Dáil debates

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Financial Resolutions 2021 - Financial Resolution No. 2: General (Resumed)

 

Debate resumed on the following Financial Resolution:

-(Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment)

12:40 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The budget introduced by this Government marks a decisive moment when our country moves forward to rebuild and renew after a once-in-a-century pandemic. It is a progressive budget, which will underpin economic recovery and return 400,000 people to work. It will deliver the largest package of income support in more than a decade. In the face of worldwide rises in costs, it provides assistance to the vast majority of our people. On top of this, it marks a further decisive investment in health, housing, education and a wide range of public services. No single budget could ever address every need for investment or provide all of the support that people would like, but by any objective measure this budget marks a substantial and important investment in Ireland's future and in support for hard-pressed families. It again demonstrates the progressive programme of change agreed as the basis for this coalition Government.

Is cáinaisnéis í seo atá, ag an am céanna, cóir, uaillmhianach agus fadradharcach. Oibríonn an cháinaisnéis go réadúil taobh istigh de na dúshláin gheilleagracha agus bhuiséadacha ach cuireann sí geallúint lárnach an Rialtais os comhair an phobail, ag freagairt d’ábhair mhóra phráinneacha na linne seo atá ag déanamh buartha do mhuintir na hÉireann.

Before going into the detail of the budget, and what it means for our social, economic, cultural and environmental future, it is important to address the scale of the shock our country has experienced in the past year and a half. At a very difficult moment for Ireland and the wider world, the Government has been determined to do everything possible to help our country through an historic pandemic, a major recession and a range of other urgent issues. In forming this Government, we understood the profound nature of the challenges we faced and we gave a shared commitment to charting a new way forward. At every stage since the Government was formed, our focus has been on saving lives and protecting the ability of our economy to restore jobs and return to growth. Every single member of the Government has worked intensively, dealing with a unique and rapidly changing situation. This included the harsh reality of a virus, which itself mutated and became an even bigger threat. Working together with our public servants and people in every part of our society, remarkable things have been achieved.

The impact of the virus has been terrible, but the facts show this to be lower than in most other countries. Unprecedented supports prevented a deep economic shock from being even more devastating and, of course, a world-leading vaccination programme has provided the foundation for the restoration of most elements of social and economic life. It is very rare that a public health initiative is also the most important economic foundation underpinning a budget, but there is no doubt that the increases in public services, social supports and investments we are implementing would have been impossible without the vaccination programme. I again acknowledge the great work of everyone involved in that programme.

Our colleagues in the European Union delivered on the promise they made to me to give Ireland fast and fair access to vaccines on the same basis as even the biggest countries. Given the unfair attacks the EU received at the start of this year, the record needs to be corrected to acknowledge how the rapid purchase and distribution of vaccines by the Union has been a spectacular success. Between my Department, the Department of Health and the HSE, and with the co-operation of every other part of the Government, a plan was put in place with highly ambitious targets for obtaining and distributing vaccines as fast as any country. In partnership with tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, emergency medical technicians, other health professionals and volunteers, this is exactly what has been done. The programme has achieved a level of take-up that stands out internationally and has transformed the possibilities for the year ahead.

However, we must still be vigilant and we must avoid complacency. While our vaccination programme is an undisputed success, there are still too many adults who are not fully vaccinated. Over the course of the past seven days, the rate of infection, the number of hospital admissions and the rate of ICU admissions have all increased. The pandemic has not gone away and it requires all of us to continue to be careful. The pandemic has also created a series of new hurdles to be overcome, including dramatic increases in key waiting lists and nearly 10,000 fewer houses being built but we are, as a nation, now moving forward and taking decisive steps on critical issues.

The most dramatic element of this budget is that it underpins the creation of a total of 400,000 jobs between this year and next, restoring employment at a rate well beyond many predictions. Any honest review of this budget and the Government’s actions must start with this scale and pace of job creation, and the impact it will have on young people, families, our hardest stretched communities and our ability to invest in public services. A dramatic fall in unemployment levels is something that everyone here should welcome and they should also acknowledge the central role that Government action has played in this.

This is an ambitious and progressive budget but it is defined by the sustainable management of the public finances. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, have ensured a balanced approach with no attempt to return immediately to pre-pandemic figures, but a significant and essential move towards a lower deficit will be taken. In particular, given price pressures and signals about interest rates from central banks, significantly higher borrowing or taxation than is proposed in this budget would be manifestly unsustainable. It would also threaten the ability to deliver on critical initiatives which could not be delivered in only one year.

It has already been claimed a number of times during this debate, and in Sinn Féin’s alternative budget, that the pandemic supposedly proved that much higher borrowing can be sustained. Allied to this has been the call for pandemic levels of intervention to be retained. Such an approach is deeply wrong and based on the false premise that emergency interventions are a model for permanent interventions. In 2020 and 2021, Government intervention to respond to the pandemic and support people and businesses has amounted to approximately €31 billion. We have been able to finance this because of Central Bank interventions, historically low interest rates and co-ordinated action across countries.

However, this level of support is manifestly not sustainable and we must now move to the next phase, where the finite resources the Government can deploy are targeted at those who need them most, and expended in a manner that best supports recovery, opportunity and our future prosperity. This means choices have to be made and not every need can be immediately addressed. That is why budget 2022 has been prepared in line with the commitments given in our summer economic statement. We are demonstrating a clear commitment to following through on delivering progress that is sustainable.

The budget prioritises investment that will strengthen the economy, address critical social issues and provide much-needed support for people.

Critically, it also begins delivering on this Government's ambitious series of long-term plans for permanent progress on inclusive economic growth, social infrastructure and tackling the climate crisis. The overall package of measures included in the budget amount to €4.7 billion. That is a major economic stimulus by any measure and it strikes a balance between urgent action and the limits of what is possible to implement and sustain. A critical element in our approach is that should a new and unforeseen crisis hit, or if we encounter another Covid shock, we will be in a much better position to respond.

The Government's absolute focus is on a positive agenda of bringing our country through the pandemic and into a period of growth and renewal. However, the reality is that we must respond to the always escalating and crude attacks of the Opposition parties. This has been repeated again in this debate and it is, therefore, necessary to devote a small portion of this speech to responding. As we saw repeatedly during the most difficult phases of the pandemic, political cynicism and opportunism are the defining characteristics of Sinn Féin's approach to politics. Not only was its policy constantly changing - and, at different points, it was both for and against different policies on the same day - but it really took a new level of cynicism to demand restrictions and attack restrictions, depending on who the audience was. Of course, the often highly personal attacks on the vaccination programme have never been withdrawn. This stands in marked contrast to others here who endeavoured to be constructive. Everyone here has long become used to the fact that Sinn Féin responds to even the most detailed and factual criticism with aggression and abuse. With the media, Sinn Féin's approach has been to work on the hope and expectation that journalists and researchers do not have the time to check its claims or to look at its record in government in the Northern Executive. I hope this budget will be a moment when this approach begins to run out of road.

Sinn Féin has managed to expose itself as promising everything to everybody without the slightest intention to deliver. For most of the past year, the party has angrily attacked any proposal to touch the pandemic unemployment payment. Deputy McDonald said that it represented the bare minimum that anyone could be expected to live on and should be the permanent rate. However, in Sinn Féin's alternative budget, not €1 is provided for retaining the payment and it would take 15 years of their proposed increases to reach the level Deputy McDonald told us was the bare minimum. Many people will be surprised to see that the so-called alternative budget, which Deputy Doherty told us angrily we should step aside and let him implement, provides a tiny fraction of what would be required to meet the demand for 100% redress for every conceivable circumstance relating to mica and pyrite damage. In contrast, my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is undertaking the much harder work of finding out what is required to deal with people's problems and to come forward with comprehensive solutions.

In area after area, there is a contrast between the hard work of Ministers and the Government in developing ambitious and sustainable policies and an Opposition party which has added a new arrogance and presumption to its trademark aggression. Ireland, like the rest of Europe and most of the world, is facing into a number of steep cost increases. I understand the pressure which this is already placing on many families, and also on businesses that are seeing vital supplies rising at an unprecedented rate. That is why a wide series of initiatives to help people with the rising cost of living is being undertaken. Every household will benefit in some way from changes to social supports and taxation with by far the greatest benefit going to those most in need. Those include the largest package of social support increases in over a decade; tax changes weighted to the lowest paid, which will help over 1.8 million people; an increase in the national minimum wage; an extension of free GP care for six- and seven-year-olds; the extension of eligibility for the universal childcare subsidy to all children aged up to 15; and an enhanced funding stream for childcare to improve pay and conditions for those working in the sector, and to prevent fee increases. These and many other initiatives will be of direct financial benefit to people coping with increased costs.

There are also enormous pressures on energy costs due to international developments. We are taking immediate action in response with an increase of €5 per week in the fuel allowance. We have already seen that fuel costs will be a constant attack point for the largest Opposition party. However, its Deputies will now have to cope with the inconvenient fact that the Sinn Féin alternative budget does not mention any increase in the rate of payment and proposes that the payment be extended next year. In contrast, we have implemented an increase which is already in place, less than 24 hours after it was announced. There is no easy fix to rising costs but we are ensuring substantive help and will continue to work to ease key pressures.

Strategic planning to address critical challenges is central to this Government's approach and that has proceeded even during the pandemic. In June, we set out details of our overall recovery plan. We showed how we will drive a jobs-rich recovery, rebuild our economy and get our people back to work. The plan sets out renewed supports, investments and policies for a new stage of economic recovery and transition, with an overarching ambition of a record 2.5 million people in work by 2024. The latest reviews confirm that we are on track to deliver this challenging target.

The strategy also has a focus on young people. A new work placement experience programme is being put in place, providing 10,000 work placements to last for six months for key groups of jobseekers. We are also expanding the JobsPlus scheme with higher incentives for recruitment of young unemployed people and introducing a new youth employment charter for intensive engagement with young jobseekers. The action plan for apprenticeship, launched in April 2021, builds on and seeks to enhance the apprenticeship system in Ireland by increasing the number of registered apprentices per annum by 10,000 by 2025. The Government, as part of its Covid response, has also provided an additional 50,000 education and training places to support the reskilling and upskilling of our workforce for the jobs of tomorrow. The Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, last night published details of a major package of new funding for higher education and training. The funding crisis in key parts of higher education is being tackled and a range of measures will provide direct financial and service support for students. This includes new funding for access and inclusion. When we are asked about what this budget does for young people, the answer is very clear: we are delivering jobs, training and education, as well as a series of initiatives which will provide direct financial assistance. We can also point to the reduced cost of public transport for young people, an imaginative proposal with a tangible benefit that will make a positive difference to their lives and to the quality of life overall.

Our health system has faced enormous new pressures in the past year and a half. Even today it continues to deal with a significant number of Covid-19 cases. The pandemic directly led to the cancellation of hundreds of thousands of procedures and tackling this backlog has to be added to other essential service developments. This budget will directly enable a major series of initiatives to make health services more accessible and develop new services. Our hospital system will move forward with developing new specialist services as well as implementing an urgent programme to reduce waiting lists from their new pandemic high. A waiting list fund of €350 million will help those waiting longest on public hospital waiting lists. The HSE will be funded to hire an additional 8,000 new full-time and permanent staff. Some 300 new acute hospital beds will be added in 2022, on top of the 800 provided this year, and the development of many more in subsequent years will proceed. By the end of this year, critical care beds will have increased by one quarter since the Government took up office. Next year, we will go further again.

An important feature of this budget is how it provides for important new initiatives developed by the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, as well as by the Ministers of State, Deputies Butler and Rabbitte. Over €30 million will go to dedicated women’s health initiatives, including contraception and funding for our national maternity strategy. We will also expand specialist endometriosis services and provide additional specialist referral menopause clinics. Access and affordability will be improved through free GP care for children aged six and seven, a reduced drugs payment threshold, lower hospital charges for children and expanded free dental care. Major new funding is being provided for mental health services, while a range of initiatives to help older people and people with dementia will also be implemented. Building on the huge progress made this year in reducing the disability assessments of need backlog by 91%, next year an extra €55 million will go to tackling the waiting lists for speech and language therapists, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and psychology. Together with many other developments for next year, the budget’s provision for health services ensures we are undertaking one of the most sustained periods of service expansion in our history.

The loss of nearly 10,000 new houses due to the pandemic has added new pressures to an already serious situation, but the reality is that a step change in house building, and the building of public housing in particular, is now under way. The Housing for All strategy which we published recently is a radical, realistic and costed plan, which will open up access to affordable, high-standard housing to purchase or rent.

The largest multi-annual programme with secured funding in the history of Irish housing has been put in place with in excess of €20 billion available in the next five years through the Exchequer, the Land Development Agency, LDA, and the Housing Finance Agency. There are those who attack the fact that our plan also facilitates the development of private housing. We make no apology for this. Ireland needs action on every element of housing and to block private housing and, by extension, private renting would make price pressures much worse.

The plan provides a whole-of-government approach to tackle issues across multiple policy areas, including homelessness, affordable home ownership, public and social housing, the LDA, rent reform and planning. Furthermore, a new tax to activate vacant lands for residential development is being introduced. Overall, more than 11,800 new social housing homes will be available next year.

The Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, has developed and is implementing a range of urgent and ambitious plans that can have a major positive impact on the provision of homes. The attacks on the Minister and his housing plans have been highly predictable and based on the premise, repeated again yesterday by Deputy Doherty, that there are easy and rapid solutions, which would happen tomorrow if only his party were put in charge. The inconvenient truth is that Sinn Féin is in charge of housing in the Northern Ireland Executive and its record is the exact opposite of what it demands here. Sinn Féin took charge of housing policy in January 2020 and, because it is an area of devolved responsibility and is not only about money, it is not an area where it can again blame London for problems. In Dublin, a new Government came in, implemented changes immediately and published a fully costed and radical plan within 12 months. In Belfast, where homelessness, house prices and social housing are also acute issues, Sinn Féin has promised that by the middle of next year it will get around to publishing a housing supply strategy. After two and a half years, it will publish a plan. There is no issue where the attacks we face are more aggressive or where the claims of providing a credible alternative are more arrogant but, if you look beyond the spin, all you find is the emperor’s new housing policy.

In the past year and half, we saw once again just how important our schools are to our society. Supporting our schools is a core priority for me and for this Government. This priority is demonstrated again in this budget. As a result of this budget, classes will be smaller, more school buildings will be renovated and built, schools serving disadvantaged communities will receive extra support and, most importantly, there will be a major increase in the number of teachers and SNAs supporting children with special needs.

Ireland today has one of the highest levels of school completion and third level qualification in Europe. This has been the foundation upon which our economic and social progress has been built over the past five decades. However, we can always do better and do more to release the full potential of children and young people with special needs as well as children facing educational disadvantage. Next year will mark another important step for inclusion and achievement in our schools.

The Government also remains committed to the full implementation of Sláintecare as part of a mission to introduce universal healthcare and to provide the people of Ireland with the right care in the right place at the right time.

There are many other areas where this budget delivers an ambitious and progressive programme. A number of urban regeneration initiatives will proceed and changes that are central to supporting rural communities will be implemented. Between this year and next, the funding for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will have been increased by 13%, enabling both the protection of all key farm schemes and the introduction of new measures. This budget delivers on our promise to establish a national food ombudsman to regulate the sector and to ensure fairness for all producers. The €4 million being provided will ensure this important new office, a long-held demand of farmers, will rapidly get up and running.

Cabhróidh an caiteachas a chuireann an cháinaisnéis seo ar fáil mar bhonn faoi láidreacht leanúnach ár gcultúir agus ár dteanga dhúchais. Tarlóidh sé seo go réadúil lá i ndiaidh lae i suímh chomh héagsúil le seomraí ranga agus imeachtaí oscailte pobail. Tá réimse leathan tionscnamh atá uaillmhianach agus spreagúil curtha chun cinn ag an Aire, an Teachta Catherine Martin, agus cuirfear i bhfeidhm iad i rith na bliana seo chugainn. Ag obair go dlúth le pobal na n-ealaíon, tá faomhadh an Rialtais faighte ag an Aire, ag an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Chambers, agus ag Roinn an Aire le haghaidh bearta a bhfuil sé mar aidhm acu, ní hamháin imeachtaí cultúrtha a atosú i ndiaidh na paindéime, ach dul i bhfad níos faide ná sin . Cuirfidh na bearta nua seo nuálaíocht agus for-rochtain ar fáil.

Accelerating our efforts to tackle the climate emergency is a core mission of this Government. It is shared by all three parties and whole-of-government co-ordination is being ensured by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, as chairperson of the Cabinet subcommittee. The climate challenge will demand fundamental changes in every sector and every community throughout Ireland over the coming years but it also offers us enormous opportunities in our move to a new, more sustainable future, a future where we will be more resilient to the climate change that we know is upon us, more self-reliant in terms of the energy we use and more respectful of the natural world around us. New industries and economic opportunities are there for us to seize as we accept the now undeniable and urgent necessity to find more sustainable ways of working and of living.

Ireland has taken a step forward in tackling the crisis with the enactment this summer of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, which sets legally binding emissions reduction targets for Ireland for the first time. Legislation and targets are not enough though. We must proceed with action, innovation and investment. This is not easy and there are choices to be made. No single blueprint is available to every country for taking action in its own social and economic context. However, we will act and we will act with determination.

It is a pity that key elements of this House have chosen the road of cynical political opportunism on climate change. They support it rhetorically and then systematically oppose every concrete action. We cannot and will not let this delay us. In this budget, we are providing the financial investments required to support the next stage of our transition to a low-carbon future. The forthcoming climate action plan 2021 will reflect our first carbon budget programme and outline the specific actions we will take across Government to achieve the emissions reductions necessary for our future well-being.

In keeping with programme for Government commitments, revenues from this year's increase in carbon tax will be used to protect those most vulnerable to fuel poverty through increases in the fuel allowance, the living alone allowance and qualifying child allowance. It will also be used to help fund the retrofitting of homes to reduce energy costs for homeowners. Funding will also be provided to help ensure a just transition for those who are particularly adversely affected by the need to decarbonise our activities. Finally, a significant proportion has been set aside to help farmers address greenhouse gas emissions.

We are committed to pursuing and achieving the transition to a climate-resilient, biodiversity-rich, environmentally sustainable and carbon-neutral economy by 2050. This will be delivered in a just and sustainable manner.

Brexit remains a major economic challenge. The European Commission’s proposal to allocate a very significant share of the Brexit Adjustment Reserve to Ireland is welcome and reflects the extensive engagement we have undertaken to present the unique, adverse and disproportionate impact of Brexit on Ireland. Our work will continue over the period ahead, in particular as checks and controls are brought into effect for imports into Britain.

Commissioner Šefčovič is today outlining the EU’s proposals for dealing with problems in trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. I want to put on the record of this House my very deep and genuine appreciation for the way he has approached this issue and how he has conducted himself. He has dedicated himself to fully understanding all aspects of the issue and has been steadfast in his commitment to problem-solving. He has spent an enormous amount of time listening to people on the ground in Northern Ireland and working on constructive and detailed proposals. At every stage, he has worked in good faith and has epitomised the spirit of the Commission’s consistent strong support for the Good Friday Agreement. If everyone is operating in good faith and if the focus is on addressing disruption in trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, then these proposals will address the problem and respect the treaties we all agreed to. I will leave my comments at that for the moment. I will be further communicating with the British Prime Minister.

Over these past two years, while living with Covid-19 and its toll on human life and well-being, we have all endured hardship and loss. However, we now turn our attention to the challenges and opportunities on the horizon, including addressing housing and climate change, and positioning our economy and society to thrive and achieve sustained progress.

This budget marks the start of that journey.

When speaking to the previous budget, I said that the road ahead will continue to have many turns, challenging us in new ways, but we will reach a time when we can again go about our lives without worrying about this terrible virus and look towards a building a better future for us all. Today, with budget 2022, I am happy to say we can now raise our heads and look towards that better future for us all. I commend this budget to the House.

1:10 pm

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on budget 2022. I would like to share time with the Ministers of State, Deputies Damien English and Robert Troy.

This is my second budget as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. We have experienced many ups and downs since I spoke last year, including a serious third wave of the virus and prolonged periods of lockdown but also a highly successful vaccination programme and a substantial reopening of the economy. We certainly have not always got things right as a Government, but we have always sought to protect lives and livelihoods as best we could, stepping in to protect jobs and businesses quickly and decisively.

We are all very much aware of the rising cost of living and this budget includes measures to help families, young people and senior citizens to meet some of these costs. The budget is written against the backdrop of Covid-19, but it is also a budget that plans for a new chapter in our recovery. It is guided by the economic recovery plan and sets out to restore our public finances to good health, to restore existing jobs and create new ones in areas such as construction, climate action, digital and the care economy and to reach 2.5 million people at work in Ireland by 2024, setting a new record.

Budget 2022 provides a much-needed boost for business in Ireland, to businesses that are still struggling with the effects of the pandemic and to businesses looking to grow. The pandemic still weighs heavily on many enterprises. It is not yet over and they will need support for some time to come. For those businesses, we have provided certainty on the main State financial supports, such as the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, which will continue until April next year. This is the largest single action in the budget at a cost of €1.4 billion. When other jurisdictions such as Northern Ireland and Britain are closing similar schemes, we are extending them to give every business and job a fighting chance of survival.

A targeted rates waiver for the worst hit sectors will remain in place until the end of the year, freeing up cash flow for businesses not yet fully reopened. The Minister for Transport will bring forward a €126 million aviation package, with €36 million going to regional airports, including Cork and Shannon, to help rebuild our connectivity with the rest of the world. The Covid products scheme will continue to fund industrial projects related to the fight against Covid-19, to be administered by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. Extra funding will be made available to meet claims against the €2 billion Covid credit guarantee scheme to lend to businesses negatively affected by Covid.

The budget is also about preparing businesses for the challenges and opportunities of the future. We need to prepare for the twin challenges, digital and green, and adjust to new ways of working. A sum of €881m in core funding represents an increase of €103 million, or just over 13%, on the funding allocated to my Department in 2021. Budget 2022 will allow us to pursue a range of new measures to enhance our enterprise base and help businesses prepare for the future.

Yesterday, I brought a memorandum to Government confirming our intention to establish a new innovation equity fund. Traditionally, Ireland has lagged behind other countries in our ability to scale up our SMEs into large global companies. The well-documented shortcomings of our seed funding market for start-up companies has led to high potential businesses seeking investment from outside the jurisdiction, which, in turn, leads to a flight of technology and skills to other jurisdictions, especially the US. I want this to change. The new €90 million innovation equity fund will act as the cornerstone of a "fund of funds" that will "crowd in" private investment. The crowding-in effect from private sources should leverage that funding significantly and help talent and investment to stay and thrive in Ireland.

Coupled with the innovation equity fund, the changes to the employment and investment incentive scheme, EIIS, will help to attract early-stage funding into new and innovative businesses. Reform of the EIIS has been a priority of mine since becoming Minister and my officials have worked with the Department of Finance and its officials over the past year to identify how we can make the scheme more effective. Budget 2022 confirms that the scheme will be extended to 2024 and opened up to a wider range of investment funds. This will allow greater capacity for investors to redeem their capital without penalty – the so-called capital redemption window – and remove the rule that 30% of an investment in an EIIS company must be spent before the relief can be claimed. The Minister for Finance also announced yesterday that corporation relief for small start-up companies in their first three years of trading will be rolled over until 2026 and the qualification window extended to five years.

The extension of the microbreweries relief to craft brewers of fermented beverages such as apple ciders and perries is also a welcome development. The craft brewing sector is labour intensive and regionally diverse, and the success of the different craft beers countrywide highlights this. The extension of the relief in this year’s finance Bill will help to generate employment and the growth of businesses across the country.

First mentioned in last year’s budget, a new tax credit of 32% of eligible expenditure will be available to companies engaged in the design, production and testing of digital gaming. Confirmation of this tax credit is a big boost to the domestic digital games industry and will help us to compete internationally. It should be noted that this will not apply to digital gambling and the two should not be conflated.

Budget 2022 increases my Department’s current expenditure ceiling by €12 million to €358 million for next year. The extra funding will enable us to fund our agencies, including the establishment of the new corporate enforcement agency. The Ministers of State, Deputies English and Troy, will go into more detail about this in their contributions.

On capital expenditure, the allocation of €523 million of core funding will allow us to progress specific investment priorities included in the new national development plan, NDP. This is an increase of €91 million, or 21%, on our core capital allocation for 2021.

As we stated in our economic recovery plan, the jobs of the future will be rooted in a greener and more digital economy and investing in our people, their talents and skills, will have to be central to our work. Under the NDP, investment in further and higher education, research, innovation and science will increase by 30% between 2021 and 2025. Our new €10 million enterprise green transition fund will help companies invest in technologies to achieve carbon abatement. The new €10 million digital transition fund will drive the digitalisation of businesses, particularly SMEs, including through maximising the development and adoption of data analytics and artificial intelligence. An extra €2 million for local enterprise offices will help them provide training and other supports to assist SMEs in adapting to climate change and digitalisation.

In total, Enterprise Ireland is receiving an increase in its core allocation of €40 million, bringing its total spend to more than €325 million. This demonstrates our commitment to supporting indigenous enterprise and helping SMEs to scale. Enterprise Ireland’s regional enterprise development fund, REDF, will be funded to meet commitments under existing calls and there will be a launch a further call next year. The REDF facilitates collaboration among stakeholders to focus on enterprise development in their regions and back up our regional enterprise plans, which should be launched before year end.

We are also allocating €3 million to establish European digital innovation hubs in 2022 and facilitate the wide deployment of digital technologies. The hubs will play a critical role in facilitating the digitalisation of Irish companies across industries and regions and will be a first line local access point to drive the adoption of the latest advances in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and high-performance computing.

The disruptive technologies innovation fund, DTIF, supports significant business transformation across a broad range of sectors of the economy. Since its launch in 2018, in excess of 70 collaborative disruptive innovation projects have been approved. The €67 million being provided to the fund in 2022, which is double the 2021 allocation, will allow commitments under previous calls to be met and further calls to be launched.

IDA Ireland will receive a capital funding boost of €26.5 million on top of an additional €1.5 million in current spending to enhance its promotional activity. This brings the IDA's proposed total budget to approximately €220 million. An additional €10 million will be provided to the IDA's regional property programme, which provides advanced technology and office buildings throughout the country. This has proven to be one of the most effective ways to secure FDI investments beyond the major cities. This increase will ensure that a record number of buildings will be commenced and advanced in 2022. Specifically, buildings are due to be commence in Dundalk, Waterford, Mullingar, Tralee, Letterkenny and Drogheda. Others will be completed, including in Sligo.

The IDA will receive an increase of €7 million in funding for the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training, NIBRT, which will allow it to scale up its research and training capacity in areas such as cell and gene therapy as set out in the NDP.

Some €4 million will be allocated to the advanced manufacturing centre in Limerick, which provides an important collaborative environment for immersion in new technologies and digital training and upskilling to support future needs in manufacturing. The IDA's capital grants will also be increased by €5.5 million to strengthen its ability to attract new investment to Ireland, particularly to regional locations.

In the context of Brexit, which continues to unfold, €5 million is being provided for a competitive call for applications under the food transformation fund, which I launched with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine at the start of this year. The UK's departure from the EU continues to have serious implications for many sectors of the economy, and this fund is designed to strengthen and improve resilience of primary food processing companies through long-term transformative capital investment projects. As one of the countries most affected by Brexit, we expect to receive one fifth of the €5 billion Brexit Adjustment Reserve fund. My officials will liaise with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform over the coming months to secure an appropriate share for Irish businesses.

I have spoken previously about how I want to make sure that the past 18 months have not been in vain and that we secure a pandemic dividend for workers. We want to build a new economy that is more inclusive and more secure and a more just society with a move to a living wage, statutory sick pay, occupational pensions for all workers, flexibility in the workplace, remote working, more opportunities for promotion, training, education and research, and greater gender equality in the workplace. Yesterday, I brought forward a recommendation of the Low Pay Commission to Cabinet. From 1 January 2022 the minimum wage will increase by 30 cent to €10.50 an hour. That is an increase of €1.85, or 17.6%, since 2015, running well ahead of the consumer price index, CPI, rate of inflation, which was 3.6% between August 2015 and August 2021. In cash terms, our minimum wage is now one of the highest in the world and the second highest in the EU. However, it needs to be, due to the high cost of living in Ireland and the absence of universal healthcare and affordable childcare, which puts us in sixth place in the EU when adjusted for purchasing power. Our experience of the minimum wage to date indicates that we can increase wages, keep our competitiveness and grow employment. I believe we can do so with the introduction of a living wage as well. Conscious of the difficult period businesses are still going through, I intend to sequence these reforms appropriately over the next few years. It is important that we do not load too many additional costs on employers too quickly and that we seek to reduce other costs, for example, insurance. I will start with statutory sick pay next year, and I hope to introduce the living wage on a phased basis from the end of 2022 or early 2023.

One of my priorities in this year's budget was to follow through on a commitment to review the tax treatment of remote working. The budget provides for increased tax relief for electricity and heat when working from home. This measure could benefit up to 400,000 people. Tax relief for broadband remains unchanged at 30%. The world of work will continue to evolve over the coming months and years. We will introduce new legislation giving workers the right to request remote working on top of the code of conduct on the right to disconnect, which I signed earlier this year.

The Government will demonstrate fiscal discipline throughout its term. We are ambitious in our plans for the next few years but we will do only what we can afford and sustain. We are already ahead of schedule in our plan to restore the public finances to good order. The overriding objective is to eliminate borrowing for anything other than capital investment. We will do that next year, a year earlier than we had planned and well ahead of peer countries. Spending will increase by 5.5%, but that is at a rate slower than the economy is expanding. As we emerge from the pandemic and enter a second century of statehood, it is right that we should ask ourselves what we want to achieve. I firmly believe it is possible to build a just society providing affordable healthcare, education and childcare for all and higher levels of homeownership while still balancing the books. The key to doing so is an enterprise economy that rewards work, backs business, builds skills, promotes trade and can generate the jobs and revenue to make this possible.

This budget's pension, welfare and tax package is the right thing to do. For families, the tax package will help with the cost of living, with single-income families on average full-time wages benefiting by approximately €400 a year. Reducing hospital charges for children under 18 will be a welcome boost to families in addition to the extension of free GP care to six- and seven-year-olds. Other measures, including the reduction in the drugs payment scheme threshold to €100 a month per household will also help families with their medical bills. An extension of universal childcare subsidies will also help families from next September. Childcare costs in Ireland are very high and represent a barrier to re-entry into the workforce for many. This is something we will come back to in future budgets. I believe the changes in the cost of healthcare and funding to reduce waiting lists is further evidence of our practical commitment to Sláintecare and to universal healthcare in Ireland. Families will also benefit from the remote working tax relief and the extension of the help-to-buy scheme.

Younger workers will benefit most from the 30 cent increase to the minimum wage and the USC band widening to ensure that a full-time worker on the minimum wage remains outside the 4.5% rate of USC. Students will benefit from a €200 increase in the SUSI grant, the first in 11 years. The income threshold for student grants will increase by €1,000 and the distance for the higher non-adjacent grant will be reduced from 45 km to 30 km, meaning more students who are living away from home or travelling to college will qualify. Public transport fares for young adults aged 19 to 23 will be halved. The budget will also help workers aged 25 to 28 to access the treatment benefit scheme, in particular dental benefit and the free scale and polish and eye tests.

Covid-19 has been a particularly difficult time for older people, often cut off from family and friends for protracted periods. The budget provides for a €5 a week increase to the State pension, an €8 week increase for pensioners living alone and an increase of up to €10 a week for a pensioner couple. Poorer pensioners and welfare recipients will also receive a €5 a week increase in the fuel allowance starting immediately. For me, having a tax and welfare package in each budget is a question of fairness. As we see the return of inflation and a rise in the cost of living, we need to protect people's standard of living. Pay increases, tax reform, welfare and pension increases, reduced childcare and healthcare costs and increased student grants are all part of that mix.

I wish to mention Sinn Féin. Yet again it has gone for the populist options in its alternative budget, such as opposing the carbon tax, which is an essential part of climate action in the view of scientists and experts, including the Climate Change Advisory Council. Sinn Féin is rapidly becoming Ireland's climate sceptic party, at least when it comes to doing anything difficult or unpopular for the benefit of our planet. In its alternative budget, Sinn Féin proposes 14 tax increases but there is a 15th one it was hoping people would not notice. Unlike the Government, Sinn Féin would not increase or index-link tax credits and bands, meaning people on average incomes would take home less pay. It is an income tax increase by stealth. Index-linking credits and bands can be difficult to explain but people understand it when they see it in their pay cheque - when they realise they have to pay tax for the first time or that they are paying the higher rate of income tax on every extra euro they earn. Indexation means that workers who do not get a pay increase from their employer in 2022 will at least get something and that those who do can keep most of it rather than losing it to the taxman. Over the course of a full term in government, indexation of tax credits and bands could mean as much as €2,400 a year for a two-income, middle-income household. That is how much a middle-income couple would be worse off each year after four years of Sinn Féin in government. This is true of renters too, although the figure would be a little lower. It is our ambition, over the term of this Government, to continue indexation and to get to the point where only income earners in excess of €40,000 a year are subject to the higher rate of income tax, or up to €80,000 a year for a two-income couple. Sinn Féin would also abolish the help-to-buy scheme, making it more difficult for average earners to buy their own home. To date, almost 30,000 individuals and couples have benefited from the scheme, helping them to raise a deposit for a new home, all first-time buyers. There are many more applications in the pipeline. Sinn Féin would shut them out. This would be particularly cruel to renters who are saving up to buy their first home and young people still living with parents trying to do the same. The few hundred euro Sinn Féin would give people in a rent tax credit would be taken back 20 times over by the removal of the help-to-buy scheme. Sinn Féin's alternative budget would be harmful to those who want to own their own home. Its alternative affordable housing scheme is a leasehold scheme, not a homeownership scheme. The evidence is mounting: Sinn Féin does not support higher levels of homeownership; its policy is the opposite. This will become clearer as time goes on.

To recap, this budget is another milestone in helping businesses to see out the pandemic, protecting jobs and helping businesses to survive and grow.

It is also a new chapter in our recovery, helping enterprise to move on from the pandemic and deal with both the challenges and opportunities ahead, especially in the digital and green areas. Most importantly, it will have a broadly positive impact on people's lives, helping them, in a small way, to deal with the cost of living as we emerge from this difficult time. I commend the budget to the House.

1:30 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Building on the Tánaiste's comments, this budget is very much focused on a jobs-led recovery. We have been in this place before, when we had to turn to the business community to work with the State to create jobs for those who have no work and to drive the economy. We want to see a well-functioning economy delivering the resources and money we need to restore the public services to the level they should be at and enabling us to build on that. An overall budget package of an increase of €4.7 billion in expenditure, bringing us close to €87 billion, is a commitment to the future of this country. Within that, we have tried to reach all the sectors that need assistance. We are trying to put in place a strong footing, and build on it, as we recover from the Covid period.

In talking about a jobs-led recovery, it is important to support, as much as we possibly can, the businesses that create those jobs and which want to grow and expand, not hit them with higher taxes, as other parties would do. SMEs are the heartbeat of the Irish economy. They make up more than 99% of the total number of Irish companies, employ hundreds of thousands of Irish workers, and are instrumental in driving regional development and economic growth. This budget recognises that a strong and resilient SME sector is key to rebuilding the economy after the Covid period, helping to ensure its sustainability and building competitiveness over the longer term.

As we look to build resilience within the SME sector for the future, it is vital that businesses are equipped for the transition to the green and digital economy. I am pleased that Enterprise Ireland has been allocated an extra €10 million in budget 2022 to enable it to work with enterprises on the importance of climate change, mitigation and adaption. Working through our agencies, we will assist companies to reduce their CO2 footprint and capitalise on opportunities emerging from the low-carbon transition through a series of targeted initiatives. This will include awareness and capability around carbon abatement opportunities, including training, audit, CO2 measurement, feasibility and collaboration with technology partners.

Enterprise Ireland will also have an enhanced allocation to accelerate the digital transformation agenda for the country's creative and innovative small and medium enterprises. Firms that take the lead in their digital journey as they move forward with their expansion plans will contribute greatly to the growth and resilience of our economy as we emerge from the remaining necessary public health restrictions and as global markets begin to reopen fully.

Local enterprise offices, LEOs, will receive an additional €2 million in funding, which represents a 5% increase in their funding. This investment will allow each of the 31 local authority LEOs to enhance the role they play in driving local and regional development, including the regional enterprise plans we are working on in the Department. I compliment the LEOs on the assistance they have given the Department over the past 18 months in reaching thousands of companies with online trading vouchers, business continuity vouchers and the other supports they provide. Like many of our State agencies, they really stepped up and showed they are there to support business. We are allocating them the resources to ensure they can keep doing that.

The additional €2 million provided to the LEOs will focus on the dual challenges of digitalisation of micro and small companies and addressing the challenges and opportunities in transitioning to a low-carbon, sustainable economy. The ongoing success of the trading online voucher scheme will be built upon by continuing to assist enterprises on their digital journey, as well as developing further awareness and training programmes to encourage microenterprises to think digital first to complement their physical presence. Through schemes such as green for micro and lean for micro, the LEOs encourage enterprises to view their business practices critically and look for measures that can increase efficiency, reduce waste, decrease their carbon footprint and promote sustainability, thereby assisting them to create more jobs and take on larger markets.

As the recovery gathers pace, we must ensure targeted advisory and financial assistance is in place and no sector is left behind. The past 18 months have been very challenging for all SMEs but some sectors have suffered even more than others. Retail is one of those sectors. Retail businesses play an important role in our economy by creating jobs and opportunities. The retail sector is the largest private sector employer in the country, creating and sustaining rewarding jobs in every city, town and village, numbering close to 300,000 in total. High street retailers have been under pressure for some time due to shifting consumer behaviour, and the Covid-19 crisis has challenged the sector even further. Given the importance of the retail sector and the benefits of trading online for retailers, I am pleased we are introducing a new round of the successful online retail scheme for next year. We are currently reviewing the scheme to see what changes we can make to maximise its impact and stretch the resources even further. In addition, the Department has recently commenced a major review of the retail sector. This is expected to be completed by the end of the year and it will lead into a retail strategy or mini-action plan that will be produced next year, identifying other areas in which we can stand behind the sector to increase its offering and job potential.

