Dáil debates

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Emergency Budget: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]


The following motion was moved by Deputy Pearse Doherty on Tuesday, 28 June 2022:

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

- (Minister of State at the Department of Finance).

8:10 pm

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion calling for a costed emergency budget to address the cost-of-living crisis. Our proposals would provide much-needed supports for workers and families, who deserve and need a break. The State is projected to take in €5.6 billion more in tax revenue this year than was expected when budget 2022 was framed. Sinn Féin is calling for €874 million to go into an emergency budget.

Workers have been hit by transport costs and the rising cost of home heating oil. As the Minister of State knows, transport costs are affecting workers who have to travel long distances to work the most, including workers in counties Laois and Offaly. Our emergency budget is targeted and would reduce excise duty on petrol and diesel and remove excise from home heating oil completely. It would provide a once-off cash payment for low- and middle-income workers, increase the minimum wage and ensure low-paid workers get fuel allowance. It would cut childcare fees by 33% and increase the back to school allowance for children. It also would increase pension payments by €7.50 per week and provide renters with a tax refund of one month's rent. The Government must move now to help renters, which the Minister of State has not done so far. Our emergency budget is fully costed and is only giving workers back a share of their contribution to the economy.

Big business seldom wastes a good crisis. Last year, GDP hit an all-time high of €404 billion. The volume of goods and services produced has increased massively in spite of the Covid crisis and the war in Ukraine. I acknowledge that both those events are having an economic effect. We understand that. However, despite GDP skyrocketing last year, ordinary citizens have seen a huge reduction in their spending power. Has all the wealth disappeared? No, it has not. What we are witnessing is a massive transfer of wealth from the workers who produce it to a smaller and smaller wealthy elite that extracts more and more out of the economy. Our emergency budget is an attempt to address some of that imbalance.

The Government cannot continue to ignore the cost-of-living crisis and the ever increasing struggle of the workers and families its members meet every week. It is a fact that we have one of the highest mortgage interest rates in Europe, some of the highest gas and electricity prices, sky-high rents and childcare costs that have gone through the roof. These issues cannot be ignored. The Minister of State is correct that these matters would normally be dealt with by way of the budgetary process, but we are not in normal times. We need an emergency budget and we need it now.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We are calling on the Government to introduce an emergency budget to deal with the rising cost of living. None of us should have to make a speech outlining the challenges facing families. We see the evidence of that every day. Many of the people to whom I speak say they are at their wit's end and do not know how they will pay the next bill. They are dreading the postman coming up the driveway to deliver more of them. When one pulls into a garage, one sees straight away the increase in the cost of petrol and diesel. When people go for a fill of home heating oil, they see the difference in price. People are telling me the rising cost of food bills is impacting on their families.

Everything is going up, but wages are certainly not going up to match. We know the costs of renting a room. The cost of trying to get rental accommodation is above and beyond the ability of most people now. Therefore, people are travelling further and further when they are trying to get to work and trying to keep their jobs, but they are taking home less and less income. What we are asking for, and what people are calling for, are more supports.

The founder of Ballycullen food bank described the demand for its services last month in the context of eat or heat. The demand has more than doubled in just the last few weeks. I was talking to people at a meeting I had last night. We were going through the number of food banks that have been established in many communities and in many community centres right across my constituency. I argue, again, that this is probably happening in the constituency of every TD in the Chamber. We are saying that people cannot wait. When the Government is asked about this issue, the response is that it has to wait until October. People cannot wait until October. The message we are sending out tonight is that we are appealing to TDs of all parties and none to think again, to think of their constituencies and to think of the challenges facing the families out there and to deliver an emergency budget. This is the message. It is a strong one, but this needs to be done.

8:20 pm

Photo of Johnny GuirkeJohnny Guirke (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The hardship, anxiety and desperation being felt by households across the country need to be addressed today. The cost-of-living crisis is hitting people's pockets hard and families are struggling with rising costs. The prices of rent, childcare, groceries, petrol, diesel and heating oil, as well as back-to-school costs, are all shooting up, while people's wages stay the same. People are under real pressure to cover the price of the basic essentials they cannot do without. Listening to the Taoiseach this morning, we would think that Putin was the cause of all the Government's failures. We would not think that many of the problems we have existed before the war in Ukraine and even before the pandemic, such as the issues with housing, rents, childcare and so on.

We must introduce a cost-of-living cash payment for people who need it. We must cut rents and freeze them, including putting a month's rent back into the pockets of renters with a refundable tax credit. We need to cut childcare costs by two-thirds because they are far too expensive for families. We must also cut the prices of petrol and home heating oil to make them affordable. We must increase core social welfare rates to ensure that the most vulnerable in society are protected. These are targeted measures that are detailed and costed and deliverable if Sinn Féin was in government.

Fuel and energy costs are totally out of control. People are faced with the choice of paying for heating or eating. People are frightened that they will not be able to afford to fill up their petrol tank to drive to work. Older people are staying in bed longer so that they do not have to sit in a cold house. Does the Minister of State think that these people can wait on this Government and for the budget in October? Many of them will be driven over the edge before then if more is not done now. Yet again, we see how out of touch this Government is when it comes to understanding the needs of ordinary people. We need more urgency from the Government now and for it to introduce an emergency mini-budget.

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

Households across the State cannot wait until the year end for the Government to act when they are struggling in the here and now. The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, and the Central Bank of Ireland have all stated that the Government has the scope to introduce additional measures to support households. The Government is now expected to run a surplus of €1.6 billion this year, taking in more in tax than is going out in expenditure. Therefore, the money is there to act and the Government must act. Action can and should be taken immediately to provide support for those facing the cost-of-living crisis.

A recent national survey commissioned by Barnardos revealed that almost two-thirds, some 63%, of people and their children who participated had to go without essentials such as heat, electricity, food and clothing during the last six months due to the cost-of-living crisis. More than one-quarter of parents have had to cut back or have gone without heat and almost one in four have cut back or gone without electricity. A report from EUROSTAT showed that "overall prices are 40% higher [in Ireland] compared with the average in the EU" and that "Combined housing costs such as rents, mortgage rates, gas and electricity, are again the most expensive" here, at 89% above the EU average, while healthcare costs "are the most expensive in the EU, at a staggering 72% above the [EU] average".

This is Ireland in 2022. This is Ireland under the watch of this Minister of State and this Government. Two weeks' ago, in my constituency of Wicklow, a constituent of mine collapsed and was rushed into hospital. The man, who has cancer, was told by the doctors that he was suffering from malnutrition due to his inability to afford to put food on the table and that that was why he collapsed. This is Ireland in 2022. This is Ireland under the watch of the Minister of State. The man I spoke of, and the many thousands like him in Wicklow and right across the State, cannot afford to sit by in the hope that the Minister of State and the Government might do something later on-----

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

I thank the Deputy.

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

-----in four or six months' time. Those people need action and they need it now.

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

I thank the Deputy. We are over time. I call Deputy Nash.

