Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Seanad Eireann Debate
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. His late father would have been proud because he produced the first national development plan with his colleagues in Government in the late 1980s. He placed tremendous emphasis on public investment. I regret that there is an amendment to the motion. That practically everyone outside the House has welcomed the plan raises a doubt about the degree of commitment of parties opposite to implementing the plan should they be in Government.
The figure of €184 billion is a record. It is of historic significance that the European funding element, so important in previous plans, is negligible at €3 billion. In the plan’s foreword, the Minister for Finance, who I gather will be in the House later, refers to the country reversing its history and consolidating its progress. As has been observed by a number of commentators, our healthy public finances and the fact we are not facing a significant ageing population provide us with a window of opportunity to address rapidly some of the infrastructural and service sector deficits.
The previous plan accompanied an average annual economic growth of more than 5% and was consistent with a financial surplus in every year except 2002 and a reduced gross Government debt of 25%. If one takes account of the National Pensions Reserve Fund, the latter figure is 15%.
This plan has four priorities, namely, tackling infrastructural bottlenecks, providing necessary educational skills, providing high-value employment and redistributing wealth to underpin social inclusion. The €33 billion investment in transport is an important element. A sum of €13 billion will be invested in public transport, which is relevant to competitiveness. For example, roads will be completed. We have the geographical advantage of being a compact island and nowhere is too far from anywhere else. When the roads are in place, we will be an attractive place from which to do business.
I would have liked more to be spent on non-national roads, given the great deal of work to be done in that respect, but it is not possible to do everything at once. There is greater emphasis on important regional roads connecting some of the main towns and funding for the rural transport initiative, aspects of which my parliamentary party discussed last night.
Contrary to the situation obtaining even ten years ago, emphasis has been placed on public transport, which is proper. No one can accuse the Government of not investing substantial money in that sector. However, I have reservations. Were the rainbow Government to include a green element — unfortunately, the Green Party is not represented in the House — that element would want to cut roads investment substantially, with which we would not agree. I would be surprised if other parties agreed.
Dr. Mansergh: Balanced regional development is one of the plan’s priorities, including the decentralisation programme, in respect of which €830 million will be allocated. The programme is proceeding, but not as quickly as envisaged. With concern, I noted statements by the Dublin-based finance spokespersons of both main Opposition parties to the effect that they will conduct a fundamental review of the programme. Before the general election, I hope proper clarification will be given——
Dr. Mansergh: ——concerning the parties’ commitment to decentralisation, some projects of which are advanced. There is an emphasis on the diversification of the rural economy, where there are already good schemes in operation, such as RAPID, CLÁR and REPS. It makes the point that Ireland is still a comparatively rural country, with 40% of the population living in the countryside. I commented yesterday on the Order of Business on the notion of dropping a Department with responsibility for agriculture and rural development, an utterly absurd idea.
Concern was expressed recently about value for money. Clear figures are given which show cost inflation has been reduced from 12% to
4%. We should not get lectures on value for money from a party that suggested without any costing that its manifesto would include a commitment to a second Dublin airport somewhere in the middle of the countryside.
The chapter on all-island co-operation is an innovative feature of the plan. It builds on earlier initiatives, some of which the Leader was involved with when she was Minister for Public Enterprise, such as the City of Derry Airport and the all-island energy policy. It is appropriate and all sides of the House should defend it even if some of the money will be spent north of the Border. It is one of the fruits of the peace process and the knitting together of the island economy. Much of this will be achieved through the North-South bodies, where the tourism body has been already an outstanding success.
The plan pays attention to environmental sustainability, something that has been highlighted in various reports in recent times. We have made progress in this area, such as the increase in recycling from 9% in 1998, a minimal figure, to 35% three years ago. Progress is being made but more should be done, such as investment in water schemes, as I mentioned on the Order of Business this morning.
I have reservations about the large-scale deployment of wind energy when dealing with alternative energies. Caution is needed because this depends on the siting of such facilities and communities must be included in the process. We cannot impose wind farms on areas where local communities do not want them.
Dr. Mansergh: The €3.5 billion to build up world class research is of great importance. We have made huge strides in the past ten years where instead of having derivative, applied and second hand research, we are carrying out cutting edge research ourselves.
I welcome the further investment in education and the emphasis on science and physical education. Obviously it is right to target resources to achieve a pupil-teacher ratio of 20:1 in primary schools but I am a universalist and believe we should strive to provide that for all classes. The targets in the plan have the colour of Department of Finance thinking. It is socially progressive if it is a first step but we should bring up the level across the board because no area is more important than education. I also welcome the 50,000 extra child care places and the plan for preschool places for those who need them.
The plan recognises that in the health services there is a strong social class gradient that must be tackled. Health and survival rates fall according to a person’s position on the social scale. That is unacceptable.
I welcome the €1 billion for the access programme for the arts and another €1 billion for sports facilities. This is an excellent plan that should act as a foundation for the work of the next Government and I am confident it will.
Ms O’Rourke: I second Senator Mansergh’s motion. I will speak now because I may not get in if I do not — there are eager cubs on the other side of the House. That is a nice word, cubs, in case they run to the radio about some word I said.
I welcome this motion and the opportunity to speak in favour of the national development plan. So often we talk about decisions made on the spur of the moment or planned on the back of an envelope. This plan is well laid out and couched and it covers every area of life. It is a fine piece of work drafted by eminent civil servants but with a strong political flavour to it. That is what is so good about it, it is the best of the mix of political leadership and Civil Service attention to detail.
I congratulate the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, because this plan is typical of his work. He goes to do a job and he does it excellently and without any carry on. This is a plan of which we can all be proud and I hope Opposition and Government both support it. If the unforeseen were to happen and the Government change, I have no doubt the Opposition’s criticisms would be replaced by a strong espousal of the NDP. However, I will not continue in that regard because I do not talk about events which will never happen. The Government will be re-elected. It is in the spirit of having a plan that Departments understand what they must do and are compelled to take ownership of their policies.
I wish to speak about the gateways innovation fund, in which regard it has been immensely helpful that we are dealing with a Minister from the midlands. Athlone, Tullamore and Mullingar, or ATM, which is an unfortunate acronym, are gateway link towns. The spatial strategy has been criticised as not being implemented but the NDP provides for the establishment of a gateways innovation fund which will operate on the basis of a lead local authority, which will be Westmeath County Council in the ATM area. Submissions will be invited from projects within the area which, for example, persuade people to change from private to public transport. A very good railway project team has been established, of which I am a member, to bid for part of the €300 million made available over the first two years of the fund. We met the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, last week and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, a few weeks ago. Next week, we will meet the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, under whose aegis a committee will be established to manage the fund.
The fund is tailor-made for the restoration of the Athlone to Mullingar railway. In case any doubt should arise, this line was abandoned in mid-1986 by a certain former Minister for Transport. As he has since passed away, I do not wish to pass comment on him other than to say he was also critical of Knock Airport. The then Taoiseach, Mr. Garret FitzGerald, produced a document entitled backwards into reality — I apologise — Building on Reality.
Ms O’Rourke: During his term in office, the Minister in question abandoned a number of railway lines, one of which was the Athlone to Mullingar line. I have researched the matter, so I know what I am talking about.
