Wednesday, 2 June 2021
National Recovery and Resilience Plan: Statements
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak today on the national recovery and resilience plan, which forms a key element of the Government’s response to the global pandemic. The overall objective of the national recovery and resilience plan is to contribute to a sustainable, equitable, green and digital transition in a manner that complements and supports the Government’s broader recovery efforts. It is important to acknowledge the scale of the Government’s response so far to the exceptional circumstances we have faced, with over €28 billion in national funding made available over 2020 and 2021.
Budget 2021 provided for an overall expenditure ceiling for this year of €87.8 billion. This includes almost €12 billion to continue our response to Covid-19. This additional funding has been critical in supporting the health service and other front-line services as they respond to the crisis, and in providing the necessary supports to people and businesses who have been devastated by the pandemic. Key measures provided for to date throughout 2020 and 2021 include some €15 billion allocated to the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, and prior to that the temporary wage subsidy scheme from their introduction to the end of June this year.
Approximately €1.25 billion has been made available in business supports through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Further support for businesses has been provided by the commercial rates waiver, with almost €1.2 billion in funding earmarked to meet the costs of this to the end of June. Additional funding of €4.4 billion has been provided across 2020 and 2021 to support our health service in responding to the pandemic.
Building on this response, the measures laid out in the economic recovery plan will continue this support for people and businesses. While there will be a further cost to these measures, they will provide for the continuation of necessary support for incomes, employment and activity across our economy. With the economy now reopening in clear phases, and vaccine roll-out comprehensively under way, the economic recovery plan sets out renewed supports, investments and policies for a new stage of economic recovery, providing a clear pathway for the labour market and enterprise towards new opportunities. It includes in excess of €3.5 billion in further labour market and enterprise supports as well as almost €1 billion additional funding under the national recovery and resilience plan. It will help to drive a jobs-rich recovery, with an overarching ambition of 2.5 million people in work by 2024. Crucially, these jobs will be more productive, more innovative, more resilient and in new areas of opportunity, aligned with the Government’s green and digital ambitions. This reflects the acceleration of many trends, in particular increased online working and shopping, coupled with the urgent challenges we face in meeting our climate and housing targets.
The plan comprehensively expands the EWSS and the PUP. By outlining the next steps, it provides clarity and certainty for businesses and employees over the period ahead. In addition, it extends the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, as well as enhancing the restart payment; it extends the commercial rates waiver until the end of September 2021; it provides for a new additional business resumption support scheme; it extends tax debt warehousing until the end of 2021; and it further extends the 9% tourism VAT rate until September 2022.
Critically, this plan is about much more than short-term decisions. It is about the sustainable rebuilding and renewal of our economy. First, it will help people back into work by extending labour market supports and through intense and comprehensive activation and accelerated training, reskilling and upskilling opportunities, including the forthcoming 2021-25 pathways to work plan, which will be published shortly. Second, it will rebuild sustainable enterprises through targeted supports for recovery and by future-proofing enterprise to be more resilient, innovative, and productive. Third, it will enable a balanced and inclusive recovery through strategic investment in infrastructure, reforms that enhance our long-term capacity for sustainable growth, balanced regional development and improvements in living standards. Fourth, it will ensure sustainable public finances, with the forthcoming summer economic statement to include further details of our deficit reduction strategy.
The national recovery and resilience plan is aligned with both the economic recovery plan and the review of the national development plan that is currently under way. It has been developed by the Government so that Ireland can access funding under the EU’s recovery and resilience facility. Ireland is expected to receive €915 million in grants under the facility during this year and next. A further set of grants is to be allocated in 2023, taking into account economic developments between now and then. The recovery and resilience facility is the largest component of Next Generation EU, the European Union’s €750 billion response to the global pandemic.
The aim is to help repair the immediate economic and social damage brought about by the pandemic and to prepare for a post-Covid Europe that is greener, more digital, more resilient and fit to face the future. These aims are well aligned with the economic recovery plan that we launched yesterday.
The national recovery and resilience plan sets out the reforms and investments to be supported by the recovery and resilience facility in Ireland. My Department, working together with the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Finance, has been responsible for preparing the plan, using the input of other Departments, as necessary, and ensuring co-ordination across government.
Reflecting the requirements of the recovery and resilience facility, the plan has a particular focus on green and digital transition, in addition to supporting economic recovery and job creation. To meet EU requirements, a minimum of 37% of expenditure will be devoted to climate transition and 20% to digital transition. The plan will also address investment and reform challenges identified in country-specific recommendations made to Ireland by the EU in recent years.
The national recovery and resilience plan includes a set of 16 investment projects and nine reform measures, with a total value of around €1 billion. These focus on three priorities: advancing the green transition; accelerating and expanding digital reforms and transformation; and social and economic recovery and job creation.
Turning first to the green transition, the next few years are critical if Ireland is to address the climate and biodiversity crisis that threatens the safe future of the planet. Ireland's ambition is to more than halve carbon emissions over the course of this decade. This will be challenging and will require fundamental changes in so many aspects of Irish life and our society and economy. However, the measures contained in the national recovery and resilience plan and other key domestic plans will help us rise to the challenge. This is why the plan sees a significant allocation made to supporting investments addressing the green transition. Just over €500 million is provided for this priority. This represents a first step towards significantly reforming and directing relevant funding towards decarbonising projects, such as retrofitting, ecosystem resilience and regeneration, climate mitigation and adaptation, and green data systems. Two reform projects included under this priority strengthen the overall governance framework by enshrining key environmental policies in national legislation. This will help to ensure that our environmental policy efforts are on a sustainable footing and that momentum is maintained into the medium and long term.
Reflecting the importance of the digital transition for Ireland and Europe in the coming years, supports for Irish businesses and citizens to adapt to and reap the benefits of digitalisation are central to our national recovery and resilience plan. Some €295 million is provided for this priority.
Ireland's ambition is to provide a better experience for citizens and businesses interacting with the Government and, equally important, to continue with and accelerate the reform agenda through improvements in the way government systems operate. Achieving this requires the digital transformation of government, which involves redesigning and rebuilding government processes and services – across organisations, if necessary – and using digitalisation and data to provide an integrated experience for citizens, businesses and policymakers. Having a user-centred focus on the design and delivery of public services, underpinned by exemplary identity and data infrastructures, will be a key driver of reforms.
The digitalisation of the public service is particularly key given the challenges presented by Covid-19, with the need for remote working, remote transferral of confidential information and a reduction in gatherings and face-to-face consultations.
Our digital transition will be one of the key enablers in our reform agenda. It will allow greater interoperability of public services within and between organisations, nationally as well as across the EU, as appropriate. It will improve the quality of service and enable the sharing of information within the public sector and with citizens and businesses, thus enhancing our public administration. Assisting and incentivising SMEs to harness digital technologies to transform their business processes has been prioritised in our plan, with supports provided to accelerate the adoption of digital and other new technologies by Irish businesses as a critical driver of enterprise productivity and competitive advantage. A reform project included under this priority focuses on mainstreaming digital literacy and digital skills across all levels of the education system. This will support the implementation of the digital reform and transformation agenda into the future.
Ireland's national recovery and resilience plan has a strong focus on supporting people's return to work and preparing for the challenges of the future. Just over €180 million is provided for this priority.
Further education and training in Ireland have long played a critical role in labour market activation and in upskilling and reskilling people. The requirements pertaining to the further education and training sector are particularly acute given the significant impact of Covid-19 on the social and economic fabric of our country. Certain occupations and sectors, such as hospitality, services and retail, have been impacted greatly. Additional skills challenges that relate to climate, Brexit and automation also still exist.
This priority area in Ireland's plan will focus on new work placements in response to the Covid-19 pandemic to keep those who are unemployed close to the labour market. This area will also focus on equipping the Irish workforce with the necessary skills that will be required to boost the innovation and productivity of the SME sector, and the provision of skills in support of climate action. This commitment to reforming the focus of further education and training to meet the future employment Ireland strives to advance, in climate action and digitisation, will ensure there is alignment between the development of physical capital and our people, our human capital.
This priority area also includes a suite of reform projects to address several important social and economic policy needs identified in Ireland's country-specific recommendations in recent years. Implementing reforms in the key areas of health, housing, pensions, institutional frameworks, taxation and the business environment will contribute to strengthening the overall social and economic policy framework in Ireland.
The national recovery and resilience plan is aligned with both the economic recovery plan and the ongoing review of the national development plan. As the House will be aware, the Government decided to bring forward the proposed review of the national development plan to 2021. The new national development plan is being finalised and it will set out for the upcoming ten-year period to 2030 revised sectoral capital allocations, including non-Exchequer investment, in addition to providing a renewed focus on the delivery of efficient public infrastructure.
As with the existing national development plan, investment under the revised plan will be aligned with the national planning framework to support strong regional infrastructure investment, generate local employment and improve capability in respect of economic activity throughout all the regions. This level of capital investment will support substantial direct and indirect, regionally dispersed job creation over a sustained period.
The revised national development plan will include an overarching focus on climate across all sectors, with all investment proposals assessed against environmental outcomes. This is in line with the results of the public consultation process which showed near consensus on the vital importance of climate action, balanced regional development, sustainable housing, and transport. This review is due to be completed this summer. We intend to publish the plan next month.
The investment projects and reform measures set out in the national recovery and resilience plan will combine to contribute to a sustainable, equitable, green and digital recovery that is consistent with the objectives of the recovery and resilience facility in the EU and complements the broader recovery effort on which the Government is focusing.
As we head towards midsummer and the days continue to brighten, more than 15 months have passed since we first asked the country and our people to take extraordinary measures in response to the extraordinary circumstances we faced. In a national response of historic proportions, the country and our people have responded commendably to that challenge.
Increasingly, our attention turns from fighting the pandemic to preparing for the recovery. That is why the national recovery and resilience plan is about investing in the areas that will help us to achieve inclusive and fair recovery in the years ahead.
I should have said at the outset that I am sharing my time with my colleagues, Deputies Moynihan, Christopher O'Sullivan and Devlin.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the discussion. The Minister outlined the position in respect of regional and balanced development. With all that the country and its citizens have suffered in the past 15 months, it is time to take meaningful stock of what has happened in society. It is vital that we look at regional and balanced development. Many people have looked at the rat race that they were in. They have looked at rebalancing their lives and moving to rural Ireland to live and set up families and homes. The Dáil and the Government owe it to them to accept what has been a life change. At various points I have said in recent months that it can be a game changer for rural Ireland if the State and the Government allow it to happen and give the facilities that are necessary to ensure proper regional development.
Much has been said recently in terms of the digital age, digital hubs and so forth. There are so many strategies to bring them to fruition. When we work down through all the regulations and announcements it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how to fund digital hubs right through to ensure that they materialise in rural communities and that new impetus is given. We can work from home and work remotely. We have shown that society can work from rural Ireland. Young people are willing to do that.
We have seen that this is a game changer throughout the country in terms of all the other crises, including the housing crisis. The Minister spoke about regional development. It is vital that this idea is taken on board in the strongest possible terms by Government to ensure it really happens this time. It is vital to ensure there is real commitment and real energy given by Government to ensure that regional and balanced development materialise for the betterment not only of rural communities but for the entirety of citizens.
The Minister spoke on job creation. We are going to face a challenge to ensure everyone gets back to gainful employment. Challenges will arise in respect of the reduction in the pandemic unemployment payment and so forth. Many issues arise.
One issue that has been raised constantly in recent weeks relates to young people who have finished school in the past two weeks. They would normally get employment in the agriculture industry. The theory tests for driving licences have stopped that. There is a clamour for the theory test. I appeal to the Minister to ensure real urgency is brought so that something is done to alleviate the crisis. Many in the agriculture community, including agricultural contractors and families, have been in contact with me and everyone who represents rural communities for these people to come on board. There are jobs but the people cannot do them because of the backlog in the theory test. It was online last week but more needs to be done urgently to ensure people can take up gainful employment during the summer. People are willing to work.
The policy and plans are in place. Europe has come up with a certain amount of money. This is a global pandemic. At the start of it everyone said we were all in it together. Serious impetus needs to be given from the European Union to help Ireland. Those involved must accept that there are major challenges for all states to ensure that we can see out the pandemic as the vaccines are rolled out. I hope the vaccines will continue to be rolled out at pace and help give normal life back to our citizens.
There will be major changes from where we were in January or early February 2020 but we have to embrace those changes. I believe there are good points. There are certainly people who have suffered greatly, especially our elderly people and our young people. We have to ensure that we stand up to the plate and do what we can to lessen that suffering.
There is an issue in terms of English language schools and challenges for them to get funding.
There is one other point on funding. A sum of €30,000 was mentioned for the reopening of the hospitality sector. I call on the Minister to ensure fair play for rural pubs. That terrible phrase "wet pubs" was coined referring to pubs that only sell drink. Funding should be available for them because they need to get back up on their feet. They are an integral part of our communities and we need to ensure they open their doors. We need to ensure every incentive is given by the Government to open their doors.
My thanks for the opportunity to speak in the debate.
I am unsure whether Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan is above me. If he comes in I am happy to share my time with him.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss and comment on the national recovery and resilience plan, NRRP, presented to the European Commission. With the EU-wide investment of €915 billion the NRRP will be an important component in reigniting the European economy as we recover from Covid-19 and Brexit, as the Minister has said.
The recovery and resilience plan will enable us to move beyond the pandemic and invest in the future in key areas, such as climate change and digital transition. The plan will underpin the Government's national economic recovery plan launched yesterday and will continue to support the much-needed Covid-19 business and job supports.
The overall objective of the national recovery and resilience plan is to contribute to the sustainable, equitable, green and digital recovery effort. It complements the Government's broader recovery plan. The recovery and resilience facility is the largest component of Next Generation EU, the European Union's €750 billion response to the global pandemic. The aim of Next Generation EU is to help repair the immediate economic and social damage brought about by the pandemic and to prepare for a post-covid Europe that is greener, more sustainable and that has greater digital interaction. Ireland is expected to receive €915 million in grants under the facility in 2021 and 2022. A further set of grants is to be allocated in 2023 taking into account our economic progress and developments between now and then.
I particularly welcome the provision of a low-cost residential retrofit loan scheme to support the retrofitting of homes. That is included in the programme for Government. I welcome the investment in public transport and the support for schools information technology and retraining young people impacted by Covid-19. I look forward to witnessing the roll out of the 16 projects mentioned by the Minister under the plan. I thank the Minister and his officials for finalising and submitting the plan to the EU.
I am unsure whether my colleague, Deputy O'Sullivan, is here as of yet.
We have various national and EU plans which have been worked on. It has been a long 15 months. Certainly, this will go a long way. It gives the Government and all of us certainty on the funding required for the mammoth task of supporting businesses and the young people who have been so badly impacted by the pandemic as well as the industries referred to by the Minister. It is most welcome. It is a good opportunity for the House to discuss the various needs. I look forward to it being implemented.
An tseachtain seo caite, d’ardaigh mé cé chomh seafóideach is a bhí sé plé a dhéanamh ar an gcoiste aisghabhála agus athléimneachta an tseachtain ina dhiaidh gur cuireadh isteach aighneacht an Rialtais don choiste seo. Nuair atáimid ag breathnú ar an bhfigiúir seo, is figiúir uafásach mhór atá i gceist leis an gcoiste le maoiniú de bheagnach €1 billiún d’infreastruchtúr, do dhaoine agus d’aisghabháil na tíre seo tar éis ceann de na hamanna is deacra le Covid-19. Cuirim fáilte roimh an phlé seo inniu ach ba chóir go ndearnadh plé agus mionscrúdú ar na tograí agus ar an aighneacht a chuir an Rialtas chun cinn an tseachtain seo caite. Ach ar ndóigh, táimid ag caint faoi tar éis dó a tharla. Ba í Éire ar cheann de na tíortha leis an bhforbhreathnú is lú i gcomparáid le tíortha eile san Aontas Eorpach.
