Dáil Éireann - Volume 291 - 25 May, 1976

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - National Debt.

28. Mr. J. Lynch asked the Minister for Finance (a) the total national debt; (b) the annual cost of servicing it; (c) the total amount of the debt in currencies other than the pound sterling; (d) the total annual cost of servicing the amount at (c); and (e) the increase in cost at (d) caused by the falling value of the pound.

Dr. FitzGerald: The national debt as at the 31st December, 1975, was £2,650 million. The cost of servicing the national debt in 1976 is estimated at £355 million. The amount of the debt as at 31st December, 1975 denominated in currencies other than Irish pounds was £471 million. As at 30th April, 1976, this figure stood at £640 million. The estimated cost of servicing existing foreign debt in 1976 is £65 million.

If the Irish £ had maintained its 31st December, 1975, value the estimated cost of servicing our foreign loans in 1976 would have been about £60 million, £5 million less than the present estimate.

Mr. J. Lynch: May I take it that the total national debt has increased in three years, since this Government took office, by over 100 per cent?

Dr. FitzGerald: Perhaps it would be better if I gave the Deputy the actual figures because the figures I gave related to the situation at 31st December, 1975, and 30th April, 1976. The figure for foreign debt at 31st December, 1975, was £471 million and at 31st March, 1974, it was £167 million. I am not quite sure what figures the Deputy wants but those are perhaps relevant to his question.

Mr. J. Lynch: Foreign debt at 31st March, 1974, stood at £167 million and it now stands at £640 million. Is that not a disgraceful increase which reflects on the financial and fiscal responsibility [28] of this Government, if they have any?

Dr. FitzGerald: The debt has been incurred since 31st March, 1974, in totally abnormal circumstances as the Deputy will be aware.

(Interruptions.)

Dr. FitzGerald: Not only this country but other countries—other than the oil producing countries and a very small number of other countries —have had to increase their debt, in particular their foreign debt, substantially. The increase arises from those circumstances and it was in the context of a total debt increase which is significant but is not of the same percentage order of magnitude. The foreign debt share of the total debt has increased, of course, in the period.

Mr. J. Lynch: Will the Minister agree that as well as the increase in the amount of the foreign debts that has accrued in the last two or three years they are for about half the term that applied to foreign debts before this Government came into power, in other words, the date of maturing is about seven years from the creating of the debt instead of about 15 as happened four years ago?

Dr. FitzGerald: I have not the precise figures on that and I am afraid I could not answer the Deputy's question about the average period of maturing.

Mr. J. Lynch: The total national debt stands at £3,300 million at the present time. Would the Minister agree that of that amount about £800 million, or 25 per cent, are due to budget deficits?

Dr. FitzGerald: I would not like to answer a question requiring precise information without having actual figures in front of me.

Mr. J. Lynch: Would the Minister take it from me that I have checked these figures and they are reasonably accurate? Twenty-five per cent of our debt is due to the budget deficits incurred by the Minister and his colleagues.

[29] Dr. FitzGerald: That statement is different from that made a minute ago by the Deputy when he referred to the increase in the debt.

Mr. J. Lynch: The cost of servicing that is roughly £350 million, and this represents about 30 per cent of our total tax revenue and 10 per cent of our GNP. Will he agree that for any well managed economy these figures are dangerously high?

Dr. FitzGerald: The figures are certainly high, higher than we would wish and higher than in the past. But in the exceptional circumstances of the last few years this has been an inevitable feature. If our economy is to be kept afloat and moving ahead, extensive borrowing was necessary. The alternative to that would have been cuts in expenditure on a scale that would have massively increased the present unemployment, as the Deputy is aware.

Mr. Haughey: In the figures the Minister gave for external debt, did he include the foreign indebtedness of State bodies? If not, does it not mean that the figure he gave has to be increased by well over £200 million?

Dr. FitzGerald: The question relates to the national debt. The question regarding foreign borrowing by State bodies is a separate one.

Mr. Haughey: Does the Minister agree that, in addition to the foreign borrowing by the Government, the State companies have gone into foreign debt by well over £200 million?

Dr. FitzGerald: The figures I have given relate only to the State. There is also foreign borrowing by State companies. The matter of the amount is a separate question.

Mr. Haughey: Will the Minister not agree that it is well over £200 million?

An Ceann Comhairle: Order. We are entering into another area.

Dr. FitzGerald: As the Deputy's question did not arise out of the question on the Order Paper I am not in a position to answer it. If the [30] Deputy wants that information he should put down a question.

Mr. Haughey: It is in the report of the Central Bank. One would have thought that a former economic commentator would have had that information at his finger tips. Does the Minister agree that, if one takes the Government's foreign indebtedness plus the foreign indebtedness of the State companies and the net foreign liability of the banking system against our foreign external holdings, we are no longer a creditor nation internationally? In the three short years this Government have been in power they have moved us from the position of being a strong international creditor nation into being an international debtor. Will the Minister not agree with that?

Dr. FitzGerald: These are separate question and do not arise out of the question on the Order Paper.