Thursday, 23 April 2020
Irish Economy: Statements
I thank the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, for the efforts so far on the payments. I share the other speakers' concerns, which I will not repeat except in relation to the three month mortgage deferral and the interest rates and also the inconsistencies on the ground where people who are actually working are receiving less. I thank the Minister for his efforts on the payments, however, and it was the right thing to do.
I support Deputy Shortall's contribution on testing. We cannot talk about a recovery until we know exactly what we are dealing with. It seems to me that not enough testing is being done. I am no expert but I have listened to the experts. Even though there have been inconsistent messages from the experts, one consistent message has been the importance of testing. While 1 April can be a bad date, it worries me that in one of the briefing documents on 1 April we were told that sufficient test centres were open to meet current testing demand and lab capacity. Presumably the lab capacity was more the problem than demand because everybody would have come forward to be tested had they been encouraged. Now we have the lab capacity but we are still not meeting the testing capacity. I am worried that this is being done on a financial basis. I ask the Minister to tell me please it is not. Will the Minister tell me that he is following strict health guidelines? I suspect that it is being done based on the finance involved in testing so many people. This is a worry. I am trying to get my head around the inconsistencies. Four testing centres were opened in Galway but now we have only one. I understand there is a community hub in Merlin Park Hospital that is not being used to its full capacity. Yet, we have no idea of the extent of the virus in the community, depending on which expert one listens to. I have a difficulty with that and we certainly need more transparency and accurate information.
I have some general comments on the recovery. I welcome the Minister's point that it is not just an economy we talk about, that it is a society. I hope the Minister will go one step further to say that an economy must always serve the people and must serve all the people in the most equal way possible because in the long term it is the better way to deal with it. Quite clearly the question the Minister and all Members should be asking is what all of this will cost. The more important question is around the cost of not doing it and what costs have we now incurred because we failed to have a one-tier public health system. This is despite repeated warnings over the years from various doctors around the costs of not implementing that. These figures are readily to hand and the Minister is much better at figures than I am. I take the figures that I hear from various Departments on the cost of not implementing A Vision for Change. Extrapolating from Northern Ireland figures it is, I believe, more than €12 million but I understand it is much higher than that. There is a safer figure to be had on the cost of not doing anything about domestic violence, which costs the economy more than €2 billion each year. Let us ask what is the cost of not doing it and then ask what we need to do for a vision for society where we are all involved and where everyone can have the same choices and opportunities in life and let us work from that.
I looked at the framework document the Minister has produced and I despair really. Despite the preamble and the nice flowery language I do not see where anything has been learned. Consider public housing. There is absolutely no commitment around public housing on public land in view of the serious problem.
It is not stated anywhere. I see no statement in respect of the Irish language. A decision was made - rightly so and I understand why - to stop the summer colleges in the Gaeltachtaí operating. However, it was just a bare statement which showed absolutely no understanding of the role of the coláistí and the mná tí in the economy of all of the Gaeltachtaí or of how vulnerable the Irish language and the Gaeltachtaí are. An announcement was made without any context as to the 20-year action plan or the economic value of the Irish language.
The arts sector has been utterly ignored. I understand it has produced a comprehensive albeit brief document which contains seven points. I do not know if anyone has met with those in the sector, but from listening to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, it is clear that she has not taken what they are saying on board. One of the points that jumps out is that those in the sector wish to be in a position to plan for next year.
My time is up. I have given out to others today so I will stick to my time.