Dáil Éireann - Volume 658 - 02 July, 2008

Ceisteanna — Questions. - Programmes for Government.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach if it is intended to publish a review of the progress made with regard to the implementation of the programme for Government at the end of the Government’s first year in office; when he expects that the report will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14624/08]

Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if a progress report on the implementation of the Programme for Government will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17127/08]

Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25458/08]

Deputy Simon Coveney asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25459/08]

[363] Deputy Michael Creed asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25460/08]

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25461/08]

Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25462/08]

Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25463/08]

Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25464/08]

Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25465/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25466/08]

Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25467/08]

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25468/08]

Deputy James Reilly asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25469/08]

Deputy Michael Ring asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25470/08]

Deputy Alan Shatter asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25471/08]

Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25472/08]

[364] Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25473/08]

  The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 18, inclusive, together.

Much progress has already been achieved in fulfilling the commitments in the programme for Government. Clearly, the Government must make decisions in light of the fiscal position which will be indicated on publication of the half-yearly Exchequer returns.

We will give priority to those programme commitments which are most valuable from a social and economic perspective and can be realistically achieved in view of the current budgetary position. I intend to publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government by the end of the summer.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Will there be a revision of the programme for Government? As I understand it, the programme for Government was based on the assumption of an economic growth rate of 4.5% per annum over the life of the Government, which will clearly not be achieved. Will there be a revision of the specifics in the programme for Government?

I wish to ask about two specific points. The first is the commitment by the Government, and Fianna Fáil in particular, to reduce the top rate of tax by 1%, the lower rate of tax by 2%, and to cut employee PRSI contributions by 2%. Is the Taoiseach proceeding with that or is it still in the programme for Government or to be believed?

There is also a commitment in the programme for Government to cut the VAT rates on certain environmental goods and services from 21% to 13.5%. Is it still intended to proceed with that?

  The Taoiseach: These are budgetary matters taken at budget time in the context and circumstances of what the budget would be. During the election campaign, I set out my priorities with regard to those tax commitments and these are on the record and available for public consumption.

All commitments made in the programme for Government and our manifesto were very clear. They were more conservative than commitments made by others but I made it very clear that they are in the context of a sustainable public finance position. We must work within certain guidelines as members of the euro currency area. Clearly, we must contend with that position.

These matters must be considered in the context of the full tenure of Government. Which ones are to be implemented and how will be a matter for budgetary decision from year to year.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I will pursue the matter further. I accept these are budgetary matters and I am not asking the Taoiseach what is in the 2009 budget or even the 2010 budget. I am asking him what is in the programme for Government and if it still holds.

In respect of this particular set of commitments, I wish to know if it still the Government’s intention to cut the top rate of tax by 1%, the standard rate by 2% and employee PRSI rates by 2%? Is that still the Government’s intention in its lifetime and does it form part of the programme for Government?

There are commitments relating to VAT rates for environmental goods and services, which the Government committed to in the programme for Government to cut from 21% to 13.5%. Is it still the Government’s intention to do this? I am not asking the Taoiseach what budget will effect the changes but is it still the Government’s plan?

[365]   The Taoiseach: I made it clear to the Deputy in my earlier reply that it is a question of using resources. All programmes, including that one, are based on the availability of resources. We have to do the right thing with the resources available to us. I made the position clear during the election campaign, not subsequently.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Taoiseach is waffling.

  The Taoiseach: I am not waffling. I made it very clear——

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I asked a succinct question.

  The Taoiseach: I am answering the question. The Deputy seeks to suggest the commitments were absolute or made without reference to the public finances, which is not the position. When the commitments were made they were set out very clearly on that basis.

11 o’clock

A sound economy is the bedrock of social progress and an absolute prerequisite for all our ambitions. To that end, we will defend prosperity and the consequences of that determination are clear. If we ever face into a global economic downturn, we will act prudently, as we have done previously, and will keep the healthy fundamentals intact through the downturn. We said that if there was a downturn, we would have to take account of it. There were no absolute commitments made in any respect before, during or after any election because the first priority is to maintain a sound economy, without which one has no prospects and one can talk aspirationally about anything one likes. That is the position, as was set out in writing at the time.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I will stick with the issues of tax, PRSI and VAT on environmental goods and services. While I am aware of the context in which the commitment was presented, it is still the case that the Government’s intention was to cut the top rate of tax by 1%, the standard rate by 2% and PRSI by 2%.

  The Taoiseach: We would do so if we achieved 4.5% annual growth.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Does that mean the Government will not proceed with the commitment?

  The Taoiseach: The meaning is very simple. As was the case with the Labour Party programme, my party’s programme was based on certain assumptions. The Labour Party’s assumptions were the very same.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Taoiseach is in Government.

  The Taoiseach: I am in Government and I am telling the Deputy we do our budgets when budget time comes.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I am trying to find out what the Taoiseach will do.

  The Taoiseach: The Deputy is being smart.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: No, take it easy.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Questions should be addressed through the Chair.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I am only trying to find out what he will do.

  The Taoiseach: The Deputy knows exactly what I will do.

