Dáil debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6 – General (Resumed)


Debate resumed on the following Financial Resolution:

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

12:30 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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In the midst of all the noise that surrounds the budget these days, it is important step back and look at the direction of our economy and its ability to support strong public services.

It is remarkable how rarely in the past two and a half years the Opposition has even mentioned the economy, and now that we have secured a rapid increase in employment levels, even parties which like to pretend to be the voice of workers have nothing whatsoever to say about employment. There is a fundamental divide in this House between those who want to do the hard work of developing and implementing policies to secure both economic and social progress, and those who play empty and cynical politics. It is a divide between those who want to solve problems and those who want to exploit them. The desperate flaying around which we have seen from the Opposition, as it searches for a consistent line of attack, reinforces the fact that this is a balanced and ambitious budget which helps people at a moment of real need and delivers progress on urgent issues. While protecting our economy and its ability to create jobs and fund public services, it ensures that we can withstand future shocks and surely, if there is one thing we should all understand from the last two and a half years, it is that shocks are happening more often than ever and it is irresponsible to fail to plan for them.

The single most important background to this budget is that it shows that Ireland has come strongly through the pandemic and the fastest-hitting recession of the last century. It is genuinely remarkable how Sinn Féin and others cannot even bring themselves to acknowledge what has been achieved and that this Government’s actions have been central to helping our country through the pandemic, saving lives and delivering the fastest recovery recorded in Europe. At the heart of it, this is a widening gap in this House. Never before has there been an Opposition so completely disinterested in the overall economic picture. Never before have we seen an Opposition which has absolutely no concern for the need to have an economy strong enough to generate revenue for social supports. The facts show that the twin public health and economic emergencies which hit our country and the rest of the world have been overcome. Ireland rolled out one of the most successful vaccine programmes in the world, recorded dramatically fewer deaths than other countries and ensured a rapid economic recovery. Today there are over 400,000 more jobs in our economy than there were on the day this Government took up office. Our interventions saved businesses, jobs and family finances. That is why we have the resources available to implement an unprecedented range of measures to help families and businesses in the middle of a dramatic international crisis. Some €45 billion was made available by Government, with in excess of €20 billion alone provided in direct support for workers and businesses. This was expensive, but necessary and appropriate, given the nature of the challenge faced and the needs of our people.

Our exit from the pandemic coincided with new challenges and the weaponisation by Russia of European and global energy supplies. We are now experiencing the highest rates of inflation in decades. This is weighing heavily on the growth outlook for the economy as well as bringing significant uncertainty. This situation is having the biggest impact on households with lower incomes, as the proportion of their income spent on energy increases to new levels while they are trying to cope with other cost-of-living pressures. Ar fud na hEorpa, tá boilsciú, arb é an costas fuinnimh atá ag ardú, an cogadh san Úcráin agus deacrachtaí leanúnacha sa slabhra domhanda soláthair is cúis leis, ardaithe go dtí na leibhéil is airde anois leis na deicheanna de bhlianta. Anuas air sin tá dúshlán ó ghlúin go glúin ann i dtaobh an chostais maireachtála. Mar a tharla le linn Covid, ní bheidh aon easpa ar an Rialtas, agus le cáinaisnéis 2023, cuirfimid freagairt chuimsitheach, spriocdhírithe agus éifeachtach i bhfeidhm chun poist a chosaint agus chun cuidiú le teaghlaigh.

The overall budget strategy, which was unveiled yesterday by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, achieves three major things. It ensures that we have the resources to respond to new emergencies, it provides major support for families to help when international events are driving up prices and it delivers action on a range of vital public services. Everybody who is being honest about the major pressures of rising prices accepts that the dominant causes of inflation are international. The facts show that inflation in Ireland is just below the average in Europe and the United Kingdom. Some of the factors pushing up prices, and especially energy prices, will hopefully be short-term in their impact and prices will follow the historical trend and reverse. Others will likely be more permanent. Whatever the cause, we fully understand the scale of the impact these rising prices are having and we are responding with the measures that are part of a budget which totals €11 billion. It is, in both relative and absolute terms, the largest ever programme of direct support for families and businesses. As well as delivering tax and social protection improvements, our budget encompasses actions across a full range of issues. It directly helps families with children and it helps older people, students, apprentices, renters, small businesses, farmers and many other groups. As was the case with our first two budgets, the biggest benefits go to those who are most in need.

During last night’s debate we heard quite an amount of fake outrage from the Opposition claiming that this was a budget for wealthy people. This is nonsense and it is a conclusion which can only be reached by misrepresenting the tax packages and ignoring all of the direct supports we are funding. What we have seen is a desperate and cynical attempt to import the rhetoric seen in recent British debates. The Opposition would clearly have loved for us to produce a regressive package focused overwhelmingly on higher earners. We did not do that, we helped every family and did so in a progressive way but the Opposition is carrying on regardless. Every single independent report produced here or internationally has said that our policies have been highly progressive in redistributing resources. To refuse to acknowledge that is to refuse to accept reality. The progressive nature of budgets is central to our programme as a Government, but it is important to make the point that we completely reject the idea of Sinn Féin that people of average and above incomes should never be allowed to benefit from any income tax change. This is a zero-sum mentality which I believe is not shared by the Irish people. When all social payments and other income-linked measures are considered, this is, by any objective measure, a fair and progressive budget so please go somewhere else in your desperate search for a fight on this matter.

The independent Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, in a statement issued yesterday evening, confirmed that the special supports provided in the budget are even more targeted than in previous years. Over the past week, it has also been shown that Governments have to be careful in responding to inflation. They can make matters worse in many different ways. We were determined to deal with the urgency of the impact of inflation but also to not add further fuel to the fire and to protect the basic soundness of the public finances. The provision of reserves means that we can both respond to any new events and guard against the real issue of revenues which may not be permanent. I welcome the statement by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council on the budget. It has confirmed that all of the core assumptions underpinning the budget are in line with independent forecasts. The council has also noted:

The use of the Reserve Fund is welcome. It is in line with the Council’s advice to unwind the State’s overreliance on excess corporation tax receipts gradually over time and build up a buffer that can be used in future downturns.

As I mentioned before, the council notes that spending has been increased significantly in response to inflation and that the majority of funding is targeted at groups in need. The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council also states that, in its view, the budget strikes a balance between providing support and avoiding adding to inflation. So the first independent review of the budget by the body charged by the Oireachtas to review fiscal policy has found it to be progressive, generous and responsible. The distributional effects of budget 2023 were also assessed using the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI’s, SWITCH model, and found it to be strongly progressive. The winter cost-of-living measures will boost the net disposable income of the lowest income households; that is, those in the lowest two deciles of income, by 5% compared with 0.7% for the highest income households, those in the two top income deciles. The core budget 2023 package will boost the net disposable income of the lowest income households by 5.8% compared with 2.3% of the highest income households. I know that is uncomfortable for the Opposition to hear but it is a balance which is central to us being able to deliver for people.

A major problem in these debates is that they are deeply unbalanced. On one side, the Government has produced detailed proposals on every area of public spending and taxation, has costed them down to exact figures and has shown the short and medium-term impact of these measures.

On the other side, we have policy sound bites and figures that do not come close to adding up or to providing an alternative. For example, the costings we have heard from Sinn Féin in relation to housing are a complete fantasy. It is time we ended the charade of Opposition parties claiming everything is costed but hiding the detail and never addressing the total cost of services or the impact of taxes. This is a recurring feature of Sinn Féin presentations: the absence of detailed costings and a refusal to publish any detailed assessment of their impact or, indeed, the details themselves.

As I have said, this budget of €11 billion helps families and businesses to cope with the impact of rising prices. There’s no trickle-down side to this. It is direct and substantial aid, with those most in need seeing the biggest benefit. The single biggest measure, costing nearly €900 million, is a permanent increase in social welfare payments of €12, the largest ever increase in these payments and part of the largest ever social protection package. We reject the Sinn Féin idea of giving less to pensioners. Pensioners deserve our support, and we will continue to oppose the idea that they should be treated unequally. It will apply to all people who receive a principal social welfare payment.

Low-income families will benefit in a range of ways. More will qualify for the working family payment. The qualified child allowance and fuel allowance are being increased and so, too, are payments to carers and people on community employment schemes. This is on top of benefiting from other once-off measures addressing inflation. Families with young children will benefit from a cut of up to 25% in the cost of childcare, part of a package that will dramatically increase support for those working in the sector and for quality childcare places. This is a historic move, representing a decisive step towards accessible and affordable childcare. The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O’Gorman, will ensure this support is rapidly put in place and benefiting families.

These are, each, permanent improvements in State supports which will directly help households in need. However, in light of the enormous increase in energy prices, we are going further than this and are doing much more. There are too many measures in this budget to deal with them all individually, but it is necessary to mention the €600 reduction in energy bills we are implementing. This is a practical, substantial, credible and immediate support for all households at a very tough moment. We have chosen this way of helping people with bills because it is more direct and sustainable than alternatives. It is an approach that is being followed in the majority of countries. It is different from the populist sound bite of capping prices proposed by Sinn Féin. As we have seen elsewhere, that can completely destabilise markets and is not sustainable.

We want to be clear: we will go after windfall profits by energy companies. Where they are State-owned, the profits will go back to fund public supports and services. Where they are not, we will take other measures. We will work in Europe and with our European partners to agree a common approach to these profits and, if we have to, we will go further. I know the Opposition would love to claim that we are somehow siding with big energy companies over the Irish people, but the fact is we are doing everything to reduce costs for people and to block excess profits.

We understand the critical role a strong business sector plays in creating jobs and supporting both our economy and our society. Small- and medium-sized companies are facing enormous pressures because of energy prices and they need our assistance. That is why we are introducing both a targeted support for exporting companies which are energy intensive and a wider measure which is open to all businesses. This will be directly linked to increased costs and could be worth up to €10,000 per business. That will help them get through the enormous challenges they are facing today, as will the wider economic stimulus provided by the budget.

The surge in energy prices has reinforced the urgent need for us to move to carbon neutrality. The dramatic challenge of limiting climate change goes hand in hand with securing a sustainable and affordable energy supply. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, yesterday outlined details of actions we are implementing across the economy to expand public transport, reduce energy usage and support energy independence. We are accelerating and scaling up our drive to create a new economy based on clean energy, one which provides good jobs throughout the country and that can make Ireland a leader in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Hand in hand with this, we are pushing forward with measures to protect and restore the biodiversity which should define our island. There are those here who like to talk a good game about climate change but who, ultimately, oppose every tough decision. As with so many other areas, they run away from anything they think might be unpopular, no matter how fundamental it is to tackling the problem and, of course, they remain hurlers on the ditch when it comes to setting out specific targets and actions to deliver on those targets.

12:50 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Taoiseach is fairly used to the ditch.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Carbon taxes are an essential part of a credible plan to tackle climate change. That is a simple fact. Therefore, we will never agree with Sinn Féin’s opposition to carbon taxes. They are essential to both changing behaviour and funding a fair and inclusive transition to a sustainable economic and environmental model. This policy is the shared view of this Government and, just as importantly, it is critical to meeting the historic challenge of limiting climate change. As we agreed in the programme for Government, every cent raised by the carbon tax is going directly to support people in fuel poverty, investing in energy efficiency, helping workers and communities impacted by the transition, and developing a new industry in this field. In light of the scale of the pressure on fuel prices, we have acted to offset the impact of changes at the pump, but we must not and we will not back off from the core climate change agenda of this Government.

This budget should help to lay to rest once and for all the false idea that tackling climate change is a threat to our rural economy. In fact, it is quite the opposite. More than any other sector, farming is hit by the extreme weather events that are occurring ever more frequently. More importantly, farmers and the rural economy in general stand to benefit directly from cheaper sustainable energy and high-quality food sectors. Let me be clear that we will continue to do whatever it takes to ensure we have a vibrant and successful rural economy while also urgently tackling the climate and biodiversity crisis.

In excess of €80 million in carbon tax funding is going directly to farmers next year. This will be used to fund the new agri-climate rural environment scheme we have set out in our Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, strategic plan. This will support up to 50,000 farmers who undertake actions that will support improved outcomes on biodiversity, climate, air and water quality. Because of the continued impact of Brexit on the agrifood sector, there will also be more than €280 million allocated to the sector. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, has set out an ambitious and urgent plan of action which will continue for as long as is necessary. That shows a real and sustained commitment to farming, agrifood businesses and rural Ireland in general.

Central to our programme for Government is an agreed priority to invest in developing our public services and investment programmes. For the third budget in a row, our public services will see significant developments, and the largest programme of capital development in our history will be funded.

Delivering affordable housing and social housing for all takes sustained action across all sectors and across a series of years. Every honest person accepts that making progress on housing takes time, and the facts show our Housing for All policy is beginning to have a significant impact. The way to make housing affordable is for there to be more housing, to train more people to build and refurbish houses, to remove major delays to housing projects and to help buyers and renters at key moments.

Yesterday, the Dáil heard speech after speech attacking us on housing, claiming we are in the pockets of various groups and that we are committed to a right-wing ideology. This is absolute nonsense. Because of this Government, the State is now by far the biggest actor in housing construction. We are directly intervening to ensure affordability and we have begun a radical new era of building social housing.

Next year, €4.5 billion will be spend on building and refurbishing homes, which is by some distance the largest programme of social and affordable housing in Irish history. The highest level of housing commencements since records began was recorded over the 12 months to May. Last year saw the highest number of first-time buyers in a decade and a half, with our help to buy scheme and other measures starting to have an impact.

In this budget, we introduced a range of measures to support people directly, including a €1,000 per person aid for renters over the next 12 months. There is no area where Sinn Féin is more callously cynical than in housing.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Taoiseach is wrong.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Its only interest is to exploit the real pressures individuals and families face. As we saw when the Minister, Deputy O’Brien, debated with the Sinn Féin spokesperson earlier this year, the sound bites simply do not stack up to even the most basic scrutiny. Their costings and building numbers are little more than inventions designed to claim to have a plan rather than actually to have one.

It is certainly true, however, that there are key differences between us when it comes to those few areas where Sinn Féin has actually detailed its policies.

We support the principle of home ownership and prioritising the interests of first-time buyers in the market. Sinn Féin wants to abolish the help to buy scheme, abolish the first home scheme and abolish the Croí Cónaithe vacant and derelict properties scheme. Together, these schemes have helped many thousands of households and will help thousands more in the years to come. Yet, Sinn Féin’s ideological opposition to helping people buy homes would see these schemes scrapped. While it professes to care about the undeniable difficulties faced by private renters, the reality is that its plans would lead to the near elimination of the entire sector. Blocking private owners from being able to limit tenancies, prevent the sale of properties and a host of other restrictions would lead to an even worse situation then we face today. As with so many areas, the core tactic of Sinn Féin on housing has been to hope that the media lacks the time or inclination to look beyond the sound bites and examine its policies fully. This budget marks a moment when its cynicism has caught up with it.

We all saw, during the pandemic, the incredible quality of our health professionals and a system which saved so many lives. While it faces very difficult challenges, our health system has expanded dramatically and is treating more people with better outcomes than ever before, but we must go much further and that is what we are doing. The budget delivers on our commitment to continue to expand the core capacity of our acute hospitals, with more health professionals and more acute hospital beds. A series of initiatives will link with this capacity to treat tens of thousands of people on waiting lists and to reduce the waiting times faced by all. However, we are going much further to improve access and quality. This year we removed inpatient charges for under-16s and next year, we will remove them for all patients. Next year we will also widen the eligibility for the GP card, which will allow thousands more people to be covered. Allied to general measures like this, we will push forward with our plans to develop new services. Women’s health services will receive major support, including expanding free contraception from age 25 to 30 from September next, providing supports for the first time in relation to IVF treatment, expanding women's health hubs and providing additional funding for screening. The Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, has set out our ambitious objectives for these and other services. As the Minister of State, Deputy Butler has detailed, a further major increase in mental health services will be implemented. Support for older people with a range of needs will also be extended, as will the development of the Minister of State's highly innovative and important dementia strategy. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, has also set details of nearly €30 million in new funding for expanded disability services.

Education has been a priority in each of our budgets, and this year we are going further again to strengthen our schools, help families, support children with special needs and improve the learning environment for all. This budget will support a record number of building and refurbishment projects, another reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio and more than 1,000 new special needs assistants, SNAs. These and a range of other measures will help us to further develop inclusive and quality education. The introduction of free books for primary school students is a radical move to comprehensively address one of the big costs facing families and it will benefit half a million children next year. Our commitment to education extends to the higher education and training sector, where direct aid will benefit every student and increased funding will help strengthen the system as a whole.

At this time of increasing division, angry debate and growing populism, ensuring that we have diverse and professional cultural and media communities in Ireland is more important than ever. Yesterday, we signalled the beginning of a new era of support for culture and media in Ireland. As the Minister of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, has outlined, she will be implementing range of innovative and comprehensive schemes to support activity in all parts of our country. While the Arts Council will receive record funding, a specific initiative will be implemented to support the night-time cultural economy and to help organisations meet rising costs. The basic income scheme for artists will continue. Sports and language initiatives will be expanded. However, it is important to specifically note the range of spending and tax initiatives which we are putting in place to support the Irish media. As we enter the third decade of widespread access to the Internet and the new dominance of social media, we need to decide whether we want an independent professional media in our country. If we do nothing, then the brute force of technology and competition will do here what it is doing in much of the world. The media will become dominated by falling standards, falling employment and an increasingly shrill public space. If this happens, the first thing which will disappear is coverage of local events. I believe that just as we need to support Irish cultural creativity, so too, we need to support professional journalism. There is a public good in a profession which seeks to inform the public on the basis of clear ethics, balanced research and the ability to challenge both itself and all parts of our society. We can secure another century as a growing democracy if we have a media which has security to enable it to operate to the highest standards. That is why we are abolishing VAT on published media and we are significantly expanding direct funding for public service broadcasting. We are also creating a new media grant scheme, which will prioritise coverage of local democracy and the justice system, and are establishing an independent commission for online safety and media, addressing an urgent and growing need. That commission will have a very significant role to play in the years to come.