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I was struck by a reference in a recent report from the ESRI that essentially, and I am interpreting this to a degree, stated that for many people on low and middle incomes the Ireland of 2022 is starting to feel like 2008 again. This is a comment and a reference that will resonate with many people. The difference, however, between 2008 and 2022 is that we have the resources now, if properly targeted, to insulate those who are less well-off and to help those struggling on middle incomes to get by and to make ends meet.

We back and enthusiastically support this motion from Sinn Féin, but our calls for an emergency budget are genuine and sincere as well. They are made in an effort to be constructive, as my colleague and the leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Bacik, said to the Taoiseach during Leaders' Questions earlier. Our first call for a comprehensive set of budgetary measures and action of this nature was not made today, yesterday, last week or even last month. As far back as January, in a detailed motion brought to the floor of this House, we presented a comprehensive set of targeted and costed proposals to help people to make ends meet better during this challenging cost-of-living crisis. That package was valued at €1.5 billion. Some of these proposals, and we have to be fair to the Government, have since been implemented, such as the cut to the excise duty rate on fuel. It would be churlish of me not to acknowledge that.

That package was of course proposed when Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine was only then the stuff of speculation and intelligence reports. We all know the world has changed incredibly since. Of course, everything comes a distant second place to the incredible suffering of the people of Ukraine and the millions who have been displaced internally and externally. More must be done, however, to insulate better the hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens at the very sharpest end of the cost-of-living crisis. This crisis is real. It is real, it is here and it is impacting now. It is being experienced and being lived now, not in October 2022, but now at the end of June 2022. Without comprehensive action therefore we will not only be facing into a winter of discontent, but it will also be a cruel summer for those on fixed low and middle incomes as they digest the news reported in the recent Kantar bulletin, which got a great deal of media attention in recent days, that basic shopping will cost an additional €450 or so this year. To put this into context, this is more than the gross weekly salary of someone on the national minimum wage and working a full week.

That is the pain people will have to endure this year.

It will also be a cruel summer for those, with seven or eight weeks to go until kids go back to school, who might not qualify for the back to school clothing and footwear allowance, will not get free school books and cannot pull the money together for a short summer break after the very difficult two and a half years that everyone has experienced. It is important to acknowledge that. On the day my colleague, Deputy Bacik, was elected leader of the Labour Party, she called for an emergency budget. That was in April. We have done so time and again to be constructive. The crisis is so severe that the Labour Party is prepared to cut short the Dáil recess, to sit as long as it takes, up until August, if the Government Is prepared to work with us to develop and legislate for a comprehensive set of targeted measures to help those most in need to make ends meet.

The Minister of State will recall, because he was a Deputy at the time, that two budgets in one year were sometimes required when the Fianna Fáil party was last in government. When public finances collapsed and severe cuts to public spending were to be proposed, the House and the then Government did not stick to the one-budget-a-year convention. If there is a national fiscal catastrophe, we can have as many budgets in a year as the Government of the day will decide, but when it is a financial crisis for hundreds of thousands of working families across the country, it is a case of business as usual and they will just have to wait until October to see what can be worked out. That is a tough message to have to sell to people who find themselves having to hand shopping back when they get to the till and realise that they do not have enough money in their purse or wallet to pay for the shopping they put in their basket or trolley. There is no dignity in that for working people who are struggling.

We are not calling on the Government to protect everyone from the impact of inflation. That would be manifestly and objectively impossible. Nobody is asking the Government to do that. There are inputs, which have contributed to the rising cost of living, that are way beyond the control of the State. If the Minister of State is to double down on requests in this House for an emergency budget and to deny the public the opportunity to have those targeted measures in place before the summer recess, I ask that he manage and control his colleagues' utterances in the long run-in to October's budget. This will be the longest run-in to a budget in living memory.

The people of Ireland are finding it hard enough to manage without the prospect of enduring pre-budget kites being floated by Government backbenchers and, indeed, Ministers during the summer as they all try to outbid each other in the pre-budget stakes during the silly season. Every bit of speculation the Government engages in causes more harm and anxiety for hard-pressed householders who are already at the end of their tether. The biggest offender in terms of public utterances and riffing away on what might or might not be in the budget is the Tánaiste. He started the silly season early with his annual call - a ritual call - for tax cuts. As the Minister of State will be aware, tax cuts disproportionately benefit the highest earners. If the Government is serious about targeted measures to help the people who need it most, it must take tax cuts off the table. If the Government is serious about using the resources we have in a targeted way, it should use the additional €500 million it intends to use to make primary education genuinely free, for example. With what is left over from that €500 million, the Government can ensure that GP care is free for more children in an effort to move, inch by inch, towards the ambition of Sláintecare.

In the Government's determination to drag the budget out to October, it is building up enormous expectations around what it will actually deliver with the big-bang approach it is conditioning us to expect. Expectations are being built up and the Government is talking up the performance of the economy. It is a source of great pride for us all that the economy is objectively performing so well. When it is looked at in the round, it is doing very well but one cannot eat GDP figures. We were initially told to expect a deficit of more than €1 billion this year but, as was put on the record earlier, we are likely to have a surplus of approximately €1.6 billion. That is an incredible turnaround and the resources generated through VAT windfalls, perversely on the products that have become the most expensive items these days, such as energy, need to make their way back into the pockets of those who need them most. We could decide on an administrative basis, without requiring an emergency budget, to use some of the money left over from the Covid contingency fund and channel it to core social welfare rate recipients with what could be known as a summer bonus. That would be a targeted way to make an intervention and put money into the pockets of those who need it most. That call we made a number of months ago has essentially been backed up by the ESRI. In our alternative budget last year, the Labour Party also suggested that we help those who work hard and earn less than €50,000 with a carbon credit that might generate approximately €200 for them to help them make ends meet as well.

There are a range of different measures we can take even without an emergency budget if the political will was there on an administrative basis to help people between now and October. We will be watching closely for the Low Pay Commission's report that is, by law, due by the end of the third week of July, to see what it will recommend as an increase to the national minimum wage. If the Government is to remain between the ditches and meet its target in terms of a living wage, not just a rebranding of the national minimum wage to a living wage, it will need to increase the national minimum wage by at least €1 per hour this year. I say "this year" deliberately because if a recommendation is made to increase the minimum wage, it needs to be introduced immediately after the budget, in the middle of October. We cannot wait until 1 January as is normally the case.

8:30 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Sinn Féin motion. It is a very important motion to so many people across the country. Like others, the Social Democrats' position on an emergency budget is very clear. We need one and we need one now. However, the Government continues to ignore our calls from this side of the House as well as the many calls from its own benches. While it is doing that, it is clear that many people in this country are suffering, people on all kinds of different income levels.

Frankly, it seems as though the Government is completely out of touch with reality so here is a little reminder. Inflation rose to above 8% in May. One in five people is now living in poverty. One in three households is now living in energy poverty. All major energy suppliers have implemented double-digit price hikes. Petrol is 41% more expensive than last year, and diesel is 45% more expensive. In Dublin, the average rent is €1,972 per month and the average childcare cost is €1,276 per month.

