Seanad Éireann - Volume 134 - 17 December, 1992

Private Business. - Appropriation Bill, 1992 [ Certified Money Bill ] : Second and Subsequent Stages.

[1128] Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. N. Treacy): Is cúis áthais dom teacht anseo in bhur measc arís tar éis an olltogcháin. Tá súil agam go mbeidh na Seanadóirí go léir atá anseo tofa don Teach uasal seo agus go mbeidh seans acu arís seirbhís iontach a thabhairt do mhuintir na hÉireann san bhliain seo chugainn.

When my Government colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Bertie Ahern, opened the debate on the Supplementary Estimates in the Dáil on Tuesday, he took the opportunity to welcome both the old and new Members of that House. May I now take this opportunity, a Chathaoirligh, to bid farewell to you and the other outgoing members of this Seanad. Perhaps I should just say au revoir and I sincerely hope that we shall all meet again under similar circumstances in the New Year.

As the House will be aware, the annual Appropriation Bill gives statutory effect to the Departmental Estimates for the supply services, both non-capital and capital, including all Supplementary Estimates, which were approved by the Dáil, since the last Appropriation Act.

The 1992 Bill appropriates to the various services set out in the schedule the sum of £7,925,202, 753. This comprises the original Estimates of £7,630,174,000 set out in the 1992 revised post-budget Book of Estimates, and Supplementary Estimates totalling £294,933,000. Following the normal practice, the Bill also approves the use of certain Departmental receipts, amounting to £964,177,401 as Appropriations-in-Aid.

This year's Bill also covers two Excess Votes relating to 1990. The minor excess on the President's Establishment arose from an under-estimation of expenditure on salaries and wages in December 1990. The excess involved is £1,488, a very modest excess indeed.

[1129] The excess of £94,265 on the Superannuation and Retired Allowances Vote arose as a result of the late submission of claims by a number of Departments in December 1990 for recoupment of payments made earlier in the year in respect of lump sums, death gratuities and marriage gratuities.

In accordance with established financial practice, the Public Accounts Committee have examined these excess Votes and had no objections to them. The Dáil approved them on Tuesday last.

Apart from authorising the Estimates and any Excess Votes, the Appropriation Bill, also has another essential purpose, in that it provides a statutory basis for the calculation of the issues which the Minister for Finance is authorised, under the Central Fund [Permanent Provisions] Act, 1965, to make from the Exchequer towards meeting the cost of the following year's services before the Dáil has an opportunity to approve the Estimates for that year.

Accordingly, if the Appropriation Bill is not passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas before the end of the year, the provisions of the 1965 Act would not come into effect. As the financial year is about to end, this debate provides me with a useful opportunity for a brief review of the budgetary and economic outturn for 1992 and of the prospects for 1993.

The year 1992 was an eventful one in many respects, but not particularly so in budgetary terms. The first quarter was on target, but some drift on the expenditure side emerged by mid-year, due in particular to the knock-on effects of the adverse international economic climate on the level of domestic unemployment. A significant overrun was also emerging on the Health Vote.

These, and other, additional spending demands led the Government to introduce a mid-year corrective package. That timely intervention by the Government, assisted by strong buoyancy on the corporation tax front and by savings on Central Fund services brought the budget back on target by end-September.

While some further pressure on expenditure [1130] emerged in the final quarter, the overall budgetary situation remained good. It was clear, however, that the opening budgetary position for 1993 would present a formidable challenge to the incoming Government. Accordingly, with a view to easing these pressures somewhat, the Government decided to bring forward to this year the payment of some £71 million of arrears of special increases due to Public Servants, on 1 January 1993. We also brought forward the payment of some £20 million of expenditure on the Agriculture Vote.

As a result of these measures, there will be some slippage on the 1992 Exchequer borrowing requirement target of £290 million, or 2.4 per cent of GNP, but it should nevertheless remain comfortably within the 3 per cent general Government deficit/GDP ratio which, as the House will be aware, is one of the main convergence criteria in the draft European Monetary Union Treaty. The steady downward thrust of recent years in the debt/GDP ratio will also br maintained.