The budget announced yesterday is a broad programme of action. It protects our economy against further shocks in the future, while delivering help to people at a moment of real need. It is a fair and progressive budget, which benefits all but gives the greatest support to those with the greatest need. It underpins initiatives to address urgent needs and long-term development across key public services and national challenges. In housing, health, education, rural communities, social protection, culture and many other areas, it enables a wide range of new initiatives. It is an ambitious, credible and detailed plan for helping our country at a difficult moment, and developing public services in the service of all of the Irish people.

1:00 pm

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on budget 2023. I am sharing my time with the Ministers of State, Deputies English and Calleary. This is my third budget as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. In these three years, we have experienced many ups and downs. From Brexit to Covid restrictions to soaring inflation, we live in interesting times. We have not always got things right but we have always sought to protect lives and livelihoods as best we could, and protect jobs and businesses. We understand that the cost of living is rising. It is more expensive to do the weekly shop, to fill your car and pay your utility bills. So, budget 2023 is a cost-of-living budget, designed to help you and your family, with measures for the most vulnerable and the squeezed middle.

In this budget, we are putting more money back in your pocket by cutting income tax, increasing pensions, and increasing welfare payments for families, people with disabilities and carers, among others. We are helping you and your family with the cost of living in areas like childcare, public transport, the cost of putting a child through school or saving up for your first home. We are backing business by helping companies to pay their energy bills this winter. We are helping with the cost of going to college, by cutting fees, raising the student grant and making it available to more people. We are building safer and stronger communities by providing more resources to the Garda and the Defence Forces, who protect us. We are ensuring the best start for every child with major investment in childcare and early education. We are putting €2 billion aside this year, and €4 billion next year, in a reserve fund to protect Ireland from unexpected future shocks.

Understandably, businesses around the country are very worried heading into the winter. The cost of energy and of doing business is rising, interest rates are going up and consumer confidence is waning. Irish businesses can rely on us to back them and to protect jobs to ensure a strong economy. In this budget, we are announcing five new measures for businesses to help with energy costs. The first of these is thetemporary business energy support scheme, TBESS, providing qualifying businesses with relief on 40% of the increase in their electricity or gas bills up to a maximum of €10,000 per month per business unit. This will help small businesses the most, but also many medium and larger ones. It will be administered by the Revenue Commissioners, backdated to September, and will run until at least February 2023. The second is a €200 million targeted Ukraine enterprise crisis scheme to assist viable but vulnerable manufacturers and exporters.

This is specifically for businesses competing internationally and suffering the broader effects of the war in Ukraine, as well as increasing energy costs. There are two strands to the scheme and one strand will provide up to €2 million for energy-intensive companies. Eligible businesses must produce a business plan that shows how they will manage the crisis and get their energy costs down.

In recent years, the Government has stepped in to underwrite low cost loans for business. These State-backed loans are working well and 10,000 SMEs have availed of the €2 billion Covid credit guarantee scheme. To assist the wider business sector with liquidity and to invest in energy efficiency, we are introducing a €1.2 billion State-backed Ukraine credit guarantee scheme. This will provide low-cost working capital to SMEs and primary producers, including farmers and fishermen. We are also going to make €500 million worth of growth, sustainability and investment loans available to SMEs, including farmers and fishermen. This will be the successor to the future growth loan scheme. These will be long-term low-cost loans and a minimum of 30% of the lending volume must be targeted towards environmental sustainability purposes with the aim of helping SMEs to invest in sustainability and energy efficiency and lower their carbon footprints.

We are also allocating an additional €4 million in funding to the local enterprise offices to include a new grant for microenterprises for energy efficiency. The small firms investment in energy efficiency scheme will provide a grant to companies to encourage capital investment in projects to reduce carbon emissions. Many of our schemes to date focus on energy audits, better information and consultancy, but this one is cash towards the cost of investment; it is capital.

I am pleased to see many of my Department’s tax objectives announced by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, in the budget. These will help to promote entrepreneurship, innovation and job creation, as well as helping with the cost of living.

On top of the five energy measures I mentioned, there are a further ten actions making up a 15-point plan for business. A substantial income tax cut will mean one can earn up to €40,000, or €80,000 for a two-income couple, before having to pay income tax at the higher rate. This will increase take-home pay and will help with consumer confidence and demand. It is a good basis for the Government to build on in future budgets. We are introducing improvements to the research and development tax credit so smaller companies can get cash more quickly. There will be a four-year extension of the knowledge development box to encourage companies to develop intellectual property, IP, in Ireland. There are several improvements to the key employee engagement programme, KEEP, share option programme to help companies reward and hold onto staff. There will be an extension of the special assignee relief programme, SARP, to attract more highly skilled jobs to Ireland. Section 481 film relief will be extended to 2028 in order to stimulate the creation of indigenous films in the State, and other forms of production. The small benefit exemption will be doubled so employers can give up to €1,000 in vouchers or gifts to employees each year. The 50% reduction in the excise on special exemption orders will help businesses in the night-time economy. There will be an excise relief scheme for small cider and perry producers, as well as improvements to microbrewery relief to assist our indigenous drinks industry. There will also be a VAT reduction for newspapers and news periodicals, including digital editions, from 9% to being zero-rated.

Turning to my own Department’s Vote, budget 2023 increased our gross allocation to €940 million, representing a €36 million increase. Core current funding will increase by €13 million or 3.6%. This extra funding for the Department and its agencies, including Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and the local enterprise offices, means we can maintain quick turnaround times on employment permits, help companies with the twin transition, digital and green, and create more jobs in all parts of Ireland, particularly through the IDA's regional property programme. Core capital funding of €514 million represents an increase of 4% or €20 million on our 2022 core capital allocation. The capital programmes funded by my Department have been crucial to the success of our agencies in maintaining and indeed growing our enterprise base, creating record numbers of new jobs. IDA Ireland’s enhanced budget will allow it to further progress the development of the advanced manufacturing centre and the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training, NIBRT.

Additional capital funding is being provided to Enterprise Ireland to bolster the green transition fund, which incentivises businesses to install energy metering systems and facilitates investment in low-carbon, energy efficient equipment and processes. The funding for Enterprise Ireland's digital transition fund will also be increased to help more businesses to go online, export, use digital technologies to reach new markets and improve their productivity and competitiveness.

As the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, said yesterday, the pace of growth in the economy is expected to slow throughout the rest of this year as mounting inflation and higher interest rates bite. Negative sentiment might see firms hold back on investment and, as a result, the Department of Finance has revised downwards its forecast for modified domestic demand, the most appropriate measure of our domestic economy, to 1.25% for next year. For that reason, a counter-cyclical response is warranted but, crucially, we will not empty the tank now. We will keep resources in reserve so we can respond as the situation develops and prepare the country for future shocks.

We are directing €2 billion into the national reserve fund in 2022, and €4 billion in 2023. It means we will have banked a large share of the additional corporate tax revenues, will have ensured they do not fund permanent expenditure commitments and will have supplied the Exchequer with additional firepower to respond to challenges over the years ahead.

I believe this budget should help restore confidence in the economy. It is a big package but it is being financed by a strong economy with businesses doing well and a record 2.55 million people in employment. It is not being funded through borrowing, unlike in many countries, and we are putting money aside because nobody can predict how long this cost of living and energy crisis is going to go on for.

I want to comment briefly on the proposals coming from the other side of the House. The Opposition had written their speeches well before yesterday’s budget was announced. It was the usual replies. The Opposition said it was not enough, they were not the right measures and did not provide enough certainty. We know what the Opposition's plans are. Sinn Féin would lump taxes on ordinary families by stealth by not adjusting income tax for inflation or earnings. Put simply, a two-income couple each earning about €40,000 would pay more than €2,000 in tax under Sinn Féin than under this Government, if one considers the combined effect of the income tax reductions in this budget and last year's budget. Sinn Féin would also increase tax on inheriting the family home or a family business. It would not renew the help-to-buy scheme, which is worth up to €30,000 and has helped over 35,000 first-time buyers and couples buy or build their own homes. It is encouraging that 15,000 first-time buyers bought their first home in the past year. That is a 15-year high, and I want that figure to go much higher.

Sinn Féin also proposes four separate taxes worth €1.15 billion on higher income earners, including employers’ PRSI, a direct tax on jobs and a new rate of income tax. This would reduce foreign investment in growing sectors like pharma and ICT. Wealth, skills, investment and jobs would go elsewhere. The cake would shrink under Sinn Féin and there would be less for everyone. Rather than writing blank cheques for energy companies and emptying the tank now, we are planning for the uncertainty ahead, as every good budget should, by keeping some money in reserve.

The main objective of this budget is to put more money in people’s pockets and reduce the bills they have to pay. For any household budget, there are three elements. There is what the household gets paid, how much it gets to keep after taxes and how far the money goes. We are trying to help on all three fronts. We are ensuring incomes rise where we have influence, through the increase in the national minimum wage, the public sector pay deal, increases for pensioners and for people in receipt of welfare payments, such as carers and people with disabilities. We are reducing income tax so people get to keep more of the money they earned in the first place. We are making people's money go further by helping with some of the costs of living by reducing the costs of childcare, healthcare and the cost of putting a child through school or college. Long before this inflation crisis, many of those costs were too high in Ireland and out of kilter with European norms. Now is an opportunity to change that. These actions should be seen as part of a comprehensive anti-inflation strategy. These are not one-offs but are recurring measures.

Reducing the cost of childcare and extending early education will have wider benefits beyond improving household budgets for young families. It will improve the labour market by enabling more people to enter the workforce. It will advance equality for women. It is a pro-family measure in what was a very pro-family budget. It will improve educational outcomes for children because childcare is not just about caring for a child but is also about early education. These measures help now but they will also help in the long term.

I believe this budget strikes the right balance between helping people in the short term and preparing us for an uncertain future.

I commend the budget to the House.

1:20 pm

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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Is am dúshlánach é seo do ghnóthaí agus do chlanna i ngach cúinne den tír. Tá an buiséad ag iarraidh an dúshlán seo a réiteach do gach duine. Budget 2023 has come at an incredibly challenging time for families and business, as a significant cost-of-living and cost-of-business challenge related to the war in Ukraine is hitting every corner of our country. This budget places a strong focus in ensuring that our SMEs and the multinationals that invest and employ many hundreds of thousands of our citizens and that help to support our economy through difficult times, are supported now and can continue to thrive by addressing the cost of energy in doing business, particularly for small businesses; promoting balanced regional enterprise through increased investment in trade promotion; and, crucially, supporting business to embrace the opportunities of digitalisation and green initiatives in order that they can seize new opportunities and future-proof our economy.

A competitive, innovative and resilient enterprise base is essential to providing high-quality jobs and employment opportunities for people to live and prosper in all regions of our island. Businesses can harness digital technologies in many different ways, including to better understand their customers, reduce business costs and improve products. An additional €6 million has been allocated to the digital transition fund for 2023 and a further €3 million to the four European digital innovation hubs in our nomenclature of territorial units for statistics, NUTS, regions to help drive the digital transformation of SMEs, the public service and the economy more widely. The Tánaiste gave details of the small firms investment in energy efficiency scheme, which is getting an additional €4 million in funding in 2023 through the network of local enterprise offices throughout the country. This will also be supported by the growth and sustainability loan scheme, with its emphasis on green and sustainable investments, which is making up to €500 million available in low-cost investment loans of up to ten years to SMEs, with no collateral required for loans up to €500,000.

Our future success continues to be predicated on balanced regional enterprise, which is key to trade promotion and development. That is why we are continuing to fund IDA Ireland's regional property programme, which encourages and facilitates regional investment by ensuring that suitable properties are in place to meet the needs of multinational firms. This year, we have allocated €60 million for the IDA's property budget, which is an increase of €4 million on 2022. This reflects the continuing priority of job creation and economic growth to this Government. It specifically allows for further expansion of the IDA's regional property programme, the completion of buildings in Dundalk, Carlow, Limerick, Waterford and Athlone, and will contribute to the commencement of buildings in Sligo, Cavan, Galway, Letterkenny, Mullingar, Drogheda, Longford, Tralee, Oranmore and Castlebar. The regional property programme will also see 19 advanced building solutions delivered in regional locations throughout Ireland during the lifetime of the IDA's current strategy, which now includes three completed facilities in Monaghan, Sligo and Limerick. Tá an méadú go €14.450 milliún d’Údarás na Gaeltachta, an leithdháileadh caipitil iomlán don údarás a fuaireamar anuraidh, coinnithe sa bhunlíne don bhliain seo chugainn. Tá sé sin tábhachtach do bhuiséad caipitil an údaráis.

We have greatly empowered the powers of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, this year to tackle cartels, bid-rigging in public procurement and anti-competitive practices and mergers. The Consumer Rights Bill will also bring much-needed reform to consumer legislation. The ongoing cost-of-living challenge means it is imperative to reassure consumers that their rights will be upheld so they are able to get the best value for money and be protected from misleading and unfair commercial practices. Therefore, the CCPC will be allocated an additional €1 million, which represents a 5.8% increase on last year. The CCPC has received Exchequer funding increases of 71% since 2019, which demonstrates the significant priority the Government places on protecting consumers. Budget 2023 will also increase the Corporate Enforcement Authority, CEA, budget by a further €770,000. In advance of the authority's establishment, we increased its predecessor budget by €1.7 million, or 28%, from 2020 to 2022. The proposed increase in the CEA budget for 2023 signals our continued commitment to ensuring it can perform and deliver on its statutory mandate.

Aside from the budget measures announced yesterday to address the high cost of doing business, the ongoing work on these costs continues. Deputies will be aware of ongoing reform agenda regarding the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. The Government will enact the Personal Injuries Resolution Board Bill by year end, beginning next week. This will enable more claimants and respondents to avail of an enhanced service but, crucially, to also have their claims resolved through mediation, thereby reducing the need to go to court. Increasing the number of claims settled through this enhanced process will reduce the cost and time involved in injury claims and impact positively on the cost and availability of insurance, which is vital for so many groups throughout the country and is a key priority for this Government.

This budget is positive. It supports digital transformation, trade promotion and company regulation. It will support our businesses and help to protect consumers. It will help to ensure that companies are regulated to the highest standards. It will further generate and support jobs in our economy and provide important support structures for businesses, small and large, through these difficult days.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I welcome budget 2023 as one designed across the Government to help individuals, workers and their families, as well as the business community in Ireland, with the rising cost of living and of doing business, mainly because of Ukraine's war with Russia.

This budget also future-proofs our country by investing in our young people, education, science and innovation. We are investing in innovation through all our business development agencies, such as IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland and our local enterprise offices, which are working with our businesses to drive that ambition and the opportunity for Ireland. We are continually investing in all that. The continuous investment that took place through the various Departments has made that happen.

We are also protecting our older generation who worked hard for this country for many years to help us be in a strong position. We are giving them reassurances that we will get through the next five or six months, which might be difficult because of the price of energy. We can deal with the anxiety and worry they have had for a long number of months as we look towards the winter. I am glad we are able to deal with the budget early this year in order to be able to give that reassurance and confidence, not just to business owners who we will stand with through giving them business opportunities in the months ahead, but to those who are trying to manage their budgets at home. In my view, because of much of the commentary, such people have unnecessary fears. The Government through all its Departments will help people through this difficult time. Yesterday's budget confirms that and gives us the resources to do that.

I compliment all involved on the fact that we are in a strong position that allowed us come to the House yesterday to announce a budget of more than €90 billion. For a country the size of Ireland, that is an achievement. Having come through the Covid pandemic and Brexit, and on the back of a financial crisis years ago, to be in the strong position of announcing that budget of €90 billion yesterday, with an additional package of more than €11 billion, is something we should be proud of. While we will argue over different parts and pieces of it in the House, as a country we should recognise that is a positive place to be in and is something we can build on for the future.

I listen to an awful lot of negativity about the future for our young people. In many cases, they are coming home to live in this country, to contribute, and to take up some of the many jobs that are offer. There are 2.5 million people at work. There is a lot of opportunity here. We are the first to admit on this side of the House that there are still challenges, mainly in housing and health, but we are working through them. There are plans in place to deal with them. This budget proves to me that this country is full of hope. There are immense opportunities and possibilities for people of all ages to play a part in that.

Through this budget, we are backing small and medium businesses by helping companies that employ more than 1 million people throughout the country with their energy bills this winter. The Tánaiste went through some of the schemes that are key to making that happen. The most important of those is the temporary business energy support scheme. That is a scheme that will really get behind businesses to guide them through a difficult period ahead and, again, deal with those concerns and worries. We know and recognise that businesses have high energy bills. This scheme puts them in a place to be able to deal with approximately 40% of those additional costs. Other schemes that are in place to help them reduce their energy bills put them on a strong footing to get through difficult times ahead. It will not be easy but through everybody playing their part, we can deal with that as well. Budget 2023 is about helping them to deal with the big challenges they face - I touched on this yesterday - that they have asked the Government and this Department to help them work with. I have touched on energy and energy costs, which undoubtedly are the number one issues.