We must ensure the recovery and growth of the SME sector extends to all parts of the country. That is why regional enterprise development is a key priority of the Government. My Department is overseeing the development of nine new regional enterprise plans to 2024, which are expected to be completed later this year, probably in November. The Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and I chair eight of those plans on behalf of the Tánaiste, with the latter chairing the Dublin plan. Our Department, through Enterprise Ireland, has made available more than €117 million to date in regional enterprise development funding to assist locally led projects. Budget 2022 builds on this in allocating an extra €5 million to that work. It also builds on last week's announcement of a commitment under the national development plan, NDP, to fund the regional plans over the next three years to drive job creation locally and throughout the regions.

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The past 18 months have been extraordinarily difficult both for people personally and for businesses. Fortunately, we are now in a much better space due to the sacrifices made by many and prudent Government policies, difficult as they were. That collective effort has enabled Ireland to rebound and achieve significant progress, allowing us to look ahead to a return to near-normal economic activity. Indeed, Ireland was recently listed as the best country in the world in terms of our attainment in beginning to live with the pandemic, topping the Bloomberg Covid resilience ranking. Budget 2022 is underpinned by the Government's commitment to maintaining this positive momentum, supporting businesses through the challenges of the past year and a half and, most important, looking ahead to the opportunities that will enable us to move with certainty into economic recovery. It includes several pro-business measures that offer a needed reprieve for businesses still grappling with the effects of the pandemic, including the extension of the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, the targeted commercial rates waiver and the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector.

Looking to the future, embracing digital technologies is crucial for our post-pandemic economic recovery. A competitive, innovative and resilient enterprise base is essential to providing high-quality jobs and employment opportunities in order that people can live and prosper in all regions. Businesses can harness digital technology in many ways to understand their customers better, reduce their costs and improve their products. Given the pivotal role of SMEs in Ireland and their importance to the regional and national economy, we must support them in their digital journey and transformation. To boost the uptake of digital technology in enterprises, we have set up the digital transition fund. This is an €85 million multi-annual fund that will run until 2026. Under budget 2022, we have allocated €10 million to the fund, which will help to increase digitalisation of all businesses across products, processes, supply chains and business models. This will bring about productivity gains, access to new markets, increased innovation and improved competitiveness.

We also want to support enterprises to look at the possibilities of adopting new technologies such as artificial intelligence, data analytics and cloud computing. Adopting new technology can be daunting for enterprises. We want to make it as accessible as possible for them. To help make the technology more readily available to SMEs in Ireland, we will establish a number of European digital innovation hubs, which will be part of a Europe-wide network. Yesterday, the Government allocated €3 million to the European digital innovation hubs for 2022. The hubs are an initiative to build the strategic digital capabilities of the EU and facilitate wide deployment of digital technologies. They will play a crucial role in facilitating the digitalisation of SMEs across industries and regions through services such as test before invest, innovation and finance advice, training, and skills development.

Balanced regional development is a core priority for the Government and me. As the Minister of State, Deputy English, outlined, work is progressing on the nine regional enterprise plans to 2024, which will recognise the opportunities and challenges of each region and leverage their unique strengths for the benefit of local businesses and communities. On 6 October, we announced that €9.3 million is to be allocated to 24 enterprise projects under the Department's regional enterprise transition scheme. I am pleased the Government has announced an additional €5 million for the regional enterprise development fund. I expect further funding to be announced as part of the launch of the scheme later this year.

I refer to the allocation to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, which is under my remit. The programme for Government contains a commitment to increase the enforcement powers of the CCPC by way of introduction of an administrative sanctions regime. This budget has allocated a further €1.5 million for the CCPC for 2022. That reflects the fact the consumer rights Bill and the competition Bill will be enacted later this year, providing increased powers for the CCPC to ensure effective enforcement of competition and consumer rights law and consequently enhancing the protection of businesses and consumers.

1:40 pm

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I may not take the full amount of time allocated to me. I wish to repeat what I said at Cabinet yesterday, if that is not a problem in the context of constitutional difficulties.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We would not run into difficulties if the Minister did not tell us what he said.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

What I said at Cabinet-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Maybe the Minister can say something similar to what he said at Cabinet.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will say the exact same thing, which is that this Government is working well. In the past month, it has been working well, such as in its management of the pandemic. We all admit there were mistakes and terrible losses but, by any international yardstick, we have managed the pandemic as a people and as a country, and the Government is part of that. However, we now have to come out of the pandemic and recover from it. What has happened in the past month is a sign of a Government that is well equipped and well up for that task.

The budget announced yesterday provided for the critical Housing for All strategy and the national development plan setting out the future of investment for the next ten years. I believe we will do further work in the context of the series of events we have planned in respect of the recovery and lifting the country and the economy, such as through the climate action plan that will be published approximately two weeks from now. The budget is an important part of that because having a sound economy is crucial to being able to do this. At the centre of a sound economy is our ability to invest in capital, infrastructure and the future. We particularly need to invest in housing, climate and health but also, obviously, in schools, water infrastructure and all the other elements. However, investment in housing, climate and health in particular is what people need now. They need housing built. We need to prepare for climate change and to protect against it. This morning, Members heard Deputy Kelly relate the stories of young people in a critical condition in the health system. To solve that, we need to invest in capital and we need to create the economic conditions to get that right.

I was looking for commentary on the budget or seeing who said what on it and noticed the website of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, had a "Flash Release on Budget 2022". Now, IFAC is not known for flash anything. Prudence is its middle name. I am glad the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is present in the Chamber because what IFAC stated in respect of the budget was very much a vote of confidence in what he and the Minister, Deputy McGrath, did yesterday. IFAC pointed up a key economic truth - the economy is starting to lift. Our numbers are far better than we thought they would be, even in summer. What we are doing is using that money to help us on the capital side because, as IFAC stated is critical, we are adhering to the spending rule set out in the summer economic statement, that is, to have a 5% increase, on average, in current spending into the medium term. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, may be able to confirm that. In the medium term - not just this year or next year, but into the next five or ten years - that trajectory of spending on the current side will give us the stability to be able to keep interest rates low and manage our debt so that we can invest on the capital side.

The IFAC release stated, "By following this rule even as revenues have surprised on the upside, the Government has the economy on a more prudent path that will reduce borrowing and the debt ratio in the years ahead." That is important because we are facing into an uncertain world where inflation is starting to rise and quantitative easing will be tapered off at some point. We want the rest of the world to look at Ireland in 2023 or 2024 and conclude it is a place that can still be lent to, especially for capital projects. A key line in the budget speech of the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, was that we will be borrowing for capital, not for current. I think he is correct in that regard. The scale of borrowing on capital is limited not by ambition but the ability to train workers and get the resources in place. I do not see any restriction on that if it achieves value for money and those investments in housing, climate and health give a good return, which they will. The only restraint or restriction on us relates to the internal supply lines and chains and ensuring we do not overheat but get good value for money and deliver good quality projects for our people.

In the context of that broad outline, the big economic picture is that we will borrow and we will spend on capital and manage the current side to allow us to do that, keep interest rates low and get the balance in the economy right. The climate transition will require such a significant capital change. We have to change our entire capital stock in transport, energy, agriculture and industry. This is a ten, 20 and 30-year project of capital investment on a scale beyond compare. That is why we must ensure we have the capability on the capital side by managing our current spending, which is what we did in the budget yesterday.

I will concentrate on some of the elements relating to the Green Party. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste set out a much wider picture and I hope they will not mind if I focus on what I consider to be the green elements. I am proud of the Green Party for delivering again this year. On the capital side of transport, my area, we will still be spending on roads. There is a total allocation of approximately €1.4 billion in that regard. It is a significant amount of money. However, that will start to reduce because the number of public transport projects is starting to rise dramatically. As we say "Yes" to MetroLink, DART+ and BusConnects in Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick as well as Dublin, we will have a significant capital spend requirement on the public transport side. Even though we have a massive budget of €35 billion this decade, if we were actually to build all the projects, we would need to double that budget. We probably do not have the building capacity to spend €70 billion on transport, but we will spend €35 billion and we need to spend it well. That will see the roads budget decline and the public transport and active travel budgets increase so that we achieve a 2:1 ratio.

We will start on the public transport side. We are starting already, with 165 electric buses next year, 81 new rural buses around the country, and 41 new railway carriages that will fit into existing services so that we can increase capacity straight away and will not have to wait for DART+ or Cork and Limerick metropolitan rail services that will take time to get through planning and to build. We are also investing straight away in walking and cycling and that is critical. I hope to bring the new road traffic (miscellaneous provisions) Bill before the Dáil in the coming weeks. Aspects of that Bill will be critical in allowing us to overcome some of the legal challenges that are being taken and in terms of being able to spend the money that has been allocated. I look forward to bringing that Bill before the House.

On the climate side, retrofitting is key and central. Its great benefit is that it improves people's health, protects against fuel poverty and is very rich in creating employment. It is a quality-of-life measure as well as a climate measure. It was delayed because of Covid last year. You could not go into people's houses in the middle of a pandemic. The first five years were gone, so we will have to ramp up now. The Minister, Deputy McGrath stated yesterday that this is a ten-year ramping-up, and he is absolutely right. We are only at the start of this process. This year, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, will be spending €85 million on retrofitting social houses. Social justice and ecological justice go hand in hand. We will be spending €109 million on the warmer homes scheme, through which we cover the entire cost for people who cannot afford the transition that needs to be made. Significant new resources will be introduced both in my Department and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, as well as new loan schemes that will allow people to get a loan at a fraction of the current interest rate cost and ensure the private sector plays its part in order that people who can afford to do so can retrofit their homes. The really attractive thing about this project is that if we can direct as much of the wall of money we have saved in the past two to three years into it, that will be the best investment against the international fossil fuel high price crisis we are in.

There are a whole range of other ways we can help make this transition happen, including rewetting our bogs and carrying on drilling down and going further in the just transition investments we have made in the midlands and elsewhere. We can provide grants and supports for electric vehicles, EVs, including VRT relief. I believe around €82 million is being put into that. It is not a small amount. We can make the transition that is required in the climate change space.

More than anything else, the establishment of the 35,000 green skills apprenticeship positions that have been announced will make a difference, because that is the biggest constraint. The biggest risk to us not being able to spend the money is not having the workers. Therefore, huge investment in third level education and the apprenticeship scheme is going to be key. The message to our young people, and I think they absolutely get it, is that this is the future and this is where the money is going to be for the next three decades. It is a project that gives them real pride and status, and protects their futures and that of their friends and future children.

I have said capital expenditure is key. It is key in housing and health, education and water and other areas. I do not have time to go into detail on that. It is not to say current spending is not important and we do not have to protect people from the increases in the cost of living that are happening. However, looking through the budget, I am proud of our parties. I will cite examples in areas for which different Ministers are responsible.

In my own area, I was very pleased to be able to listen to the representatives from Comhairle na nÓg, the national representative council for young people. They came to us and told us the best thing we could do would be to introduce a 50% reduction in the cost of travel for those under the age of 24. They noticed there was a gap there. If you are under 18 you get a 50% reduction in the cost travel, but if you are a worker or a third level student, you do not. Third level students get a 25% reduction. Comhairle na nÓg came with a proposal and we agreed to introduce the 50% reduction. It is a practical measure. It will take time to introduce it. We cannot even get the chips for the cards at the moment such is the supply chain chaos around the world, but we will introduce it and look to go further.

My colleague, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, has introduced a measure to recognise childcare workers and to pay them properly, which in turn will avoid a price increase. I heard Deputy Cullinane speaking on the radio recently about the cost of childcare. If I heard him right, he said an investment of €160 million or €170 million could reduce the cost of childcare by two thirds. I apologise if I am misquoting him, but that is what I heard on the radio. I am not so sure that is possible. When we looked at it and the possibility of investing a similar amount, we ended up with the outcome we have delivered in the budget. I think it is the right outcome. We all know that looking after a child is an important job and paying for it properly is the first thing in getting it right, in my mind. Therefore, I think the decision to put the money there was the right one. I stand up for it and believe it was the right call.

In the arts, while it is small in terms of the overall budgetary figures, the €25 million the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media is going to put into a universal basic scheme for artists is of huge consequence and significance. It recognises we sometimes have to measure progress not just in economic and monetary terms but in creative and cultural terms. I believe the introduction of this scheme will be akin to what former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey did when he introduced tax breaks for artists. It is an important symbolic gesture to say we value the artists in our society and give them the flexibility and capability to do their work in a way that really works for them. If you work in a theatre, you are not working all the time. It is about having a basic income to come and go as you please and be flexible. That trial is going to be very significant.

I was asked yesterday at a press conference about biodiversity. This morning, the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, replied that we have increased the funding for the National Parks and Wildlife Service by 64% since he has been in office. Up to €47 million will be provided in this area next year. We have increased the spending on heritage by 36% throughout the country. That is very important. I spoke to the Minister of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, who cited the example from his own constituency of a small grant of €5,000 being used to turn around an old churchyard. Lots of small things like that make a difference and create a greater sense of community.

The Minister of State, Senator Hackett, announced €21 million additional spending in organics. As per our programme for Government commitment, we have doubled support for animal welfare organisations. That is important to the people who vote for our party.

In the area of social protection, the budget not only contained social welfare increases in the protection against the carbon tax rise, which I will discuss further shortly, but there were increased payments for lone parents, school meals and back-to-school allowances. It is true we need to do more. For those on the left, and my party is from the left-----

(Interruptions).

1:50 pm

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Are you sure?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Yes. Part of it is standing up for taxation. The spending rule is a net rule. We absolutely want to increase current spending further, but it should be funded through taxation.

My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth, has a €100 million budget for the circular economy, which is critical to where our country goes next. He has a quarter of a billion to deliver the national broadband programme which has been delayed by Covid. It will be delivered.

I come back to the critical question of whether to tax. We have to raise tax. We cannot do everything from borrowing. We can do the capital from borrowing, but we have to do the current by raising tax. I believe the carbon tax has been the right thing to do not just on the climate side, where it is critical, among a whole range of different tools, but also because it is progressive. For the second year in a row we have produced a budget which shows that those in the lowest deciles and quartiles, particularly the last four, benefit most. That is coming from carbon tax revenue recycled to the people. Some €9.5 billion will be raised through the carbon tax in the next nine years, with €3 billion going to social protection and €5 billion going to the retrofitting. Most of that will also go to social protection because it will be targeted at those on lower incomes and another 1.5 will go to social protection because it will go to many small farmers. Our carbon tax revenue is going straight back to the people; it is not going into the wider budget. It does not help the overall economics, but it helps social progress. It is actually a solution to the energy price crisis that is happening currently because international fossil fuel prices are increasing. The only way we can protect ourselves from that in the long term is to reduce our dependence on those fuels and improve the efficiency of our homes. It will bring health and other benefits with it. That is what is our carbon tax does.

Where is the alternative? Where does that €9 billion come from to give to our poorest people and allow us to meet our emissions targets? Where is the money going to come from for the retrofitting, which is around €5 billion, if it does not come from that? The carbon tax is progressive, as is the zoned land tax. A significant change was introduced with that yesterday. I heard some commentators saying the zoned land tax is only 3% compared with the 7% vacant sites levy, not understanding the scale of the measure that is being introduced. Is it 8,000 or 10,000 ha of land?

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is 8,000 ha.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There are 8,000 ha of zoned land which are sitting there at the moment, with land hoarding being the biggest cause of the housing crisis we are in. At last, we have the measure and we are delivering what we have been talking about for decades in our party.

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

You are deluded.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We have introduced a zoned land tax. This ensures it is not the landlords who are dictating and determining housing policy; it is the public good. It is not a revenue-raising measure. It will not raise a lot, but what is important is the signal it gives, the heat it will take out of land speculation and the changes it will make. It will give local government the powers to start making sure we have zoning that actually means something and we are not just massively overzoned with nothing happening on the land because some landowner has decided he or she will wait for land values to rise before doing something with the land. That will not happen anymore. From now on, with a 3% tax on zoned land, the value will be high. We all know those speculators are not going to just sit and pay that tax without an income stream to cover it on the other side.

If we want to increase and go further on the social welfare measures, then we have to raise tax. We are from the left because we believe in property tax and zoned land tax as a way of meeting our needs. That is what this budget does. However, more than anything else, it gives us a chance to avoid what has been the curse of this country for so long, namely, the mad, cyclical up and down, boom and bust.

Getting our current spending right, and increasing it if we increase taxes, will give us the room to really expand and go massive on building homes, healthcare and climate resolutions for our country.

2:00 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The budget comes at a time when people are crying out for change. The past two years have been extremely tough for workers, families and businesses. The pandemic has tested us all to our very limits. It has been a time of heartache and hardship and of lost lives and lost livelihoods. It literally stopped our way of life in its tracks. It created a watershed moment when it became painfully apparent just how broken the system is and how exposed and vulnerable we have been left by decades of bad government priorities, bad government choices and a system created by a century of rule by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in power. The shock of Covid-19 laid bare the dangers and consequences for every one of the frailties in housing, healthcare and our social protection systems. A widespread consensus emerged during the crisis that as a country we needed different priorities and we needed to move heaven and earth to ensure that never again were we left in such a vulnerable position.

Now, it is budget time. The question that needs to be answered is whether the Government has listened and responded to the appetite for real change. Budget 2022 could have and should have been a budget for change. It should have been a budget that put workers and families first. It should have responded to the very real problems they face in their daily lives by targeting resources where they are most needed. Budget 2022 should have been a budget to get the basics right and get a grip on the housing crisis. It should have arrested extortionate rents and given working people chance to buy a home they can afford. It should have taken people off waiting lists and into treatment. It should have started building a health service that works for patients and staff. It should have met the cost of living crisis head-on by tackling the massive hike in energy bills and slashing the cost of childcare for parents who are forking out the equivalent of a second mortgage in fees.

This was an opportunity for the Government to show workers and families that it sees them and hears them and will act on the things that really matter to them. Sadly, what the people got.yesterday was a budget with no answers to those big questions in housing, health and the cost of living. Now we know that all three of the emperors have no clothes. This is a do-nothing budget authored by parties that are out of touch and out of ideas. It is authored by a government treading water, and trying to distract people from its failures with the promise of tax cuts. Never has a government spent so much to achieve so very little. It has no answers, it has no urgency and it has no leadership. Energy prices are out of control yet the Government has increased carbon taxes further. Rents are out of control and the Government has done nothing. There are almost 1 million people on hospital waiting lists but there is no real step change. We needed a budget that put workers and families first. We needed a budget to target resources where they are most badly needed. This is what we in Sinn Féin would have done.

This is the sixth budget the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil partnership has introduced and by God does it show. The budget, just like the previous five, will come and go and nothing will really change for ordinary people. This is a budget of big numbers but with very little substance. It is a budget that throws money left, right and centre but does not solve anything. Is é seo an séú cáinaisnéis atá curtha le chéile ag comhpháirtíocht Fhianna Fáil agus Fine Gael agus dar Dia tá sí soiléir. Níor chaith aon rialtas riamh an oiread sin chun a laghad sin a bhaint amach. Cáinaisnéis le líon mór figiúir ach le heaspa substaint atá ann inar caitheadh airgead ar chlé, ar dheis agus ar lár ach ní réitíonn sí rud ar bith do ghnáthdhaoine.

The budget fails to address the big issues that affect people's lives. The Government is clearly in denial of the scale of the challenges that face us. It looks away from people desperately seeking to put an affordable roof over their heads. It looks away from parents weighed down with massive childcare fees. It refuses to hear the voices of those living in agony trying to access vital hospital treatment. It does not hear the voices of families who count on every euro to make it to the end of the week. If the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, really understood the impact on people's lives they would have made far better choices in the budget. The budget cements and continues the policies that brought us the crises in housing and healthcare, that have created the sky-high cost of living and childcare costs, and that maintain a social protection system that skirts below the poverty line, keeping people down instead of lifting them up.

After decades of serving the vested interests and golden circles, this was the Government's chance to finally put workers and families first. Yet again, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party have not heard the call of the people and they have missed the moment. After everything our people have been through in the past year and a half, and after all the reflection, the realisations, the claps on the back and the articulations of the bright future we could have, the Government delivered a budget of more of the same. It is a budget drafted by claustrophobic thinking and jaded policies, destined to take us no further than the shore we have crashed against time and again on their watch. It is a budget that perpetuates the lie that it is impossible to fix what is broken, that tells people a housing crisis, crumbling hospitals and a crushing cost of living are just how it is and how it will always be, and that says that children with scoliosis or MS crying themselves to sleep in pain are just how it is. I reject their cynical stifling politics. I do not accept that things cannot be fixed and made better. I do not believe the people accept this either.

Sinn Féin's budget proposals showed what should be done, what could be done and what would be done if we had a government for change. The problem is the Government makes bad choices because it has the wrong priorities. It governs on behalf of those at the top. It really cannot see beyond developers, wealthy investors and big landlords. With Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, workers and families are always pushed to the back of the queue. It is as simple as that.

The crisis in housing has defined life in Ireland for more than a decade. Rents are sky-high and the average rent in this city is €1,800 per month. People hand over a huge chunk of their wages to landlords and really have no chance of getting a deposit together. Yet the Government included absolutely nothing in the budget to relieve this pressure on renters. There is nothing to cut rents or bring them under control. The Government has, however, managed to extend tax breaks for landlords and institutional investors, the very people who are charging these extortionate rents. What a surprise. So out of touch and blinkered is the Government to the damage it is doing that even members of the billionaire class are calling it out.

I never thought I would find myself quoting Dermot Desmond on the floor of the Dáil, but I can assure the House that I never thought I would be quoting him and agreeing with him. He is completely correct when he says that international investment funds are having a laugh at Ireland’s housing policy, that it is utterly insane in terms of the economy and that it "is a shocking mismanagement of public funds". It is, of course, no laughing matter. It should not take a billionaire to break this news to the Government because the ordinary people of Ireland have been screaming this at it for more than ten years.

Sinn Féin will always show up for renters. We would have cut rents and banned rent increases for three years. To be very clear, we would have shut down these tax breaks and sweetheart arrangements for vulture funds, cuckoo funds and institutional investors. That is what a government worthy of the name in these times would have done but the Government turned a blind eye and took no action. It has left renters to fend for themselves.

This budget reiterates the failures of the plan set out by the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, and does nothing to make homes more affordable, nothing to get families off council waiting lists and nothing to make things better for the locked-out generation. It is a rehash of the policy which will see this Government deliver only eight affordable homes this year. It is the same recipe that will ensure the housing crisis will continue and worsen. To hear the Minister laud a zoned-land tax at 3% with a two-year lead-in demonstrates how bereft of ideas and constructive thinking he is.

It does not have to be this way because we can fix housing and we can deliver homes that people can afford to buy and rent, but it will require a fundamental change from the policies dictated by developers and landlords. Sinn Féin would have doubled State investment to deliver 12,000 social homes and 8,000 genuinely affordable homes. This is the kind of action and urgency that is needed to deal with this crisis and to give people hope for the future.

Sinn Féin also made a substantial first allocation to ensure that those whose homes have been affected and devastated by mica and pyrite, who are victims of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael light regulation, get full 100% redress and nothing less than that will do.

2:10 pm

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Hear, hear.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Hear, hear.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Workers and families are being hammered. The cost of living is now at crisis levels. Families pay very significant fees for childcare. Yet all the Government has done is to freeze those fees, if it has even managed that. Sinn Féin would have slashed those fees by two thirds over two budgets. The Government, incidentally, could have done that too but it has chosen not to. Instead, it has unveiled a plan that will have very little impact and mean nothing for parents with children under the age of three. Families will continue to pay the most expensive childcare costs in Europe with no additional help or support and no change. Another real opportunity to make a big difference has been squandered.

We would provide affordable childcare for parents and deliver decent pay and secure employment for childcare workers who for too long have been left behind by successive administrations composed of the parties currently on the Government benches.

Households have endured a litany of hikes in energy bills in the last year alone. Many of them will now see their bills shoot up by between €400 and €500 in the coming months. I know that people now absolutely dread their winter energy bills coming through the letter box in December and January.

What was the Government’s response to this pressure that people are under? It was another hike in carbon tax. This is a move that will pull push up energy and fuel costs even further. This was a perverse reaction to this crisis. Carbon tax increases over the past 12 months mean a €40 increase for a fill of oil and a €3 increase for a tank of petrol. The Government proceeds with this hike without putting alternatives in place that allow people to transition to a low-carbon lifestyle. That is the nub of it. The truth is that under this Government vulnerable people and low-wage workers will foot the bill for this hike. This is not a climate measure - get off the stage - because it will not change people’s behaviour. It is a con job. This carbon tax hike will make poor people poorer and will mean particular hardship for older people and for the people of rural Ireland. That is the truth.

The Government has made a big play on the increase in fuel allowance as a means of tackling sky-high energy bills but the reality is that many of those hit with these massive bills will not even qualify for this payment, even with the expanded eligibility criteria. The biggest kick in the teeth is that any benefit from the fuel allowance increase will be all but cancelled out by the Government’s punitive carbon tax hike. What it is giving with one hand it is taking back with the other. This is another ruse pulled from the Paschal and Michael little box of budget tricks designed to con people. It will not work because people are now very wise to the hoodwink way that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael do business.

The Government has also peddled its tax cuts as a boost for working people. Again, the truth is that this cut will disproportionately benefit higher earners. For example, someone earning €30,000 can look forward to an additional €2 a week, which might be the price of a cup of coffee and, as they say, it is better in your pocket than in someone else's pocket. This will not make a dent in the cost of living, however. It is the very worst and cheapest form of gesture politics. People know that public money is better spent on fixing housing, tackling the crisis in healthcare, improving our schools and strengthening the public services because what good is a tax cut if a child cannot get the operation he or she so badly needs, when people are paying the equivalent of a second mortgage for childcare, when classrooms are overcrowded and when people are being fleeced for rent and energy bills?

This is the wrong approach, especially at a time when strengthening our public infrastructure has never been more important. We cannot remain wedded to the old ways of doing things in terms of economic and industrial development. The change in our rate of corporation tax confirms this reality. While it is essential that the 12.5% rate is kept for SMEs, when it comes to attracting inward investment we can no longer be a one-trick pony. There will have to be a big change in how we strengthen Ireland’s competitiveness, resilience and sustainability. We have to invest in the right areas to ensure growth into the future. This means getting housing right. It means building a world-class health service. It means sorting childcare and getting the cost of living under control. These are the areas neglected for far too long by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil governments.

If we are to progress, we have to undo the legacy of these bad decisions. Anybody who thinks we stand a chance of progressing economically in this new landscape while allowing these crises to continue is deluded. The requirements of economic prosperity and advancement and the imperative of the happiness of our people align now on these matters.

Brexit also compels us to look forward to the possibilities of new approaches. Capitalising on the increase in North-South trade and building the all-island economy is the very best response to the sabre-rattling from Tory Brexiteers. We will progress, succeed and overcome the challenge of Brexit by unleashing the economic potential of our entire island.

Agriculture is very important to this goal. This budget shows again that the Government has no plan, no ambition and no vision for family farms. All they got was a simple rollover of existing schemes, with minimalistic measures that will not come close to meeting the needs of farmers. Budget 2022 will mark the moment when Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael gave up any pretence they were on the side of Ireland's family farmers.

The all-Ireland dynamic is moving towards unification. We now have to prepare for constitutional change and a referendum and the Government must lead that national conversation. That is why Sinn Féin made provision for the establishment of a citizens' assembly on Irish unity in our budgetary arithmetic. Change is in the air, and everyone who has a stake in this transformation, from throughout our island, must be involved in designing what shape that takes, yet the budget of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Ministers provides nothing to prepare for this future. That is short-sighted and irresponsible and it is a dereliction of their duty as the Government.

The dangerous frailties in our health service were exposed during the height of the pandemic. The heroics of our front-line workers protected our people and we will never forget that fact. Our health system was broken long before we had ever heard of Covid-19. This was the result of decades of bad Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael policy pushing privatisation over the public interest. The consequence is that almost 1 million people are now on waiting lists, locked out of vital treatment. This is the most immediate challenge in health today, namely, sorting out these waiting lists, yet nothing of substance in the budget will really deal with it. A total of 450 people were on trolleys yesterday. In the middle of a health emergency, the Government will not deliver one additional acute bed next year. In many cases, the waits we talk about relate to children living in agony with scoliosis and other conditions. It is absolutely scandalous that the Government has not prioritised tackling waiting lists. The message now to those waiting is that their wait will go on.

The Government also asked people to celebrate what is in fact a complete failure. In 2016, free GP care was to be extended to children under the age of 12. Does the Taoiseach recall that? Yesterday, six years on, the Government announced it will be extended to under-eights. At the rate the Government is going, the children who are supposed to be covered under this plan will have children of their own before any of this materialises.

There is also nothing for student nurses and midwives. These are some of the very people who risked their lives to keep our health service going through Covid but they were not recognised or valued, and well the Taoiseach knows it. The Government has, however, managed to maintain a tax break for millionaire executives to the tune of double what it would take to provide for student nurses and midwives. I do not know how anyone in government stands over this. Is it any wonder our young medical professionals feel so undervalued and do not see a future here at home? We need a health service that works for everyone. That is why Sinn Féin provided the finance for an additional 600 beds and a plan and the resources to tackle waiting lists. This level of ambition is needed to deliver the single-tier public health system our people and our health workers deserve. It is clear from the Government's budget that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are not up to this challenge and that it will be up to a Sinn Féin government to get this job done.

The core purpose of social protection is to prevent poverty. However, the €5 increase does not go far enough, especially when we consider the rate at which the cost of living is increasing. Social welfare payments in this State fall below the poverty line and the meagre increases the Government announced yesterday do little to change that reality. We would have taken a different approach. We provided for an increase of €10 for all working-age payments and provided a real safety net for people who need additional support. While the increase in the State pension is, of course, welcome, the bigger issue is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael remain wedded to increasing the pension age. Sinn Féin has opposed this and will continue to do so. We believe that when people have reached the age of 65, they have done their shift, worked hard, paid their dues - some for more than four decades - and they must have a right to retire on a State pension at that age of 65 if that is their wish. A Sinn Féin government will guarantee the right of workers to retire on a pension at 65 years of age because it is the right, correct and decent thing to do.

I want to make special mention of those who are often marginalised in society and forgotten by the Government, namely, communities crying out for mental health supports, citizens with disabilities and our heroic carers. Even before the pandemic, there was a mental health crisis. That is why in this budget, Sinn Féin committed to the largest investment in mental health services in the history of the State. The Government's commitment, by contrast, to €24 million for new measures is not enough. Even with this increase, mental health will remain chronically underfunded and will fail to meet the tsunami of mental health needs we undoubtedly face.

Sinn Féin also provided for significant investment to support our citizens with disabilities to live a fully inclusive life as equal citizens. This included additional personal assistance hours and support packages, a €10 increase in the disability allowance and the recruitment of 1,900 specialist staff to improve services, including early intervention for children with disabilities. Sadly, the Government's budget is a continuation of the long failure of citizens with disabilities by the State. It could have done better, but another lesson of the pandemic, it seems, has gone unlearned by the Government.

Our family carers are heroes. They do incredible work to fill the gaps left by successive governments in caring for vulnerable people, and they do this work with great love, compassion and selflessness. We welcome the decision to relax the means test for the carer's allowance, something we have campaigned for, but the Government again falls short. It has postponed the move until June and allocated just €10 million for the purpose. A Sinn Féin budget would have opened the payment to many more carers by allocating €50 million to relax the means test, further addressed inheritance issues and introduced a pension for long-term carers. We would also have increased the annual carer's support grant to €2,000; the Government did not make provision for that. Much more needs to be done to change the status of carers as Ireland's forgotten front-line workers and to prevent their burnout.

In this budget, people were looking for leadership. They were looking for ambition and urgency to implement solutions to the problems they face every day. They were looking for a Government that has all too often been chaotic to step up to the mark and deliver, just for once. Instead, they got a budget with no direction from a Government with no vision. People were looking for hope, for a plan that would help them to believe that things will get better and that the Government gets what is happening in their lives, even just a little, but they have been left badly disappointed again because it turns out the Government does not get it at all. Instead of leadership and ambition, we get another stale budget from Ministers who seem to think the crises our people face are a figment of their imagination, and one presided over by a Taoiseach who is content to stand idly by while a generation see their aspirations wasted. People are not fooled by the Government's budget. It is just the latest chapter in Fianna Fail's and Fine Gael's effort to delay change.

They may delay it, but they cannot stop it. I am not giving up. Many of us are united by the desire for change expressed during the election and by the togetherness that has sustained our people during the Covid-19 crisis. D’fhéadfadh athrú agus Éire níos fearr a bheith i bhfad ó Fhianna Fáil agus ó Fhine Gael, ach níl na daoine i bhfad uaithi.

We can have a better, fairer, united Ireland and a Government that will truly pursue those goals. Change and a better Ireland might be beyond Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, but they are not beyond the people. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael want to hold us back. They want people to believe that change is not possible, but it is possible. Change is coming because that is what we want and need and what the people demand.

2:30 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputies for staying. I appreciate it.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Deputy was not here for my speech.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Fair play to Deputy Eamon Ryan. At least he is staying.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I was just about to compliment him.

The Minister is one of the three party leaders and, before I start, I wish to point out that the way this budget was leaked and the process by which that happened are insulting to this House and to the Irish people. It has to stop. Everybody may have been doing it, but everybody knows it has to stop. Ultimately, we are the representatives of the people. The farcical situation whereby we have the documents in the House and the Ceann Comhairle quite rightly says we cannot leave until the speeches are made is a joke. It has to stop. What is more, given what happened with Zapponegate involving freedom of information, text messages and the like, the Government is only creating a stick with which to beat itself. Somewhere along the line somebody has been messaging people to get this information out and if that becomes public, the Government will have big problems, and rightly so. Let that be the one message to take from this before I make my few comments on the budget, and please feed it back. Nobody wins and politics fails and falls.

The theme of the budget was recover, restore and renew. For me it was more, and the Minister might like this, reduce, reuse and recycle - reduce living standards due to inflation, reuse the same old ideas that have failed in the past and recycle the tax cuts and spending policies of the Ahern era. There are half-baked plans, many of which have been announced or are already in train. I hoped that this budget would be a turning point. It was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a difference as we emerge from Covid-19, but it is an opportunity lost. Instead, we got huge compromise and more of the same from three political parties that have cancelled each other out and, as a consequence, achieved very little.

During the Covid pandemic there was a massive mobilisation of the power of the State, with billions of euro committed to the health service and the preservation of lives and billions of euro to protect incomes and save jobs. They were unprecedented actions. People now know that the State can act in a different way. It was able to build field hospitals, it was able to recruit and it was able to use technology in ways it had not done previously. That is the reason this budget is so disappointing. People know the State can act when the political will is there, but in this case the political will has failed. This was the time to deliver a new deal for a fairer Ireland, but the opportunity has been lost. Instead of a universal public childcare system, we got piecemeal subsidies; instead of truly free education, we got token gestures; instead of radical efforts to tackle climate change, the can was kicked down the road again; and instead of a rent freeze, there were more tax breaks for landlords. We put forward a plan to build 20,000 social and affordable houses and we costed it. Instead we got more of the same and no vision for the future. There is a budget package of €4.7 billion, yet we still cannot guarantee scoliosis treatment for ten-year-old Adam Terry. The Minister knows I raised it in the House and he referred to it earlier, in fairness to him.

What people will judge this Government on is how it works to resolve the problems we all know and face. This is not a step in the right direction in any way. Instead of tackling the problems and investing in the services people need, the Government, in its wisdom, committed to €600 million in a full year for an untargeted tax cut. There is so much we could have achieved with that money. I spoke about Adam and a number of other children earlier who need certain surgeries. There are the requirements across the education sector, early years and childcare. It was totally unnecessary and is spread so thinly that the people will not even notice it. However, there was an ideological issue between the three Government parties, and common sense and what is right for the people did not come through. There is even an increase in the working-from-home relief, which means that the State is picking up a bill that employers should pay.

That is a long way from the Green Party Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, talking about a solidarity tax last April. What happened to his idea? We were behind him and supported it 100%. He called for a once-off solidarity tax on the wealthiest. Did he do it just for headlines or is it something the party believes in? We have proposed a range of tax measures to raise €1 billion by closing down reliefs and taxing wealth. Instead, the wealthiest people in our society will receive more than €400 extra per year. They do not need it.

There was no Donogh O'Malley moment when it came to childcare. Hopefully, there will be next year. The leaks in advance said there would be €100 million for childcare, but it was far less. People are sick of being told that this is a turning point in childcare. I heard that from previous Ministers on numerous occasions. It has not happened and is not happening. It is not working. The costs for parents are still like a second mortgage.

The cost of living has been a dominant issue since the Dáil returned. I have flagged the cost of electricity and gas many times. I can guarantee every Member that, unfortunately, a winter of discontent lies ahead due to soaring prices and supply chain problems. The €5 per week increase in social welfare payments does not go far enough to protect those on the lowest incomes. Since 2019, inflation has increased by 4.3% and the Government's figures predict a rise of 3.7% next year. The budget spreads many fivers around, but it does not insulate those on fixed incomes from mounting price increases. Jobseekers are on €203 per week. That had to rise by a minimum of €7.50 just to keep pace with inflation. The State pension needed to increase by €9.19 to keep pace with inflation. Looking at the details, one sees that prices are rising faster than incomes, so people will have less to spend on everyday essentials. That is just reality.