Despite our pre-emptive action, there is no doubt that the 1993 budget will present a formidable challenge to the incoming Government. Increased pressure on public spending in the social area will continue in 1993. This pressure will be all the harder to cope with because of the erosion of part of the tax revenue base due to the advent of the Single Market. For instance, VAT at point of entry will be eliminated and the Deposit Interest Retention Tax must be modified. While the VAT loss should be partially offset by alternative measures within the VAT area, the DIRT adjustment will produce significant losses.

It is essential that whatever Government comes into office, it must continue to pursue the appropriate budgetary management strategies that we have consistently pursued since 1987. This country must continue to meet the convergence criteria, set out in the draft European Monetary Union Treaty, the most important of which so far as the budget is concernerd is the ratio of the general [1131] Government deficit to GDP, which is set at 3 per cent.

The problems, which the Government experienced this year in relation to its own finances, are a reflection of the wider difficulties faced by the economy. But we must not lose sight of the fact that there are many encouraging aspects of Ireland's economic performance. Despite the continued international economic downturn, we expect real GDP growth of about 2.75 per cent for this year. While this level of growth is not much stronger than the previous three years, it is an excellent performance given the depth of the recession in some of or trading partners.

On the international scene, the outlook for the coming year is for only a modest and gradual pick-up in growth. According to the OECD “Outlook” published last night, the pace of expansion of OECD output may edge up in 1993 to around 2 per cent, but is unlikely to reach 3 per cent until 1994. However, prospects for the United Kingdom, which is still of course a significant export market for Ireland, are somewhat better, with growth projected at 1¼ per cent for 1993, compared with declines of 2 per cent in 1991 and 1 per cent in 1992.

Information about domestic economic developments for the first three quarters of 1992, is now becoming available and supports the general picture of quite robust growth, which compares well with the performance of our trading partners. Despite higher interest rates, inflation at the end of the year, has turned out at 2.25 per cent and averaged 3 per cent for the year as a whole. Excluding interest rates, the price level has actually fallen in this quarter, thus reflecting one of the positive benefits from sterling's devaluation.

Retail sales up to September have increased by 3 per cent and even allowing for some slow down in the final quarter they seem likely to average 2.75 per cent for the year as a whole. In spite of predictions earlier in the year, new car sales were down by only 1.25 per cent as of end-September and are expected to show [1132] a decline of about the same order for the full year.

It is particularly encouraging that Ireland's industrial exports have continued to out-perform international markets, with growth in this sector expected to be about 6.5 per cent in 1992. Growth in agricultural exports has been very buoyant as a result of the resumed live export trade and also due to the considerable sales from intervention stores. Up to September, agricultural exports grew by 30 per cent over the same period last year and growth of the Order of 25 per cent is likely for the year as a whole. Manufacturing output has also performed well and is expected to grow by about 8 per cent this year.

Labour force surveys an other indicators show that non-agricultural employment has held up well, despite the very difficult international environment. Labour force survey data show a rise of 4,000 in the year to last April and there was an increase of 700 in manufacturing employment in the second quarter of the year. Unfortunately, while growth in total employment of about 2,000 could be achieved, this has not been enough to prevent a further rise in unemployment, giving an average live register of 284,000 for the year.

Clearly, a significant improvement in employment is now the top priority for all parties. The key to this lies in better and stronger investment in a general environment which keeps cost increases to a minimum. The days of easy competitiveness gains in the UK are over. We must make certain that the positive effects of the recent currency changes, particularly significantly lower inflation, are of lasting economic benefit.

We are all aware of the problems which higher interest rates are causing to many in the business sector, but this is the short term effect which we must endure for keeping the Irish pound strong. The real, longer-term challenge is to come to terms with the new and very difficult external environment which has been a fact of life since last September. We must be clear that devaluation is not the answer. It would be likely to lead to even higher [1133] interest rates for an even longer period, would increase debt service costs, would add to the overall level of national debt and consequently, would disimprove the debt-GNP ratio.

Even at a time of international recession, better competitiveness allowed us to take an increased share of stagnant overseas markets. A good economic performance, underpinned by clear monetary and fiscal policies, has helped us during this difficult period. As conditions improve, these policies will also be the platform on which to build future growth. The Government is determined that its attention will not be distracted from the main issue of creating the right environment for growth and job creation.

