Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Kenny: The Taoiseach told the House yesterday that his Government since 1997 was the most left-wing ever in the country. It was interesting that he chose not to mention his partners in Government.
The Taoiseach is very fond of regaling this House with statistics about the money the Government has spent over the past seven years. He is correct that spending by the Government has doubled in those seven years but it is a policy of containment instead of a policy of reform. If one looks at the key delivery areas where this socialist Government has a front-line role it is easy to see a litany of wastage, poor decisions and administrative staff being prioritised over front-line staff.
Does the Taoiseach accept a few simple facts that have been outlined by Deputy Richard Bruton, for instance that €2.2 billion extra is being spent on hospitals yet only 500 extra beds have been added? In 2003, a total of 33,000 fewer people attended accident and emergency units yet they are in chaos around the country. Spending in the criminal justice area is up by €500 million but under the Government one is more likely to be a victim of crime than to have that crime solved. People are more likely not to report crimes in the first instance and one is unlikely to find a garda when one wants one. Failure to properly deliver on road projects has added to overruns of over €4 billion in the past three years yet nobody on that side of the House has even blinked.
The Taoiseach will read from his brief the statistics on the expenditure of containment, which the Government has spent. What does he have to say to the parents of Lewis O’Carolan whose case was in, yesterday’s, The Irish Times? He is an autistic boy who has been waiting for months for a hearing on services, which would be available if the Government had been spreading equality to the disadvantaged and marginalised.
What does the Taoiseach have to say to the six young boys I met last Thursday aged from eight to 11, all of whom have been forced to carry drugs across this city, one of whose mother is a prostitute in a council house, three of whose parents have attempted suicide and are alcoholics and the remainder are on drugs? How has his socialist Government dealt with that problem? These are the realities of life and the Taoiseach has failed to grasp them.
The Taoiseach: The reality is that the Government has operated on the basis of creating wealth so that it can be redistributed. We have successfully done that. As I said yesterday in reply to Deputy Rabbitte, the desire to spread wealth in a fairer and more equitable way across society is a core of left of centre political ideology.
The Taoiseach: Deputy Kenny said we had invested an extra €2 billion in the health service, which they also appear to resent. In fact, we have moved from a position of €4 billion to almost €11 billion. It took from the foundation of the State in 1921 for 68,000 people to be employed in the health service, but in the seven years under my watch we have moved from 68,000 to 106,000.
The Taoiseach: Those people are providing health services day-in, day-out to people. They are looking after the 1.2 million people availing of outpatient services and the hundreds of thousands of people availing of inpatient services. They are looking after, as best they can, all of the people in need of cardiac services, cancer treatment, maternity care and in all the other areas and they are doing so to the very best of their ability.
An Ceann Comhairle: Allow the Taoiseach to speak, please. Deputy Kenny was allowed submit his question without any interruption whatsoever. The Taoiseach is entitled to exactly the same courtesy and Deputy Kenny is entitled to hear the Taoiseach’s response.
We now have a historically high number of gardaí in the State. I thought Deputy Kenny would have wished to raise the case of the garda who had just completed the excellent training course and who last week single-handedly confronted a serious criminal in this city who has many allegations against him and who was subsequently arrested. He might also have raised the issue of the gardaí who were shot last week apprehending robbers in a filling station and who do this job every day. I am very proud of the gardaí.
The Taoiseach: I also read the article last Saturday about the life of Lewis O’Carolan and the effect of his autistic spectrum disorder on him and his family. The young man attended St. Paul’s special school in Beaumont, where I worked on the accounts many years ago. He attended there from November 1996 until February 2003, when he was, withdrawn by his parents. While in St. Paul’s, he was placed in a class of six children with one teacher and two special needs assistants as per the guidelines with other children. He also had a special needs assistant assigned solely for his needs on a one-to-one basis. To state that a good effort was not made by the State in this case is wrong. I acknowledge my time has concluded but I will come back if Deputies make any sane points.
Mr. Kenny: I will take up the Taoiseach’s challenge to make a sane point. I will make a challenge to him and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Last Thursday at 6 o’clock, before the Taoiseach conducted the celebrations for the presidential inauguration in Dublin Castle, I visited tower block 4 in St. Michael’s estate in Inchicore. Of the 48 apartment units in that block, 40 are closed behind steel barriers and eight residents remain. The lift does not work and I walked through human excrement, urine and strips of tin foil for cooking cocaine to the top floor where a woman lives with her two children.
