[Sinn Fein]

19th November 2002

Estimates render Programme for Government ``inoperable''

The following is the text of Sinn Fein Dáil Group leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin's contribution to the debate on the Book of Estimates in Leinster House this evening:-

``Ba mhaith liom leasú Shinn Fein ar an rún seo a mholadh. I would like to commend to the House the Sinn Fein amendment to this motion which states:

``To delete all words after ``Dáil ∞ireann'' and substitute the following:

``condemns the 2003 Estimates for Public Services (Abridged) published by the Minister for Finance on 14th November 2002 as a programme for cutbacks which:

runs totally counter to the pre-General Election commitments of both the Fianna Fáil party and the Progressive Democrats party;

renders inoperable the Programme for Government, the National Development Plan and the National Health Strategy;

will cause real hardship in the areas of health and education;

and calls for, in particular:

the reinstatement of the first time home buyers grant and the fulfilment of the commitment to extend medical card cover to an additional 200,000 people.''

``The Government is asking us to commend the 2003 Book of Estimates which have caused justifiable anger and outrage throughout this State. The Estimates represent a programme of cuts and they promise a Budget which will totally negate the commitments made by the two Government parties before the General Election. The Government has effectively torn up its own Programme for Government, the National Development Plan and the National Health Strategy.

``Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats misled the electorate before May 17th. I do not for one moment believe that the Minister for Finance, at the very least, did not have knowledge of the true state of the public finances. A memo proposing cuts of some ¥900 million was being prepared in the Ministerâs office and was issued in June, a matter of weeks after the election.

``We had forewarning of what was to come immediately after the General Election when we compared the Fianna Fáil election manifesto with the Programme for Government. One of the most significant commitments in the manifesto was the elimination - not the reduction, mind you - but the elimination of hospital waiting lists in the space of two years. Between the election and the publication of the Programme for Government the promise was silently dropped. That was a foretaste of what was to come. We have the full menu in this Book of Estimates.

``The most shameful and disgraceful broken promise has to be this Governmentâs reneging on its commitment to extend medical card cover to a further 200,000 people. It should not be seen simply in the context of this yearâs u-turns by the Government. Throughout the years of the Celtic Tiger people on low incomes who earn that little bit over the limit for qualification for the medical card had a right to expect that increased prosperity would finally allow the government to extend qualification. They were led to believe that before the election and now they have been betrayed.

``The government is bragging about its increases in the health budget but the reality is that the 6% spending increase for next year is far behind medical inflation which is running at 10%. Health boards are already running over budget for 2002 and this will be carried forward to 2003. The drop in expected spending will cause substantial cutbacks in services and jobs. Patients will suffer and perhaps even die as a result. The Department of Health has confirmed that no new beds will be opened next year. We were promised over 3,000 new beds within the ten-year period of the Health Strategy.

``The two-tier public health service is unreformed and inefficient and bureaucratic. It has never recovered from the cuts of the 1980s. It is a two-tier system with the public health service carrying the private system on its back. Now the Government has effectively binned its own Health Strategy.

``I want to express here the outrage of people at the governmentâs slashing of the first-time home-buyersâ grant. This is an appalling act and it must be reversed. It too must be seen in a broader context and that is the abject failure over five years of the Governmentâs so-called housing policy. We have over 50,000 people on local authority waiting lists. We have young people taking on huge mortgages as house prices continue to rise despite the economic downturn. Now those people who manage to clamber onto the property ladder, in the absence of proper social and affordable housing provision, are to have this grant taken away from them. And the already totally inadequate social housing programme is to be cut by 5%.

``The Government backbenchers who have gone on the airwaves expressing personal opposition to the first time buyers cuts should put up or shut up and vote to reinstate the grant.

``The last Dáil saw repeated efforts by members from all sides in this House to press for real progress on the primary school building programme. There was hardly a deputy that did not raise the cases of schools in their constituencies that were waiting years for badly needed new build or repair work. Some of these children are trying to learn in atrocious Dickensian conditions. Again, the pre-election promise from this Government was that they would deliver, the budget would go up and the work would be done. Another false commitment, another betrayal.

``In conclusion I urge support for the amendment in the name of the Sinn Fein deputies.''

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