Business costs are increasing due to supply chain issues coming out of the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Labour shortages are a major issue. All of the supports we talked about yesterday are efforts to make this a job-friendly budget and to encourage as many as possible to take up a job and realise that work does pay. We will make changes to the various tax measures across the board and to the various supports for people returning to work from unemployment. Work does and will pay and we will continue to prove that case.

As the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, touched on, we are also assisting a number of businesses on their digital journey and, more importantly, on their green journey. All of our agencies have been working with businesses over recent years to plan out that green journey and to complete their audits and assessments. That is now backed up with new supports and new schemes allowing businesses to invest in the infrastructure they need to continue on that green journey. Again, this puts businesses on a sustainable footing. That does two things. It reduces businesses' costs and allows them to play their part in tackling climate change and reducing emissions. We are also doing this because customers now expect our companies to go green. The markets we feed into all over Europe and beyond expect us to show that we have a greener product. We recognise that and, as a Department, we have been working with companies of all shapes and sizes over recent years to do that. We will continue to do that work. The digital journey is also really important. In many cases, they go hand in hand. The technology, science, engineering and skills that are now available help us on both these journeys. We want to continue to build on that.

It is important to recognise the crossover between enterprise and education. Since 2014, we have been driving an agenda of reform in our education system that is very much enterprise-based and responsive to the needs of enterprise and to all other aspects of education. We are now seeing the results of that in that we have people available to take up these 2.5 million jobs. Businesses are asking us to continue that investment and to work with them to develop talent for the future and to upskill their existing workforces. I touched on this yesterday. The money is set aside across three key Departments for the further education and training concept, higher education, colleges, development following second level education, enterprise and social protection. Three or four Departments are working together to work with businesses to put supports in place through the education and training boards, Skillnet and the technological universities to train up people already in jobs and to develop the skills we need for the future. That is key. I will repeat that this will only work if we all play our part. Government and businesses must work together to develop talent for the future.

We are also investing an additional €4 million in our local enterprise offices. I have been around the country over the last 18 months meeting the teams in these local enterprise offices directly. They helped and assisted an awful lot of businesses through difficult times during the Covid pandemic. We recognise their value, the number of microcompanies and small companies they are working with and the importance of investing in that sector. This budget does that. It gives extra money to local enterprise offices to continue that great work. There is also finance in the budget to develop, with local enterprise offices and Enterprise Ireland, a new framework for dealing with companies who have just over ten employees or whose staff numbers can move up and down between seven or eight and ten or 15. We now have funding to develop a framework and ensure we get the right impact from our business employment agencies like Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise offices. There is extra funding to support the green transition fund that Enterprise Ireland operates.

I chair the retail forum and know that this budget sets aside the resources we need. The big ask of those in the retail sector is that they be allowed to compete and be given the ability to deal with their cost bases. The energy supports in this budget will enable our retail sector to continue to thrive and compete. Naturally, through the retail forum, we will also promote the climate toolkit for business, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland's energy audit for SMEs, the accelerated capital allowances and the Green for Micro programme. A key part of this budget is help for our retail sector to reach new markets. We are doing that through online trading. The trading online vouchers were a great success during the Covid pandemic. We will continue that work. The online retail scheme operated through Enterprise Ireland over recent years has been extremely successful. It is being reviewed by the various Departments at the moment. I am confident the review will show it has been successful and that we will be in a position to provide for more rounds next year. Again, what are we trying to achieve here? We recognise that the retail sector employs more than 300,000 people in positions in every county and region. There is a lot of potential there because 70% of online business still goes to overseas companies. We want to win that back and we will support our retailers to do that. We also recognise that, with close to 1 million extra people set to be living in this country in 15 or 16 years, there is potential for more customers.

We want to continue to invest in our town centres, our retail spaces and the experience we can offer throughout our villages, towns and cities throughout the country. Town centre teams have been set up through the Department Rural and Community Development. In conjunction with the Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Housing, Local Government and Heritage, we will make that happen. We value that as well.

I also want to highlight Ireland's investment in the European Space Agency. We are often asked in here why we are making this investment. With the extra €1.5 million allocated yesterday, we will invest close to €24 million in the European Space Agency on behalf of Irish companies that then win contracts, creating jobs and driving innovation in technologies that are not just of use in space, but in many sectors. Since 2017, we have seen an increase of 50% in the number of companies winning contracts with the agency. More than 100 companies are now winning for Ireland in that space.

The regional enterprise funds were touched on. I hope that, in the coming months and through Enterprise Ireland, the Tánaiste will be able to launch the next round of regional enterprise funding. We hope a regional enterprise development fund of €30 million will be opened. The commitment is to spend more than €140 million through that fund over the coming years. It is important to get it open this year so that we can back initiatives in our regions to drive community enterprise facilities and our enterprise agenda. I touched on the importance of enterprise in education. One story of success with the regional enterprise development fund relates to an advance manufacturing facility in Dundalk. This benefited from various funds administered through our Department and more money was put into these yesterday. That is driving the future of manufacturing in this country. Young people are being brought into that facility every day to let them see what the manufacturing of the future is about. Again, it is about growing talent and future-proofing the country. That is what we want to invest in.

I will address two other areas under my Department. I am confident that the money has been secured to fund the Health and Safety Authority and all the work it does for the year ahead. It is really important that we try to protect everybody at work. That is what the authority is about. It protects people at work through working hand in hand with business to develop that culture and, more importantly, working with the agricultural community in respect of farm safety.

The Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, plays a vital role in Irish society in delivering fair and compliant workplaces and the non-discriminatory delivery of services. Our Department is committed to ensuring that adequate resourcing is provided to the WRC. This budget does that. I am proud of the work the WRC does to protect the workers in our country.

The last thing I will touch on is the importance of working with the business community on the issue of labour shortages. I have touched on this but resources are provided in this budget across a number of Departments to make sure we are in a position to work with businesses to make sure they have the skills and labour they need well into the future. Doing that is also key.

1:30 pm

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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This Government has three central goals. We need to provide affordable housing for our people, we need to deliver health reform and we need to accelerate climate action. We have to stick to that course and focus on those three tasks while also managing an energy crisis that arrived on our shores in a way that no one could have expected. Energy is being used as a weapon of war and that has affected and changed everything. This has become the issue we need to urgently address. We have to make sure that we address this immediate crisis in a way that helps keep us on course in delivering housing, reforming public service and tackling climate change. I believe this budget helps us, as a country, to do that. Looking back at the formation of it over recent months, it seems to me that there are seven key strategic aspects that we needed to take into account, which we did.

The first strategy of Government, even before we began to form this budget, was to recognise that, in this cost-of-living crisis and inflationary period, we could try to reduce the cost of public services. We could put money back in our people's pockets through things we have control over. We cannot easily control some of the international factors but we can address some of the cost-of-living factors here at home. We are now doing that. In that context, the 25% reduction in childcare fees is of great significance and importance. The way these changes were thought through and designed as a two-year strategy means that the conditions are in place to improve workers' pay and conditions and to make sure that suppliers have the opportunity to meet the needs and to then bring in a significant cut in the cost that we know will go to the hundreds of thousands of parents for whom this is an everyday cost. The thinking in respect of delivering reductions in public transport fares is the same. There is a reduction of 20% for everyone and 50% and for those under 24. This latter cut is expanding as we speak. We expanded it to younger people and night-time services last week. It is important that we do so while also expanding public transport provision, which is what our budget provision allows us to do.

Significant investment in PSO services is another example where we cut the costs for people at a time when that is what we needed to do. Every family will know about the costs faced by young families with children in primary school. It is a small thing but that cost hits every September and now it is being covered for next September. It is similar for families with people in university and third level. That is a tough time for families and we are again reducing the cost there at this particular time. That is really important. We will go further. There is a scheme to put photovoltaic, PV, panels on every school roof in order that schools can start cutting some of their bills, not just families and individuals. We have tackled inflation at source where we could.

The second thing is that this budget had to be progressive. For all the budgets introduced by this Government, our first test has been whether they were progressive. Based on independent economic analysis, we are helping those on the lowest incomes. It will never be materially the same as someone on the top in terms of the actual gain but if we do this year in, year out, and progressively benefit those on lower incomes, that will help us bring progressivity into our system. This budget does that, not just in the €12 increase but the other long-term measures like the increases in the working family payment, the qualified child allowance and the domiciliary care allowance. I could go on. Critically, there is also a significant tranche of one-off payments, particularly this autumn, including the Christmas bonus double payment and so on. We learned a lesson in the Covid crisis that giving cash to people in difficult circumstances in this way does work. The pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, did that. All the analysis showed that such an immediate injection of cash at the correct time matters. The best way of addressing poverty is giving people funds, particularly at this difficult time, and this budget did it at scale.

The third principle is that we have to be responsible with the public finances. Sinn Féin says, rightly, that people want and need certainty. The first certainty they need is that the Government is not going to break the books or put us in a situation where we cannot afford what we might want to do and where there is not a reserve that we can turn to. We cannot have open-ended blank cheques or uncertain mechanisms the payment of which people cannot be certain about. We have produced a budget in a way that is ambitious in progressivity and tackling inflation but without the uncertainty that we cannot pay for it. We had to ask the economic question of whether we would be adding to inflationary woes here and I believe the judgment call in this regard is right and that the €11 billion package is the right one. Even though this budget is large, we are going into a period this winter where there will be significant deflationary pressures as money has to go on paying very high energy bills and as interest rates go up. It is, therefore, appropriate. There may be some economists out there, although I do not think there are many, who will say this is not the time for putting money into the economy. I disagree. What we are doing is responsible and it is responsible that I back that up. The National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, announced this morning that it will not be borrowing further this year because it is fully financed. In a world of real uncertainty, where bond yields, etc., are shooting up in different directions in neighbouring countries - we do not have to look too far to see that - that certainty is a real strength to our country and our people.

It was also important that we give certainty to our businesses to make sure they can get through this exceptionally difficult period. I am very proud of the work the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications has done with the Departments of Finance and Enterprise, Trade and Employment on those business supports, which are vital. It is responsible that we help keep jobs because that is the fundamental area where certainty is needed to get through a difficult period.

The fourth of the seven principles we have to apply is that we do not leave people behind. We need to try to make things universal because everyone is going to be affected. It is not easy with targeted social welfare models, using the likes of the working family payment and others, which are good ways of addressing areas of acute poverty. It is right for us to apply the energy credit in a universal way because there will be people in different circumstances. Every family is in different circumstances and it is appropriate for us to help them. The increase in the child benefit and the home carers allowance recognises that every family has different circumstances. Every family has to raise their children whatever way is best for them and I believe the likes of those child benefit payments are the right way of leaving the choice with the families as to how they work their way through this. We cannot be judgmental. We have to cater for every different type of need. That universal element in what we have done is hugely important.

Fifth, this is at its core an energy crisis caused by our dependence on fossil fuels. We have to make sure we use this moment to pivot, not just to address the immediate cost-of-living crisis but to allow us to accelerate decarbonisation and the development of our own natural resources. That is the best long-term security and certainty we can bring to our people. This budget, along with the two previous ones, is doing that at scale. In agriculture, we have provided €500 million for agri-environment schemes. That is an additional €200 million, allowing 30,000 new farmers to participate in them next year. There is a 12% increase in the forestry budget because we need to scale that up at speed. There is an 80% increase in funding for organic farming. This will be beneficial because there are high prices not just for fossil fuels in transport or energy but in the cost of fertilisers. Allowing our farmers to reduce that cost base but increasing or maintaining output, which is what happened this year, is a fundamental change that is occurring and it is being supported by this budget.

The protection of the natural world as we make the energy transition is key. There is an 83% increase in funding for nature protection over the three budgets this Government has introduced. That is hugely beneficial right across the country. With regard to the circular economy, the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, will be introducing a range of measures this year and next year that will help cut the cost by reducing waste and increasing recycling. That is supported in this budget.

Critically, regarding energy, which is the source and core of the problem, I will go to Brussels on Friday. I talked to the Commission again yesterday and I am confident that we will be able to get mechanisms whereby we can address the windfall profits that need to be brought back to help our people. We will do that with Europe and within the European system because at the centre of this war is a desire by the Russian Government to divide Europe. We will work closely with the Commission in getting the measures right for us here at home but we will do it as part of a united European approach. When it comes to market reform, it would be easy to say the whole market can be completely altered with just a stroke of the pen. Which market should we change - the intraday market or the forward market? We could do that with a switch and find ourselves causing more problems than we would solve. We will work with the European Commission on the reform of the electricity and gas markets but we will do so in a co-ordinated way, recognising the complexity of the matter. We need to get this right in order that investment continues to flow into our country to support the energy transition. That is happening. It is happening in offshore wind, in the solar revolution that has started and in retrofitting, which is the best way to protect our people. It is scaling up in a predictable, reliable and certain way every year. The budget has gone from about €300 million last year to €500 million next year and will go up again the following year because of the funding mechanisms we have put in place. That is working. It is happening. It is what Irish households want to do and they are doing it at speed and at scale.

The sixth principle is one of the most important. Whatever we are doing now in this budget and elsewhere, we have to strengthen democracy, including our own democracy. This is in essence a war between a democratic view of the system and an autocratic one. The front line in that is not just the energy war but a war of disinformation. It is a war that is using social media and other networks to present simplistic, divisive, populist and nationalist solutions that are not going to work. To counter that, to inform our people and strengthen our democracy, we need a powerful and strong media. We need questioning journalism.

That is delivered in this budget. The recommendation of the Future of Media Commission for a 0% VAT rate to help our media outlets has been introduced. We are funding RTÉ with the €15 million that the commission report recommended. We are funding TG4, including children's programmes.

We are not just investing in the media but in the arts too. The arts can question what is happening in society, including the Government and every holy cow. Having a strong arts culture and community is extremely important for a questioning democracy, which is what we seek to be. My colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, delivered on that in spades in the budget yesterday. She protected the money going to the Arts Council and provided new funding supports.

The hardest test for our democracy will be how we manage taking in people from Ukraine. This is not easy. We all know that communities right across the country are under stress. They are under stress from their own housing needs and it is hard if more people are coming in, but we have a duty to do that to the best of our ability. This budget backs up the supports and provides funding, as it had from the start. There was no question about it. From the Taoiseach's first meeting with the European Council in Avignon, we said we stand on the democratic side and will do whatever we can, not sending weapons but every other support that we can. That is an important part of the response.

One of the most important elements of the budget for me, which perhaps does not grab the headlines or seem that significant, is the investment that we, as a small island, are making in overseas development aid. There is a 17% increase to €1.2 billion. There is an additional €30 million to address the immediate crisis caused by climate change in the Horn of Africa and additional €10 million from my own Department for climate finance. We will follow up on what we said at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow, in a world which is full of division, doubt and a breakdown of international order. It benefits us to recognise that we, as a relatively wealthy country by any measure or metric, have a responsibility to help the poorest. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Simon Coveney, getting that funding was significant for the sense of the strength of our democracy.

A principle in setting the budget is trust. How can people feel trust in their Government and the State if the Government does not have trust within its own corridors? This has been a difficult budget process. It is not easy. All three parties and the Independents who support us have different political perspectives. It comes through every day. There are different cultures, views and approaches. In devising this budget, as with everything else we have done in the last two years, my sense, along with my colleagues, is a sense of trust that the information they provide is correct and honest and, to the best of their knowledge, it is the latest information. When one trusts that information coming from colleagues, it allows decisions to be made quickly. One does not have to second guess the motive or double down in the face of opposition, but instead one can find solutions. This Government is functioning with that trust between three parties. That is important during this time of crisis.

From my perspective, I trust the public service and the Civil Service in the way they serve the State. They have to be part of that trust arrangement in order that we and they can make decisions quickly. We make mistakes in the public service and the political system, but, at the heart of our country, in our democratic republican system, we have structures, including the Seanad, Dáil and the public service, which serve the Irish people. Those structures are not always right and they make mistakes, but we hold people to account and listen to the Opposition. That is my experience in delivering this budget.

There is no point in having trust unless we deliver. We need to focus on delivering what is promised in the budget. We know that we, as a State, will have to step up to do much more to deliver housing at the required scale and speed. We are committed to doing that. We realise that we cannot just increase the health budget every year but that we also have to start to work within budgets to make sure we get the most out of them. As the Minister of State, Deputy English, said with regard to the digital revolution, we need innovation in our public service in order to get the best from what we have.

We will deliver in respect of climate. We will deliver on turning this country around in order that we can rely on and have our own power. The latter will ensure that we will not be held to ransom. It will also ensure that we will create employment, as well as playing our part in protecting the global environment and our local environment.

This budget gives us a mandate to deliver in all the different areas for next year. Some commentators said there are many different elements. That is the nature of government. We have to address every sector and provide for every person as well as we can. This budget does that. We now need to sit down and start to make sure that we deliver.

1:50 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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This budget comes at a time when our people are struggling with the most serious cost-of-living crisis in 40 years. The challenges households face are reminiscent of those that people faced in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Families find it very hard to make it to the end of the week. Soaring energy bills and motor fuel costs, extortionate rents and sharp increases in the price of food have combined to create a perfect storm for workers and families. It is true to say that even having a full-time job does not allow workers to meet the cost of getting by or prevent a slide towards poverty.

Russia’s criminal invasion of Ukraine has added fuel to the fire, but it must be said that it is the responsibility of Government to shield people here from the sharpest edges of the crisis. For the past 18 months, this Government refused and failed to come up to the mark in that regard. Everyone understands that the Government cannot do everything, but it could have done more. There is no doubt that the decisions and choices made by the Government have made things even harder for households dealing with the biggest squeeze on income for 40 years.