Ms O’Rourke: It was good that the Minister abandoned the line because, if he had closed it, we would not now be able to restore it. An opportunity now beckons for the line, although it needs upgrading and new signalling and Moate needs a new station and platform. I am glad we have the chance to put our best foot forward by seeking a sizeable portion of the gateways innovation fund. The fund is a creative and imaginative idea and I have no doubt the Minister for Finance had a direct hand in its formulation.
What I am about to say is somewhat painful. It appears that some from the Opposition who were on the project team want to cast doubts on the project and, instead of rolling up their sleeves, are saying it will never happen. They are asking why they were not handed the money but I can only imagine the howls of outrage from those who seek properly designed projects if money were simply handed out. They would ask where was the accountability or transparency.
Ms O’Rourke: Even when Ministers seek projects from them, they say it is not in the writing. That is how they speak and I wish the newspapers would report them in that manner. Fortunately, I do not speak like that. I appeal to those in the Opposition who wish to receive money without working, that is, by developing a well-documented plan, which we have done, to put their best foot forward and engage with the different Ministers. We have already started on that odyssey which will be a wonderful one.
Ms O’Rourke: I will meet him in Moate, waving a flag to herald his visit. I am happy that the railway line is in the NDP and am appreciative of the work done on it by the Minister for Finance. This is positive news, so begone with the begrudgers. The NDP is a well-thought plan which awaits implementation by Ministers.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, to the House and congratulate him on his appointment. I hope he will be returned to the Opposition benches after the next general election but nonetheless wish him well during his brief tenure as Minister of State.
I am surprised by the comments made by certain Members on the Government side. I am especially perplexed that Senator Mansergh does not see the need for the Opposition to table an amendment. If ever a Government plan deserved scrutiny, surely it is the spending of €184 billion proposed in the NDP. This Opposition amendment, which I am delighted to move, merely sets out the areas which deserve closest scrutiny.
I wonder about Senator Mansergh’s comments on the Opposition’s commitment to implementing the NDP. Given that the Government failed to implement the previous plan, I question its commitment in implementing this one. The Leader was correct in saying that the NDP is good news, just as most fairy tales involve good news. However, I have a strange fear that, like most fairy tales, parts of this plan will not come true.
Mr. J. Phelan: A body of opinion among economic analysts cautions that the NDP may give rise to inflationary problems. It is legitimate for Opposition Members and the public to question the Government’s ability to deliver. Senator Mansergh and others will be familiar with the many areas of the last plan which were not delivered, such as the inter-urban routes which were originally estimated to cost €5.6 billion but are now projected at €16 billion, even though less than 50% of the work that should have been completed has been carried out.
Regional development probably represents the biggest under spend in the last national development plan. Different speakers have committed themselves to regional development. Senator Mansergh mentioned decentralisation as part of regional development. It is ironic that he should mention a plan that three years ago the Government proposed would be completed by now with 10,000 people decentralised. Only 700 people have been decentralised at a time when it was supposed to have been finished. Some 700 others who were already working outside Dublin are covered by the plan, but they cannot be included. It is understandable for Opposition spokespersons to raise the decentralisation programme, on which the Government parties have failed even more miserably than they have on most of the other matters they have failed to deliver in course of their ten years in office.
I spoke about regional development. Under the last national development plan the Government promised to spend more than €4 billion in the BMW region. However, only 60% of the allocated funding, €2.4 billion, was spent under the last national development plan. The Government promised to spend €656 million on e-commerce and communications measures in the last national development plan. However, only 15% of what it announced, €100 million, was spent. The Government promised to spend €446 million on the child care programme. By the end of 2005 it had only spent €273 million, 60% of what it committed in the last national development plan.
In the last national development plan the Government promised to spend €1.2 billion on back to education initiatives and only spent €600 million, half of what was announced. In the area of health, the Government promised to spend €1.3 billion on non-acute continuing care, but has spent only €844 million, 65% of what should have been delivered. The Government only spent 35% of the resources allocated in the last national development plan to water management and rehabilitation initiatives including water conservation programmes. The rural water investment scheme was also under-funded with only 54% of the original target realised.
The mismatch between the headline figure announced by the Government and what was delivered is stark and raises legitimate questions. In following the last national development plan it is reasonable to suggest that the systems are not in place to see the plan implemented as the Government has proposed. Today’s national newspapers reported that the Government had spent more than €360,000 on the launch of the development plan. This included the cost of media presentations, publications and the printing of the document itself. That is a staggering amount and it could have been done for considerably less.
The biggest failure in the last national development plan was in the area of broadband delivery. The Minister responding at the end of the debate should outline what new scheme the Government proposes to put in place now that the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has officially dropped the rural broadband scheme that was in place. While I accept it was not delivering, we now have no scheme. Countless small businesses, mainly in rural Ireland, will face serious difficulties in the next few years if no scheme is initiated in the area of broadband.
It is clear that there is a crisis of confidence. Despite the huge investment of taxpayers’ money, improvements in infrastructure have been too slow, too limited and too costly. The failure to deliver is the legacy of a decade of project mismanagement and waste, and a decade of missed opportunity. It is the legacy of Government failures and policy inconsistencies in a number of areas. The Taoiseach has shown a lack of strategic vision and clear prioritisation. There has been a lack of ministerial accountability for project performance. There has been a lack of reform in the construction sector to increase competition and capacity. There has been a diversion of scarce construction resources from public infrastructure projects into tax-driven boom projects. There has been inadequate investment in project management skills in the public sector. There has been an absence of sophisticated cost-benefit analyses to help project prioritisation.
There have been last minute politically driven changes in project design and inadequate provision of planning staff for local authorities and An Bord Pleanála leading to significant delays for major projects. Yesterday, An Bord Pleanála postponed a number of decisions across the country for two months because of lack of staff in its operations. There is poor co-ordination between different State bodies in major infrastructure projects. We have a defective compulsory purchase order system, which delayed major infrastructure projects. We have ineffective community consultation on many of those major infrastructure projects in recent years.
The message Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats have sent to the public in the past ten years is clear. They are saying to the taxpayers: “This may be your money, but we have it now and we will spend it as we want to spend it. We will continue to waste it over the lifetime of the next national development plan”. I have news for Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. After the general election they will not get the opportunity to continue to waste and mismanage public resources in the next five years.
Mr. B. Hayes: I second the amendment to the motion. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, on his second visit to the House. When the Government announced he was to become a Minister of State, his appointment was universally welcomed on all sides of the House, such is his standing in both Houses.
I am glad Senator Mansergh referred to the airport at Knock. One of the most positive announcements in recent weeks regarding Knock and the connection between the west and the north west was the announcement of new transatlantic flights from New York to Knock, which were brought about directly as a result of the political intervention by Deputy Perry of Fine Gael. While his name has not been mentioned, I wish to put it on the record. Mayor Bloomberg came to Sligo last summer for the commemoration of an historical event. Out of that visit came the fruitful discussions that led to the announcement made ten days ago. I welcome that my Fine Gael colleague from Sligo was the catalyst upon which the transatlantic flights between the north west and New York were brought about.
As Senator John Paul Phelan has said, much of the new national development plan is very positive in its general scheme of projections for what it plans to achieve in the next seven years in the areas of regional development, infrastructure and particularly in the development of public transport, etc. However, most commentators now accept that the Government is trying to sell this plan on the basis that its Ministers are competent managers, whereas, as Senator John Paul Phelan rightly said, its whole record is one of utter incompetence. Some 60% of the previous plan was never implemented and Ministers were responsible for such disasters as the key health project PPARS on which millions of euro were wasted and the e-voting debacle on which €60 million was wasted. No one takes responsibility for these projects.
