Dáil debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

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


Debate resumed on the following Financial Resolution:

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

4:15 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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Before this budget and for many years now, we have had a crisis in healthcare. Year in and year out, winter after winter, the health service is in crisis management mode. After this budget the health service will, unfortunately, still be in crisis. Waiting lists will continue to spiral out of control. There are now more than 910,000 people on hospital waiting lists and a backlog of more than 225,000 people waiting for a diagnostic scan. Children with disabilities cannot get access to vital therapies. People with mental health challenges are abandoned to struggle in silence. Home help hours cannot be filled, leaving older people unsupported and uncared for. Almost 1,000 consultant posts are either vacant or filled on temporary contracts. Even private GP services are stretched thin. Out-of-hours services are collapsing, which is heaping more pressure on overcrowded emergency departments where the average wait is now over half a day. Over the course of the past two years, we have seen the dental treatment service scheme collapse, with dentists leaving at a rate of knots.

More than five years on from publication of the Sláintecare report, the Government has yet to agree a new public only consultant contract, to resolve long-standing disputes with workers from junior doctors to medical scientists or to put in the capacity to create an equitable universal health service. This budget, unfortunately, will be cold comfort for the 100,000 children languishing on hospital waiting lists. There are 20,000 children with disabilities who are still waiting for initial contact with a disability network team, never mind the follow-up therapies and interventions. I have travelled the State over the past number of months and have met many parents of children with disabilities. It is one of the most heartbreaking things have to do, to listen to parents of children with disabilities talk about the love they have for their child and how they are doing everything they can to fight the system and to battle the system. Yet, their children go without the supports and services they need. We have so many posts funded and yet we cannot build them. As I said to the head of the HSE today at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health, I do not see a plan that is going to solve those problems and I do not see anything of substance in the budget from the Minister of State, apart from more outsourcing.

Children with scoliosis and spina bifida are continuously being told that they are a priority and that they would get their surgeries, but time and again they are let down and failed by a creaking health service. Additional funding was made available last year to carry out more surgeries for children with spina bifida and scoliosis, and I welcome that. We saw improvements in the wait times at Cappagh hospital. We saw, however, a regression of wait times in the other two children's hospitals. I do not believe that this is acceptable and I do not believe there is anything in this budget that will tackle this problem.

This year's budget is yet more proof that the Government does not have a plan for the health service. The Government does not have a real plan for waiting lists, for free GP care, or for removing private healthcare from public hospitals. In fact, the Government has not even started that process, which is a key part of Sláintecare. It is clear that the Government does not have a plan to address the major workforce challenges facing the health service to train, recruit and retain enough healthcare workers to deliver additional capacity and to make real change.

This year my party leader was in Australia, Canada, and the United States and met many healthcare workers.

Some leave because they want to develop skills. They might want to leave for a couple of years and some will come home. Many, however, said they left because of our creaking health service, because they did not feel valued and because of a range of recruitment and retention issues where promises had been made time and again by successive Ministers for Health that had not been delivered. We should be moving heaven and Earth to get as many of those people as possible back working in our public system and delivering the health services people need. That will require a step change in workforce planning that I do not see from the Minister or his Government.

This budget was an opportunity for a different approach but it has been squandered. Despite the best will and talent in the health service, it is in perpetual crisis because of the severe lack of capacity. Still the Government has not included a single red cent for additional acute inpatient hospital beds next year. Beds which were funded in previous budgets will be delivered but there is no new funding for new beds in any of the measures that I can see. Instead, despite the big promises and big announcement the budget represents more of the same: a continuation of outsourcing and crisis management. The amount of money that the Government is spending on outsourcing through the National Treatment Purchase Fund and outsourcing diagnostic capacity is staggering compared with the €250 million of new measures contained in this budget which do not go anywhere near enough to what is required to deal with the crisis in our hospitals. Less than one-tenth of 1% of an increase in acute services, or €4 million, that is the increase in new measures in the budget. There are people on hospital trolleys and languishing on waiting lists. The Minister only needs to read his own budget. I have. It is €4 million in additional new measures in acute services at a time when we have record numbers of people on hospital trolleys. For me, that is unacceptable.

Making big promises and throwing out big numbers is not a plan or budget. Two years ago the Minister announced 1,100 additional beds. Some of those are still not delivered. Last year he announced 10,000 staff and only half were delivered. Now he has announced 340,000 more people will get access to free GP care. I welcome that but there is no plan on how to deliver it. The Minister has not put the capacity in and without that, it will fall flat on its face.

4:25 pm

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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There have been more smoke and mirrors tactics from the Minister in the mental health budget this year. I listened intently yesterday as his colleagues announced an increase of €57.8 million in mental health spending overall but of that, only €14 million is for additional funding for new measures. A total of €43 million is for existing levels of services. That is basically standing-still money. After the €57.8 million figure was read in the Dáil, the Minister tweeted that €72.8 million was actually allocated and he doubled down on that again in his contribution to the House. The €15 million that the Minister miraculously found down the back of a sofa somewhere has been allocated for 2022, not 2023. He has attempted to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Stakeholders who might have been singing the Minister's praise yesterday are already starting to see through this. Why was the €72.8 million figure not included in yesterday's budget book?

I am always very mindful of people watching who may be experiencing mental health difficulties. The last thing that they want to see is people like ourselves arguing the toss over budgets. They want and deserve to see solutions. Sinn Féin in government would have delivered over €81 million in real additional measures compared with the €14 million the Minister announced. We are not doing the sow's ear trick. In fact we are more like Ronseal: we do exactly what it says on the tin.

If I was Minister with responsibility for mental health I would have introduced measures including the expansion of CAMHS to young adults and an inpatient perinatal mother and baby mental health unit, a move to a 24-7 emergency mental health system and investment into early intervention for psychosis and for eating disorders. I welcome the announcement that the Minister will appoint a youth mental health lead because, by God, it is needed. The Maskey report into south Kerry has highlighted the abject failure in children's mental health services. Over 4,000 children are waiting for an appointment with CAMHS of whom 400 have been waiting for more than a year. Thousands of children have been refused treatment with CAMHS. Some 1,200 children arrived at emergency departments seeking mental health supports. There are 11,000 children waiting on primary care psychology service, of whom 4,000 have been waiting over a year. Things have just got worse under this Government.