The cost-of-living shock has served to compound the real-life problems brought on by a generation-defining crisis in housing and by a healthcare system that is persistently overcrowded, under-resourced and creaking at the seams. In Ireland today, the very basics of a dignified life are denied to so many people, including a roof over their heads that is secure and affordable, access to hospital when they need treatment and the right to retire from work at 65 with a fair pension if they wish. Now, working parents worry that they will not be able to put food on the table for their children. All of this is a result of bad policies implemented by successive Governments that have refused to put workers and families first.

This budget represented a real opportunity for Government to turn away from those bad policies. This should and could have been a watershed budget and a budget to turn the tide. The quantum of money available provided a chance to make better choices that would have made a real difference in the lives of workers and families. There is no doubt that the Government has huge financial resources, but the reality is that this budget does not invest those resources in the right way. It could and should have been a budget prioritising those on low and middle incomes and the generation of young people locked out of opportunity. It could have been a budget that really tackled the cost-of-living crisis and that provided households with help and certainty to get through the winter. It could have been a budget that builds for the future by kick-starting the delivery of the housing and healthcare that is needed. That is the type of budget that Sinn Féin would have delivered yesterday.

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Instead, the budget continues the cycle of failure that is the hallmark of this Government. It entirely misses the big picture. It has no answers to the big questions in housing, health and in the cost of living. It shows that the Government is not prepared to do what must be done to protect households really in the here and now and that it has no plan for a future in which all of our people have good and secure lives.

When we look beyond the trumpeting of billions and the splash headlines, we see there is no change of direction from the Government. What we get, draped in the clothes of a so-called giveaway budget, is another rehash of the policies that have failed for the past 20 years. The Government spends so much to achieve so very little. When the dust settles, people will see a budget with no real vision, no real ambition and no real appetite to deliver change. Instead of backing workers, families and young people by tackling the big structural issues that affect their lives, this Government has done what it always does. It has splashed the cash and talked up a big game but nothing is really going to change after this budget.

Here are the hard facts. We had a housing crisis before this budget. We have a housing crisis after it. We had a two-tier health service and outrageous waiting lists before this budget. We have a two-tier health service and outrageous waiting lists after it. Households were hit with scandalous hikes in energy bills before this budget. Households will be hit with hikes in energy bills after this budget. Those on low and middle incomes struggled to make their pay packets stretch before this budget, and they will struggle after this budget too. The most serious criticism of this budget is that it provides no visible route out of these crises and makes no long-term difference to people’s lives.

Níor thug an cháinaisnéis seo an chinnteacht a bhí ag teastáil ag daoine. Beidh daoine ar mheánioncam agus ísealioncam a bhí buartha faoi chostais fuinnimh inné fós buartha inniu. Tá sé ina ábhar mór imní go bhfeicfidh muid arduithe cíosa ar fud an bhaill sna míonna amach romhainn. Tá sé dochreidte ag an am a bhfuil an oiread sin ráite faoi na daoine ar mheánioncam atá faoi bhrú, nach bhfaighidh beagnach 2 milliún oibrí aon chent ó phríomh-mholadh cánach an Rialtais inniu. Níl aon athrú treo ón gcáinaisnéis a chaitheann an oiread sin airgid chun beagán a bhaint amach.

Budget day is a big day in the political calendar. The Government presents its budget. The Opposition responds. Broadcasters broadcast their analysis. Pages of newspapers are filled with reaction, and rightly so. Amid all the political theatre, we must remember that the choices made by the Government in the budget shape the lives of ordinary people. I want to speak about one of those lives, who is a young man I met on Monday. He is 27 years old. He is emigrating. He and his girlfriend bought their plane tickets to Canada four weeks ago. He does not want to go, but feels he has no other choice. He believes that leaving gives him the best opportunity to build a good life. Here is what he told me.

He told me he always does his best. He really thought that if he did all the right things, he would be able to get on, so that is what he did. He paid attention in school, went to college, studied hard and graduated. He did a bit of travelling after college, but never, ever did he think he would look to leave Ireland for the long term. Despite working so hard, he says he is just not able to make it. He described a feeling like being on a hamster wheel, running faster and faster but getting nowhere. There is no chance of saving for a house, never mind owning one. He is barely making the rent each month and is being fleeced by big bills. He told me his poor mother is beside herself. She does not want him to go, but she knows it is what he needs to do. He feels so badly let down. He said something that really got to me and it is the reason I am telling this story. He asked:

What was the point in doing all the right things and doing my best? My parents worked hard to give me a good start and now I have to leave to make something of myself. Even though I know it’s not my fault, I feel like I’ve let down my Mam and Dad. It’s an awful feeling to carry around. But the truth is that the odds are stacked against my generation. Those that can make a difference just don't listen. I'm twenty-seven and I'm exhausted by it all.

That is his story and, sadly, it is not unique to him in the Ireland of 2022. I do not know about the Taoiseach, but for me it is a damning indictment of Government that the spectre of forced emigration is now back with us. Our young people look again to the airports for the prospect of a life in Boston, Toronto, or Perth and a life away from their family, friends, and the communities they love. No matter how hard they work, even though they do all the right things, they cannot build a good life at home. The sad truth is that as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael passed power between themselves for a century, forced emigration has been regarded almost as a right of passage for our young people. I imagine the young man I spoke to on Monday will have tuned into the budget announcement and to the debate, probably looking for a sign of a change of direction. He will certainly have been looking for hope. Will he find what he is looking for in this budget? Will he find that hope? Will he find that much-needed change of direction from Government? The straight answer to that is "No". The truth is there is nothing in this budget that would make him want to stay.

I put it to the Taoiseach that one of the things forcing that young man to emigrate is housing. It has defined life in this country for over a decade. This Government came to office in June 2020 saying it would fix housing. The Taoiseach himself claims it is the single most important social issue for this Coalition. Yet in this budget, as with all the Government's housing initiatives, all we get is a recycling of the policies that got us into this mess. These are policies that feather the nests of big developers, corporate landlords and wealthy investors to the detriment of those in housing need.

This Government went two and a half years without doing anything for renters. The average rent in Dublin is more than €2,000 per month. Across the State it stands at close to €1,500. The Taoiseach knows all of this. I have told him repeatedly that the Government must do two things. First, it must cut rents by putting a month’s rent back into renters pockets through a refundable tax credit and, second, ban rent increases for three years. The Taoiseach and all the Ministers have consistently ignored these calls. Now, in the budget they show up with €500. This €500 will be swallowed up by the inevitable hikes in rent that will no doubt come and which the Government refuses to prevent. This is a tax credit that excludes students and low-income workers. The Government's refusal to cut rents adequately and to ban rent increases confirms this Government does not really care about renters and that they are, at best, an afterthought. Let me say it plainly and on the record that a tax credit without banning rent increases will not work.

2:00 pm


Hear, hear.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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There is no progress to be found in the budget measures for social and affordable housing. There is no increase in capital spending, no increase to the paltry targets the Government has missed time and again, and no credible action plan to stem record homelessness. In this budget the Government blatantly ignores the lived experiences of a generation locked out of affordable housing as the Government desperately attempts to dress up failure as delivery. People caught up in the housing crisis are not fooled. They see this budget for what it is, which is a blueprint for the deepening of their housing nightmare. House prices will continue to rise, exploitative rents will still go up and the number of people in housing need, including homelessness, will continue to grow. We urgently need a plan to reverse decades of bad housing policy, a plan to deliver 20,000 public homes per annum, a plan to ban rent increases and to put a month's rent back into renters' pockets by means of a refundable tax credit and a credible emergency response to homelessness.

That is what a Sinn Féin government would deliver. A Sinn Féin government would house our people.

The soaring cost of living has pushed workers and families to the brink. At the heart of this crisis is a conveyor belt of hikes in energy bills that just keep coming. The Taoiseach told hard-pressed households to wait until the budget in September for help from the Government. Now, here we are, and families do not just need help, they need the right help.

Sinn Féin called on the Government to cut electricity bills back to pre-crisis levels and to cap them at that level until the end of February. This would give two million households the certainty they need. It would help them to make it through the winter and protect them from further hikes. Instead, the Government has chosen to give energy credits, and households will only see €200 this side of Christmas. Just like its rent credit, these credits risk being swallowed up by further increases. That is what happened back in the spring, but the Government has chosen not to learn its lesson from that. Once again, it has failed to protect households from the barrage of hikes that are to come. People will pay a heavy price and many more families will be pushed into fuel poverty.

In the areas of personal taxation and social protection, the budget fails the fairness test. For all the Taoiseach had to say about pensioners, the €12 increase in welfare payments and the State pension are inadequate. Everyone on the front line has told him so. The increase will be cancelled out by runaway inflation and recipients will actually be worse off than last year. In real terms this is a welfare cut and people will be poorer and more at risk than they were before. That is why in the Sinn Féin budget we provided for an increase of €17.50 in working age welfare payments and a €15 increase in the State pension. That is what this Government should have done.

Workers are experiencing the biggest squeeze on their incomes in 40 years. They needed breathing room, and that means tax relief, a cut in personal tax, and we are agreed on that. However, it is incredible that at a time when so much has been said about the squeezed middle that 1.8 million workers will not get one cent from the Government’s main tax proposal. It has spent more than €1 billion on tax measures which will give someone on €130,000 an extra €830 while someone on €35,000 will get only €190. How can anyone call that fair? A better, fairer approach would have been to slash the USC and make cost-of-living payments to middle and low-income workers, putting €700 in the pockets of teachers, private sector workers on €35,000, and those nurses - young nurses - many of whom we are losing from this country as they seek a better chance abroad. That is what Sinn Féin would have done, and it is what the Government should have done yesterday.

The very best idea for the future of healthcare in Ireland is a single-tier, all-Ireland national health service. We needed a plan for that transformation. This budget, however, delivers more of the same. The expansion of the GP card scheme is one headline grabber, but everyone on the front line is already saying that the lack of GPs means the primary care system will now come under even more pressure. Introducing this measure without investing to increase GP capacity is a recipe for failure. We know that because it happened before. This cannot be another broken promise. We need to see delivery. Nearly one million people are on hospital waiting lists. The healthcare crisis presided over by Government has touched every family. Everybody knows someone who spent too long on a waiting list for treatment, too long on a hospital trolley and too long locked out of care, yet the investment the Government has provided does not meet the scale of the challenge. There were 508 people on trolleys yesterday, yet the Government is not providing one additional acute bed in its budget. We are still waiting for the delivery of 300 beds that were promised two years ago. How on earth are we ever going to ramp up to the capacity needed in our health service? It is another year, another budget, and another failure to tackle waiting lists or the crisis in emergency departments.

The truth is this budget cements the unequal, unfair two-tier health system. A Sinn Féin government would bring that inequality to an end. Our budget provided for 500 additional acute beds and a workforce planning strategy to retain, recruit, and train the healthcare workers to the levels needed. We would have delivered a budget to begin the transformation of public healthcare and build a health service that works for everyone.

It is a very sad truth that citizens with disabilities and those with mental health challenges are so often forgotten by the Government. Those citizens, their families and those who work in the sectors that support them have been crying out for help. The measures announced in yesterday’s budget fall far short of what is needed, with only €29 million in additional money for disability and only €14 million in additional money for mental health. Shame on the Government. It is a drop in the ocean. It means the disability and mental health sectors will remain chronically underfunded. That is the reality. Again, the Government has failed to provide the investment needed to ensure these citizens can access the supports they need and live full, inclusive lives as equal citizens.

In the coming decade, Ireland has two unique opportunities to drive our progress and prosperity. The first is the reunification of our country. The second is the securing of energy independence by fostering renewables, particularly wind energy. These opportunities should be seized with enthusiasm, energy, and determination, yet in both areas the Government’s budget demonstrates a breathtaking lack of an ambition. The momentum behind Irish unity is growing. Generational change is under way in Ireland and it is unstoppable. It is vital we plan for the future of our country in an inclusive and positive way. It is incredible there is no provision within this budget and no political will from the Government for the establishment of a citizens’ assembly on Irish unity. It is urgent and necessary that the Government shows leadership by establishing such a forum. This is the most important conversation of our generation. Any decent and responsible government would be leading on that.

The energy crisis we face today underscores the importance of securing a sustainable and affordable supply of energy. Through our abundant renewable resources, the development of our offshore capacity and green hydrogen production, Ireland has the potential to become an international hub for clean, renewable, energy and can help drive the decarbonisation of European economies. If we get this right, we can achieve energy independence for Ireland. We can transform not just energy supply and security but our whole economic model and meet the goal of a just transition to a green, clean, future. When we enjoy such natural advantages, when we have a sector ready to deliver, it is incredible this budget does so little to reduce the barriers to realise that potential and develop our wind infrastructure and green hydrogen capacity.

Budget 2023 is defined by its failure to deal with these issues which dominate the lives of ordinary people and have done for well over a decade. Government is no doubt splashing the cash but nothing is really going to change. It fails at a time when Government has the financial resources to make a real difference. The budget will not make a dent in the housing disaster. It will not even scratch the surface of what is needed to transform our health services. The cost-of-living package is big on numbers but is delivered in a way that ensures any benefit to households will be wiped out by future price hikes and inflation.

The Government's package does not give households the certainty they need. These are the real headlines from the budget, headlines that expose again the big failures of the Government. The game of musical chairs the Taoiseach intends to play with the Tánaiste before Christmas will not change this reality one bit. That cosy arrangement is a guarantee of more the same. It is not about what is best for the people but what is best for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. We need more than just a change of Taoiseach; we need a change of Government. Without a shadow of a doubt, this should be the last budget delivered by this failed, directionless Government.

Time and again, in times of crisis, our young people have been forced to leave. Worse still, they have been told by those in power to go. The message given to generations deprived of opportunity was that we all cannot live on a small island. Do you remember that one, gentlemen? We were told that emigration from the home they love was a lifestyle choice. That was very wrong. Forced emigration was a failure of Government then and remains a failure of Government to this day. I believe the chapter of this generation is yet to be written. I believe we can change the story. For all the challenges we face, I do not accept our future must be a repeat of our past. I want that young man I spoke to on Monday and all our young generation to be able to build a good life here in Ireland, to have a home here, to have opportunity here and to be able to make it here. Is that not the future we all want for our children and our grandchildren?

Our people are seeking real change. They believe a new direction and new Ireland is possible. It is in our young people in particular that we find everything we need to make that Ireland a reality. The old ways and the politics of the past have had their day. Change is coming. With the right government, with the right policies and with the right ambition, we can build the future our people deserve. We can build our nation as a home for all. That is a future worth believing in. That is a future worth working for. That is the future our people will achieve together and for each other. Of that I have no doubt.

2:20 pm

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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We knew facing into this budget that we face an unprecedented series of crises – in the cost of living, in energy security and in housing, described as a disaster by our President. We knew that increasing numbers of households are facing stark choices between heating and eating and that up to half of all households are likely to be in energy poverty during the bleak winter ahead. Right now, we know Ireland is just not working for far too many people - individuals, families, households and businesses. Of course, we acknowledge the crises we face have been exacerbated deeply by Russian’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and international factors. However, many of the measures urgently needed to address the crises and to support communities are within the power of the Government at national level.

This week we needed Government to step forward with a radical budget of the scale and level of ambition to address the severe levels of hardship faced by communities throughout the country. Just as we saw urgent, ambitious and radical State-led measures rolled out to get us all through the Covid pandemic, so we needed to see the Government adopt similarly urgent, ambitious and radical measures in the budget. The Labour Party's alternative budget, published last week, put forward a clear and costed set of measures to support the building of an Ireland that would work for us all. Our budget proposals represent a creative and radical plan - a genuine pathway to ensure a more equal Ireland.

Yesterday presented the Government with an opportunity to move towards that vision of Ireland, a more equal Ireland, an Ireland that works. It was an opportunity to provide a lifeline to the tens of thousands of people for whom this country is currently not working. Unfortunately, it was an opportunity missed. This was not a budget to provide the necessary pathway or track forward to ensure households and communities would be adequately supported through this winter and beyond. Instead of providing that positive pathway forward, this might better be described as a treadmill budget, in which the Government is spending money to stand still, not to ensure any future progress or prosperity.

A considerable amount of money has been put forward for once-off and short-term measures, but ultimately there is no sense of forward momentum or progressive movement. There is no sense this budget will do anything other than provide a short-term quick fix, a sugar hit, which will wear off very quickly and likely before the new year. As my colleague Deputy Nash has said, the signs are that we may need to have another budget in the new year once the short-term measures have faded away. When speaking to the media this morning, the Tánaiste effectively acknowledged that.

With the cost-of-living crisis biting deeply, many people already feel they are on that treadmill and are running simply to stand still. They cannot see a future of prosperity for them or their children. This budget will not change that. It was simply not good enough to throw money in a short-term way at the crises like snuff at a wake, as Deputy Nash said yesterday. This was a short-term "Bertienomics" approach, as Deputy Duncan Smith pointed out, an approach that will do little for the have-nots while boosting the position of those who already have lots.

We needed a clear plan to take us through the winter and beyond, a plan with ambition and vision. That was sadly lacking in the package of measures announced yesterday. This has been recognised by many. One response I got from a constituent today accurately reflects public reaction. She said, "This winter, I will have to choose between eating properly or taking the edge off the cold in my home. I will stay in bed to stay warm. I am a worker, a grafter. I have not been helped in any way by this budget." Her reaction reflects the reality for many.