[366]   Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Taoiseach has told people what will be done. Do I understand from what he is saying that the commitment to reduce the top rate of tax by 1%, the standard rate of tax by 2% and the PRSI rate by 2% is gone? Let me help him by stating my belief that most people believe it is gone. There is no big river for him to cross so he should just tell us.

  The Taoiseach: It is not a question of having a river to cross. Unlike the Labour Party during the election, I set out the priorities and, in the event of there being a downturn, where my priorities would be if we could achieve them. I cannot anticipate what the Minister for Finance, who has constitutional responsibility in this area, will do at budget time.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: He will clean up the mess.

  The Taoiseach: This year we can be sure that we have such a challenging environment that the prospect of tax reform in the first budget is not on the agenda. However, we also want to ensure we keep taxes on labour and capital low in order that we can continue to reward risk and those who are working and ensure people maintain their standard of living. That is not rocket science. I will not have it suggested that we made commitments without any contextual background or without being straight and clear from day one. Our commitments were more conservative than those made by the prospective Opposition at the time.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: Does the Taoiseach agree with the Minister for Finance’s statement that the construction industry has come to a shuddering halt? I am not sure if the Taoiseach is aware of what is happening on the streets, with examples of public drunkenness, violence and the use of drugs and knives while gardaí are unable, owing to inadequate resources, to do the business for which they are properly trained. The programme for Government states that each local authority area will create an anti-social behaviour action team. Will the Taoiseach indicate which local authority areas have created such teams in accordance with the programme for Government?

  The Taoiseach: What was the final question?

  Deputy Enda Kenny: The programme for Government states the Government will create anti-social behaviour action teams in each local authority area. How many such teams have been created?

  The Taoiseach: I am not aware what, if any, teams are in place. The question would be best directed to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

  Deputy James Bannon: The Taoiseach is passing the buck.

  The Taoiseach: I do not have the information. On the construction industry, it is estimated that in the region of 40,000 residential houses will be built this year and activity continues in the commercial sector.

  Deputy Phil Hogan: The figure is nonsense and will never be achieved.

  The Taoiseach: We are involved in forecasts and will know at the end of the year what is the actual position. Some say 45,000 houses will be built this year, while others say output will be 35,000 or 40,000. I am taking the median figure but it is only a forecast. I am trying to have an intelligent conversation halfway through the year.

[367]   Deputy Enda Kenny: The Taoiseach referred to the constitutional responsibility of the Minister for Finance. The latter stated the construction industry had come to a shuddering halt. Does the Taoiseach agree with that statement?

  The Taoiseach: Compared to last year, the level of output has greatly decreased.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: Where has the straight talker gone?

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must allow the Taoiseach to finish.

  The Taoiseach: If the Deputy is suggesting there is no activity in the construction sector——

  Deputy Enda Kenny: Where is the straight talker?

  The Taoiseach: I am giving a straight answer but the Deputy will not listen to it.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: Does the Taoiseach agree with the Minister for Finance?

  An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Kenny is out of order. He must allow the Taoiseach to finish.

  The Taoiseach: It depends on how one wants to translate the statement.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: This is not the Brian Cowen we know.

  The Taoiseach: Is the Deputy suggesting there is no construction activity in the economy?

  Deputy Enda Kenny: No, I am asking——

  The Taoiseach: I do not suggest that is the case and neither did the Minister for Finance.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: ——the Taoiseach if he agrees with the Minister for Finance who said the construction industry had come to a shuddering halt?

  The Taoiseach: I will not get into semantics with the Deputy.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: Will the Taoiseach give a “Yes” or “No” answer?

  The Taoiseach: The Deputy is making a semantic, facetious argument.

  An Ceann Comhairle: If Deputy Kenny wishes to ask a question, he is now in order. I ask him to address questions through the Chair as we cannot have argy-bargy in the House.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: I will repeat the question. Does the Taoiseach agree with the statement by the Minister for Finance that the construction industry has come to a shuddering halt? It is either “Yes” or “No”.

  The Taoiseach: Clearly the construction industry’s output is greatly reduced this year compared to last year. However, the idea that there is no activity taking place or to try to interpret——

  Deputy Enda Kenny: That is not the question I asked.

  The Taoiseach: The Deputy is trying to say the Minister for Finance suggested there was no construction activity taking place. The Minister did not say that. He said the rate of growth was contracting when compared to last year and previous years. The Deputy had better ask the Minister for Finance precisely——

[368]   Deputy Enda Kenny: The Taoiseach had better ask him.

  The Taoiseach: The Deputy is trying to suggest there is no construction activity. He is talking down the economy enough without playing that game.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: I am most certainly not suggesting anything of the kind. I am asking the Taoiseach, who appointed the Minister for Finance, whether he agrees with the latter’s statement that the construction industry has come to a shuddering halt. Does he agree with the statement or not?

  The Taoiseach: The rate of growth in the construction sector this year is much reduced on previous years. That is all that is in the statement and the Deputy should cease this stupid, silly, semantic argument.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: The Brian Cowen of old has vanished.