I also welcome the new funding the Minister announced for trainee counsellor psychologists. That is something we have been calling for. Can he guarantee that when these trainees are qualified, they will be hired by the HSE? In the past five years, the HSE has spent over €38 million on salaries and fees for trainee clinical psychologists but did not hire one. I could go on but I am running out of speaking time. The Government is running out of time too but children simply do not have the time.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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Only 0.4% of the Government spending announced yesterday will go towards addiction. It is an insult to those working on the front line, to those in our community who are saving lives and families every single day. Sinn Féin's addiction and recovery budget was ten times that of the Minister. It was a €45 million suite of measures that would not have fixed all the problems but would have made a real difference. The Minister delivered a weak half-hearted, unambitious €4 million.

A survey by Merchants Quay Ireland found that six in ten Irish adults have direct experience of addiction either through family members, friends or themselves. The Minister has failed to deliver for every single one of those people in the budget that was announced yesterday. We would have restored power to the community sector. Drug and alcohol task forces are still operating with 11% less funding than they had 11 years ago. The Minister did not add one red cent to those this year. How can the Government stand over that budget? With €11 billion announced yesterday, what has it delivered for the addiction services? It is too little. It is so disrespectful to those in addiction, those in recovery and those who are trying to support them.

We are faced with a Minister who did not go to bat for the vulnerable people he is supposed to represent. People, families and communities deserve better. They deserve a Minister who understands, listens and acts. They deserve a Minister and a Government that care. The budget announced yesterday is not that.

I listened to the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming speaking earlier. How is it possible that a person who earns over €100,000 a year will be four times better off than people who earn €36,000 or less? The facts are clear. The people have said it today and not just Sinn Féin or the Opposition. ALONE, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and all the other groups have said that this budget has not delivered for ordinary people. It has not delivered for health or for housing, for pensioners or for students. It must be unbelievable for a Government to have €11 billion to spend and to make a bags of the budget. The people will not forget it.

Photo of Paul DonnellyPaul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
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Budget 2023 is reminiscent of previous budgets brought forward by the present Government. It just does not go far enough for those who really need it. Time and again we are reminded that the community and voluntary sector must be recognised and nurtured. The buzzword I have heard over the past 24 hours is that we are all valued. However, many in the community and voluntary sector are feeling very far from valued. The cost of living and energy continue to rise and why? It is because the Government has refused to reduce electricity prices and cap them at pre-crisis levels, something that Sinn Féin would do in government.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party have left workers, families and the community and voluntary sector exposed to further price hikes. While I welcome any extra funding for the sector, the measures introduced yesterday are simply not enough. For already-stretched communities, this funding is welcome but there is great concern that there will not be enough money to shield them from the rising cost of energy. Every day, I deal with different sections of the community. There is genuine fear within projects that the day will come when they will have to switch off the lights and close the doors, whether it is with early days or short weeks. One-off payments are no substitute for the certainty that a price cap would bring. We have had debates in this House on the implementation of a living wage for all. The €3.5 million given yesterday to the community services programme will go nowhere near bridging the pay gap that projects must fund to pay their staff the minimum wage, let alone go anywhere near to achieving the living wage.

The details still need to be explored, but, on the face of it, the small increase will only put further pressure on the community service projects to raise the difference between what is paid by the Department and what is the new minimum wage while at the same time trying to deal with the increased living costs.

Community centres are hubs in our communities. They facilitate many organisations, groups and clubs. They also facilitate politicians in holding clinics. We know well the effects the Covid pandemic had on these centres and the lack of income during that time. Many centres can only dream of retrofitting them to bring them up to the standards required to help them to reduce their energy bills. The additional funding to the community centre investment fund would need to increase by at least €5 million as called for by Sinn Féin, the community sector and the Wheel.

While the headline figures may be an easy sell, the small print shows that the community and voluntary sector is again being undervalued by the Government. We need to remember that this sector has not recovered from the savage austerity cuts that it experienced over the last ten years. It has not got that money back. The workers have not got the money back and the community projects themselves have not got the money back.

4:35 pm

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Ag tosú le cúrsaí tithíochta, leanfar leis an infheistíocht is airde riamh in 2023 le breis agus €4.5 billiún i gcomhair tithíochta. Is í tithíocht an príomhcheist in Éirinn inniu agus tuigeann an Rialtas é sin. Ní mór dúinn feabhsú a dhéanamh ar mhaithe lenár ndaoine agus táimid in ann é sin a dhéanamh. Cinnteoidh an buiséad seo gur féidir linn leanúint ar aghaidh ag tógáil ar an dul chun cinn atá déanta cheana féin i dTithíocht do Chách.

Too many of our people are struggling to buy their own home, pay the rent or secure a roof over their head. This budget is a major step forward to tackle these problems head on. It marks an historic €4.5 billion capital investment to underpin our unprecedented Housing for All plan and deliver the largest State homebuilding programme ever, with 9,100 direct-build social homes and 5,500 affordable homes envisaged for 2023. People owning their own homes is good for families and good for communities. Our Housing for All plan puts home ownership back at the heart of Irish life and back in the reach of our young people. To support this, budget 2023 funds a comprehensive €900 million homeownership package to directly support over 15,000 households to buy their own homes next year. That includes a 30,000 help-to-buy scheme which is extended to 2024. The €50,000 vacant and derelict property grant has been extended to rural areas and cities. There is funding of €100 million for the game-changer first home scheme and €90 million for the affordable housing fund.

Rents are simply too high, and not enough homes are available. Boosting supply is the key to addressing this but we also need to help renters now. Housing for All and budget 2023 do both. There is a €1.2 billion direct renter support package to help 500,000 renters. That includes the new tax credit of €500 per renter. That will be payable in early 2023 and backdated to 2022, meaning €1,000 per individual renter in 2023. We will continue to support over 70,000 households in direct rent-support payments via the housing assistance payment, HAP and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. We will further expand the State-backed affordable cost-rental schemes which have already taken root in our country.

In order to address the scale of the housing challenge as speedily as possible, we need to make the most of existing buildings. Budget 2023 contains €209 million for a specific set of measures to help address vacancy and dereliction. The budget also penalises vacancy and underuse of land with an unprecedented set of taxes. It introduces a new vacant home tax with a trebling of the local property tax, LPT, for empty homes in order to tackle underused homes. It continues to roll out the first-ever residential zoned land tax to penalise land hoarding.

Housing for All is fully funded. It is a multi-annual plan with homeownership delivery at its heart in contrast to the plan put forward by the main Opposition party which is riddled with enormous black holes. The Sinn Féin alternative budget commits to delivering an additional 2,900 new social homes by 2023 above Government targets. However, its cost per unit makes no allowance for inflation or supply chain issues. It based its cost directly on housing delivery in 2021. It is not credible for anyone to claim that they can deliver more units quicker with less money despite inflation. Deputy Ó Broin knows this but he simply stumbled over that truth before picking himself up and carrying on as if nothing happened.

