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Private Members' Business. - Public Services: Motion (Resumed).

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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The following motion was moved by Deputy G. Mitchell on Tuesday, 26 March 2001:

That Dáil Éireann condemns the Government for having failed abysmally:

–to improve our public services, noting that:

[691]–there are 26,126 people on hospital waiting lists, unacceptably long delays for hospital treatment and people on very modest incomes denied access to free medical care;

–64,000 children at school have serious literacy problems and up to 850 primary schools are in a critical state of disrepair;

–house prices have soared by more than 80% over the past five years and home ownership is now beyond the reach of average wage-earners;

–no new road projects will start this year because of Government failure to provide funding;

–traffic congestion in Dublin and other urban centres has reached chronic levels; and

–to tackle the underlying problems affecting the quality of people's lives, despite five years of unprecedented economic prosperity.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

1. acknowledges the Government's achievement in relation to health care and in particular:

–commends the Government for its unparalleled increases in health funding;

–commends the Government's new Health Strategy which is firmly grounded in the principles of equity, accountability, fairness and people-centredness;

–commends the Government for extending eligibility for medical cards to all people over 70 years of age;

–welcomes the Government's commitment in the Strategy to extending medical card coverage to cover more people on low income including targeted increases to ensure more children, in particular, are covered;

–recognises the increased number of patients receiving treatment in Acute Hospitals;

–continues to endorse investment in initiatives such as the Waiting List Initiative and the Treatment Purchase Fund;

–commends the Government's commitment to the provision of an additional 3,000 Acute Hospital beds over the next ten years and to fund the commissioning of 709 beds in 2002 as a first step in increasing bed capacity in the acute hospital sector,

[692]2. notes with approval the unprecedented increase of 85% in funding for education to €5.4 billion during the Government's term and the huge advances made in providing high quality, accessible and inclusive education, including:

–greatly improved pupil teacher ratios in schools;

–the targeting of substantial extra resources and support services for disadvantaged children and children with learning difficulties, including specific measures to improve literacy levels;

–major progress in upgrading, modernising and providing new school accommodation as a result of a fourfold increase in capital funding for this purpose; and

–looks forward to the continuation of these positive developments over the coming years,

3. welcomes the significant achievements by the Government in the housing area since 1997 and notes:

–the comprehensive range of measures introduced to increase the supply of housing which have given rise to successive levels of record housing output in each of the last five years, culminating in the completion of 52,000 housing units in 2001, and the overall provision of 216,000 housing units in the Government's term;

–the significant moderation in house price increases from a peak of 40% in 1998 to about 5-6% in the 12 months to end-September 2001;

–that first-time buyers have been afforded greater participation in the housing market; and

–the record level of funding of €1.7 billion for housing in 2002 which is 3 times the amount provided in 1997,

4. welcomes the fact that good progress is being maintained with the development of the roads network as mandated in the National Development Plan and, in particular, notes that:

–the total 2002 Exchequer provision for the national roads improvement programme is €958 million, which represents an increase of €50 million on the 2001 out-turn, is more than three times the 1997 level of expenditure;

–the Exchequer investment of nearly €2.5 billion which will have been made in national road improvements for the first 3 years of the NDP (to end 2002), is already more than €260 million or some 10% in excess of the planned NDP profile;

[693]–the NRA programme will see over 20 major projects being taken forward during 2002;

–record funding of over €438 million is being provided to maintain and improve the non-national road network,

5. welcomes the achievements of the Government in tackling traffic congestion in Dublin and other urban centres and, in particular:

–welcomes the progressive implementation of the NDP which provides for the investment of €12 billion in transport over the 2002-06 period and the demonstrable progress made in 2000 and 2001 in implementing this investment programme;

–welcomes the significant increase in capital investment in public transport during the lifetime of the Government, including the provision of over €400 million in Exchequer capital funding for public transport in 2002;

–welcomes the progress being made with regard to the Dart network, Luas and the Metro and the significant increase in bus numbers both in Dublin and provincial areas;

–notes that the DTI Strategy update “A Platform for Change” provides a comprehensive, updated framework for meeting Dublin's transport needs;

–notes the progress being made in the upgrading of the national road network in the Greater Dublin area where work has commenced on the Dublin Port Tunnel, the South-Eastern Motorway, the Cloghran/Balbriggan Motorway, Kildare bypass and Glen of the Downs project and in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford where major projects have either been completed in recent years, are under way or are well advanced in planning, and

6. congratulates the Government on five years of unprecedented economic and employment growth and the many successful steps taken during that period to tackle the underlying problems affecting the quality of people's lives.

–(Minister for the Environment and

Local Government).

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore I welcome and support the motion tabled by Fine Gael dealing with public services. It is a highly appropriate motion for what is probably the last Private Members' business of this Dáil. The one area for which any Government has direct responsibility is public services. This Government seems very anxious to claim credit for things it did not do while neglect[694] ing the very services for which it has direct responsibility. As we debate this motion the election posters are appearing with the slogan “Peace, prosperity, progress”. The Government is attempting to claim credit for the peace for which many people on all sides of the House, outside the House and in other jurisdictions, have been working so hard. It attempts to claim the credit for our prosperity, the basis for which was laid by the last Government. It handed to this Administration a set of books in the black but as this Administration leaves office they are back in the red. The only progress this Government can report is that public services have become progressively worse under their administration.

This Government has made a virtue of cutting tax but its undeclared policy has been, at best, to preside neutrally over a languishing public service and at worst, to see public services go into a serious decline. There is no doubt that public services are in worse shape now at the end of the five years of the current Administration than they were when it took charge. The effects can be seen everywhere: in our hospitals, with patients being treated in corridors or on trolleys or not being treated at all; in hostels bulging with the families of homeless people; and in the dilapidation of our towns and cities as local Government services and funding fail to keep up with the demands for adequate services. The serious condition of our public services is to be seen every evening and morning in our gridlocked towns, cities and transport arteries.

This Government has brought the city of Dublin to a standstill. It failed to advance the Luas project or to invest in public transport. It presided over the provision of bus corridors by the Dublin Transportation Office and local authorities which ended up empty of buses. Even an administrative measure, the integration of ticketing between the different modes of transport, has not become a reality under this Government. The decline in our public services is to be seen in the inadequacy of our housing services. This is the Government that has made home ownership a luxury. When it came into office, the average price of a new house was €87,000. Today it is €187,000, as young working couples whose energy and work have contributed to the economic success story of this country are priced out of the market.

The Government has failed to provide adequate infrastructure. This can be seen in our roads. We have heard the criticisms of the Government's performance on the national development plan, particularly the criticisms of the Construction Industry Federation which has rightly pointed out that this Government is effectively holding up the road construction programme. The same can be said of the absence of waste infrastructure. In every county in there is a serious waste management and disposal problem. Landfill facilities are reaching the end of their lives and no alternative infrastructure has been put in place as the Government stumbles from [695] one paper plan to another without any real investment.

