Thursday, 15 October 2020
Financial Resolutions 2020 - Financial Resolution No. 7: General (Resumed)
Jennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
On Tuesday, we all listened to the budget speech. Many things were said and some of us are still poring over what it all means. It means finally, we as a Government are making policies which strengthen businesses, encourage personal climate action and safeguard the status of the most vulnerable. After years of austerity, it is heartening to see budget 2021 become the largest investment in the history of the State. It might have surprised people but it is the right thing to do. We need to make sure we can face the challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit by giving people hope based on realism and a plan. I am heartened to see massive investment in health, housing and education.
The 9% VAT rate will help hotels, pubs, restaurants and other businesses in the entertainment, tourism and hospitality sectors. That was something I actively lobbied for and am delighted to see in County Carlow. I have brought it up several times with Ministers. I received hundreds of representations on it and I am delighted to see this now has been committed to and done. We are delighted that commitment has been given.
The extension of the commercial rates will help reduce the fixed cost of doing business. It was an issue I also brought to Ministers running up to the budget. I especially welcome the €10 million set aside for the IDA to develop advance factories in industrial estates for companies seeking to invest in Ireland, especially outside of Dublin, and the €30 million ring-fenced for a call to regional enterprise centres for initiatives to create jobs in every region in the country. This is important for me and for counties Carlow and Kilkenny. I always said as a councillor and a Senator that I believe rural Ireland and the smaller towns like Carlow need visits from the IDA. We now have a chance. We can now bring investment to the rural towns such as Carlow and Kilkenny. We can now give people jobs they really want. I will work on this for my constituents and the people I represent to do my best to ensure I create jobs in my area.
The news that €38 million will be allocated under Sharing the Vision, our national mental health strategy, is important. I am aware the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, spoke earlier. Mental health, now more than ever, is important and we need to make sure we deliver on and increase the existing services. We also want to make sure they are easier to access and that families who need them can do so.
This budget is the definition of housing for all. With a €3.3 billion spend on housing, it is the highest investment in housing by any Government in a single year. The €65 million to facilitate energy efficient improvements to social housing homes and the €60 million to adapt the homes of up to 10,700 older people and people with a disability are important. I face these issues every day with people coming into my offices or ringing. People are living longer. We need to make sure they get these grants quickly, that they are not waiting for a long time and that there is no red tape, as I would say.
The main thing about this budget and the one I must focus on is that all this money we have, which is great to see, is easily accessible. Therefore, no matter what area a person is in, he or she should be able to access this money for whatever reason, be it for housing, a business or through the HSE. If people are looking for funding in whatever areas we work on, we need to make sure we can get the money to those areas as quickly as possible.
Another area that has been spoken about, particularly in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, is domestic abuse. I welcome €400,000 extra funding for organisations and groups responding to the increased service and demand. Again, getting the money into these areas quickly is important.
I welcome preserving the qualifying age of 66 for the State pension with the legislation that will be implemented in January. I have been contacted by and spoken to many pensioners who have expressed disappointment that they did not get an increase. We need to look at that going forward as they felt they had been forgotten in this budget. I also welcome the €5 increase in the living alone allowance, which I feel is a great help.
The €50 million in the live entertainment supports and the Arts Council funding, an increase of up to €130 million, again, is important.
I am aware previous contributors have spoken about farmers. They are a priority and we must always remember that during recessions, farmers play a huge role in keeping our country going.
They play a massive part in getting us through recessions and it is so important now that we look after our farmers. I welcome the creation of the role of food ombudsman. We need to ensure we look after those who have looked after us, our farming sector in particular. We need to ensure funding gets to all of the different areas.
Another area on which I spoke to people was the childcare sector. Again, there was a little bit of disappointment on their part because they felt they had been forgotten. We need to ensure we look at our childcare sector and see what we can do to help those involved in it. With Covid-19 it is a different time, so all of us working together need to ensure we support our childcare sector and I have said that to them.
I have spoken to some third level students. They are absolutely delighted with the €250 once-off payment. That is important because students have not been able to work during the summer and they have not had any work. This gives them a little boost and it is a boost for their families. I will have to get the times when they are going to get their payment. Working with the Minister, Deputy Harris, I will make sure I do that.
In the health sector, I compliment NPHET, the Ministers and everyone who has played a great part. Covid-19 has been exceptional for all of us. We are all listening to the news and the figures are rising and we are all concerned. Today there are more restrictions. It is a case of all of us working together. The Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, spoke about testing. Testing and tracing and the quickness of it is so important. All of us need to play our part and work together. With this exceptional budget we can make a change to people's lives. All of us working together, no matter what parties we are in, can ensure that in the next few months we will, we hope, be back to what we call normality and our normal lives as soon as possible.
A lady who rang me today about a grant said that, since Covid, she has seen that families have grown closer together. Things are changing and life is changing. No one could ever have thought Covid was coming and none of us was ready for it, but a lot of us have seen changes in some ways. We can see the good in the Irish people coming out. It is great that we are all trying to play our part and this budget will make huge changes to people's lives, and that is what we need to do. We need to ensure we give everyone we can the best quality of life they deserve.