Let us consider what that actually means for families. Let us consider a family, with two children, that is renting. What do those figures mean? How much does someone need to earn in Dublin to be able to pay rent and childcare? As I said, the average cost of childcare is €1,276 and rent is €1,972. With two children the cost of childcare is more than €4,500 per month. The cost per annum of rent and childcare is €54,288. The average rent and average cost of childcare in Dublin is more than €54,000. How much does he or she need to earn to have that figure to pay for rent and childcare? After tax, PRSI and USC, he or she needs €54,000.

Prior to tax and all those other charges, a single parent would need a gross income of €84,000 to be able to afford that rent and childcare. A married couple with one income needs gross income of €76,800. A married couple with two incomes needs gross income of €64,424. Those are extraordinary figures. That is before feeding or clothing any of the household, heating the home, putting fuel in the car and paying tax, insurance and so on and before health insurance or pension contributions, much less any luxuries. These are enormous figures. Someone has to earn between €64,000 and €84,000 just to pay for the absolute basics of rent and childcare. Who can do that? The number of families in a position to do so is very limited. This is the reality of life in Ireland today and it is completely unsustainable. Is the Government honestly asking people to wait until October in these circumstances? How many more people need to drop below the poverty line before the Government will take action?

It is not just the Social Democrats and other Opposition parties that are calling for immediate interventions; the ESRI agrees too. In a recent report the ESRI outlined the need for targeted measures. Through stark analysis, it detailed how those with the least money are most adversely affected by inflation. That is because lower income households must spend a far greater proportion of their income on energy and food. The ESRI also warned that tax cuts are not the solution but, instead, targeted measures to protect struggling households, particularly lone parents, senior citizens and those with disabilities. Similar findings were outlined in the Central Bank's economic letter. That document presented data showing how rural, low-income and older households are experiencing larger cost-of-living increases. That type of research should underpin the Government's response. We need evidence-based decision-making and policymaking, not kite-flying of the stuff that is designed to appeal to certain sectors of the community.

Targeted measures are needed. The Social Democrats would start with a €10 increase in core social welfare rates because social welfare rates are falling so far behind inflation. In the longer term, core social welfare rates such as pensions should be linked to the levels set by the minimum essential standard of living, according to the research that has been done in that regard. That is a standard of living below which no one should be expected to live. We should set a goal of moving towards that level over, for example, a three-year period. Additionally, an easily accessible hardship fund for people falling into fuel and food poverty must be established as a matter of urgency. The tone-deaf advice that struggling households should just contact their community welfare officers shows the Government's lack of understanding as to who can seek assistance from social welfare officers. That is why a new hardship fund with specific and well-communicated criteria is so urgently needed to assist people through this awful crisis. For hard-pressed parents facing up to €1,500 in back-to-school costs for each child, budget measures in October will simply be too late. That assistance is required now. Last year a survey by the Irish League of Credit Unions revealed that 24% of parents go into debt when trying to pay back-to-school costs. The Government should immediately return the back-to-school allowance to its levels in 2010, when it was paid at rates of €200 per child under 12 and €305 per child over 12. In addition, the review of the school meals programme should be fast-tracked to ensure that any expansion of the programme can be done in advance of the new school year.

As for education, primary and secondary school must be made genuinely free. A hundred years after the foundation of the State, schools are still fundraising and parents are still scraping together money to pay for the gap between the cost of running a school and the cost of the capitation. That is for the most basic services - cleaning, insurance, overheads, electricity and keeping the place warm. Currently, the average back-to-school cost at primary level is €1,200 and, for secondary education, €1,500. That is by no means free education. To deliver free primary and secondary education, there must be no additional or hidden charges such as voluntary contributions, school books or uniforms because those disadvantage children hugely and go against the whole principle of levelling the playing pitch for young children. Doing this would cost a total of €238 million, just 2.5% of the overall education budget. Surely we can afford that.

Another area which needs urgent attention is disability supports. Given that disability-related welfare payments have not kept pace with growth in market income, in conjunction with the markedly higher cost of living with a disability, the standard of living among this group has fallen way below that of an ordinary worker. For that reason, it is absolutely essential we introduce a cost-of-disability payment.

These are just some of the measures the Government should be implementing now and in October. People are suffering. This is an emergency and it must be treated as such. People simply cannot wait. The Government cannot delay the kinds of supports people so desperately need just to survive. Will the Government please listen?

8:40 pm

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

I thank Deputy Doherty and Sinn Féin for bringing forward this motion, which we support completely. We urgently need an emergency budget to address a crisis that is absolutely crushing hundreds of thousands of people in this country. Working people, pensioners, students and people on low and middle incomes are being absolutely crucified. The Government is being very dishonest in its responses to the cost-of-living and housing crises. We should always refer to those twin crises because they are both absolutely disastrous in their proportions and in the impact they are having on ordinary people. The Government is being completely dishonest in suggesting that the major reason for this cost-of-living crisis is the war in Ukraine. We all, of course, abhor Putin's invasion of Ukraine. It is a brutal, unjustifiable invasion and is impacting grain exports out of Ukraine and energy prices. However, the idea that the specific characteristics of the cost-of-living and housing crises in this country, which are worse than anywhere else in Europe and were before the war in Ukraine started, are somehow the fault of that war is just dishonest. It is the Government desperately trying to deflect. We had 35 energy price hikes in 2021, before the war started. In 2020, even before the cost-of-living crisis really took off, Ireland had the highest price levels in the EU, 40% higher than the EU average. The ICTU estimated in the document it produced recently on the social wage that utility costs and housing costs in this country are 78% higher than the EU average. We have the highest childcare costs in Europe. We are far worse affected by the housing and rental crisis than anywhere else in Europe because of the failure of the Government to control the cost of accommodation, childcare and so on and to provide them as public services and rights to our citizens and because we have essentially let the market dictate all those things.

There is a connection between neoliberalism, privatisation and the fact that we have more or less the worst cost-of-living and housing crises in Europe. The more you allow the market to dictate, the worse these crises hit you.

Why do we have just about the worst housing crisis in Europe and the biggest hikes in the cost of accommodation and rents? It is because only 9% of the housing stock in this country is social housing. The figure is 25% in Austria and in most of Europe, it is around 20%. When markets dictate rents and house prices go through the roof. Why do we have the highest childcare costs in Europe? It is because almost all of our childcare has been privatised. Why do we have the highest energy costs in Europe when we used to have the lowest? It is because we privatised and deregulated energy. The greedy profiteers control some of the key areas where the cost of living is crushing and crippling people. For the Government to hide behind the war in Ukraine is utterly dishonest.