Electricity and gas suppliers have implemented multiple price increases that will cost households more than €400 next year in higher bills. I welcome the action to increase the fuel allowance and I acknowledge the Government took on board my call for increases to be implemented from day of the budget. However, only 30,000 extra households will qualify for the fuel allowance, much less than the 130,000 we proposed. Gas prices will continue to soar and the Government cannot guarantee that it can keep the lights on. In 2020, an extra four weeks of fuel allowance was paid. I again urge the Government not to rule out providing the same this year. I urge the Minister to listen to what I have said.

Instead of tax cuts for the wealthiest, the Labour Party calls for a refundable carbon tax credit of €200 for ordinary people. This will be capped at a household income of €50,000 per year and targeted at those living with low energy rating. This is necessary to target those who will be most affected.

The health budget is a masterpiece of distraction. There is an allocation of in excess of €22 billion for next year, but scoliosis surgery for children still cannot be delivered. We are told that an additional 8,000 staff are due to be hired next year. We were also told there would be 16,000 last year. The State is struggling to recruit across the board and there does not appear to be a plan to resolve it. There are workers who served on the front line throughout the pandemic who still do not know where their position will be. We do not know how many consultants, nurses, public health nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants, psychologists or various other therapists are going to be provided.

The Minister for Health cancelled the press conference to tell us.

2:40 pm

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Does the Deputy know why?

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

No, he has not told me.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

He announced that he has symptoms of Covid - he had a negative test.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Sorry, I was genuinely not aware of that. However, we still need to know the information.

Other Departments have told us how many gardaí, teachers and SNAs they will have. If the Government can figure out the pupil-teacher ratio for our schools, it should be able to understand the staffing ratio needed for hospitals, including how many ICU beds they need. Obviously, we need to take on board the INMO statement that 90% of nurses are facing burnout.

More than 900,000 people are on waiting lists and the only solution Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party can agree on is to outsource patients to the private sector. We will never develop the capacity or the skilled workforces we need if the approach is always to pay private investors for access to for-profit healthcare. An extra €250 million is allocated to waiting lists, of which €200 million goes to the HSE and another €50 million to the NTPF. Next year €150 million will be spent on outsourcing public patients. We cannot continue doing this.

The NPTF has been back since 2017, first with an allocation of €20 million; €55 million in 2018; €75 million in 2019; and €100 million in 2020. Last year's budget allocated €130 million in 2021 and it is to be €150 million for next year. We will have spent €500 million for public healthcare in private for-profit hospitals, which we should not. That ship needs to turn. Who will be brave enough to turn it? That €500 million is not working. It reinforces prejudices. It reinforces the fact that people can get private care in public hospitals. People who have money can get healthcare while those who need it most are sitting at the back of the queue.

University Hospital Limerick is the closest tier 1 hospital to where I live. It has opened extra beds but 91 people were on trolleys on Tuesday, which is the highest number since the start of the pandemic. To bridge the funding and staffing shortage in Limerick and bring it to the national average for a model 4 hospital would cost €41 million. If we do not address that deficit, we will never get on top of waiting lists.

I welcome the funding for free contraception, something the Labour Party has pursued for years. We need work out how to ensure that we support students during a difficult time going to college. The measures the Government announced for students - the €200 increase, the maintenance grants and the changes in income limits - should be backdated to last month or some action should be taken on it. If it cannot be done fully, it should be done partially. If we wait for another year, a number of students will drop out because they will not have the means to stay in. Doing this would be of some help.

There was nothing for renters. Tax cuts for workers will not cover the rent increases they are expected to face next year. As I have said, the State is not building enough homes. I heard what the Taoiseach said earlier about the zoned land tax. How many years will it take? We are two years down the road. I have read it and I understand it. I introduced the first version of this and I know about the limitations and the constitutional issues. I have been down that road and I support the Minister on this. However, much of the analysis has already been done by local authorities. Why is it taking so long? I introduced it in 2015. I believe it should go up to 7% eventually. Considering that Fine Gael has been in government for the past five years and it was not working during all that time, why is it only getting around to fixing it now? This this levy should be brought in quicker. The local authorities and relevant organisations have the data. I know because I have seen them. I know the structures in place.

For many this budget was a major disappointment with everything spread so thinly. It was a confetti budget that failed to deliver relief for anyone. It kicks to touch again the need for proper terms and conditions for those in our Defence Forces. It gives no certainty of jobs into the future for those in healthcare. It gives no certainty to our talented childcare workers regarding the issues they have. For those on low pay and the minimum wage, it delivers little to meet the rising costs of living. The living wage of €12.90 is even further away for many people. There is barely an acknowledgement of the crisis faced by young people out of work. We need a new deal for a fairer Ireland.

As I said at the start, the people will judge the Government on how it works to resolve the problems they face in their everyday lives. There was little to give them hope on work, care, climate and housing. As we come out of the Covid pandemic, this budget was an opportunity to tell the people we are going to do things differently and to face them and deal with the issues they now prioritise after coming through such a pandemic. It was an opportunity, but it was a missed opportunity. The budget shows complete compromise across three parties, meaning that ultimately it delivers very little for anyone.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Yesterday at the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform framed their speeches in the context of the global pandemic. While Covid is still very much with us, the development of vaccines and the vaccination programme has thankfully dramatically changed things for the better. During the first lockdown, it became all too obvious who our essential workers were. It also became obvious what the shortfalls were in our public services. Our healthcare workers were battling the pandemic with a system that was functioning on a knife edge. We could see better resourced healthcare systems overwhelmed by Covid. It became crystal clear just how exposed we were and how important it is to reform our health system.

The failure of our healthcare was all too obvious yesterday when Adam Terry, a ten-year-old boy with scoliosis, was interviewed on RTÉ radio. The pre-pandemic promise that no child would need to wait more than four months for surgery was just that - a promise. Adam has been waiting four years for surgery and said that he felt like he was at the bottom of the barrel. He also said:

Nobody is coming out to find me in the lost and found. To be honest, sometimes I feel like I’m crying myself to sleep because it’s so unfair. It just makes me angry and frustrated and sad.

Adam is enduring torture in which our healthcare system is complicit. What does it say about our society and our priorities when a child endures suffering like that for so long? Adam is one of many. In May, 200 children with scoliosis were awaiting surgery. Approximately 90,000 children are on waiting lists, with a third of them waiting more than 18 months for different procedures.

The Government described this budget as a "recover, restore and renew" budget, but in truth it was a bits and pieces budget. It did not tackle any of the big issues. It is out of step with people's desire to re-evaluate our national priorities. This is not an ambitious transitional budget. There is no real sense that the Government means to move the country in a different direction. Some important facts need to be emphasised. Ireland is the second most expensive country in Europe to live, with the cost of living 36% above the EU average; our housing costs are the highest in the EU; the price of goods and services the second highest in the EU; and fuel costs are the fourth highest in the EU - and that was prior to the most recent price shock. The cost of living is skyrocketing and when prices go up, they rarely go down. We are hoping the fuel shock will be temporary and one where oversight is brought to bear. With the exorbitant housing and rental costs, there is no sign that they are doing anything but going up.

It is a budget of bits and pieces, all of which are soaked up with inflation. The current inflation rate is 3.7%, which is the highest it has been in 13 years. We are hopeful it will not stay high but there is no guarantee of that. Oil and gas prices are rising dramatically and the Government's plan to offset those costs was to increase the fuel allowance by €5 for those who currently get it, although there is a narrow scope in who gets it. That increase will not even match the rate of inflation.

This budget provides €520 million in what we would describe as a regressive tax change. Single people and those on low to middle incomes, or between €25,000 and €35,000, will get approximately €2 per week, a quarter of what somebody on €100,000 of income per year will get. It equates to €1 per week if a person is on €25,000 per year and €9 if that person is on €100,000. It is even worse if a person is self-employed as such people need to earn approximately €50,000 to get any benefit.

Some of what we described as "essential" workers during the pandemic worked in our shops. Ireland has one of the highest costs of living in the EU but the third highest number of low-paid workers in the EU. The minimum wage was increased by a paltry 30 cent to €10.50, which barely covers inflation. The living wage recently increased by 60 cent to €12.90, and this is the bare minimum seen as needed to live with dignity in this country. For example, housing costs in Dublin account for 64.7% of a living wage net salary but a person seeking a mortgage would have a threshold of 35% of salary after which the loan would be regarded as unsustainable. Let us imagine what that is like for people trying to put food on the table and heat their homes. Very often the building energy rating on rental properties is poor and we only have to look at what is on offer on the likes of daft.ieto see that. People find themselves in an impossible position.

As we emerge from the pandemic, people are re-evaluating their lives and asking themselves what is important. Unfortunately, after the 19 months we have all had, many of our front-line workers are leaving their professions in our dysfunctional health system. It is a similar story with childcare workers, many of whom are just walking away from their hard-earned qualifications. They do not see a future for themselves or their skills valued. What they see is a piecemeal response when a step change is needed. When children returned to the classroom, for example, the comparison between our class sizes and those in other EU countries was obvious where it was not obvious previously. This was not just from the educational perspective but from the view of having healthy spaces where children could learn. We have the largest class sizes in Europe and while it is welcome that the pupil-teacher ratio has reduced by one, this process is painfully slow and there was an expectation that more would be done.

Working parents, many of whom were working from home during the pandemic, continued to do their full-time jobs and were full-time childminders while having to homeschool their children. In particular, women felt that burden more acutely and still feel a disproportionate burden. The country's childcare policy needs a step change, according to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, and one of the Government's proposals is to extend the national childcare scheme to children under 15 from September next year. When that change is to take place it will nearly be time for the next budget. We have been told this will benefit 40,000 children, albeit 11 months from now, and the funding provided is €5 million. If that is divided among the 40,000 children, it is a tiny amount per child.

We have the highest rate of reliance on private childcare services in the OECD; the OECD average is 34% and the EU average is 27%. The rate of Government funding in the childcare sector is the second-lowest in the OECD. Parents have been picking up this bill for decades and Covid-19 exposed the weaknesses of not having a public system. The penny has dropped with the employer organisations as well, and they can see just how exposed we were during the pandemic.

I was struck by a line the Minister for Finance uttered towards the end of his speech. He stated, "For those worried about whether they can own a home or afford their rent, this budget will support you". It is a breathtaking statement. The Minister is gaslighting the nation. We have the most expensive housing in Europe and we keep being told that we cannot build houses overnight. We have been told that consistently every year since 2014. Budget 2022 ignored the obvious and provided more of the same, compounding the failures of past budgets.

A so-called rent freeze is tied to the CPI at a time of rising inflation; the Minister could not have picked a worse time for the measure. It is disingenuous to say this amounts to a rent freeze. People are not fools and they can see that. Budget 2022 was an opportunity ignored to address the benefits in place for REITs over renters. Reliefs continue to be provided for landlords but not for tenants. Global investment funds are profiting at the expense of our locked out generation.

At this point, the 3% tax on zoned land almost seems an incentive to hoard land. If land is not being used, there is always the option to dezone it. I do not understand why that does not happen because it is so expensive to service land. If somebody sits on it for five or ten years, action could be taken. I do not understand why the Minister suggests introducing something at a modest level and then postpones it for a couple of years. Immediate action could be taken with a review of all the county plans, with all the land serviced at great cost to the State not being used being dezoned. We might be surprised at how quickly people might move if that kind of penalty was put in place. We are talking about people who benefit hugely from zoning in the first place. I do not understand why the budget measure could not be introduced with this year's finance Bill in any case and why it must be postponed.

Writing in today's Irish Examiner, Dr. Rory Hearne stated the number of new social housing units planned for 2022 is lower than last year, at 11,820 versus 12,750. We are going backwards in this respect. The delivery target of 2,000 cost-rental homes per year has now been kicked to 2025, and that target could be in the hands of a new Administration because there simply was not ambition in this Administration.

There is €194 million to be spent in tackling homelessness, which will be largely given to for-profit service providers. Nothing has been provided for new prevention measures. There are 2,189 children who are currently homeless in the State. The cost of homelessness cannot just be measured in monetary terms, as we know, but this is an expensive way to deliver an appalling service.

We need to deal with housing in a much more meaningful way. In 2022, twice the amount of social housing will come from the private market through landlords, developers, investors via HAP and social housing leasing rather than new builds. We have been told long leasing will be phased out during the lifetime of this Government but why not end it now? It makes no economic sense to continue with what is the most expensive way of delivering social housing, with no asset at the end. I have been saying it for months but much attention was paid when Mr. Dermot Desmond made the point at the weekend. If the Government does not listen to the likes of us, it should listen to the likes of him.

It just does not make any sense. This year, we will spend nearly €1 billion on measures like the housing assistance payment, HAP. Other rental supports are also upped this year. People who qualify for HAP have to be on the housing waiting list. A three-adult or four-child family household has to be on an income between €30,000 and €42,000, depending on where they live. These are low-incomes households. Many people do not qualify for any supports and some of them are on relatively modest incomes.

I listened to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, talk about capital spending, how important it is, that it is where our focus of attention is and that we have to be prudent on the current spending side. Where do we get the resources to transform childcare if a step change is needed? Where do we get the resources to address capacity issues in the context of the review of capacities on disabilities? How do we deal with the cancer care issue where, for example, parking charges were identified in the programme for Government as something that needed to be addressed? How do we address the issue of our shortfall in the way we compete now that our corporate tax rate will be changed? We need big investments and a bigger State. There needs to be an income for that and this budget contained bits and pieces rather than anything you could point to as very substantial.

3:00 pm

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am sharing time with Deputies Boyd Barrett and Barry. As we explained and outlined clearly yesterday, this is a budget for banks, landlords and developers. It is not an exaggeration to say there is less than nothing in it for renters, workers, pensioners, carers and the unemployed, all of whom will be worse off in real terms this time next year because what is being given is less than the rate of inflation. I gave a general speech yesterday and today I will go into detail on a couple of aspects of this budget because, when you delve into the budget, you see just how much that is the case.

I will start with the issue of the fuel allowance. The Minister and the Government made much of giving an extra €5, an amount that is not enough to cover the extra cost of fuel. You can do the maths and it is approximately a third of what is necessary in the context of fuel costs going up by €500. The Minister said:

To directly address this, I am increasing the weekly rate of the fuel allowance by €5. This increase will apply from midnight tonight.

He went on to say: "I am also increasing to €120 the...[amount] of means allowed above the maximum...State pension [contributory] rate for the fuel allowance". What he did not say was when it will be introduced. People were clearly meant to be left with the impression that, just like the rate, the means test is also increasing immediately.

I have been dealing with a guy, who is a pensioner, as is his wife. That is the income they have, along with a small amount of extra income, and between them they are €5 over the current means test. When he heard the news that it had been increased by €20, he thought, great, they would be able to afford fuel this winter. What did I hear from the Department of Social Protection today? The new means test will not apply until 6 January next year. It is cruel, mean and downright scabby to not just say we will allow people to pay for their fuel from now and to say that pensioner has to wait until January before he can get the fuel allowance. What is he and other people in his position meant to do? How are they meant to pay for their fuel this winter? Why are they expected to wait until January? I urge the Government, even at this late stage, to change that and say that even this limited change in allowance, which still excludes those on illness benefit and the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, will be brought in immediately.

My second point is on the Minister, Deputy Ryan, who looked very pleased with himself yesterday and today with his claims that green fingerprints are on the budget. The Minister was actually caught red-handed proposing a dramatic 18% cut in the public service obligation, PSO, subsidy for public transport. Last year, the Government gave €659 million in PSO payments to CIÉ etc. Next year, the Minister will give only €539 million, a massive €120 million cut in funding for public transport. A so-called green Minister is taking money away from public transport. On top of that cut to current spending on public transport is what certainly looks like from the budget book a massive cut in capital investment and massive cuts to sustainable mobility, carbon reduction and public transport, amounting to an incredible €1.69 billion less compared with last year. How on earth has a Green Party Minister for Transport signed off on such swingeing cuts?

I will deal with the issue of the tax credit for the gaming industry, which is a growing industry in Ireland. There was no mention of this by the Minister, but it is an industry where working conditions are very poor. There is huge pressure on people to work very long hours, particularly at crunch times, only 15% get paid for overtime and 15% are on less than a living wage. The vast majority do not get any pension contribution from their employer. The Minister says, and it is in the budget book, that the tax credit will be conditional on the industry providing quality employment, as with the film industry. This cannot be the same tick-box exercise whereby the industry says it will abide by the laws on employment and then gets the tax credits. At the very minimum, to be able to avail of credits, there needs to be a commitment to abide by all the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, codes of practice, to pay, at least, the living wage, and to guarantee staff's rights to disconnect, to paid overtime and to proper pension provision.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Taoiseach told the Dáil today that new rent caps are on the way. The way things are going, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, will end up with more caps than Robbie Keane. First of all, it was a 0% cap, which was okay, then it was a 4% cap, then the cap was the rate of inflation, and now it will be something else again. Let me spell it out for the Minister of State and I ask him to please bring word back to the Cabinet. A 3%, 2% or 1% cap will not be acceptable. A rent freeze might be acceptable to some, but for many, even that will not be acceptable at this stage. Rents are simply unaffordable and need to be cut, not just frozen.

The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, told the Dáil yesterday "consumer price inflation [is] expected to reach 3.7% in September, which would be the highest rate since June 2008", which is more than 13 years ago. I am surprised this information has not received more attention in the past 24 hours. An inflation rate of 3.7% in September would represent an increase of nearly a full percentage point from the 2.8% recorded in August. At that rate of increase, inflation would rise to 6.4% by the end of the year. To be clear, I am not saying it will reach that figure, but I do not think Ministers can give a guarantee it will not. I certainly do not think they are in a position to do that.

I put it to the Minister of State that if he wants to take strong action against inflation, he should use the weapon of price controls and use it to the full. Price control number one should be to legislate to control rent, not for a 0.5% or 1% reduction, but for rent cuts or, at the very least, to freeze rents. Price control number two should be to legislate to set a tough, maximum price per unit of gas, electricity, home heating oil etc. The market is delivering inflationary price rises and the market mechanisms must be strongly overridden in the interests of people and our society.

The controversy over the free contraception package is both interesting and instructive. Once upon a time, the reaction to such a proposal would have been led by the Catholic right saying the Government had gone too far.

In 2021, reaction comes first and foremost and overwhelmingly from a progressive, secular viewpoint which says this does not go far enough. All women, and not only those aged 17 to 25, should benefit. It should also be for men and non-binary people. Contraception is not just the responsibility of women. The proposal is, in effect, sexist. The repeal the eighth movement proposed free contraception for all five years ago. The Government is dragging its heels. The Government has reacted by saying this is a start. If that is the case, and the Government intends to roll it out further, it should do so now. I call on the Government to make provision in this budget for the finance to roll out that campaign further now rather than waiting for another year. I am inviting comment on that issue.

Someone said to me yesterday that they thought it was a tired budget, delivered in a tired and uninspiring way. It was certainly met by a collective "meh" by the mass of the people. One wit on the streets of Cork told the Evening Echothat he was waiting on his fiver so he could go off to the Costa del Sol. The reality, of course, is that his fiver will hardly get him a cup of coffee at the Costa Coffee shop. There is a point here. The Government Ministers, collectively, are tired. Perhaps they were tired by the 18 months of the pandemic but, on a deeper level, this Government is tired in the sense that it has no vision. It is a pro-business Government which does not have the tools to solve the problems caused by the major failures of the market. All it can do is tinker, hang in there and cling to power. The tide of history is now against the Government and, deep down, I think its members knows that.

3:10 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will repeat a point that Deputy Barry made and I also made earlier. It is amazing there is not more scrutiny of the simple fact the Minister told us yesterday that inflation is running at 3.7% and yet, as I highlighted earlier, somebody who is on the average industrial wage of €40,000 a year is getting, as a result of the tax changes the Government has brought in, less than 0.5% in increased net income. That amounts to €115 for the entire year. That does not reach the threshold of national fiver day. If you do the maths, it works out as a little over €2 for somebody on average industrial earnings. For those on the median wage of approximately €30,000, the changes will mean an increase of 0.5%. That is against a background of multiple energy price hikes, which will amount to €500, €600, €700 or €800. Most working people will not get a fuel allowance at all but, for those who do, it will not nearly cover the costs. They will also be loaded with carbon tax. Many of them are also paying property tax increases. I will warn the Government that there is a lot of anger building as people are starting to receive bigger bills as they are put into higher valuation bands for the property tax and are facing increased bills on their own homes.

The truth is the Government has cut people's incomes. That is what inflation does. Inflation is a way of taking back from working people. Price rises eat into people's incomes. They have less money for bills and rent, to buy things for their children and to bear the myriad costs that are rising. Of course, the most important of those costs is the cost of accommodation. There was absolutely no mention of renters anywhere in the budget speeches or on the budget books. There was no mention of the student accommodation crisis. I have just come from the student protest, where they are absolutely raging. There was no mention of the situation they are in. All they get is contempt from the chief executive of Dublin City Council about their plight. The Minister is nodding.

Let us be clear, the proliferation of for-profit development all over this city, which is at the centre of this debacle, has been facilitated by successive governments involving or supported by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and their coalition partners. This has been allowed. If you walk out the door of Leinster House, you will see hotel after hotel, aparthotels, co-living developments, strategic housing developments, you name it. All of them are totally unaffordable. Rents are extortionate. Tax breaks are available for these people to beat the band. The building and labour capacity that is necessary to deliver affordable student accommodation and public housing is being diverted. People are being ripped off by stealth in this budget with its failure to deal with those issues and when the cost of all them all is rising.

I will add to the point about transport. I heard an anchor broadcaster say today that every Department got extra money. No, they did not. The Department of Transport saw a cut of 4%. That is a significant cut, but it is even worse when it is made by a Green Party Minister. Seriously? We need massive investment in public transport. We need it to be cheaper and more frequent. We need more public service routes but the public service obligation budget has been cut. I do not know if some of these figures are misprints but I am gobsmacked by them. You need to read the appendices of budgets. There are references to carbon reduction and public transport, for which last year's budget was €2.4 billion and this year's budget is €900 million. That is a dramatic reduction. There is another drop outlined in the section on climate leadership. Last year's budget was €218 million while this year's is €96 million. That is another major cut from a Green Party Minister and Government. It is absolutely shocking.

The social housing eligibility threshold not being raised is an absolute disgrace, and even as we speak, I am dealing with families who have been thrown off the housing list even though they are in homeless accommodation with children because their income edged slightly over the threshold. That is also an absolute disgrace.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Inflation makes everyone poorer, particularly those who are on fixed incomes. I want to focus on one aspect of inflation, that is, energy inflation. Gas prices, based on the Department of Finance documentation, are projected to rise by another 50% over the coming months and will then settle at a rate approximately 10% higher than the current prices in the second half of next year. That is going to have a significant knock-on impact on electricity prices here in Ireland. Electricity prices have gone up far more significantly than any other fuel cost in this country so far this year. That is partly a result of the speculative data centre development for companies that are not employing anyone here in Ireland, including the cost of providing green electricity and grid connections to them.

In addition, we have speculators who are profiteering on renewable energy developments. Only last month, there was a newspaper report regarding an Australian infrastructure giant called Macquarie which is buying up the rights to develop an offshore wind farm 5 km off the Connemara coast. Those rights were handed over by the Department of Environment, Climate Action and Communications to the previous developer. What is the State getting for that licence? Absolutely nothing. Who will pay for it ultimately? Families and electricity customers throughout this country will pay the price for it. The families who are struggling to pay electricity bills today are paying for the development of these speculative data centres. They are paying for the speculation in terms of renewable energy projects off our coasts.

On top of that, we have the impact of carbon taxes. Taxes on electricity are levied at EU level through the emissions trading system but we are disproportionately penalised for the use of fossil fuels - oil, coal and gas - in the generation of our electricity.

At the same time, electricity customers here are losing €176 million in charges they have already paid for the two power stations in Lanesborough and Shannonbridge, which could be burning biomass for the next decade, helping to address the electricity shortfall in this country over the winter period while also reducing the carbon tax levied on electricity, just as the two plants' older sister, the Edenderry plant, is doing today. Doing this would require the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, to take a very different approach to the bottleneck in felling licences for forestry. Doing so would release the brash by-product, the branches and so on, to fuel those three power plants across the midlands. It would also give local farmers time to establish biomass crops, which could have a big impact on their financial sustainability while also having a significant impact on our overall agricultural emissions.

The carbon taxes collected here in Ireland were supposed to have been invested in reducing overall emissions, but what is going on with the carbon tax fund is little more than a three-card trick. Next year, €412 million in carbon taxes will be collected. Some €174 million of that will go towards social welfare payments. That will not take one additional tonne of carbon out of our atmosphere. Some €36 million will be invested in a just transition and greenways. This will have a minimal impact on our carbon emissions. Some €202 million will be invested in retrofitting in 2022 but, back in 2019, €90 million was allocated. That was profiled to ramp up dramatically from 2021 onwards and that was before the Green Party increased the carbon tax.

The key question is how much new money is going into retrofitting. What is going in now, in 2022, represents a 50% shortfall compared with what was profiled when I was Minister. Project Ireland 2040 set out a commitment to retrofit 45,000 homes per annum from 2021. Yesterday's budget announced that 22,000 homes would be retrofitted. Just 4,500 of these are the homes of people who are in receipt of the fuel allowance, of which there are 370,000. In fact, there are 7,000 families who are in receipt of the fuel allowance on the waiting list for retrofitting. They will wait 26 months to have that carried out. How much of the €412 million collected in carbon tax will provide new Government spending to bring down carbon emissions? Zilch. Absolutely nothing.

With regard to the carbon fund, farmers are going to lose out to the sum of €49 million. This is the one area in which we could actually have a real impact on emissions. Better grass management alone could help to address our air quality, ammonia and nitrates problems as well as reducing methane emissions and promoting greater carbon sequestration in soil. The carbon fund should be used to fast-track research on practical carbon sequestration on our pasture lands and in our hedgerows. Nothing is going into that. We should be investing in a suckler cow environmental scheme. We proposed that this scheme should pay out €200 per annum on 20 cows for sustainable suckler beef production, along the lines of the smart farming initiative. In some cases, farmers have seen a 20% reduction in their environmental emissions, which is twice the current target set by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for the agricultural sector.

Finally, we have 3.7 million sheep in this country. Farmers are giving away wool for nothing and yet there is a shortage of insulation to retrofit homes. Surely it is time to connect the dots.

3:20 pm

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I very much welcome the opportunity to speak today. First of all, it is important to acknowledge the efforts the Government has made to improve the circumstances of both the people and businesses as we all attempt to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

There are a number of things I would like to mention. I acknowledge the €1,500 increase in the rate bands, the increase of €50 in the tax credits and the increase in the minimum wage, although I strongly believe the minimum wage, now set at €10.50, is still well below a living wage. It is important the workers of this country see light at the end of the tunnel. Through thick and thin, they have consistently put their shoulder to the wheel to ensure the economy, along with the many essential businesses, remained open during the pandemic. It is only right their efforts are rewarded.

I also acknowledge the extension of the employment wage subsidy scheme to April of next year. I have spoken to many business owners in Dundalk, Drogheda and other parts of Louth and east Meath and they have outlined in no uncertain terms how important the wage subsidy scheme was in ensuring their businesses remained open. However, I must say I have concerns for business in general when the subsidy schemes are eventually withdrawn.

I welcome the extension of the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector until August 2022. This is great news for the sector and gives businesses within it some assurance as they prepare to reopen fully. The hospitality sector has been one of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic. In my own constituency of Louth, I know from speaking to many people in the tourism sector, both in the north of the county, where we have the wonderful Cooley Peninsula, Carlingford and Omeath, and in the south, where we have the exciting Boyne Valley, that the past 18 months have been absolutely terrible for them. However, they are a resilient bunch and I have no doubt that, with the right support from Government, they will bounce back stronger than ever.

With regard to childcare, I welcome the €716 million package. It will extend the national childcare scheme subsidy to all those aged under 15, and preschool and school hours will no longer be deducted from subsidised hours, thereby benefiting more than 5,000 children from low-income families. I was coming to work this morning and I heard a lady on "Morning Ireland" saying she and her husband are caught in the middle. She is spending more than €20,000 a year on childcare. This is of no benefit to her. I plead with the Government to have a look at this. This €716 million is a lot of money but it is important everybody gets some kind of money out of it. If you and your wife are working and spending that kind of money, €1,700 a month, it is like having another mortgage. It is very important we all get something out of it. The budget will also extend parental benefit by two weeks and increase the back to school allowance by €10.

With regard to climate action, I welcome that €202 million is being set aside for 22,000 home energy upgrades, along with a further €174 million for energy efficiency measures. The Government is pushing for heat pumps as part of the home energy upgrades. While I acknowledge that heat pumps are the future, the one question nobody seems to be asking is where all this electric power is going to come from. At present, if we are to go by reports, we are at breaking point with regard to the national grid. What is going to happen when all these heat pumps are brought onto the grid? That is a serious issue.

With regard to social welfare, I welcome the increases in the various schemes. I particularly welcome that pensioners will get an increase in their pensions along with an increase in the fuel allowance. I appreciate that very much but my problem is the increase in carbon taxes. I fear that might wipe out any gains pensioners make. It is important to have balance in that regard. Unfortunately, many people, especially the elderly, are living in fuel poverty. While the increase in the weekly fuel allowance is welcome, it will not really benefit those most affected due to the ever-rising cost of fuel.

On housing, I feel the Government has again missed a big opportunity. The housing crisis is felt in every part of the country, not just in Dublin. In Louth, we have a severe housing shortage and spiralling rents. If we are to tackle this issue, we need to take a much more direct route. I have a major issue with vacant houses. In Dundalk alone, I can guarantee there is at least one vacant house on every street. These houses are already in established communities where we have appropriate services like schools and shops. Why are these houses continuing to be kept vacant? Surely the Government can support the local authorities to fund the upgrade of these vacant homes so that they can be brought back into the housing stock. If this does not make any sense to the Government, then something is seriously wrong.

Surely the Government can have a look at the scheme and introduce a vacant house levy just like the one for zoned land. In these times of housing crisis, we cannot have a situation whereby houses are left to lie vacant. I have spoken about this on many occasions and, if I am honest, I have been extremely disappointed with the Government's response. There should be a vacant house register and those houses on the register should be targeted by the local authorities to bring back into the housing stock. In this regard, it is important to acknowledge the great work done by Louth County Council which led the way on this, although it has a similar story in that it requires more funding from the Government.

There is not a day in my constituency office that families do not come in to me to look for homes. There are hundreds of homes in Dundalk, Drogheda and elsewhere in County Louth, which is the smallest county in Ireland. It does not make a lot of sense. If we are looking for a quick fix and to get these families into homes, surely it makes sense to give local authorities the money they want. I cannot understand why every time I contact a local authority I am told it is waiting for money. I am aware of houses that have been left vacant for 12 or 18 months. Initially it costs a few thousand euro for them to be fixed. All of a sudden, the cost increases to tens of thousands of euro. This makes no sense.

On the proposed new zoned land tax which was due to be introduced, I am disappointed to note it appears likely that it will be delayed for at least two years. If we are serious about tackling the housing crisis, we must bring these measures in immediately.

To conclude, I want to acknowledge the measures introduced by the Government yesterday. People will definitely have more money in their pockets which, in theory, should stimulate the economy, but I would like to urge caution. Costs in this country are starting to spiral. I have spoken to many businesspeople in Dundalk over the past number of months and have been alarmed at some of the cost increases they are facing. Not all businesses will be able to sustain these increases in costs and they will eventually have to be passed onto the end user. My fear is that while people will have more money in their pockets after yesterday's budget, they might in fact be worse off when inflation starts to affect what they buy on a daily basis, such as food and drink, fuel and general day-to-day living.

I am getting a lot of flak from people who will have to pay an extra 50 cent for a packet of cigarettes. They suggested that the extra 50 cent should be engaged in some way to help people combat their addiction. I spoke to the Tánaiste last night and I want to say the same to the Minister of State today. Can we please use the 50 cent increase in tax on cigarettes to help people to combat their addiction?

3:30 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am glad to get the opportunity to speak today when the dust has settled on what is a very anti-rural budget for the people of rural Ireland. I can give several reasons for that. Sometimes one can see something positive, but one has to look at the small print. When one looks at the small print, one sees the reality of the story.

This would be an ideal opportunity to turn things around for farmers, through the suckler grant or whatever. That is not going to happen. Farming organisations felt the suckler grant should have been €300. Unfortunately, there will be no percentage rise. The only percentage rise I saw in the budget, unless there is something in the small print I have not seen, is that animal rights groups will get a 50% increase in their budget, which is excellent for them. For farmers trying to rear animals, keep them in fields and work to provide meat to people, there is a difficulty.

The public transport budget is down 4%. I welcome the 50% cut in the cost of public transport for our youth, but we have found out today that the devil is in the detail. Many counties are not on PSO routes, which means people will not be able to avail of the 50% cut. The rumour today is that the Minister is scrambling to try to rectify that matter. I cannot name other counties, but apparently Wexford and many other counties are not classified as PSO routes. Young people living in those counties will now not benefit from the 50% cut they were supposed to get. This is the responsibility of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and not the Minister of State.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The figure for animal welfare is €1.5 million out of €1.8 billion. It is 0.1%.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

That is fine. I am saying that it is a 50% increase. That is all I saw in the document that came out yesterday. I have moved on from that to the next issue. The Minister of State has a right to reply later, but I am giving him the facts about public transport for young people. If it is the case that PSO routes are not included, this will disqualify most areas in rural Ireland. It will of course not disqualify anyone who wants to take a Luas or DART. Of course we will look after all of those people, but I am afraid that in rural Ireland we do not have a Luas or DART. We do not have a public transport service. We are talking about it, but we certainly do not have Luas or DART services. The 50% deduction for young people has a sting in the tail which has to be rectified.

A private operator in west Cork takes 70% of the young people from west Cork to college, which is great. He will have not benefited in any way from yesterday's budget. When he started the route last year he paid €110 every time he went to Cork. He is now paying €165 for the same trip due to the carbon tax. The Government is going to put him out of business and put more cars back on the road. That is exactly what it is doing. It is so removed from reality. It is quite happy to be smug and say that we are talking bonkers. These are the facts. The Government should talk to the people on the ground and they will tell it the facts. The operator to whom I refer to cannot qualify for the cut in the budget even though he is bringing 70% of the young people from west Cork to college. What is wrong with the young people of west Cork? They have the equal right to travel as somebody living in Dublin or any other part of the country has and should be equally looked after. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has created a real mess which needs to be rectified immediately because it is an anti-rural budget.

The problem is that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Deputies are no longer able to talk around the table. They are sound asleep and the Green Party is wagging the tail. I will tell them one thing. Deputies will listen to the people when they go to the doors because they will not let this go. Every farm organisation is furious with the budget. It is a complete and utter let-down for the people.

Carbon tax is a simple attack on the people of rural Ireland so that we can buy fleets of buses and beautiful DART carriages and every delivery that Dublin needs. Ireland needs that. I have said for long enough that we cannot carry Dublin on our back. This is what is happening. The Government is allowing it to happen. The good people from long ago in Fianna Fáil fought for their people and the good people of Fine Gael are turning in their graves today. I ask Deputies to get up and speak on behalf of the people, and to stop being asleep behind the wheel and backing the Green Party in government until it takes us to the edge.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Deputies are outside today with the people affected by the peat moss crisis. Who created the crisis? It was the Government that is here. The poor people involved in forestry are going out of business. We are importing everything to keep the Green Party happy. I was at a funeral in Castletownbere the other day and Colombian briquettes were for sale. What a farcical situation. In the name of God almighty, what is wrong with the Government? Would it come out of the fog? We have fine briquettes in our country. We should be proud to have them and not to be importing them. We should not worry about the carbon footprint. The Green Party is happy as long as it can tell its buddies across the world that we do not make them, but they are being sold here. The Green Party wants to be able to say there is no need to worry because we do not make peat moss any more, but where is the peat moss coming from? It is coming from Latvia. Well done, lads. Pat yourselves on the back. You are real heroes. I can tell you this will not be forgotten.

Car fuel prices for ordinary men and women who work hard every day of the week are going through the roof. People are stopping at filling stations today and scratching the backs of their heads. Working men and women are being crucified in rural Ireland. They are telling me they are furious. I do not know what they think of the Government. That is why the Government is going one way and one way only in the polls. It is stuck at the bottom and cannot come off it, and cannot understand why. I will give the Government ten minutes and tell it the whole story. Common sense has gone out the window. The Green Party is wagging the tail. If the Government does not stop it from wagging the tail, it will wag the Government out over the edge. It is doing it as we speak.

Ordinary men and women are trying to heat their homes with oil. There is no alternative in the wide earthly world. As the Minister of State knows, in his constituency, as well as in mine, there is a two-year wait for the warmer homes scheme, if people are lucky. The wait could be two and a half years. That is a scandalous situation. As Deputy Naughten said, there is a lesser budget than what should have been put into the warmer homes scheme. People want to use an alternative, but it is not there. If the alternative was there I would sit here and say nothing, but there is no alternative. It is either that or go cold. People want to fill their oil tanks. I spoke to oil distributors yesterday who were getting frantic phone calls from people who were trying to buy oil. They will get caught the next time. The price of coal has gone through the roof. What is the alternative? Is it not to light a fire or to fill it full of paper? For the love of God, what is wrong with the Government?

I spoke to an agricultural contractor today. The Government should speak to such contractors, as well as lorry and bus drivers. The Government should be worried because they are in every constituency. The Government hopes another two or three years will turn this around.

It is worse it will get.

Yesterday there was a different comment from most agricultural organisations I heard, including the Irish Farmers Association, IFA; the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA; and Macra na Feirme. "Baffled" was the word. There was zero delivery - zero - on what they asked for and what they knew, and they know because they have their fingers on the pulse. The Government cannot deny they do. They meet with the organisations every day of the week.

We can have similar payments to what we had before. We need a new kind of rural environment protection scheme, REPS, opened up. We need definite deliveries, not non-deliveries, which is what is happening at the moment. The Government has created a massive, unresolvable urban-rural divide instead of bridging the gap and working towards both urban and rural working together. There is no togetherness. They have gone so far apart that there is no mending, unless this Government is removed. That is the only way we have in this country, unfortunately. Nobody wants an election. I speak to many people about that. They are very annoyed. A budget like this creates a massive divide.

