Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Financial Resolutions 2019 - Financial Resolution No. 9: General (Resumed)

 

Debate resumed on the following Financial Resolution:

- (Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government)

2:40 pm

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I will share time with Deputy Marc MacSharry.

It is widely understood economic prudence is at the forefront of this budget, given the possible impact of the UK leaving the EU without a deal in the coming weeks. As this is the first budget since the declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency, the Government will equally be judged on the priority it gives to taking action in face of this defining challenge. This is clear from the major protests taking place outside this House today. We have had many such protests in the past and I suspect we will have more of them in the future. The budget has not moved Ireland from laggard to leader on climate action. This was dubbed a climate budget. The Minister called it "a watershed moment". Ireland's laggard status stems from Fine Gael's decision to abandon the climate legislation proposed by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party when we were in government together. Subsequently, the Government failed to introduce any sort of coherent climate plan until this year.

The Government has a long way to go. The State will have to pay millions of euro for failing to meet its EU 2020 climate commitments. Our 2030 targets are at significant risk, even at this stage. This budget is very much the start and not the finishing line when it comes to climate and biodiversity loss. The Government has merely started facing in the right direction. Its decision to focus on climate action, energy poverty and just transition is years overdue. Carbon taxation is a small subset of overall climate action. Responsibility for climate leadership cannot be regarded as resting with individuals. As the carbon tax trajectory increases, it is vital that we see an increasing and urgent delivery of transparent and progressive measures in accordance with the landmark report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. In this context, I call on the Minister to commit to enacting before the next election the necessary legislation to introduce a net zero target by 2050 and to ensure improved accountability across the Government.

We have to be clear that from a strict climate perspective, the €6 per tonne increase in the rate of carbon tax is relatively modest. It is the first increase in years. Following the excellent work of the joint committee, which achieved a consensus across a majority of its members, it is important that citizens, businesses and stakeholders are clear that we are moving towards a carbon price of €80 per tonne by 2030. We welcome the Government's decision to support Fianna Fáil's approach to new revenues raised by the increase in carbon taxes. Such revenues will be ring-fenced to pay for climate action measures and ensure vulnerable households are better protected. Perhaps it would have been more sensible if the Government, having placed such weight on consensus at the joint committee, acknowledged that this approach to the use of these revenues was not its own. The Taoiseach seems to be taking full responsibility for this policy approach. Up to a number of days ago, he had a completely different idea on how the moneys collected from the carbon tax would be spent.

Fianna Fáil is mindful of the impact of the carbon tax increase on low-income households and on people who are at risk of fuel poverty, particularly those in rural areas who might not always have ready alternatives. I appreciate and commend the expert analysis of the ESRI and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, both of which made important inputs at the Joint Committee on Climate Action. If we are to ensure the Government's approach to decarbonisation is rooted in climate justice, such independent and transparent assessment must continue. It is concerning that the Government failed to produce a review of energy poverty prior to the carbon tax increase. Such a review was demanded of it and was a requirement of the joint committee. However, it is welcome that €21 million has been allocated to the fuel allowance scheme to increase the weekly allowance by €2 per week. Given that we have a trajectory towards the €80 per tonne price, it is important that we also see an increasing trajectory of support. This, again, has to be the start; it must not be seen as the finish line. The Government should be clear that the protection of the most vulnerable people is a first-order priority and will remain so throughout the introduction of additional protective measures.

Ring-fencing is important because it provides transparency that moneys are being used specifically to support climate action on the ground. It is important that we have additional investment for home insulation, particularly in the case of social housing. We welcome the additional €13 million that will be allocated to the warmer homes scheme to facilitate the retrofitting and insulation of the homes of people who are living in, or are at risk of, energy poverty. It is important for the Government to come forward with detailed plans to ensure the SEAI is in position to assess applications and co-ordinate delivery in a timely manner. We are clear that this is a small step. We have not yet seen the sort of scaled-up investment that would allow for the delivery of a real national retrofitting programme. Ring-fencing will also allow for additional investment in new electric vehicle charging infrastructure, cycling, peatlands rehabilitation and greenways, all of which are important elements of the joined-up approach to climate action. It is particularly important that we get a transparent breakdown of the exact nature and level of the support for all of these activities. We cannot have a repeat of the Government's climate plan, which was hot on announcements but cold on steps and on the funding to deliver them.

The transition to a decarbonised society in Ireland must be made in a just and fair manner. We need to be much more ambitious and responsive in helping the industries and communities affected by this transition. A just transition is a key element of a climate justice approach. A just transition means policies that are focused on providing security and opportunity to citizens. A just transition model means new jobs, new industries, new skills and new investment. Fianna Fáil has placed particular importance on the need for a just transition, starting with the midlands. We believe just transition measures must support regions where fossil fuels are being phased out, including the Moneypoint area. I am disappointed that the Minister did not include in his Budget Statement any funding for the transition away from the burning of coal at Moneypoint. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that he will recognise the merits of including Moneypoint in subsequent announcements this year. The community there has suffered significantly. Significant job losses have taken place and all of this is having a negative impact on spending in local communities.

I have mentioned some of the initial steps that are recommended within the next six months. The Government's response has been characterised by a refusal to engage. We are, therefore, calling for the establishment of a just transition commissioner as soon as possible. The just transition fund, which is a litmus test for how this Government supports communities that are highly dependent on fossil fuels, must be used to support other areas that will be affected by decarbonisation. I have mentioned Moneypoint, which is relevant in this context. As decarbonisation proceeds, I am sure there will be job losses in places where equipment is made, etc. We need to be mindful of that. The allocation of funding must be targeted and transparent to prevent the politicisation of grant making. The major priorities for this funding are training and support for the affected communities and investment in retrofitting, renewables, community energy and public transport for rural areas. There needs to be a focus on vulnerable and lower-income families at all times.

I will move on to the area of communications. Despite the fanfare with which the national broadband plan, NBP, was again announced in May, it was not even deemed worthy of mention in the Minister for Finance's Budget Statement. The repeated claim that the project will start within weeks is simply no longer believable. The Taoiseach said there will be another delay in the project because maps for the plan are covering areas already covered by other providers. If just under half of the premises within the intervention area are covered by a commercial roll-out, as some people have claimed, this will be a major challenge and not a minor one. What will happen if a broadband provider that is planning to roll out to the intervention area refuses to enter into a concession agreement with the Department but instead continues its roll-out? What will happen if a challenge is made by a company that believes the State is supporting a company to compete unfairly with a commercial roll-out? How long would rural broadband be delayed by such a case? The €119 million that is provided for in budget 2020 is less than the amount considered necessary for the provision of this service. I have great reservations about when or if we will ever see broadband rolled out, notwithstanding the numerous announcements that have been made by the Government.

It appears that the crisis in public service broadcasting will not be addressed by budget 2020. While Fianna Fáil recognises that some reforms will result from the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2019, it appears that no concerted help is on the way for the public service broadcasting sector. Some reforms of the licence fee are due in the coming months, but the fundamental challenge has not been tackled. RTÉ has made it clear that it is in a financial crisis. I understand that it needs to do some restructuring but it must move beyond voluntary redundancy. It is going to have to look at compulsory redundancy. In return, the Government will have to put appropriate funding in place.

If we believe in the principle of public journalism and broadcasting, then we must pay for it. The licence fee is not enough to meet that challenge and commercial advertising has collapsed. We in the House have a responsibility to stand by independent journalism, protect democracy and not be in the say of the big conglomerates, which drive the social media agenda and have a negative impact on democracy through their failure to reduce or eliminate the fake news that circulates in those environments. I would like to have seen money set aside for a digital safety commissioner, but the document does not seem to have any information whatsoever on the matter.

2:50 pm

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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I am glad to have an opportunity to make some points on the budget. As Fianna Fáil spokesperson on transport, tourism and sport, I will focus on those areas. Needless to say, if it was not for the Brexit pantomime and debacle, this budget would not have been facilitated by Fianna Fáil. I yearn for the day when the Government is out of office because the sentence which captures its performance is that the Cabinet sees itself as a group of non-executive directors. The Minister, Deputy Ross, is clearly on a lesser rate because he is only available a couple of days per month for work on behalf of the Government. While I know he was probably busy and had to attend to other things, he spoke earlier. I am still wondering what is in the transport, tourism and sport budget.

The reality is that based on the mid-year expenditure review, we expected €2.058 billion in capital expenditure and €756 million in current expenditure, but that has not materialised. We are getting €27 million in current expenditure and we are €150 million worse off in terms of capital expenditure, which will involve the lovely word of which the Government are kings, namely, "reprofiling" certain projects. The public wants to know what projects are being shafted in the year ahead. What public transport programmes which we were expecting and were, no doubt, announced with fanfare and press releases will not be funded?

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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The Ardee bypass is one.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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I am happy to support the Deputy on the Ardee bypass, but there are Ardee bypasses all over the country. We need to be truthful with the people and tell them what is being cut. The budget does not represent an increase. The additional €350 million is to keep existing projects going forward, but we can assume that no new projects will start because no money is available. The Minister needs to outline which capital projects are now receiving lower allocations than previously indicated and what the knock-on effects of that will be to us as a nation.

There is nothing new in the budget in terms of public transport. If anything, it appears that the allocation of capital funding and public transport projects are being delayed. At the meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts today, we had the benefit of hearing from the National Transport Authority, NTA, which was able to confirm to me that there will be no additional rail capacity at all for a minimum of two full years. As things stand, there is no plan to provide additional budgets on rail routes. Hard-pressed commuters who are being stuffed into carriages will not be facilitated with a comfortable journey to their destination.

While we support the concept of embracing a carbon tax to encourage all of us to change our behaviour, what options do we have when the Government is telling us to use public transport but is not funding it or any additional capacity? It is was clear from the meeting that the Minister is presiding over a public transport system that is already stuffed and will have no capacity for a further two years when, please God, he will be long gone from the Government benches.

Similarly the Minister, in his non-executive role, said everything is a matter for everybody except him. Under Bus Éireann's commercial mandate, it is permitted by the Minister to fleece hard-pressed commuters who have already made the switch from cars to public transport. People living in Dungarvan, County Waterford, who want to get the bus to work in Cork city will pay €9 for an adult return ticket. The bus travels through Youghal and their work colleagues who live there and will travel half of the journey will pay twice the price, that is, €19 for a return ticket. This is the kind of activity the Minister supports while enjoying photocalls. He is much better than I could ever be at them but when it comes to the ground hurling, that is, the business of representing people on a daily basis and using the money that is available to his Department to provide value for money and the services we need, he is failing miserably.