Agus muid ag labhairt ar an tsuim airgid atá i gceist leis seo, mar gheall ar na fadhbanna atá againn leis an GDP, tá an tsuim airgid a bhfuair muid i bhfad níos lú ná an t-airgead a bhfuair na tíortha eile. Tá muidne i Sinn Féin ag ardú na fadhbanna a bhaineann leis an mbealach ina mbreathnaítear ar an GDP le fada. I dtaobh na mbeart atá luaite san aighneacht, tá go leor acu ardaithe cheana féin. Níl an t-uafás nua ann. Tá an-díomá orm nár pléadh an aighneacht seo sular cuireadh isteach é. Tá sé fíorthábhachtach go mbeadh plé agus díospóireacht ar aon rud chomh tábhachtach leis seo atá le cur isteach go dtí an tAontas Eorpach agus go mbeadh tuairimí chuile dhuine ina leith pléite agus curtha in iúl.
Last week, during a debate on the Order of Business, I voiced my concerns that we would be debating the recovery and resilience plan after the Government had already made its submission. As the Minister will be aware, at the time Sinn Féin requested that the debate be held beforehand. I tried to get it on the Order of Business last week because I really believe that a debate on this matter should have taken place. While I welcome this debate, it is taking place after the fact and after the horse has bolted. The reality is that, prior to today, there has not been substantial engagement with the Oireachtas or Oireachtas committees on the plan. As such, there has been limited Oireachtas scrutiny in the preparation of the recovery and resilience plan. That is really unfortunate. It would have been nothing but positive to include people and to allow them to speak and have a discussion on this submission rather than waiting, keeping it secret and then bringing it before the House after the fact. It was a missed opportunity on the part of the Government.
There was public consultation on the matter but it should have been spoken about in this Chamber. The Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, on which I sit, sought further information and engagement on it but, again, that did not happen. This State has had some of the lowest levels of parliamentary engagement and democratic oversight with regard to these submissions among EU member states. In my short time here in Leinster House, I have been struck by how little engagement there is with the Opposition in respect of matters like this, particularly when they cost money. We often see money messages being refused for Opposition Private Members' Bills and the like. We even see this issue in the Opposition's limited role in the budgetary cycle. When it comes to matters such as this, we have even less input. Given the scale of the funds involved and the conditions the Commission has reportedly attached to those funds, it was poor practice and a missed opportunity not to hold this debate earlier.
The draft plan is now undergoing formal assessment by the European Commission before being submitted to the Council of the European Union. We have heard that Ireland is to receive an allocation of €915 million from the EU as part of its €750 billion pandemic recovery fund. We have heard that the Government's plans outline 16 investments and nine areas for reform. Our allocated portion of the recovery fund is, of course, small compared to those of other EU jurisdictions. As we have said many times, our overly inflated GDP means that we look like we are in better shape than we, and the ordinary people of the State, are actually in. As a consequence, we often receive less than we deserve. For instance, Finland will receive almost three times what we are getting. Of course, Ireland is a net contributor to the EU budget. During the period from 2021 to 2027, we will be paying approximately €25 billion to the EU's budget. In this context, our allocation of less than €1 billion seems small.
Moving on from that issue, as I believe I have made my point quite clearly, I will speak on the plan itself. I will first mention the positives. Some of the things that we ourselves had suggested in this regard have been included, including an electronic system for sharing medical records, something for which we have been calling for a long time and which has long been needed. Another is the proposal for regional work hubs, which are absolutely needed. In light of how people have changed their views on where to live and work, this is important. There are also proposals to retrofit State buildings and to invest in public transport. These are all measures we had recommended so I welcome their inclusion by the Government.
With regard to some of the other measures outlined, however, it seems to be a case of reheating last night's dinner and trying to present it as a freshly cooked meal. Some of the infrastructural proposals have already been announced in the national development plan. The river basin management plan was announced three years ago. The rehabilitation of peatlands was also announced previously. It is said that, to protect the environment, we should all try to reduce, reuse and recycle but I was not aware that this also applied to Government policies.
One of the big flagship projects which is news is the retrofitting plan but it has not been well thought through. Obviously, what we want is to improve the energy efficiency of homes. People want that for their own homes. Many of my friends and colleagues are in that situation. The reality, however, is that the costs proved to be prohibitive. The average cost of retrofitting a house is approximately €50,000 and it can be up to €80,000. We again heard discussion of this on "Morning Ireland" this morning. What we are talking about here are loans. We know that the State can borrow at negative rates and that we are to receive this sum of nearly €1 billion, but the Government is expecting people to pay interest of 3.5% on a loan for a procedure which is absolutely unaffordable for many. If the Government wants significant uptake of retrofitting, we need to look at the cost. The plan does not do that. The State is the largest consumer in the economy and, through economies of scale, it could work to bring down the price. The Government, of course, knows this.
This applies not only to retrofitting but to the construction of housing. In our submission in respect of the recovery and resilience fund, we made the case that additional money, which we called capital catch-up, should be allocated to help to put the construction of housing back on track. We are badly behind targets due to the restrictions. We have heard that the Minister has concerns with regard to capital spending targets which may not be reached. This was reported in the media. Yesterday, the Government announced its economic recovery plan of which the recovery and resilience fund forms part. This document says that the Government has a target of 33,000 homes per annum. My major concern is that this target will not be reached. Of course, the issue of our housing deficit has been identified by the EU as one of the reform areas we need to address but hidden on the last page of the submission, in the annex, social and affordable housing is listed as an area on which we need to work. I can tell the Minister that this is not news to many people. Last month, we even saw the International Monetary Fund point out that we have a deficit in respect of housing so, for the life of me, I cannot understand why this has not been given priority status with regard to the fund. I am sure that when the EU told us that we needed to address this crisis in housing, it would have been assumed that some of this €1 billion in funding would have been used to invest in housing. It seems, however, that once again the Government is just not taking the housing situation seriously.
To sum up, there are some proposals in the Government's plan that are new and some that are useful. Unfortunately, it seems that the useful ones are not new and the new ones are not useful.
I will begin by acknowledging that, as Deputy Mairéad Farrell has outlined, the statements today on the national recovery and resilience plan are taking place after the plan has been developed and submitted to the Commission. Just as the Government notified the European Council on 12 May that it had approved the own-resources decision which allowed the Commission to borrow on the financial markets – which is a huge decision in anybody’s book - without any consultation or engagement with this Dáil or any of its committees, so it has already submitted a plan to the Commission which involves the drawing down and spending of €915 million. It has done this without any engagement whatsoever with the Dáil or any of its committees despite the fact that the funds drawn down through this facility are greater than the annual allocations for many Government Departments. As the Parliamentary Budget Office has noted, the Irish Government had the least engagement with its parliament in advance of submitting a plan to the Commission. In the words of this office:
...the Government has not submitted a draft or completed Recovery and Resilience Plan to the Houses of the Oireachtas. There has been no substantive engagement with the Oireachtas or Oireachtas Committees on the plan. There has been limited scrutiny by the Oireachtas in the preparation of the Recovery and Resilience Plan.
Such concerns were raised by the finance committee, but to no avail. This reflects the growing level of contempt for the Dáil on the part of the Government. On a weekly basis, the Government stymies and blocks good legislation that is brought forward by the Opposition for no reason other than that it is from the Opposition. That is not how the Dáil should operate. Now that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are in government they are keen to avoid scrutiny as much as possible.
This is a debate after the fact and after the submission, but it gives us an opportunity to discuss not only the details of the Government's national recovery and resilience plan, but the wider economic recovery plan published yesterday. As part of the national recovery and resilience plan Ireland is to receive an allocation of €915 million from the EU's €750 billion recovery fund in response to the pandemic. The Government's plan, which was provided in the national economic plan published yesterday, outlines 16 investments and nine areas for reform under three priorities: advancing green transition; accelerating and expanding digital reforms and transformations; and social and economic recovery and job creation. To advance the green transition, the Government has outlined seven investments, with a total of €503 million and 55% of the total allocation under the facility. I do not propose to touch on all of the investments and reforms, but in the time available to me, I will focus on two of them.
The first is the proposal for a residential retrofit loan scheme through the use of loan guarantees. The success of this scheme will be borne out by its accessibility and its affordability. The test will be whether it can be availed of by households across the income spectrums or, like many of the measures emanating from the Green Party, it will be reserved for those with the greatest means. The average cost of retrofitting a house is between €50,000 and €80,000. The Minister is hoping that participating lenders will offer loans at 3.5%. It is difficult to see how such a scheme will be widely accessible, but we await further details from Government in that regard. I ask the Minister to outline how this retrofitting programme will compete with the limited resources and workers that are available to the housing sector and the major social crisis that has developed because of the failed Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael polices for much of a decade. What is the Government's plan to ensure that the resources needed for home building will not be diverted towards retrofitting? These are questions that need to be answered to assess the credibility of the Government's plans in this regard. Another reform under this priority is to broaden and increase the carbon tax, a tax that is known to be regressive and impacts low income and rural houses the hardest. The Government has given no guarantee that social welfare rates and cash payments will be increased annually to offset the impact of this additional tax burden.
With regard to digital reforms and transformations, I welcome many of the commitments that are being made. A focus must be placed on the IT and data infrastructure of the health service, which has been neglected for far too long with disastrous consequences for staff and patients. More broadly, Ireland's allocation is small in comparison with other EU member states. This is due, in part, to our inflated GDP figures, which fail to reflect the real measurement of our economy. The Government must engage with the Commission to ensure this never happens again. We cannot have our citizens short changed owing to economic distortions and measures that do not reflect any reality on the ground. We await the full details of the plan and how investments outlined therein will be implemented. As always, delivery, not the promises made on pieces of paper, will be key.
I want now to turn to the national economic plan. It is clear that Sinn Féin has won many of the economic arguments with the recognition by the Government this late in the day that the State can act and intervene in our economy to provide and protect better outcomes for workers and families. With that in mind, there are a number of measures in the plan that Sinn Féin welcomes. We welcome the continued and targeted supports for highly impacted sectors, for which Sinn Féin argued, including: the extension of the debt warehousing to the end of 2021, with repayments deferred until 2023; the extension of the employment wage subsidy scheme in its current form until September and beyond; and the reduced rate of VAT for the hospitality and tourism sectors, which will remain at the lower rate until September 2022. However, there are serious weaknesses in this plan which will be of huge concern and anxiety to workers across the State. The Government has chosen to pull the rug from under the feet of the tens of thousands or, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of workers by way of its announcement that it will cut the pandemic unemployment payment in September and will continue to cut it in phases over the months that follow. This is not the first time this has happened. The Government, inclusive of the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath and his colleague, the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, tried to cut the pandemic unemployment payment from €350 to €300 last September, but Sinn Féin forced it to reverse that decision. The Government then came up with a plan to cut it in January and again in February and March with a view to ending it on 1 April. Sinn Féin, again, forced the Government to reverse that decision because it was the wrong thing to do then. It is also the wrong thing to do now. The Government is abandoning these workers. So much for we are all in it together. As long as restrictions remain and these individuals cannot go back to work because of the restrictions, the supports need to be in place.
We do not know how successful the reopening will be in getting people back to work. The Government has gone against its previous decision and opted to be driven by arbitrary dates, not data or evidence. The Government and the Central Bank have said previously that the hundreds of thousands of workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic will remain out of work after the summer and into next year. The Government, blind to the challenges and suffering families will endure, proposes to go ahead and cut their supports from under them. It needs to reverse this decision and to do so immediately. It has instilled fear in families and workers, many of whom will not be able to go back to work.
There are other glaring gaps in the plan. For example, the Government has decided to recommit to the failed housing policy instead of doubling capital investment in public housing, which was called for by Sinn Féin and the ESRI, despite a housing crisis being a real and present danger to our economy and its people. It also fails children, with no measures in regard to the one of the greatest barriers to women participating in employment and the workforce. The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, is a signatory to the statutory instrument in regard to the mica address scheme. I ask him to understand the plight of thousands of homeowners across Donegal for whom that scheme is no longer working and to commit to 100% redress for the 6,000 homes across Donegal and Mayo that, in many cases, are no longer habitable as a result of the mica scandal.
I want to continue where my colleague, Deputy Doherty, left off in terms of the mica scandal in Donegal. There will be families in Donegal and Mayo who are following this debate on the recovery and resilience fund and will have listened in recent days to Ministers talking about retrofitting and the need to build more houses who are questioning how on Earth they could have ended up with a scheme such as the defective concrete blocks grant scheme which, where a house is demolished, does not provide for windows to be replaced or the funding of energy efficient building practices, never mind that the work is not fully funded. The contribution in respect of a house that has to be demolished will not be 10%, it will be 30%. What does that mean in real terms? It means a contribution of over €100,000, a second mortgage. In the case of people who worked all of their lives and are in their later years, they have no chance of getting the matching funding to make their homes safe and so their homes are crumbling around them.
I appeal to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, to work with his Cabinet colleagues, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Taoiseach, all members of the Fianna Fáil Party, to do what is right by the people of Donegal and Mayo. This scheme, as is, will remain in place unless the Government amends it in the next number of days. Today, we are discussing a Government submission to the European Commission that talks about retrofitting, a carbon tax and standards.
Yet, the Government is facilitating a scheme that does not help families to rebuild their homes to any of those standards. It expects them, for example, to use windows that may be 20 or 30 years old.
It is an outrageous and offensive scheme. It is an insult to all the people in Donegal who worked politically with the Mica Action Group to deliver a scheme that would give people hope they could rebuild their lives. Homeowners thought they would get a scheme offering 90% cover, which was unjust in the first place, and the banks would play a role. Deputy Doherty and I have written repeatedly about this matter to the Minister for Finance and the Central Bank. I have raised the issue with the Minister in the Chamber. He said he did not know what I was talking about and he could not understand why the banks should play a role. These are the banks with assets that are worth nothing now but which will be restored to full market value. They were nowhere to be seen.
It is time to move on now. Both the Government, with its scheme, and the banks have failed people in Donegal and Mayo. I take this opportunity, face to face with the Minister, to say to him that he needs to introduce a fully funded scheme, giving 100% cover, like the pyrite remediation scheme for the families in Dublin and north Leinster who, rightly, were given full security to rebuild their lives. That is what we are asking for and the decision on it will rest on the Minister's desk. I am asking him to sign off on it urgently.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I want to follow on from some of the remarks made by Sinn Féin Deputies regarding the process by which the application and submission from the Government was made to the European Commission under the EU's recovery and resilience fund. It is a sad commentary on how we do business that Deputies from across the political spectrum represented in this House did not have an opportunity to debate Ireland's pitch to the EU on the recovery and resilience package in advance of the Government's submission to the Commission. At this crossroads for our economy and society, as we prepare to emerge, we hope, from a devastating public health and economic crisis, parliamentary input into this process ought to have been sought. Like others, I made a submission on behalf of my party to this process in the normal way. The sidestepping of the Dáil on a matter of such significance is deeply troubling.
It would be self-serving and churlish not to welcome many of the investments announced as part of the resilience and recovery fund drawdown. Proposals on green technology, digitalisation, innovation and research and development are welcome and will help to address the yawning gaps that have been identified in our public service provision and create platforms for sustainable growth across our economy. That is the future, however, and we need to look at what yesterday's announcements mean for people in the here and now and in a few months time. This plan represented the opportunity to do some big thinking on the concept of a new social contract. It was a chance to change direction and paint a picture of a better future. It does not pass that test. The "build back better" trope is beginning to grate. It is a hackneyed phrase that suggests the old normal of creaking health services, low pay and poor housing prospects is acceptable, with the addition of a few minor tweaks here and there.
The truth is there is little new in this new economic recovery plan, the publication of which was delayed on two separate occasions. Much of what we see in the plan launched alongside the resilience and recovery programme is a rehash of existing plans, tied up with a new ribbon. To be told that a €50 drop in income from September is not a cliff-edge fall is an insult to people in sectors like the aviation, arts and entertainment sectors who are unlikely to go back to a normal working life any time soon and have bills and fixed costs to meet. The only timelines in the plan launched yesterday are tied to welfare and business supports. The Government needs to rethink the early unwinding of these crucial supports, which have helped people avoid poverty for the past 15 to 16 months. I expect many of the Minister's colleagues in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, at their parliamentary party meetings this evening, will express their reservations, to put it diplomatically, about the impact these changes will have.
