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Action Programme for the Millennium - November 1999

 

REVIEW OF THE ACTION PROGRAMME FOR THE MILLENNIUM
- SOME MAIN POINTS.

Introduction

Over two years ago the Irish people gave Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats a mandate for Government. Our mandate is for fundamental change and reform . We promised to cut taxes, to provide jobs and to bring lasting peace to Northern Ireland. 200,000 new jobs have been created, 85,000 people have been taken out of the tax net and over £1 billion pounds in personal tax reliefs have been provided since we took office. Huge progress has been made in Northern Ireland, where the Good Friday Agreement should now provide a basis for enduring peace.

Approaching the mid-point of our term of office, the Government can be justly proud of the substantial progress that has been achieved. Over three-quarters of the specific commitments in the Action Programme for the Millennium have been delivered on.

We know however that much remains to be done . We aim to be an inclusive society, but there are those who remain left out.We aim to build a sustainable economy for the future, but our infrastructure lags behind our phenomenal growth. We aim to achieve our goals through partnership but there are those who question the value of partnership . We aim to inspire confidence in the conduct of public affairs but many question the integrity of politics.

In setting new goals for the remainder of our term in office,Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats aims to continue to deliver unprecedented economic progress through social partnership. In so doing, we acknowledge that progress to date while dramatic has been neither unanimous or equally spread. As politicians, we accept that it is our challenge to create the atmosphere of trust between the social partners whereby a new set of priorities can be agreed that are both socially inclusive and economically prudent.

Social inclusion is the primary economic goal of this Government. We aim to put in place policies that will reach out to those who are marginalised. Already, we are well on target towards delivering an old age pension of £100 per week. We aim to enhance the quality of life of those with disability or handicap.Substantial additional resources will be allocated to achieve this.Similarly, the lack of adequate child care facilities prevent many women in particular from achieving their potential in education and in the workplace. The Government pledge to address this issue as a priority.

The National Development Plan that we will publish shortly will provide for an unprecedented level of investment in our infrastructure. Phenomenal growth has left us shoe horned into an infrastructure that is several sizes too small for us. In the years immediately ahead we intend to provide for the housing, transport and communications needs of our evolving society.

It is our duty as a Government to give leadership and build confidence. People must believe confidence in politics as a representative process that is working fairly and honestly for them. We aim to advance the process of electoral reform during the lifetime of this Government and to bring forward proposals for a system that will be proportionate and representative. We also aim to bring forward legislation that will give practical effect to our commitment to the highest standards in public life.

Ireland today is a society of unprecedented opportunity. Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats aim to ensure equal access to this opportunity for all our people.

Social Inclusion

Since the publication of the Action Programme for the Millennium, we have made major steps towards our objective of building an inclusive society. As our economy grows from strength to strength, we aim to ensure that all share in our new found prosperity. We are reaching out to those who have been left behind and marginalised and are resolved to tackle those deep seated social problems. Going forward into the new millennium, social inclusion will remain the primary economic goal of this Government.In particular, we will prioritise a number of key areas.

Education is the key to social inclusion and we will shortly launch an integrated and ambitious plan to tackle educational disadvantage and expand opportunities at all levels. It is an overriding objective to develop a system of lifelong learning for all. We will begin by ensuring a high-quality education component for the care of pre-school children through to a "Second Chance for All" scheme of adult education.

Our older people have done much to make the country what it is today. We are determined to ensure that our older people can enjoy their retirement in comfort, security and prosperity. We will continue to improve and set new targets for pensions, taxation, health and care services. In particular, we point to our renewed commitment to bring about a £100 per week pension.

Another key issue where we will deliver for older people is care. In this sphere, we aim to develop a partnership model to facilitate the development by the State in conjunction with the private sector of an improved system for meeting long-term care costs. We also put in place a co-ordinated approach addressing the needs of carers. We will establish a pilot system of needs assessment for carers and people needing care to be operated by the Health Boards.

We are determined to put in place a coherent system of supports to strengthen families and to care for all our children. We will develop a comprehensive Childcare policy and will bring forward significant initiatives in Budget 2000 and subsequent Budgets to respond to the child care / child support needs in this society. Another measure of significance is the development of a National Childrens Strategy which will set out a co-ordinated policy designed to integrate service delivery for children across the range of public services. We will also put in place a range of measures to both support lone parents and facilitate them in returning to work.

Any meaningful effort towards social inclusion must seek to widen the opportunities available to people with a disability and/or a handicap and enhance their quality of life. Since this Government took office, services for those suffering from a mental or physical handicap have improved, but we recognise that these must now be developed at an even faster rate. We have given a firm commitment to provide substantial additional funding to address, as a priority, the shortfall in services for the mentally handicapped and the physically disabled.

In the years ahead, we will seek to diminish substantially the incidence of poverty . The key to this will be the implementation of our Social Inclusion Strategy, which updates and extends the National Anti-Poverty Strategy. We will also establish new social inclusion targets in consultation with the social partners.