Mr. Kenny: No garda has climbed those stairs, neither has the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Taoiseach and his socialist Government regard these people as an underclass of violent nobodies. Where is the wealth when the Government cannot spread it to people who cannot go outside their doors at night because there are junkies on the stairs and screaming outside? Will the Taoiseach send the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, to the estate in order that he might learn something about the reality on the streets, rather than issuing his volcanic eruptions about Fine Gael and everyone else? Will the Taoiseach visit this tower block in his own city where these people have been cast aside, their only security a squad car driving through the estate on an irregular basis?
The Taoiseach: Deputy Kenny asked me a fair question about St. Michael’s estate. I know the estate, I represent it and I have knocked at every door in it. The reason why 20 of the apartments are boarded up is that the Government is taking down the building and giving the residents new homes.
Mr. Rabbitte: Will the Taoiseach inform the House whether Aer Lingus will be the biggest casualty of the in-fighting in the Cabinet and between the two parties comprising this coalition? As the Taoiseach seeks to re-position Fianna Fáil, the national airline is left leaderless after the management — whatever one thinks of its direction — sought a clear indication from the Government as to the way forward, only to receive mixed signals in response. As a result of the resignations, the value of Aer Lingus has been shot to shreds and the prospect of finding a quality person to lead the company is virtually nil. The shareholder has lost confidence in the management without having any clear direction itself.
As the Taoiseach seeks to re-position Fianna Fáil and jettison the Progressive Democrats, there is no answer from the Government as to what is the future of the national airline. We have a very successful private airline in this country but we do not want a second Ryanair because, as an island nation, we have strategic trade interests. When the management sought direction, it was given conflicting signals. The former Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, wanted to privatise the company and negotiated with the unions through the national press. He was moved from his position by the Taoiseach after the June elections and the new Minister was given the opposite riding instructions. It is clear from the exchanges on “Morning Ireland” this morning that a direct head on conflict is involved in this case. When the Taoiseach informed the House that he shot down the notion of a management buy-out, he did so four days after Mr. Willie Walsh advised the Department of Transport that he was withdrawing it. That is typical of the Taoiseach’s decisiveness after the event.
The Taoiseach: As a result of the actions of the Government and the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, in supporting the management of Aer Lingus, which has been in place for just a few years, and its predecessors, in a short period of time we turned Aer Lingus from being a loss-making commercial semi-State body to one which made a profit of €90 million last year and €100 million this year. I checked the Official Report last night which showed that even when, as late as a few weeks ago there were calls in this House for the management to resign, I defended it in Leaders’ question for three separate weeks.
I congratulate the management for the job it did. The current business plan seeks to maximise the competitiveness of Aer Lingus as a low cost carrier with much lower costs achieved through out-sourcing. Negotiations on the industrial relations implications of this approach have been continuing at the LRC for some time. The unions are not convinced that this business model is necessarily the best. They are concerned about the impact on working conditions and believe that the management’s negotiating style is deliberately aggressive.
I have read with interest some of the articles in this morning’s newspapers but they are badly informed about what has really been going on. There has been a very difficult IR position. The workers and the unions are concerned that the very people they were dealing with as management wanted to sell out to make themselves extremely rich. That was the underlying position of the trade union movement to which I have been listening all year.
The Taoiseach: The level of trust between management and unions is non-existent. There is huge resentment that the management team has claimed virtually all the credit for the rescue of Aer Lingus after the events of 11 September 2001, ignoring the huge effort by union leaders and staff to make the changes work. That is what I have been dealing with. They are also determined not to yield up savings which they perceive are intended to enrich a management team concerned with its own position rather than the company’s future.
The Taoiseach: If I made this speech outside the House, I would be accused of not coming before it. I am trying to give the facts of what is happening on a daily basis at the Labour Relations Commission and in the trade unions and what is the real story. If the House wants to hear it, I will continue but if it does not, I will sit down.
The question of why a State owned airline might make sense in current circumstances has not yet been fully addressed. The Goldman Sachs report has been with the Government for just about a month. It is obvious that national flag carriers are fewer in number as a result of competition from low cost carriers and poor management and operations. However, for an island nation heavily dependent on trade, overseas investment and tourism, there are important strategic issues, which must be satisfactorily resolved. If somebody is in a hurry to go somewhere else, it is not——
The Taoiseach: I have great regard for Deputy Shortall. In reply to her question, that is the reason we have sought a number of strategic reports, including the report we commissioned from Goldman Sachs last May. If Aer Lingus were privatised, there would still be point to point connections from Ireland to major international destinations. Connectivity to Ireland, especially for the business traveller, both direct and through the main hubs, is a consideration from a competitiveness point of view.
There is much evidence of some unease in the business community about the reduction in both the nature and quality of the connections. The Government is trying, based on last month’s Goldman Sachs report, to make the necessary and right decision — it is a big decision for the staff, management, the board and the country — on the national airline. I will not just click my fingers because some right wing economists believe we should privatise it.
