Dáil debates

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Financial Resolutions - Budget Statement 2020

 

2:55 pm

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Offaly, Fianna Fail)

That was a breach of the good faith in which we approached that budget. This is further compounded by the failure to create a special purpose vehicle, SPV, for credit unions to invest in, despite Central Bank approval. The Government is leaving a reservoir of finance to help build homes completely untapped. It would also be a source of funds for embattled credit unions throughout the country. As it is, they are being forced to allow their deposits be placed with the core banks, sometimes at rates that end up costing them money. All the while, the homelessness scandal continues to be a scar on our collective conscience. Fine Gael policy is forcing councils to build homes with one hand tied behind their backs.

Our health service is getting sicker. The delayed discharge crisis, unprecedented numbers on waiting lists and plunging staff morale are all testament to a decade of Fine Gael in power. The Government’s half-hearted approach to Sláintecare to date smacks of a public relations, PR, exercise rather than a policy change. The continual overspends have exposed each health budget as an exercise in cynicism. When will we get honesty on what our health service needs just to stand still, let alone to achieve Sláintecare? The men and women on the front line of a service on the edge deserve better and the hundreds of thousands of patients in need of a service that works demand better. The National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, which Fianna Fáil fought tooth and nail for in the face of Fine Gael opposition, is but one ray of light in a grim sky. Rather than hitching lifts up to the North, our older people should be able to access essential cataract surgery through an expanded NTPF.

While health is racked by overspending, the extent and depth of the budget fiction also stretches into underspending in mental health. Some €25 million out of €55 million earmarked for mental health remains held back by the HSE. With less than three months left in the year, almost half of the money earmarked for these vital services remains unused. That crucial funding was designated to enhance community mental health teams for adults and children and to support new initiatives in e-mental health, digital technologies and tele-counselling. Mental health services are greatly short staffed, with child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, having barely half the required number of staff in place.

I attended two unfortunate funerals recently in my own constituency. I met parents, relatives and friends of the deceased, both of whom were young men. It was disheartening to hear that the services they sought were not what they expected. To hear now of such underspending in such a vital area leaves us despondent. The Government is letting down an entire generation in this regard. Treating all citizens of the State equally is a core founding value of the Republic. The State has missed out on opportunities to recognise the additional costs disabled people face. Additional home help hours and special needs assistants, SNAs, are badly needed measures to alleviate the pressure on this group.

Regarding justice, the most important duty of the State is to uphold safety and security. An Garda Síochána is at the heart of upholding that duty. Over the past several years, we have secured a ramp-up of Garda numbers. Ensuring we have adequate resources to get and keep gardaí on the beat is crucial. We welcome the commitment to recruit 710 new gardaí given today. Brexit will present a new, distinct security challenge for which An Garda Síochána must be prepared and equipped. We must ensure the budget helps get more gardaí on the beat and helps to keep our streets and communities safe.

Turning to education, since 2016, Fianna Fáil has fought to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio, reopen postgraduate grants and secure more guidance counsellors. All these changes had to be forced from the reluctant grip of those in power. Our education system is the wellspring of our economy and our society, but it has been severely neglected over the past decade. This does a massive disservice to the future of our country. The dire warnings of Hugh Brady, former president of University College Dublin, UCD, should be a red flag to the Government and should highlight that it is jeopardising the long-term future of our university system. We must be in a position to compete, attract and retain world-class research as an essential part of our economic model.

Moving on to the Irish language, we have inherited a rich language that we have an obligation to treasure and pass on. We are deeply concerned regarding the Government’s lack of commitment to the 20-year strategy. We need to show ongoing support for our national language through its various organisations and media. The Government must also act on the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2017.

Agriculture is the beating heart of our countryside. Brexit would drive a stake straight down the middle of it. The failure to publish adequate plans to date has left farmers exposed and vulnerable to a future downturn. The scale of the beef crisis and the depth of feeling it exposed illustrates how severely farming families are struggling. Now is the time to deliver for those families and this has to start with protecting agriculture from the impact of Brexit. All the while rural Ireland is continually let down by the Cinderella department of the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, where underspending on key programmes continues.

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