In addition, there is another gaping €300 million black hole at the heart of Sinn Féin's new tax credit proposal. With more than 400,000 renters eligible, the Sinn Féin proposal would cost €600 million, yet it has only allowed for €300 million. Sinn Féin must publish its detailed costings and be honest with renters. We are doing something to help that is real. Sinn Féin needs to publish the costings and fess up to the fact that it is missing €300 million

The one thing we are clear about regarding Sinn Féin's alternative budget is that it is against home ownership. Further proof of that is that it would scrap the help-to-buy scheme which has helped 32,000 households to buy and own their own homes. It proposes to scrap the first home scheme which allows the State to step in and help with equity for the homebuyer with hundreds of homes already being delivered through that. Inexplicably it would scrap the croí connaithe scheme grants of up to €50,000. Therefore, we know what Sinn Féin is against, which is clearly home ownership, and it needs to be honest with its figures.

Chun críochnú, cabhróidh an cháinaisnéis seo le daoine a íocann cíos, le daoine atá ag iarraidh teach ar phraghas réasúnta a cheannach agus le daoine atá ag fanacht ar theach sóisialta ón gcomhairle áitiúil. Tógfaimid níos mó tithíochta sóisialta ná mar a tógadh riamh in Éirinn. Cabhróidh an cháinaisnéis seo le daoine nach bhfuil teach acu a chor ar bith. Tá an plean Tithíochta do Chách ag obair. Tríd an gcáinaisnéis seo, tógfaimid ar an dul chun cinn tá déanta agus cuirfimid luas leis an dea-obair an bhliain seo chugainn. We have a targeted plan which is fully funded and supported by the budget.

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I am honoured today to announce programme funding of €147.5 million for the heritage sector for 2023, plus €7.5 million through the share island fund, giving a total of €155 million. This figure represents a doubling of the 2020 allocation, with overall capital funding increased by more than 80% and current funding increased by 75%. Such significant investment speaks strongly and eloquently to the commitment of the Government, including the Minister and me, to the built and natural heritage sector.

While maintaining that trajectory of growth in funding for heritage programmes and agencies, we have also ensured that the operational budgets of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, the National Monuments Service, the Heritage Council and Waterways Ireland have also been considerably enhanced.

Following the commitment in the programme for Government and the Government decision earlier on this year, I have delivered on the funding committed to the strategic action plan for the renewal of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Its core capital budget has been increased by over 45%, the current programme budget has been increased by 20%, and its operating budget by a further 20%. Coupled with the EU funding secured by the organisation and additional funding for the expansion of the local authority biodiversity officers programme through the Heritage Council, combined funding for nature for 2023 is more than €90 million.

The built heritage arena has also benefited greatly from these increases and I am delighted to announce significant increases in capital support schemes for communities, custodians of heritage properties and also for Waterways Ireland and the Irish Heritage Trust.

Overall, the funding increase made available to heritage today will benefit six national parks and 74 nature reserves, enable the continuation of NPWS reform and renewal, provide for significant investment in the conservation and restoration of our precious habitats and species, and just as importantly, in the rangers and conservation staff who drive the organisation forward. It will allow for the continued extension of the biodiversity officers network, progress the completion of the network of heritage officers, further support the national biodiversity data centre, progress the extension of the Ulster Canal with shared island support, and benefit over 1,500 built heritage and national monuments projects. This funding will touch every community in the country, and will no doubt be deeply appreciated by the 14 million users of our national parks, nature reserves, waterways and national monuments sites.

I will now deal with the other element of my brief, electoral reform. I am delighted to have delivered its legislative elements, with the Electoral Reform Act having been enacted in July. I am determined to further progress and implement those reforms in the course of the coming year.

This will include the establishment of an independent electoral commission, to be called an coimisiún toghcháin, which will bring about a more cohesive and efficient administration of electoral functions in Ireland. It is now in the process of being stood up and its formal establishment will happen in the coming months. I am delighted to provide an coimisiún with significant funding of €5.7 million for the coming year.

It will also include the modernisation of the electoral registration process, and the implementation of a new, simplified and more accessible system. I am pleased to be providing €2.77 million for this work, which will also support local authorities to engage with their communities to improve data quality in respect of the register.

I acknowledge the tremendous work of officials in the heritage and franchise sections of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I thank the many advocates for biodiversity, heritage and electoral reform here in the Dáil and also in the Seanad, not least the Minister, my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, and the Taoiseach. By working together collaboratively, this Government is making real, transformative change in these areas, and that is something we can all be proud of.

4:45 pm

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on budget 2023, which is a significant package with an €11 billion intervention to try to help families, support pensioners who are worried about heating their homes, support families with the weekly shop and, critically, keep vulnerable jobs so we have a record level of employment in the economy.

I will move on to areas that are my responsibility. The housing adaptation grants were significantly increased to try and support people to live in their homes independently, especially people with disabilities. We have a significant programme of work that will continue in 2023.

The sum of €27 million has been provided to support the Traveller community, as well as €20 million in increased capital funding, which is an 11% increase. During my tenure, all the Department’s capital funding has been spent, working in conjunction with the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan. It is very important that we try to keep up the momentum that we developed through Covid-19 to support the community and implement the expert review, which we are doing.

We have some €333 million in the Local Government Fund, an increase of €108 million. We have included a number of support mechanisms to stand by local authorities as financial emergency measures in the public interest have been unwound and a number of national pay agreements proceed. We want to support them in realising the funding and ensure they will not fall short in the delivery of services. Right throughout the pandemic, local authorities operated the community call with 48 hours’ notice and provided more than 1,000 services to citizens. Incredible work was done on the ground. We are ready to support local authorities. We also have a €60 million fund for other supports that will happen during the year. I am aware that 2023 will be a very challenging year for the sector and we need to have a resource base to stand by it.

I chair the planning and advisory forum, which is reforming the planning and development legislation and ensuring that it is stress-tested and fit for purpose. There is a significant increase in funding across the planning headlines, with 22% for An Bord Pleanála, to continue the programme of reform and to ensure that it is fit to deliver the €165 billion of public infrastructure and capital funding with which the Government is going to transform communities in the next decade.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Well said.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister's press conference yesterday to announce the detail of his budget was a very apt metaphor for his term of office. Just as he started to make overinflated claims about his success, the alarm bells started to ring and he, his fellow Ministers, departmental staff and the assembled media had to be evicted. What that tells us of course is the gap between the Minister's claims and delivery on the ground is growing ever wider.