It will be said that the pandemic unemployment payment was set at 70% of the average income rate of the sectors most impacted by the pandemic. That does not tell the whole story. The fact is that many of our welfare rates were inadequate in the first place to keep people out of poverty. That is why the Government must take another look at the adequacy of social welfare rates and commit, at the very least, to inflation-proofing them to protect the purchasing power of people on fixed incomes, as prices for the basics will rise when the economy recovers.
I am like a broken record when it comes to my next point. I have consistently made the case to reform the innovative and welcome wage subsidy scheme and convert it into a German-style short-time work scheme to help give all firms a fair shot at viability through what may be choppy economic waters ahead. Such a scheme should come with conditions around training and upskilling when participants are not working and should include a no lay-off pledge. Instead, it looks like the existing successful scheme will be scrapped in a matter of months, before we have any sense of what the economy is likely to look like next year and the year after. I appeal to the Minister to review this position and keep the scheme in place, with adaptations, for the reasons I mentioned. It was and is a really good innovation and tool. A reformed scheme would be of some use for sectors such as aviation that will continue to face pressures.
Youth unemployment is the single greatest challenge we face. A staggering 64% of young women were shown to be out of work, according to figures for March this year. We hope to see those figures improve but, in the meantime, war must be declared on youth unemployment. While the pledges on retraining and upskilling are welcome, it is hard to discern whether the additional 50,000 places represent a new or pre-existing commitment. Moreover, it appears those places will be available not just to younger people but to all who are out of work. Every day out of employment deepens the scars for young people who are jobless. We know when the PUP will be cut for young workers but we do not have any timeline or guarantee as to when the new schemes will be up and running. That is really problematic.
Commitments around an easy to administer examinership-lite programme were enunciated in the economic plan yesterday and are likely to be made law before the summer recess. This is understandable in the economic circumstances but it is unforgivable that no corresponding pledge exists to better protect workers who are likely to be caught up in insolvencies. We run the risk of waves of liquidations as the economy finds its level. Five years on from its publication, we need to legislate to give effect to the Duffy Cahill review. We said "never again" after the Clerys debacle. Instead, we got the Debenhams debacle.
Given that our corporation tax base is vulnerable on a number of fronts, it might have been expected that this plan would say something new on how our national industrial strategy needs to pivot away from its risky over-reliance on a small number of heavy hitters in the foreign direct investment, FDI, sector for good jobs and 20% of our tax receipts. Plans to help a few more SMEs to export are, frankly, underwhelming and were, in many cases, already announced in previous initiatives. Additional investment in the green technology sector, digitalisation, innovation and research and development are welcome, but we need a much more ambitious plan to scale up our medium-sized enterprises and help them to employ more people across the regions and go global from Ireland.
In return for the drawdown of €950 million from the EU, it is there in black and white in the plan that Ireland gave way on the question of "aggressive tax planning". The Minister and his colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, need to explain what concessions were made to the European Commission on tax policy and how they will impact on the Exchequer's bottom line and on budget forecasts. Were the concessions offered over and above the ongoing OECD-led global corporation tax reform process? The Minister and his colleagues must publish a detailed explanation of what this latest development means for Ireland.
The planned reforms to the local property tax are long overdue. We need to broaden our tax base and focus on wealth taxes. As a socialist, I am a firm believer in taxes on assets. The pretend progressives in Sinn Féin are not. That was a popular and populist position to hold in 2013. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. Sinn Féin says it wants wealth taxes but not on property and land. That is an utterly fraudulent and dishonest position. We cannot have wealth taxes while exempting millionaires' mansions. This is socialism 101. According to Sinn Féin's youth wing, one cannot be a socialist and favour property taxes.
Sinn Féin's Minister of Finance in the North, who stands over the collection of £1 billion in rates, must not have slept very well last night. I look forward to the Sinn Féin youth wing calling for his head because clearly he is not a socialist or a republican, but I will believe that when I see it. This is Sinn Féin and its partitionism in action. It does one thing in Newry and says another thing down the road in Dundalk. It tells people what they want to hear regardless of the consequences. Deputy Doherty let the cat out of the bag on "Prime Time" last night. He said we should tax income and not property. That is not in the interests of the working class and those who are most at risk from the chronic underfunding of local councils and an unreformed local property tax system. This is an incredible position to adopt, especially at this fragile time in our recovery, and this is not the message hard-working people will want to hear as they get back to work over the coming period. Let us have a mature, informed debate on tax but let us not pretend we can do this without imposing broad and measured taxes on assets and wealth.
The greatest challenge we face is managing a recovery from a crisis the impact of which has not been even. Some, as we have heard, have €12 billion in savings accumulated while others have endured open wounds and seen their life's work go up in smoke. The country does not have the option of getting back to all that existed before now, and those who try to say we can go back to where we were would not only put us on a path that would be unaffordable but would stunt the country's future. What we have to work on is a just transition to a new future. Some in the Opposition. although I notably exclude the previous speaker, have attacked the extension of property tax, which 95% pay, to ask the remaining 5% who have not been paying to pay, but when people hear that attack, they know they are facing Members who will put out any impossible expectation to try to narrow the scope for the Government to deliver. The challenge now is to build a stronger, fairer, more balanced and more sustainable economy with a new social contract binding our communities together. This will require us being innovative in the way we align both public investment and activity and private activity. It will mean new responsibilities for the private sector, and I am glad to see that those are coming around in the form of new workers' rights, but it will also mean the public sector taking on new responsibilities. It cannot mean, as we have heard from Sinn Féin in particular, public-only solutions in crucial sectors such as housing.
The recovery plan is a good start. Viable businesses are being given an opportunity to recover. Persons displaced are being offered an opportunity to transition and there are new workers' rights for them. I welcome in particular the youth employment charter and the pact for skills. We are recognising that we need to future-proof in digital and green areas. However, housing, the NDP and the climate plan are the real meat in how much the Government embeds change. We need to make sure that the tools embedded are adequate for the ambition we have set out. We cannot hope to rely on the old infrastructures or institutions to deliver the necessary change. I have some anxieties about whether we have made enough of a commitment to change. If we want regional balance, the Land Development Agency must have the capacity to assemble substantial sites, particularly in the new cities we want to evolve. I do not see that this is yet in place. If we want to promote compact and sustainable living patterns, investment planning in housing or at least in education, justice, transport and children must change in order that, as we develop these compact living patterns, public services are developed in tandem. We must also recognise that the social benefits of compact living are such that we cannot expect first-time buyers to carry all of that cost. If we want agricultural transition, we need to plan for massive change in land use and forestry. So far we are only scratching the surface. If we want zero environmental degradation, every sector must look at its supply chain. The public sector must lead by example and examine its supply chain. If we want to make the well-being of children central to our future strategy, we need to see reform of the senior cycle and the curriculum and assessment method, we need to build mental health resilience in our communities for young people and we need to improve our approach to the care of the child. There are, therefore, significant changes on which we need to continue to build. Today's plan is a good first step but we need to do substantially more. I look forward to the NDP and hope it will fulfil those ambitions.
Following on from Deputy Bruton's contribution, today is a positive day. The context of this plan is that 37% of the expenditure must relate to climate initiatives and 20% must relate to digital investments and reforms. It is great, therefore, that my county, Cork, and Cork North-Central in particular, has been promised €185 million as part of the proposal for a massive job in Kent Station, replicating what has been done in the past on the eastern or Cork-Cobh line. There is also the northern line heading from Cork city through Blackpool to Blarney and, possibly in the future, Monard and Mallow. I spoke to a representative of Iarnród Éireann this morning. Iarnród Éireann is very excited about this proposal. It will involve the full electrification of the track in Cork before any other county. It has gone to tender for a number of electric locomotives and carriages. This is a massively important day for Cork. There are people in the Chamber whom I can hear below me - I cannot see them, unfortunately - and who would be the first to decry the lack of investment in the north side of Cork city. Today is a big boost for the north side and we have to welcome this news.
Putting my teaching hat on, I also welcome the reforms that will focus on digital literacy and digital skills throughout our education system. This will involve the mass purchase of ICT equipment for schools. The roll-out of broadband to more than 1,100 primary schools was mentioned. That is massive. In the context of dealing with the pandemic, it is very welcome.
An investment of €20 million is mooted for waste water treatment plants as part of a river basin management plan. While that is welcome, it only scratches the surface of the problems we have throughout the country with Irish Water and waste water treatment. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, plans to bring forward further funding initiatives for Irish Water later in the summer, but massive investment is required in our towns and villages to make them ripe for development into the future. We can all name towns and villages in our constituencies. In my constituency, Carrignavar and Whitechurch are both within commuting distance of the city centre, ten to 15 minutes, but unfortunately are handicapped by the fact that they cannot develop on the basis of a lack of waste water treatment services. I urge the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, to work with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, into the future and address some of the shortcomings, particularly in respect of wastewater.
I welcome this plan, which outlines the Government's commitment to ongoing and much-needed supports for workers and enterprises still impacted adversely by the ongoing pandemic. There are still many challenges and difficulties for different sectors of our economy and thus for a sizeable proportion of our workforce. That cohort of people, be it employer or employee, needs the reassurance that these much-needed and essential supports will be continued. A clear message from this plan is the emphasis on job creation, which I warmly welcome, and the ambition that needs to be realised of having 2.5 million people in employment by 2024. With job creation we need employment opportunities in all regions, not just the major urban centres. In getting beyond the pandemic and rebuilding the economy, we need strong measures to regenerate many rural parts, including the Border region, particularly the counties I have the privilege of representing, Cavan and Monaghan.
Tourism and hospitality, with their reach into every parish, are critical to both the urban and rural economies and will need continued support to rebuild the sector and grow visitor numbers. Today was an important and exciting day for the sector, and many employers and employees are looking forward to reopening their businesses and greeting visitors again. Following on from this strategy will be the revised NDP. I very warmly welcome the unambiguous commitment on the part of the Minister, Deputy McGrath, some time ago, reiterated more recently, that a central focus of this plan would be regional development.
Key to regional development would be the upgrade of infrastructure, including some national and non-national roads. In many instances in rural Ireland, we have good social infrastructure, including schools, local health facilities, sporting and community facilities. We need jobs, however, to retain and, hopefully, grow the population in those communities.
Alongside CAP support for our farming and agrifood sector, the national development plan should contain specific measures to support this sector which is the prime driver of economic development in rural Ireland. Farming has undergone a major transformation. As a country, we should recognise, without equivocation, the sustainable farming systems we have. The Border region and the agrifood sector will, unfortunately, face further difficulties due to Brexit. The Government's policy must continue to be supportive of a sector that has had considerable growth in employment going back to the late 1990s. The sector has obtained new markets because of the quality products manufactured by our agrifood sector. There has been huge investment in research and innovation. We must ensure that, due to the many challenges the sector will face with climate change, etc., there will be continued and much-needed Government support to ensure it continues to provide worthwhile employment, as well as generating much economic activity in every parish in our State.
It is all well and good for the Minister and the Government to talk about what they are doing for the State and to slap themselves on the back. Unfortunately, this announcement of a recovery and resilience fund does nothing to reopen the out-of-hours GP service for the people of the Cork North Central constituency, SouthDoc Blackpool. Three times this year SouthDoc has told the people of Cork North Central and me that it would reopen. It still has not. Fifteen months ago, it closed its doors under the guise of an excuse of the Covid-19 pandemic and it could not reopen.
The whole country is now opening up and there is even talk about international flights in July. SouthDoc in Blackpool, however, is closed. When I hear Deputies from my constituency talk, they do not mention it. Why? It was closed under this Government. Will the Minister explain to me where is the resilience fund for Cork North Central to reopen SouthDoc?
The cuts to the pandemic unemployment payment are unbelievable. Does this Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael-Green Party Government learn from anything? Last year, it cut the payment and then had to reverse the decision after Deputy Pearse Doherty and Sinn Féin, along with other Opposition parties, said it was the wrong thing to do. Again, this year the Government wanted to cut it. People lost their jobs, through no fault of their own because of the pandemic, but Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are abandoning them. I listened to Deputy Bruton speak about being fair and balanced. It reminds me of the catchphrase of the Fox News channel. I will leave it up to people to decide whether that station is fair and balanced. To cut the pandemic unemployment payment at this stage when people have lost their jobs through no fault of their own is wrong. The Government should fix this and go with Sinn Féin's proposals which are balanced.
The Government talks a lot about housing. The vulture and cuckoo investment funds are still coming in here. Until such time as the Government invests the money needed to deliver social and affordable purchase and affordable rental homes, the housing crisis will never be solved.
There is much in this plan that Sinn Féin would have looked for and which is welcome. I acknowledge the investment in rail in Cork, although it is just one part of the jigsaw. We need to be closer to the city centre and ensure that light rail on the east-west and north-south links is expedited. These would serve some of the inner suburbs, as well as potentially the airport. We need to work on this.
There are, however, other issues in this plan which are regressive and there are significant mistakes. We all want to see a situation where everyone who lost his or her job due to the pandemic is back at work and we no longer need the pandemic unemployment payment. We are not at that stage yet, however. Some of the cuts in this programme are completely wrong.
One example of this relates to students. Many students will work when they are in college - I worked - to try to pay their way and contribute to their education. They are going to find it very hard to find jobs at a time when youth unemployment is so high. Now they will not have the pandemic unemployment payment either. That is a significant hit, particularly when so few students avail of the full SUSI grant. I urge the Minister to reconsider that.
Certain sectors are going to take a long time to recover. An obvious one is aviation. It is important, even outside of this programme, that some of the grants that the airports and airlines need are extended. There must be a two or three-year period where that funding continues as it will take that length of time for this sector to recover.
I also want to flag the need for income support to continue. There are workers being temporarily laid off by Aer Lingus. The airline is getting a lot of money from the Government and will continue to do so. The Government should make it a condition with Aer Lingus that it does not lay off those workers or put them on temporary lay-off. Instead, it should keep them on the books and the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS. That will only cost the majority of workers about €50 a week per worker. The cost to Aer Lingus is not enormous. The difference it would make to those workers' terms and conditions, as well as income, would be significant. I urge the Government to make contact with Aer Lingus on that.
I welcome the opportunity for this debate. However, I would echo the points made by other speakers on the process behind the development of the recovery and resilience plan and the economic recovery plan. It would have been much better if there had been wider involvement and debate in the preparation of those plans. They are supposed to be national plans. It was short-sighted of the Government not to include all parties and all Members across the House in the development of those. It could have had the various Dáil committees feeding into the work behind those plans.
Overall, the two plans, published yesterday, are short in detail. Regarding the economic recovery plan, everything seems to have been thrown into that, including the kitchen sink. Many measures arising from the budget, or which had already been announced during the year, were just reheated. It is quite a hotchpotch with a lot of spin associated with it but very little detail or timelines.
Several points must be made on the pitch to the European Commission for our share of funding from the recovery and resilience fund. I very much welcome the changed attitude from the European Commission on the appropriate response to an economic crisis. The approach being taken in the context of the pandemic is very different to that taken as result of the crash following on from the banking crisis. In the latter case, it was about retrenchment and austerity. To a large extent many of us, including a large number of people in Ireland but right across Europe, are still paying the price for those austerity policies. It would seem that there has been a step change in terms of the attitude in responding to crises. I very much welcome that change of approach, particularly the change in the attitude of the ECB which, in turn, feeds into policies and approaches by national Central Banks.
The intention now in providing access to substantial funds, both as grants and loans, is that we have to work our way out of this crisis through growth and job creation. I hope that those messages will be fully taken on board by this Government and I will come to some points on that later on in my contribution. This is a very different approach to what one would associate with Fine Gael, in particular, in government and also as to some of the measures that were supported by Fianna Fáil over the past number of Governments.
I will also make a point on the allocation for Ireland and to the fact that in the first tranche for this and next year that allocation is €915 million, which is a very substantial amount of money to receive in grants. The second tranche in 2023 is due to be about €420 million. There is some doubt about that which arises from the fact that our GDP does not accurately reflect the growth or lack of growth in the country. There is that distortion factor in our GDP arising from the high level of activity and exports in the pharma and tech areas. When one looks over the past year or so, where everybody had a very rough time, it is incredible to think that we are looking at a situation where our GDP says that we have had positive growth over the past year. The only reason that is the case is because those exports in pharma and tech completely distort our GDP. We should be using a different measure for GDP because the allocation of the fund from the Commission is based on GDP as well as some other related measures.
