Thursday, 17 December 2020
Appropriation Bill 2020: Second and Subsequent Stages
Tá mé ag roinnt mo chuid ama le mo chomhghleacaí, an Teachta Ó Dochartaigh. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle agus leis an Aire. Tuigim gur Bille fíorthábhachtach é seo chun a chinntiú gur féidir le Ranna Rialtais airgead a chaitheamh ag tús mhí Eanáir agus nach dteastófar Vótaí breise chun é seo a dhéanamh. Tá bunús bunreachtúil leis an mBille seo agus beimid i Sinn Féin ag tacú leis. I understand that there is a constitutional requirement for this Bill, as it legislates for the financial resolutions which includes all the Estimates voted on by the Dáil this year. This year, the figure is €69.7 billion, which reflects the net amount voted by the Dáil, while €87 billion is the full amount allocated. The key to this Appropriation Bill is that it is a constitutional requirement and that it is essential in order to ensure that Departments can spend, come January, and therefore we will be supporting it.
The Bill allows for the four-fifths rule, provided for under the Central Fund (Permanent Provisions) Act, which means that Departments can spend four fifths of the previous Appropriation Bill without having to wait for a Vote, and if the Bill was not enacted these Departments could not spend. The Bill also allows for capital carry-over, as per the Finance Act 2004. Each Department can carry over 10% of its capital allocation to the next year. This year, I note that the carry-over is 7.4%, which is higher than usual, however that is due to the restrictions imposed this year as a result of Covid-19. Hopefully, next year will see a better year and we will be able to see large-scale capital projects on a regionally balanced basis.
As I have raised with the Minister many times, capital investment will be key, not only in dealing with the major cracks in public infrastructure but it will also be a key driver in terms of job creation, as we hopefully move forward out of this crisis. This point is not just being made by me and my party, Sinn Féin, but it is something that has been raised across the political spectrum and by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, the International Monetary Fund and by many others. We have seen large-scale job losses in the State this year, and I think of those families in the lead-up to Christmas, which is a trying financial time for many, made even more worrying at the very uncertain financial future many are facing as we approach 2021. The Covid-adjusted unemployment figures are approximately 20%. We know that capital investment has a positive jobs-multiplier effect, so if we want the economy to bounce back quickly in 2021, it is of the utmost importance that these matters are attended to urgently. We are all aware of badly needed capital investment projects and the deficiencies in our creaking infrastructure, which could certainly use a capital investment boost. Given that we are going to be playing catch-up next year, I sincerely hope that any capital projects that are in train will be fast-tracked and given the appropriate resources, be they housing, healthcare, transport or environmental projects.
Ar an deireadh seachtaine bhí mé i gCeantar na nOileán i gConamara le roinnt ionadaithe eile ón gceantar. Tugadh cuireadh dúinn ón ngrúpa gnímh Bóithre Chonamara chun breathnú ar na droichid atá mar infreastruchtúr fíorthábhachtach dóibh siúd atá ina gcónaí sa cheantar sin. Bhreathnaigh muid orthu agus muid i gcurach, rud a thug radharc maith dúinn ar na droichid agus na scoilteanna atá sna droichid. Tugadh le fios dúinn gur níos measa atá na scoilteanna sin ón am céanna an bhliain seo caite. Caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil droch-chaoi ar na droichid sin. Tá an droch-chaoi sin orthu le fada an lá ach, faraor, tá siad ag éirí níos measa bliain i ndiaidh bliana mar gheall nach bhfuil an infheistíocht chuí á chur isteach iontu. Impím ar an Aire, agus é ag breathnú ar phlean d’infheistíocht chaipitil, go mbreathnófar ar Chonamara agus an easpa infreastruchtúr atá sa cheantar. Tá sé dochreidte cé chomh contúirteach is atá na bóithre agus na droichid sin. Tá bóthar Chuan na Luinge ardaithe agam sa Dáil seo cheana ach ardóidh mé é arís eile leis an Aire.
Rud eile a chuireann as dom ná go bhfuil roinnt áiseanna poiblí ann nach dteastaíonn ach beagán airgid uathu ionas go mbeidh an pobal in ann iad a úsáid agus níl sé sin á chur ar fáil. Is sampla iontach í linn snámha Ros Muc d’áis álainn don phobal atá imithe i léig le roinnt blianta. Is áis í seo ina bhféadfadh páistí ón gceantar an snámh a fhoghlaim ach níl sí ar fáil don phobal. Táim cinnte go bhfuil áiseanna díreach cosúil le linn snámha Ros Muc ar fud fad an Stáit. Tá deis againn i mbliana airgead a infheistiú i gcúrsaí infreastruchtúir chun feabhas a chur ar shaol an ghnáthdhuine. Mar a dúirt mé níos luaithe, tá a fhios againn go gcruthaíonn infheistíocht i dtionscnaimh caipitil fostaíocht, rud a bhéas ag teastáil go géar san am atá romhainn. Níor chóir dúinn dearmad arís eile a dhéanamh ar Chonamara, go háirithe ar bhóithre Chonamara, droichid Chonamara agus áiseanna poiblí Chonamara.
At the weekend I and other representatives in Galway went to the Ceantar na nOileán region of Connemara to look at the very poor state of the bridges in the area. These bridges are a key part of the local infrastructure on which local people rely heavily. I saw the cracks in these bridges and I am deeply disturbed by this. I have previously highlighted in this Chamber the very dangerous nature of roads in Connemara and the need for adequate investment in them. We must use next year as an opportunity to fix these dangerous cracks in our public infrastructure.
We must also put sufficient resources into our public amenities. A fantastic example of such a public amenity is the outdoor pool in Ros Muc, which has given much joy to the people of the area over the years, but unfortunately the pool has a number of issues that need to be fixed to make it usable again. This pool would be a fantastic resource and safe amenity for people of all ages, including people learning to swim. As we move from 2020 to 2021, we need to fix the cracks in our infrastructure and ensure we put adequate resources into capital investment projects because we know of the fantastic benefit they have in job creation. We also need to deal with very real cracks in our infrastructure. I hope the roads and bridges of Connemara are not forgotten once more.
This year has been a very tough year for us all. We need to regard 2021 as an opportunity to reimagine what this State can be and the role the State can play to provide sufficient housing, a robust healthcare system and public amenities. The restrictions imposed due to Covid-19 in 2020 have given us some time to reimagine what kind of society we want to live in. Let us use that time of reflection to build a better and fairer society for us all.