  The Taoiseach: If that is as much as the Deputy has to say about the economy, good luck to him.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: The Taoiseach will not answer the question.

  The Taoiseach: This is puerile stuff.

  Deputy Olwyn Enright: The Taoiseach will be aware of a report issued some time ago by the Comptroller and Auditor General on the rent supplement scheme. One of the commitments in the programme for Government is to more fully integrate the tax and social welfare systems to allow for more efficient data and money transfer. Currently, more than €400 million per annum is expended on the rent supplement scheme. The ultimate recipient of this money, which first goes to tenants, is the landlord. We do not have an efficient system in place to ensure landlords pay tax on the money they receive through the rent supplement allowance. What progress has been made in this matter and is further progress likely? The Exchequer would save a considerable amount of money if the taxes due were paid.

  The Taoiseach: The issue of trying to integrate the welfare system with the local authority system in respect of rent supplements etc., is ongoing. As I am not sure of the current position, the Deputy should ask a specific question of the Minister. All the commitments in the programme for Government were made in the context of a full term of Government.

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: The programme for Government makes a clear commitment to reforming bus licensing to facilitate the optimum provision of services by providing a level playing field for all market participants. This is a legislative rather than an economic issue. The Minister for Transport is in the hands of CIE and the bus unions and misses every opportunity to reform the bus market. Is it not the case that his inaction, unfair subsidies and unfair competition by Bus Éireann have caused the Circle Line service between Kildare and Dublin, a good, private service, to cease operations?

  The Taoiseach: Some reform of the bus service will take place under the Dublin Transport Authority Bill which is going through the House. There is also an understanding that once the Bill has been enacted, the Minister for Transport will examine reform of the Road Transport Act 1932.

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: Is it not a fact that the Minister for Transport has refused to supply the Opposition with a full list of all the State subsidies relating to Dublin Bus routes? I [369] requested information on those subsidies in the form of a list of the routes involved and the amount payable per route. The Minister promised to supply that information before today but it has not arrived. He has refused to supply the information and refused to act.

  Deputy Noel Dempsey: I do not supply such information.

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: This Administration is not honouring the commitments in its programme for Government.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Members should be aware that the Taoiseach cannot be expected to reply to detailed queries in respect of matters that are proper to line Ministers.

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: I asked for clarity on this issue. The questions tabled relate to the programme for Government.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I will ask the Taoiseach to reply again.

  The Taoiseach: I have given a reply in respect of the legislation.

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: What about the PSOs?

  Deputy Phil Hogan: In the light of the fact that he negotiated the programme for Government, one would expect the Taoiseach to be aware of its contents.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Yes.

  Deputy Phil Hogan: He should then be in a position to answer questions in respect of it.

  Deputy Noel Dempsey: He is answering questions.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Hogan understands what I am saying.

  Deputy Phil Hogan: Does the Taoiseach include the assumptions on the economy contained in the programme for Government with the 40 commitments relating to various matters made by his predecessor at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis six weeks prior to last year’s general election?

  Deputy Brian Hayes: He did not agree with it at the time.

  Deputy Phil Hogan: I accept the Taoiseach did not agree with it at the time.

  Deputy Brian Hayes: We know that much.

  The Taoiseach: The figures in our manifesto added up; those in Fine Gael’s did not.

  Deputy James Bannon: Fianna Fáil’s manifesto is in tatters today.

  Deputy Phil Hogan: Does the Taoiseach disagree with the 40 commitments made by the then leader of his party at its Ard-Fheis last year?

What new initiatives does the Taoiseach intend to bring forward, particularly in respect of those who are on lengthening waiting lists, in order to kick-start activity in the housing sector? Does he propose to reform the social and affordable housing schemes which are not working?

The programme for Government states it is the goal of this Administration to eliminate homelessness by 2010. Does the Taoiseach, as the leader of a republican party, intend to cater for the needs of the less well-off, particularly those who are homeless? What progress has been [370] made to date in 2008 regarding the 3% target relating to climate change contained in the programme for Government?

  The Taoiseach: There will be a report at the end of the year on the progress made on the carbon budget. We are making an unprecedented investment in social and affordable housing. This is regarded as an important expenditure item in the capital programme.

  Deputy Phil Hogan: The target contained in the programme for Government has been halved.

  The Taoiseach: The level of investment in social and affordable housing is unprecedented. Action in respect of all the matters under discussion can only be taken on the basis of the availability of resources. That is the position with regard to every programme ever devised. If one does not have the resources, one cannot spend them. As Fine Gael did in the past, however, one might wish to borrow money and double the national debt.

  Deputy Phil Hogan: The Taoiseach borrowed €3.5 billion in the most recent budget.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Taoiseach should be allowed to conclude.

  The Taoiseach: I borrowed that money for capital expenditure purposes.

  Deputy Phil Hogan: That was not the case. Half of the money borrowed went on the current side.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Hogan should allow the Taoiseach to conclude.

  The Taoiseach: Fine Gael borrowed for current expenditure purposes. During our term in office we have halved the national debt. When Fine Gael was in power, it doubled.

  Deputy Phil Hogan: That is not correct.