The majority of the people looked at the great press launch of the plan and shrugged it off as of no great consequence. The people selling themselves as the people to implement the plan have a record of disastrous mismanagement and incompetence in areas such as broadband, delivering interurban routes on budget and the gross under-projection of amounts required for projects in Dublin, for instance the Dublin Port Tunnel, which came in €240 million over budget, and Luas.
Mr. B. Hayes: The Government is in this dilemma having fired its two magic bullets between the national development plan and the budget because it is utterly incompetent at developing and implementing a plan that it produced. That is why people are moving away from it. The Government lacks a sense of responsibility. The people who waste money are promoted in key Departments. That would not happen in the private sector. If any large plc failed to deliver on its seven or five year plan people would take responsibility for that. That is the key difference between this side of the House and the proposals in our published documents in this area as against the Government record over the past ten years.
Mr. B. Hayes: I know this hurts Senator Mansergh. A golden opportunity for regional and national planning was missed in spatial development and decentralisation over the past ten years. If we are going to create new hubs of economic activity away from the east coast, thereby creating better regional development, it is essential that the Government must select a few areas and concentrate development there to increase capacity and drive economic growth. The Government however, like a super county council, cannot decide where it wants to put those economic centres. The former Minister for Finance, Mr. McCreevy, said that if he could not develop this by December 2006 he did not deserve to be re-elected. The Government has implemented 10% of its promise, another gross incompetence.
Mr. B. Hayes: Many economic consultants in Dublin have said that this plan is based on the tax receipts from the property market continuing into the future. That will not happen. No one in the Department of Finance and no serious economic consultancy believes that will continue. The large tax returns, many of which are driven by the property and construction sector, will not last. It seems inevitable that if we are serious about this plan we must tackle the tax issue at some stage in the course of the next seven years, no matter who is in Government.
The Government is not squaring up to this. The plan is predicated on the rate of growth over the next seven year period staying the same as it is now. If people are honest they will say that the tax returns will not remain as buoyant as they are now because of our dependence on property and construction. There must also be a financial commitment to delivering this over the next seven years. The plan is flawed not in its aspirations but because of the people in charge whose track record is visible to all. The people realise that it is time to hand over to new people with new ambitions for this country and a new ability to deliver political responsibility and accountability. That is the key test of the plan, one on which sadly this Administration has failed miserably in the past ten years.
Ms White: I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Haughey, on his second appearance in the House. As he can see from the compliments he has received he has support across the House.
I wish to focus on the all-island co-operation section of the National Development Plan 2007-2013. Since the Good Friday Agreement of April 1998, society in Northern Ireland has been transformed, as have North-South co-operation and east-west relations. This is thanks in many respects to the exemplary negotiation skills of the Taoiseach. It is hard to believe the transformation that has taken place on the island. The national development plan sets out in detail a range of existing and planned North-South projects already agreed with the Northern Ireland Administration and being implemented. It also sets out for the first time proposals for Irish Government investment in North-South projects and initiatives for mutual benefit. The Government wishes to agree and implement these with the British Government and a restored Northern Ireland Executive in the period 2007-13. These projects and initiatives will benefit the entire island of Ireland.
Partition has been the single greatest impediment to balanced economic development across the island of Ireland. This has left communities along the Border on both sides and in the northwest severely disadvantaged socially and economically. The North’s transport infrastructure, once regarded as being superior to that of the Republic, has not kept pace in recent years. There is no direct motorway between Belfast and Derry, the two main cities in the Six Counties, and the railway system is seriously under-resourced.
Due to the existence of the Border infrastructure projects have in the past been built in both the North and the South without regard to the impact in the other jurisdiction or any efficiencies that could be gained from working together. In this plan there will be economies of scale and co-operation on cross-Border all-island infrastructure development. The North is only now getting its act together to build a motorway to meet up with the Republic’s M1 from Dublin to the Border. Making decisions on an all-island basis would in many cases be better for the welfare and health of all the people on the island.
In a dramatic statement in November 2005, Peter Hain, Secretary of State for the North said “the economy in the North is not sustainable in the long term” and that in future decades, “it is going to be increasingly difficult to look at the economy of Northern Ireland and the South except as a sort of island of Ireland economy”. At the end of last October, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and the Secretary of State for the North, Peter Hain, published a comprehensive study on the development of an all-Ireland economy. In their joint introduction to the study, the Ministers said: “It makes clear the strong economic imperative driving north-south co-operation ... To be globally competitive we must exploit the opportunities of all island co-operation”.
These conclusions by the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and Peter Hain are a far cry from the previous back-to-back approach to economic and social development on this island. Both parts of Ireland are on the cusp of a transition to genuine economic and social co-operation and cohesion which could transform the prospects for peace and prosperity on this island.
At a time of unprecedented economic growth in the South, the North has deepened its public sector dependency and reliance on the British Treasury. The public sector in the North is also the largest employer of university graduates, preventing the private sector from gaining their skills.
No matter what co-operation goes ahead my mantra remains that there must be a change in the corporation tax in the North. The current rate of 30% in that jurisdiction seriously inhibits the ability to attract foreign investment. It is the responsibility of Gordon Brown to be inspired and to make a decision. He must not be inward-looking and protective towards the union. The Chancellor must see that, for the benefit of the entire island, there should be a common rate of corporation tax in order that potential investors who are considering investing here will not see the island in terms of North and South but as a total area in which they might invest. Sir George Quigley, who sponsored my nomination to the Irish Exporters Association, is the main driver for change in this area among business people in the North. The SDLP is also pressing for change and has suggested a corporation tax rate of 12.5%. Sinn Féin advocates a rate of 17%. There is a consensus that change must take place.
The national development plan is concerned with all-island co-operation. As a result of the North’s 30% corporation tax, Goodbody Stockbrokers estimates that it has lost 20 times the potential investment it could have attracted. At our meeting with the SDLP last week, I inquired about how strongly it was pressing in respect of a reduction in the rate of corporation tax. One of those present asked me if I would accompany them to Downing Street on their next visit to exert pressure on Gordon Brown. I stated that I would be delighted to do so. The Government, led by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance, is not afraid of competition. We are willing to share and to include the North. We are not defensive and do not believe that no one else should benefit from a corporation tax rate of 12.5%. We would be delighted to promote Ireland on an all-island basis.
Dr. Henry: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey. I have little to say about the national development plan. I looked through it and I reckon it involves a great deal of amalgamation of previous plans. I took home with me the other night the Hanly report, the national spatial strategy and the decentralisation directives and read them to see if I could try to marry them up from a geographical point of view. It was utterly impossible to do so.
Dr. Henry: Perhaps Members will recall that when they were children, they were frequently given puzzles to try to encourage them to figure out how one would travel from A to B, etc. The position was similar when I read the reports. It was unbelievable.
I feel very bitter about this matter because I was one of the few people in this entire nation who supported the Hanly plan. Under the decentralisation programme, places which could have been important in the context of Hanly were treated differently. I do not know what happened to the gateways, spokes and hubs but they have re-emerged in the new national development plan. Something must be done to encourage joined-up thinking in respect of the geographical aspect. I do not know if such thinking exists in respect of the economic aspect because I am not an expert in that regard. From a geographical point of view, I am of the opinion that if one is determined to develop a hospital in an area, one would make it an important part of the infrastructure therein. The dispute that appears to be ongoing between Mullingar, Tullamore and Portlaoise is unbelievable, especially when one considers that Athlone is a hub. The entire matter must be given careful consideration from a geographical point of view.