With the greatest of respect to the Minister, it takes a certain brass neck to claim that his plan is working when house prices and rents continue to rise and homelessness is at historic levels and set to rise further, and social and affordable housing targets are being missed for the third year in a row. One of the first things we need to hear from the Minister at some point is how much of this year's budget he will not spend. We know there is a €240 million carryover from capital spending from last year to this year, but we are only allowed to carry over 10%, so what is the total underspend that the Minister was not able to deliver this year on top of a similar failure last year?

The Minister likes to hide behind Covid, Ukraine, inflation and supply issues, but the private sector has rebounded. The private sector is able to meet and exceed its targets, yet we are way behind in social and affordable housing. The reason is not because of any of the excuses the Minister gives, but matters that are in his gift to reform such as the four-stage approval process and the procurement and tendering rules, yet he has done nothing to address that.

The Minister has a penchant for quoting large numbers. If we read the budget book, however, it tells us that the total extra capital spend for housing next year compared with this year is a paltry €37.9 million. That is in the budget book. The Minister knows that as well as I do. His failure to deliver any significant extra capital spend for genuine social and affordable housing will have an impact on delivery. Social housing targets were only at 7% at the end of the first quarter. The second quarter's report has mysteriously not appeared, even though we should be getting the third quarter report. Worse than that is the fact that the Minister has not rolled over the lost social housing units from his missed targets in 2020, 2021, and 2022 into subsequent years. It means there is a gaping hole in his social housing plan, a key contributor to rising levels of homelessness.

Likewise with affordable housing, it is way behind target, but the Minister's cost-rental equity loan targets for next year are less than this year's. The Minister did not include in the budget book what the affordable housing fund targets are going to be for next year and, as a consequence of the under-supply from the local authority and the approved housing body sector he is going to be over-reliant on the LDA. That is the very same LDA that is to deliver 1,000 cost rental and affordable homes this year and, at best, will deliver a few hundred.

We need at least 8,000 affordable homes a year, including 4,000 affordable-purchase homes because, unlike the Minister, who says he believes in home ownership but only for people on €100,000 or more a year, I believe in home ownership as well as affordable rental and social rental for ordinary working people, which is something the Minister is not delivering.

There are historic highs relating to homelessness. We could be approaching an official figure of 11,000, and there is not a single additional initiative to prevent homelessness or to move people on. We must consider following Nicola Sturgeon's move in Scotland and introduce a ban on winter evictions. We also need an acceleration of the tenants in situ scheme and an increase in Housing First. I hope it does not happen, but the question for the Minister is what he will do if we get a report from his Department in the coming months with an official homeless figure of 11,000.

With respect to defects, the Government was very silent in its letter to homeowners yesterday that it had only increased its own capital investment in defects by €5 million. I accept there is a levy. I have called for one for a long time, but in fact the more detail we hear from the Minister for Finance, the more it seems that the Government is taking a good idea and doing it badly. It will be hard-pressed homeowners in Donegal and Mayo who will pay the additional cost and not banks, large-profited developers or those responsible for defects.

With respect to the Sinn Féin alternative budget, it is clear the Minister has not read it. First, the parliamentary questions on which this is based are already published. They are on oireachtas.ie. They are from the Department and they are 2022 costings, but because we like to have a belt-and-braces approach to our numbers, we also availed of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's service. It gave us real-time costings for everything. Not only am I happy to publish them, but why do we not have a debate in a town hall anywhere in this country where we can set out our stalls?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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We did one the last time. Deputy Ó Broin did not do great.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister is failing. There are rising house prices, rising rents, rising levels of homelessness and anaemic social and affordable housing delivery. Only a real alternative budget to deliver 20,000 genuine social and affordable homes will change the crisis. The Government promised it in the election, and it failed to deliver. That is why the Government is out of time and out of ideas. We need a general election, a change of Government and for the current Minister, just like at his press conference, to be evicted from the building to give people in housing need real hope.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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What happened at Deputy Ó Broin's press conference and his interview with Anton Savage?

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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Once again we are here after a budget and those living in and on the edge of poverty have all but been forgotten. While high-income earners reap the rewards of another budget, it is the same old story we have heard throughout countless Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Governments. This budget lacks nuance. It attempts to tick boxes with one-off measures that will barely scratch the surface of the crisis facing those fighting for survival in this country. The Government continues to ignore them. Temporary supports look great on the front page. The billions being thrown around this Chamber yesterday clearly sound impressive on the face of it, but how many people will it take out of poverty, which one in five in this country is experiencing? In the coming weeks and months, it will mean nothing to those who need it more to avoid being crippled by inflation. For that, the Government alone is to blame. The budget could have made a real difference. It needed to make a real difference but instead thousands of families look ahead to the winter thinking about decisions they will have to make each and every day to heat their homes or feed their children.

There is a danger these devastating decisions will become platitudes for real people who will suffer this winter, and the Government has condemned them, without remorse, to months of unthinkable sacrifice. At its most basic, poverty is about sacrifice; it is about what families will choose to go without, whether that is heating, eating or warm clothes.

Meanwhile, the €6 billion in the rainy day fund will not do much to feed hungry stomachs, house the homeless or provide essential services as it sits idle. Today is a rainy day - it is absolutely lashing for families - and a storm is approaching our shores. Why is the Government waiting for people’s quality of life to be devastated further before intervening for those who need it most? The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has already admitted he cannot rule out dipping into the fund. Of course he cannot, given people will go hungry and leave the country in their droves if the Government does not act fast. A small portion of that fund could have been used for targeted measures to alleviate the pain and struggle of those on the margins.

One such example would have been to make education genuinely free, something the Social Democrats costed in our alternative budget, showing how effective such a measure would be for those worst off. Instead, the Government pretended we do not offer education to those children over the age of 12 in secondary schools, because second level supports and books apparently do not count. It has told parents to grit their teeth and fork out hundreds of euro for iPads that are compulsory in many secondary schools throughout the country because their child does not deserve the same State support once he or she begins secondary school. It has told them to buy new editions of expensive textbooks every year, as though their household income should have increased due to their putting their 13-year-old to work in secondary school, because I have no other concept as to why free schoolbooks for secondary school students have not been provided for.

Nothing has been done to protect thousands of families from incurring those exorbitant costs in secondary schools. Publishers will continue to kill the second-hand market, book rental schemes and the sharing of texts between siblings by pumping out yearly-updated versions just so that students can scratch the code on the covers and chuck the books in the bin. For those families with sixth-year students who have turned 18 before the academic years begins, after covering five years of books, uniforms and so-called voluntary contributions that are never voluntary, they will not even have the child benefit to get them through the year, and the Government simply says, "Too bad".