It is no exaggeration that as investment in our public services has reached such a sorry point under this Government's administration, so too has the morale of many of our public servants. Morale among staff at the end of this Government's period of office is at an all-time low and the kind of industrial disputes emerging now in hospitals and schools have little to do with pay and material conditions – these are factors which must be negotiated – but have at their core a sense of demoralisation and demotivation. This is coming from the public servants whose job it is to deliver these services. They have seen the degree to which this Government has turned its back not only on the public service in general but also on the concept and value of public service. This is the decline which has been allowed to happen. The sooner this Government is rooted from office, the better for public services, for those who work in the public service and for the general public which consumes public services.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. O'Dea): Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea I wish to share my time with Deputies Haughey, McGuinness, Keaveney and Kitt.

I welcome this debate as it provides an opportunity to put on the record of this House the major achievements of this Government in the areas of health, education, housing, roads and other public services. The sound and sensible economic and social policies of this Government and the wide-ranging investment programmes we have undertaken have facilitated huge improvements in our public services. We can be particularly proud of our achievements in the area of education. Education is a key public service which plays a crucial role in building a prosperous economy and an inclusive society. As a country, we have always placed a high value on a quality education. The investment we made in the education of our people, both young and not so young, has contributed greatly to meeting the skills needs of a dynamic new economy, to providing high quality sustainable employment and, crucially, to placing Ireland at the forefront of the global information society. Our educational policies are playing an increasingly important role in combating disadvantage, reducing inequities and enhancing the quality of life for all of our citizens.

This Government has placed education at the top of its agenda as a policy priority. In each of the years since coming into office, the Government has progressively increased funding for education with the result that total funding for education, at €5.4 billion for 2002 is now 85% higher than was the case when the rainbow government left office. The increase in funding provided by the Government has enabled major improvements in services across all levels of provision. Since taking up office we have dramatically improved the number of teachers at primary and [696] post primary levels. To date, we have appointed more than 3,000 extra teachers and this will shortly rise to more than 4,000. To facilitate the supply of qualified teachers going forward, we have also substantially increased the number of teacher training places. The creation of additional teaching posts together with a decline in enrolments has resulted in a significant reduction in the overall pupil-teacher ratio in our schools in recent years and this will continue to fall over the coming years. At primary level, the average pupil-teacher ratio is now less than 20 to 1. At post primary level, the average pupil teacher ratio, taking account of part time posts, now stands at about 15 to 1.

I am aware that some schools are experiencing difficulties in obtaining fully qualified teachers to fill vacancies for substitute and temporary posts and my Department is taking every possible measure to deal with any shortages which have arisen. Our record has been impressive in the area of school funding with schools now benefiting from unprecedented levels of funding support. At primary level, we have progressively increased capitation grants by some 80% in the period since 1997 to €102 per pupil for the school year 2001-2002. On top of this, grant assistance for secretarial and caretaker services at primary level is being doubled during the current school year from €51 to €102 per pupil. There has also been an increase in the per capita grant at post-primary level. There will also be a corresponding increase in the annual minimum grant for smaller schools from €5,079 to €19,808. This funding will provide further substantial support to the school development planning process. Schools will have discretion in line with that available in relation to per capita grants as to how this additional funding is best utilised in the interest of their pupils.

We all know literacy represents an absolutely essential requirement for personal independence and effective participation in a modern society. While it is recognised that some children will experience learning problems of one kind or another during their school years, to suggest that 64,000 children at school have serious literacy difficulties is unnecessarily alarming and downright misleading. It is a sensationalist ploy by the Opposition which does a great disservice to the quality of our schools and the professionalism of our teachers. Literacy standards in our schools are generally higher than elsewhere. The Programme for International Assessment, PISA, recently studied reading, scientific and mathematical literacy levels amongst 15 year olds in 28 OECD countries. Its findings clearly demonstrate that the results achieved in Irish schools are excellent. It found that the literacy levels achieved by Irish 15 year olds were the fifth highest of the OECD countries worldwide and second highest in Europe. Only one country, Finland, achieved a significantly higher score. In the study of scientific literacy, Ireland ranked ninth overall with a score significantly higher than the OECD average and in the study of mathematical literacy, [697] Ireland ranked fifteenth overall which means that the performance of Irish students did not differ significantly from the OECD average.

This Government has not been complacent. We fully recognise that a significant number of children require extra support to overcome learning difficulties or impediments which can arise from a variety of factors. In the area of literacy and numeracy, we have taken a number of very significant steps to support children with learning difficulties. Following a survey of remedial education in 1998, revised guidelines were provided for schools to ensure that the remedial service would be targeted at the children with greatest needs. Further to this, an extensive programme of training for teachers was initiated to facilitate the implementation of these guidelines. From September 1999, a learning support teacher service was extended to every first and second level school in the country. Since 1998 the number of learning support teachers has increased from 1,302 to 1,485. Learning support guidelines were introduced to provide practical guidance for teachers and parents on the provision of effective learning support to pupils with learning difficulties and low achievement in the areas of literacy and mathematics. These guidelines have been issued to schools and a programme of in-service training began last year. In addition, the number of special resource teachers catering for children with special needs in mainstream schools has increased from 124 to approximately 1,600 whole-time equivalents. There are also four special schools and 20 special classes in mainstream schools catering for the special needs of pupils with specific learning disability. These measures will ensure that children who might otherwise be considered at risk will develop sufficient literacy skills to enable them to derive maximum benefit from their education.

Last December, my Department introduced an innovative new junior certificate school programme literacy strategy which promotes a school-wide approach to literacy development at junior cycle. Central to the strategy is the concept that all teachers are teachers of literacy. Within the strategy, schools are encouraged to put in place a literacy development plan which encompasses short-term interventions with targeted students and the fostering of a reading culture throughout the school. The strategy will also encourage schools to involve all subject teachers in adopting specific techniques in teaching the literacy demands of their subject area. It allows for subject specific learning to take place more effectively while at the same time improving literacy levels.

We all know that education and literacy play key roles in the promotion of a more inclusive society and tackling educational disadvantage has been a major priority of this Government's education policy. Under the national development plan, more than €500 million is being pro[698] vided to fund a range of programmes aimed at ensuring that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are given every opportunity to reach their full potential. These programmes include a range of measures to improve literacy and numeracy attainment in and out of school. The new National Anti-Poverty Strategy recently adopted by the Government also has an important role to play here. A crucial target of the new strategy is to reduce by 50% the number of children with serious literacy difficulties.

