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Action Programme for the Millennium - Progress Report at the End of Year Two (July 1999)



Two years ago the Irish people gave Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats a mandate for Government. The electorate supported us because we promised fundamental change and reform. We promised to cut taxes, to cut crime, to provide jobs and to bring lasting peace to Northern Ireland.

Two years later and approaching the mid point of our term in office we can proudly say that we have kept faith with the people.Fundamental change has been delivered and a real difference made to the quality of life of thousands of families.

Huge progress has been made in Northern Ireland. Within three weeks of returning to office, a second IRA ceasefire, now in place two years, was established. Multiparty negotiations were restarted,and in April 1998 the Good Friday Agreement was concluded and heavily endorsed by the people North and South. Since then many aspects of the Agreement have been implemented, including an establishment of Commissions dealing with Human Rights and reform of the police. Prisoners have been released. North-South institutional arrangements have been agreed. However, there has been a delay in forming the power-sharing Executive and consequently the other institutions, the ostensible reason being uncertainty about the fulfilment of the decommissioning obligation by May 2000. A review of the implementation of these aspects of the agreement will take place in September conducted by former US Senator and Talks Chairman George Mitchell.

As our economy continues to prosper, more and more people are being enabled to share the benefits. In the last year 95,000 new jobs have been created and at 6.4% and falling our unemployment rate is the lowest in a generation. Not only are more people at work than ever before, more people are keeping more of what they earn at work than ever before. Eighty five thousand people have been taken out of the tax net and over one billion pounds in personal tax relief's have been provided since we took office.

We haven't just cut taxes we have also fundamentally changed how taxes are raised. Every Government promised fundamental tax reform,this Government has delivered. The taxation reforms we have introduced will ensure not only greater social equality; they will also promote greater economic opportunity. By securing agreement with the European Union for a standard rate of Corporation Tax at12.5 % Ireland has secured its place as an attractive and competitive destination for investors for the foreseeable future.

Two years ago drugs and crime were a major concern to people everywhere. Burglaries and assaults were the stuff of constant conversation while a series of major crimes had left people feeling helpless in the face of newly emerged drug barons. In our inner cities especially communities were devastated by the scourge of drugs and the associated crime committed by addicts to support themselves.

Cutting crime and the causes of crime was one of the fundamental commitments we made to the Irish people and we have delivered.Crime levels are now 16% lower than they were two years ago. Garda numbers have been increased and are on target to reach 12,000 and2000 extra prison places are being provided. The drug barons who wreck such destruction are being brought to account thanks to a raft of tough new and innovative criminal legislation. People have a renewed sense of security in their homes and communities and this Government is determined to remain tough on crime. Being tough on crime is only part of the solution we must also be tough on the causes of crime. That requires not only law and order but also a clear social vision.

Social inclusion is the primary economic goal of this Government. We are reaching out to those who have been left behind and marginalised. We want to bind this society together again. A wealthier Ireland must be a more caring Ireland.

The Young Peoples Facilities and Services Fund is providing for over two hundred initiatives in our most acutely disadvantaged areas. The areas worst affected by drugs are seeing tangible evidence of Government support for their efforts in their own communities. We are targeting senior citizens for special support and having increased the old age pension by eleven pounds in two years we are well on the way of achieving our target of £100 per week.

We have also improved the medical card guidelines for those over seventy. Our taxation policy has greatly eased social exclusion by taking the low paid out of the tax net and ensuring that the first £100 earned is tax free. We will shortly introduce the minimum wage and that will protect the weakest in the work place.Educational resources are being targeted to break the cycle of early school leaving, unemployment and social dysfunction.

Going forward into the next millennium we must bring with us not only every social strata of our society but also every region of our country. The Government has secured a successful outcome to the Agenda 2000 negotiations and total payments to the farming and food sectors will be in the order of ten billion pounds during 2000-2006. Keeping our promise to the farming community we have reintroduced the Control of Farm Pollution, Dairy Hygiene and Young Farmer Installation Scheme worth over thirty million in 1999. The Government has secured Objective One status for eleven counties and the IDA aim to deliver more than half of all new jobs from future green field projects into Objective One Regions. The new National Development Plan will have as a priority the sustainability of our rural communities and the Government will shortly be publishing a White Paper on Rural Development to lead the debate on how the emerging needs of rural Ireland can be met.

Much has been achieved and the Government is justly proud its achievements. But we are also aware that much remains to be done.We aim to be an inclusive society but there are those who still 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 a lasting settlement for Northern Ireland but there are still those in both communities who remain to be assured of their place in an inclusive settlement. As the pace of change in our society ever quickens this Government is alert to the need to review our policies and renew our Programme.

Two years after the last election we have implemented over three quarters of the 258 specific commitments in the action Programme for the Millennium and progress on the remainder is well in hand.

At this the mid point in our term of office and approaching the end of both Partnership 2000 and the 1994 - 2000 EU Programmes the Government parties will shortly take stock of where our society is at and what our key objectives for the future should be. Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats will over the coming period set new goals for our country that will be the pillars of the second half of our term in Government. These goals will also be the principles of the National Development Plan we will draw up over the coming months.

Ireland is a country enjoying unprecedented change and growth.Our vision is to harness that growth for everyone and to ensure that the changes we are experiencing leave nobody behind. Even in times of plenty Government is about making choices. This Government has made the choice to make the difference for those who up to now have not had any choices. Our wealthier country must mean a more caring society.

Bertie Ahern,T.D.
Fianna Fáil  

Mary Harney, T.D.
The Progressive Democrats  

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