Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 September 2022

Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6: General (Resumed)


3:35 pm

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour) | Oireachtas source

I have to reflect on the last contribution because it doubles down on a previous contribution concerning the Sinn Féin reaction to the budget. I am conscious of the Europe we are living in now. Looking at the UK, its economy is going down the tubes because the British people were asked to eat a flag in a Brexit referendum a few years ago. I see that in Italy a party with neo-fascist roots has been elected because people there have been asked to eat a flag. The same thing has happened in Hungary, Poland, Austria, France and the US. It seems to me that the No. 1 response from the main Opposition party has been to encourage Irish people to eat a flag as well and I find this utterly depressing.

When I look at this budget, many parts of it are to be welcomed. It is not possible to look at some of the measures announced this week and not welcome many of them. I am thinking of the education system. For many years, I campaigned on the issue of schoolbooks and on changing the conversation in education from one of money to one of child development. I say that because, as I repeat often, the interaction between a parent and a school, and between school leaders and parents, can often be about money. That is a humiliating relationship if people do not have that money. Therefore, if we delete those conversations by inserting the State, which I think Fine Gael has finally concluded is a good thing, we will unleash the potential of that relationship to be built on something other than money.

Therefore, the announcement of free schoolbooks at primary level is welcome. We should, however, always go further. We should do that at second level as well. We should ban voluntary contributions. We should talk about all those things in the education system that act as barriers to conversations between parents and school staff. Principals do not want to be fundraisers. The Minister of State knows that so many parents' associations become effective fundraisers.

On the capitation announcement, there really was not one. This is where the structural element versus once-off measures comes into clear focus. It was announced that €100 million will be allocated to address how schools will be able to get over the winter. This was not a structural announcement, though, and I wish to see more detail on it. I say this because, inevitably, when a school cannot meet its electricity or other energy bills, and one third of the cost of running a school stems from energy outlays, then that responsibility is going to fall back on the fundraising capacity of a school and parents will again be asked to put their hands in their pockets. Therefore, I want to see more movement in this regard as well.

We are concerned that much of this budget, as my party leader, Deputy Bacik said, is a treadmill budget. It will see us over the next couple of months, but we could well be back here in the new year talking again about these structural issues that have not yet been addressed by this Government. It made an announcement concerning free GP care last year, but that has not yet been introduced for children of a certain age group. Announcements were also made regarding pandemic payments to certain healthcare workers and they have also not been delivered on yet either. Additionally, people in the Construction Defects Alliance are deeply concerned that the Government is suggesting the €80 million to be raised through the levy on concrete blocks will be enough to be able to fund the addressing of retrospective construction issues in future.

Turning to housing, we absolutely could have a more visionary approach in respect of giving people certainty on rents by having a rent freeze and certainty on evictions by having a ban on them. Moving on to the area of SMEs, as the Labour Party's enterprise spokesperson, I would say we are very concerned about the Government's lack of preparedness for a jobs crisis over the winter. We could see many people on reduced hours or, indeed, losing their jobs because of the crisis small businesses are facing. While the Government has made announcements, I do not think they go far enough. I certainly do not think that supporting businesses is going to be enough; there must also be support for jobs. The Government did that during the Covid-19 crisis, and this is the basis on which it should approach this situation as well. There must be investment in programmes and schemes that will support businesses in trying to keep jobs, and this endeavour must be focused on the workers.

I was struck by the last few words of the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, when he spoke about families and businesses. It is not, however, just families and businesses that need to survive, but also the workers. It must be ensured that those workers still have jobs to go to in January, when, as I said, we could very well be back here in the new year talking about these issues again. Turning to the issue of childcare, the measures announced for that area are welcome because we had been talking about childcare for some years. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is to be congratulated because he has stuck with this and he has made the difference in this budget. Again, though, we believe that in the context of a cost of €275 million we could have a further intervention for families and a cap on fees of €200. I say this because we again stand apart in this regard as our childcare fees are the highest in Europe. We also pay for schoolbooks when people in other European countries, and in the North, do not. People here also pay for GP visits when nobody in the North or the UK does so.

My final comments will refer to my initial ones. I am proud to be here as a representative of the people of Dublin Bay North to interact with the Government regarding this budget. I have seen what has been happening across Europe, however, and I have also seen the main motivation of speakers from Sinn Féin, the main Opposition party, this week, and it worries me. I say this because for 100 years, or more, we have convinced people that if they could just eat a flag, it would make all of us much better. There must be a different way. The State must be bigger, it must be on people's side and it must support and empower them.

People cannot eat a flag because it will not nourish them or make them happy. Our budget debate needs to be much more profound than that.


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