Wednesday, 3 November 2021
Finance Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I welcome the Minister to the House. We are debating the Finance Bill at a very challenging and, indeed, dangerous time for our country and our citizens. Even since we debated budget 2022, a few short weeks ago, the situation regarding Covid-19 has worsened considerably. We are far from out of the woods yet and we must proceed with caution and care. The role that the institutions of the State, Government and, indeed, all sides of this House, have played to meet the unprecedented challenge presented by a pandemic, that nobody could have anticipated, has been quite extraordinary, as the Minister outlined at the outset of this contribution.
We have all acted with solidarity and we have done the right thing by our country, but we, in the Labour Party, differ with Government in respect of how we should proceed on the kind of Ireland that should emerge from the pandemic. Ahead of budget 2021 last year, my party advised the Government to do whatever it took to save jobs, businesses and lives and to protect the health of our citizens. The international fiscal and monetary conditions have allowed for money to be borrowed to cushion the blow of the pandemic. This was the right thing to do. We will continue, as is Government policy, to do so as a State, but only for capital investment purposes from 2023.
As we know, Ireland is still playing catch-up on Government spending on housing, health and climate. There is no danger whatsoever to the public finances or to investor confidence in Ireland from running a modest deficit to allow for capital investment in the building blocks for a fairer future. We differ from Government on how much should be borrowed and for what purpose. We have a different philosophy and different political views. That is as it should be. This House is where these debates should happen. Our alternative budget proposals explained why we would choose, for example, to borrow a further €2.1 billion next year on top of Government commitments to front-load capital investment in priority areas. It is really important to remember that before the pandemic hit, general Government expenditure was low compared to the countries with which we often like to compare ourselves. Strong growth of 5.25% of modified domestic demand estimated for 2022 will grow our economy, create jobs, help reduce our debt and allow us to invest more taxes raised to address the gaps in our social infrastructure.
However, there is more to do and we ought to do things differently into the future. I think we should note again in this House the stark pre-budget warning from the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council.
It is just not sustainable that the Government would borrow heavily, spend more on permanent expenditure increases and cut taxes all at the same time over the next period. There are options to raise additional revenues instead of borrowing as heavily as we are doing at present. Yet the Government again chose to allow swathes of non-productive passive wealth in Ireland to go virtually untouched by Revenue in the Finance Bill. Frankly, spending €500 million on tax cuts at this sensitive time in our recovery is wrong-headed and ill advised. The entire €1.5 billion available to fund new commitments in the budget would and could be more productively spent making childcare affordable, clearing HSE waiting lists and providing for better public transport. This would be of real benefit to working people. Put tax cuts, new permanent spending and borrowing together with a rapidly growing economy and it is a recipe for trouble ahead.
We have called for what we describe as a new deal for the people. For my party this means a fair chance and opportunity for all. It means a determined focus on work, care, climate and housing. It means investment in the things that make our lives better and more secure and not ideologically driven tax cuts at the expense of building universal services such as a national public childcare service and a single-tier health service. It also means an informed conversation on how we pay for the health services, education system and the housing system we should demand to see in a decent society and productive economy. This is the type of pandemic dividend the people are entitled to expect and not just a new public holiday and a once-off cash payment for workers who have given their all. Last month's budget and the Finance Bill do not deliver the step change we need to deliver this new deal for a fairer Ireland. They failed to set out a transformative vision. They spend a lot of money tinkering around the edges. It is a business as usual budget. It is telling, and I suspect it is a welcome fact, at least from the Minister's point of view, that never has a budget disappeared off the front pages as quickly as this one did.
Yesterday's Exchequer figures were quite extraordinary. The situation reported yesterday in terms of tax receipts was not even anticipated as recently as budget day. Corporation tax is well ahead of profile at €1 billion higher than expected. Overall tax revenues are running significantly ahead of what was originally profiled. This is, of course, very welcome news indeed for our society and economy. Big firms are performing well, more people are at work and the country is moving in the right direction in this regard. There will be a natural tendency for the Government to pat itself on the back and say things are great. The Minister is a man with the humility to know that all is not well for far too many. He has a chance in the Bill to put it right. Spurs fans have to be humble.
We have seen a dual economy emerge, with locally traded services taking a hammering in the past two years. Housing continues to go beyond the reach of too many hard-working people. The scourge of low pay is all around us and very much in evidence. Now we have a paralysing cost of living crisis with a budget and Finance Bill that do not go far enough to help households meet the rising costs of heating their homes this winter. This is where immediate action is needed.
I will now turn to some of the provisions in the Bill before us. Where we stand on the question of tax should be a defining question of politics. My party is clear and has been consistent in recent years in particular. Now is not the time for tax cuts. The best and most socially democratic way to benefit all of us and all of society is to use most of the €520 million designated for tax cuts to invest in, for example, publicly funded childcare. This is a developmental, social and economic benefit worth much more than the €5 or €8 a week that those on modest incomes can expect from such a measure. Outside of the small changes for a full-time worker on the national minimum wage these cuts do not make economic sense, especially when set against an economy that is set to grow very strongly. This is why I conclude again that such cuts are ideological in nature. There is no economic case for them. I implore the Minister to reflect again on this strategy and heed the advice of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council. Tax cuts should be ditched in favour of providing the things we all need and that would bring the most benefit to the most people. No working person comes to my office or stops me on the street to demand an extra €5 a week. What they do want is affordable childcare, a home for themselves and affordable education for their families. These should be our priorities.
I will make some points on sections 3, 4, 5 and 8 in chapter 1. The arrangements for reclaiming expenses under the working from home relief system are quite cumbersome. Will the Minister consider making moves to make it simpler? In light of the energy bills crisis and the fact the en massereturn to the office is unlikely to occur before next spring, will the Minister make arrangements to backdate the 30% figure to cover this year? This can be done on an administrative basis with Revenue and is a question of political will. It can be done and I would like the Minister to give consideration to it. It would represent a real gesture to those working from home who have to deal with rising fuel costs in the here and now and not next year.
The adjustment of the tax treatment of the pandemic placement grant for student nurses is welcome of itself. However, what the nurses wanted to see is the McHugh report and not choreographed leaks on the day they gathered to demonstrate at these gates yesterday. That was cynical and I ask the Government to engage immediately with nursing and health unions on the substantive issue of student nurses' pay and the McHugh review.
Section 5 extends the help to buy scheme. In the current climate there is simply no argument for a scheme such as this. It has shown itself to be used disproportionately by would-be homeowners who already have a deposit. It is not just I who is wary of the scheme. So is the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and so are many respected think tanks and experts. The Minister knows their views. The scheme serves to inflate house prices further. We will again make the case for it to be scrapped. It has no place in the system at this time.
I note the measures in section 8 with reference to the tax treatment of international flight crew. The Minister knows from engagement with the Irish Air Line Pilots Association, IALPA, in his previous role as Minister with responsibility for transport of the phenomenon of bogus self-employment and the questionable use of intermediary structures to mask the reality of the employment relationship of countless pilots. Swathes of these companies, and I use the term "companies" advisedly, are registered and managed from Ireland. Revenue recently told IALPA it does not have the power to look through these operations. It should be empowered to look through these operations. I plan to engage with the Minister on this on Committee Stage. Bogus self-employment is insidious. As the Minister knows, it denies workers their rights and entitlements. It also deprives the State of significant social insurance moneys and tax, especially PRSI. It needs to be tackled once and for all but there seems to be a continued marked reluctance to do so despite a number of carefully crafted and considered Private Members' Bills that have come before the Houses in recent years.
Chapter 5 covers the area of corporation tax. It would be useful if on Committee Stage or in his wrap-up on Second Stage the Minister were to indicate whether any measure provided for in the Bill, and the measures arise mostly from EU directives, will in any way address,for example, the behaviour of Abbott pharmaceutical-rated companies, which we discussed recently in the House, which are, quite lawfully, as it happens, taking advantage of double malt type arrangements to minimise their corporation tax liabilities. I welcome that Ireland has signed up to both pillars of the OECD corporation tax reform agenda. I predict Ireland will continue to benefit significantly under the new planned 15% rate. All of this being said, there are, of course, potential risks and a lot of unknowns. These risks should encourage the Government, as I said on budget day and as I have said repeatedly, to look afresh at our national industrial strategy. In doing so we should identify what it is we plan to do in future uniquely well in enterprise and tech and focus intently on the potential of indigenous Irish companies to grow, innovate, scale up and go global from here.
This will require considerable attention and a reorientation of policy and resources in the coming years if we are determined to support the evolution of a more innovative, indigenous, Irish enterprise base and a more productive one with good sustainable jobs, born and bred here.
Part 3 deals with VAT. The escalating cost of heating homes is keeping people awake at night, to put it bluntly. It is coming between families and their sleep. It is rare that I will argue for a blanket VAT rate cut as those kinds of cuts are not progressive in nature and, by definition, are untargeted, often very expensive and sometimes unwise. Coupled with an improved fuel allowance system, a household budget package, for example, a carbon credit for working families as proposed by the Labour Party, and a short-term VAT cut on energy and on certain utility bills would help families through the winter. The European Commission has generally given sanction for governments to take extraordinary measures such as this and there is a case to be made for it.
As retail and other services rally, VAT, as we know from yesterday's Exchequer figures, is way ahead of profile. Some of these extra unexpected resources could be put to better use for now other than repairing the balance sheet and paying debt down. I will be very interested to hear the Minister's position on this and I hope he does not tell me that the income tax cuts will do the trick on this front.
In some of the time I have remaining to speak I will refer to the provisions of section 77, which are designed to introduce a zoned land tax. This measure cannot simply be the failed vacant sites levy given a lick of paint and presented as something else entirely. What we do with the land we have available, its cost and the way in which it is managed is fundamental to how our society works. All of the evidence we have available to us, the evidential base and our anecdotal evidence, points to the fact that land hoarding, speculation and the absence of a "use it or lose it" or "use it and we will at least tax it" incentive has undoubtedly contributed to the lack of supply of housing. It is galling to see zoned land, ripe for development with access to services, flipped and flipped again repeatedly for very significant gain as the value of development land grows. Everyone loses here except the developer. Innovations are needed in our taxation system to encourage the timely development of land for housing. The question arises, however, whether this is it and if this is what is needed. As it is presented and structured in this Bill, I am not absolutely certain. Arguably, if the vacant sites levy was working and if it was properly enforced, as the legislation initially intended it to be, the Minister would not be compelled to come to us with this provision in this Bill. In truth, there was a marked reluctance by the previous Government to allow the measures to achieve what they set out to do, and there was a poverty of ambition at local authority level.
I read the provisions of section 77 again earlier today and they need to be very tightly drafted and with only a small number of what I would describe as proportionate or reasonable exemptions attached. I note in the Minister's earlier contribution that he said he may very well be bringing additional amendments to those provisions on Committee Stage, and I very much look forward to that debate because a lot will turn on how this section is structured. We need to ensure it does exactly what it says it will and what the Minister intends. We need to be very clear, for example, about what is meant by "serviced land". I know that when compared with the definition of "public infrastructure and facilities", the list referring to the proposed zoned land tax is shorter and not as comprehensive as that which applies to the current vacant site levy.
All of this will, as I say, require greater examination and discussion on Committee Stage, as will the question as to why the tax cannot come in sooner as our housing crisis is now beyond urgent. Many if not all of us in this House have served on local authorities, some for considerable periods, and we know that most local authorities are going through the development planning process at this stage. They have at their fingertips very detailed information as to where the zoned land is, where the services are, and what is to be zoned into the future. That gives Government a head start and an incentive to proceed with the introduction of this new measure more quickly than the Minister announced on budget day and than is provided for in this legislation. I ask the Minister to show some urgency on this point.
The employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, has been enormously successful in ensuring companies remain viable during the unprecedented challenge presented by the pandemic and that people are kept close to their employment. The Minister will know it is a hobby horse of mine but it is something worth considering, which is the transformation of the EWSS into a more permanent feature of our labour market system based upon, for example, the German Kurzarbeitmodel which has been good for companies, workers and the German economy. We should learn some lessons from how the EWSS has evolved and how useful it has been to allow us to deal with the unprecedented crisis we have been in for almost two years now. This is something the Minister should consider and we ought to explore in more detail on Committee Stage because we know the EWSS will expire in the spring of next year and, as I said earlier, we are not out of the woods yet with Covid-19 and it will take longer for our economy to repair.
I welcome the provisions in the Finance Bill and in the limited time I have available to me to speak, I want to deal with the challenges faced by the road haulage industry. This critical industry for our State is facing the double-double whammy of the pandemic, Brexit, driver shortages and soaring fuel prices. During the pandemic, the haulage sector provided a Rolls-Royce service to our cities, towns and villages. It kept our exporters happy and our supermarkets busy. Despite the challenges, homes were well stocked throughout the country and there were very little or no CRSS or PUP payments made to anyone involved in the road haulage industry. It also had to deal with the detrimental impacts and fallout from Brexit and all of the delays and rerouting that has involved.
At the same time the industry is facing a shortage of qualified drivers, but the major issue facing the haulage industry and the tour bus sector is the rising cost of diesel. There is a diesel rebate scheme of a small amount which is repaid to transport operators, but this has maxed out at 7.5 cent in the previous quarter while prices have continued to soar and a further increase in the carbon tax was added in budget 2022. The road haulage industry needs this limit to be abolished so that repayment can continue to keep pace with the rising retail price of diesel.
The carbon tax is a green tax, but at the moment there is no viable alternative to the use of diesel, and even cleaner additives such as AdBlue have doubled and are expected to treble in price in the near future. The increased carbon tax is a stick to beat the road haulage sector and is expected to cost the industry €200,000 per day or €73 million in a full year. This, along with the excise and duty of 48 cent per litre, costs the sector €720,000 per day or €262 million in a full year.
We need to bring this vital sector with us but where are the carrots to allow the industry to modernise its fleet to the highest viable environmental standards such as Euro 6? The Minister should remove the cap on this rebate as an amendment to this Bill as a first step before the Government completes negotiations with the entire sector on the ten-year strategy for the road haulage sector.
I am led to believe that people in the sector have many valid ideas that would greatly reduce its carbon emissions. The rate of rebate is 19.1 cent per litre in France and 27 cent in Belgium, whereas the maximum here is 7.5 cent. To remove this cap would cost only a fraction of the increased revenue raised from the sector in the coming year and would be a welcome incentive to ensuring its viability following the many adverse conditions it has overcome in the past two years.
I was a little frustrated when I realised I had only three and a half minutes to contribute to this debate, but I copped myself on and realised that if anyone outside the House were offered the same amount of time to speak on the Finance Bill in this Chamber, he or she would grasp it with both hands. I will use the time to focus narrowly on one area.
The Minister is aware of the work of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, on which I am privileged to serve, and has been very generous with his time in engaging with it over the past two terms. He is also aware that one of the issues in respect of which we have sought, if not to impose action on him and his predecessor as Minister for Finance, then certainly to encourage engagement on, is the whole aspect of gender and equality budgeting. The aim is to ensure the terrible errors in budgetary planning that were made in the past and which had disproportionate effects and impacts on different cohorts of our society, such as women, for example, in the case of social protection cuts, would not be repeated and budget preparation would involve proofing any decisions for their gender and equality impact.
My contribution, brief as it is, is to make a plea for our younger people and emerging youth. I have raised this issue at the most recent meeting of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight and I will continue to raise it over the next year. The former broadcaster, Mark Little, took part in a radio discussion recently in which he spoke about the need for future-proofing of budgets to ensure the decisions that are taken across every Department have an eye to the impact on emerging and future generations in this country. The idea is that the Minister for Finance, or any other Minister, would look at every budgetary and financial measure he or she is about to take and ask what impact it will have on an 18-year-old, a 25-year-old or even a 30-year-old. Is the price too high for them to pay at a future time?