A different approach was possible. As I said, the Government could instead have adopted the approach we took in our Labour Party budget last week. We proposed a costed programme with a set of immediate cost-of-living measures and a series of longer term plans to improve public services and protect communities from market insecurities. We know households and communities are suffering currently and need to be protected and sheltered from harm. We had clear plans to protect and support communities in housing, care, climate and work.

On housing, we called for an eviction ban and rent freeze. These should have been key features of any housing measures announced by the Government. In an Ireland that works for all, massive investment would have been put in place to ramp up provision of affordable and secure homes. Instead, the tax credit for renters that was announced shows just how divorced Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are from the lived reality of renters. Rents are out of control in this country. Renters are paying an average of €24,000 annually in rent payments.

In my constituency of Dublin Bay South, which is also the constituency of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, this is a particularly serious problem. We have more than double the national average of people who are renting, with 44% of households reliant on private rental accommodation. Average rents in our area are more than €2,000 per month. For my constituents who are renting, a €500 tax credit is drop in the ocean. As Threshold put it, it amounts to just seven days' rent for anyone renting. The speculative housing market has a hidden human and social cost of insecurity that we cannot afford. Renters cannot continue to pay the price for the wasted years of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil governments.

The State needs to step in, freeze rents, ban evictions and commit to building more affordable homes. It is particularly disappointing to see the failure of this budget to provide any real increase for the building of social housing. Social Justice Ireland said another €1.4 billion was needed. That is what we allocated in our budget, but with construction inflation at 14%, the extra capital allocated by the Government fell far short of that, which means there will be fewer social and affordable homes built next year than last year. We called for 20,000 social and affordable homes to be built next year - homes that desperately need to be built.

Another disappointment in regard to housing in this budget is the lack of provision for households affected by construction defects. This summer in the Dáil, I raised with the Tánaiste the shocking bills facing people who are living in defective Celtic tiger-era apartments. There are many such apartments in my area and elsewhere across Dublin and beyond. I was heartened then to hear the Tánaiste say the Government would plan to provide redress for households. I welcomed that announcement but there is little substance in the proposals brought forward this week. We await to hear further about what is going to be done for those facing massive bills to address the fire safety and other defects in apartments through no fault of their owners.

What the Government has proposed in a housing crisis is a levy on concrete products to raise €80 million a year, which is likely to increase the cost of homes for buyers. Our alternative proposal was for a levy on construction profits that would not have had that effect and could have ensured adequate redress for so many apartment owners. The Government's proposal symptomises its inability to deal effectively with the housing crisis that has paralysed the lives of so many people and in particular destroyed the hopes and aspirations of younger generations.

On care, we in the Labour Party brought forward two proposals to give immediate relief to hard-pressed families. Free GP care would be immediately extended to every child and young person under 18 at a cost of €100 million was one such proposal. We believe that no parent should have to worry about the cost when their child is sick. We know that Ireland is the only country in western Europe without universal access to GPs. In spite of that, for four wasted years, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have failed to use Ireland's hard-won prosperity to introduce free-at-the-point-of-access primary healthcare. Last year's budget did commit to a welcome extension of the current scheme. It is also welcome to see that this has now, finally, been done for six- and seven-year-old children in a recycled announcement made by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath yesterday. Free GP care should have been extended to all children but that did not happen yesterday, which is a real shame.

The measures introduced on childcare were equally underwhelming. The Government states it will fund a reduction up to 25% in weekly fees for those availing of the national childcare scheme, but the proposed reduction will not amount to that level of reduction for most families. Even with the new announcement, a parent in my constituency will still have to pay approximately €250 per week per child. In contrast, under our Labour Party proposal, childcare fees would be capped at €200 per month. That is a cost of only €50 per week, which is in line with childcare fees in other European countries. Such a radical and ambitious move would have cost the Exchequer €275 million over 12 months, which is value for money and an investment in our children's future.

In our equal early years campaign, the Labour Party and Labour Women have consistently called for us to opt in the longer term for a guaranteed publicly-funded preschool place for every child because parents need affordable, accessible childcare. Early years educators deserve decent pay and conditions, and providers deserve support. Most of all, our children deserve an equal start. To realise that bigger vision for childcare, we would invest €60 million next year to provide a clear pathway toward a universal publicly-funded childcare system on a par with other European countries. We saw nothing resembling that level of ambition or vision from the Government in this year's budget.

On climate, again, we saw a lack of vision and ambition or any new initiative. Our fiscal budgets must always be seen through the lens of the climate emergency. We know that urgent action is needed to ensure a just transition to a clean, green net-zero economy. To do that, we needed real and radical action in the budget, and it did not happen. In contrast, we in the Labour Party had made a flagship proposal for a €9 monthly climate ticket for unlimited journeys countrywide on public transport, at a cost of €300 million for a six-month period. It is similar to the scheme that was trialled in Germany this year, which saved 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in three months. That scheme is now being adapted across the various German regional authorities.

The Labour Party also proposed a range of innovative measures to protect families and workers from rising energy prices and to move us towards a greener future. We proposed a doubling of the grant available to fit solar panels in houses from €2,400 to €5,000. We proposed an ambitious cycle-to-school scheme to enable parents to buy bikes for children, and a creative scheme to incentivise the scrapping of old cars in exchange for e-bikes.

We would have imposed a 30% windfall tax on energy companies, many of which we know are raking in record profits. Instead, the Government appears to have rejected that and proposed a very disappointing wait-and-see approach. It does not appear to have taken on board the very sensible proposal to nationalise the Corrib field to ensure greater security and certainty on energy prices. It is a very disappointing budget on climate. It is not good enough for the young people who demonstrate every week with Fridays for Future, who want system change not climate change. They certainly will not be getting it this year.

Finally, on work, again this is a deeply disappointing budget, which has failed to address the real concerns of so many in our low-pay, high-cost economy. Stagnating wages, the rising cost of living, and an energy crisis leading to job insecurity means that many young people are now fearful about staying in this country. They are emigrating elsewhere, bringing their skills and talents abroad and depriving communities here of their contribution because they cannot see a future in which they can aspire to own their own home. That is just not good enough. Ours should be a society where low pay is addressed and where a future is provided for young people, but that is not the case right now, nor judging the contents of budget 2023. We had a unique opportunity in this budget to build better jobs and to build a programme of jobs for good, and develop a just transition to a fairer, greener future. Instead, what we see is a derisory increase in the minimum wage, a programme of tax cuts that patently offers disproportionate benefits to those on higher incomes and an inadequate increase of only €12 per week for those on pensions and social welfare, which is well below the increase of €20 that we in the Labour Party had proposed.

The Government had a clear set of questions to answer in yesterday's budget. Will it work to keep people warm in their homes? Will it stop low and middle-income households from going under? Will it support people and businesses struggling to pay energy bills? Will it support those who cannot afford their rent or mortgage payments? Will it keep the lights on this winter? I am sad to say that looking at what is provided in the budget, it appears as though Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have failed those tests. A budget should draw a big picture for Ireland, in particular at this time of crisis. It should be ambitious and show vision. Yesterday, we saw no ambition and no vision. Instead, we saw a conservatism that sees every aspect of public spending as a cost, rather than an investment. Yes, there were welcome measures to reduce costs for households and businesses in yesterday's budget, and there was an important acknowledgement that supports are needed, but at its heart this is not a budget that provides equality. It is not a budget to ensure the building of an Ireland that works for all. In contrast, a Labour Party budget would have sought to achieve real equality: to provide safe and secure homes for everyone; to create quality well-paid jobs that move us towards a green economy and a cleaner environment; to reform taxation to prioritise fairness and redistribution, and to fund a health and care system for children, older people and everyone in between. That is the Ireland that the Labour Party wants to see and that we are building. That is an Ireland that would work for us all.

2:30 pm

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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Yesterday, we heard the details of the Government’s €11 billion budget, the largest package of budgetary measures in the history of the State. The question is, with a cost of €11 billion, whether people soon will begin to feel short-changed and whether the Government will be obliged to intervene again early in the new year. A large intervention was no doubt needed. We are currently battling three separate but interlinked crises, namely, the cost of living, energy and housing crises. People all over the country are under serious pressure from soaring prices. In January of this year, before inflation spiralled to nearly double-digit figures, we learned that consumer prices in Ireland are 40% above the EU average. In 2016, we were 29% more expensive, so the gulf in prices between us here in Ireland and in other EU member states keeps widening. We have the dubious distinction of having the most expensive housing and healthcare costs in Europe. Our goods and services are the second most expensive in the EU, while the price of food and communications are the third most expensive. It is clear that people needed to get some significant help from the Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Michael McGrath, when they got to their feet yesterday, but was it the right assistance and will it help in the long term?

Were the unprecedented sums that have been spent targeted at the people who most need it?

As the dust settles and the numbers are crunched, it is becoming clear to more and more people that this is a regressive budget. Tax changes saw those at the top get cuts of more than €800, while those on lower incomes received just €190. This is the most glaring example of that. Just 23% of income earners in this country pay the top rate of tax, but more than 80% of the benefits of the budget's tax changes accrue to those workers. There are a lot of high-income earners but 23% of our workers are on low pay, one of the highest proportions in the OECD. What did the budget do for low-paid workers, those for whom we all stood here and clapped earlier during the pandemic, such as retail workers who kept shelves stacked, delivery drivers or cleaners in our hospitals who put themselves at risk? Under the tax changes in this budget, they will get an additional €15 a month.

Two other cohorts of people disproportionately live in poverty, namely, lone parents and disabled people. Earlier this year, the Department of Social Protection published an ESRI report it had commissioned that warned that lone parents and their children, and disabled parents and their children, experienced high levels of deprivation. In 2019, these two groups accounted for just over half of those living in consistent poverty, a truly shocking statistic.

One of the meanest aspects of yesterday’s budget, which has been billed as an €11 billion bonanza, was the €2 increase in the qualified child allowance. This money targets those families with children who are in receipt of a social welfare payment and, therefore, it is paid for the most vulnerable children in society, yet they got a €2 increase in the budget yesterday. That is shameful. The Children’s Rights Alliance has also criticised this puny increase and stated that the qualified child allowance is a crucial intervention to help the most disadvantaged children.

The Government has given disabled people a €500 lump sum as a cost-of-disability payment, which is welcome, but why has it included this payment, which is supposed to be a way for the Government to recognise the significant additional cost of having a disability, as a one-off measure? The Social Democrats have called for a €20 per week cost-of-living disability payment, which equates to €1,040 annually, to be introduced. This would have been a way to signal that the payment would be retained and increased in future years until it matched the additional cost of having a disability. The disability capacity review was published in July of last year and we are all waiting for the Government to publish its action plan arising from this review, almost 15 months after it was released.

Yet another example of the Government's one-for-everyone-in-the-audience approach to the budget is the €600 energy credits, which will be paid to the highest earners as well as the lowest. I cannot understand why, when there was an energy crisis for almost a year before Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine made it even more acute, the Government has not figured out a way to target these payments. A €200 energy credit was first announced in December 2021. Has anyone in the Government even tried to devise a way to target the payment since then? Some parents are skipping meals and going to bed hungry and children sometimes do not have a winter coat to keep them warm, and that is before huge energy bills hit the letterboxes this winter. Is the Government really saying those families should get the same level of support with their bills as people on very high incomes, who can absorb these increased costs? The Minister stated yesterday that the €200 energy credit would mean more to people on low incomes because they have less money. Does he think the energy bills of low-paid people are as modest as their pay cheques? They are not.

The main ongoing failure of this Government and previous Fine Gael Governments relates to housing, and nothing in this budget will change that. What is most concerning is there is no acceptance within the Government that the approach it has embarked on is failing. This is a key issue for all age ranges. Parents worry about their adult children's futures, while adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s feel trapped and cannot save for a deposit, given the sky-high rents, and even when they do, they find they are competing with vulture funds for the limited number of homes that come up for sale. This was a key issue in the two most recent general election campaigns and it is certain to be so again when the next election is called.

In the budget yesterday, no additional money was allocated to capital investment and there was no acknowledgement of the fact we need a massive ramp-up in the delivery of affordable homes, both to rent and to buy, if we are ever to resolve this crisis. Social housing has become a lucrative product in the housing market, involving long leases, usually for 25 years, where the developer retains the house at the end with no asset accruing to the State. We were assured this would be phased out but it was provided for yet again in this budget.

The Government has finally indicated it will proceed with the vacant homes tax but it has been set at such a low level that it will have little impact. Tens of thousands of homes have been lying empty for years throughout this crisis, and their owners have had more than enough time to sell or rent them. They do not need a gentle nudge to convince them these homes need to be brought back into use; they need a severe push with a punitive vacant homes tax and we have suggested a figure of about 10%.

Similarly, real estate investment trusts, REITs, and vulture funds pay barely any tax, but the Government’s response is yet another lengthy review of vulture funds while they continue to make windfall profits from our housing disaster. The Social Democrats wanted to see a windfall tax imposed on the energy companies that are making off like bandits in the middle of an energy crisis. We should similarly impose a levy on REITs and vulture funds to ensure they will pay a windfall tax on the enormous profits they are earning off the back of this housing catastrophe.

The Government has also introduced a rent credit that will barely cover one week's rent in Dublin but, bizarrely, it has refused to introduce a ban on rent increases at the same time, despite the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, publicly stating that a rent credit in the absence of a ban would only lead to rents increasing even further. For once I agreed with him, but he should listen to his own advice.

One of the main reasons the Government was in a position to announce such a large budget package yesterday related to the huge surges in corporation tax but, obviously, this is not sustainable and cannot be relied on. We need to do much more to future-proof our economy with, for example, a massive expansion in green energy. The Government talks a lot about developing offshore wind, but the only port in Ireland capable of delivering offshore wind is located in Belfast and not a single offshore wind project has yet even received planning permission. Last week, Shell pulled out of the Irish renewables market, the largest energy company to do so since Equinor pulled out last year. The Government must deal swiftly with the impediments to delivering in this space. My colleague Deputy Whitmore will presently go into more detail about this area.

With such a large budget, there are bound to be positives, such as the elimination of inpatient hospital charges. It is clear, however, that the Government suffers from a poverty of ambition and an inability to deliver when it comes to big projects that would make a difference. This budget is yet more evidence of that.

2:40 pm

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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We are in the throes of a perfect storm, with sky-high energy prices, energy insecurity and an increasingly palpable climate crisis, which is impacting on every element of our lives and communities. This is an extremely challenging time, when many will struggle to feed their families or heat their homes over the winter. Nevertheless, out of crisis can come opportunity, and with an €11 billion budget, never before has a Government had such an opportunity to build a secure, sustainable and fair future for all residents and communities. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said:

A time of crisis is not just a time of anxiety and worry. It gives a chance, an opportunity, to choose well or to choose badly.

What did the Government choose in this budget? Unfortunately, rather than choose a budget of fairness and opportunity, a budget for the long term with a targeted approach, it chose a "Late Late Show" bonanza, with one for everyone in the audience, even for those wealthy individuals and homeowners who do not need it. As for what path the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications chose, he chose, unfortunately, not to ramp up his climate actions to meet these challenges head on.

Instead, he has chosen to give us more of the same by adding a few more retrofits here and there and offering some empty rhetoric about rooftop revolution and accelerating climate action. However, the reality is that spin and public relations just will not cut it. Giving us more of the same just will not cut it. More of the same will just mean more missing of targets, more homes and individuals waiting in longer queues for retrofitting programmes and more people on low incomes being disadvantaged because they cannot afford to take out a loan to make their homes energy efficient or warm. Instead, what we needed to see was ambition, urgency and delivery.

The Social Democrats proposed an ambitious roll-out of solar panels to ensure that 100,000 low-income homes received panels free of charge. These were homes in energy poverty that needed Government support to make the climate changes we require of them. The Social Democrats focus on solar because it is quick, practical and cheaper to do. Most importantly, it could reduce the annual energy costs for those in energy poverty by 40%. Our proposals involve the State bulk buying panels at greatly reduced prices with teams of trained installers fitting out entire estates at one time. This is the most efficient, effective and lean manner in which to deliver. It really is a no-brainer. This would have really been a rooftop revolution where not only would we see emissions, fossil fuel dependency and energy costs drop, but a real revolution where those most at risk from energy poverty would have been protected now and into the future. It would have been a just revolution that, unfortunately, the Government has failed to deliver.

All through our discussions when we talk about climate, and when the Green Party and the Minister talk about climate, they talk about just transition. It has to mean something more than talk. It has to be seen in the Government's budgets and where it targets its money. This budget has done nothing for low-income households that want to install solar panels. They are not part of the warmer homes scheme. It will not assist those homes to reduce energy usage and their energy costs. It is something that could be done very quickly. I do not understand why the Minister and the Government have such a blind spot when it comes to solar energy. We need to invest in solar. It is one part of the jigsaw but it is an important part. As I said, it is something that could be done very quickly.

Having households go to a one-stop shop, which then organises a company to go out to an individual home in a town or village, is the most inefficient way to deliver both retrofitting and solar. The Government needs to be ambitious in this. It needs to step up to make sure that people who are at risk of fuel poverty now and next January, and who will be at risk of fuel poverty next year, are protected and that they can make savings on their energy costs. We need them to do it. Our energy grid needs them to do it. Our climate and environment need them to do it. Unfortunately, it appears to me that the Green Party mantra for this budget is could have, should have but did not.