In my last few minutes of speaking time, I will focus on human suffering that is coming from this and on the lack of urgency on the part of the Government. I will read out this message I received the other day from a young woman. She has now been in emergency accommodation with her young son for three and a half years. Again and again, I ask about her plight. Her message said:

I watched your video from yesterday. It doesn’t seem they are going to do anything. Leo mentioned the budget. Sure that’s not until October. It is awful. I have never hated living somewhere so much as I do living here. It is honestly taking its toll on both of our mental health. There seems to be no way out of this nightmare. So unfair of my son sharing a bunk bed with me in a tiny space. I am actually starting to give up hope.

The woman who, by the way, works as an agency worker looking after vulnerable children for a State agency, contacted me again the next day. This is how she has to live with her son. She said:

I am sick again out of work for the third time since March. The stress of it all is too much, to be honest. My son is off for the summer and he doesn’t want to come home here. He wants to stay with my parents. I don’t blame him but it is now separating us as a family. It is just awful. It feels like a trap with no way out now.

If that does not get across to the Government the urgency of this, I do not know what will. October is no good to her. She has been three and a half years in emergency accommodation and, just recently, was taken off the housing list because her income crept slightly over the income threshold. For five years now, successive Governments have said they would raise the income thresholds. We were promised that the Government would review those income thresholds before the summer recess. That is now gone. As Leo said the other day, it will be October now. That woman and many others are banjaxed. Why does the Government not want to review those limits? It is because it will have to extend the housing assistance payment, HAP, income support to many more people and it does not want to do that, so we will wait until the October budget. That is causing real suffering.

Today, as I am speaking again, a family with two working parents and two children aged nine and 14 years of age were made homeless because their landlord is evicting them for reasons of sale from where they are living. They have nowhere to go. There is no emergency accommodation available for the parents or their children. I have ten or 12 cases of people being evicted into homelessness in my office at the moment. The Government will not stop evictions, control rents or provide emergency accommodation for people. These things cannot wait. Real human beings are suffering grotesquely now from all of these things and something has to be done now.

8:50 pm

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

The Minister is effectively saying to struggling families that there will be nothing extra done for them next month or the month after that when they are preparing for children going back to school, and nor will anything be done for them in September. They must wait until October. They say a week is a long time in politics. For a family going under in this cost-of-living crisis, three months is an eternity. The lack of urgency shown by the Minister and the Government will not be forgotten by the people.

Workers on low pay are among those being hit hardest in this crisis. I will talk about one group of workers who have not received a pay increase now for 14 years. I am referring to the personal assistants at the Irish Wheelchair Association. These people do very valuable work. They help people to shower and use the toilet and bring them to the shops. This Government refuses to engage seriously with them or their trade union representatives, which has forced them to plan to strike next Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Government intends to increase the pay of judges, doctors, high-flyers and people earning more than €150,000 a year by 10%, 15% and, in some cases, €20,000 a year this Friday. The Government’s priorities are skewed and all wrong. The country is beginning to lose faith in the Minister and the Government on the cost-of-living issue.

This country is crying out for an emergency budget. People will not be too impressed with Deputies who vote against the motion. In particular, I draw the attention of the country to those Independent Deputies who spend a great deal of time criticising the Government but use their votes to keep it in office or save it from embarrassment. The way those Deputies vote on this motion tomorrow night should be watched very closely indeed. I will leave it at that.

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

I thank the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach and welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. The Opposition will put forward its case for an emergency budget. The Government will respond when it has the opportunity to do so. The Opposition will put forward its case for an emergency budget. The Government will respond that there is no need for one and that it will address these issues in October. The reality is that there are practical steps that can be taken today which would make a real difference to families who are struggling.

The Minister and I sat down around the table when we were negotiating Project Ireland 2040. At that time, we set a target of retrofitting 45,000 homes from 2021 onwards. As the Minister knows, that target was watered down this year to just 22,000 homes, of which 4,500 house people on social welfare. We will be very lucky if the very first of those grants announced to such fanfare earlier in the year is paid by the end of September when the fuel allowance kicks in.

We can increase the fuel allowance and social welfare rates but the one long-term measure that can address the challenges our people face in respect of energy bills and the cost of heating their homes is to reduce the cost of heating homes. The practical way to do that is through retrofitting. That programme of retrofitting should have been ramped up at this stage. Covid-19 is not he reason it has not been ramped up. There is now a need to prioritise retrofitting homes.

One of the other issues that people are facing is the spiralling cost of accommodation, that is, if they are lucky enough to be able to secure a property to rent. This has been a very serious issue in our cities for a long period. In the past five days, I have had three professionals come to my constituency office looking for accommodation to rent in Roscommon town. It cannot be got at any price. These are three professionals working in the town.

They cannot source accommodation in the town or its hinterland. What is absolutely criminal is that, according to the data the CSO announced in recent days, we have 4,000 vacant homes in County Roscommon. We have more than 100,000 vacant houses throughout the country in the middle of a housing emergency.

Something that could help to reduce the cost of housing and provide accommodation for people would be to release these homes. One way that could help do this is to alter the conditions of the repair and lease scheme of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. This is the scheme whereby a local authority can take over private accommodation from a landlord, carry out the repairs that need to be made to the house and lease it out for five years. To acquire these properties, the local authority must show a housing need in the community. The difficulty, as the Minister knows well, is that there has not been a tradition of local authority housing in areas such as the small villages we have in County Roscommon. People do not express a preference to reside there. In fact, the villages are not even listed on the council's housing application form. Even though there is vacant housing and there is a huge demand for housing, these houses cannot come under the repair and lease scheme. A small alteration to the terms and conditions of the scheme regarding the housing needs test would help to release some of the properties.

I have no doubt there are people on the social housing list who would take that accommodation. If they are not willing to take it, I can tell the Minister there are many other people, such as the three professionals I spoke to and many people in this city, who would relocate to rural Ireland if they had the opportunity of a fixed rent over a five-year period. The local authorities would not be stuck with these properties. We need a bit of initiative to try to release some of them into the housing market where they are urgently needed.

I want to speak about a number of pointless charges in the system that need to be removed. The first is the public service obligation levy on electricity customers. Every month through the PSO the State collects €4.88 from every electricity customer without any need for the money at present. In fact, the State is taking in the money at present and plans to give it back to people next October. Surely it would make far more sense to suspend the collection of the PSO today and give people some relief rather than gathering the money and bringing forward legislation to try to give back some of it later in the year. Give people a break today.

While I am on the issue of legislation, with regard to the Bill that will come before the House tomorrow, the Minister will pony up the capital cost up-front to allow EirGrid to buy the generating capacity for 450 MW of electricity. However, ultimately it will be every electricity customer in the country who will pay for it. The Minister and I know from the engagement we have had previously that much of the 450 MW of electricity we have to acquire is because of the huge demand placed on our electricity network by data centres. I have told the Minister in the past that I believe it is immoral that electricity customers and families struggling to pay electricity bills should be subsidising the cost of green electricity going into data centres and subsidising the cost of transporting electricity from the west coast of Ireland to the data centres in Dublin. These companies should pay the costs themselves instead of passing them back to families who are struggling to pay their electricity bills. I urge the Minister to deal with this issue today.