The situation of that generation particularly focuses my mind. The emerging generation is made up of a group of people who were already coping with the impact and consequences of the financial crisis of a decade ago, which occurred when they were very young and through no fault of theirs. They are faced with the climate action that is being imposed, although many of them are way ahead of the actions that are required. Action to address climate change will necessitate sacrifices on their part because of the way we acted in our lifetime and the actions of generations that came before us, especially in the past 100 years. In addition, people in this generation have lived and grown up through the pandemic and, aside from those who died, they were the ones to have made the largest sacrifices throughout the Covid period.
I plead with the Minister to ensure future-proofing of budgets becomes an embedded part of the budgetary process across all Departments. In that regard, and although I appreciate the economic context we are in, I am sorry the rainy day fund, in which money is put aside for the future, was dispensed with this year on the basis it would burden the economy too significantly. Yet, we see corporation tax returns €1 billion ahead of target, with VAT receipts also ahead of what was forecast. We must keep an eye on the emerging generation and ensure we do not continue to burden young people into the future.
The Finance Bill sets out the tax measures that accompany the budget. Taking up the point raised by the previous speaker, the Bill has been neither future-proofed, gender-proofed nor rural-proofed. For most ordinary people, this is all just an abstract exercise. It certainly does not help to build us back better after the pandemic. The Finance Bill reflects a Government that is out of touch with hard-working people who are crippled by the cost of living. That is the main message I am getting back from people. Deputy Doherty spoke earlier about how the decision on the pyrite and mica redress scheme may be extended beyond 9 November, which I was shocked to hear. I hope it is not true and that the nightmare is going to end for the families impacted by this. It was absolutely shocking for them to find that measures were not included in the budget.
Sinn Féin proposed an allocation of €1.5 billion in revenue-generating, progressive tax measures as part of our alternative budget. Proposals such as the introduction of a 3% solidarity tax on individual incomes, which would bring in €176 million, were ignored by the Government. Last month, we saw an unambitious budget. Now we see a Finance Bill that is more notable for what is absent than what is included. A vacant property tax is not included and even the weak zoned land tax will not apply until 2024 at the earliest. There is no move to apply the full rate of capital gains tax on the disposal of property by investment funds. We see the bank levy being almost halved, even though citizens are still owed €10 billion. The Minister said he left out provisions regarding Ulster Bank and KBC Bank because he did not want to disrupt their withdrawal from the market. What about the disruption to all the communities and loyal customers who are left without a bank?
The Finance Bill and budget are two sides of the same coin. The real test will be their ability to have an impact on people's lives. I rang one healthcare worker after the budget to see how it would impact on her life. She will get an extra 30 cent per hour to bring her up to the minimum wage. That is what the budget means for her. She is getting an extra 30 cent an hour after working in the most harrowing conditions right through the pandemic. For good measure, she is getting a carbon tax slapped onto her fuel and heating oil. The Minister is saying he has to do this to ensure people change their behaviour. The mind boggles. Does he want this person to put on an extra jumper?
Along with housing, healthcare is the area in which most people want to see real action. This budget will fail healthcare workers and the more than 900,000 people on waiting lists. That is frighteningly evident in Mayo and the west more generally. We have seen the highest rates of people on trolleys, and 15,613 people are now waiting for appointments and treatment at Mayo University Hospital, 22 of whom have been waiting more than four years. That speaks volumes. The budget and this Finance Bill will not impact on those people.
The Finance Bill before us today, which gives effect to some of the measures arising from the recent budget, is being considered in a number of particular contexts. The first and overriding context is the fact we are now coming close to the end of the second year of a devastating pandemic and all that has meant for our country, our people and the economy. We are also approaching it on the basis of how all the weaknesses in how we run our country and how our economy operates have been exposed by the pandemic, particularly the lack of investment in public services, and how the State has kept an arm's-length relationship with many of those essential public services. At a time of crisis, that was shown to be a real weakness and steps had to be taken to address it because the system did not provide the kind of safety net that has been so important and so badly needed over the past couple of years.
The Finance Bill is also being considered in the context of very substantial increases in the cost of living, which everybody is experiencing, right across the board and in respect of all kinds of costs. Housing is the major one but there is also access to healthcare, the cost of living generally and the issue of inadequate public services, which mean people have to pay more to access basic services that in many other countries are provided as part of a social contract whereby people pay their taxes and, in return, get access to good quality universal public services.
The Government promised that the budget would tackle the cost of living crisis, which everybody agrees is out of control. Instead it was a budget that tinkered around the edges, as this Finance Bill is doing, making minor changes but no real substantial difference to people's lives. The high cost of living is a direct result of decades of underinvestment in our public services, housing, healthcare, education, childcare and so forth. This year, a huge increase in the cost of energy is an additional cost for those who are already struggling to get by. Even before the recent spike in inflation, Ireland was the second most expensive country in the EU in which to live. The cost of living here is 36% above the EU average. Our housing costs are the highest in the EU while the price of goods and services is the second highest in the EU.
The Government had choices in the budget and it chose small tax cuts over improving our public services. It would have been much fairer to invest in decent public services from which everyone could benefit. After this budget, most people will see small amounts added to their income each week, at best, but they will still have to deal with the rising cost of living. Budget 2022 will do little to help those on low incomes in particular and nothing to help with things such as high rents, energy costs or high insurance premiums. We should be able to expect more from a government. A fairer budget would have invested in public services, reduced the cost of living and made a real difference to people's lives. There will be no real difference arising from this Bill or the other measures announced in the budget.
I wish to speak about two particular areas: first, tax measures and a few other provisions in the Bill; and second, the issue of borrowing and the attitude of the Minister and the Government to borrowing, which I believe has been a missed opportunity. Regarding some of the tax changes, particularly the income tax changes, in my response to the Ministers' speeches on budget day I noted that more than €500 million was allocated for income tax cuts. However, the regressive nature of the Government's priority was evident in its estimations of the results. It has been repeated several times that the tax cuts benefit everybody. They have not benefited everybody. If one looks at an analysis done by the Minister's Department, one will see that there are particular cohorts that gained nothing from the tax cuts. Of course, this was a political choice; it was a political decision that was made. Fine Gael, in particular, appears to be absolutely hung up on the idea of cutting taxes. That goes very much against the social contract I referred to earlier. It was also done in a way that is regressive. Many people hardly benefited at all. Some people did not benefit to any extent. In most cases, the more one earned, the more one benefited.
Consider the example of a single person on a middle income of between €25,000 and €35,000 per year. A person in those circumstances will get the total sum of €2 per week, which is a quarter of what somebody earning €100,000 per year will get. Straightaway one can see how these were regressive measures. There were other particularly stark examples of the regressive nature of these changes that I do not have time to repeat here. Surely one of the worst is to see that a married couple with no children and with income from one working spouse earning €25,000 will benefit to the tune of €1 per week from these tax measures. In some circumstances, low-income, self-employed couples with children get no tax benefit whatsoever from these changes. It is set out and clear to see in the tax analyses. Social Justice Ireland's budget analysis document suggests that things are even worse than that for some people, with some middle-income couples being better off by a mere 39 cent over the course of this Government's two budgets to date. After the changes last year and this year, some people will only gain 39 cent from those measures. When we were discussing the cost of living in the Chamber this morning, I was quite struck when the Taoiseach defended the decision to spend €500 million on these tax cuts as being the prime measure that would help people to tackle the high cost of living. One has to wonder if he actually understands the detail of the budget at all and the real impact of those tax measures for real people, especially those on average or lower incomes.
On the question of corporation tax, last month the Government announced that Ireland would sign up to the OECD international tax agreement. The projection we have been hearing repeatedly is that the impending changes in the international corporation tax landscape will reduce the State's revenue by approximately €2 billion per year. I was interested to hear that figure, as I am sure many others were. When I asked the Minister for Finance in a parliamentary question a few weeks ago for information on the assumptions being made and the calculations behind that figure, I was met with a vague response which told me nothing that was not already in the public domain or which could not already have been assumed based on common sense.
On the issue of accelerated capital allowances for energy-efficient equipment, section 21 of the Bill amends the scheme under which accelerated wear and tear allowances are available for capital expenditure incurred on the provision of certain energy-efficient equipment. The Bill will prohibit equipment directly operated by fossil fuels from qualifying for the accelerated capital allowances. Rather than prohibiting this equipment from qualifying for the accelerated allowances, should the Government not be moving away from the carrot, in other words, the reliefs, approach and more toward the use of a stick? Rather than give accelerated capital allowances or bonus depreciation to companies for investing in efficient equipment, why not just stop them from claiming allowances in the first place on inefficient equipment?
The Finance Bill also introduces a new interest limitation rule in line with Article 4 of the EU anti-tax avoidance directive, aiming to place a limit on deductible interest expenses of 30% of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, EBITDA, for companies within the scope of the measure. Disallowed interest may be carried forward and may be deducted in future years if the company has sufficient interest capacity. How do the Government, the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners intend to ensure that this limitation is enforced? Will they be developing a specific and targeted anti-avoidance clause as part of this legislation or will they rely on Ireland's general anti-avoidance rules?
With regard to transfer pricing, section 27 of the Bill provides for amendments to the parts of the Taxes Consolidation Act that deal with transfer pricing. The definition of "relevant person" is being amended, but it is noticeable that the notes for editors that accompanied the press release announcing this Bill noted that this amendment is to ensure that certain aspects of the transfer pricing legislation operate as intended. Does that mean they have not been operating as intended? Can the Minister give us more insight into how that has been the case? How is it that an amendment to apply an OECD-developed mechanism for the attribution of income to a branch of a non-resident company operating in the State and the same notes for editors note that this is another important step in aligning the Irish tax code with international best practice? If this is international best practice, why did Ireland wait until now to implement it? If Ireland had implemented this in the past, could we have been allocated more profits from non-resident companies that had Irish branches?
Section 18 of the Bill aims to bring non-resident companies in receipt of Irish rental income within the charge to corporation tax rather than income tax which currently applies. It is the difference between 25% and 20%. To what extent, if any, will this change affect non-resident landlords such as REITs or other institutional investors, which are currently exempt from tax on their Irish rental income, while ordinary landlords must pay tax at 25%? Surely the Government is not allowing another opportunity to pass by to extract some kind of benefit for the Exchequer from these investment funds which are hoovering up homes in Ireland while paying little or no tax on their enormous profits. It seems that the Bill is intended to reinforce the fact that apartments are outside the scope of the 10% stamp duty surcharge that the Government implemented in May on purchases of more than nine houses by a single purchaser. I would welcome clarification from the Minister on that point.
The Bill also includes a measure relating to penalties and publication of tax defaulters' details. We are told that it makes a number of amendments to the penalty and publication provisions in the main tax Acts. They include provision for the application of tax-geared penalties for failing to file a return or filing an incorrect return, as appropriate. The amendments also remove the prohibition on mitigation in offshore cases to allow qualifying disclosures in these cases.
Amendments clarify the circumstances for a settlement to be published, which is a good thing. However, they also provide for non-publication of certain amounts and increase the minimum publication figure from €35,000 owed to €50,000. I do not know what the justification for that is. Should we not be sending out very strong messages to people who engage in tax avoidance and tax evasion? Where there has been bad practice in that regard, why are we not being very clear about that? Why should we raise that threshold? Again, there is no clear explanation for that.
On revenue raising, obviously it is important not just to show ambition on where money should be spent but also where it can be raised. The Social Democrats have certainly done that in our alternative budget document. We are clear that Ireland can and should continue to borrow in order to fund key capital infrastructure and investment for the medium term.
There is still an underlying problem with our Government finances which must be addressed. Ireland has historically collected an amount of Government revenue as a proportion of national income that is far lower than that of western European peer countries, the countries we should most aspire to emulate. Furthermore, the pre-pandemic trend has been for the amount collected to decline. In recent years, the Government's budgetary documentation has repeatedly projected further declines in Government revenue as a proportion of GDP or GNI*. Ireland cannot close the significant deficits in our infrastructure and public service provision without changing this direction of travel. While it is prudent to borrow to fund much-needed capital expenditure that will enhance the long-term productivity of the economy, it is also important that Ireland closes the revenue-raising gap over the longer term and halts the projected declines in revenue raised as a proportion of national income.
I want to make a point about PRSI. Social insurance contributions from employers in Ireland are very low by EU standards. Increasing employer PRSI, bringing Ireland into line with our European peers, must form an essential component of additional revenue raising and public finance stabilisation as well as meeting the challenges of an ageing population. However, given the current level of economic uncertainty and high unemployment, now is not the right time for such an increase. The postponement of any increase by a year would allow the projected economic recovery to become fully embedded.
Budget 2023 should begin a process of reform of the social insurance system ensuring employers and the self-employed make a fair contribution. In the short term, a 1% increase in employers' PRSI on the balance of incomes over €100,000, for example, would yield approximately €60 million in the coming year. We recognise there would be issues for business that have been impacted very negatively. We need to operate on the basis of best practice by European standards. We are a significant outlier on employers' PRSI in this country and we really need to start the process of getting into line with other European countries.
I am concerned about the Government's attitude to borrowing generally. There is a lack of ambition and vision in the budget and as outlined in this Bill. There was a real missed opportunity to come up with big ideas with the potential to transform our country. When one combines the low cost of borrowing with the optimistic outlook for growth of the Irish economy over the forthcoming decade, borrowing to invest where Ireland has major deficits seems to be the only sensible approach. It is important to emphasise that this borrowing should only be for essential capital investment and not to fund current expenditure in the medium to long term. Of course, as the Government has stated, borrowing to fund some current expenditure will be necessary in the short term due to the recent contraction in Government revenue.
This capital investment should prioritise projects which increase the predicted productive capacity of the domestic economy and help to decarbonise society. The Government must remember that borrowing for investment is not a cost; it is a down payment on future growth and revenue. If investment were a cost, no business in the world would ever invest. One such major project has been proposed by the Social Democrats called a green transformation fund. I ask the Minister to give consideration to that approach to ensure a secure and sustainable source of energy. We should also be borrowing for housing now. We should avail of the opportunity with the lifting of the fiscal rules and the fact that money is available to us at negligible interest rates. Our children and their children will not forgive us if we fail to avail of this unique opportunity that exists at the moment to invest in creating a better country.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille. I welcome many aspects of this Bill. I commend the Minister on the work he has put into the Bill and also on his work on the reform of corporation tax. Securing our best interests as a country took enormous personal commitment on his part.
I welcome the provisions to assist those who are working remotely. However, they could go much further. We need to align them with a greater ambition within the corporate sector in Ireland but also within the Government generally for real remote working as opposed to ticking boxes which is occurring at the moment. Many workers working for Government and State bodies as well as for private enterprise are finding that they are being drawn back into their offices here in Dublin. They are being encouraged to come back in despite of some of the supports that are available within the Bill.
The Covid pandemic has given us some good sides, although not many. One of those good sides was showing us that remote working works. If we are serious about remote working as a driver of regional growth and development, the Government as an employer needs to send the message that it will do everything it can to facilitate its employees and also the employees of semi-State organisations, companies in which the Government has a share, to work sustainably within their communities.
I acknowledge the various capital investments that have gone into remote working hubs, such as the fantastic initiative that Údarás na Gaeltachta has through its Gteic programme and the various investments through the rural development fund but they need to be accompanied by a message from the Government that it is serious about remote working and it will encourage its workers to avail of it. Decentralisation was a major success but remote working has taken over that. It has been demonstrated that it can be done and space is available in rural communities for it.