Even were 100% of the budget of €520 million for the maintenance and construction of regional and local roads to go towards maintenance, which is highly unlikely, it falls far short of the Department's estimate of the cost of maintaining them. A Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport analysis shows that about €580 million is needed just to keep roads in an acceptable condition. This does not account for the very considerable backlog of works in all counties that need to be carried out. The latest National Oversight and Audit Commission, NOAC, report on the condition of roads found that 70% had surface or structural difficulties, which is a significant health and safety concern.

On the sports side, there is no doubt that the number of photocalls and medal winning chasing, to which my colleague, Deputy Cowen, referred on budget day, will increase in the year ahead. However, I am afraid that when it comes to supporting sport, the cupboard is bare. He did a nice three-card trick in terms of reducing capital expenditure on sport for the next year and putting that money onto the current expenditure side to fund the photocalls for Euro 2020 and Tokyo 2020. That is simply robbing Peter to pay Paul.

We have heard €9 million has been allocated for greenways and new urban cycling projects. As we are all aware, Fianna Fáil proposed the use of carbon tax revenues to provide infrastructure to help people reduce their carbon emissions, but this money is coming from tourism. What tangible action is the Minister taking to encourage people who can commute by cycling to do so? What tax measures is he considering to try to get people onto ebikes? Other countries which have successfully done this have schemes which write off up to 120% of the cost. We have seen no suggestion of any initiative in that regard.

Earlier this week, Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard stated in a press release that 2020 allocates a total budget of around €114 million for cycling compared with €61 million last year. Will the Minister, please, detail exactly how that increase has been brought about? His Department's press release does not provide details of this funding increase.

We support the diesel rebate scheme but there is concern among hauliers that despite the Minister's stated intentions in his budget speech that there will be full compensation for the haulage industry in the first year, the reality for the industry is that there is no such compensatory measures and the effective rebate rate will be reduced from 7.5 cent per litre to 5.8 cent per litre. We will deal with the Finance Bill next week and I ask the Minister and the Government to outline in detail how the haulage industry is to be supported in the context of the rebate scheme? According to the speech the other day, the industry is assuming a full compensatory write-off for it to be available. How will that be achieved?

We welcome the increase in tourism but the non-executive nature of the Minister, Deputy Ross, in that regard is very evident. The numbers of tourists from the UK are down, with 80% of hoteliers telling us there are fewer visitors from the UK. Research carried out by the Restaurant Association of Ireland found that tourists who come to Ireland are staying for fewer days and spending less money. This is, of course, a concern. The Chinese market comprises the people who spend the most internationally on tourism, a vast sum of €277 billion per year. That market is so important to the Minister that the tourism action plan 2019 to 2021 does not once mention China.

3 o’clock

These are just some examples of the non-executive nature embraced by the Minister with regard to his role. There is nothing in this budget that suggests anything other than that in his role as Minister, this man - this is not a personal attack - continues to reduce the level of tangible input he should have in an executive position on behalf of the people to improve people's lives. In that regard, the transport budget is a failure.

3:00 pm

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Once again, the Government is demonstrating its commitment to the Defence Forces by increasing defence spending year on year, providing more money pay and pensions and significantly increasing the capital investment in barracks, equipment and force protection.

Budget 2020 provides an additional €32.3 million towards our continual investment in the Defence Forces - people and infrastructure. For the second successive year, I have secured more than €1 billion for defence. The overall total of €1.04 billion includes €780.4 million for Vote 36 - Defence, which is an increase of €22.3 million on the 2019 provision.

As we have continuously recognised, recruitment and retention of our personnel have posed significant challenges for the Defence Forces. It is for that reason the Government asked the independent Public Service Pay Commission to examine these issues in close detail. Those recommendations have been accepted in full and will result in real and tangible benefits to our soldiers, sailors and air crew. The budget provides additional funding of €15 million for increases due under the public service stability agreement 2018 to 2020, as well as the implementation of the recommendations of the commission. The Government's commitment to actioning the report is underpinned by our implementation plan which sets out clear timelines and objectives, providing a detailed and ambitious road map to strengthening the Defence Forces. Among the measures being worked on is a review of technical pay grades 2 to 6 for specialists, with an initial focus on certain pinch points in the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps. The Government's approach ensures that, once again, defence remains fully funded for the established strength of 9,500 personnel at pay rates set through long-established processes and negotiated agreements.

I recognise the decision of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, to accept the Public Service Pay Commission's recommendations and can confirm that the increases in allowances will begin to be paid to its members in the coming weeks. The Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, is considering the commission's recommendations and I hope it will view positively the proposals, together with our implementation plan, in order that the increases will be paid to its members as soon as possible.

We will provide €259.1 million for Defence Forces pensions, an increase of €10 million, ensuring sufficient funding to meet the retirement benefits of some 12,640 former members and their dependants. The Government's commitment to defence is further demonstrated by the significant capital envelope in 2020. The capital allocation will increase by €7 million to €113 million in 2020. The overall capital allocation tor 2018 to 2022 is €541 million. This will provide funding for a range of projects, including the continued mid-life upgrade of armoured personnel carriers; the purchase of three new utility aircraft, which are scheduled for delivery in 2020; the replacement of two maritime patrol aircraft, the tender process for which is nearing completion; a mid-life refit of two Naval Service vessels; and €19 million for building projects with a further €9 million for ongoing maintenance and running costs.

We are also providing more than €2 million for the Reserve Defence Force. The Defence group Votes also include over €4 million for civil defence supporting the excellent work of volunteers and civil defence officers across the country.

Since 2016, I have secured increases in Defence Votes of more than €134 million or 15%. These increases have allowed us to increase starting pay for three star privates from €21,800 when I was appointed in 2016 to more than €28,000 and implement outstanding adjudications, meaning €50 per week more for Army rangers, €13.52 for cooks, €65.80 for certain account holders and a saving of €43.63 for recruits and apprentices. These are just some of the many improvements we have made in the past three and a half years.

I would like to address the assertion that this equates to the €32 million increase that I secured to an underspend in the pay subhead. This House and the entire country knows that Fianna Fáil has a reckless past when it comes to managing money. Here we see another example of a party that is populist, that selectively ignores the reality of the public sector pay process and that simply does not understand public finances. I thank the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for his work during the negotiations.

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the budget which was prepared in the light of the difficult challenge facing the Government in the coming weeks, namely, the possibility of a hard Brexit. From the perspective of my Department, it was important that the Minister announced a suite of supports for business, including repayable grants and lending schemes that will be available for deployment in the event of a disorderly Brexit. These are targeted at supporting vulnerable but viable firms and build on the many supports introduced by the Government in the past three years. It is noteworthy that they have been designed using the feedback of businesses and will ensure Irish enterprise is able to respond to the challenges that a no-deal Brexit presents. This is an initial tranche of emergency funding that can be built upon as circumstances evolve in consultation with the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform.

These supports will be critical in the highly vulnerable Border areas and in supporting exporters who are heavily exposed to the UK market. Supports announced by the Minister for Finance in his Budget Statement include a rescue and restructuring fund of €42 million, which is available to address the needs of firms in sectors with acute liquidity and other severe difficulties as a result of a disorderly Brexit. The funding will be provided will be provided in the form of equity or loans through Enterprise Ireland and it will be available to eligible Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and Udarás na Gaeltachta clients as well as eligible non-agency clients. A further transition fund of €45 million will support businesses in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sector ranging from food and engineering firms to business process outsourcing firms. It will help those businesses to adapt their business mode as needed and adjust to the new trading reality. This fund will be delivered also through Enterprise Ireland and available to eligible Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and Udarás na Gaeltachta clients as well as eligible non-agency clients.

Targeted supports for small and micro enterprises will also be essential to limit the impact of a disorderly Brexit. In that regard, budget 2020 includes two related measures to support these businesses. We will increase our funding to Microfinance Ireland to allow it to increase the amount that it can lend to microenterprises from €25,000 to €50,000 over a two to five-year period at a very competitive rate. Second, an emergency Brexit fund of €5 million will be available for microenterprises by way of repayable grants available through the local enterprise offices, LEOs, of up to €50,000. Such qualifying enterprises will have recourse to Microfinance Ireland where they can receive up to €50,000 in loans over a two to five-year period and if required, could avail of a further €50,000 in a repayable grant from their local enterprise office.

The Government is also introducing a transformation fund of €8 million to be administered by Enterprise Ireland. It is a grant scheme supporting larger indigenous firms to transform their business to develop new products and processes, to remain competitive and to assist in diversifying to new markets. There will be initial funding of €5 million for primary food processing companies and €3 million for non-food companies, for example, in traditional engineering sectors. Additional funding for food transformation is also being made available through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

I also welcome the taxation measures announced by the Minister for Finance specifically targeted at SMEs, including significant changes to the research and development tax credit, particularly for small and micro firms which will be able to claim a higher rate of credit of 30% and will have improved options with regard to claiming the payable credit. These firms will also be able to claim the credit for expenditure incurred in advance of commencing to trade.

Changes to the research and development tax credit scheme will help enterprises on their innovation journey and increase their productivity, which will be a key focus of the Future Jobs Ireland agenda.

I wish to be clear that the Government is determined to plan ahead and prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, notwithstanding Brexit and other international challenges such as trade wars. This is evident in recent announcements on other significant funding initiatives such as the regional enterprise development fund, the disruptive technology innovation fund and, most recently, the €2.5 million competitive fund for the local enterprise offices. All of the measures announced will ensure micro-enterprises and SMEs in every region can be prepared as soon as possible for a disorderly Brexit. They will be on the ball.

3:10 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I want to address the care of people in our society, particularly those in need of homecare packages and support. I welcome the increase in the budget of 1 million care hours, which will make a significant difference to many families. However, it does not go far enough. A number of people could not receive homecare packages where I live in County Louth. At the end of July, there were 588 people waiting for homecare packages in community health organisation, CHO, 8, which comprises counties Laois, Offaly, Longford, Westmeath, Louth and Meath. Of those, over 100 had been clinically discharged from hospital but were unable to go home. I refer to Hannah Donnelly, a young woman has been mentioned in this House before and is close to the hearts of the people of Drogheda because they know and support her and her family. She has significant medical needs. On 5 September her family were told that a homecare support package of four hours per week had been approved, but a business case had also been received and accepted. While the HSE realised the importance of reuniting Hannah with her family in a medically supportive environment, it stated it did not have the resources to approve the package. She needs 24/7 care which she is receiving in a hospital bed, but she needs to be at home. It is not good enough and not enough is being done about it.

