PDs' desire for limits on spending growth fails to figure


Across the board tax cuts are at an end, but there are no specific plans to curb public spending , writes Mark Hennessy, Political Reporter

Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats have agreed on a five-year Programme for Government which they claim will help to build a society of equal opportunity and sustained prosperity.

On spending, they acknowledged that the days of general tax cuts are at end, and those that are possible will be concentrated on those earning the minimum wage, and less.

Insisting that the Government would stay inside EU spending guidelines, the document makes no reference to the Progressive Democrats' stated desire to curb public spending growth.

In the last Programme for Government, the two parties committed themselves to keeping spending growth below 4 per cent in real terms though that target was wildly breached in the last two years.

Making it clear that they will campaign strongly for a Yes vote in the Nice II referendum, they said perceptions that Ireland was anything less than a committed EU member would damage the country.

"We have no doubt that there is no alternative to being a fully engaged member of the EU," they said.

They added that enlargement was a historic opportunity to unite the European continent.

Despite the Progressive Democrats' earlier reservations, a Garda Inspectorate will be set up.

However, it will have the power to launch inquiries, rather than just waiting for complaints to be made to it.

The Progressive Democrats won a victory on "The Bertie Bowl". A national stadium, rather than a campus, is now planned and more funding will have to come from the private sector.

Heroin abuse in prisons will be tackled, while convicted drug dealers will have to register with the Garda on their release.

Night courts will be reintroduced and pubs closed if they serve underage drinkers.

Asylum-seekers' applications will be handled within six months and those who fail will be repatriated quickly.

The rule whereby anyone born on the island is automatically an Irish citizen will be reviewed.

The National Development Finance Agency will raise bonds to fund infrastructural spending, though another fund will be established to enable private companies to build and maintain schools.

Tobacco prices could rise dramatically if negotiations with union and business leaders to get tobacco removed from the Consumer Price Index succeed,since extra taxes could be imposed without increasing inflation.

On health, they avoided commitments about ending hospital waiting lists and agreed to implement the National Health Strategy. Private hospitals at home and abroad will be used to cut queues.

A new Department of Transport will take charge of the national roads programme, along with the National Roads Authority, aviation and public transport, though not other aspects of the National Development Plan.

Bus competition will be encouraged, while new services to new housing estates and poorly served communities will be improved by greater investment in CIÉ's own bus fleet.

A dedicated Traffic Corps, with its own staff and ring-fenced budget, will be set up to curb speeding on the roads, though it will remain part of the Garda Síochána, in line with the wishes of both parties.

An extra pier at Dublin Airport will be built to serve low-cost airlines.

However, they long-fingered demands that the Government should let Ryanair build an independent terminal there.

Urgent action will be taken, the document promised, to implement the recommendations of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board and thus cut motor insurance costs.

Personal injury claimants will have to swear affidavits before some cases will go ahead, in line with a Progressive Democrat proposal.

Those subsequently shown to have lied will face perjury charges.

Awards guidelines will be set down for judges, to cut premiums, while employer insurance could be made compulsory. This would allow for a bonding scheme to be set up to deal with company collapses.

Incineration plants will be built, though all recyclable materials must be removed first.

Door-to-door recycling will be introduced nationwide.

The Planning and Development Act, which has caused some problems because planning applications expire after just two years, will be reviewed. Stronger efforts will be made to use State lands for housing.

Homelessness and child poverty will be tackled.

Old age pensions will rise to a minimum of €200 a week by 2007, while social welfare payments generally will exceed €150 per week by then.

The National Spatial Strategy will be completed to spur development outside of Dublin and surrounding regions, while decentralisation of State offices will also "move forward".