There is a small and limited provision in the Finance Bill for the Western Development Commission, which is welcome. It is time for us to invest in the Western Development Commission and give it a serious remit. Many years ago, before there was talk of COP26 in Glasgow or wind energy, the Western Development Commission developed policy papers around community-led wind energy. I am sure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is familiar with the really good policy papers it developed around the arts in Galway and communities around the west. There is a research function and a function through the Western Investment Fund and the Western Development Commission. With proper and ambitious support from the Government, much more could be done in this regard.
There is a so-called Levelling Up initiative from the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Everything we say about him must have the word "apparently" in front of it and apparently this initiative is about putting a large amount of money into northern England and its resources. We must do that here and a proper investment in the Western Development Commission, working collectively with various local authorities and development agencies across the west, could achieve that aim.
I welcome the various incentives within the Finance Bill relating to health and encouraging people towards health screening. This has not got much coverage but it is incredibly important and we must bring it to people's attention, particularly in a post-Covid context.
The Bill is clearly planned for current conditions and aligned with the budget and national development plan. These initiatives can be transformative if they are delivered. They must be delivered though.
I commend the Minister on the delivery of this Finance Bill. I will start by adding to the comments about the income tax relief that were outlined in budget 2022, and there will likely be complexity experienced by remote workers seeking to make claims for this welcome tax relief. The new tax relief, in the form of a tax deduction, will allow employees who work from home to claim 30% of the cost of electricity, heating and broadband. However, this is to be apportioned on the basis of the number of days worked from a residential premises during the year. I suggest that an online calculator or app be made available to streamline the application process. I am thinking particularly along the lines of a day tracker where remote workers could log the number of days when they work from home and the cost could be logged in a similar way throughout the year. This would be similar to and, ideally, integrated with the existing receipts tracker used by the Revenue Commissioners. It would be very beneficial. If the tax relief is going to be successful, it must be made as attractive as possible and people should be able to apply without being put off with the thought of a time-consuming calculation. I genuinely believe some effort now would avoid more complex matters down the road as remote workers begin applying for this relief.
Particular mention should also be given to section 6 of the Bill, which gives effect to the budget announcement to increase the standard rate band and the number of tax credits with effect from 1 January 2022. The standard tax rate band will be increased by €1,500, with this increase applying to every individual. The basic personal tax credit available to married persons and civil partners jointly assessed will increase from €3,300 to €3,400 and in all other cases, the individual value of the tax credit will increase from €1,650 to €1,700. The value of both the employee tax credit and earned income tax credit will also increase from €1,650 to €1,700. This will make a real difference to PAYE workers and working families, and anything that puts more money into the pockets of workers must be commended. I thank the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, for increasing the amount of money available to the real economy on the streets of our towns and villages. It should be commended.
I seek an extension to the regional film development uplift for claims made after 31 December 2021. This has been an enormous benefit to County Mayo, where we have seen a number of film productions taking place, including "My Sailor, My Love", a joint Irish-Finnish production, and "The Banshees of Inisheer". They were both filmed on Achill Island. "My Sailor, My Love" is a great example of work being done through the Western Development Commission's western region audiovisual producers, WRAP, fund. Film production is generating jobs and income in Mayo and has the potential to significantly increase future tourism in our area. I hope the regional film development uplift can be further expanded but whether through such uplift or otherwise, there is a need for an alternative proposal to encourage film production in regional areas as part of the film tax credit under section 481.
The budget is literally how we set in train how we pay for everything and I suppose it sets the general level of intent in how we order society. I accept there are certain constraints in how we operate. For example, we are still dealing with the outworkings of a pandemic and we do not exactly know where that will lead in future. That is accepted. The State had to pay a huge amount to provide necessary supports, and that was about keeping society ticking over and ensuring we had something at the tail end of this. That was a given.
We are nonetheless in the middle of an energy crisis. I accept the Government cannot sort out every problem and that some elements of the energy crisis arise from the actions of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, for example. I know that when we speak about the budget, we are not, to a degree, talking about carbon taxes because they have already been set in train. The fact is that the increases at this point are just heaping pain on top of pain.
There are other matters over which we have not had the control we would have liked. These include Brexit and supply chain issues. Hauliers are under pressure and are affected by increased carbon taxes and other measures. VAT levels are being looked at across Europe and we must make a determination in that regard. Ultimately, we must be able to keep the show on the road and look after our people.
It goes without saying that housing is a matter that is critical to the people out there. Perhaps we can deal with one part of it. I could state that there are insufficient proposals, money or intent in dealing with housing supply. This is about affordable cost rental and mortgages, as well as council houses. There is a substantial number of people in the rental sector and we know the difficulties they are experiencing. People pay between €1,000 and €1,800 for a regular house anywhere in Dundalk. These are absolutely crazy figures and we have done nothing for the people in those positions. Even if people can pay their rent, I do not know how they can put together a deposit to buy a property. It is hard to see.
We are literally dealing with a budget that has failed to do the business for our people. We had representatives of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, outside and we are dealing with a major issue with retention of staff. We still have not dealt with the pay of student nurses and midwives. There are huge waiting lists for hospital procedures and we have not put in the required capacity to deliver health services. The intent that should have been there is absent and this budget is a continuity of absolute failure. It is not good enough and the people out there are absolutely fed up. They will not stand for this any more.
For the record, it is People Before Profit-Solidarity by the way.
I have just come from the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, which was an unfortunate clash so I missed the Minister's introduction. I heard some but not all of it and I apologise for that. At the meeting, Professor Niamh Maloney discussed the consultation process the Commission on Taxation and Welfare will have. It was an interesting contrast in that the group is trying to step back from the taxation system and obtain a strategic view of what we are trying to achieve in the taxation and welfare systems, and to get wider public opinion on big questions about what is the purpose and strategic direction of our tax system. This is a welcome development because all too often - this is not necessarily a criticism - finance Bills contain many bitty parts, and the Bills can be large and quite technical which makes it difficult, and one does not understand how it all knits together into an overall strategic direction for taxation. The contents of a budget can often be the result of a reaction, understandably, to individual pressures at a given time rather than being considered in an overall strategic context.
I wanted to start with that point because it seems to me that we never consider that. In the week when the Conference of the Parties, COP, has been discussed more than ever before, we must do this. The discussion on the climate emergency, and the radical measures we need to introduce to address it, give added weight to arguments we have made on the left for many years about wealth and income redistribution, in regard to the concentration of wealth controlled by corporations and a relatively small number of billionaires who control those corporations, and wealthy people who tend to control a disproportionate amount of wealth and income in this society and societies throughout the world. In the context of climate change, we must ask the question whether it is possible to address the climate emergency if we do not do something about the grossly unequal distribution of wealth in our society. The answer is that there is no chance at all of doing that. We need to think about that from a strategic point of view. It is apparent when one considers carbon tax and some of the measures in the budget, from the reaction of those who are less well-off, how people perceive these measures. They view climate action as an economic and financial threat to them. They are right insofar as even the Economic and Social Research Institute has stated that measures, such as carbon taxes, are regressive. The Minister might respond by saying he has taken counter measures to obviate that, but it is a fact that people who are less well-off perceive climate measures like carbon tax - and rightly so at present - as a threat. They should not, and we will lose the battle if that is the case.
When one considers the massive investment we need to make the transition to address the climate crisis, who has the wealth and resources to do it? We know the answer from the figures on the concentration of wealth in the world that are repeated year after year and become more obscene and staggering, in the hands of Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Elon Musk. I could go through the list of these spectacularly wealthy individuals who have staggering amounts of profit that grows and, indeed, grew during the Covid pandemic. It also includes the fossil fuel companies etc. When we consider data centres we think of Jeff Bezos and other people. I used to think the cloud was something in the sky but now I know it is in a warehouse on the Naas Road that is pumping out huge amounts of CO2 emissions to make money for Jeff Bezos. These people are doing things that are destroying the environment. They control massive amounts of wealth. Governments are frightened of them in that they dare not impose extra taxes on them in case they run away. Those actions are a problem in addressing climate action and we are afraid even to think about taking some of their profit off them in order to get the funds to make investments in the areas needed to address climate change. That is a problem for us. One can go through the list of big industries and corporations - the fossil fuel companies being another obvious example - that have no interest in addressing the climate crisis. If we do not wrest some of that money from them, we will not have the resources to make the massive up-front investment needed in public transport, in the development of renewable energy, in the massive retrofit programme in housing - I will not exhaust the list - in forestry and biodiversity measures to address the crisis, because they control all that wealth. I always found the inequality in wealth distribution was obscene and gross, but it seems to me now that we cannot talk about addressing the climate emergency unless we talk about the redistribution of wealth. That is where the micro measures come into view.
I refer to the examples used by the Minister in his Budget 2022: Tax Policy Changes report. He said that most people would be better off as a result of the budget. However, he explained in the budget booklet, and based on his comments on inflation, how that is not true. He rightly pointed to the fact that inflation will be at 3.7%, and possible higher. Let us consider the examples provided, which I went through in a speech after the budget. The Minister gave the example of Roan and Nicole as a case study, who will receive universal social charge, USC, changes that will amount to 0.45% of their net income. They will receive €165 a year from the USC changes the Minister introduced. This is couple who receive €40,000, which is about an average income. Another example was given of Mairéad who has an income of €30,000. I picked these two examples because they are median to average industrial wage earnings. Mairéad will receive an increase of 0.5%, which equates to €115 over the course of a year. Half of a percentage increase as a result of budget changes against an inflation rate of 3.7%, which the Minister highlighted, does not mean these people will be better off. It means they will be worse off. Let us consider energy costs. Even before the carbon tax, there were several energy-price hikes. Bin charges have also increased. Not only are the benefits wiped out, but I argue there will be a net loss in income. In addition, the cost of rent continues to rise. Therefore, people will actually lose out. On the other side, we know corporate profits of the people I referred to earlier - this is where it relates to the big picture - increased dramatically this year and have consistently done so for the last yen years.
In our budget submission, we set out a table which detailed that 2012 corporate profits amounted to €74 billion. In 2020, profits amounted to €203 billion, which is extraordinary. That equates to a 127% increase in profits in less than a decade's time. How much do corporations, which include the Besozes, the Gates, and the Microsofts of the world, pay in tax? In 2020, they paid €11 billion while generating €203 billion. Let us contrast that with pay as you earn, PAYE, workers and self-employed people.
How much did they earn in 2020? They earned €130 billion. These figures should be borne in mind. Corporations took in €203 billion last year and paid €11 billion in tax. Some 2 million or more workers earned €130 billion between them. How much tax did they pay? They paid €27 billion. That is more than twice what the corporations paid in absolute terms having earned a little bit more than a half of the corporations' income between them. That is extraordinary. It is not a slogan to say the rich are getting richer and the poor and the workers are getting poorer. If you look at those figures, you see it is a fact. They are absolutely stunning figures. With this Bill, we are looking at some more tax reliefs for them but workers will get less than nothing when inflation is taken into account. That accumulation of wealth by the rich is borne out again in Central Bank figures. I now love it when the Central Bank's quarterly reports come out because they show the accumulation of wealth in this country which, again, is absolutely extraordinary. The net worth of households in this country is now at a record high of €883 billion. That is up €89 billion in one year, the year of Covid. Do the vast majority of workers out there feel they have seen a massive increase in their household wealth? They do not because it has not happened. However, the Central Bank does not lie. Some have seen a massive increase in their wealth. The Minister's own Department showed the distribution of wealth a few years ago. It should do that more often. The top 10% held 53% of that wealth while the bottom 50% have less than 2%. We know who got a massive increase in wealth last year. It was the top 10%. That is absolutely extraordinary. The top 5%, some 85,000 households, are worth an average of €3 million each when you break down the figures. Between them, they have €331 billion. It is so mind-boggling that people cannot believe it but it is a fact.
Here is a more down-to-earth example. What does the Finance Bill not do? It does not get rid of the special assignee relief programme, SARP. There are still not enough people who know about this. It is really a shocker. I genuinely thank the Minister for giving me the figures and details on it. He sent a paper out on it recently. I do not know what the figure was last year, but the year before that the cost of the special assignee relief programme, a tax relief only available to people who earn more than €70,000 a year, was €42 million. This can be claimed on earnings up to €1 million a year but, even if claimants earn more than that, they still get it. The Minister's figures helpfully show that, for example, 50 people who earn more than €1 million are benefiting from this tax relief. Imagine a tax relief that is only given to those earning the highest incomes, incomes of more than €70,000, 50 of whom earn more than €1 million and a handful of whom earn more than €3 million in a year who get a tax break which includes credits to send their kids to private schools. Come on, that is totally unjustifiable. Yet, we continue it.
We have to start to talk about the redistribution of wealth. We should do this on the grounds of equity, fairness and justice but also in the context of the climate emergency. If we are to learn anything from the Covid emergency, another existential thing that has happened to us in the last year, it is that if we are going to build the capacity we need in our health service and if we are going to have properly ventilated classrooms in schools that are not overcrowded, we are going to need massive investment in all of these key areas of infrastructure and services way beyond what is currently being invested in them or even envisaged in the national development plan. It simply will not happen unless we start to redistribute some of the enormous accumulation of wealth and profits at the top and close down the extraordinary number of loopholes that exist, including SARP for the top executives and the really big loopholes in the area of corporate tax relating to such areas as capital allowances, intragroup transactions, amalgamations and reconstructions, capital allowances brought forward, research and development tax credits, group relief and the knowledge development box. According to the Revenue figures, the tax reliefs that I have mentioned alone cost €17 billion last year. That is a cost of €17 billion to the Exchequer. That is how Revenue described it. Imagine if the corporations had not got all that and we had €17 billion to put into education, health, housing and so on. It would make a big, big difference.
On some specific things that are mentioned in the Finance Bill, I have said why the USC ceiling changes are absolutely miserable and derisory against that background. I do not think the help-to-buy scheme should have been kept in. It is just chasing a market that is out of control. The Minister will say it is helping people to buy but it is helping them to buy houses at grossly inflated prices rather than dealing with the problem of prices that are out of control. It is actually contributing to price rises.
The Minister mentioned the residential zoned lands tax. One of the things that rightly drives people crazy about the housing crisis is the amount of empty property that is sitting around doing nothing. This does not apply to such property. Habitable property is not taxed under this measure at all. Only zoned land is. The rate is only 3%, which is lower than the rate of the vacant site tax, which was 7%. I think it is to cover a wider group of people but that is not a disincentive when you look at the capital appreciation of zoned property that developers can sit on, which is racing ahead. It will not be a disincentive to land hoarding or speculation and it does not cover the issue that really drives people mad, namely, the empty properties sitting around our towns and villages all over the place. We need punitive vacant property taxes.
Regarding the 10% rate of residential stamp duty the Minister has made a change whereby if companies buy more than ten units but agree to lease them within a two-year period, the 10% rate will not be slapped on them. That is another let-off. These vulture funds, cuckoo funds or whatever can buy up an estate, see if they can flog it off at the price that will make them the most profit and, if they cannot manage that, they can knock on the door of the local authority two years later and ask it to lease the properties off them. They will then get a backdated reduction in stamp duty. That is crazy and fairly criminal.
With regard to the extension of the bank levy, it should be extended but why are Ulster Bank and KBC getting off the hook? Is it because a lot of their business is to be transferred to the pillar banks? Is it actually AIB, Permanent TSB and Bank of Ireland that are to get off the hook? Either way, it is a dramatic reduction in the amount of money we are getting from the bank levy when it will be the same customers and business. Two banks have decided to pull out but the business will be the same and less of a levy is going to be imposed on the banking sector.
