Dáil debates

Thursday, 14 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)

1:10 pm

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
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Budgets, like politics, are about choices. This Government chooses measures which favour vested interests, golden circles, vulture funds, developers and institutional landlords. Sinn Féin's fully costed alternative budget favours ordinary workers and families, hard-pressed renters and the working poor, all of whom this Government holds in such contempt. As Sinn Féin spokesperson for older people, I would be expected not to like this Government's commodification of our society, where everything and everyone is measured in their worth to the economy rather than to society, so much so a local person's advocacy group, Older Voices Kildare, was awarded meagre funding to assist older people under the heading of "Economically Inactive". What a way to refer to older people.

I have met many older persons' advocacy groups over the past year. I would like to share some of their thoughts on budget 2022. Sage Advocacy believes this budget was an opportunity to build a new partnership between the State and older people but it has fallen short of what could have been delivered; it fails to take account of the varying supports and complexities of care that are needed to ensure that older people can live the lives they want to lead. Age Action Ireland has serious concerns that energy costs will continue to rise next year and push up prices for many goods and services, not only home heating and transport. Prior to this budget, only three in ten people benefited from the fuel allowance. The majority of older people will still not be eligible for this support despite the sharp increase in energy costs in recent months. Active Retirement Ireland believes budget 2022 does not contain enough to give older people a good quality of life. It expresses concern about rising energy costs, along with increased petrol and diesel prices caused by a higher carbon tax. It also believes that the Government has failed to take into account the fact that for the majority of older people the State pension is their sole income. They have no other income supports. ALONE, the organisation that supports older people to age at home, believes budget 2022 highlights Ireland as a country where quality of life in old age is still something for which many have to strive.

Our old people have value. There must be better integration between health, social and community infrastructure supports to ensure older people can continue to contribute on every level in every community across our land. Our older people have given so much and have an awful lot more to give. Realistically, these people are our communities. They are the backbone of what has gone before us and we need to treat them with respect.

1:15 pm

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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My portfolio as Minister of State with responsibility for heritage and electoral reform is expansive. It spans incredible dossiers from the cultural wealth of our archaeology and monuments, to the distinct architecture of our built heritage, the beauty, resilience and fragility of nature, and our democratic future. Ar dtús, tá cúpla focal le rá agam ar leasú toghchánach. Some €4.7 million has been allocated in 2022 to support delivery of our ambitious programme of electoral reform. This includes the establishment of an independent electoral commission and the modernisation of our electoral registration process and will deliver on the commitments in the programme for Government. The general scheme of the electoral reform Bill, which provides for these reforms, was published earlier this year. The drafting of the Bill is currently being progressed by my Department and the Office of the Attorney General. The Bill is included on the Government’s legislation programme for publication in the autumn session.

On heritage, I inherited areas of responsibility that were relatively under-resourced and the top priority for me on becoming Minister of State was to restore heritage funding; placing nature, heritage and biodiversity at the heart of what this Government does well. Central to what we do in our Department are the National Monuments Service, the built heritage programme and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS. They are extraordinary teams of civil servants who did incredible work with curtailed resources, delivering for the citizen directly and through the agencies and bodies under our aegis, namely, the Heritage Council, Waterways Ireland and The Irish Heritage Trust.

The NPWS is a crucial and important service that is mandated with the protection, conservation and presentation of our natural heritage. Our nature and biodiversity; the variety of birds, mammals, invertebrates, fungi and plants, with water, minerals and air, combine in the dynamic ecosystems that give us vital services that society and the economy depend on, like soil fertility, water purification, carbon sequestration and storage, and of course that sense of peace and wonder that so many of us benefit from. In 2019, we learned that globally many of our protected habitats were of poor or inadequate status and that almost half were declining. That same year, the Dail declared a climate and biodiversity emergency. At that time NPWS resourcing was not sufficient to address the challenge with the level of urgency required. I was determined a hallmark of my tenure as Minister would be to leave a positive legacy for biodiversity in Ireland, to deliver on this Government’s unprecedented ambition for nature and respond comprehensively to the programme for Government commitment to strengthen the NPWS, improve its effectiveness and make it the voice for nature we need it to be. The primary determinant in all of that is resourcing. I secured additional moneys in the 2020 July stimulus, significantly increased the service's funding by almost 50% in budget 2021, and this week, I announced funding for the service would increase yet again to more than €47 million in 2022, amounting to an increase of 64% since I became Minister of State, bringing it back up to a level not seen since before the financial crisis. The funding secured in successive Estimates also enabled our Department to bring approved staffing at NPWS back to its pre-2008 levels. This has led to the establishment of a new team that will focus on the protection of our special areas of conservation and special protection areas, a wildlife crime unit, a substantial cohort of new conservation rangers, as well as the recruitment of ecological and scientific expertise, field staff, guides and administrative staff. These are major achievements that are already having positive impacts for nature and biodiversity all across the country and I will do my very best to ensure we continue on this trajectory.

Similarly, I have addressed long-running resource challenges at our National Monuments Service, the Heritage Council, our built heritage programmes and in Waterways Ireland. Together as a unit, our heritage services and agencies can now go forward with renewed purpose. The 36% increase in our heritage allocation year-on-year means that their programmes have been rebooted and a re-energised. We will see more national monuments protected. We will see further infrastructural work on out stunning inland waterways, North and South. The Heritage Council will be able to do more for our historic towns and through its schools programme, communities will have more financial assistance to help preserve and maintain local monuments and restore the built heritage of their areas. Many thousands of traditional building man-hours will be supported for our skilled craftspeople. Recruitment will continue at the National Monuments Service and we will promote further candidates for world heritage status.

However, we must do much more. For instance, realising the totality of our shared vision for the NPWS requires further transformative action that acknowledges the past, reflects the present and renews for the future. I am now leading on this through a comprehensive phased process entitled Review, Reflect, Renew: A Strategic Action Plan for the Future of the NPWS. Preliminary to all of this, and as a recurring underpinning, is addressing the resource challenge. The orientation or "review" part in this process commenced in February 2021 under the direction of chair Professor Jane Stout, of Trinity College Dublin and deputy chair, Dr. Micheál Ó Cinnéide, formerly of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. The independent reviewers heard from more than 3,000 people and groups, providing an external perspective on some specific aspects of the NPWS and conducting an analysis of comparable organisations across Europe to inform a suite of recommendations. The next phase, "reflect", will take account of the outcome of the Stout-Ó Cinnéide work and then synthesise the resourcing gains of the past 18 months with a detailed, expert analysis of governance, organisational structures, communications, data systems and future resourcing, and outline the NPWS's specific requirements across those areas. The final "renew" phase will detail the objectives and prioritised actions that will equip the NPWS to deliver on the ambitious goals, objectives and targets emerging from our programme for Government, the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, the EU biodiversity strategy to 2030, Heritage Ireland 2030 and the new national biodiversity action plan, and to be the respected voice for nature that so many have called for. Working with my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, we intend to bring this strategic action plan for the future of NPWS to Cabinet by the end of 2021 and implement it in the lifetime of this Government. In that regard, I also acknowledge the hugely positive and constructive working relationship with the Minister and our shared ambition for nature and heritage.

I have listened to our many stakeholders, both internal and external. I am reflecting on the findings, in the context of significant resource increases since I became Minister of State, to define exactly what is needed, and developing an action plan to renew the NPWS and ensure it is equipped to respond to Ireland’s biodiversity emergency now and in the decades to come. I look forward to working with the Department on this exciting new chapter for the NPWS.

As a chapeau to all of that, I will also publish Heritage Ireland 2030 in the coming months. This, Ireland’s first heritage strategy, will set the backdrop to realise our full set of ambitions for our built, natural and archaeological heritage, as we enter our second century of full nationhood. In the meantime, I commend the heritage budget 2022 to the House.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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The Rural Independent Group made a series of submissions to this budget which were, by the look of it, rejected out of hand. One of the first proposals was the budget should be rural-proofed. Certainly, this budget has not one shred of rural-proofing written into it. As a matter of fact, it is an anti-rural Ireland budget. I will tell the Minister of State how it is going to affect the people and how it is going to put more cars on our roads, which is going to affect our environment far more than at present. I was talking to a private operator, West Cork Connect, who had the decency and respect for the people of west County Cork to take several buses to Cork every day. We are talking about three or four buses, maybe, from Skibbereen and three to four from Bantry, passing through Dunmanway, Drimoleague, Ballineen and Enniskeane, all the way to Cork. On the other side, there is Clonakilty-Skibbereen, Rosscarbery and Bandon. It was costing the operator €110 to fill the bus to fill the bus every day. It is taking loads of cars off the road. This is exactly the dream the Government has; it is what its intentions were.

It used to cost €110 but in the past 12 months it has risen to €165. He is wondering if it will pay at all but if he pulls the plug, what happens? Cars, cars, cars and this is where the Government is going wrong with its carbon tax. All the carbon tax does is hit rural Ireland. That is all it does. It generates a pocketful of money so that beautiful projects up here in the capital can be sorted out but, as I keep saying, we cannot keep carrying Dublin on our back. It will not and cannot work. The people of rural Ireland are livid about this budget because it was nothing but an attack on them. Imagine a jump from €110 to €165 for one trip. That has to be fed back to the customers, the people travelling on the bus. The bus operator is now in a difficult situation because the Government's carbon tax dream is going to scoot his costs up through the roof and I would say he is going to pull the plug if this keeps going. I do not know where the Government is going. It is going to force more cars back onto the road and cause a far bigger crisis.