I know the Minister and I will disagree on the next pointless charge I will discuss, which is the carbon tax. At present it costs motorists approximately 13 cent a litre when VAT is included. This has a disproportionate impact on families living in rural areas and communities who do not have the availability of public transport and cannot get the 20% relief the Government is providing on public transport in urban areas. As I have said to the Minister previously, we need a form of carbon tax that is fluid so that when the price of oil goes up, the carbon tax take comes down, and when the price of oil comes down, the carbon tax take goes up so that we have a consistent incremental increase in the price of fossil fuels and oil between now and 2030 rather than this see-saw approach that will do nothing to motivate people to move in the long term to more sustainable options.

The Minister will come back and argue with me that the money is needed to carry out the retrofitting I have spoken about. We are now getting in substantially more money in VAT from fossil fuels, petrol, diesel and home heating fuels than we had projected in the budget last year. This money could be used to cross-subsidise the reduction in carbon tax take if there was relief on it. The one thing an alteration in carbon tax would do tomorrow morning is that it would disproportionately benefit families in rural areas. The Minister knows what the ESRI has said, which is that families in rural communities are being disproportionately impacted by the increase in the cost of fuels and the increases throughout the economy that we are all experiencing at present.

9:00 pm

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

The Rural Independent Group fully supports the motion. We were the first political grouping in the Dáil to call on the Government to hold an emergency mini budget, when we moved a Private Members' motion on 23 February 2022. We also moved a Private Members' motion in April calling on the Government to axe the carbon tax, which would have had the impact of putting about €8,000 directly in every person's pocket between now and 2030. Last month we called on the Minister for Finance to reduce to zero all fuel and energy taxes until the end of 2022. Perhaps the worst aspect of the Government’s crippling carbon tax, which it hiked again on 1 May, is that it was specifically designed by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party the last time they shared power together to make petrol, diesel, and all available energy products much more expensive. We are seeing the biting impacts of this now.

The Government voted down our proposal in February, despite the fact the motion called on the Government to recognise the cost-of-living crisis as a national emergency. If the Government had listened back then, the people would not be suffering the crippling financial pain we are all experiencing today. We sought the introduction of a comprehensive and robust package of measures intended to support those less well-off and impacted sectors through allocating financial aid and slashing energy consumption taxes. The Government does not have a monopoly on good ideas and its members must urgently remove their heads from the sand dunes and re-enter the real world. An emergency or mini-budget to mitigate and address the spiralling cost-of-living crisis on multiple fronts is long overdue.

I presume the Minister has the same in his constituency although it is not as rural as mine. Fishers and farmers are coming to me in desperate situations. Fishers have parked their boats by the pier because of the cost of fuel. I said this to the Taoiseach today but he seems to speak a different language to me because he did not understand what I was speaking about. It is quite plain to hear. It is the same with the farmers. They are in a desperate situation. Farm contractors are speaking about €1 more for a litre of green diesel than what they paid last year. They are in a desperate situation and the Government will have to do something. If it does not, it will cripple the country and grind it to a halt. Common sense tells everybody this but it does not seem to focus the Government. Common sense no longer applies when it comes to the Government. It is slightly removed from reality. It will have to come back and understand the suffering people are going through.

9:10 pm

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

I am glad to get the opportunity to speak. I thank Sinn Féin for this motion to give us the opportunity to talk about these very important matters. Everyone understands the rise in the cost of living is caused by the cost of fuel. The men and women on the road are suffering, whether it is driving a car or a lorry, and the farmers driving tractors and jeeps are all suffering because of the extra cost of fuel. Whatever about the budget, and you can put whatever name you like on it, I am calling on the Minister to help these people. The Government is taking in way more tax now than it was at the time of the budget last year, when fuel was around €1.20 per litre for diesel or petrol. It is nearly double that now, so the Government has nearly doubled the tax take. I ask the Government to give it back to the people on the road who are suffering. In a way, the Government will ensure costs for everything else are kept down rather than rising. People just cannot keep going. The wheels will grind to a halt. Whether it is the lorry and tractor men, men and women going to work or mothers taking their children to school, and we do not have school transport in every part of our rural areas, they are all suffering and they are the most entitled to get the money back. They are the people who are paying the extra tax and suffering the most. They are people with a wheel, whatever type of a vehicle it is, and they are suffering.

I ask the Minister and his Government to give attention to those people today, not in October. Many of them will be gone under come October. That is the truth. The Minister has heard Deputy Michael Collins speak about the fishermen. It is the very same with lorry and tractor men and the people trying to continue to go to work. Those are the people who are suffering. The Government has extra tax and wriggle room. Please give it back to them - some of them - and do not be keeping it for bankrolling some other airy-fairy idea by the Green Party.

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

I, too, thank Sinn Féin for bringing this motion forward. Of course, my colleagues and I in the Rural Independent Group support it. Why would we not? We had the exact same motion before the House last February calling on the Minister to address the ever-increasing cost of living. That was back in February, a number of months ago, when fuel was not even at the awfully high price it is now, which is having the knock-on effect of raising the cost of everything.

With regard to the difference it will make to people who are struggling, the Minister keeps saying people will have to wait until October, but I appeal to the Minister in this regard because people really do not have the luxury of waiting until then. Farmers, fishermen, young couples and everybody else who is vulnerable are facing such a massive shock increase. It is all interconnected. People are complaining about ESB bills, that they are getting the shock of their lives when the bill comes into the house. The Minister comes along to say there will be €200 off the price of electricity. That €200 was like the money that was reduced on petrol and diesel. I will never forget - I think it was a Wednesday night - when the Minister reduced the price in the House, but he neglected to tell people that it went up by more on the Monday and Tuesday nights than he brought it down by on the Wednesday night. It was as though the Minister had spit in the ocean, to be blunt about it.

The tax take the Minister is getting out of petrol and diesel at present is frightening. The Government is gaining the most out of the increase because, every time the price goes up, it means the Government is getting a higher tax take out of that higher price. It is frightening. The Minister never had as much revenue coming in, and at the same time he was never doing as little for the people.

I plead with the Minister to take notice of this motion. I plead with everybody who has any intention of being involved in politics to forget about parties and to think about the people who sent them here. They are Teachtaí Dála - messengers of the people. I support this motion wholeheartedly.

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

I thank Sinn Féin for bringing this motion. History repeats itself once again. The Rural Independent Group was the first to call for a mini-budget. Since then, we have heard many commentators speak about, and many rumblings about, mini-budgets. Why does it take so long for the Government to realise people have already started to cut back considerably and cannot afford to live? We are being driven into recession. The Government did not listen last October when I drove a truck in to Leinster House to highlight fuel issues. The Minister continues to take his €400 million per month in excessive tax off everybody in Ireland who is going hungry and cannot get to work. He is putting all the costs back on the consumer.