There are many other things I wanted to ask. I will ask about section 481, which the Minister has mentioned. Despite the changes, which I welcome, that he has brought in on foot of representations that were made to him and issues I brought to him, film producer companies who are getting section 481 relief went to the Workplace Relations Commissions, WRC, last week and said that those who worked on their film productions are not their employees and that they have no responsibility to them. They are doing so regularly, every week. They are still doing this. I wish somebody from the Department or Revenue or somebody else would go to the WRC and say that these companies got section 481, that they are the employer, that they are responsible for these people and that they must stop denying that they are. That is what is happening and something has to be done about it.
Now there is going to be a similar relief for the gaming sector and so on. I am for encouraging the gaming sector and the employment that will come from that, but it has to be tied to strict conditions regarding proper employment rather than what is going on in the film industry. Perhaps the Minister can explain the change to section 481 relief in respect of labour-only services. I am a bit worried about that and I do not know what it means. Perhaps the Minister will explain where that came from, who lobbied for it and what precisely it means. I hope it does not refer to people who are not directly employed but instead are sort of contractors, which is what producers are trying to do. They do not want to take responsibility for employees directly so that they can then write that off as eligible expenditure. There should be nothing, although maybe this is not the case, that incentivises bogus self-employment or not employing people directly in the film industry.
I am sharing time with Deputy Durkan.
I am going to focus on a specific aspect of the Bill. I have raised this matter previously with the Minister and his officials. It relates to the living city initiative, particularly in the context of Limerick city. When the initiative was introduced in 2015, €20 million was budgeted to be drawn down by people availing of the scheme. By 2018, only about €1 million had been claimed in tax relief under the scheme. Limerick city is unique in that our footprint as a city is Georgian. Therefore, unless we get people to come to live in the city centre, it will be difficult to ensure the complete rejuvenation of the city. We are doing very well with regard to jobs and businesses but we need more people to live in the city centre. That is the context in which I make my contribution.
I sought figures on how the scheme has done to date. Since it started in 2016, only 121 successful applications have been made for Limerick overall. That is fewer than 20 per year. While there has been a take-up of the scheme, it has been somewhat disappointing. The works involved in a Georgian house tend to be significant. They are above the norm. I am focusing on the issue of owner-occupiers, although I would obviously welcome also increased rental accommodation and there is a commercial element to that. In both 2016 and 2017, there were fewer than ten successful claimants each year. The figures for 2018 to 2020, inclusive, were 16, 19 and 33, respectively, while to date in 2021, there have been 33. They are figures I received in response to a parliamentary question I submitted to the Minister's Department. There have been 121 successful applications to date, or roughly 20 per annum.
I have proposed to the Minister and his officials that they might consider various amendments of what has been put forward. As it stands, owner-occupier relief is calculated over a ten-year period but we should consider changing it to five years. The equivalent period for both rented residential relief and commercial relief is seven years. We should consider reducing all the periods to five years. Unused reliefs in a given year cannot be carried forward in the case of owner-occupier relief, unlike rented residential relief and commercial relief. It would be worthwhile examining whether the period over which the relief can be claimed can be reduced and we should address the issue of unused capital allowances not being able to be carried forward. Obviously, in regard to all these measures there should be a sunset clause, as there should be for all tax provisions. The scheme is a good initiative but, like everything else, it just needs a review and a bit of housekeeping.
I will table amendments on Committee Stage to propose these changes. I am putting the proposals forward specifically in regard to the uniqueness of Limerick city, which has such a Georgian footprint. It is critical to get people into the city centre. That is what it is all about.
It is very difficult to address a finance Bill in any meaningful way in three and a half minutes but I will do my best.
I was entertained by my colleague across the Chamber from Dún Laoghaire. He is a very nice fellow, I have to say, and I am very fond of him.
He comes up with some pearls of wisdom from time to time, but then he goes off on a tangent again and I get worried about him. It could be something in the water in Dún Laoghaire. I will have to go and check to see what it is.
The Cathaoirleach Gníomhach and I will both recall that during the Celtic tiger era, we were always reminded about the massive wealth this country had. We were told we were one of the wealthiest nations on the face of the earth and that we should be doing more for everybody, and so on. We all know what happened-----
-----and incomes. That is where it was based, but overnight - bang - it all disappeared. The whole lot went right out the window and we were soon one of the poorest countries, dependent on everybody else and on charity all around us. We had better believe that.
I will follow on from my colleague in regard to utilising on behalf of the nation and encouraging the spending of money by those who have it in savings on the restoration of buildings or whatever the case may be. There is a provision in various finance Bills whereby the owner of such a property - there are many derelict properties throughout the country - can get tax relief only if he or she has made a profit in one or two of the previous three years. I am not sure whether it is one or two years. Such owners have two options. They can spend the money and get no tax relief for it or they can let the building fall into disrepair. There are employment, visual benefits and architectural benefits from such restorations. In order to encourage owners to spend money on restoring derelict buildings, we should amend the legislation to cater for that and avail of the benefits. It is simple to do and self-financing. I always like to join my left-wing colleagues across the House in saying everything should be self-financing. This is one example of that and I am the one proposing it.
Following two years of a near-total shutdown, the Government is only willing to finance an additional €200,000 for the arts and culture sector and an onslaught against the city's heritage is unfolding as we speak, with no effort whatsoever in this budget to stop or reverse that rot. Ní gá dúinn ach féachaint, mar shampla, ar Shráid an Mhóraigh. An bhfuil aon rud sa Bhille Airgeadais nó sa bhuiséad chun an oidhreacht ar an tsráid is stairiúla in Éirinn a chosaint, a chaomhnú agus a athmhúscailt do na glúnta atá romhainn?
Similarly, there is nothing in the Bill to finance the continuation of the Digital Hub and Development Agency, which was funded by the State. Despite creating and enhancing jobs in one of the most disadvantaged areas of this city and country, the State is not just closing up shop but giving away the land and building on which it spent hundreds of millions of euro to the Land Development Agency, contrary to the purpose of the digital hub in the first instance. It is not sustainable to move all the jobs to outside the city centre core, which this will do.
If the Government was serious about the survival of our cultural sector, there would be a strong stimulus package, as we in Sinn Féin outlined in our proposal for a recovery voucher of €200 for every adult and €100 per child.
That would put the wind in the sails of the recovery we need and could revitalise the arts along the way. It should be remembered that the majority of every euro spent in this fashion makes its way back to the State in taxes anyway, but on the way it lifts the arts, hospitality, culture and the tourism industry. Instead we have artists kicked off the PUP and cuts to live entertainment on the way.
There are other important questions the Minister may be able to answer. Has there been any effort to address the ridiculous situation of people with disabilities being required to pay VAT at 23% to rent vital disability aids such as wheelchairs, hearing aids and walking frames? The Minister responded earlier in the year to a question I asked about this and said it was basically an EU problem, but we are meant to be part of the EU, so what is our Minister for Finance doing to fix this? Why is it not reflected in this Bill?
What about VAT for bands and musicians, in respect of whom the EU allows member states to apply a reduced rate, as happens in France, Belgium, Spain and elsewhere? This State chooses not to follow their lead. Has any analysis been done on how we could use the taxation system to support living artists, not just dead ones?
Tá mo chuid ama istigh. D'fhéadfainn a lán eile a rá faoin mBille ach níl an deis anois agam. B'fhéidir go ndéanfaidh mé é sin ar Chéim an Choiste.
I welcome the opportunity to speak. Generally speaking, the budget was welcomed by most people and businesses. In my speech on budget day I acknowledged the Government's efforts to improve the circumstances of the public and the business community during the pandemic. I wish to raise a number of items. There was no doubt but that when people read about the proposals in the budget they felt they would be financially better off. On the face of it, that is true, but when we look a little closer I fear that the opposite may be the case.
This coming winter we are heading into very unsustainable energy costs. The cost of wholesale gas is rocketing. The cost of diesel and petrol is rising weekly. It is clear that this will continue. The pensioners rightly received an increase in the weekly pension and the fuel allowance, but it is becoming clear that these rises will be eaten away by the surge in fuel prices. The carbon tax is also increasing the cost of energy. The reason I raise this is that I know from listening to people, particularly the elderly, in my constituency office in Dundalk how expensive it is to heat their homes. Some are now resorting to turning their heat off. No person, particularly a pensioner, should ever have to make that decision. I know the situation is not simple. A lot of these homes are hard to heat and need upgrading in respect of insulation and heating systems. Support schemes have been announced in the budget but they will not be introduced quickly enough. We need heating upgrades to be installed immediately.
I know the Government is heavily supporting the introduction of heat pumps. There is no doubt but that, when used correctly, they can make a significant difference to households' heating costs. However, this raises two issues that need to be resolved. One is the fact that heat pumps use electricity as their source of power. My issue with this is that we read weekly that the national grid is under severe pressure and likely to reach capacity in the coming winter. What will happen once a significant increase in the number of heat pumps is brought on board? How will we solve this issue? Another issue is the high capital cost of installing the heat pumps. I know from dealing with constituents that many would love heat pumps in their homes but simply cannot afford the initial capital expenditure. Again, that issue will have to be addressed and realistic options put in place.
I said a few moments ago that people, especially those living on their own and those whose loved ones have passed away, are resorting to turning their heat off. At one stage they may have had two incomes coming in and then, all of a sudden, may have only one income coming in. They are looking for their houses to be upgraded. We all know that if you have bad windows, bad doors or bad roofs, they need replacing. If they are not replaced, the heat from any fire lit goes either up the chimney or out the windows and it is a complete waste of time.
I will say one thing, especially for people over 85. The adaptation grants, the support scheme which is distributed through the local authorities, are excellent. The big problem we have there, however, is that the minute they get their €1,000 or €2,000, the next thing you know the money is gone. Many people, especially people aged over 65, are looking for these grants but just cannot seem to get them. They could be on a waiting list for up to maybe three, four or five if not six years. The thing that alarms me in my constituency - I am sure other constituencies are the same - is the number of people who are 80-plus and who are looking for these grants but just cannot get them. In fairness, they are looking for the grants for maybe a wet room, a toilet or a bedroom downstairs, just for a bit of comfort in their last years. I ask the Minister to have a look at that system. The money is great and people do appreciate it, but it is taking far too long for the elderly people to receive the money.
Once again, I acknowledge the extension of the employment wage subsidy scheme for businesses. As I said on budget day, this has been critically important to businesses in County Louth and the rest of the country during the pandemic. Many businesses that otherwise would not have survived the pandemic are now able to keep their doors open because of this support, and I welcome that.
The extension of the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector is also welcome. As the Minister will be aware, we in Louth have a very successful tourism sector, with many people from all over Ireland and the rest of the world visiting our many tourist areas, such as the Cooley peninsula, which includes the historic village of Carlingford and its neighbour Omeath. We have the Boyne Valley trail also. These are areas of great national importance. The extension of the 9% VAT rate to the hospitality sector is warmly welcome in these areas.
The last issue I wish to raise in respect of the Finance Bill is the lack of support for the upgrading of vacant homes. Louth County Council has been probably the most successful council in bringing vacant houses back into use. As I have said on many occasions in this House, it is shocking to see the number of vacant homes in established residential areas, not only in Dundalk but throughout the rest of the country. The last GeoView report of 2020 suggested there are 92,251 vacant addresses in Ireland, which represented almost 4.6% of all building stock. There should be a national register of vacant homes and that register should be used to target those homes that are empty to ensure they are brought back into use. That would be an immediate solution to help with the housing crisis. If Louth County Council had more funding from the Government, it would be in a position to bring more of these homes in Louth back into the housing stock. I am sure other councils around the country are of the same opinion.
The housing plan announced in the budget is ambitious and in the long term will yield results, but the housing crisis is here now and we need a more instant response. I would be interested to hear the Minister's views on this and the Government's response. The bottom line is that we have a severe housing crisis, rents are spiralling out of control and young people are finding it extremely difficult to get on the housing list. We need action now.
There are many aspects of this budget that we have to praise. The increase in tax credits, the increase in the pension and other aspects need to be acknowledged, but we are entering into a very volatile period in respect of living costs. The cost of most items is rising far too quickly. The building cost of homes is rising weekly. The cost of lighting and heating homes is rising far too quickly. Any benefits one will get from the budget will quickly be absorbed by these rising costs. Some people have even suggested that the extra money in people's pockets will fuel the dramatic rise in living costs. The real danger I fear we face is inflation. It is important that the Government recognises this and takes whatever action it can to curb it.
I urge the Minister to help the people to heat their homes. As I said, the councils' adaptation grants are excellent. I ask the Minister to consider making more money available for them.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Finance Bill. There are some very good directional changes in this budget, first towards the idea of making it more beneficial to work than not to work, that is, to make work pay. It is important that the universal social charge has been adjusted to try to create that difference between not working and working in order that people will feel they can go to work and will not be penalised by having to pay for home services and childcare while at work, then doing the analysis and finding they would be better off at home. We have to make that gap wider. We cannot do so by increasing wages all the time because that creates the inflationary pressures on our economy. The only way we can do it is the way the Minister has started to do it, which is to increase the thresholds in order that people can earn more money before they come into the tax net, so I welcome that as a start.
I also welcome the fact that the Minister has taken on board what we in the Regional Group have always advocated in respect of tax incentives for remote working. I welcome that he is bringing in measures that will provide tax credits for people who are working from home in order to allow a 30% relief in respect of some electricity costs and bills for other consumables.
Contrary to what my colleague, Deputy Boyd Barrett, would say, I welcome that the help-to-buy scheme has been left in place. Deputy Boyd Barrett and I disagree on that. It should be left in place because there is nothing else at the moment. We need to make sure that we incentivise those young people who are first-time buyers of houses, who are building their own homes and who do not want to rely on the State to provide a house for them. We have the courage to do that. Be it a self-build house, a new purchased house or a second-hand house, it is important that we provide the same level of support. On second-hand houses, reference has been made to all of the houses in the State that are vacant. In addition, there are derelict sites. I put it to the Minister that there is potential there. I understand that plans are afoot to bring in incentives for people who want to buy houses in towns and villages in order to do them up and make them inhabitable environments in which to bring up their families. This would make a big difference to our towns and villages. It would also make sure that we are building homes without creating a huge amount of carbon emissions since we would be using existing buildings that are already there and just retrofitting them out. It makes total sense. I am aware that plans are afoot to put something in place. My plea to the Minister is to do this as a matter of urgency. It could be a game changer for rural Ireland and even for the city of Dublin, where we have vacant properties and vacant spaces with which nothing is being done. It is very important that we do this.
I am a bit confused about the land zoning and the taxing of land that is not being used for the building of houses. When county development plans and local area plans are being prepared, there is an issue whereby local authorities zone land that is not available for building on and that, for whatever reason, will never be available for building on. They do this because they look at a town and look at the land that is more centred to the town. They do it as part of a desktop study. I have many experiences of land that was zoned for residential purposes, to which sewerage and water infrastructure can be connected with no issue, but it is not available for many reasons, one of which is that the ownership of the land may be in doubt or there could be legal issues with it. The second reason it may not be available is that the person who owns the land may not be in a position to sell it because he or she is farming it and may want to keep doing so or hand it down to the family. I do not see how we can tax people who are using land. There is also the fact that decisions are being made by people in local authorities to the effect that such land is to be zoned. This is done without any interaction with the landowners. It is important that we differentiate between the speculators who buy land, get it zoned and sell it on and those people who own their land and who never asked for it to be zoned because they use it for other purposes. It is important that we manage this properly. If we are to zone land under any local area plan or in any town, we should carry out due diligence in order to ensure that the land is available and that there is no hindrance to it becoming available over the lifetime of the plan. Then we would not need to apply a tax to land that has been zoned. I feel pretty strongly about that.