We in the Rural Independent Group put forward our own submissions. We called for rural-proofing of the budget. There is no rural-proofing. There is nothing rural in the budget. It is anti-rural-proofing the Government has done. That has left us in a very difficult situation. It is easy for me. I can go back to my constituency and I will say I have fought my corner. I will fight the corner for the people who tell me what is wrong, the people who will be at my clinics this weekend and the people who will ring my phone. People are furious with the way they have been treated and let down. A certain sector of society, and it happens to be the people of rural Ireland, is being hit hard. This is in the hands of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. They can stop this. They can stop the Green Party wagging the tail, start kicking up around the Cabinet table and start kicking for rural Ireland and put it first and foremost. If they do not do that, they will never be forgotten for what they do.

What did the fishermen get in this budget? Zilch. What did the Government do to the fishermen? It ruined their incomes. The Minister of State knows it did. He can say what he wants. It is quite plain to see. The Government put the whole fishing industry and its future in the hands of Michel Barnier and he looked after France and said, "To hell with ye, Ireland." He codded the Government to its eyeballs. In the run-up to this I told the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, and Deputy Varadkar at the tail end of his being Taoiseach before that, not to leave this in the hands of a Frenchman and to make sure to have an Irish Minister out there fighting for the Irish people. They failed shockingly and, now that they have finished, the Government cannot cut €43 million off a budget and tell me nothing is wrong.

3:40 pm

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The French are not happy either.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Happy? The Government could have done something about it. The French did and the Spanish did.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The French people are not happy. The Deputy should not come in saying the French are happy. They are not.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Unfortunately, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister were asleep at the wheel and we will pay a high price.

What was in the budget yesterday for the people of the islands of this country? Will there be a social housing budget that has not been there for many years? I did not see it in the budget. I did not see anything about islands. There are some beautiful islands off west Cork: Bere Island, Whiddy Island, Dursey, Sherkin, Cape Clear, Long Island - I have probably left out one or two. They are fabulous islands. There are people trying to make a living there. Tourism is trying to get its feet on the ground. They need a bit of a boost. People want to live on islands. They cannot live there any more because there is no social housing. They are not allowed to build because they will not be allowed planning permission. There is nothing for the islands in this budget.

There are other issues such as the health crisis. A lot of rural places are finding it very difficult. I refer to CoAction and other such groups. There is no pay parity, which affects competition. Homes for people with intellectual disabilities are being shut in November in Castletownbere. I have been told they cannot get staff. That is not good enough. There is nothing in the budget to change that around. There is no pay parity to resolve this. There is a massive wage difference between a person who works in a home where there are people with intellectual disabilities and a person who works in a hospital with the HSE. The budget will not bring them together. There should be tied into the budget an allowance for rural workers, that is, people working in rural communities. They may not work in those communities because of the cost of travelling to and fro. Something like that has to be tied into the budget to give people an incentive. We have to look at our health. Our health system is on its knees. There was an opportunity. We are only pumping money into management. The HSE is a bottomless pit. It was nearly worse than the children's hospital for a while. It was a case of just pumping away and pumping away and hoping for the best. We have not looked at any solution to resolve the waiting lists. There is an opportunity here. We have to look at what the first thing we need to do is. We need our hospitals open 24-7. We are afraid to open our hospitals 24-7. That is an incredible situation to be in. We should be delighted to open them. Private hospitals are working 24-7 in Belfast. We take people to the North every day of the week. The doctors there show us how they can carry out hundreds and hundreds of surgeries every month, but we in this country are afraid to tackle this issue. We are playing with people's lives and they are suffering severe pain for want of an operation.

As for pensions, the €5 increase is great. In fairness, that should have been there for the past two years. Experts on the radio yesterday morning said senior citizens have lost €15 in the past few years on the basis that they got no increase of €5 as they should have had each year. At least it is €5 in their pockets that they badly need, and they greatly appreciate that. You would wonder, though, what happened in the past few years that there was no increase in the senior citizen pension? There is an argument there for maybe a €10 increase this year, but you cannot expect to do everything in one day.

I look at the €1.4 billion in the NDP. I mentioned last night that we had the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, kicking a ball around Páirc Uí Chaoimh last week. The sad thing is that they kicked the ball up the road, but they did not kick it down to south-west Cork at all. There is not a brown cent going into roads in west Cork other than for pothole repair. Blast it, we deserve something. We are citizens of the State too and we pay the highest amount of tax in the State because we are furthest from the Dáil and nearest to the White House. That should be remembered. The people of west Cork are being condemned. There is a southern relief road in Bandon left idle for the past 17 or 18 years. There is a northern relief road that will not get a brown cent. There is a Bantry bypass not going to be done. The Innishannon bypass is not going to be done. The last time decent money was spent - I do not know whether Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael was in government - was 20 years ago when the Skibbereen bypass was opened. That was the last time there was what could be called common-sense money used in west Cork. They kicked the ball about last week in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and they kicked it up the country. It was all only pie-in-the-sky talk anyway. There is €1.4 billion and not one brown cent of it will go to west Cork unless we get a few bob for pothole repair.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I would like to say I am disappointed by the lack of green vision in yesterday's budget but, unfortunately, I am not, despite the fact that the country's Green Party supposedly forms a part of the Government proposing this budget. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, must have been joking when he said the budget would be "very green". A different type of green it might have been because I see no evidence of that, but the lack of just transition and good environmental policy in budget 2022 is no laughing matter.

Yesterday the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, said that carbon taxation is "the single most effective climate policy", which is complete and utter nonsense. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and, most interestingly of all, the Green Party seem intent on leading the population to associate environmentalism with unfair taxation which disproportionately affects lower-income families, causing an understandable resistance and resentment towards the green movement. It is a smart tactic, and I am not naive enough to think that the Government does not know what it is doing when it does this. Such carbon taxes do nothing but push people into fuel poverty and actually do very little to make any sort of real change. They are not an effective way to stop people owning and driving fuel-run cars. They only force people to pay more for the cars they have to drive. I said yesterday that this disproportionately affects my county of Donegal, and it does. There is simply no public transport available in much of the county, and for many people electric cars are not an option either. There are, for example, no electric car charging points on any of the country's islands, such as Arranmore, so what the Government is doing is just forcing people to pay extortionate rates for fuel they have no choice but to use.

I invite Government Deputies to take a look at a map of the west of Ireland. They might be surprised to find that it really does exist, and electric chargers are few and far between. I will also take this opportunity to point out that €90 million was allocated to aviation yesterday, and I will not even get started on the data centres the Government is so keen to set up.

If it is looking for the single most effective climate policy it could implement, I would advise it to look to those centres.

If the Government were serious about tackling climate change, it would consider real structural change on a much larger level. I see no reason that Ireland could not achieve energy independence in the next ten years using, for example, only wind and hydropower. More than a decade ago, a wind and hydropower project was initiated by Spirit of Ireland in Kilcar, County Donegal. The project looked to harness Ireland's huge wind energy potential by using our natural coastal valleys to provide hydropower storage reservoirs. Wind farms were to be used to pump seawater into the reservoirs, which would then be passed through turbines generating massive amounts of power. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, should be able to recall this project, given that he was the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources at the time. I find it absolutely incredible that, more than 12 years later and in a similar ministerial portfolio, the best climate policy he can come up with is a carbon tax. It surely is laughable stuff.

The Spirit of Ireland wind and hydropower project, which was privately funded, had the potential not only to reduce our dependence on imported energy and fossil fuels but also to create jobs and offer enormous economic benefit to the country. That particular project fell through at the time but if the Government committed to funding a similar project, the benefits could be endless in terms of energy independence. It would require two hydropower storage reservoirs at a cost of €800 million each, but this would have the potential to save up to €15 billion in fossil fuel imports in little more than five years. The expertise and technology are there and similar projects have been done elsewhere. All that is required is commitment and a bit of ambition from the Government. It is time to think bigger, at the very least bigger than a carbon tax, which is just a lazy way to address the tremendous environmental crisis we have on our hands. Ireland has the potential to be a world leader on energy independence. The Minister missed out on this opportunity before and I urge him not to make the same mistake again. I ask him to show that he is about more than just surface and photo opportunities. He has a chance to prove he really cares about environmental issues and the future of our children.

Yesterday, I called this budget a missed opportunity. After a further read of it, it is very disheartening and incredibly frustrating to see how right I was. The rent restrictions, cessation of evictions and nationalisation of private hospitals that occurred over the past 18 months showed that the Government has the capacity to take steps to address the housing and health crisis in a serious way. How can it possibly see the immense benefit of that, and how positively it affected so many people's lives, and then turn around and say, "No, we do not want that; let us go back to the way things were"? It seems as if Ministers much prefer when our health and housing systems are in a state of crisis, perhaps because of the photo opportunities it affords and the chance to do useless stuff and claim they are working to address it.

How many times has the private sector relied on the public sector to bail it out? This surely demonstrates a huge flaw in the private sector, yet the Government goes on investing heavily in it, to the detriment of our public services, and saying that is the solution. To whom do the political classes respond and for whom do they work? We never saw the bankers having to protest outside Leinster House to get what they wanted back in 2008. I doubt they even had to ask. On the other hand, for how many years have the people of Donegal been raising the mica issue? Yet they are still forced to march in Dublin to have their voices heard. How long is it since the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste visited the families affected and told them that the people of Donegal would not be treated any differently from the people in Leinster who benefited from the pyrite redress scheme? It is two years since the Tánaiste, who was then Taoiseach, visited those families and spoke those empty words.

The question must be asked as to whether the measures announced yesterday are new initiatives or just old, empty promises. We were told, for instance, that there will be free GP care for children aged six and seven. However, budget 2020 included a commitment to free GP care for children under eight. In effect, the Government has announced the exact same measure it undertook to implement two years ago. The roll-out of free contraception, to give another example, is nothing new. It has been promised for years, with the previous Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, committing to deliver it by the end of 2019. In addition, it is clear that the greenest part of this budget is the constant recycling of old promises. That is the most we can look for in it.

Sitting suspended at 3.55 p.m. and resumed at 4.55 p.m.

4:00 pm

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

As we finally and thankfully come out the other side of Covid-19, the Government has stated loudly and clearly that the housing crisis will be given the same attention as the pandemic. Less than six weeks ago, the Government launched its new housing strategy, Housing for All. It sets us on a pathway to deliver 300,000 homes by the end of 2030, 90,000 of these social homes, 36,000 affordable purchase and, for the first time, 18,000 cost rental homes. It is the most ambitious housing plan we have ever set forward as a country, with multi-annual funding agreed for a whole-of-government approach to bring home ownership back for a whole generation.

Budget 2022 is a leap forward in home building to realise the massive ambition of that plan. Next year, we will see record funding of €5.5 billion in current and capital being made available for housing. That comprises €4 billion in capital, broken down as €2.6 billion in Exchequer and €1.5 billion between the Land Development Authority, LDA, and the Housing Finance Agency, HFA, as well as €1.4 billion in current funding. This is the biggest allocation for housing investment by any Government in any given year.

Let us compare that to the proposals of our colleagues opposite. On page 3 of Deputy Ó Broin's 12-page document on Housing for All, he proposes increasing capital to €2.8 billion. We are doing €1.2 billion more than that as a Government. In the past 24 hours, the usual criticisms of the budget have been taken off the shelf and dusted down in Sinn Féin headquarters for their annual run-out. The scripts were already written; the only thing that changed was the date. It is the usual mixture of criticise, oppose and mislead. However, their claims do not stand up to scrutiny. For example, Deputy Ó Broin stated yesterday with a straight face that this was the worst budget since 2016. Budget 2022 represents a sixfold increase in housing capital investment compared with budget 2016. Deputy Ó Broin may be happy to mislead but the numbers do not lie.

Opponents such as Deputy Ó Broin have called the new zoned land tax, which is a new and radical departure on how we tackle land hoarding, a lame duck. The Opposition is ignoring the fact that the vacant site levy is not working. The zoned land tax will impact approximately 8,000 ha of land, enough for more than 250,000 new homes, and will be collected by Revenue, not by local authorities. It is a land activation measure. What activation measures has Sinn Féin proposed in its alternative budget? None. The Government is sending a strong signal today to build up or pay up. If you want to build, the Government will support you. If you want to hoard land, the Government will tax you.

For renters, we are tackling high rents and giving them a real chance to buy their own place. This Government enacted five separate pieces of rental protection legislation in the past year, aimed at protecting struggling renters. We linked rent increases to general inflation and now rents in rent pressure zones, RPZs, can only go up if necessary in line with general inflation. As the Deputy opposite will know, when bringing forward that legislation I acknowledged rising inflation at the time and said I would keep the need for an overall cap under review. Legislation is being drafted right now in conjunction with the Attorney General to do just that and I expect Members opposite will support it. We have restricted the amount of upfront cost that can be sought from the commencement of a tenancy and, as committed to in Housing for All, legislation will be brought forward and enacted shortly for indefinite tenures.

Perhaps most important, and something the main Opposition party wilfully ignores, is the fact that, for the first time ever, we, as a Government, have introduced a new form of tenure. Cost rental is exciting. It will see tenants paying at least 25% less than the open market price in long-term and secure homes. The first such tenants are in place, paying 50% below the market price. Sinn Féin, in its predictable criticisms, has stated that this Government does nothing for renters. The Government is currently supporting 100,000 renters through direct funding of €1 billion. What supports does the Opposition put forward to help these renters in their homes today? Absolutely nothing.

As regards home ownership, critically, as we know, the vast majority of renters want to own their own home. I believe that a person earning a decent wage should be able to buy his or her own home and the State should play a central role in that. Housing for All and this budget support that. In contrast, Sinn Féin has opposed the help-to-buy scheme - it wants to scrap it - as well as opposing the first homes scheme and the Land Development Agency which will build on State-owned land. It does not even want us to plan to build homes. Simply put, it does not support home ownership and it does not support renters.

Ultimately, the Opposition wants the Government to fight the housing crisis with one hand tied behind its back because it does not suit the Opposition for progress to be made by this Government. We intend for real progress to be made, kickstarted by budget 2022. We will see new affordable cost rental and more social homes than ever before. That is our challenge and it is a challenge that we are up to.

4:10 pm

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am pleased to outline the elements of the budget 2022 for the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. My Department has received an additional €183 million, bringing the total investment in 2022 to €2.1 billion. This is a significant budget package, which reflects the high priority that my Department places on strengthening supports for children, childcare workers, refugees and migrants, women and members of the Traveller and LGBTI+ communities.

In the area of early learning and childcare, Government policy is committed to increasing spending to €1 billion per year by 2028. From September 2022, I will introduce a new major core funding stream for early learning and childcare. A total of €69 million is being made available next year for this stream, equivalent to €207.5 million in a full year, representing a 16% increase in the total annual income to the sector. In return for a commitment that parents' fees will not increase, providers will be eligible for this new core funding stream to help cover increasing operating costs linked to quality improvement measures, including staff pay and conditions.

I am pleased to announce a number of important developments to the national childcare scheme, NCS. The practice of deducting hours spent in preschool or school from the entitlement to the NCS subsidised hours will cease in 2022. This change will particularly benefit an estimated 5,000 children from low-income families whose parents who are not currently in work or study. From September 2022, I will extend the universal subsidy available under the scheme to 40,000 additional children. This extends the universalism of the scheme. This package marks the beginning of an important and transformative multi-annual investment programme and significantly achieves progress on the commitment to invest €1 million per annum by 2028.

I pay tribute to the childcare workers, providers and professionals who campaigned tirelessly for many years to ensure the work they do is properly valued. Coming from a base of almost zero State investment ten years ago, next year, €760 million will be invested in the sector. It is an example of our commitment to the best outcomes for our youngest citizens.

In this year's budget, I provided the largest single year-on-year increase in Tusla's budget since its establishment to allow it to address significant and complex demand-led pressure. Next year, I will advance it further. In 2022, Tusla will receive €899 million, which is an increase of €41 million, or 5%. The additional resources will allow Tusla to continue to grow, to provide front-line services to the most vulnerable children, families, victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, and support the services provided by its partners in the community and voluntary sector.

I am committed to ending the unfair system of accommodation that is direct provision. We are working to implement a new system of accommodation for all applicants and provide the necessary supports to allow for independent living. The €28 million additional funding allocated in budget 2022 will allow me to continue the process of implementing the White Paper and allowing international protection applicants to move to more appropriate independent accommodation.

Regarding other areas of my Vote, I am delighted to announce an extra €5 million in funding for youth organisations throughout the country. I wish to recognise the introduction of the youth travel card announced by the Minister for Transport yesterday. That innovation comes from Comhairle na nÓg, an organisation funded by my Department, which lobbied me and the Minister for Transport. It is because of its work that this card has been delivered in this budget.

We are investing to make Ireland a more inclusive and a fairer country. Next year, I will allocate €12 million, an increase in €3 million, for refugee and migrant integration and action to combat racism. Positive actions for gender equality will receive an additional €2 million next year, bringing funding to €6 million. We have secured an increase in LGBTI+-related funding, bringing it to more than €1 million, and €5.6 million for Traveller and Roma supports.

Our Department is new and growing. During this year, we have produced groundbreaking new policy measures. This significant financial investment from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will allow me and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, to keep the most vulnerable citizens of this country at the very centre of the work we do.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am delighted to outline that, following yesterday's announcement, the overall budget for disability services in 2022 will reach €2.3 billion. I am also pleased to detail a package of €105 million provided for our disability services in 2022.

To clear up any confusion over what this consists of, I am happy to provide a clear breakdown of this figure. A sum of €50 million will be provided to support existing levels of services, ELS, which takes into consideration demographics, changing needs, pay awards, non-pay inflation factors, and so on. New development funding of €55 million will be provided in 2022, bringing the total funding to €105 million. There will also be an additional €10 million in one-off Covid funding, which brings to €65 million the total level of new funding for disability services in 2022. There will be a one-off allocation of €10 million to be spent by year end, covering the areas of assistive technology and transport, which will facilitate the upgrading of the buses of service providers. Further details will be available in the coming weeks.

In the five minutes that I have, I want to touch on some new developments in 2022, which I hope will strengthen and enhance services and supports for people with disability and give them greater choice, independence and control. I will give a brief summary in respect of some areas, with further detail to follow in due course.

Budget 2022 will provide funding of €13 million for increased residential placements on a planned basis as well as more urgent situations. An additional €5.5 million will be provided to address the situation of people with disabilities who are inappropriately placed in nursing homes. We will support the successful decongregation programme with additional revenue funding of €5 million.

For school leavers, funding of €14.4 million will enable young adults leaving school or training programmes next year to have access to supports and services that meet their needs at one of the most crucial transition points of their lives. Building on the success of the 91% reduction in the assessment of needs backlog this year, my focus over the next 12 months is to increase access to timely early intervention services. In budget 2022, we will provide €8.2 million for the recruitment of therapists and administrative support to the newly established 91 children's disability network teams. This multimillion euro investment will hopefully reduce the length of waiting times to access these vital services. It is also important to note that €1 million of the €10 million that has been allocated will be used as an intervention to actually address the backlog of children trying to access intervention therapies.

I am keenly aware of the critical importance of respite for loved ones and families of those with a disability. I am pleased to confirm that an additional €9 million will be provided in 2022 to further build the capacity of our respite services in each community healthcare organisation for children and adults, as well as providing alternative models of respite.

Funding of €3.75 million will be provided to continue and expand supports for people living in their own communities. I am delighted that I have secured what is the biggest increase in personal assistant hours in recent years, with an additional 120,000 personal assistant hours to be provided next year, as well as an additional 30,000 hours of home support to support people to live self-directed lives.

There are also a number of digital health initiatives that I am excited to announce, as I firmly believe that we must invest in technology to support people with disabilities. First, I want to invest and utilise digital health technologies to screen and audit the speech and language therapy waiting list, creating a dynamic triage system that identifies the areas of need and then provides therapist-designed home-based programmes. The second digital initiative overlaps with my brief at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and involves mapping the availability of health, social, education, employment and childcare services accessed across the country by people with disabilities in order that we can physically see the supports near them. Importantly, we will be able to see where there are gaps so that the data are targeted and driven. In the weeks ahead, I will also provide more detail on the one-off funding to be spent on assistive technologies, which will support people with disabilities.

I will clarify the funding that has been secured in the budget for the Vote of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. There is €500 million budgetary package to support us further integrating people with disabilities into policymaking. Some €1 million in funding has been secured for practical supports to help people with disabilities in accessing and remaining in employment and in making work pay. Finally, €100,000 has been secured for my autism innovation strategy. I wish to compliment the Ministers of Health and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth for supporting me on this.

4:20 pm

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have to say, "Dear, oh dear, oh dear, what has got into the Minister for housing?" Not only was his short intervention ill-tempered but he did not even have the courtesy to remain and listen to Opposition spokespeople. Not only is he unwilling to debate us on the airwaves, it appears he is not even willing to sit and listen to what we have to say in the Chamber. People can make up their own minds about that.

What I would have liked the Minister to hear is the following: there is a dishonesty at the very heart of yesterday's budget announcement with respect to housing. It is a deep dishonesty that was repeated in his contribution earlier. He can talk all he wants about 300,000 houses over ten years or €20 billion of expenditure from now to 2025 but what most people want to know is how much extra money is going to be invested next year in the direct delivery of social and genuinely affordable homes. The answer to this question is not what the Minister said; it is €309 million. The total extra capital spend in yesterday's budget in the Vote for the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage for the direct delivery of social and genuinely affordable homes to rent or buy is €300 million. This is one of the lowest increases in direct capital spend we have seen in the past five years. Because it is so low it means the actual number of social and genuinely affordable homes to be delivered next year is far fewer than the Minister claimed in his housing plan some weeks ago.

On social housing, the budget book makes clear that only 9,200 real social homes will be built and bought by local authorities and delivered by approved housing bodies next year. This is 1,000 fewer than was promised by Fine Gael in the original version of the NDP. It promised 10,300. It has now reduced this to 9,200. The Minister's claim in the budget book to be spending an extra €400 million to €500 million on social housing simply is not true. When we get the replies to parliamentary questions back from the Department we will be able to prove it.

On the other side, when we add up HAP, RAS and long-term leasing, we will have three times the number of social housing tenancies, which are short-term, insecure and incredibly expensive for the taxpayer. Interestingly, this is exactly the same ratio, 2:1, as was contained in Rebuilding Ireland. Nothing has changed now that Deputy Darragh O'Brien is in control.

Let us look at affordable housing. Fianna Fáil did not introduce cost rental. In fact, Deputy Alan Kelly introduced it in his social housing strategy in 2014 and Fine Gael supported it in the previous Government. As with both of those former Ministers, this Minister is not matching his promises with his funding commitments. In fact, the amount being spent directly by the Government next year on affordable cost-rental and affordable purchase through approved housing bodies and local authorities will be an embarrassingly low €130 million. This will deliver 1,250 genuinely affordable homes.

We have the deepest affordable housing crisis in the history of the modern State. All the Minister can come up with is 1,250 homes. Let us compare this to the enormous handouts to private developers. The help-to-buy scheme is providing €175 million, the shared equity loan is providing €119 million, croí cónaithe is providing €50 million and the infrastructure housing activation fund is providing €32 million. There is three times the expenditure to give private developers top-ups on unaffordable homes compared to the money given directly to local authorities to deliver genuinely affordable homes. This is why the affordable housing crisis will get worse under the Minister and Fianna Fáil and not better.

What about renters? There is not a single measure in the budget for renters. Nobody asked the Minister what he did last week or what he will do next week. What people want to know is what is in the budget for renters today. It is zero. The only mention of the private rental sector is the extension of a tax relief for landlords. This is why renters are so angry.

Another key measure, the zoned land tax, will not be introduced for three years. It is 3% lower than the currently inefficient vacant sites levy and way lower than the actual cost of land value inflation. It is a joke. It is not just a damp squib or a lame duck; it is an absolute farce. The Minister has also cut State regeneration funding by €23 million. Some of the worst public housing in the State will get less funding for regeneration next year than this year thanks to him.

The €20 million increase for the mica and pyrite defects scheme is an insult to those families. What is even worse is that there is nothing for the families living with Celtic tiger defects. If Deputy Alan Kelly was bad, Deputy Simon Coveney was worse and Eoghan Murphy was even worse, Deputy Darragh O'Brien is proving to be the most dishonest and disastrous housing Minister in the history of the State. This is why I will stand over my contention that yesterday's budget was the worst housing budget since 2016.

Photo of Kathleen FunchionKathleen Funchion (Carlow-Kilkenny, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will begin with some of the positives. I welcome that there was recognition of the early years childcare sector in the budget. I also welcome that the Minister is in the Chamber. It is the first time I have ever responded to a budget where the relevant Minister has been present, which is welcome. However, I am disappointed that the measure will not be introduced until September. I worry about the joint labour committee, JLC, talks process. I hope this can be looked at. From my background in a union, I know that JLC talks can go on for a lot longer than anyone envisages. They can have breakdowns at times. It is very important that the issue of wages for workers in the sector is not solely reliant on this. I would liked to have seen a wage scale introduced, starting at the living wage. I would like fees to be reduced now. I welcome that it is a step in the right direction. I am worried that next September will mean January 2023 before we see any real changes. This is something on which we will need to keep a close eye.

I welcome the changes for the after-school cohort. However, parents who are not working still fall outside this. I have raised this issue with the Minister on a number of occasions. It is something on which I would like to get more information. The press conference the Department did was not livestreamed, which we thought it would be. We will have to table parliamentary questions on some of these issues.

As well as the issues of childcare and early years, I want to raise an issue in general that will be very relevant in my constituency and many other areas. This is fuel poverty. While there was an increase in the fuel allowance, many families do not qualify for it and are really struggling. They face a difficult winter. It was disappointing not to see something done for them. We are pushing families not just into fuel poverty but into all sorts of other poverty when we do not give them help or assistance with it. There is much more I could say but unfortunately I only have two and a half minutes. We might come back to some of the other questions.

Photo of Pauline TullyPauline Tully (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There has been a systemic culture of discrimination against disabled people in the State. We all have responsibilities and obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, and this is the case for the Government in particular, to ensure disabled people are not discriminated against in their lives and that sufficient resources are made available to ensure this happens. As the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is present, I will ask when disability will be moved from the Department of Health to the Department with its name in it. He is the Minister responsible. We need to see a move away from the medical model of care for disability to the social model.

The Minister of State made a number of announcements, some of which are very welcome. She did not mention the disability capacity review. This is an important document to guide how funding will be spent in the area of disabilities. This needs to happen. We ratified the UNCRPD so we need to move to implement it. This means the provision of community housing with the supports necessary for people to live independent lives.

I acknowledge the increase in personal assistant hours. These are very important. There has not been an increase in a number of years. However, it has not gone far enough. Sinn Féin would have delivered 500,000 personal assistant hours costing €12.5 million.

More needs to be done on the decongregation of institutions and the transfer of disabled people aged under 65 who are living in nursing homes. Some money has been put towards this but it is moving at an incredibly slow pace. People are still being put into institutions and nursing homes. One is cancelling out the other and it is not happening quickly enough. Many people who have been moved into the community are thriving and it is welcome that this is happening. Deadlines on this have been missed. The deadline in A Time to Move on from Congregated Settings was 2018. We are still dealing with the issue.

It is a pity that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is not present because co-operation the local authority and the HSE will be vital if we are going to see this happen. We need to see some sort of co-ordination between those Departments to ensure that people are not left languishing on social housing lists for years. It is not just the people in institutions who need to be moved into community housing; it is all of the disabled people who are living with aged parents in their own home and need to be moved into the community as quickly as possible.

4:30 pm

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The next slot is the Labour Party's and I call Deputy Sherlock now who has five minutes.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank an Cathaoirleach Gníomhach and I will carry out a rapid-fire round of all the issues I can speak to within five minutes. It is an awful way of doing business but I nonetheless understand it.

My first issue is disabilities, to continue on Deputy Tully’s theme and in recognition of the fact that the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, was present. I welcome the allocation of €13 million of additional new funding for residential services. I am encountering within my constituency a severe shortage of residential places, so much so that in a recent parliamentary question dated 11 October, I received a response in respect of a person who was looking for a full-time residential place for a family member and was told: "Unfortunately, the number of people requiring residential services far exceeds the number of vacancies within the services."

I welcome the additional €13 million. If the Minister of State was of a mind to do so, I would ask her to look at the regional residential forum to see how that is operating and whether there needs to be more work done or a greater light shone on how it operates, which would be welcome.

With regard to agriculture, €49 million was to be the ring-fenced for agriculture and the decarbonisation effort,. If we are talking about a just transition in agriculture and if we are to include farmers in that just transition towards decarbonisation, sending a message to them - I am talking about small farmers, not big ranchers - that the Government is taking €40 million away from them and giving it to the Department of Social Protection, is not the right message at this time. There is justifiable anger within the farming community. Their understanding was that this was to be ring-fenced within the carbon tax and was to help with decarbonisation measures. This was a promise that was made within the programme for Government, which has been reneged upon, and that is something we will have to interrogate further as time goes on. If the Government is to bring the farming community with it on this decarbonisation agenda, and to move away from facile statements such as “reducing the national herd”, this issue is worthy of greater debate as it is a great deal more complex than that. The move to take €49 million from the farming sector to assist it to transition and decarbonise was ill-advised and is something that should be revised in 2022, if possible.

I acknowledge the contribution of the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, on the youth travel card. The typical fare for a student travelling from Mallow to Cork is €7 return. There is no Leap facility on this route. I will be talking about Mallow to Cork and Leap services until the cows come home or until someone ejects me from this House but the fare will be half price at €3.50 through the youth card. That is excellent and will cost €1.75 single. That is a competitive fare and is brilliant for somebody in the under-23 category. If this is not expanded or if Leap services are not put in place on routes which are typical of the rest of the country outside Dublin, we have a problem. I can travel from Pearse Station Dublin to Greystones on a Leap card but I cannot travel from Mallow to Cork on this card. The youth card is fine and it sends a wonderful signal to young people that the prices are coming down, which I welcome, but for people who want to get out of their cars and get on to commuter trains, it does nothing.

I am making the case again in the short time that I have for the expansion of the Leap services to provincial rural towns outside of the Dublin conurbation and to start thinking beyond the Pale. If the Government can get people out of their cars and on to trains and public transport and if Leap services are enabled, more people will use them. There is a latent demand there for this. I welcome the youth card, as everybody does, because it will reduce prices for young people. That is excellent and well done on that. It is a great first step and the Government should think about the expansion of that service. The way to do that for those who are not students or who are in the over 23 category is more Leap card services throughout country, no matter where people live. This is about equalisation and non-discrimination on the basis of not living in Dublin. This is not, incidentally, an anti-Dublin rant but this is just the reality for most people on the ground.

The expenditure report on road safety measures mentioned specific roads were mentioned. The N73 was not. The much-vaunted M25 was not mentioned. Is that even in the national development plan?

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I ask the Deputy to conclude.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The R264 was also not mentioned.

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy very much. The next slot is the Government's. and I call the Minister, Deputy Martin, who has five minutes.

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Tá áthas orm an deis seo a fháil labhairt leis an Teach maidir le Meastacháin buiséid 2022 de €1.197 milliún do mo Roinn agus léargas a thabhairt ar roinnt de na bearta chun tacú le teacht aniar agus fás na n-earnálacha a bhfuil mé freagrach astu. Individually and cumulatively, these sectors are an integral part of the fabric of our society, most particularly, in rural and regional areas for they support economic activity and physical and societal well-being. This was never more evident than during the pandemic. As we rebuild these vital sectors, we must not lose sight of the valuable contribution they make to people’s everyday lives and livelihoods all across Ireland and enable them to contribute to the resurgence of a vibrant and sustainable economy.

Budget 2022 has been informed by ongoing engagement with the sectors and communities that come under the remit of my Department. That engagement will continue as we implement the policies and programmes to support regrowth and development.

I refer to the funding for the sectors supported by my Department. A total of €288.5 million has been allocated for tourism services representing an increase of €67.6 million. This increased allocation will help address immediate survival issues while also enabling further resilience and recovery as we reopen to international tourism and transition towards a more sustainable future. The increased funding will allow for €50 million in further business continuity support and an additional €27 million for investment in domestic marketing and festivals, particularly during the shoulder season and to assist in attracting and retaining staff in our tourism and hospitality sectors, together with increased capital funding, bringing to €36.5 million the moneys available for tourism product development, to include new and exciting attractions. There is an increase of €35 million in the tourism marketing fund to help restore inbound tourism to Ireland and to begin preparations for the programme for Government commitment to the Year of the Invitation. This significant response of the impact of the pandemic recognises the vital contribution of tourism to our overall economy and jobs.

While our primary focus to date has been on survival, we now have an opportunity to reimagine our tourism sector in the wake of the pandemic, with a particular emphasis on mainstreaming the principle of sustainability from an environmental, social and economic perspective.

Funding for the arts and culture amounts to €346.5 million. Budget 2022 represents a recognition by Government that bold steps are necessary for our much-treasured arts, events, and culture community to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever. The extensive package of supports proposed under budget 2022 will allow for this recovery. I am particularly pleased to announce €25 million in funding for the pilot of the new basic income guarantee scheme for artists and art workers. The scheme will bring new life and support to the artists and to those working in the arts and cultural sector after a profoundly difficult 18 months. If there is one lesson to be learned from Covid-19, it is how the arts and culture community were taken for granted up until then. The basic income scheme is a signal from Government to this invaluable sector that they are treasured, appreciated, and will never be taken for granted again.

I am also pleased to maintain funding for the Arts Council for 2022 at the current record level of €130 million. This will empower the council to help artists, art workers and arts to flourish again in Ireland.

Some €25 million is being provided for live entertainment, building on the diverse suite of initiatives introduced for the sector this year in response to the pandemic.

The audiovisual industry continues to be one of the success stories of the past 18 months with internationally successful productions such as animated feature film, "Wolfwalkers", and TV drama, "Normal People".

I am pleased to increase Screen Ireland's funding by €6.7 million to €36.7 million in 2022 to maintain and grow its output. The extension of section 481 relief to the gaming sector, as well as increased funding of €4.2 million for TG4, will also contribute to the ongoing growth of this vibrant sector.

Additional funding of €5 million is being allocated to our national cultural institutions to facilitate increased access to their extraordinary collections and the enhanced audience engagement they developed during the pandemic. A total of €4 million in funding is being provided to help deliver a suite of initiatives proposed by the night-time economy task force. Finally, €5 million is being allocated to support the 2022 commemorative programme marking the significant centenaries arising in 2022.

Budget 2022 recognises the value arts, culture and entertainment bring to people living in Ireland and abroad and the important role artists play in our society, which was particularly evident during the pandemic. It signals a new dawn for the sector, building on existing Covid supports. Funding for the media and broadcasting sector will also be increased in 2022, including €5.5 million for the establishment of a new regulator, the media commission, which will support the provision of high-quality public service broadcasting and oversee effective regulation of online safety.

I am conscious my allocated time is running out and the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, is sharing my slot. In short, our clear objective is to support a strong and sustainable tourism industry, a vibrant arts and culture sector, dynamic sports and media sectors and a landscape in which our first language can continue to grow and flourish.

4:40 pm

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to address the Chamber on the budget 2022 Estimates as they pertain to my areas of responsibility in the Department.

I ndiaidh dhúshláin na bliana anuraidh agus, go deimhin, na bliana seo, fáiltím roimh an maoiniú breise de os cionn €7 milliún a leithdháileadh don Ghaeilge agus don Ghaeltacht i gcáinaisnéis 2022. Leis seo, is fiú €85.6 milliún an méid airgid a bheith le caitheamh san earnáil seo i 2022. An bhliain seo chugainn, cuirfear maoiniú breise reatha de €1.5 milliún ar fáil d'Údarás na Gaeltachta. Cuirfidh sé seo ar chumas an údaráis tuilleadh airgid a chur i dtreo na gcomharchumann Gaeltachta agus na turasóireachta. Cuirfear maoiniú breise de €1 milliún ar fáil faoi chláir thacaíochtaí pobail agus teanga mo Roinne. Cuirfear maoiniú breise de €2.3 milliún ar fáil do mo Roinn le haghaidh na scéimeanna tacaíochta Gaeilge lasmuigh den Ghaeltacht. Cuirfear €800,000 sa bhreis ar fáil chun tacú leis an bpróiseas pleanála teanga. Cuirfear €700,000 ar fáil ón Rialtas don Fhoras Teanga, agus cuirfear maoiniú breise de €4.2 milliún ar fáil do TG4 mar léiriú ar thábhacht le cur i bhfeidhm Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge. Is féidir liom a fhógairt go gcuirfear acmhainní breise ar fáil do mo Roinn agus d'Oifig an Choimisinéara Teanga araon i 2022 chun Bille teanga nua a chur i bhfeidhm agus an córas múinteoireachta ina leith a neartú.

Beidh €14.45 milliún in airgead caipitil ar fáil d'Údarás na Gaeltachta an bhliain seo chugainn, méadú 60% ar an allúntas a bhí ag an eagraíocht i 2019. Tugadh méadú suntasach breise don údarás i mbliana le dul i ngleic leis na fadhbanna a chruthaigh an phaindéim dá chuid chliantchomhlachtaí. Tá an t-allúntas méadaithe sin cionroinnte ag an údarás sa bhuiséad seo, rud a dhéanfaidh difríocht mhór don eagraíocht agus í ag pleanáil do na blianta amach romhainn. Léiríonn an tacaíocht seo tiomantas an Rialtais an Ghaeilge a threisiú mar chéad teanga oifigiúil an Stáit, mar chuid luachmhar d'oidhreacht an oileáin seo agus, níos tábhachtaí fós, mar theanga bheo sa Ghaeltacht, ach go háirithe.