We have developed new and innovative measures to address literacy and learning support. I assure the House that my Department will continue to give priority to this important area. We have also taken a number of initiatives in the ICT area about which time does not permit me to elaborate. A major programme is under way to upgrade primary and post-primary school buildings with €1 billion allocated under the NDP for this purpose. As a result of past under investment, over the course of decades, the reality is that some schools are in a poor state of repair and require substantial funding for upgrading to meet modern requirements.

It is not possible, in the lifetime of one Government, to wipe out the cumulative deficit of generations and to deal with emerging needs at the same time. However, it is only in the lifetime of this Government that there has been an increase in the level of investment which is capable of making a real difference. The facts clearly demonstrate our sustained commitment to rectifying the deficit and to providing for new building needs. In addition, the Government has introduced a grant scheme for minor works at primary level. In the region of 1,000 grant approvals costing in the region of €33 million were given to primary schools in 2001 in respect of minor projects and purchases of furniture. In addition, an annual capital grant of €3,809 per school plus €12.70 per pupil is paid to all primary schools at a total cost in excess of €17.7 million.

The Taoiseach has given a categorical assurance about our clear commitment to continuing with the work we have started and to building on the substantial progress that has already been made to ensure that the needs of schools right across the country are met.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey Zoom on Seán Haughey This is a very negative motion from a very negative party. I welcome the report from the Central Bank announcing that the global economic downturn is over. That is good news. Everybody can now feel positive about the future economic development of this country.

There is no doubt but that since 1997 Ireland has experienced substantial economic growth which has literally transformed our society. Ireland has changed significantly over the past five years and I am not sure whether all Members realise that. There has been a deterioration in our [699] quality of life as a result of the substantial economic growth but that is being tackled. We are faced with new challenges in the areas of health, public transport, child care and housing and new approaches and policies are needed. I am confident the Government, and Fianna Fáil in particular, will produce the necessary responses to tackle the issues which have resulted from the changes that have taken place.

I refer to the health services in my constituency, for example. We continue to receive complaints regarding our health services but the health strategy, Quality and Fairness: A Health System for You, is being implemented. I welcome the provision of 37 new beds under the strategy in Beaumont Hospital this year and the commitment to provide another 70 beds at the hospital next year. I also welcome the development control plan which has been launched for the Mater and Temple Street Hospitals. This will create a new hospital campus on the derelict car park site at the Mater Hospital. These measures, among others, are being taken to facilitate a greatly improved service in the accident and emergency departments of hospitals on the north side and will go a long way to reduce hospital waiting lists.

Economic growth, a significant population boom and increased car ownership have highlighted the inadequacies of our public transport system in recent years. However, the Minister for Public Enterprise has initiated a major programme of investment in this area. For example, Dublin Bus has purchased 431 new buses and there has been progress on DART services, Luas, the metro and institutional arrangements to address public transport issues. A major programme of reform and investment is evident on the ground and next year there will be improved services for all to see.

With regard to housing, I welcome the 20% social and affordable housing provision under Part V of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, and the introduction of the affordable housing scheme. These measures will go a long way to providing much needed housing for young people in particular. The north fringe action plan has been adopted by Dublin City Council in my constituency and will be a significant programme in terms of ensuring there is adequate social and affordable housing for young people. That will be one of the best legacies of the Government. The measures introduced to address the housing problems are welcome and will be most effective.

Mr. McGuinness: Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness The job of the Opposition is to challenge the Government on its policies and the direction it takes in regard to the management of the economy but, in doing so, it cannot abandon reality. Reality has been abandoned during a number of Private Members' debates recently. We must reflect on the health of the economy in the early 1990s and the changes that have taken place since in the context of this debate. There has been a substantial change in [700] how we conduct business. There is a significant difference in the number of people who are in employment and there has been a revolution in the area of information communications technology. That revolution has been based on the sound economic policies that have been put in place by the Government since 1997.

The economy is expanding rapidly and Ireland is the envy of its European neighbours. They have tried to ascertain how we have developed the economy so rapidly while some of the greatest nations in Europe have been in recession. Ireland has a great deal going for it. Listening to the contributions of Opposition Members, one would think Ireland was going down the tubes with words like “abysmal” and “disaster” used to describe public services. Disasters are six a penny in light of the impending election.

It is no harm to remind ourselves that the economy is expanding and road and rail services and housing are needed. The Government has a policy in each area and it is positively developing those policies. For example, we will put a health strategy before the electorate for its consideration and approval. A great deal has been done. There are new challenges and the next Dáil will be presented with further challenges and radical policies will be needed to address them.

One must acknowledge what needs to be done in terms of road and rail transport. We need an integrated transport policy. We must examine not only the transport of people but also the transport of goods. There must be a debate on how to deliver those services and it will be part and parcel of the next Dáil. We have a fine public service which is responding to the many needs of the economy but the significant changes in recent years must be acknowledged. I take issue with this Dáil placing in the hands of the NRA the role of developing our road infrastructure without a proper debate or ensuring it is accountable to the House. In that context, the Dáil also needs to be reformed.

I would like a home for the elderly to be built in my constituency, the completion of the Piltown ring road and the commencement of a commuter service between Carlow-Kilkenny and Dublin. However, all these developments are in the planning stages and have been progressed significantly since 1997. I look forward to seeing them delivered upon in the next Dáil.

Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney It is terrible that we only have a brief time to debate the motion. Even I am old enough to recall when Fine Gael and Labour were in Government and they could have done something about hospital waiting lists.

Ms O. Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell When was that? It is interesting that Fianna Fáil says we have to get in touch with reality.

Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney It is incredible to listen to the promises about what will happen in regard to these lists and to the condemnation of what has [701] been done over the past five years. Deputies Noonan and Quinn reduced the funding for waiting lists to £10 million whereas this year the allocation is €113 million. The health budget has been increased by 125% and 709 beds are coming on stream, which is more than the Government's target of 650. This has even had an impact in my own constituency. I do not know what will happen if Labour and Fine Gael are returned to power because Declan Bree stated in a recent debate on Mid-West Radio that he would abandon the health strategy and distribute medical cards. That is an example of cheap electioneering auction politics, which do not work. It is better to deal with these matters with a long-term strategy such as that offered by the health strategy. I commend the Minister for Health and Children for the work he put into the strategy and look forward to him putting it into practice.

Literacy problems were mentioned. I remember begging the former Minister, Niamh Breathnach, for a classroom assistant for a class of moderately handicapped children and being refused. I remember the days when 72 schools in Donegal did not have a remedial teacher. Those days are gone. People are now looking for classroom assistants and resource teachers but things have improved greatly.

