Thursday, 3 June 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Leo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
I thank the Deputy. In a few months time, provided the virus does not surprise us again, we will be in a very different place as an economy and society. We will see a really rapid recovery in our economy due to Government investment, pent-up demand and deployment of the €12 billion or €14 billion in savings now in our banks above where we were in 2019. We will find ourselves in a place in a few months time where we will still have hundreds of thousands of people in receipt of welfare payments of working age but at the same time hundreds of thousands of vacancies in the labour market, particularly in areas such as construction where we need to build so much, from houses to public infrastructure, in areas such as care where we need so many more people to work and in areas such as technology, digital, pharmaceuticals and others. This will be an enormous skills challenge and the Government is wise to it. We have 10,000 apprenticeships, 10,000 work placement schemes, 50,000 new education opportunities and a new Department driving the agenda and making sure we match people to jobs and that they have the skills necessary.
With regard to the cost of materials, I cannot accept the Deputy's contention that somehow the Government, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party are to blame for the rising cost of steel, timber and building materials because it is just not true. It is an international phenomenon. It is on the front page of international newspapers, including the Financial Times. The cost of all of these materials has increased throughout the world. Perhaps delays at the port may be contributing to it in some way and I am happy to look into that and see whether we can improve it but this is very much a global phenomenon. If the Deputy read the international press he would know this. Why is it happening? There are many different reasons. Government spending is rising throughout the world. Not just this Government but other governments throughout the world are engaging in a construction boom or building infrastructure and this is driving up the cost of materials. The disruption of the pandemic has resulted in fewer materials being produced in some parts of the world. As well as this, there are delays in distribution. Of course, there is also cheap money. Central banks are printing money and giving out cheap loans to business and government. When this happens we have inflation and the price of things that cannot be printed, such as steel, property and building materials, increase. This is what is happening. Yes, it is a big problem and if there is anything we can do about it in terms of improving matters at the port we will, but to suggest that somehow it is caused by three political parties in Ireland and that we have the power and influence to increase global steel prices really is absurd.