  The Taoiseach: There has been a great deal of investment in respect of the homeless. A homelessness strategy has been set down and we hope to be able to implement it in a progressive manner on the basis of both the resources available and the priority we can accord to it.

On the Deputy’s first point, we set out our position on the basis of the same assumptions used by Fine Gael to set out its position. The people made their decision and we will now deal with the situation as it stands.

  Deputy Phil Hogan: Will the Taoiseach intervene to ensure the HSE will have funding available in order that it might be able to operate the homeless shelters being built by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government? Under what sort of programme for Government or national strategy does one put in place a system under which such shelters can be built but where the agency responsible for them does not have the resources necessary to fund their operation? Does the Taoiseach agree that the provision of funding such as that to which I refer is essential in the context of ensuring the less well-off and the homeless will be catered for and that we will go some way towards meeting the 2010 target?

  The Taoiseach: Some progress has been made in respect of this matter as a result of ministerial discussions. A certain number of sheltered homes were completed and it was a question of making staffing arrangements in order that those who might benefit from the provision of [371] those homes could take up residence in them. Some progress has been made since this matter was first highlighted.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I again remind Members that under the principle of collective responsibility, official responsibility for individual parts of the programme for Government is assigned to line Ministers.

  Deputy James Reilly: I accept what the Ceann Comhairle says. I heard his comments earlier regarding the expectation that the Taoiseach should know every detail of the various parts of the programme for Government.

Where the national strategy for tackling obesity is concerned, not one of the 128 recommendations made has been implemented. The personal health check expert groups which were supposed to be established in 2007, with a requirement to report by mid-2008, have not even met yet.

There is a promise in the programme for Government to the effect that “We will double the income limit eligibility for parents of children under 6 years of age and treble them for parents of children with an intellectual disability under 18 years of age”. There is a commitment in Towards 2016 that there will be 300 teams up and running under the primary health care strategy which commenced in 2001. These teams were to be in place by mid-2008. There may be 87 such teams in place but the majority are virtual in nature and not delivering additional services. Where stands the commitment to roll out 300 teams under the primary health care strategy? Is it intended that they will be put in place and is the funding available to allow this to happen?

  An Ceann Comhairle: That is really a matter for a line Minister.

  The Taoiseach: There will not be 300 teams in place by the end of the year if the information relating to level of progress made thus far, as outlined by the Deputy, is correct. The co-operation of those involved in the medical profession and others is required to ensure the teams can be put in place. The Deputy will be aware, from a position he occupied in the past, that a great deal of negotiation must take place.

  Deputy James Reilly: We will need to train many more doctors.

  The Taoiseach: The commitment relating to medical cards was made in the context of being honoured over the entire course of the Government’s term of office. We must prioritise the matters that can be advanced on the basis of the resources available.

  Deputy James Reilly: Does the Taoiseach, as someone who is supposed to have socialist leanings——

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Easy now.

  Deputy James Reilly: ——accept that the current income threshold relating to medical cards, at just over half the minimum wage, is completely inadequate and must be addressed as a matter of urgency?

  An Ceann Comhairle: That is a matter for the relevant line Minister.

  Deputy Richard Bruton: Will the Taoiseach indicate whether statements contained in the programme for Government to the effect that this Administration will operate a responsible fiscal policy characterised by budget surpluses and a declining debt burden and that, under its [372] plan, Ireland’s net debt will be reduced to less than 3% by 2012 remain accurate? The most recent indication from the ESRI indicates that the national debt will increase by 60% in just three years and that it is rapidly on the way to doubling over the period of the programme for Government.

Does the Taoiseach accept that the programme for Government, as an indication of this Administration’s medium-term strategy, is now meaningless, particularly when one considers the expectation, as indicated by the Department of Finance, that, in cumulative terms, tax revenue will be out by €30 billion when compared to what was predicted when the programme was drawn up? Does he agree that an alternative medium-term strategy will be required if the programme for Government no longer constitutes such a strategy? Does he agree that such an alternative strategy should set out what will be the new priorities on the basis of the resources expected to be available? The programme for Government gives priority to the delivery of the national development plan, in full and on time. However, the Minister for Finance clearly indicated that this will not happen.

Does the Taoiseach agree that an alternative strategy which is based on realistic expectation regarding resources and which sets down priorities to protect the vulnerable is needed? Does he also agree that putting in place plans which cannot be funded within a five-year period is a waste of the resources of the State?

  The Taoiseach: On the basis that the growth rate will not be 4.5%, it is clear that we will not be able to implement all aspects of the programme for Government. The latter is, after all, based on the assumption of achieving such a rate of growth. We must prioritise certain areas of activity, ensure we make the correct strategic decisions in order to increase the capacity of the economy and make it able to withstand the competitive pressures to which it is being subjected and emerge from this difficult period with as resilient and as good an economy as possible. Even if we were not experiencing difficulties such as those with which we are faced, in the absence of a growth rate of 4.5% we could not achieve full implementation of the programme for Government. The consequence of that will be set out during the course of this year and, indeed, in the next budget. As is the case in every Budget Statement, we will set out our medium-term strategy based on our expectations for the debt to GDP ratio. That is the normal budgetary provision over a three year period but it is clear from the level of growth achieved this year that the elimination of debt is not an achievable target during the course of this Administration. We have to devise a sustainable public finance position which will address the present situation, allow the economy to continue to function and provide basic levels of service, while at the same time ensuring that we return to the medium-term growth rates discussed by the ESRI in its report.