In 1999, County Donegal was allocated 1,100 new housing starts for the 2000-03 programme. We already have those and we have now asked for more. Looking at the investment in new road projects, the LAS budget in 1996 was £265,000, while last year it was £1,347,788. For non-national roads in 1996, the budget was £11.5 million whereas now it is over £25 million. Statistics might be dull and boring but the facts remain.

The motion states that the Government has failed to tackle the underlying problems affecting the quality of people's lives in spite of five years of unprecedented economic prosperity. One of the greatest achievements of the past five years is the peace process that this Government delivered. As a result of that process, many things now work on a cross-Border basis. To bring gas from Belfast to Donegal, £10 million has been invested. In May a car ferry will start traversing from Magilligan to Greencastle at a cost of £4.5 million. We have invested in Derry City Airport to extend the runway to bring in bigger planes that will help tourist access and assist business interests. We have invested more than £5 million to get a Dublin-Derry air service with a PSO. We hope the A5 and the Dublin-Derry train service will be next.

To say nothing has improved in the health service is scandalous. In Donegal, £1 million was spent on primary care facilities in 2000 for Moville, Buncrana and Clonmany while support has been given to the district hospital and James Connolly Hospital. The White Oaks Centre now offers residential treatment for victims of alcohol abuse. An Alzheimer's unit is being provided in Carndonagh, additional bed capacity in Letterkenny and a review of bed capacity in the district hospital. An ultrasound machine, holistic [702] breast care and chemotherapy services are being provided for Letterkenny, as well as new accident and emergency, oncology, haematology and breast care consultants. Specialist appointments have augmented acute services, with a 50% decrease in the waiting list from 2000 to 2001. There has been a 60% increase in ICU beds, an acute rehab unit has been commissioned and 52% of day surgery and service rates have been achieved.

I could go on listing the achievements of the Government all night. I look forward to declaring our record to the public because although there is much to do, we have done a lot. People will see through this motion for what it is. If the Opposition had picked one topic it would perhaps be different, but to lump everything together because they could not say enough bad things about us to take up five minutes is a poor sign. I look forward to more substantial motions from the Opposition in future.

Mr. M. Kitt: Information on Michael P. Kitt Zoom on Michael P. Kitt There have been many comments on the negative motion tabled by the Opposition. When I was canvassing last Sunday morning, I was handed a parish newsletter. In this newsletter there was an article about negativity and how being negative can undermine others. The writer described how he was advised to stay away from negative people.

Ms O. Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell The Deputy wants us to go away. Like a communist, he does not want an Opposition.

Mr. Neville: Information on Dan Neville Zoom on Dan Neville He will be sorry he said that in May when he is in Opposition.

Mr. M. Kitt: Information on Michael P. Kitt Zoom on Michael P. Kitt He continued that he has tried to take that advice. Like a computer virus, being negative affects all it comes in contact with. It is highly contagious. It continually emphasises the difficulties and problems of any project or line of action. Recently the writer found himself working with a very negative person who gave every reason why a particular project would never succeed. The people surrounding that person were themselves negative. This was not an accident, he said, but the virus spreading. That sums up the Fine Gael motion.

Increased grants have come through for the group water schemes. The Minister has removed an anomaly where people in rural areas had to pay for their water supply. Now there are EU grants and local authority sources. The Federation of Group Water Schemes worked closely with the Minister to remove the anomaly and members of those schemes would like to see them taken over by local authorities. I commend the Minister for equity in the provision of water and charges. When the Minister last came to Galway, the deputation that came to see him wanted to thank him, not to ask for a new project.

Local authorities completed 5,000 units of accommodation in 2001, the highest figure in 15 years, and started over 7,000 units last year, with [703] 6,000 more planned for this year. The disabled persons' housing grant has been increased three times since the Government came to office and now covers up to 90% of the cost of approved works for private houses. This grant previously covered only 75% of the cost.

Heating provision for the houses of those with disabilities should be improved. In some local authorities, a grant of only 50% is available. That is not what the Minister intended and I would like to see the figure increased to 90%, as it is for all other works. The essential repairs grant and housing aid to the elderly are also excellent schemes where the grants have been increased. The Minister has delivered in the area of housing.

Sewerage schemes have not been as successful but a design-build-operate scheme has been sanctioned near Portumna. Similar schemes should be put in place for the smaller villages in east County Galway. Many sewerage schemes cost €1.3 million. Significant money is spent in major towns, such as the Mutton Island scheme in Clifden, and many schemes could be provided with such funding in smaller towns. We should move towards the provision sewerage schemes, which are so important, for our smaller towns.

We have been very successful in County Galway in providing libraries. In April 2001, the Minister opened two libraries in the one day, one in Oranmore and one in Loughrea. Both are in beautifully restored church buildings. Libraries are planned for Eyrecourt and Inishbofin, we recently had a library opened in Killimor and there are plans for new libraries in Mount Bellew and Ballinasloe.

There have been difficulties at University College Galway which caters for Counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, as well as County Clare, the midlands and parts of the north west. I am glad, however, the Government has bought Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe. There is a new wheelchair association centre in Tuam and the Government has also purchased the Bon Secours Hospital in Tuam, which we hope will be a community hospital. Step down accommodation is a big problem – if there was more hospital accommodation in our smaller towns, people would have more opportunities to leave the hospital in Galway city.

I welcome the rail study and hope it will lead to a commuter link from Tuam to Galway as part of the Sligo-Cork line. Investing in the railways is cheaper than road infrastructure and commuters in the west want to have a service from Tuam to link with the Galway-Dublin line so there is a reliable rail system between Tuam and Galway.

Mr. Neville: Information on Dan Neville Zoom on Dan Neville I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and to voice my concern about the Government's failure to build on the economic success of the past decade. As deputy Opposition spokesperson on health, I am concerned about the whole area of the health service. Having listened to Members on the benches [704] opposite preach for half an hour on the successes of the economy, it is an indictment of the Government and the Minister for Health and Children that the health service is in such a terrible state, with 26,126 people on waiting lists. In such an economic environment, it is extremely regrettable that people wait years for hip replacements, elderly people are denied the enjoyment of reading the daily newspaper because they must wait for cataract operations and those in need of surgical interventions feel obliged to contact public representatives in the hope of improving their place on the waiting list, which would mean unfairly moving somebody else down the list.

Under the agreement with the medical bodies 40% of the population could be covered by medical cards, yet only 29% of the population has a medical card. Why has the full figure agreed with the medical profession not been met and the means test thresholds increased? I ask the Government to examine closely the Fine Gael proposals to double thresholds for medical cards and extend medical card coverage to everybody aged 65 years and over and 18 years and under. It is indicative of how the Government has neglected this area that 37% of the population was on medical cards when it took office.

The Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy O'Dea, who has just left the Chamber, has an interest in this debate. The fact that we have 64,000 people in the education system with serious literacy problems is an indictment of the Government and society. We have built the success of our economy on our educational system by introducing excellence while totally neglecting those with literacy problems and those who, due to their social circumstances, do not have the opportunity to achieve a reasonable level of literacy and are unable to read the instructions on an aspirin packet. Given the higher likelihood that the families of people who are illiterate will also experience literacy problems, it is vital that we take a very serious approach to the problem. If we are to end the cycle of illiteracy, we must start somewhere and the earlier we start, the sooner we will get to grips with it.

I implore the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, as a fellow Limerick man who understands the education problems facing schools in east Limerick and, I hope, the rest of the city, to examine the need for investment in schools in Limerick west. I urge him to look across the border to Pallaskenry school where for 15 years children have been educated in prefabs, the roofs of which now have extra supports because of the danger they may collapse on the children. I ask him to announce before the election the start of the promised construction of Kilfinnane primary school and the extension works for Cappagh school, Scoil Náisiúnta Drumtrasna in Abbeyfeale, Gaelscoil Uí Doghair in Newcastle West and Christ the Saviour Church in Ballingarry. Although Charleville Christian Brothers School is outside the area, many people from Kil[705] mallock and surrounding areas travel to the area and they are extremely concerned about the lack of facilities in the school. I implore the Deputy, as a junior education Minister, to respond to the needs of Limerick west.

For years, we in Limerick west have been promised investment in infrastructure, particularly the N69 coast road which has vast potential in terms of the development of the Shannon Estuary. Despite the Minister previously indicating that work would be done on it, we now learn that it will not take place in the foreseeable future. The road has the potential to contribute to job creation and the development of the Limerick side of the estuary.

There are 200 acres of an industrial site in Askeaton awaiting development. The site is very near one of our more growing ports, Foynes, and the international airport in Shannon yet people will not invest in it because of the difficulties in road travel in the area. Just twelve months ago, the National Roads Authority addressed Limerick County Council and informed us that the Adare bypass would be completed within two years. We now learn that this project has been put on the long figure again which will inhibit travel between Limerick city and all areas west of it on the N7. This is extremely disappointing as Adare is a fantastic tourism product with vast potential, which is being hindered by the presence of heavy traffic on a major road through the village. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider the Government's decision not to allocate funds to complete the project this year.

I urge the Minister of State to re-examine Government policy on Shannon Airport which has been the hub, the driving force behind the development of the mid-west. Travelling from the United States recently, I was appalled that I had to over-fly Shannon, land in Dublin and wait an hour for an aircraft to return to Shannon. What kind of a message about Shannon does that give a person travelling to Ireland? This has grave implications for those considering developing in the area. Deputy Noonan, the future Taoiseach, has given a commitment to undertake a detailed, comprehensive examination of this matter and to return Shannon Airport to its former glory. I believe he will have the opportunity to do so.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton This is an extremely important debate because it is possibly the last occasion in which the House will have an opportunity to discuss the stewardship of the Government. I want to speak primarily about traffic in Dublin city and its health services, particularly on the north side. If one examines the politician's role in relation to a problem such as Dublin traffic, it is primarily to provide leadership in order that change occurs, remove institutional barriers where they occur, set priorities and deadlines and to ensure that strategy is driven forward relentlessly and meets those deadlines. Against those standards, the Minister for Public Enterprise must be seen as the most dismal failure ever in dealing with traffic. [706] Nobody needs to be told that since this Government took office five years ago, ten million extra man hours per year are wasted by commuters in traffic, hours they did not have to waste five years ago. That is worth a conservative €200 million and one could add the cost to businesses and other sectors bearing the price of congestion. One might say this is a problem of success and that we have to live with it in the Celtic tiger economy, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The traffic problems in Dublin are largely the result of a lack of political leadership. There are institutions without the power to make change. There are needs that cannot be met because organisations not have the mandate to do so. We are suffering from hopeless political leadership on this issue. We have had heaps of talk and diagnoses of the needs but five years on we have no park and ride in Dublin, no integrated ticketing, no bus competition – supposedly the darling proposal of the Progressive Democrats – no real time information on public transport, no control of road openings which can happen willy-nilly during the day regardless of impact on business and no policy on heavy goods vehicles or managing traffic from the port or deliveries to commercial premises. This is because there has been nobody to lead. It is not up to the Minister to do all that work but she has failed dismally in not establishing a Dublin transport authority. This was to be one of the Government's flagships but five years on we are further away from having such an authority than we were at the beginning of the life of the Government.

Many people expected the influence of the Progressive Democrats to ensure there would be an attempt to bring more choice into public transport services. What is happening is that the Minister for Public Enterprise is frustrating those in the private sector who want to provide an alternative. She tells them they can start out in Ashbourne or Dunboyne but once they reach an area where there is a Dublin Bus service they cannot pick up another passenger. Such buses travel past people at bus stops who want a service as they cannot take that business or tender for it.

The only initiative developed in the last five years, albeit very slowly, was the quality bus corridor. What do we find at the end of that period? There are virtually no additional passengers using buses at peak times in comparison to figures for five years ago. It has failed to attract additional passengers from other modes of transport. That is not the fault of Dublin Bus but it has had huge implications for its finances – it has gone from a £5 million deficit to a £56 million deficit in just five years. That is the transformation. It is not getting passengers because the other policies which need to be in place to support a bus-based transport system are not in place. There are no park and ride facilities or real time information and we are not encouraging people to leave their cars at home by offering very cheap or free access at off peak times. We need to change attitudes to [707] public transport by making it an attractive, accessible alternative but instead the Government has done everything to frustrate the development of an attractive, alternative public transport service.

Regarding the health services, I, like the Taoiseach, represent a northside constituency. We have two major hospitals serving our area: the Mater and Beaumont Hospitals. The waiting lists in the Mater Hospital, in one of the most deprived areas of the north inner of the city, since the Taoiseach took office have increased by 45%. In the last five years the Oireachtas has funded a doubling of the budget of the health services and the Minister for Health and Children has employed 15,000 extra people for the service, an increase of almost 25% in staffing. Yet today an accident and emergency service cannot be manned in the two premier hospitals in the country, Beaumont and the Mater, in the Taoiseach's constituency. We cannot provide a basic service so that people can get care in an emergency. One in six people going to those hospitals must wait over 24 hours on a trolley for attention. That is a standard experience; 30% of cases deemed urgent cannot be seen within four hours. Nurses are leaving in droves.

In Beaumont last year 30% of nurses left the service because the Government has not delivered an environment in which they can practice their profession in the way they want and up to a standard of professionalism in giving care to people at their most vulnerable time. What has happened to those 15,000 people that we cannot spare some of them to man a decent accident and emergency service in Beaumont or the Mater? The Government produced a ten year plan for the health services at five minutes to midnight. Who is it fooling? I represent those constituencies and I have seen people sent home who are not fit to be out of hospital. I have seen consultants having to play God in Beaumont and decide who will get rehabilitation among six or seven patients who need it. No consultant should be put in that position.

