Dáil debates

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Financial Resolutions - Budget Statement 2020

 

2:35 pm

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Offaly, Fianna Fail)

Some things never change.

A century ago the First Dáil convened to strike out on a new path for the nation. The Independence project has been fraught with challenge in the years since, but we have always risen to it. Today, as successors of the Members of the First Dáil, we are confronted with a new and difficult task. The dark horizon of a hard Brexit that we confront poses a fresh threat to peace and prosperity on our island. The Brexit psychodrama that has played out before our eyes in the past three years threatens to unravel hard-won decades of progress. Brexiteer ideologues have been passing around the Kool-Aid churned out by a toxic British press, ignoring the consequences of their actions for our island. Faced with this, we must be determined to see off any threat to the integrity of the peace process and the all-island economy. A firm sense of national purpose is crucial to the long-term prospects of the country. This is a time for cool heads and unity of purpose.

The budget must be viewed in that light. Fianna Fáil has facilitated the Government in ensuring Ireland has had a stable and coherent voice at the EU table. As we all know but many would not like to admit, the alternative would be uncertainty, discord and division. Any show of doubt would be dragged by the Tory Government like a drowning swimmer clutching for a lifeline. Any discord would be leapt on by Tory posh boys whose history lessons ended at the Irish Sea. Instead of a stream of doubtful elections, we have seen through a stable Government to represent us in the European Union. By contrast, for example, Spain faces its fourth election in the same period since the confidence and supply arrangement was agreed to. Our stability has been our strength.

This is, plain and simple, a Brexit budget. More than ever this is a time for a steady approach. It is not a continuation of the confidence and supply budgets we have seen in the previous three years. We gave a commitment to see it through in order to brace the country for the impact of a crash-out Brexit. We have approached it in good faith and with that ultimate goal in mind. Facing into a national emergency, we must put the country first. I am proud to be in a party that will always put the long-term good of the country ahead of petty politics. Our decision to abstain in the vote on the budget reflects that commitment to stability in the face of such grave uncertainty. It is not by any means an endorsement of specific policies, nor a vindication of our budget talks of the past few weeks. Allowing the budget to pass is a simple decision to show continued strong national unity in the face of Tory Party aggression. This is not the time to give succour to the opponents of the peace process and progress on this island.

I anticipate the criticisms to be made of the budget about the missed opportunities or areas that have not received the increases they need. Ultimately, however, criticisms must be framed in the bigger question as to how we rise to the challenge of Brexit. Nobody in the country would escape the disastrous impact of a no-deal Brexit. Nobody would be better off with a hard border tearing the island asunder. We have to start and end any budget debate on that crucial point. This is the time to protect core services and equip sectors for the risks ahead. Our shared national prosperity hinges on this fact. Stability and certainty to see off the threat of Brexit is our best policy.

I look around the Chamber and see no other options being proposed. Sinn Féin likes to depict the confidence and supply arrangement as a coalition government. After a world record-breaking period without a government in the North, I can see how Sinn Féin has forgotten what government actually is about. In its rush to avoid responsibility it only works in half of the parliaments to which its members have been elected. They have left Westminster without a nationalist voice and abandoned Stormont to the wind and the rain.

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