Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Financial Resolutions - Budget Statement 2020
Michael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
After the budget was announced, I could not but think that once again it had not provided adequately for the hard-working people of Ireland, and especially the people of rural Ireland. This budget merely hands out a few crumbs, creating the illusion that these crumbs are more valuable to the people than they are. We all know that the budget is being dubbed a "pre-election, pre-Brexit budget". The feelings created in this budget are an attempt from the Government to scare the people into accepting more unjust taxation. The Government provides a few crumbs from the table to keep people quiet, but I know that the people of Ireland and rural Ireland will not be so easily swayed. The bottom line for everybody is how much money is left in their pockets at the end of the week. After today's budget, we could be talking about little to none left. How does the Government expect the people to live like this?
Let us consider the USC. In 2011, we were assured at the height of the economic crisis that the introduction of this charge would only be a temporary measure. Fast forward eight years and we are still paying it. During his 2015 Budget Statement, the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, stated: "As resources become available we will progressively abolish the USC." Four years after that statement, the charge is still with us. The Government does not acknowledge the effect it has on people. In today's budget, the Government did not remove the USC and it did not even lower the rate for all taxpayers, giving an indication that the charge is here to stay. This is a disgrace. Does the Government expect the people of Ireland to be grateful that it has not increased the charge? This is a classic example of the crumbs I referred to earlier. The bottom line stands that the Government needs to keep its promises and the USC should be abolished. There must be no more pussyfooting around it.
As well as failing to abolish the USC, the Government has increased the carbon tax. This tax is an attack on all the people of Ireland and especially the hard-working people of rural Ireland who just want to live a happy, productive life, provide for their families and not be robbed of every spare cent they have in their pockets. How does the Government expect people who are scraping by to pay this increased tax? The people of west Cork have no alternative but to commute to work by car because the public transport system is not up to scratch and is unusable for them. In my constituency, I have heard from constituents that sometimes by the time the 237, Goleen to Cork, bus reaches Rosscarbery in the morning it is full, leaving people on the side of the road and having to get a taxi to work. This adds more strain to the pockets of people who are struggling. It is all well and good investing in electric vehicle charging points but when people are being taxed to high heaven, how are normal working people supposed to afford a car to charge?
In the past there was a death benefit that a spouse or partner could avail of when a loved one passed away. This benefit was to help with the initial financial burden when a loved one passed away. It is a shame that this death benefit was stopped and it should be reintroduced. We have a Government squandering billions of euro on a national broadband plan and a children's hospital. This budget tells me the Government is not willing to help families in difficult times but is more than happy to invest in flawed plans.
The Government retained the VAT rate for the tourism and hospitality sector at 13.5%. This affects hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, cafés, hairdressers and various entertainment services. The Irish Hotels Federation has said it has "seriously undermined Irish tourism’s international competitiveness and the ability of tourism enterprises such as hotels to re-invest in their business and local economy" ahead of Brexit. I can see that this is going to be a challenging time in my constituency. It has been reported that over the past year 57% of hotels have experienced a fall in business since the VAT rate increased from 9% to 13.5% in last year's budget.
What does this budget mean to farmers and fishermen? It is a case of "Live, horse, and you will get grass". We are all going to have to see what happens here but that is the way these two sectors have been treated by the Government. Recently we have had one bad storm after another and when aid was needed for the fishermen who lost their equipment, no compensation package was put in place, no matter how much we pleaded here. The budget provides for €14 million to be given to fisheries in the event of a no-deal Brexit. I have very serious concerns that this is nowhere near what is required. This package is being met with a lukewarm response in fisheries circles tonight. Fishermen have put their hearts and souls into developing a business in the most hazardous and challenging work environment on earth. Is this a redundancy package for many of them? If there is a hard Brexit, that €14 million will go nowhere near what is required for the them. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, to remember that year after year and decade after decade, we have handed over every right of our fishermen off our coast. Even up to this year while political parties here were falling over themselves to make sure we gave away the zero to six-mile zone, other countries retained their rights. Now we face a difficult position going forward for our fishing sector.