The Government is squandering the resources it has been given. We know 4,000 of those 15,000 recruits to the health services were administrators and fewer than 2,000 were nurses. Those people at the cutting edge trying to give services to our most vulnerable people have not been supported or resourced to deliver. The Minister for Finance will give this Government its epitaph: it is time to go out and party. It may be time to go out and party for the cronies that support the Government but if you are a vulnerable person waiting for health services on the northside or a child with remedial problems you need not look to this Government for solutions. You need to look for a change of Government and I am pleased that soon we will have an opportunity for a real debate on how the country's resources have been used. Can we provide a vision for the country where people look out for one another and where [708] we have decent values in core areas? That is the ambition, not to see the Bertie bowl, this celebration of sitting on one's backside looking at sports spectacles; it is to deliver real, decent services to people struggling to cope. That is what this election will be about.

Mr. Healy: Information on Seamus Healy Zoom on Seamus Healy I thank the Fine Gael Deputies for sharing their time.

It is obviously true that we have had prosperity in the last few years but we have had prosperity without fairness. There are huge gaps between rich and poor and they are growing. There are also huge disparities between economic development and the resources being put into the constituencies of Ministers as opposed to other constituencies. South Tipperary is an example of this. Significantly, we have huge levels of unemployment in the county and many of our towns have three or four times the national unemployment average. There are 1,000 people unemployed in Carrick-on-Suir, a town of 5,500, which is outrageous. Unemployment is at 15% in Tipperary Town. Unfortunately for us, those two towns were included in the recent study on disadvantage in the RAPID II programme as deprived towns which have lost out significantly in recent years. Parts of Clonmel were also named in the study.

We have looked without success for decentralisation of Departments to south Tipperary, as Tipperary is the only county in Munster not to have such an office. Although it has been promised on four occasions in the past 18 months, it has yet to materialise. We have asked for advance factories. I accompanied a deputation from Carrick-on-Suir Urban District Council to a meeting with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment last October or November, but we were given no indication that anything would be done for the town. It has not been suggested by the Government that County Tipperary should be given the priority job creation status it needs if it is to advance and become prosperous. Although Tipperary is known as the premier county, it ranks 22nd on the economic league table of counties.

County Tipperary was one of the first counties to feel the effects of the swingeing cuts in the health service during Charles Haughey's time in Government between 1987 and 1989. We remember Fianna Fáil's election posters which said that “health cuts hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped”, but devastating cuts were introduced when that party returned to power in 1987. The consequences of the closure of St. Vincent's Hospital in Tipperary town are evident in the overcrowded corridors and accident and emergency departments of south Tipperary's hospitals, including St. Joseph's in Clonmel. Nurses, doctors and ancillary staff face huge pressures. There is no radiotherapy service for cancer patients in the south east and the CAT scanner promised by the Government has not been installed in St. Joseph's Hospital in Clonmel.

I consider it illegal that elderly people who [709] have given years of service to the State should be forced to pay for nursing home services to which they are entitled free of charge under health regulations. This situation should be reversed immediately. The housing aid for the elderly scheme has been abandoned for 2002 in south Tipperary as a result of a lack of funding and staff and it looks like there will be no scheme in 2003.

New schools or extensions to existing schools are needed in many towns in my constituency, as children are being taught in old, leaking and decrepit buildings. I have asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on many occasions to sanction community gardaí but he has refused to meet the demand. The Cashel bypass has been stalled due a lack of funding and a bypass of Carrick-on-Suir is needed also. Additional moneys are needed for local road improvement schemes. About 1,000 families, or 5,000 people, are on local authority housing waiting lists in County Tipperary. There are 118 families on the waiting list in Cahir, a small town with a population of about 3,500 people. They will have to wait for about six years to be given a decent roof over their heads.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin The Government's failures, as outlined in this Private Members' motion, do not involve figures or cash amounts. The amendment to the motion would make impressive reading for a visitor from outer space, as statistics are listed and huge sums of money are mentioned. These boasts, however, bear no relation to the daily lives of the real people of Ireland. They mean nothing to a young married couple struggling with a crippling mortgage that forces them both to work and to leave their children who have to be cared for in an expensive crèche, if they are lucky enough to have one in their locality. The Government's boasts ring hollow to an elderly person waiting years for a hip operation or to an expectant mother whose local maternity unit has been closed and who has to make a long and hazardous journey outside her county to receive pre-natal treatment and to give birth. They are bitterly ironic to a seriously ill man lying on a trolley in an accident and emergency unit.

The housing figures mean nothing to a single mother and her child who have been on the housing waiting list for years, or to a family living in overcrowded conditions that beats a path in vain every week to the local authority's housing section in search of decent accommodation. A young couple starting out in life, unable to buy a modest home, will be astounded by the Government's claim to have moderated house prices and to have afforded greater participation in the housing market to first time buyers. A tenant in the private rented market facing an exorbitant rent increase or eviction will note that the private rented sector is not mentioned in the Government's amendment, as will his counterpart living in grossly substandard accommodation. Even this Government could not devise a positive spin to [710] put on its abysmal failure to protect tenants, given that more evictions are taking place now than was the case under British rule.

Bundles of surplus copies of today's Order Paper could be supplied to teachers and parents of primary school pupils as they patch up crumbling classrooms and fill cracks in roofs and walls while waiting an announcement from Marlborough Street of when a building project will finally be sanctioned. Perhaps they will have to wait until this year's complement of pupils reaches voting age. The Government might consider posting copies of its amendment in my region to console those who see no prospect of the early delivery of the promised bypasses for Belturbet, Carrickmacross, Castleblayney, Monaghan and Virginia.

What has this Government done for counties Cavan and Monaghan? There has been no improvement in public transport in the region. Neither county is included in the phase 1 of the extension of the broadband network. The Government has not seen fit to locate a Department or third level college in my constituency. Local enterprises do not receive special aid, there has been no major inward investment and the health needs of my constituents are not recognised. That is the Government's record in the counties I represent.

The ideology which drives this Government is expressed in the section of its amendment dealing with housing, which states that “first-time buyers have been afforded greater participation in the housing market”. The people of Ireland are citizens with rights, not merely consumers with buying power. They have a right to an equal place in society and decent homes and should not be confined to a niche in the cut-throat housing market, which has been designed by the Government for the profit of speculators.

