Thursday, 29 September 2022
Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6: General (Resumed)
In the short time available to me I will raise a number of issues, some of which pertain to my own constituency of Limerick while others relate to the Minister of State's brief of enterprise. I welcome some of the measures in the budget but am really disappointed by others, particularly those relating to rent. While the €500 tax credit will be welcomed by a lot of renters, it will not go far in easing the cost of renting in Limerick and across the State. The Government said previously that a rent tax credit without rent certainty and a rent freeze would be a transfer of Exchequer funds directly to landlords and that is exactly what is going to happen with the new tax credit. For most people, it only amounts to around two weeks' rent, given current rent rates. Rents in my own city have increased by 15.5% in the last year, while the number of properties available to rent continues to decline. There has been no real movement in this area and the renters I have spoken to in the last day or two are really disappointed. They were expecting some sort of bailout.
As the Minister of State knows well, the housing crisis is probably the number one issue we are facing across the State. It is having a huge impact on everything else. FDI companies I met recently told me they are putting projects on hold because they cannot get staff because there is nowhere for them to live. People are stuck in emergency accommodation, those on the social housing waiting lists have no chance of ever getting a house and those renting who want to buy their own homes have no chance of doing so either.
The other issue in my constituency that I have raised consistently since I was elected in 2016 is the chaotic situation in the emergency department at University Hospital Limerick, UHL, but there was no plan in the budget yesterday to address it. The only plan the Government has is to deliver a 96-bed unit which, in effect, will deliver 48 new beds in two years' time. That is simply not enough. In order to bring UHL up to the level of other comparable hospitals, it would need an additional 200 beds but there is no plan from the Government to provide such. It has told the people of Limerick and the mid west to suck oranges. The people have been abandoned but they deserve much better.
The next issue I wish to raise is that of low pay. During the pandemic we were all appreciative of the low-paid workers who kept shops open. We were grateful to the cleaners and others earning the minimum wage or, in some cases, even less. They were expecting some recognition in this budget. If this really was the "give-away" budget some have described, it would not contain a minimum wage increase of only 80 cent. That is pathetic. As Deputy O'Reilly said, the Mandate trade union has said it represents a pay cut once inflation is taken into consideration. The programme for Government contains a commitment to move towards a living wage but there have been no significant increases to the minimum wage in the first three years of this Government's term and this 80 cent increase will not take us much closer to a living wage. This is a missed opportunity.
The final issue I want to raise relates to the enterprise brief and is yet another missed opportunity. In 2019 on behalf of Sinn Féin I launched a policy proposal on the establishment of an Irish enterprise agency. In short that policy seeks to reorganise the 31 individual local enterprise offices, LEOs, into one centrally-led, national jobs agency with the aim of supporting and growing indigenous Irish businesses. The policy recognises the imbalance in our industrial strategy and the State's huge dependence on foreign direct investment, FDI, in terms of both jobs and tax intake. The purpose of the new State jobs agency would be to grow our indigenous business sector to provide balance in our economy, workforce and public finances. The Sinn Féin policy document highlighted our severe over-reliance on FDI for jobs and for the State's tax income without dismissing the hugely positive impact of hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs provided by FDI. We need to refocus the State's attention on domestic business.
The new agency, in addition to providing business supports to SME owners, would encourage good pay and working conditions for employees and develop remote working hubs in regional Ireland, thus helping to address the decline of many of our town centres. The agency would also have a multimillion seed capital investment fund which could be used to take equity stakes in start-ups or existing businesses, similar to what Enterprise Ireland does with exporters. These investments could provide stability to businesses, protect jobs and allow businesses to scale up. In return, dividends on profits would be returned to the Irish enterprise agency and the State for further investment. Companies would be expected to show that all employees have good pay and fair working conditions, including proof that no gender pay gap exists, to be eligible for any State financial support from the agency.
In October 2020, in response to my questions in the Dáil, the Tánaiste gave a commitment to consider the establishment of an Irish enterprise agency specifically focused on helping micro-businesses, co-operatives, and SMEs. In that context, it is disappointing not to see a commitment in budget 2023 to establish such an agency in order to protect our economy going forward. This is a missed opportunity. I urge the Government, having forgotten about it in budget 2023, to act as a matter of urgency and establish an Irish enterprise agency or similar body.