I shall now turn to the matter of carbon tax. We have discussed this previously. Carbon tax can be unequal. It is unequal in the sense that we impose it on people who have cars but who have no access to public transport. We are levying carbon tax on people who have tractors at a time when there are no electric tractors available for purchase. We must make sure that a carbon tax is levied in a fair manner. Everybody talks about the just transition but there is no just transition when a bus stop is taken out of Loughrea and there is no bus service on offer. What must a person do? He or she must use the car to get to the hospital for an appointment, go shopping and do all of the things that must be done. People cannot walk to their destinations because the roads are too narrow and dangerous. They need to use their cars. A car is a vital component of living in rural Ireland. Until we get our ducks in a row and until we get the public transport in place - by which I mean a proper and comprehensive public transport system - we cannot tax people for the privilege of using cars in their daily lives.
It is important that we consider all of these things in the context of where we are at the moment. We have a great opportunity. This Bill is very important in the overall context of moving from where we are at now to a place where we can be great again, but we cannot leave people behind. I would encourage that the national development plan be brought forward and that it not just be a plan on paper. We need an implementation body for the national development plan in order to make sure that target dates are set for things to be done and that there is accountability, rather than just having a plan over ten years, which we will keep talking about for six or seven years, while not measuring its impact year on year to see what we are spending or if we are spending on the right things.
I am a member of the committee that looks at the music and entertainment industries. I am aware that the live music industry, including those who play at weddings and musicians who play in pubs at the weekends, have had their livelihoods decimated over the past two years. They are beginning to see a point at which they will be coming back, and hopefully we will be able to enjoy the music they create for us in our local areas. They have an ask. I appreciate that the Minister referred to EU rules but if there is any way at all that the VAT rate could be reduced to 9% for that particular cohort as has been done with the hospitality sector, it would be a very noble thing to do at this time. They have suffered a lot. I am aware that the Minister knows and appreciates this. If there is any way at all that the Minister could make that happen, it would be good.
Overall, I believe that the Bill and the budget represent a move in the right direction. There are many positives to the Bill but we must also be careful that we do not leave people behind when we all get caught up in the climate action debate, which has been the topic of the day every day over the past week in light of the fact that COP26 is taking place in Glasgow. I refer, in particular, to the farming community and what its members are facing. In the context of carbon taxation and in the CAP negotiations, I hope we do not make farmers the whipping boys for our climate action. That is very important. We have seen the KPMG report on the economic impact assessment of carbon targets for agriculture. When one looks at the different scenarios put forward, there is none that would offer farmers a lot of hope unless this Government ensures, in line with the commitment in the programme for Government, that investment additional to what will come from CAP is put in. More about that another time.
I want to address the taxation measures in the Bill. As the Minister outlined, the Government has agreed to a schedule of carbon tax increases up to 2030. There is certainty there for householders and businesses as to what will happen in the future. The Minister correctly stated that it would be absolutely wrong to resile from that signal at the first increase in fuel costs. The programme of carbon tax increases and how those increases will be redistributed is a progressive programme of taxation that will help Ireland to meet its climate goals. Between 2021 and 2022, the Government will increase social welfare payments by €200 million from carbon tax revenues.
What is the effect of redistributing €200 million over two years? Not only did we totally compensate households in the bottom four deciles, by income, for the increases in carbon tax but we also ensured households in the bottom three deciles are better off because of the increases in carbon tax. That is not a Government analysis; it is the analysis of the ESRI. The Government will achieve this income redistribution again next year, the year after and the year after that.
I absolutely reject the calls to reverse the increases in the carbon tax rates. I absolutely reject the calls for us not to raise money for targeted social welfare payments, retrofitting homes and environmental schemes for farmers. I am surprised this is even controversial, but apparently it is. Since it is, I repeat my point that we are raising money from carbon tax and spending it so lower-income groups in society will be better off.
I am baffled as to why anyone would oppose the progressive taxation measures being introduced by this Government. I am surprised those people opposing carbon tax are not urging us to increase our ambition. I call on those who oppose carbon tax increases to rethink their opposition. It is a question of increasing tax and spending the proceeds on making lower-income households better off. It is not complicated; it is the right thing to do.
The other aspect of the carbon tax is that it reduces emissions. The ESRI estimates that the programme of carbon tax increases will decrease emissions by 10% by the end of the decade. Despite what I said about income redistribution, I generally welcome opposition to climate action measures where alternatives are proposed. That is welcome and healthy. The Government does not, and should not, have a monopoly on the ideas on how we can reduce our emissions. In all the opposition to carbon tax increases, not once have I heard alternatives. What is the alternative? Should we seek to reduce artificial fertiliser use in the agriculture sector, reduce speed limits on motorways, increase road tolls or ban fossil fuel boilers? What is the alternative and how are we going to achieve the 10% reduction if not from carbon tax? Almost all parties voted for the climate Bill and its provision for carbon budgets that will halve emissions this decade. Opposition to measures is positive, but only if alternatives are proposed. Opposition for opposition’s sake in the face of a climate crisis is irresponsible and reckless. I support the increase in carbon tax and this Finance Bill.
I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill on this Stage. It is hard, in just over three minutes, to go through all its elements but I look forward to engaging with the Minister on Committee Stage. There are three sections and one aspect of the Bill that I believe are extremely important. They relate to the fulfilment of key promises that have been made by the Government, including the Minister for Finance, for quite some time. The measures are clearly positive for workers. I am referring to the widening of the tax bands. It is encouraging to see, in section 6, that the tax bands are being widened. While we have the most progressive taxation system in the EU, we have the lowest point at which people hit the higher threshold. Since 2010 we have had a doubling, to 600,000, of the number of people reaching the higher threshold so the introduction of the relief for ordinary workers is extremely important. The effect of the relief, together with the change of thresholds for the universal social charge in section 2, can demonstrably be seen in people’s pay packets at the end of the month. Every worker benefits from this Finance Bill and the work of this Government.
There is scope for more work on section 3, but it is an excellent start. The section pertains to the relief for those working at home. We discussed this the last time the Minister was taking parliamentary questions. We talked about the opportunities that working from home and in remote hubs presents for every worker across the country, not only in rural areas but also elsewhere, particularly in my very much suburban constituency. If workers must go to the workplace or office two or three days per week, they can still benefit from working remotely for the rest of it. They have been able to prove over the very bad 18 months of the pandemic that working remotely works. We have seen a genuine resolution in the thought space regarding remote working. Given the opportunities that have arisen from very difficult circumstances, we must take every opportunity presented to us to seize the potential that remote working offers to everyone across the island in a range of key sectors. It can be used as a tool not only to incentivise investment in various regions but also to attract investment in the State and encourage job creation. We welcome the heartening change in the unemployment figures today. The rate of unemployment has lowered from 20% to 7.9%, which shows the continuing progress in this area.
Those are just three aspects of a comprehensive Finance Bill. Not only do I welcome it, but I also look forward to supporting it through its various Stages.
On unveiling the budget, the Minister said the Government was conscious of the cost-of-living pressures on the public and businesses. Anyone who even skims the text of the budget documentation will know it is not the case. The Government lacks a vision of any sort for solving the crises in housing and healthcare. Never has so much been spent to achieve so little. Energy prices are spiralling out of control and the Government’s plan is to increase them further with carbon taxes. It is unjust to beat rural Ireland with a stick without providing a fair alternative. Not many people I know can afford to spend over €10,000 on solar panels or a heat pump, especially as they will have to wait many years before recouping their investment. Their investment would be recouped quicker if the Government implemented a proper microgeneration scheme. Instead of having done so, the Government made the umpteenth announcement that the scheme is coming. We are all waiting for Godot.
House prices and rents are out of control and the budget lacks measures to reassure families. I looked at www.daft.ieand what I saw was appalling: a studio apartment for €800 in Suncroft, County Kildare, and another in Brannockstown, County Kildare, for €900. The extra €100 gets you a see-through curtain between the bed and sofa in what looks like a converted garage. I am not codding when I say that. I have no idea whether there is planning permission for either property, but nobody is checking and it is a landlord’s market. Tenants can like or lump it. That is the Government’s attitude, which is nothing short of a disgrace. Both of the properties I mentioned appear to have just one electric heater. It would be almost cheaper to switch on the oven and leave its door open. We need homes, not bedsits.
The housing policy over the past decade has failed under Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, along with their cheerleaders the Green Party and the Labour Party. The Government policy serves landlords and institutional investors. This budget sees the introduction of a 3% rate of tax on zoned residential land, with a two-year lead-in time for land zoned before January 2022 and a three-year lead-in time for land zoned after that date. There is no sense of urgency whatsoever. Sinn Féin, when in government, will turn the tables away from landlords, vultures and cuckoo funds in favour of ordinary workers and families.
I intended to start on a different subject than the one I am going to start on but changed my mind on listening to Deputy Leddin. In fairness, some people have to educate the people in the Green Party seeing as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are lying by the wayside allowing as much hurt to be inflicted on the ordinary people of rural Ireland as is possible. Carbon tax hurts only the people of rural areas. The Minister for Finance states in his document that carbon tax will encourage change. It is not encouraging change; it is inflicting massive hardship on the people of rural Ireland. Deputy Leddin said there is no alternative. I will tell him what we will do: we will stand outside the gates of Dáil Éireann for half an hour tomorrow morning and see in that time how many double-decker buses pass by. One after another will pass by and each will have only one or two passengers, or none. It is up in Dublin that we should start. The capacity should be cut down to 50%. There is no public transport service down where I live. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Joe Carey, knows Goleen as well as I do. He holidays there because he knows the beauty of the place. A bus leaves at 7.30 a.m. and it comes back around 8.30 p.m. That is the reality – the reality that those on the Government side do not understand and never will understand because their brains have a completely different mindset than those that see the reality of what we have to live with.
We depend on cars because we do not have a public transport service for young or elderly people or the ordinary people who get up in the morning to go to work. They cannot jump on a bus or stand at the side of their road and see one, two, three, four or five double-decker buses passing by in the space of six or seven minutes or less. The buses are tailing each other. It is outrageous. The Government is not attacking anyone in the urban areas of the country but it is attacking the hard-working people of rural Ireland and they know it. They know that is what Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are doing. We can forget about the Green Party because it has no intention of worrying about rural Ireland; it is worrying about the few urban votes it will get and the few seats it will gather. The Government needs to stand in Goleen tomorrow morning waiting for a bus so that it can figure out where to start with its carbon tax.
We have the highest electricity prices in the EU. In the name of God, where does the Government think people will get the money? In the context of climate change, the Minister said the world is burning. It certainly is, but it is the pockets of Irish people that will be burning when we have a Taoiseach who goes out and blows €225 million. The Government can only give €5 per week to elderly persons but the State will be giving €2.5 million per week in 2025. Where is all this money coming from? Is it confetti that the Government is making money out of? In the context of the budget and the chances the Government had to give something back to people in rural Ireland, it failed miserably. This House often discusses climate change. There are great politicians in the House who have wonderful ideas relating to climate change but the bottom line is that if we cannot bring Australia, Russia, China and India with us, then we are only wasting our time. What is being said this week in Aberdeen is that those countries could not care less and are talking about way out, in 30 years or 40 years. However, the Government is talking about today and trying to tell them how great Ireland is. Ireland is tiny; it is not even a dot in the ocean. If the changes do not come where they are needed, we are going nowhere. We can certainly make changes here too but that cannot be to the detriment and difficulty of the people of rural Ireland.
As regards farming, the Minister really missed the ball in the budget. In fairness, the suckler cow grant needed to be increased to €300. No grants were introduced. There was nothing for farming. It was a case of kicking the can down the road and worrying about farming next year. Farming is in crisis this year. Why did the Government fail to give some kind of compensation to the farmers who have been afflicted by so many difficulties and are facing what will be a cull in cattle, according to all the experts in the quangos that the Green Party in government is setting up? It is a case of the tail wagging the dog in this new Government. We have the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and the Taoiseach out abroad saying things like the comments yesterday that we have to diversify and grow forestry. God almighty, it has not even been possible to cut forestry since the Green Party went into government. It is a scandal. There are people in my constituency who wanted to get into forestry but now would not touch it with a barge pole. It is an absolute waste of time as far as they are concerned. The Government is codding the people but it will not do so for long because the people are not fools.
I refer to public transport. The budget announcement included a 50% decrease in the cost of travel on public transport for young people, which I welcome, as all people should because we should be encouraging young people to use public transport where it is available. Although it might have been rectified by now, initially that was only going to apply for the people using the DART and trains in Dublin or the bigger cities such as Cork. The Government forgot about the people of rural Ireland who use public transport. Apparently the Minister is now scrambling to rectify that. I hope that has been factored into the Bill or will it be another case of a few million euro here and a few million euro there that the Government tends to find when it suits?
I did not hear anything in the budget in respect of the fishing industry. It has gone through the worst crisis ever, as such, under this Government but there is no compensation whatsoever on offer for the industry. I have serious concerns about that.
Where is the health budget? Where are the endoscopy unit and the physiotherapy unit that were promised to the people of Bantry General Hospital? Clonakilty Community Hospital has not been brought up to HIQA standards. There is no budget available there, so we are continuously under budget year after year. As regards the cross-border directive, will the funding continue? I refer to pay parity in the context of CoAction. Centres in west Cork are being closed as a result of that issue.
The Bill builds on the commitment of the Government to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. It includes several measures to tackle climate change and reduce Ireland's overall greenhouse gas emissions. I am sure the Minister will agree that car owners have been incentivised through the taxation system to convert to electric cars, EVs. He has ensured that the purchasing if EVs is still attainable and effective even though the national grid cannot cope with any more of this because of the data centres. Are we going to put heated windows on the back of these cars so that we can push them along the road or will we be like the Flintstones with no floor in the car and running along inside it? That is how much common sense the Government has.
Significant incentives have been given to the aviation industry, which is carbon exempt. In fact, I point out to Deputy Leddin that it enjoys a hefty €634 million tax break via exemptions relating to jet fuel. Airlines receive €2.4 billion through exemptions from excise duty, carbon tax and the National Oil Reserve Agency levy on fuel for commercial and international flights. Did Deputy Leddin hear that? It would take a year for one acre of forestry to absorb the CO2emissions produced by a one-way flight from Dublin to New York. Did Deputy Leddin know that in 2019 the airline industry brought 38 million passengers through Irish airports? That works out at half a tonne of carbon per passenger each way.
Where does this leave agriculture in the context of climate justice? Farmers care about the environment as much as any other sector does. They have been told that their emissions account for 63% of the total. Climate justice is about fair treatment of all people and freedom from discrimination in the creation of policy. The blanket restrictions disproportionately affect young farmers by limiting their ability to enter the sector. They particularly affect those who have recently heavily invested in their business. The Irish Farmers' Journalcommissioned a report that indicates the absolute maximum by which they can reduce is 18%. They need new technologies and support. They need assurances regarding the €150 million in carbon tax that was promised by the Government. They are willing to play their part in the solution. I mentioned that the airline industry gets €634 million and it is exempt. Can the Minister be honest with farmers and tell them the national herd has to be culled? Let us be honest. Worldwide, 158,000 people died yesterday and 380,000 were born. How is the increasing population going to be fed if we keep reducing food production? Prices will escalate and poorer countries will suffer.
I thank the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, for highlighting the disgusting fact that raw sewage from more than 30 towns and villages across Ireland is flowing into waterways. I hope the Minister is listening to this, given his comments regarding agricultural manure. We should be ashamed that in a modern society this horrible violation of basic rights and hygiene is happening every day in more than 33 villages and towns. It is appalling. Raw sewage is going into waterways. The EPA stated there are 33 such villages and towns but it has got it wrong because it has not taken into account the sewerage systems that are being desludged on a daily basis by diesel trucks - which add to the carbon tax, as the Minister calls it - to stop raw sewage going into rivers. I was in Askeaton this week and witnessed raw sewage going into rivers. It is not on the EPA's list, so the list is not factual. I refer to Glin, Dromcolliher and Hospital.