I was at a two-day agricultural show over the weekend where I had a stall. It is easily known some of the parties did not turn up to the show because they knew what they would get. An amount of people came to my stall, and I am talking about people of 15, 16, 18 or 20 years of age and their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, saying to me they cannot survive, they cannot do their apprenticeships or go to work. They were saying to me that, when it comes to education, their parents always gave them an allowance because they had no transport and helped them drive to school for the extra grinds they needed, but they cannot afford to do that now. They were asking why the Government is not protecting them. That was their question. Why is the Government not listening to the Independents? They were saying the Government does not see them anymore. A party and a Government that was supposed to represent the country does not see them anymore. This is coming from the young people in Ireland. It is no wonder the Minister's party will be obliterated, along with Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, for their lack of protection of the people here and now and then work for the future.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am sharing time with Deputy McNamara. I thank Sinn Féin for the opportunity to debate this issue again. The issue is one of the most serious facing the people of this country and it is of its time. I find the position of the Government on the cost-of-living crisis quite incredible. People are struggling now. They are struggling to put food on the table, pay their rent or mortgage, run a car or pay an energy bill. They were struggling last week, they are struggling this week and they will struggle next week. In August, they will be worrying about the cost of sending their children back to school in September. They cannot wait for the October budget, which is almost four months away.

It is quite incredible, not to say outrageous, that the Government has dug its heels in and is refusing even to consider immediate measures to help alleviate the crisis at this time. Even some of the Government backbenchers are calling for them. I heard Deputy O'Dea on the radio at the weekend. Senator Doherty and others in the Fine Gael Party are also reflecting the pressure people are under.

I have to ask what the problem is with an emergency budget. We are not in a crisis with the State's finances, as noted in the motion. The Government is set to take in an extra €5.6 billion this year over what was expected in the budget last October. The Government can afford to act and act now.

As also noted in the motion, there are factors in this crisis beyond the control of the Government and not everyone can be protected, but there are measures which can be targeted at those most in need, and these need to be taken now. For example, the €5 increase in basic welfare payments and State pensions in the previous budget, following two previous budgets without an increase, was completely inadequate. Those dependent on these payments are now experiencing a 10% increase in their cost of living. A 10% increase in an emergency budget is now needed. Yes, it is €25 to €30 per week, but that is what is needed, and it is needed now rather than in October or later.

There are now just under 1 million people living below the poverty line.

There are 29% of people in fuel poverty. A major factor in this has been rent, which increased by 12% last year. Rent caps are not working and we need an immediate rent freeze. The best way to do this is through an emergency budget.

The cost of putting petrol or diesel into a car is now a major problem for many people, particularly those in rural areas with limited or zero public transport options and those who must drive as part of their work, including home carers. In June 2021, a litre of petrol was €1.49 but it is now more than €2. Diesel was €1.39 per litre and it is now more than €2. The Government has said it cannot cut the VAT rate of 23% but it can cut excise duty and carbon taxes, which in my understanding comprise up to 50% of the cost of fuel at the pump. Last year, in excess of €2 billion was collected by the State in excise and tax on fuels and the cuts introduced in March have been completely overtaken by fuel price rises. The cuts are also due to expire in September, so more action is needed, again through an emergency budget.

Another matter that requires immediate action is the question of an emergency cost of living hardship fund. A sum of €45.7 million provided by the Government for exceptional and urgent needs schemes in 2022. This seems to be an inadequate sum. I have tabled parliamentary questions to the Minister for Social Protection asking the number of people who have made applications from last May to April this year. I received some figures for Intreo offices on Cork Street and Bishop's Square in Dublin and the Minister also indicates that the Department is compiling more extensive statistics. This is an urgent task, along with getting information from non-governmental organisations on the number of people using food banks, in order to assess the level of need out there. We must respond with an emergency fund to properly meet that need. It must be a specific cost-of-living emergency fund.

Radio advertisements have been run by the Department in the past few weeks dealing with a point I raised a number of months ago and letting people know what services are available and how to access them, which I welcome. I also believe community welfare officers should be relocated back to the community to make the service more accessible to those who need it.

I will speak to the question of a living wage. There are high levels of low pay and the problem affects one in every four or five workers. It is a key component of the huge and unacceptable levels of poverty in our society. The living wage legislation being drawn up by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment seems to estimate a living wage at 60% of the median wage. I have worked that out to be approximately €11 per hour, and it is to be introduced over four to five years. A wage of €11 per hour is not a living wage and it is hardly an improvement on the minimum wage, which itself is a poverty wage that has become the norm in certain sectors of the economy. A living wage in a city like Dublin is €15 per hour. The cost of living coalition of which I am a part will continue to organise protests and demonstrations to achieve that, along with other key demands, including an emergency budget now, when people need it.

I will make a final point about the crisis affecting people who face eviction and termination notices. We had a young family in the office the other day. We contacted the family unit of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and we were advised it is at capacity, with no vacancies in hubs. People are now facing terror when they receive an eviction notice from landlords.

9:20 pm

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I very much welcome the opportunity provided by Sinn Féin to discuss the rise in the cost of living and I thank the party for that. It was put to me in stark terms last night by the outgoing cathaoirleach of Clare County Council that if a single person living alone on the old age pension buys nothing else for three weeks, he or she can buy a half a tank of fuel. That is where we are and this is not sustainable now or into the future.

We constantly hear from the Government that we have very close to full employment and that is a measure of its economic success. Nevertheless, many people working full time in Ireland cannot make ends meet at the end of the week. Sometimes even families with two people working cannot make ends meet if they have children. That is not sustainable because of the rising cost of living.

It would be attractive to think a mini-budget or emergency budget on its own would solve this. I accept that throwing money at the problem through social welfare payments alone is not going to solve this. It will do it for certain cohorts and particularly for people with no other source of income, it would have to be part of the solution. There would certainly have to be large tax credits along the lines of those in the UK for childcare and that must be part of the solution. It will have to be part of the solution very quickly.

We must try to stop the cost of living rising further. This is difficult because for decades we have heard that we are the most globalised economy in the world. We have very few tools at our disposal and it is a very difficult time but we must consider what has been successful up to now. In Ireland, inflation is now running at increasingly unsustainable levels, driven by energy and housing costs. France managed to stem inflation a little by capping the cost of energy. That was facilitated by the fact France did not follow the folly of Germany in closing its nuclear power stations before it had an alternative fuel supply. We do not have one either, although, like France, we have an energy sector that is largely State-owned. The Minister is going to have to look at capping energy costs in Ireland to put a cap on the rising cost of living. We must also look at ways in which rising interest rate costs can be prevented from being passed to tenants who are renting. That is even without even discussing food inflation, which to date has not been a major contributor in Ireland, unlike in other European countries.

I have repeatedly asked the Government to put measures in place to try to combat or lower input costs. If that is not done, they must be passed on by farmers, unless they go broke themselves. If that happens, we will have food shortages. Those input costs must be passed on. To date, no measures to combat those have been put in place. If we do not have an emergency budget, I ask the Government to put plans in place now to try to stall the inevitable increase in the cost of fuel, energy, housing and food next year. Unless measures are put in place now to stop that, it will be inadequate to throw money at the problem next October and it will not help people.