On the 50% rebate for students, one would think that everybody should welcome that. I would welcome it but the problem is that we do not have public transport down our way. The devil is in the detail because if students are not on a PSO route, they do not qualify. This is another attack on rural Ireland. The young people who travel on the Luas and the DART, and I do not begrudge them one bit, will qualify for the 50% rebate. However, the man I spoke about a while ago, who carries 70% of the young people leaving west cork from places like Bantry, Skibbereen, Bandon, Kinsale and Clonakilty, will not qualify for this. I presume this is because the Minister for Transport and his colleagues at the Cabinet table from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael forgot that rural Ireland should have been included. Why were these people not included? I raised this with the Tánaiste earlier. Maybe I speak a bit of Japanese or something because he did not know what I was on about. He told me he was going to talk to the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, but this has nothing to do with him. This is the responsibility of the Minister for Transport. This is his mistake. This is a shocking and glaring mistake and this is an attack on the young people of my constituency and many other constituencies. Apparently there is no PSO route in Wexford either so the young people there will get no advantage from this. If you are a Dublin Deputy, this will suit you fine and perhaps the Government is trying to bring them on board.

The Tánaiste said earlier that farm organisations should not worry because the Government will give them something in 2023. That is kicking the can down the road, of course. Kick the can down the road for the usual lads, the farmers of rural Ireland. The Government will give them a kick in the arse and expect that will sort the whole matter out. It will sort them out in 2023. How are they going to survive? Somebody asked earlier if there is a scheme for farmers who are going out of business. It would want to be a massive scheme because they are running out of business. The Government is leading them down one road. They will not get a brown cent extra in 2022. They have been left there but the Tánaiste said that they should not worry; the Government gave a few extra bob for farm assist. That is it now. I will go back to west Cork and tell the farmers on the way home that I have great news for them and that farm assist is their future according to the Tánaiste. I can tell Deputies from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that if they go back to their constituencies and tell farmers that, they will be run from the doors. That is what they are facing. The livelihood of fishermen was also forgotten in this budget. They were forgotten about.

I could speak for the next hour but I have only 30 seconds left. I want to touch on some of the issues raised by the Minister of State, including activity in regard to the protection of rivers. I fully respect that but the biggest offenders in the State in terms of polluting rivers are local authorities and Irish Water which have not resolved 34 sewerage systems in towns and villages, with raw sewage seeping into rivers. I could take the Minister of State around the most beautiful part of Ireland, west Cork, and show him just that.

On the issue of monuments, he should remember that the centenary of the death of Michael Collins falls on 22 August 2022. A monument must be put in place in the capital city to commemorate the greatest Irish man who ever lived. That must be put on the top of the Government's agenda. We must show respect to one of the greatest people who ever stood in this nation.

1:25 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)
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On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to respond to budget 2022 and I branded it the "lousy fiver" budget because that is exactly what it is. It is a lousy €3 budget, a lousy €2 budget, a lousy €5 fuel allowance budget at a time social welfare recipients are feeling the pinch because of inflation, particularly energy price inflation. These are the people who have borne the brunt of the Covid pandemic and the budget was an opportunity for this Government to repay them by putting a few bob in their pockets.

I did not make any pre-budget submission due to a lack of resources but Age Action Ireland said that social welfare payments for older people should be increased by €15 per week because the purchasing power of their pensions has been reduced by €10 due to inflation. It advocated giving them an additional €5 and also called for a €15 increase in the fuel allowance. The Government has missed an opportunity. People are saying that the additional fiver will be gone in a second. As others have said, every cent of that money will go back into the economy. It always does but it could and should have been more.

This budget was also a lost opportunity vis-à-vis low-paid workers. The Government missed an opportunity to show respect to retail workers, cleaners and those in the arts and entertainment sectors who lost a lot during the pandemic. When reference is made to low-paid workers, people immediately think of cleaners and those in retail but 20% of transport and warehouse workers are also on low pay, as are 15% of healthcare workers and 13% of manufacturing workers. These figures come from a report by Mr. Michael Taft on low pay in Ireland. Again, this was an opportunity that the Government missed.

In terms of tax cuts, there was a €50 increase in the PAYE threshold, as well as an increase in tax credits and a raising of the USC band. Workers earning more than €33,000 will benefit to the tune of approximately €450 per year while low paid workers will only gain €150 per year or €2.21 per week. These are people who worked through the pandemic; they got on buses or walked to work and faced difficult situations in their workplaces on a daily basis. They will get an extra €2.21 per week, which is just lousy. Again, this was a lost opportunity for the Government to target money in respect of what has happened to people in their communities and their workplaces, as well as to determine what was needed to back up businesses and so on. The bulk of the money should have gone into that area.

Yesterday the Tánaiste said, in the context of the 30 cent increase in the minimum wage, that the minimum wage has increased by €1.85 or 17.6% since 2015, running well ahead of the CPI rate of inflation of 3.6%. It is derogatory to say something like that to workers who are dependent on the minimum wage. We know that the CPI figures can be distorting because they do not take housing into account but do take into account many unnecessary items. Calculations should be based on minimum essential budget standards because that is what people are feeling on the ground. It was very disingenuous of the Tánaiste to make those remarks.

Finally, there was no mention of funding for the drugs task forces in the budget. There was no increase in the allocation between 2014 and 2018. In fact, funding has been cut by 35%. Funding has not increased at all for those organisations dealing with the most vulnerable in terms of drugs and alcohol. The Government missed an opportunity to show respect to people in workplaces and communities and that has not gone unnoticed.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I am delighted to share my thoughts on the budget but in five minutes it is difficult to cover the full depth of the various areas of life that this budget will impact on. I will, therefore, try to limit my remarks to three issues of particular interest not just in my own constituency of Dublin Rathdown but also in areas where I have worked and in the committees on which I serve.

I look forward to speaking further on the finance Bill, the social welfare Bill and during the Estimates process in due course.

Something I immediately took away from the budget when I went through the documents as the two Ministers took to their feet the other day is the widening of the tax bands. This is the absolute definition of ensuring better levels of equability through our society, by ensuring people will be able to keep more of their own money in their pocket. The fact that people will be in a position to earn more before they pay income tax in the first place and before they go onto the higher rate is a progressive move. We are classed as having the most progressive taxation system in Europe. However, we also have the lowest threshold for people paying the highest tax and, therefore, increasing that and giving that incentive is important. That will be particularly true as we look to lure more people back to the labour market and harness every attribute of what is predicted to be a fast-growing economy in the calendar month ahead.

The second area I wish to raise is the public expenditure side of the budget and the Brexit supports. We are fortunate in this member state to have received the largest amount of the Brexit Adjustment Reserve fund announced by the European Commission earlier in the year. In excess of €1 billion will be allocated to this State to address those sectors of the economy that are most acutely exposed to the truly awful impacts of Brexit. There is no such thing as a good Brexit. However, there are opportunities for many in our society and there are also challenges that need to be addressed. That is why I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform that more than €500 million of that fund will be spent this year in areas that are acutely exposed throughout our economy. It does not matter if these issues affect individuals directly in someone's constituency, regardless of what part of the country someone comes from. They impact on us all and we have to continue to use that fund smartly to look for those opportunities, be they in the higher education sector, financial services or the smart technology sector where we can lure investment into this economy. That might come from the UK but we should also consider alternative markets in continental Europe or beyond in the wider world, where existing EU trade deals give us great opportunities. That potential for newer, more skilled and more highly-paid jobs are what will drive this economy. Although I am a Dublin Deputy, we need to make sure there is a regional balance in the allocation of those funds. Parts of the country are simply more acutely exposed by Brexit, particularly the Border region where my family hails from originally. That is where the supports need to be driven into, to make sure those areas can reach out and have all those opportunities, in as wide a way as possible.

I will again touch on the public expenditure side of the budget, and the moneys allocated to the shared island fund. The Taoiseach announced at the outset of the formation of this Government that €500 million would be provided for the shared island fund and within that, €50 million will be spent in 2022. This is a crucial investment in the future of our entire nation, not just this State and not just the status quo, because we need to get people north and south of the Border engaging at every level. Never mind politicians like us; the more we get businesspeople, students and ordinary members of society, particularly those in the younger demographic who have known nothing but the post-Good Friday Agreement era, meeting each other, hopefully in person now as restrictions continue to lift and at every opportunity, the more we will break down the existing border that is on this island. We talk about an open Border and about it being seamless compared to what was there before but there is still a massive emotional and psychological border, unfortunately. Too many people in our State do not go up to the North for their holidays, do not go to sports matches, do not do business North and South and teenagers have never met people of their own age working in the same area.

I greatly welcome the statements of the Ministers the other day and that of the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, here this afternoon. This is a good budget, a responsible budget and a sensible budget that has been put forward by a Government that wants to make life easier for every person in this society.

1:35 pm

Photo of Pádraig O'SullivanPádraig O'Sullivan (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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As Deputy Richmond said, it is quite difficult to comment on the budget in five minutes. We need to recognise the positives. We are good at accentuating the negatives in here all the time. Listening to some of the previous speakers you would swear this was not a progressive budget. There are things happening in childcare and education that must be acknowledged. I will focus on a few issues that need to be highlighted.

Over the past few days, Adam Terry and his mother, Christine, have been in the limelight with regard to scoliosis. I listened to the case of another family this morning on "Today with Claire Byrne". This budget commits to an extra €250 million to tackle waiting lists. That is fine. That big headline figure sounds great and it might do great things but, at the same time, it is quite clear that there is a specific problem as regards scoliosis. Covid has contributed to waiting lists and scoliosis waiting lists alone have increased by 32% because of the pandemic. There are now 172 children on those waiting lists who need urgent medical attention and need those appointments to proceed. If that requires extra units to be set up or utilising the National Treatment Purchase Fund or whatever the case may be, that needs to happen. I am led to believe that many of these operations can take place in Cappagh Hospital. It was said earlier that there is capacity in the hospital but the information we have from on the ground is that there is not. There is a requirement for additional theatres there to provide for these operations. At best consultants can do a couple of operations a week and that is not going to tackle the waiting list.. As I said previously, and as I have said to my own parliamentary party, it is great to hear about hundreds of millions of euro for this and hundreds of millions for that but if that does not translate to tackling issues such as this that have dominated the airwaves over the past two days, then people on the ground will not feel the benefits of what budget 2022 has brought.

