Dáil debates

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Financial Resolutions 2020 - Financial Resolution No. 7: General (Resumed)


2:20 pm

Marian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent) | Oireachtas source

Two days ago, the International Monetary Fund, IMF, published its first medium-term forecast since the onset of the coronavirus in which it states that the pandemic will leave significant scars on the global economy and that in the short-term countries able to borrow, such as Ireland, should borrow as much as needed to protect the public from the impact of the virus and limit the extent of the financial contractions. It also mentions that in the longer term we need to look at our debt burdens and states that the focus now must be on mitigating the impact of Covid-19. That is the context of budget 2021. While there are many positives in the budget, and I am happy to acknowledge that, I believe Government should have been more ambitious, in particular in two areas. First, we needed a more ambitious investment programme, especially in the regions, to act as a catalyst for a balance of development between the regions. The Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, mentioned the N4. We have been hearing about that for about five years. It is welcome. The Collooney-Castlebaldwin road is, thankfully, almost finished.

The Tánaiste said this morning that rural broadband will be delivered in five years rather than in six or seven years. That is too long because the digital economy will move on and the regions will be left behind. We need more urgency here. There are areas where I believe Government should have been a little more ambitious. I am speaking not of multiple billions of euro investment but of a modest investment in a few key areas which would have made a difference in terms of the safety net that a number of sectors need. The Government provides a safety net in budget 2021 but there are a few holes in it. In regard to early childcare, the budget did nothing to address the chronic capital under-funding and the low salaries that are prevalent in this industry. It is a front-line service but it was not treated it as such in the budget.

I also believe we should have maintained the tiered pandemic unemployment payment with €350 as the highest payment. The arguments in favour are overwhelming. The truth is that €50 per week could mean the difference between a family simply existing and falling through the cracks.

As for falling through the cracks, I had a look at the defence budget. It is the case that moneys are available, mainly for buying new equipment, but my question is: who will operate this new equipment? Many people are leaving the Defence Forces. We have several ships in Haulbowline in Cork. I know some of them are in for renovation but we do not have the trained staff to operate some of our naval vessels. Members of the Defence Forces are on family income supplement and others are not much above the minimum wage. We should have looked at that on Tuesday.

Finally, I want to speak about carers. I am heartbroken to say they are worse off after Tuesday's budget. The carer's allowance was greater in 2009 than it is today. I realise most people will not believe that but they should check the figures because it is true. The income disregard for carer's allowance was cut in 2007 and in 13 years it has never been increased. Many of us are, rightly, getting pay restoration but carers are not. There was a €150 increase in the annual carer's support grant. That is an extra €3 per week to cover the worst effects of the pandemic. In all honesty, €3 per week will do little and it will not be in place until June 2021, when most of us expect that we will be well on the way out of this pandemic. The fuel allowance increased by €3.50. Yet, carer's allowance is not a qualifying payment for fuel allowance and most carers will not get it. The living alone allowance does not apply because carers, by definition, do not live alone. They will be unable to access this allowance. While there are 5 million additional home care hours, and these are welcome, nonetheless they will not even cover the shortfall in adult day care services. What carers are asking in respect of their need for support is, if not now, then when?


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