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

I thank the Deputies for their contributions on a matter I know is very important for our country. It is a challenge affecting homes and households in every community in our country this evening. It is in recognition of this that the Government has acted. It is in understanding the challenges many are facing that we have made so many changes already. I want to list what they are because it is very important to remind the House of the scale of the measures that have been implemented.

In addition to the measures brought forward on budget day, including tax and social welfare changes worth just under €1 billion, the Government reduced the excise duty on petrol and diesel and reduced the VAT on gas and electricity. We brought in a €200 additional payment via an electricity credit. For those we know are affected by rising costs in fuel, we have brought in two additional payments of more than €200, which will help those at risk of fuel poverty. Since the Dáil passed its budget last October and the additional challenges have become more acute and intense for so many, the Government has brought forward measures worth €1.4 billion, which we implemented quickly to help those dealing with the rising costs of living as rapidly as we can.

We absolutely understand that for families and households, the rising cost of energy, food and other services is having a real impact on their purses and wallets. That is why since our latest budget, we have introduced additional measures that are equivalent to an entire budget again of new measures.

They have been put in place because we recognise the challenge that we are facing, right after having had to deal with the economic, social and health consequences of a pandemic. I experience in my own constituency and see in people I meet within my own community the very strain that many Opposition Deputies have referred to. It is in recognition of that that we have put so many additional measures in place.

I want to deal with some of the points that were raised by Opposition Deputies regarding the ESRI and IFAC and where we are with our tax revenue at the moment and the fact that for some taxes we are collecting ahead of where we thought we would be at this point in the year. To deal with the references that have been made to what the ESRI and the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council have said, it is correct that those organisations have made the case for additional interventions to help our country deal with the cost of living. They have acknowledged some flexibility that is there to do it. However, in the same report the ESRI also said that in light of the pressures in terms of the challenges outside our economy at the moment, it is evident that fiscal policy will have to be particularly prudent over the coming years. I did not hear much reference to that in the debate. The institute also made the point that given the challenges our economy and State could face in the time ahead, it may be prudent to deploy a portion of the receipts we could gain in the future from corporate tax and other forms of tax collection towards long-term investment activities or other forms of savings. IFAC said that the risks around the path for the public finances are unusually wide, and that the space for funding new initiatives on a sustainable basis is very limited. The report of the research organisation, IFAC, which was cited earlier, did acknowledge the space for interventions to help with the cost of living, but also acknowledged that the risks and challenges we are facing make the case for a careful approach with regard to our public finances in the time ahead.

The point has been made about where we are on tax receipts. To argue on the one hand that people will spend less and then, on the other, say that our public finances will remain healthy indefinitely is inconsistent. Many are arguing, with good cause, that rising costs are affecting the standard of living and people are, therefore, spending less. That is a change that, were it to happen over many weeks, months or even years in the time ahead, would of course have an effect on where our public finances are. We cannot on the one hand say we expect and acknowledge that people are spending less due to a rising cost of living and, on the other, say our public finances are in good condition, we can expect them to be in good condition for the time ahead and we should do more emergency budgets. The two things are inconsistent. That is why the Government is so aware that if we are going to intervene, we have to get the balance right between intervening to help today and not creating new problems and risks tomorrow, including potentially adding to the inflationary pressures we are facing at the moment or even creating new risks and challenges in our public finances such that we would have to undo tomorrow measures we would bring in today. Our country went down that path before. It is not so long ago that people were asking me how we were going to pay for all the additional debt we incurred during the era of Covid. It is not so long since we were having a debate in this House regarding the need to spend more due to Covid, which did result in an additional €32 billion worth of debt. That debt is there. It is a factor in decisions that we have made.

I accept the Deputy's point about the impact inflation will have on our debt dynamics. I think that is the point he would have gone on to make. It is also the reason the interest rate on new borrowing is going up. That is the other side of the coin if we are in an environment in which the interest rate for borrowing is going to go up in the future. It has gone up from just above zero on 1 January to just under 2.5% this evening. That is a change that has happened. That is also a factor that I and the Government have to take into account in the decisions we make. It is about the need for this balance.

This balance is not present in what the Opposition is putting forward this evening. If I had brought in an emergency budget this morning, I have no doubt that by tonight the Opposition would be condemning it for not being enough. If I was to come into this House tomorrow morning with the emergency budget the Opposition is looking for, by lunchtime it would be saying the Government needed to do more. It would be claiming it was not enough and saying we needed another emergency budget the following week. That may work as an Opposition tactic but it does not work with the risks and challenges our country may have to confront in the time ahead, and acknowledging that we have come through a pandemic and got our country back to a level of employment that would have looked so unlikely even a year ago and public finances that are recovering. During the pandemic we tried to make decisions that would get the balance right between acknowledging the need to intervene now but also acknowledging that there would be other issues and needs we would need to respond to tomorrow. We got that balance right during the pandemic. We are now in a changed time and in very different circumstances with new risks, opportunities and issues around our country. We have to take that into account in decisions we are making.

Yes, we know the challenge that many are facing. We know the rising anxiety and worry. It is why the Government is not talking about intervening in 2022. It is why we have already intervened so many times in 2022. When we come to our budget for 2023, it will contain additional measures for this year to help in a winter that we expect and know will be difficult for so many. We have to get the balance right between intervening to help today and doing our best to avoid further risks and challenges tomorrow. Even if they are not that big of a concern for the Opposition this evening, they are something the country will be concerned about and something the Government has a duty to manage and respond to.

9:30 pm

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

The cost-of-living crisis has been felt most keenly by those on low to middle incomes. That is no surprise to anybody. A greater proportion of their earnings is devoted to the purchase of food, payment of rent and heating of their homes. In Limerick, we have seen rents spiral out of control and beyond the means of many. We need a ban on rent increases and we need the Government to put money back into renters' pockets through a refundable tax credit worth a month's rent. There is no emergency accommodation available in Limerick if someone unfortunately becomes homeless. The cost of renting a two-bed unit in Limerick has increased by 13.2% since the last quarter of 2020. There are often 100 people a day lingering on hospital trolleys in Limerick. The cost of living has put immense pressure on families, particularly those with children. I was told by a constituent recently that they no longer feel they are living but merely surviving. One must wonder how they will cope when the winter nights fall quickly, the cold sets in and they need to heat their homes. Those who are faced with stresses cannot wait for next year for any relief. The recent ESRI report on energy poverty and deprivation, to which the Minister referred, shows that one in three households in the country is in energy poverty. There must be a removal of excise on home heating oil. In Limerick, for instance, the average cost of 500 l is €769, an astronomical amount for any family to pay. We need an emergency budget to alleviate some of these pressures.