The Social Democrats believe in free schoolbooks for all, along with abolishing voluntary contributions and school transport fees. The Government could have made that happen but it chose not to, just like it chose not to focus on any long-term measures to alleviate poverty for those experiencing it. Making these resources free would have required only a 2% rise in the budget, a meagre price for a policy that would have had a massive impact on those struggling to make ends meet, but of course, it is not as though we have billions of euro sitting in a rainy day fund, from which we could have taken out the €250 million or €300 million it would have cost to make education genuinely free.

Second level education is only one example of the many severe shortcomings in the budget that will impact those on the margins of our society. The qualified child allowance increase of €2 is shamefully inadequate. This miserly increase is an insult to vulnerable families and proves the Government is not serious about ending the scandal of child poverty. The Government was delighted to provide generous tax concessions for the better-off and universal energy supports for all income brackets, including high earners, but chose to ignore targeted measures that would have made a difference to those in need. As the Children's Rights Alliance announced, an increase of €2 a week will not be enough to keep families and their children from poverty. The Social Democrats' alternative budget proposed an additional €7 for children under the age of 12 and an additional €12 for teenagers, bringing the weekly sums to €47 and €60 per week, respectively, but this was apparently too much to ask of a Government that continues to show it does not care if this winter puts families through an unimaginable struggle.

At the heart of it, this budget fails to target those most in need. We see that in the treatment of energy supports, income tax and healthcare, and as my colleague Deputy Cairns will demonstrate shortly, in disability supports and housing. Those who were hopeful of a helping hand in this budget have been subjected to shortcomings in all aspects of life and I refer in particular to those who are most on the margins. As the Government was patting itself on the back last night, thousands went to bed wondering whether there was still life to eke out in this country. Watch now as they continue to leave for a better life elsewhere.

4:55 pm

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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Budget 2023 marks another step on the road to the transformation of early learning and childcare in our country . In 2018, the State set a goal of investing €1 billion per year in childcare by 2028. With the €346 million one-year increase in budget 2023, we have achieved that goal, a full five years early. As Minister with responsibility for children, this is something I am very proud of, and it demonstrates the commitment of the Government to investing in our children. That substantial increase in funding will bring significant benefits for parents. We are increasing investment in the national childcare scheme, NCS, by €121 million next year, reducing costs to parents by, on average, 25%. We will do this by increasing the maximum subsidy in the NCS from 50 cent per hour to €1.40. This means parents will see their fees reduced by an average of €1,200 per child per year and up to €2,100 per child per year.

I acknowledge that for parents, affordability is just one issue that needs to be addressed when it comes to childcare. Parents in some parts of the country can still struggle to find available places for their children, particularly for younger children. I know the frustration this causes and I am determined to address it. In September of this year, core funding came into effect, with services receiving significant State investment and incentivised to increase provision for younger cohorts. I am delighted to say this is already bearing fruit. More than 90% of services are signed up to core funding and we are seeing increased capacity, not least in the age groups underserved by the sector currently, namely, children under the age of three. The geographical breakdown also indicates expansion in urban and commuter areas where there has been significant pressure on places. To meet the costs of this expanded capacity and an increase in the numbers of graduates, the original allocation for core funding next year will be increased by €59 million. Budget 2023 also provides for a capital programme that will support services to modernise.

With the total investment in childcare now surpassing €1 billion per year, it is worth reflecting on what has been achieved in this area since the Government took office. A month before the general election of February 2020, 30,000 parents, providers and childcare staff were out on the streets protesting over a lack of investment, high fees and low pay. Since then, as Minister, I have increased childcare funding by €400 million. We have secured a pay deal for childcare professionals with a clear wage structure, ensuring those staff can see a future for themselves in a job they love. We have introduced a new funding source, core funding, with an additional €270 million going to childcare providers, and now, with budget 2023, we have reduced fees for parents substantially. We have transformed the sector in just over two years and delivered for staff, providers, parents and, most important, children.

As well as childcare, my Department will support some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in Ireland. One of my Department’s main focuses this year has been on providing accommodation for those fleeing Ukraine and people claiming international protection. Clearly, this remains a great challenge for the Department. We are now providing accommodation for more than 52,000 people, whereas this time last year, we were accommodating 8,000. A total of €213 million has been allocated to cover the costs of international protection accommodation. The focus will be on transitioning to a new model with expanded, State-owned capacity and a greater focus on commissioning NGOs and not-for-profit organisations to provide services and supports, not least to vulnerable applicants for international protection.

Throughout 2023, we will also continue to respond to the legacy of mother and baby institutions. This year, we passed the Birth and Information Tracing Act to allow adopted people a full and clear right of access to their information. We also passed the Institutional Burials Act, which provides a legal basis for the excavation and exhumation of the site in Tuam. Within budget 2023, there is more than €7 million for the 2023 costs of that excavation. Alongside these measures, we will increase funding for Traveller and Roma groups, the National Women's Council and LGBTI+ groups. I am also delighted that we will increase funding for youth services, recognising the fantastic work they do in supporting young people.

Throughout all this work, my Department is working to achieve a fairer and more equal Ireland but we have demonstrated, through the priority we have placed on supporting parents and children, that at a time when the pressure of the cost of living is so significant on families, the Government, my Department and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and I are working to support parents, children and the childcare sector, and we will continue to do that throughout 2023.

5:05 pm

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for sharing his time with me; it is greatly appreciated. I have secured a figure of €242 million for disability services in budget 2023. Let me bring Members on a whistle-stop tour of exactly how that is broken down. There is €109 million for existing levels of service, €29 million for new developments, €39 million for Covid-related issues, which are once-off payments to support the assessment of needs, and €65 million to support the section 39 voluntary community organisations.

Let me break down what is the existing level of services. This is to ensure that services for people who are in emergency placements, residential placements, respite care or who may have personal assistants and personalised budgets can continue to be operationalised and that staff wages are paid. The new developments are the expansion of everything thereon, including respite care, emergencies and responding to the critical number of emergency placements as they arise.

The new developments within that which have not been seen before are a response to the community neurorehabilitation teams. I have put €900,000 into two community rehabilitation teams. That is in response to the request of the Neurological Alliance of Ireland, which represents 31 organisations including those representing people affected by multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, motor neurone disease and Huntington's disease. We will have clinician nurses based out in the community across all our community healthcare organisations, CHOs. Two were delivered within the strategy in the past number of years. I am doubling that in this budget and having those four operationalised. We do not just stop there with neurological services, however. It is an expansion of the neurological strategy, where €1.7 million has been secured to invest in the neurological nursing workforce, with more than 23 additional neurological nursing whole-time equivalents across neurological centres.