Mr. Rabbitte: When did the Taoiseach get worried about selling State companies and executives getting fat? He was not very concerned about it when he dismantled Telecom Éireann. Many people got fat but it was not the ordinary shareholders. This is an extraordinary change——
Mr. Rabbitte: The Taoiseach has lost the leaders of this company, although he says he defended them in the House. However, look at the value of Aer Lingus today in the market. How does the Taoiseach propose to recruit a chief executive when the shareholder does not know what it wants? Will he have the same success as he had in recruiting a chief executive for the health agency?
There is a serious sunder in the Government now. Two clearly opposite positions were expressed on the radio this morning. The reason the Taoiseach is in secret negotiations with a number of Independent Deputies is to provide protection for when the Progressive Democrats will be forced out of the Government. That is the reality. The Taoiseach knows that even the most heroic Independents will not vote themselves out of this House, so he will survive without the Progressive Democrats.
Mr. Rabbitte: That is what is under way. The two positions in Government cannot be reconciled. Will the Taoiseach retain State control of Aer Lingus? Is that what he is now telling the House since the conversion at Inchydoney?
The Taoiseach: I will outline the position because it is important for the staff of Aer Lingus. The Goldman Sachs report is premised on the State examining whether it should invest equity. It is clear that such investment would be acceptable under State aids and I said as much in the House a month ago. State guarantees would be a form of State aid, which would not involve cash investment. The report then goes on to consider various forms of equity injections. It looks at privatisation and a number of different models. It is up to the Government to go through those and make a decision.
The Government has been engaged actively and comprehensively in the review of the policy on Aer Lingus and wider aviation issues. We thank and were pleased with Willie Walsh and his colleagues who worked on this——
The Taoiseach: Aer Lingus is a success story thanks not only to the management but also to the union leadership and the industrial relations machinery, which made a major successful transformation possible through agreement. Of necessity, there will be a need for continuing change in all airlines as the industry evolves. We are aware of that from aviation trends worldwide. No player is indispensable. A new management team will be appointed and the Government will proceed to take the necessary decisions as shareholder. We will complete our discussions on the Goldman Sachs report. Aviation policy and, by extension, the future of Aer Lingus are major strategic questions for an island nation that is heavily dependent on trade, investment and tourism. Policy decisions will be taken with an eye to the long-term future. We will not be stampeded by anyone.
The Taoiseach: The Government is close to making the necessary strategic decisions based on a report it received just a few weeks ago. It is important that those who are currently negotiating changes in the airline continue to address the necessity for change and flexibility so the future can be secured for everybody in Aer Lingus. That is our position.
Mr. J. Higgins: Many of today’s newspapers were kind enough to point out that I was not in the House yesterday when the Labour Party leader asked the Taoiseach about his new found commitment to socialism. Ironically, I was abroad for several days on political work to advance the cause of socialism.
Mr. J. Higgins: You can imagine, a Cheann Comhairle, how perplexed I was when I returned to find my wardrobe almost empty. The Taoiseach had been busy robbing my clothes. Up to recently the Progressive Democrats did not have a stitch left due to the same Taoiseach but we never expected him to take a walk on the left side of the street.
Mr. J. Higgins: He said: “I am one of the few socialists left in Irish politics”. Immediately, Tomás Ó Criomhthaín came to mind, as he lamented the last of the Blasket Islanders: “Ní bheidh ár leithéidí arís ann”. I then thought: “Good, Taoiseach. There are two of us in it and we will go down together.”
Sadly, I had to take a reality check. If this conversion was genuine we would have to go back 2,000 years to find another as rapid and as radical. Saul’s embrace of Christianity on the road to Damascus stood the test of time but the Taoiseach’s embrace of socialism on the banks of the Tolka hardly will.
Mr. J. Higgins: We will see if the Taoiseach answers in the positive. Public ownership is crucial for socialists and the Taoiseach stated that he likes the idea that the Phoenix Park and the Botanic Gardens are publicly owned. As has been stated, however, he gave our telecommunications industry to venture capitalists to play around with. Will the Taoiseach answer the question to which he failed to reply just now? The Government is split on Aer Lingus and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, wants it to be in private hands. Will the Taoiseach——
Mr. J. Higgins: The second test is that democratic socialists never support imperialist invasions and certainly those of the type launched by the US military which is wading in blood through Falluja. The Taoiseach helped the US military to get there. Will he now denounce that atrocity and condemn the murder of an innocent Iraqi as we this morning condemned those obscurantists who murder innocent hostages?
On equality, the Taoiseach stated that he is happy that the children in Rutland Street school are given breakfast there. Why should they be obliged to depend on the school for their breakfast? It is because he has presided over one of the most unequal regimes in the western world which has given huge concessions to big business while poverty remains in our State.