I am delighted to announce the provision for 2022 of €181.2 million for sports and recreation services. This allocation represents an increase of 6% on the 2021 allocation and builds on the extensive supports provided to supporting organisations hit by Covid. This funding will allow Sport Ireland to continue to support our sporting bodies as we move through the pandemic. The 2022 allocation of €96.2 million will include measures such as additional funding for high-performance sport as Team Ireland prepares for Paris, equality in funding for women's and men's Gaelic games players grants, and continued support for the sports sector as it emerges from the Covid-19 restrictions. The 2022 funding for the sports capital equipment programme has also been increased, and funding for the large-scale sports infrastructure fund has been maintained. Through this, our sports infrastructure will grow and develop to meet the ever-increasing demand.

I am pleased to announce that funding for sport from the Dormant Accounts Fund has been increased by a further €2 million, bringing the total allocation to €12 million. This is more than double the level of a few years ago and will target hard-to-reach communities to build participation and sport for all in our society. The benefits associated with sports participation and engagement are well known, and a vibrant sports sector will be critical as we emerge from the cloud of Covid-19. The funding package secured for sport as part of budget 2022 will ensure a sports sector that is fit for purpose and resourced to deliver the viability and vibrancy of the sector.

Tá mé muiníneach a chur, faoi na bearta agus tionscnaimh a fógraíodh inné, ar chumas na n-earnálacha seo teacht ar ais chucu féin go sciobtha ó thionchar na paindéime agus go gcuirfear ar a gcumas fás agus forbairt a dhéanamh i 2022.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Mar is gnáth, tá cás na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta fágtha in áit na leathphingine sa cháinaisnéis seo. In 2003, bhí cóimheas 2:1 idir mhaoiniú na Comhairle Ealaíona agus Fhoras na Gaeilge, rud atá méadaithe go cóimheas 6:1 anuraidh, fiú sular tháinig méadú 60% ar bhuiséad na Comhairle Ealaíona. D'fhéadfá comparáid níos measa fós a dhéanamh ar an gcóimheas idir mhaoiniú Údarás na Gaeltachta agus IDA Ireland agus an ról forbartha céanna ag an mbeirt acu cheana féin. Níl ach €1.5 milliún breise fógartha d'Údarás na Gaeltachta ach, níos measa fós, níl ach €700,000 breise fógartha don Fhoras Teanga seachas, mar a bhí sa bhuiséad malartach ag Sinn Féin, €4.5 milliún sa Deisceart. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil airgead sa bhreis tugtha do TG4 agus tacaímid leis sin, ach is scannal náireach é go bhfuil na coláistí samhraidh fós ag fanacht ar an gciste cobhsaíochta a bhí geallta dóibh. Níl fiú focal ráite ag an Aire Stáit faoi seo. Smaoinigh gurbh é a fhreagra ar an boycott a rinne an DUP ar na cruinnithe uile-Éireann maidir leis an teanga agus a leithéid ná neamhaird a dhéanamh don mhasla sin agus freastal ar ócáid a cheiliúir an chríochdheighilt sheicteach atá ar an tír seo go fóill an tseachtain seo caite.

I dtéarmaí arts and culture, while the Government has announced €66.7 million of new schemes and additional funding, the figures presented show the current funding has been increased by only €200,000. This means the money will have to come from cuts to other parts of the arts budget. Live entertainment funding has been slashed in half, by €25 million, at a time when the industry is struggling to recover. It is a slap in the face to commercial musicians and performers who have had little or no work for almost two years.

Where did the €25 million that was magicked up for the Minister's basic income scheme for artists come from? The figure seems to have been plucked out of thin air, given that the pre-scheme engagement with artists over who will be eligible and even what the scheme's objectives are has not started and is not due to start until November. At the Minister's press conference earlier, she stated she envisaged the scheme would amount to €325 per week for 2,000 artists. That would be great, but why will it be only 2,000 artists, given the census counts almost 8,000 workers in creative, arts and entertainment fields, and most people believe even that is an underestimate.

As bad as that is, simple maths dictates the Minister's abacus is broken to the same degree as that of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. A total of 2,000 artists receiving €325 a week for 52 weeks a year equals €33.8 million. There is something wrong with the maths, therefore, never mind the fact the scheme will include only 2,000 artists. The sum of €325 is not a living wage. If the scheme ever does see the light of day, those most in need will not be able to cover their basic living costs. It is now time, while people await sight of the scheme if it ever comes to fruition, for a scheme or a fund to help those most in need, that is, a hardship fund, which the Arts Council could manage if directed to do so by the Minister.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

In years past, there was an energy around Leinster House on budget day. It could be felt in Kildare Street and it was usually palpable, with protests, advocacy groups and the air ripe with the potential for change, new commitments and an opportunity to showcase ambition and leadership. Fundamental change and absolute ambition are qualities that, with our housing and climate crises and as we emerge from the pandemic, we now do not just want but need as a nation.

Yesterday, there was no such excitement, no such ambition and no demonstration of leadership. For most, the day was filled with dread and anxiety that there would be more of the same, or even worse or less. I know many others who must conduct themselves in pure indifference on budget day, possibly favouring the mantra, "I do not mind the pain, but it is the hope that kills you".

In my contribution today, I will bring it back to people. After all, this is why budgets matter. How will it affect people, namely, the groups of people who are suffering, or at greatest risk of, poverty in our society? What does the budget mean for students in DEIS schools, people with disabilities, people receiving social welfare payments and one-parent families? One-parent families are constantly shown to be at greater risk of deprivation and poverty. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, survey on income and living conditions, SILC, data for 2019 showed that one-parent families had a deprivation rate that was more than double that of any other household type measured. As the vast majority of one-parent families are headed by women, their risk of poverty and deprivation is in itself a gender issue. While budget 2022 has equalised the back to school clothing and footwear allowance between one-parent and two-parent families, it has continued to permit discrimination against one-parent families by not equalising parent's benefit. Children in one-parent families will receive two weeks' extra parent's benefit, but several weeks fewer than children in two-parent families.

The budget failed to increase core social welfare rates adequately. Although it raised them by a meagre €5, this will still mean people who depend on those payments will be left further behind by the budget as inflation continues to soar. The increase of only €3 for a qualified child over 12 years of age is far less than what was required. In its pre-budget submission the Social Democrats called for €10 to reflect the well-documented fact that raising teenagers is more expensive for families than raising younger children. Where is the ambition to eliminate child poverty when the Government cannot seem to understand even the basic fact of the different costs associated with raising children of different ages?

Staying on the subject of child poverty, I welcome the expansion of the schools hot meals programme to additional DEIS schools. However, this will still leave a significant proportion of DEIS schools out of the programme. The budget has allocated €3 million to extend the programme to those DEIS schools that submitted an interest to be part of the programme in 2020. There are 887 DEIS schools in the country and, currently, fewer than 200 are part of the schools hot meals programme. The proposed extension of the programme in this budget would not see it reach even half of all DEIS schools, even though all Members across the House surely agree that every student should have access to a free hot meal during the school day. That is what I am referring to when I speak of a lack of ambition and more of the same. It would cost less than €100 million to ensure every student in every DEIS school has a hot meal during the school day. We are significantly short of that ambition and even shorter of the goal of rolling it out nationally.

I will stay on the subject of our schools for a moment and reflect on the fact it was extremely disappointing to see no funding for well-being and mental health supports in schools. Despite its priority in the Department's strategy and despite the tsunami of mental health needs that schools are trying to manage, there is no mention in the budget of providing emotional counselling and therapeutic supports in schools. This was noted to be an urgent priority in the report from the joint committee on education, but it simply does not appear in the budget. It was something we included in the Social Democrats' pre-budget submission, in acknowledgement of the fact schools are more than just places of learning and students cannot learn while they are experiencing distress or, at worst, trauma. This was a lesson I thought we all had learned from going through the pandemic, but regrettably it appears not to be the case.

Finally, the budget fails to implement the cost of disability, despite the promise in the programme for Government and a significant piece of research undertaken by Indecon International Economic Consultants, which is yet to be published and remains on the desk of the Minister for Social Protection. This budget continues the legacy of the Government failing to acknowledge the additional cost of just living a life with disability. Although the budget increased the earnings limit for disability allowance, this is not a substitute for creating a cost of disability. It has almost become a cliché, but the budget is a missed opportunity. It may not have exacerbated the harm, but it certainly did nothing to alleviate it.

4:50 pm

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will take this opportunity to set out the funding allocations for mental health and older people, both of which have received substantial increases in budget 2022 and build on last year's unprecedented levels of investment. The total allocation for mental health services in 2022 is €1.149 billion. This is another record budget for mental health. It delivers an additional €47 million for next year, comprising €24 million for new developments, €13 million for existing levels of service and €10 million in once-off funding for mental health initiatives in response to Covid-19.

The new development funding covers investment in clinical programmes, out-of-hours supports, community mental health teams, including child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, and other important priorities. Some €1.15 million will be allocated next year to continue the roll-out of specialist eating disorder teams in community healthcare organisations, CHOs, 1, 3, 5 and 6 as part of the national clinical programme on eating disorders. Funding will also be provided to progress the development of other mental health clinical programmes on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, self-harm, dual diagnosis and early intervention in psychosis. Developments on the perinatal mental health model of care will continue into next year. New mental health services for older people will be developed in line with the model of care for specialist mental health services for older people and will be piloted in 2022. Out-of-hours supports will continue to be developed, with investment of more than €1.4 million in crisis resolution teams. In addition, two new CAMHS telehubs will be established.

Enhancing the capacity of community mental health teams, with a particular emphasis on CAMHS, is being prioritised with a total allocation of €6 million. Investment is also being made in recovery-focused supports, including peer supports, employment supports and recovery colleges. The €10 million in once-off funding for mental health initiatives, announced earlier this year, has been finalised, with planning work commencing this quarter. These initiatives are focused on enhancing signposting and access to existing mental health services and supports, initiatives for children, young people and students, and I refer these to the previous speaker, and additional psychosocial responses, recognising that people will require varying levels of support. For the purpose of clarification, a further €10 million was announced yesterday by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy McGrath, as a once-off funding measure to provide additional investment in mental health services in 2021, with a particular emphasis on community- and voluntary-based supports.

This year I cleared a historical deficit in mental health funding, which had grown to €53 million by the end of 2020. The successful reduction of this deficit to zero is critical to ensuring our mental health services can operate effectively and efficiently from a stable funding base and enable enhanced development into the future.

The total budget allocation for older persons' services in 2022 is €2.33 billion. This includes €30 million for new developments and builds on last year's unprecedented investment by the Government. The Covid-19 pandemic posed huge challenges across society, especially for people living in nursing homes. The report of the Covid-19 nursing homes expert panel, published in August 2020, has given us an evidence-informed basis to learn from the pandemic. To continue the substantial progress being made on its implementation, I am delighted to announce that €17.6 million is being allocated to address the recommendations of the expert panel. These include, among other measures, €8.2 million to support the establishment and development of nine permanent multidisciplinary community support teams for nursing homes - one in each CHO; €4.5 million to progress the safe staffing framework in nine pilot sites to determine the staffing and skill mix required to meet the needs of residents in nursing homes; €1.4 million to ensure specialist infection prevention and control support and safeguarding supports are integral to the work of the community support teams; and €1.1 million for the establishment of a national hospice-friendly residential care settings programme and a once-off programme in 2022 to provide enhanced psychological supports to nursing home residents, their families and staff.

Central to the 2022 budget is the further investment of €7.3 million in dementia services, in areas such memory assessment and support services, memory technology resource rooms and the national intellectual disability memory service.

It will also allow for new initiatives such as the dementia registry so that we can build a clearer picture and evidence base on dementia in Ireland. We will also increase the ring-fencing of new home support hours for people with dementia from 5% in 2021 to 11% in 2022. Taken together, this will represent €15 million of investment dedicated to dementia in 2022 to supplement the €12.9 million of additional funding in 2021. I have long been an advocate for the development of services for people with dementia and their families. I am pleased to be able to continue the focused investment for these services and supports.

Overall, budget 2022 will continue the focus on enhancing community-based services to enable older people to continue living in their own homes with dignity and independence for as long as possible. The €150 million funding secured in 2021 for 5 million additional hours of home support has been maintained for 2022. Additional investment will be allocated for nine co-ordinators throughout the country under the integrated care programme for older people's falls and fracture initiative and to operationalise the Nursing Homes Support Scheme (Amendment) Act 2021, which enhances protections for family farms and businesses under fair deal. Deputies will remember this was passed through the Dáil and Seanad just before the summer recess and it will be implemented next week, on 20 October.

Overall, 2022 will bring the further enhancement of services and supports for older persons and mental health, building on the unprecedented levels of funding in 2021. I commend the budget to the House.

5:00 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Those working in our healthcare system have had an horrendous 19 months in 2020 and 2021. I commend the heroics of those working on the front line in healthcare and those who supported them in ensuring we navigated our way through a very difficult time. The sad reality is it took a global pandemic for the Government to realise we needed major investment in health and major reforms in how we do healthcare in the State.

Budget 2022 is a big let-down for healthcare workers and patients. Today 900,000 people are on some form of health waiting list, with 200,000 of those waiting for more than 18 months. Some 100,000 are children, with 31,000 children waiting more than 18 months. I visited hospitals in Sligo, Cork and Limerick in recent weeks. On Friday I will be in Galway. I am hearing the same story: emergency departments are overflowing, attendances have increased, and the trolley count has increased, with more than 500 people on trolleys yesterday.

The Government has failed to realise the scale of the challenge. It has allocated an additional €311 million for new measures. Of course, the Government, as it did with mental health, has tried to repackage this as €1 billion, but €700 million of that was standing-still money to pay for pensions, salaries and carry-over measures. It is to provide the same level of service without any additional capacity. The additional spend on health is €311 million. Let us consider the scale of the challenge and what is needed and then look at the detail. Not a single additional inpatient acute bed, over and above what was previously committed to, was provided for in this budget. There is not one single additional community bed either. What was committed to last year is in this budget for next year.

The provisions relating to staff have again been repackaged from last year. There was a commitment for 14,500 additional staff. It seems about 7,000 will be recruited and the rest will come next year, which is fair enough. However, we are seeing a repackaging in this budget of almost all the measures the Minister was not able to deliver last year. On diagnostic capacity, there is more money for the private sector with no investment in the public capacity. Surgical theatre space is a real difficulty for consultants and nurses, and again there is no investment.

When I last debated waiting lists with the Minister, he talked about Sarah from his constituency in County Wicklow - a child with scoliosis. Yesterday, we heard of Adam and the Minister told us this issue has now been addressed and that he figured out what the problem was. However, it has not been figured out. I said to him at that time there are many more Sarahs. Some 31,000 children have been waiting more than 18 months for treatment. Some of those are children in pain. We all heard the heartbreaking story from Adam's own lips and from his parents, and it is absolutely unacceptable. Spending an additional €311 million on healthcare when we have 900,000 people waiting for some form of health treatment is absolutely miserly and unacceptable.

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I want to start on a positive and realistic note. The past 18 months have been pretty horrific for working people in this State. The pandemic has shown us that ordinary working people keep everything functioning, whether that is bringing us to work or looking after us in hospital. Those working people want a dividend, not just on a personal note but also a societal note. That is what budgets are; they are a collective action to make things better for everybody else. The pandemic has changed many things. It was a traumatic event, and after any traumatic event people want something different. What was tolerated before will not be tolerated again. What was accepted before will not be accepted again.

One of the things that come out of the past 18 months - we are not far from being over it - is that the health service in this country is fantastic when a patient enters it. However, for those who cannot enter it, there is a sense of an unequalness. That goes back over decades. The previous general election was about the issue of public services and people not getting them. Our health service must be transformed. It must be equal and accessible to everyone, regardless if you are a millionaire or on social welfare.

Another aspect of the pandemic was ICU capacity. Ireland has one of the lowest numbers of ICU beds in the world. The Minister announced only 19 extra ICU beds compared with where we should be. He said we should have up to 446, but obviously that will not happen. If we continue to add 19 extra beds a year, it will take another 14 years to get up to the OECD levels per capita, which is not acceptable.

The Minister of State's statement today on mental health was quite positive on the suite of issues the budget is trying to address, which is good. The problem is with the overall spend. The historical legacy is we only spend 5% of the overall budget on mental health and we need to get to 12%. There is a significant gap and that gap is not just in the numbers. There is a shortage at the point where people need intervention. The reality is people will die because they cannot get intervention at that time. We need to address the overall budget and get it to 12%. That takes political will and financing, and it is to be hoped that can be done.

I know the Minister said he will address waiting lists and I hope he does. I do not want to be partisan on this. It is important that political action is taken and people are accountable. We have all been elected by the people to do our best but also to address some of the big issues I have just outlined. One of the big issues coming from the pandemic is our health service. While this does not apply to all of us, the people who need to rely on public health have to endure waiting times for surgical procedures. It is not acceptable that people need to wait years for procedures. In mainland Europe or in other countries, people only need to wait a fraction of that time.

That is just not acceptable.

Health workers endured a pretty awful 18 months and they deserved a transformative and radical budget but it was not transformative and it was certainly not radical. It probably amounts to more of the same but there is a price to be paid in continuing this same kind of neoliberal philosophy of leaving things to the market. Sometimes a price must be paid, and this may come in the form of people on the street or people sacking anybody in this Chamber who is not doing their work.

We can go back to the 2020 general election, which seems like an eternity ago, when people voted for change. They voted for something very different from what came before. They did not want the same policies all the time but, unfortunately, this budget is more of the same. It is not transformative and it is certainly not radical.

5:10 pm

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil as ucht an deis seo a thabhairt dom. I am pleased to confirm to this House a €9.2 billion investment in education as a consequence of budget 2022. It is a significant investment but it is both richly appropriate and deserved by the education sector. From my experience as a teacher I know of the transformative power of education. It has power to facilitate every child and young person not just in reaching their supposed full potential but to go beyond it. There is power in education to transform families and communities.

The investment of €9.2 billion in education allows us to have significant breadth of ambition for education, meaning we can advance a number of key initiatives. Among these are the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, programme, which will see €18 million invested in the coming year, increasing to €32 million in 2023. This will ensure the DEIS model is significantly expanded to bring in the most deserving and significantly disadvantaged schools to the programme.

In special education we have an ambitious programme of 980 special education teachers and 1,165 additional special needs assistants, SNAs, coming on stream next year. This brings the total number of SNAs to over 19,000. We have the single biggest investment ever in special education and at €2 billion it is more than 20% of the entire budget of the Department of Education, which is right.

There will be a reduction of one point in the pupil-teacher ratio from 25:1 to 24:1. This is in turn will result in an additional 350 new teaching posts being made available to our schools.

With the school building programme we are looking at an investment of €792 million, delivering more than 200 school building projects next year. There will be an additional €30 million made available for summer work schemes, bringing total investment to €65 million for the 2022 schemes. To be fair, this scheme is used expertly and judiciously within our school communities and it is worth that further investment of €30 million.

There will be an additional €30 million for the school transport scheme, bringing total investment to €270 million for the year ahead. This significantly supports more than 114,000 students.

The House is aware we have had significant investment in ICT in the past year, with over €100 million being made available to schools. In addition to this, before the year closes, an additional €50 million will be made available. In total, between last year and this year, this means investment of €150 million for ICT.

I am also pleased to confirm to the House that I have secured on a permanent footing at least one day of release for teaching principals, which is a significant move forward for such principals and an acknowledgement of their workload. Teaching principals in special schools or schools with two special education classes will now become administrative principals.

I also draw the attention of Members to a new reading book initiative worth €20 million. This investment will facilitate the purchase in schools of reading books, audiobooks, braille books, picture books or whatever is deemed appropriate by school bodies. The intention is to promote the joy in words and language and the beauty of literature. It is about inculcating in students a particular appreciation of the written word while fostering in our students the ability to become the next generation of creative writers in the world of literature.

As a member of the Government I take the last few minutes to welcome the overall budgetary package of €86.6 billion, which brings security and stability to the country after such a long period of Covid-19 challenges. This investment allows us to think in a forward way and be proactive in our action, and this comes as a result of our very successful vaccination programme, which has been bought into by all of society. The whole of the Government is now in a position to be able to think and plan for beyond a time of Covid-19. I welcome in particular measures such as investment in the childcare sector, social welfare, health and housing, which are initiatives that will have a positive impact not only in my county of Kerry but across the entire country. I refer also to measures like aviation supports for regional airports, the continuation of the wage subsidy scheme until 2022 and a targeted rates waiver in the fourth quarter of 2021 for businesses not yet fully open. This demonstrates broad ambition as we make our way forward out of Covid-19.

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am very pleased to mark one of the largest special education budgets we have ever seen in the history of the State and a really big investment in core education supports. Next year we will spend in excess of €2 billion, or more than 20% of the entire departmental budget, on special education, representing a 50% increase since 2011. Budget 2022 will provide 980 special education teachers and 1,165 new SNAs to schools next year. These new posts will allow us to meet demand for new school and special class places and provide additional supports for students currently in school.

I have asked the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, to use the resources we have now secured to ensure we deliver these special class places around the country at both primary and post-primary level and to ensure all available places are given to children with additional needs. We have the resources to deliver 287 new special classes, which amounts to 1,700 new special class places, as well as 140 new special school places. I am absolutely determined to deliver on these. We will also change teaching principals to administrative principals for 36 mainstream schools and four special schools, which will be of major assistance in the management of those schools.

This budget is a very strategic response in planning and providing additional teaching supports into the future. By the end of 2022 there will be 14,394 special education teacher posts, an increase of 10% from 2017. By the end of 2022 there will be 19,169 SNAs in our schools and the number of special classes in schools throughout the country will be over 2,400, which is an all-time high. This is a sector dealing with children with additional needs who have suffered immeasurably during the pandemic. Along with the supports we have put in place, including the supplementary scheme, the expanded summer provision and the Covid-19 learning and support scheme, I am determined that we will continue with that momentum to look after this vulnerable group in our society.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

What we needed this year was a budget with vision and ambition and this is not what we got. There are so many areas where the potential for fundamental change and a radical shift in policy were missed. There is nothing at all for renters and a wholly inadequate response to our waiting lists. There is a complete failure to deal with childcare costs.

I welcome that the campaigners for fairness for childcare workers have secured progress here, and I have long supported that, but parents will still be paying a second mortgage or rent with no relief.

This is not the budget we needed or wanted. Workers and families will still be at the pin of their collar.

While I acknowledge there are positives as regards education, this budget does not show the ambition needed to transform our education system in order to make it properly free. We are meant to have a free education system. There are no steps to tackle the cost of schoolbooks for parents. We are two budgets in. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to deliver this but there has been nothing at all in the budget about it for two years in a row. Over the past two months, parents have received letters asking for €200, €300 or €400 in voluntary contributions. Schools are profoundly underfunded. They are raising funds and looking for these contributions to keep the lights on. There is effectively nothing in this budget that will address the minimal capitation increase to one very particular type of secondary school and the fact there is no increase at all at primary school level. The costs are still falling on parents just to keep the schools running. They are meant to be paying for this through their taxes.

It is, of course, welcome that more schools are getting hot meals, but it is disappointing that only schools that applied in 2020, not this year, will be able to avail of this. Our ambition should be that every DEIS school should be able to get hot meals. We are so far behind other countries when it comes to this. We need to push on very radically from this.

I acknowledge the significant investment in special education, which is something we have been very keen to see and have regularly highlighted to the Minister of State. I hope this is put to good effect and I hope the Minister of State can deliver on it because some commitments in last year's budget were not delivered in full. Children with special educational needs were significantly impacted by the lockdowns. They undoubtedly need additional support and attention at this time. While the additional special education teachers in this budget are welcome, I hope they will not simply be used to fill gaps due to the substitution crisis, as is currently the case. One thing we definitely need to address is the issue of banked hours. I hope the Minister of State gives that her attention.

I will also highlight - the Minister of State will probably be very aware of this because demographics mean it is likely to be an issue in her constituency - that new and developing schools are not getting a fair crack of the whip when it comes to allocations. That needs to be addressed when these resources are allocated.

The expansion of DEIS is another welcome point. The Minister of State and the Minister have heard me say previously that every Deputy with an interest in education is passionate about DEIS. I urge the Minister of State to allow the Opposition to help because it has a lot of wisdom and observations that can help to shape whatever new criteria come forth. A consultation is meant to be going on but, when I talk to the education partners, the level of consultation is not very deep at this point. That needs to change. Principals and Deputies need to be able to feed into this. An awful lot of wisdom and many constructive suggestions can be used to ensure this welcome additional allocation is allocated correctly.

The pupil-teacher ratio is being reduced but we would have looked for a two-point reduction. If we keep reducing it at this pace, it will be 2026 or 2027 before we reach the EU average. That should be our objective, especially when you look at the demographic shape that things are taking.

There are certainly things I am disappointed with. Core funding for schools might not be the most exciting headline but it is vitally important. Our schools are underfunded and we need to address that next year. I welcome the increase in special education teachers. We need to tackle the cost to parents of books and things like that. I will emphasise again that DEIS band 2 was a big absence in the last round of DEIS. There is an awful lot we can add to that to ensure it reaches the right target.

5:20 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have just heard on the grapevine that the Taoiseach has made an announcement indicating the restrictions that were to lift on 22 October may not now be lifted but may be extended. For a number of reasons, I hope I am wrong in my understanding that the Taoiseach is thinking along that direction. We are talking about the budget so I will mention it in that context first and foremost. I understand this country has spent €41 billion on Covid-related measures. Many of those measures were absolutely necessary and were lifesavers for families around the country, but the truth of the matter is that many of them were not absolutely necessary. Ireland took a restrictions path that was a massive outlier in European terms. No other country - none - restricted as long and as deeply as we did. All of them managed to find solutions to be able to function at some level. They locked down and restricted when it was necessary but Ireland was very inward and very insular in its approach and went in a completely different direction from the rest of Europe. If you look at the amount spent, for example, we have spent twice the European average on Covid-related elements within the State and four times the amount spent by countries such as France.

That has come at a massive cost. Unfortunately, we are rushing towards a national debt of €270 billion within the next three or four years, which means, right now, €50,000 per person is owed by every man, woman and child in the State. Some €100,000 per worker is owed currently in this State. I have listened to a lot of the debate around the budget. I do not know if any other political party has mentioned the fact that these two issues are significantly related. We now have the Taoiseach's comments and the Tánaiste, who was on Newstalk this morning, said he will go to the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, to discuss whether to extend the restrictions. I was told, and it was reported in the media, that NPHET was going to be wound up in mid-October. Is that a reversal of policy by the Government? Is it not going to wind NPHET up? Is it now a reversal of policy that it will not proceed with the relaxation of the restrictions?

There is a major cost to this. First of all, in hospitals like the one in my town, Navan, accident and emergency departments and ICUs are being closed. These are the front lines of the Covid battles and the places that have suffered the most, and saved the most lives, during Covid. At a time when the Government is considering extending the restrictions, it is also considering closing the front lines of the Covid battle. I do not know how anybody can get their heads around those dual and polar opposite actions by the Government.

The other aspect to this is that I was in contact with a hotel today that is full. On 23 October, that hotel will be full. You can bet your bottom dollar that most hospitality will be stuffed to the gills on that particular date because, first, it has been crying out for a relaxation of these rules so it can function without having to depend on EWSS and PUP, etc. and can make a proper living and, second, a significant section of Irish society has decided, for whatever reason, not to be vaccinated. These individuals have waited very patiently and many of them have felt discriminated against. Indeed, they have been discriminated against. As citizens, they do not have the same rights as people who are vaccinated at the moment. I believe every adult should make that decision for themselves but we are now saying to a whole cohort of the population, 10% or at least 500,000 to 600,000 adults in the State, that the discrimination against them is now likely to continue, potentially until Christmas. That has enormous mental health implications. Weddings and family events, etc. that have been organised post 22 October will now have to be radically altered, if this is the case.

Will the Minister or the Minister of State articulate the Government's current position on those restrictions and whether it will extend them? I urge the Government not to extend them. Paul Reid stated that when 70% of the adult population was vaccinated, it would be okay to lift the restrictions. Some 90% of the adult population is now vaccinated. Denmark lifted Covid restrictions on hospitality in May. This is October. I have listened to a summer of Government Deputies talking about the fact that they are looking into antigen testing. There is currently nothing but tumbleweed happening from the Government on antigen testing for the hospitality sector. The vast majority of countries in the European Union decided to stay safe, to be careful and to be cautious. They decided to introduce a pass that did not involve discrimination in relation to the vaccine and also offered the opportunity for an antigen test. This was for good reason because antigen tests work out whether a person has Covid. A person can have Covid, or be in ICU, if he or she is vaccinated. A vaccine is no guarantee that he or she will not spread Covid. In fact, antigen testing is a better protector of society and is less discriminatory.

We will head into major costs, both societal and financial, if the Government extends this Covid pass in the hospitality sector over the next while. Many of those businesses are basically hanging on. They are in a zombie situation. They are existing because they are currently supported by funding from the Government.

When that funding is pulled, many of them will not exist. It is indicated that up to 50,000 redundancies have yet to crystallise in Irish society. When we are talking about the budget, going forward, it is important that we do not ignore the fact that we need to ensure that society can live and that hospitality can move on.

5:30 pm

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick County, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the budget allocation for the Office of Public Works, OPW, for 2022, an allocation of over €579 million. That comprises €142 million for flood risk management, an increase of 12%, and €452 million for estate management. I pay tribute to the staff of the OPW who during the pandemic have managed to maintain a full service on behalf of the OPW and who operate in this House to provide services to the staff and Members of the House.

We hope to commence six major flood relief schemes during 2022, together with our partners in the local government sectors, in Crossmolina, County Mayo; Glashaboy, County Cork; Morrison's Island public realm scheme in Cork city; King's Island in Limerick city; and the Poddle here in Dublin. We also hope to complete works Ashbourne in County Meath, Athlone in County Westmeath, Ennis in County Clare, Templemore in County Tipperary, Springfield in County Clare and Clonakilty in County Cork. These projects represent massive contributions to the resilience of those communities that have suffered greatly from flooding. We also expect that some other works may present themselves outside of the planning framework and may also be able to proceed.

The OPW, with its partners in the local authority system, maintains in excess of 2,000 km of channels for maintenance under the Arterial Drainage Act, and another 130 km of flood defence embankments all over the country. With its partners in the local authority system, the OPW provides relief under the minor works relief scheme. That will continue to play a major part in the work of the OPW. I pay particular tribute to the outdoor staff of the local authorities and the OPW all over the country who have had to deal with the plague of flooding that has occurred in recent years. In the immediate aftermath of my own appointment, over a year ago, we endured flooding in Galway, Kerry, Limerick and Cork. I met a number of Deputies all over the country who had to endure the scenes of the after-effects of flooding in many houses. The OPW stands ready to assist, and will assist, local authorities with the allocation it has received from the 2022 budget through the minor works scheme.

The conversation around climate change cannot be allowed to continue in its current guise unless the issue of community defences forms part of it. The OPW stands ready to be part of that conversation.

On the issue of heritage assets, the OPW will complete works at the Céide Fields and The Blasket Centre. We have also engaged with the local community in Dún Chaoin, County Kerry. I pay tribute to my colleague, Deputy Griffin, in that respect. We will also complete work at Annesgrove in County Cork, after a significant investment of over five years; in Doneraile in County Cork; and in Emo Court in County Laois. We also have significant works pencilled in for the Phoenix Park.

I pay tribute to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, for the work undertaken at Sceilg Mhichíl, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The OPW, along with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, identified work, together with Fáilte Ireland, in that UNESCO site.

The management of the State's leases and property portfolio is also something for which the OPW has responsibility. We have responsibility for the completion of the forensic science laboratory in Backweston in County Kildare, the Ceann Comhairle's constituency. We hope to complete that project in 2022. We also have responsibility, shared with the Department of Justice, for the roll-out and completion of the Garda station programme.

My time is limited and I apologise to my colleagues in the OPW for trying to do a whistle-stop speech. I thank, in particular, the staff who serve this House, both indoors and outdoors. I know the Ceann Comhairle will join me in those thanks. I wish those staff well in the year ahead.

Photo of Joe O'BrienJoe O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I want to confirm this evening that under the increased allocation to the community development programme of my Department, I will be in a position to improve a key funding mechanism for the community and voluntary sector in Ireland. A scheme to support national organisations is one of the main multi-annual funding mechanisms that Government uses to support the community and voluntary sector. A new and improved iteration of the scheme will begin next year and we hope to open applications before the end of this year.

In every Dáil constituency, the Government funds local development companies to implement the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP. In practice, this is manifested on the ground as local responses to food poverty; personal calls to isolated older people; supports and grants to grassroots groups to respond to local leads, especially among disadvantaged groups; helping to provide English language support; bridging the digital divide; facilitation of lifelong learning; and mental health support, all done in collaboration with local State and non-governmental organisation providers.

Many of the issues faced by marginalised groups were highlighted during the pandemic. We need more feet on the ground to work on those issues at a community level. That is why I was particularly glad to secure funding for an estimated additional 60 community-based social inclusion workers for SICAP as part of budget 2022. These workers will assist in the very practical, localised process of making sure that our social recovery from Covid is an inclusive one.

I will also briefly reference the fact that budget 2022 has brought significant advancements to the commitments to the roadmap for social inclusion, which I oversee in the Department of Social Protection. Those include the commitments to continue to target a reduction in poverty among children and families on low incomes, the further expansion of the hot school meals programme, the extension of free GP care to six-year-olds and seven-year-olds, and income disregard measures to make work viable for lone parents, along with other budgetary measures to improve our rate of employment for people with disabilities.

I am glad to say that I will be reviewing the roadmap next year to reflect the increased ambition of this Government in tackling social exclusion.

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will describe a couple of measures to reduce waste next year. Around our country, there are historic landfill sites, including, for example, the illegal site at Kerdiffstown in County Kildare. There is €26 million in my budget for landfill remediation. Fly-tipping is still going on, albeit much less than before. One still sees mattresses and things dumped in our beautiful countryside. Some €11 million has been allocated to local authorities for waste enforcement because enforcement is the only thing that works with somebody who is behaving that way.

Everyone will remember that, during lockdown, pubs, restaurants and cafes were closed, and people were picnicking and drinking outdoors. In the mornings, the local tidy towns organisations would collect, with dismay, large quantities of plastic bottles and cans, the supply of which seemed to be endless. Next year, I will introduce a deposit refund scheme so that sort of waste will be worth money. It will not be left in a field anymore because each piece of litter will be worth approximately 20 cent. Customers can bring their waste to their local shop and get the money back. That is something we did in the past and which is done in other countries already. We will reintroduce that scheme and I fully expect it to succeed.

The landfill remediation, waste enforcement penalties and the deposit refund scheme will have dramatic effects on the appearance of the Irish countryside. I commend the budget to the House.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Ministers of State could teach some of the senior Ministers how to use time.

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Perhaps I used too little time.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Fair play to the three of you.

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offaly, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We heard from many Government Deputies in the Chamber last night. Shamefully, some rural Deputies were lauding the great budget and, as they termed them, the great climate action measures contained in it. I remind those Deputies who called such measures progressive that there is nothing progressive about the possibility of blackouts. There is nothing progressive about thousands of tonnes of peat being imported from Latvia and Estonia while 10,000 jobs are at risk in our horticulture sector. There is nothing progressive about abandoning farmers or punishing rural people, motorists and agri-contractors with a carbon tax hike that is unsustainable, unfair and unacceptable. We are seeing the pursuit of ludicrous objectives when we need pragmatism and constructivism. We have not seen that. The only flicker of hope or positivity, the only chink of light I could see in the budget, was the fact that the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, saw the need to expand the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, scheme. She is a former teacher, like myself, and I commend her on her work.

She also saw the need to reduce class sizes. I hope that will happen again in the next budget.

There is great concern among farmers. Serious commitments were made to them but reneged upon. A commitment was made to ring-fence a proportion of the €1.5 billion carbon fund. That was reneged on. That needs to be addressed urgently. It is not good enough. The farming community deserves better. I call on the Government to meet that commitment. Farmers are the backbone of the rural economy. I am calling for fairness because there has not been any. Some rural Deputies lauded the budget and paid lip service to the horticulture sector outside the gates. They think that is fine but it is not. We are not going to accept it. Irish people, including these Deputies' constituents, will not accept it.

5:40 pm

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am glad to have the opportunity to talk on the budget again this evening. It is an anti-rural budget. It is hurting a great many people, especially people in rural Ireland. Anyone with a wheel of any kind is affected. People travelling long distances to work, parents taking children to schools, lorry men transporting items to shops and so on will all face increased costs. Taxi men are hurt. Farmers with jeeps and tractors are going to be hurt. There is no recognition at all of the carbon they sequester. Agricultural contractors are being hurt. Elderly sick people who are trying to heat their homes are being hurt. Many people on benefit payments have been let down. I raised this with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, the other day. I spoke about people on illness benefit, jobseeker's benefit, enhanced illness benefit, occupational injury benefit and disablement benefit. A pensioner living with a cancer patient who is in receipt of illness benefit does not qualify for the fuel allowance. How can that be fair or right? These people paid their contributions through the PAYE system. They would not be getting the benefit payments if they had not. These people are being left behind and that is totally wrong.

In County Kerry, there were 697 applications to the local improvement scheme. Last year, we got money for 11. This year, we got money for 22. That is not enough. That is not fair. The people in Kerry are entitled to a good road to their door, the very same as the people in Dublin 4. They are paying their taxes, these massive fuel costs and carbon tax. They are paying taxes of every kind. They deserve fair play and they are not getting it.

With regard to the hospitality sector, the VAT rate is to rise from 9% to 13.5%. That will affect all of Kerry. While I welcome the €32 million for school transport, it is only an effort to keep up with the increasing costs. Fishermen and coastal communities have been left behind. Look at what has happened to them. No one fought for their quotas and they are being left behind. That has an effect on coastal communities in their entirety. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, for the allowances he made but I ask him not to forget Kenmare. He was good enough to come down to Kenmare and Killorglin when we asked him to. There are a few other schemes as well which he did not mention tonight. I ask him not to forget them because the people of Kenmare have suffered for long enough.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I would say the Deputy will not let the Minister of State forget.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There were some positive aspects to yesterday's budget. I highlighted a number of them but, at the end of the day, every budget should either set or continue specific policy directions and underpin those policies with resources to ensure they are implemented. In that context, I will highlight two areas where yesterday's budget failed the test.