2:50 pm

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Many people will be scratching their heads today and in the next number of months asking how come we have a supposedly giveaway bonanza budget and yet the vast majority of ordinary people will be worse off next year. More people will be cold and hungry. More people will be energy poverty. Do not take it from me; take it from Mr. Cliff Taylor, who wrote in The Irish Timesthat "living standards will fall on average by about 3 per cent this year and 2 per cent next year". The answer is because the crises we face are systemic crises. I refer to the cost-of-living, housing and climate and biodiversity crises. There is systemic crisis rooted in profiteering and the capitalist system, which is based around organising our economy to maximise that profiteering. It is the profiteering of the fossil fuel corporations without regard to our planet or our people's needs, of the energy and food companies in this country and of the big landlords and developers. Their interests and their profits are taking priority. The centrepieces of the Government's budget continue in exactly the same vein. They do not challenge that profiteering in the slightest. Instead, they continue with it.

With the electricity credit, for example, and the temporary business energy support scheme, without price controls and without nationalisation of the energy sector, the Government is just creating a vast flow of public money through the hands of people into the pockets of energy companies.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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That is right.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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There is no mechanism whatsoever to stop the electricity companies pocketing the credits by increasing their prices. There are no windfall taxes. The Government will wait for the European Commission to do that. There is no new energy infrastructure, no investment or no guarantee in controlling our supplies and prices into the future.

It is the exact same thing with the renter's credit, which is a seven-day credit for those who get it. It excludes huge numbers of renters, for instance, everybody who is in receipt of the housing assistance payment, HAP, despite the fact they are making top-ups, all students, all low-pay workers who do not earn enough to benefit from it and those whose tenancy is not even registered with the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB. Even for those who benefit, however, without proper rent controls that bring rents down to an affordable level, it just ends up in the pockets of the big corporate landlords. It just goes into the pile of money - billions of euro per year - for HAP, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and the other schemes from which the big corporate landlords benefit. The same applies to the help-to-buy scheme. In reality, it has from its inception been a help-to-profit scheme for developers. The money just passes through people's hands before ending up in the pockets of the developers.

There is much talk these days about trickle-down economics because of what is happening in the UK. The Irish Government operates a kind of perverse version of that - a sort of flood-up economics - where the money is temporarily transferred to ordinary people who are left with no choice but to hand that money back over to big corporations, which have no restrictions whatsoever on their profiteering. This is the significant indirect corporate welfare contained in this budget. On top of that is the direct corporate welfare of the temporary business energy support scheme of €1.25 billion.

We support assistance going to small businesses but it has to be done on the basis of proven need and with conditions in terms of quality employment for the workers. Instead, we have a massive giveaway to almost every business in the State. The very biggest corporations in this country are going to be able to benefit from this scheme to the tune of €10,000 of public money for every month the scheme operates. Even more scandalously, and I am open to and would like to be corrected here, there appear to be no mechanisms to stop the data centres benefiting from this scheme. Is it accurate that we are going to be giving €10,000 to each of these data centres per month to subsidise their energy when they are contributing to an absolute crisis of energy in this country? If that is the case, that is absolutely scandalous. Of course, the special assignee relief programme, SARP, continues for the super-high-income people and the knowledge development box continues the corporate tax haven.

Contrast the billions for big businesses with the pennies for pensioners, carers and unemployed people. They needed €27 per week just to keep their incomes steady in real terms. Instead, they got €12. To add insult to injury, they got €2 per week extra for a qualified child. That is €2 to feed and clothe a child in the context of the soaring crisis. It is absolutely scandalous.

The sting in the tail of these increases is that because of the Government's failure to raise the income levels for social housing or even better, make social housing universal, people will be kicked off the housing list as a consequence. They will lose their access to HAP because the Government will not deal with the issue of social housing. It is a huge issue that the Government should address.

Then, last night, the Government rammed through a vote to put €5 billion in the rainy day fund.

It is three years since the then Government declared a national climate emergency and four years since it declared a national emergency in respect of housing. It is pouring now; we are in an emergency situation. Instead of putting this money away to bail out banks in the future, we should be investing in public housing, expanded public transport, insulation, retrofitting and green energy.

I also want to raise a point about IVF. Many couples will have had their hopes raised by a leak to the effect that IVF was going to be offered in the public system by 2023. When you look at the small print, however, it seems that was a cruel and inaccurate leak. The Minister for Public and Expenditure and Reform spoke about providing supports for the first time in respect of to IVF treatment. When you read the budget book, not one cent is allocated in respect of the provision of IVF treatment. The Irish Independentreports, "the first phase of public funding for IVF treatment will not begin until late next year, on a limited basis at first, and details have yet to be worked on how it will be assessed". It will be very cruel if the Government does not act now to have IVF available within the public system because couples cannot delay on this matter. They cannot afford to wait for the Government to get its nice headlines year after year without it making available within the public health system the funding and resources necessary to provide IVF to everybody who needs it.

Yesterday, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage brought a memorandum to Cabinet about the issue of defective apartments. He announced - with a big drum roll - the establishment of a group to look into the report of another group. We do not need multiple months of waiting to have another report about a first report. We know what the issue is - defective building as a result of inadequate regulation under Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, and a regime of self-certification. We know what the answer is - 100% redress, with the State pursuing the builders responsible. This should have been included in the budget yesterday. We have provided for it in our alternative budget. The Government should move immediately and not draw the matter out.

What is the alternative to all of this? If you start from a position that does not seek to maximise profit for corporations but, instead, that comes at matters from the eco-socialist perspective of people's needs, including the need for all of us to live on a habitable planet, you end up with a different approach to the budget and a different way of organising our economy and society. You would stop the energy rip-off by renationalising the energy sector, imposing price controls and running it under democratic public ownership on a not-for-profit basis. You would invest public money instead of handing it over to developers and corporate landlords, and you would invest public money to build quality public housing. You would buy up the HAP and RAS landlords' properties and nationalise the big corporate landlords. You would take everybody in this country out of poverty. It can be done. Instead of cutting the budget for climate, which this budget is doing, there would be massive public investment in renewable energy, including public ownership and public investment in free, green and frequent public transport. There would be public investment in retrofitting and insulation. Inflation would be cut in the simplest way possible; by removing things from the market and from decommodifying things by providing vital public services as that. Universal basic public services would be provided, including free childcare, free GP care and genuinely free education at all levels.

The money is there to do it. In our alternative budget, we set out just four measures, including in respect of employer's PRSI, another rate of tax for those earning over €100,000, a wealth tax and increasing corporation tax, which would raise €11 billion, with the corporation tax coming on top of that. The Government refused to do it. The third-richest country in the world has social crises all over the place because the Government runs society and the economy in the interests of the corporate landlords, energy companies and developers. That is why we need a change of Government. More than that, we need system change. We need to organise society on an eco-socialist basis in the interests of people, not profit.

3:00 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Councillor Leah Whelan is a Socialist Party councillor in Tallaght in the constituency of Dublin South-West. She is 25 years-old. Leah is in a WhatsApp group with 21 of her friends. Some 16 of those friends have emigrated. All of them have left this year. Three of them left earlier today. What does the Government offer this generation? There is a €500 tax credit for renters, which would not even pay ten days of rent over a year in Cork city and which may well end up in the pockets of landlords because of the Government's refusal to freeze rents. It has offered an increase in the minimum wage, which will be totally swallowed up by inflation and which is, in effect and reality, a cut. There is €1,000 off college fees, which still cost €2,000 but the €1,000 off is for one year only. This is cold comfort for those thousands of young people who deferred their college courses this year because they could not afford the student accommodation. In other words it is too little and too late, certainly for Leah's friends.

The Irish State is 100 years old this year. During those 100 years, we have had no system other than capitalism and no Government led by any party other than Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. De Valera said: "No longer shall our children, like our cattle, be brought up for export." His words were utterly hollow. Many more than 1 million people have been forced to emigrate since the foundation of the State. In fact, more than 1 million have emigrated since those words were uttered in the mid-1930s. Mass emigration has robbed this country of many of its youngest, most creative and most vital elements. Many a tear has been shed and many a heart has been broken, but for the political establishment of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, there have always been strategists who saw this mass youth emigration as a positive, or at least as having a positive side to it. The mass emigration of young people took pressure off conservative Governments, removed criticism from young and angry voices, lessened the opportunity for large street protests and held back the development of the left. It is happening again today. More than 100,000 emigrated between April 2020 and April 2022, half of them Irish nationals and many of the others were people who would have liked to have stayed here.

The question today is if the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael strategists have looked at the fact that there is a general election in two and a half years’ time. Have they seen the level of youth alienation with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and the radicalism of young people on marriage equality, in the repeal the eighth campaign and the Black Lives Matter movement and now consciously decided to either open the floodgates to emigration or to at least, not stand in the way of an exodus in any serious way? In a crime investigation, detectives will ask if the suspect has a record, form, a motive and what their actions signify. On every one of those counts, the Government parties have questions to answer.

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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I wish to make an observation on how budget day has been diminished. I have been in this House for more than 40 budgets. Gradually, I have seen the procedure around budgets and the delivery of budget statements altered dramatically. In the past, policy intentions were well-guarded and budget day was much-anticipated. There was an air of anxiety, anticipation and excitement. We were waiting for a bit of the mystery to be revealed. Unlike yesterday, the Gallery was full and there was a real buzz around the House. What has changed is that all budget measures are effectively public knowledge before the day's proceedings even begin. Budgets are leaked in a drip-drip fashion. As a result, budget day has lost its lustre and impact.

The Government, it appears, considers that it is far more important to brief the media in advance, rather than briefing the elected representatives of the people.

It is being said that a budget should reflect the values and priorities of a nation and its people. Budget 2023 was always going to be a carefully scrutinised balancing act for the Government. When the budget is hyped as being a landmark package expectations are bound to run high. Yesterday's budget saw the much-anticipated inclusion of a €4.1 billion cost-of-living package. This was a welcome move that will help ease immediate financial worries for many. However, the true impact of this budget will not be evident until March of next year, when the once-off supports expire.

Assistance announced yesterday will help to address immediate problems, but there is a long road ahead. It is likely that further Government intervention will be required early next year. There was welcome news for thousands of families, particularly those on lower incomes who are struggling and who are worried about the months ahead. Energy supports, a once-off double child allowance payment and a reduction in childcare and college fees are all family-friendly moves.

It is appropriate that renters were singled out for assistance. The €500 credit they will receive, while not a huge amount in the light of the cost of renting, will provide some relief when added to the cash-back credit of €600 on energy bills that will be paid to all households in the next six months.

Many businesses that scrabbled to survive the pandemic find themselves facing a staggering 400% increase in utility costs. There was a broad welcome from these businesses for the assistance announced yesterday. That assistance will help safeguard jobs across the country. Conversely, there was a total oversight in the context of a failure to help small businesses that do not consume much energy. These businesses face massively increased fuel costs. Those who operate in the services sector, those who run distribution and delivery companies and, importantly, those in the transport sector were overlooked. This budget was not a package of supports for businesses; it was a selective action that excluded a huge cohort of businesses.

Similarly, sole traders were forgotten. Tradesmen in particular are mainly home-based. They do not have business premises to maintain, yet their daily running costs have risen alarmingly. Electricians, plumbers, carpenters, decorators and other one-man businesses are largely dependent on households to provide their work. A reduced household income means less work for tradesmen who operate alone. Rising fuel and insurance costs are eating into the small profits they make. The last time this happened, the tradesmen fled the country. We continue to have a skills shortage as a result of emigration. This should never be allowed to happen again.

A welcome takeaway from yesterday was the success of the zero-VAT campaign for local newspapers and their assistive digital products. I supported this campaign wholeheartedly. Local newspapers provide a window to our communities and are an intrinsic part of life across this country. They are deserving and worthy of the support they received.

Those of us who attended the National Ploughing Championships last week heard first-hand the concerns occupying the minds of those in the farming sector. The Regional Group’s pre-budget submission highlighted the crucial need for investment as farmers endeavour to tackle the financial challenges posed by the need to meet climate targets between now and 2030. The extension of vital tax relief is welcome, despite it being contingent on future negotiations with Brussels. Also welcome is the news of accelerated capital allowances for the building of modern slurry storage facilities, although concerns have been expressed in regard to the knock-on effect of the 10% levy on concrete and concrete products. Clarity is required on this issue. Dairy, pig and poultry farmers are relieved to be included in support to help with energy costs. Overall, there seems to be a cautious welcome from farmers for Budget 2023.

Last year, €22 billion was allocated to health. Recent reports indicate that Department of Health recorded an overspend on this amount. An extra €225 million is being targeted in the coming year to address waiting lists. Year after year, we provide extra millions to reduce waiting lists. Despite this massive investment, waiting lists get longer. We appear to have no measurement or accountability in regard to the outcome from ongoing this investment. Unless a concerted effort is made to address the staffing issues in the health service, waiting lists will continue to grow. The most vital component of the health service is the people who work there, yet we continue to hear of them walking away as they cannot take the pressures placed upon them. If there were proper staffing levels in our hospitals and health service there would be an immediate reduction in waiting lists. Instead, the waiting lists grow. This is particularly so for children and, disgracefully, even more so for children with sensory, intellectual and physical disabilities. It is a poor reflection on Ireland as a country if the most vulnerable among us cannot access the health services they desperately need.

I have a few questions in regard to Department of Health. Is the Department of Health ready for the winter surge in demand? Is there a plan in place to cope? Will the funding required detract from addressing the existing difficulties in the system, including waiting lists?

This budget, and particularly the cost-of-living package, has extended help to address immediate needs. This is likely to be the first necessary step in addressing the current energy and cost of living crisis. The actions on the part of the Government in the coming months to explore and revisit need to increase our energy self-sufficiency never been more important. We are now acutely of how instability in other parts of the world can impact Ireland.

3:10 pm

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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Budget 2023 reminds me of the kitchen sink. What the Government has done is to put an overflow pipe onto the sink, but the difficulty is that is not turning off the tap and if that the water comes in any quicker it will still overflow. That is the difficulty with this budget. While it is helping and while the investment that is being put in is welcome, it will not deal with any of the systemic challenges, particularly in relation to the cost of energy and the cost of electricity.

We see that the retrofitting targets are falling dramatically short of what were set out in Project Ireland 2040. Retrofitting is a measure that can reduce the electricity costs permanently for people. Project Ireland 2040 contains a commitment to retrofit 45,000 homes per annum from 2021. The target for next year is just 37,000 homes.

There is nothing in this legislation or in this budget to address the issue of standing charges for electricity. Electricity standing charges on families today are between €500 and €700 per year. Of course, we passed the legislation in this House last July to increase the cost of those standing charges by another €120. Disappointingly, the Government, rather than making an announcement on a windfall energy tax, is awaiting the taking of measures at European Union level instead of applying the renewable electricity support scheme clawback - something that I was involved in developing that as Minister - into the renewable energy wind and solar farms that are making excessive profits under the existing old renewable energy feed-in tariff. By using the new clawback model that has been developed, approved and adopted by the renewable energy companies in this country, we could hand money back to electricity customers across this country.

The budget involves a substantial figure of €11 billion that will be handed out to people. It was only possible to put the budget together because of corporation tax. The Department of Finance estimates that between €8 billion and €10 billion of corporation tax taken in this year is vulnerable to shock. In fact, the Minister for Finance pointed out that ten multinational companies account for over one third of the total tax take by Revenue. Without that money coming in, there would have been a significant deficit this year of €8 billion instead of a headline surplus of €1 billion.

We need not just to acknowledge that, which the Minister did yesterday, but to put a replacement in place. The only effective way to do that is to have a sovereign wealth fund that is actually built on our own natural resources. Anywhere across the globe where there is a sovereign wealth fund, it is built on the natural resources of the country involved.

We have a 220-million acre maritime resource off our coast, where we have the potential to develop 70,000 MW of offshore renewable electricity. We need to think outside the box and implement ambitious solutions to clean up our energy supply, to provide sustainable long-term employment opportunities and ensure that Ireland becomes a global renewable energy exporter. To do that, we need a radical overhaul of Ireland's industrial development policy to achieve our climate goals and grasp the opportunity that we have off our coast.

At the weekend, there was a headline in the papers which read "EU downgrades Ireland's north and west to a 'lagging region'". That is because of the lack of industrial development along our west and north-west. We cannot overcome that challenge we have in our region in a piecemeal or a haphazard manner. In the same paper, there were reports that Shell is withdrawing its offshore development plans for 1.35 GW of electricity off our coast, which follows the previous withdrawal of Equinor, which was planning to develop 1.4 GW of electricity off our coast. Between them, those two investors alone were going to generate enough electricity to power 2.24 million homes across this country. We can never develop that resource or create the types of employment and opportunities that we could have, in the west and the north west, providing the balanced regional development, unless we develop a strategy which is in the long-term interests of this country, and not just allowing these projects to be developer-led. As I have said, there is 70 GW of potential electricity generation off our coast. That is not only enough to meet our own long-term needs, but also the long-term needs of France and Austria together. What we need to do is to ensure that we establish an offshore renewable development authority, similar to IDA Ireland, that would drive a fully co-ordinated national action plan. It would have responsibilities ranging from research and development to supply chain development to the commercial deployment of renewable energy, and would ensure that Ireland becomes the global leader in the export of sustainable clean energy.

In order to do that, we also need to have an export channel. The best possible export channel for that is to develop an Atlantic electricity interconnector from the west coast of Ireland directly into the European grid. However, we can only do that if we take a strategic approach and if that strategic approach is taken now. There is no point in kicking the can down the road and hoping that something will happen in the future, and that investors from outside will come in and drive the type of innovative change that is needed. We can only do that by driving that change ourselves, by setting up an agency and authority to drive that and to ensure that Irish citizens and the Irish State benefit in the long term.

