Wednesday, 27 June 2018
There are two ways a Government can damage the economy - reckless spending and failure to invest, both of which are ruinous. The doctrine of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has been to circle the wagons around the national finances and to limit debate by not publishing the full range of national statistics. For example, because the Minister has decided to pursue his own so-called fiscal stance, the objective data on Ireland's fiscal space are no longer being published.
I accept we need to lower the national debt, but the best way to do that is by putting in place the conditions for the future growth of the economy, as the Labour Party has repeatedly done.
We agree with the need to roll out infrastructure in transport, water and electricity in order that businesses can depend on them and expand. There will be an equally important need to invest in our social infrastructure. Investing in people strengthens our economy. We need to boost our investment in education at all levels in order that workers are more productive and in order that every citizen of Ireland has the chance to fulfil his or her own full potential. Social investment has a double pay-off. It gives people a better quality of life and, when done strategically, it also boosts the future growth potential of the economy. The failure to expand Ireland's social infrastructure, including affordable housing, childcare and public transport, will hold back the future economy. We cannot afford to not make these investments. We need to end the permanent crisis in housing in order that workers can afford to take up jobs and work in our towns and cities. A recent report showed a household now needs to be in the top 10% of income in order to afford the median house price in Dublin. That is unsustainable. A person off work for a week waiting for a health appointment represents a blow to the economy. A person forced to commute 90 minutes each way due to the price of houses is a loss to our economy. We know business need to flock to where the physical infrastructure is the best and most robust. The economy will never grow to the same extent across the country as a whole unless we put in place the infrastructure to make investing outside our larger cities more attractive. Failing to make the necessary strategic decisions now is not fiscal prudence; it is a failure to meet the obvious needs of our people. It will have an obvious detrimental impact on our economy.
The Taoiseach has often referred to the lost decade. He is in danger of making the loss permanent. Is it not time now for economic debate in the House to be open and focused on the needs of all our people rather than, as it seems from the Taoiseach's initial responses to Deputy Micheál Martin, on using the budget to try to box political parties into positions before an impending general election?