Decentralisation is a good ideal but I wish it had taken place over a period of 40 years. I feel very sorry for all those senior civil servants whose jobs have been moved down the country. One of these individuals informed me last evening that he actually liked his job and is not quite sure what he is going to be doing from now on. There are senior civil servants who are in no position to move, who are in jobs they like and who now, through no fault of their own, will be obliged to spend the latter part of their careers in employments for which they may not be suitable. I regret that because I have a great deal of respect for our Civil Service.
Mr. Quinn: I thank Senator Henry for sharing time. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, of whom we expect big things. We know that he will take action in respect of everything said during this debate.
I wish to focus on what I regard as the four big surprises in the new national development plan. The first of these is that the plan, which is far and away the largest ever contemplated in our nation’s history, was developed without even the slightest pretence at public consultation. I recall a lovely seanfhocail that I learned in school, namely, “Éist le fuaim na habhann agus gheobhaidh tú bradán; listen to the sound of the river and you will catch a salmon.” One of the things the Government is obliged to do is listen to what is happening in the world to ensure the fishing is good. I get the impression that it has not done so. The new national development plan was conceived — without public consultation — within the secret corridors of Government and then brought to the attention of an unsuspecting public at a glitzy launch. I read in the newspaper that the launch in question cost the taxpayer €340,000. However, I stand open to correction in this regard.
What does it say about the state of democracy in Ireland that this phenomenally important project, which will have an impact on the future of every man, woman and child, was not deemed worthy of any input whatever from the people who will be affected by it in the years ahead? Is the message being put across one which clearly states that the Government knows best and does not need to consult the people about its future?
That first surprise leads to the second, namely, that this is clearly a plan that is driven by the need to spend enormous sums of money rather than to achieve specific, clearly defined objectives. My experience of economics and business is that one sets out one’s objectives and then decides how best to achieve them. If the people had been consulted, they would have been asked about the action they wanted the Government to take and about their priorities in respect of making Ireland a better place in which to live and for securing the country’s economic future. Clearly these questions did not drive the formulation of this plan. Instead of starting out from a list of priorities and agreed national objectives, the starting point was an enormous pot of money and the challenge of how to allocate it. When one has such as a vast sum to spend and so many projects clamouring for a share, one is likely to end up pleasing many people. It is difficult to escape the suspicion that is the real point of the operation.
Another thing that is likely to happen, which leads me to my third surprise, is that one obtains very bad value for money. In view of our poor track record with previous national development plans, I would have expected that on this occasion a serious attempt would have been made to apply a sound cost benefit analysis to all the projects within the plan and that there would be a rigorous system of cost management to ensure a reasonable level of value would be delivered. As far as I can see, this has not happened. By all accounts, it appears that exactly the same kind of sloppy financial management that served us so badly in the past will again be employed on this occasion.
The fourth surprise, which is the most disappointing of all, revolves around the sheer lack of imagination that characterises the plan from start to finish. Despite all its expensive glitziness, this plan is really just more of the same. One is often minded to look for something different with plans of this nature. As far as this one goes, however, it appears that an approach has been adopted to the effect that because we are doing well, we should continue to do what we did in the past.
I was impressed by what Senator Brian Hayes said about the tax issue. The plan appears to assume that tax will continue to come in, despite the fact that it is very much dependent on the property and construction sector.
This plan is a programme for throwing even more money in the same direction as previously. It contains no new ideas. The Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, is leaving the Chamber. I thank him for what I gather was his second visit to the House. I suggest to the Minister that there are no new ideas in this plan or major goals to grasp the imagination. There is no underlying vision to this very expensive plan. This is a plan devised by people who, regrettably, have no clear idea of where they are going and even less idea of what is needed to bring them where they want to go.
Those are my four surprises and they add up to what I regard as a lost opportunity. Unfortunately, it will be many years before the full extent of the opportunities we have lost will become clear to us. When this plan fails to meet our needs in the years ahead — I hope I am wrong — we will only have ourselves to blame for the lack of foresight that allowed this poor excuse for a national development plan to see the light of day.
There are four unpleasant surprises in the plan that I did not anticipate. We should have listened to what is happening on the ground and identified the objective we wanted to achieve. Instead, we told ourselves we had a great deal of money and wondered about the way we would spend it. Had a cost benefit analysis been done on each of those, and perhaps the Minister will tell us there was and will explain that to us, we would know that our objective is likely to be achieved with value for money.
Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen): I thank the Senators for their contributions thus far to this debate on the national development plan. I am sorry if Senator Quinn believes this was simply a connection exercise of spending programmes to be put together willy-nilly. In fact, a long consultation process has been ongoing for the past 12 months, not only with the social partners but with the regional authorities, local authority members and many business groups in the context of the Estimates process and the social partnership programme. Many representations, ideas and priorities were put forward by various interest groups which the Government had to pull together.
People talk about the size of the plan at €184 billion but it is a much broader and comprehensive plan in terms of setting out social inclusion objectives as well as simply economic or capital investment programmes. It is right that we should do so since the vision the Senator talked about that we are trying to bring about is set out in the Towards 2016 document, with all the resonance that provides. It is an opportunity, over the next ten years, for us to make good some of the historic infrastructural deficits that are with us because we did not have the resources in the past to make those sort of investments. We can build on the future and on many of the important improvements we now see in the implementing agencies, whether it is the National Roads Authority, the Railway Procurement Agency or the proposed Dublin Transport Authority.
The Senator talked about a vision but there is a quadrupling of investment in public transport. When this Government came into office it took over from an Administration whose political colour was such that one would expect some commitment to public transport but the investment in the previous year was nil. We are now quadrupling the level of investment in this plan compared to the 2000 to 2006 plan. That vision will provide a modern transport infrastructure not only for this city but throughout the country.
Transport 21 has been assessed through the DTO. The CIE strategic rail network was independently assessed. The idea put forward by some opinion formers in the private sector that there has been no analysis or appraisal or assessment of Transport 21 is nonsense. Under the capital appraisal guidelines, any projects over €30 million require cost benefit analysis and they will be dealt with in that way. Individual projects over a certain figure must get individual Cabinet approval but when a ten year investment programme is set out, a cost benefit analysis is not done on each individual project. That is done according as the programme is rolled out but it is an integrated one. It is a transport plan that stands the test of scrutiny. For example, we are rolling out a national road network which will be achieved by 2010. There are 22 major projects under contract currently which are coming in on time and on budget and which are withstanding all the tests and appraisals people want.
The Senator said this plan has no vision. This plan is about five basic points. It is about the fact that we must invest in human capital through a strategy for technology, innovation and science that we have put in place and that has been agreed at Cabinet level and between myself and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and approved by Cabinet. It is an unprecedented investment in third and fourth level education. It has the backing of the science community. It refers to doubling PhDs and making sure we have the knowledge based industry that will be required for us to compete in an increasingly difficult and competitive international environment for jobs and investment in the future.