I look forward to presenting Sinn Féin's vision during the general election campaign, when we can put forward a real alternative to the failed policies of this Government and its predecessors. An Ireland of inequality has been created, but my party's goal, which is the aspiration of the overwhelming majority of Irish citizens, is that this country will become an Ireland of equals. Tacaím leis an rún; I support the Fine Gael motion.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): Information on Dan Wallace Zoom on Dan Wallace A few short months ago, I outlined the Government's housing record to the House in response to another ill-informed Fine Gael motion. Let me remind them and bring them up-to-date on what we have done.

In the past five years we have introduced a diverse range of measures to reduce house price inflation, increase housing output to meet demand, afford greater access to the housing market to first-time buyers, and improve affordability for first-time buyers and lower income households.

We took action on the tax front, including [711] adjusting the stamp duty system, to bring forward the supply of development land, remove speculators from the housing market and improve affordability for first-time purchasers. We also invested heavily in housing related infrastructure following years of neglect. On top of significantly increased investment generally in water, sewerage and roads infrastructure, we increased both the supply of serviced residential land and the more efficient use of that land through higher residential density. Strategic planning guidelines were drawn up on a regional basis for the Dublin and mid east regions and this is being replicated in other key regions throughout the country. We have also greatly expanded the capacity of the planning system by recruiting additional planners and increasing staffing at both local authority and Bord Pleanála levels.

Currently there is about six years supply of serviced land nationally, in Dublin and in the greater Dublin area. This will improve further on foot of increased investment in economic infrastructure such as roads, water, sewerage and public transport over the national development plan period. The shortage of serviced land for housing, which was identified as a key issue when we took office, has been fully and comprehensively dealt with.

More than 52,000 new houses were completed last year, up almost 6% on the previous year, and it was the fifth consecutive year of record housing output under this Government. Early indications in 2002 are that we are on target for another year of record housing output as HomeBond registrations for the first two months of this year show an increase of 37.5% on the same period in 2001. Since we came into office some 216,000 new houses have been built, equating to about 18% of our total housing stock. By way of international comparison, we built more than 13 houses per 1,000 population in 2001, the highest rate in the EU in proportion to population.

Fine Gael has the audacity to lay the blame for increased house prices in the early part of our term at the door of the current Government. The reality is, and they know it, that the peak of some 40% in house price increases recorded in 1998 was due to their failed polices and inaction which, among other things, had resulted in an acute shortage of serviced land for housing. Since then, because of the measures we introduced, there has been a downward trend in house price increases. The average annual rate of house price increase has been reduced from the inherited peak of around 40% to about 5% or 6% last year.

One of the principal objectives of the Government has been to create space for first-time purchasers. First-time purchasers, I am glad to say, are now accounting for a larger share of the market, with applications for new house grants up by more than 7% in 2001 following an increase of almost 5% in 2000. All the evidence from mortgage lenders, auctioneers and the house builders themselves is that this strong performance by first-time buyers has continued into this year. [712] This is backed up by the level of new house grant applications in the first two months of this year which are up by more than 12% on the same period in 2001.

The area of social housing needs has been a particular priority for this Government. The total funding provision for housing this year is €1.7 billion, an increase of more than 20% on last year, which represents an increase of more than one third on 2000. The increased investment by this Government has allowed social housing to be delivered at record levels. Some 5,000 local authority houses were completed or acquired last year, the highest level of output for more than 15 years. Output under the voluntary housing programmes in 2001 was some 1,250 units, the highest level ever achieved by the sector. Accommodation was provided for an additional 333 traveller households in 2001, the highest level ever. In all, the social and affordable housing needs of more than 11,000 households were met last year.

This Government also recognises the importance of the private rented sector. The measures we have introduced in budget 2002 complement the other reforms introduced on foot of the recommendations of the Commission on the Private Rented Residential Sector and are laying the groundwork to achieve our objective of a diverse, properly functioning and well managed private rented sector.

The Fine Gael motion smacks of desperation. Over the last two nights my colleagues have shown the strength of our record on public transport, roads, health and education. Housing is no different – we are delivering on housing and our record of action stands in marked contrast to that of Fine Gael. Nothing the Opposition has said in the course of this debate has taken any of the gloss off the Government's achievements in this key area.

Ms O. Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell I listened carefully to what Government TDs had to say to the motion, all of whom expressed surprise that we were debating it and that they were being subjected to criticism. I too find it surprising and extraordinary that we are here in the dying days of the Dáil with a composite motion designed to condemn the Government on every front. In every area of public service it has failed to deliver. It is extraordinary because it had every opportunity and all the money. It tells us proudly that it is the longest serving Government the country has ever had since the war years. It has had all the opportunities. While nobody expects all problems to be solved overnight, it is inexcusable that in the dying days of the Government the plans, strategies and promises are being pushed out daily. Nothing was achieved in the past five years when, God knows, it had every opportunity to deliver. It had the money, time, expertise, skills and a dedicated young workforce full of enthusiasm. No generation ever had to work as hard or as long as this generation has been willing to work. By sheer [713] force of their will and enthusiasm they drove the country to a rate of prosperity we had not witnessed previously and yet the Government could not capitalise on the potential that offered.

Instead, their reward has been a deteriorating quality of life and a deterioration in all the public services which impact directly on peoples' daily lives. We have had the catalogue of them, by speaker after speaker – health, education, transport, environment. What good is prosperity if it does not translate into a better quality of life and if people do not consider it has been worthwhile?

It could be truly said of the Government that never has so little been achieved with so much. The Government has not been content just to fail to deliver services to squander the money of those few years. It is also working hard to destroy any potential there might have been for future growth. Lack of plans, strategies and the will to tackle the problems in an honest way has resulted in an alternative approach. Money was thrown at every issue raised without any strategy as to how it might be best spent. There has been no evaluation of outputs or analysis of the efficacy of any plan.

Current spending has increased to 22%. What is the Minister for Finance, the Taoiseach and every member of the Government, who know the damage this can cause to the economy, doing by standing over that current spending without any thought for the future? How can they justify it when growth rates are, at best, 3%. It will get the Government over the election but it will not carry the country far. When it should have spent money it failed to do so.

What happened to capital spending? What happened to the national development plan, to which so much lip service was given? How can the country capitalise on any upturn that may appear on the global economy such as the Central Bank suggested this evening may be happening? I welcome that. We are poorly poised to capitalise on it. The key to survival is the maintenance of competitiveness. We have nothing else going for us. We are a rock on the side of Europe and we have to be competitive. To be competitive we need to have the infrastructure. We know we have reached the barriers to expansion on every front during the years of prosperity. We must invest in infrastructure if we are to increase output and productivity. During the downturn in the economy, instead of engaging in anti-cyclical spending it engaged in pro-cyclical policies.

The roads programme stopped completely.