The second issue I would like to raise is SNAs, teacher allocations and special education teachers in particular. An additional 1,165 SNAs and 980 special teachers are to be provided for in this budget. That is great in that some of our most vulnerable children and those with special educational needs will be catered for. However, I would flag a specific issue relating to Irish Sign Language and deaf children or children suffering from profound hearing difficulties. Approximately 20 kids in mainstream schools are not currently being facilitated by the Department with an Irish Sign Language teacher, as is their constitutional right. There are a number of cases before the High Court on this issue but this allocation of 980 special teachers can provide for those 20 or so children nationally and deliver on that constitutional right.

I acknowledge again that there is a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio from 25 to 24, following on from last year's reduction. This is a progressive measure that is going to be phased in over a number of budgets. That is very welcome in that we will get closer to our EU counterparts in that regard.

School transport is an issue, particularly for rural Deputies. Every year we face the prospect of children not being able to get to their schools and while there was some tinkering done this year to get additional seats on buses, the overall scheme needs a dramatic overhaul. There is a review under way, but in the current climate where we are offering a 50% reduction on public transport to students aged between 19 and 23, that scheme should be extended to all children of schoolgoing age. Ultimately, I would like to see that lead to fully-funded and free school transport for all.

It is heartening that initiatives such as the school meals programme are being expanded every year. It will lead to further phases and, ultimately, there will be a point where we will have free school meals for all kids who need them. It is good to see that we are going in that direction but, again, I hope we can make further progress on this and get it done sooner rather than later.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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Tugaim aitheantas don Rialtas faoin mbuiséad. B'fhéidir go bhfuil an buiséad forásach. Cinnte tá deacrachtaí ann ó thaobh na dúshláin, na deacrachtaí agus na fadhbanna atá i gceist sa tír seo faoi láthair maidir le costais.

Mar shampla, luaim fuinneamh agus na rudaí atá daoine ag fáil ó lá go lá. Cinnte tá an brú ar dhaoine ach rinne an Rialtas jab faoi na rudaí agus na dúshláin sin a bhaint amach agus níl achan freagra ag an Rialtas faoi sin. The Government does not have every answer for the real costs that are looming. As history has a tendency to repeat itself, we only have to look at the roaring twenties and what happened throughout the 1920s in terms of inflation. We have, therefore, a real job on our hands to try to tackle that. We cannot do it on our own as a country. The European Union is looking at that question and at what we can do as a collective and as a European Union in terms of energy costs and, obviously, if there can be a common understanding between countries in terms of their own taxation responsibilities. That must be looked at for the for the short to medium term.

I also want to mention the issue of mica. It is good to see the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, back in the Chamber again. I hope it is a lucky charm as we glide ever closer to a decision on this. I know the Minister for Housing, Local Government, Deputy O'Brien, and his officials are working hard to try to bring this to a conclusion. It is very important that this decisiveness is kept on the radar. The Taoiseach said the first part of the job is to get the budget over the line. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, also pointed out recently that the next big job to do after the budget is the mica issue. I know the Government is looking at it collectively. It is an issue that needs a common understanding within different Departments as well as an understanding of the havoc it has created and that will ensue if it is not done in a complete way.

I will use this opportunity to make this point. Nobody is more disappointed than me and my colleagues in the previous Government that the 2010 scheme did not work. It did not work because once people started delving into the detail, it became an economic impossibility for so many families. My message is that whatever the detail, there must be vigilance. There will be much detail, whether it is more than 1,000 local authority houses and the innumerable individual private houses that will be in question, not just in County Donegal but throughout the country, for pyrite and mica. Whatever the detail is, we must be vigilant and we have to have a mechanism in place. The campaign has done one thing in creating awareness and understanding. When the memo is brought to Cabinet and the detail is finalised at an official level, however, we must have eyes and ears on that. Having spoken to one of the members of the Mica Action Group, there is a concern that history will repeat itself with this scheme if there is a rollback through the detail. Whatever mechanism is being brought forward and whatever memo is being presented to Cabinet, the days and weeks after will be as important as those that lead up to that point to keep an eye on exactly what is being decided upon and what the Cabinet has decided at an all-government level, and to ensure the accessibility and affordability questions are ticked at all times. I am using this opportunity in the short time I have in this debate to do that.

In terms of the money allocated, €40 million with an extra €20 million for pyrite is a lot of money; €60 million in the budget is, therefore, a lot of money but it does not go anywhere near what will be needed. It was, therefore, good to hear the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy McGrath, reference the fact there are other contingencies within the budget in terms of spending.

Arís, gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle as an am seo. B'fhéidir go mbeidh cinneadh déanta gan mhoill ar son úinéirí na dtithe uilig atá ag titim, na fadhbanna atá ann leis na teaghlaigh, na girseacha, na gasúir, na seandaoine agus na seanmháithreacha agus na seanaithreacha agus na glúine uilig. Táim ag dúil go mór leis an gcinneadh sin. Gabhaim buíochas arís.

1:45 pm

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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It is fair to say that this week's budget was a huge disappointment for most people in this State. If people were expecting leadership, solutions or, indeed, any sense of urgency, then they were left very disappointed. The fact there was absolutely nothing - zilch - in the budget for renters is disastrous for tens of thousands of people who are struggling to pay rent or find a home they can even afford to rent.

Is it that the Government does not understand the crisis for renters or is it that it simply does not care? Telling renters to hold on for another few years while they wait for houses to be built is not acceptable. In fact, it is nauseating. People are in dire straits in this moment and they need support now. They need some security in their lives and this budget gave them nothing. The Government is either completely out of touch with the reality of people's lives today or it does not care. Both options are reprehensible.

The Government did manage, though, to bring in a tax break for landowners, namely, the zoned land tax. It will not come into effect for several years - there is no hurry, is there? - and it is half the rate of the vacant tax levy, which it is replacing. Sinn Féin would have increased the vacant tax levy to 15%. Fianna Fáil, in its manifesto, said it would raise it to 14% but the Government put it to 3%.

It is not just rent that is putting pressure on ordinary working people. Energy prices are skyrocketing. The price of electricity has risen by 19%, gas by 12% and oil by a whopping 39% in the 12 months to August. Instead of helping people to deal with these increases, the Government raised carbon taxes. They have already risen in the past year by €3 for a tank of petrol and up to €40 for a fill of oil. The Government made a decision to make life harder for ordinary working people at a time when energy prices are skyrocketing, knowing full well most people have no alternative but to buy these fuels. They either buy oil, gas or coal to heat their homes or they freeze.

On the subject of the cost of living, childcare is in a state of disarray between outrageous fees and poor pay for childcare professionals. That has been flagged up to the Government repeatedly by the sector. In terms of tourism and hospitality, there was much talk in the weeks before the budget of a pandemic bonus, that is, a voucher for people to spend in local businesses and a bank holiday. Both of these were included in Sinn Féin's proposal but there is absolutely nothing in the Government's budget. Yet again, there has been no stimulus for the sector other than the frankly disastrous stay-and-spend tax rebate last year.

The budget did not offer much in terms of health either. Free GP care for children aged under eight years of age is very welcome but under Sláintecare, we should all have had free GP care by 2022. We are, therefore, clearly a decade, if not more, behind where we need to be. I cannot count the number of times Fine Gael governments have announced various versions of free GP care. In 2013, it was free GP care for every man, woman and child within three years and in 2016, it was free GP care for the under-12s. None of it was ever delivered.

More than 900,000 people are on waiting lists. People cannot get dental care if they hold a medical card. When is the Government going to wake up? The budget will not deliver any new acute hospital beds above those pre-committed last year. It promises 19 additional ICU beds, which is just over half of what Sinn Féin would fund. Sinn Féin in government would also fund 600 additional new public hospital beds.

Sinn Féin would have put workers and families first. We would have invested where it is most needed to address the crises we have in health and housing and the cost of living. We would have guaranteed the right to retire on a pension at aged 65. Alongside that, we would have delivered the largest investment in mental health in the history of the State, significantly increased investment in disability supports and begun the work of introducing free public transport, starting with the under-18s. The Government's budget delivers none of that and does not address any of the major issues affecting people in Ireland today. It is a Government out of touch with the people.

1:55 pm

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to respond to budget 2022. My colleague, an Teachta Doherty, summed this up quite well when he said never has so much been spent in the pursuit of so little. The Government budget has failed, by all accounts, across the pressure areas in our society and economy. We were told this budget would deliver for workers and workers' rights. However, two days have passed. I have been looking at and examining it and I cannot see where workers or their rights are represented or their interests furthered by this budget. There is no sign of the much-promised bank holiday, the bonus for front-line workers is also absent, and the delivery of a living wage is mentioned but in the context of being long fingered. Likewise, there is nothing for student nurses in this, though they worked tirelessly. Maybe we will have another round of applause. Maybe we will all stand up and have another round of applause for our student nurses and midwives, because that is all there was for them in this budget.

An increase of €500,000 in current expenditure for the Workplace Relations Commission is a derisory amount. The constant underfunding of the WRC is a political decision which I can only assume is aimed at trying to hamper the work of the main State organisation delivering workplace relations services for workers. The money put against the WRC shows this Government does not give a damn about workers or their rights. Budget 2022 again showed this Government is happy to continue turning a blind eye to employment law and workers' rights being ridden roughshod over. That does not surprise me when we consider that two out of three of the parties in government, when their backs were to the wall, cut the minimum wage. It did not create a single job. All it did was make people on low incomes even poorer, but we know that is the ideology that drives this Government. Workers' rights are not a feature, not an issue and not a part of the Government's budget.

