Tuesday, 18 November 2014
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
Cabinet Committee Discussions
Over recent months, the Taoiseach and his Government have majored on the so-called "recovery" they say has taken place in the economy. There has been endless propaganda from the Government side. Assuming the Taoiseach gets a chance to talk to ordinary people as he goes about the country, do they tell him what they tell us, which is that they do not feel that recovery and that life is still a struggle for many? They have seen a recovery for the very wealthy, however, and they have seen a recovery in profits for major corporations. Does the Taoiseach agree that there is a huge disconnect between the propaganda the Government has put out and the reality of life for ordinary people? We have seen revelations that major multi-national companies, including Irish ones as in the Lux leaks scandal, evade billions of euro in tax for our public services, including health and education, etc. They are allowed to get away with this in the face of a situation where 25 million or 26 million people are unemployed in the European Union and of continuing austerity for our people.
Will the Taoiseach's committee consider how wealth can be transferred from the very wealthy and major corporations with growing profits to ordinary people? Does it strike the Taoiseach that according to the 2012 figures, a one third of 1% increase in the corporate tax rate of that year and the amount of corporation tax brought in that year would more than bring in what will, the Taoiseach hopes, be brought in from water charges, which are a huge burden to so many, next year? Does the Taoiseach not see the complete disparity between the propaganda and the reality?
Is it not shameful that against a situation of what the Taoiseach says is recovery we had the shocking revelation he was asked about earlier of a doubling of families in emergency accommodation in Dublin city in horrific circumstances? For time reasons, I will say no more, but I want the Taoiseach to answer that.
While every job created is a welcome step not least for the person who gets into employment, the Government bandies about employment figures which are simply not true. Since the Taoiseach took over, 47,100 new net jobs have been created. If we take the figures in the west, there has been a marked fall in the numbers in the labour force of just over 7% year on year. That is because 500,000 citizens have emigrated. Even in Dublin, where employment prospects are better, the number of men and women on the live register in Tallaght, which was in the news over the weekend, is almost the same as in the whole of Limerick city. Has the committee considered regionally-based employment targets and does it have any plan to tackle high unemployment in impoverished urban areas? Has it looked at employment in rural Ireland?
Deputy Higgins mentioned propaganda and asked what people say when I meet them. They tell me that they appreciate that the country is moving to a far stronger position than it has been in for quite a number of years, but that they do not feel it in their personal daily lives yet. We must continue to grow our economy to a point where that happens. That means urban and rural must feel the benefit of the sacrifices the people have made. We do not live in any sort of fool's paradise about this. People with real problems approach me and every other Deputy in the House every day of the week.
There are signs of confidence, however. Interest rates have fallen from 15% to less than 2%, unemployment has come down from 15% to just over 11% - and will reach the tens in the next month or so - and consumer confidence is at a higher rate than it has been at for many years. The Government has been able to reduce income tax for the first time in seven years while avoiding any tax increases or cuts in services. That means we are now at the start of a phase of giving back to the most vulnerable and pressurised by returning money to their pockets and giving them choices about where they want to spend it. It is not all about the very wealthy or the major corporations. I came back from America on Saturday morning and the people who work for the airline tell me that Aer Lingus flights are all full on the way out and back to New York, Boston and San Francisco. The tourism industry in New York tells me that the numbers of bookings by Irish people are very much up from what they were. There has been a return to substantial purchases of new cars in July, August and September. These are not by very wealthy people but by ordinary people who have managed to see with greater clarity what lies ahead. What lies ahead is a 1% income tax reduction next year and the year after and, depending on the choice of the people at an election, the year after that.
The major corporations will be subject to a changed regime, with a transition period extending to 2020, through the ending of the double Irish. The Government made a decision on this matter in the recent budget and the stateless concept was ended last year. Ireland continues to play its part, with the OECD, in having the base erosion and profit shifting concept as an international response to a global phenomenon.
At 6 a.m. last Friday, BMS, a major global pharmaceutical company, notified the New York Stock Exchange of its decision to invest €1 billion in Deputy Higgins's constituency. The investment will result in the employment of 1,000 construction workers for three years and, thereafter, of between 400 and 500 top-class specialist research engineers dealing with products dealing with cancers that will emerge on the basis of BMS data. The company will supply the world from the location in question. This investment sends a major signal following the ending of the double Irish because BMS has expressed its confidence that this country measures up. It is appropriate that we should say this to the IDA and its personnel. I met representatives of BMS in September and the work that has been done in the meantime will directly benefit the economy of Deputy Higgins's constituency. I hope that, in one way or another, many of the people who have had a difficult time will be able to avail of the greater economic spread that will arise from the BMS decision to make a €1 billion investment in the constituency represented by Deputies Higgins and Coppinger, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Health. These jobs are very welcome.
I am not happy that rural areas have not felt the economic benefits they should have felt. I hope they will do so. This is the reason the Government proposed, in its Common Agricultural Policy programme last year, to allocate approximately €2.5 billion for rural development between 2014 and 2020. The programme has been submitted to the European Commission and I expect it to be approved. It will provide significant opportunities for Leader and community and voluntary groups, with the local authorities, to create jobs in communities throughout the country.
In reducing the level of VAT in the hospitality sector and abolishing travel tax the Government made a clear decision which sustained the hospitality industry and created 35,000 new jobs. Real opportunities are available.
Next Monday, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources will set out a programme for the development of broadband throughout the country by the private and State sectors. This is a fundamental priority for the Government because companies require broadband capacity to do business effectively. These developments and the announcements made on major motorway connections, for example, the opening of the Newlands Cross junction today and the Gort to Tuam motorway project, as well as other road projects in Wexford and elsewhere, are investments and improvements that will result in construction works and job opportunities and benefit the economies of many counties. We still have a long way to go, however.
To answer Deputy Higgins's question, people tell me they have put up with a great deal and while they know the country is in a stronger position than it was, many of them have yet to feel the benefit of this in their homes and personal lives. This is what we want to achieve and the Government's strategy will be to continue to give back what we can to hard-pressed communities and provide opportunities for employment and job creation such as those we discussed.