  Deputy Richard Bruton: Surely, the Taoiseach does not pretend that the budget represents a medium-term strategy. It is an arithmetic projection of existing levels of services. There is no attempt to drive efficiency or find ways of economising in certain areas in order to provide resources for priorities. We have four difficult years ahead of us and we need a proper compass to guide us. Every time I ask the Taoiseach about this, however, he consistently refuses to acknowledge that the programme for Government does not represent such a strategy and that we need an alternative. The sooner he wakes up to that and starts to build the strategy, the better for this economy’s recovery.

  The Taoiseach: I made the point to the Deputy——

  Deputy Richard Bruton: The Government is living from hand to mouth.

[373]   The Taoiseach: That is not correct. When circumstances change and revenues are not as predicted, one has to adapt and prioritise.

  Deputy Richard Bruton: These are the priorities the Government published.

  The Taoiseach: They are not simply the priorities, they are the full gamut of activities that the Government would like to undertake if we achieve a 4.5% growth rate per annum for the next five years. It is clear, if the criticism is that we are not implementing the programme, that it would put us into an unsustainable public finance position. That is clearly not an option.

  Deputy Richard Bruton: The Taoiseach has to produce an alternative and let us scrutinise it.

  The Taoiseach: The bottom line is this——

  Deputy Richard Bruton: The Taoiseach is running away from it.

  The Taoiseach: I am not running away from it. We will come forward with our own priorities in regard to how to proceed. That is a matter for the Government in terms of Estimates campaigns and developing the Department of Finance position.

  Deputy Simon Coveney: Will we have a new programme?

  The Taoiseach: In the meantime, immediate decisions will have to be made to take corrective action so that we work within the spending limits we have set ourselves for this year, while recognising, as we must, that the reduction in tax revenues means a deterioration in the public finance position for the year.

  Deputy Richard Bruton: The Taoiseach is continuing to steer the car while looking out the rear window.

  The Taoiseach: That is not true.

  Deputy Richard Bruton: He has to look out the front.

  Deputy Simon Coveney: Am I correct in interpreting the Taoiseach’s reply to mean that we will have a new programme for Government, subject to new budgetary constraints?

  The Taoiseach: The Deputy did not hear that at all.

  Deputy Simon Coveney: That is what he seemed to suggest but then he backed away from it.

  The Taoiseach: I said we would prioritise what is in the programme.

  Deputy Simon Coveney: Basically, one would start again.

  The Taoiseach: One prioritises what is in the programme.

  Deputy Phil Hogan: Tear up one and write another.

  Deputy Simon Coveney: I wish to raise two Government commitments that are not subject to budgetary constraints. The first pertains to energy competitiveness and the Government’s assurance on overseeing the transfer of transmission assets to Eirgrid, thereby establishing it as the national transmission grid company by the end of this year. That was in the programme for Government for a good reason, namely, to achieve structural separation between the ESB and Eirgrid in the context of facilitating competition in energy generation and supply in Ireland. [374] Now the Taoiseach cannot even tell us when the legislation to facilitate that will be brought before the House despite the promises made last September and October that it would be introduced by mid-2008. Why has he changed his mind on that issue?

The second commitment concerns telecommunications infrastructure. The Government has been in power for one year, yet there has been no movement on the promotion of broadband. We were due to have a national broadband scheme by 1 July. Why has that not been put in place and when will we see it? In terms of the promotion of next generation broadband, which is a direct competitiveness issue that would help to boost our economy through infrastructural provision, tomorrow morning we will get yet another forum report. When will the Government make a decision on that?

  An Ceann Comhairle: These are questions for the line Minister.

  Deputy Simon Coveney: They are not. With respect, these are directly promised in the programme for Government.

  An Ceann Comhairle: That is not the point.

  The Taoiseach: In regard to the first matter raised by Deputy Coveney, I refer him to the statement made in March by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, which set out the policy position as a result of consultations with stakeholders. On the question of the national broadband strategy, the Minister plans to publish his ideas on that area imminently.

  Deputy Simon Coveney: May I ask a supplementary question?

  An Ceann Comhairle: Yes, but several Deputies are waiting to contribute.

  Deputy Simon Coveney: Does the Taoiseach have an interest in promoting an appropriate information technology infrastructure in Ireland or is he merely relying on the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to bring forward his ideas for the area when it is convenient for him to do so? The Minister has been in government for a year. I am aware that the Taoiseach consults Irish business concerns on a regular basis. One of the major criticisms raised by business concerns pertains to information technology and telecommunications infrastructure, and next generation broadband in particular. Is that a Government priority or is it not?

  The Taoiseach: As I have said, the Government has discussed this matter and the Minister will publish the outcome of those discussions presently.