The first relates to tackling waiting lists. While additional funding was given, it will simply not be enough to deal with the massive, and escalating, numbers on waiting lists. I know it is not the same but I just checked out the Trolley Watch figures earlier and in my local hospital, Sligo University Hospital, 26 people are waiting while another 42 are waiting in Letterkenny. As I said, the problem is massive and escalating.

Part of the solution has to involve looking at the issue of manpower. We have a massive problem in this regard. I was shocked to read that, in a survey of 1,000 doctors carried out after they had read the draft Sláintecare contract, 90% said they would consider emigrating. That indicates the level of challenge we face. It is a manpower challenge but it is also about capacity within our acute services. I do not believe that yesterday's budget tackled that in a reasonable way.

I also referred yesterday to the fact that agriculture was ghosted. The budget was basically a non-event in that regard. The sector was not only ghosted, but short-changed. One small paragraph informed us that €49 million that was promised to the agriculture sector for next year as its share of the carbon tax collected was to be deferred. This sector is expected to do much of the heavy lifting of decarbonisation, yet yesterday it was told that the €49 million, which had been earmarked for it, was being deferred. It has been told it will get it in the context of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, which I will come back to in a minute, but how does this square with the basic premise of carbon tax, which is that carbon tax is meant to incentivise farmers, and all of us, to cut emissions? The incentive has been deferred and that breaks the trust with farmers. Why was this money deferred? Were the various Departments not ready to go with programmes? What went wrong?

As I said when responding yesterday, I am sick of listening to this idea that the CAP will cure all ills. The truth is that farmers will be expected to do much more with the same money. There are significant additional requirements under the CAP. Some 25% of farmers' incomes will rely on new work under the eco-schemes. That will entail cost. There are certain issues with the eco-schemes. The principle is good but another principle is that, under the CAP, farmers are expected to do that with the same funding, regardless of the extra cost burden.

I will refer to another significant issue. Some of my colleagues in the Green Party will be aware that, under the biodiversity strategy, we are expected to increase the proportion of land that is designated from 13% to 30%. That means that any farmer whose land is designated will immediately be required to apply for consent to carry out any of 38 notifiable actions. The cost of that in itself is significant. Designation of land is positive in certain cases. However, if we want to know the impact it can have, we need only think of two words: "Lough Funshinagh". Anybody who watched the "Prime Time" programme will have seen the impact there. We are supposed to more than double the proportion of land we designate, yet there is nothing extra for farmers. Farmers were yesterday looking to the budget for a signal that they are part of this society and that they would be included. Unfortunately, as I said earlier, they were ghosted and short-changed.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Senator Pippa Hackett):

As Minister of State with responsibility for land use and biodiversity, I welcome the agriculture budget for 2022. It is fair, it is friendly to the climate and biodiversity, and it will protect farm families, farm profitability and farm safety and sustainability. The Minister, Deputy McConalogue, has secured a healthy gross budget of €1.858 billion for our Department. This is in addition to almost €1.2 billion in EU-funded direct payments and represents an increase of 2% on last year's allocation. Between retaining last year's extra funds and securing a further 2%, it is fair to say that, in this time of transition towards a new CAP, we have delivered for the agriculture, fishing and food sectors.

Our priority as Ministers was to ensure that farmers could have confidence that they would be protected and we have done that.

From my perspective, I have good news to deliver on forestry, organics, horticulture and farm biodiversity, and on behalf of the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, I will also highlight the provisions made in the areas of farm supports through the rural development programme, RDP, the soil sampling scheme, animal welfare, multi-species swards and Brexit supports.

Let me begin with the RDP. As I mentioned, we have guaranteed funding of all schemes to 2022. An allocation of some €872 million for the major schemes and forestry will ensure that there will be no gap in the run-up to the introduction of the CAP strategic plan in 2023. All of the key rural development programme and forestry supports will remain available through the transition, supporting schemes which provide key income supports and measurable public goods.

Of the €872 million, more than €100 million will go on targeted supports for the beef and sheep sectors, including the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, the beef environmental efficiency programme-sucklers, BEEP-S, the sheep welfare scheme and the dairy calf programme. A total of €80 million of the funding, meanwhile is provided for on-farm investments through TAMS. Some of this will be to specifically grant aid solar panel installations on farms.

Forestry is key to us achieving our climate targets, but we must do it in a new way. The €100 million allocation to forestry will help us to progress the programme of reform we started earlier this year under Project Woodland. We must develop a close-to-nature model of forestry, which benefits rural economies while also recognising the climate-friendly role timber can play in infrastructure. We must also plant many more trees, which is why the Minister and myself are working on legislation which will allow us to incentivise small-scale native tree planting by large numbers of farmers.

I also want to support those farmers who want to farm organically and I am delighted with the big increase in the allocation for this sector, with funding increasing from €18 million to €23 million. That includes €5 million extra for the organic farming scheme. This will allow many more farmers to make that transition, and I am determined to work with all stakeholders and advisory services to ensure farmers are fully aware of the opportunities going organic can provide.

We have allocated an extra €5 million for investment in new on-farm biodiversity initiatives. We funded 24 such projects this year. The extra €5 million I have announced will fund more exciting initiatives. We are also putting aside a further €500,000 so that farmers can get information and expertise to help and protect and increase on-farm biodiversity.

In horticulture, there are challenges and I want to acknowledge that. While the sector retains a 50% increase secured last year, I intend to act quickly on an independent report due back to me early next year. I also hope the sector will secure significant additional investment from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve fund in 2022. To elaborate a little on that fund, its purpose is to counter any adverse consequences of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. It is being managed by our colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and will be available outside of the Department's allocation. We will work closely with him to ensure that the fisheries and agrifood sectors secure funding from it and we expect the findings of the seafood task force will be of vital assistance in identifying proposals that could be eligible for funding under this reserve.

Access to flexible finance is another key part of the Government's response to Brexit's challenges. The 2022 Estimates will provide for ongoing access to the loan schemes through the Strategic Bank Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, for farmers, fishers and food and drink SMEs. In addition, €7 million has been made available for next year through Enterprise Ireland's capital investment scheme to support our food industry. That should help the meat and dairy sectors to invest in greater product and market diversification.

With regard to animal welfare, the programme for Government committed to a doubling of the ex gratiafunding for animal welfare organisations within two years. Funding has been provided to meet this commitment in 2022, while funding is also provided to support food safety systems, traceability, contingency planning and responses, animal disease surveillance, controls and eradication and supporting the wind-down of the fur farming operations in the State.

A sum of €50 million has been allocated to the soil sampling programme. This increase, on top of the €10 million allocated when we announced the programme in last year's budget, is a direct result of the great demand from farmers to avail of the scheme. I thank them for applying for the scheme in such numbers and thereby nudging us to up our sampling capacity. Doing so is important because this programme puts soil carbon, health and fertility at the centre of our future agricultural model. It will also help with day-to-day management of farms by providing farmers with information they need to better adapt to climate and nature friendly practice. For example, healthy active soils are less dependent on chemical fertilisers.

Speaking of chemical fertilisers and the way and means of reducing their use, I also want to highlight that we are planning a multi-species sward scheme. It is at an early stage and will need to pass state aid rules, but our aim is to support reseeding programmes that combine complementary grass, legumes and herb species. A more diverse sward can provide greater resilience to climate extremes and bring benefits for animal health and soil quality and biodiversity. This is a scheme we are keen to progress.

I will conclude by saying that when it comes to farming we have to change how we do things. Farmers know that, and from what I have seen they are up for the challenge. They know we must lower our carbon footprint, protect our environment, improve our biodiversity and protect our air and water quality. This Department is with them as they strive to do that and this budget will help. I commend this budget to the House.

5:50 pm

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Let me start by welcoming budget 2022 in an overall sense. I believe it is a fair and balanced approach for all of our citizens. From an agricultural perspective, and in this time of transition, farmers can have confidence that this budget protects farm family incomes and supports actions to improve safety and sustainability on farms.

Farm safety is an issue of great importance for me, my Department and the Government. Following my appointment as the first ever Minister of State with responsibility for farm safety, I secured a dedicated staffing resource for farm safety within the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This year I am delighted to have secured the first ever dedicated budget of €2 million for farm safety. This budget will allow us to fund a range of farm safety initiatives over the coming months, aimed at driving down the rate of fatal and serious incidents on our farms. This will only happen by changing behaviours and increasing awareness, training and investment in key farm safety and mental health and well-being measures.

The €2 million allocation is in addition to continued funding for fire safety equipment under TAMS, the accelerated capital allowance for the farm safety equipment scheme and a range of locally=led schemes focused on farm health, safety and well-being projects. I have developed these initiatives as part of my wider goal to drive a change in culture on our farms that puts safety first. Combined, they are a clear commitment to bring about the required change.

In my other areas of direct responsibility, namely new market development and research and innovation, there are also strong commitments. Bord Bia will have €53 million to help to support us in our ongoing efforts to maintain and grow existing markets for Irish food and drink and to open new markets. This funding will enable Bord Bia to continue to invest in innovative digital approaches to developing new markets, defending and growing our food and drink exports in existing markets in the UK and Europe and build on our reputation in third countries, in line with our market access programme. It will also facilitate a welcome return to in-person trade missions, as international travel opens up, keeping Ireland and its quality, sustainable, and safe food offering current, relevant and visible, in line with our food vision 2030 strategy.

Ireland is one of the most sustainable producers of food in the world. I am incredibly proud of the work our farmers do, and as Minister of State with responsibility for new market development, I will continue to promote their work and stories abroad. Teagasc will receive €153 million, along with ongoing commitments from my Department to fund important research. Investment in research will allow us to assist farmers, future-proof our industry and develop key solutions to meet the ambitions of the agrifood sector. It is important that our policy decisions are guided by robust science at all times.

Regarding the food ombudsman, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, the Minister of State, Deputy Hackett, and myself are committed to advancing fairness and transparency in the agriculture and food supply chain. It is vital that our farmers, who are at the start of the chain, and who are the most important link, have confidence in the system. We intend to enhance transparency through the establishment of a new office that will fulfil the role of the national food ombudsman. This year, as an interim step, the unfair trading practices enforcement authority was established in my Department. The primary legislation required to establish the new office is being drafted by my Department and on the Government's legislation priority list.

Funding of €4 million has been provided in budget 2022 for the office's establishment costs.

Agri-taxation measures complement my Department's Vote spending. We have worked closely with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, on agri-taxation issues, and I welcome his renewal of stamp duty relief for young trained farmers and general stock relief, young trained farmer stock relief, and registered farm partnership stock relief. The total value of the reliefs renewed yesterday is €15.8 million. These national taxation measures, together with the support available under the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, represent a substantial commitment to young farmers. I myself was once a young farmer, though I may not look it anymore. I know these men and women are the future of our sector. They can be assured the Government is fully committed to generational renewal.

I am also pleased that small cider producers will benefit from the introduction of an excise relief similar to that which is already available for microbreweries. As well as supporting the domestic small-scale cider sector, this will have benefits for fruit growers.

The phased introduction of the new zoned land tax is an important initiative to improve the housing supply, which is badly needed for families in both urban and rural areas. However, we must account for land that is in active agricultural use. We will work with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to ensure farmers who may be farming zoned and serviceable land are fully aware of the implications and can plan accordingly.

A programme for Government commitment provides for additional current funding of €1.5 billion from carbon tax funding for new schemes that will incentivise farmers to farm in a green and more sustainable way. To maximise the impact of the carbon tax funds from 2023 onward, the majority of this year's allocation is deferred to the period post 2023. This will allow funding to be programmed into the CAP strategic plan, ensuring compliance with agricultural state aid rules and with a view to securing European Commission approval for the interventions proposed and coherence with the overall green architecture proposed for the CAP strategic plan 2023-27. Let there be no doubt: the additional €1.5 billion committed to farmers from carbon tax in our programme for Government will be delivered on to support our farmers.

The Government is committed to supporting our seafood sector also and our coastal communities that depend on fishing. My Department's €240 million European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF, programme for the development of our seafood sector over the period 2014 to 2020 is coming to its end. We are providing €50 million to 2022 to fund remaining payments under the old EMFF programme and to commence new schemes under the new seafood development programme. The new seafood development programme for the 2021 to 2027 period will be launched next year.

The departure of the UK from the European Union and the related trade and co-operation agreement have had some profoundly damaging effects for our fishing sector and the coastal communities that depend on fishing. Such a once-in-a-generation event requires a collective response involving the seafood businesses and coastal communities that are impacted and the full range of State bodies with a role to play in our response. The Minister, Deputy McConalogue, recently received the final report of the seafood sector task force. My Department is examining it with a view to implementing quickly a comprehensive response to the impacts of Brexit on our fishing sector and coastal communities. The measures recommended in the task force report will be examined with particular regard to available funds, eligibility of the recommended measures for funding under the Brexit adjustment reserve, BAR, state aid rules, and the public spending code. Together with the BAR, the new seafood development programme will have an important role to play in mitigating the impacts of Brexit on our seafood sector and coastal communities, and it will fund elements of the recommendations of the seafood sector task force.

Last week, as the Ceann Comhairle will be aware, the Government published a review of the national development plan. My Department's capital allocation has increased by €10 million to €281 million. Public capital investment in the agrifood sector will seek to support the sustainable development of the sector in accordance with the ambition in Food Vision 2030. These objectives will be aided by the new common agricultural and common fisheries policies. This, of course, does not include any potential carry-over at year end or additional funding made available from the European Union recovery instrument, which is 100% EU-funded. One of the projects being explored is pilot anaerobic digestion plants. This is an exciting development that could create an additional income stream for farmers while meeting our climate objectives.

Funding of €88 million has been made available to assist the State bodies dealing with the horse and greyhound sectors. Part of the fund is in recognition of the continued impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on those industries. Horse Sport Ireland is allocated €5.2 million to assist with the strategic development of its sector in areas such as research, breeding and identification. The horse sport sector is of huge benefit to rural communities, and further improvements in our breeding programme will help to unlock even greater potential.

I am confident this overview of a range of measures outlined by the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, and me provide an appropriate balance to support the development of competitive and environmentally sustainable agrifood and marine sectors. The Minister, Deputy McConalogue, the Minister of State and I look forward to working closely with stakeholders over the next year as we build a platform for the development of this great sector and continue to support and protect our farm families. I commend the budget to the House.

6:00 pm

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

This budget is the product of a Government that is out of touch, out of ideas and, increasingly, running out of road. It is bizarre that any government in the current climate would introduce a budget that delivers precisely nothing for renters. The Government did not even pretend to provide renters a break. It is also mind-boggling that, in a week when 483 people at one stage were lying on hospital trolleys, the budget failed to provide for a single new acute hospital bed or community bed beyond what had already been committed. There is only €24 million in additional spending for mental health at a time when we face a mental health crisis. As for childcare, the Government's big idea is to cap fees. Seriously? The flagship proposal is to cap the highest childcare costs in Europe, not to reduce them. Families and workers are being pushed to the brink. Childcare costs represent a second mortgage. There will be no cost reduction for most parents and nothing for renters. Energy and fuel costs are going through the roof. The Government's response - you could not make it up - is to increase those costs further by hiking the carbon tax, so the reality is that most workers and families will be actually worse off as a result of this budget. It is some achievement.

As well as the increases in heating costs, and it should be remembered that energy companies have increased their costs 30 times this year, the price of goods will be increased as fuel costs will be added to those prices. This will be a particular blow for our family farmers. They will see the cost of almost all inputs increase as a result of this budget. Farm contractors, who are not exempt from the carbon tax, despite promises from Government parties that they would be, will have no choice but to pass on the increases to hard-pressed farmers. In fact, budget 2022 offers virtually nothing for our family farmers: no support for suckler beef farmers, no additional funding for sheep farmers, no emergency wool package, no additional funding for farmers in areas of natural constraint, a pittance for organics and forestry schemes, and nothing for farm assist. Of course, as always, there is an extra €7 million for beef and dairy processors, just nothing at all for the people actually producing the food. This Government is completely tone deaf to the needs of our ordinary family farming community. Those farmers will be expected to continue to produce the highest quality food almost anywhere in the world to the highest environmental standards anywhere in the world but they will face increased costs and receive reduced prices in real terms. It is an horrendous legacy.

Despite a lazy narrative, our family farmers are not the enemy of the green agenda, but the Green Party is the enemy of our family farmers. In this budget Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have picked a side and it is not the side of our farming communities. Sinn Féin's budget 2022 proposals would have resulted in an increased spend of almost €220 million within the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, a 12% increase. The Government provided a measly 1%. Crucially, Sinn Féin's proposals would have benefited our family farmers, who need support most. It would have benefited the rural communities that depend on those farmers and benefited the environment. The Government's proposals do none of those things. Our commitments to a suckler farmer of up to €300 per cow and to a €20 per ewe sheep welfare scheme, a €5 million support package for wool producers, a €25 million increase for areas of natural constraint, and increased disregards for farm assist would all help smaller and poorer farmers in a meaningful way.

Rather than lecture farmers in rural communities about climate action and then penalise them through carbon taxes and counterproductive measures, Sinn Féin proposed measures that would actually help farmers to play a positive role in reducing emissions and making necessary changes. This would involve substantial investment beyond what the Government has provided in organics and facilitating farmers in agri-environmental programmes. Instead Ireland, through the Government, has capitulated to an agenda that will see this country import peat from Latvia and wood from Scotland and see Europe import beef from Brazil and milk from New Zealand. Farmers will lose out, the rural communities that depend on them will lose out and the environment will suffer. It is an agenda based on tokenism and hypocrisy and it is indefensible. The Minister, Deputy McConalogue, is not even here to defend it. He is, I am told, participating in a consultation process that should have taken place a year ago and which he will undoubtedly use to prevent redistributive measures in the next CAP.

The Ministers of State in his Department tried valiantly to put a positive spin on things but, in reality, they both know, as we all know, that this budget will leave family farmers worse off. Shame on any Deputy who supports it.

6:10 pm

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

In the time available to me, I want to contest the argument made by various Government representatives in support of the claim by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform yesterday that: "Households in the bottom four income deciles will see all of the cost of the carbon tax increase offset, with the bottom three deciles being better off..." I heard George Lee make the same statement yesterday on "Six One News". It is my understanding that this claim is made on the back of an Economic and Social Research Institute report, Carbon Taxes, Poverty and Compensation Options, which was published in October 2020. That research deserves further scrutiny given the influence it is now having. Like any research, it has its limitations, and those limitations need to be discussed. I want to make five points in that regard.

First, the authors say they do not account for changes in prices beyond those directly arising from the higher carbon tax. They do not account for the higher prices firms charge for their products because of changes to input prices. This is significant because we know the wholesale price of natural gas has increased by 250% since January. Brent crude oil is at more than $80 a barrel for the first time since 2014. On my reading of the paper, that is not factored into the model.

Second, the report notes that energy poverty is beset with measurement issues. It also notes that there was a commitment in the 2016 strategy to combat energy poverty to establish an energy poverty advisory group to review and report to the Minister on an appropriate methodology for measuring and tracking energy poverty levels in Ireland. This would be an important thing to do if there was a real wish to understand and address energy poverty in the midst of runaway energy costs and ensure a just transition. However, this group has yet to be convened or to meet. The ESRI researchers were constrained in this regard by Government action. When they assessed the impact of the range of redistributive measures on energy poverty, they found that at disposable incomes of greater than 10%, 15% and 20% after housing costs, none had a mitigating effect. That is there in black and white on page 11 of the report.

Third, in making the case that energy or fuel poverty is primarily one of inadequate resources, the researchers abandoned the energy poverty measurement and moved to the official at-risk-of-poverty rate. That is a questionable move in and of itself. We should also note that the eight mitigating measures they assessed do not map directly to the measures taken by Government. Option B, for example, refers to a €6.50, rather than a €5, rise in the fuel allowance. I raise this as another limitation in terms of the conclusions that are being drawn by Government spokespersons.

Fourth, in regard to the impact on specific groups, the report concludes:

In terms of geographic impact, an increase in the carbon tax would disproportionately affect those living in rural areas, with or without any compensation measures. However, as [shown elsewhere], this is driven by the particularly large effects on those living in rural areas who commute long distances to work by car. Given the ongoing pandemic and public health advice to work from home where possible, such differential impacts may be moderated by a reduction in long-distance commuting by car.

That argument hardly holds true now and the differential impacts will not be moderated.

My final point relates to renters, in respect of whom the report authors conclude:

Renters - both in the private and social sector - would be left on average better-off by those measures which raised the personal rate of working-age benefit payments or Increases for Qualified Children... This is because those renting are disproportionately likely to be in receipt of a social welfare payment.

The problem with aggregate data is that they lead to the drawing of aggregate conclusions when we know the picture is far from uniform within and between groups. That has been clearly shown by a number of people who have taken the time to map energy poverty in Ireland and look at the risk index. The picture is not uniform and hundreds of thousands of renters are not in receipt of social welfare payments. They got no relief in the budget yesterday and are being penalised with carbon taxes. It is really important that we dig down into the detail of the data on which the claims that are being made by Government representatives are based. I call on the Government to publish the data from which it derives the claim that there has been relief for the real impact of the carbon taxes. On my reading of the document on which it is relying in this regard, the evidence is not there.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Last night, a commentator described this budget as a "scoreless draw" in which there was no significant advance for anyone but no goals let in either. That is now the strategy in regard to budget-making. As there are too many vocal lobbies to satisfy, the goal must be to give something to as many as possible, minimise criticism and if the budget is out of the news cycle in 48 hours, it is job done and a great success. It was not always thus. Once upon a time, the annual budget was the opportunity for Government to advance its strategic vision and set out in concrete financial terms how our nation was to advance. Now there is no strategy, no strategic vision and no clear pathway, year by year, to achieve a transformational goal.

There is no clear destination, for instance, for the achievement of a new health service, in which I know the former Minister for Health who is sitting opposite me has an interest. There is no strategy to achieve an integrated, responsive, equally accessible health service, with timelined stepping stones and the resources to back it. Now the budget is a political three-card trick. It is no longer the centrepiece of public policy implementation but, rather, the day when as many sectors - or should I say "voters" - can be given just enough, the Government hopes, to quell their complaints. Where is the leadership that would be demonstrated by Ministers coming in here at budget time, as true agents of change, to argue for transformational policies, set out the vision and the arguments, and take on the counterarguments with thought-out proposals and conviction? Now everything is short-term, with the focus not on the next generation but the next general election or even the next opinion poll.

Three major issues demand a clear long-term pathway to fundamental change in our nation. In health, as I have already mentioned, major battles need to be fought to achieve a transformational strategy. I do not see any relish on the Government's side to set out that strategy and achieve it. In housing, ideology is still evident despite all the talk. A zoned land tax of 3% is to replace the current vacant land tax of 7%. There is nothing for renters, as has been repeatedly noted. Instead, there are tax breaks for landlords. It is the same strategy that got us into the housing mess in the first place, when we abandoned proper house-building in the glorious bubble of the 2000s.

On the third and equally important issue of climate, the Government has enacted legislation that is a victory for the Green Party, but what is it really? It is a legal framework without specifics, the equivalent of passing a law in 2011 to say we are going to have a balanced budget or a deficit of less than 3% in 2016. Setting the target is the easy bit; achieving it is damned difficult. The achievement of our climate goals requires a change across all of society for which all our people must be prepared. The specific measures needed will meet huge resistance unless it is made abundantly clear that hardship and harm for our citizens will be avoided.

The specifics of that - not generalities or vagueness - must be spelled out. Frankly, that has not been done. Setting out a climate Bill with a framework that states we are going to reduce certain things is the equivalent of saying we will have a balanced budget and pretending it can be done in some painless way. We have a lot to do because none of that vision is set out now in this short-term approach. It is as if the Government sees itself as an interim steward of the country and the economy. Its policies are designated to survive the present, not plan and map the future.

6:20 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I hope to respond to several of the issues raised by my colleague, Deputy Howlin, but it would require more time to respond substantively to his points on climate, housing and health. I look forward to debating that and would very much contend that the Government has robust strategies in those three areas. A fair comment would be that it will be on the implementation of those strategies that we will be judged in the weeks, months and years ahead.

I am pleased to have a brief opportunity to introduce a series of measures my Department is bringing forward as part of budget 2022, along with my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for skills and further education, Deputy Niall Collins. This budget sees an investment of €347 million in further and higher education, research, innovation and science, making this a Department with a budget of more than €3 billion and the fifth largest Department in terms of current expenditure. With this significant new investment, we will be in a position to fund several major priorities for the Government and citizens to improve quality of life, address the cost of living and, crucially, begin to address the skills needs in the economy and society in terms of being able to deliver on several crucial issues, such as construction, retrofitting, the green economy and the likes.

I wish to share some of the key elements that will benefit students and their families, jobseekers, people seeking to reskill or upskill, employers and further and higher education and research institutions. Budget 2022 will see the first substantive changes to the student grant scheme in more than a decade. All Members will be aware of the critical situation in the context of student accommodation. Indeed, it was discussed at length during Oral Questions earlier today. There is also the issue of the increased cost of attending college.

I am announcing a €200 increase in the maintenance grant payment under the student grant scheme, but also an expansion of the income thresholds by €1,000 so that more families and students will qualify for the student grant and, crucially, an adjustment to the non-adjacent rates, which will now apply at 30 km, reduced from 45 km. Many students, particularly those in commuter belts and the orbital areas around cities and major universities, will now qualify for a significant increase in their SUSI grant. In some cases, that increase will be up to €2,000 more a year. We are also providing €20 million in additional funding to the SUSI scheme, recognising that there will be increased demand as a result of the pandemic. This is in addition to the recent announcement I made regarding an extra €17 million for the student assistance fund and an additional €5 million for mental health and well-being funding across the third-level sector, recognising the impact the pandemic has had on mental health and well-being.

I am delighted that in this budget we are abolishing the €200 post-leaving certificate, PLC, levy. PLC courses are the largest part of the further education and training, FET, system. Many people can access them for free but many thousands of other people are asked to pay €200 a year. In the interests of making FET as truly inclusive as possible, we will abolish that fee. There will be no Government levy or charge to attend a PLC course in any of our further education and training colleges across the country.

Of course, I want to help people get back into sustainable and quality jobs after the impact of the pandemic and the changes we are seeing in the Irish and global economies. It is crucial to ensure that we have people equipped with the skills to help meet the demands in areas such as housing, climate change and digital transformation. Supporting the Government's national recovery and resilience plan, this budget will provide 6,000 additional Skillnet Ireland places, 1,600 skills to advance places and a significant increase in the number of people availing of retrofitting training and near-zero energy building training. It will also introduce a core annual grant for any employer who takes on an apprentice. That is a key commitment of our apprenticeship action plan.

We often talk about a knowledge-based economy but, sadly, we live in a country where far too many people are still locked out of full societal and economic participation due to a lack of literacy, numeracy and digital skills. This budget will provide €3 million to inject real purpose and energy into our first ever national adult literacy, numeracy and digital literacy strategy. This means that every education and training board, ETB, will now be in a position to hire a literacy coordinator to drive the implementation of that strategy.

I make the point in the brief time available to me that I, the Minister, Deputy McGrath, and the Minister of State, Deputy Collins, are providing between the end of this year and the end of next year an additional €200 million to higher education to strengthen balance sheets in universities, addressing legacy deficits that have existed and increase capacity. This will mean that investment in higher education will be higher than ever in the history of the State, including at peak levels of funding back in 2008.

I am pleased that we have been allocated €5 million to deliver our new national access plan. It will have a particular focus on people with intellectual disabilities and how we ensure they can transition from the secondary school system into third-level system. In addition, there is €2 million for consent and gender equality initiatives.

My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Collins, will take the House through the rest of the measures, but this is a good and exciting platform on which we can begin to deliver on these policies.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

What about the campus in Wexford?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I assure the Deputy that the campus in Wexford is under way.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am delighted to take up where my colleague left off and comment on the budget for our Department. By any yardstick, since its inception, this new Department has hit the ground running and made an impact. It has mattered most to students, who are the most important stakeholders that we strive to serve within this new Department. The total spend of €374 million is a significant investment in people's lives and livelihoods to help us work our way out of the pandemic and deliver better labour market skills and upskilling right across the sectors, which is our core function.

I refer to the remarks of the Minister regarding improvements in SUSI that have been announced. These changes, the first for ten years, will significantly help people in my part of Limerick, for example, where there are now two universities, namely, Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest and the University of Limerick. Many people in my constituency of Limerick County will benefit significantly from the change in the non-adjacent rate, with the applicable distance being reduced from 45 km back to 30 km, as well as, the increase in the income threshold and the increase of €200in the maintenance grant.

I refer to the area of skills and apprenticeships. We have a €34 million package to support and develop apprenticeships. That includes a €17 million spend to address the backlog in apprenticeships, an issue that we have raised and discussed in the House on many occasions. Significant funding has been made available to address that. We will introduce a new employer grant for apprentices to drive increased employer participation in apprenticeships, as outlined in the apprenticeship action plan. We are establishing the new national apprenticeship office, which will lead the reforms envisioned in that plan. The director of that office will be appointed shortly. As Members will be aware, we have 62 formal apprenticeships up and running, 18 in development and a further 19 at the exploratory stage. These are all new and exciting areas.

In the areas of reskilling and upskilling, we have a package of €78 million. Of that, €22 million is for a green skills action programme supported by the EU national recovery and response programme to build the workforce requirement for the shift to a zero-carbon economy, to support those most negatively impacted by the effects of the pandemic, and to develop new skills through the skills to compete initiative. We have continued investment in supporting businesses through Skillnet Ireland and the ETB skills to advance programme. We will also maintain the higher education springboard+ programme.

I wish to flag that we have €9 million for the delivery of key strategic priorities in the further education and training areas. As the Minister alluded to, we are abolishing the €200 PLC levy, which will benefit more than 10,000 learners. We will be implementing the new ten-year adult literacy for life strategy, which includes the establishment of a programme office, recruitment of literacy co-ordinators in every ETB and a new collaboration and innovation fund. We are also establishing and progressing the Irish Prison Service and SOLAS building bridges programme to support improved pathways and outcomes for learners and prisoners.

6:30 pm

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There are aspects of this budget I welcome. The Minister of State, Deputy Collins, has just outlined some of them in respect of apprenticeships and other elements of further education. The litmus test for the apprenticeships will if the backlog is cleared. We will be monitoring it very closely to ensure it is done.

This is the second time a budget has failed utterly to address the chronic underfunding of higher education. It is one, if not the key, issue most of us thought the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science was established to address in the first place. In the words of the Irish Universities Association, the budget "will not provide any extra investment in teaching and/or research activities in 2022". The Minister has stated the investment made will be the highest investment ever, but what he is not saying is we have the highest number of students we have ever had. We must stop making these comparisons and giving people the impression everything is okay and we are substantially addressing the issues. The budget is a stand still budget for the third level sector. Higher education has been kept in austerity mode and there is no extra investment for the things outlined.

I ask the Minister again to publish the Cassells report, which is on his desk. It must be published. The funding must be allocated with that to ensure the future of the third level sector. I welcome the increase in SUSI grants; it is long overdue. As the Minister said, it has been ten years in the making. It is shameful we have had to wait ten years for that. I contacted SUSI today because I had received many calls from students and I was alarmed to learn the increases will not come into effect until next September. Therefore, any current students who are suffering financially are not going to benefit this year from anything announced for SUSI in the budget yesterday. Is that correct?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The SUSI changes will be introduced in the next academic year.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Perhaps the Minister can comment on that later. I would hope something would be provided this year, because students are struggling right here and now. The Minister saw the students queuing for food banks. We live in a republic in 2021. Having students queuing for food banks that run out after an hour is atrocious.

When is the review of SUSI going to be published? The Minister knows there are issues within it that must be addressed. For a 30-year-old or a 40-year-old with children of their own, being judged and excluded from SUSI support because of what their parents' pension might be is atrocious. It is just one of the issues that needs to be addressed.

The budget did nothing in respect of fees. We have the highest fees in the EU and nobody will explain to me why that is the case. One of the reasons is because of the chronic underfunding of the sector. We constantly treat students and struggling families as cash cows to fill the gaps that are there because of that underfunding. That must stop.

I welcome the moves in the budget to increase the adjacent grant. That will make a big difference, but again, if it will not be introduced until next year, I am concerned about what will happen this year.

When the Minister announced the total funding for the student assistance fund on Monday, he announced a figure of €17.2 million. The funding provided last year was €16 million, so it does not represent a €10 million increase, it represents an increase of €1.2 million. The Minister needs to bring clarity to that point.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Before I start, I wish to congratulate my constituency colleague, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, and his wife, Caoimhe, on the birth of their new baby.

There is a lot to be discussed. When I was working on my speech and deciding what I was going to cover, I concluded there are a few key areas that come under the remit of my spokesperson role, but there is also a more substantive issue to discuss.

On climate, I do not believe the Government is doing enough to address climate change and to assist families and communities to make the changes we will expect of them. The entire carbon tax should be ring-fenced to assist families and should be for a just transition and not just the increases in the carbon taxes people are seeing year on year.

Implementation is also key on this issue. It is not just about the big figures. It is about whether people are feeling it on the ground. The Irish Timespoll should really ring alarm bells for the Government, because it shows there is a resistance to climate change measures among the community. People are not feeling support from Government in dealing with climate action, and people are seeing sticks from Government rather than policy carrots. That is a worrying feature.

On biodiversity, I acknowledge the work of the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, in the area and the fact that funding is now back to pre-financial crisis levels for the National Parks and Wildlife Service. However, that was a very low bar. We should have done much better even then, never mind two years following the declaration of a biodiversity emergency. Much more is needed and required, particularly given that the increase in funding for the National Parks and Wildlife Service this year, which is approximately €18 million, is less than what the greyhound industry got from the Government in this budget.

I welcome the provision of funding for workers in the childcare sector. It is to be hoped standards for workers in the childcare and early education sectors will be dealt with.

The Government has frozen unaffordable rents for parents. That represents a missed opportunity to invest in families across the country.

Those are the key areas I wanted to cover as part of my spokesperson role. When I was thinking about what I would talk about today, I spoke to a woman who is in her mid-80s, lives alone in a council house and relies on her State pension. I asked her what she thought about the pension. She told me a few euro here and there does not make much of a difference to her or people like her. She said what she wanted the Government to do is to collect all of that money and make a difference for someone or a particular group of people. Indeed, she asked me if I had heard the interview with Adam Terry yesterday. If Members have not listened to the interview, I would suggest they do so. It shone a light on a real stain on this country, namely, how we treat children like Adam.

Adam is ten years old and lives in Cork. I listened to the interview as he described how he rolls around on the ground and tries to crack his back to alleviate the pain he is in. He said he feels as if he is at the bottom of the barrel and everyone has forgotten him. He said he does not like to socialise anymore because he is afraid he will start crying when he is talking to his friends. He is ten years old. This is not the kind of experience we should expect our ten-year-olds to have to suffer.

I am probably in politics a short enough time to still believe we are all here to do good, and all Members got involved in politics to do good and help make things better for the country. If a Deputy is a Member of a Government that has repeatedly failed children like Adam, or a Government that is not moving heaven and earth to ensure Adam and children like him get the supports, treatment and health services they need, then I would have to ask why they are in government at all. I ask Members of the Government to ensure this is not their legacy. I am sure it is not what they wanted or envisaged as their legacy. I ask the Government to stop making parents go on national media and bare their private family lives to try to get help for their children. I ask the Government to let parents do what they should be doing, which is looking after their children and focusing all of their energy on their children and their children's health.

I wish the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science was still in the Chamber, because in 2017 when he was Minister for Health, he spoke on the issue of paediatric scoliosis waiting lists. He said the Government was going to get it fixed and described it as an "absolute priority". He said no child would longer than four months for treatment. That was 2017. It is now 2021. Adam is ten years old. He and children like him are still waiting.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

First, I welcome the current budget. I think the Government has done its very best to get the balance right, in the first instance, in getting back on a more sustainable trajectory in terms of the public finances, reducing our borrowing costs, which is most important, and in terms of striking a balance between revenue expenditure and also taxation cuts. It is also important to point out that every Government should try to avoid breaking the golden rule of borrowing for current expenditure.

That leads a country onto a very unsustainable path. It is quite notable that next year, all things being equal, we will only be borrowing for capital expenditure. This is a very important part of the budget. IFAC has supported in broad terms the parameters of the budget and the Government has stuck to a very steady path.

It is very important that the rates waiver has been extended until 31 December to underwrite the hospitality sector and some very vulnerable businesses. We are in a very difficult position as we approach 22 October. All things being equal, and if restrictions are relieved, then we have a good gap to the end of the year with supports for business. Schemes such as the employment wage subsidy scheme will continue until next April, which should give businesses a good chance to get viability back into the system, which is very important.

A total of €1.34 billion was spent on a rates waiver from 2020 to 2021. I acknowledge the great work the local authority sector did. It responded within 48 hours by organising the community call to protect the most vulnerable people in our society. It is a huge testament to all those who work in the local authority system how quickly they could mobilise their efforts to achieve it.

With regard to older persons and people with a disability, it is very important that we were successful in getting an increase of more than €5 million. This should guarantee in excess of 11,600 grants next year. This is very important to protect the most vulnerable in our society, enabling people to live independently at home for as long as possible. On the social housing side, under the capital assistance programme for next year, €96 million will be provided to deliver new social homes specifically for older people, homeless households and people with a disability. This is also very welcome.

With regard to Traveller accommodation, it is very important that we acknowledge the increases over recent years, with a quarter increase in the budget from two years ago. We have a huge amount of work to do and I fully accept this. It is only a few days since the sixth anniversary of the Carrickmines tragedy, which was a huge mark on the State. We are trying our best to resolve all of the issues through the expert report and the programme board we have in place to drive the reforms we need in this area. It is independent and works very closely with the Department.