HSE statistics which were released to me in reply to a parliamentary question show that County Meath has the longest waiting list in its CHO area. There were more people waiting for homecare packages in County Meath on 31 July than there were in counties Laois, Offaly, Longford, Westmeath and Louth combined. There is something very wrong in that regard. I welcome and support the analysis of the Home Care Coalition which highlights that where someone lives can determine what care he or she will receive. It is geographical and people in County Meath are being treated unfairly. I am particularly supportive of Sage Advocacy, ALONE, Sean Moynihan and all carers throughout the country. A commitment was given in the past to statutory homecare provision which I welcomed, but I did not see it mentioned in the Budget Statement. I have no doubt that the commitment is still in place, but I would like the Minister to reiterate it and continue to increase the hours available.

The problem of delayed discharges is not just about not getting a homecare package; in some cases there is also a lack of qualified staff to help people. The State and the HSE need to get more people working in homecare. One of my constituents has been clinically discharged, they but cannot find a skilled person who is available to meet their special homecare needs. I suggest the Government look into opening up special homecare training or upskilling courses in regional colleges or local educational facilities. People who choose to take such courses could be paid a wage on commencing their training in order to minimise the number of delayed discharges, particularly for elderly persons. The majority of those waiting for homecare packages in my area are aged over 65 years. Some might regard them as being in the autumn of their lives and they should be able to go home to spend the important months or years they might have left. Home is where their heart is, with their family and the people who love them. Keeping them in a clinical institution such as a hospital is not good for them or their families and does not make sense.

The budget has achieved many good things. It has increased homecare provision, but it is my firm belief it does not go far enough. I urge people to continue to campaign and put pressure on all of us, including me and Ministers. We all come and go in this House, but the pain of those who cannot get home or the care they need is entirely unacceptable. We must resist the bureaucracy and red tape that prevents them from receiving that care. There are too many bean-counters in the HSE and not enough people who care enough to find the money. When they have to make cuts, they should make them in their offices, rather than among their front-line staff who are not being looked after properly and need to be paid more.

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the budget which was put forward by the Minister for Finance in the House on Tuesday. I will focus on one significant aspect of the budget for County Clare and the mid-west and west. I particularly welcome the establishment of a new fund which will secure new routes for regional airports, including Shannon and Cork, Brexit or no Brexit. The new fund consists of €10 million over three years which will enable airports to secure new strategic routes. I have previously raised this matter with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Taoiseach, Shannon Group and the chambers of commerce in Ennis, Shannon, Galway and Limerick. There is an onus on the management of Shannon Airport to take full advantage of the newly established route development fund. The measure announced in the budget could play a major role in the establishment of a vital connection from Shannon to Frankfurt which could potentially provide a €412 million boost for the mid-west and west. We cannot afford to let this opportunity slip. Shannon Group has a duty to ensure the airport will receive the full benefit of this initiative.

Limerick Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with Ennis, Shannon and Galway chambers of commerce, commissioned a worthwhile report which assessed aviation policy as a driver of economic activity in the west and mid-west. One of its recommendations was the establishment of a fund such as the one to which I have referred. Much of the groundwork to establish the new strategic route from Shannon to Frankfurt has already been done, following the publication of another major report from the Danish international consultancy group Copenhagen Economics which concludes that aviation and enterprise policy must be linked if the Government is to deliver on its policy of achieving balanced regional development.

Shannon Airport adds €306 billion to Ireland's GDP and supports 43,700 jobs. Approximately 1.7 million passengers travel through it every year on 13,000 flights. This implies that at peak times, only 45% of the airport's capacity is being utilised. The spare capacity offers untapped potential to deliver balanced regional development without requiring new investments. It could also alleviate the pressure on Dublin and reduce the need for costly infrastructural spending. The Copenhagen Economics report also concludes that the establishment of a frequent route between Shannon and Frankfurt Airport, with two flights every weekday and one flight at the weekend, would generate an additional €412 million in GDP. The Government might support this route as part of its implementation of the regional spatial and economic strategy for the southern region, in which international financial services are an integral part of the smart specialisation and clustering strategy. Strengthening this connection and making it international via a new route to Frankfurt would complement the financial clusters in the west and mid-west, thus ensuring the sustainability of the route in the long term. The Copenhagen Economics report recommends a range of governmental supports and interventions amid concerns about the regional impact and dominance of Dublin Airport at the expense of other airports.

Passenger numbers at Shannon Airport have increased by more than 460,000 since 2012 when the airport became an independent entity.

In the same period Dublin Airport has increased passenger numbers by 12.4 million and Cork Airport by only 52,000. Spreading just 20% of that growth across the regions would still leave Dublin Airport with 10 million additional passengers and the regions with an additional 2.5 million. Such a move would have a far greater economic impact. I wholeheartedly welcome the €10 million route development fund and look forward to Shannon Airport capitalising on it for the benefit of the mid-west and west region in the interests of achieving balanced regional development.

One aspect of the budget about which I have concerns is the just transition fund. It is critically important that the economy of west Clare be kept under consideration in that regard. Moneypoint is a coal burning power plant and needs a just transition to support it. I have met the Minister on several occasions to discuss the issue. It is critical that the Moneypoint plant be included in the plan.

3:20 pm

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I am sharing time with Deputy Jack Chambers.

Through the confidence and supply agreement, Fianna Fáil secured an additional €105 million for mental health services in the past three years. In the budget announced last year €55 million was secured for mental health services. In the budget announced this year €39 million was announced, but it appears that €26 million of this sum is to pay for pay increases and deal with other existing service level issues. The remaining €13 million is for services at the National Forensic Mental Health Service Hospital in Portrane. While the money is welcome, in effect, this means that there is no funding available for new developments or other projects in 2020. Considering the gaps in mental health services across the country, this will come as a serious disappointment to many. It will potentially mean a year in which we will be at a standstill in mental health services.

A Mental Health Commission report, published this morning, identified the long-term neglect of people with serious and enduring mental health illnesses in the mental health system. This is just another in a regular series of reports on mental health services that have been highly critical of the gaps in services. Issues identified in the report published this morning arise regularly in my constituency clinic in Wexford. The department of psychiatry at Waterford University Hospital patches people up as best it can. Once people with mental health issues are ready to leave the department of psychiatry, there is a problem in that there are no rehabilitation places or appropriate emergency accommodation available for them. Very often they end up back on the streets or in inappropriate emergency accommodation, only to find themselves back in the department of psychiatry several months later. We end up with a revolving door system.

We are in year 13 of a ten-year mental health strategy known as A Vision for Change. Barely over 50% of the staff recommended are in place. For people with intellectual disabilities and a mental illness, there are less than 10% of the staff recommended in place. In many regions there are no staff available to deal with people suffering from intellectual disabilities and a mental illness. This means that other sectors of the mental health service have to pick up the slack, which creates pressure points and serious issues. In its 2016 manifesto Fine Gael proposed expanding significantly the Jigsaw programme. When I was elected in 2016, the talk was that a Jigsaw service would open in County Tipperary within a few months. That still has not occurred. No other Jigsaw services have opened in the entire time, which is simply unacceptable.

We were promised a review and an update of the 2001 Mental Health Act. When it was introduced, it was considered to be a model progressive Act. However, it needs to be updated with a modern understanding of mental health. Unqualified consultants are practising as consultant psychiatrists, something which has been condemned regularly by the President of the High Court. That issue has not been addressed.

The majority of mental health facilities across the country remain unregulated and uninspected. The Mental Health Commission has not been given the powers it needs. This year we had the shocking situation where the mental health service at St. Luke’s in Kilkenny was being prosecuted in the District Court for a lack of care for some of the most vulnerable patients in the hospital. Suicide remains the greatest cause of death among young people aged between 15 and 24 years. Primary care psychology waiting lists are shocking. The number of anti-depressant prescriptions is on the increase because general practitioners see no other options or pathways to get people help in mental health services.

In the replies to parliamentary questions several weeks ago we found out that €24 million of the funding for mental health services had gone unspent so far this year. This morning the Minister for Health said money would be spent as needed. Money is desperately needed in mental health services. The Minister claimed money was not an issue in solving mental health issues. There is no lack of policy. All that is left is implementation and oversight, both of which are significantly lacking across the entire Government portfolio, not just in mental health services. We end up with a mental health service which patches people up, puts them out on the road, only to see them come back again some months later. We need significant changes in mental health services.

There has been a failure to develop a small and medium-sized enterprise sector. Ireland is a small open economy which is vulnerable to what happens in the international economy. In recent years we have had the economic winds behind our back, with record low interest rates on our debts. The European Central Bank has introduced quantitative easing and there has been strong global demand for our products. All of this has led to a significant bounce in the corporation tax yield, well ahead of anything predicted several years ago. However, 45% of all corporation tax now comes from only ten companies. This is unhealthy and dangerous as the money could disappear overnight. It is similar to the situation with stamp duty 12 years ago.

The economy needs to be rebalanced. There is a need for greater emphasis on the small and medium-sized enterprise sector and indigenous firms. We need to make Ireland an attractive place in which to innovate, as well as to start and grow small and medium-sized enterprises. Many of the Government’s supports for the sector are too complicated or unsuitable. There is too much red tape for firms to negotiate. While the improvement in the self-employed tax credit announced in the budget is to be welcomed, it has still not been equalised. Insurance costs are crippling firms and have doubled for many businesses. Some businesses must self-insure, while many festivals have been cancelled owing to the lack of insurance coverage. The Government needs to take this issue seriously. It must not just come up with plans but must implement them too. Insurance awards in the courts are simply too high. Fraudsters and exaggerators fear no consequences. There continues to be a lack of transparency in the insurance industry.

The south-east region has the highest rate of unemployment. I have raised this matter continually with the Minister, but there seems to be no focus or sense of urgency to address it. In Wexford we have few IDA Ireland jobs and little IDA Ireland land. Those employed in the south east are on low incomes and the quality of jobs is poor. We need to see higher quality jobs in the south east. We must provide the necessary training to ensure people can take on those quality jobs when they are provided.

