Tuesday, 21 September 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
4. To ask the Minister for Finance the amount of funding Ireland is set to receive from the EU recovery fund; his views on the amount of funding Ireland is set to receive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45183/21]
The total cost of the Government's handling of Covid, when the taxation measures, wage subsidies, grant supports and liquidity schemes, etc., are taken into consideration, for 2020 and 2021 was €41.3 billion, which is a phenomenal figure. The Comptroller and Auditor General's estimated cost of the banking bailout was €41.7 billion. These are two figures which are very similar. Yet, we see very little from the European Union with regard to helping this country. We hear that less than €1 billion is coming from the European fund.
Of the money we spent on Covid and supporting our society through a time of such challenge, I am unclear what element of that spending the Deputy was against. Was he against the introduction of the pandemic unemployment payment? Was he against the introduction of the employment wage subsidy scheme? Was he against putting more money into our hospitals as our citizens needed support and healthcare at a time of such crisis? Perhaps the Deputy, in outlining his concern regarding why the debt has increased by so much, of which I am aware, will also outline what elements of the spending I implemented during this crisis he is against.
On the role of the European Union, the recovery plan being brought forward by the EU and the funding we are accessing, it is the case that other countries are accessing more. This is for reasons such as the scale of the countries and the harm caused to those countries by Covid. However, the total amount of funding still being made available through the recovery fund is €1.16 billion. In my book, €1.16 billion is still a large amount of money. Some €853 million of which can be used to support the kind of investment we need in helping our economy and society recover. There is €176 million being provided through the European agricultural fund for rural development. While I accept the point raised that these fund elements are lower than other countries, it is still a gigantic amount of money. Of course, as the Deputy will know, the biggest help the European Union provided during this period was the decision the European Central Bank made to intervene in financial markets to facilitate countries borrowing. Without that action, the kind of response we put in place would have been more difficult and the cost would have been even higher.
Covid is obviously a real illness and we needed to be careful regarding the management of that illness. However, Ireland took a role which was an extreme outlier role compared with every other European country. No other European country's restrictions were as severe or as long as those introduced by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
In financial terms, for example, our annual spending in 2020 increased by 20%. In Denmark, it increased by 5% while in France, it increased by 8%. The European average increase in spending during 2020 was less than 10%. However, due to the overextended and over-severe restrictions, our spending amount was a radical outlier. No other country took the route we took nor did it cost any other country the same in financial terms.
On the cost of this, we are edging towards a national debt of €280 billion. We will have a deficit of €14 billion next year, €7 billion in the year after that and €7 billion in the following year. We are talking about a paltry sum of less than €1 billion with regard the fund from the European Union.
Instinct is appropriate here and it was an appropriate word for the Deputy to conclude his question on. What instinct of his is motivating him? During the many lockdowns we had to go through when our country was going through waves of Covid, at what point would he have lightened the public health measures? At what point would he have made the decision, when there were hundreds of people in our hospitals and we had community transmission rates in the thousands on some days, to reverse the public health measures that were in place at that point? He was not involved in that decision nor, indeed, should he have been. He is not a member of Government. It is a responsibility I have. During that period, we put public health measures in place that were very demanding. It is also the case that due to the measures and the vaccination programme put in place by the Government, and the economic support plans we implemented, we were able to reduce the number of people who could have died. Every life that has been lost, every person's health that has been affected and every family that has grieved is a grievance and a loss too many. Our measures were successful in helping many people escape the spread of this deadly disease.
We are now seeing a recovery taking place within our economy, a reduction in the number of people unemployed, and increase in the amount of money being spent in our domestic economy that up to a year ago would have looked unlikely. Of course, I acknowledge the difficulty and harm caused by decisions we had to make, but I put the case to the House that in many cases those measures were successful in saving lives and preventing further ill health.
Sometimes we are very insular and inward looking in this country.
We handled this crisis in a radically different manner from every other European country. Yes, we had a crisis here. The majority of people who died of Covid caught it in a nursing home or hospital, which were the epicentre of the Covid crisis in this country. This area was radically mismanaged by the Government and we need a full investigation into how it was handled. The truth of the matter is that countries like Denmark and Germany opened pubs and restaurants, for example, months before we did. They did so safely, using antigen testing. They used the proper logic to open those services and they allowed people to go back to work earlier. The Covid crisis cost their countries radically less as a result.
It has been reported in The Sunday Timesthat the State will pay €19 billion over a 30-year period into funds to cover the cost of the Covid crisis and we will get a total of €2 billion back. For most people, these figures are as large as the banking crisis figures, yet there is precious little debate around the issue. There is stony silence around the massive costs to the State.
I do not hear much stony silence in regard to the costs. A growing theme of the public debate that is under way is an appreciation of the increase in our national debt and what that could mean for generations to come. Unlike the banking guarantee, the debt incurred in dealing with the Covid crisis played a direct role in saving jobs in our domestic economy at a time they were needed. It played a role in directly supporting income at a time it was needed.
The Deputy made the case that our public health measures were too demanding and out of line with elsewhere. However, when we brought in the measure to allow restaurants to open up more safely by way of the display of Covid vaccination certificates, he was against it.
The Deputy will come into the House and say the public health measures are too demanding but when the Government brings forward a plan to lighten and moderate those public health measures and allow restaurants to successfully reopen in the way they did this summer, Deputy Tóibín is against it. He talked earlier about his instincts. He says he is in favour of changing public health measures to allow restaurants and cafés to open, but when we introduced a measure to enable our hospitality sector to successfully open across the summer period, Deputy Tóibín was against it.