3:20 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I too, am pleased to be able to respond to some of the delightful speeches today from the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Transport, the leaders of the triumvirate of parties that make up this Government, and their wonderful budget. They are playing mind games with the people. Everyone knows that like the previous Government, for the last two years this Government has not been serving the people. It is serving some other global masters and is not working in the interests of the people here. We have come through the charade. Deputy Lowry said previously that he has been here for 40 budgets. I have been here for 15 or 16. I missed last year's because I was sick. It is a charade now. It is all out in the media. There was a press conference this morning. I do not know what the Ministers went to that for. Perhaps they wanted to see how the people are reacting to the crumbs they have got from the mighty table of the triumvirate that makes up the Government.

I welcome some measures. I welcome the removal of VAT from defibrillators and other medical devices. Measures like that and the bonus are welcome, but it is the taxpayers' money that the Government is regurgitating and recycling. It is giving them back crumbs. What has happened to our agricultural industry, which was the primary industry in this country and served us well from the foundation of our State, when T.K. Whitaker and others decided to be visionaries and to develop our industry? It beggars belief that agriculture is now second from the bottom in the funding received in this year's budget. The only smaller budget is that relating to the Department of the Taoiseach. He does not need a budget because he does not do anything as such. It is only for PR, media stuff and God knows what. Agriculture has been reduced to that position. The Greens are happy with that. The transport budget has also been cut. Agriculture was the primary industry that dragged us by the heels out of the last two recessions. Now, we are deep in crisis. Small beef, sheep and hill farmers will become extinct. They will be run off the land like their ancestors were run off the land by Cromwell all those years ago. They cannot survive and eke out a living where they are. It is unbelievable.

Is there any point in talking about health? It is a black monstrosity. Look at the development of the children's hospital. It is a monumental disaster. Now there will be a 10% increase in the price of the concrete being used to build the rest of it. The cost will not stop at €3 billion. One cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The hospital is in the wrong place and location, and is not accessible. By the time the equipment is fitted, it will be well out of date because, as we know, all such equipment has a particular lifespan. It is an awful charade.

The national broadband plan is the same. It is another charade, like other Government projects. The incompetence is frightening.

The Green Party's fingerprints are all over this budget. Its fingerprints are on agriculture, and it is diminishing the sector. Its fingerprints are all over the budget. I could mention umpteen examples. I am surprised that the transport budget has been cut under the Minister for Transport. The Minister is one of the three individuals who lead the Government of this country. He allowed that to happen in his own Department in order to get his vanity projects, to cripple agriculture and continue with the carbon tax. He lost out where he should be watching for major infrastructural projects. That has happened. The carbon tax is criminal. There was a trick of the loop down in the convention centre and it was passed with incremental increases over ten years without there being a vote on it by the Dáil. The Government has had the audacity to impose that on hard-pressed taxpayers and people who have to travel to work and put fuel in every machine. They are buying generators now to keep the lights on. They will have to put fuel into those generators. That will add to their costs. The farm contractors did not even get a mention. The carbon tax is punitive. There are parties that are voting against the increase now, when they voted for the ten-year incremental increase. It is farcical really.

The tourism and hotel sector has received a blow from the Government. It is the sector that was so badly affected during Covid. I am not talking about hotels in Dublin. I heard someone today suggest that we should have a different tax rate for Dublin, like they have in New York. The extortionate prices that are being charged here must be cut. I am talking about the decent hoteliers all over Tipperary, from Carrick-on-Suir, to Clonmel, to the Cahir House Hotel, up to Cashel, and right up to north Tipperary in Roscrea, Templemore and Nenagh. They are wonderful, hardworking, dedicated entrepreneurs who employ many people. The hotels were unceremoniously closed during Covid. The bigger supermarkets were allowed to stay open but the hotels were punished. Now, they are being given the message that at the end of next February the VAT will be increased again. Tens of thousands of people are employed in what is a €10 million industry. It is a vital industry. People in agriculture and rural Ireland have turned to the tourism industry in a desperate effort to make their places better and more receptive, and also to put bread and butter on the table. What has the Government done to them? It has kicked them in the teeth.

We know about the housing crisis. The housing income thresholds in Tipperary have not been reviewed for over a decade. In fact, it is 11 years since they were reviewed. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage stood where the Minister for Transport is now and told us in November that they were under review. A few counties were reviewed, but Tipperary was not. That is causing anguish for ordinary working families. They are being punished.

The Government claims to represent those people. Those families are over the thresholds that are ridiculously low. They are over the threshold for the housing assistance payment, HAP, but are also over the wealth thresholds that would allow them to get a loan. They cannot get loans from the council. That is terrible.

The 10% tax on concrete will affect everyone trying to build houses for themselves, builders, road makers and anything else that goes on. Most major projects are stopping anyway because there is no confidence in this Government. It does not know which way it is going or which way things are turning out.

Under the assistance scheme, first-time buyers are unable to buy a second-hand house or an old house that needs to be done up and repaired. Where is the sense in that?

I know my following suggestion will not happen although it should. The biggest owners of vacant properties are the county councils around the country. They are also the biggest polluters in our watercourses. Will the councils be made to pay the vacant property tax? They will not, but they should be. It would give them an incentive not to have this carry-on whereby houses are left idle. That is an anomaly. The budget means medicine for the little people, na daoine beaga. The Government is allowing the public service to expand, be unaccountable and to have many properties in dereliction. People are trying to do up all those places. I honestly believe the Government has lost touch. It is tired. It has a lack of energy and spirit to carry on. It is sending out a lethargic message to the public.

The Government created the reserve fund yesterday by slipping it in. What it did was totally unorthodox and unprecedented. I am not totally opposed to the rainy day fund but I am opposed to putting in €2 billion this year and €4 billion next year when we should be putting that money into projects to help our rural communities. We do not get a bob. The Government has plenty of money for the Luas, the DART and all that up here in the capital. It is pathetic.

Government representatives held press conferences today to explain what people will get as a result of the budget. It is giving with one hand but is already taking away. As I said last night, St. Peter and St. Paul are saints but I do not know where the saints are with this Government. This is the island of saints and scholars. The Government has destroyed the spirit of the people. It has applied punitive taxes. It is giving out tax credits instead of taxing the big power companies and the wind energy companies. There should be a windfall tax on those companies.

The Government has two boxes from the EU which it will not use. It has refused to use them in many areas. It has refused to apply for funding. It has not applied for different schemes while other countries have shown the way. Portugal and many other countries have reduced the VAT rate to 5%, 6% or 7%, while this Government is doing exactly the opposite and putting it up.

The embarrassing charades of the past three years have shamelessly siphoned wealth in one direction, that is, towards the globalists and their servants, and drained the men and women of Ireland. I mean that. The Government has drained opportunities from the children of Ireland and their futures. We have an enormous, globally influential diaspora. We could put a stop to this story if the Government would serve and encourage the people and allow them to live and work, to be healthy and happy. We should do that. It is embarrassing that we are here now with an insatiable and drastic desire to serve our globalist masters and not the public, which our Constitution dictates and which was the reason the men who fought for this country 100 years, whom we celebrate, did so. The Government wants to serve its global masters. They say jump and the Government asks, "How high?" We saw it during the lockdown. The big conglomerates made a fortune while small businesses were destroyed. The Government is wiping small businesses off the face of the earth. There are no supports at all for those businesses while there are supports for the bigger companies in paying their electricity bills. There is no help for small businesses. People on the road, hauliers and all those people badly need support.

3:30 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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It would be wrong of me to come in here and condemn the budget from start to finish. There were positive points in respect of the VAT rate, the availability of defibrillators, free schoolbooks for primary school students and the 0% VAT rate for newspapers. Those are positive steps in the right direction. There are, however, many weaknesses in this budget that need to be exposed. I have received a number of calls from builders today, including from one woman whose husband and son are building. They are devastated with what the Government has done by introducing the 10% tax on concrete products. It is an astonishing situation we find ourselves in that such a tax will be applied next year. People are trying to build homes at an already considerable cost. They will probably now have to renegotiate their mortgages. The State is going to have to pick up the tab and renegotiate new prices in respect of council housing that is being built. The extra 10% levies will apply all the way to concrete floors. It will apply to ready mix and concrete block products. It is a terrible infliction on decent, honest people who had nothing to do with the issues caused by pyrite.

I have many worries in respect of our health services, some of which might be ironed out as the day goes on. We have often heard that the devil is in the detail but I hope that is not the case here. I fought bravely for Parkinson's sufferers and neurologist nurses. I do not know if measures in that regard are going to be announced by the Minister for Health. It seems a lot of money is to be allocated to health but we do not know where it is going. We badly want some funds released to mental health services. I mentioned the situation in Bantry General Hospital to the Taoiseach earlier. The hospital has lost seven beds in its mental health unit. I hope there is a budget set aside to address that. Will money be put forward for the endoscopy and stroke units in the hospital? The Taoiseach and another Fianna Fáil Deputy keep singing and talking about that issue but there is not a block in the ground.

In respect of fuel and energy, many people misread the budget document. As it was printed, it seemed as if the Government was reducing the cost of diesel by 16 cents. People thought that would provide some relief for the mothers and fathers throughout the country who are struggling. Sadly, the devil was in the detail. When looked at in more detail, that is just a continuation of a relief that was given before. That is farcical. Carbon taxes are going up next week. The Government is going to try to offset that somehow but there will not be one brown cent for the people reliant on home heating oil or diesel or petrol cars. The Government has not put a price cap on the electricity companies. People are still paying hundreds of euro in standing charges.

There has been a drop in the transport budget. Areas from Dunmanway to Clonakilty, Drimoleague to Skibbereen, Ballineen to Goleen, Bantry and Gort have received no extra transport services in the two and a half years the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has been in government. He is supposed to have a super new dream of connecting Ireland. The Government has provided no extra transport service. That is not going down well in rural Ireland. We are paying for all the carbon tax. We have every right to kick up a fuss and ask why we do not have public transport. In all the time he has been in government, the Minister has not provided one extra service.

Relief has been given on the diesel for fishing throughout the world, where it is appreciated. The French and everybody else are giving some relief to fisherman but, sadly, we are not. I spoke last night about farmers, education and capitation grants.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank the Ministers for the positive aspects of the budget. We do not have to go through that, to be fair, but I thank them. However, what came over the Ministers to make them introduce a levy on concrete? This is supposed to the Government with the mantra of housing for all. What did it do? It put a 10% levy on concrete blocks when people are trying to fulfil their basic needs by putting a roof over their heads. A grant was allocated for farm buildings for the storage of slurry but then it was taken away by the increase in the cost of concrete. It is absolutely ridiculous. I honestly think that a team of men and women who spent a week in the horrors of drink would not come up with such a ridiculous proposal. I ask the Government to rescind that measure. It is unfair.

The Minister promised people on the road who have been paying up to €2.20 per litre for green diesel and petrol that he would do something for them in the budget. He has not done so. Green diesel is €1.30 per litre. Hauliers, farmers and people in industry are all suffering. All the prices for tenders that were put out for public works to build houses will need to be readjusted immediately. There are no Mother Teresas in that industry. The Government will have to pay extra money for those people to build houses.

The Government talks about the fuel allowance but still forgets the people in receipt of benefit payments, including those on illness benefits, jobseeker's benefit, maternity benefit, disability benefit and occupational injuries benefit.

All those people paid stamps to get that benefit payment and, as I highlighted previously, they will not qualify for fuel allowance. It is totally unfair.

3:40 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)
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I raised a number of issues regarding the budget during my speech yesterday. The budget had two key tasks; to cap and reduce energy prices and to target supports at those most in need. I pointed out that the Government did not fundamentally succeed in either task. While we welcome some of the initiatives, such as the once-off payment, the most straightforward, effective way to deal with soaring energy costs is to cap the energy companies and the units. The Government says this will only hand money over to the energy companies but if it brings in a windfall or emergency tax on those companies, it will get the money to put back in people's pockets. The Government is funding €600 in energy credits but that will go straight to the coffers of the energy companies, which means it is doing the same thing with that measure. I also raised the issue of welfare payments not being high enough. The roadmap for social inclusion committed to introduce benchmarking of the State pension by budget 2019. That would have meant a €40 increase by now, but the Government is giving a measly €12 on top of €5 last year and nothing for the previous two years. I also made some points about other issues.

I will go straight to the point I was at during yesterday's debate, which is the matter of the €500 tax rebate that I am sure will be welcomed by those squeezed to the limit in the private rental sector, even though many will not be able to benefit from it, but in dealing with the crisis of unaffordable, insecure housing it is meaningless. A sum of €500 equates to somewhere between a third to a quarter of the average monthly rent and without a rent freeze, which the Government has said it will not introduce, it means very little. The housing crisis has developed over decades as a consequence of what could be called a "special relationship" between the political establishment, developers and bankers and cannot be solved overnight. A solution is possible, however, and the sooner it is adopted as a policy, the sooner the crisis can be overcome. That policy means ending the reliance on the private sector and international investment funds, establishing a safe housing company with the ability to build 100,000 cost rental traditional council houses directly on State-owned lands already rezoned to build 100,000 units.

Where are the alarm bells going off in the political establishment regarding the huge official figures for homelessness of 10,568 people in emergency accommodation, which is up 30% on last year? There has been a staggering 47% rise in the number of homeless children in the past year, from 2,029 last July to 3,137 this July. That means nearly three children become homeless every single day. That is an absolute national disgrace. Unofficial figures from Simon Communities of Ireland indicate that almost 20,000 are couch-surfing and in cars.

The crisis in the public healthcare system will continue with hundreds of thousands on waiting lists for access to care, hundreds on trolleys in emergency departments, and mental health care services that are not fit for purpose, especially for our young people. I predicted the Sláintecare report introduced and accepted by the then Government would be filed away in a drawer in the Department of Health with a note, "not to be implemented", attached. Unfortunately, I have been proved correct. It has been taken up piecemeal. The basic requirement of recruitment and retention is crucial to our health service and we are not dealing with that basic issue. No matter what extra measures the Government brings in, they will not be implemented unless we have the staff to do it. That is the key thing.

It has been suggested that we need a change of Government. I do not disagree with that. Governments come and go. We need a radical transformation in how our economy and society functions, not just in Ireland but internationally. I was proud to be on last Saturday's march, along with 20,000 other people, as part of the cost-of-living crisis campaign. I sincerely hope it is the beginning of a new movement that will fight for such a transformation.

It is a very strange situation that the biggest giveaway budget in the history of the State will leave most people worse off. Those who have done best out of this budget are two working adults with children who will gain more than €2,000 due to income tax changes, one-off energy payments or child benefits, back-to-school reductions in crèche costs, free GP visits for under-18s and cuts to third-level fees, but with inflation, and energy cost increases in particular, even they will be worse off and those on the minimum wage, lower wages, the State pension or welfare will be worse off.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I too will pick up where I stopped yesterday, when I talked about a republic of conscience. It is incumbent on us to reflect on what services are essential in a republic. I do not expect to hold the attention of the Ministers of State because this has been sold as a fantastic giveaway budget. Indeed, one member of the "supreme court", a journalist, actually clapped for the Minister when he finished speaking yesterday, which was very unusual.

We want a critical analysis and not to come to the Chamber negatively. I looked to the commentators on the ground, including Mr. Michael Taft, Social Justice Ireland and many other organisations. I will consider Social Justice Ireland's statement in the short time I have. It used language it never used before. It stated that this budget "will see the rich-poor gap grow and the real value of the core social welfare rates fall. This is a disgraceful outcome". I do not agree with everything that Social Justice Ireland says. I have serious concerns about its endorsement of the carbon tax but I cannot fault its analysis and its use of the strong word, "disgraceful".

Social Justice Ireland goes on to look at housing in terms of "Vacant Ambition", which is a very good heading. It states that "According to preliminary estimates from Census 2022, there were 166,752 vacant homes on Census night". There were three vacant homes for every household on the list. In Galway city, I understand that homeless people turning up to access services are told those services are full and that they should find a couch, although maybe it is not being put quite like that. I quoted homeless figures of 10,568 yesterday. The Minister of State seems to be always present for this particular part of the debate. I recognise the bona fides of both Ministers of State who are in the Chamber. When they look at the figure of 10,568, at what number will they say it is worth looking at the Government's housing policy and saying that maybe it is not working? Are homeless people just going to be collateral damage? Will it be 20,000 people who are homeless before the Government will say, "Oh good Lord, we really should look at this"? What is the magic figure? What is the magic figure for health? There is a two-year waiting list to get triage for orthopaedic procedures, two more years, if you are lucky, to get on a list and, if you are very lucky, you will be sent to a private hospital in Kilkenny or some other hospital, depending on your definition of luck and so on. If we look at the figures for the National Treatment Purchase Fund, we find we put more money aside in the budget for that.

Of course, the budget in helping people to have warmer homes and food on their plates and implementing short-term measures for that is essential. I welcome that, but such measures have to be part of an overall sustainable plan that has to be transformative. We have no choice. These words have to mean something. When the Taoiseach talked his morning about a budget that is sensible, progressive and fair, quoted the Fiscal Advisory Council and mentioned the ESRI, I wonder what language we are using. What is fair about 10,500 people, and more than 3,000 children, homeless directly as a result of Government policy? What is progressive about that? What is progressive about paying money to back up the huge profits of the energy companies without bringing in a cap on prices and without nationalisation or, at least, a plan to take over energy companies because they are essential? Housing, health, energy, public health and public transport are essential for a civilised society.

