% of Irish households would have switched to DTT by the end of 2009. Now, we learn that no contract was signed, Boxer has walked off the pitch and the entire programme is in disarray. Inevitably there will be a delay — whether long or short we do not yet know — in taking what the EU Information Commissioner described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that could, if properly managed, deliver new services in a new digital Ireland. We should be enjoying the prospect of a digital dividend, but instead we have been landed in another fine mess which is not good news for a country with rocketing unemployment.
Where do we go from here? In a recent report from Forfás the challenge is clearly set out. It states, “Ireland’s current telecommunications industry structure, infrastructure and market characteristics make the timely availability of next generation services very unlikely unless Government plays a strong role in progressing the range of actions necessary to ensure that advanced services become available in Ireland no later than they become available in leading EU countries.” Smart Government is vital for our future. Nowhere is this more pressing than in the case of Eircom. Much of our difficulty results from Eircom’s current situation as a private company poorly managed and loaded down with debt. That an offer could be made for Eircom of a paltry €95 million reflects its sorry state. If another sale goes ahead it would be the fifth change of ownership since the ill-thought out privatisation under Deputies Bertie Ahern and Mary O’Rourke was announced to great fanfare.
We are all aware that availability of broadband is of critical importance for our economic recovery. The Government simply cannot sit back and do nothing as Eircom is sought for sale at a bargain basement price. The role of Government is crucial in this case. It can develop an ownership structure for Eircom which combines commercial agility with a strong public interest mandate. Now, the key issue is not how to return to some old style State ownership model reminiscent of the days of the Department of Post and Telegraphs, but how to establish Eircom as a public interest company. Several options for involvement by the State exist outside of full nationalisation. These include a strategic partnership for the State with a strong European telecommunications company.
Whatever arrangement is devised we need a structure that will ensure ongoing investment in this vital infrastructure; ensure that broadband is universally available; provide access to that infrastructure for new operators; and provide a good level of consumer protection. It must also ensure that the infrastructure and operators keep pace with latest technologies and adhere to the central principle of serving the public interest and help restore competitiveness.
We have seen how semi-State enterprises such as ESB and Bord Gáis Éireann have adapted to changing circumstances while maintaining and developing essential utilities. There has been a sea change in ideological terms whereby in the past competitiveness was often sacrificed in the interests of competition. As a result for a long period we have had unduly high utility costs which have created problems in terms of Ireland’s competitiveness. However, a sea change has taken place and there is now a greater understanding of what is required for a country with a small critical mass such as ours. There is a recognition that the role of the State can be very proactive and productive and the models of semi-State enterprises exist from which we can learn. The investment in the national grid and the recent announcement by the ESB of up to 6,000 new jobs and training opportunities is very significant and we all support it. It shows the benefits of exploiting new technologies and new sources of renewable energy for electricity production.
Clearly, the emergence of new technologies presents us with great employment opportunities. They also provide opportunities for more sustainable ways of working. Today in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security we heard examples of such changes which showed that with good information technology it is possible to have a greater level of home working, flexibility in the workplace and cost savings as a result. The recasting of the national development plan with a strong pro-jobs focus as proposed by the Labour Party would be a good first step towards delivering the change we desperately need if we are to become a leading digital and knowledge country.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Private Members’ motion dealing with the crucial issue of the development of our new and modern economic infrastructure for the 21st century. The motion is set around Fine Gael’s NewERA document published some weeks ago.
To summarise my response to it, the good elements are being addressed by the Government. However, I find some of the proposals shocking and flawed and they would do real damage to the development of the country and the development of our economic infrastructure. I will set out some of the reasons for my analysis. We agree on the principles that investment in our telecommunications and energy infrastructure in particular will provide the economic opportunities and will lead to recovery. This is happening already.
I attended the energy show today in the RDS where the numbers of stands has increased by 20%. People there are saying they are busy and that new jobs are being created. The Irish Wind Energy Association has seen membership increase by 50% in the past year. There is real progress in both the large and small companies.
I refer to investment by the State. The ESB has set out €22 billion in a strategic plan and this is delivering the change which Fine Gael recommends. We are ahead of the curve in the implementation of smart meters compared with other countries——
Deputy Eamon Ryan: ——and compared with the UK or America or any other country, we are ahead of the curve. I refer to the roll-out of electric vehicles and the signing of the memorandum with Renault-Nissan which gives us access to the vehicles. We have a commitment from the ESB to install the plug-in connections and the Government is committed to this. This is not an exclusive arrangement; we will work with any and every company and by any measure or understanding we are ahead of the game. We are delivering on some of the aspirations set out in the Fine Gael motion.
Our home energy savings scheme has been hugely popular. Tens of thousands of people are looking to apply. It is the best possible investment and the best way of reducing our emissions and improving our housing stock. The Government is delivering on it.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: The State company, EirGrid, has a €4 billion investment plan which is well thought through and providing a long-term all-island grid development strategy. If Deputy Coveney’s party is serious about developing renewable energy he might support some of the initiatives in grid development rather than obstructing them. The Government is delivering.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: ——flexibility to help meet our renewable energy targets. We are on target for 50% renewables next year, a target set for 2010. It is bringing down prices and creating jobs. The ESB strategy allows for 3,700 direct jobs and several thousand more indirectly. These are real jobs in a real economy which is recovering and which is providing the opportunities. We have equal necessity to develop broadband infrastructure and it is crucial that the regulatory system allows investment in next generation broadband to occur.
We have doubled our broadband numbers in the past two years. We have a range of different schemes such as bringing high speed broadband to schools and a national broadband scheme covering rural areas. It is ahead of what is being proposed in the UK or America. They are talking about what they want to do but we are delivering. It is being delivered on the ground. It is a good aspiration and it is the right thing to do——
Deputy Eamon Ryan: —— and they are falling for one reason among others, because wind power is coming on stream and it is bringing prices down. We are delivering a better economy by going green and it is happening on the ground across this country in new insulation schemes, in grid development schemes, in Bord Gáis investment and in Bord na Móna investment. Each of the State companies is following the direction of a green recovery and it is working for them and for the country. The Government is delivering rather than talking about it.
Fine Gael has made a remarkable proposal of this New ERA company whose chief executive officer would be appointed by the Taoiseach rather than by a line Minister and that company would include everything, An Post, the ESB, Bord na Móna, the MANs and EirGrid. How in God’s name would that not just turn out to be the most bureaucratic, Kafkaesque organisation the country had ever seen? There are proposals to sell certain assets such as selling the ESB’s telco assets although keeping the MANs and buying in Eircom. I do not understand the reason for selling Bord Gáis because it is a crucial State infrastructural asset. This is a mishmash. To expect to manage An Post — which is not easy — Bord na Móna, Coillte, the ESB and Bord Gáis in one company would be a bureaucratic nightmare——
Deputy Eamon Ryan: It would kill enterprise and it would kill the initiative of our semi-State companies because it would be creating a monster that would bring no efficiencies. That would be the most bureaucratic black hole one could possibly imagine——
I do not disagree with looking at a range of options for financing and funding. However, this new green economy is generating funding. The utility companies have set out their multi-billion investment plans and are raising revenue on the bond markets to pay for those investments. There is no shortage of capital and no credit crunch for this new, green economy because in every country it is seen as the solid, safe, clever investment for the future. It is happening and we have the funding available and the political direction, we have our regulatory and other systems pointing in this direction.
