Thursday, 15 October 2020
Financial Resolutions 2020 - Financial Resolution No. 7: General (Resumed)
I welcome the opportunity to address the House on the budget. We face the double whammy, indeed we are in the middle of it, of Covid-19 and Brexit, possibly a no-deal Brexit, but the budget falls short of what is needed to respond to this double whammy.
While there are some positive measures which Sinn Féin has looked for over the years, such as the equalisation of tax measures for the self-employed, funding for deep retrofitting of homes and extra money for health, it simply did not address many key areas sufficiently.
A massive increase in the capacity of our health services was needed. The big spend on it is welcome but health services and hospitals are under capacity, not just to deal with the pandemic but also to improve non-Covid services. We in Sinn Féin put forward the case for a minimum of 100 extra ICU beds and €38 million for extra home care hours. Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise has two permanent ICU beds. Midland Regional Hospital Tullamore has six beds for a population of 200,000. That just does not do it. We have only half of the EU average across the State and in that part of the country we have approximately one sixth of the EU average. Only 60 extra ICU beds are promised.
Critically, we set out to improve mental health services at this time and looked for an additional €49 million. Only €38 million, however, was allocated. If I heard him correctly, the Minister of State with responsibility for agriculture said more than €90 million has been allocated for racehorse owners but €38 million was allocated for mental health.
Sustaining businesses and workers during the crisis and expanding employment as we emerge from it is crucial. Many workers, however, face income cuts and hardship and reduced rates of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and wage subsidy scheme. We in Sinn Féin want restoration of the top rate of that payment for those earning over €300. That is absolutely crucial.
We also wanted special measures to tackle youth unemployment, including an additional €74 million to expand the national apprenticeship training scheme, which we welcome is there. Over one third of our young people are unemployed. We also need to develop their skills for rebuilding the economy as we emerge from this. It is very important and I urge the Minister of State to bring this back to Government. We need to ramp up the number of apprentices we have so that we can build that economic recovery.
The rates waiver for businesses should have been extended until next June. Instead, it ends on 31 December. We need significant grants for SMEs. Radical measures are also needed to support the hospitality sector and we proposed a straightforward voucher scheme of €200 for every adult and €100 for children. This has worked well in some other jurisdictions and we should learn from the best practice in those.
The Government failed to grasp the housing crisis. It is with regret I say this to the Minister of State. The Government allocated only €110 million in total for affordable housing to rent and buy. We put forward a package for €1.1 billion to provide 4,000 affordable homes and 4,000 cost rental homes. In Laois-Offaly and its outlier, for example, a couple or family who earn more than €500 cannot get on the housing waiting list, and if they earn less than €800 or €850, they cannot get a mortgage. These people are trapped in private rented accommodation until thy kingdom come. Approximately 140 years after the Land League, these people have no security of tenure and no security on rent. People have not got fixed rent, no security of tenure and no hope of ever owning. Those were the three demands of Michael Davitt and the Land League 140 years ago, yet here we are today, in what is supposed to be the national Parliament, and I am saying this to the Minister of State. The situation as it is only suits big landlords. This is very important. We need cost rentals in south Kildare and the Minister of State knows this. He should try to rent in Monasterevin. We need cost rentals in Laois, Mountmellick, Rathdowney and Portlaoise and in towns like Tullamore, Birr, Edenderry and Clara. We need those cost rentals because a whole cohort of families are absolutely nailed to the cross trying to meet the cost of private rented accommodation out of one weeks' wages every week. These people have no security of tenure and no security on rent. This has been raised consistently here over the past five years and we cannot continue ignoring it.
We welcome some of the positive measures in the budget. Overall, however, it was a missed opportunity by the Government to sustain workers and families in employment and address those crucial issues in housing but also to address the issue of ICU beds. I fear for this going into the winter. We simply do not have enough of them. We welcome the 60 extra beds but that will not do it. We need more than that. We also need to address the areas of childcare and disability.