Can the Minister say if the Government has made an approach to Europe to use a different measure for our economic growth? The gross national income, GNI*, measure is a much more realistic and appropriate one. Has the approach been made to change the measurement that is being used for Ireland? One would wonder if the Government has done that. It is unlikely that it has and one then has to ask why it has not highlighted this issue. It must be the case that the Government was nervous about making much noise about this issue because it draws attention to Ireland’s economic and taxation models, including the amount of corporate activity by multinationals here that does not really happen here. We know this is an issue that Ireland has dodged or made a pretence about over many years. The reality is that we are going to face something of a cliff edge on this with changed approaches and economic policy from the EU Commission over the coming years, particularly on our corporation tax and on taxation generally. Perhaps the Government should have made that case because we are now paying a price for the fact that our GDP distorts the real economy. Those with expertise in the area would say that the figures that are there at the moment do not represent the reality of what our economy has gone through over the past year. We have had 500,000 job losses and a decrease in domestic demand of over 19% in 2020. Some reliable estimates would also propose that the economy actually shrunk by 5% last year rather than growing as our GDP would indicate.
This is a point and issue that will become very important when it comes to the second tranche of what Ireland is likely to receive. While at this point that figure is supposed to be about €420 million, it is estimated that that could be decreased and could fall back to about €68 million because of the kind of measures that could be used to determine the second tranche. That is a very significant price to pay, which would be a loss of over €300 million because our GDP does not accurately reflect the level of economic activity and the real economy.
On the plan itself, I will make a number of quick points. It is based on three different areas: advancing the green transition, the digital reforms and transformation plan; and the social and economic recovery. On the green transition, while much of that is very important and I would support, the issue of retrofitting is not being handled properly. We have seen with retrofitting in the main that households that are better off are able to afford the scheme in the way it has operated. The proposals for the new way of operating are not going to help working families on low incomes. We should be talking about a pay-as-you-go scheme whereby the energy companies could carry the initial cost and households could then pay back the cost of retrofitting over an extended period of time through their energy bills because those energy bills would be reduced with retrofitting. That is a much fairer way of doing it. On low-income families who simply will not be able to afford to take out loans, there needs to be an extension of the provisions that we have been talking about if we are serious about a just transition.
On the social and economic recovery element of this plan, I spoke yesterday about the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and that it is proposed to cut the PUP by 40%, even though many of the jobs that have been lost will not be replaced and there will not be employment opportunities for those people. That is wrong.
I welcome the proposals on the upskilling opportunities but there is no detail on them. It is very important that where people have lost their jobs, have gone back to reskill which is the right approach to take, there are proper training allowances for them and that they have adequate income support because they will not take on the training opportunities otherwise.
Overall, there is a great shortage of detail and timescales on this report and I hope we will be getting that critical information soon.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle and I am sharing with Deputies O'Connor, Cahill, McAuliffe and Alan Farrell. I commend the Minister on elements of this plan but the important thing is that they are delivered upon. It would be worthwhile as we come to the first anniversary of this Government to reflect on the amount of announcements in the past 11 months and the correlation between those announcements and delivery on the ground. It is time that we did an analysis of that. Frankly, many parts of the system are not capable of delivering projects on the ground to the extent that they need to. It is worthwhile to do that and in the context of another big plan with big money, we need to ensure that the delivery mechanisms are there.
The training and education places are welcome. To echo Deputy Shortall, the detail is very important. It is, however, very important that the local employment services, LES, are involved. Current plans about privatisation or changing the mandate of the local employment services and undermining their holistic role in employment delivery are not welcome. We need to monitor that and to protect the holistic role that local employment services give around the country, particularly in the implementation of this plan and in the sourcing of opportunities for people who have lost these opportunities in recent months.
The infrastructure commitments are very welcome. I am very conscious that we have a review due on this and I am also aware that the Minister will be doing enormous work on the national development plan in the coming weeks. The Minister and I have discussed how the kinds of infrastructural developments announced yesterday in rail programmes for Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick need to be replicated. We need to see the western rail project commenced and in the national development plan. The projects announced yesterday do not have to wait for an all-island rail review and the western rail corridor should not have to wait. We need a further focus on regional development in the context of the national development plan. This should be proper regional development in the context of my remarks about the capacity to deliver.
The property tax changes, particularly for those houses with pyrite, are welcome. As Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, the Minister needs to be aware that the current defective block scheme is adding to the stress of homeowners instead of relieving it.
The requirements of the scheme are making it inaccessible and mean it will not work. We will need the Minister's support to make it work. Surely in the context of the retrofitting targets within this programme, these houses offer a perfect opportunity for funding from the SEAI.
This is a very good plan and many aspects of it are welcome, but we have to learn from the mistakes being made in the just transition programme in the midlands, which have been highlighted by many of our colleagues, and ensure they will not be repeated in the ambition of this plan. We must ensure that communities that take on the challenge of providing renewable power will be rewarded with jobs and placements, and that this plan will deliver opportunity in an equal and sustainable manner throughout the country in order that building back a better Ireland can be something real on the ground as opposed to an aspiration.
I very much welcome the news that came from the Government yesterday regarding the significant investment to restart and rebuild the economy. In particular, I welcome the €185.4 million that will be invested in rail infrastructure, primarily in my constituency, Cork East. As the Minister will be aware, I worked closely on this with him and his Department and also with the Department of Transport and the Taoiseach, and I thank them most sincerely for their assistance over recent months on this issue. It will help greatly to reduce the level of traffic congestion in my constituency for commuters travelling into and out of Cork city, and it is very welcome news for people living in areas that are not currently served by rail connections, including those living in Blarney and Blackpool. People living in my constituency will be delighted to be able to travel to those areas via new rail connections that will be established by the Government. It just goes to show that whatever people may say about the Government, we have done everything we could to protect the economy in the most appropriate way while also being responsible with people's livelihoods and health. This is another €1 billion to try to get the economy back up and running again. It is the prudent and correct action that needs to be taken.
I am hopeful that in the coming weeks, the review of the national development plan, NDP, will be published. As a Cork Deputy, I want to be clear that the NDP drawn up in 2014 was incredibly disappointing for Cork county and city. Some of the projects left out of that plan must be included in the review. Specifically, I want progress to be made on the Cork-Limerick motorway, which is very important to my constituents in Cork East and particularly those living in Mallow and Buttevant. In addition, I would like progress to be made on the Cobh access road, a project costing more than €100 million, and bypasses provided for the villages of Castlemartyr and Killeagh, which will probably amount to an additional sum of more than €40 million.
When I look at other areas with much lower traffic levels and how well they were serviced by that NDP through investment in road infrastructure, what happened in Cork when that document was drawn up was simply wrong and that must be rectified. It must be rectified by the Taoiseach, the Ministers who are based in Cork and other Government Deputies. I want to be resolute on that message.
This plan is further clear evidence of the Government’s commitment to investing in the economy and getting us over the Covid pandemic. The first issue I raise relates to the major plantation of trees on 33,000 ha of Bord na Móna land. This will be a great asset in our battle to reduce emissions and against climate change. I hope the carbon sequestered will be fully counted when we are calculating our figures in the context of our battle to reduce emissions. I hope licences will be issued more easily than they are to ordinary farmers at the moment in forestry and that there will not be a delay in the issuing of licences in respect of these trees, as we are all experiencing at the moment, unfortunately.
There is a projection to invest €20 million in waste water treatment upgrades, with ten plants targeted by the plan. Unfortunately, I do not think that is nearly enough. Waste water treatment plants throughout the country need significant upgrades and, unfortunately, a number of small towns and villages have no such facilities. If we are serious about water quality, we need very significant investment in waste water treatment, but €20 million is nowhere near adequate. I hope this can be reviewed and revised upwards because it is a serious challenge we are facing, and this kind of money will not go anywhere near meeting it.
We need a pilot scheme for dealing with farm slurry and waste in general. Advanced technology offers modern ways to deal with slurry. It has the potential to create energy and a by-product of the process can be used as an organic fertiliser on farmland. This would be very useful technology in our battle to reduce emissions from the agrifood sector, and I do not see any specifics on that in the plan. A total of 37% of the plan is devoted to our battle against climate change. Why is there no such pilot project in the plan? The technology is available and we can use it without hindering production at farm level. If we properly embrace the available modern technology, we can win our battle to reduce emissions. I hope that when we see greater detail, a pilot project for dealing with both farm and municipal waste will be included in the plan.
I welcome the national recovery plan announced yesterday and the massive supports we will continue to give regarding the employment of people through the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS. In February, almost 500,000 people were supported under the scheme. While there will be reductions in the pandemic unemployment payment from September, there will be no cliff edge for employees supported by the EWSS, as it will continue until the end of the year. I recall Opposition Deputies telling us in the Chamber last year that we would leave people hanging when public health restrictions were reinstated, but we did no such thing. We maintained our supports in response to pandemic unemployment when it was impossible for people to go out to work. Should there be any change with further restrictions imposed, which I hope there will not be, the Government will not be found wanting.
I turn to what is included for young people in the plan. There is provision for expanded education including further education, apprenticeships and employment supports. All of that comes under the new youth employment charter, which will help thousands of young people throughout the country. I am pleased with that because the youth guarantee scheme that was piloted in Ballymun under a European Commission project, which saw great benefits on the ground, will now be rolled out throughout the country. I frequently criticise the 2011-16 Government in the Chamber, but I should give credit to the former Deputy John Lyons, who piloted that programme and was proud of it. Not only will young people in Ballymun see the benefits of it being rolled out nationally but now, equally, thousands of young people throughout the country will see them too. That is a very welcome development.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, for his presence during the debate. There are many good aspects of the national recovery and resilience plan and I welcome its introduction with all the stated aims and programmes outlined by the Minister, and I very much look forward to his closing remarks later. After 15 months of Covid-19, the plan's publication is a decisive moment in the pandemic, as we shift our focus from our emergence from an incredibly difficult period to an opportunity to pause, reflect and deliver on plans that will see our economy restored in a number of years, with tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of jobs created.
The plan sets forth a vision that can restore the economy to its previous position of strength and growth befitting our citizens and places a strategic importance on both education and upskilling and climate action, which is welcome. I am encouraged by the proposals to grow a sustainable economy and jobs in Ireland and I believe it will make a significant impact in the coming years. There will be benefits from decarbonising our enterprise sector and developing retrofitting, an important piece of the puzzle and a key commitment in the programme for Government. Furthermore, the plan will allow for the future electrification of public networks and further our work on developing a digital economy.
In the short time I have, I refer to another issue within the plan and I ask that the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, raise it with the Minister, Deputy McGrath, and perhaps with the Cabinet. This House needs a meaningful, scientific-based debate on the use of antigen testing in Ireland. We are proposing to use it in our education sector, and we need to expand on that. I will not be overly prescriptive about the nature of the debate, but there is not enough factual information available to Members. This is an opportunity for the Business Committee to meet and agree on that, but I want the Government’s response to the resilience and recovery of the aviation sector to be heard properly. That is why I believe a debate is appropriate, preferably next week, if possible.
I agree with a considerable amount of what has been said in the sense that there is much to be welcomed, but elements of particular proposals are reheated. We all accept that using the GDP rating to determine the moneys we receive from the EU recovery and resilience fund and providing us with only €915 million in the first tranche is not necessarily the methodology we want to use in the future. This must be examined because it is an insufficient amount when compared to what other states are receiving. GPD is providing a bad read of the status of the economy. The other problem is the own resources decision. We did not deal in the House with the fact that the EU has taken a loan of €750 billion and the decisions that will be made on how that will be paid back. There are, therefore, outstanding issues in that regard..
We accept the emphasis, as we try to move beyond this pandemic, on recovery. We welcome that there must be action on the green and digital transition. In dealing with the digital transition, given the ransomware attack on our health services, this demands that we build in whatever must be done from the point of view of securing ourselves. That means ensuring we have cybersecurity capacity at the optimum level. That goes beyond whatever will come out of the National Cyber Security Centre, NCSC, review, which will probably tell us that the NCSC is not fit for purpose at this point in time and will require further resourcing, but we must consider other protective and even offensive measures. This must be built into any plan.
Regarding some of the supports, I spoke to many Ministers about the fact that many people fell between the stools. I hope the business resumption support scheme will deal with an element of them, but we must see action in respect of taxi drivers. I welcome what was said about aviation workers. Any supports for the airlines must be connected to ensure jobs and workers’ rights are maintained.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. A national recovery plan is important and I want to focus on the training and apprentice element. I want to raise the importance of training and proper apprenticeships, and I emphasis “proper apprenticeships” as we attempt to recover and emerge from the pandemic.
We are in a housing crisis and it will only get more demanding. It will require an army of workers. Hundreds of thousands of homes must also be retrofitted. However, there is a shortage of construction skills. I forecast in this House eight years ago that we would reach this point. Even if we meet the modest social housing targets set by the Government in the recovery plan, along with the need in the private construction sector, because we require that as well, we will not have the construction workers necessary. This reality was highlighted in the recent TASC report on construction. It is a reality in Laois-Offaly that the skilled people to carry out the work required are not available. Therefore, the Government must encourage more young people to enter apprenticeships that can help us rebuild our economy, build houses, and do the retrofitting that is needed.
Not everyone has to or wants to go to third level. What is important, however, is that the Government enforces strong terms and conditions for apprenticeships. I am hearing reports that a practice has developed where young workers are being exploited on bogus apprenticeships. They are used as cheap labour and then let go one, two or three years after they are taken on, with new apprentices hired, mar dhea, in their place. There must be a proper training element, with new workers fully qualifying after four years. The Ministers, Deputies Varadkar and Harris, must clamp down on this practice if we are to see young people attracted to this sector. I emphasise that and ask that the Minister of State brings that message back because it is very important. The TASC report also highlighted that there are substantial levels of bogus self-employment in the construction sector. This is supported by the evidence we gathered recently on the Committee of Public Accounts, and gathered by Revenue, which highlights a high prevalence of bogus self-employment. If we want people to work in construction, they must be paid a fair wage and be guaranteed decent terms and conditions. Sectoral agreed rates of pay for trades and general operatives must be applied on all sides, especially to projects funded out of the public purse by the taxpayer, which is important. It is possible to do this.
We want to get people back to work. My party, Sinn Féin, wants to get people back into good quality work with proper terms and conditions, and ensure they have a living wage. I want to know whether the Minister of State and the Government intend to do this and make the construction sector an area where people want to work again.
I will share time with Deputies Murphy and Barry. Both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance got quite annoyed with People Before Profit this morning saying that we never recognise the good things the Government does, and that we are just looking for reasons to give out. I refute that absolutely. Of course, we acknowledge the income and wage supports, grants to SMEs and so on to sustain people during this unprecedented pandemic and they are to be welcomed. Indeed, we have supported many of them, but it is also our job to point out deficiencies and unfairness.
We completely reject the idea that ordinary working people should pay the bill for the Covid pandemic, and that is why we oppose plans to increase taxes on the family home. It is a tax that is fundamentally unfair, which we opposed from the beginning, because it taxes the roof over the heads of ordinary working people who have paid stamp duty and so on. We have outlined the alternative ways to raise money repeatedly in budget submissions. We do not imagine someone can pluck money out of the air; in fact, for the most part we do not even suggest that we borrow to the extent the Government is borrowing, which could cause us big problems. I am not saying that we borrow nothing, because money is cheap at the moment, but we have proposed in budget after budget that the way to finance additional spending in health, education and housing, without having to impose austerity measures, is by taxing wealth and those with the highest incomes. Let us take property as an example. We propose that people with two homes should pay a substantial property tax on the second home. If they have multiple homes, a steeply progressive property tax should be imposed on what is clearly wealth in those cases. That would be fair and would redistribute wealth. It would be an actual tax on wealth rather than a tax on working people.
We also completely reject the idea that arbitrary deadlines should be set to cut the pandemic unemployment payments of people who have lost their livelihood or income because of measures, which are out of their control, taken by the Government to deal with the pandemic. I want to make an appeal on behalf of musicians, people in the arts, and so on who are a long way from recovery but the Government is threatening to cut their PUP. As I pointed out to the Taoiseach earlier, many of the musicians who need the latest music and entertainment business assistance scheme, MEBAS, are excluded from it.