Before I sit down, I should like to welcome to this House Senators Daly, Leyden, Roche and Farrell. I congratulate them on their appointment to the Upper House of Parliament and wish them, together with their colleagues, every success. I wish all the candidates in the forthcoming Seanad election every success. Míle buíochas daoibh agus rath Dé ar na Seanadóirí go léir.

Mr. Staunton: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Appropriation Bill. I have a very good relationship with the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Noel Treacy, a fellow West of Ireland man, and I am very pleased to see him in the House. Having said that, it is regrettable that the Minister for Finance is not present in the House because the Appropriation Bill and the Finance (No. 2) Bill are major parts of the fabric of financial management of the State. The Cabinet Minister with responsibility for Finance should be present in the House to deal with these Bills. I appreciate he may be involved in negotiations——

Mr. N. Treacy: He is involved in very important business and he hopes to return to the House as quickly as he can.

Mr. Staunton: The point is taken. The Appropriation Bill is fairly mundane. It [1134] will give legislative effect to the 1992 spending programme and will allow the Exchequer to continue to spend money next year, which I gather is up to 80 per cent of the amount agreed for 1992. In essence, the Bill will allow the Government and the Minister to continue to operate up to the passing of the next budget. When the debate on this Bill is concluded, we will move on to debate the Finance (No. 2) Bill. I expect that many of the issues which will be discussed here today will be relevant to both Bills. I will make some of my more substantive points during the debate on the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

In his speech the Minister referred to next year's budget, which it seems will be very difficult. I believe that members of other political parties here who have been given access to figures by the Government and Minister for Finance would concur that that may be an understatement and that next year's budget will be extremely difficult. It was comforting to hear the Minister's quotation from a recent OECD report which, despite the fact that the economy of our major customer, the UK, which takes 40 per cent of our exports has been in severe decline, it projects a growth in exports to the UK of 1.25 per cent for 1993 as against a decline of 2 per cent in 1991 and 1 per cent in 1992. This is an encouraging statistic.

Central to all these issues if we are looking at problems nationally as well as opportunities is our appalling unemployment level which is approximately 300,000. There is no indication in the Minister's speech that the Government has a drastic plan to correct this problem. In his speech the Minister said that labour force surveys and other indicators show that non-agricultural employment has held up well despite the very difficult international environment. He stated:

Labour force survey data show a rise of 4,000 in the year to last April and there was an increase of 700 in manufacturing employment in the second quarter. Unfortunately, while growth in total employment of about 2,000 could be achieved, this has not been [1135] good enough to prevent a further rise in unemployment, giving an average live register of 284,000 for the year.

I have to question whether we are codding ourselves here. The Minister stated that during the second quarter of the year there was an increase of 700 people in manufacturing employment, not 7,000 or 70,000 but 700. We are taking credit for this. When this increase of 700 in manufacturing employment is put in the context of an imployment level of approximately 300,000 we can see the enormity of the problem facing us. We may have a good export level, a good balance of payments in proportion to GNP and a good debt level but the issue which is critical to people like me who live in west Mayo is unemployment. For many of the people in my area the capital of their country is London, not Dublin; they regard Dublin as irrelevant when they are looking for employment. They have to go overseas to get employment.

It is not merely a question of people emigrating because they have to. Because of the way our tax regimes are structured today, many of our educated, mobile population who would have job opportunities in this country regard it as more beneficial to work in London or New York than in this country. We are losing many of these people as a result of inadequate tax policies. We will be dealing further with these issues in the debate on the Finance Bill.

Many people take the view that DIRT is a huge incentive for money to flow into banks and insurance companies, that much of that money may well end up in investment in property but not manufacturing industry and that policies are not directed towards achieving a significant reduction in unemployment.

Mr. P. Farrell: It is a great honour for me to be a Member of this House. The Seanad has not been without its critics over the years. I have long recognised its unique and important role as an essential component of our legislative and democratic institutions. As a student of public [1136] administration in the early 1980s, I was an avid reader of the structures of the Dáil and Seanad. It is nice to be able to replace theory with practice.

