Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Finance Bill 2010: Second Stage (Resumed)
Jimmy Devins (Sligo-North Leitrim, Independent)
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Finance Bill 2010, which will give effect to the budgetary measures introduced just before Christmas. Everybody in the House will agree it was a very difficult budget which has affected everybody in the country. Those in work are finding they have less money. Unfortunately, an increasing number of people are out of work and those on social welfare payments have seen a substantial reduction in their take-home income. In that regard, I want to praise the Minister for having had the strength to realise the situation the country is in and to put in place measures to correct the awful - I use the word advisedly - situation that is facing us. In simple terms, we are taking in approximately €32 billion per annum and spending in excess of €54 billion per annum, which obviously is unsustainable. Our living standards will be severely reduced. Ireland has had its independence for the past 90 years and it is essential that we sort out our financial difficulties. This Bill, the budget and plan which the Minister for Finance has put in place for the next three years, which has been approved by the EU, is the start of the difficult and painful road to recovery. Much time has been spent by this House and the media discussing the reasons we are in the situation we are. I do not intend to add to that debate which may well take place in other forums. We must focus on remedying the situation.
As I understand it, the main objective of the Finance Bill is the creation of jobs. The Government is committed to the development of the smart economy, part and parcel of which is sustaining and encouraging research and development. There are people who believe that research and development is carried out by people in white coats locked away in laboratories of no relevance to the remainder of the country. I commend Science Foundation Ireland, Enterprise Ireland the Industrial Development Authority on their tremendous developments in the research and development area. I believe that a strong research and development sector, which brings products through all the stages of innovation and to fruition and manufacture, is the way forward for this country. There is a much better chance of our sustaining jobs and developing new jobs if products are innovated here.
In that regard, perhaps the draftspersons might employ a little plain English in section 50 of the Finance Bill which deals with research and development and occupies four to five pages of the Bill. The only line I can understand is the final one which states that the section applies to relevant periods commencing on or after 1 January 2010. Perhaps the Minister will when replying to this debate or on Committee Stage explain the section to us. As I understand it, research and development is to be encouraged but perhaps the Minister will clarify the matter.
I welcome that the Minister has put in place a national solidarity bond, a savings product which will be available and administered through NAMA and will be open to subscription from all citizens. I am a member of the Joint Committee on the Constitution which is currently considering how the electoral system might be reformed and improved. One of the great debates occurring in that committee is the distinction between what a Deputy does at constituency level and in respect of legislation. There are people who look down on what is known as "constituency work". It is my contention that constituency and legislative work are one in the same: they are different degrees of the same issue.
Last September, a constituent, an old age pensioner in his eighties, visited me to discuss his medical card application, which according to the media is a constituency matter. During the course of our discussions the man stated that he would like to give a couple of euro every week to help the country get out of the situation it is in. I wrote on his behalf to the Minister for Finance. I am delighted that a national solidarity bond, in respect of which I am sure the Minister received many representations from Members of the House, is being introduced. What is considered a basic constituency matter has resulted in the Minister putting in place in this legislation a national solidarity bond to which many people will be willing to subscribe.
In the time remaining I would like to touch on an issue of increasing concern, namely, home repossessions, in particular how these repossessions are being driven by mortgage providers who are outside the bank guarantee scheme. There is increasing fear and concern among homeowners, some of whom have suffered a drop in income and others who through no fault of their own have lost their jobs, that their homes, their primary dwelling, will be repossessed. While I acknowledge the one year moratorium in this regard, I urge the Minister to seriously consider extending it to two years. I also ask that he put in place an independent body that can verify when an application in respect of home repossession is made so that the homeowner has been given every chance possible by way of interest only repayments, a two year moratorium or through the bank taking equity in the house, to remain in his or her home. I would like the message to go out from this House that we are actively looking after this situation on behalf of people.
Yesterday, we heard of the resignation of a Member of the current Dáil, which was a unique development. While I do not wish to get into the ins and outs of the matter, which is of some importance to the political party involved and to the Member who resigned, I believe that one of the factors of that resignation is the need for Dáil reform. Dáil reform has been on the agenda for many years. Quite frankly, we are going around in circles. The time has come to act and to not put this off any longer. Many Members are frustrated because they do not get an opportunity to speak on topical issues about which they may have much to say. I, and many Members on all sides of the House, believe the Dáil should be relevant to people's lives. We need to immediately reform the procedures of this House to ensure all of us elected to this House by the public can contribute in an equal and open manner.