This gives me confidence that we can deliver this recovery through this green economy and protect our country from future oil shocks and climate change requirements. However, I do not see that this is in any way benefited or supported by the creation of a single quango, a super quango, beyond anything we have ever seen before, a multiple of the HSE that would have such difficulty, such incredible labour relations management problems——
Deputy Eamon Ryan: ——such incredible lack of transparency, lack of political control, other than a single appointment by the Taoiseach of the chief executive officer and the board. I reject this proposal but commend and welcome the support in the rest of the document for the initiatives on which the Government is delivering.
Is it a case of changing existing systems or setting up a new body? I find the discussion this evening to be similar to a discussion I had when I was lecturing in Dublin Institute of Technology. We were setting up a new course, a master’s degree in planning. We were deciding whether we should teach a course in sustainability as a module but after much consideration we decided instead that sustainability would be embedded into every subject that was taught.  Sustainability would be discussed with regard to water supply, project management and all the way down the line. In a similar way, the proposal for the New ERA agency makes me wonder whether or not it is better to re-invigorate the existing Departments to continue doing and do better a lot of what they do or to set up a completely new agency.
Deputy Varadkar has expressed concern at the setting up of new bodies in the past, although many of the 800 or 900 bodies he referred to are worthy new semi-state bodies which should stay in operation. In his quango list he included bodies such as the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology so we should be careful when we get into that area. A new agency is not required. We need to work with what we have. The Green Party is working well with what is there. We have record investment in water infrastructure and new tariffs for the ESB. Bord Gáis is spending billions of euro on clean energy projects and €100 million of State funding is being spent on retrofitting and insulating homes. Many of the Green Party policies are being implemented. I would like to see more being implemented and, I imagine, if we had a majority Green Government we would see many more good green jobs being created and more emphasis on these issues. We are changing the systems through VRT — which Fine Gael was complaining about yesterday — telecom links and Irish banking funding for green businesses. All these are happening.
The Fine Gael Front Bench must bring its whole party with it. While it was talking about pushing investment in water treatment and electric transport, in Dún Laoghaire Fine Gael Councillor Mary Mitchell-O’Connor said investing in electric car power points is unjustifiable and that the Green Party proposals on this issue “illustrate the degree to which the Greens are removed from the reality of everyday life”. We are trying to put in what Fine Gael is suggesting and its councillor is objecting to it. Get real.
Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: There is another example. Fine Gael is talking about further investment in water infrastructure. However, Fine Gael Councillors John Bailey and Louise Cosgrave of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council are tabling section 140 motions to halt the construction of sewage treatment plants. Fine Gael must get real and ensure that its members are singing from the same hymn sheet.
Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: We want to see improvements in water and sewage treatment and electric charging, yet Fine Gael councillors are trying to block them. Before Fine Gael members put fantastic ideas into the discourse about what we need to do, they should ensure that its party members are on board.
Deputy Thomas Byrne: I am glad Deputy Cuffe raised this issue of Fine Gael activities at a local level. While Fine Gael calls for electric grid construction, it has never outlined whether it is for or against putting these electric grid constructions underground. Councillors and some of my friends who are Dáil Deputies would give the impression that at a local level Fine Gael supports putting them underground, yet it has never made that clear and has not done so tonight. It has called for electric grid construction. Does it tell Fine Gael local representatives in County Meath that Fine Gael at a national level supports putting these wires overground?
Deputy Thomas Byrne: It has not said it in the motion. Fine Gael should make it clear to the people where the party stands on this because it is speaking from two sides of its mouth at national and local level.
Deputy Thomas Byrne: That is commonplace but, unfortunately the issues are serious. That is best illustrated by this NewERA company, the Fine Gael “super quango”, as I call it. The party wanted to abolish quangos, some of which do good work, and establish a super quango instead. It wants to privatise some of our most important State assets, and I assume the Labour Party will not support that. Privatisation puts much fear into workers and consumers when one sees what has happened with some of the privatisation.
Deputy Thomas Byrne: We have serious difficulties in this country. I agree with the Fine Gael motion where it asks the Government to open a real and constructive dialogue with the Opposition on how best to proceed. However, how can one do that when the leaders of both parties come in here and raise unsubstantiated rumours about golden circles and the Anglo Irish Bank ten? We had to listen to that for weeks and it damaged the banking system. How is the Government meant to engage seriously with the Opposition when the leadership and Front Benchers spread rumours not even behind our backs, but in this House, which had a serious impact on our national banking system?
Deputy Thomas Byrne: The Opposition has to get real and consistent. We have a serious responsibility with so many people unemployed. Many things are happening. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who is doing a fantastic job, has outlined many of them in the energy and infrastructure fields. Our general infrastructure has improved substantially and there is further to go. The Government is spending much money on capital projects this year. The question is where one gets the money to do more.
Deputy Thomas Byrne: We are already spending a massive amount of money and I do not know, given the large social welfare bills that we, unfortunately, must pay, where we will get the rest. I do not believe in the Fine Gael proposal for the super quango that will have to go out and borrow more and more. We already have to borrow for NAMA, a crucial initiative.
I compliment the Minister for Finance because it would be very easy to put his head in the sand and say we are only a small country and we are in deep trouble. Instead he has launched a very innovative proposal, one that is not yet fully worked out. The details will be in the legislation, but the main points are there and it is crucial to the further development of this economy. However, when that was announced, without even examining the details, the Opposition talked about bank and builder bail outs instead the real issue, the real economy, the jobs we need to create and sustain, and the money that needs to go into the economy and out of these zombie banks. The Opposition has a duty to recognise sometimes that some ideas the Government puts forward are good. They can be amended and tweaked, and we welcome constructive proposals from the Opposition, but to denounce this proposal immediately as a bail out for builders or bankers is outrageous and incorrect.
Deputy Thomas Byrne: On this side of the House we know our responsibilities, which are major and unprecedented. First, we have to get on with the job of stabilising the public finance system and the banks. We have to maintain a pro-enterprise, competitive taxation system. I would like the Commission on Taxation to examine ways we can maintain a low tax system with taxes adjusted to best attract jobs and investment and encourage people to stay and work and invest in our economy. We recognise the Government’s commitment to building a world-class science and technology sector in Ireland. There is plenty of evidence of that and plenty of employment in my region of the country. The Labour Party motion calls on the Government to avail of lower tender prices for school building. Of course we are doing so. Why would anybody have to call on us to avail of lower tender prices? That is why the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, is able to get many more schools done this year than last year. We must get prices down all over the economy to make up for the tax increases and wage cuts.