We need to build an economic infrastructure. We need a transport system. We also need to proceed with the ambitious targets in the NESC report on housing, which we are putting forward. In the last plan we had €9 billion for housing. Over €22 billion will go into housing, not because I want to spend money but because we need the houses. We must build 60,000 affordable houses and 40,000 social houses. That is what NESC said we have to do based on the demographics as it saw them. Given the successful policies we are implementing, the success of which appear to be taken for granted, and the resources that are now available to Government, we can proceed with that ambitious housing programme in full, quite apart from the expanded capacity of the construction industry, which is now providing 80,000 housing units per year. Ten years ago it could only provide 35,000.
Mr. Cowen: ——and used the same rhetoric they are using in this House and elsewhere to talk about building some of these houses and facilitating local authorities to build houses on the basis that the resources are now available, that would be a far more positive contribution towards dealing with housing problems of many people than is the case currently. I had to listen in the other House to people talking in a derogative manner about builders. Who builds houses? I thought builders built houses. Are we supposed to denigrate the builders and still have the houses built? I do not know what they are talking about and I do not believe they know themselves. That sort of politics of envy and nonsense does not do any service. If that is the vision the Opposition wants to bring forward, we have a vision that far expands our horizons than what it has to offer. People are talking about the vision. This year alone we are spending €56 billion in Exchequer funded services. If that is multiplied by seven and do not put in an inflator, that is €390 million. We are spending money. It is an investment.
Regarding the mid-term review of the ESRI on the last plan, which is not as ambitious or as comprehensive as this one, the return on that investment was 14%. When the finalised amounts come through under the community support framework in mid-2008 and the full term review is done, I guarantee that the return will be of that nature also. How will we make sure that we have a country that can continue to grow jobs and have a vision for full employment here unless we expand the productive capacity of the economy? We either do it or we do not.
Other people tell me we should only spend so much. If we want to avoid inflationary growth and ensure we can build more capacity and deal with the commute problem that has occurred as a result of the social changes and the advance in accelerated economic development we are now experiencing, we must deal with those problems but that will cost money. The fact is we are able to do them in a way that is within budget and that is robustly analysed and appraised. If we want to appraise everything ad infinitum and let opportunities pass, we can do that but it will be dearer to do these projects next year. We must get on with the job and do it. We have a ten year transport programme that is working. We will have a metro and additional Luas lines in this city. We will have an integrated transport network in this city. Dublin city will have an integrated transport network. All the naysayers can say what they like. They have been saying it since we began the public transport programme but the Government will deliver it. The Government will also deliver a national motorway system and continued investment in the rail network.
The framework of the national development plan is based on an average 4% to 4.5% annual economic growth in the next seven years, imminently achievable according to every finance house and financial commentator. The last plan was based on an annual average economic growth of 5.2%, placing the new target in a moderate range and within the bounds of possibility. An inflation rate of 2% can be achieved under the harmonised index inflation because there will be more balanced growth.
Balanced regional development is being brought to the centre of our priorities. The 2002 national spatial strategy will be implemented. Regional guidelines had to be put down to ensure the regional planning guidelines were in line with the spatial strategy. County and local area plans, plus the gateway concept, have been put forward. All gateway needs studies have been completed. This was necessary work as a precursor to implementing the overall national spatial strategy and ensuring the best return on the investment. The gateways are in place because we want to effect regional development. To do so, critical mass must be created in the regions. The national spatial strategy sets out the physical development of the country by 2020.
We must also ensure Ireland has an adaptable, flexible and educated workforce for future employment. IDA Ireland has many future industrial projects in the pipeline because companies still want to invest in Ireland due to the quality of the workforce.
Investment will continue in our social infrastructure. We will have a modern hospital system, schools that will meet the challenges of the 21st century and broadband rolled out to every part of the country. We have set out the way in which these objectives can be achieved. The resources are available to do so because of the economic policies we have implemented.
Those who claim the Government has no vision can go off to tell the L & H at Belfield. The Government’s vision is based on reality. There is a transformation taking place in this country that has never been seen before. The past ten years are proof positive of it. The next ten years can also be proof positive of it if the right policies are in place, public finances are sustained and people have the experience, will, wit and opportunity to implement the programmes.
The idea that the national development plan is a conglomerate of spending demands could not be further from the truth. One does not simply get one’s way with the Department of Finance. If one did, we would not have a Department of Finance. The Department is there to robustly suggest what the priorities are. The building blocks have been established for social infrastructure, housing, schools and hospitals to ensure sustainable growth and provide for a better quality of life. Towards 2016 confirms within the social partnership model that economic progress and social progress are complimentary and mutually dependent. It is not a question of growth for the sake of growth. There, however, seems to be some feeling that we do not need growth as we have reached some state of Nirvana.
Environmental sustainability is another feature of the national development plan. By introducing these sectorial strategies that have been agreed and priced, communities will become more environmentally sustainable. We have greatly improved our EU commitments under the wastewater and increased recycling directives. The Government’s record shows it has outstripped any other of its predecessors in making environmental sustainability an important economic component for sustainable growth.
This development plan should not be seen on its own. It is part of a continuum with Towards 2016. When we reach 2016 we can feel we have built a State of which the founding fathers would be proud. It is not a case that we will solve every problem. One absurdity of current political discourse is that no progress has been made if a problem can be pointed out. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Mr. Cowen: In the past we had problems because of failure and mediocrity and policies that did not work. We have full employment when other generations did not. Is that a sufficient vision? Young people can get a job in Ireland, commensurate to their skills and abilities. Is that a worthwhile vision?
Through the social inclusion programme, totalling €50 billion, we will mainstream people with disabilities and bring the marginalised into full society. I am proud of the record I have as a former Minister for Health in bringing about this expansion of opportunity which is fundamental to building a republic and giving equal citizenship to all. To those who want to talk about vision, I am willing to debate it with them all night. The reality, however, is that we have the economic resources and sustainable growth patterns. Regional development will be effected through the national spatial strategy. We must ensure the resources are in place to get the best possible return on that investment.
I defend this development plan as having all the hallmarks of what is required for this State over the next seven years. The demographics are such that we have the opportunity to meet these infrastructural deficits in the next decade, which may not be possible in the future. Due to changing demographics, social expenditure may increase in, say, care for the elderly which may leave less discretionary expenditure. For every person over 65 years, there are six in the workforce. We will, however, move to the European norm where they cannot achieve economic growth of more than 2% and populations are diminishing.
The global village we live in is bringing about real challenges of integration and immigration. Many migrant workers come to our shores because of the economic success we have achieved. Their contribution not only benefits them and their families but improves our economy’s competitiveness. The plan assumes an increase in labour force growth of 2.5%, which is eminently achievable. Parameters have been set out with achievable targets only if we continue with the successful polices we have had up to now. Many involved in political discourse would prefer to come up with another idea and have no continuity in policy. The policies, however, are working in meeting the basic needs of the people.
One of the great challenges for social partnership in the next several years is to ensure public services can be provided with an improved public service ethos. It is not about providing more resources for the public service. If that was the solution to the problem, it would have been solved by now. This is not a question of a Government resting on its laurels and sleepwalking through the next seven years, as the Opposition suggests. There is an agenda of change which will test the maturity and vibrancy of social partnership. It will test the quality of leadership of not only the trade union and political system but that of the community. The ability to adapt to new circumstances will determine the success of the national development plan and the quality of life it seeks to achieve. This is the real challenge for Ireland. The Government and this party has the best political capacity to ensure we maintain social cohesion, consistency in economic policy and provide the resources for priorities to achieve the vision of Towards 2016 that was agreed by all social partners.