The Taoiseach: My politics and ideology might be closer to those of Deputy Michael D. Higgins. I have watched and listened to Deputy Joe Higgins with interest for three decades but I have never heard him say anything positive. He displays what I believe to be a far left or “commie” resistance to everything. He does so in the hope that some day the world will discover oil wells off our coast which will fall into the ownership of the State, thereby allowing us to run a great market economy with the State at its centre. That utopia does not exist.
The Taoiseach: ——at the core of left centre political ideology is the desire to spread the wealth more evenly. That means that people must be encouraged to create the wealth. When this is done, they are taxed and the money collected, is used to resource them.
The Taoiseach: Deputy Joe Higgins is against wealth creation and, as a result, he favours high unemployment, high expenditure and high borrowing. Any of the tests the Deputy would set me fail on the grounds that he does not believe in them. That is the issue. What we do is create the wealth, thereby allowing ourselves to employ 100,000 people in the health services to care for others, tens of thousands of teachers, many community care professionals and resource and home liaison teachers and teachers to look after the disadvantaged in our schools. That is what our brand of socialism allows us to do. The Deputy’s brand of socialism has changed so much in recent years. As he is aware, one of the reasons for the rise in oil prices is because his friends in Russia have decided that the market economy can afford $50 a barrel.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair will be obliged to ask the Deputy to leave the House if he does not resume his seat. These are Leaders’ Questions. The Deputy is not permitted to speak. I call Deputy Joe Higgins.
Mr. J. Higgins: It was one question, divided into parts (a), (b) and (c). The Taoiseach, not being able to answer parts (a) or (b), spent all of his time trying to answer (c). On that alone, he has flunked the test. He has also flunked his history test by putting my type of socialism in the same gallery as that of the Russian Stalinists. I do not have time — unless the Ceann Comhairle will provide it — to educate the Taoiseach about that matter. He referred to my friends in Russia.
Mr. J. Higgins: The Taoiseach stated that he has spread the wealth around. That is a curious statement, particularly as he has given €600 million to big business in corporation tax cuts, allowed tax exiles to get away with murder while ordinary people are obliged to pay through the nose and allowed stud farm owners and the rest to operate tax free while ordinary people are obliged to pay out massively through stealth taxation and in other ways. The Taoiseach should do the honest thing and withdraw the ludicrous claims he made at the weekend. Let us return to normal. Socialism is not a flag of convenience to be used after one’s party has been battered in the local and European elections in order to pretend that one is a friend of working people.
An Ceann Comhairle: This is Leaders’ Questions. Deputy Cowley is out of order and I ask him to resume his seat. He will have to find another way to raise the matter. If he does not resume his seat, I will have no option other than to ask him to leave the House.
The Taoiseach: In reply to Deputy Joe Higgins, my point is that one cannot distribute resources to education, health and social welfare unless wealth is generated. Deputy Higgins’s outrageous accusation against me that corporation tax has been lowered is not true. The facts are that corporation tax has soared from 4% to 9% of GNP during my period as Taoiseach. The Government through its policies has taken far more from the corporate tax sector by having lower taxes and generating far more activity in the economy. There are over 400,000 more in employment and lower unemployment figures——
The Taoiseach: That is how we can have more doctors, more nurses, more therapists and more teachers. When the then Minister for Finance, Mr. McCreevy, halved the rate of capital gains tax, the Government gained four times more revenue.
The Taoiseach: By having lower taxes, we were able to spend more. I quoted a figure yesterday in the House in the Deputy’s absence which proves that the average industrial wage is now €10,000 more than it was seven years ago. Even taking the tax rate then and the different tax rate now, a person on that salary is paying €300 less. This shows the success of what we do. I know the Deputy is actually an admirer of that also.
An Ceann Comhairle: That concludes Leaders’ Questions. Perhaps the Chair should read out the Standing Order relating to Leaders’ Questions for the benefit of Members. The Standing Order allows for a brief question on one matter of topical public importance from the leaders of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the designated leader of the Technical Group. The overall time limit is 21 minutes. The time ran 17 minutes over time this morning. I ask Members to keep in mind the Standing Order. If they wish to change it, they know how to do so. The number of interruptions is totally unacceptable. This is a national Parliament and Members are entitled to be heard with courtesy and with silence. In future the Chair will insist that we carry out our responsibility under Standing Order 26A in regard to Leaders’ Questions. I ask Members to allow Members on all sides of the House to speak without interruption and that Members would try to stay within the time. The Chair is flexible, as Members know, but not to the extent that we can go 17 minutes over time. In future the Chair will have to take a tougher line because we cannot allow this to continue.
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