Deputy Mary Alexandra White: I am happy to speak this evening on the importance of sustained and increased infrastructural investment in the green economy. Speakers from all sides of the House mentioned the great economic potential for this country from tapping into the environmental services and goods markets, and they are right. I heard Deputy Ferris speak last night about what he terms cheap talk from the Government about the green economy and of cuts running deep. He is wrong. This Government is investing more in green infrastructural spend than any previous Government has done.
When this Government was formed, we expected €100 million to be spent over five years on the delivery of energy efficiency in housing stock; this year alone €93 million will be spent on such schemes as the home energy saving scheme, the warmer homes schemes and a scheme for social housing. There is also the rolling out of the smart meters programme, which will see between 6,000 and 8,000 houses receive smart meters in the initial pilot project so people can increase energy efficiency, save money and lower their bills. The Government is providing funding for research into renewable energy such as the €26 million ocean energy initiative and the extension of Science Foundation Ireland’s remit to include sustainable energy and energy-efficient technologies.
Deputy Mary Alexandra White: This year also sees massive investment in water infrastructure and a continuing increase in the number of group water schemes, in compliance with national drinking water standards. Water is a fundamental issue. It is everybody’s issue. It knows no boundaries. Water is precious and we must safeguard it. We are putting considerable resources towards that, which is one of my major objectives.
The Government has a commitment to investment in public transport, another form of environmentally friendly infrastructure. Almost €1 billion is being spent this year on public transport projects and the safeguarding of future public transport projects will ensure jobs are sustained and that our travelling and commuting trends will be sustainable.
An issue which must be addressed is co-operation between State agencies and local players in developing the green economy and green infrastructural spend. I am trying to advance an example of a project in my home town so that Carlow can become the first green energy town in Ireland. What would such a town mean? It would mean energy efficient housing stock powered by green energy. It would mean that public transport is powered by renewable energies, with commuter buses for neighbouring towns and villages, running on bio-fuel. Some already do so, as do some of our businesses which feed into light rail powered by bio-gas. That offers farmers an example of an end use for waste straws and slurries.
It would mean the establishment of a biomass depot, as envisaged by Coillte, where residual wood such as thinnings might be used as a source of energy. These are particularly good examples for a rural community. It would mean a bio-gas plant as a source of power. I think of third-level institutions and hope that Carlow Institute of Technology might become the first Solarteur school in Ireland, training engineers, designers, installers in all forms of renewable energy. I have spoken to the director, Dr. Ruairi Nevin, about the need to progress this idea, to my county manager, Tom Barry, and to Dr. Jimmy Burke of Teagasc about bringing all these initiatives into play so that we can create jobs in Carlow and make it a dynamic green town.
All these projects, and similar concepts for other towns throughout rural Ireland, need co-ordination between agencies. I would like to see a further role being played by the Department of Finance and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in this regard. My colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is advancing the digital economy with his work on next-generation broadband, the national broadband scheme and other projects. Capital borrowing makes sense at this juncture and that is why the Government is continuing to spend.
Recessions have the potential to sap the very soul of people. It is easy to get depressed when one has lost one’s job or one’s savings or both. What we must do is send a very clear message, not only of hope for a quick recovery but of a clear path that will chart Ireland’s journey back to a solid financial recovery that will boost confidence in the markets and grow jobs. That is our mandate and that is what we are doing, offering simple pathways to progress based on the new green deal which is long-term and eminently achievable. There is no other way forward.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Trevor Sargent): I am delighted we are debating this Fine Gael motion which calls for the creation of a new economy capable of thriving in the 21st century. Athough the motion does not mention peak oil specifically nor state that the fossil fuel energy we take for granted today will be unaffordable in the future, we must presume that what we are discussing in this debate is a post-carbon economy.
Deputy Trevor Sargent: I shall tell the Deputy the reason. This post-carbon economy needs to be able to support a sufficient number of jobs to meet its basic needs and must be run in a way that prevents problems whose cost will become unaffordable.
With all this in mind I am delighted my position makes me responsible for the development of Ireland’s food and drink industry. Recent figures show it had an annual estimate of €16.6 billion in turnover, namely, 8% of GDP. The food and drink industry accounts for 20% of net exports and 9.1% of total employment. The industry includes 678 companies and 136,500 family-run farms with a further 111,000 people employed in the food and drink industry and in associated services.
It is obvious why the food and drink industry is regarded as the country’s most important indigenous industry. When I saw the Fine Gael Private Members’ motion it appeared at first to be long and comprehensive. It mentioned important developments such as broadband, bioenergy products, electric grid construction, water treatment and supply, electric transport infrastructure and various engineering and construction projects. I know the Opposition cannot do everything but I believe it is important to try to fill in the gaps in the debate. Unfortunately, I did not see any mention of infrastructure relating to food and agriculture. Notwithstanding this omission by Fine Gael, I wish to state the Government is committed to developing the potential of food industry infrastructure to ensure food security and establish a maximum number of sustainable jobs in Ireland. We continue to market the country abroad as the clean green food island.
Sadly, as input costs rise it will be difficult to sustain some of the jobs which depend on those input costs. However, there are opportunities to create new jobs in the transition period now under way as we move towards a post-fossil fuel economy. At present the international food production and trading system means that for every calorie of food an EU citizen eats there is a requirement to use seven to ten calories of fossil fuel in the production and transportation of that one food calorie. In the case of a South African carrot sold in Ireland, the ration is more like 66 fossil fuel calories required to bring one calorie of food onto an Irish plate. It must be borne in mind that one third of fossil fuel input is made up of agri-chemical inputs in food production. This considerable dependence on fossil fuel energy to meet basic food needs is one of the many reasons organic food production, for example, is growing in popularity. On average, organic production uses one third less fossil fuel and therefore is more resilient to fluctuating fossil fuel prices. Research by the Soil Association in the UK indicates that organic farms sustain one third more jobs than do non-organic farms. Some organic farms have increased their efficiency to an extraordinary extent. One farm I visited in Oxfordshire in England was 78% more energy efficient than a non-organic equivalent, according to a University of Essex study.
Another part of my work is to encourage the establishment of new food businesses and to highlight new opportunities for new businesses to grow. These opportunities are enhanced with the development of planning infrastructure which facilitates more direct sales, for example, through farm shops and farmers’ markets.
Food production is not just about making money but also about developing sustainable jobs. Given the cost of obesity and poor health to our health service, we also need to have healthy food in Ireland. The 2005 report from the national taskforce on obesity highlights the very great costs of overlooking this issue and shows that provision of healthy food is essential to a sustainable society. The report indicates that premature deaths, days lost to the workplace due to illnesses arising from obesity and the many medical costs of diet-related illnesses land the State with a cost of well over €4 billion per year. Clearly all efforts to encourage the consumption of healthy food need to be encouraged if we are to have that sustainable post-fossil fuel economy.