The National Roads Authority has had to display the greatest ingenuity in its report for this year in masking the fact that no progress has been made on the roads programme. There is just about enough money to maintain the two major projects in Dublin until the end of the year and nothing else is happening. Every product we use, sell, buy, import or manufacture must be transported by roads which go through the centre of villages, holding up traffic and endangering lives. How can a modern economy operate like this? [714] Almost five years ago the Tánaiste told us that within three or four years we would have highways to everywhere. At the end of five years we have a few kilometres here and there. Why are we stopping now when it was never more critical that we invest in our infrastructure?

I agree with everything my colleague, Deputy Richard Bruton, said about the transport situation. I have had many battles with the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, about Luas, buses and many other issues. It is clear from the sixth and final report of the Luas advisory group that even the Government's new timetable for Luas will not be met. First, the Minister interfered because she did not have the will to forge ahead with a badly needed project. She listened to every bit of advice from anyone who had an interest in transport and eventually made a mess of the project. In 1998, when the Minister announced the metro project, one would have thought that only the drilling of a few bore holes would be needed to provide a metro system by the following Christmas. A gullible media almost believed her.

This afternoon the new Rail Procurement Agency held an information launch for potential bidders for the metro, which I do not expect to see in my lifetime. The Government should not be left in charge of this project. It is a project of enormous proportions with huge potential for pitfalls. We have no experience of a public private partnership on this scale. I am not convinced the Government knows what it is embarking on and I have no confidence in its ability to manage it. Has the Government sought the necessary legal, commercial and accounting advice to ensure we get the best possible deal in this public private partnership? We are involving ourselves in a project of enormous risk. A project such as this involves huge risk in the areas of planning, archaeology, geology and construction. Nor do we know what the demand for the project will be. There are also operational risks. If the Government cannot organise a public private partnership to run a swimming pool, what hope is there for the metro project to be successfully managed? Has the Government even given the tendering process any consideration or brought in expertise? The Abbotstown project involved an exposure of £63 million but this project will involve billions. The Government's estimate is for £6 billion and it usually gets half way there, so we are probably facing a financial exposure of £12 billion. Even an exposure of only £6 billion has the potential to sink the country to its knees. We are facing into an enormous project and the Government has not given it a whit of thought. If there is any reason not to return this Government, this is it.

The Minister for Public Enterprise promised a communications Bill. Recent press statements from Deputy O'Rourke make it clear she is living in a fantasy world. She continues to fantasise that this country is the hub of the e-commerce universe. We were promised that it would be, but [715] there has been no investment in the necessary technology. Recently the Minister said we would have “always on” Internet access within weeks. This is fantasy. There is no regulatory framework for this, the Director of Telecommunications Regulation has no power to enforce it and there is no plan as to how it will happen.

Everything the Minister has touched has become a disaster. Even the ESB, a relatively successful company, was not allowed to invest in the infrastructure necessary to provide power for the west of Ireland to expand economically. For several years, millions of pounds had to be spent on emergency generators in case of a crisis in the electricity supply. The Minister is in charge of airports; they are a disaster. She has a complete inability to make a decision. She has promised so many improvements in public transport, including a Dublin transport authority and park and ride facilities. I have attended five separate launches of integrated ticketing plans. No decision has been made with regard to even one park and ride facility.

Competition among bus companies is the single most important requirement for the survival of Dublin. It is the only thing which might make Dublin a viable city and which can be delivered with any degree of speed. Not only did the Minister not fulfil her promises, she thwarted those who tried to apply for commercial bus licences. Deputy Richard Bruton has spoken about the nonsensical licences that were eventually issued months after the applications were made. Some licensees were prevented from picking up passengers in certain places but, worse, they were prevented from setting down passengers. What is the sense in stopping people from getting off a bus where they want to or in taking people beyond their place of work? This makes no sense whatsoever and is part of a failed policy.

Dublin Bus on its own cannot provide the capacity or frequency required. Bus lane after bus [716] lane has been provided but there has been no analysis of their efficacy. We have fewer bus routes in Dublin now than we had five years ago and those which are left have been denuded of buses to provide vehicles for some of the routes which have bus lanes. I say some routes, because several routes which run on bus lanes have only a handful more buses than they had before they became totally dedicated lanes. One cannot use road space in this way unless it leads to the maximum delivery of passengers in peak hours and this is not happening. It is no wonder the commuting times have got longer and people feel their quality of life is being destroyed.

Tomorrow, Fine Gael will launch its housing policy document. This area demonstrates the most abject Government mismanagement. Every housing policy of the Government has been reversed because it produced the opposite of the required effect. Housing lists have increased in every local authority area. There are 55,000 families waiting for housing with no hope of getting it in the foreseeable future. People who can buy houses have to buy them 70 or 80 miles from their original homes, losing all contact with family and the social supports that go with that. The Minister of State has the nerve to say the shortage of land is Fine Gael's fault. How did we manage that in the two years we were in Government over the past 15 years? This Government has failed the people because it has failed to fulfil the promise of the potential of the money, opportunities and time made available to it. It has wasted all the opportunities by mismanagement.

I do not blame the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, or many of the other hard working Ministers but the Taoiseach who spent five years canvassing when he should have been in here making sure his Ministers were doing their job, that there were strategies and plans in place and that they were implemented. This Government has failed the people and they will not forget it.

Amendment put.

Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Ahern, Noel.
Aylward, Liam.
Blaney, Harry.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Browne, John (Wexford).
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Cullen, Martin.
Daly, Brendan.
Davern, Noel.
de Valera, Síle.
Dempsey, Noel.
Dennehy, John.
Doherty, Seán.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Fox, Mildred.
Gildea, Thomas.
Hanafin, Mary.
Harney, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Killeen, Tony.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael P.
Kitt, Tom.
Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.[717]

Tá–continued

McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, James.
McGuinness, John J.
Martin, Micheál.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Donnell, Liz.
[718]O'Donoghue, John.
O'Flynn, Noel.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Malley, Desmond.
Power, Seán.
Roche, Dick.
Smith, Michael.
Wallace, Dan.
Walsh, Joe.
Wright, G. V.

Níl

Barrett, Seán.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas P.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Bruton, Richard.
Carey, Donal.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Currie, Austin.
D'Arcy, Michael.
Deasy, Austin.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Enright, Thomas.
Farrelly, John.
Finucane, Michael.
Flanagan, Charles.
Gilmore, Éamon.
Hayes, Tom.
Healy, Seamus.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Joe.
Higgins, Michael.
Hogan, Philip.
Howlin, Brendan.
Kenny, Enda.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McDowell, Derek.
McGinley, Dinny.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
O'Keeffe, Jim.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Penrose, William.
Perry, John.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Reynolds, Gerard.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, Seán.
Sargent, Trevor.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Stagg, Emmet.
Timmins, Billy.
Upton, Mary.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Bradford and Stagg.

Amendment declared carried.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.


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