The next stage of the strategy roll-out is to areas in which we already have trauma in CHO 4, and to have the neurological team in place to work with the community team along with paediatric neurological supports. There is, therefore, a whole package looking after 31 organisations, which we meet on a daily basis, be it in the audiovisual room or over in Buswell's Hotel. They are in all our communities and they are looking for clinical nurse specialists. That is what I have responded to and it is a top line within the new developments.

I am also making a huge priority of assets within assistive technology and partnering with the WHO. When I talk about once-off funding, I am talking about the assessment of needs and the court case and the requirement to clear the backlog. It is very fortunate I got the funding now. It is not the first time I have sought funding to clear a backlog of assessment of needs; this is the second time. I got €7 million when I took up office two years ago. I have now sourced €11.7 million to ensure that I can work with the various section 38 and 39 organisations and the HSE, but also with private operators, to ensure that we have assessments completed in order that families can have the proper interventions, pathways and supports that are required in a timely fashion. That is why that money was so important. For far too long, parents have been left for long periods on waiting lists.

There is another €27 million to respond to the emergency cases arising from Covid-19. There are 143 emergency cases to which the HSE has responded. That funding is in place. It will be going into my base next year. However, it reveals the high level of need and unmet need within the disability sector. I was very fortunate in sourcing that funding with the Departments of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and Health to be able to meet the need and respond to the needs of the families in crisis.

Finally, it has not been a week since we had section 39 organisations walking the streets. They have been all over the country telling us about how expensive it is for them to run their organisations be it from the increase in food and transport costs to the increase in energy costs, and how difficult it is for them to retain staff. Thanks to the support of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, the Department of Health secured €100 million of inflationary measures in response to nursing homes, hospices and section 39 organisations, of which I got the lion's share of €65 million within disability services.

The wrap-around figure again is €242 million within disability services with €109 million for existing level of service, €29 million for new developments, €39 million for once-off payments and €65 million for the section 39 organisations. That is the work that has gone into the response to meeting the needs of children, families, growing adults, services staff and workers. That is the funding that has been sourced for disability services.

I am very grateful to my two senior line Ministers, Deputies Stephen Donnelly and O’Gorman, who have supported me not only today but for the past 12 months. I thank the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, who has given me the funding to not only meet current needs but also to be ambitious and drive on with regard to neurological services.

Photo of Kathleen FunchionKathleen Funchion (Carlow-Kilkenny, Sinn Fein)
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I am sharing time with Deputy Tully, so I will try to fit loads in. I will look specifically at the area of children and childcare. I will start by welcoming the most recent announcements. It was unusual to have been sitting in the Chair and listening to all the Opposition party speeches. I thought mine might be a little different but it is important to give credit where it is due. I would have liked to have seen more, and our job in opposition is to always to push for more. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, will be particularly aware that I have spoken for years about the early years sector and the wages, in particular, but also the fees. It is, therefore, great to see progress on both those issues. It is important to acknowledge that.

There is always more that can be done. It is up to us to keep pushing that and we will continue to do so. We had an allocation for a decrease of one third this year and two thirds next year in our alternative budget. As a sector in which there has been underinvestment for years by previous Governments, however, it is good and it is welcome. It is progress and is a step in the right direction, particularly for workers in respect of the employment regulation order, ERO, recognition, which is been hard fought. That is positive and it is progress.

I want to touch a little bit on child poverty, given that we all know about the increased costs of living over recent weeks and months. No matter how much people try to budget or think that a bill might have doubled, people's bills are just getting to the stage where they cannot really predict at all what they will be. It struck me when I was looking at this that so much of it does not just fall to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Some of it falls to the Department of Social Protection in terms of the increase. There has been some criticism of the €2 increase for a qualified child, for example, which falls to the Department of Social Protection and how that does not really go far enough.

Given the number of children who are going to be at greater risk of child poverty, however, is there some plan to look at a joined-up approach between the Departments of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Education and Social Protection? We already have heard at committee, for example, about people relying increasingly on food banks. It strikes me that we are going to see more children potentially at risk of child poverty.

My other question, and I know there is not really time for a response, is about Tusla and possible increases for domestic violence services. Perhaps at some point the Minister of State could come back to that issue. I know it is going to the Department of Justice but I refer to the refuge spaces.

Photo of Pauline TullyPauline Tully (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Disabled persons organisations and disability representative groups have called for more clarity on how the budget is actually broken down. The Minister of State provided some of that this evening but if we could have an even more in-depth view, it would be welcome. Even the Parliamentary Budget Office could not provide much clarity to me today. One figure the Minister of State gave was the €11.7 million to deal with the backlog of assessment of needs. Has she a timeframe for how that will be dealt with? She said previously, as did the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, that it is not actually a monetary issue; it is more a recruitment and retention issue. What plans does the Minister of State have to deal with the recruitment and retention issues? I welcome the fact that she indicated there is an allocation to deal with the issues in respect of section 39 organisations. The section 39 organisations are haemorrhaging staff to the HSE and they will continue to do so until there is equal pay and conditions for the work they do.

Much of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, is around independent living. We have an increasing number of disabled adults living with aged parents who are languishing on local authority lists. Until the HSE provide the support and care packages or the personal assistance service to them, they cannot live independently. We need a breakdown on how many people will be provided with independent living supports and be allowed to actually move into and live in the community. How many people will be moved from congregated settings to do so? How many people aged under 65 who have been placed inappropriately in nursing homes will be moved? We need to have a target on those.

I refer to the implementation plan for the capacity review, which still has not been published. The Minister of State said in July that it would be published in a few weeks and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, told me that disability would be moving to his Department in August as well. Neither has happened. Do we have a date for that? The sooner we do the better.

There needs to be a long-term strategy in this budget to properly support, recognise and acknowledge family carers, without whom our health system would completely collapse. Measures are unduly weighted towards one-off interventions rather than sustained solutions. Disability poverty is not one-off issue; it is a constant one. One in five disabled people lives in constant poverty and another two in five are at risk of poverty. Supports have to be put in place to deal with that. It is disappointing that no funding was allocated to specifically assist disabled entrepreneurs and business people. There are supports for people to employ disabled people but there is little support for disabled people to set up and run their own businesses, which is important.