I hope it is clear to my colleagues on the Fine Gael benches why I feel this is vital. If we are talking about grids, transport and all the other consumers of energy we must include food. It is not obvious enough, unfortunately, that we need fossil fuel energy to produce the food we now take for granted. We will not have it in future so must move to a post-fossil fuel food economy.
Deputy Deirdre Clune: I wish to share time with Deputies O’Mahony, Terence Flanagan, D’Arcy, McHugh and Doyle. The motion on which we speak today is really about creating jobs, more jobs and then further jobs for the economy. On a day when we heard figures from the ESRI and the CSO which predict that by the end of next year one in five persons will be unemployed in this country, we must place our emphasis on protecting jobs, stopping the haemorrhaging of jobs now in the economy and creating new ones. To do that we need investment. We must invest in infrastructure, water and wastewater treatment. Broadband is essential for a small open economy such as ours which depends so much on exports. Exports will once again become very important to the economic success of this country. I heard the Minister speak tonight about broadband and on the “Six O’Clock News” I saw a representative of small and medium enterprises speak about the lack of broadband facilities across this country. There is a great disconnect between what we hear in this Chamber and what is said on the “Six O’Clock News”.
Deputy Deirdre Clune: Somebody should inform the Minister what it is like to try and establish a small business outside Dublin. It is abysmal, given the broadband infrastructure, which is a major impediment against improving competitiveness. Time and again it comes up as one of the gaping holes in this country’s infrastructure and it must be tackled.
I commend and support the motion. It is about a new type of thinking for a new era. If we do not change, we shall always get the same results. When we think back to Ardnacrusha, the establishment of the ESB and rural electrification, these were major challenges at the time and they were brave and bold initiatives. This new era fits into that category.
I am disappointed at the response of the Minister of State, where he totally dismissed the motion. He seemed to be looking at it for the first time and was not familiar with it. That is disappointing since there are so many positive new ways of moving forward in a green economy. This small open economy wants to play its role again, to re-establish where we were in the 1980s and 1990s. At that stage it was our infrastructure and also our education standards that ensured we reached the heights to which we became accustomed.
Today we received a response from the Government to the motion, which is extremely disappointing. One wonders whether the people who drafted this response are aware of what is happening in the light of the announcements that have been made in recent weeks. The Government response talks about investment in public transport, for example. Is it aware that bus routes have been axed and that there are empty bus lanes? The car parking levy which was supposed to encourage the use of public transport has been scrapped.
The Government amendment to the motion asks us to commend its action directed at stabilising the public finances. We had a budget earlier this month that did nothing to tackle public finances. It was a tax on workers, there was no emphasis on tackling waste and inefficiencies or bureaucracy, no mention of a stimulus package to encourage job creation and job maintenance. The Government’s response was to note the commitment to science, innovation and technology. Are the people who drafted the amendment aware that funding for science and engineering research has been cut this year? Are they aware that the cuts we had in the budget before Christmas, as regards education and class sizes, will mean that classes in physics, applied maths, chemistry, etc., which are essential for an economy that wants to develop as world class science, innovation and technology sector, are being withdrawn and will not be available for many leaving certificate students this year?
The Government needs to examine its response and recognise that it contains gaping holes. It does not measure or match the reality that exists. I should like if more thought were given to the motion by the Government. It should respond positively to it because it is constructive well thought out and meaningful and it goes a long way towards ensuring that Ireland can return to the era of competitiveness we have seen heretofore.
Deputy John O’Mahony: I am glad to contribute to the motion and commend Deputy Coveney and Fine Gael on bringing it forward. It is an opportunity to explain that we in Fine Gael have a clear strategy that is constructive, positive, possible and deliverable, with a measured outcome of 100,000 new jobs in the next 3.5 years. As well as providing those jobs, this plan will provide the infrastructure in transport, technology and energy in a way that will protect our environment yet stimulate the economy and provide a platform and a magnet for investment in our country.
The Taoiseach this morning spoke about the important need to get the finances in order first, and said that jobs would only follow on that once economic growth appeared again. The problem with that strategy, unfortunately, is that while we wait for it to happen unemployment will have rocketed to unprecedented levels. One in ten workers, at the moment, according to the ESRI report, is dependent on the State help to survive and we are told that this will be one in five by the end of next year. The Government cannot sit on its hands and let this happen. It asked for constructive suggestions from this side of the House. I have been flabbergasted in the last half-hour listening to the response, in which we have been accused of speaking through both sides of the mouth. Speaking out of both sides of the mouth was invented and patented by the people on the Government side of the House.
The Government now has a positive suggestion to consider, and all it does is provide an amendment which says we shall muddle on as we are, with no clear strategy or plan to create jobs. We have heard of a few thousand here and a few hundred there. There is no encouragement for businesses who live from week to week under the threat of closure, no hope for the well educated and highly qualified workforce that is capable of providing and guiding the growth of the economy, but will only do so if it can be kept in the country. My constituency office in Mayo is no different from that of any other Deputy, with days in recent times when it resembles an unemployment office — with young people looking for hope and a job, and a leg-up to get one.
The Taoiseach and the Government say we need to get the finances right first. That will happen automatically if we can protect the jobs we have and help create the 100,000, as suggested in this motion. It would be an enormous saving to the State. Every 1,000 extra on the unemployment register, we are told, costs €13 million per annum. A new job created contributes, on average, €8,000 in tax to the economy. One does not need to be a mathematician or a genius to see that if one projects the jobs and creates new ones the finances will automatically be restored to order. The 14,000 people who lost their jobs last month alone will cost the taxpayer over €180 million in the next year. The ESRI projection of an extra 103,000 unemployed by the end of next year will cost the State another €1.5 billion on top of the €20 billion it is already paying out.
I was listing to a FÁS representative on “Morning Ireland” this morning explaining some of the schemes it is rolling out to deal with the crisis in terms of training courses. It is like trying to keep the tide out with a hayfork. In Mayo alone, the unemployment figures have rocketed by 100% in the last year, from 6,000 to nearly double that, with Ballina, a small town having almost 3,000 unemployed. We have empty business premises and business parks around the county.
I can give an example of how incompetent the State structures are in terms of support for the owners of small and medium sized businesses that have gone to the wall in recent times. I met a person a couple of days ago who had a business in my constituency until recently. At its peak, it employed 80, it was tax compliant over the years and paid millions of euro in taxes annually, yet its directors were entitled to nothing once the business was liquidated. They could get nothing by way of redundancy or for retraining and were not deemed eligible for FÁS-funded schemes. There is a notion abroad to the effect that they have stashed away millions, but that is not true. They are effectively non-persons.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: I too, welcome the opportunity to contribute briefly to this motion and wish to congratulate our front bench spokesman, Deputy Simon Coveney, on his great work in publishing a very constructive strategy document, Rebuilding Ireland, which has the potential to create up to 100,000 jobs in the new green energy industry over the next four years in areas such as construction, engineering, software research and forestry.
