Thursday, 12 October 2017
Financial Resolutions 2018 - Financial Resolution No. 4: General (Resumed)
Sometimes when I come into this Chamber I wonder if it is a Chamber where there is real political debate and honesty or is it something that resembles a night of "Live at the Apollo". Some of the speeches I have heard here today so far have been extraordinary. I will start with Fianna Fáil. I have listened to some of the Fianna Fáil speakers over the course of the past hour. I listened to the Fianna Fáil representatives who officially responded to the budget. On the one hand they say the tax cuts do not go far enough and then they say there should be more money for spending in health and education. They say we need more money to abolish the USC and we also need more money to invest in public services. They criticise the budget and they support the budget. That is what we have heard from Fianna Fáil since budget day. This is from the same party that did not produce an alternative budget or any costings on how it would increase revenue to pay for the things it calls for.
Yet speaker after speaker waltzed into the Chamber, calling for increased investment, but with nothing behind them. They are frauds of the highest order and should be called out for what they have tried to do in this year's and last year's budgets. If they are going to call for increased investment, they should at least have the ability to say where they will get the money to pay for it and then produce the costings. Of course, Fianna Fáil has not done that and wants to have it both ways.
I listened carefully to what the Independent Alliance Members had to say; they have now all left. They all clapped one other on the back and congratulated themselves on how well they have done in the past couple of years and in this budget. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, wrestled with his conscience and told us leading up to the budget that he was going to resign. We all knew he would not resign; it was all smoke and mirrors. He is still there whistling a different tune this week. He got no significant increase in disability services. There will be no increase to provide the additional child psychologists and the occupational therapists that are necessary in Waterford, the part of the country in which I live. Nothing in the budget will bring about increased services for children with disabilities in Waterford, where children over six have no access to child psychology services. The Minister of State has not won a single concession there.
The Minister of State, Deputy Moran, claims the budget was great for the country and he mentioned housing. In reality the budget will ensure the health service will stand still because no additional funding has been allocated on top of what is necessary simply to provide the same level of services. What does that mean? It means more people lying on hospital trolleys for the next 12 months. It means that people who must wait up to two years simply to see a consultant will continue to be in the same position. There has been no additional funding.
Contrary to what the Taoiseach says, we provided for all of that money in terms of demographics, public sector pay and all the money that was necessary to stand still, plus an additional €400 million, which was in the Sláintecare report to which all parties signed up. However, while Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael can sign up to these reports when it suits them, they will not deliver on them. They will not put the money behind them to make it a reality. However, we did and we set out in our budget where we would get the money to pay for them.
There is no additional housing on top of the targets that were set by the then Minister, Deputy Coveney, in Rebuilding Ireland. There are no affordable homes. There is no urgency from the Government on housing. Every month for the next 12 months, figures will show an increase in homelessness and an increase in the number of people in need of housing. The Government will simply ask what more it can do. It had an opportunity at budget time to do something about it and failed to do so. It pandered to Fianna Fáil. It picked the worst of the policies from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael; it did a little bit here on the USC and a little bit there on tax cuts for those who pay the top rate of tax. It all amounts to a couple of euro. In reality it means that we will continue with the crises in health and housing, which is not good enough. Far from what the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, said, it is not great for the country.
My portfolio covers foreign affairs, trade and Brexit. We have not done nearly enough to ensure we protect the State from Brexit. The money put aside for schemes is a pittance. The Government is still not doing enough in respect of the ongoing talks between the British Government and the European Union on Brexit. Mr. Barnier said today that the current round of negotiations will not move beyond the current position because insufficient progress has been made on the issues being discussed, including Ireland.
The Irish Government has a role to play in this regard. It must ensure that the entire island of Ireland is protected, that the Good Friday Agreement is protected and that businesses North and South are protected. It is not just about the ongoing negotiations; it is about the kinds of supports we put in place for exporters, including the people who live in the constituency of the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, who depend on the agrifood sector. The same applies in my area; the entire south east is heavily dependent on agrifood. What supports will be there for them? There are businesses affected by currency fluctuations. Businesses exporting to Britain are looking to the Government for supports. The Minister of State and I recently attended a meeting organised by IBEC and the chambers of commerce. They made demands of all parties that they claim need to be met. I did not see any evidence of any of that in the budget, other than existing schemes dressed up as Brexit responses that are not really a response to Brexit at all.
We still have one of the lowest capital spends in the European Union and we are not playing catch-up. The Government announced an additional €790 million, which is mostly standing-still money. We provided for an additional €1.6 billion. Despite all the criticism we hear from the Government about the fiscal rules and how they need to be changed and all the rest of it, one flexibility available to us is that we can smooth capital investment over a four-year period, which means for every euro we spend, only 25 cent is calculated in terms of the fiscal space. Even though we can front-load investment, the Government refuses to do so. That means less money for roads, flood relief, broadband and all the infrastructure that is necessary. Yet Ministers, Fianna Fáil Deputies and Fine Gael Deputies will stand up calling for increased capital infrastructure in Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny, Carlow and all these areas. However, when it comes to budget time, they are not prepared to put their money where their mouths are.
For all of the waffle I have heard from the Ministers and the Fianna Fáil Deputies, the vast majority of people see the budget as a damp squib. What is in it for the State and for society? The test for the Government was whether it would actually do something about the real pressing issues affecting people. Housing and health are the two big ones. They are the issues that need to be dealt with and the Government has done precious little about any of those issues, which is to its shame.