Thursday, 11 October 2018
Financial Resolutions 2019 - Financial Resolution No. 4: General (Resumed)
This budget has been a non-event for most people. Their experience is that whatever has been given has been taken away somewhere else. In agriculture, which is the brief I mainly look after, there has been additional funding given to some sectors. However, it is a time when farming is under significant pressure. In particular, those in the beef sector are suffering some of the worse prices ever. While that is outside the budget remit - I had questions this morning to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed - the Government is inclined to shrug its shoulders and turn its back when it comes to providing for the small farmer and the farming community. That is evident when we see the prices that have been returned. The Minister stated it is not his place to set prices but yet this State, through its taxpayers, invests hundreds of millions of euro every year in Bord Bia and other agencies to promote and market Irish food abroad. We have delegations going all over the world to get new trade deals so that Irish food can be exported but back at home the farmers who produce that food are on the bread line. If the State is providing such funds to market these produce, there is an obligation on the State that the primary producers get a fair return for it. This applies cross all sectors, but particularly across agriculture and fisheries.
The average farm income continues to fall. It has continued to fall for the past number of years. The measures the Government put into the budget come to €52 million, and only in the case of €44 million of that is it specified where in agriculture it will be spent. In my party's pre-budget submission, we stated that we would spend €62 million in the agriculture sector, and that was without having an additional €1 billion which the Government found only the night before the budget. If we had an additional €1 billion in the coffers, we would certainly propose an enhanced package for the agricultural sector, particularly to support the small farmers and the small family farms.
In the rural development section, the Government stated that there will be an additional €53 million next year in capital funding. This is funding that has already been announced and already been clearly earmarked through the national development plan and yet it is wheeled out again as if it is new funding. There are serious questions to be asked as to where the Government is going in this respect.
One of the big issues in many parts of rural Ireland is Brexit and what will happen in respect of that. Again, the Government has put in place a tiny amount of funding to ensure people can prepare for the impact of Brexit, particularly in the Border and north-west region. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle would understand this, particularly in his constituency. Brexit will have an immense impact and yet the Government seems only to say that it is engaged in negotiations. However, there is no hard cash on the table and that is what small businesses need to ensure they can survive through the volatile time ahead.
Many other issues affect rural Ireland. With regard to the remit of the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, Deputy Finian McGrath, those who live with a disability in rural Ireland live with a double disadvantage because they cannot even access the services available. Many of them cannot travel to the services available. I had discussions earlier this week with the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, about school bus services and I welcome the additional funding of €9 million provided there. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, tells me most of that will be for special needs children to get them to the particular places that they need to go.
The school bus service that should be in place should provide for children in rural areas to get to school. Unfortunately, the service has been withdrawn continually because the rules change all the time. If one lives on a road on which fewer than ten children live, the bus will not go there. If this is up the road, that will not happen, and if that is up the road, the other will not happen. If one is not going to the closest school, one cannot get to school. The rules are affecting people in every rural area. It is not only a matter of children not getting to school but it is also about the ability of the parents to get to work. If a parent cannot get a bus to bring the children to school, he or she cannot take a job because the children need to be brought to school and collected.
All these issues arise despite the Government having had an additional €1 billion. When we produced our alternative budget, we did not include that €1 billion, yet we would have been able to put money in place for all the measures I am referring to. I wonder where the priorities lie. Housing is clearly not the priority. There is a crisis in housing throughout the country. Health is not the priority either because the health crisis is continuing. Sufficient resources are not being put in place. We need a budget that delivers for the people rather than vested interests.
The Government will be charged with continually looking after those who are already well looked after.