Government partners spell out new strategy for next five years

 

The following is a summary of the main points of "An Agreed Programme for Government between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats".

Building peace and justice: Over the next five years, our overriding priority will be to secure lasting peace in Ireland through the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, the consolidation of its institutions, and the development of a spirit of friendship and co-operation between North and South. This we will do without prejudice to the ultimate goal of achieving a united Ireland in peace and agreement.

Ireland and Europe:

Based on the mandate conferred on both parties in the General Election, we will submit the Nice Treaty on enlargement to the people in a referendum to be held later this year in a way which seeks to address the concerns of the people as expressed during previous referendums and in the National Forum on Europe.

We believe that the broad institutional balance, as it currently exists, serves the Union well. We will oppose efforts to have existing integration supplanted by purely inter-governmental co-operation, or important common policies, such as the Common Agricultural Policy or regional and social policy, extensively re-nationalised.

We believe that commitment to the EU and its development in no way implies support for a European superstate or for an ambitious federalist project which is detached from public opinion. In addition, we believe that fiscal policy should remain the preserve of national administrations.

Budgetary & economic policy:

Under the EU Stability and Growth pact, Ireland has given a sovereign commitment to keep the finances of general government close to balance or in surplus and to take corrective action when this does not happen. Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats will respect this commitment.

Over the next five years our priorities with regard to personal taxation will be:

- to achieve a position where all those on the national minimum wage are removed from the tax net, and

- to ensure that 80 per cent of all earners pay tax only at the standard rate.

- to use the potential of the tax credit system to target changes and to pursue further improvements in the income tax regime if economic resources permit.

We will examine the tax treatment of share options.

To provide a new method of financing major capital programmes, we will establish under the auspices of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) a National Development Finance Agency (NDFA) to finance major public projects and to evaluate financing options for PPP projects.

Where significant once-off revenues accrue to the State through, for example, the sale of assets or the restructuring of the Central Bank, we will use these revenues to create a National Transformation Fund. This fund, which will be managed by the NTMA, will be used to finance infrastructural programmes.

Insurance & road safety:

We will take actions to improve road safety and driver behaviour, to reduce the legal cost of accident claims and to make the insurance market more consumer-friendly.

We will implement urgently the recommendations of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board.

Work on the penalty points system will be completed to ensure its implementation at an early date.

We will establish a dedicated Traffic Corps.

We will require certain forms of action to be supported by sworn affidavits so as to create a liability of perjury for fraudulent claims.

We will ban "no-foal, no-fee" advertising by solicitors.

Developing the regions and the islands:

We will complete and implement the National Spatial Strategy, which is aimed at ensuring that all the regions develop to their potential.

Integrated transport policy:

We will establish an integrated Department of Transport with responsibility for the national roads programme, aviation and public transport.

We will replace the Road Transport Act 1932 with modernised legislation to allow inter alia for new services in the bus market. Further progress will be made on upgrading the bus fleet.

We will establish Iarnród Éireann as an independent State company.

A strategic rail review will provide a blueprint for the future. The DART and outer suburban lines will be upgraded. Improvements to mainline rail services and rolling stock will continue.

Dublin Light Rail (LUAS) will be introduced between Tallaght and Connolly Station and between Sandyford and St. Stephen's Green. We will develop the metro for Dublin on a Public Private Partnership basis, making the maximum use of private finance and linking to Dublin Airport by 2007.

We will fully implement the National Roads Programme provided for in the National Development Plan.

We will support the agreed Aer Lingus survival plan.

We will ensure that all our State airports will cater for the requirements of the low cost travel sector, including a new PIER D at Dublin Airport.

We will examine proposals for a new independent terminal at Dublin Airport and progress them if the evidence suggests that a terminal will deliver major benefits.

The environment:

We will implement an upgraded air quality monitoring system, including "real-time" reporting.

We will extend the ban on smoky coal to additional centres.

We will prepare and implement a strategy to deal with emissions of critical air pollutants.

We will ensure that discharges of untreated sewage from our big cities and towns into the sea cease by end 2003.

We will intensify our waste prevention efforts through a National Waste Prevention Programme.

We believe that mass burn incineration of unsegregated waste, with no energy recovery, is not an acceptable practice today.

Thermal treatment, using best available technology, must be based on prior extraction from the waste stream of recyclables and problematic materials to the maximum extent possible, and on ensuring the highest regulatory standards.

We will rebalance the VRT and motor tax regimes to favour vehicles with lower carbon dioxide emissions.

Building an inclusive society: We are committed to the objective of achieving real and sustained social progress.

We will reduce consistent poverty to below 2 per cent.

We recognise the tackling of child poverty as a core element of our work.

We will implement a full range of policies aimed at supporting older people.

We will implement the revised National Anti-Poverty Strategy with its ambitious targets across a broad range of areas.

We will work to generate the resources to achieve our new benchmark level of €150 for social welfare payments.

Health: The development of a world-class public health service is a core objective for us.