  Deputy Brian Hayes: In response to a previous question, the Taoiseach told Deputy Bruton that one adapts and prioritises according to the new situation the country faces. While that is an eminently reasonable attitude, is it therefore logical for the Taoiseach, as Head of Government, to instruct his line Ministers to explain to us their exact priorities for the commitments given in each area of the programme? In education, for example, the Taoiseach is aware that 56 priorities have been set out for the lifetime of the Government. Which of these commitments will be met? Is it not reasonable for the Taoiseach to instruct his Ministers to set out the substantial priorities in light of the new economic backdrop?

  Deputy James Reilly: Hear, hear.

  Deputy Brian Hayes: Is that not a fair and reasonable position? Will he speak about his response as Head of Government?

[375] He is aware that a number of commitments were given in the national development plan, one of which concerned the upgrading of technology in schools. A commitment was given to spend €252 million over the seven years of the NDP. Do commitments underwritten by the NDP remain regardless of the commitments given in the programme? The commitment on technology has not seen a brass farthing since it was outlined in January 2007.

  Deputy Simon Coveney: That is capital expenditure.

  The Taoiseach: When the NDP was published, it stated clearly on page 16 that it was subject to a prudent budgetary policy fully consistent with the Stability and Growth Pact. That was reiterated by me and my colleagues on numerous occasions. It is stated on the same page that the NDP will “allow for reallocation as necessary depending on evolving priorities and the economic and budgetary situation.” The NDP is the same as a budget or anything else in that it has to be subject to the availability of resources.

To answer the Deputy’s question on prioritisation by Ministers, if in the first year of a five year programme one ends up in a situation where the rate of growth is much less than anticipated because of the environment in which we find ourselves, one’s first priority has to involve consolidating the existing position and trying to maintain the services built up over the years. That is the amount of resources available. If one can get out of this situation — it is said that 2009 will be a difficult year, with higher growth rates perhaps beginning in 2010 — one will be in a position to resume the prioritisation. One will see the priorities for years three, four and five at that stage. In the context of 2009, one would use the Estimates campaign to work out with the Minister for Finance the policy changes, value for money and level of increased output that can be obtained for the resources allocated on the basis that one has to sustain a doable budgetary position over the period. That is how one would proceed and that will emerge in due course.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: In response to the various questions, the Taoiseach stated the Government has priorities. I want to come back to the two questions I asked about tax issues. Are issues such as the 1% reduction in the top rate and 2% reduction in the standard rate of tax, the promised 2% reduction in PRSI payments and the promised reduction in VAT rates on environmental goods and services from 21% to 13.5% in the top or bottom half of the Taoiseach’s priorities?

  The Taoiseach: The bottom half.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: They are gone.

  The Taoiseach: I gave the Deputy a straight answer and he has misrepresented it again.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: No, I am only interpreting it.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Jan O’Sullivan.

  The Taoiseach: Exactly. When I give the Deputy a straight answer he does not accept it.

  Deputy Brian Hayes: Where are the jobs?

  An Ceann Comhairle: I cannot allow a running commentary on this matter.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Is the Taoiseach saying to all the working people who voted Fianna Fáil in the last election on the basis of its promises to reduce their tax and PRSI payments and to the people purchasing environmental services in response to the many advertisements by [376] Government in respect of our being more environmentally friendly that they should have read the small print?

  Deputy Enda Kenny: Bye, bye.

  The Taoiseach: No. It is printed in the same size as the rest of the print.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: No, it is not.

  The Taoiseach: Yes, it is. It is on page 1 of the manifesto.

  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: They should have gone to Specsavers.

  The Taoiseach: In response to the Deputy’s question in regard to my priorities, I said during the campaign that we would try to respect the tax bands, which is the most important issue; that we would then seek to assist those on the standard rate following which we would look at the higher rate. That is what I said at the time; there is no secret about it. This would be regarded by many as a sensible prioritisation in respect of those commitments.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Jan O’Sullivan.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: May I ask the Taoiseach a simple question? The Taoiseach was Minister for Finance at the time.

  The Taoiseach: That is what I said at the time.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Whatever about the rest of us knowing the score in regard to the state of the public finances, the Taoiseach, as then Minister for Finance, had to have had a better knowledge of the situation than the rest of us or anybody else in the country. Why did he allow his party leader at the time to make a promise in respect of, for example, a 2% reduction in PRSI when he knew that there was not a hope in hell it would ever be delivered?

  Deputy Enda Kenny: To retain power.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: It was a naked political promise designed to cod people. Fianna Fáil had no intention of delivering on it because it knew it could not do so. It was a lie.

  The Taoiseach: It was not a lie. That is unworthy of Deputy Gilmore.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: It was a lie.

  The Taoiseach: It was not a lie. It was based on a growth rate of 4.5%. We were talking about raising the ceiling and reducing the rate. Raising the ceiling was part of the proposal. This helps people on lower incomes rather than those on higher incomes.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Taoiseach has abandoned the proposal.

  The Taoiseach: No. That is the full proposal which the Deputy is choosing to misrepresent.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: It has been abandoned because it cannot be delivered.