The national development plan is an ambitious blueprint to transform Ireland and produce a better quality of life for all. It will help us to sustain our economic success, secure the gains already made and underpin our competitiveness into the future. These economic effects are critical to our well-being. However, the plan will deliver even more by boosting the quality of our environment, enhancing our national transport network, investing in our schools and hospitals and building social inclusion. It recognises and acts on the potential of all-island co-operation. It will encourage balanced and sustainable development in every region and will make our country stronger and fairer in the interests of every citizen.
The new plan is a fully costed, multi-annual blueprint for sustainable development. It builds on the progress made over recent years and sets out the strategy to tackle our infrastructural deficits, boost our enterprise and productive sector, equip our people with the skills and qualifications appropriate for a modern dynamic economy, and spread the benefits of our recently attained prosperity more widely among our people.
This is the fourth national development plan since 1989. When the first plan was launched, Ireland was a different country. Unemployment was at 15%, the national debt was 107% of GNP and more than 200,000 people had emigrated in net terms over the previous decade. By contrast, the backdrop to the new plan is one of virtually full employment, a debt-GNP ratio of 25% and a population increase of almost 609,000 in the last decade.
Mr. McDowell: On the contrary, I believe the Minister’s spontaneous response was fine; it would be so much the better if we had more of that in the House. I am satisfied to take his script as read. It simply summarised what is in the plan, which we all know about already.
Mr. Cowen: I apologise if I have exceeded the time allocated. I will conclude by saying that this plan addresses Ireland’s current development needs directly. It sets out a roadmap for the next phase of the country’s transformation and will deliver a better quality of life for all. Its implementation will help to secure our prosperity and make Ireland a better country, with stronger communities throughout the island. We have the plan and the resources. We must now get on with the work of delivery, thereby improving the quality of life for this and future generations.
Mr. McDowell: I meant no disrespect to the Minister or the unfortunate officials who had to write his speech. His spontaneous response is far more helpful and informs discourse in a much better way than a delivery of his script would have done.
Mr. McDowell: I have no difficulty with most of the vision to which the Minister refers. On the contrary, it is encouraging and inspiring to hear. Neither do I have any difficulty with what is in the plan in terms of vision, even though it is in far drier language. The trouble is that we have read and heard it many times before.
Mr. McDowell: Many of us remain to be convinced that the proposed developments will happen. The Minister tells us with certainty that a metro is included in the plan and will be constructed. The Leader told us the same in 2000, however, when she was Minister. She announced it solemnly in the Department of Transport seven years ago.
Mr. McDowell: The Minister tells us with certainty that there will be investment in rail services. Again, the Leader, as Minister, told us there would be a feasibility plan for the Cork commuter route and that the Galway route would be examined. She also said that the Maynooth route would be expanded, which has only just happened, and that the Kildare route would be expanded, something we are still only talking about. Likewise, we are still considering the provision of rail services to Navan. The 2000 commitment to increase the number of carriages on DART trains to eight has only just been fulfilled.
Mr. McDowell: The Minister tells us with certainty that we will have a national road network. A commitment was made in this respect in the last plan and those improvements should already be in place. The reality is that we have approximately one third of a national motorway network.
Perhaps we have learned much in the last ten years but there was clearly an awful lot to be learned. The Minister must, if he is reasonable, accept that it is not unreasonable for Opposition Members to say we are sceptical that he can do in the next six years what he did not in the last six years.
Mr. McDowell: The problem with the plan is that it includes much that we have heard before. One example is the provisions in regard to the health service, an area with which the Minister is particularly familiar. I have read the full section on health and find it deliberately dodges the two major issues in health, both of which require significant additional infrastructural investment.
It dodges the issue of bed capacity by simply saying that two studies are being conducted, as there have been many before. This means we do not know whether there will be additional investment in acute bed capacity because we do not know whether the Government believes it is required. This is despite the fact that the health plan produced by the then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, in 2001, indicated that 3,000 extra beds are needed. Six years later, however, the jury is still out on this issue.
The section on the health services also dodges the issue of the Hanly report. Not only do we not know whether additional investment will be made, we also do not know how it will be structured, as the Acting Chairman observed during her contribution. To muddy the waters even further, as the Department of Finance likes to do, the plan states that any implications for current expenditure must be within the scope of the multi-annual arrangements the Department of Finance chooses to make. Moreover, any implications it might have in terms of public sector numbers must also conform with Government policy in this regard. Reading the section on health, I do not see beyond some generalities with which nobody could possibly disagree. It does not add anything new to our knowledge and gives no specific or meaningful commitments on the issues that matter.
Both the Minister and Senator Brian Hayes referred to the fact that the entire plan is contingent on economic growth and tax revenues into the future. It is not reasonable to say that it should be so. Net debt is now down to 15% or 16% of GNP. We are in a position where we have effectively been putting money aside for years by running down debt. This allows us to give a commitment that is not contingent, in the way the plan seeks to make it, on tax revenues and economic growth of 4% or 4.5% per annum in the next six or seven years. We must be clear that this is more than merely a wish list that is contingent on the fiscal prudence which the Department of Finance will dictate from year to year. We must be able to say with clarity that the resources are there and will be utilised. We are in a position to do so.
I ask the Minister to respond to my next point if he is still here at 7 p.m. I understand he has said, as Dr. Michael Somers has done, that the way has been cleared for the national pension reserve fund to invest in infrastructural projects. We know, however, that there is virtually no such investment. What is the cause of this blockage? Is it a lack of political will or capacity? Have the trustees of the fund decided they do not want to make such investment? Despite the political commitment in this regard, there is clearly no delivery.
The Dublin gateway proposals are also decidedly lacking in specifics. Most of the commitments were made long since, and we are also committed to an entire series of studies. One study, for example, is considering whether the eastern bypass is appropriate, while another is examining the proposed orbital route. There is also an interesting one-sentence commitment to invest further in Dublin Port, “with due regard to locational issues into the future, taking into consideration the all-Ireland dimension of Dublin Port”. I have a constituency interest in this issue. We must make a policy decision as to whether we will continue to invest in Dublin Port where it is currently located or invest in locations closer to Dublin which would, in effect, primarily serve the city. Dublin Port currently serves virtually the entire country.
There are many good proposals in this plan, the Towards 2016 agreement and the various other plans being produced. There is a lack of belief, which is not confined to these benches, that it will be delivered. I hope we have learned the lessons over the past six years or more which will allow us to better deliver in the future but I am far from convinced that is the case.
Ms Ormonde: I welcome the Minister. It was a breath of fresh air to hear him speak. Once he spoke I was convinced it would be very easy to speak on this motion. I listened to all the negative things said by those opposite and I was getting depressed. I drove to Mullingar this week and I have driven to Galway, Cork and Waterford and it is so easy to get from A to B. From where did the money come to build these roads? This is our success story. As a result of our economy’s success, I am very pleased we have €184 billion to invest in the future and to create a vision for the next ten years.
I wish to focus on social infrastructure, about which the Minister did not speak. I refer to investment in social and affordable housing, primary care, sports infrastructure throughout the country, including Lansdowne Road and Abbotstown, the arts and in cultural facilities. I want to see that investment because I do not wish to see the decline of the social infrastructure throughout the country. Much of this infrastructure is located in Dublin and in the major cities and it must be extended throughout the country. We must invest in rural development. We know what is happening in rural areas. I welcome the fact the Minister is putting so much money into this area.
