New programme addresses seven "key concerns" of the Irish people


THE "Action Programme for the New Millennium" notes that full implementation of the plan will depend in many instances on continued strong economic growth and the requirement to stay within the Maastricht criteria and the EU Growth and Stability Pact.

The programme addresses seven "key concerns of the Irish people" Northern Ireland, Crime, Drugs, Taxation, Inclusive Society, Education and the Environment.

Another 28 areas deal with building on economic progress, social issues such as health, the family, women rights, the elderly, those with disabilities, sport and leisure.


The priority will be to create a lasting peace based on justice, friendship and cooperation between the different traditions. The immediate task is to secure an unequivocal restoration of the IRA ceasefire; the establishment of inclusive all party negotiations in the three strand process, leading to a political settlement. The governments negotiating position will be based on the Downing Street Declaration, the Framework Document, the Mitchell Principles and the draft report of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.


Promising a "zero tolerance" policy towards crime, including white collar law breaking, it will implement a Charter for Victims. Key priorities involve strengthening the Garda to 12,000; establishing an independent Prisons Authority to manage the State's detention system; putting in place a Prisons Inspectorate. Other measures include an extra 1,000 prison spaces in the first two years, including a new remand prison. A community warden service will be recruited by local authorities to relieve the Garda workload. An independent Parole and Remission Board will be set up as well as an independent Court Service; an automatic asset inquiry for certain offences; a review of the right to silence.


The overall approach involves prevention, education, detoxification and rehabilitation. The key priorities here include the coordination of a national drugs strategy through a Cabinet subcommittee implementation of the zero tolerance approach to drug dealers and pushers; expansion of Operation Dochas; offer of a nationwide rehabilitation service to addicts a custodial detention centre for convicted addicts and remand prisoners who are addicts, with all other prisons to be "drug free".


Over the next five years, the government will reduce the basic rate of income tax to 20 per cent and the higher rate to 42 per cent. The upper rate will be cut to 40 per cent during the lifetime of the government, if circumstances permit. Basic allowances to be increased, rising by at least the rate of inflation in each budget.


The key priorities involve the introduction of a national minimum hourly wage, following consultation with the social partners; a 25,000 place programme to tackle long term unemployment which will pay the going rates; a Green Paper on the issue of basic income within two years; investment in education at all levels; ensuring that people with disabilities have equal opportunities to participate fully; a new deal for the travelling community; attacking fraud and abuse of social welfare, "freeing up resources to address real needs".


The chief priorities involve the provision of a specific budget for preschool education. Primary education is to have a clear priority in allocating resources; one teacher schools with 10 pupils or more are to receive a second teacher; with the renewal of substandard accommodation.


The ban on bituminous coal will be extended to all major urban areas; a National Environment Partnership Forum will be established; an EU agency will be sought to take responsibility for monitoring nuclear installations in member states. Waste management policies will be developed; the campaign against Sellafield will continue; an Irish "ecolabel" will be established.


Sustaining economic growth will involve running a current budget surplus; eliminating Exchequer borrowing over the next two to three years to cut servicing of the national debt of £30 billion; limiting net current spending growth to 4 per cent and capital spending growth to 5 per cent up to 1999. It also promises to honour terms of Partnership 2000.


To cope with entry to EMU, the programme proposes tighter fiscal discipline; negotiating the continuation of Structural Funds to mitigate any sudden shock to the Irish economy.


The new administration will establish an independent agency to administer payments to farmers. It will restore the Control of Farmyard Pollution scheme; ensure support for family farms; limited grant aid will be targeted on smaller farmers with low incomes; support the forestry industry; set up a network of women in farming; encourage the development of organic farming.


Establishment of a statutory independent Food Safety and Quality Authority, under policy direction of Health Minister but with its own board and accounting officer. Reestablishment of the Office of Food within Department of Agriculture.


Expedite the establishment of National Conference Centre; reassess Bord Failte's marketing campaign; examine how low fare policies by airlines and ferries can be developed; establish Tourism Development Fund.


Implement recommendations of Finlay Report. Tackle crisis in hospital waiting lists. Improve mental health and autistic services. Review medical card eligibility for large families and elderly.


Refocus tax and welfare system in favour of family unit; provide mechanism to allow women "who take time out for family reasons" to continue contributions for pension purposes; establish national mediation service; policies to address effect of divorce on families; regional family courts.


Enact comprehensive juvenile justice legislation; mandatory reporting of child abuse; all party Committee on the Constitution to consider amendment to underpin individual rights of children; full implementation of Child Care Act; voluntary contact register for adult adoptees to contact birth parents.


Implement second report of the Commission on the Status of Women; funding of Rape Crisis Centres and provide refuge accommodation for women fleeing domestic violence; separate, legal representation in court for victims of rape and sexual assault; treatment programme for sex offenders.