We all know the most recent emergency budget from the Fianna Fáil-led Government was cruel towards middle income families. It was also clearly lacking in areas relating to a jobs plan. Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have no jobs plan in regard to retaining existing jobs and how to create new jobs in the new economy.
Investment in renewable green energy in both wind and wave is the way forward for Ireland. It is time for us to focus and become a leader by investing in all aspects of renewable energy. In 2008, for example, we spent an outrageous amount of money —€6.5 billion — importing fossil fuels which did nothing to improve our CO2 emissions and did great harm to our climate change plan. The importation of this amount of fuel needs to stop. We need to keep this money here and use it to become more energy self-sufficient and to help rebuild Ireland.
One example of where we missed out in not becoming a global leader is in regard to wind energy. This industry is worth billions each year to the Danish export market and it is an area in which we should have excelled rather than continue to import that technology. Another opportunity for this country is in ocean energy. This cannot be missed. Commercial prototype models are still being developed but, sadly, progress in Ireland has been very slow. It has been proved through wave intensity maps that this country has the best potential of all countries in Europe to utilise this energy and to make money by becoming a world leader in this area. By becoming a leader in renewable energy, Ireland will come out of this depression and we will create thousands of new jobs in the renewable energy industry and take thousands of people off the dole queues.
A false economy was built in this country by Fianna Fáil based on the sale of property over the past ten years. The Government was completely reliant on stamp duty and VAT receipts from the sale of housing to finance day-to-day Government spending. Sadly, the past ten years were dominated by land speculation, developers’ greed and banks handing out endless amounts of money through 100% mortgages. We have now had a crash.
This country is practically broke and has collapsed spectacularly thanks to the failed Fianna Fáil polices adopted. We now must bail out the developers who not only bought land here, but abroad. Where was the Financial Regulator? Where was the governor of the Central Bank during this time? The house of cards has collapsed spectacularly and now the taxpayer must foot the bill. The Government is forcing every taxpayer to take out bad loans to the tune of €90 billion, which is a disgrace. Fianna Fáil has presided over this mess. It has no plan to get the 388,600 people now unemployed, including construction workers, back to work.
We cannot again build an economy based on property sales. Fine Gael is the party which will never allow land speculators and developers’ greed to dominate and destroy this country. Fine Gael is the only party to have a job creation plan which will get 100,000 back to work. Our party will invest in renewable energy. We will install electricity smart meters in every home. We will establish the country as a leader in ocean energy. We will invest in the bio-energy industry which is currently under-utilised.
Green energy is the future for this country but is the Green Party? By investing in it now, we have the opportunity to take people off dole queues and provide them with sustainable employment. As part of our climate change strategy, we cannot indefinitely continue to important fossil fuels into Ireland. It is time for change in this country and Fine Gael’s new document, Rebuilding Ireland, which is forward looking, sets out how a new green energy revolution, which is badly needed, will help get this country moving again.
Deputy Michael D’Arcy: There is nothing more important than the retention and expansion of jobs. Sadly, with today’s unemployment figures, we see the Government is failing in this regard. These numbers have doubled in the past 12 months. This is an unprecedented increase in our history. However, behind every figure is a person and a family. As public representatives, we must never become indifferent to their difficulties. This Private Members’ motion would directly benefit 100,000 people by producing 100,000 jobs.
Fianna Fáil, which has been in Government for 20 out of the past 22 years, has lost its once famous touch with the electorate. This will be verified in a few weeks’ time after 5 June when the local, European and by-elections are held. The old rules established years ago no longer apply.
In the past I have advocated reducing the corporation tax level. We are allowing other countries which have studied our success to replicate it. They are bettering our rates and some are even charging a rate of 0% for poorer located regions. It is in the interests of the State that we get jobs even if we do not get corporation tax. The jobs will benefit the people who are unemployed. We will lose corporation tax but at least we will have people earning and not costing the State money by being on the dole.
We need to think strategically and to cleverly drive the burgeoning smart economy. Encouraging the smart economy will cost money. Those involved in research should be considered for tax breaks. Those in RTE, ESB, Bord Gáis and others in the State sector are not paying the pension levy. Some hundreds of millions of euro are being pumped into research each year, most of which comes from non-governmental organisations. Exceptional staff in Irish agencies and Irish universities must be retained in all circumstances. The HEA brief that only one salary can apply no matter how good and qualified a person and no matter what his or her background is another one of those old rules established in a different time. We cannot afford to allow other universities to come in and head hunt the exceptional people in our universities for the sake of offering additional funds. It would be the worst possible scenario.
Broadband has been well covered by other speakers but I wish to touch on two other matters. The ESB and Bord Gáis have been overcharging with the consent of the Commissioner for Energy Regulating so that we can encourage competition. Now the ESB and Bord Gáis have a war chest of tens of millions of euro. This has an impact on other companies trying to compete with them. The Taoiseach eventually intervened when the Green Party Minister was not prepared to do anything about it.
Many Members started their political life in local authorities. There is a crazy scenario where, on the direction of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, local authorities must apply to the Environmental Protection Agency for a discharge licence when the local authorities know they need a discharge licence and additional funding. One agency is telling another what it needs to do. The cost for Wexford County Council alone is €1 million. We should stop spending money on reports and start building wastewater treatment plants so that in a couple of years’ time, we will not have to pay fines under the wastewater directive.
I looked up the number of young people unemployed in my home town of Gorey. There are 900 young people between the ages of 18 and 22 unemployed. We need Youthreach, FÁS programmes and other programmes.
Deputy Joe McHugh: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy John Curran, to the House. This country has an opportunity to transform its economic and environmental models. I congratulate Deputy Coveney on proposing this motion and working on this stimulus plan. Deputies on this side of the House are confident that the positive economic and environmental transformation we have proposed will happen in the not too distant future. We have to get ourselves out of the current impasse.
I would like to ask the Minister of State a few questions. An EU stimulus package worth €400 billion, or 3.3% of the Union’s GDP, was announced in January. What is the current position in that regard? Has any of that money come to Ireland, particularly the regions? People in my constituency are asking what has happened to the €400 billion, which is a great deal of money. Other countries are using their imaginations to develop creative stimulus packages. The Government of Finland has put together a €2 billion stimulus package to incentivise Finnish householders to spend money on renovating and refurbishing their homes. The Finnish Government has provided for creative VAT reductions to encourage people to spend money on kitchens, tiles, plants and eco-friendly products. It is an absolute shame that no Green Party Deputy is present in the Chamber to defend the role it is playing in government.
In last October’s budget and again in the recent mini-budget, the Government chose to ignore the opportunity being taken by countries like Finland and Sweden to reduce in a creative manner the rate of VAT that applies to plants and eco-friendly products. It is a disgrace that Government Members dare to talk about the green energy sector at a time when such basic opportunities are being missed. Ireland should be introducing energy technology incentives. Grant aid has been provided for solar energy. Ireland is in a peripheral location on the Atlantic Ocean. We should consider the development of grant incentives in respect of tidal, or wave, technology. The Minister has missed that opportunity.