I have been asking for a year for a financial package for taxi drivers. The Government keeps saying it is coming but it never arrives. Will there be a recognition that taxi drivers carry costs of about €10,000 to €11,000 per year, have had no income for a year and a half and have been excluded from all the grant support schemes during Covid?
I repeat the call to expand the places and make it easier for people to fulfil their educational potential. People doing postgrads and doctorates in things like psychology, radiology and so on are burdened with excessive fees, having to work unpaid placements and living in poverty. Those issues should be addressed.
The way the Government goes on about this plan and has been lauding itself about this being the opposite of austerity and so on over the past 24 hours, one would think a massive new deal public investment was going on in the economy. The reality is very different. Look at the size of what we are talking about. The EU money and the domestic money adds up to €4.5 billion, which is a tiny amount. It is 1.5% of the size of the economy or 4% to 4.5% of the size of an annual budget. That is without going into the details of where the money is going. This is not a substantial package. Compared to an EU level per capita, it is about a quarter of public investment post-Covid spending in the Spanish state, for example.
What is contained in it? The Government can talk about the opposite of austerity all it wants. However, hundreds of thousands of people will experience, on one hand, a significant drop in their income of up of 40% for those on the €350 rate of PUP. They lose money in their pockets and will have to pay out more money in an austerity tax introduced in the aftermath of the last economic crisis. It will be difficult to convince those people that what the Government is doing is not austerity. They will experience it, correctly and accurately, as an attack on their living standards.
My second point is about the price we are paying for the corporate tax haven model, a failed and deeply unjust model. The way the Government often goes on, one would think someone else is paying the price for this, that it is a global competition and – nudge nudge, wink wink – it is the poorer countries which are losing out because hundreds of millions of euro are being robbed from the state coffers of poorer countries by the kind of practices this State engages in. However, they are not the only losers. We have made the point about the losers in terms of the money we do not get to invest in healthcare, education or to resolve the housing crisis.
The concrete point here is that the amount of money the State has got from the EU for this programme is very small compared to many other countries and that is because of our leprechaun economics. It is because it is based on GDP figures, which are massively bloated by corporations registering profits here to avoid paying tax. For example, we are getting about one sixth of what Croatia, a similar sized country, is getting. We are getting less than half of what Denmark, a similar sized country with a more developed economy, is getting. It underlines the point that ordinary workers here are the losers.
The Government keeps saying there is no alternative. We have an eco-socialist alternative. We have an eco-socialist green new deal, but the Government is not interested in discussing that.
I will deal with two issues: training and what is happening at Aer Lingus. On training, the plan refers to 50,000 places in education and training, with a focus on digital and green jobs. It refers to 10,000 placements in workplaces through a job experience programme. Many people who will be pushed towards training could be provided with jobs and we need jobs based on direct State-led investment. We have been here before regarding training. In the last crisis, we had the JobBridge scheme, which was synonymous with exploitation and cheap labour. Participants received €188 plus a €50 top-up. The employer in return for 40 hours of work had to pay €1.25 per hour. It was no surprise, then, that employers like Advance Pitstop exploited the scheme and hired more than 25 people in one go. The Government denies this is JobBridge 2.0. It says workers will be paid more. How much more will they be paid? Be specific. Increasing the top-up from €50 to €100 will not cut it. That is still exploitative; that is still cheap labour.
There are more issues than pay. If there is to be training, there has to be real training. How will the Government ensure there is real training and jobs at the end of it? There should be guaranteed jobs at the end of it, certainly a higher proportion than the less than 20% than was the case with JobBridge.
The EWSS goes to companies like Aer Lingus. Aer Lingus is demanding a five-year pay freeze. It wants pay cuts for the workforce, lower starting rates of €12.30 per hour and to cut the sick pay scheme and duty allowances. If this is allowed go through, it will set a dreadful precedent for trade unionists and the trade union movement. It must be resisted. I am confident the workers will resist it and I will support them in resisting it.
I draw attention to a point regarding Cork Airport, where workers received correspondence this morning. Ten weeks of runway repairs will mean 12 weeks of a temporary layoff for them. It is strange these workers are being laid off after being kept on the books for what will be, at that stage, 17 months of a pandemic. What is the agenda here? What is going on? A condition of Aer Lingus receiving EWSS must be that the austerity plan be withdrawn and those workers in Cork be kept on the books.
I welcome the announcement of the €4 billion that will be spent in the time ahead and the fact we will not have a cliff edge in terms of the various supports. I would like to have seen Europe divvying up more than the €900 million. That is required and we will have to display a level of agility as we move forward in terms of additional issues that will have to be addressed to assist our economy and society in its recovery.
Second and most important is the issue of alignment of policy. It is one thing to say housing is an emergency and a priority but, if other policies are not aligned, we will not achieve that. In the north west of the country, nobody is allowed build any houses. There is no rural housing and no rural planning. There is none at all in County Leitrim. That is not consistent with the national emergency we have. People who now rightly realise they have jobs they can work from home are selling properties in Dublin for very high prices and seeking to move to Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and so on, where they compete and push local people out of the market because they have more money to spend. We need to address planning law and make it consistent with the fact we have a housing crisis. We have people willing to build houses and restore derelict cottages all over the country that would be suitable if we were to support them. We have not done that.
In terms of development finance, we have the Central Bank and the pillar banks that are not supporting lending rules that are conducive with the housing emergency. We need to do that and to look at the development plans around the country and ensure we deal with those so zoning and development plans are at their optimum in terms of encouraging development of much-needed housing. Any recovery needs to do that.
The third point I will make is also relevant to policy alignment. I support any announcement of funds with regard to our recovery but we are talking as if the recovery has begun and society is open. It certainly is not open.
We have a level of paranoia and scaremongering that is not consistent with either the numbers in hospital or the daily numbers. Over the course of the weekend the CMO tweeted his outrage at seeing people out doing what we told them to do, which is to have an outdoor summer. We can have a takeaway pint or a Coca-Cola, but we cannot congregate on the canal because the gardaí are going to come along and throw it out. Where do we expect people to go?
As we speak, over in St. Stephen's Green we are fencing off the bandstands because the last thing we want is people to congregate there. We cannot have it both ways. This is replicated all over the country, for example, at the Spanish Arch. Where I live in Strandhill, there are so many bollards on the seafront that had the Nazis done it in France on D-Day, God knows what the outcome of the war would have been.
We need alignment. There is no evidence to suggest that congregation in recent weeks, not just last weekend, has led to a spike in numbers. Let us give people the summer they deserve and then we might have the beginning of a recovery.
We cannot have it both ways, but we can have a bit of balance. I have seen people outdoors all over my constituency in small groups. I thank Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council for the effort it has made to put in appropriate outdoor seating, to change the streetscape to accommodate restaurants to make it easier to have people outside in a structured way when they reopen and to put in place public facilities such as toilets and bins. That has made a big difference. I hope to see people out and about in as safe and balanced a way as possible.
I wish to make three points as well. I thank the Government for the extension to the EWSS and the development of the CRSS. We called for that and we asked the Government to provide certainty to business, which it did back in March. It has done it again today and that is so important. I thank the Government in particular for the introduction of the business resumption support scheme. A number of very niche groups, for example, catering companies, got stuck between the CRSS and the EWSS in terms of having a rateable premises, but not being eligible for CRSS because they did not have a footfall that was cut off. I think of two such companies in my area in particular which were really struggling. I lobbied very intensively in particular the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, to the point of being really annoying about it. I am so thankful to them because the decisions the Government has made are the difference being those businesses continuing to be viable and closing. They were viable businesses and they have managed to get through the pandemic and now they need support to keep going.
I wish to raise a related issue, but it is not from the perspective of the Minister for Finance. I was listening to colleagues, in particular Deputy Brendan Smith, who spoke about his constituency being strong on social supports such as schools and playing facilities, among others. Mine is slightly inverted, in that the number in employment is strong but we lack space, which continues to create pressure on space in communities for schools and playing facilities. It is just as important that we try to be imaginative and creative in how we plan our area. There is a plan, for example, to put playgrounds on the roofs of schools, as we are trying to do in Dún Laoghaire, and to provide other facilities to make sure that we get the best sort of community. Space is finite and we must develop it intelligently and well.
I add my voice to the broad welcome for the measures that were announced yesterday by the Government. Certain voices in the House criticised some of the measures. I suppose that is the job of the Opposition, but one would think that when it comes to something as important as national recovery after a once-in-a-century pandemic that there would be an objective approach to what is going on or what is being done by the Government. Unfortunately, party politics has got in the way again of what is the most important issue, that is, that all people are helped to recover from this terrible pandemic.
I wish to home in on one particular area, namely, tourism and hospitality. I very much welcome the early signal on the 9% VAT rate in respect of 2022, which I called for in the House and at private parliamentary party meetings as well. That is a good measure, but it is very important that it would be continued long beyond September 2022. It is very welcome, but this will be a long recovery for the tourism and hospitality sector and we will need such supports.
Deputy Carroll MacNeill referred to the extension of business supports and also to the broadening of the eligibility criteria. That is very welcome, as it is critical and will be the difference between survival and people going out of business. We need to see that continue for as long as possible.
When global aviation gets back to some semblance of normality and international tourism gets going again, it will be the most competitive ever. We will need to support aviation in terms of new routes and to support Tourism Ireland with its international marketing. A massive effort will have to be made to help Ireland to remain competitive internationally and to re-establish the routes. The CEO of Tourism Ireland, Niall Gibbons, always said that it is like resetting the clock on 1 January, that we start all over again to try to achieve the figures. This is the mother and father of all restarts. We must support the efforts of everybody who helps to bring visitors into this country once we get back to normal again and that will require financial assistance.
We saw a very ambitious but realistic plan being published yesterday on how we return to normal. The plan is creative in suggesting that we do not return to an old normal but a reinvigorated and deeply ambitious Ireland.
I want to deal with two aspects of the plan, both of which seek to support the artistic community. The first is the continued extension of the PUP all the way up to next February, which is exceptionally important for musicians, entertainers and artists who will find themselves on a very rocky road to recovery with little certainty ahead in terms of how they return to work. We have seen many other sectors being literally switched back on overnight, but that simply is not possible with the entertainment sector. I am deeply grateful to the Ministers and the Cabinet for extending the PUP out to February 2022 to reflect the fact that the industry will take a long time to get back to full strength.
Seamus Heaney once remarked that we are not simply a credit rating or an economy, but a history and a culture; a human population rather than a statistical phenomenon. Here in Ireland we have an extraordinary, powerful cultural tradition, one we are very proud of, and we need to see it nurtured and growing. Yesterday's announcement of a pilot for a basic income scheme for artists is a wonderful step forward. I give great credit to the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, for their vision and ambition in putting this pilot in place. Credit is also due to the former Ministers, Deputy Madigan and Senator Doherty, who in 2019 put in place a scheme to allow artists to claim jobseeker's allowance for a year while pursuing their craft.
You might recall, a Cheann Comhairle, during the early days of the pandemic, when we were all deeply fearful of what the future held, our then Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, regularly stood up in front of a mic to tell us of the difficult days ahead and how we needed to deal with a rampant virus, but in seeking to give us hope and solace he also always carefully chose some words from our poets and storytellers because it is always the work of our artists that we turn to for inspiration. Who knows, but right now in our midst there may be another Heaney, another Hynes, another Hozier struggling to survive and thinking about giving up. Yesterday's announcement of the basic income scheme for artists must surely give artists real hope that they will finally get the support and credit they deserve.
We must recover from the pandemic in a way that increases the resilience of our country. I am proud of the role my party has played in government to achieve this. Over half of the €1 billion investment announced yesterday will be spent on climate projects, exceeding the EU's target of 37%.
Responsible governance seeks to leave things better for future generations. We should invest in a way that tackles climate change, protects our natural environment, encourages regional development and makes life better for people, and we are doing just that. The announcement of the Cork suburban rail project, with new stations and extra capacity, is the first step in bringing a DART-style suburban rail system, which will ultimately be more extensive than Dublin's, to our second city. It will enable the building of 30,000 homes, connected to a high-quality suburban rail service, which means that many families will not be dependent on a car for a good quality of life. This project is a key enabler to deliver housing, to deliver growth outside Dublin, and to develop our economy and society in a way that provides a better quality of life and does not harm the environment.
As well as regional suburban rail, we are delivering cheap financing for home retrofitting and we are upgrading waste water treatment plants in selected river basins that will enable delivery of more housing in towns and villages and improved water quality in sensitive areas.
We are supporting our SMEs to build back greener, with targeted supports. We are investing in green education and research because, as we transform from a laggard to a leader on climate action, we are going to create a significant number of new jobs, particularly in our regions. As Deputy Cannon mentioned, we are funding a universal basic income pilot for artists to support an important sector and to take the first step in reimagining a welfare system that rewards work and provides security for our citizens. I commend the Ministers, Deputies Heather Humphreys and Catherine Martin, on that initiative.
These are only the first steps. We have much more to do but I believe in the capacity of Government to invest responsibility in a way that promotes balanced regional development and leaves things better for future generations.
I want to express disappointment with the allocation Ireland received under the recovery and resilience fund, which is €915 million out of a total fund of €750 billion. This is very small when compared to the allocations other states are receiving. I understand Poland, for example, is expected to receive €58 billion, with almost €25 billion of that in direct grants. We need to review the State's use of GDP as a method of measuring wealth. We all know our GDP figures are farcical and, as a result, we are losing out at a time we need as much investment as we can get to help affected communities, services and industries get back on their feet.
Worthwhile projects are included in the Government’s proposals, some of which were made by Sinn Féin in our submissions, for example, an electronic system for sharing medical records, regional work innovation hubs and a major retrofitting programme, which are all badly needed. Other initiatives such as investment in public transport are also welcome. We need to ensure that parts of the country that are in dire need of investment and development are not left behind, like the north west, the Border region and the north east. These areas suffered the double-whammy of Brexit and Covid in recent years and they need additional support.
In a recent scoping report into community safety and well-being in Drogheda, it was made very clear that the lack of investment in the town by successive Governments created the conditions whereby young people were vulnerable to being sucked into lives of drugs and crime. We are seeing poor outcomes as a result of the decimation of services and the neglect of the town in terms of attracting businesses and industries to keep jobs in the area. We need to get vital infrastructure, like the northern cross route, off the ground to attract businesses into the town as a matter of urgency. The northern cross route has been delayed for almost 15 years. If the Government will not fund it, we should seek other funding options such as this scheme. The delay in the project is holding back the development of Drogheda, and I cite it as just one of the many towns this applies to.
Drogheda has a lot going for it. It is Ireland's largest town, it has a young, well-educated population and it is located on the Dublin to Belfast corridor. What is missing is the Government support to develop the town to attract employment and provide housing. Successive Governments have repeatedly dropped the ball on this and it must be rectified. Neglect of urban centres has to be reversed. I hope the Government will prioritise this project and make sure the funding is secured as a matter of urgency.
We have €915 million out of the €672.5 billion under the EU plan. That speaks for itself. We need to ask why we are getting such a small share of the cake. Distribution based on population, the 2019 GDP figures and the average unemployment rates do not reflect the reality on the ground in regard to health, housing, education or sustainable employment. Are we going to continue to use the live register to measure employment success? Are we going to tackle the issue of precarious employment conditions, zero-hour contracts, employment uncertainty and the poverty traps that affect so many people who cannot get a mortgage or ever hope to buy their own home?
We need to look under the bonnet and then we need to do a permanent and sustainable fix. I have listened all afternoon to Government Deputies asking why people cannot be happy about this. The reason is that it is not going to permanently fix anything, first, in terms of the amount we were able to lever because of all that we keep hidden, including the hidden poverty in this country, and, second, as one of the Government speakers said, we do not have policy alignment. If anyone speaks to a local authority today and asks for something, the bureaucracy that is in place to prevent money from getting to where it is needed means it is just not working. The Government loves announcements of millions of euro for this and millions of euro for that yet when I try to seek an assessment for a child with autism or something very small or simple to be done, it cannot be done. The headline figures belie the true position. There is no flexibility built into the system. I am all for governance and accountability, but there is no flexibility to spend on many of these schemes in the way that is needed, including with SEAI grants. We have grants and subsidies for people who do not need them in the first place, but too many people are excluded and are caught in a poverty trap because they are excluded from the grants and schemes the Government lauds itself for providing.
