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Fianna Fáil not committed to quality public infrastructure – Morgan

28 April, 2009

Speaking on the Private Members’ Motion in the Dáil this evening, on the need for an infrastructure stimulus package, Sinn Féin spokesperson Arthur Morgan said it is clear that Fianna Fáil are not committed to the provision of quality public infrastructure. Deputy Morgan also criticised the use of the private sector for the development of public infrastructure.

Full text of Deputy Morgan’s speech follows:

Just over two years ago the Taoiseach wrote in the foreword to then new National Development Plan that the document ‘Transforming Ireland’ was "a roadmap for sustainable economic expansion, social justice and a better quality of life for all our citizens over the next seven years and beyond".

It is clear that the road map for investing in infrastructure in Ireland has been lost and the government’s capital investment policies are a write off.

It is also clear that Fianna Fail don’t really care that we don’t have the schools, the public transport networks, the digital broadband infrastructure, the hospitals and health service, the social housing that are the acid test of real social justice and the proof that a better quality of life is being delivered.

No, it seems that the job of Fianna Fail and Green party ministers is merely to talk daily of the ‘smart economy’, the ‘knowledge economy’, the ‘competitive Irish economy for the 21st century’. Enterprise ministers, past, present and sacked are allowed add the words ‘innovation’ and ‘research lead’ at will.

Their Green Party colleagues also get to say ‘Green Tech’ once a day in government press releases. It is clear that there has been significant investment in the infrastructure of hype but only that.

The economic downturn has hampered the investment capacity of government and so we must prioritise some infrastructural developments over another. It is also clear that the Fianna Fail strategy of spending tax payers’ money wildly in the boom times must end. We don’t need any more overpriced, badly thought through projects of which the West Link is a glittering jewel in the government crown of infrastructure failures.

Indeed we are still waiting for a simple clear explanation of how it came to be that the government paid National Toll Roads €15 million to build the bridge and then had to pay over €600 million to get it back.

But that has been forgotten as has the LUAS, M50 and Dublin Port Tunnel cost overruns replaced instead by a lot of bluff from the government benches on ‘Value for Money’, but again no real delivery or proof that value for money is being delivered in government spending.

Sinn Féin has been quite clear in our own job creation and public finance documents that we accept that we are facing straightened circumstances but we firmly believe that there is an alternative to the failed strategy of frittering taxpayers’ money wildly in the boom years and then cutting off spending in recessions. Across the globe there is a recognition of the need for sustainable, community focused social investment being the key for the next phase of economic development. In short we need a policy of investing in people, in their education, their health and the infrastructure that helps them work more productively and efficiently.

Sinn Féin believes that we have an opportunity to reshape the country and that a recovery plan must focus on ensuring we come out of this recession ready for the future - that we have the infrastructure, skills and public services that will put us at the top of competitiveness rankings, as well as delivering a tangibly improved quality of life for all our citizens.

Investing in schools

In Budget 2009, €581 million was earmarked for school building, with a further €75 million added in February 2009. In the April budget €30 million was cut from the schools building programme raising the question of the government’s ability to plan if they can change the school building programme three times in seven months.

Sinn Féin propose an increased building and refurbishment programme from late 2009 through to 2013 that would aim to take an extra 125 schools through construction by end 2010, and at least 125 each year between 2010 and 2013.

We also proposed that that the schools Summer Works Programme be maintained in 2009 and continued until 2013 and an increase in expenditure in the devolved Small Schools Scheme. These measures would create local employment while building vital infrastructure.

Replacing the outdated copper telecommunications network with a full fibre-optic digital network running as a backbone across the island rather than an overdependence on wireless solutions is another vital step we need to take.

We propose a full implementation of the promised €252 million in NDP funding introducing ICT, broadband and digital media into primary schools with a target of full rollout of the scheme by end 2010.

We need to fast track the €435 million promised spend on the broadband network so that it is delivered between 2009 and 2011 instead of 2013 with a target of full broadband connectivity for all businesses and households by the end of 2011.

As I said earlier the government talk a mean game on Green Tech and there it ends proof of this was in the €13 million cut in funding for Sustainable Energy Ireland’s research programmes.

The coalition government supposedly with a green edge is ignoring the opportunities of Green Tech investment. They are ignoring a 2008 report jointly sponsored by Forfás and InterTradeIreland which forecasts the global Environmental Goods and Services sector to grow by one sixth, or $100 billion, by 2010 with a further $100 billion growth predicted by the end of 2015. It is vital we ensure that the Irish economy is best placed to take advantage of this growing economic sector.

The Forfas ITI report has shown a green tech sector on the island currently estimated to be worth €3.6 billion annually, employing approximately 6,500 people. What message were they sending to these people by cutting R&D investment in this sector? Once again with this coalition the talk is cheap and the cuts run deep!

The Fine Gael motion discussed here in private members business today has many strengths but some key weaknesses also highlighted by the recent publicity surrounding the ESB and Eircom two key utilities in the economy today.

Last week Eircom for Fine Gael was a "vital company of strategic importance", and they wanted it re-nationalised yet Fine Gael in government were just as avid privatisers as Fianna Fail. It was they who sold off Irish Shipping and then the old B&I leaving an island nation with no ships! They did find the time to nationalise Bewley’s though!

The greatest irony of the ESB expansion announcement earlier this month is that this company could have had the same fate as Eircom, it was just that the privatisation bandwagon stopped at Eircom’s door first saved the ESB, who are far from the perfect firm.

The clear result of all of this is it is public sector 1, privatisation nil. Will Fine Gael not accept that.

Finally, I must remind the house that in may it will be a year since the failed PPP experiment in five inner city Dublin communities collapsed, dashing the hopes of thousands of marginalised families and their communities of ever having decent housing when McNamara builders and Castelthorn Developments pulled the plug on a commitment to invest €900 million building 1,800 homes in a mixed retail and commercial development.

In the boom times Fianna Fail told these communities they had to wait and now they are being told to wait again. Will all of the participants in this debate tonight then recognise the when it comes to our houses, our schools, our environment and our telecommunications infrastructure that there will be no private sector rescue. We need to start again.

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