We are not tapping into the market of 1.6 million people that exists in Northern Ireland. We are falling into the trap of saying that it is a question of swings and roundabouts. It has been suggested that it does not matter when a petrol station closes in Lifford or Enniskillen, as another petrol station will open in Strabane or Ballyshannon. Such circumstances, which may be described as swings and roundabouts, may have existed 20 or 30 years ago. That is no longer the case, however. People travel up the M1 from Deputy Doyle’s constituency of Wicklow and Deputy Shatter’s constituency of Dublin South because there is no incentive for them to spend money in this jurisdiction. We need to take the opportunity to be creative with our VAT regime. In 2006, household products in the Republic of Ireland were 11% more expensive than in Northern Ireland. In 2009, the differential is 51%. That is why so many consumers are choosing to spend their money in the North. They would be contributing to our economy and our Exchequer if they were spending their money in this jurisdiction, but that is not happening. It is time we rectified that situation.
We could approach the impasse in which we find ourselves in a defeatist manner by saying “we will be out of it in three or four years time”. I suggest that we would be better advised to introduce certain mechanisms and schemes in the short term. Like other Deputies on this side, including Deputy Bruton, I made recommendations to the Minister for Finance before the recent budget. I would like to know why the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, claims to take our suggestions on board but then fails to implement them. When we made creative proposals in respect of a bundle of products at the higher end of the VAT scale — we wanted to incentivise people to buy such products by moving their VAT rating from the high end to the lower end — he said he would look into the matter. He was like a county council engineer looking into a pothole. That was the last we heard of it. The Minister looked into it, but he did nothing about it and the opportunity was missed.
Deputy Andrew Doyle: I welcome the chance to speak on this Private Members’ motion. I compliment Deputy Coveney on introducing it. I sincerely believe that over the next four or five years, the manner in which the world prioritises the development of a model of producing energy, infrastructure and food will become a prime economic driver in itself. It will become a whole new economy. Although one might wonder when one hears Government Deputies speaking on it, this motion sets out to identify and recognise shortages in this country’s infrastructure. It was introduced by this party’s spokesperson on communications, energy and natural resources, rather than by our spokespeople on food or agriculture. It was discussed by the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, which considers that food is a whole new area. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has accused us of trying to create a massive quango. The Minister of State, Deputy Trevor Sargent, has argued that we are not making it big enough. They might be better advised to concentrate on what this motion is trying to do.
This motion identifies the infrastructural deficit that exists and proposes the establishment of a company. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, missed the key point about the establishment of this company when he referred to the six sub-companies that will be commercially run. They will not be run in the way State companies were run in the past. When I watched the Minister on my monitor, it was clear that he did not understand that key point. Instead, he chose to ridicule the main company by referring to it as a “super quango”. The motion also sets out how the development of infrastructure will be funded. We are proposing to take money from the National Pensions Reserve Fund and to get private investment through a public bond. The aim of this proposal is to get the mattress money back into the system.
It is recognised and acknowledged that people have lost confidence in places where money can be invested. Many people have cut their losses, taken the money out and put it somewhere safe. Their money is no longer invested in a stock, a bond or a bank. We are proposing the establishment of an alternative location for such funds. Such investment has the potential to create 100,000 jobs. We should not lose sight of the fact that the proposal relates primarily to infrastructure. One of the benefits of the proposal will be the creation of up to 100,000 jobs. It is not as if we are aiming to create 100,000 jobs — while that is a key part of our proposal, it is not our primary motivation. Infrastructure needs to be developed if we are to have a vibrant economy once more.
I was heartened to see four Green Party Deputies come to the House to speak on this motion. Members on this side have been continually asked to make creative and constructive proposals. Fine Gael has endeavoured to do that. Over the next couple of weeks, I look forward to hearing Government Deputies try to take the proposals outlined in Fine Gael’s new health Bill asunder, just as they have attempted to take this measure asunder. When we tried to rationalise the number of Ministers of State, people like Deputy Thomas Byrne ridiculed our proposal and called us “fools”. We were told it was a token gesture, but the proposal had been taken on board, generally if not entirely, within two weeks. I anticipate that much of what is in this proposal will be adopted as Government policy within a couple of weeks. The Government will hope that people will have forgotten that Fine Gael proposed it in the first instance. If that is the way it has to happen, so be it.
The last part of this motion calls on the Government to open “a real and constructive dialogue with the opposition on how best to proceed with developing the Irish economy via investment in much needed new infrastructure”. Contrary to the Government amendment, we do not want “to continue to invest as planned in those infrastructure priorities that will ensure economic recovery”. While broadband, which is the focus of the Government amendment, is essential, the infrastructure deficit in many other areas will have to be addressed if our economy is to be reconstructed and move forward. That will be the priority for the global economy. The saddest part of it is that Ireland probably has the best potential on the planet for exploiting those possibilities to the benefit of everyone.
Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy John Curran): I thank all sides of the House for their active participation in a debate on issues about which we all care greatly — the future prosperity and well-being of this country and how Government policy and investment can help secure that. That said, I must express some perplexity at some of the comments from Opposition benches about the wealth of the boom having been squandered and the Government not caring about public infrastructure like schools, public transport and so forth.
Last night, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance gave us an extensive resumé of what has been achieved with the proceeds of the years of prosperity. We can see a public infrastructure transformed, with greatly improved roads, enhanced public transport networks, massive investment in social housing and other social infrastructure, very significant investment in environmental services and enhancement of our educational infrastructure as well as a comprehensive programme of investment in enterprise support and science and innovation. Much of our public infrastructure now bears comparison with the best in Europe. The Government is not saying that we do not have ground to make up. That is why in our recent supplementary budget we provided over €31 billion in Exchequer capital expenditure for the next five years, an annual average of over 4%, one of the biggest in the EU 15.
The Government does not deny that we face very difficult choices in the next several years, choices that any Government of this country would have to confront. Expenditure plans, however ambitious and laudable, are never enough in themselves and must be firmly placed in a sustainable, multi-annual economic and budgetary framework. It was this consideration that I most missed in the contributions from those on the opposite benches. Not only have they attempted to deny the real progress and achievements of the past decade or so, they also fail to recognise the active and decisive steps the Government has taken to address the grave economic and financial challenges Ireland faces.
This Government has responded quickly to the rapidly changing economic conditions over the past year and we have taken a series of measures to reduce public expenditure and raise revenue this year, with further adjustments in the coming years. A progressive series of measures, starting last July, continued in the October budget, augmented primarily by the pension-related levy in February and further strengthened in the recent supplementary budget, have helped stabilise the public finances. This is absolutely essential if we are to turn the economy around. Sustainable public finances will help restore international confidence abroad in Ireland and will enhance international and domestic investment in the Irish economy, which in turn will lead to better times for all our citizens in the years ahead.