Infrastructure

Ireland's infrastructure has been greatly improved in recent years but, is still not up to the standard required by an economy which is developing as fast as ours. Our Review of the Action Programme for the Millennium recognises that there is a deficit in our transport infrastructure and we are pledged to rectify this. We are not prepared to allow a situation arrive where such is the traffic congestion in urban centres and along our main national routes that the economy suffers from substantial loss of output.

We view an effective public transport system as one of the keys to the economic life of this country in the 21st century. Our aim is to provide a more efficient and reliable system of public transport that will assist greater mobility, relieve congestion and shift the emphasis from private car ownership to public transport. We are actively promoting the use of all forms of public transport by increasing investment in it.

Investment priorities include implementation of DTO plans, including quality bus corridors, LUAS, DART and commuter rail extensions; the improvement of park and ride facilities and more extended services to meet growing public need. Public-Partnership Partnership arrangements will be used, where appropriate and cost-efficient, to advance some of these projects.

We will also undertake a major public investment programme, including public-private partnerships, to ease other infrastructural bottlenecks such as roads, water and sewerage.Going forward into the next millennium, we have pledged to achieve the strategic development of our physical infrastructure as a key part of our economic growth.

A first-class economy needs a first-class road network and we will increase investment in the programme for national as well as non-national roads. The core network of national routes will be completed by 2006 over the course of the next National Development Plan up to motorway / dual carriageway standard. We will also invest further resources in water and waste water services and provide a modern legal framework to ensure effective management of these services.

The housing situation remains a core concern for the Government. Key elements of our comprehensive housing policy include maximising housing output and promoting affordable housing. The clear message to emerge from all consideration of the housing issue is the necessity to increase countrywide supply. We are committed to creating a dynamic housing market capable of turning out 50,000 new homes every year to keep pace with the rapid rate of economic growth. We will also promote strategic development of locations outside Dublin as an economically self-sustaining basis to restrain demand in Dublin.

We recognise that it is crucial that major water and sewerage schemes are put into place without delay so as to bring more land zoned residential onto the market. We will fully implement the Service Land Initiative which will yield 100,000 sites by end 2000. We are also determined not to forget those dependent on publicly funded social housing programmes and will promote increased output from the voluntary housing sector to supplement a significantly increased local authority house building programme of 22,000 dwellings over the next four years.

Economy & Employment

Progress on the Programme for Government has been achieved against a background of continued strong economic growth. This has enabled more rapid progress than planned on a number of key objectives. For the second half of the Governments term of office,we have set ourselves a number of ambitious priorities as we work o ensure that our economy continues to thrive and that all sections of our society share in our national prosperity.

Huge progress has been made in the battle against unemployment with the number of people at work at an all-time high. A measure of our success is that we are in a position to make a commitment to achieve, for the first-time in the history of the State, full employment and effectively eliminate long-term unemployment. A significant step in this direction will be the extension of the employment action plan to cover all adult unemployed by mid-2000.

Tax reductions are also a key feature in our strategy to encourage the take-up of employment. We will ensure that people keep more of what they earn than ever before through a balanced approach of removing more of the low-paid from the tax net altogether, by reducing tax rates, by ensuring that a large majority of taxpayers are subject to no more than the standard rate, and by completing the transition to a more progressive system of tax credits.

It is essential as we progress towards the goal of full employment that no sector of the community is left behind. We are, thus, committed to the full implementation of the Social Economy Programme as agreed under Partnership 2000 so as to ensure the provision of social and community-related services, particularly among disadvantaged communities and to provide new employment opportunities. In terms of enhanced employment opportunities, we are also resolved to undertake a programme for people with disabilities and the mainstreaming of delivery of both training and employment services.

Our pledge to enact legislation to allow for the implementation of the national minimum wage with effect from April 2000 is clear evidence of the priority we accord to social inclusion and social partnership. We recognise the considerable benefits Social Partnership has brought to the country over the past 12 years.We will strive to bring about equivalent gains for the future and we will work to negotiate a satisfactory successor programme to Partnership 2000.

We view also the maintenance of a healthy budget surplus as essential to sustaining our economic growth. This will enable us to meet more comfortably unforeseen contingencies, and public investment needs against the background of declining EU funds,while at the same time making provision for future pension liabilities. Another important budgetary parameter that will continue to apply is the need to reduce the general government debt from 56% at the end of 1998, which costs £2.5 billion to service, to less than 40% of GDP by end-2002.

Competition is crucial for continued growth and we will actively support its promotion in all sectors of the economy through increased enforcement of competition law and the removal of restraints on competition. We will carry out a comprehensive review of the current regime governing competition and regulation and this competition audit will be asked to focus on areas where increased competition could offer significant benefits to consumers and to the national economy generally.