There was some movement on an increased tax deduction which amounted to 30% of the cost of vouched expenses for heat, electricity and broadband for days spent working from home. The inequality in such measures for employment-related expenses between remote workers and those who have to travel to their place of work was mentioned on a number of occasions on the Claire Byrne show on RTÉ yesterday. Pitting workers against other workers like this is really unfair, but it is straight out of the Government's playbook, so I do not know why anyone would be surprised. The solution cannot be the State picking up the tab. It has to be legislating and empowering workers and their trade unions to ensure workers are paid decently by their employers and additional expenses are hammered out in that way.

Small and medium enterprises are another sector which can feel aggrieved. Many of their representative groups in this area have said as much. Another budget has passed without the establishment of a new Irish enterprise agency to assist SMEs trading domestically. This has been called for by SMEs and their stakeholders for many years. Almost 70% of people employed in Ireland are employed in small and medium businesses. Speaking to these businesses, they often feel like they have been left behind and that successive governments prefer to focus on foreign direct investment instead of helping to grow and nurture indigenous industry. There are many opportunities for our SMEs to access and exploit, but to do this they need help, advice and expertise on securing investment, expanding their domestic trading ability and looking at expanding into the European market, especially to capture the market share of any available opportunities created by Brexit. This is where an Irish enterprise agency could step in and help grow jobs and the economy in a sustainable and regionally balanced way, which is another one of the things the Government says it is interested in, but when it comes to fronting up, it does not do it.

Childcare changes do not address affordability for parents or help the future sustainability for childcare providers. It has been relayed that, in advance of the budget measures which were leaked last week, some childcare providers increased their fees the very day before the budget. Parents are paying extortionate fees and having those fees increased once again on the eve of the Government coming out and saying it will freeze them. We all agree crèche fees are too high and the Government's answer is to freeze them at the current rate and lock them in at the high rate. What Sinn Féin has proposed and what we want to see is a new model of publicly accessible and affordable childcare provision, with fees reduced by one third in 2022 and a further third in 2023. In addition, this must go hand in hand with the improvement of pay and conditions for workers in that sector.

The most glaring issue with this budget is the failure to help lift the burden for renters. I am thinking in particular of people in my constituency. If you are renting in Fingal, you are paying an average of €1,800, and yet we see house prices in Swords, according to the Central Statistics Office, CSO, at an average of €350,000. That is way above the national average. There is nothing for renters and no hope of them being able to save a deposit and buy their own homes.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I welcome this debate and budget. There are many good things in it, and I refer in particular to tangible improvements, especially for families who are caring for very sick children in acute and long-term care for a significant period of time. Up to now, you would get your three months' carer's allowance but this would be cut after three months, and your three months' domiciliary allowance would also disappear. These are parents or guardians of children who are very ill, in acute hospitals, often far away from where they live because they are receiving special care, and this is the worst time of all for families. It is very difficult because they have the childcare and travel costs, and if you are on a lower income and so on, it makes it very difficult for you. What is socially just, beneficial and good in this budget is the fact you will now be able to keep your carer's and domiciliary carer's allowances for six months while your child may be, unfortunately, in medium- or long-term care. That is excellent, progressive, positive and very welcome. I also welcome the increased disregard of the capital allowances and the weekly income people are allowed to earn before they can get carer's allowance, which is beneficial, good and the right way to go.

The Sinn Féin speakers have ignored the significant increases in social welfare across all benefits. The Minister has a package of €850 million this year in social welfare. It is additional funding, which has to be welcome, especially as we comes out of these Covid times. The attraction for younger people to travel, with the halved costs for people under a certain age, is positive and good, as is the increase in third level grants. The distance for the non-adjacent grant has been reduced from 45 km to 30 km, which will make a huge difference to people who live in places such as my home town of Drogheda. They are important, beneficial proposals and they are on the way.

Things are improving and, despite what Sinn Féin - I almost said Fianna Fáil - says, things are getting better, but we need to do more. We need to do more, especially in Drogheda, where there is a significant problem for people who have serious problems with their teeth and mouth hygiene and who wish to benefit from dental care under the General Medical Scheme. We need significant changes there. The Government needs to pay the dentists more to make it more attractive for new dentists to opt in, because dentists are leaving the scheme. According to a reply I have to a parliamentary question, unfortunately, 250 contracted dentists have left the dental treatment service scheme this year, which means an awful lot of highly skilled and important people who are needed to help people's dental health are no longer available. That is obviously unacceptable, but I welcome the progress made.

The one thing missing in this budget and for which I campaigned is the empty homes tax. It is a critical mechanism. If a house is not a principal private residence and is lying empty, it should be taxed to the hilt to make sure it is put on the market and families are in there and it is not used as an investment property, which is, sadly and unfortunately, still done by many people. I welcome the commitment to do something about that next year.

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
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This budget comes as we slowly emerge from a once-in-a-century pandemic. It is a positive, progressive budget which will underpin economic recovery and get people back to work. The solid economic foundations laid by former Minister, Michael Noonan, and the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, in establishing the national reserve, or rainy day fund, have played a huge role in enabling us as a country to bounce back.

Who would have thought we would have needed this reserve so quickly? This reserve allowed us to introduce the most radical of financial supports for our workers, families and businesses throughout the country. It allowed us to steer a safe and secure path through the worst effects of the pandemic until a safe vaccine arrived.

One of my key priorities in this Dáil has been recovery of the aviation sector, which is not only essential but is vital to the recovery of the tourism sector for the entire mid-west and west. I very much welcome the €126 million aviation package and the €60 million of capital investment. We must ensure this package is invested in a fair and regionally balanced way, in line with the aims of the national planning framework that suggests that 75% of growth should take place outside the east. Therefore, in my view, allocation of these funds should be on the same basis. If the east has over one third of the population of the entire country, it should never again have 86% of passenger traffic travelling to and from Ireland.

I welcome the inclusion of Shannon Airport in the regional airports funding programme. This is a welcome measure and it will free up funding to assist Shannon in recovering the routes and frequencies that have been lost during the pandemic, especially the three times daily return route to Heathrow Airport and the transatlantic routes to New York and Boston. It is important that Shannon continues to be part of this funding programme into the future.

One of the victims of the pandemic in recent days has been Lufthansa Technik Shannon Limited. This company has been in Shannon for more than three decades and employs 480 people. A strategic review of its operations was completed this week, and the company is to be sold to the Shannon-based Enterprise Ireland company, Atlantic Aviation Group, which will be taking on 300 employees from Lufthansa. This is a welcome development in ways, but my thoughts are with the 180 people who are to lose their jobs. I have engaged with both companies' CEOs. I have spoken to the unions this week. I met with the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, and I impressed upon him the need to ensure the best possible redundancy package is made available to these people. I also impressed upon him to need for his Department and for Government agencies to provide retraining and upskilling opportunities. It is important that, throughout this process, workers and their representatives are engaged with in a positive way. I look forward to that happening when the 30-day consultation period will begin next week.

To return to the budget itself, I also strongly support the package designed for business and tourism, including the extension of the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, the extension of the 9% VAT rate and the extension of the rates waiver. I have consistently called for these measures, including here in this House in last week's debate. The reduction of the pupil-teacher ratio by one, together with the recruitment of nearly 1,000 additional teachers and more than 1,000 SNAs, are all welcome investments in our children's futures. The changes to the tax bands and tax credits will allow workers to keep more of their hard-earned cash. The €5 increase for the pensioners, jobseekers and other welfare recipients, together with the increase in the minimum wage to €10.50, are all welcome measures. I also strongly support the extension of the help to buy scheme and look forward to more people getting on the housing ladder with its assistance. I welcome the commitment in this budget to recruit an additional 800 extra gardaí to the force next year.

2:05 pm

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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The constituency of Dublin North-West, which I represent, is a diverse constituency with varying needs and requirements among the constituents. It has its share of social problems, yet with a sizeable population, Dublin North-West is one of the most under-resourced constituencies in the country. We have a growing young population in the constituency. With that comes a need for increased services and resources. However, the reality on the ground is individual families, community organisations, and young people are struggling to avail of what services exist at the moment. While the constituency has many issues to contend with, some of the main issues are, for example, the urgent need for proper housing, proper healthcare, a decent transport infrastructure, climate change measures, good mental health and addiction services, additional Garda resources to tackle increased complaints of antisocial activity, and additional supports for those with special needs.

However, for many in my constituency, this budget would prove to be a major disappointment. Despite the spin from the Government, the budget fails to tackle the core issues affecting most people. This budget does nothing to alleviate the housing crisis, the rental crisis, the hospital crisis and the soaring cost of living.

Dublin North-West has seen scandalously insignificant numbers of social and affordable housing being built. It is an area that is densely populated and crying out for such housing. The cost of a new home for the vast majority of people is way out of their range. We are seeing ever-increasing numbers on the housing waiting list. It is not uncommon to see many waiting a decade or more for a house. It is even more important that priority is given to building more social and affordable housing. The housing and rental crisis has resulted in many families and individuals in Dublin North-West unfortunately falling into homelessness, through no fault of their own.

The constituents of Dublin North-West can rightly feel neglected, as they now have to wait until 2034 for the completion of the MetroLink. This project should have been completed and up and running by 2027. As I said here only recently, this project has a history of promises made and promises broken, with delay after the delay in its construction starting time. This has huge implications, not just for the areas the MetroLink passes through, but the whole of Dublin North-West. The population growth across the constituency has a number of obvious implications. It would give rise to increased demands for more housing, more health services, additional school places, and better transport services and infrastructure. This new delay to the MetroLink will have a huge knock-on effect across the constituency, adding to congestion and affecting housing projects which are dependent on good transport links.