The Government has also taken significant steps to restore the banking and financial system to full health. The Minister for Finance has announced the Government’s plan to establish a national asset management agency to strengthen the banks’ balance sheets, reduce uncertainty over bad debts, ensure the flow of credit on a commercial basis to the real economy, to protect and grow employment, while also maximising and protecting the interest of taxpayers. This is essential if we are to get the economy moving again in the right direction.
This Government has always been committed to, and will maintain, a business-friendly tax framework which will encourage enterprise development and job-creation. In budget 2009 and the subsequent Finance Act, the Minister for Finance introduced a considerable enhancement to our research and development tax credit regime, which will help to position Ireland at the forefront of innovation-based enterprise and employment.
Many Deputies on the benches opposite complained about lack of investment in infrastructure. The National Development Plan 2007-13 sets out a comprehensive framework for delivering public infrastructure. Much has already been achieved and, despite severe budgetary constraints, significant investment will continue until the end of the plan in 2013.
Over the next five years, this Government will spend some €31.4 billion on public infrastructure. This amounts to over 4% on average of estimated GNP. In 2009 some 5% of GNP will come from the Exchequer to be spent on public infrastructure. This investment programme will make a substantial contribution to turning the economy around and help sustain activity and employment in the construction sector.
Government investment in infrastructure is most clearly evident in transport. The Government is also committed, however, to helping enterprise through the current difficulties. The recently introduced stabilisation fund will provide targeted support to indigenous companies to assist them in the present exceptionally difficult business environment. The stabilisation fund will have a total budget of €100 million over two years. Enterprise Ireland and the IDA will also continue their regular supports for indigenous companies and foreign direct investment, respectively, in 2009 with total capital funding available to support industry in 2009 of over €170 million.
The decision by Government to allocate significant levels of funding to science, technology and innovation sends out a signal to the research and development community that Ireland is committed to the research and development-led smart economy path. The work of IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland, puts Ireland at the forefront of research and development regimes globally and will complement the favourable research and development tax regime.
The Government is well aware of the challenges facing the country and has shown its resolve to turn the economy around by taking hard and unpopular decisions to deal with the problem. The road ahead will be difficult. We will put the enduring long-term national interest above short-term political popularity when taking the necessary difficult decisions. We are charting a way out of the current difficulties. It will not be easy but a start has been made. I commend the Government’s detailed and specific record of achievement in this area and solid proposals for continued action as set out in its amendment to the motion before the House.
Deputy Alan Shatter: I wish to share time with Deputy Simon Coveney. I congratulate him on the constructive motion he brought before the House, on behalf of the Fine Gael Party, concerning a substantial infrastructure stimulus package. I regret that the Government at a time of economic crisis seems to think that it is a case of business as usual as Ministers come into the House to deliver set scripts rejecting practical and constructive proposals from the Opposition and continue the Government’s ill-conceived policies.
The self-congratulatory counter-motion tabled by the Government is particularly nauseating. It lacks any shred of credibility. Astonishingly, it asks the Dáil to commend “the Government’s actions over the past ten months to stabilise our public finances” and goes on to commend “the Government’s commitment to maintaining a pro-enterprise and competitive taxation system”. This Government comprising Fianna Fáil and the Green Party and its Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats predecessors is directly responsible for what the Taoiseach and Ministers now frequently refer to as “our structural deficit”. Having created the deficit it is extraordinary that it has the brass neck to come into the House and congratulate itself on its failure to rein it in. Instead of individual groups demonstrating outside the House about the impact of ill-considered Government decisions on them there should be tens of thousands of people gathering in the city demanding that the Government leave office and calling for a general election. The Government which created the mess has demonstrated that it has absolutely no capacity to get us out of the mess. This is a Government that deserves no better than to be driven from office.
The inconvenient truth is that the State’s so-called structural deficit is a result of the profligate public expenditure that Deputy Cowen, as Minister for Finance and as Taoiseach, authorised and for which he is uniquely responsible. He has created an unprecedented financial burden which not only impacts on every adult residing in the State but will affect the lives of their children and grandchildren. The structural deficit is a black hole in our public finances for which this Government and its predecessor are responsible. We have entered into it without the type of intergalactic travel that excites the imagination of Green Party members. It is firmly rooted on this island.
Today’s ESRI report confirms that the Government has got all its financial projections and assumptions wrong. Three weeks after the most recent budget not one figure detailed there can be relied on. Today’s scandalous figures on jobs, 388,000 unemployed which will likely reach at least 500,000, tragically confirm the Government’s utter failure to either protect jobs or create new ones. Instead of maintaining a taxation system that contributes to competitiveness the Government is by taxation increases impeding the capacity of businesses to remain viable and creating obstacles to salary readjustments within businesses which allow jobs to be retained. No country has ever successfully taxed its way out of a recession. This country cannot do so.
This Government is taxing everyone who lives on this island into a deep and prolonged economic depression. We need a credible strategy to create and protect jobs. That is what Fine Gael is proposing, but the Government is failing to take it up.
The House has heard lectures on budgetary issues from the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Leader of the Green Party, Deputy Gormley, as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This evening we heard from the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan.
In a unique way, the Minister, Deputy Gormley, has sleep-walked his way through office in the past two years. He is essentially an à la carte member of the Government who, despite being in Cabinet, disclaims all responsibility for the catastrophic budgets of December 2007, July and October 2008, and the most recent one on 7 April. He has been, of course, quick to claim credit for the economically astounding initiative taken by him on environmentally friendly lightbulbs. Clearly, his fixation with lightbulbs has dimmed his capacity to constructively contribute to Government deliberations on budgetary matters. Lectures on budgetary matters from members of the Cabinet deserve no more credibility than a lecture from a drunk on sobriety.
At a time of economic crisis, we have in office a floundering, disintegrating Government of increasing and unprecedented incompetence. In my view, and in the view of thousands of people outside this House, it is time for the Government to go. On 5 June, we should not be simply having local and European Parliament elections, as well as two by-elections, we should also have a general election. The longer the current Government remains in office, the greater the damage that will be done to this country. It is time for our people to have their say. It should not require a march of the legions of tens of thousands of unemployed on this House to force this Government out of office. It is time for those who are responsible for where we are now to be held to account for the greatest financial and economic disaster that has ever occurred in the State.
For the good of the country, it is time for the Government to resign and let the people have their say. Many people outside this House sum up their views of this Government in one simple sentence, “For God’s sake, and for the sake of this country, resign”.
Deputy Simon Coveney: I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate on this motion, and in particular the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who showed support for the majority of the principles of what we are proposing. I want to put on the record again what the big idea is here because Government spokespersons seems to have missed it. The Fine Gael motion is trying to bring forward a constructive draft policy document — a Green paper, although it is more detailed than that — to finance an €18 billion stimulus package over the next four years, without the Government having to borrow a cent. I will be exact for the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, in stating that the package would create 98,880 jobs. That is the exact figure predicted from an independent analysis of our figures in terms of what job creation can be produced from our proposal.