The country released a collective sigh of relief on Friday last as the first real signs of normality began to emerge. Covid is not yet in the rear-view mirror but there is certainly a public feeling that it has moved to the side view. However, we must be cautious and vigilant against the threat of the Indian strain. The road to recovery opens ahead. It is time to revitalise and repair and, in many cases, it is time to rescue and renew.
Looking back at where we stood in the first quarter of 2020, Ireland is now a very different place. In addition to enduring the wrath of Covid restrictions and lockdowns, we must also factor in the changes to our economy that have taken place as a result of Brexit. To an undetermined extent, the full impact of Brexit has been masked by Covid. In this context, the damage caused by Brexit and its long-term consequences had to be factored into the programme for recovery and resilience. However, in terms of our resilience, the true fallout from Brexit will be such that restoring any equilibrium that existed prior to the UK’s departure from Europe should be an entirely separate issue. Brexit could have greater long-term consequences for Ireland than Covid. While the two hit in tandem and we hope that Covid will pass, Brexit is here to stay.
Throughout the pandemic, a lot has changed in businesses across the country. Technology has not just been more widely embraced but it is now a way of life for more people than ever before. Online trading, click and collect, virtual meetings and consultations, and online shopping are the future for businesses. Smart working has become the new normal. Initially, this meant existing staff working from home for health and safety reasons but, now, it means that employers realise that their talent base does not need to be within the catchment area of their business. Employers can now cast their net much further afield. Working from home will remain the choice of many, even when businesses are fully reopened.
Many businesses will also choose to continue using this smart working model. With the increased emphasis on climate action, it will assist in reducing our carbon footprint by keeping commuters off the roads. It will make living outside large urban areas more attractive and spread the urgent need for additional housing across the country, thereby making delivery of housing units more achievable.
We have an obligation to ensure that high-speed broadband is rolled out rapidly to every corner of our small country. Progress is being made on broadband services throughout the country but, as we emerge from the pandemic, significant provision in budgeting must be continued to ensure that a lack of service is not a deterrent to recovery in any area of our country.
Lack of competition and bank closures have been a major blow to the business community across rural Ireland. The Regional Group's call to review the option of establishing a State-supported community bank has gone unanswered. The threat that has been looming over post offices is now a reality. Unrestrained closures are now on the cards and, as members of the Irish Postmasters’ Union gather for urgent talks, work stoppages are a real possibility.
Regions outside the country’s cities and large towns have suffered enormously throughout this pandemic. As well as the business and retail closures that impacted everywhere, regional Ireland has lost all tourism and its associated revenue. It will take our smaller towns and villages much longer to claw their way back from the economic ravages of Covid.
This national recovery and resilience plan must have a major focus on regional and rural Ireland, in fact, it must be the priority. If that does not happen there will be an unbalanced recovery, which is second only to no recovery at all.
The response to the plan is welcome. There are two or three issues I wish to highlight. I am concerned about the PUP being phased out for everybody. I am thinking of those who work in live music. I do not mean acts like U2 or Hozier, but the people who play in pubs, at weddings and so on. Their sector is still being decimated and there will be no work for them for a long time. Their PUP needs to be kept at whatever level they are at until they begin to open up. That is very important.
I heard the Minister for Finance talk about the local property tax. He said the money would be good for the local authorities. I want to raise the issue of Galway County Council getting the lowest per capitafunding from the local fund. If we are to have balanced development, we need to rectify that. This has already been cited by an independent committee which looked into the future of Galway County Council. When this money is put in place, I ask that the Government introduce an equalisation fund which will actually benefit the lower-paid counties such as Galway as well as the additional money from the local property tax.
I heard people say that infrastructure is how the economy will develop. We will not be able to put in the houses in Galway East because there are no waste water treatment plants in our towns and villages. We are being pressurised not to build in rural areas. We need a recalibration of what we are doing there. Also on regional development, I heard someone congratulate Cork on getting a new rail network which will cost so many hundreds of millions. A small section of railway needs to be put in place between Athenry and Claremorris to reopen the western rail corridor from Ballina and Westport along the west coast - through Limerick to Foynes, into Galway city, down into Cork, and as far as Waterford Port. That would cost a small bit of money. I ask the Government to include that in the national development plan.
It is important that we consider what we do after Covid. We must learn from mistakes and from the new work practices that are in place. There will be a shift but the way we are dealing with capital funding and how we spend it is so cumbersome. I had a meeting with a city manager recently who explained how when he applies for funding which is announced, he can have to go through 12 gates of approval before he actually sees the colour of the money arriving into the local authority. This is because we have set up so many different barriers and governance issues and have created industries within industries within industries like procurement. I refer, for example to all the paperwork that goes with the tender process. Everything has to go back to approval to somebody else and we cannot allow local authorities to make decisions in their own right. That is a failing in our system which we need to close off.
I now turn to small business people, who represent an important sector. These people have received supports over the past 18 months, but coming to the end of the tax year they were billed because they got supports. They got the money and spent it on trying to keep their businesses going, and then they got a bill from Revenue at the end of the day. We have to be very careful about how we deal with small business people - maybe someone who is employing one other person, or is self-employed - and how they are actually working together. Revenue can be their saviour or can kill them off. It is important that we look at that and be a voice for the small business person.
I have said many times, this is not the time to play political football with the pandemic. I strongly believe that the Government has responded well to the pandemic and we are now moving towards a new stage in the fight against Covid. Thankfully, it seems we are almost over the worst. The moneys we have needed during this time are astonishing. An additional €28 billion was made available in 2020 and 2021. Of this, over €15 billion went on the pandemic unemployment payment and the various wage subsidy schemes. An additional €4.4 billion was made available to the health services. I asked the Taoiseach earlier if this additional spending would bring long-term benefits to the health services, particularly around increasing the number of permanent and operational ICU beds. The EU has agreed to give Ireland €915 million in grants to help our recovery from the pandemic. Will the Minister give the House a breakdown of how this will be spent? Will it be ring-fenced for certain projects or absorbed into the general budget?
From the various press releases and briefing notes, I know the national recovery and resilience plan will focus on three key areas. These include advancing the green transition, accelerating and expanding digital reform and transformation and social and economic recovery and job creation. We need to be more specific, particularly on job creation. One of the greatest challenges we now face is housing and one of the greatest challenges facing the construction sector in delivering houses is skilled labour. This becomes clear when one asks anyone who has tried to engage the services of a tradesperson in the last two years. It is nearly impossible to get a tradesman at the moment. At a time when we need to create more jobs, it is a no-brainer that we would target construction for them. Not only will it create jobs but it will also accelerate the delivery of badly needed houses. How do we attract new entrants to construction? I firmly believe that there must be an overhaul of the apprenticeship system to bring it up to date. We need to upskill existing tradesmen and make it more attractive for young people to enter these professions. Too often apprenticeship was seen as a poor relation to third level education. This mindset must be challenged. I urge the Government to re-examine apprenticeships and make them more attractive to the younger generation.
Another area is renewable energy. The existing housing stock needs a major retrofit to make it more energy efficient. We need more skilled tradespeople to carry out these works. What is being done to address the skills shortage? The Government needs to be more proactive. It is okay to say we need digital reform but surely we need to use the labour force to address the housing problem. We must all work together and not play politics.
I believe in the saying "your health is your wealth". The additional €4.4 billion to the health services must make long-term benefits so that when the pandemic passes, we are left with permanent beds, including in ICU. We need to stop the two-tier system. When someone is sick and ends up in hospital, the last thing they want is to end up on a trolley to be left in a corridor for long periods. This is the opportunity to sort this out. The quicker someone is seen by a doctor or consultant, the quicker they recover and can go home, making room for the next person.
Everybody wants a home and we have an opportunity to give everyone the chance to have one. Reference has been made to the amount of money that will be spent on housing over the next 12 to 18 months, or two or three years. We have a chance to do something about the housing situation. I ask the Minister not to fail.
I appreciate the opportunity to contribute briefly to this very important debate, nominally about the national recovery and resilience plan. We know from the Minister's remarks that it also includes the national economic plan, the various measures announced yesterday, the measures that have been announced throughout the pandemic and a few early pitches ahead of the budgetary cycle.
The one area I would like to focus on, however, is the national recovery and resilience plan submitted by the Government to the European Commission last week as part of the massive next-generation EU fund. I have been absolutely struck by the repeated, pre-prepared interventions by several Deputies questioning the allocation of the money. It has been quite simple. They are saying we are not getting enough and that it is based on GDP but they are not looking into the criteria that were laid down, by agreement, by all EU member states. Quite simply, it is hard to give out about good news so people find a way to change the parameters to make a complaint. It is this sort of latent Euroscepticism, which can creep into this Chamber as it has crept into other chambers across the EU and across the water, that leads to the disruption and disinformation that conclude with extremely bad decisions.
It is quite clear that the €900 million or so allocated to Ireland out of €750 billion is absolutely proportionate. Trying to compare a country the size of Ireland, with its population and economy, with Poland is completely misleading where the general consumption of this debate is concerned. The plan provides great opportunities on the back of breakthrough policy initiatives by the European Union to raise its own resources. I refer to the innovation to create eurobonds that will go on the market this week. It is a huge step forward for the EU to be able to deliver for its citizens in this way. The plan the Government outlined to the European Commission, along with the €4 billion investment announced yesterday, is vital. It gives us a great opportunity. When we emerge from challenging times, we have to take every opportunity to build back better and create a better society and economy. I truly believe this plan that we are nominally debating today along with the other measures announced is vital in this regard. I must ask Deputies on all sides of the House to stick to the facts and the debate and leave the misleading for another day and another platform.
I welcome the publication of National Recovery and Resilience Plan 2021. It is a €4 billion plan. A sum of €2 billion is to support 600,000 employees and workers through the continuation of the PUP and EWSS, which are important. It gives workers confidence and belief to employers. I have been pushing for this.
Sectors such as aviation, hospitality and tourism have been decimated by Covid. Prior to the pandemic, aviation employed 140,000 people nationally, with Shannon Airport underpinning 47,300 jobs, making a contribution of €3.6 billion to GDP. I welcome the Government’s support in the form of operational and capital funding for our airports, including Shannon, throughout the pandemic. It is important that this funding be continued and that it become multi-annual. It is the driver of economic activity in the mid-west. Shannon deserves that support. This approach has been strongly recommended and advocated by the Shannon Chamber. This is a position I fully endorse.
The confirmation that we are to participate fully in the EU digital green certificate initiative is welcome. With the reopening of international travel on 19 July, airlines can finally plan and make services available but we need to adopt rapid antigen testing to bring us into line with other countries. We are an island nation and depend heavily on connectivity. It is critical that the Government secure a deal with Aer Lingus and that this deal have conditions, namely, conditions to secure the Aer Lingus base, the strategic business, tourism routes to Heathrow and North America, and the Heathrow slots.
I welcome the continuation of the 9% VAT rate until 2022. It is a vital support for the hospitality sector. The sector, including guest houses and self-catering accommodation, along with the arts, culture and entertainment sector, needs special measures to recover. These will need to be in place until summer 2022. The plan makes mention of the pilot reopening of sports and cultural events. This is most welcome. Such events are a beacon of hope. Pilot reopening events must be conducted throughout the country, not just in Dublin. We must look beyond outdoor events and embrace the use of antigen testing, similar to the rest of Europe, including the United Kingdom, and the rest of the world.
I am engaging with the Taoiseach’s office seeking his support for a pilot event in Ennis, County Clare. This is a carefully considered, well-researched project supported by Ennis Chamber, the object being to host a pilot reopening of the iconic Queens nightclub through the use of antigen testing. This proposal has the support of the business community in Ennis. As Ennis is the largest town in Munster and was the first town in Ireland to achieve Purple Flag status, I strongly believe this proposal must be endorsed by the Government. I look forward to continued engagement with the office of the Taoiseach in this regard.
The word “resilience” is used to define the Government’s plan. Resilience is the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. In this really difficult period, we have heard a lot about mental health issues. I am disappointed that there is no reference in the plan to increased investment in mental health services. While I note there is a section on digital transformation, I do not see any reference to the acceleration of the national broadband plan. I understand, however, that there are plans in this regard. I ask the Minister to clarify this.
I thank the Minister. This plan gives confidence. The words I would use are “Build back better.” That is the challenge we now face. In 2012, more than 50,000 people were leaving the country per year. We faced up to that challenge. Over the following years, up to 2019, more than 400,000 new jobs were created. We have the ability to face the challenges posed by Covid-19.
In the public sector, there is protection that does not exist in the private sector. Therefore, the supports we have now put in place and that have been in place during the pandemic are extremely important. Many businesses have suffered severely. We must continue to give them their support.
On skills and upskilling people, we have a new challenge. We must incentivise companies to take on apprentices because this is extremely important if we are to meet the demand, be it in the building sector or the IT sector or in the many other areas where there are challenges.
Covid-19 resulted in people working from home. To work from home, an employee needs broadband. More than 560,000 houses and businesses do not have a broadband connection. There are very many houses and businesses on the border between the blue and amber areas. We need to make sure those areas can be fast-tracked. I understand that between 60,000 and 80,000 houses will be connected to broadband this year. That is not enough. We need to be moving faster if we really want people to continue to work from home or have that option.
I very much welcome the announcement on Cork, which follows on from the announcement earlier in the year on the development of the docklands and the announcement on rail electrification and the help with regard to the Middleton–Cork–Blarney rail line. That latter is important. An announcement was also made on the development of the North Ring Road. That is also a welcome move.
We need to prioritise addressing the issue of elective hospitals. At a meeting of the health committee this morning, it was said that if we want to face the challenges in the health sector, we need to fast-track how we deliver on our elective hospitals and healthcare. Cork, Limerick and Dublin are implicated. This needs to be prioritised.
I welcome this economic recovery plan. On the business side, I very much welcome the continuation of the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector and the commercial rates waiver.
In my limited time, I want to deal with one specific aspect of the recovery plan, namely, aviation.
I am a Deputy in Limerick city. Shannon Airport is on our doorstep. It is critical in terms of connectivity. I very much welcome the funding put in place to date for the aviation sector in the economic recovery plan. We want to see the capital expenditure and operating expenses as multi-annual funding for airports like Shannon Airport.
Furthermore, there is a €20 million fund. Discussions are ongoing between Air Lingus and the Government for measures to be put in place with sufficient funding. I have no wish to use the word "conditions". The measures must ensure that Heathrow connectivity is through Shannon Airport and retention of the slots in future. Transatlantic flights must be resumed at Shannon Airport. There must be a cabin crew base at Shannon Airport. Why am I talking about that? It is not only about costs. If we have a base in Shannon, it guarantees early morning flights from Shannon Airport for the business community. If we do not have a base, that guarantee is no longer there and we cannot provide a competitive offering to the business and tourism sectors. The same applies in terms of transatlantic flights.
I am asking for the digital green certificate to be properly road-tested before 19 July. There can be no situation whereby it is not ready to be rolled out on 19 July. It has been announced publicly by the Government and we now have three weeks. Let us make certain that it works. When 19 July comes I would like to see flights resuming in the EU. The common travel area must be restored with the UK. There is need for discussions to take place between ourselves, Europe and the USA so that these arrangements can be restored. We are getting many calls from people who wish to travel to the United States. We have extensive connections there. Some areas are opening up albeit with some difficulty.
What I want is sufficient funding for Aer Lingus. Some 80% of flights in and out of Ireland were Aer Lingus or Ryanair pre-pandemic. The figure will be even greater as we resume the reopening of aviation. They must get sufficient funding to reopen but it must come with a balanced regional option with Heathrow slots operating out of Shannon and transatlantic. The digital green certificate must be road-tested heavily. We must ensure that when we resume travel to Europe, the common travel area with the UK and US transatlantic flights are opened up as well. This should be done with public health in mind.