  The Taoiseach: The Deputy stated that I told lies. I told no lies.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Taoiseach, as Minister for Finance at the time, knew it could not be delivered.

[377]   The Taoiseach: I stated our position exactly, which was more conservative than that of the Labour Party.

Deputy Gilmore’s then party leader, in an effort to get votes at the time, promised at least €2.5 billion in addition to that already promised by the Labour Party. Do not lecture me on the matter.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Taoiseach was Minister for Finance at the time.

  An Ceann Comhairle: We must move on.

  The Taoiseach: On the point that I knew more about the state of the public finances——

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Taoiseach, as Minister for Finance, did know more than the rest of us.

  The Taoiseach: If the Deputy will allow me, I will answer that question. It is another canard I would like to nail.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Taoiseach, as Minister for Finance, knew more than the rest of us. He knew those promises could never be delivered.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Gilmore has not been called.

  The Taoiseach: Deputy Gilmore is wrong. The Fianna Fáil manifesto added up, the Labour Party’s did not. We proved that at the time. The Deputy should not be coming in here trying to rewrite history.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Taoiseach knew those promises could not be delivered. He is now, some 12 months later——

  Deputy Noel Dempsey: Circumstances have changed.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry, we cannot have a debate on the issue now.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Changed circumstances.

  The Taoiseach: Was there an economist in the country talking about a rate of 0.5% for 2008?

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Taoiseach, as Minister for Finance, was managing the public finances.

  The Taoiseach: Yes.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Gilmore, I have three more Deputies offering.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Every taxi driver in Dublin could tell the Taoiseach the construction boom could not continue at the rate it was going.

  An Ceann Comhairle: We have only six minutes remaining. I must move on.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Planning applications were falling. The Taoiseach, as Minister for Finance, knew where we were heading.

  Deputy Noel Dempsey: Deputy Gilmore must have known that too.

[378]   The Taoiseach: Why did you include it in your document then? The Deputy is contradicting himself.

  An Ceann Comhairle: There are three Deputies offering. I am calling Deputy O’Sullivan followed by Deputies O’Dowd and McManus.

  Deputy James Reilly: The Taoiseach was Minister for Finance at the time.

(Interruptions).

  An Ceann Comhairle: This type of argy-bargy cannot continue. I call Deputy O’Sullivan.

  The Taoiseach: Deputy Gilmore is trying to rewrite history; the story of his life.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Taoiseach, as Minister for Finance, was lying to the people. He lied to the people——

  The Taoiseach: I never lied. That is outrageous.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: ——and he codded them.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Jan O’Sullivan.

  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: It is fairly clear from what has just been said to my party leader that this is a work of fiction that should be torn up as it was designed only to win an election.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must ask a question.

  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: It is ominous it was signed by three people who are no longer leaders, former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, Minister of State, Deputy Trevor Sargent and, Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney.

  The Taoiseach: The Labour Party also changed its leader.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: A change is as good as a rest.

  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: We now have no idea what commitments in the programme for Government will be met. Perhaps the Taoiseach will tell us what are the priorities of this Government, in particular in respect of health given the delivery of a fully modern patient-centred health service is one of three issues listed as important.

Already, money allocated for areas such as mental health, palliative care, disability services, as raised again this morning by Deputy Gilmore, and care of the elderly has been diverted by the Health Service Executive for other purposes. Will the Taoiseach give a clear indication, as leader of the country, whether money will be spent in those areas to which it has been allocated, in particular, in respect of the provision of disability services? Also, will he devise a mechanism through which he can control what the HSE does with its budget? Given the cutbacks recently announced, funding specifically ringfenced for these areas is in danger.

What mechanism will the Taoiseach, as leader of Government, use to ensure this funding is spent in areas such as disability services given the concerns outlined in this regard by my party leader this morning? Young people coming out of educational services have nowhere to go. Similarly, people in acute beds in hospitals who need only support in the community have nowhere to go.

[379]   An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy O’Dowd. I will then allow a brief question from Deputy McManus following which the Taoiseach will conclude on this matter.

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: The programme for Government clearly states the Government will fully fund and implement on time all projects under Transport 21. What is the position in this regard, in particular with regard to metro north?

  Deputy Liz McManus: The Taoiseach, when he took office, mentioned specifically in his speech — I remember it well — issues such as the environment and climate change. In this regard, the programme for Government sets an important target of a 3% reduction in carbon emissions per annum. This has goodwill across this House as we all recognise the importance of meeting the challenge of global warming.

I must raise with the Taoiseach an issue of grave concern. I am glad Deputy Behan is present in the House. It appears the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, has lost the confidence not alone of Members on this side of the House but on the Government side. I do not expect the Taoiseach has read The Wicklow Times but I presume he is aware of this loss of confidence on his side given he is leader of the Fianna Fáil Party. I submit to the Taoiseach that we are in trouble when a member of a Government party states the Taoiseach should seriously consider finding an alternative portfolio for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government who self evidently is not up to the job and also calls on that Minister to reconsider his position. This is at a time when we must meet onerous requirements from the EU in respect of climate change. We all want to meet those requirements.

