Thursday, 12 October 2017
Financial Resolutions 2018 - Financial Resolution No. 4: General (Resumed)
I will not attack someone in his absence, but it is fair to say that the new communications unit which was established at a cost of €5 million obviously did not write a particular person's speech this morning. This budget is a fairer budget thanks to the result of the general election in 2016. What the Deputies opposite fail to realise is that in the general election of 2016, the policies of Fine Gael and the Labour Party of the preceding five years were resoundingly rejected. They were rejected because they were aggressive, right-wing, unfair and inequitable. That is why those parties came back with almost 50 fewer seats than they went out with. They seem to forget that. We are thankful on this side of the House that we used our position to implement real change. The proof of the pudding is in the confidence and supply arrangement which is there for anyone who wishes to read it. It is a 2:1 split to achieve a greater emphasis on improvements to services which were decimated by the previous Fine Gael and Labour Party Government. The key to the budget will be whether the announcements which have been made are fully implemented. I note the position with many announcements over the last number of years. Will the people we are fortunate enough to represent see the benefits on the ground?
I turn to the transport portfolio. I must acknowledge that there has been an increase in the budget of €200 million for next year, which is welcome. However, the boast of the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, during Question Time yesterday that it was the largest increase in transport expenditure in the history of the State suggests he needs a history lesson. His capital expenditure for 2018 to 2021 will be 23% lower than the capital expenditure for the period 2007 to 2010. It is obviously not the greatest in the history of the State. The Minister must remember that for the last five years, Ireland has been one of the lowest net spenders in Europe on transport infrastructure. The funding for our roads in 2018 is 28% lower than the Department itself says is needed just to maintain our roads in a steady-state condition. The lack of adequate funding for Transport Infrastructure Ireland over the last number of years means the organisation has no project which is shovel-ready in the next short period. As such, we have to start projects from the very beginning, which will lead to a long delay in any new major capital expenditure programmes which are subsequently announced.
Another deeply worrying matter is the challenge facing public transport. We have come from a year of industrial action in Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus and face potential industrial action in Irish Rail, yet the Minister, Deputy Ross, continues to bury his head in the sand. While I acknowledge the 8% increase in the PSO, which is welcome, we remain below 2008 levels at a time when public transport is at absolute capacity. The trains that leave Mullingar every morning are bursting at the seams. Trains are too infrequent and we have failed to invest sufficiently in tracks and carriages. Because of that, people are leaving public transport and driving their cars, a result of which is the worst ever congestion in the capital. We know about the economic cost of that to the country and we also know about the hugely negative impact it is having on people's quality of life.
I congratulate the Government strongly on the welcome retention of the 9% VAT rate in tourism. I am glad the buoyancy in the sector in Dublin did not result in a failure to ignore the reality outside the capital and the effect of Brexit on the industry in the rest of the country. Those who advocate an increase in the VAT rate, including, I understand, even some within Government circles, ignore the fact that since VAT was reduced, tourism has been the driver of our economic growth. An additional 50,000 jobs have been created in the tourism sector since 2011 alone. However, the Minister is ignoring a substantial reduction in the number of visitors from the UK to Ireland since the weakening of sterling. If he thinks that an increase in the marketing budget of €2.5 million will alleviate or address that difficulty, he is sadly mistaken. The Members of the House as a whole would nearly spend as much on advertising during a general election campaign. It is simply not good enough and it requires the Minister to go back to the drawing board to determine how to ensure greater resources are applied to mitigate the effects of Brexit.
I welcome the fact there will be a €1 million fund to establish the Lakelands brand, something for which I advocated, as did other colleagues in Longford-Westmeath. Where or how will this money will be spent? Will adequate staffing and resources be provided? Yesterday, I pointed out that Longford received only €2,000 towards marketing the brand last year. While the new fund is welcome, we need greater detail regarding when it will commence, the level of engagement with stakeholders and whether it will be adequately staffed.
We learned yesterday that funding for the sports capital programme will increase from €30 million to €60 million. Does that mean there will be no round under the programme in 2018? The Minister of State responsible, Deputy Griffin, said yesterday that 20% of this year's applications were not validated. Will those applicants have to wait until 2019 for an opportunity to apply again under the programme? The increase in funding is welcome but I wonder whether Independent Alliance Members are contemplating a general election next year and want to ensure all the money is front-loaded for sports clubs. I would welcome the opinion of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, on that.