There is a serious lack of targeting the south east. Rosslare Europort receives two small mentions in the Ireland 2040 plan. There is no mention of any project in the plan for the south east, save for two motorways which were already planned, paid for and practically built under the previous Government. Rosslare Europort has not been brought up on a single occasion by any Minister when dealing with the United Kingdom on Brexit. The United Kingdom technically still owns Rosslare Europort under a convoluted and age-old ownership model. Having met the UK Transport Secretary at Westminster last summer, I understand the British Government is quite happy to separate Fishguard and Rosslare and hand Rosslare back to the Irish Government. However, there is no interest in this happening. Over €100 million was invested in Dublin Port, from which ships were turned away fthis summer, yet Rosslare Europort is operating at 40% capacity. It should be thriving.

There has been little or no advancement in the development of a technological university for the south east. What is happening? When I was at Waterford Institute of Technology in the 1990s, we were told that it would be the university for the south east, but there seems to have been no advancement whatsoever. Without a university in the south east, the economy of the region cannot be addressed because if one wants to attract international companies, they need to know that there is university training available for their employees as and when they will need it.

I want to address the issue of the disability training allowance of €31.80 per week. It was cut for new entrants this year. It costs people with a disability more to undergo training to find work because it costs them more to live, particularly for transport. I cannot understand the reason the cut was made as the allowance involved little cost. It seems miserly and I was disappointed when it was not reversed in the budget. The rehabilitative training allowance allowed people with disabilities an opportunity to move from education to employment. It is most regrettable, therefore, that it has not been restored.

3:30 pm

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on the budget.

I will start with the Department of Defence. Unfortunately, the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, has left us, but he brought spin about his supposed €32 million. It is important to contextualise that, based on last year's budget but also on what the allocation is this year. According to the response to a parliamentary question, the savings so far this year on pay amount to €24 million. There also were savings on the capital allocation in the Department of Defence of €28 million, which brings the savings to €52 million. Therefore, in the budgetary allocation for Defence this year, €52 million has gone unspent while we have seen a considerable exodus from the Defences Forces because of pay and conditions, issues with accommodation, infrastructure and a general malaise and morale difficulties under the Minister of State's watch. It is shameful that the Minister of State speaks about apparent recklessness across this House when he has had a reckless tenure in the Department of Defence. He stood over the biggest exodus we have ever seen and he still sits there and defends the indefensible. The Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, for example, has provided the percentage allocations. If one looks at the Department of Defence, the percentage allocation as a proportion of GDP has reduced, year on year. Last year, it was 0.29% of GDP. Next year, it will be 0.27% of GDP. That demonstrates how the Defence budget is shrinking compared to other allocations in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

I was surprised to see the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, thank the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. It should have been Deputy Donohoe thanking Deputy Kehoe because there is a return year on year from the Department of Defence to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The members of the Defence Forces will not be fooled by the roll-over that happens year on year where the Government will pretend to give them over €1 billion but actually will roll over last year's allocation into next year, as if one cannot do the sums. It is an insult to members of the Defence Forces that the Government pretends to hand a greater allocation to them when we know that is not the case.

Beneath the serious issues in terms of the macroeconomic allocation to Defence, the pay and conditions that have been well demonstrated and the general morale difficulties, there are other serious issues, for example, around accommodation. The Minister of State pretends that another €7 million will be thrown at that issue next year but if one looks at the Curragh Camp and at many of the barracks across the State, they have crippling infrastructure that is not being addressed. As for the abolition of the 4th Western Brigade, which was based near the constituency of the Acting Chairman, Deputy Eugene Murphy, in Roscommon and Westmeath, serious issues have arisen whereby the infrastructure is collapsing. The Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, will not achieve much success with his budgetary allocation for next year. We still have an allocation for a consultant psychiatrist for the Department of Defence but we have spent the past 12 months waiting for that appointment. Because of the failure to address the issues in terms of the appointment procedures, a psychiatrist has not been appointed.

The Minister of State will forgive soldiers and their families for scratching their heads when they know that over €50 million has gone unspent this year. When the Defence budget is an exercise in public relations, PR, and spin, in recycling previously recycled promises and of unspent millions of euro, the Minister of State is, yet again, misleading the budgetary allocation. It is magic promised money that I worry will never be spent to improve the pay and conditions of the serving men and women. In fact, the Minister of State was bragging again here in his five minutes and I note only five minutes were taken by the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, which demonstrates how little he has to say about the men and women he pretends to represent. The Minister of State has increased the pension allocation, not because the members of the Defence Forces are getting any more in pension allocations but because he is funding the exodus. When more are leaving and the turnover is greater, there is a greater necessity to fund the pension allocations. What was needed in this budget was significant investment in retention initiatives in order that one could fund issues related to pay and conditions to keep the men and women working in the Defence Forces rather than trying to increase the pension allocation, which is what the Minister of State has done again this year, not because any individual is getting any more but because the exodus will continue. Soldiers will be very disappointed, but even more disappointed that, beyond the shallow rhetoric and spin, there will be little delivery again in the Department of Defence next year.

There should have been consideration given - my party put it forward in its submission as part of the discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform - to have an independent pay review body to reflect the unique nature of military service. Members of the Defence Forces cannot strike. They cannot join a union. They are at the Government's beck and call when some other workers might strike and when they are called to deliver for this country or to deliver on our international obligations. That proposal was rejected by Fine Gael, which seems to have no interest in delivering for the Defence Forces.

I will move to other issues. It was important that the Government announced measures around the carbon tax and that we have hypothecation. It is important that a hypothecated fund is established in legislation so that it can fund specific measures related to carbon change and the just transition. However, as a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, I was extremely disappointed to see one of the committee's key recommendations, namely, a fuel poverty review, ignored and neglected by the Government. If key recommendations within the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment are to be ignored and neglected, we face a worrying future in terms of green policies. The Government should follow the letter of the recommendations rather than picking and choosing measures. We need to move beyond discussing a carbon tax but should also look at key other measures that could be delivered for people.

In terms of healthcare, we again saw the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, bragging about his bloated budget. Supplementary Estimates are required year on year, with Fine Gael pretending to be prudent but not being able to manage health spending. The key metric for healthcare is delivery. Waiting lists continue to expand, clinical front-line services are collapsing and we are not able to fill key positions across the consultant posts. The medical community was disappointed to be ignored, yet again, by the Fine Gael Government when it comes to delivering on filling the many vacant posts. As my colleague, Deputy Browne, mentioned, there are many people working in consultant posts who potentially are misrepresenting their level of training whereby they are apparent consultants but have not fulfilled the specialist training. Nothing will be done to change that next year.

The delivery in healthcare is about reduced waiting times. It is about increased diagnostics. It is about people who have profound disabilities getting access and intervention. We talk about cradle-to-grave healthcare, but in this budget we have seen no detail of how that will change for people with disabilities or with educational needs. We have people at the age of two or three who may wait five years for a key intervention in terms of occupational therapy, speech and language therapy or seeing a paediatrician for the first time. That is the key in this regard. When can the Government reduce the waiting times to deliver for people with disabilities? When can it reduce the need for people to be displaced and put on home tuition because the Government will not fund their needs within schools? Those are the key issues that have not been delivered in this budget.

I want to mention some other issues. This is a do-nothing budget when it comes to transport infrastructure. In my constituency, we have major capacity issues across our bus and rail network. It will be more of the same next year. More people want to change to public transport and use the existing capacity but when they have to launch themselves onto congested trains or watch buses driving past them, there is major disappointment. This Government seems to be ignoring the concerns expressed across the county of Dublin about the BusConnects project and the difficulties in terms of routes. An expert from London came before the Joint Committee on Climate Action. She was very surprised that Ireland is not integrating cycling facilities with rail and bus services. We are pursuing the singular BusConnects project rather than integrating a new public transport regime for the city.

The budget was overshadowed by Brexit. As a party, it was important that Fianna Fáil played its role in providing stability and a responsible approach. Even if we did not have Brexit to deal with, this Government had to retrench following its bloating of public expenditure. We have seen that year on year. There have been many promises about tax cuts and throwing money at problems but the issue the people have is that they are not seeing delivery in key areas. That will be the measure of this Government whenever we come to the ballot box.

I call Deputy James Browne.

3:40 pm

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I have spoken.

The Deputy has already shared time.

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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Yes.

We will go, then, to Deputy Brendan Ryan.

Photo of Brendan  RyanBrendan Ryan (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
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I am sharing time with Deputy Penrose; ten minutes each. This budget is another insipid and uninspiring one from a Government that has been living on borrowed time almost since it came into being in 2016. Four budgets, backed all the way by Fianna Fáil, have now been presented by this Government but they have done nothing to move this country forward or to change much-needed approaches to housing or health. Instead, these budgets have been a stage production between the Government and Fianna Fáil, a production aimed at keeping the show on the road rather than carrying out the real work of transforming Ireland.

At the beginning of the Government's term, the excuses for this cosy arrangement was to avoid a so-called unwanted general election. In recent years, the excuse of Brexit has been used to keep this peculiar arrangement in place. All these reasons, however valid or believed, have ultimately run their course. This Government cannot remain in power and do nothing to fix the problems we face.

This is not a housing budget, despite there being a housing crisis. It is not a health budget, despite a crisis in our health system. This is not a childcare budget, despite the fundamental problems that exist in the childcare sector. In fact, this is hardly a budget at all. It is a statement of tepid and uninspiring measures aimed at keeping the political waters calm in advance of an election showdown between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. It is party before country, and the country continues to suffer.

I judge a budget by how it will affect the people I represent, the people of Fingal who I meet at the doors, in my clinics and on the street. This budget again fails my Fingal test. The main issue I am dealing with day in and day out is housing. It is the issue of our times but one would never know it with this budget. The housing allocation does not seem to recognise that Ireland has a housing crisis. For example, €1.1 billion was allocated for the construction, acquisition and leasing of only 11,000 new social homes. However, recent figures put the number of homeless in Ireland at more than 10,300, and it is consistently rising. The Economic and Social Research Institute estimates that new home building rates need to be between 30,000 and 35,000 a year to address and get ahead of the housing problem. Social houses are a necessary part of providing people with available housing, and the delivery of 11,000 new social houses will still fall short of meeting the social housing need. In addition, the Government has consistently failed to meet any housing targets it has set for itself. As a result, we do not have any confidence that it will reach its own inadequate targets in this respect. When the State does not step in to provide further housing opportunities, people are left to the mercy of the private housing market and subsequently find themselves in tenuous or short-term housing situations at best and unable to afford anything better. Overall, an attempt is being made in this budget to address emergency accommodation situations yet those who have housing but who are nonetheless in a vulnerable state are being neglected.