We will implement the National Health Strategy, through a co-ordinated multi-annual programme of service development.

We will ensure that, in line with timings set out in the Strategy, all persons will be given an appointment for treatment within three months of referral.

We will expand public hospital beds in line with a programme to increase total capacity by 3,000 during the period of the Strategy.

We will seek to gain the maximum benefit for public patients from private hospital capacity.

We will improve the staffing of our hospitals by expanding the number of nurses working in key professional positions, hiring additional consultants and more health professionals.

We will develop acute hospital services on a balanced regional basis.

We recognise the need to ensure that people in all parts of the country have reasonable access to cancer services and will ensure that this objective is achieved.

We will implement a series of measures to significantly improve the level of orthodontic care available to public patients.

We will implement a major development of primary care services. As a starting point, 24-hour GP cover will be extended throughout the State by implementing a new co-operative and out-of-hours service. We will develop a network of primary care centres.

Education:

We will continue to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio in our schools. Over the next five years we will progressively introduce maximum class guidelines which will ensure that the average size of classes for children under 9 will be below the international best-practice guideline of 20:1.

We will continue our policy of implementing significant increases in direct school funding.

We will ensure that every school building attains set modern standards.

We will seek to address the distortion of the points system which comes about through certain high points courses and, in particular, support the move towards a common science degree as the principal means of entry to medical, veterinary and other related degree courses.

Crime:

We will complete the current expansion of the Garda Síochána and increase recruitment so that the numbers will increase by a further 2,000.

These additional gardaí will be targeted at those areas of greatest need, especially areas experiencing a significant drugs problem and a large number of public order offences.

We will review the management structure of the Garda Síochána and we will establish an independent Garda Inspectorate, which will have the power to investigate complaints, and will have the powers of an ombudsman.

As part of a general reform of the courts system, the existing criminal jurisdiction of the Circuit Criminal Court and the Central Criminal Court will be merged in one nationwide indictable crimes court of which all Circuit Court judges and High Court judges will be members.

We will introduce night courts and weekend courts in areas of greatest need.

Older people:

We will increase the basic State pension to at least €200 by 2007.

We will introduce a personal pension entitlement for pensioner spouses currently in receipt of the Qualified Adult Allowance, set at the level of a full non-contributory pension.

We will implement improvements in the Widow's/Widower's Pension.

Disability and caring:

We will complete the programme of expansion of appropriate care places for people with disabilities, with, in particular, the ending of the inappropriate use of psychiatric hospitals for persons with intellectual disabilities.

We will complete consultations on the Disabilities Bill and will bring the amended Bill through the Oireachtas and include provisions for rights of assessment, appeals, provision and enforcement.

We will, following further consultations, enact the Education (People with Disabilities) Bill and establish, as a matter of priority, a new dedicated Special Needs Education Council with independent assessment, appeals and redress mechanisms.

We will expand the income limits for the Carer's Allowance so that all those on average industrial incomes can qualify.

Asylum and immigration:

We will seek to increase the rate of repatriation of failed asylum applicants whose applications have been processed to finality.

We will ensure that new asylum applications are dealt with within six months and that other applications, which are currently outstanding, can be dealt with quickly.

Equality and law reform:

We will introduce measures to punish the presentation and making of false and exaggerated claims in personal injury cases. As part of this, we will create a power for the courts to deduct from damages costs relating to exaggerated claims.

We will, in the context of a statutory Press Council and improved privacy laws, move to implement reforms of libel laws designed to bring them into line with those of other states.

New laws will be introduced to speed up civil litigation.

We will change the in camera rule in family law cases to allow for general reporting of overall trends while continuing to respect the privacy of all those involved.

Good government:

We will vigorously implement and improve where necessary the full range of ethics legislation.

We will build a greater culture of review of public spending by publishing regular evaluations of key spending programmes.

We will seek to negotiate a new partnership agreement to follow the PPF.

We will seek to secure a viable long-term future for State companies without ideological preconceptions. We will approach the issue of ownership or structure for State companies on a case-by-case basis.

Better facilities for sport and

recreation:

We will continue to invest in sports facilities around the country through the National Lottery and Exchequer funding, particularly at local level where clubs of all codes, run by volunteers, remain the backbone of Irish sport.

We will start work on the construction of a world-class national stadium.

Culture and heritage:

We will develop and sustain the increased level of activity in the arts round the country, through the Arts Council, and otherwise in accordance with statutory provisions. We will support the implementation of the Third Arts Plan. As part of this we will work to ensure that the Arts Council has the appropriate professional staffing structures.

We will enact a new Arts Act, the first in over 50 years, to provide a more inclusive definition of the Arts and map out, on a statutory basis, a new relationship between artists, the Council and the Minister.

We will ensure the early establishment of the Irish Academy for the Performing Arts under the aegis of the Department of Education and Science.

We will rebuild the Abbey.

The programme also has sections on defence, employment, r&d, housing, agriculture, the marine, children, supporting diversity, regenerating disadvantaged communities and the Irish language and the Gaeltacht.