We will also ensure that State Companies remain important contributors to Ireland's competitive capability. Working within the framework of a social partnership approach, it is our intention that these companies will be equipped to meet the challenges of the developing competitive global market place through transformed business practices, and, when required, new ownership models,including possible joint venture arrangements.

Our ability to adapt to the information revolution will be a benchmark of Ireland's competitive capability. While Ireland has performed remarkably well as an economy at the outset of the information revolution, we recognise that our continued economic prosperity depends on Ireland responding to the demands of the information age and taking a leading role in aspects of that response. It is, therefore, our aim to build a competitive, knowledge-intensive, high-skilled human resource base together with a flexible and responsive productive capability.

We are acutely aware that substantial future investment will be required to establish world class research capability in certain key technologies in order to underpin future industrial competitiveness. In regard to this, we will bring forward a new programme of investment in RTI (Research Technology and Innovation )to invest substantially in the RTI base of the country as a means of enhancing innovation and competitiveness, and in order to increase output and employment.

In order to meet the Research and Development (R&) and skills needs of the economy, we will seek to strengthen the research capability in the third-level and state research institutions and to increase the quantity and quality of linkages between institutions and companies. As part of our strategy to reposition Irish industry higher up the economic value chain, we will provide substantial public investment in the niche technologies identified in the Technology Foresight Ireland Report.We will also actively pursue the positioning of Ireland as a global leader in electronic commerce and as a key player in next generation internet technology.

Tourism now plays a major role in our thriving economy with growth levels unmatched by any other European country. In the years ahead, as we seek to build on these achievements, tourism will be a priority for Government investment, and we will create a new tourism marketing fund aimed at promoting Ireland overseas as a quality tourist location. A serious inadequacy in our tourist industry is that not all levels have enjoyed the same levels of growth. In order to address this, we aim to develop regional tourism attractions in emerging underdeveloped tourism areas and promote innovative solutions to the management of tourist traffic flows.

Agriculture and Food remains Ireland's largest industry.We recognise that the future of the sector is vital not only for our rural communities but, for our economy as a whole. We will pursue policies which will not only maximise the contribution of Agriculture and Food to the national economy but which will lead to the development of a strong internationally competitive industry and maintain the greatest number of farm families, especially young families. The successful outcome of the Agenda negotiations were a major boost to the prospects of Irish agriculture and food as we move into the new millennium. We will vigorously defend the Agenda 2000 Agreement in the next round of WTO.

We will also continue to develop Ireland's marine resources , in partnership with local communities and sectoral interests, to maximise their contribution to economic and social well-being. Among our many specific objectives in this sphere will be to prioritise investment in fishery harbours, and fleet modernisation, and training / safety needs of the fishing sector,to promote co-operation between catching and processing and to develop a comprehensive strategy for the review of the EUs Common Fisheries Policy.

Quality of Life

We believe that a key challenge we face as a Government is to translate our economic growth into a better quality of life for all our people . Economic prosperity must bring a new lease of life to all our communities throughout the country. It must mean that every citizen regardless of social background or geographic allocation has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

Through our economic and infrastructural policies, Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats aim to provide a framework for employment, roads, public transport, education, health care and child care to enable the basic needs of all our people to be met at a standard comparable to anywhere else in Europe. This is the aim of our National Development Plan and this project must command our attention in the coming years.

Our quality of life is not determined however, by essentials alone. Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats have give unprecedented political priority to the development of the Arts and Sport. We pledge to continue to do so.

We look forward to implementing the Arts Plan (1999 -2001) and establishing a national centre for the performing Arts during our term in office. We want to strengthen the arts in the regions and foster participation and talent in whatever form it takes.

In Sport , we have already provided a four fold increase in funding and put the Sports Council on a statutory footing. Local and National facilities are being developed including a long awaited 50 metre pool. We will begin a major funding programme for Local Authority pools that will benefit communities throughout the country. Other major projects planned include an indoor athletic facility at Morton Stadium, Santry, and the refurbishment of the National Boxing Stadium. A milestone in Irish sport will be our hosting of the Special Olympics in 2003.

We want to create a society where talent is nurtured and celebrated . Through the arts and sport we have the possibility to bring out the extraordinary in all of us.

Development and opportunity must be accessible to every region of our country. Having secured Objective 1 status for thirteen counties, we have put in place two new Regional Assemblies and these will play an important role in regional development and the National Development Plan. Our industrial development policy has been radically refocused on the regions. At the same time the continuing reform of the planning and Local Government legislation further facilitates real local initiative and decision making. Agriculture remains the keystone of the rural economy and the successful outcome to the Agenda 2000 negotiations together with the restoration of the on-farm investment schemes demonstrates our continuing commitment to farm families.

Ireland as a country is enjoying unprecedented change and growth. Our vision is to harness this growth for everyone and ensure that the changes we are experiencing leave nobody behind.

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