In speaking about the national recovery and resilience plan I want to focus on the need for a clear channel of the income to be allocated to Shannon Airport and the preservation of its jobs and connectivity. The mid-west region and my constituency in particular are reeling following the announcement by Aer Lingus to close its Shannon base. This was the latest, but by no means the first, in a series of neo-liberal market-led decisions that have gravely threatened the vitality and saliency of the mid-west region and the hospitality, tourism and foreign direct investment economies based there.
Ireland is set to secure €915 million. This will be sub-divided into grants and loans. As per the EU mandate, these grants must be invested in projects that are essentially future-proofing the island as it emerges into the post-Covid-19 world. This funding offers a real opportunity to safeguard the future of Shannon Airport. We saw the repercussions of what happened when the Government sold its 26% stake in our national airline in 2010. We have seen what has happened when Shannon Airport was ejected from the remit of the Dublin Airport Authority. At the time it was mooted as a move that would ensure growth and expansion. We now know that to be not true.
The dialogue around Shannon keeps referring to the airport as a regional airport, but Shannon is an international airport with inter-continental and transatlantic routes. It boasts the longest runway and was the first to pioneer a sensory room in the country. When we needed personal protective equipment delivered, the airplane had to land in Shannon. This should give us an idea of how valuable the airport is. In 2009 the footfall through Shannon was 30,000 more than Cork Airport, but by 2019 it was 900,000 less than Cork. To say the separation from the DAA has disadvantaged Shannon is an understatement.
In 2017 the economic footprint of Shannon was €3.8 billion. Given the development of the Wild Atlantic Way as a tourism route, the airport has potential for far more than 5% of overall national flights, the volume it received in 2017. The airport must be seen as a critical element of the infrastructure network. I call on the Minister to provide for positive discrimination measures to be taken and for enough of this funding to be dedicated to future-proofing Shannon Airport and the micro-economies of the mid-west region.
Before I address the issue of the national economic recovery plan I wish to say a word of thanks to the members of An Garda Síochána who are having their patience tested outside today. My thanks also go to the Oireachtas staff and the staff in the convention centre who are having to deal with those people. The disrespect shown to Members and staff going in and out of Leinster House has been something to behold. As I understand it, they are now on their way down here. All those involved in keeping us safe deserve to be commended.
The document on the national recovery plan is important. It will be measured in its delivery. It goes without saying that the language, aims and direction of the national economic recovery plan in terms of jobs, the economy and workers' rights are proof that Sinn Féin has won the argument on the economy and jobs. The statement in the document that the focus has to be on recovering differently is proof that the economy presided over in recent decades by the Green Party, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil was not working for ordinary people, workers or the State as a whole. The plan further states that the economy needs to diversify, become more robust and create more productive innovative and resilient jobs. Importantly, it must create secure and valued jobs too. This is what I have been blue in the face from saying since I was first elected. Some of my colleagues have been saying it for 20 years. Every time we have suggested that we need to diversify the economy to make it more robust and create decent jobs in growing sectors we have been jeered at and heckled by those on the Government benches. Sinn Féin has always been clear that the State is a critical player in the economy, in economic development and in economic direction. As we exit the Covid-19 crisis the Government must play its part in building a more robust progressive economy, a high-wage high-productivity high-growth economy that works and delivers for workers and society. That is why some of the proposals in this plan are welcome but there are measures that are not welcome. Some measures are conspicuous by their absence. The proposals for youth employment do not go far enough. The Government must ensure that young people are given all the help they need to re-enter employment where they wish to do so straight away. The Government needs to ensure others have access to training and education to help acquire the skills to enter new careers in secure and resilient jobs in high-wage high-productivity and high-growth sectors. Furthermore, the extensive focus on export and services over goods is a concern. A significant problem for the economy is that we have not grown our indigenous manufacturing base sufficiently. There should be an equal focus on developing and growing our manufacturing sector and exporting goods as on exporting services to grow our economy in real terms.
I will finish as I started. This is an important plan. We always see the expression "check against delivery" stamped on the press releases of the Minister. That is indeed what we will do.
I want to begin by saying that the national economic recovery plan is a scandal. It leaves workers and families behind. It is a betrayal of workers and their families. These people have already been devastated by Government and national public health emergency team lockdowns.
I understand from a recent report that one condition of EU funding is that 37% of the money is spent on green initiatives. Our Government is going far beyond that as usual, with 50% of the Covid-19 recovery facility to be spent on propping up Green Party policy in government. Where is the money for workers, families and communities in Laois and Offaly who are being crippled by an unjust transition? Where has cop on and common sense gone? Clearly, it is not alive and well in government. We are being governed by environmental fanatics who are out of step, out of touch and detached from what most people and small businesses want.
With regard to the local property tax, 100,000 people will now be paying this tax for the first time. The new proposals have been greeted with much frustration by all those who pay the property tax because they are not seeing improved services on the ground. The tax was supposed to provide capital funding for roads and so forth but this has not been forthcoming. We have dreadful roads in Laois-Offaly. The money is clearly not going into our local authority. That needs to change. People feel aggrieved and are rightly very frustrated.
The big question relates to the delay in the Government making the application to the European Commission under this funding programme in the first place. We must ask why Ireland has been given a much lower level of funding than other EU countries. Many small businesses have been closed for a very long time. They will reopen but the trouble is whether they will be able to stay open. That is why the wage subsidy scheme is so important. I ask the Minister of State to ensure this is kept in place for as long as businesses need it to get back on their feet. Where there is stable employment, workers should be encouraged to return to work. The airports at Shannon and Cork are vital to the economy of Kerry. I ask the Minister of State to forget about the third terminal in Dublin.
It is vital that the VAT rate is left at 9%. I am amazed and amused by Deputy Griffin, who is calling for the rate to be maintained at 9%. I remind him that it was he and Shane Ross who increased it from 9% to 13.5% in the first place. This was some of the damage they did to rural Ireland and the tourism industry. They also caused hurt to young drivers with the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act 2018, under which they cannot drive on their own to their work or apprenticeship on a provisional licence. They also denied a lot of people a couple of pints in pubs across rural Ireland. That is what they did. I will be watching him in the back. He is now making a big play of calling to keep the rate down but it was he and Shane Ross who increased it during the term of the last Government.
What is the national recovery and resilience plan? The EU has promised a recovery and resilience fund of €750 billion with the aim of helping member states to deal with the costs arising from the Covid-19 pandemic and to boost the European economic recovery. Cash is to be paid in the form of grants. The tick boxes for these funds relate to research and innovation, fair climate and digital transitions, recovery and resilience, fighting climate change, biodiversity protection and modernising traditional policies. Why are there great delays in respect of apprenticeship schemes? I have heard several complaints that Turas Nua is blocking people from getting on such schemes. This is from where the next body of future workers will come.
Let us look at where the grant schemes are coming from. With regard to fighting climate change, I have been saying from the start that dispersion of traffic throughout the country will be the saviour of Shannon Airport, Cork Airport and all of the other airports. Many of the grants the Government is seeking relate to this dispersion of traffic. This will ensure the future of Shannon Airport. The Wild Atlantic Way, which offers the best views and the best hospitality in Ireland, runs through Limerick and the surrounding counties. What does the Government do? It brings people to this amenity through Dublin. The Government should use these grants to promote Limerick and the surrounding tourism area. The Government should use its head and save Shannon Airport.
I too welcome some aspects of this plan. The VAT rate certainly must be maintained. I thank the county council officials for dealing with the rates waivers and the social welfare officers who have dealt with people meaningfully during the lockdown, which was imposed for too long. We caused all of this trouble. I am very disappointed that we are getting somewhat less than €1 billion out of €750 billion. Where is the solidarity?
Turas Nua is not fit for purpose and we should not be spending 40% or 50% of these funds on green initiatives. That is bonkers and if it is not stopped our economy will be flattened. It is idealistic poppycock and is not sustainable for Ireland. With regard to jobs, I have been talking to hoteliers and business people and the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, especially for students, must be looked at. We must come up with an Xs and Os system or allow them to work 20 hours a week or something because the hospitality industry cannot get workers. We also cannot get tradespeople. Turas Nua and other bodies are not good enough at organising tradespeople. We want tradespeople to deal with our issues. The Road Safety Authority and those dealing with driving licensing and theory tests are also incompetent. The Government feels these services are not essential. Some 100,000 people are waiting. If we want our economy to recover, we must get rid of all of these blockages and loopholes. We also have to look at flexibility to allow people in receipt of PUP to work, perhaps, as I suggested, on an Xs and Os system. Something must be done in this regard.
The Irish plan is structured around three priority areas: advancing the green transition, accelerating and expanding digital reforms and transformation, and social and economic recovery and job creation. The Irish application did not prioritise broadband infrastructure or housing, even though both areas are currently in a state of crisis. The big questions still relate to the delay in Government making its application to the European Commission under this funding programme and to why Ireland is being given a much lower level of funding than other EU countries. For example, Denmark is getting €1.6 billion and Croatia, which has a population smaller than that of Ireland, will receive €6.3 billion, which is more than six times the Irish allocation. Slovakia, whose population is of a similar size to Ireland's, is set to receive €6.3 billion in funding under the programme. This raises serious questions about why the Irish allocation is comparatively so low.
Another change agreed by Government will see the tax bills of approximately 33% of people who already pay property tax increased by another €100 every year. This new form of tax will punish people at a time of great challenges on many fronts. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 33% of homeowners will see an increase even greater than this €100. Ireland is in the middle of a very serious housing emergency and the Government's proposal to introduce increased taxes on property at this time is deeply flawed.
The 9% VAT rate for the tourism sector will remain until September 2022. It was the Government that increased this rate. It should be extended for much longer, as should commercial rates waivers.
If Government stuck to the basics, the economy would be far stronger. What is it doing in respect of fishing? It is attacking the industry and letting it down. What is it doing in respect of farming? It is attacking it and letting it down. What did it do in respect of tourism? It took every negative step it could to hurt tourism. It is planning further attacks on the sector. I remind the Government that we are an island nation but, in order to pursue a green agenda, the Government is going to increase the cost of aviation fuel to such a degree that we will become a high-cost destination. Turf is one of the most basic things we have but our turf-powered electricity generating stations are being closed. Does the Government realise we came very close to experiencing blackouts in recent months because we were running so dangerously low on the energy required? What has the Government done for forestry? One of the easiest things to do in Ireland is to plant and grow a tree but what are we doing? We are importing timber from abroad, left, right and centre. Our own jobs are in serious jeopardy, as we have highlighted. Will the Government stick to the basics?
The Minister of State is talking about billions. I wish to inform him that our very excellent housing department in Kerry County Council, which operates the housing stock for local authority tenants, does not have enough money to replace a stove or fireplace for a person who is old, tired and cold in a local authority home. It is not the fault of the local authority but of the Government. The Minister of State is talking about billions while we in County Kerry cannot replace stoves or windows in our housing stock because we are told we do not have the money. If that was a person in the private sector, the local authority and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage would tell the landlord that he or she had to replace the stove or window. The local authority does not have to do so because it says it does not have the money.
I ask the Government to get real. While the Minister of State is talking about billions, he should look at the basics, mind his own house and keep things in order. I refer to fishing, farming, tourism, turf and forestry. If Government kept its eyes on the ball, it would not be losing its mind and losing its grip on reality, as it is. I implore the Government to watch its own house and to keep things in order. If it does and if it pursues the green agenda, we will have poverty beyond belief. It is going to impose all of these new taxes on people who will find it extremely difficult to manage. With regard to the theory tests, if the Government wants to help get the economy going, it should let the youngsters, who are fit, fine, strong and able to work, do their theory tests so they can get on the road. For God's sake, will the Government open its eyes and employ some common sense?
Any day this amount of money can be put into the economy is a good day. Reflecting on the amount of money that has been spent in the economy since the start of the pandemic has proven that with the appropriate supports we can pull through in the most extraordinary of times. We must be careful and ensure that the supports remain in place until business can stand on its own two feet and the wage earner or earners in a household are comfortable and safe in the context of their earnings being sufficient to support their families. We must focus on these issues.
There has been much talk about billions of euro for improvements. That is true, but the success or failure of this spend will be judged by local people and how it affects their lives. I want to highlight a number of projects that I believe should be concluded in the course of this investment. For example, in my own constituency - other Members have mentioned their constituencies - the ring road project needs to be completed. Let us fast-track that project, create local jobs and take the pressure off the local economy in terms of people being able to get from A to B in jig time.
Broadband is mentioned, but substantially more money is needed in terms of broadband. If business is to perform in what will be a new economic order, then broadband provision at higher speeds than we have currently is absolutely essential. In Castlecomer, County Kilkenny, a pharmacist who was in touch with me told me that at different times of the day the broadband signal drops, making it impossible to dispense. Likewise, when the signal drops in Carlow, credit card machines stop operating and businesses cannot continue. Broadband is an essential part of the recovery in our economy, just as much as education. I wish the Minister for Higher and Further Education, Research, Innovation and Science well in all the investment his Department is making at third level. What about the legacy issues in those departments? I take this opportunity to appeal to the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Taoiseach, who are aware of some of the legacy issues in Cork Institute of Technology, to take a step in the right direction and arrange the appropriate discussions to bring to an end the saga in regard to a whistleblower. What is happening is wrong and unfair.
I also want to look at the green agenda. It is proposed to spend a fortune on the green agenda to bring about a new green digital economy. That is fine, but what about what we have now? I raised the issue of quarries in this House with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan. I explained to him that I was doing so because he was a Minister from the Green Party. I asked him to raise the issue with his colleagues in government because otherwise I would be referred to the Minister with responsibility for local government. Guess what? When I informed him, as I promised I would do, he referred the matter to the Minister with responsibility for local government. If we are talking about reform, the first piece is reform of this House. The second is in regard to transparency and accountability in the context of the Comptroller and Auditor General and how we do business that way. If we saved the money that we are continuously losing, it would make a huge difference in terms of the amount of money that we require for the future. These are small things, as mentioned by Deputy Michael Healy-Rae. If we give the power back to the local authorities, ask them to build the houses, cut out the bureaucracy and give them the money, let us see what happens then. I believe it would be far more efficient to do it that way than the way we are doing it now. It would give people pride in their place in the council areas to see it being done. We need to introduce these reforms.
Another example is the commercial rates. There is much talk all of the time about reform of commercial rates. We have a wonderful opportunity to reform commercial rates on the basis of turnover or profitability. We need to move away from the unfair commercial rates system currently in place. If the Government did that, it would give businesses all over the country a chance, a reasonable break to get up on their feet and moving again. Within an economy there is a society and a community. If we support them, we will be supporting reform and progression. For God's sake, look at the villages and towns throughout the country that are dying on their feet because they do not have financial support. It is fine to give the big figures, but the proof of the success of this initiative will be in the number of small businesses that are afforded help and succeed.
As I have only three minutes, I will be brief. When making decisions, one must first look at the recipe. As the saying goes, "He who pays the piper calls the tune." Some 37% of the European funding has to be spent on climate and 20% must be spent on digital, which means 57% of the spend is tied up. When it is drawing up its plans, the Government will have to do so according to the rules laid down. Otherwise, it will not be able to draw down the funding. It would be a pity to leave €915 million behind us.
I would like to touch on a few issues. Retrofitting of houses is mentioned. The reality is that the worst 20% of houses in this State need more than retrofitting; work is needed on the basic fabric of those houses. We cannot look only at insulation and things like that. We need to make those houses fit and suitable for people to live in, with no draughts and so on. In that connection, we need to look at how these projects are tendered. There should be a facility to ensure that once again the small builders of Ireland can get involved. We need a smaller procurement process than is currently in place.
The next issue I would like touch on is regional equity. We need regional equity and all boats to rise together. I regret that is not always going to happen. I note a reference to regional equity and 5G technologies to drive a greener, move innovative Ireland. That is all very fine if the Government insists that every area gets 5G technology and that it is not reserved for a coverage of 90% of the population that works out at a small percentage of the land mass. When one factors in the cities, that accounts for a large part of the population but there are large parts of the country that are relatively sparsely populated. We must have an Ireland for all.