An additional €80 million has been allocated towards the housing assistance payment, HAP. However, that will primarily benefit private landlords and do little to relieve the situation of those using HAP. HAP tenants are limited by rent maximums and, due to ever-increasing rent prices, finding eligible tenancies is increasingly difficult, as all Members are aware. HAP is an important measure. It replaced rent allowance, which was a poverty trap for thousands of people. HAP, however, is not a long-term solution and including HAP figures in housing targets needs to end. They are not long-term, secure homes.

In general, this budget allocates money towards helping the homeless while falling short of helping those about to become homeless. The €20 million for homeless services will be distributed among emergency accommodation, prevention measures and day services. While some funding for emergency accommodation is necessary, these accommodations provide an insecure, short-term Band-Aid for the housing crisis. There must be an increased focus on more sustainable housing solutions for families.

Only €2 million additional funding has been allocated to the Residential Tenancies Board for investigating and sanctioning non-compliance with the rent pressure zone measures. The non-compliance with rent pressure zones by some landlords is a real problem and is the reason we need a national rent freeze. We did it twice in Government and it needs to be done again. No zones, no exemptions. A nationwide rent freeze is needed. We support it, as do many Members on this side of the House, but it seems that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil do not.

Overall, there is no comfort for those waiting for social or affordable public housing. Fianna Fáil says it is the party of affordable housing. The fact is that it is yet again supporting a budget and a Government which is placing the market front and centre to resolving the housing crisis. What is the reason for that? It is because that is what Fianna Fáil wants also. It is comfortable with a market-based solution because it is the party that gave the provision of housing to the market in the first place. The Irish Council for Social Housing described the budget as deaf to the demand for investment in public housing. That is spot on.

On health, we had many big numbers from the Minister. In any other Department that would be seen as positive. The current expenditure in health is set to increase by 6.3% in 2020. An additional €25 million is to be invested in the National Treatment Purchase Fund to reduce the waiting lists. There will be a €25 increase in the weekly income threshold for GP visit cards, prescription charges will be reduced by 50 cent and the monthly threshold for the drug payment scheme will be reduced by €10 per month. Medical card income thresholds for people over 70 are to be increased by €50 for a single person or €150 for a couple. Some €84 million will be allocated for mental health services. There is a plan to expand free GP care to children under eight and free dental care to under children under six.

We welcome many of these changes but, overall, only an extra €1 billion has been allocated to health in this budget. An extra €4.5 billion has been allocated since this Government came to office. Have we seen the benefit of that extra funding? Have we seen the accident and emergency crisis ended or reduced? We have not. Have we seen waiting lists diminish for occupational therapy or for youth mental health assessments and treatments? We have not. With all this money invested in health, why was the rehabilitative training grant cut in August? Can the Minister tell us where that money has gone? In terms of reform of the health service, I wish Paul Reid well in his work. The Minister is spinning this healthcare budget as the beginning of Sláintecare delivery, but it is not. It is another €1 billion into a system that is broken.

Childcare remains a huge burden for many parents. The costs are exorbitant and rising, and the childcare measures in the budget do not go far enough. In a so-called Brexit budget, childcare should be a priority. If a difficult Brexit causes unemployment, childcare will be essential if parents are to spend time retraining or searching for new jobs. Childcare has another element which the Labour Party has been advocating for, that is, investment in the workforce. Childcare is, in fact, early years learning. The practitioners in this area, who look after our children and grandchildren and who are entrusted with our most precious resource, are treated very shabbily. They are disrespected by a State that sees them as nappy-changers, not educators. That results in high attrition rates among staff in early years learning. They are overworked, underpaid and undervalued.

Many have to leave the industry to reskill due to injury and fatigue. I advise the Government to look at the Big Start campaign from SIPTU, which we fully support. It is a campaign of intellectual rigour. We need a vision for an early years learning system which prepares children for primary education, one in which workers are organised and respected. There is no reason we cannot have the best early years education service in Europe.

We have passionate workers who want to learn and want to be valued, but the Government is ignoring them and keeping parents in a state of financial hardship in this area. In Dublin, crèche costs can top €1,000 per month. That is yet another scandal which the Government is too shy to tackle.

The real kick in the teeth in this budget is the Government's decision to delay the increase in the minimum wage by 30 cent. This is mean and it is tone deaf to the real needs of low-pay workers in this country. What we need is a living wage but when we cannot even deliver a modest increase in the minimum wage it shows where the Government's priorities lie.

In my portfolio of defence, it is welcome to see an increase in the budget by an extra €32.3 million, roughly half of which will cover expected pay rises and the return of some allowances. There is also an increase in capital expenditure, which I hope will be reinvested in the barracks to improve the conditions in which Defence Forces personnel live and work throughout the country. However, it will not be enough. The State is so far behind in meeting the needs of our Defence Forces that while an increase is welcome, it will not go near enough to resolve the ongoing indignity suffered by our Defence Forces when it comes to pay and conditions. I will conclude on that point and share the remaining time with my colleague.

3:50 pm

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I thank the Deputy for sharing his time. We in the Labour Party are acutely aware that on the cusp of Brexit, the Government had to set out some robust measures to protect jobs in the economy as a result of Brexit but it missed opportunities to promote economic equality and to significantly invest in climate change measures and social housing in particular, as well as to make provision for people with disabilities and our children in order to build a more equal and inclusive society. People have waited long enough for a full social recovery to follow the economic recovery. We have to address clear inequalities, for example, issues such as low pay across services and society in general, not least in our Defence Forces or the fact that many people cannot keep up with ever increasing costs in housing, childcare and health services, as alluded to by Deputy Brendan Ryan.

A no-deal Brexit clearly places existing jobs at risk. The precautionary moneys put aside by the Government is appropriate to deal with this in an anticipatory fashion. It is easier to save existing jobs and businesses rather than create new ones and where jobs are lost, it is essential to help people to get back into work as soon as possible. Loans to such businesses vulnerable to Brexit and which provide essential liquidity should be allocated at a 0% rate so as to assist those businesses in a very positive way and prevent them from going bust. Extra funding for retraining and upskilling initiatives is vitally important to support workers, particularly in the agrifood and tourism sectors as they prepare for the future, if Brexit becomes a reality.

There is no point in the Minister for Finance simply talking about this being a Brexit budget, the economy is bigger than that and the society is wider. He cannot completely ignore the concern of those who will be most impacted by the burden of a no-deal, which is what happened last Tuesday. They were totally disregarded. Pensioners, vulnerable groups in receipt of welfare payments as well as working and farming families have been completely left behind, while the banks interests have been protected yet again by Fine Gael with Fianna Fáil's consent. Why were the corporations that bankrupted the economy able to escape an increase in the bank levy? Why were the uses of losses to reduce their tax payments to zero over many years not examined, reviewed and curtailed so as to secure additional tax from them? That is an important issue.

The ESRI has predicted that in the case of a no-deal Brexit - which the Taoiseach has admitted is now is a likely scenario - the cost will be up to €1,360 per household. Let us be clear, this will add up to €26 per week to the cost of the weekly shopping for families, pensioners and those who are less well off. Specifically, households in the lowest income group would face a 4% increase compared to 2.4% for the highest income group. The price rises will not be on luxury goods. The will be on the children's cereals, bread and the pensioners' tea and biscuits. These are normal day-to-day goods that we all need. The reality is that a no-deal Brexit would predominantly affect low-wage workers, pensioners and those in receipt of welfare payments who spend disproportionately more of their money on these basic items. Yet, if a deal is arrived at in the end and we avoid a no-deal Brexit, the price of inflation alone next year is estimated to be 1.5%. Whatever way we look at it, it is disgraceful that there will be no social welfare increases for the likes of pensioners and those vulnerable groups in society.

The targeted interventions championed by the Government simply do not go far enough and, yet again, it is those who are most in need who have been abandoned. The Labour Party proposed in an alternative budget a €5 per week increase in welfare payments across the board and I strongly suggest this be implemented to ensure that no one is left behind by a chaotic Brexit. I know €338 million has been provided in the social welfare budget for an increase in unemployment which may arise as a result of Brexit. If that does not happen, a supplementary budget should be introduced to ensure that a social welfare payment is paid out next March to provide for those people who have been left behind.

I welcome the provision in the budget increasing the number of hours from 15 to 18.5 per week that carers can work or study outside the home. It is important we continue the focus upon and improve the lot of carers. As I have said previously, the abolition of the means test is the only way to go. I will not rest until this is achieved.

As Deputy Brendan Ryan mentioned, the Labour Party would have increased the minimum wage by 30 cent to €10.10 regardless of Brexit. I recall the first thing I did in 2011 when I was in government and given charge of this matter was to reverse the cut that had been made to the minimum wage in 2010. People forget those things that the Labour Party did. Those receiving the minimum wage are predominantly female, young people and migrants. They are also predominantly employed in the hospitality sector, in restaurants and hotels, and in the retail sector which will be directly impacted by Brexit. As recently as July, at the ICTU conference, the Taoiseach stated that the minimum wage would pass the "psychological barrier" of €10 in 2020. Yet, on budget day, we saw no action. Yesterday, we heard the Taoiseach admit that minimum wage increases do not result in job losses. Yet in almost the same breath he stated the reason for delaying the increase was due to the potential of job losses in the context of Brexit. It is nonsensical. The reality is that Brexit is being used as an excuse to avoid giving a decent pay for a decent day's work to those who deserve it. That must be tackled head-on.

With respect to community employment and Tús schemes, we need to give people opportunities to work in the community and voluntary sector, especially people who have been unemployed for a long time. The Tús scheme needs to be extended for those participating on it to a two-year period. We need to cut out the nonsense of placements being for one year. It is a load of bureaucracy. The participants should be allowed to have two years on the scheme. I know a man who has to leave his placement under the scheme today. He is a person who is wanted in his position and the whole community are begging for him to be kept on. Because there is a shower of bureaucrats in place who do not know the price of anything, regulations such as that one are brought in.

With respect to the reform of the means test, we in the Labour Party believe in the universal provision of the public services. The current means test processes applying to people's eligibility for social housing, disability support, carer's allowance, social welfare payments and medical cards involve a maze of complexity. The whole system needs to be reviewed, root and branch, and merged into a single means test that would apply across all Departments and facilitate the streamlined availability of services. The carer's allowance payment, for example, is calculated as part of the assessment of rent payable by people in receipt of the housing assistance payment, HAP. I cannot believe it. All grants and entitlements should be simplified. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection should take the opportunity to ditch JobPath on the next contract renewal date. It has failed to meet its targets and is a disaster.