I acknowledge all the work that is going on and all the efforts made by everyone trying to deliver these key public services to all of our citizens. As Minister of State with responsibility for local government, I know it is the arm of government closest to citizens. More than 600 services are provided at our fingertips. We are working very hard to ensure we manage the budget to the very best of our ability to ensure it adds value for all citizens in the State.

6:40 pm

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the funding for workers in the childcare sector. It is an issue that was constantly brought to my attention. We need to look at the overall model of childcare. This is a start and I welcome it. I also welcome the extension of the national childcare scheme to children aged up to 15 from the end of next year. It is another very important move for families. It is the road we need to take.

The additional teachers for schools will lower classroom sizes and it is very welcome. I also welcome the 1,600 special needs assistants posts in schools. This will make big changes. It is what we need to have. It is another role we need to work on. We need to make sure we have special needs assistants. It is very important. From speaking to families, this is what we need.

The extension of free GP care to children aged six and seven is welcome. I hope it will eventually rise to include children aged up to 12 years. I am sure it is what we are looking at long term. I am looking at it to be extended to 12-year-old children eventually. The €31 million being spent on free contraception for those aged 17 to 25 is really positive. We need to do more. At least it is a step in the right direction. We need to address these types of issues. It is very welcome.

I welcome dental access for medical card holders. The past 18 months during Covid have been very hard for people. We all saw that some dentists were not accepting medical cards from people. This is a huge issue for me. If people have a medical card and they want to go to their dentist why are they not accepted? Some dentists did take them but some did not. While it is welcome that there is more access to the service we need to look at it. The bigger issue is that there must be some communication between dentists and the Department so we can make sure this is accessed properly. Communication will be very important.

The Minister of State, Deputy Burke, spoke about housing. It is great to see we have had the biggest budget for housing, at €4 billion annually. It is very welcome. Housing was one of the big issues in the previous general election. We really need to build housing. We really need to make sure the money invested is to build houses, whether local authority housing or affordable housing in giving people access to a family home. People do not want to be renting. It needs to be a real priority that we build as many houses as we can to make sure people have a home and access to rent a home. The reason rents and housing are so dear is because of a lack of supply. Unless we build there will always be a lack of supply. I know the Government is committed to building houses but we need to make sure we make it an urgent matter.

Another area that keeps coming up in my clinics is broadband. We are encouraging people to work from home, which is very important, and we have provided 30% towards heating. This is very welcome but we need proper broadband facilities. This is another area we need to address. It is very important for rural Ireland. I live in a rural area. We need to make sure rural Ireland is not forgotten and that we have broadband and that we build houses. We have spoken about quality of life. It is so important that people have a quality of life. People have gone through so much during the pandemic. While I welcome the €5 increase in the pension and social welfare, we also need to make sure we look after our most vulnerable. This is what we need to do. It is a start but we really need to do a lot more.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The two words that best describe yesterday's budget are "underwhelming" and "unsatisfactory". From a health perspective, the budget increases spending in the sector but misses the key issues of capacity and staffing. It delivers little for the more than 900,000 people, including 43,656 on waiting lists at University Hospital Limerick, and offers no solution to the trolley crisis. In housing it is unsatisfactory. There is nothing there for renters and little for those who are looking to avail of social and affordable housing. For those who work in childcare there were some fine words and acknowledgement of the fine work they do. However, when it came to giving them a standard of living the budget gave very little to them. The budget misses the mark when it comes to the big issues. It missed the mark on health, housing and the cost of living, especially childcare and carbon taxes. The Government does not seem to listen to its citizens. It does not recognise the many crises it has exacerbated over the years.

The problems in healthcare remain. Already in October, University Hospital Limerick has had 729 people treated on trolleys. This is an average of 81 people a day. This is an absolutely appalling failure of policy. This problem is not going away. There has been a 22% increase in emergency department admissions when comparing 2019 with 2021 but the Government has not detailed how it intends to solve the crisis. To put it simply, the budget does not deliver on capacity. We would have provided the capital funding to deliver 600 additional new public beds in the alternative budget we launched.

On the issue of mental health, one of the biggest things the pandemic demonstrated once again is how woefully underresourced our mental health services are. Mental health is as important as physical health. Mental health concerns are as big an impediment to active life as physical injury. As with injuries, resources must be provided so that mental health challenges can be addressed. In Limerick we saw the child and adult mental health services overwhelmed with referrals. The additional €24 million promised to the mental health budget is nowhere near what is needed. What was needed was an investment in child and adult mental health services, the expansion of counselling to provide universal coverage and investment in dual diagnosis supports. We propose an ambitious investment of €113 million to try to address this issue for the first time. The Government has offered the equivalent of a lick of paint when the whole structure needs investment.

Under the education fund I welcome the announcement of funds under the Department of Education ex gratia scheme to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the Louise O'Keeffe case. I pay tribute to the survivors of abuse at Cuanlee who campaigned over the past number of years. I wish them and Louise O’Keeffe especially, who has done powerful work on this issue over the years, the very best in the future. After the struggles they faced, they deserve the very best.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing voters in the State is housing. Renters struggle to pay the rents while saving for a deposit. There are those who have been approved for a mortgage but cannot afford properties in their preferred areas and those who are approved are faced with the second-highest mortgage rates in the eurozone. There are thousands of people on the housing list, either seeking social housing or rental assistance in the form of housing assistance payments, HAP, and in Limerick there are more than 6,000 people on this list. The budget aims to deliver 9,200 social housing units and 4,000 affordable units. This is simply not enough. We would deliver 12,000 social houses and 8,000 affordable houses for purchase or for rent. The absence of support for renters will drive home the feelings of many about this Government.

On the issue of justice I welcome the additional 800 gardaí who are supposed to be delivered. I also welcome the additional resources for the youth justice strategy. It is important that we see these gardaí on the street and see community gardaí back in our communities.

Clearly, the budget as offered by the Government will have little positive impact on the life of our citizens. It is a wasted opportunity and there is no major change on the living issues affecting people in health, housing and the cost of living. Sinn Féin in government will deliver for its citizens. We will listen to our people and will serve the aspirations of the many, not the vested interests of the few.

6:50 pm

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

As part of budget 2022, I am announcing investment of €16 million for new measures to support the national drug strategy and Healthy Ireland along with a further €13 million allocated under Covid-19-specific funding. Under healthy Ireland, €10 million-----

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

My apologies to an Cathaoirleach Gníomhach and to the Minister of State but can I have a copy of the Minister of State’s speech, please?

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Can the Minister of State arrange that for the Deputy, please?

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I do not have a second copy but I can give my copy to the Deputy when I am finished.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is just that there was no briefing today and I do not know what the Minister of State has in his speech and no details were given in the budget yesterday. I was hoping to come back to the Minister of State with a response but it may be too late for the Minister of State.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There are a number of Ministers speaking tonight and that is why there are no copies but I am sure the Minister of State will arrange to send a copy to the Deputy.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will give the Deputy my speech when I am finished.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I would have preferred it beforehand but what can we do? I thank an Cathaoirleach Gníomhach and the Minister of State.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Under Healthy Ireland, €10 million is provided to implement the national healthy weight campaign, an innovative and co-ordinated approach to encourage physical activity through Sport Ireland and the HSE. Funding is also being provided to scaling up the HSE’s online sexually transmitted infections, STI, services.

Some €6 million is being provided under the national drugs strategy and this funding will increase access to drugs and alcohol services, expand the Housing First programme and enhance health services for vulnerable children and young people.

Under Covid-19 funding for 2022, €10 million is being provided to maintain public health measures and to consolidate improvements in health services for people who are homeless. Some €3 million is being provided to Healthy Ireland for Covid-19-related health promotion measures.

Tackling obesity is a key priority under the Healthy Ireland strategic action plan and between six out of ten adults are overweight or obese. To tackle the issue of obesity, I am allocating €1.6 million to obesity initiatives, including a new citizens’ engagement healthy weight campaign. Following on the success of the national physical activity plan which was established in 2016, I am allocating €900,000 for a co-ordinated approach to support further interventions to promote physical activity. Some €3 million been allocated for the roll-out of an online service for testing sexually-transmitted infections. This service will be important against the backdrop of a syphilis outbreak.

The HSE has recently launched its framework for social prescribing, a service that links patients in primary care with sources of community support and social interaction which can include physical activity, peer and group support, as well as Men’s Sheds. I am pleased to announce that I am providing funding of more than €750,000 for the roll-out of the social prescribing network.

On the national drug strategy, I am delighted to announce that I have secured €6 million for new measures to support the implementation of the national drug strategy. These new measures will meet the various commitments for a health-led approach to drug use. I am allocating €1.7 million for measures to increase the availability of the HSE drug and alcohol services on a nationwide basis. This will include services for people with addiction, people under 18 years and families affected by drug use and will also include rehabilitation and recovery programmes.

We know there can be barriers in accessing drug and alcohol addiction services for women and minority groups and in this respect I have prioritised greater access to and provision of community-based drug and alcohol services for women, ethnic minorities and LGBTI+ groups. Additional services will also be provided for children and families who are impacted by parental drug and alcohol use, supporting the implementation of the HSE and Tusla Hidden Harm Strategic Statement and practice guidelines.

I am also expanding harm reduction responses in local communities and the night-time economy in order to address high-risk drug use such as crack cocaine and other stimulant drugs. The Government is committed to a health-led approach to individuals found in possession of drugs for personal use and we support compassion not punishment. Funding will be provided for screening and brief interventions for people referred to the health diversion programme across all community healthcare organisations, CHOs.

It is important that we provide health services which meet the needs of people who are homeless and many of whom are also high-risk drug users. Some €1.3 million will be provided to support this programme. In addition, I am pleased to provide €10 million in Covid-19 funding for 2022 to maintain public health measures and I will announce details of this funding later on.

Finally, I am providing €500,000 to support health services for primary school children and young people in Dublin’s north-east inner city and this will benefit 1,800 primary school children.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity as Minister of State in the Department of Finance to speak on budget 2022. I confirm that I have handed out copies of my script for circulation to Deputies in the House.

I will highlight a number of ways in which this budget will deliver for workers, families and communities around Ireland and also, specifically, in County Laois, my own county.

On tax measures, there will be an increase in the standard rate band by €1,500 and an increase also in the personal tax credit of €50. On health, we are very pleased to announce that there will be free GP care for children aged six and seven. The threshold for the drugs payment scheme is being lowered to €100. Some €250 million is being provided to tackle hospital waiting lists. Free contraception for women aged 17 to 25 is being provided. We are also expanding the dental access to medical card patients.

On social protection and related issues, the national childcare scheme will be universally subsidised and will be extended to all children up to 15 years of age. We are giving a €5 increase in the weekly social welfare payments. The living alone allowance is to be increased by €3 and the fuel allowance will be increased by €5, with effect from midnight last night. Everybody will receive this as part of their weekly payments from now on. We are also introducing a youth travel card for those aged 19 to 23.

On housing, 11,820 new social homes will be delivered to build, acquisition and leasing programmes and 9,000 of these will be new builds, which is very important. Some 11,000 grants are being provided to adapt homes for older people and people with a disability. Some 14,800 new households will have their housing needs met under the housing assistance payments and rental accommodation scheme, which is still in existence, in addition to supporting the 82,000 existing tenancies already under these schemes.

On education and training, 1,165 additional special needs assistants, SNAs, are being provided, bringing the total number of SNAs up to 19,200. There has been the largest ever increase in funding for the delivering of equality and opportunities in schools, the DEIS programme, and this programme is being provided with €32 million next year, enabling an expansion of the service of this programme. More schools will, therefore, be brought into the DEIS programme.

An additional 350 teachers are being provided to reduce the school staffing schedules by one point for all primary schools.

Importantly for Laois and other areas including Carlow, the distance to qualify for the non-adjacent grant for higher education has been reduced from 45 km to 30 km. This will be a welcome improvement for many people in County Laois who attend Institute of Technology Carlow. Up to now, many people in Laois were excluded from this additional grant but, with these changes, they will eligible for this additional non-adjacent grant.

An additional 980 special needs education teachers working in special classes, special schools and mainstream settings to support children with special educational needs are being provided. Off-the-job training is being provided for 7,000 craft apprentices impacted by Covid-19, we are increasing payments for the Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, scheme for third level and we are recruiting 800 new gardaí.

In healthcare, we will recruit a further 8,000 staff next year, bringing the overall number in the health services to 144,000. In regard to the quality of care, we will strengthen the National Ambulance Service, of which there has been much valid criticism that must be addressed. We will also invest significantly in women's health and infection prevention and control and advance the roll-out of the nursing safe staffing programme. A funding stream of €207 million has been provided for childcare and this is linked to a commitment to no increases in fees for parents. This is a win for parents, children, staff and the operators of childcare facilities.

Finally, as in previous years, every euro raised by the increase in carbon tax will be returned to the people in a progressive manner, primarily through an increase in the fuel allowance and a major home retrofitting programme.

7:00 pm

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Let us start with the positives. The Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, who has just left the Chamber, outlined €6 million in funding under the national drugs strategy. I welcome that, although it is not enough. I look forward to seeing the detail of where it will be spent. I welcome also the €1.7 million provided for the HSE drug and alcohol service nationwide, which will also be used to identify under-18s and families affected by drug use. There are a few measures I can welcome, and where there are positives, I will recognise them. Even so, that a Minister of State with responsibility for drugs strategy would come to the Chamber and not to talk about the drug and alcohol task forces is unbelievable. These are the people on the front line.

I am disappointed the Minister of State is no longer here. Earlier, I attended a very informative meeting of the Sub-Committee on Mental Health in respect of addiction, which was attended by various groups. Based on what the Minister of State outlined, I wonder whether he has ever met any of the task forces. The number one issue the task forces nationally have raised with me when I have met them relates to the fact the funding that was decimated in 2008 has never been returned. I refer to task forces, communities, youth groups and family support networks. This is the Government's second budget but it is the 14th budget since this funding was slashed, yet it still has not been restored. I implore the Minister of State, although he is not here so I will ask his party colleagues and Government colleagues, to help the people on the front line working with those in the throes of addiction and those on the journey to recovery, and to give the people providing the services the support they so badly need.

There is so much more I wanted to mention but I will make one more point. More than 120 rehab beds were closed because of Covid-19, along with 48 detox beds. The Keltoi centre was closed during the pandemic too. We need these services to be open now. Here we are talking about a budget for 2022 and more than 150 beds were closed in Keltoi, which played a unique and important role. Will this be dealt with urgently?

On a personal note, there is nothing in the budget for ordinary people in my constituency in Cork. When they woke up this morning, they did not feel this budget had made a difference to them. What they did feel is that there were tax breaks for landlords but not for renters and that there was a reduction in levies for speculators but not for the people who need it the most. People have said to me today that there is not a single measure for ordinary people in the budget. With my parochial hat on, I note there is no northern ring road, no hospital, college or investment in jobs for the north side of Cork city, and no apprenticeships. Where are the truly affordable homes that my constituents are crying out for? There are many fivers in this budget but there is no change for people.

This is a really big missed opportunity for the Government. If it had listened to what the people have been calling for all along, it could have made a real difference. I am very disappointed. This is a failed budget. I hope that when the Government reviews what has happened, it will make the proper changes.

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Last night, I highlighted many measures in the budget that were to be welcomed. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, on increasing his budget for floor relief. He listed out the many projects he hopes to get started next year and they are all very familiar to me because they all featured on plans in 2015 and 2016. The problem with such projects, as he will be aware, is trying to get them from inception to getting the construction started on the ground. I emphasise that the minor works flood relief schemes that are in place are of critical importance to communities. As I have said previously, we should consider providing a scheme for channels, which are not within the charge of the local authorities or the OPW but rather of the riparian owner, along the lines of the local improvement scheme to help get some of the channels cleaned. If that was done on a pilot basis to see how it would work, that would help.

The Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, mentioned that 14,800 new households will have their housing needs met under the housing assistance payment. That is great but the problem relates to getting the houses where HAP will be taken. He stated that a total of 14,800 new homes will take HAP but I cannot foresee that happening in any town or village in Galway East, where people on the housing list are being told they have to leave because the house is being sold or the landlord's family members are moving in. The problem is they cannot find another home. The numbers look great but there is something fundamentally wrong here.

One issue that has been missed, as I have mentioned to the Ministers, Deputies Michael McGrath and Donohoe, relates to the fact that the help-to-buy scheme, which is being extended and I welcome that, needs to be expanded. It needs to include first-time buyers of second-hand properties in our towns, villages and countryside. There are houses all over the place that are not occupied. They could come back into circulation if young first-time buyers were afforded the same supports as first-time buyers of new houses. It has gone beyond the idea of saying we want to build new houses. We do, and there is demand for new houses, but there is potential here to do two things, namely, repopulate towns, villages and country areas and bring back people who can work, raise their families and live within communities in rural areas. It can help us also with remote working and so on. We need to ensure we provide incentives to first-time buyers and allow them to avail of the help-to-buy scheme for that purpose.

Moreover, the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme should be expanded to include the refurbishment costs of houses that are bought. If, for instance, a first-time buyer buys a second-hand house, he or she may have to upgrade it to install an air-to-water heat pump, to insulate it or to do whatever needs to be done with it to make it liveable, modern and comfortable, yet the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme will support only the purchase price of that property. That gap needs to be filled. The mechanism is there to fill it and it will make housing available that is affordable and in the right places, where we will not have to worry about planning.

Also, where young people are brave enough to buy those properties, we should exempt them from planning charges and levies and give them a chance to get going with them. It is a way of regenerating these places.

In talking about the budget, there is one other thing we must tackle, which is the idea that climate action is going to solve all our problems. Today, horticultural producers and farmers were outside the House to highlight the issue of peat production in Ireland for vegetable and mushroom growers. The fact is that we are now importing peat from Latvia due to the cessation of all peat milling in this country. It is being brought by the truck load to the port in Latvia and shipped to Ireland. Then it is being trucked up the midlands to be packaged and distributed. There are a number of aspects to this. The first is that 90% of what we are transporting is water. Second, if we brought peat back into production, only 1% of the peat bogs would be needed for that. Third, we have no alternative in this country. Fourth, we do not know what we are importing. We do not know or have control over what is in it, yet we are paying a lot more money for it. With this move, we are creating more carbon instead of saving on carbon. We are supposed to be greening our country and we are supposed to be able to grow plants and vegetables in the best way possible, but what do we do? We cut off the lifeline.

The mushroom industry is on its knees. The Minister will find that it will relocate to places where it can do its business, and it will take the jobs with it. Those jobs are in rural areas in the regions in Ireland. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, was in the House earlier. This is something in respect of which we must introduce emergency legislation, if that is required. The mystery about all this is that Latvia is in the European Union and is working under the same rules that we work under in terms of environmental protection, yet it can produce the peat and send it here while we have stopped doing it. It is a laugh and a joke. It is something we must tackle as a matter of urgency.

7:10 pm

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am a Deputy for Dublin Fingal. Deputy Canney will not be surprised to hear that horticultural peat is an issue that affects my constituency greatly as well. I look forward to a resolution of that matter.

Budget 2022 is a very positive one and will benefit people throughout the country, from all backgrounds and walks of life. Regardless of what has been claimed by others, I believe people will be better off as a result of the measures contained in it. For example, €716 million is being spent on childcare, which I believe will be a turning point for the sector. It will support providers with costs, improve wages and has the capacity to ensure that no fee increases will take place for parents in the near future. That should be welcomed. Families will also benefit from free GP care for six-year-olds and seven-year-olds, and the back to school clothing and footwear allowance has been increased by €10. Parents will soon be able to avail of an additional two weeks of parent's benefit, rising from five to seven weeks.

I am a member of the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. Education is vital to building the type of future that we want to achieve in this country and I am, therefore, very encouraged by the additional 1,165 special needs assistants to be recruited. That means children will get more time and more attention, which they need. Moreover, an additional 800 new teachers will be required and recruited to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio by one point to 24:1. These are profoundly important steps in delivering quality education.

Unfortunately, we have seen a significant increase in anti-social behaviour in recent years. All Members have witnessed unfortunate episodes being recorded in their constituencies. Indeed, I witnessed a horrifying event on the train last Wednesday evening. I am, therefore, encouraged to see that 800 new gardaí will be recruited, along with 400 additional civilian Garda staff to support officers in their duties. This alone will not solve antisocial behaviour. If we take a multifaceted approach to the problem, however, we can get results. Of course, that starts in school.

The introduction of the national youth travel card is a very positive step. I commend the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on taking it. People aged between 19 years and 23 years will be able to avail of 50% off their travel costs. That will not only encourage them to use public transport but also, frankly, I hope it will encourage a few of them, at least, not to purchase a car and perhaps get into the habit of using public transport more often, where it is available.

Increases in the pension, fuel allowance and social welfare and the reduction in the drugs payments scheme are also very welcome initiatives in this budget. I should also mention, for the eighth time in my ten years in this House, an increase in the national minimum wage, which is welcome.

Tax bands have been changed as well. That will benefit an average income earner to the tune of €400 per year. That is also welcome.

Finally, I take this opportunity to mention and welcome the reduction in the national debt that this budget envisages. It is vital that we do not burden future generations with significant debt and I believe that through the growth that is envisaged in this budget we will be able to achieve that.

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will speak about two matters, the overall macroeconomic situation and the carer's allowance. I greatly welcome the budget at this time. I see it as a stability and transition budget away from the €48 billion we have had to spend to support the economy, individuals and businesses through the Covid pandemic into a period, now, of a real economic recovery and stability for our people and communities and in our public finances. All those are inextricably linked.

We hope the inflationary pressures we are experiencing at present will be transitory. They peaked this September, in particular as a response to price increases in August and to accommodation pressures, cars and aeroplane tickets as people emerge from the Covid period and try to get out and about. We hope it will stabilise next year at approximately 2.2%. However, consumer demand is very strong, and that is a very positive sign as we move forward because those things support employment. The one thing I urge caution on is continued discussion about tax on employment, as I noted was done by Opposition Members. The most important thing for any household is a job. A job provides dignity, income and support within the community. It is the basis of our economy. Taxing jobs or threats to jobs is a dangerous precedent. I remember the dark days from 2008 to 2010 when unemployment was at a high of 15%, and the effect that had on communities and everything in them. We must be very careful to support employment through this transition period.

One thing I am very pleased about on the social side is the major reform of the carer's allowance. I thank the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, in particular, for that. The work she has done will bring in more working families who are caring for people in their families but who had previously been excluded from the carer's allowance. Changing the capital disregard from €20,000 to €50,000 is a major change, as is changing the weekly income limits at the same time. That is a massive change that will bring thousands of family carers into the carer's allowance structure and support. It is very important because carers within families are providing great support to their loved ones, and also on behalf of the State. It is completely appropriate. I hope we will get to a point where, over time, the means test can be removed entirely and we can look at care needs and what is needed to support people in their homes. However, this is a very major reform and I am glad to see it.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome this budget, particularly the health measures. The budget addresses three key health areas - managing the next phase of Covid-19, reducing waiting lists and improving accessibility, which is crucial. There is an overall increase of €1 billion in healthcare funding, with the budget providing a total of €22.5 billion for health expenditure in 2022, to include both current and capital spending.

Some €250 million is provided in budget 2022 to tackle hospital waiting lists. There is an urgent need to prioritise the reduction of the waiting lists and also the time that people are waiting for the necessary care. Additional funding has been provided for the recruitment of staff, to bring the total number to over 144,000 employed in the healthcare sector. Recall that back in December 2014 there 103,000 people working in the healthcare sector. The figure is now over 126,000, which is an increase of more than 23% over the last number of years. The Government recognises the challenge that the cost of healthcare poses for families and older people.

It has included eligibility measures, such as the extension of free GP care for children aged six and seven, reducing the drug payment scheme threshold to €100, a dental scheme for medical card holders and the abolition of paediatric hospital charges.

I refer back to my colleague from my constituency saying there was nothing on the north side of Cork city, which I represent. I remind the Deputy that three projects are currently being built in the city. There is an extension to the Mercy Hospital with an extra 30 beds, an extension to Heather House with an extra 60 beds and the purchase of Blarney golf course hotel with an extra 50 beds going in there. That is 140 beds in Cork North-Central where the work is currently in progress. It is not totally dependent on this budget, but some of the money in this budget will be going towards finishing those projects, which is very welcome.

This is a progressive health budget which seeks to ensure all people are cared for. We should also give recognition to the additional €105 million that is provided for disability services. It is very welcome in an area that needs the funding and it will be well utilised for the delivery of services.

7:20 pm

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Will the new hospital be on the north side?

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am working hard on it.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

For the Rural Independent Group, I call Deputy O'Donoghue, followed by Deputy Michael Healy-Rae.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Will the Government deliver the new hospital for the north side that has been promised for 20 years?

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We are delivering three projects,-----

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Fine Gael closed the North Infirmary and the orthopaedic-----

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----one of them less than half a mile from the Deputy's house.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

When James Reilly was Minister for Health, he closed St. Mary's Orthopaedic Hospital.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Please,-----

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We are delivering.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----have respect for our speakers.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

What has this budget done for working-class people? Nothing; it costs them more. The Government has promised to raise the minimum wage, which is fine. However, it has taken it away from them three and four-fold in other ways. Earlier today, I mentioned the fuel costs and where the money goes. The Government gets 19% of that into its purse to do it. There are customs charges and VAT, all Government funding which it has.

The Government has referred to all the houses being built here and there. Has it told the people that it has capped the number of houses that can be built in smaller towns and villages? Where is the cap on the cities? The Government has not told them that. Under the local area plans and the national development plan, the Government has stopped houses being built in the towns and villages in County Limerick. There is a cap on the houses in Croom where only X number of houses may be built over the next five years. The same applies to Ballingarry, Askeaton and Hospital. Every one of those is capped, but why has the Government not said that? It is because it is trying to close down the towns and villages in rural areas because it wants everyone to move into a city base where it thinks it can control it.

I am from rural Ireland. I am from County Limerick and on my watch the Government will not get away with it. It needs to lift the caps under the local area plan. A fellow Limerick man, the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, is present. It is his job to represent County Limerick. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, was here two minutes ago, but he ran out of here. It is his job to represent County Limerick. They are not here to represent Dublin. They are here to represent the county that elected them. They will be going back to the electorate and telling them they want to be re-elected for County Limerick. For God's sake, will they wake up and look after the county that elects them? The Government should put the infrastructure into place. It is a sad state of affairs that I had to come to Dublin, the first independent ever to be elected in County Limerick, to make the Government do the job because it has the purse.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I neglected to do something yesterday. I sincerely thank the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and the Government for last week listening to a plea that I started and others joined, asking the Government to approve the funding for the drug Zolgensma, to help two little children who are very ill, one of those children being Theo Whelan from County Kerry. It would be very wrong and very neglectful of me not to publicly thank most sincerely the Government for doing what it did in supporting and ensuring that the HSE is publicly funding the drug. I know it is a very expensive drug, but as I said at the time, who are we to put a price on a child's life? I will always fight my case for something and I must be fair and honourable in publicly thanking them. It has made a great difference to a little child in Cork and a little child in Kerry. It is giving them a fighting chance in this world and for that I am humbly grateful to the Government. I want to acknowledge that.

I made a number of points yesterday on the budget. Tonight, in our hospital in county Kerry we have no ICU, high dependency or general beds available in University Hospital Kerry. I know €250 million has been allocated to dealing with the waiting lists. However, no matter how much money might be thrown at health, we need to deal with the mismanagement of funds that is going on in the HSE. Unprecedented amounts of money are going towards health, but I want to see it starting from the ground up.

For instance, in the county I come from, I want the beds that are upstairs in Kenmare Community Hospital opened. We have a state-of-the-art hospital in Kenmare that the late Jackie Healy-Rae fought very hard to put there, but only half of it is open. I want the upstairs to open. I want more resources to be put into Cahersiveen. We want a new hospital in Killarney. We want improved services in Listowel in our community hospitals to help take the pressure off our general hospital.

We need to take such sensible approaches to help us ensure that we get better value for the money that is being spent on health. It is a very humble request to make, to fight to ensure that the HSE does its job properly. I want to see the HSE working in a proper way, like the old Southern Health Board used to work with a good mix of politicians from all parties and none working along with the consultants who would be sitting on the boards. They should be there like we were before. It worked well in the past. Many politicians from all sides were excellent representatives on the old Southern Health Board. They got better value for money than we are getting now. I ask the Government to take that on board and I thank the Acting Chairman for her indulgence.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Last night, I mentioned some of the positive things in the budget, but I also put it in context. I put it in the context of the sustainable development goals to eradicate poverty that we signed up to, the challenges of the climate and biodiversity crisis, and the pandemic. Before I go into other matters tonight, I want to speak about the eradication of poverty that we signed up to. The Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, earlier referred to the tax changes, as did the Taoiseach. In his speech, the Taoiseach said, "tax changes [are] weighted to the lowest paid, which will help more than 1.8 million people".

I do not believe that Social Justice Ireland is on the extreme radical side or given to mistruths. It is stated that more people will be in poverty following this budget as a result of the Government's failure to focus on low to middle-income households with jobs. A couple with one earner on €30,000 a year will receive an additional 39 cent. It goes on to give many more examples. I would like to see where the truth lies on this. It has stated that as a result of this budget more people will be living in poverty. I do not entirely agree with Social Justice Ireland on everything, but I find its analysis very useful. Perhaps someone, when summing up the debate, might explain why it claims that. I have not had enough time to go into it myself. At this point, I take its word on it.

There are many positive things in the budget, but, as I pointed out last night, the overall picture is missing. I nGaeilge deirtear cá bhfuil ár dtriall, mar thír? Where is our destination as a country? What are we trying to achieve in adjusting these pieces? More than €30 million has been allocated to women's health with great self-praise on the part of the Government. Let us consider what it is based on. In 2016 the strategy, Creating a Better Future Together: National Maternity Strategy 2016-2026, was introduced.

The then Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, launched it with a full commitment to implement it. We do not even have an action plan. This is built on the deaths and suffering of women and children and we do not have an action plan in the 21st century. Again, it is difficult for me to be overly positive about €30 million because I am not sure what it relates to.

It is a similar story with domestic and gender-based violence. We see the most horrific numbers on a daily basis but again we have not seen publication of the Tusla review on the adequacy of refuges provided for women and children. With regard to the disability capacity review, €65 million is very welcome but what does it mean in context? There are 643,131 people suffering with a disability but what did the disability capacity review find? The resulting shortfall is estimated to range from a minimum of 800 places up to 2,300 places. There are very limited data on outflows and dropouts. The Health Service Executive has estimated there may be 600 people with no day service who need one. I could go on because there are pages of key findings.

I can go local with an example that captures the approach of different Governments. Imagine having to submit a business case for a service for a child or adult with a disability. Ability West submitted business cases to justify care over a period. Does the Minister of State know how many of the 60 business cases were approved for care? It was 28.

I welcome the money going to the health Department but in 2018 the health service capacity review told us in very clear terms the unsustainability of the Irish system. I could go on but I have just 44 seconds.

I will end by speaking about the tax on zoned land, using an example on the east side of Eyre Square as an example. A site was bought for €14 million and it originally sold for €170 million. It is right in the centre of town and it has remained empty for all these years. We have had a vacant site levy but it is right in the middle of a city with a massive housing crisis that is on a par if not worse than Dublin. That site remains empty and it includes more than 30 properties in an area embraced by Eyre Square.

I deplore that the help-to-buy scheme is being extended. It is four times more costly than what was envisaged but no review has been done on it since 2018. The scheme can benefit a house costing up to €600,000. We are renewing it with no review at a cost that is four times what was anticipated.

7:30 pm

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

This year is my second as Minister for Social Protection and for Rural and Community Development. It was also my first and probably last budget as Minister for Justice, and I look forward to welcoming the Minister, Deputy McEntee, back in November. If I have time, I will touch on the progress we have made across those three Departments.

This year represented the largest social welfare package in any budget for the past 14 years. That we could introduce a package of this scale on the back of over €9 billion being paid via the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, over the past 18 months demonstrates our clear commitment to supporting the most vulnerable in society. We have provided over €558 million for new social welfare measures in 2022 and I also secured Government approval to make the Christmas bonus double payment at an estimated cost of €313 million. This means the total social welfare package announced is in the region of €870 million. This will allow us to increase core social welfare payments and pensions by €5. It is important that this increase will take effect from January and not March or April, as was the practice in previous years.

For every €5 increase in core payments, there will also be proportionate increases in qualified adult payments, meaning the increase in some households will be somewhere between €8.30 and €9.50 per week. For households in receipt of two primary payments, such as a contributory pension, the increase will be at least a tenner.

In addition to the first across-the-board increases in core payments for three years, I am very pleased to secure agreement for a targeted package of measures worth €185 million to support our most vulnerable. This includes major changes to the carer's allowance means test, particularly for couples. I have engaged with carers and listened to their concerns, and I am proud to be the first Minister in 14 years not just to make changes to the carer's allowance means test but to make changes that are significant and far-reaching. This will ensure thousands more carers will qualify for a payment and, equally important, it will ensure many others currently on a reduced rate will qualify for a higher payment.

Last year I increased the carer's support grant to its highest level of €1,850. This year I have increased the weekly carer payment and significantly reformed the means test in a reform that has been long-awaited. I have also made changes so the domiciliary care allowance and carer's allowance will continue to be paid for six months when a child is in hospital. However, I wish to make clear tonight that my work for carers is not done and next year, my priority will be to ensure that long-term carers are provided with pensions. We cannot always do everything we want in one budget but over the course of three budgets, I am determined to leave a social protection system that works better for carers and recognises the major work they do.

This budget supports low-income families and I have once again increased the qualified child payment, which has been proven to help reduce poverty. I have also increased the income thresholds for the working family payment, thereby ensuring more families will be brought into the scheme, while those already in receipt of the payment will get an additional sum of approximately €6 per week. I also am conscious of school costs for families, which is why I have increased the back to school clothing and footwear allowance by €10. I am once again expanding the hot school meals programme, with over 300 schools now set to benefit. That is a tenfold increase since I became Minister last year.

I am also pleased we are once again in a position to increase parent's leave from five weeks to seven weeks for each parent. These additional two weeks' of leave and benefit will apply during the first two years of a child's life, or in the case of adoption within two years of the placement of the child with the family. I was also very keen to support lone parents with this budget, which is why I have addressed the unfairness in the system so that in future, the same income thresholds for the back to school allowance will apply for both lone parents and couples. This change will benefit more than 1,700 lone parents. In addition I have increased the one-parent family payment by €5.

I am very conscious that employment rates for people with disabilities in Ireland are too low, which is why I have introduced a series of measures to support people with disabilities in employment. This includes changes to the disability allowance means test and an increase in the wage subsidy scheme for people with disabilities to €6.30 per hour. Grants such as the workplace equipment adaptation grant will now be available through the employability service. Meanwhile, the new regulations known as "Catherine's law", which were introduced earlier in the year in respect of PhD scholarships, will be extended to people on the blind pension. This represents a significant package of targeted social protection measures to help people with disabilities into the workforce.

The main Opposition party did not propose increasing the fuel allowance by a single, solitary cent in its alternative budget but the Government has introduced a €5 increase to support those most at risk of fuel poverty. In addition, we have increased the means threshold from €100 to €120, or a 20% increase, whereas Sinn Féin in its alternative budget only proposed a 10% increase. We have also reduced the time spent on the jobseeker's payment that qualifies a person for fuel allowance from 15 months to 12 months. These changes will bring thousands more people into the net and ensure they qualify for the payment.

We have also increased the living alone allowance to €22, up from just €9 in 2019, which will support older people and those with disabilities who live by themselves. Together with the significant steps on retrofitting being introduced by the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, there is a major suite of measures to help reduce energy costs for our most vulnerable.

I am to pleased to introduce changes to the treatment benefit scheme, meaning more young workers will be able to avail of support for dental and eye care. I have also introduced a new grant of up to €500 for the purchase of wigs to support people with alopecia and those undergoing chemotherapy. I know this will mean a lot to those women and men who suffer sudden hair loss, which can have a major impact on their confidence and mental health.

This is, by any reasonable analysis, a very significant social protection budget, the largest in 14 years. Of course, we can never do everything we want.

Budgets are about making choices. The reality is if we had done more on across-the-board increases, which some people called for, there would be no room for some of the other important measures we introduced, such as support for our carers, people with disabilities, lone parents and those who live alone. We have tried to strike a balance and most fair-minded people will agree we have achieved that.

Our Rural Future is a new policy that is making a big impact. Every member of this House will be familiar with schemes such as town and village renewal, CLÁR, outdoor recreation and the rural regeneration and development fund. These programmes are hugely popular and are making a real, lasting and positive difference in rural communities throughout the country. I am pleased, as part of the national development plan, NDP, and the budget process, to have secured increases for all our rural schemes in 2022. In addition, I will provide funding for town regeneration officers in local authorities throughout the country so they can co-ordinate and utilise these funding streams, and others across the Government, to ensure they are delivering maximum impact in our rural towns and villages.

The one positive from the pandemic is the return of our young people to rural Ireland as a result of remote working. As we continue to develop our national hub network, connected hubs, I am pleased to have secured additional funding for next year, which will allow us to introduce further incentives to attract remote workers to rural Ireland. I am also pleased to have secured additional funding for rural recreation officers who will help to drive forward the expanded national walks scheme, which I recently announced. I also intend to launch a new funding scheme for community centres early in the new year, a scheme I expect there will be major demand for.

On justice, next year An Garda Síochána will celebrate 100 years since its foundation. We will mark this milestone in an appropriate manner throughout next year but it is fitting that by the end of 2022, and as a result of this budget, An Garda Síochána will be stronger than it has ever been. The recruitment of 800 new gardaí and 400 Garda staff members means we will meet and beat our target of a 15,000-strong Garda Síochána by the end of next year. This reflects this Government's commitment to tackling crime, strengthening our national security and transforming policing.