None of them allocated budgets for upgrading their systems.
I have listened to people who say that carbon tax is being inflicted on them. It is only being inflicted on people outside of Dublin. I have mentioned the Red Cow on more than one occasion. I am proud that the owner of the Red Cow Moran Hotel - because the Minister would not know what a cow is otherwise - is a man from Athea, County Limerick, called Tom Moran. He had to come to Dublin and teach the Minister what a cow is by naming a hotel the Red Cow Moran Hotel. I will tell Deputy Leddin something. The Government cannot fix the problems here in Dublin, so it is trying to inflict the carbon tax on people outside of Dublin.
The Thursday before last, I left Leinster House at 4.31 p.m. to travel 9.6 km to the Red Cow. It took me one hour and 32 minutes to get there. I travelled 217 km from the Red Cow, which took me two hours and seven minutes. I ask the Deputy to make sense out of that. The Government is crying over infrastructure. It has the infrastructure up here and it cannot fix it. The whole place is congested because the Government has overpopulated Dublin, shoved every business into Dublin and now people cannot get in and out of Dublin. Now, the Deputy is talking about the carbon tax.
I would have, if the Luas could connect me to my own county. Did the Deputy know, seeing as he is so smart, that I cannot use the train to come to Dublin because the train will not get me home if we are delayed in Dáil Éireann? The Deputy should know, smart man that he is, that if I get the green bus, it goes from 23 miles from my house, where there are no parking facilities, so I cannot use any public transport. I have to get someone to drive me to the green bus stop and collect me. That costs more in carbon tax. It is more fuel efficient for me to drive to Dublin, until I get here, and I cannot get in or out of the city. The Deputies are very smart men when they are quoting things, but they have nothing to back it up.
There is no doubt about it; this is a deeply anti-rural budget that will do nothing to support the rural economy of the family farm. Costs for those operating family farms or living in the countryside will be substantially increased. With blatantly voiced discrimination, the budget of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens, whacks consumers, motorists and homeowners through regressive carbon tax hikes, while rewarding banks with massive tax cuts.
I appreciate very much the extension of the help-to-buy scheme. The continuation of the scheme is most welcome. However, there are several other issues that I am very concerned about, for example, the cutting of the roads budget by €88 million. I will talk about County Kerry and local improvement schemes. There are 676 schemes still on the list. We got through 20 this year and 11 last year. That is a total of 31 delivered over two years. There will be no account of any one of us if we keep going that way with 20 schemes being delivered a year. I remember, in times gone by, when 111 schemes were delivered in one year after the other for two years. We are being let down. I have said it several times before that the people of Kerry and those living on those roads are entitled to a good road to their doors, just the same as the people in Dublin 4.
The carbon tax is wrong. Going back, the Government promised us that there would be a scheme for solar panels and for farm solar panels to boost energy and create electricity. I know of a farmer, who was on television this evening, who has created enough power using the solar panels on his shed alone to cover his own electricity. He could supply much more of it to the grid, but there is no facility for him to do so. That facility for solar panels was supposed to be put in place by 2020. Now we are being told that it will not be introduced until 2030. What the Government is doing is penalising the farmer. The farmer is driven mad at the same time. The Government is hurting everyone else as well, including hauliers. Members of the Government should remember that there is a carbon footprint for bringing electricity along long distances. That is what happening now. However, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications would rather try to reduce the national herd, paralyse the haulage industry, and target farmers, people going to work and the transport and taxi industries.
The way we are going, older people and many others may be perishing in their homes before the winter is over because they will not be able to pay for the electricity, fuel, oil or paraffin that they use. There have been amber lights flashing all year long telling us that we may run out of electricity. We know about the cost of it, which is bad enough. What is the Government doing about it? The Taoiseach and his gang were all over in Glasgow at COP26 this week. The Taoiseach promised that he would give €200 million this year, and every year for ten years, to address the causes of climate change. Did he tell the Minister he was doing that? Are the Taoiseach and the Minister working together or what is happening? It is very serious. The Government is collecting carbon tax with one hand, and giving away with the other to these fellas to keep these so-called scientists and whomever, flying from country to country. We do not know what they dropping on us from the aeroplanes when they are doing that. The Government is still doing all of this in the name of climate change.
The members of Government would very much want to cop on. Are we dealing with the biggest crowd of lunatics ever to run the country? When we see, on the one hand, the collection of the carbon tax and the torture they are putting people through, it is the best country in the world if it will keep going. We see the state of our hospitals, our farmers and our workers trying to go to work. No felling licences have been granted to applicants for more than three years. I know of one fella and it was seven years before he got his licence the other day. Hauliers and the transport industry are being affected. The Government tells us that it has closed down Bord na Móna. We know that. It closed one third of Moneypoint and put nothing in to replace it. It is no wonder the amber lights are flashing. The Government is opposing Shannon LNG and is telling fellas to buy electric cars. Where are they going to plug them in? Where are they going to get the electricity? Will the electricity be there when they plug them in? It is very likely that there will not be electricity to charge them.
I ask the Minister to cop on and to deal with the basics. To give and flit away €200 million of the people's money this week, which was collected in the name of carbon tax and other taxes, is very wrong. The Government is putting pressure on the people of Ireland, and especially farmers, hauliers and the transport industry. It is very wrong to do that to those people. I cannot say that I condone it, and I never will. I will never condone something like that, namely putting ordinary, good, hard-working people through what the Government is putting them through in the name of climate change. I tell the Minister one thing, if he is there for the next saecula saeculorum, it will not change the weather. Whatever comes down and will come down. He will not stop it.
I would like to congratulate the Minister of Finance for his achievement not only in putting the economy into a position where we could cope with the challenge of Covid and to do so successfully, with our public finances coming back into order already, but also his very astute handling a very difficult challenge to our corporate tax regime. He has made the correct changes, and made them steadily and gradually over a period so that people have had certainty in the approach that they can take and can have confidence in investing in Ireland.
Contrary to what Deputy Danny Healy-Rae said, in this year's budget, the Minister was the one who stood out and said he would protect consumers by indexing taxation, by providing additional tax credits and by expanding the tax band so that people have more money in their pockets to make choices. He is the one who supported investment in childcare, which is crucial. It is one of the key enablers we have failed over many years to address and this year we are doing it. He is the one who has ensured that the ambition to be able buy your own home is one that can be available to Irish people once again. Not only the help to buy scheme but numerous schemes will make it possible to buy at affordable prices, to rent at cost rental and to transform our housing market by having a State entity, the Land Development Agency, address the supply of homes in a concerted and effective way. This is the change we have been waiting for. Those on the left who continuously attack policies from the Government fail to recognise this is the first time we have had a State developer. We have a State developer using State land to develop and deliver homes to people up and down the country. This is transformative change. The Minister has been absolutely at the heart of this work.
Unlike Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and others, I welcome the carbon pricing. Carbon dioxide is toxic. It may not emit fumes of smoke or have foul smells but it is destroying our climate. Farms, enterprises or homes that do not start and are not helped to make the changes now in order to be in a position to address the challenges of a zero-carbon world will be the ones that will be undermined. Many of those who claim to be speaking for people in rural Ireland are seeking to condemn them to a future where they will not have prosperous farms or warm homes in the teeth of such dramatic change. It is right that we are using carbon pricing to recognise the damage that carbon is doing, and putting that money into helping farmers with €1.5 billion to make the transition, and helping people on low incomes to put in proper installation and proper heating systems that are resilient for the future.
I thank the Minister for the work he has done and I also thank other members of Cabinet. It has been a considerable budget considering the backdrop against which it was framed. The budget will respond to the challenging economic landscape following Covid-19. Today's jobless numbers were quite remarkable in the context of what the previous Government and the current one have tried to do in this scenario. This time last year, there was 20% unemployment and it is just 7% now. This is not to be sneezed at.
As Deputy Bruton mentioned, the budget will facilitate the indexation of income tax, which is a very welcome step in the right direction. The changes mean persons earning a little more, as wage inflation increases at about 2%, will get to keep more of their own money. Of course, it will also cover the inflation and cost of living increases we have seen since the reopening of our economy. This includes the fuel allowance increases, which are to be welcomed. The standard rate of income tax has increased by €1,500 and personal tax credits have increased by approximately 3%. These are also significant. For the eighth time, as I mentioned in my post-budget speech, Fine Gael in government has increased the minimum wage. This will make a real difference to thousands of people in the State. We are not yet out of the pandemic but the Bill will facilitate the necessary ongoing support of those still impacted by the pandemic. This includes the employment wage subsidy scheme, which has played a vital role in protecting jobs throughout the country.
As has been mentioned by several Members, the help to buy scheme was vital in assisting 20,000 individuals acquire their own homes in 2020. I very much look forward to the figures for 2021. It has been extended to 2022. It is a crucial scheme in assisting people to attain home ownership. This is a crucial part of our historic and present outlook on the property market.
There are many items I could mention in the context of climate action but I will limit my remarks to the changes which will assist many people in terms of acquiring electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. In particular, the VRT changes are important to mention, including the additional grants and supports being provided to those who wish to purchase an electric vehicle. I also want to mention the likes of retrofitting, which will be supported through €200 million that comes directly from the carbon tax to support thousands of people to upgrade their homes, including more than 5,000 State-owned social homes throughout the country. This is to be welcomed. The significant target for electric vehicles, including fully electric and plug-in hybrids, will increase our fleet by almost 1 million vehicles by the end of 2030. This is a huge statement of intent with regard to reducing the 20% of carbon emissions that emanate from the transport sector.
I heard very clearly what Deputy Danny Healy-Rae had to say on microgeneration. The Deputy is correct in the sense that we need to get the scheme off the ground so that individuals, home owners and small businesses can feed back into the grid. It is very important that the Minister outlined the mechanism for achieving this. In the Finance Bill he has allowed for a tax disregard to be implemented as part of this. This is very welcome.
I had the opportunity earlier today to raise again with the Taoiseach the crisis in our fishing industry. What has caused this? If we look at our waters under the jurisdiction of the Common Fisheries Policy, 15% of the fish quota in these waters has been allocated to the Irish fishing fleet every year for years. The other 85% is given to the fishing fleets of other European member states. This is based on what is called relative stability and based on the fishing practices of the 1970s. This has been allowed to happen. The impact is devastating. I have been visiting peers and harbours along our coast as Sinn Féin's spokesperson on fisheries and the marine. I have spoken to fishers and their families along the coast. The despair is growing. The impact of the Brexit trade agreement has meant a further cut to the quota of 15%, which has an impact of €43 million per year. The fact we have not confronted the utter injustice in the Common Fisheries Policy leaves us with the loss of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of euro each year. What other European country would tolerate a 15% take for its own fleet? We speak about climate change. Whose boats are closest to those waters? I want to set the context of what I want to raise with the Minister on the Finance Bill. I want the Minister to consider the issue of tax relief for fishers and the issues of wear and tear, fuel costs, repairs and climate measures. Costs continue to be raised at every pier and harbour. Fishers are self-employed and they have no tax relief.
The Minister has made provision for the farming community and the film industry. I am not pitting industry against industry as these provisions are right and proper but the fishing industry is the most under the cosh in the State. It is the one that suffered most in the Brexit debacle. I raised this through a parliamentary question and the Minister spoke about considering it and tax expenditure guidelines. He said it was key. He said where there are demonstrable market failures, tax-based incentives should only be considered where they would be more efficient than a direct expenditure intervention. This is the industry that is the most under the cosh. These are the people who are struggling to stay in the water. They have been failed by the macro policy of the State. They feel they have been sacrificed for other priorities.
I ask the Minister to look at this area of the fishing community. I ask him to speak to his colleague the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, to see what he can do at the next opportunity to address this issue of tax reliefs to provide another bit of assistance to them. I have raised the wider issue with the Taoiseach and let him fight for that. Within the Minister's responsibility I ask him to deal with this.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle. I am always very interested to read the Finance Bill every year to see the additional taxes and tax reliefs, which were not popular or trendy enough to make it into the Department’s big flashy budget announcement, but which are then quietly introduced much later via the Finance Bill. This year is no different as we see the introduction of more unnecessary tax breaks and extensions to tax reliefs for 2022.
We see in section 5 of the Bill that the help to buy scheme will be extended until the end of 2022 at current rates. I have voiced my doubts many times previously about the help to buy scheme due to the fact that there has been no evidence to show that this relief has done anything except push up prices for people who could not already afford homes. I do not believe that the help to buy scheme, which has very limiting criteria anyway, is an effective way of actually addressing the housing crisis and the struggle that Irish people face today in trying to secure a home. The scheme has been proven to be inflationary by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, which actually called the scheme a "poorly targeted policy that could add to house price growth". The extension of this scheme subsidises those on higher incomes at the expense of providing affordable homes for those in most need. Why then do we continue to extend this? Perhaps it is simply to subsidise those on higher incomes.
However, I welcome the extension of the wage subsidy scheme and I also welcome the fact that employees who work from home are being recognised in this Bill. The fact that they are only entitled to claim up to 30% of relevant expenses of heating, electricity and Internet costs as a deduction against their taxable income however is very underwhelming. Over 18 months into this pandemic, why are we still not making the necessary accommodations for our remote workers? This affects many of my constituents in Donegal, who not only have to deal with the increased cost of working from home, but are forced to work with insufficient and incredibly slow Internet. I am aware that this is not really the responsibility of the Minister who is here or within the Finance Act but it is a whole-of-government response and there are parts of rural Ireland, even within towns and villages, which do not have any Internet availability and this needs to be addressed.
I have stated in my speech on budget day that a good tax system would have zero tax reliefs. Tax relief is a neoliberal solution that only benefits those on higher incomes and takes away from public spending. Investment in public services would be much more effective. This Finance Bill shows me a complete lack of investment in our public services. I see very little in this Bill to invest properly in housing, healthcare, education and childcare. Even the minuscule rise in social welfare does not reflect the rate of rise in the cost of living in any way.
I note also that there is nothing in this Bill for renters, despite the fact that we continue to have the highest rents in Europe.
I have not seen inflation addressed here either. This Bill caters only for those who own property and not for those who rent it. Instead of addressing the ongoing crisis in the rental and housing sector, or looking into a potential vacant property tax, the Department focuses on reducing the zoned land tax from 7% to 3%. It is actually laughable.
I am very disappointed that so many important issues have been left out of this Bill and of this year’s budget. It shows just how out of touch this Government is with its citizens and especially with rural communities. There is absolutely nothing here that would benefit rural communities in any way. In fact the measures introduced here, such as the carbon tax, will only serve to hurt those communities. I expressed my annoyance on budget day at the rise of fuel prices and I would like to reiterate that again.
An issue I want to discuss, which I have discussed time and again, is one that will not go away and this is mica. I thought at this stage that Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and indeed the Greens, could do nothing further to shock me with their sheer incompetence. However, the fact that the redress scheme was not included in the budget or in this Bill is truly appalling. To keep this issue ongoing is just completely wrong. What is more is that we are now hearing reports that the redress memo will not go to Cabinet next week, missing yet another deadline of 9 November. That sickens me. I saw a newspaper report mention 9 December and I thought it was a misprint but it must actually be right. We will now have to wait until then when yet another deadline will pass and this just seems to keep on going and going. What more needs to be discussed other than the fact that 100% redress for these families is necessary? Every single day we delay is another day of distress we force on these families and is another day we allow these houses to crumble around them. I hope that the thought of the pain and distress this causes does not leave the Government's mind as it continues to let these families down again and again. We need to act and we need this action to happen quickly.
Gabhaim míle buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle agus gabhaim buíochas freisin leis an Aire as a bheith anseo le linn na díospóireachta uilig agus is maith an rud é sin. I think I have an extra few minutes by default and I will try to be as focused as I can and make the most of them.
