We must sit down and work out what we cherish, rather than slash indiscriminately

In the United States yesterday, as we have seen overnight on the news, there has been another change election. From my perspective, I am sorry to see that there would appear to have been a sharp shift to the right in American politics on foot of this election. Much of what we have seen happening in the United States in recent weeks has some resonances in this country because there are many candidates in those elections who appear to think that the way forward for a modern democracy and modern economy is to cut, slash and emasculate the state and cut the heart out of public services. That has been elevated almost into a political mantra in the United States. It is not as if it is something new, but certainly it has come back very much as a major agenda item in that country.

It has resonances in this country. Unfortunately, there are many people in the debate in our country who seem to think that all we must do is to cut the heart out of the State and out of public services, and have an effect on public services and public entitlements, for example, those who hold pensions.

There is a genuine concern, shared by me and my party, about areas of waste in public services. We must look at that and consider it carefully. Can we begin to have a debate on public services about what we want to have in this country, not what we want to cut? I refer to this indiscriminate slashing of the knife for two or three weeks in public before a budget. Can we sit down and work out what we cherish, what we want to have and what is worth keeping, rather than taking the debate from the other perspective? That would be a useful exercise for us to undertake here.

Of course, one of the areas that we should be considering as part of that debate is education. I have made the point in this House previously, we all have areas that we will say in the debate that we want to see preserved. It must be the case, and I believe this to be the position of the Green Party, that education at all levels is an area which should be preserved, nurtured and fostered. Particularly in the case of third level education, it would be a terrible pity if the Green Party was to abandon its previously stated position, for example, on third level fees or third level fees being introduced by stealth through a hugely increased registration fee. It would be a great pity if they were to abandon that. I appeal to them not to do so.

It is easy enough to say about education that there are many who can afford a higher registration fee and maybe it is the case that most Members in this Chamber could afford a higher registration fee for their children. That is not the point. The point is that higher education should not be the preserve of the well-off. We have made a commitment to higher education and education at all levels, that it is not a commodity to be parcelled up and sold off to the highest bidder and that it is something that we believe to which all children and all young people should have access irrespective of the wealth of their parents.