5:15 pm

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I want to acknowledge the work done by the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, on the issues they have acknowledged in their speeches. It is welcome that there is progress on those issues. I want to start on a positive note because sometimes there is a lot of negativity around here. I will get to the negative part later. A lot of money was splashed out in yesterday's budget. In my time here, this is an unprecedented financial intervention by the Government. It is warranted because we are facing a cost-of-living crisis the likes of which we have not seen for a number of decades. When working people see their standards of living going down rather than up then we have a serious issue. The cost of living has shaped this budget, and it will probably shape the next one because these inflationary issues will not go away. There are external and internal factors. There are also people profiteering from this crisis, including the energy companies and companies such as big supermarkets and retail companies that are making vast amounts of money on foot of the ongoing crisis.

The fundamentals of the issues at hand are still real and that is what shaped the last general election two and a half years ago. The reasons that people rejected Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil come down to issues relating to public services, namely, housing and health, and income inequality. They were the fundamentals that still exist to this day and that is why people are listening today and yesterday to hear what effects the budget will have on their lives. A great deal of money has been passed around and that will trickle down, but the big question is whether it will have an effect on people's livelihoods or mitigate the cost-of-living crisis, which is the idea. There is a big question mark around that because there are major shocks on the horizon in people's livelihoods in heat, food and so forth. Questions have to be asked in that regard.

On the Minister for Health's contribution to the debate, I welcome the progress made on hospital charges and GP visits, which is very good. Nobody has said this but the overall health budget has gone down relative to inflation. The mental health budget is 5% while Sláintecare has always stated that it should be 10% and again that has not kept up with inflationary pressures. Inflationary pressures are at least 9% so that is a cut. Most workers in the State are taking a pay cut of up to €2,000, which is unsustainable inflation.

There are welcome factors in this budget and there are also the fundamentals that are still not being challenged. They have to be seriously addressed, particularly housing. It is unacceptable that 10,000 people and more are in emergency accommodation. Even if we had €120 billion, having 11,000 people in emergency accommodation is completely unacceptable and in other countries the Government would be expelled completely and there would be a general election. There are huge issues, particularly for working people who feel poorer than they did last year. Will this mitigate the decline in their standard of living? There are big question marks in respect of that matter.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this year's budget. The record Department of Justice allocation for 2023 of €3.3 billion will help keep our communities stronger and safer. It will support victims and maintain a momentum of modernisation right across the justice sector. It represents a 5% increase, which has been welcomed by all.

The total gross allocation for the Garda Vote is a record €2.14 billion, an increase of over €7.8 million. This will make a real and tangible difference in our communities. We recognise the devastating impact crime has, not just on individuals whose lives have been affected but on the wider community. I am committed to increasing the number of gardaí and civilian staff and to investing in the resources they need to do their vital work protecting the public. High-visibility policing is crucial to making sure that communities across the country are safe and feel safe and that is why we will see up to 1,000 new recruits enter the Garda College in Templemore next year, as well as the recruitment of 430 civilian staff to free up more front-line gardaí for core policing duties. In order to make sure we have the numbers to put through Templemore we will open another campaign next year to supplement the 11,000 men and women who applied this year to help us guarantee that there are 200 new recruits entering Templemore every three months over the coming years. Beyond next year, those kind of figures will continue. More gardaí plus additional civilian staff will help people feel safer and reduce crime. We will also provide more money for overtime, which means that gardaí will be deployed as needed to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour in our communities. There will be additional funding for ballistic vests and we will start the roll-out of body-worn cameras. There is also additional funding for ICT equipment and mobile technology, all making sure the Garda can do its work more efficiently and effectively.

On the general justice Vote, the gross allocation of €445 million for my Department includes an additional €63 million which will be used to support victims, vulnerable people and to provide vital supports and services to those who need them. Tackling domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is a priority for me as Minister for Justice, both providing victim-centred supports and services and ensuring that the responsible perpetrators are punished. A zero tolerance plan, which was published earlier this year, is an ambitious five-year strategy to help achieve zero tolerance in our society for this appalling type of violence and abuse. The year 2023 will see us establish a new agency for domestic violence, which will become fully operational in 2024. This budget provides an extra €9 million for 2023, a 23% increase, which is record funding for combatting domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. This includes increased funding of €7 million for organisations funded by Tusla to address the acute service demands in existing services throughout the country, acknowledging the huge amount of work they do and the support they need, and for investment in new services. We have significant plans to expand and develop the services across the country. This funding will also strengthen the nationwide supports that will help to maintain the momentum in implementing the ambitious goals I have set out in our national strategy. We also have an additional €2 million, which has been allocated to help set up the agency. There is also a funding increase for victims of crime and there are other supports looking at the various different campaigns around consent, including the Still Here campaign, the No Excuses campaign and other areas that will be developed, particularly focusing on the preventive side of domestic violence. In addition, €2 million has been allocated for the criminal injuries compensation scheme. This is for the payment of claims from victims of crime.

As a country, we can also be proud of our response to the Ukraine crisis. I am particularly pleased with the additional funding of €9.2 million this year for my Department's response. So far we have welcomed, as of today, just over 50,000 Ukrainians to Ireland and we will continue to ensure that those fleeing this conflict and seeking temporary protection receive the support they need.

Since the pandemic, we also have seen a significant rise in immigration and international protection applicants. Again, this figure is reaching approximately 10,000, whereas in previous years, it would have been approximately 3,000. Additional funding of nearly €18 million will go towards increasing efficiency in processing applications, to reduce the risk of people remaining in the system for long periods and allowing uncertainty about their own status.

I will shortly announce the first successful applicants to the community safety innovation fund. This was established to reinvest the ill-gotten proceeds of crime seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau into the communities that are impacted by this crime. I am pleased that because of this budget, the fund will now increase by 50%. This year, the figure will be €2 million and next year it will be €3 million. I hope to see that increase further in the years ahead. An increase of €2.8 million will bring the total allocation for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to €16.2 million and this is to support its vital complaints investigation work.

I am also pleased to have secured additional funding of €4 million for the Legal Aid Board and €2 million for the Probation Service to support their essential work. In terms of the prison Vote, the gross allocation in 2023 is €411.2 million. Some €6.5 million of this is for additional staff and this is the first time in many years that we will have additional staff members. At least 100 prison officers will be recruited across a range of functions. There will be additional prisoner capacity in the new Limerick women's prison and it will support a new wing in Limerick Prison that will become operational shortly. It will also mean that these officers will be available for other types of duties, particular educational programmes and supports in healthcare needs that are currently not being pursued or that are not possible because of the other work that has to be done.