None of us seriously doubts the need for Ireland to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but this transformation must be done gradually and in a way that creates new sustainable jobs, especially in the regions such as the midlands region, where I come from. I welcome the allocation of €31 million as a start to help the midlands area where more than 2,000 people are employed in Bord na Móna and many are employed in the offshoot industries and are engaged in harvesting and producing peat and supplying it to the ESB. This is only a start. The midlands region has most to lose in the shift away from fossil fuels and people had better know that.

As we have almost 140,000 council houses nationally, the Government has to invest in a more ambitious programme of energy efficiency retrofitting, which is why we have always stated in our election programme that we would commit to a €100 million per year in carbon tax revenues to bring all council housing up to the appropriate standard.

In order to encourage people to use utilise public transport there must be a 10 % reduction in public transport fares. That would cost €54 million. We need to increase the public service obligation subsidy for public and rural transport. With respect to the Minister, Deputy Ross, we have a railway station at Thomastown, Killucan that would also serve Raharney. An investment of €1.8 million would put that back in use. We have platforms and everything there. Thousands of people travel eastwards past the constituencies of the Deputies' opposite every day as make they way to work. They travel from Mullingar, east Westmeath and the surrounding areas to and from Dublin to go to work or college. The Minister is as stubborn as a mule. He hears or sees nothing, particularly anything that is right. If Iarnród Éireann was given a push, it could use some Border, midlands and western regional money and put that station back into use. In terms of decarbonisation, how many cars would the provision of that rail service take off the road? It would reduce the number of cars clogging up the N4 and M50 and it would give people a bit of peace as they travel to and from work. It is a nonsense not to do that. It just shows the lack of joined-up thinking and the stupidity sometimes of bureaucrats and sometimes of Ministers.

4 o’clock

If Deputy Ross is a Minister worth his salt at all, he will do his own thing. Of course, as he is only into photo opportunities and photo bombing, he does not know what is going on. I am sick and tired of looking at him. This might be my last chance at a budget speech to tell the truth to those guys, although I will have a lot more to say when I am leaving. There are a few people I want to have a right shot at.

Farming is an area about which I know a lot. This budget provides €650 million for a Brexit fund, with €110 million going to farming, to be triggered immediately in the event of no deal, and a similar level of funding being secured from the European Commission. There is an €85 million fund for beef farmers. We all know that beef farmers have suffered over the past three years and that prices have dropped again, with €3.45 per kilo being quoted, so prospects are very poor. There is €45 million for the beef data and genomics programme, €40 million for a target scheme based on the beef scheme, which is about €40 per calf, a €10 million vaccination programme at €20 per calf, and a €10 million calf-to-beef weighing programme, which in its new form will be some €10 per calf.

Let us take a look at the beef exceptional aid measure, BEAM, where only €80 million of the €100 million was utilised this year. It is a scheme designed to fail. Do not get me started again about the bureaucrats. This seems anything but user-friendly. I have received a letter from a father and son who are farming in Mayo, the part of the country from which the Acting Chairman comes. He knows a great deal about farming and it is a pity he is not in the Department because he might get something done. The letter is from people who are doing everything right. Some 90% of their heifers calved between 22 and 26 months, they had ICBF calving reports, they are members of the local Teagasc knowledge transfer discussion group and they followed Teagasc's advice and increased investment this year. They are struggling financially on the beef farm because the merchant credit will have to be carried forward to 2020, which is almost unprecedented on the farm. Like many other firms, the beef crisis has hit this farm hard. They applied for BEAM because this is an exceptional period of their farming careers and the compensation is badly needed to pay off the merchant credit. However, their main concern with the scheme, which I mentioned to the Minister, although he must put plugs in his ears because he hears nothing, is that it requires a 5% reduction in organic nitrogen based on a reference year from July 2018 to June 2019. Farmers like this father and son have been building stock numbers during this time and they were cleared this year when their ICBF report was furnished. However, the 5% reduction that is to take place between July 2020 and June 2021 would be a 20% reduction in their herd because they have been building stock numbers since then. They are building a sustainable farming system based on Teagasc advice and funded by the Department through TAMS, and they are now asked to reduce stock by 5%, which will reverse the farm to where it was five years ago and lead to a far more unsustainable system.

I request the Department not to impose this 5% reduction in organic nitrogen and allow the exceptional aid measure to do exactly what it said on the tin and to be used for what it is meant to be used, which is to compensate farmers for poor beef prices and help beef farmers to raise the price. The Department has been providing TAMS funding to keep their current stocking rate and to meet bank repayments. They are at a loss to know why they have received funding, on the one hand, to develop the farm and then, on the other, why they are asked to reduce their stock. BEAM was to compensate farmers for the beef crisis of 2018 and the scheme should be allowed to do that and nothing more. I only hope that some of those officials up there, some of whom went to college with me and are getting near retirement age, will listen to what I am saying about the BEAM programme, remodel it and remove that 5% reduction. It is a disaster. That is why nobody is taking it up and some €20 million is being handed back. Mother of divine intervention, what is the Department doing bringing forward schemes when it knows they are not going to work and the money is going to come back?

I could speak for an hour, like the Acting Chairman can. When he is in full flow, he is very hard to stop.

4:00 pm

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I agree with much of the second part of Deputy Penrose's contribution. On the budget, anybody would welcome the extension to the threshold for medical card holders aged over 70 and for children under eight years of age to access a doctor or dental treatment. The worrying part is that we now hear doctors stating that nothing was agreed, so I presume that needs to be resolved.

When we go through the budget, we can see that much of it is unimaginative. I accept, however, that Brexit has been a major factor. To start with the agricultural side, stamp duty is crippling for the small farmer who goes to a bank to put a few pounds together. This year is no different, particularly in light of the fact that 1.5% is being added to it. Why do we not try to change this? The EU is supposed to be based on a foundation of protecting the family farm. Why do we not give an escape route to somebody with under 100 acres and who wants to buy 20 acres more to make their family farm more sustainable instead of crucifying them with another €1,500 or €3,000 on any bit of land they might buy? I have no problem with the conglomerates or the large operators who buy big office blocks having to pay an extra per cent. However, for someone in a rural area who would buy a shop and open a door, for someone who would open a pub - many of which have closed unfortunately - or for someone who might buy a few acres of land to make sure that they stay in an area, why do we not have imaginative thinking to try to help those people to put on a light, open a door and perhaps make a small rural town more vibrant or make a small farming area more viable?

The carbon tax is a real bugbear of mine because it is put on the people of rural Ireland. The position needs to be clarified in light of the different statements coming out in the past three days. Those in the agricultural sector were told on the evening of the budget that carbon tax will not be applied to green diesel. Let us be very clear, because we now have all the information from Revenue, that there has been a carbon tax of €20 per tonne on green diesel up to now and the new carbon tax is going to be added to that. Then, the story came out that contractors and farmers would not be hit with it. The reality is that an agricultural contractor will have to pay the carbon tax in its present form. The Government should look again at this. Let us show a bit of common sense about it. Some 95% of work carried out on farms is done by the agricultural contractors. They are not going to be swallowing this tax because many of them are struggling, and they are going to hand it on. They are going to hand it on to a sector that, as everybody has seen in the past seven or eight weeks, especially in the context of beef and sheep, is struggling. Why we do not have an allowance for that, I cannot understand. I will try to put in an amendment when this goes to committee because we need common sense.

The people in rural parts of Ireland have fewer buses and we know the debacle that has taken place with regard to buses in the last three or four months, with the eligibility criteria and parents having to bring their children to school. In addition, people have to drive 30, 40 and 50 miles to get to work in different parts of the country. No one will be shocked if they live in Roscommon, Galway or the midlands that they could be driving 40 or 50 miles, with some people driving as far as Maynooth every day. It would be great if there was a bus or a train that would shoot them up and shoot them down again when they finish work, but we do not have one on the hour, every hour. It is basically taking the money out of the pockets of these people. These are the people in what I call middle Ireland who, year in, year out, are crucified. They pay their mortgages and put kids through secondary school and college, but they are being fleeced every time. Everyone says we are going to poverty-proof this person, that person and the other person. The reality is they are never poverty-proofed and they are now, in my opinion, the new poor in Ireland. This is a discriminatory tax against people living in rural Ireland, who have no options and no services. If the services are there, a person cannot be cribbing. However, when those services are not there, it is different. People would take a photo of a bus in my area if they saw one - that is the reality.

While €3 million is being provided for rural transport, that is for the whole country. We must put this into perspective. What does it cost to run one bus in Dublin for a year? Dublin needs infrastructure as well. I am the first to say that.

There is uproar about the carbon tax, especially among contractors, because it is hitting farmers, who are in a difficult situation. Unfortunately, farmers are price-takers. Everyone has to eat and all that food is hauled by lorries around the country. The carbon tax will affect that. We do not seem bothered about the big money-spinner. People in rural parts of the country have no choice as to where they work. It is a question of where they can get jobs and sustain a family. They do, however, have a choice as to whether to go to Lanzarote or Kerry. That is the choice they have. The airlines can well afford to take a bit of the hit.

Regarding agriculture, I welcome the €85 million for the beef sector in the budget but, to be honest, if there is a hard Brexit, we will need a lot of €85 million packages or about 100,000 farmers will not survive, unfortunately. We must ensure we tackle that head on. I note that the Minister has said there will be more moneys provided in the case of a hard Brexit. I welcome that but we need to keep the finger on the pulse. The money that was unspent - it is not new money - on the sheep sector needs to be divvied out as well.

Some 14% or 15% of the country is in designated areas. There are 38 different notifiable actions. Farmers are not able to farm their land in the same way as someone up or down the road from them. Negotiations have gone on over the past six or seven months. They needed €10 million but I see that in the budget the figure has gone from €600,000 to €1 million. Let us be honest; that will not resolve this problem. I encourage the Minister to do one thing. I see that €10 million is to be provided for a new dairy calf to beef weighing scheme. Why do we not think outside the box? We will have a major problem next spring when between 1.3 million and 1.5 million calves born in the dairy herd in a matter of two or three months. Why do we not give the €10 million to the people who can export these calves and get as many of them as possible out of the country? This would make the sector sustainable by ensuring the factories are not flooded again. When the factories know there are heaps of cattle, they can give whatever price is taken.