I thank the Minister for his speech. Once again, the Minister refers to the world burning, tá an domhan trí thine. This is a very strong statement. I said on budget day that the world is burning and that we must take action. I agree with the Minister. Unfortunately, we are not taking the action. We are pouring a little water here and there to put the fire out but we have not learned. What is really more upsetting, and I have said it repeatedly this week, is that the threat to democracy is the meaninglessness of language. If we talk about the world burning and then we fail to take action, then we are not inspiring confidence for the people out there. This applies to everything, from the vaccination programme to straight language about our health service and our housing.
I see that the Minister is shaking his head. At this rate he will be shaking it a great deal more by the time I am finished because I have many stronger things to say in the course of this contribution.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle. At this point I am not even sure what I said but I will attempt to be focused in this manner. I rarely personalise things and if I have I am sorry. It is not in my interest to personalise anything as the issues are far too serious.
Let us look at the budget now in the language that is coming out and I listened to Deputies Bruton and Lahart and so on. Deputy Lahart talked about some aspiration in the future to gender-proof the budget. We have been talking about gender-proofing, poverty-proofing and rural-proofing budgets for as long as I am in the Dáil and that is not as long as other Deputies who were doing a very good job before me. We have Deputy Bruton talking about what this will do.
I am sitting here and I am asking if we are speaking the same language. Sometimes I am confused because I go from Irish to English but this is the English language and I am genuinely not clear as to what is being said at all. We are told that we are tackling the housing crisis but we are certainly not doing so. We are following the market once again and we continue to pay the housing assistance payment, HAP, and there is no sign of the Minister making an announcement that HAP will have to stop. Of course, it cannot stop overnight. We cannot leave tenants without help now because that is the system that was brought in by Fine Gael and, unfortunately, the Labour Party, who said that HAP was the only game in town. We see the result of it now where it has artificially boosted the market to keep prices high.
Let me be positive with the Minister for a few minutes because, in fairness, he acted quickly with his colleague, Deputy McGrath, in supporting businesses and employees on the ground during the pandemic. That was very welcome. My difficulty is that the Government has not learned from it. We continue to support businesses up until next year, which is welcome, but we have set absolutely no conditions on that money in recognition that we cannot go back to the way we were. We have all agreed that we simply cannot go back.
The pandemic arose because we did not treat nature properly and it came from an absolute abuse of nature and the model which the Government is continuing to put forward is based upon an abuse of nature. It is unsustainable to keep going. We know that now. In 2019 we declared both a climate and biodiversity emergency so we now need a transformative action. It is no good anymore to have a budget where we tinker a little bit and say that we are expanding the tax bands and that everybody will be helped. All of the Minister’s colleagues here said that people will benefit from that. That is completely untrue.
Let us look at what Social Justice Ireland has said:
Firstly, as a result of this Government’s failure to focus on low to middle income households with jobs, a couple [this has already been quoted] with one earner at €30,000 has received an additional €0.39 cents per week from these two budgets combined. Even more devastating is the outcome for a household of four, two adults and two children, one income at €30,000 who also have benefitted by only €0.39 cent...
That document and other documents published by the Department of Finance show that what the Minister is saying is not accurate. The €500 million in tax cuts which the Government gave benefited the well-off or those better-off than those on a lower income. I agree with the other speakers who say that we should not have had any tax reductions whatsoever.
Over and over, with each election, people on the doorsteps have asked us for straight talking, honesty and good services in return for their tax. A public health service and public hospitals are what people want. We saw the effects of the lack of adequate public health provision in the other sense during the pandemic. People have asked for those services, as well as an integrated public transport system.
I come from a city where one can take any sort of indicator and it will show that the Government's ideology and the budgets it has brought in, year after year, are not working. At what stage will it be happy to admit its approach is not working? The Minister should listen to the CEO of Galway Simon Community, who described the need to provide services for 464 children last year as one of the really disturbing trends highlighted in the charity's annual report. One of the key findings in the report on housing by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, which we will discuss in the House tomorrow night, is that lone parents are significantly affected, with fewer than 25% reporting home ownership. The report speaks about overcrowded housing and homelessness, particularly among ethnic minority groups, as well as other groups such as migrants and people with a disability. Those are just two reports from two organisations.
In Galway city, people come into my office, and those of other Deputies, who are on the housing waiting list, some of them since as far back as 2004 and others for three to five years and more, and do not have a hope of getting a house. There has been a housing task force in existence for more than two years but, apart from letters going back and forth to the Department like a type of echo chamber, I do not know of a single report it has published. I would have thought a housing task force would analyse the problem and put it to the Minister that this is what is happening, for example, in Galway.
Various speakers referred to the Land Development Agency. It was set up on a non-statutory basis i dtús báire and the very first thing it was to do was produce an audit of all the public land throughout the country. We are still awaiting that, notwithstanding that the agency is now functioning on a statutory basis. I entirely disagree with Deputy Bruton that the LDA is the solution to the housing problem. It is looking at developing private houses on public land.
Tying into that, the Department of Finance's help-to-buy scheme is being extended. As I have pointed out in the House before, the tax strategy group has reported: "The cost of help-to-buy continues to grow and, based on its current trajectory, it could reach over €107 million in 2021." Even taking into account the significant enhancements introduced on a temporary basis in July 2020, which are still in place, this is more than four times greater than the original estimated cost of €40 million per annum. Even more damningly, that money is going to people the vast majority of whom already had the means to raise a deposit. The scheme is keeping the prices of houses artificially high. It covers financing for houses that cost €600,000 or thereabouts. How can it be denied that the scheme is bolstering the market? How can the Minister come in here today and tell us in plain English that the scheme is so good, he is going to keep it for a little longer? No analysis has been carried out of it, except for the report to which I referred, since 2018.
One of the greatest challenges we face is climate change. However, I understand where some of the rural Deputies are coming from in their criticism of Government policy in this regard. It has adopted a split-and-divide approach, which is appalling. There is an emphasis on the impact of carbon tax on poorer people, which is to be mitigated by increasing the fuel allowance, but, at the same time, a completely free pass has been given to the aviation industry and data centres. Government policy is that we need those centres and they must be allowed to go full steam ahead, with absolutely no analysis of their impact. That is feeding forward into policy on wind farms. We were told in the newspapers recently that a data centre in Dublin needs a wind farm off the west coast to supply it.
None of this makes sense and none of it is sustainable. People in communities are being bought off by the policy of the Government, which is to give a few pence here and there while taking it somewhere else. It is a divide-and-conquer approach as opposed to recognising that sustainable future development requires community involvement in every part of it and community ownership of utilities. If we are going to sell the idea of wind farms to communities, we need a policy into which communities can buy. At the moment, we have a policy that is driven by the developers behind the projects, exactly the same as with the data centres. I am not choosing the words I am using here; they are from the recent EirGrid report, which stated that the policy on data centres is completely and utterly developer-driven.
I am desperately trying to be positive and there are, of course, some positive measures in the budget because the Fine Gael Party is made up of survivors, and they have survived up to now. They give enough to get their votes but it is at great cost to the sustainability of our planet. There were many ways to increase the tax take. The change to corporation tax, which has now gone up to what it should have been all along, is good. However, the newspapers tell us today that the take from that tax far exceeds expectations and predictions. One wonders what people are doing in the Department of Finance if they cannot accurately predict what is coming down the road from corporation tax. It is a good news story, however, and those returns are from a very basic level of corporation tax. Having spent four years as a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, I know well that there are many ways to avoid paying it, particularly through the use of research and development. Good luck to those companies if they can do that, but let us be honest about the money that is coming in and what is happening.
There are 643,131 people with a disability in this country. That is the figure from Social Justice Ireland, based on the most recent census data. People with a disability are more likely to finish school at an earlier age and less likely to be in employment than those without a disability. Consequently, rates of poverty among this group are higher, with more than 41% of people with a disability living on an income below the poverty line. The Government has failed to introduce a basic, cost-of-disability payment, which the various organisations have been seeking for years. Something as basic as that has still not been done.
If we look at the number of people living in poverty, the housing crisis that has led to more than 100,000 households being on a waiting list and the issues with the health system, surely it occurs to Fine Gael, the Green Party and Fianna Fáil that there is something wrong with the ideology they are constantly throwing at us on this side of the House. I have no ideology other than to say we need an absolutely fair and just society to have a fair and just economy. The economy should always serve the people, not the other way around. We should not be fiddling with figures and we should not be here in the 21st century with no gender-proofing and no consideration of the cost of tolerating domestic violence, which, at its most basic, amounts to €2.2 billion per year. We have a mental health system that is costing us an extraordinary amount of money in its failure to deal with mental health issues. Surely, at some stage, it will dawn on the parties in government that there is something wrong with all this.
We need to look our children in the eyes and say this is wrong and we are going to change it. The world is burning. To use the Minister's words, tá an domhan trí thine agus cad a rinneamar? Bhreathnaíomar ar an tine agus theip orainn aon rud a dhéanamh. Ligeamar don mhargadh na réitigh a fháil in ainneoin go raibh a fhios againn an t-am uilig nach raibh na réitigh ag an margadh. Tá na réitigh againne mar Theachtaí Dála ag obair as lámh a chéile chun a rá nach féidir linn leanúint ar aghaidh mar seo. Tá an dualgas orainn athrú cuimsitheach, bunúsach a dhéanamh anois. Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle.
Gabhaim buíochas ach ní thógfaidh mé an méid sin. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as fanacht anseo le haghaidh na díospóireachta go léir.
I appreciate that the Minister has stayed for the full debate, which does not often happen. I will focus on a number of brief issues. Ireland is becoming increasingly divided. It is not just divided by partition itself but it is also divided by income, access to healthcare, access to housing, background, whether people live in Dublin or live in the rest of the country, and even if a business is domestic or if it is foreign direct investment. There are two countries in operation in Ireland at present. They have radically different experiences and their experiences determine their futures in many different ways. This budget enforces that two-track society which the Government has created over time.
I wish to discuss the carbon tax, which is a very important issue. The Minister will agree that the purpose of the carbon tax is to reach a price on a fossil fuel to motivate the person away from that fossil fuel and to reduce the use of fossil fuel over time. If the market has already achieved the price that makes the fuel unattractive and moves people away from it, would the Minister not agree that the addition of a carbon tax is punitive rather than for any effective reason in reducing carbon emissions? We have already achieved the price that would have been expected two or three years ago, even with the addition of the carbon tax, just through the market price alone. What is happening now, therefore, is that the tax the Minister is imposing is a punitive tax. It is hurting people more than anything else. The idea of a carbon tax that can be implemented on a multi-annual basis is also bad politics and bad management of society. What the Minister is saying is that the Government is going to put a certain tax on fuel three or four years hence and it has no idea what the base price is going to be. It does not know what the value of that fuel will be before it even considers the tax. It does not know what the circumstances of citizens will be. It is blind to the needs of citizens well in advance of deciding to implement a certain tax. It is a bad level of tax.
In addition, without the alternatives, it is self-defeating. If one is seeking to motivate people to move away from carbon fuels and one does not provide an alternative, one will not achieve that move and one is just punishing people as well. Electric cars and second-hand electric cars are far too expensive for most Irish people. There is no public transport throughout the country. Many of the towns and villages in my constituency might be lucky to get a bus travelling through them once a day, at most. It is still an incredible situation that we live in a largely Dublin-centric country. Currently, we have an overheating Dublin, a sprawling commuter belt that reaches out into Ulster, Munster and Connacht and then there are rural and regional areas that are being emptied of their people. This type of budget simply increases that trend over time.
I am very conscious of the Government's approach to this. It is using far more stick than carrot with regard to carbon and climate change. If it continues down that road, it will build resistance. If it builds resistance, it is going to lose the people, and it if does not have people on its side it will not be able to win the war on climate change. Had it introduced certain carbon taxes with a real extension of public transport in rural areas, it might have won people over with that. If it had done it and radically reduced the price of public transport, it might have brought people with it. If the Government had done it while at the same time introducing a feed-in tariff for the microgeneration of electricity, it might have won people over. It is incredible that this State is the only state in the European Union with no feed-in tariff for microgenerated electricity. It is mind-blowing that the plus side of the climate battle equation is still being left out for people, and that only the minus sides in this regard are being implemented.
In the Budget Statement the Minister said that 22,000 homes will get upgrades and retrofits. There are 1.6 million homes in the State, so 22,000 homes is a drop in the ocean in that regard. As regards a practical measure to increase the level of public transport, I will table an amendment on Committee Stage to provide that bus companies get their VAT back. Why can bus companies not reclaim their VAT? If we want bus companies to increase their level of business and they are paying VAT for the materials they are consuming, they should be able to reclaim their VAT on that. I also believe we should follow the French example and introduce a minimum tax on the delivery of certain items bought digitally. The French have introduced a minimum price for books that are bought from companies such as Amazon to ensure that local businesses can still succeed. We see the closure of such businesses in our communities and Aontú will be seeking to create a tax to allow local businesses to be able to compete with these massive international companies. After all, local businesses pay business rates, while the international companies do not.
On the subject of rent caps, there is very little reference in the budget to the rents experienced by people. The Minister's Budget Statement referred to rents twice. The Government is in the middle of a third effort to put a cap on rents and is talking about a 2% rent cap. There is no excuse for any rent increases at all at present. It is absolutely incredible that the Government would still allow rents to be increased.
The Taoiseach was asked a couple of weeks ago if he would repurpose NAMA to ensure we could provide far more social and affordable houses. He did a great dodge. He basically said that NAMA's job is to protect the interests of the taxpayer. The taxpayer is paying for 70,000 rental accommodation scheme, RAS, payments and housing assistance payments, HAP, every year. Where are the interests of the taxpayer protected in that? The Taoiseach also said that the mandate of NAMA is determined by legislation. No way. Who decides the legislation in this House? It is the Government.
The zoned land tax is interesting. There are particular ideologies in the Government that determine what is happening in this country. The Government does a good job of hiding the ideology with political rhetoric on a regular basis, but there are times when the truth of what the Government is doing is crystal clear. The vulture funds buying up homes against first-time buyers and then leasing them back to the State is an example of that. The zoned land tax is another example. The vacant sites tax that was introduced by a previous Government was incredible. Last year, it collected €21,000. I do not know how many taxes cost more to implement annually than they collect annually, but the Government has managed to do it. That did not happen by accident. It was because the Government did not want to do it. It did not want to impact the landowners in the country.
The zoned land tax is not going to be put in place for another two or three years. There is a radical urgency deficit in this Government. There will be a reduction from 7% to 3% in the levy, and 3% is not even keeping up with the price increases and the inflation on property sites in the State. It is still in the interests of property owners to hold onto land and pay the 3% because they will make more by doing so. I spoke to the Minister in the finance committee, in the context of LPT reform, about putting property taxes on empty homes and increasing the size of those taxes. The Minister said at the time that research would have to be done, he needed to think about it and that he was not sure whether it would work, again showing the urgency deficit that exists in the Government for something as critical as a home for a person.
There is a reduction in the banking levy. The banks have earned billions of euro, tax free, over the last decade, and this year the banking levy will be reduced. The Government's excuse is that there is an exit of a number of firms from the sector. There is, for sure. There is a concentration into a smaller number of operators, but the size of the banking sector remains the same. The oligopoly that now exists with the small number of operators will just reap higher profits and they will still not have to pay tax on them. They will now have a lower banking levy to pay as a result. There should have been an increase in the size of the banking levy. We, the Irish people, bailed out the banks in 2010 and the Government should be ensuring that, in the midst of a global crisis, we should have an income input from the banks.