When looking at capital projects, there are two criteria, one of which is how badly needed they are. At the moment some of those badly needed projects take years to get through planning owing to objections, court cases and so on. The second criterion, on which it is not proposed to spend money, is how quickly can we get any project worth doing up and built, particularly over the coming two or three years. There is an accumulating problem of projects not being delivered and underspends on the capital side, in part due to Covid, but even before that underspends were becoming endemic.
I am happy to see all of the investment in Cork rail and Kent Station, the electrification of the commuter line and the doubling of the line from Glounthaune to Midleton. It is a great idea. I cannot say anything against it. I just wish the western rail corridor had been included as an add-on, a cheap add-on, at a cost of €150 million, to connect the Mayo towns of Ballina, Castlebar and Westport with the Roscommon towns and Galway city. We need regional equity. What we are getting is petty change. The western rail corridor needs to be included. We need to get it done. We own the line and everything is ready to rock and roll. Let us do it now.
I want to take up the point made by my colleague, Deputy Ó Cuív, in regard to the 57% criteria laid down by the European Union.
It is very easy to be an Independent Deputy for County Kerry and to come in here and say "coulda, shoulda, sod of turf", mention 12 villages in one's county and say where the money should have gone. The reality is that if we had not followed the rules, we would have waved goodbye to €520 million of EU money. The funding was specific to certain measures and that is reflected in yesterday's plan. I agree with Deputy Ó Cuív that we would have loved to have seen some more of the money going to different regions. I will refer presently to an issue relating to my region.
There are several measures announced yesterday that are very positive. First, the extension of the PUP and the EWSS right up to the end of the year is welcome. The provision regarding the VAT rate is also very positive. As my party's spokesperson on tourism and aviation, I know that particular measure will be very welcome to the owners of hotels, bed and breakfast and self-catering accommodation, all of which are opening today. It is great to see the booking system already up and running for many premises. It will be quite a buoyant summer but those businesses will face a challenging shoulder season. This is a particular issue we need to watch, as a country and a Government, as we come into the autumn and winter. People will be back at work and school and will not typically be taking the weekends away they might take in the summer. There are slim months in any year when businesses need support. This year, above all others, the tourism sector will need supports during that season.
There are sectors that will take longer to bounce back. Beauty sector businesses such as barbers and hairdressers are booked out and will remain booked out for many weeks to come. People's hair will grow again and they will need another appointment. Those businesses are pretty much back to where they were in 2019. Many have already seen a really great bounceback. For other sectors, such as tourism, the live performance industry, hospitality and aviation, the recovery will take longer. It will be a long time yet before we see a local hotel with 300 or 350 people enjoying a wedding on a Saturday night. There will be sectors that require continuing supports.
I will conclude by speaking about Shannon Airport. It is regrettable and reprehensible that the chief executive of Aer Lingus did not appear before the Oireachtas transport committee today. Anybody who holds a leadership role in an organisation should roll with the punches, attend meetings and engage with stakeholders. I have in my breast pocket the payslip of an Aer Lingus employee in Shannon. For a fortnight at the start of this year, this worker received €634, of which the State paid €600. This means Aer Lingus was paying that individual €17 per week to work for the company. The Government has skin in this game because it has been largely paying Aer Lingus's wage bill for the past 15 months. As such, there should be strings attached when the airline comes looking again for funding. It received €150 million in Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, funding from the Government in February and its wage bill has been mostly covered for 15 months. Now it is back looking for money. The company needs to commit to Shannon and its workers there. The Government needs to attach some conditionality to any funding it provides to ensure there is a long-term future for Shannon. The airport is very viable and a great deal depends on it. I really hope Aer Lingus management will take the opportunity next week to come in and meet with us, instead of shying away from engagement. It has done that for too long with its workers, the Oireachtas and the unions. I hope it will take the opportunity to address the matter next week.
I am sharing time with Deputy Connolly. I agree with the previous speaker to the extent that I hope management at Shannon Airport will engage with the transport committee. However, I have to say I find it slightly laughable that a representative of a political party that cared so much about Aer Lingus's presence in Shannon Airport that it started the privatisation of the company now wants to make Aer Lingus's leaving of Shannon an issue on which it is somehow answerable to the Dáil. That is kind of slapstick at best. However, I do not want to digress too much from the subject we are discussing.
Many speakers criticised the amount we are getting from the European Union. I worry somewhat that we in the Dáil, like other national parliaments, tend to criticise the Union quite a bit without perhaps acknowledging our own faults and our contribution to decisions made at EU level. My understanding is that the criterion for the distribution of funding from the EU was quite transparent and objective. It was based on GDP. Of course, the problem we have is that our GDP is as reliable as the commitment of the previous speaker's party to Aer Lingus's presence at Shannon Airport. We have been criticised roundly and, which is worrying, increasingly, for our corporate tax policy in international media. That includes The New York Times, which ordinarily would be reflective of the thinking within a particular political party in the US, namely, the Democratic Party. That party is now in power and we were all delighted when Mr. Biden took office. Ireland Inc certainly was delighted. One would almost think he was creating employment in a constituency in Ireland, we were so delighted. In fact, he is aggressively going after our corporate tax base.
I find it difficult to criticise President Biden for doing that because we have been eating other people's lunches for a long time. One can only do that for so long before people get a little annoyed that they are getting thin while we are getting fat on their lunch. That starts to grate after a while. The US Government is going after our corporate tax base and the EU will do the same. We cannot really pretend our GDP can grow 20% in a year and that is a normal thing. It is not normal. It is Leprechaun economics. That is what some people in Ireland called it back when we had an enormous growth in our GDP in the past. Such growth seems fantastic on one level but it is not really fantastic because our corporate tax structure means our country does not benefit very much from it. It also means other countries are not able to raise taxes for their citizens. Not alone does it not benefit us, it makes us very unpopular internationally. International unpopularity has a price and I fear we will find ourselves increasingly isolated if we seek to defend our corporate tax structure.
A great deal of this plan is reactionary in respect of what has happened in the past. I agree that every country's economy has been hugely and detrimentally impacted by Covid-19. However, the Government has made it worse for this country because of the measures it introduced. The Government cannot say it saved lives with its measures and also say that all the detrimental effects are down to Covid. The detrimental effects and the economic problems are deeper in this country because of the measures that were taken here. That is a different debate but it is important to make the point that the Government cannot claim credit for one side of the equation and not accept responsibility on the other side.
With regard to our GDP, one thing it does is enable our borrowings to look sustainable. That is my major worry. Our borrowings as a proportion of GDP put us approximately mid-table on a European scale. That is if our GDP continues as it is. If our corporate tax structures change, or change is foisted upon us, then channelling large amounts of profits through Ireland becomes less attractive to companies. Suddenly, our GDP will not be as high as it has been and our borrowings will not look as sustainable. We will have a huge problem if that happens. We barely ran a surplus in this country up to 2019, even with almost full employment. That is worrying. The reason we struggled was the cost of servicing our existing borrowings. Now we are going to borrow more. I do not have a problem with Keynesian economics and the idea that a economy should be stimulated when it is in recession. I have a problem with the longer-term trajectory our economy is on and our reliance on a certain corporate tax structure to attract foreign direct investment. That needs to change.
I do not have time to make my final point but I have lots of confidence in my friend and colleague, Deputy Connolly, to make several illuminating points.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this topic. The national recovery and resilience plan is what is down for discussion but we are talking about the economic plan as well. It is difficult to cover all of that in the four minutes and 41 seconds available to me. However, I am grateful for the time and I hope to use it effectively.
It has been extremely difficult to have a debate on this plan. Reference was made to the Parliamentary Budget Office, which kindly produced a paper for us and told us there has been no substantive engagement with the Houses or the Oireachtas committees on the plan. There has been limited scrutiny by the Oireachtas in the preparation of the recovery and resilience plan, which deals with almost €1 billion in funding from Europe under three headings. I will come back to those headings presently. That lack of engagement is a problem. I hope the Government will learn from it and come back with quarterly updates to the committees and the Dáil. That would be something at least to inspire confidence.
Deputy McGuinness said that any day on which this much money is being put into the economy, comprising almost €1 billion from the EU and more than €3 billion under the economic recovery plan, is a good day. It certainly is a good day and there are many positive things in the plan. My difficulty is that the pandemic affected us particularly badly because we were unprepared.
We had a public health system that was not fit for purpose and hospitals that were creaking at the seams, a housing crisis and so on. We all joined with one voice to pass the Government's draconian legislation to deal with the pandemic and we all stood together in solidarity. That is now creaking at the seams. We were to learn that we could never go back, yet this plan is being hailed without scrutiny as something that will cause the economy to "take off like a rocket". That type of language does not indicate to me that we have learnt anything at all. We simply cannot let the economy take off like a rocket because that would not be sustainable on any level. This also goes back to where we were, which was not sustainable.
I look at the plan and see good things without a doubt. Everybody has a personal interest. I will not waste time setting out the three headings because the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, did so earlier. "Digital reform" is an unfortunate term because under that there are very good things like developing a ten-year adult literacy, numeracy and digital literacy strategy but the figure for adult illiteracy has been stubbornly high, has it not? It is somewhere between 19% and 20-something per cent. That is unforgivable and should have been dealt with earlier. I welcome that we are now going to look at it. I welcome other good things in the plan.
We are not recognising, however, that we need a completely different approach. Because of climate change and Covid, we need transformative change, and the economy we now wish to ignite must be ignited in a different way. It must have a regional balance. It must take into account our islands, our smaller towns and sustainable development. I really do not see that happening with the words "take off like a rocket". That is very worrying to me. I look at this plan and think of Galway, a city that is growing, and I welcome that, but it is growing without a master plan, without any light rail or public transport and without any park-and-ride. We have islands without an island policy. We have towns going under, both i gcroílár na Gaeltachta and, on the other side, in Kilmaine and Tuam. I am naming towns that need urgent help and stimulation, which is not happening. Deputy Ó Cuív mentioned the western rail corridor, which I fully support. In the guise of this sustainability and equality, Cork, because it has a Taoiseach and senior Ministers, is getting a lot. I thought we had moved away from that politics. I thought we would look at which projects are necessary. For instance, we have sewage going into our seas and rivers. I would have thought we would highlight those projects and then public transport. Of course I will fight for Galway but I would like to see public transport projects like light rail rolled out if they are the right thing to do. We need a feasibility study in that regard.
I have 13 seconds left. What can I say? Perhaps the Government will learn and come back to the relevant committees and the Dáil so we can analyse this and be part of the democratic process. Rather than labelling Opposition Deputies as negative and sidelining us, the Government should take on board what we are saying. We were elected just like the Government Deputies and have ideas just like they do. Our ideas might be slightly different but we would be delighted to work with Government Deputies in the proper forum.
Tá áthas orm bheith anseo chun freagra a thabhairt ar an díospóireacht seo. To answer immediately the point about Oireachtas scrutiny that Deputy Connolly raised, I will point out that the Minister has in fact been in touch regularly with the Oireachtas finance committee, and that engagement will continue. The Minister will be subject to ongoing scrutiny on this issue. The general public, including Oireachtas Members, were in fact invited to make their submissions on this during the process, so there was sufficient opportunity for people to put forward their views as to how this money should be spent.
Next Generation EU represents an unprecedented response from the European Union to a global crisis. The support provided to member states, including Ireland, to help them to respond to the global pandemic is tangible evidence of the solidarity that comes with EU membership. The €750 billion recovery instrument, along with the €1 trillion budget for the next seven years, is central to the EU's response to the global pandemic. The aim of Next Generation EU is to help to repair the immediate economic and social damage brought about by the pandemic and to prepare for a post-Covid Europe that is greener, more digital, more resilient and fit to face the future.
Unusually, the European Commission will now borrow on the markets at more favourable rates than many member states and redistribute the amounts. The money is provided in the form of grants and loans and, to answer a query one colleague raised, the Irish money, as things stand, will be in the form of grants. We are to receive €950 million in the form of grants under the facility in 2021 and 2022. Further grants will be allocated in 2023. Mention was made of the figures for this. Those who mentioned this failed to take into account a number of important points. One is that, as part of the overall EU budget negotiations, Ireland also receives under the Brexit adjustment reserve approximately €1.1 billion, by far the largest allocation of any member state. In addition, there is the PEACE PLUS programme, which benefits Northern Ireland and Border communities and stretches out a little beyond that, including Galway, as Deputy Connolly will be very happy to hear. That amounts to approximately €1 billion but the details of that have to be worked out. That increases the money coming into this country from Europe.
A really critical point about this programme is that it benefits the entirety of the Single Market, so when the French economy or the German economy does well, the entire Single Market does well. Which countries do best out of the European Single Market? All the research shows that within the European Union it is Luxembourg followed by Ireland. All the companies that employ people in really exciting jobs, particularly in the pharma industry in Galway and, in Deputy Mattie McGrath's constituency, the pharma industry and other really important industries in Clonmel, benefit directly when their customers in the European Single Market are in economies that are doing better. That part of this debate is not widely appreciated or understood.
I will have to respond to Deputy Michael Healy-Rae. He certainly knows Kerry better than I do but, as an outsider to Kerry, I do not immediately associate it with fishing, forestry and turf. I think of Fexco, Kerry Group, Liebherr in Killarney and the technological university being established. Those are all very much dependent on the European Union and the European Single Market. There are tens of thousands of jobs in Kerry Group around the world. Fexco also provides thousands of jobs.
As the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, said, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, working in conjunction with the Taoiseach's Department and the Department of Finance, prepared this plan with inputs not only from other Departments but also from the general public and Members of Dáil Éireann. The benefits and the individual details have been laid out. As I said, strong, healthy EU economies are very much in Ireland's interest.
Our recovery and resilience facility is structured on six pillars: green transition; digital transformation; economic cohesion, productivity and competitiveness; social and territorial cohesion; health, economic, social and institutional resilience; and policies for the next generation. There are also the seven flagship areas identified by the European Commission. The European semester process, which is the formal process of examining budgets, public expenditure and budgetary policy, has been temporarily adapted to co-ordinate with this recovery facility. The facility is designed to contribute to the four dimensions outlined in the 2021 annual sustainable growth strategy, which continues the growth strategy based on the European green deal and the concepts of competitive sustainability, environmental sustainability, productivity gains, fairness and macroeconomic stability. Member states were required to embed those measures they planned to take in national budgetary processes. An important feature of plans is that they must strike a balance between reforms, which Deputy McGuinness spoke so well about, and investments and seek to address challenges identified in the country-specific recommendations which arise as part of the European semester process.
When I was in the Dáil last July, in the aftermath of the European Council decision on the budget, we heard a lot of talk about the European semester process, that it was really about austerity, that there would be cutbacks and that the terrible European Commission would cut us back. However, I explained the reality at that time and now the reality has borne fruit in the Minister's statement and the plans that have been put forward. Nobody can criticise anything in this plan because, effectively, it is all "good stuff" and items that will benefit communities, people and our economies. When the French Government, the Italian Government or the German Government spends - the Croatian Government was mentioned - our companies here in Ireland are very well placed to benefit from that.
It was mentioned that we need to give support to the tourism industry. When all those European economies are doing better, our hotels and restaurants in counties Galway, Kerry, Cork and Meath do much better as well. That is what this is all about. We have to think of ourselves as being very much at the heart of the Single Market and that it benefits us directly and more effectively almost than any other member state.
This is about jobs and social resilience. Practically every Member welcomed this but the notes of caution, surprisingly, came from left wing politicians. This is the largest stimulus ever. The term "Keynesian" was used by Deputy McNamara. This is the first of its kind by the EU. It will be on top of what individual member states, such as Ireland, have spent on stimulus packages. The European Commission has been careful to make sure that when this money is spent, it will not be on day-to-day items like most governments spend on social welfare. This is about making sure we are ready for the future and that we can compete and create jobs that last. This is about moving to the digital age confidently in a socially progressive and equal way, protecting our environment while, at the same time, creating and protecting jobs.
I am delighted to have had a small role to play in this at the General Affairs Council. I commend the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance, as well as all Oireachtas Members, on their work in ensuring this gets over the line. I thank the Taoiseach as well because he negotiated this at the European Council. He also negotiated the other parts of the European budget that are unique to Ireland, namely, the PEACE PLUS programme and the Brexit adjustment reserve, the latter in terms of the amount. We will benefit from those separately as well.