Beef farming is in a dreadful state and the €200 suckler cow grant was vitally important this year.
However, there is nothing in the budget for the farmer, save a promise that, if there is a hard Brexit, aid will be given. Farmers need aid now, as they are going out of business, yet the Government does not see it, just as it did not see it during the protests throughout the summer.
Regarding transport, my proposals to the Taoiseach to take tens of thousands of cars off the roads of west Cork via a daily park and ride system to Cork city were dismissed out of hand by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, but that was to be expected from the Minister, Deputy Ross, seeing as how it was in rural Ireland. As it was in west Cork, funding for such a project was never going to be provided. If it had, it would have had a significant impact on our carbon footprint and resulted in real savings for hard-pressed families. We are lucky to have a private bus operator like Damien Long in Skibbereen. He is putting his neck on the line for the people of west Cork by running a private service, West Cork Connect, that will start soon. In the weeks ahead it will carry people from Skibbereen and Bantry straight through to Cork city and Cork Airport on a daily basis. There will be no aid from the State, only a private operator who is trying to play his part for west Cork.
Look at the parents of children who are over 18 years of age and have disabilities. Has the Government factored them in to the budget? There are no transport services for these disabled persons. Actually, I was told by the Minister of State that there were services in Dublin, but we expected that to be the case. No funding for the people in question has been factored in to the budget. It is sad to see parents transporting them every day all over west Cork, including Ballydehob, Skibbereen, Bantry and Bandon. It is unfair that the existing budget is not being allocated properly. The budget was an opportunity for the Government to do something for people with disabilities, but this cohort has a weaker voice and the Government can get away with leaving them in this position.
Will the Minister of State outline how the health budget will be rolled out next year? What about the people of west Cork who have been heading to Belfast for cataract operations? Deputies Danny Healy-Rae and Michael Healy-Rae and I saw off the 46th bus this weekend. Well over 1,000 people have had their eyesight saved in this way. Why is it that there is no budget for cataract operations in County Cork or County Kerry? People must go blind if they have a Cork address. Has the Government provided a budget for a clean room that is fully equipped to carry out cataract operations in Bantry, Mallow or Cork? Surely, given the millions of euro it has squandered on a hole in the ground in Dublin at the national children's hospital, the Government can find some crumbs from the rich man's table for these honest, God fearing people who are losing their sight. The same can be said about those who are on waiting lists for hip and knee operations. Will funds be spent on those who require these surgeries, or will we have to continue to clean up the State's mess by bringing them to Belfast? I will be interested in seeing the answer in the days ahead. Will the devil be in the detail and, once again, will there be no funds?
I welcome the increase in the number of home help hours, but will it be enough? In recent months people have desperately sought home help hours only to be told "No" because there was no budget available. Even if someone is suffering at home, he or she will not allocated home help hours, which is sad.
The roads in west Cork are in urgent need of funding. We have no funds for the Innishannon bypass project or the southern relief road project in Bandon. The people of Bandon now fear that the northern relief road will only be half finished. We understand the Government does not spend money in west Cork, but it is time to wake up. We need investment in roads, including passing bays between Bandon and Clonakilty, Clonakilty and Skibbereen and Dunmanway and Bantry. I do not expect everything to be done in one year, but for decades the State has been stretched in filling pot holes in west Cork. Now we want real investment. Surely this is the time for it. Does the Government have any vision for west Cork?
There are many other issues. I welcome the extra funding for the Garda, but will the Garda stations the Government closed be reopened? I am referring to the Garda stations in Goleen, Adrigole, Ballinacarrige and Ballinspittle. The Government has been promising and promising. I think another new date has been given for the reopening of Ballinspittle Garda station. It is about time the Government reopened all of these stations.