This week, we also marked 25 years since the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB. The CAB has been hugely effective in hitting organised criminals and their networks where it hurts: by seizing their ill-gotten gains for the good of our people. In recognition of its success and the success of other State agencies I am pleased to announce the establishment of the community safety innovation fund. This fund will reflect the success of the CAB and others by funding local projects to improve community safety.

As the Minister, Deputy McEntee, said in the Justice Plan 2021:

[F]uture generations will look back on the scourge of domestic, sexual and gender based violence and ask why [was it] tolerated as a lesser form of crime or abuse for so long. That period is over.

This Government is determined to tackle a crime and a culture that, for far too long, has been a blight on our society. Working together across Government we will help victims and punish perpetrators. A €13 million justice package in budget 2022 will help us do that.

Budget 2022 cannot be looked at through the narrow prism of one individual measure. It must be considered in the round, taking account of the positive changes happening across all Departments. I am confident the increased funding across my three Departments will make a real difference to our most vulnerable, to those living in rural communities and, indeed, to ensuring those communities are safer places to live, work and raise a family.

7:40 pm

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the 2022 budget and the significant commitment of an additional €145 million to the justice sector. This will help protect our communities, support those victims who suffer as a result of crime and help to direct our young people away from a life of crime. In particular, I acknowledge the funding for an additional 800 gardaí and 400 civilians for An Garda Síochána. Next year marks 100 years since the foundation of An Garda Síochána, a force that has provided an unbelievable service to our communities, security for our country and 89 of whose members made the ultimate sacrifice. I particularly remember today garda Seamus Quaid, who was murdered by the IRA on this day in 1980. He was a Limerick man who was killed in the line of duty in the county of Wexford. He also won an all-Ireland for Wexford and was a huge servant to our community.

The youth justice sector has been provided with an additional €6.7 million. This 46% increase in year-on-year funding for the youth justice sector will help prevent young people from going into a life of crime and will provide early intervention and diversion for them into more positive behaviour. It will allow our youth justice service to provide national coverage, targeting intervention towards those who are getting caught up in consistent crime, and will provide support and additional services to those families who are struggling with their children getting involved in crime. I note that not one penny was provided in the Sinn Féin alternative budget for the youth justice sector.

Additional funding was provided for immigration to increase the level of staffing and to implement the Catherine Day report. From the Department of Justice's perspective, we have been carrying out an end-to-end review within the Department to help bring about the end of direct provision, to provide additional supports to get the services as quickly as possible and to bring about a scheme for the undocumented. Again, I note there is not one penny in the alternative Sinn Féin budget for immigration.

I also acknowledge an additional €500,000 has been provided to deliver a gambling regulator. We have been hearing about the need for a gambling regulator for well over 20 years. We will deliver this over the next six months with total funding of €700,000. Again, there is not one penny in the alternative Sinn Féin budget to provide for a gambling regulator to help tackle the scourge of gambling.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for their work on justice. I acknowledge some of the positive things in this budget with regard to the justice sector. Much of it, such as the recruitment of an additional 800 gardaí, is very welcome. We have looked for that for some time. We recognise Templemore is restrained in the numbers that can be trained in any one year. It is at its maximum, so it is welcome the recruitment has happened.

There is a major problem in many parts of the country where people feel they cannot get a response quickly enough from An Garda Síochána and where resources and equipment are issues. I hope the resources in this budget will assist in providing more people with the safety An Garda Síochána provide. I also acknowledge that next year is the 100th anniversary of the foundation of An Garda Síochána. I wish it well in the celebration of that centenary.

We also recognise that when we think of justice and criminal justice it has a link to other elements of justice. As the Minister was speaking, I thought about this from a social protection point of view and how, in many instances, the failure of social justice and economic justice is what brings people into the whole area of dealing with criminal justice. The links between all of that have to be recognised and acknowledged. I accept that the Government, and previous governments have not done this, at last has a tendency now to look towards co-operation between various Departments, especially on issues of social and economic justice and the impact they have on the criminal justice system. Many people end up in a situation where they find themselves before the courts because of the chaotic lives they live, which are basically around poverty, deprivation and all that happens, sometimes, in many areas of the country where we need to put in more resources.

The financing of systems to look after people who are the victims of crime is something we also need to have a greater emphasis and focus on. The continued use of charities to do this kind of work is a reflection of the fact it has not been properly accepted by the Government, or agencies of the State, that it has a bigger role to play in ensuring people who are the victims of crime feel they are looked after by the State. They are not just witnesses in a case but are the victims of something that was a traumatic incident in their lives that can cause long-lasting damage.

We also have issues around capacity in our Prison Service, how it has been managed in recent years and the funding in respect of that. I accept that some funding has been put in place for that.

On the broader issue, most of us feel the difficulty with this budget lies with the fact that there was a sense this was an opportunity to try to deal with the big issues that are affecting society and many people around the country, in both urban and rural areas. There are housing issues and issues around all aspects of government. Many people feel they have been failed. We expected something to happen to make a difference in the areas of housing, health and childcare but it did not. That is the big criticism everyone has of this budget. It promised a great deal but delivered very little. Too little has been spread too thinly and that needs to be acknowledged by the Government.

7:50 pm

Photo of Claire KerraneClaire Kerrane (Roscommon-Galway, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

When it comes to social protection, we must remember how we approached budget 2022. We approached it with every single social welfare rate below the poverty line. There had been no increase in the core social welfare rates in the previous two years. I hoped we would approach this budget with the lessons of Covid-19 learned, in particular lessons relating to the pandemic unemployment payment, which was introduced at a rate of €203 and was quickly increased because the Government realised that such a payment, although it is the rate across almost all of our social welfare system, was totally inadequate.

I hope we will come to a point where we do not have a circus about a fiver ahead of every budget. People typically get nothing or they get a fiver. We need to move to evidence-based amounts and increases when it comes to social welfare. We need to set payments to the minimum essential standard of living and that is what we have outlined as a first step in our budget. I have raised this matter repeatedly with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and had she not left the Chamber, I would have thanked her for outlining our fuel allowance measures. I know what our measures are. The Minister failed to acknowledge the discretionary fund we proposed for all of those many people and households, workers in particular, who will not be able to access the fuel allowance. We proposed €30 million to widen eligibility to the fuel allowance in our alternative budget. The measure brought forward by Government to increase it from €100 to €120 is an allocation of €1.9 million. I am not sure how many people are going to get access to the fuel allowance, given the Government is committing €1.9 million when we proposed €30 million. The Minister referred to a carer's pension she wants to introduce. We have such a measure in our alternative budget. She did not reference young jobseekers. We put forward that they would be equalised so we do not tell 18 to 24-year-olds that they can have €112 or less to live on per week. We equalised the system, whereas the Minister has given them an extra fiver so those young people will now live on €117 per week.

However, today is about saying there are parts of this budget we absolutely welcome. I want, in particular, to welcome what has been announced for family carers. They waited 14 years for a change in the income limits and I hope they will not wait another 14 for the next one. We need this to be a first step and to see greater support for our family carers. They, in particular, have been through a difficult 18 months and deserved a strong and good package in this budget to recognise their care and the work they do every single day. I also welcome the fact that the Minister referenced the carer's pension and I hope she will look at our proposal in that regard. I also hope she will look at the current situation with the total contributions approach to make sure that is actually working for our carers when it comes to the calculation of the State pension.

I want to also mention the disability allowance and the fact that we need to see the cost of disability payment introduced. We have an Indecon report from 2004 telling us this payment needs to be introduced. The Government is now looking at more research and more reports. We all know there is an additional cost for persons with a disability. We have acknowledged that, it is there and we just need to introduce it.

It is regrettable that there have been no moves on the collection and payment of child maintenance for lone parents. We know that lone-parent families experience more consistent poverty and deprivation than any other household. We need to recognise that and I hope the child maintenance review group, when it reports before the end of the year, will put forward the need for a statutory child maintenance service, something we have repeatedly put forward. I hope the Government will act to ensure that lone parents and their children are supported and that we do everything possible to lift them out of poverty.

Photo of Paul DonnellyPaul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the extra funding for the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP. A period of catch-up is needed to deal with the issues around poverty, disadvantage and inclusion within our communities, due to the savage cuts of the past ten years carried out by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

I have concerns about the stand-alone community centres fund. It is something for which I and others fought long and hard in recent years, given the threat of closure of our local community centres in Hartstown and Huntstown. It does not state in the documentation that this is for non-local authority community facilities and I would be concerned lest this funding is not ring-fenced for those community centres that do not have access to substantial local authority funding. I commend the community activists and workers in both Hartstown and Huntstown who have done Trojan work to get this across the line. They are directly responsible.

I raise the issue of community services programmes, which are at serious risk due to the rise of the minimum wage which, of course, we welcome although it is not enough. However, the Government only provides funding of €9.39 for each member of staff. This will leave the community programmes with a large hole in their finances. They will have to find €1.11 per hour for each full time member of staff. Any chance that some of them had of getting to the living wage is now well and truly gone. I would doubt that many could subsume the 30 cents per hour increase and survive. Where are the supports for these 400 community companies and the thousands of workers who provide an absolutely vital service to people within our communities?

The funding increases are welcome. However, they are modest and far from the levels that are needed to catch up with the cuts of the austerity years and in the context of post-Covid Ireland.

Photo of Duncan SmithDuncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will focus on three areas of the budget with which I and the Labour Party have an issue. Some €105 million has been allocated for disability services. While that is welcome, we must recognise that the most important document released this year was the disability capacity review. It indicates a demographic need and an unmet need for an investment of €350 million in the disability sector. The Labour Party's alternative budget prioritised and costed that measure. It is something the Government needed to do in its budget. The €350 million is not static. In 2027, €450 million will be required. In 2032, that figure will be €550 million. That is for unmet need as well as demographic need. The source document to which I referred is the Government's work and those needs ought to have been met in this budget.

The communication regarding the increase that has been allocated was unfortunate. This sector has been crying out for dedicated funding from this Government across a whole range of services and areas. One area on which we are going to focus in the coming year is housing for people with disabilities. The Housing for All document was silent on that issue. For all its pages, bluster, graphics and policies, it is relatively silent in the area of housing for people with disabilities. The budget, unfortunately, was also silent in that area.

I will also focus on the extension of free GP care for children under the age of seven. Like many other parents, I welcome that move but it has been six years since former Deputy Alex White delivered this scheme. He went in where others failed and with courage and ability, took on the senior Minister, who was against it, the vested interests of the GPs and the Department, and got that scheme up and running in a proper way for children under the age of six. No family in Ireland, when a child woke up in the middle of the night with a rash, whether a skin irritation or meningitis, had to worry about a €60 fee for a GP because of the scheme. He was not thanked for it by the electorate but that man can sleep at night knowing he delivered something for the people of Ireland. The fact that it has taken six years to add one year to that scheme is a thundering disgrace. At this rate, it will be 2081 before all children will be entitled to free GP care. We believe GP care should be free for all. That scheme should have been advanced, year-on-year, from when it was first introduced.

This is not a statement of intent from the Government in respect of free GP care, primary care or Sláintecare. It is a pattern repeated across the entire budget. It is a little hotchpotch or add-on to keep people quiet. The Government has decided to give a little bit here and a little bit there and not to cause too much fuss so that it does not get too much criticism. This scheme is important for working families and families on low incomes. It needs to be extended beyond those aged under 7 to all children. At this rate, I have no faith it ever will be.

The youth travel card measure also needs to be examined. This scheme was obviously rushed to get it into this budget. At the meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications today, the Secretary General and senior officials acknowledged that the Minister came late with the idea. They said they had to get their thinking caps on to deliver it and that there would be issues with regard to the technology. They said they will do their best to ensure that as many of those under 24 as possible can apply for it. Not all people under 24 will be able to avail of this. The Minister of State, Deputy Collins, represents a rural constituency. A large part of my constituency is also rural. This will benefit a lot of Dublin constituencies. It may also benefit some constituencies in Cork, such as the Minister, Deputy Coveney's, but it probably will not. The Government has scored a big own goal by rushing this through. We said there should have been a free scheme for all aged under 24. That would have taken the technology aspect out of it but, unfortunately, that suggestion was not taken up.

Not enough was done to incentivise the use of electric vehicles. The Government needs to start looking at a scrappage scheme. Some nine years before it wants to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road, they are still far too expensive. No person on ordinary or even decent wages can afford an electric vehicle.

As the Minister for Defence is in the Chamber, I will mention that it has been noted that the budget was very silent on defence. I know we are waiting for the commission's report to come out and the Minister is in tune with what the Defence Forces are saying - I am not saying he is not - but, while he is in the Chamber, it would remiss of me not to mention that the Defence Forces were expecting more in this budget. I will leave it there.

8:00 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputy Duncan Smith. He has given me a good introduction for my response. I propose to deal with the two Departments for which I have responsibility. I have just under nine minutes to do so. I will deal with the Department of Defence first.

The total allocation for the defence sector for 2022 is €1.107 billion comprising €836 million for Vote 36 and €271 million for Vote 35, the Army pensions Vote. This represents an overall increase of €35 million on 2021 and reflects the Government's ongoing commitment to defence. The White Paper on Defence highlights the importance of capability development and the necessity for continued renewal, upgrade and acquisition of military equipment and infrastructure. To this end, the certainty provided by multi-annual capital funding of €566 million for defence out to 2025, including €141 million for next year, is particularly welcome as it will enable the planning and delivery of further key equipment and infrastructure projects over the coming years. Among the major defence equipment upgrade and replacement programmes set to be prioritised over the coming years are the land forces capability development and force protection programmes, the Naval Service vessel renewal and replacement programme and the Air Corps aircraft renewal and replacement programme.

A significant number of defence infrastructural projects will also advance under the Defence Forces built infrastructure programme. These projects will boost ongoing efforts at modernising and upgrading defence built infrastructure over the coming years and include the provision of a new cadet school in the Defence Forces training centre at the Curragh Camp, the provision of a new military medical facility at Casement Aerodrome and accommodation upgrades in military locations throughout the country such as Collins Barracks, McKee Barracks and the naval base at Haulbowline.

The defence pay and allowances allocation has increased by €11 million to €545 million and provides pay funding for more than 10,400 public service employees within the defence sector, including a Permanent Defence Force of up to 9,500 personnel. With the support of the Chief of Staff, I remain absolutely committed to maximising Defence Forces recruitment and retention. However, as I have previously acknowledged, there are ongoing staffing challenges in the Defence Forces. With the agreement of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, my Department will continue to use any unused pay provision to reinvest in the Defence Forces.

The allocation for Vote 35, which relates to Army pensions, has increased by €8 million to €271 million. This ensures that sufficient funding is available to meet the retirements benefits of some 12,750 ex-members of the Defence Forces and certain dependants.

The Commission on the Defence Forces will report by the end of this year and will make recommendations informing decisions regarding the future development of the Defence Forces. The Government will consider any recommendations the commission makes at that time. I look forward to having a debate in this House with regard to the recommendations of that commission. I hope this will be possible before the end of the year.

I will use this opportunity to acknowledge the ongoing contribution of the Defence Forces in response to the Covid-19 emergency. Since early 2020, they have provided ongoing support to our health services, which significantly boosted the Health Service Executive's capacity to deal with the myriad challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The recent issues raised by the Women of Honour and a group of women serving in the Defence Forces are of the utmost seriousness. I assure all Members of this House that I am committed to addressing these issues comprehensively.

With regard to the Department of Foreign Affairs, budget 2022 underlined the Government's continuing commitment to Ireland's ambitious, visible and active role on the international stage. I am pleased to see a strong focus on increased overseas aid, investment in passport services and increasing Ireland's global footprint. The budget includes increased investment in Irish Aid, bringing Ireland's annual overseas development aid budget to over €1 billion for the first time, with development assistance across government rising from €868 million in 2021 to €1.074 billion next year. The increased allocation responds to a number of key Government priorities. It is the right thing to do and is also an investment in Ireland's security and prosperity.

Our key priorities in 2022 include health systems. To strengthen our collective ability to withstand future pandemics, we will ensure a focus on getting Covid vaccines to those who need them through support for Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access, COVAX, and continued investment in health systems in partner countries, working closely with the HSE and the Department of Health. Thanks to the increased allocation for development aid in budget 2022, climate action will be a particular area of focus, reflecting the political focus we are bringing to this issue on the United Nations Security Council. We will also prioritise work on education, particularly the education of girls, and on responding to increased hunger worldwide. Our ability to respond to crises, such as those in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen and Syria, builds our credibility on the UN Security Council, which also helps us to address the underlying causes of such crises.

Global citizenship is a key part of our membership of the EU. It is also an expression of our values and interests as a nation. Increased overseas development aid is more than empathy and compassion; it is an investment in our security in the face of multiple complex global challenges. Our Global Ireland strategy aims to double Ireland's global footprint by 2025. Next year, we will open four new missions in key locations around the world.

As travel continues to open up, budget 2022 will see us invest an additional €10 million in passport services in response to the increasing demand for passports both at home and abroad. We expect to have to issue up to 1.7 million passports next year. The highest number we have ever achieved before now was just under 1 million in 2019, the year before Covid. As many people have not applied for passport renewals this year for the obvious reason that they have not been travelling, we believe there will be a significant increase next year. The estimate is somewhere between 1.3 million and 1.7 million. We need to invest heavily in staff, equipment and space if we are to do that. All of that is under way.

I am also delighted that the budget allows for an increase in focused supports for Northern Ireland. Alongside an enhanced shared island fund, a €1 billion investment in the Brexit adjustment reserve and confirmation of a new PEACE PLUS cross-Border North-South EU programme, this budget allocates €2 million to the International Fund for Ireland in recognition of the vital work it does to promote contact, dialogue and reconciliation across communities in Northern Ireland and in Border counties.

On the defence side, we have an ambitious budget that gives us more money to spend on the capital side and more than enough money to cover both pensions and salaries.

If we do not get up to our target strength of 9,500, the excess money from that will remain in the defence Vote and will be reallocated to other areas, particularly the capital investment programme, in order to make sure that nothing is being wasted.

As was said on budget day by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, in many ways the real questions the Government will have to answer in terms of the resourcing of the Defence Forces will come when we publish the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces in December. We may get an opportunity to debate that in the Chamber in December or January. I look forward to the work of the commission resulting in a fundamental and serious debate on defence and security issues, and the resourcing issues that come with them. I believe we will see that the work of the commission has been extremely comprehensive by the time its report is published.

On the foreign affairs side, we are in expansion mode. The ODA budget is being significantly increased this year, to well over €1 billion for the first time ever. We are also opening new embassies and consulates in strategic parts of the world where Ireland has not had a voice in the past but needs one in the future. In terms of citizens' services, in particular passports, we are investing heavily in hardware, space and new people to make sure that we can meet the significant increase in the demand for passports next year.

8:10 pm

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I want to welcome the increase in the ODA allocation in the budget. It is important that we recognise when something is done right.

While the Minister predicted a dramatic increase in the number of passports issued last year, it is important that he address the crisis relating to the passport service and builds capacity within the Passport Office in order to allow it to be able to deal with the expected demand next year. It is to be hoped that as part of that we will see the opening of a passport office in Belfast.

I have met, talked with and listened in detail to members of the Defence Forces from all ranks, as I know the Minister has done. I can tell him that they were watching and listening yesterday, perhaps more in hope than expectation. They were listening for recognition from the Government that their service is something which is valued, yet they emerged from the budget very much as they entered it or, indeed, worse off, particularly if we measure results in terms of the repeated damage inflicted on the morale of the Defence Forces.

The Minister has persisted in the exclusion of 40% of the Naval Service from the seagoing commitment scheme and the discrimination against many younger members, who are the worst paid of the worst paid of the State's public servants. Even the qualifying members of the Naval Service still have to be paid under the scheme. This matter needs to be addressed immediately. The Minister has also failed to take the opportunity offered to establish parity of esteem for members of the Defence Forces with other better paid branches of State services. The patrol duty allowance for members of the Defence Forces remains a taxable allowance despite personnel often serving alongside members of other services who enjoy a tax-free allowance. I believe that is their due and something they merit.

There was a squandered opportunity in the budget to provide a small but tangible benefit of approximately €30 to a service in crisis by making the payment non-taxable. The insistence of the Government on the maintenance of a two-tier system of allowances is being allowed to continue. The only reason that has been allowed to occur is because of the continued exclusion of Defence Forces' representative bodies from public pay talks where the interests of the Defence Forces could and should be represented on an equal footing with all other branches of the public sector.

The Minister has persisted in his refusal to allow PDFORRA to affiliate with the ICTU, and that needs to be addressed. That is happening despite the findings and recommendations of the European Committee of Social Rights and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe that it was its right to do so. The Minister has also failed to address the failure to implement the working time directive. The defence community has declared that there is a crisis within the forces and they are quickly approaching the point of no return. Ships cannot go to sea and patrols cannot take place. An estimated 1,400 members may well leave the Defence Forces in the year ahead, yet the Minister continues to refuse to address the issue of post-1994 contracts which affect up to 700 members of the Defence Forces. The time to act is now. He should not wait for a commission to report. There are things can and must be done immediately to stop the decline within the Defence Forces.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

As we recover from the pandemic, this budget was an opportunity to improve quality of life by investing in our public services. Housing, childcare, disability services, SNAs and fair climate action are issues people raise with all of us. We need substantial and sustained funding of our health, education and local services. In the limited time I have, I will raise just some of the issues in the budget.

Disability is a complex area. Government policy must reflect this in providing interventions where they are most required. I welcome the increase in the disability health budget, but it still falls far short of the €350 million in additional funding needed to address the unmet needs of people with disabilities, as outlined in the Department’s disability capacity review. Announcing funding is one thing, but will it result in services on the ground? There are more than 40 children waiting for initial contact with the west Cork children’s disability network. That is just one example. Local disability services all over the country are still operating at reduced capacity due to staffing issues, not to mention that the employment rate here for people with disabilities is among the lowest in the EU. There is a pressing need for other interventions. People with disabilities experience poverty and social exclusion at much higher levels than the rest of the population. There is a very clear need for a cost of disability allowance that finally recognises that living with a disability is expensive.

I welcome the long-overdue support for carers. Family carers rightly feel they have been forgotten by the Government throughout the pandemic. In light of the contribution made by this group, it is beyond disappointing that there was no move on funding a dedicated long-term carers pension scheme.

We must have a rights-based approach for people with disabilities in order that when people qualify for a service, they get that service. The absence of this approach is evident in the shortage of SNAs. I more than welcome the funding to recruit more SNAs and special education teachers, but families and schools should have guarantees that if there is an identified need for SNAs or resources hours, they will be provided. That is not the case at present. I am working with several families and schools across west Cork to secure more special education resources and additional autism spectrum disorder classes. It is evident that there is a pressing need for a special education school in west Cork. Unbelievably, there is not one. People should have a right to education. This budget should and could have ensured this. It is simply not good enough that it did not.

The lack of proper treatment of eating disorders is something I have repeatedly raised. There are only three inpatient beds in this country for eating disorders, all of which are in Dublin. The inclusion of additional funding for the national clinical programme is meaningless unless that money is spent. None of the €1.6 million allocated in 2019 for this incredibly serious issue was spent. This is a very worrying trend. It was recently revealed that €10 million allocated for pandemic-related mental health supports in February was also not spent. It is disgraceful enough that the Government only allocates 5.1% of the health budget for mental health when the WHO recommends 12%; but to think that the Department and the HSE do not spend the allocated money is shocking.

Investments in women’s health, including funding to address maternity strategies, the delivery of free contraception and sexual assault treatment units, amounts to only €31 million. I came to the very reluctant conclusion recently that the ongoing restrictions in maternity hospitals are because maternal healthcare is at the bottom of this Government’s priority list. This budget just clarifies that. The figures relating to the money allocated for the national maternity strategy show that this is wholly inadequate and only serve to inform us that this strategy will not be implemented any time soon. Again, this is simply not good enough.

Domestic violence is another area that needs to be mentioned. The only references to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in the expenditure report are in terms of justice. Funding for more gardaí and awareness campaigns is, of course, important, but it is only one aspect of a very complex issue. An additional 338 emergency accommodation units are required to meet our obligations under the Istanbul Convention. This budget should have at least begun the process to meet these requirements, as well as increase funding for local support organisations. We provide half of the recommended bare minimum number of refuge spaces for domestic violence.

This budget will not change that, and that is not good enough.

Finally, as for agriculture, this budget pays lip service to sustainability but there is no reflection on the significant support needed to help farmers move to practices required to address the biodiversity crisis. The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association has rightly questioned the Government's commitment to a just transition on climate change and biodiversity loss. We know that farmers will have to do some of the heavy lifting to meet our emissions reduction targets, and the Government is obliged to support them. Instead farmers are bearing the brunt of criticism for climate change when, in reality, this is the Department's doing. We all know that all our practices are guided directly by what the Department funds. How was this not addressed yesterday? I refer to improving the tillage sector. What is the Department funding? The greyhound racing industry is receiving €17.6 million in the budget-----

8:20 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Thank you, Deputy. You are over the time.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Just one last point. Sorry, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. To give context of a previous budget, Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind was allocated €886,000. It had to raise €5 million itself. Why is it not getting a fraction of what the greyhound racing industry is getting?

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

At this point in the debate we have probably all filled in our debate bingo cards. We have the biggest spend in the history of the State on one hand; we have a missed opportunity on the other. We will hear "unprecedented" or "unambitious" depending on whom we listen to or whom we believe. We have had our lines filtered through our various focus groups. They are packaged and pushed out now on social media in their various sound bites.

I am not sure, however, how much nuance I have heard during the course of the debate. According to the Opposition, this budget is almost unreservedly bad and there are few redeeming features, this despite total public spending of more than €87 billion, with an additional budget package of €4.7 billion. However, the call still from the Opposition benches is for increased spending but, somehow, reduced taxation. We are not immune to populism in this country, and I am not convinced that pushing a simplistic narrative does much to advance either our body politic or society in general.

The truth, as usual, lies somewhere between the two extremes. On the whole, this is a good budget. It is expansionary and, as somebody of the politics of the left who believes in the positive role the State can play in the lives of people, I welcome that. If we want a larger State, and I do, we should have an honest conversation about how to pay for it in the longer term. The work of the Commission on Taxation and Welfare, which was a programme for Government commitment, will provide an important context for that debate when it reports and as we go forward.

One possible genuine criticism of this budget is that it tries to do too much and, in doing so, spreads itself too thinly. That is a flawed analysis for a number of reasons. First, it is no bad thing for a Government to try to help as many people as we can. Second, the numbers in real terms are in no way inconsequential: €700 million for capital investment in climate action, €558 million in the social protection package and €716 million in childcare. This is serious money and much of it is aimed at protecting and enhancing the well-being of some of the most vulnerable in our society. Third, this budget should not be viewed in isolation. It builds on the work done in last year's budget as part of our ongoing programme for Government. In social protection terms, that means provisions to increase the rate for a qualified child, for example, building on progress made last year, likewise targeted interventions aimed at benefiting lone parents, people living alone and children. All these consolidate and expand the work done last year to protect people we know to be at most risk of poverty. Most importantly to me, in the broad sweep this is a progressive budget. It is the bottom 30% in income terms who will benefit most from this budget. It is a step along the road for this Government in building a fairer society.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome this budget. I will address specifically the issue of progressive taxation. I believe that most people want to see a fairer society that redistributes income from the well off to the less well off. Despite some of the statements made in the House today and yesterday, carbon tax is a key progressive tax that protects households on lower incomes while still incentivising a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Through the carbon tax we will raise an addition €174 million in 2022. Of this additional revenue, over €100 million will go towards the increase in social welfare payments, with the remainder going on retrofitting of housing for lower income groups as part of our commitment to retrofit 500,000 homes by the end of the decade. Yes, everyone has to pay carbon tax according to how much carbon emissions they cause, but we are redistributing all that extra money raised to protect the most vulnerable. To be clear, 30% of households with the lowest incomes will see a bigger proportional rise in their disposable income compared with wealthier households. Families across Europe are seeing an increase in their heating and electricity bills because of price rises on the European market. We are better placed than other countries to help the less well-off as global energy prices increase because we have revenues from the carbon tax increase to distribute. If we did not increase the carbon tax, people on lower incomes would be worse off because we would not have this money to redistribute.

I reject the populist arguments against carbon tax. Taxation and fair redistribution are at the core of social progressivity. I welcome the increase in carbon tax this year and every year this decade that will make this country a fairer and better place.

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Budget 2022 has a lot of wins for young people, a group I think we can all agree are overdue some good news after the last 18 months we have all had. The introduction of half-price travel for 19-to-23-year-olds has been enthusiastically welcomed by students and young working people. It will not only halve their cost of travel but also help us address our carbon emissions by encouraging young people to turn to public transport.

I also really welcome the additional supports for third level education. The SUSI maintenance grant will increase by €200, which is really significant, as are the threshold changes.

Another measure I really welcome is the free contraception for young women aged 17 to 25. That is progressive. It is a progressive move for young people and a progressive measure for women's health. Beyond the financial implications, it is a direct message to the young women of Ireland that this Government is listening to them. Free contraception gives young women affordable reproductive healthcare and greater bodily autonomy. I am really pleased with the dedicated women's healthcare package worth €31 million, in particular progression when it comes to period poverty, additional funding for sexual assault treatment units and the implementation of the national maternity strategy and gynaecological model of care, all issues I have raised in the House before.

The Government's commitment of €716 million for childcare marks a record State investment in the area and a real commitment to tackling the crippling cost of childcare. I welcome the extension of the national childcare scheme and the extra €22.50 a week it will put in parents' pockets.

Free travel for our young people, free contraception for our young women and an investment in areas such as justice, healthcare and childcare will make a real difference and, crucially, they are deliverable. The onus is on the Government to ensure that the budget Estimates are appropriately costed. It is important to note that no such requirement is placed on Opposition parties. That is why in the alternative budget of Sinn Féin, for example, the party has ended up over €3 billion short when its costings are compared with the actual costings for its proposals.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Deputy should read it again.

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Budgets are not built-----

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is costed by the Department of Finance.

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----on false dawns or undeliverable promises. They are built on hard financial decisions.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Department is telling lies, is it?

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

This Government decided to help people with the cost of living and to repair our finances through costed tax and spending measures.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Government Departments are telling lies.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Please, through the Chair.

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

If Sinn Féin were in government, I would like to think we would look at the issues and challenges both in Kerry and around the country: health, housing lists, the cost of living and disability services. What would €100 million have done for more occupational therapists, psychologists and speech and language therapists for the people who have been suffering for years unless they can afford to pay €150 per week for those services?

We would look at how we can improve the situation in the country after the Covid period.

When I was driving to Dublin yesterday morning and heard on the radio that the Taoiseach's plan was for a return to normal, I was worried this would not be a budget of change and the necessary changes would not be introduced. I was concerned, for example, that it would not make provision for a right to retire at 65 years of age. I was worried there would be no ambitious social and affordable housing programme. Both the ESRI and Sinn Féin sought a doubling of investment in social and affordable housing to deliver 20,000 homes. The Government will provide eight affordable homes this year. The specific urgency that is required has not been shown.

There is no plan to tackle the crisis in our healthcare service. At a three-hour meeting on Monday with management at University Hospital Kerry, we discussed the need for capital projects for extra wards, the plans for two of which have lain on a desk in Dublin since the previous meeting we had with management last November. There are problems with the provision of acute beds and with staffing. There is nothing in the budget for student nurses. No wonder there is a staffing crisis and nurses are emigrating. The Government supported our motion to pay student nurses but there is nothing in the budget in that regard. There is no vision for the health service. It is no wonder that people tasked with implementing Sláintecare are leaving their posts. In the budget for 2016, GP care was promised for under-12s. Six years on, we have reached the under-eights.

There is also no vision or plan to deliver Irish unity. As I read the leaks over the past week about what would be in the budget, all my fears were realised. It signals a return to a normal in which there are the same exorbitant childcare costs and an increase, not a decrease, in the cost of living through the introduction of additional carbon taxes, which will be unfairly borne by workers, retired people and their families. The ESRI says this measure will not be ineffective. There will be no climate justice for people in this country. The measures in the budget will penalise people rather than incentivise them. In the past 12 months, the cost of home heating oil has risen by 39%. For an older person who has to pay for private healthcare and an increased property tax, these new costs will simply be unaffordable.

The budget marks a return to the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael normal of giving the banks a break, retaining childcare costs that are the highest in Europe, and overseeing a situation where fees are too high and wages are too low. The zoned land tax will be charged at only 3% and will not kick in for two years. The sixth budget Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have presented is one lacking in ambition. Like the national development plan, it is a tired roll-out of old plans and old ideas. It has been said that the leaders of the three parties in government are like three emperors with no clothes. In fact, they have clothes, but they are old clothes. As in the children's book, The Smartest Giant in Town, these three giants are more comfortable in their old clothes, with old ideas for old problems and an old ideology. The budget does indeed represent a return to normal.

8:30 pm

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Ar dtús, déanaim comhghairdeas le mo chomhghleacaí, an tAire, an Teachta Michael McGrath, agus leis an Rialtas as an gcáinaisnéis inné agus as na rudaí a bhí páirteach ann. I welcome much of yesterday's budget and commend my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, and his Government colleagues on its introduction. However, I want to begin by making a general point about the entire budgetary process. It is dated, irrelevant to people's daily lives and it is doing us a disservice in this House that one day's business should get all the attention and drama, as in the opening night of a film or theatre production. The follow-on and impact the budget has on people's daily lives is left for non-elected people to manage and proceed, and there is little accountability. That is why we have hundreds of thousands of people on waiting lists, such as the young boy whose situation was discussed on Claire Byrne's radio programme yesterday. It is why we have so many people on housing waiting lists and people who will not see the benefit of the €80 billion-plus spending programme that was announced yesterday.

This is the 15th budget I have addressed as a Member of the House. It has always struck me that the health service plan is a really good example of the lack of accountability in the budgetary process. The plan will dictate and operationalise the expenditure of some €22 billion, yet it will probably be published, going on previous years, in the couple of days before the Christmas recess, when nobody will give it any attention. There will not be 24-7 media coverage of its content, live television interviews with Ministers or discussions for hours on end of what is contained in it. However, that document sets out how the money the House is approving will be spent and the ways in which it will make a difference. When it comes to the health service plan, the oversight is aprèsthe fact. The Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, Deputy Stanley, will get to see it and examine the expenditure arising from it next year, as will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Even if there are issues with how the money is spent, nobody is ever held to account. In fact, the only people who are held to account are those on waiting lists and those whose life's journey is made much more complicated by a system that does not seem to work for people and have their needs at its heart.

We can do a Punch and Judy act in this Chamber throwing arguments over and back, but the reality is that we have a major problem with our delivery mechanisms in this country. The people who are losing out because of that are the people we serve. Yes, we have an oversight role and we need to be stronger in how we do it, but the more time I spend here, the more I see that we need to reform the budget process entirely. It is unfair on people whose daily incomes depend on State supports and who must wait for this day every year to know what they will have to spend in the coming 12 months. We need to get to multi-annual budgeting for people who depend on social welfare payments. We need multi-annual budgeting in order for Departments to know what they have to spend. This nonsense of having to spend allocated money quickly in the few months before the end of each year, a situation which allows all sorts of issues around accountability to arise, needs to stop. The Committee on Budgetary Oversight, chaired by Deputy Hourigan, does wonderful work but we need to look at the entire budgetary process and ask ourselves whether it is the proper way to do business in the 21st century.

There are a number of key issues arising from yesterday's budget. Many of the benefits it makes provision for are welcome, particularly in a context where they are the first major tax cuts and substantial 12-month and 52-week welfare increases for many years. However, the Government will have to be hyper-vigilant when it comes to inflation and ensuring there is no price gouging going on within an already difficult market across many areas. The costs of fuel, food and inputs for construction, agriculture and many other sectors are already rising faster than people's incomes. We must make sure there is no profiteering. I would like to see extra resources for the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to ensure it is visible and active in monitoring prices, particularly in the fuel and food sectors, so that people have an assurance that this issue is being watched and managed.

Cuirim fíorfháilte roimh an airgead breise le haghaidh TG4. Is bliain an-tábhachtach í do TG4, atá 25 bliain ar an bhfód. Tá sé dochreidte go bhfuil 25 bliain imithe. Tá sé an-tábhachtach go bhfuil an t-airgead sin ag dul go dtí TG4. Caithfidh an t-airgead céanna dul chuige gach bliain seachas don bhliain seo amháin. Is drochghaol RTÉ é TG4. It is a poor relation and it spends that money much better than many of its larger competitors. It is money very well spent and we need to see that continue.

I am not normally into Opposition bashing but having listened over the past 24 hours to the different responses from various speakers, I am reminded of a feis years ago where people would come in with a script they would recite each time, but with different intonations depending on what they were taught to emphasise or stress, to try to impress the adjudicator. It seems like many of the scripts that have been delivered in the House were written weeks ago, possibly while Deputies were on their summer holidays, because they do not reflect what is in the budget. Let us have an honest debate about what is in each budget document. Let us get those documents independently costed before the budget is published in order that we can have an honest debate. Let us ensure each budget document is laid out along the same parameters, as opposed to having goalposts that shift more often than Opposition Members' positions, depending on what is being said on Twitter at any given time.

Some speakers are here today criticising the fact that pensioners are only getting an extra fiver, despite the fact that this was the figure indicated in their own party’s policy budget documents. There is much criticism of the fuel allowance provision, even though the increases certain parties proposed are way below what has been guaranteed by the Government. The fuel allowance increases kicked in from yesterday evening and will be back-paid in a few weeks' time. I wish the exemption changes were greater, because the allowance is still not being paid to all the people who need it, but we have made a start. The living alone allowance is very important for people. There is criticism today that the increase is only €3, but that €3 comes on top of an additional €5 last year, which amounts to an increase of €8 in the past 12 months. Every cent of that money will be spent on local services and in local shops. That type of support is really important to people, which is why it is essential that the Government be hyper-vigilant on inflation.

Debate adjourned.

The Dáil adjourned at at 9.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 14 October 2021.