This is my maiden speech and I wish to pay tribute to the work of Members of this House. The general public have grown tired of the increasingly adversarial nature of political debate. We are told by some commentators that we are in the age of the “me” society and if that is true we need to move quickly away from that condition and build a vision and an agenda for society which is inclusive, consensual and that charts a clear direction. I urge this House to make continued good use of its opportunities for a more reflective and considered approach to the issues of the day. We must get away from the negative and sterile politics that have dominated the political agenda in recent times.

Senator Staunton mentioned unemployment. The remarkable achievement of the Fianna Fáil Government since 1987 in relation to that issue must be seen in the context of a very difficult international climate. From 1971 to 1991 our population grew by 500,000, from three million to 3.5 million. That, together with a net inflow of immigrants, has exacerbated the problem of creating jobs quickly enough. This Government has actually created net new jobs. The Taoiseach launched the initiative of the county enterprise boards as a determined attempt to tackle unemployment problems in local areas. I am very conscious of those problems at local level, but I am also conscious that the Government has taken very practical steps through the enterprise boards and a host of other measures to remedy those problems.

I have confidence in the remarkable achievement of the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil-led Government in securing the considerable package of some £8 billion over a seven-year period, in the face of considerable cynicism as to whether that package would eventually emerge. It is now on the table and it will be a major benefit in the development of infrastructure and employment-creating opportunities. I have no doubt it will [1137] make a considerable impact in reducing unemployment by creating worthwhile jobs.

I compliment the Minister of State on his contribution on the Appropriation Bill. I can readily understand the absence of the Minister for Finance in current circumstances. In general terms the Appropriation Bill tells a story of outstanding success by the Minister, the Minister of State and the Fianna Fáil-led Government in protecting the underprivileged and improving health and social services while remaining within the overall budgetary and borrowing guidelines. The challenges posed in so doing were enormous. The increased funding necessary for social welfare and health, the commitment to social partnership and the Programme for Economic and Social Progress had to be met and balanced against the need for continued discipline in public finances. It is obvious that this has been achieved within general budgetary limits and that the borrowing requirement has been kept to the level set for this year. This has been achieved not only by dogged determination and commitment to the task but also with flair and innovation.

The decision of the Fianna Fáil-led Government to set up the National Treasury Management Agency was an innovative and mould-breaking step which has reaped its reward in more efficient and effective management of the national debt. Even greater rewards await this kind of fresh and innovative thinking. The Taoiseach and his Ministers by action and deed are committed to solutions rather than problems, to action rather than words. That has been the hallmark of this Administration.

In this context the outstanding deal secured by the Taoiseach in Edinburgh is a reflection of the “can do” and pragmatic approach to tackling our infrastructure and unemployment problems. We have heard criticism which has attempted to induce cynicism about this remarkable achievement. That approach is regrettable. We should all have the good sense and the grace to join together in working towards a constructive approach to [1138] ensuring that these benefits are applied over the seven-year period, building a confident and forward-looking Ireland, her place assured among the nations of Europe and the world.

Mr. Cassidy: We have heard a very good maiden speech by our new Member, Senator Farrell. On behalf of all Members present I congratulate him on a wonderful speech on his first day in the House. I also welcome the other well known parliamentarians from the other House, the former Minister, Senator Daly, and Senator Leyden, a neighbour from Roscommon, who as a Minister contributed enormously to the business of the nation. I also welcome our new Member from Wicklow, Senator Roche. I look forward to working with these new Members and I wish them well in their campaigns.

We have an obligation to pass the legislation before us as quickly as possible. During the past few years Members on this side of the House acted in a very responsible way. The economy is back on the rails and our growth rate is close to 3 per cent in one of the worst years for business throughout the world. In the UK there is a minus growth rate. The Government is to be congratulated on its magnificent achievement in sustaining growth here while our English-speaking partners in Europe have experienced a decline in their economy. Our achievement has been due to careful planning by the minority Fianna Fáil Government from 1987 to 1989.

I join Senator Farrell in congratulating the Taoiseach on his achievements at the Edinburgh Summit. I congratulate the Irish officials on the magnificent way they handled the negotiations. Their achievement has been a breath of fresh air to the business community and the unemployed. We look forward to a great future.

