Dáil debates

Thursday, 23 April 2020

4:25 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity) | Oireachtas source

According to this morning's edition of The Irish Times,"There is growing concern in the Department of Finance that current unprecedented State supports are unsustainable in the medium term." I think that refers to the wage subsidy scheme but the particular subject of the article was the Covid-19 payment of €350. That payment is key for huge numbers of Irish people at the moment to put dinner on the table and keep a roof over their heads, not just for themselves but for their families. Without it they would go underneath the waves. I understand the decision is to be made in mid-June on whether to continue with the payment, how to continue with it and what happens next. That decision should be based on the needs of the population. No doubt the Minister will say it should be based on the needs of the population, while also taking into account the finances of the State. The needs of the population, however, are paramount. Can the State sustain that payment? Yes, it is possible if the right policies are followed. For example, there is €14.3 billion in a bank account that the European Commission awarded to the State in back taxes from Apple. The Government has refused to consider seriously the question of wealth taxes but that is a luxury that can no longer be afforded. The Sunday Timestells us there are ten individuals who have €53 billions' worth of personal wealth between them. We will have to have serious wealth taxes if we are to sustain the measures that are needed to sustain the population. Premature dismantling of those supports would meet with powerful opposition from ordinary people, all the more so when they can see that wealth is available within society but is untouched by the caretaker Government.

The report in TheIrish Timeswent on to state "Government sources were also tight-lipped about the prospects for the final instalment of the public sector pay deal". That is the 2% increase due to 300,000 workers and more at the start of October. I remind the Minister that included among those 300,000 public sector workers are nurses, ambulance personnel, firefighters, doctors, the teachers the Government is asking to supervise the leaving certificate examination and so on. The framework document that Fine Gael has put together with Fianna Fáil states there will be no tax increases in the lifetime of this Dáil but it should also say that the public sector pay increases agreed with those workers, including those front-line workers, will be respected.

There is furious international lobbying by big business for states to reopen their economies as quickly as possible. The attitude is summed up by the former chief executive officer of Wells Fargo who stated:

We'll gradually bring those people back and see what happens. Some of them will get sick, some may even die, I don't know, ... Do you want to take an economic risk or a health risk?

There is no room for that type of approach when it comes to reopening the economy. I have no doubt but that the Government is under a lot of pressure from lobbying by business interests in this respect. Working people want to see the economy reopen but terms and conditions apply. It has to be safe. The health and lives of working people have to come before business profits. Working people should decide when different workplaces and areas of the economy go back to work.

They should not be compelled to return to work against their wishes. Workers who are particularly at risk in terms of health should have the right to stay at home, not in poverty, but in full pay. When workplaces reopen, health and safety matters must be decided by the workers. On construction sites, for example, Covid-19 compliance officers should not be stooges of the management but should instead be democratically elected by the workers to decide what is safe for them.


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