Regarding the €1.2 million to be provided to Bord Bia, it better start showing something for the amount of money it gets. All it could do in recent months was ensure that meat processors got Bord Bia quality assurance in England and the North, places where we could not send cattle beforehand. Ironically enough, I note that two of the main meat processors did not share a stand with Bord Bia at the biggest food fair in the world. It is worrying that they had their own stand.

There is nothing for the areas of natural constraint, ANC, scheme. Before the crash, when Fianna Fáil was in power, the maximum annual payment was something like €4,000. The maximum payment is still only €3,200 or €3,300 now and it was not increased in the budget. The Minister should forget about weighing calves or sending them from beef to dairy. A certain number of calves will go - nobody is saying they will not - but we should bring in an incentive because people like incentives and exporters love them. We could give farmers a payment of €10 for every calf they get out of the country. This could alleviate a major problem. The problem is not this year but a year or two down the road. We should ensure we meet the highest animal welfare standards when doing this.

There is a lot of talk at present about Bord na Móna and the midlands. There is only one solution. I sat with Bord na Móna a year ago. It put a lovely glossy document in front of me and told me how it would do all these lovely things and how nobody would ever lose a job. A few months later, I heard that Donnelly's coal yard in Galway was closed. What did the lovely glossy magazine I saw propose? Redundancy. Then there was a similar closure in Sligo. What did Bord na Móna propose? Redundancy. Then it wanted 450 more people and there were further redundancies. This was the new way of creating new jobs. We can throw money at whatever we like. People were told nine months ago there would be a just transition in the years from 2018 to 2025 and now they are being told the doors will close next Christmas. That is what is facing some of these people under the current scenario and plan. I am not worried about An Bord Pleanála or the Environmental Protection Agency. I am worried about people's jobs. We are supposed to be legislators. We must do whatever is needed to ensure a just transition for workers in Bord na Móna in the period until 2025, or 2027 as was predicted. All those workers bought into that plan and they cannot be left hung out to dry.

The €20 million for retrofitting is great - no one is saying it is not. I live in Galway, however, and someone else may live in Donegal. I could be a contractor retrofitting houses. If I am the cheapest, I will get the contract. Let us not cod ourselves that a Bord na Móna worker will be guaranteed to get the contract. The same applies to the rewetting of bogs, for which €5 million has been provided. This is a subject I know a good bit about. Rewetting has taken place on some of the designated bogs. If a bog has to be lined, there will be fewer people working on the site. I read today an article in one of the newspapers that 120 people would be involved. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will understand better than everyone else, anyone rewetting a bog with peat will need a digger and using a digger means putting in a scraw to block a drain. That €5 million will be spent in 240 days using 17 diggers, and that does not include the cost of materials. There are no ifs or buts about that. By the way, a digger is operated by one person, not three people, and that person pulls the levers. That is how it works. No one is denying that large areas can be covered but that is achievable with 17 people in 17 diggers. Once we subtract those 17 from the 1,600 figure, we will still need to find work for 1,583 people.

I welcome the €6 million for the just transition, but we need to do this on a phased basis. It is like going up a hill bit by bit. Over the seven or eight years, we must ensure that these people know where they are going. The door cannot be closed overnight, as I said earlier. Whatever we need to do, let us get the idea of shutting down the plants at Christmas out of our heads. Let us ensure we are honourable about what we said we would do and give the workers a future until 2027.

I turn to education. Regarding grants for teachers who go to college, while there may be some complications, at least an effort is being made to give the grant back to student teachers. It is sad to see funding for school buildings being cut, but I welcome that there will be a small increase in capitation.

We need to get to grips with one thing here. There are various announcements and budgets throughout the year. Four budgets ago, the then Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, announced that people who had incontinence and who pay by weight for waste disposal would get an allowance of €75. To this day, that payment has not been introduced. When we announce something in a budget we should be honourable enough to ensure it is done.

Councils across the country have their tongues hanging out waiting for the group water framework. It was to come in February or April and there were three people looking at it in May or June. It was then to come in September but it is still not here. Schemes around the country leaking water and the Minster for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has not announced that initiative when he should have.

Maybe we did not have money for pensioners but we should prioritise them, along with children, to ensure the people who worked before us can be looked after. I have sat here listening to the debate on more motions on Wednesday nights than I care to remember since I came here. The only debate I can hear now concerns climate change and it will have the same relevance as every other motion. We have debated motions on rural social scheme workers and the fact that community employment scheme supervisors should be treated correctly when it comes to their pensions and conditions. However, this Government has gone through three budgets now and there is nothing for them. If we are not going to act on the outcome of a motion, we should not debate it to start with. People thought they had won an all-Ireland final that night when the motion passed and everybody was excited but nothing has happened since and those people have not been looked after.

It is a similar position for carers. We have not talked about the fair deal scheme and maybe legislation is required but my understanding is funding is needed. Many questions are being asked of politicians from all sides of the divide about the state of the fair deal scheme. We can introduce all the legislation in the world that we want but if there is no budget to cover it, where do we go? It was promised during the recess that when these Houses returned, the heads of the required Bill would be ready and it would go through the Oireachtas. Everybody anticipated that the new process would start in January 2020. We do not seem to have made any progress in that.

Running a farm or any small business is like running a relay race. The business is handed from to the other and having to pay big nursing home fees is crippling some people. I know there are some Health Service Executive schemes but I know of cases where people had to sell land. The Government should introduce the promised scheme and it should certainly not say it will do it if it does not intend to. This would help the people in trouble who are paying large sums of money. If we do not act, somebody else will have to go on social welfare because he or she will not have a farm on which to survive.

I ask the Government to consider carefully amendments to the stamp duty code for family farms or small businesses. Will the Government consider how the carbon tax increases will affect contractors? Everybody will say I am a contractor, and I am, but I do not make up the world. I am talking about contractors around the country because 95% of work done on farms is done by a contractor. They will pass on these costs. We need to introduce certain measures because if there is a Brexit, there will be a crisis in agriculture. Do we want to finish them off altogether or is there a willingness to try to help farmers? We can do that through amendments.

4:20 pm

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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I am sharing my time with Deputy Lahart. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the 2020 budget. It is an unusual budget because it is framed very much in the context of the possibility of a hard Brexit, particularly as there is only a week to go to the European Council meeting. It is fair to say that if we do not get a deal soon, getting that deal at all becomes less likely. It is a serious position. Ireland needs stability at this crucial time and my party has offered the Government that stability for the past number of years. This House is united in our approach to Brexit, which is important. It is in this context that we are facilitating the Government and allowing this budget to pass. The Brexit issue supersedes any other matter at this point by far.

We have heard others making very significant contributions to the debate on what a no-deal Brexit would mean to the Irish economy. It would mean the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and a very significant drop, amounting to a couple of billion euro, in the Irish economy. As I have said, it is in that context that we will continue to facilitate this budget. It is not just about money with Brexit and it also concerns the peace process and the Border. We are facilitating this budget but there are very significant elements with which we are not happy and where we have concerns, particularly in the area of health and housing, which have been problematic for a number of years. I will refer to the problem of drugs and the increase in drug problems at present but these were not referred to at all in the budget speech.

In his comments, the Minister indicated that if the economic impact of a no-deal Brexit is more severe than forecast, he is prepared to use resources that would otherwise have been dedicated to the rainy day fund. He stated that the rationale for the rainy day fund is to accumulate funding that can be deployed in the event of an adverse shock to the economy, and given the small size and openness of the Irish economy, the use of this type of funding is an important way of protecting the economy in more challenging times. He also said that his original intention had been to transfer €500 million to the rainy day fund from the Exchequer this year, with an additional €1.5 billion transferred from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. The Minister will transfer €1.5 billion from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund but the €500 million from the Exchequer is not being transferred. That is absolutely pathetic.

My party has advocated a rainy day fund for some considerable time. It is worth noting that every year since 2012, Fine Gael has needed large Supplementary Estimates, amounting to over €6 billion, to pay for budget overspends. Last year there was almost €650 million for the overspend in the Department of Health alone, not including the increased costs relating to the children's hospital. There will be an overspend of more than €300 million in the health area this year. These overspends have been funded significantly by the increase in growth in corporation tax receipts. Everybody recognises that these, while welcome, are not a reliable source of long-term income. During the period in question, money should have been ring-fenced for an unforeseen event like a no-deal Brexit. It is a sad day when so few funds have been provided to the rainy day fund.

A number of increases to social welfare are to be welcomed, although they are small or modest. The living alone allowance is to be increased and the payment for dependant children will rise by €2 for those under 12 and €3 for those who are over 12. The income disregard for payments for working lone parents will also increase by €15. Income thresholds for the working family payment will rise by €10 and the amount of time those in receipt of carer's benefit can work or study will increase from 15 hours to 18.5 hours per week. Although these are welcome, this budget for the vast majority of people dependent on social welfare has been a non-event. They are bitterly disappointed by it. The Minister made a play in specifically saying the Christmas bonus would be paid in full this year but it is not something with which to play politics. It should be built into the base as an annual core cost rather than a supplementary cost at the end of a year. The Christmas bonus for vulnerable people is a necessary payment to ensure they can survive the Christmas period without going into debt or accessing moneylenders, etc.

I mentioned areas with which we were disappointed. In his 30-odd pages of budget speech, not once did the Minister allude to concerns relating to drug problems in Ireland. Global production of illicit drugs is booming and there have been record figures for the production of opium and cocaine. Total global opium production jumped 65% in one year from 2016 to 2017 and cocaine in a three-year period rose by over 50% between 2013 and 2016. At the same time as traditional illicit drugs are booming, non-medical use of opiate prescription drugs is becoming a major threat.

Cannabis remains the world's most commonly used drug. The potency of cannabis resin has risen from a decade ago. The active constituent concentration was 8% and is now more than 17%. We have a major problem with illicit drugs in this country. There is a great deal of research on this. I have no wish to get too tied down by it, but it is interesting to note the increase in seizures that An Garda Síochána is making. This clearly indicates the amount of drugs in circulation. This increased use of illicit drugs is not harmless but we are ignoring it. It is something we should pay specific attention to because the figures indicate that 730 people each year die a drug-related death. Two people a day, every day, die a drug-related death. Yet, this particular budget makes no reference to the national drugs strategy or the task forces. Task forces are facing significant challenges, including local and regional drugs task forces. Since the task forces were established 22 years ago, when they were specifically targeted, the problem has become national. Yet, core funding was cut during the recession. For the past six years, core funding to our drug and alcohol task forces has not been increased. That is a disgrace. The parent organisations, the Department of Health and the HSE, have seen significant increases in funding during that period. Yet the drug and alcohol task forces have not. The challenges and the work they are expected to do are increasing and it is a shame on the Government that it has allowed such a situation to develop over several years.