Job creation is being tackled by the Government. The county enterprise boards initiative has started. The Minister's county was the first to appoint the members of its board. Senator Staunton made a very worthwhile contribution. As [1139] an employer he can speak from vast experience. The enterprise boards will work from the bottom up, putting real power into rural Ireland and into counties like Westmeath and Mayo, where for far too long we have been looking for this opportunity. We have some very creative people in rural Ireland. People from abroad are welcome but it has often been said that if the Irish were given the same consideration we could achieve much more.

I am sure Senator Staunton is thrilled that another Mayoman, the Minister for Justice, Deputy Flynn, is to be our Commissioner. He is a man of tremendous energy and he has kept Ireland's interests to the fore in all his dealings. I have admired him for many years and for Mayo this must be one of its best and most pleasing days.

Mr. Staunton: On a point of order, I welcomed his appointment earlier. I hope the Senator heard me.

Mr. Cassidy: I did. It is a great day for Mayo and the west.

With regard to industry we noticed the difficult situation that exists in relation to sterling and the strength of our Irish pound which is creating many problems for industry. My experience over the last number of months as a small exporter has shown me that there is a role here for the banks which they are not taking up. The banks are classifying small industry, particularly in the west and midlands, as speculators. They are not; they are doing their utmost to hold the jobs they have and to keep the staff they have. I do not think it is very fair for the banks to tell people they are speculating because they want to leave their income in the sterling economy while keeping the option to bank with the Irish banks. The difference in the price of exported goods at present compared to that, say six months ago can be up to 15 per cent. The Minister for Finance will have to take a serious look at this, particularly in relation to small industry. At present the banks are putting enormous pressure on small [1140] industry particularly in the midlands and in the west. They seem to be under the impression that these small industries are speculating while, as I said, they are trying to keep the door open for their employees and for themselves as manufacturing companies.

I would like the incoming Government to have a serious look at job creation in the building industry. How many times have we heard it said that when the building industry is up and running the rest of the economy runs smoothly as well? I know there is a recession bordering on a depression in other countries, but I am looking forward to the new Government's job creation initiative. It is on the building industry side in particular that I think we can create a lot of employment very quickly. Jobs can be created in the building industry in a matter of six to eight months. As I said before, this is where Fianna Fáil in particular have always been very good in the past and I know they will rise to the occasion in the future.

Mr. Roche: I have always had great respect for this Chamber and having experienced something of the rigours of getting into this Chamber over the last few weeks I have an increasing and growing respect for Members who make it here every election. This is my first contribution in this Chamber and I hope it will not be my last.

As the Minister of State has said, there are many positive aspects to Ireland's economic performance over the last four years. In spite of major external pressures which have buffeted the economy the figures are good. As one economic commentator said recently the “fundamentals” are in order, exports are booming, borrowing has been contained and an element of tax reform is in hand. There has been some unexpected buoyancy particularly in areas of agricultural exports, just to mention one example.

There has also been, as the Minister said, a very slight increase in the numbers in employment, although a comment has been made, and it is a valid comment, that the increase has been very small [1141] indeed. The major challenge facing us as an economy, as a nation, must be the issue of jobs. The new Dáil and the new Seanad must, when the job of Government construction is completed, turn the diverse talents of the people who will be returned to both Houses to the issue of jobs.

In this regard we must take note of the excellent result achieved by the Taoiseach and the Government in winning major fund allocations to this country. It is fair too that we should point out to the cynics that the sneering commentary which has attended this particular issue over the last six months or so is now proven for what it has been, untruthful rhetoric which, frankly, says more about commentators than about those who struggled to win the rewards for this country. I hope that these funds that have just been announced will be funnelled towards combating the major horror we face in society. If we as a society wish to portray ourselves as either Christian or caring the problem of jobs must be the priority for all public representatives in all fora. I wish and I hope that the funds we have won for this country will be focused exclusively on job creation. The best manner in which this can be achieved would be by way of direct State investment in job creation projects. We try in a variety of ways to create jobs indirectly by getting the economic fundamentals right, by prompting enterprise; but as we have seen all too often the jobs do not come on stream. I would argue that this is such an important issue that there should be the broadest political consensus. Support for a national programme for job creation must be on a cross party basis. All the social partners and all those who represent the people must support such a programme.

