Tuesday, 11 June 2019
National Development Plan: Motion [Private Members]
I welcome the opportunity presented by this Private Members' motion which asks the Dáil to direct the Government to review the national development plan. We support the motion and will vote for it. We also support the amendment that has been tabled by the Green Party which seeks to provide for a climate impact assessment and audit of the plan to be carried out and we will vote for it too. Given that the Dáil has declared an emergency in this area, as we have heard, it is right and proper that we avail of the opportunity when it arises to review the benefit and gain that may accrue from infrastructural expenditure such as this. I note what the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, said about the climate action programme that is to be brought forward by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, and others. The Taoiseach has been quoted today as saying the Government supports climate action that does not make the country poorer and does not cost jobs.
Does he know that Bord na Mona is shedding between 450 and 600 jobs, as it accelerates its decarbonisation programme? I take it he does not know that and it is very unfortunate that he would make such comment. It is also very unfortunate that he has not put in place, with the available carbon tax revenue, direct funding and assistance for a transition group that has been put in place for the region. Then again, neither the Taoiseach nor his Government saw fit to ensure the EU would include the peatlands in the coal mining districts-in-transition fund set up for such areas throughout Europe. It will take an application to the new European Commission for that to be rectified but that signifies, in a small way, that the intent is not there on the part of the Government to address areas that understand what is expected of them but get no compensation, help or assistance to ensure the transition is meaningful and can be beneficial rather than detrimental.
I also believe it is necessary for this Dáil to instruct the Government to cater for a review because of the issue of overspending. The national development plan is not long in vogue and, as Deputy Catherine Murphy said, great fanfare greeted its initiation and there were many pages of print across local newspapers, thanks to the national spin unit, which was dismantled thereafter because of the obvious efforts it made to create the impression it was something that it is not. Simply put, the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan will accommodate an overspend in the region of €2.56 billion. What impact will that have? Will it mean that projects announced for different parts of the country in housing, education, health and primary care, among others, will be forgone? That is the advice that was given to the Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform by his own Secretary General. It is also the advice given in the independent assessment by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council published today. The council points out that the ceilings set by many Departments have been exceeded over a number of years. The council's report also notes that the structural deficit impinges on the targets set by the EU in the context of the fiscal rules. The contention that has been around this House for many years that Fine Gael is the only party that can manage the public finances has been blown to shreds in recent weeks alone.
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform said on the "Six One News" on 8 May last - I will check my dates - that no project of any shape or form within the national development plan would be impacted on by the overruns related the national broadband plan or the national children's hospital but he cannot give such a guarantee. He said the overruns would be catered for through revenue resources. However, these are the same revenue resources and projects contained within the Government figures and projections that the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council has said are "not credible" and are "irresponsible". The report published today is damning. I put it to members of the council at a committee meeting earlier today that the Government's figures are based on volatile corporate tax receipts. The Minister has acknowledged this and has said he has catered for it in this year's budget by not including an expectation of a similar amount as that collected last year. However, I am sure corporate tax receipts will be used to cater for the overspend that will inevitably happen in the Department of Health, among others. The Government's figures are also based on a soft Brexit and the implications of same. Various reports have looked at the alternative which could have a far greater impact on the economy and the national development plan. The bottom line is that in order to cater for the overspend at this early stage, the Government must either increase taxes, borrow more, cut projects within the plan or cut current expenditure. That is a fact. The Minister and his party often accuse others in this House of engaging in fairy economics but he gave a lesson in fairy economics recently when he claimed that the overspend would not impact on any planned project.
It is for these reasons that I believe, especially given the numbers in this Dáil, the recent elections and the sentiments expressed to me on the doorstep, that people expect that all those elected to this House and to local authorities should be able to work together for the betterment of those that they serve. The Government rushed to announce this, as it has rushed to announce many things, but there was not a whole lot of work behind it. The Government is good on the hard hats and the high-vis jackets but is not so good when it comes to the shovel and getting the work done. I hope the Government will take note of what the House is saying and will ensure a proper review takes place. In that way, it can be straight with the public as to what will emanate and be delivered as a result.