Will the Taoiseach offer to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government a new portfolio with which he can cope? It is clear he has lost the confidence of Members on the Government side of the House to live up to his requirement.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Taoiseach to conclude.

  The Taoiseach: I have never been an advocate of democratic centralism where no one can have an opinion other than that set out by the Politburo, which was the case for about 30 years in respect of the careers of two of the Deputies in front of me——

  Deputy Emmet Stagg: Get out. That is the best example of——

  The Taoiseach: ——who waited for someone from Gardiner Street to come down and tell us what is our next position.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Uno duce, una voce.

  The Taoiseach: While there may be different opinions within the Fianna Fáil Party, I assure the House that Deputy Gormley will remain in his position and that he has the confidence of Government.

  Deputy Liz McManus: Even though he has lost the confidence of some Members.

  Deputy Paul Kehoe: The Government needs the Deputy’s support.

  The Taoiseach: I am not responsible for what is printed in The Wicklow Times. I am just making the point——

  Deputy Liz McManus: That is a slur on the newspaper.

[380]   The Taoiseach: It is not a slur on the newspaper.

  Deputy Liz McManus: Yes, it is.

  The Taoiseach: It is not a slur; no one is casting a slur on the newspaper.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Please allow the Taoiseach to conclude.

  Deputy Liz McManus: The newspaper was quoting what was said by the Deputy.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Incidentally, Deputy McManus, quotations are not allowed on Question Time.

  The Taoiseach: It is what is called having a sense of humour. More moneys are going into these areas than before, but there are challenges we must confront. The idea that it is all about more resources, without reforms in how we deliver services, has been proven to be untrue in a range of areas——

  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I am talking about the ones for which funding has already been allocated.

  The Taoiseach: ——particularly now that the HSE is measuring the level of output for acute hospital services and how best to reorganise. Clinically-led changes in how we deliver services are providing improvements and, in some areas, savings which will allow reallocation of resources to other areas in which deficits have been identified. If we want a better health service it is not only about more resources but also reform. We will do our best, in the context of availability of resources, to maintain levels of services to the greatest possible extent.

  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: The opposite is happening.

  Deputy James Reilly: The HSE is what needs to be reformed.

  The Taoiseach: That is what we will do. While there are many opportunities to highlight deficiencies and problems that arise in the operation of the health service, we must realise that many good things are also happening.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: We recognise that.

  Deputy James Bannon: There have been cutbacks in community care facilities that happened quite suddenly.

  The Taoiseach: Structural changes are taking place. These changes will have to be implemented and persevered with because the one thing we can be sure of is that the “status quo plus” situation is not sustainable.

  Deputy James Reilly: Nor is the status quo at the HSE.

  The Taoiseach: That is why those who advocate reforms should be supported. They must work with those in the health service to bring about a better system and a better workplace environment for everyone, and better services for the people, which is what it is all about. This must be done on the basis that we do not have limitless resources and we are facing challenging times. That is the truth of it.

  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: Yes, but the Government is cutting the most vulnerable.

[381]   The Taoiseach: I have already outlined what is on page 16 of Transport 21. Again, as important and strategic as this programme is——

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: It is critical.

  The Taoiseach: ——it must take account of the availability of resources.

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: So there will be cutbacks. The Government is not going ahead with it.

  The Taoiseach: It is not a question of that.

  Deputy James Bannon: What about the €34 billion?

  The Taoiseach: It is a question of——

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: The Government said it would be delivered on time.

  The Taoiseach: It is a question of working through the priorities that will be identified with reference to the national development plan and implemented. If the Deputies’ alternative position is that we should borrow more——

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: No; the Government’s position is that it would build the infrastructure on time and it is not doing that.

  The Taoiseach: If the Deputy’s critique is that we should proceed in every respect, regardless of the economic situation, with a plan that was made when there was growth of 4.5%——

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: The Minister said last week it would go ahead on time and on target.

  The Taoiseach: I am sorry——

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: He is sitting beside the Taoiseach. Did he mislead me?

  The Taoiseach: He did not mislead anyone. The Deputies should listen to the answer——

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: I am listening.

  The Taoiseach: ——because it is the same no matter who is in government. On the basis of the resources available, those projects that give us maximum return in terms of improving capacity and providing an economic return on our investment will be identified as priorities and proceeded with in the first instance.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: So it is about economic return.

  The Taoiseach: When we get through this period, which even the ESRI suggests will go on for 12 to 18 months — that is its best case scenario at the moment, which is itself a pessimistic assessment of the economy——

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: Will the metro north proceed on time?

  Deputy Enda Kenny: What about the Navan line?

  The Taoiseach: ——we will then return to higher growth rates, with more resources.

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: Will the metro north proceed?

[382]   The Taoiseach: The programme cannot be done by carrying out one fifth of it every year for five years. That is not the way the country works.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: The Navan line——

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: Will the metro north proceed on time and on target? There is no answer.

  Deputy James Bannon: It will be the same fanfare.

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: The metro north has been cut back.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: And the opening of the Navan line.