The second point I would feel can be made in this short contribution is that we must look at job creation programmes and how they are to be implemented. The trend in this State has been to operate from the top down. There has been a remarkable centralist approach adopted from the foundation of the State. That centralist approach was seen to appeal to [1142] some imperative which is deeply implanted in the Irish administrative psyche. I feel it is time to break away from these shackles. It is time for fresh thinking. Clearly the traditional top down approach has not worked and we must look for some alternatives. We must free ourselves from the shackles of centralism and approach the problems that face this nation, and particularly the job creation problem, in an innovative way. We must seek to create jobs by initiating programmes which work from the bottom up.

The enterprises boards which have been announced in recent times and which are being established at the moment are a very important start in this regard. This initiative has relatively modest funding which I would like to see expanded. In my view it is better to create a thousand jobs on a decentralised basis than to win a promise from a multinational of twice that number of jobs that will simply fade away when it comes to delivery. It is appropriate to compliment the Minister for Finance on steering the nation's finances through a very difficult year. On many occasions in the last nine months since the Finance Bill was handled by a Special Committee in this Chamber, cynics, critics and commentators suggested that we would not be able to hold the financial ship of State on course. The Bill before us, the figures which have been produced in recent times, show that in spite of all the odds, in spite of the extraordinary pressures, this Government, the Minister for Finance and his fellow Ministers have done a remarkable job and they should be complimented on that.

Before resuming my seat, I would like to compliment the outgoing Senators, and particularly the Senators who have indicated that they will not be contesting the Seanad elections in the early part of the New Year. As one of those who will be contesting those elections I would like to compliment and wish well all those who put their names forward. It seems to be a very gruelling system of election, and I wish them safely on the road and a happy return to this House.

[1143] An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Thank you, Senators. I wish you and every other candidate contesting this election well. I would like to welcome the four new Members of this House, Senator Roche, Senator Leyden, Senator Farrell and Senator Daly who, no more than myself, may not wish to be here. However, you are all very welcome.

Mr. Leyden: I thank the Minister for his words of welcome to the Upper House of the Oireachtas, for his contribution as a Minister of State at the Department of Finance and his work for the west. I thank him in particular for his work in establishing the county enterprise boards which I regard as part of Deputy Treacy's achievements as a Minister. This initiative will have far-reaching consequences in relation to job creation because small industries in particular have felt that, for far too long, they have been out in the cold in terms of support and assistance. Coupled with this we have the great achievement of the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State with special responsibility for European affairs at Edinburgh where they negotiated a major package for this country. In relation to the county enterprise boards, the funds will be well spent and distributed with priority being given to job creation projects.

I wish to pay tribute to the outgoing Commissioner, Mr. Ray MacSharry, whose presence proved of enormous benefit to Ireland since his appointment as Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. I have no doubt the appointment of the Minister for Justice and Industry and Commerce, Deputy Flynn, who is from County Mayo, will prove to be of enormous benefit. It will be his job to ensure that funds come onstream from April 1993 and to act as a voice for Ireland and, in particular, for the most neglected part of the country, the west. If I was to make a wish it would be that he be appointed Commissioner for either agriculture and rural development, regional development or social affairs. He will prove to be a very able [1144] advocate as a Commissioner for all of Europe and will never forget his roots in Ireland, in particular the west.

I wish to congratulate my new colleagues, Senator Pat Farrell who is general secretary of Fianna Fáil and comes from County Leitrim, the former Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Senator Brendan Daly and Senator Dick Roche on their appointment to the Seanad. I also wish to thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirleach, for your words of welcome. We hope that our appointment by the Taoiseach for a period up to the end of January 1993 will provide us with an opportunity to be elected to this great establishment.

The Upper House of the Oireachtas is an institution which I have always respected. Like the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, I have dealt with legislation on many occasions in this House such as the Patents Bill and the legislation dealing with defective products which was introduced this year. I have always had respect for the wisdom of all Senators who teased out and made a major contribution to legislation. In many cases they introduced amendments which were then sent to the Dáil. The House serves a useful purpose and has enormous potential for development in the future. Like my colleagues who will be contesting the election, I hope to be a Member of this House having regard to the changes that will be made following the election of a new Government.