Dublin North-West also has a sizeable ageing population and this budget does not improve their quality of life. The paltry €5 increase in the weekly State pension is not sufficient to meet the increased cost of living for older people and it does not keep pace with inflation. For many older people in my constituency, the State pension is often their only income, as they have no other income supports. Similarly, for those on welfare, the small increase they received in the budget will not make them better off. They will continue to struggle to make ends meet, especially with escalating fuel costs and increases across the board to the cost of living. Once you get past the Government spin, it is clear this budget is ineffective and does not help those in society who are most in need.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I am sharing time. I will narrow my focus, because I just have three or four minutes, to a specific aspect of the budget. Then, in the context of the finance Bill I will talk about other issues.

One of the policy issues close to my heart is the issue of special needs education, as well as the provision of many facilities, supports, backup, teachers, and hours to those children who have special needs, and meeting the requirements of these children's parents. I am very happy, therefore, to welcome that there are a number of measures in budget 2022 that go a long way towards building on my own party of Fianna Fáil's tradition of measures for children with special needs. We were the party that introduced special needs assistants, SNAs. There were no SNAs in this country or system until Fianna Fáil introduced them many years ago. I welcome the fact another 1,065 SNAs will be added to the system, bringing the total number of SNAs in the system to close to 20,000. That is some achievement, although we will continue to need more. As we provide these, the need for additional supports is clearly becoming recognised. Certain supports are floating to the top of the system and we will have to address that. One of these is the issue of outside hours for childcare for children with special needs, to afford their parents basic time to do shopping and things like that.

We need to look into funding that.

There are almost 1,000 new special education teachers to be introduced, working not just in special schools but also in special classes in mainstream settings, which is a positive development. The budget also proposes to increase the number of schools and children benefiting from supports in the DEIS programme. DEIS was introduced by my party a number of years ago and I am thrilled to see its expansion in many schools in my constituency. In addition to that, we have the extension of the school meals programme, a vital service which is provided to schools and is availed of in areas that have many challenges. It ensures that children get a warm breakfast and a lunch. It ensures that they come to school and are well nourished and in a good position to learn during the school day. The provision of additional administrative principals in special and mainstream schools is welcome.

My colleagues and I, including Deputy Jim O'Callaghan who is here today, pushed the issue of special needs education in the last Dáil. We were able to highlight that special autism spectrum disorder, ASD, units were not available in parts of our constituencies in Dublin. This has been addressed since we came into government. That measure and the provision of more SNAs to serve these schools means that traditional schools that provided ASD units, such as St. Dominic's and Scoil Mhuire in Ballyboden in my constituency, are now being joined by schools such as Bishop Galvin National School and Bishop Shanahan National School in opening ASD units. I have learned that schools which have opened these units welcome additional units to provide collaborative, professional supports to teachers. There is good news for both the parents of children with special needs and those pupils with special needs in our schools.

2:15 pm

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
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I am glad to say as a Fianna Fáil Deputy that it is not that our fingerprints are on this budget but that our hoofprints are all over this budget. A number of core policy issues for my party have been addressed well in this budget. The first matter that I want to focus on in the short time that I have available is the provision of SNAs. Some 1,000 extra SNAs are being provided in the education system.

I have lobbied unsuccessfully on the issue of working principals in previous budgets but there has been a strong recognition of their plight in this year's budget. Angela Dunne, who has led the working principals' action group, is the principal of Loughmore National School. There has been a major improvement. Any working principal with two autism units in his or her school will now be treated as an administrative principal. That is a major step forward. More needs to be done for these working principals, who find it extremely hard to teach as well as to deal with a substantial amount of paperwork. I hope that in next year's budget, any principal who has an autism unit will be treated as an administrative principal, and that working principals will get extra allocations.

The national childcare scheme is a core principle of Fianna Fáil. There is €78 million extra for it in this year's budget. I have been lobbied by SIPTU in my constituency about this issue on numerous occasions. Pat McCabe is a strong lobbyist for it. It was a grand to get a text from SIPTU on Tuesday evening recognising the achievement in the budget. There has been a serious problem with the retention of staff and staff conditions. This €78 million will go a long way to ensuring the retention of staff in the childcare system, which is essential, and also to stabilising fees for parents, another core policy issue for us.

Another important issue is the change to qualify for carer's allowance. It is the first time in 14 years that this has been addressed. That is linked to the €90 million for housing adaptations and means that many families will be able to consider looking after their older family members at home. While it is our policy, a shoulder needed to be put to the wheel to ensure that families could achieve their objectives. That change in the criteria for carers and the money for housing adaptations will be important for families who want to try to keep senior family members at home and look after them there.

The €30 million extra for high-tech drugs is most welcome. I ask the Minister of State to take this back to the Minister for Health. I and others have lobbied for a drug called Epilex, an essential drug for people suffering from epileptic fits. I have dealt with the case of a young lady with cancer who badly needs this drug, which is expensive. Hopefully, with the extra €30 million allocation, we will be able to reimburse that drug. I would like if the Minister of State would bring that to the attention of the Minister for Health.

This is the largest welfare package in a decade. The Opposition says that we have not looked after older people in the budget. That is not true. A person living alone will be €13 a week better off. If you examine what was put forward by the Opposition in their alternative budgets, it did not measure up to what was introduced by the Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Michael McGrath, on Tuesday. I am proud to say that we looked after social welfare recipients in this budget well.

I am glad to see the mention of infrastructure projects in my constituency, such as the Ballina-Killaloe crossing, the Cork to Dublin railway line and the Waterford to Limerick Junction railway line. They are all essential infrastructure projects. Some need improvements and others need to happen as quickly as possible to improve transport infrastructure in my constituency.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I have listened to many speeches in the last few days. The Government is out of touch. It is not listening to what is happening outside this box, which is crazy. If you are a renter, this budget does nothing for you. The energy prices, with the carbon tax, have gone off the scale. There will be probably the most expensive childcare system in Europe. If you are trying to get to school, you will not get there because school transport is a disaster and I did not see anything to address that. The previous speaker mentioned social welfare and spoke about a few bob here and there. A pat on the back is only a foot and a half away from a kick in the backside. It is patronising people.

I want to concentrate on health. I see the additional €24 million, in real money, that will be invested in mental health. I have just listed housing, rent, carbon tax and childcare. A measly €24 million will not even keep the system ticking over where it is. Our alternative budget was going to put in €130 million, the biggest investment in mental health in the history of the State, because we know people are struggling. The excuse of Covid is used but we had all these problems, including housing and health, well before Covid. As people start to come out of that, we are seeing more and more demand for mental health services. Recently in west Cork, in Ballinadee, a farming family lost their father to suicide. They have been raising money for Pieta House because the farming sector is struggling and there seems to be little support. I spoke to two elderly people yesterday. They were talking about the measly fiver and the little bit of fuel allowance and living alone allowance. That will all be eaten up. The minute petrol and diesel prices have tax applied, they will become more expensive. I feel that this year of all years would be the best time to start putting billions into the economy. Paying people real wages to build proper houses would alleviate the housing demand. The knock-on effect of that is that renters can have a decent job and afford to get a mortgage, which frees up space in the rental sector, alleviating that. Covid has exposed how bad our health system is. We should invest in it and hit this hard.

I do not know if Government Members have read our alternative budget but there was a will there to tackle this head-on. We are here to serve the people outside this Chamber. It is not Government funding. It is taxpayers' money and we are not even giving it back to them in the services they need. I hope in a short time we will be sitting on that side of the House and we will present our budget. Then we will provide for the people and ensure everything that can and should be done will be done.

2:25 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Next is a Solidarity-People Before Profit slot. There is nobody in attendance. Next is the Government slot. Deputies Jim O'Callaghan and Francis Noel Duffy have four minutes each.

Photo of Jim O'CallaghanJim O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay South, Fianna Fail)
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There is a tendency during political debates about budgets for politicians and political commentators to concentrate on individual measures that have been introduced. That is understandable and I will do that presently. However, it is important we also take into account the general economic condition of the country at the time of the budget. That is what experts in economic departments refer to as the macroeconomic outlook. The budget presented by the Ministers, Deputies Michael McGrath and Donohoe, showed the State believes it will generate €94 billion in revenue next year. That is an extraordinary amount of money for the State to take in. It will take it in mainly through tax revenue, but also non-tax revenue and appropriations-in-aid.

The job of the Government is to ensure this extraordinary amount of money, which is close to €100 billion, is spent prudently and efficiently. The budget that has been outlined proposes that it will be spent prudently and efficiently next year. It is planned that there will be voted expenditure of €88 billion and non-voted expenditure of €14 billion. That brings it up to a total expenditure of €102 billion, meaning there is a planned deficit next year of €8 billion. That is a remarkable achievement, given we have come through a pandemic where huge amounts of money have been spent by the State, correctly, in supporting citizens and businesses. It was believed the deficit for 2021 would be €20 billion. In fact, it will only be €13 billion. Significant credit should do go to the Ministers, Deputies Michael McGrath and Donohoe, for ensuring the macroeconomic outlook is in a good condition and position. If we do not have that and the State is not raising revenues, we will not be able to pay for the essential services so many of us in the House want to see supported.

That brings me to some measures in the budget which I think will be of benefit to young people. As I have said previously in this House, the past two years have been difficult for young people, whether they are students starting third level education or couples married with children. Some of the schemes that have been introduced have huge benefits for young people.

First, we have a youth travel card for people between the ages of 17 and 23 which will result in a 50% discount in their travel fares. That will be of huge benefit to the young people who avail of it. Second, there will be 7,600 more places at third level institutions. There is huge demand for third level institutions. People want to go on after secondary school to educate themselves more and attain expertise in academic disciplines and the apprenticeships. That is why I welcome the 7,600 more places. Third, there will be a €200 increase in the maintenance grant. That is something my party, Fianna Fáil, has called for and I am glad to see it included in the budget. Those three measures will be effective and useful for students in third level.

For students in secondary and primary school, the addition of 1,165 additional SNAs will be of huge assistance. As well as that, there will be 350 additional teachers. Huge amounts of money are being invested in the education system. That is something Fianna Fáil has always prioritised and I am glad to see that it has been emphasised and achieved in this budget. The younger children are also being looked after. We will have free GP care for children of six and seven and the national childcare scheme universal subsidy has been extended to all children up to the age of 15.