I go to Europe with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs and representatives of member states ask me for the formula for our success. I tell them it is as a result of proper management of our resources and the economy. The Opposition is jealous because it has nothing to tell. That is the reality.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: I join Senator McDowell in what I thought was a very generous tribute to the Minister on the manner of his presentation. It was a tour de force and it showed clearly the command he has of his brief. That should make everybody in this House happy. There is something particularly edifying when credit is given where it is due. For example, Senator Brian Hayes paid a compliment to Deputy Perry on the role he played in securing the transatlantic agreement for Knock Airport. I was present in Sligo at the invitation of Deputy Perry when the Mayor of New York visited for the unveiling of the monument for the fighting 69th regiment. Credit should always be given where it is due. Likewise, credit should be given to the Government on what it has achieved to date.
What we are really talking about in the plan is an acknowledgement and celebration of unprecedented success for this country. I believe there is a new national game where if something goes wrong, no matter how infinitesimally small, people blame the Government but when something goes right, they look up and thank the stars or the gods. We are creating a divided personality for the nation. That is not to say anybody has all the answers.
Let us look at some of the issues covered in the national development plan. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than to see the huge progress in the peace process in the North. We are within months of seeing a final conclusion to that process. Is it not wonderful that it finds an echo in this vision which is before us, in other words, the cross-Border co-operation? We have already seen it in Tourism Ireland and when we have travelled abroad with the island operating as one. It is true we are heading towards a united Ireland at least when it comes to the economy.
There is €50 billion to address social inclusion, or social exclusion. That is very important. Some €1.13 billion is being given to cultural infrastructure, which is very important. It is a very carefully thought out plan. I do not believe it is right to suggest there was not consultation. How could one come up with an infrastructure plan for culture if consultation had not taken place? How could one come up with a plan for the Gaeltacht and the islands if we had not consulted in advance? How could one come up with a plan for cross-Border projects if there had not been consultation?
It is vital we all embrace the potential we now have. I associate the words “prudence” and “vision” with this plan. We are celebrating what we have done but we must not rest on our laurels. We would blame the Government if it rested on the oars having brought the ship into a safe port and opening up the opportunities we now have. It is an occasion for celebration and I do not like to see any viciousness in the debate because ultimately, it is something for us all.
Mr. U. Burke: What we heard from the Minister would be wonderful if we were at a pre-election final rally in the square in Tullamore. That is how entertaining it was. The plan has been called visionary but we must consider what “visionary” means. It means something for the future but the reality is that most of the money allocated to programmes in the plan has been announced previously or has been spent. There is very little additional money for this vision.
The Minister said we have a better health service and education system as a result of the previous plan. He seems to forget the increasing number of people on waiting lists. People now realise the health service is worse despite all the money which has been put into it. This morning I highlighted a case, over which the HSE and the Minister have stood, where someone with cancer was denied a particular treatment recommended by his consultant because it was too expensive. The Minister referred to the Department of Health and Children as Angola and nothing has changed since he was Minister in that Department.
While the Minister referred to education, I remind him that in 2002 his Government declared that no child under nine years of age would be in a class of more than 20 pupils by the time it left office. Yesterday I provided this House with statistics to the effect that 25% of students are in classes of 30 pupils or more, 50% are in classes of between 20 and 29 pupils and 85% are in larger classes than was the case in 2002. While this is the reality, the Minister has asserted he cannot be challenged in this regard. This is what some would consider to be the most wonderful delivery on the part of a Minister for Finance.
The Minister referred to the IDA and the provision of jobs and Members are grateful that Galway city is thriving. Were the Minister elsewhere in the west, he would know that in east Galway, apart from those jobs that have been created privately or through Enterprise Ireland, not a single IDA-supported job has been created.
In the Minister’s absence, I acknowledge his partial extension of the pilot scheme for the upper Shannon region to the middle Shannon region, which was of major importance. Regrettably however, the plan in operation in the upper Shannon region was not fully extended. I examined the scheme before entering the Chamber and the area around Portumna and towards Woodford. as well as the other district electoral divisions mentioned are all areas of declining population. In respect of the CLÁR programme, no new funds have been made available for areas of declining population in the west of Ireland, which is sad.
I will conclude by citing a statistic that proves the reality regarding gateways for development and an equal spread of development throughout the State. As of 2006, only 76% of the expenditure forecast in the previous national development plan was spent in the Border, midlands and western region, in contrast to a figure of 108% in the east and south east. Such statistics provide the answer in respect of balanced regional development and any Minister who can state that this plan contains a vision is being revisionary rather than visionary. Such a Minister is going forward while looking backwards at the same time. The statistics show this is not a plan with vision. It is a pre-election restatement of expenditures that have already been made.
The Minister should mention one statistic in particular that is a reflection of his own constituency and should consider the consequences for Birr of the collapse of decentralisation. The Minister shares this constituency with his Minister of State, Deputy Parlon. A total of two people have decided to transfer to Birr and Members should consider the waste of money involved. No accountability was available in this instance.
As for the launch of the national development plan, I tend to be sceptical of such massive launches. In the past, although the privatisation of eircom involved a massive launch, we now face all kinds of telecommunications problems and have no real competition within that industry. Some years ago, Members witnessed the major launch associated with the national spatial strategy. What has happened since? The national development plan is again discussing gateways and hubs. Most recently, the national development plan was launched at a cost of €340,000.
The Government is disappointed because the plan does not appear to have gone done terribly well with the electorate. There has not been much talk about the national development plan because people are sceptical and realise the plan incorporates much rehashing of promises made in the past. If one took a red biro to all the repeated promises contained in the plan, it would contain much red ink. For example, the transport element has been announced thrice by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen.
Lest one might consider that it was only Opposition Members who are not being constructive in this regard, I will mention three newspaper references that appeared following its launch. An editorial referred to a reversion to the same old fanciful promises, a headline called it a masterclass in brazen and dishonest public relations while another described it as being a road map to heaven and higher taxes and referred to the cash the Government plans to spend. It is worth bearing in mind that following the plan’s publication, the ESRI stated that attempting to implement its contents on a massive scale would fuel inflation. Naturally, this was ignored blithely because, as all Members are aware, an election approaches and consequently this plan is important to the Government. If it divvies out funds to all parts of the State, particularly the marginal constituencies, beneficial effects for the Government might ensue.
The Minister spoke of full employment in Ireland. However, in County Limerick, the food processing industry has come to an end within 18 months and a total of 450 jobs have been lost. Has any Minister visited those who lost their jobs before Christmas in Castlemahon? I have spoken to the workers and they are facing difficulties in finding jobs. All is not well in the garden. While I could continue in respect of many elements of the plan and many concerns that pertain to my constituency, three minutes is insufficient and I will conclude.
Mr. Ross: First, I wish to take up a point made by Senator Ó Murchú regarding this plan. He divided it in a quite interesting fashion, namely, into the past and the present. He stated that this debate was a recognition of the great success enjoyed by the Government in the past and I believe he referred to it as being a celebration of the future.