We are proposing to rebuild infrastructure, as well as building new infrastructure, to prepare people for the new economy. Our economy can no longer survive on selling and building houses for each other. That is in the past. We can no longer expect six out of every ten young men going into the workforce to work on building sites, because that is also in the past. We need to find new ways of employing these people so they can pay for their mortgages and other debts, as well as feeding their families and being confident in Ireland’s future. My generation has grown up in a period where confidence drove investment, spending and economic growth, but that has disappeared in the space of eight months.
Our proposal is trying to bring back direction to where the economy is going, where we will channel investment and how we will raise that money. The Government is broke and will probably have to borrow €21 billion to pay the bills this year, not to mention an extra stimulus package on top of that. What response have we had from the Government to our constructive document? It may not be perfect and needs to be tested, but it already has been tested in a serious way within our party. The response we get is one of disdain and arrogance. We hear set scripts, written in the Department of Finance and elsewhere, from Ministers who are supposedly too busy to read our policy document. Government spokespersons dismiss the NewERA concept as a new super quango. A quango is financed by Government, by taxpayers’ money, but we are talking about financing a new State holding company. It will finance itself by getting a commercial return, thus changing the way in which State-owned companies operate. It would introduce accountability and targets for such companies in order that they can deliver on behalf of the State.
The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, regularly states that the ESB is doing all we need in terms of energy policy. It is an important company which is doing many good things and it has many good people working for it, but the ESB should not be deciding energy policy; the Government should be doing that. It should be implementing it on behalf of the shareholder, which is the State, but that is not happening. Irish energy prices are too high, whether for gas or electricity. Even though next week gas prices will reduce by 12% and electricity prices by 10% or 11%, that is not enough. In the open market where gas is currently being provided to the industrial sector, there are savings of 30% or 40% on what companies were spending last year. However, the poor old consumers and small businesses which rely on the regulator to provide a competitive price, are getting shafted again at a time when they need relief. Meanwhile, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, claims we do not need any change or new Government thinking on the approach to sectors such as energy, broadband and water. I reject that argument.
I agree with him on one level, however, in that the green economy will be the basis of Ireland’s new economic growth in two, three or perhaps five years’ time. It is arrogant for him to reject a costed and well thought out alternative proposal on how we will get there. For him to dismiss our proposal and continue on as he has been doing for the past two years under his reign in the energy sector, displays the kind of arrogance he has learned from Fianna Fáil. I reject that too.
This proposal is about reform because Ireland needs to reshape and recreate itself. Fine Gael has also proposed reforms for health care and third level education. Deputy Richard Bruton has been trying to propose reform of the public sector for four years. I am trying to propose reform of how State companies are managed, including the targets set for them and the performance indicators by which they operate. By doing that, State companies can deliver what the State is not capable of delivering at present through borrowing. The ESB is able to raise significant sums of money for required investments. In the same way, if we were to restructure the way in which State companies operate we could raise very large sums of money from private sector investment and pension funds to develop a far more competitive economy. In rebuilding that new Ireland we could employ tens of thousands of people. That is what this constructive motion is about.
The Minister and his Government need to listen because their approach is wrong and they are driving the country into the ground. Realistic predictions indicate that there will be 600,000 people in dole queues. As we head in that direction, the Government refuses to listen or show humility and accept it was wrong. We are not only experiencing an international recession. Irish unemployment figures are very much out of kilter with those of other countries in recession because policy has been wrong. We need to rebuild and start again, as the motion sets out to do.
I expected the Government to respond to the motion by at least reading and assessing it. It should have accepted the good points while rejecting elements with which it cannot live, yet it has not even done this. That type of arrogance has resulted in a complete loss of faith in the leadership the Government is providing. We need change — new ideas and new people — and if it does not come about soon, the population will demand it. The country cannot continue to move so quickly in the current direction.
|Ahern, Dermot.||Ahern, Michael.|
|Ahern, Noel.||Andrews, Chris.|
|Ardagh, Seán.||Aylward, Bobby.|
|Blaney, Niall.||Brady, Áine.|
|Brady, Cyprian.||Brady, Johnny.|
|Browne, John.||Byrne, Thomas.|
|Calleary, Dara.||Carey, Pat.|
|Collins, Niall.||Conlon, Margaret.|
|Connick, Seán.||Cowen, Brian.|
|Cregan, John.||Cuffe, Ciarán.|
|Curran, John.||Dempsey, Noel.|
|Devins, Jimmy.||Dooley, Timmy.|
|Fahey, Frank.||Finneran, Michael.|
|Fitzpatrick, Michael.||Fleming, Seán.|
|Gogarty, Paul.||Gormley, John.|
|Grealish, Noel.||Hanafin, Mary.|
|Haughey, Seán.||Healy-Rae, Jackie.|
|Hoctor, Máire.||Kelly, Peter.|
|Kenneally, Brendan.||Kennedy, Michael.|
|Killeen, Tony.||Kirk, Seamus.|
|Kitt, Michael P.||Kitt, Tom.|
|Lenihan, Brian.||Lenihan, Conor.|
|McEllistrim, Thomas.||McGrath, Mattie.|
|McGrath, Michael.||Mansergh, Martin.|
|Martin, Micheál.||Moloney, John.|
|Moynihan, Michael.||Mulcahy, Michael.|
|Nolan, M. J.||Ó Cuív, Éamon.|
|Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.||O’Brien, Darragh.|
|O’Connor, Charlie.||O’Dea, Willie.|
|O’Flynn, Noel.||O’Hanlon, Rory.|
|O’Rourke, Mary.||O’Sullivan, Christy.|
|Power, Peter.||Roche, Dick.|
|Ryan, Eamon.||Sargent, Trevor.|
|Scanlon, Eamon.||Smith, Brendan.|
|Treacy, Noel.||Wallace, Mary.|
|White, Mary Alexandra.||Woods, Michael.|
|Allen, Bernard.||Bannon, James.|
|Barrett, Seán.||Bruton, Richard.|
|Burke, Ulick.||Byrne, Catherine.|
|Carey, Joe.||Connaughton, Paul.|
|Coonan, Noel J.||Coveney, Simon.|
|Crawford, Seymour.||Creed, Michael.|
|D’Arcy, Michael.||Deenihan, Jimmy.|
|Doyle, Andrew.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|Enright, Olwyn.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Flanagan, Charles.||Flanagan, Terence.|
|Hayes, Tom.||Hogan, Phil.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||McCormack, Pádraic.|
|McEntee, Shane.||McGinley, Dinny.|
|McGrath, Finian.||McHugh, Joe.|
|Naughten, Denis.||Neville, Dan.|
|Noonan, Michael.||O’Donnell, Kieran.|
|O’Dowd, Fergus.||O’Keeffe, Jim.|
|O’Mahony, John.||Perry, John.|
|Reilly, James.||Ring, Michael.|
|Shatter, Alan.||Sheahan, Tom.|
|Sheehan, P. J.||Stanton, David.|
|Last Updated: 07/10/2010 14:19:49||Page of 146|