Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this important motion. I am also pleased to see the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Mansergh, who should be retitled the ‘Minister for Cutbacks’, in the Chamber. I understand he will have a central role in the paring back of many projects throughout the public service.
If we are serious about cutting out flab and waste, the first action the Government should take is to reconsider the position of the 20 Ministers of State. There is no case to be made for the continuation of six or seven of those offices, along with their associated entourage of officials. The three Ministers of State currently in the Chamber, Deputies Mansergh, Hoctor and Curran, have useful roles, but the offices of ten to 13 of their colleagues are a perfect representation of the type of waste and flab the Government has overseen. If the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the ‘œMinister for Cutbacks’, Deputy Mansergh, are serious about reform, they should give serious consideration to abolishing these offices of State, which would yield a saving of at least €6 million or €7 million.
The more we have learned in recent days about the Government’s new economic measures, the clearer it has become that there will be a vicious assault on current spending and that major capital projects are under serious threat. We have been assured by a succession of Ministers that the focus of all savings will be a reduction in wasteful spending. However, it is becoming clear that essential services, including in health and education, are being assailed on all sides by the Government. Astonishingly, given the great pressures on the health service, €135 million is being cut from the health budget, with more than €100 million of that coming from the further deferral of the already much delayed fair deal scheme.
Many citizens are already experiencing the harsh effects of current Government policies, such as the recruitment freeze in the public sector, and of Government mismanagement of resources in the health and education sectors. In the third level sector, where investment for the future is vital, the Government is shamefully withdrawing resources. Some years ago, the former Minister for Finance, Mr. Charlie McCreevy, told us of his intention to write a book setting out his achievements as represented by his successive budgets of the late 1990s and the early part of this century. The most recent chapters of such a book would read as a horror story for the citizens of this State as the consequences of the budgets introduced by the Taoiseach in his previous capacity as Minister for Finance become apparent.
We have learned belatedly that at least €22 million will be slashed from the budget of the Department of Transport. The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, must explain whether these savings will be taken from road safety initiatives such as the promised investment in speed cameras and enhanced testing for drink and drug driving. Many Deputies attended a meeting in Kildare Street yesterday with all the Transport 21 agencies to hear about their plans for the future. There should be no delay in the delivery of critical capital projects such as metro north, the Dublin rail interconnector, the western rail corridor, the maintenance and expansion of the Bus Ã‰ireann and Dublin Bus fleets and the construction of Luas systems in Cork, Limerick and Galway. Many stakeholders fear these initiatives are under serious threat.
It is of great concern that the Taoiseach declined in recent days to offer a commitment to the House that the metro north project will be not delayed or abandoned as a consequence of the recession which he engineered. There has been no announcement in this regard but there is an ongoing suspicion that, with a nod and a wink, metro north, the western rail corridor and other major transport projects will be severely curtailed. The early planning stages for the interconnector, metro north and other projects must take place in the next year or two. However, they could easily be delayed by the Government through the tendering and other processes.
I acknowledge there are grave external factors relating to the ‘Cowen recession’, as I have called it for some months. I accept, for example, that the sub-prime crisis in the United States has had a grave effect on international liquidity. I recognise too that we are at an epoch-changing watershed in regard to the price of oil. We in this House and many others commentators, with the exception of Mr. Paul Tansey of The Irish Times, have not given enough attention to the role of the euro in the current difficulties. The European harmonised index of consumer prices points to the striking fact that 80% of our loss of competitiveness arises from our membership of the eurozone.
It is incumbent on this House to ensure there is no slashing of the funding for key transport infrastructural developments. Most important, the impact of this ‘Cowen recession’ must not be imposed on those least able to bear it, particularly in the areas of health and education.