While I agree with the first statement I do not agree with the second. Although they regard it as being their duty, it is fatuous for Members of the Opposition to tackle the Government on the grounds of past mismanagement of the economy. When they refer to the waste of money or value for money, they are clutching at straws that are perfectly legitimate, albeit reasonably minor in the overall context. Members should recognise that overall, the economy has been superbly managed by a succession of administrations that happen not to be of the Opposition view. Many Independent Members have done so in the past. The Government has done well, the fruits are there for all to see and it did not make a mess of a situation in which there was a potential to so do. This should also be recognised.
An aspect of such plans with which I have difficulties is that they are built on certain assumptions, none of which can be taken for granted. I gather that this plan is based on the assumption that Ireland will achieve an average growth rate of 4.5% for the next eight years. While I do not know the source of this assumption, it has been plucked out of the air. There is no reason whatever for believing it except that it constitutes pure guesswork on the part of an economist in the Department of Finance. A real plan would not simply assume a growth rate of 4.5%. It would proceed on the basis that in the event of the achievement of a particular growth rate, this, that or the other would be done. This plan reveals the Government’s intentions in the event of a growth rate of 4.5%.
However, what will happen if such growth rates are not achieved? What will happen if the Government suffers the same problems as those faced earlier this week by the auctioneers? The latter decided that because house prices were falling, their revenue would drop and that consequently, they would raise commissions. This is an outrageous thing for them to do. It is completely non-competitive and I presume it will not work. However, were the Government to adopt the same attitude, it would increase, rather than reduce, stamp duty. It would note the fall in revenue from stamp duty because of the decline or stabilisation of the housing market and the associated reduction in turnover and would increase stamp duty to prevent a collapse in revenue. This plan assumes that everything, particularly in the construction industry, will continue in the same prosperous way it did in the past and that turnover will remain stable or increase. I do not know whether this is true and neither does anybody else. Absolutely no provision is made for a situation where we are not as well-off as we might be, only an assumption of a flourishing economy. I hope it is true. However, it is fairyland to present a plan and state it is the only possible situation which can arise.
I was also struck by the loudly lauded rhetoric produced by the Minister when he departed from his supplied script. I listened to it on the monitor. As Ministers always do, he continuously gave credit for much of the economic boom to the social partners.
Mr. Ross: Even the Labour Party does not wish to do this. It is the only split we can identify between it and its brethren. However, it is important. Why must we continuously refer to the strong men of old Ireland when the boom comes from new Ireland?
It is significant the Minister referred to social partnership. By this he means trade unions because IBEC does not matter but must be included to keep it happy. Why must he defer to them when we all know a future boom will come from people who are not part of social partnership, namely, the multinationals? I would like to have seen more concentration on them in the national development plan. I am sick and tired of hearing about social inclusion, the social partners and such verbiage which is old Ireland and the old economy.
Did anybody in the Department of Finance read the US Chamber of Commerce submission on the national development plan? I sometimes wonder. It was full of dire warnings about the Irish economy. It warned that US and other multinationals would not come here unless certain priorities were observed. I do not see any of those priorities in the Minister’s speech.
I see tokenism where the Minister mentioned an amount of €20 billion to be invested in the promotion of enterprise, science and innovation. It is a wonderful figure. I do not know where it came from. He also mentioned various matters which to me fall under the category of grants. It is giving money away to keep a few vested interests happy.
He ought to have considered what will keep the economy buzzing according to the wishes of the multinationals which are, whether we like it or not, fuelling the boom on which we depend. They will provide the 4.5% growth he wrongly assumes will happen for the next six or seven years. It might be 8%, 3% or 1%. It might be negative. Nobody knows. It is a convenient figure for a pre-election programme. It sounds reasonable and neither too big nor too small. One can spend a great deal of other people’s money when one assumes 4.5% growth.
I feel split on this motion and do not know what is the right way to vote. The Government has done a wonderful job on the economy which should be recognised. However, I fear this programme is not visionary. It is a purely aspirational spending programme and a fantasy.
Dr. Mansergh: I thank all those who contributed to the debate beginning with the Leader, Senator O’Rourke. I thoroughly approve of the restoration of the Athlone to Mullingar railway line which would help restore the interconnectedness of the rail system. The plan is not only for the future, it is being implemented as we speak.
Senator John Paul Phelan tried to present the Fine Gael amendment to the motion as merely offering scrutiny. None of us object to scrutiny. However, as the language it uses includes “failure after failure”, “abhors” and “scandal” it is nothing of the kind. It is straightforward denunciation.
In reply to Senator Quinn, the previous national development plan received top marks from the EU Commission and the ESRI. Since the late 1980s we spent our moneys well, unlike other countries and the results show for it.
I share Senator Brian Hayes’s delight that we will have transatlantic connections from Knock. I am happy to pay tribute to anyone who contributed to it, particularly Deputy Perry. It is extraordinary to have Mayor Bloomberg come to Ireland to attract Irish tourists to New York. It always used to be the other way round.
Much was stated on Government incompetence and dreadful management. I have been on the doorsteps and no one buys that line. No one outside the country believes it. During the past 20 years we had outstanding economic success. I do not state everything was perfect. However, it is greatly admired and we are regarded as a model. We have gone far beyond what we had and what those among us who are older expected in the 1970s and 1980s.
I entirely agree with Senator White. Partition has been an impediment to economic development in the North. Significant improvements were made in Northern Ireland railway rolling stock which I welcome. The lack of a motorway from Belfast to Derry would not have happened if the country was independent.
Decentralisation was mentioned by Senator Henry. It is an entirely voluntary process. Across the water, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, announced a large decentralisation programme and if people did not participate they lost their jobs. In the senior levels of the French public sector it is taken for granted that high-flyers will serve in the prefectures throughout the country. I wish certain senior civil servants here would adopt a more positive attitude to the gains and experience of being located in various parts of the country.
Dr. Mansergh: In many ways, the plan is a grand synthesis. It is good to pull these matters together. The prosperity of this country 50 years ago was based on the first programme of economic expansion. Of course it was not a plan in the Stalinist sense of the word. It was a programme such as others which have served us very well, as has the participation of the social partners, a fact which has been internationally recognised. Some people of a neoliberal-conservative persuasion disagree. For example, Samuel Brittan of the Financial Times came to Ireland and could not understand social partnership as it did not fit into his vision of the world. Nor does it fit into the vision of the world of the Sunday Independent, which would love policies which landed us in industrial conflict on a grand scale. It misses the fact that we did not have a Thatcherite industrial relations policy.
|Bradford, Paul.||Burke, Paddy.|
|Burke, Ulick.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Coonan, Noel.||Cummins, Maurice.|
|Feighan, Frank.||Finucane, Michael.|
|Hayes, Brian.||Henry, Mary.|
|McDowell, Derek.||Norris, David.|
|O’Meara, Kathleen.||O’Toole, Joe.|
|Phelan, John.||Quinn, Feargal.|
|Ross, Shane.||Ryan, Brendan.|
|Brennan, Michael.||Cox, Margaret.|
|Dardis, John.||Dooley, Timmy.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Fitzgerald, Liam.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||Hanafin, John.|
|Kett, Tony.||Kitt, Michael P.|
|Leyden, Terry.||Lydon, Donal J.|
|Mansergh, Martin.||Mooney, Paschal C.|
|Morrissey, Tom.||Moylan, Pat.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||O’Brien, Francis.|
|O’Rourke, Mary.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Scanlon, Eamon.|
|Walsh, Jim.||White, Mary M.|
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