In relation to exports, the Minister of State has outlined our achievements in this area. I was Minister of State with special responsibility for trade and marketing up to February 1992. In the year ending 1991 our exports reached the record figure of £15 billion and that figure should exceed £16 billion in 1992. This would be a major achievement for An Bord Tráchtála, the Minister of State with special responsibility for trade and marketing, the Minister for Industry and Commerce and all concerned, in particular the exporters.

In 1991, exports exceeded imports by approximately £2 billion. We could certainly reduce our imports by concentrating [1145] on an extensive “Buy Irish” campaign. At least an extra 25,000 jobs could be created in the economy if all of us were more conscious of the need to buy quality Irish products and looked to our own. In this regard I welcome the initiative taken by the unions and the ESB. Under EC legislation and rules Government Departments are not allowed to get involved in or finance a “Buy Irish” campaign given there will be a single European market from 1 January 1993. We should all play our part in this campaign because in buying our own products jobs can be created and people taken off the dole.

In relation to the value of the punt, I compliment the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance on their achievements to date. I also compliment the Leaders of the major political parties for their support. To date we have been successful in defending the punt and I hope this will continue to be the case. We have not been forced to devalue the punt, a move which would have led to the national debt being increased by approximately £1 billion.

I welcome the increase in the fund for exporters and believe it should be increased further. It would be more appropriate to defend and support our exporters, particularly those who export to the British market, than to devalue the punt. In particular I am concerned about the plight of mushroom producers who have been badly affected by the strength of the punt, vis-á-vis sterling. They are in need of assistance and I urge An Bord Tráchtála, the Department of Industry and Commerce and the Department of Agriculture and Food to support them.

We have enormous potential for increasing our exports to the rest of Europe. For all of us 1 January 1993 is an historic date because for the first time we will have access to an open market of 350 million people in Europe. This will be one of the largest trading blocs in the world and we are fully involved in completing the final details in relation to the Single Market. During our Presidency of the European Community we played a major role in accelerating the [1146] development of this market and our support for the Maastricht Treaty is an indication that we have adopted a pro-European approach. With a population of 3.5 million people it is vital that we seek outlets for exporters in the greater European market.

I commend this Bill to the House. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, for delivering an excellent speech. Senators Farrell, Roche, Cassidy and Staunton also made excellent contributions. I wish Senator Staunton every success in the future. I have great admiration for him and he has been very dedicated to the west. I also wish Senators Harte and Murphy every success in the future.

In conclusion I wish to take this opportunity to wish you, a Leas-Chathaoirleach, and all Senators every success in the Seanad campaign and hope that many of us will be re-elected.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. N. Treacy): I sincerely thank those Senators who have taken part in the debate on this important Bill. It is important that we have an opportunity to reflect on the performance of the Government during the past year in the execution of its duties, in managing the financial affairs of the country, in creating the right environment for investment and in ensuring that it achieves its targets. It is to our credit that since 1987 we have been able to rehabilitate the economy. We have set strict targets for ourselves and have maintained them. We have also been performing in a tough international environment.

Our problems were compounded during the past year by the serious international currency crisis which bedevilled the international world. It is to the credit of the Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, the Government and in particular, the Minister for Finance and the Department of Finance that we have been able to respond to these international crises. In particular we have been able to use our reserves to protect the Irish pound. Many people clamoured [1147] for devaluation. People now acknowledge that it is vitally important if Ireland is to maintain its competitive edge in the international world, if we are to be prepared for European Monetary Union and if we are to hold a strong position in our negotiations towards European Monetary Union and achieve what is vital for success both financially and economically as part of the greater united Europe taking into account the fact that the Single Market begins at the start of the New Year, that the Irish pound is maintained at its present strength.

It is a tribute to the Government that the people have responded to our leadership and ensured that there is co-operation so that collectively we can maintain the Irish currency and fulfil our desires and aspirations of expanding the economy and creating equality of opportunity for all our people, particularly the 300,000 people who are unemployed. Once again, I thank all the Members of the House for their contributions and wish both new Senators and existing Senators every success in the forthcoming campaign. Míle buíochas daoibh go léir.

Question, “That the Bill be now read a Second Time, that the Bill is hereby agreed to in Committee and is reported to the House without recommendation, that the Fourth Stage is hereby completed and that the Bill is hereby returned to the Dáil and the motion regarding the earlier signature of the Bill by the President is hereby agreed to”, put and declared carried.