This has been an effective and efficient budget. More important, the macroeconomic outlook is good, but we have to be careful of storm clouds on the horizon, which may arise in the form of rising inflation, energy costs and energy security.

Photo of Francis Noel DuffyFrancis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party)
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As we recover from one of the most challenging times in the history of the State, it was important our budget aimed to restore livelihoods, rebuild the sectors destroyed by the pandemic and protect the most vulnerable as we mitigate the climate crisis. I believe this budget has succeeded in doing so.

The solution to the rental crisis is State-led affordable accommodation. That is what cost rental is. It provides State-led high-quality affordable housing with secure, indefinite tenancies so no tenant is at risk of homelessness. I welcome the budget target of 2,000 cost rental units per year, a fivefold increase on last year's budget. We already know the demand is extremely high and we need multiples of this number. I have advocated and will continue to advocate for a figure of 10,000 cost rental units per year for ten years. This will make up 20% of our rental market at rents 40% and 50% lower than the market prices. This is the State intervention we need to stabilise our rental sector and bring down the cost of rents.

Critically, we need to ensure a just transition towards a climate-neutral economy by protecting our most vulnerable and creating sustainable green jobs and opportunities. I am glad to see a commitment of €300 million for residential and community retrofit schemes, of which more than €109 million is for free upgrades for low-income homes and €60 million is for low-cost retrofit loan schemes.

The purpose of the carbon tax is to deter people from using polluting CO2-emitting fuels. The tax is fully ring-fenced to assist families in the transition to renewable energies with Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland funding for solar panels, retrofitting, heat exchanges and geothermal utilities. Most important, the tax, as reported by the Economic and Social Research Institute recently, protects households most in need to the point where they are better off. To say otherwise is disingenuous.

As well as increasing our supply of new builds of social and affordable housing, we have thousands of vacant sites serviced and zoned for residential use but lying idle. I welcome the step to replace the vacant site levy with the new zoned property tax, which finally closes many loopholes that allowed sites to be exempt from the levy. This tax will be more effective, increase the number of sites subject to tax and, ultimately, increase housing supply. I support giving local authorities enough time to map the relevant sites before implementing the tax through the Revenue Commissioners. Ideally, I would like to see the 3% figure increase to 7% quickly in order to realise these vacant sites.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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For this budget, the public wanted to see urgency from the Government to address the crisis in housing, the rental crisis, the crisis in the health service and the cost of living. Unfortunately, as has been said, never has so much been spent and so little achieved.

This is a great budget for landlords, speculators and developers. A major issue in the housing sector is vacant land remaining unused and being sat on by speculators and developers. That land is needed to deliver affordable and cost rental homes. That is one of the big blocking points. Sinn Féin’s budget would have increased the vacant site levy to 15% to incentivise developers to build homes on vacant lands. Instead, the Government scrapped the existing 7% levy and replaced it with a 3% levy on zoned land, which is essentially a tax break for speculators. What is worse is that it includes up to a three-year lead-in time before it takes full effect.

Where is the urgency in that on housing? There are loopholes in it. We will watch that development to see how it pans out.

The budget offers nothing for renters. There is no rent freeze, no rent controls and no tax relief. Instead, an additional €168 million, on top of the fortune that has already been spent, will be provided in rent subsidies to landlords through the housing assistance payment, HAP, coupled with pre-letting expenses and tax breaks. It was a good day for landlords. If any sector needed relief, it is those who are renting - average and low-income workers who are in private rented accommodation with no rent subsidies and no HAP. Sinn Féin would introduce a three-year rent freeze and an 8% tax rebate for renters to put a month's rent back in their pockets. Renters are also going to be punished disproportionately by the carbon tax, as they are living in accommodation that is mostly poorly insulated, with inefficient and expensive heating systems. Members can see that for themselves if they visit private rented properties.

Regarding health, there is a lack of focus in the budget. Not only does Sinn Féin's alternative budget invest more than the Government does, but we target our funding at the front line. We want to tackle waiting lists, provide additional ICU capacity, increase general hospital beds and expand primary care and GP capacity. We cannot make progress without expanding GP capacity. I welcome the progress that has been made on the carer's allowance and other supports, as these people work incredibly hard and deserve recognition. Such changes are long overdue.

Yesterday, low-income workers were left behind. Some 80% of workers will not benefit at all from the Government's proposed tax reliefs and higher earners will benefit disproportionately from the reliefs introduced. Similarly, struggling workers and families in rural Ireland, such as those in Laois and Offaly, are hit with a further increase in the carbon tax, increased home energy costs and increased motor costs. People need a car to get to work.

Likewise, farmers received nothing. I listened carefully to the Chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. There was not anything there for farmers. What is in store is increased carbon tax. Those who own a home will most likely not be able to afford to retrofit it and the national retrofit grant scheme is moving at a snail's pace. Anyone who works out the numbers will see that for himself or herself. The working poor earning below €35,000 are now worse off. The alternatives are just not there for those who are hardest hit by the carbon tax and the cost of living increases. Speakers referred to the increases in social welfare. The problem is that they are gone before they are paid because of the carbon tax and other measures in the budget. We set out in our budget proposals how we would deliver change and begin to build a fairer system for workers and families. We are not naive, we know it cannot be done in one budget, but it needs to be done incrementally over a period. Workers, in particular the working poor, need relief, but they did not get it this week in the budget.

2:35 pm

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share time with Deputy Niamh Smyth.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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We have an extra few minutes due to the absence of speakers before us in the debate.

We came into government in difficult circumstances. It was about who could coalesce because of the nature of the result. It was about who could best put together an objective to address those issues that mattered most at the time of the election, which were housing, health, climate change and the associated just transition. We set in train a programme for Government seeking to deliver upon those areas. The pandemic, unfortunately, stopped much of that in its tracks. While it has been difficult and there has been much fear, consternation and worry on the part of many people throughout the country, we must acknowledge that the response to the pandemic has been phenomenal, especially in the context of front-line workers and the patriotic commitment they made on all our behalf. The people at large supported the measures exceptionally well. Despite the ups and downs, we must recognise the manner in which the Government saw fit to ensure, for example, that we had one of the best vaccination systems in the world. Despite the figures in recent days, I hope that will shortly become a distant memory. People are rightly impatient for delivery. They expect, want and demand results.

This budget, as with all budgets, must seek to be fair and to address inequalities in public service delivery by steadily improving workers' incomes and rewarding work and investment. The budget has been particularly difficult given the continuing need to assist business and those sectors most impacted by Covid, and also against a background of the increased cost of living and inflationary concerns that are all too obvious. The budget had to be framed within a credible fiscal framework, conscious of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council's recommendations and our international responsibilities and credibility, especially following the recent increase in corporation tax. The Government has skilfully, insofar as it can, sought to ensure that is the case in terms of fairness and equality. That can be measured, for example, by the social welfare package in excess of €800 million, the continuation of the wage subsidy schemes, rates waivers for business and specific packages for the tourism, entertainment and hospitality sectors, while maintaining and improving access within the public service, especially in education, justice and health. That is in addition to massive commitments of €4 billion per annum made in the recent Housing for All document.

I especially commend the Government's efforts to help younger citizens vis-à-visincreased third level grants and increased eligibility for those same grants, which will see improvements for some up to a value of €2,000 with the costs associated with third level education. There are also most welcome commitments to transport discounts in the public sector for youth. It is the youth that we rely on and to whom we owe most in terms of the solutions we need to see become a reality in housing, health, climate change and the associated just transition.

In the coming months we must see radical efforts in these areas to ensure our aspirations are realised. Pumping money alone will not necessarily work. It will help, but we have seen in the past it does not necessarily deliver upon the commitments that are made. Strong and effective government must push the boundaries in these areas. It must overhaul the areas of governance that are holding up and delaying the sort of delivery we want to see become a reality. For example, in housing, supply is impacted most by planning. The Government is bringing forward a planning reform Bill in the autumn. It must be transformative and statutorily put time periods in place for how An Bord Pleanála delivers its responses to planning appeals. It must seek to restrict the appeals process especially in the area of judicial reviews.

I am also conscious that development plans involve a prolonged process with much consultation, deliberation and commitment by local authority members, together with the public. I regret to see planning held up for four or five years at a time of national crisis, despite commitments and applications for development being in sync with county development plans, regional guidelines and plans and the criteria on design, density and environmental and traffic impacts. That cannot be allowed to continue. Bold decisions must be made in that regard.

Regarding health, we have seen in the past that the fear of change is the greatest barrier to change. During the course of the pandemic, we have seen the impact, effort and commitment of the workforce, the Government and everybody concerned and how much could be done to assist in the national effort. We would like to see Sláintecare implemented. For the first time, a health strategy involves cross-party support and commitment. It is a worry that in recent times we have lost many of the members of the board that was put in place to be innovative and to implement the change. I am not sure I agree with the appointments of Paul Reid and Robert Watt at the head of the new board. The success of the new board must be measured quickly and honestly in order to impact the change that is necessary.

In regard to climate change and just transition, the efforts that have been made are, unfortunately, not compatible with increased fuel and energy costs while the target of a just transition has not materialised as originally envisaged. I call on the Government to soon, if not immediately, publish the territorial plan which it will shortly submit to the European Commission to draw down a further €84.5 million from the coal and peat regions in transition fund. That funding must be better targeted to benefit those most impacted by the acceleration of decarbonisation, particularly in my own county of Offaly and other counties in our region.