Deputy Penrose was speaking some minutes ago on the area of transport. I wish to comment on that as well. The Minister indicated that an allocation of €2.7 billion was being made to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, which is a substantial increase of €384 million. The problem is that we are not seeing that on the ground. A couple of additional buses were allocated to my area. Yet, on routes from Lucan to the city centre, there is no alternative mode of transport. There is no Dart or Luas at the moment and whether there ever will be is another question. People are not able to get on the bus in the morning. Buses are going past the bus stops full. We can talk about big figures but if we are not delivering effective solutions for people who are affected, then the budget day announcements do not add up to much.

The Minister said he was allocating €1.1 billion for social housing to deliver 11,000 new social homes. The problem is that they are not being built. They are being acquired through other mechanisms. Local government must have a far more meaningful role in the direct provision of social housing. Last year, local authorities only built 2,000 local authority houses. That figure needs to grow rapidly. The Government and local authorities are buying from an already small market and thus squeezing out many first-time buyers. First-time buyers were ignored in this budget in terms of affordability. We need real and meaningful schemes that do not exist. Moreover, no reference was made to them. Reference was made to an additional €80 million for the housing assistance payment support. It was interesting because the additional €80 million being made available would provide funding to support 15,750 new people. We are really driving a significant portion of people into HAP. They are the very people who are ending up homeless. More and more people are becoming homeless although we already have 53,000 people in HAP accommodation. If we add a further 15,000 then we are exacerbating the problem. Our focus must be on the provision of local authority housing.

I wish to refer briefly to health. There was an indication that 1 million additional home care hours would be provided in 2020. This is an issue we all have had to face over recent years. We all have had experiences of constituents who have been patients in hospital and who wanted to get out and come home but for whom there was no access to such care. At present, a total of 7,000 people are waiting for home support. They are on home care of various types. It is questionable whether the 1 million hours will be as significant as suggested. On 17 September this year, there were 745 people in hospital who were ready to be discharged and 140 or 150 of them had been waiting for one week or less. Moreover, 600 had been waiting for more than one week, 363 had been waiting for more than one month while 79 had been waiting for more than six months to be discharged. We cannot have our acute hospitals tied up like that. Home care, home supports and step-down facilities must be provided to allow these people to exit hospital, where they should not be and do not want to be.

4:30 pm

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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My colleagues have raised some themes that I will be referring to myself. I wanted to raise four points. One arises from my role on the Committee on Budgetary Oversight and some of the common themes that have come forward there. The second point arises from my role as spokesperson for Dublin and Dublin transport and relates to some of the aspects of the budget that are especially disappointing, including climate action. The third relates to my constituency and some of the measures that are going to impact specifically, or not, on my constituency.

In his contribution to this debate yesterday, the Taoiseach stated:

There are many examples in our own history, including recent history, of warnings going unheeded that a period of economic growth would be followed by a period of economic collapse. Steps were not taken to prepare for what was coming and the country was left defenceless when the worst happened.

These are sentiments I strongly share. As a member of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, I have heard this theme being raised repeatedly at meetings of the committee where we have benefited from the contributions and attendance of witnesses such as the Governor of the Central Bank. We have had informal meetings with the IMF and regular briefings with the ESRI. We have also had regular briefings with the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, the body set up under the previous Government to institutionalise the memory of the crash, as the former chairman put it. For the past three years, and especially for the past two years, as the contributors and witnesses came before the committee several common themes have emerged. One has kept coming up for the past three years. This is our over-reliance on corporation tax. This is a point to which my colleague, Deputy Curran, alluded. Corporation tax is Ireland's version of what North Sea oil is to Norway. Deputy Michael McGrath, our finance spokesperson, said the other day that one of the lessons we learned from the crash was that it is important and prudent to put some money away when times are good. Modest growth began in this country statistically and factually in 2010. We have had nine years of growth. Under the confidence and supply agreement signed between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the rainy day fund, a Fianna Fáil idea, was instituted. That was 2016. The rainy day fund, as Deputy Michael McGrath said, is there but there is not a penny in it. In fact, a real sign of how badly the public finances have been managed in good times is the fact that every cent that may have to be spent in the event of a no-deal Brexit scenario will have to be borrowed. I will put it in stark illustration. When Deputy Noonan sat in the Minister's seat in 2015, he was forecasting forward to budget 2018. He said in budget 2018, servicing the national debt would cost €9 billion and corporation tax receipts would be €5 billion. As we know, in 2018 corporation tax receipts were €10 billion and servicing the national debt cost half of the €9 billion projection. Every red cent of that surplus has been embedded in day-to-day spending and the cupboard is bare. Whatever else is said about Fianna Fáil Governments in the 2000s, approximately €26 billion was put in the National Pensions Reserve Fund. That made the crash, as awful as it was, a little softer than it could have been.

Michael Tutty is a member of IFAC who I believe to be a former official at the Department of Finance, although I could be wrong in that regard. Within the past month, when he attended as a witness before the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, he stated that we are back to where we have been in the past. It is only in the past three or four months that the Minister for Finance has been taking on board the regular and sustained criticism from the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. Those are my comments on the national context.

My next point relates to Dublin, Dublin transport and climate action measures.

Nothing has been done to bridge the gap between now and the completion of the proposals in the Government's much vaunted Project Ireland 2040. Even if the latter are successful, a passenger could not set foot on the metro or travel on the BusConnects corridors until around 2027. Deputies Curran, Haughey and others representing Dublin have raised this issue in numerous debates in this House. There is nothing to bridge the gap between the here and now and when all of those projects are built out, if they are built out. As I have said before, a baby born today will be lucky to set foot on the metro when he or she is 12 and about to start secondary school. There is nothing to offset the air quality issues and the chronic traffic congestion that we are experiencing in Dublin between now and 2027.

The Government's climate action plan refers to 950,000 electric cars, but I suspect that such technology may be bypassed in the next three or four years. The Government's plan is all about e-cars and there is no mention of e-bikes. On the Continent, the Belgians are the leaders in this area, followed by the Dutch, Danes and Scandinavians. In cities in particular, e-bikes are seen as a really practical and efficient solution for journeys in the 5 km to 8 km range and they are tax-incentivised in major ways in the aforementioned countries. There is no mention of e-bikes in the Government's climate action plan or in the budget. There are no incentives for employees or employers in that context. Regardless of whether a general election comes sooner or later, if Fine Gael prepares a manifesto that refers to e-cycling, we can tell the public that the party had eight years in power and prepared a climate action plan in which it is never mentioned. It had a budget in which it could have introduced practical measures to bridge the gap between now and 2027 but it had nothing to say about e-cycling.

The Government's climate action measures are for those who are in the fortunate position of having considerable savings or being reasonably well off. Most people in this House, including myself, could not afford to purchase an e-car, to make that big leap from a diesel car. I speak for many citizens in the country when I say that and Deputy Lisa Chambers made the same point earlier today. Most citizens could not afford the expense of a total deep retrofit of their homes, although they may be able to do small pieces of it, step by step. The difficulty is that one must have money up front to do any of these projects. We need to take a long, hard look at how we approach this issue and how we assist people. At the moment, all of the measures seem to be aimed at those who have disposable income or substantial savings, at people who can part with significant sums of money up front to draw down the admittedly generous grants that are available.

On the cycling budget, cyclist.ieis tweeting away in response to an infograph from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport on spending on cycling in the budget. It is not able to tie down the exact figure for Dublin cycling and neither am I. It has become lost in greenways. In the context of BusConnects, the Minister referred in his contribution earlier to 200 km of cycle lanes. In the great cycle plan of 2013, reference was made to 600 km of cycle track in Dublin, so the ambition and the bar keeps being lowered.

At a constituency level, the cut in the Department of Education and Skills schools building projects budget worries me because there are a number of proposed projects in my area, including a proposed post-primary school in Citywest, a Gaelscoil in Knocklyon and numerous other projects. I echo some of the points made by my party colleague, Deputy Curran, on the most vulnerable special needs children and their parents. We have advocated very strongly on their behalf in this House during this Dáil. We have been calling for additional autism spectrum disorder, ASD, units but a cut, for the first time in seven years, to the Department's building budget is not good news.

One of the items that Fianna Fáil stitched into the confidence and supply agreement was an increase in the number of gardaí, and I welcome the announcement of another 700 gardaí. Apart from housing and health, which are two of the biggest issues of concern, there is also growing concern about anti-social behaviour as a result of the lack of community gardaí. Senior gardaí will say that there has been a serious increase in teenager-on-teenager anti-social behaviour. That is happening in a number of pockets of my constituency and is not exclusive to some areas.

On the matter of affordable housing, my colleague referred to so-called social housing supports as opposed to social housing. The former means the housing assistance payment, HAP, and we are spending in excess of €1 billion on that scheme. Deputy Curran talked about young people being excluded from the housing market. There was an example very recently in my constituency where 13 houses went through the normal planning process, were granted permission and built, but a housing association bought every one of them. That is very good news for people who are on the housing list but bad news for young first-time buyers who wanted to return to this part of Tallaght to buy their first home. We are not building anything like the number of social and private houses that we need. I heard some of my rural colleagues speak about rents of €1,500 per month but rents are €2,000 per month in parts of my constituency. That money is going into a big black hole. Subsidised, affordable housing is the way forward.

In terms of health, I am concerned about the intensive care unit, ICU, that is to be built in Tallaght Hospital. I am also concerned about the waiting lists, carers, and children with special needs, many of whom are on huge waiting lists for speech and language therapy, for example. They get three sessions of therapy after a wait of two or three years. That allows the officials to tick the box to say that they have had their speech therapy. They must then go to the bottom of the waiting list again and wait for another two or three years for more therapy. Unless their families have money, they cannot get the vital support and assistance they so badly need in their early developing years.

As Deputy Cowen said earlier, were it not for Brexit, we would have been in an election scenario before now. We have done our duty by the country in facilitating aspects of this but that does mean it is an endorsement. There is sufficient material here, particularly with regard to the Government's competence in terms of managing the economy, upon which the public will ultimately deliver an answer in a general election.

Debate adjourned.