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Address on a Motion on the Book of Estimates, 2003 in Dáil Éireann


Introductory Remarks

The Abridged Estimates Volume, published last Thursday, has to be set within two realms of reality - the changed economic circumstance at home and the ongoing slowdown and uncertainty abroad. 

We may live on an island but our economy is one of the most globally connected in the world.  For economic growth, for job creation, for building competitiveness, for improving social justice, we must manage our economy prudently.  That is what these estimates do.  

The Estimates for 2003 take all relevant realities into account while, at the same time, ensuring that the economy will be shepherded safely through a period of global uncertainty. 

Taking account of Global Uncertainty

I do not know whether to be saddened or amused by the positions of the Opposition in this debate.  Their position in this debate is not the position they articulated in the recent general election.  Their position is not grounded on the open nature of our economy. 

Nor do they give any recognition to the fact that the international economic context continues to be rather bleak.   Ireland is not Tír na Óg.  We cannot carry on as if nothing has changed.     

It is the very open nature of our economy, combined with stability-oriented domestic policies, that drove the exceptional economic growth of the period 1997 to 2001.  With the global economic downturn Government has to take stock of the new economic reality.

In formulating the Estimates for 2003, the Government was guided by the need to ensure that the levels of public spending were appropriate to our new situation.  Spending increases for next year will be brought into line with changes in the tax revenue situation.  That is what is being done through the Estimates.  That is the right thing to do.  And that is what this Government will do.  

Those who talk about social inclusion must acknowledge that corrective action now will consolidate the enormous economic and social gains of recent years.  Without such action now, we would risk eroding and quite rapidly in my view all that has been achieved.  Where would the social justice be in that?  Rather than face the reality of what is required to achieve lasting social and infrastructural progress, the opposition choose instead to pretend that we can spend our way out of this downturn.  We cannot.  We will not. 

Government About Choices and Decisions    

In formulating the Estimates, the recommendations of an independent review committee assisted the decision-making process.  Government, however, is about listening to advice and then making decisions.  

It is beyond doubt that the spending increases of recent years could not be sustained indefinitely.  Over the last two years alone, growth in spending stands at some 40%.  Taking into account the very high expenditure bases of all Departments and the consequent increase in services provision, the Government has made decisions around national priorities both economic and social. 

In line with our overall objective to improve the general quality of life and to deepen national competitiveness, priority is being given to health, education, social welfare and transport infrastructure.    

With regard to health, the gross allocation for next year will be €8.9 billion an increase of €520 million on 2002.  That rise needs to be set within the context of a massive 147% cumulative increase over the period 1997 to 2003.  Of itself, that represents a clear demonstration of the Governments consistent commitment and determination to bring about substantive improvements in healthcare provision.  However, the health delivery agencies have a vital role to play too, especially in the effective management of resources on behalf of patients and those on waiting lists, as well as on behalf of tax-payers generally.

In the area of education, the gross allocation for 2003 of €5.6 billion represents a €190 million increase on 2002 and brings the cumulative rise over the period 1997 to 2003 to 77%.    

And on social welfare, the gross allocation for the Department of Social and Family Affairs is €9.7 billion.  On a pre-Budget basis, that is an increase of €300m.  Indeed, overall spending on social welfare has increased by €4 billion since 1997. 

It is self-evident therefore that the Government is according special priority to those sections in our society who are most marginalized or most vulnerable those in need of healthcare; those depending on social welfare payments for their incomes and those who will drive economic and social performance in the years ahead people in education.    

In order to enable continued improvements to be made in building social fairness, special attention has to be paid as well to deepening national competitiveness.  A key element of that is infrastructure investment. 

Having regard to the restraining effects on economic activity of accumulated under-investment, €5.3 billion will be invested next year in capital projects.  By any objective reckoning, that is major expenditure.  Indeed, it is almost twice the equivalent rate for the EU generally.  

Next year, €1.5 billion will be spent on capital investment in public transport; €1.02 billion on housing; a further €1.02 billion on health and education capital projects and over €470 million on environmental services.  A significant easing in construction price inflation presents good opportunities now, to achieve better value-for-money outcomes.  In the round, the allocation for capital expenditure sets a correct balance for this economy and this society.  We will continue to invest in improving the competitiveness base of the economy while, at the same time, sustaining the gains achieved in promoting greater inclusion and greater equality in our society. 

As one would expect, the allocations to the higher priority areas have implications for those areas of lower priority.  

The 2003 Provision for my own Department

For my own Department, the 2003 Estimates provide a total of €23.641 million, representing a substantial reduction of 34% on the 2002 provision of €35.9 million.

Nevertheless, I welcome the provision of a level of funding which, I am satisfied, will allow my Department to continue with the range of activities that it undertakes, reflecting the central role that it plays in advancing the priorities of Government.  Indeed, I strongly believe that these activities and services can continue to be provided, even with a tighter budget, through the achievement of better value for money in the administration of the Department and the services that it provides. This is something that my Department will be working very hard to achieve throughout the year ahead.

I am particularly pleased that my Department will be in a position to give continued support to the very important work undertaken by the following bodies:-  

The provision of funding for the National Economic and Social Council, the National Economic and Social Forum and the National Centre for Partnership and Performance will ensure that the very important roles fulfilled by these bodies will continue. 

The National Forum on Europe has made a valuable contribution to the Nice Treaty debate and I welcome the provision of funding to enable the Forum to complete the work programme set out by the Chairman to further inform the debate on the Future of Europe.  

The provision will also enable the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings to continue its work within the timeframe, which it has indicated is required to complete its work.  It will also enable the work of the Moriarty Tribunal to continue.

The Estimates provision will also enable continued support for the Information Society Commission, which has an important role to play in the continued development of the potential of the Information Society in Ireland.   

I welcome the increased provisions for the Offices of the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Chief State Solicitor.

These provisions will enable the legal offices to continue to cope with a heavy workload by providing additional resources to prosecute a backlog of cases. 

The provision for the Central Statistics Office for 2003 represents, on the face of it, a 40% decrease in the estimate for 2002. However, much of this relates to the exceptional expenditure associated with the Census of Population earlier this year.    


In preparing the Estimates for next year, the Government gave careful consideration to our economic competitiveness and to social justice.  We evaluated the choices, we prioritised the options and we have made decisions accordingly. 

That process was set within a wider consideration of fiscal developments in the wider world, where we rely heavily for trade and investment.  In tailoring public expenditure levels to GNP economic estimates for 2003, we have given greatest priority to the most vulnerable while, at the same time, protecting the competitiveness base of the economy.  Fiscal prudence will guide this economy safely through ongoing global uncertainty.  The policies of the Government will enable us to consolidate the huge economic and social gains of recent years.  

We will not abandon the low tax regime that has been the engine of our economic and social progress.  Any short term gain would cost us dearly in the long term.  We will husband our resources to support our priorities.  Other issues, will for now, have to wait.  This prudent approach will protect the jobs we have created and the progress we have made.  For the future it will ensure that we are well placed to move ahead rapidly when conditions in the wider world permit.