At what point after 2019, when we declared a climate emergency, do we realise we cannot go on as usual? We cannot just give money to businesses. I am absolutely for small and medium enterprises that need support but they need support based on conditions that will lead to transformative change. If we are giving money in a non-targeted way to energy companies, those large consumers of energy, such as data centres and all the others, are getting public money. There is something seriously amiss in our mentality. We do the right things when we declare a climate emergency and give extra money to biodiversity, which I welcome, but overall we continue with the same vision of endless consumption.

We give a little hand up to those who are down but we do not recognise it is the system that is keeping them down. We give them a little bit to keep warm during the winter and we worry whether they will need a little bit more towards the middle of the winter but we will have no transformative action.

3:50 pm

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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Yesterday, I raised the issue of the chronic and worsening imbalance between the northern and western region and the rest of the country. I have been banging on about this for a long time. The statistics and figures show it. Europe has downgraded the region vis-à-visother European regions for the second time in three years. It has now gone from a region in transition to a lagging region. The statistics are there. I will not bore the Minister of State by quoting them to him. I have done that many times. I had hoped there would have been something in yesterday's budget or some statement from either of the Ministers to give me a bit of hope this Government would do something to reverse the ever-widening gap, which is a fact.

There is something that can still be done. I am not sure whether the decision has been taken but, if we could maintain the 9% rate of VAT for the tourism and hospitality sector, it would have a national impact, which would be a good thing, but, crucially, it would have a much greater impact in the northern and western region and in the Border regions. It would be very significant. There are many reasons for this. Tourism and hospitality are very important sectors in that region. We do not have the same number of high-value jobs as other parts of the country. Our indigenous tourism and hospitality sector is very valuable not just for our larger towns like Sligo and Carrick-on-Shannon but for many smaller towns like Drumshanbo, Boyle, Tubbercurry, Enniscrone, Manorhamilton and Ballyshannon and for many small villages. I will not name them because there are so many villages where the local hotel, guesthouse, restaurant or café plays a pivotal role in supporting local jobs and in ensuring local produce is served while also being a social space for both locals and tourists. Given that tourism and hospitality play such a pivotal role in the economic and social fabric of the northern and western region, any increase in the VAT rate will have an especially detrimental impact on the indigenous economy and will, in fact, accelerate the growing regional disparities. This is something the Government can do within this budget. As I have said, it would have a national impact but it will have a greater impact in the Border regions.

The Ministers of State will be aware, as we are, that there is a more immediate issue, that of the drop in the value of sterling compared with the euro. This will impact nationally but will hit even harder in the Border regions. How can hotels, restaurants, cafés and guesthouses remain competitive when their counterparts across the Border benefit from sterling being weaker? The strength of the euro is already a great challenge but, on top of that, if the VAT rate is increased at the end of February, many businesses will be unable to compete. The truth is Irish people will vote with their feet and travel north. Tourists will be coming in but, with a strong euro and a strong dollar, where will they travel? They will travel to where they get the best value in hospitality. Those businesses will be north of the Border. No matter how the businesses south of the Border try to remain competitive, they will not be able to. Even in that, I am not factoring in the significant jump in energy prices.

What we could unfortunately see, although I hope we do not, is a domino effect taking hold. Tourism businesses in the northern and western region have to absorb significantly higher costs, as do all other businesses, but they also have to compete with a sector in Northern Ireland that is much more competitive because of sterling being weak. If we pile on a 50% increase in the VAT rate on top of that, some businesses will just not be able to take the escalating costs. I am a making strong case for the Government maintaining a 9% VAT rate for hospitality and tourism now and for at least the next 12 to 18 months. It is perhaps not the most popular thing to say but I have to look at the area and region I represent and that would make a significant difference. It will matter nationally and that is good but it would be a crucial intervention in the Border counties.

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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As all leaders' speeches have now concluded, we will now suspend the sitting for one hour.

Cuireadh an Dáil ar fionraí ar 3.55 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 4.55 p.m.

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

4:00 pm

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Yesterday we announced a health budget of €23.4 billion for 2023. This represents an additional €1.1 billion in current expenditure and €117 million in capital expenditure. It includes over €250 million for new measures, bringing the core health funding to over €22.5 billion. It includes a once-off allocation of €757 million to deal with Covid-19 and its ongoing impact and the damage it has done to public health and our healthcare system. This investment shows the Government is fully committed to delivering on the vision of universal healthcare – a public healthcare system that provides everyone with affordable and high-quality care when they need it.

My focus in budget 2023, as it has been since I was appointed Minister for Health, is on improving affordability for patients, improving access to services and extending and improving services for patients. There is no doubt but that we are facing uncertain times this winter. As part of the wider Government plan to tackle cost-of-living pressures, I am introducing measures to improve the affordability of healthcare. I am happy to announce that budget 2023 has provided an extensive package in additional funding for new measures, as well as significant money for once-off measures. This funding will allow us to make GP care free for hundreds of thousands of extra people who are on, or below, the median income. It is a landmark move and will ensure more than half the population will have free access to GP care. We are abolishing inpatient charges for hospitals completely from April 2023. Charges for children have already been abolished in the past few weeks. Soon, adults will no longer face these charges, which can amount to €800 a year. I could not, as Minister for Health, stand over having debt collectors pursue patients for money that was technically owed for vital healthcare they received in our public hospitals. I would like to acknowledge the many groups, including the Irish Cancer Society in particular, that campaigned so hard and so well on this issue. We listened carefully and we have acted.

Another measure that is being introduced in this budget is the extension of free contraception scheme to cover women from 16 to 30 years of age. Women’s healthcare, as Deputies know, has been a priority for me, the Ministers of State and this Government since it came into office. We launched the first ever women’s healthcare plan earlier this year. Now, we are continuing to fund additional services into next year. We will deliver a human papillomavirus, HPV, catch-up programme to girls and boys at school and to women aged up to 25. The catch-up programme is due to commence before the end of this year. As I said some months ago, I am determined that women and couples can access IVF in our public health service. This will take time to phase in. I have secured funding of €10 million to support access to IVF in budget 2023. However, I want to be clear that this is just the beginning. My goal is to have a publicly-funded system that is accessible to all who need to avail of IVF services.

On top of these measures, I am also pleased to deliver, along with the Ministers of State, Deputies Butler, Feighan and Rabbitte, extra one-off funding for the coming winter of €110 million to support community-based voluntary organisations. They are an essential pillar in the provision of health services across the country. This fund is being made available in recognition of the challenges faced by the sector in delivering and maintaining health and social care services against a backdrop of increased inflationary pressures. A detailed plan to disburse these funds is being finalised.

It is clear that some patients - too many patients - face unacceptable delays in accessing healthcare. For next year, I have secured overall funding of €443 million specifically targeted at tackling waiting lists and getting people the care they need when they need it. It includes recurrent funding for the HSE, as well as funding for the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF.

It includes additional funding for the provision of general practitioner diagnostics, which is one of the great successes in our move towards integrated and universal healthcare. Significant resources are also being allocated to the continued implementation of the national clinical strategies, which have received unprecedented levels of funding in recent years. We are also funding a number of new strategies for the first time, which we are delighted to do. These include strategies relating to stroke, bariatrics and obesity, national genetics and genomics, diabetes and neurorehabilitation.

Budget 2023 funds our ongoing Covid response. More than that, it is also about making healthcare affordable for people. It is about improving access to care for patients, building, extending and improving services, and it is about building capacity. Over the past two years, this Government has delivered record increases in hospital bed capacity, critical care capacity, and the number of healthcare staff working across our health services. We have hired more than 15,000 staff since the start of 2020. This includes 4,500 nurses and midwives, 2,300 health and social care professionals and 1,400 doctors. 2020 and 2021 have seen the biggest staff increases since the HSE was established. We have made real progress in addressing a long-standing deficit in critical care capacity and other areas, including the workforce. In 2020 we had 255 critical care beds. We are on track to have 336 by the end of this year and we will move forward quickly. We are delivering. We have a clear plan. Budget 2023 reaffirms this Government’s absolute commitment to universal healthcare.

4:05 pm

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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The total allocation for mental health services in 2023 is more than €1.2 billion, which is another record budget for mental health. It will underpin implementation of the Sharing the Vision and Connecting for Life strategies. It delivers almost €72.8 million in additional funding for next year, comprising €14 million for new developments, €43.8 million for existing services, a further €10 million in once-off funding for minor capital works and a further €5 million for once-off funding supports. The budget will support my continued focus on youth mental health. Following discussions with the HSE and Mr. Paul Reid to progress mental health priorities, as is in the programme for Government, I am pleased to say that we have agreed a new post. It is for a youth mental health lead at assistant national director grade within the HSE. Funding for this post is included in this year's budget and recruitment will commence as soon as possible. We will continue to progress the full implementation of the Maskey report on child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, in conjunction with the current review which the Mental Health Commission is undertaking and the HSE audits of CAMHS.

Some €750,000 has been allocated to commence a new initiative by funding counselling psychology training places in 2023. There is funding for the new community access support team, which is a partnership approach between HSE mid-west mental health services and An Garda Síochána. Additional funding for the Traveller health plan and implementation of the mental health actions of the plan has been secured.

I am pleased to announce that I have secured an additional €180 million of funding for services for older people for winter 2022 and into 2023. Long-term residential care will be supported through €47 million of additional funding for the nursing homes support scheme to maintain services and manage inflationary increases. Today, I am delighted to announce that the temporary assistance payment scheme for nursing homes will be extended to the end of the year and refocused on addressing this year's inflationary pressures related to energy and heating. Details are being finalised and these will be communicated in the coming days.

We will allocate €5.2 million to roll out the healthy age friendly homes initiative. This will enable older people to avoid early admission to residential care by remaining in their own homes or right-sizing.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I am delighted to announce €23.5m in total investment for public health, well-being and the national drugs strategy in budget 2023.

Addressing the challenge of obesity is a priority for this Government and a priority action under Healthy Ireland, our national framework for improving the health and well-being of our nation, as evidenced by the publication of the national obesity policy and action plan in 2016. Additional funding has been secured to fund increased clinical obesity services in budget 2023. To support sexual health, €600,000 is being allocated to expand and further support the online testing service for sexually transmitted infections, STIs, and to support the national condom distribution service. Supports for sexual health also include additional funding for contraception, for both men and for women. The free contraception scheme for 17 to 25-year-old women, as mentioned by the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, yesterday, has been funded to expand the age range to those aged 16 to 30 during 2023. Funding for sexual health also includes supports for the national condom distribution service, which, in line with increased availability of free prescription contraception for women, will be made more widely available through GP surgeries and family planning clinics.

Budget 2023 provides additional supports of €750,000 for social prescribing, for which supports now total €950,000. In budget 2023, I secured €10.5 million in additional recurring funding for the national drugs strategy and inclusion health. Of this, €7 million is for new developments, including €4 million for the expansion of community and residential addiction services under the national drugs strategy and €3 million to improve access to healthcare services for socially excluded groups. In addition, I have provided €3.5 million for community and voluntary providers to maintain the existing level of drug and alcohol and inclusion health services. This is the first allocation to meet the costs of providing existing levels of services in recent years. The additional funding for the national drugs strategy reflects the six strategic priorities identified for the remaining four years of the strategy, 2022 to 2025. It will strengthen the health-led approach to drug and alcohol use, through reducing the harms for individuals, families and communities, and promoting rehabilitation and recovery.

Within the €4 million envelope, I have allocated €900,000 to ensure the sustainability and increase the capacity of tier 4 residential services. This funding will allow for commissioning of up to 30 new treatment episodes. Further, I am providing €850,000 to expand integrated care pathways for high-risk drug and alcohol users, including gender-specific services. This funding will establish new residential addiction treatment services for women in Meath and Wicklow and provide an integrated community alcohol service in Mayo. I am allocating an additional €1 million to strengthen the monitoring of emerging drug trends.

Photo of Joe O'BrienJoe O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Green Party)
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As Minister of State with responsibility for social inclusion in the Department of Social Protection, I welcome the findings of the budget 2023 expenditure report, which sets out how the measures taken in this year's budget have prioritised protecting the most vulnerable members of our society against the rising cost of living. This was published as part of the budget day documentation. The report notes that the first three income deciles, that is, those people who have the lowest incomes in the State, will proportionally benefit the most from the package of measures introduced under the budget. Increases in social welfare measures play a particularly important role for people in the lower income deciles.

Research that I commissioned from the ESRI earlier this year on the most effective ways to reduce poverty found that measures such as weekly rate increases, fuel allowance, the improvement to the working family payment thresholds that we saw yesterday and qualified child increases are effective mechanisms for reducing poverty.

As part of budget 2023, I am pleased to have secured funding to develop and implement a new scheme to tackle the issue of food poverty. This programme will further progress the work of the food poverty working group, which I established last year and comprises officials from a range of Departments, along with representatives from the community and voluntary sector. A procurement process will be run for the programme, which will be informed by research commissioned by the working group. The research is currently under way and is scheduled to be reported at the end of the year. It will also be informed by a report completed by my Department earlier this year on the range of initiatives and activities of various Departments on preventing and addressing food poverty.

Regarding my role in the Department of Rural and Community Development, I wish to reassure the community and voluntary sector that we are in the process of developing a scheme to help community and voluntary organisations to cushion the impact of the increased energy bills this winter. There will be more news on that in the coming weeks. Yesterday also saw an increase in the budget for the community services programme, which will allow us to introduce the restructured programme next year, with the new and fairer funding model.

Many Deputies will be aware of the new community centre investment fund.

There will be news about that in the third quarter this year, which is quite soon. It has been hugely oversubscribed but I am glad to say that yesterday we secured an increase in the budget for that. There is €20 million in funding for the community centre investment fund, to provide funding for upgrade and improvements to existing centres and to allow a new funding stream to support new centres where they are needed.

We have a national volunteering policy that is being delivered. We are delivering it with our partners in the community and voluntary sector across the country. Because we are investing in it we have a funded volunteer centre in every county, with funded staff. This budget will see the extraordinary capacity and work of our volunteer centres grow with an extra €1 million invested yesterday.

4:15 pm

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on budget 2023, which was a package of €11 billion. The core budget of 2023 of €6.9 billion was made up of €5.8 billion in expenditure measures, much of which we have been hearing about in the past few moments, and €1.1 billion in tax measures. Given the urgency of the challenge that we face, €4.1 billion of the overall package will be once-off measures to help people this year. The Government is not borrowing any money to fund this budget. These new measures are only possible due to the strong growth and tax receipts experienced in our economy, and our sound management of the economy since this Government was formed. Budget 2023's strategy puts people and their quality of life first.

I will now give an indication of some of the key measures we have put in place. There will be a broad range of measures to support households on low and middle incomes. The Government is providing for electricity credits for all households totalling €600, to be paid in three instalments of €200 each. The first payment will be made in November and a further two instalments in the new year. A €400 lump sum payment to all households receiving the fuel allowance will be paid in November. There will be across-the-board welfare increases in weekly payments of €12 from January.

A double week once-off payment for social welfare recipients will be given before Christmas and there will be a once-off payment before Christmas of €200 to the recipients of the living alone allowance. For example, older people living on their own will get an additional €2,375 from a combination of the above measures between now and the end of next year as a result of yesterday's announcement.

There will be a reduction of up to 25% in the weekly fees for childcare costs. This will put €175 a month, or €2,000 per year back into the pockets of parents next year. In November we will also make a double child benefit payment, which is worth €140 per child, in addition to the normal monthly payment.

To support low-income households, we are providing an additional lump sum payment of €500 to those in receipt of the working family payment, formerly known as family income supplement. This will take place in November.

Budget 2023 will see funding for free school books for all pupils of primary school from September of next year. This will reduce the back-to-school costs for parents nationwide.

There is also large income tax package in the budget which means married couples each on €30,000 would save a combined total of €532 next year.

Renters will be able to avail of two tax credits in 2023. The new rent tax credit, valued at €500 per year, is for every person renting. The measure is aimed at those who do not get any other housing supports, and will apply in 2023 and subsequent years. The Government is providing that it can also be claimed in respect of rent paid in 2022.

The Government has prioritised education. There will be a reduction in the staffing schedules by one point in all primary schools, which will bring it to the lowest level in our history. This will necessitate the employment of 370 additional new teachers, which is being funded in this budget. Budget 2023 will also deliver 686 special education teachers and an additional 1,994 special needs assistants, SNAs coming on stream in 2023. For the first time ever, we will have more than 19,000 teachers working in the area of special education and 20,000 special education needs assistants.

To support students and their families there will be a once-off reduction in the student contribution of €1,000 for eligible students in the 2022-23 educational year, and a once-off double of monthly payment for those in receipt of the SUSI maintenance grant. There will also be a €1,000 increase in the postgraduate tuition fee contribution grant.

The Government is extending the 20% public transport fare reduction and the youth travel card discount of 50% to all operators in 2023. There are additional payments of €500 to carers. The Government is introducing a temporary business energy support scheme to assist businesses with their energy costs over the coming months. If there is an increase in the average unit price of more than 50%, the business will be able access this scheme. The support will be calculated on the basis of 40% of the amount of the increase in the bill amount, based on the unit cost. The details will be in the Finance Bill.

We will also introduce a windfall gains tax here in Ireland, if the European Union does not do so. I am pleased to see that we have reduced or eliminated the VAT on defibrillators and newspapers. Overall, this cost-of-living budget provides much needed support in the final months of this year for all citizens in Ireland, and into next year as well.

Debate adjourned.