Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Financial Resolutions - Budget Statement 2020
David Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
Sinn Féin puts workers and families first. That is our main focus and was so in the alternative budget we put forward last week. I am sure the Minister will have seen many of the proposals we made. This Dáil has time and again debated the crises in health and housing. There have been hundreds of hours of debate on these issues. Even the Government has accepted there is a housing emergency but where is the sense of urgency in the budget? Where is the break for those who pay high rents or for those who need an affordable home? A sum of €60 million of capital funding has been allocated for housing, as Deputy Pearse Doherty outlined, but that is a disgrace when people need social and affordable homes. Last year, the Government indicated that it had a housing budget but it made little difference to those in need of housing, while this year the Government has put forward €60 million in additional funding. It is a disgrace.
Where is the break for those who are crippled with childcare costs or for those families who face high costs for their children's education? Where is the break for those who are waiting to see a hospital consultant, for those who are waiting for hospital treatment, or for the hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of people over the course of a year who are left on hospital trolleys? The break for any such people simply is not included in the budget. We will not get it from Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. Let us bring a sense of reality to the debate. The budget is every bit as much Fianna Fáil's as it is Fine Gael's. Fianna Fáil cries crocodile tears in the House about what is not in the budget. We heard Deputies Michael McGrath and Cowen talk about the successes they say they secured in the negotiations with Fine Gael's Government but that is what coalition partners do. Fianna Fáil is Fine Gael's coalition partners, propping it up.
Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael represent a cosseted, privileged class. Both parties when in government protected bankers. Through their policies, both parties changed the law to bring in vulture funds and allow them to prey on people whose mortgages were bought against their will. Both parties changed the law to allow families be evicted from their homes. They give tax breaks to landlords and sit on their hands while rents go up year on year. In Dublin especially, but throughout the State, people spend large portions of their income on rents. Buying one's own home is now out of reach for ordinary people in many cases. Where is the hope for any such families in the budget? It is not there. Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have protected millionaires with tax loopholes made only for them. They have protected the insurance industry, which preys on working families with rip-off rates, and they have done so time and again with every passing budget. The budget before us is the fourth from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael but it is also the fourth budget to reinforce the crises in health and housing and to do nothing for those who need more affordable childcare or for working families who work hard and want a break. It does nothing to solve the problems for the vast majority of families. Nevertheless, each time, Fianna Fáil comes to the Chamber and pats Fine Gael on the back, and vice versa, as we saw the Minister do today, saying what a great job the other has done.
What has the Government done? It has given tax exiles a tax break, as it always does, and ensured they are the people who are protected. Such people do not pay their fair share in taxes, they fly in and out of the country on their private jets, and their carbon footprint would put the entire aviation industry to shame. That is who the Government represents, namely, the elites, the vested interests, the banks, the insurance industry, the cuckoo funds and similar sections of society. The Government is not delivering for families or workers, however, as we in Sinn Féin proposed in our alternative budget. Many families are struggling but I do not believe that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael understand that. Such people struggle to ensure that their bills are paid and that their children have food on the table. They have to go to extreme lengths to make ends meet. As one parent recently told thejournal.ie:
The children look for money for school trips, and we often have to say no to even five euro, we just don’t have it, even though we budget carefully. We have to say “sorry we can’t" ... they are very good kids and we hate that they feel different.
Parents struggle to meet the costs of schoolbooks, uniforms and so-called voluntary contributions. Another parent when asked stated:
I find life very hard, not being able to pay all my bills, always putting some on the long finger. The stress makes me sick. I’m always worrying knowing that my kids have to go without.
The high cost of living drives stress and anxiety for many families throughout the State but the budget will do little to ease that anxiety because there are no breaks for them. We in Sinn Féin will challenge the vested interests and the elites because we are not here to represent them and we do not make any apologies for that. We are here to represent ordinary working people. That is the real reason the Taoiseach, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil fear Sinn Féin being in government. They know we will not represent the vested interests in society and that we are not here to represent bankers, speculators, landlords, or cuckoo or vulture funds, which prey on ordinary working people. We are here to represent those who are listening to the debate and who will say, "Another budget but nothing from Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil." The Government did bring such people something, however, which brings me to the issue of carbon tax.
The Government knows, given that the Department of Finance has so advised it, that carbon tax is unfair and regressive. It was told that at meetings of the Joint Committee on Climate Action and of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, and it knows that it will have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable in society and those who live in rural Ireland. The Minister for Finance stated as much. The Government is increasing carbon tax not because it believes that it will make any difference to the environment or that it will reduce carbon emissions but because it will raise revenue. It will do so unfairly but the cover of climate action has been used to justify the increase. The Government has told the people that for the next ten years, there will be increases in carbon tax, which will increase the cost of diesel, petrol and home heating oil for those who do not have alternatives. The logic of the Government's position is crazy because the vast majority of people do not have alternatives. What does it say to a family whose home is heated by oil or gas and who cannot afford to make a change? What grants will the Government put in place for such families? Increasing carbon tax and signalling an increase year on year means they will have to pay more. They will be poorer. The country will not be greener or cleaner but families will be less well off.
What about all the people in rural Ireland, many of them living in the same constituencies as members of the Government, where public transport is non-existent and where buses do not service many towns and villages? Many Expressway services have ceased in recent years because money was not invested by the Government. What will it say to all those families in rural Ireland when it slaps an increased carbon tax on them this year, next year and the following year? They need solutions. My party has for decades called for investment in public transport. We embrace climate action because we know that social justice and climate justice are two sides of the same coin. We want high quality public transport, not just in Dublin but in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway and all the rural places in between. We want people's homes to be of the highest standard. When Fianna Fáil was in power, it represented developers who built many substandard apartments in Dublin and elsewhere. When the bottom fell out of the economy and many people were left without a home, we argued that high quality homes were needed but many people remain without them. What will the Government do? It will slap an increased carbon tax on those families.
The budget does nothing for hard-working families. We in Sinn Féin have put many alternatives in our budget.
The Government could have done a lot things. We called for two free GP visits for every person in the State without a medical card or a GP card to give families a break, reduce the cost of their healthcare and ensure they would be able to afford to go to a doctor. We all know many people who put off going to their GP because of the cost. This measure would have made a difference to such families. However, the Government chose not to do so because it does not represent these families. It represents the cosseted and privileged class to which I have referred.
Sinn Féin called for an emergency rent freeze and the provision of tax relief for renters equal to one month's rental costs. Again, the Government did nothing to tackle high rents which people are left to pay year on year, while nothing of significance has been done to provide affordable housing. There is nothing for those who need local authority housing. We put forward solutions around increased investment in childcare and improvements in the pay and conditions of childcare workers. The Government, however, has done nothing and left the people concerned behind.
I heard Fianna Fáil spokespersons refer to the high cost of insurance, but that is a debate which has been led by Deputy Pearse Doherty. While Sinn Féin has called on the Government to properly rein in and regulate the insurance sector which is ripping people off, the Government has sat on its hands time and again, as it has on everything else.
It is about time we had a Government which did not represent the bankers, speculators, vulture funds, landlords and developers. Imagine a Government which represented ordinary working people. Imagine if there were a budget announced today that actually gave families a break, dealt with health, housing and childcare issues. The Government is afraid to raise revenue from those with the deepest pockets. Those who earn over €140,000 should be taxed a little more to pay for these services, but Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael run away from that proposal because they do not represent the interests of ordinary working people. It is only when there is a Sinn Féin Government and finance Minister taking to his feet that we will see a budget which will deliver for the vast majority of working families.