Neither are the efforts on climate change and just transition compatible with the management of EirGrid and ComReg in regard to energy and the increased competition we had expected to see in the energy sector. I am conscious in particular of something I have mentioned in recent weeks in this Chamber, and that is the failure of EirGrid to adequately police the situation whereby the ESB can win four contracts or tender procedures over the past four years to the tune of 430 MW, and then to withdraw from them during those four years, pay the penalty and allow the grid to remain challenged. At the same time, power stations in my region were closed on the understanding that renewables would be forthcoming on the grid. Another 270 MW was lost there, which brings the total loss to 700 MW. At the same time, there has been no increase in competition, the grid remains challenged and costs continue to rise.

We have seen regulators in the past asleep at the wheel and we suffered because of it. No way should this be allowed. No way should the same regulator, ComReg, be expected to come up with all of the solutions over the next ten years when it was very much responsible for the failings over the past number of years. That is something I hope to be addressed in the short term if we are to be serious about creating an atmosphere where renewables can compete on the national grid and where competition is such that our grid is not compromised. When it is not compromised and when that sort of competition is alive and well, there is the prospect of lower prices and lower impacts on those who are left to pay because of the failures. Those who are left to pay are those who put us here, and we have to respond accordingly.

2:45 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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As there is no one present from the Rural Independent Group, we move to the Independent Group. I call Deputy Michael McNamara.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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I listened to the budget speeches on Tuesday and have been reflecting on them since. It seems this budget is a little bit of everything and very little of anything. It lacks any particular strategic direction. It is pretty much a case of continuing with the way we are - give a little bit to everybody and let us not change the status quobecause there could be an election soon. That is what I take from this budget. Maybe I am wrong, but we will see.

I want to return to a couple of initiatives in the budget. In doing so, I am mindful of a conversation I had last night with a constituent with a great deal of experience of management in our health service. As our conversation concluded, he said that throwing money at dysfunction does not stop the dysfunction; it just wastes the money. Unless systemic problems are addressed, throwing money at them is not going to matter. There are two issues I want to focus on, one of which is the money for aviation. I welcome it to the extent that our aviation sector is in a difficult place and something needs to be done. However, unless the root causes of the problems in our aviation sector are addressed, throwing a little bit of money at it is not going to help.

I welcome the additional money for regional airports and I particularly welcome the fact Shannon and Cork will be able to draw money from that fund into the future. However, we do not have an aviation policy in this State. There is a lot of talk, particularly from Sinn Féin, about the necessity to bring Shannon Airport back under the ownership of the Dublin Airport Authority so there is one airport authority. That may well be, although I am not particularly convinced by it. However, unless and until we have an aviation policy in the State, it does not matter. Dublin Airport was competing with Shannon Airport when they were in the same group, and Dublin Airport is competing with Shannon Airport now they are in different groups. Therefore, the ownership structure is secondary to the fact Dublin Airport is doing everything possible to take out Shannon Airport. To compensate for that, the State, which owns Dublin Airport, is going to give Shannon Airport a bit more money while it continues to be undercut by Dublin Airport in any of the deals it tries to make.

The €90 million of funding, as I heard the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, say on radio, will go towards landing fees. That is something that is transferred on to passengers, and it works out at perhaps €14 to €20 a passenger. It is a sizeable sum that people look at when they are determining where they are going to fly to because it is going to add to the cost of their ticket. Of course, people who do not have a vaccine passport, which is a larger proportion of the population in any other European country than it is here, are the people we are trying to attract to the country. We require them to have a PCR test to come into Ireland, just like Irish people who go abroad are required to have one on their return. That is unique in Europe. Other countries work with an antigen test and have done since travel was reopened.

This PCR test costs between €100 to €150 depending on where people are. Of course, they have to go to a particular institution to get a PCR test in those other countries because it is only used to confirm a clinical diagnosis in most countries. Therefore, they have to go and queue up with people who have been clinically diagnosed as having Covid. They queue up with them to get this PCR test that costs €120. As it is a contagious disease, we are told, that greatly increases their risk of getting it. They have the test and it is negative because they have just got Covid, and they come back and they produce this PCR test, which costs them €120. That is not seen as a disincentive to coming to Ireland but the €20 landing charge is. It is utter nonsense.

According to the local authorities, there are only 1,000 derelict sites in the country. That is nonsense. There are 1,000 derelict sites in County Clare alone and I am sure there are 1,000 derelict sites in County Carlow and 1,000 in County Louth. There was a local authority staff member in County Louth who was very active in dealing with derelict sites, although, in response to his activity, he got moved sideways out of his job. Local authorities are doing nothing to combat derelict sites, just as local authorities were doing very little to combat vacant sites. Now, there is a new tax on zoned land. The land on which that tax is going to be levied is going to be identified by the local authorities, which did nothing to use the infrastructure or the measures they had at their disposal to combat vacant sites, and which are doing almost nothing to combat derelict sites, yet the Government is doing nothing at all in this budget about derelict sites.

I called for two measures. One is a reduction in capital gains tax on those selling derelict sites for a short period, that is, a window in which to sell them – to use them or lose them. The second is that the help-to-buy scheme would be extended to include people buying a derelict site and bringing it back into occupation. There should be time conditionality or a window on that. No matter what incentives the Government brings in around housing, it is going to be five to ten years before we see results, but we could bring back derelict sites as they do not have to go through the planning process in many instances, and they could be brought back into use very quickly. Yet, the Government has done nothing about that. I am disappointed that was not in this budget.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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We move to the Government slot. I call the Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, who is sharing time with Deputy Cormac Devlin. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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B’fhéidir nach n-úsáidfidh mé an t-am iomlán but I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak on budget 2022 both as the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs and as a Deputy proudly representing the people of Meath East. It is a great privilege to represent the people in this Chamber, and I think about that every day.

Many of us may be feeling that privilege and responsibility even more, following our time in the convention centre, now that we have returned to representing the concerns and issues of our constituents in this Chamber. We are all rooted in our communities and we must consider the budget with the lives of our constituents in mind, while always, of course, having the national interest to the forefront. This budget is focused on health, housing, education and public services. It will reduce the cost of living and support hard-pressed families. Every household in Meath East and throughout the country will benefit in some way from the measures introduced in the budget.

Working families are stretched. Childcare costs have continued to rise year-on-year, with no meaningful policy change to tackle the issue. This budget marks a turning point in the State's approach to the early years and childcare sectors. An enhanced funding stream for childcare will improve pay and conditions for those working in the sector and prevent fee increases for parents. The eligibility criteria for the universal childcare subsidy is being extended to all children aged up to 15. The budget will extend GP care to six- and seven-year-olds. There will be increases in maternity and parental leave payments, and parent's benefit will be extended to give seven weeks' cover.

This budget shows Fianna Fáil's strong record on, and commitment to, education. The allocations in the budget will ensure smaller classes, with the pupil-teacher ratio going down again. There will be more and better school buildings, as we are seeing throughout Meath East, and more teaching staff to support our children's learning. The Minister, Deputy Foley, has secured an allocation to hire new teachers and SNAs, which will result in average pupil-teacher ratios in primary schools reducing to a record low of 24:1. There is provision for significant funding for ICT grants for schools, which is important, as well as the school transport scheme and school building projects. The delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, programme will be extended, and an additional €4 million has been allocated to extend the hot school meals programme to more DEIS primary schools.

For those in third-level education, there are serious changes in the Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grant scheme. The qualifying income threshold has been expanded by €1,000. For a large proportion of students in my constituency, the qualifying distance for the non-adjacent grant rate has been reduced from 45 km to 30 km. This will take a significant number of students in Meath East up to a much higher level of grant support, whether they are going to college in Dublin, Maynooth, Dundalk or even Athlone, and will have an enormous impact on people's lives in the constituency. Previously, students had to live at least 45 km from campus to qualify for the non-adjacent grant; that has been reduced to 30 km, as I said. This will mean grant support of up to €2,000 for all eligible students in receipt of SUSI grants.

The housing situation was at an all-time low before the pandemic. As we come out of the Covid period, that bad situation has been made worse. I know many people in Meath who have moved back to live with their parents because they are priced out of the housing market and unable to save while renting. Housing for All is a serious plan containing workable tasks that will change the situation completely. The budget starts the roll-out of that plan. We are providing the largest-ever multi-annual funding for a housing programme, amounting to in excess of €20 billion over the next five years. This unprecedented level of spending provides us with a massive housing budget.

Our healthcare system has been under enormous pressure over the past 18 months. There are more than 400 people in hospital with Covid-19 at this time. The pandemic has led to many people having their procedures cancelled or delayed. The budget will tackle that backlog. A total of €350 million has been allocated to help clear waiting lists. There will be 8,000 new full-time, permanent staff in the health service. There are also a number of new initiatives. For too long, we have failed the women of Ireland when it comes to healthcare provision. This budget marks a turning point in that regard. There is free contraception provision for those aged 17 to 25. There are plans to tackle period poverty, and funding for the national maternity strategy. A total of €16 million is being allocated to women's healthcare through budgets for cancer care, mental health provision and social inclusion, including funding to develop a perinatal model of care.

In his speech on Wednesday, the Taoiseach acknowledged the work of the EU in delivering on its promise to give Ireland fast and fair access to vaccines on the same basis as larger countries. The pandemic has not gone away but our vaccine roll-out has played a major role in allowing us to move forward with this progressive budget, which will underpin our economic recovery from the Covid crisis. I am proud of the role I played in this regard as Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, working on the General Affairs Council in Brussels.

I want to comment briefly on the budget commitment to support A Career for EU. In the programme for Government, we committed to bring forward a strategy to increase the number of young Irish people working in the EU institutions and agencies. I published the A Career for EU strategy during my first year in office and I am delighted that the budget has committed to providing €1.25 million towards its implementation, specifically to double the number of seconded national experts working in the EU.