Factors outside the control of the Government have exacerbated the cost-of-living crisis, nobody doubts that, but there remains scope for the Government to do much more to protect citizens. The crisis is only going to get worse. Waiting until January is something many families simply cannot afford to do. The Government needs to wake up and realise the realities of this.

People are suffering now. There is scope for the introduction of an emergency budget. It is projected that the State will take in more tax revenue than we had expected on budget day. Much of this surplus must be used to support those suffering most in the crisis. Any such budget must, as a priority, increase working age social welfare rates. Inflation has spiralled to its highest level in four years and such a measure is vital to protect the most vulnerable members of our society. There is a need to introduce both temporary and permanent measures in such a budget. We need to assist families. One of the most important things we can do in this regard is immediately reduce childcare costs. Childcare costs are an albatross around the neck of working families and equivalent to a second mortgage for many of them. We need to provide more help with back-to-school costs in advance of the new term in September. The temporary measures will cost €175 million.

We are increasingly seeing workers returning to social welfare payments, such as the working family payment, to top up their weekly income. Sinn Féin would establish a living wage to prevent workers from being placed on poverty wages. We also want to see the Low Pay Commission transformed into a living wage commission to ensure the living wage is adequate to support workers with the cost of living.

I am calling for all Deputies to support this motion. Unless they bury their heads in the sand, they cannot but have seen the effects the cost-of-living crisis is having on our constituents.

9:40 pm

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

The Minister referenced the rising costs and the way that they are affecting the standard of living, genuinely making it sound like people might have to trim a few luxuries off of their shopping bill but, in truth, people are making hard and horrible choices already.

I promised a constituent of mine that I would raise a message that she sent to me with the Minister. A mother on the disability allowance said that if anything breaks in her house, it stays broken. She said not to mention help from the community welfare officer, CWO. She continues:

The only bill I have that is any way flexible is the food bill and I have already cut back on that. I can't cut anymore.

She cannot wait until October. The charge levelled at the Minister’s Government that it is out of touch and does not get it. In my own constituency, the Government representatives are largely invisible. The reason for that is they hide from their constituents because they are ashamed. They know that the Government could intervene but it has set his face against it, saying “No”.

I do not know if the Minister has ever had the experience or understands what it is like to have to say, "No" to a child because he cannot afford something; it is horrible. I was out canvassing the other night and I met a family who had put a deposit down on a small holiday a couple of years ago. With Covid and everything else, they could not take the holiday. They had some savings, but the cost of living has forced them to eat into their savings. The mother said to me that they had a holiday organised but they cannot afford to pay the balance. She pulled the door in behind her, she looked me in the eye and she said, "Jesus, we have not even told the kids yet." I do not know if the Minister knows what it is like to never have anything to look forward to. That is what people are experiencing now. Their savings are gone, if they had any. They are not getting wage increases to keep pace with inflation.

In March 2021, the Tánaiste pledged a living wage of €12.30 per hour. Two weeks ago, he pledged a living wage of €12.17 per hour and no explanation as to where the other 13 cent had gone. Certainly, the Minister and I both know that you cannot pay for your shopping with pledges. People need action now; they are desperate now. That is why we are calling for all Deputies, in particular those backbenchers who are very fond of taking to the airwaves to say that the Government should do more. They have an opportunity tomorrow night to put their money where their mouth is and vote for the Sinn Féin motion.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank and commend everybody who spoke in the debate, particularly those who told the real life stories of people who are struggling to get by, such as the people who my colleague, Deputy O’Reilly, referred to who are worried about how they will pay for a holiday. Deputy Farrell mentioned the person who goes to bed early because they cannot afford to heat their home. There were many other stories like that. That is what is happening in the real world when we get out of these kind of cosy environments and talk to people on the streets, in their homes and in their villages. They are telling us that they are struggling to get by. Why would they not? We are seeing inflation at rates that we have not seen in nearly 40 years. The message from Government is:

Buckle up folks. You are on your own because we do not know what we are going to do for at least another four months.

It is very scary that we have a Government in charge of this State that is so out of touch with the needs of ordinary people the length and breadth of this State. It does not understand the anxiety, pressure, worries and financial and mental health issues that are bearing down on these families because of this crisis and the rise of energy prices and the prices of petrol, food and clothing and all of the anxiety that comes with that. The Government’s answer to them tonight is that in two weeks we are going on our holidays and we will come back in October and we might do something then. That is a disgraceful attitude from a Government that is completely out of touch.

It is not just Sinn Féin that has been arguing that there needs to be further interventions. The Minister acknowledged this. The ESRI said that more needs to be done. It said there has to be prudence because it needs to be targeted, which the Government is not doing. The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, the watchdog that was set up to make sure that we do not have the boom and bust that were brought to us by Fianna Fáil when wrecking the economy more than a decade ago, said there is scope for further targeted interventions to help people offset the cost-of-living crisis. The Central Bank said the same. Yet, the Minister for Finance, despite the fact that inflation has resulted in a bonanza in State revenue, will not act any further; indeed, he makes a virtue of it. We heard the Minister of State, whose answer previously to the inflation crisis was that people should shop around. He said in his speech that the Government’s measures were targeted. Let us put that to the test. The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council has an entire table in the report, table 3.1, which is called “Cost-of-living measures not targeted” by the Government. It said that of the €1 billion of measures introduced this year ahead of the stability programme update, SPU, €896 million of it was not targeted, which is nearly 90%. The ESRI said there is fiscal space to assist those most affected, but it must be targeted. The OECD said that such measures introduced by the Government have provided only limited protection to poor households.

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

But the Deputy wants me to cut taxes even more.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Yet, the Minister still does not get it. He had his time. He does not get that people who are dependent on social welfare need to see their payment rates increase to keep in line with inflation. He does not get that we need to see additional support, such as cost-of-living cash payments paid directly to low- and middle-income earners, targeted to those most in need, or to set up a debt utility fund to help people to pay what their debts cost. He does not get it, and he has never gotten it as long as he has been in government, that the housing crisis and the spiralling rents that people are paying need to be dealt with. We need to a month's rent back in renters' pockets through a refundable tax credit. In addition, we need to slash the cost of childcare.

The Ministers will go away on their holidays, come back in October and then tell the public what they are going to do. Unfortunately, people the length and breadth of this State, including the one in the three people who are in energy poverty, the one in three, according to the Bank of Ireland survey, who are finding it difficult to make ends meet or the people who are now going in droves to avail of food parcels, cannot wait. They cannot wait for the Minister to get his act together in October because the bills keep on rolling in. If the washing machine breaks down, they do not know how they will fix it. They do not know how they will send their kids back to school at the end of August, come September. These are the real pressures in the real world for people who are not insulated from the cost-of-living pressures.

I appeal to all Deputies. We heard some of the backbenches in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil rightly calling out their own Government because it is so far out of touch in terms of what needs to happen. Do the right thing and support the motion. Bring forward an emergency budget that is targeted at those most in need at this time of crisis in these people's lives.

Amendment put.

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the vote is deferred until the weekly division time tomorrow evening.