I will refer briefly to antigen testing because it is referenced in the Bill. It is very hard for the people of Ireland to understand the Government's resistance to antigen testing, given that it is such a useful tool internationally with regard to reducing the transmission of the illness. It has been used in Denmark very successfully. It meant it did not have to impose discrimination against people on the basis of Covid passes.
Right now, people in this State with Covid can gain access to hospitality, but those who do not have Covid and do not have a pass cannot gain access to hospitality. It is incredible that the Government is banning children from access to sports such as basketball, volleyball, kick-boxing etc. Children are being banned by Government policy from accessing school tours. Children without Covid are being stopped from going to such events and sports. They have suffered radically over the past 18 months but as a result of the lack of antigen testing there is not an opportunity for these children to participate in really valuable social interactions and sports - things that are good for their health and good for their physical and mental well-being.
In the Finance Bill, antigen testing is treated as a benefit-in-kind in certain instances. Nothing typifies this Government's farcical approach to antigen testing more than treating it as a perk, a benefit-in-kind, and taxing it on that basis. Instead of using this budget to really allow for all parts of society to test people to ensure that they are free of Covid so that they can circulate an enjoy their civil rights, incredibly this budget treats antigen testing like a benefit-in-kind.
The last speaker spoke about hospitals and investment in hospitals. My local hospital in Navan is having its ICU and its emergency beds closed by the Government. Today, the theatre in Navan hospital was closed owing to lack of staff because they need to be in the accident and emergency department. The accident and emergency department is swamped there with six-hour waits. People facing serious threats to their health are waiting for 11 hours for access to the accident and emergency department in Drogheda. Staff at Connolly Hospital have come out in protest at the shocking conditions there. The Government needs to get real when it comes to investment for the proper functioning of our health service.
I want to focus on the region I come from in County Leitrim and the difficulties that exist in rural areas in the west of Ireland. The first thing that comes to mind is the people who come to my constituency office and the problems they have. For the vast majority, the main problem relates to healthcare issues. The hospitals are overcrowded and they cannot get beds. They cannot get services when they want them owing to long waiting lists. Sligo Regional Hospital is an example of that. Much of this is down to years of underinvestment. I appreciate that there was something in the budget for some of that.
There is only a temporary cath lab in Sligo hospital. The present cardiologist in the region, who has done great work for many years, will retire shortly. To find somebody else for that job, Sligo hospital needs a permanent cath lab. For almost 20 years, the hospital has sought funding for that. That is just an example of the problems that we have. People in areas with low levels of population feel that they get low levels of investment - much lower than they need.
Regarding the environment, COP26 is taking place this week. It is ironic that in the same week the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications is signing licences for exploration in County Leitrim for gold of all things. We would certainly like to get the gold in Leitrim, but a mining industry for a luxury product like that is not what we want to see coming because it a high-carbon industry. We were told we were supposed to be moving away from high-carbon industries. We would love to see jobs based on renewable energy and other things, but not jobs in that kind of industry.
By pushing people in this direction, the whole concept seems to be jobs at all cost and profit at all cost, which is what has brought us into this crisis with global warming in the first place. The Government needs to step back from that and invest in real jobs, allowing people to live and flourish in their own communities. Going down the direction of mining will certainly not do that.
When we go out and about in our constituencies, we always meet people who have something to say. I met a man who said this was a budget for the big shots. That is the way many people see it. There were tax cuts that will mainly benefit the high earners with most of the pressure put on the people at the bottom who are getting most of the taxes. That needs to change. The Government has brought us down a particular direction from which it needs to do a U-turn. It is very dangerous for the economy and the ecology of the country.
There has been much talk in recent times about the farming community with the need to reduce the number of cattle and all this sort of thing. For the vast majority of people in my community, farming is the only industry. It is all they have. The Government keeps telling them that they will need to have fewer cows and do less, without telling them what they are going to do. There is no incentive or drive to show what alternatives will be in place. When I go to a farmer beside me who may have ten or 15 suckler cows at the moment and tell him the Government's idea is that he needs to reduce that by 15%, 20% or even 30%, he will ask me where he can make a living. That is not the message the Government is giving farmers. It is only giving them the one message, the negative one. The Government needs to provide a positive message and show people that there is a future and that it will provide the resources and investment to create the future for people.
I have a young family and my children are being educated. They and their peers may do well in third level education and get degrees. However, unfortunately there are very few jobs for graduates when they come back to Leitrim, Sligo and other places in the north west. That needs to change. The budget was about maintaining that status quowhich has failed so many generations who live in places like Leitrim. I appeal to the Minister to re-examine the way in which Government has structured all these things from the health service, to the education system to how it invests rural areas. It needs to turn away from its current direction because we need no more budgets for big shots.
I very much appreciate the contributions Deputies have made during an important Second Stage debate on the Finance Bill. I will structure my comments based on some of the themes that I have heard. I will begin with the climate crisis, move on to the cost of living and then talk about where we are from an employment point of view. I will then respond to some specific points that were made in the debate, including by Deputies Boyd Barrett, O'Donoghue, Shortall, Connolly, Tóibín and Martin Kenny.
I want to begin with what has been a common theme in this debate, which is an acknowledgement by some of the gravity of the climate crisis that we face and at the same time an opposition to a carbon tax. Certain Deputies a short while ago came into this Chamber to vote in acknowledgement that there is a climate crisis. Those same Deputies will come into this House and vote against a change in carbon taxation when the majority, if not all, of the scientific advice, and the majority, if not all, of the opinion that we will hear at COP26 is unambiguous that a higher level of carbon emissions is what is causing the damage to our environment, our ecology and our health. We need to reduce it and carbon taxation is an important part of how that can be achieved.
Scientists and the economists who are experts in this area are very clear in advising policy makers that if the emission of carbon dioxide into our environment is causing the harm that we acknowledge it is, then it needs radical change. If people acknowledge that radical change is needed, carbon taxation, which I acknowledge creates challenges for many people by placing added pressure on them, is an essential pillar in doing that.
The Opposition cannot acknowledge there is a climate crisis while, at the same time, saying it is against changes in carbon taxation. If people are against changes in carbon taxation, they should lay out the measures that can take its place. They cannot have it both ways.
I will come to Deputy Boyd Barrett's point in a moment. In fairness, while I disagree with most of what he says, I am full of respect for him in that he at least puts forward a coherent argument, which few others have done in this debate so far. How can a Member walk into this Chamber arguing there is a climate crisis caused by a higher level of carbon emissions and be against the tax measure that is capable of reducing it? How can a Member walk into the Chamber and claim to advocate on behalf of generations to come and be so concerned about the Earth and Ireland they will inherit from this generation and say that he or she does not want to be part of the changes in how we price that material that will harm lives to come?
If the Opposition makes charges about my intent, who I serve and who I represent, I will in turn put the question to all the Members opposite. How can they be credible in saying there is a climate crisis? What shred of credibility do they have if at the same time they are against the very measure that seeks to fund the change we need? That is what this carbon taxation measure is about. It is about paying for the changes around retrofitting and protecting the lowest cohorts of income in our country from these changes. It is about funding increases in cycling and other public infrastructure that we need. That is the test.
I know where I stand in this test. I know this is a difficult measure and it causes challenges for many people. I am equally clear, however, that these are the kinds of changes and the case we must make. If the Opposition believes this is not the course of action it wants to pursue, does it actually believe there is a climate crisis? The Opposition voted on a motion recognising a climate crisis and in doing that, how can it not stand by measures that our scientists acknowledge as essential in helping us make this change?
I look forward to the debate on this and it is one of the many tests that the Opposition will need to face in the coming period. If it acknowledges there is a climate crisis, what are the measures it is willing to support as the Opposition - or perhaps as part of a Government - that scientists would support and are capable of funding the change we need in our society? These measures will be difficult, notwithstanding the fact we have used the revenue to protect those who could be most affected by them. It is part of the change we need to make.
I heard a particular accusation from a Deputy this evening who referred to "so-called" scientists. This concerned the announcement from the Government and the decision I was part of on the increased funding for climate financing. Let the House be clear what climate financing is for. It is for our country to play its role in supporting the poorest and most vulnerable countries with all the coming change. In many cases, these countries will have played no or little part in how our environment and nature has changed. It is what the fund is for and it comes from the general taxes we collect.
A common theme from the rural Independents this evening is the suggestion that this measure was funded by the carbon tax but it is funded by general taxation. They are not being open with the House in what the money is used for and how it will help. It is to help the most vulnerable and the poorest countries. It is to help people in other parts of the world who have the least and will be affected the most. That is the kind of financing and support that our country, our values, our heritage and our future should suggest that we make. For those who might suggest otherwise, which I believe I heard tonight, I urge them to be honest about what this money is being used for.
The cost of living was another general theme from the Opposition as Members made charges relating to the tax measures contained in the budget. As with carbon tax, the Opposition cannot have both sides of the argument at the same time. Members cannot say there should not be any changes in personal tax on the one hand and, on the other, say they are not high enough. They cannot do both. The Opposition cannot come into the House and say there should be no changes to tax and in the same speech lament there is not enough. They cannot do both.
Deputy Martin Kenny referred to big shots but the people I represent are on middle, average or normal incomes and they should not pay the higher rate of income tax. Their efforts should be recognised and they pay a rate of tax, earning more through effort and hard work. As they earn more, they should be able to keep the efforts of their work in their purse or wallet. It is what I believe but Sinn Féin is against that or any changes in personal taxation. Its Members are of the view that as tax revenue rises, nobody who has played a role through hard work, innovation and entrepreneurship should benefit. That is the party's view and it is the difference between us.
Members should not come in here saying on one hand there is a cost-of-living crisis and that the measures to address it are not enough but they are against any other changes. They cannot do both. It is all too reminiscent of the Opposition's stance on carbon taxation.
As for the big shots, Sinn Féin is the party that wants to abolish the local property tax. The bigger the house, the bigger the gain under Sinn Féin's measures. Is this about big shots or big houses getting Sinn Féin's support? The party wants to abolish the local property tax, where the larger the home, the bigger the tax amount paid. It wants to abolish the tax and if it does, those with the most valuable homes will gain the most.
It is because it is the truth. The only measure that the party has would benefit the most valuable houses and those who own them.
On the question of where our economy stands, I welcome the support from many on the impact of the EWSS and the CRSS, as well as the PUP. These protected employers, those who work for them and income at a time the pandemic was at its very worst. Those measures laid the foundation for what is now being seen with the falling numbers receiving the PUP. Those measures have laid the foundations for a very strong rebound within our economy and it means the threat we faced of mass sustained unemployment has been avoided.
One Deputy said it should not be jobs at all costs. Try telling that to somebody who wants to come back to our country to live and work here and who may have been educated here. Try telling that to somebody who is still on the PUP who wants to get a job and stay in it in Ireland. The measures put in place under the EWSS and the CRSS that we are extending in a careful way will ensure we deliver on a commitment that there be no cliff edge. This will continue to play a role in helping our economy move into a place where it can grow and create jobs and money for public services across next year.
While I disagree with much of what Deputy Boyd Barrett said, I always acknowledge that he has a coherent world view that he puts forward in these debates. He is against much of modern capitalism. He is against foreign direct investment and the role it plays. There are 180,000 jobs created in our country through foreign direct investment. If the Deputy is against that kind of investment, where will he get those jobs from? This has been a long-standing topic of debate between the Deputy and me over many years. He is correct that companies have grown and become more profitable during the pandemic. That is one reason we need to change our overall policy for corporate tax in the world, but equally, they are companies that employ people in Ireland. If the Deputy is against them or the way they are structured, from where will he get the jobs those companies provide? That is not to mention the other firms and workers that depend on those companies being in Ireland. That was an essential element of what helped our country and economy recover from the pandemic.
Deputy O'Donoghue comments on aviation were perhaps the most extraordinary I have heard made by a Deputy from Limerick and the mid-west make in some time. I hope those who work in Shannon Airport and who depend on a living from aviation in his county and region, and who work in tourism who are eager to see the return of international tourists to our shores and who recognise the value of aviation in doing that, heard Deputy O'Donoghue's comments this evening. The comments he made about aviation and airlines pertain to the industry and the sector - in Shannon Airport and other airports - that we want to rebuild because they are employers, they add value to our economy, they bring tourists into our country, and they generate the access that has been at the heart of our country being able to grow in recent years. In particular, few parts of the country understand that more than the mid-west. I hope people there listened carefully to what the Deputy said in this debate.
Deputy Shortall made the case that what we have seen during the pandemic demonstrates the failure and weakness of our society and economy. Of course, I am deeply aware of the loss of life, loss of livelihoods and the loss of health. However, the way our public services are funded and led, and have been organised by this Government and the last one, while facing enormous strain, has been at the heart of how our country has been resilient in the face of a pandemic. That is not a narrative all about failure and vulnerability. It is a complex and objective reality that acknowledges there is much that we still need to do better and improve on, and also acknowledges that the fundamentals within our public services played such an important role in helping our country preserve the health of many at a time of challenge.
Deputy Connolly made the point about how the language used is a threat to democracy. She spoke about language that is devoid of meaning, which led to my response to her. Deputy Connolly is wrong. The language that is a threat to our democracy is that which drips with venom and which implies that anyone who is an opponent is always an enemy and that anyone whose intentions are different are that of an elite. I hear that language in this Chamber all the time. It is not the language devoid of meaning that is a threat, but the language that is full of a meaning that implies only those who make a charge are capable of representing those who we serve in this House.
An equal test to where we stand is the suggestion that actions, efforts and policies yield no meaning and no results. I wish to relate that point to the charges about public transport and agriculture. I refer to the charges made about agriculture. No reference was made to the work done by the Minister, Deputy Charlie McConalogue, and his recent confirmation of Common Agricultural Policy funding of €3.9 billion, €2.3 billion of which will come from the Exchequer. That is real support for dairy, beef and tillage farmers. They are policies that are making and will make a different. There was no acknowledgement of that in the debate or of the many challenges our rural communities and farmers face, which we appreciate.
There were charges about transport, in which no reference was made about the 165 electric buses that will be on our roads next year as a result of this budget. There was no reference to the 81 new buses that will be put on our roads for regional and local services. There was no reference to the increased grants that are being made available to help with retrofitting and the purchase of vehicles that over time will be better for our environment. If a threat is to be found, it is in the lack of acknowledgement of those kinds of measures while charges are being made that bears refuting in this concluding debate.
I refer to the points raised by Deputy Tóibín on our situation with Covid and the deprivation of children who cannot exercise. I agree with the Deputy that it is a deprivation. However, it is difficult to acknowledge credibility in his arguments given his opposition to the use of Covid vaccination certificates, which he has in common with Sinn Féin, of course.
These were the measures that led to the reopening of our hospitality sector. These were the measures that led to tens of thousands of people being able to go back to work during the summer period. The use of those certificates and those public health measures-----
I acknowledge the fact that many children cannot practice the sports they want, as the Deputy correctly said. I accept this is something - health permitting - we want to change. However, the Deputy's credibility on those matters is continually and gravelly undermined-----
I listened to the debate this evening and remained for it, as I should. This Finance Bill is within a context that is very different from the one introduced a year ago. While we are correct to continue to have a sense of anxiety and a focus on the current level of Covid and how we can reduce it further, this is also a health context that is fundamentally different from a year ago due to a vaccination programme that was implemented exceptionally by our public health professionals, which this Government oversaw and put in place, and invested the resources in it for it to work. The health and economic benefits of that are real.
While we still stand in an uncertain place, the economy is nonetheless in a very different place from where it was a year ago. Far fewer people are on the pandemic unemployment payment and many businesses are open with the confident expectation that they will be able to stay open in the future. We introduced economic supports a year ago, knowing that they were going to be tested. A year later, we can say that they have worked. This Finance Bill continues that work and I commend it to the House.