Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Finance Act 2004 (section 91) (Deferred Surrender to the Central Fund) Order 2020: Motion
I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the motion the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, has introduced this afternoon. It is technical, as others have said, but it is also vitally important. We all know that, at the heart of it, this is not a contentious motion. It is necessary. It gives us an opportunity to raise particular issues but I expect, and hope to see, the support of the entire House for this sensible measure.
I will pick up on a few of the comments Deputy Nash made. This motion shows the true impact of Covid-19 on the infrastructural ambition of the State. It is only wise of me to ask some questions of the Minister. He might not necessarily answer them during this debate but perhaps he will take them back to the Department where they might factor into wider considerations on Government policy. Housing is rightly seen as central and necessary. I refer to the development of State-built housing and social, affordable and private housing. It is necessary that the likes of the Land Development Agency truly realise their potential and fulfil their mandates. We have seen the necessary slowdown of many sectors, particularly the construction sector, due to the pandemic. The vast majority of sites, whether small, medium or large, are closed. We are already one month into another year and the impacts of the pandemic are still painfully felt, first and foremost by the victims of this terrible virus and their families, but also by the economy and the entire operation and development of the State. There is one month down with another 11 to go but, with the best will in the world, we know there will be some element of restriction for a large part of this year, if not for all of it. The Minister might be able to come back to me in writing or through informal engagement in due course on the measures that can be taken to fast-track these vitally important infrastructural projects, particularly the very necessary provision of social housing, when we get the green light.
A number of sites are still open and construction is proceeding with the necessary precautions but they represent an extremely small part of the sector. We all know the need to construct not only homes, although they are the foremost concern, but also developments in the commercial and State sectors. We are now, in 2021, talking about a capital carry-over. I wonder if we will be having the same conversation in 2022. If we need to do so, so be it, but how can we plan for a system under which we can make up for lost time when it is possible to do things properly and within health guidelines?
I will also refer to a couple of other areas. I hope the entire House would agree that housing is the first and foremost priority, as is the development of our health service, but I will also address some niche matters, although I will not go into any constituency concerns as such. I will refer to the overall economic response to Brexit, the pinch of which we are starting to feel, and necessary infrastructural developments. I am thinking about roads to the major ports, including Dublin Port, Rosslare Europort and the Port of Cork. We were all pleased to see the announcement made by Brittany Ferries of an increase in the number of direct sailings to France from the Port of Cork. This is very important because the Continent is our largest market and has the potential to be our largest growth market in the coming decade. It is very important that we realise every opportunity in this regard and put every necessary element in place to do so. I refer to the infrastructural work which has not been able to progress, for example, the M11-N11 upgrade or, more pertinently, the really important development of Rosslare Europort. Perhaps the Minister, after discussion with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, may be able to get back to me with his opinion on the latter project. Dublin Port has expanded massively over the last year or two. Rosslare Europort is also expanding but the traffic leaving the port has now increased by 500%. This traffic is going directly to the Continent, to the ports that are vital in servicing our largest market. There is, however, concern over the port's ownership. It is jointly owned through the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbours Company. The Minister and his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, need to resolve this matter because if we are to realise opportunities in the Single Market and on the Continent, we will do so through the development, expansion and modernisation of Rosslare Europort and the Port of Cork. That is vital. Dublin Port is big and moving well but we have to look at those two alternatives. This will require the continuation of capital spending on the arteries into, and the areas servicing, these ports into 2022 and beyond.
The last area to which I will refer before giving way relates to the €106 million funding to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as mentioned by the Minister in his speech. The vast majority of the focus provided by IDA Ireland and Microfinance Ireland is on Brexit preparedness. Even though Brexit has nominally happened, we cannot stop preparing. We are starting to see its fallout on companies, individuals and citizens across this island every day. I will return to my hobby horse of maximising the potential of the Single Market and the Common Market. Infrastructural and capital spending is required in our State agencies to ensure this potential is realised and to ensure IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland are able to exploit every single opportunity. This may involve Irish producers and goods replacing British producers and goods on the Continent. That cannot happen without the support of the State and without proper investment in the measures that will, in co-ordination with European funding, allow Irish businesses to realise those opportunities.
I commend the motion to the House. It is very timely that we have this opportunity to raise some key points about spending. It would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity, in the remaining two and half minutes, to mention once again an issue I have brought up with the Minister by way of parliamentary question, Topical Issue debate and written letter. I refer to the use of cash related to criminal activity seized by An Garda Síochána. Last year, €16 million in cash was seized, which was an increase on €7 million in the previous two years. We are only one month into this year and already more than €2 million in cash has been seized. That cash needs to be ring-fenced for capital and current spending aimed at addressing the causes of the criminality by which it was raised. It is about getting into communities, constructing physical resources and structures, such as schools and education centres, and providing early intervention and outreach programmes.
I urge the Minister to look again at this matter when he and his fellow Minister, Deputy Donohoe, start the budget projections and calculations for next year - I know it is early to talk of that now - in order to use the €16 million that came into the Exchequer last year and to ring-fence it for investment in addressing the causes of crime at source.