Mary Mitchell O’Connor on: Fine Gael Policies
Our economic policy is one of recovery and growth. Due to reckless mismanagement of the Irish economy by the previous Government we face a big challenge restoring Ireland to the same level of competitiveness it was at during the boom.
One of our main aims was to successfully renegotiate the EU/IMF Programme of Support. We achieved this aim which included a reduction in the interest rate, the reversal of the cut in the minimum wage and agreement on reinvestment of the proceeds from sale of state assets for job creation.
Another major challenge for this Government was to develop a strategy that will allow job growth and sustainable enterprise. The Government has built on the jobs initiative this year with the action plan for jobs. The action plan has set a target of supporting 100,000 net new jobs in the economy by 2016. A pathways to work programme was rolled out in 2012. The initiative has introduced a code ofa code of rights and responsibilities where jobseekers must actively seek employment or engage with training services in return for welfare support.
We believe that the route to recovery of Ireland’s economy is through exports. The Export Trade Council was launched in September 2011 to chart a course so that our resources and expertise are marshalled in a way that supports Irish firms, of all sizes, in all parts of the country, which are trading and growing their businesses overseas. Individuals representing the private sector and exporting businesses make up approximately 50% of the Council.
This Government is striving to make our banking system an engine of economic recovery by restoring public and market confidence in its financial health, management competence and ethical integrity. Completion of bank recapitalisation at €7.5billion less than the estimated cost, as a result of burning junior bondholders and securing private investment has been achieved. Robust, credible stress tests on the banks have also been carried out.
Another aim of this Government was to implement innovation and commercialisation policies. Performance in implementing the strategy is on, or ahead of, target. In line with the Action Plan for Jobs 2012, the Government will convene an R&D supports workshop to promote awareness about available R&D supports. It will also issue an enterprise friendly guide on R&D tax credits to include examples of relevance to games companies. In addition, Government has adopted 14 priority areas for research based on the recommendations of the National Research Prioritisation Exercise, thereby using research and innovation to drive job creation. On 1 March2012, the Government launched its plan to target the majority of its core €500 million budget on scientific research every year on areas with the greatest potential for economic return.
This Government believes that sustainable public finances are a pre-requisite for economic stability and growth. To this end, the State must pursue a determined deficit reduction strategy. This must not, however, undermine short-term recovery, or investment for long-term growth, which would have the effect of undermining debt-sustainability. The Government has remained committed to keeping the corporate tax rate at 12.5% and continues to defend its position at EU level. The Government has increased VAT to 23%, but reiterates its commitment to not going beyond this level.
This Government is the first in the history of the State that is committed to developing a universal, single-tier health service, which guarantees access to medical care based on need, not income. By reforming our model of delivering healthcare, so that more care is delivered in the community, and by reforming how we pay for healthcare through Universal Health Insurance, we can reduce the cost of achieving the best health outcomes for our citizens, and end the unfair, unequal and inefficient two-tier health system. The Government has already established a UHI implementation group and a Universal Primary Care Group to play a central role in the introduction of UHI.
This Government aims to initiate the cessation of the HSE. It has already agreed to introduce a new governance structure for the HSE for 2012, as a first step to it ceasing to exist. Its functions will return to the Minister for Health and the Department of Health and Children; or be taken over by the Universal Health Insurance system.
Our policy on mental health incorporates the recommendations of A Vision for Change. We are committed to reducing the stigma of mental illness, ensuring early and appropriate intervention and vastly improving access to modern mental health services in the community. An additional €35 million was provided for Mental Health services in Budget 2012. This funding will enable the HSE to enhance the multidisciplinary composition of existing community mental health teams and focus on key priorities in mental health, including the implementation of Reach Out. Reach Out is the National Suicide Prevention Strategy, which is in place to reduce the high levels of suicide. €5 million of this budget will be used to fund the national rollout of the Primary Care Counselling Project, which will be managed by the National Counselling Service.
Investment in the supply of more and better care for older people in the community and in residential settings is a priority of this Government. The HSE’s National Service Plan has committed to additional spending through Fair Deal, equivalent to circa 1,200 extra beds. A further review of the Fair Deal system is taking place.
This Government’s ambition is to build a knowledge society. Education is at the heart of a more cohesive, more equal and more successful society, and it will be the engine of sustainable economic growth. Ireland has experienced a decline in educational outcomes in recent years. We are drawing from top performing education models like Finland to reverse this trend.
A long term aim of this Government will be to position Ireland in the top ten performing countries in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Work is underway on reforming the Junior Cycle in second level schools with changes commencing from 2014. Reform will address the issues of curriculum overload and rote learning, promote increased creativity and innovation and support development of key skills including literacy and numeracy. Roll-out of the Project Maths scheme is underway. This will be fully implemented in the Junior Cycle by 2015 and the Senior Cycle by 2014.
This Government is ending the treatment of ICT in education as a stand-alone issue and is integrating it across education policy. The national roll-out of high speed (100 Mbps) broadband to second level schools will be completed over three stages, with 250 schools to be connected by September 2012, a further 200 to be connected next year and the remaining 200 schools to be connected in 2014.
This Government is prioritising school building projects in a revised national development plan. The Government has committed over €2 billion for education infrastructure as part of the Medium Term Infrastructure and Capital Investment Strategy. This investment will provide for 100,000 school places over the next five years. 56 major projects are going to construction in 2012; 26 new schools at primary level, 12 major extensions at primary level, 9 new schools at second level and 9 major extensions at second level.
The objective of this Government is to progressively phase out the inefficient renting of school prefabs. The Government is investing €35 million in 2012, to allow schools to replace prefabs with permanent classrooms. This investment allows one-third of all schools with prefabs to complete such work, and will reduce our rental bill by €5 million a year.
Lifelong learning, community education and vocational training for jobseekers are a high priority. Over 450,000 education and training places are being provided in 2012. €20 million is being provided under the National Training Fund for a new Labour Market Education and Training Fund. This fund will be specifically targeted at the long-term unemployed, and will deliver upwards of 6,500 places in 2012. A call has been issued for a further roll-out of the Springboard initiative to increase part-time higher education opportunities for unemployed people. A new competitive tendering process for Springboard is now underway.