The Opposition should give an honest appraisal of the budget. It makes fools of the people to suggest that somehow the Government can meet every need immediately, we do not need plans and we can do it all in one day. Money does not grow on trees and the public understands that. Choices have to be made, and the choices that were made in this budget are ones that overwhelmingly favour those who are struggling, people in the poorer sectors of society and those who most need the help of the State. We are spending money in a way that supports economic recovery, opportunity and our future prosperity. As the Taoiseach said in his address, political cynicism and opportunism is the defining characteristic of Sinn Féin's approach to politics. The public will see past its rhetoric. Closing hospitals in the North of Ireland while campaigning for the opposite to happen in this State is one of many examples of its cynicism. I am proud to be part of the Government that has brought forward this budget. I have no doubt it will be of great benefit to the people of Meath East. I support it and commend it to the Dáil, which is the House of the people.

2:55 pm

Photo of Cormac DevlinCormac Devlin (Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to discuss budget 2022. The underlying macroeconomic forecast for next year is positive and the outlook strong. The State expects to take in approximately €94 billion in revenue, which has given the Ministers for Finance, and Public Expenditure and Reform scope to invest an extra €4.7 billion in public services. The Government proposes to focus this extra investment in education, health, childcare services, increases to social protection payments and a modest tax package for workers, all of which are welcome.

I particularly welcome the investment secured by the Minister for Education. It includes provision for 350 new teachers, which will see the pupil-teacher ratio reduced to 24:1. Funding to hire an additional 980 special education teachers and 1,165 SNAs will make a real difference to children who need that support. The extra €18 million to support DEIS schools, and €4 million to expand the hot school meals programme, shows the focus of this Government on supporting the most disadvantaged.

We have all seen the impact of Covid on hospital waiting lists. I welcome the extra €250 million in funding to deal with that issue. Additional funding for the National Treatment Purchase Fund is particularly welcome in this regard. Expanding free GP care to children aged under eight will be welcomed by parents and this measure should be expanded as soon as possible. I welcome the extra funding secured by the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, particularly for mental health provision, and the moneys secured by the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, who is present, to support disability services.

Increases to social protection rates, carer's allowance and pension payments are all welcome. The increase in the fuel allowance is very positive. However, the price of fuel will need to be monitored closely to ensure that payment is sufficient. I would like to an expansion of the fuel allowance scheme, with the introduction of a partial payment for people earning slightly more than the current threshold, particularly pensioners with a modest occupational pension who live alone.

Young people will benefit from the 50% discount on public transport, increased SUSI grants and changes to health treatment benefits. The increase in the minimum wage is welcome. I also commend the investment in childcare, as highlighted by my colleagues, Deputy Lahart and the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne.

The continued investment in the Housing for All programme is welcome. Next year, the State will deliver almost 50% of all new housing, including 9,000 new social homes. Funding for 11,000 grants to adapt homes for older people and people with disabilities is an important commitment in the budget. It was clear that the vacant site levy was not working. The new zoned property tax, which will be administered and collected by Revenue rather than local authorities, is an important change. I expect it will have a significant impact. A rate of 3% is a good start but it will need to be ramped up if people and organisations are sitting on valuable serviced sites.

In a context were we have seen an increase in antisocial and criminal behaviour in Dublin, funding for an additional 800 gardaí and 400 civilian staff is particularly welcome. I also commend the €5.2 million in funding for victims, including vulnerable witnesses, and to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

The tax package for working people is welcome. A €50 increase in tax credits and changes to the tax bands will mean someone on the average industrial wage is €500 better off. Increases in the working from home tax deductions will assist people with the cost of energy and broadband. Should the economic environment continue to improve, I would like this project expanded next year.

Ireland has faced extraordinary challenges over the past 18 months, yet this budget has still delivered the largest welfare package in years. This includes unprecedented investment in health, housing, education, childcare and justice, while also delivering a modest tax change.

3:05 pm

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I was extremely disappointed by what the Government provided for mental health in this year's budget. It has provided just €24 million in additional funding. This is a decrease from the additional €50 million that was provided last year. This is woefully inadequate and shows the Government is out of touch with reality. It has not recognised the mental health challenges ordinary people are facing.

The Minister of State, Deputy Butler, announced an additional €47 million, which is still down on last year, yet the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, said in his budget speech that there would be an additional "€37 million to fund the expansion of mental health services". The expenditure report stated that only €24 million in new funding is provided for mental health so let us drill down into these figures. Of the €47 million announced by the Government, €10 million is one-off funding that is unspent from last year. This €10 million cannot be used for new services or the employment of staff; it must be spent in the next 78 days. This is like rearranging the deck chairs on theTitanic. Some €13 million is for existing services and this funding was pre-committed so it does not represent additional funding. It is standing still money. We are left with a €24 million increase, which is a 52% drop on last year's increase. This is another smoke and mirror tactic by the Government. In the midst of a global pandemic and reports of people who are desperate for mental health supports, it has failed. It is out of touch, ideas and time.

The Government is banging the drum that €1.1 billion is allocated for mental health this year. To put that into context, this is almost the exact same amount that was allocated in 2008. It has taken 13 years to get back to 2008 levels. Budget 2022 means that only 5.1% of the health budget is for mental health when Sláintecare recommends that 10% of the health budget should go to mental health and international best practice recommends that up to 16% should be allocated. The State is in the grips of a mental health crisis that demands an emergency response and substantial ongoing funding commitments. This is a lost opportunity to significantly increase funding for mental health services. It again shows the lack of understanding by the Government of the shortfall in our services and the extent of the growing demands for mental health services.

I am constantly asked what Sinn Féin would do and it is simple. If I was a Minister for mental health, I would just put the needs of workers and families first. I would make it easier for people to access the mental healthcare they need when and where they need it. Sinn Féin not only produced an alternative health budget but we also produced an alternative mental health budget. Sinn Féin proposed an additional €114 million for urgently needed investment in child and adolescent mental health and primary mental healthcare services; expanding counselling to universal coverage; investment in dual diagnosis supports; access to 24-7 emergency mental healthcare; eight additional eating disorder teams across the State; a comprehensive perinatal service for the entire island; and other measures. It would have been the biggest investment in mental health in the history of this State.

Not only is this alternative budget fully costed by Department, it also has to go through the offices of my comrades, Deputies Doherty and Mairéad Farrell. The level of scrutiny Sinn Féin put into this means that if one decimal point was out of place, Deputy Doherty would have sent me back to the drawing board. If I was Minister for mental health, I would deliver on these promises and people would start to get the mental healthcare they need when and where they need it.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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We all recognise that the mood music on the pandemic is not as good as we thought it would be. The mood music from our neighbours in Britain has also not been particularly helpful in recent times, particularly on the Irish protocol. It has given succour to some of the more extreme elements within unionism but in fairness the European Commission has shown a willingness to offer solutions to those in the North who may have difficulties with supply chain issues. That is where the emphasis needs to be.

When we talk about a budget we talk about laying out a framework on how we deliver services and we talk about a plan for the future of how we see our society. I think of those workers in Horseware Ireland in Dundalk, which was a flagship clothing company in the town. We had official confirmation that 33 jobs will go and the company will be relocated to Cambodia. I will let Members decide for themselves why that has happened. This is a follow-up on a similar number of jobs that have been lost through redundancies and relocations. I have made contact with the offices of the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and the Tánaiste. I request that the Government use all the powers it has to ensure these workers who have done their damnedest in a company that was synonymous with Dundalk are given the protections they deserve. We must ensure they get the best result possible. We are talking about a company that is not unionised and, therefore, there is a necessity for Government to take a step in this.

I will continue with what has been said by many of my colleagues. It has been said to me on the street that the budget was a scattergun effort to cover all the bases. The checklist is covered but insufficient resources have been put in where they could make a difference. It was said that it was an attempt to make something that was inoffensive. On housing, from a renter's point of view, this budget is utterly offensive and we have a failure to do anything for renters. I even bore myself when I speak about what Sinn Féin has proposed for renters. That is a cap on the ridiculous rents we have and putting a month's worth of rent back into renters' pockets through tax credits. That is a necessity as people are in a bad situation and that is what we need to do as we move forward. There has been abject failure in offering supply of housing, including council houses, affordable mortgages and affordable cost-rental. We need to cover all those bases and we are failing miserably to do so.

We also have an energy crisis. I get that some of these matters are out of the control of the Government and the European Commission and others are required to engage to improve on this. The fact that we are allowing another increase in carbon tax is piling further pain on people who cannot afford it and who do not have alternatives. This is not a solution to the climate change difficulties we have. Childcare is another issue. People are paying high rents and large mortgages and then they have secondary mortgages to pay for childcare. We need a paradigm shift and a system that will involve greater Government spending and deliver a service that is fit for purpose. That would take the sting out of the cost of childcare for our people.

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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Dublin city and county seem to be moving from one crisis to another with attempts by developers to turn this city into one big hotel, while killing off more and more of the city's character, whether it is Merchant's Arch or The Cobblestone, and a lack of sporting facilities being provided for those living in the city and calling it their home.

Considering the height and density of new developments in this city there needs to be an increase in the 10% green and sporting space required in developments. We have seen the hardship that Ranelagh Gaels GAA has faced as it struggles to find adequate grounds for its club, which gives so much back to a wide range of people in the community. Government needs to empower and aid clubs such as Ranelagh Gaels GAA so they can find new and adequate spaces, not stand by and idly watch as they struggle. Large green sites such as the Jesuit grounds in Milltown, which are planned for development, represent another missed opportunity to incorporate sports facilities for the community.

In Dublin Bay South, we have the cricket grounds on Claremont Road. Its gates are locked and the local club has been pushed from the grounds. People have spent more than 100 years playing on the grounds, but they will be sold off for more build-to-rent developments.

People ask what Sinn Féin's proposals are. Last August, I published Sinn Féin's strategy for sporting facilities, which would allow for effective and long-term planning by the Government and local authorities to meet the need for facilities where it arises in future. The Government and local authorities need to start showing some vision for the future and put an end to the failed ad hocprocess that sums up this budget.

Debate adjourned.