In terms of the Vote for the gross allocation of the courts, the figure is €176.5 million. This includes capital funding of €67 million. The Courts Service modernisation programme is vital to improving access to justice. Additional funding of €2.5 million will continue the delivery of the digital solutions and user-centric services. A further €2.5 million will future-proof judicial support staffing in light of current backlogs, expected demands and future reforms across the system. It will complement a report that I will bring forward on additional judges.

We are supporting the night-time economy and these businesses are integral to a night-time culture-----

5:25 pm

Photo of Kathleen FunchionKathleen Funchion (Carlow-Kilkenny, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister’s time is up as she is sharing time with the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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Just two seconds. We are halving the cost of special exemption orders, which means that for one night, €410 will now become €205.

The Data Protection Commission budget is now at €26 million, which means it will have gone up sevenfold since it was established. The Policing Authority has been allocated €4.1 million. This includes €200,000 for preparatory work that is needed for the much-anticipated policing security and community safety Bill.

I want to voice my thanks to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath for their support and for making sure that we have stronger, safer communities through this year's budget.

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, has informed the House of the record justice budget for 2023, which prioritises community safety. The future of our communities lies with our young people and I warmly welcome the allocation of €24 million for youth justice, which is an increase of €2.5 million and over 11%. This will have a significant impact on individual young people, their families and their communities.

I cannot emphasise strongly enough the importance of youth diversion projects and the services they provide. I have seen first-hand the enormous and often life-changing differences these programmes can have on a young person's life and on the choices they make. In some cases, these youth diversion programmes are a lifeline that could shift a young person from an ill-advised path to a much better one. These programmes provide education. They provide training and employment supports, which can be a valuable second chance for young people who, for many reasons, may not have had an ideal first experience of the education system. They show young people that there are other options and opportunities out there for them. Sports activities and personal development initiatives can offer a new focus and new interests. They can be key in helping vulnerable young people to move away from a pattern of damaging behaviour. My aim under the youth justice strategy is to achieve full coverage of youth justice initiatives across the country so that every young person who might benefit from them can have access to them.

Let me turn briefly to the issue of gambling. We are much closer to ensuring that modern and effective licensing and regulatory measures are in place for the gambling industry in Ireland. Legislation is currently being prepared for publication to ensure that we have safe and fair gambling in Ireland. This is an important social issue and we need to get it right in order that we can reduce the significant harm that happens to vulnerable people as a result of gambling. The establishment of the new authority is a key programme for Government commitment and the additional allocation of €1 million in 2023 brings the total funding to €1.7 million. This will support the CEO designate in the preparations she needs in order that the authority can start its important work as quickly as possible once it is established.

Overall, the record allocation this year for the justice group of Votes gives us the resources we need to progress our programme for Government commitments. I look forward to updating the House as these commitments progress.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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In the context of a budget, we first look at the overall budget and we then get into the detail of each particular section of it. I commend the budget spend this year in the area of justice. There is a clear commitment to provide the numbers of gardaí that we need to see. That is welcome. All those we talk to, whether rank-and-file gardaí or senior members of the force, tell us the one thing they need is more numbers and more gardaí out on the beat, in the community and doing the job. That is what we need to see. I seek clarity on the number of the 1,000 trainee gardaí. Earlier, the Minister stated the figure would be 200 every three months, which would add up to 800 per year. I understand that is at present the approximate capacity within Templemore. Are there plans to expand that capacity to find more innovative ways to make that happen?

The announcement of an additional 450 civilian staff within An Garda Síochána is also welcome. An issue was raised in regard to the Courts Service in the Minister’s speech. She spoke about modernisation and the work to be done there, all of which it is to be hoped will deal with some of the backlog. The key thing that is needed to deal with the backlogs is the appointment of more judges to the Circuit Court and to the District Court. That is something that we really need to see movement on, a clear way of doing that and a budget put in place to make that happen.

The Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, mentioned the youth justice programme and the Garda youth diversion programmes. They are vital and this is direction we need to go in. It would be useful if we see something provided for within the Probation Service and the Prison Service to ensure that we are able to reduce the number of people who are presently in our prison system and who continually re-offend. We need to come up with better programmes and more ways of doing that. I understand that is part of what the new additional staffing levels within that sector are about. However, we need specific programmes to deal with that.

In a more general sense, one criticism that many of us on this side of the House have in regard to the budget is that it does not deal enough with the with the issues of poverty. We all understand and appreciate the link between poverty, social deprivation and crime. How do we manage that and make sure that that happens?

While I welcome the increases in social welfare, we feel that they do not go far enough. There also has not been enough done in the way of assistance of working people who are on low incomes. The taxation measures have been geared too much towards those on higher incomes. People who are on lower incomes or who are on the minimum wage need to see more return for the work that they do. That would assist a lot. However, in general, the budget that has been put in place for justice is the direction to go and it is welcome.

Photo of Johnny MythenJohnny Mythen (Wexford, Sinn Fein)
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I commend the justice budget, which will go a long away towards protecting communities. I will speak generally on the budget itself. Much has been said about this budget during the last day or so. However, there are flaws in the analysis in tackling the cost of living and the rise in inflation. For example, the €12 increase in the State pension and welfare payments will not cover inflation. In real terms, there will be a real drop of 8.1% in the pension rate between 2021 and 2023. Our proposals would have given people who are living on their own €17.50 per week and €15 per week as standard. Even though the tax bands have been widened, take-home pay will fall substantially in 2023. Again, the buffer against inflation is insufficient. Some 1.8 million workers will not gain one cent from these tax changes. In fact, the Government’s idea of fairness always is skewed towards the top earners and it leaves the rest to shuffle the crumbs in the best way they can. A person who is earning €35,000 will get €190, while a person who is earning €130,000 will get €830. We should all remember these are the same people whose taxes bailed out the banks and restored the economy.

We live in the most uncertain times. Security and stability are key to a prosperous and healthy society. We are told that Putin is holding Europe to ransom on energy and gas prices. Surely, then, the energy companies are doing the same to our own economy. Therefore, we want an immediate introduction of a windfall tax and the capping of electricity bills at 2021 levels until February 2023.

This would give security to many families and small businesses who manage their finances on a weekly and monthly basis. We believe the three €200 once-off payments will be swallowed up by inflation and the inevitable increases of energy bills.

On the rental sector, introducing the €500 tax credit without the follow-up of a rent cap will result in many rents spiralling upwards once again. My county of Wexford has experienced rent increases of 17%, which is almost on a par with the increase in city rents. Yet, we are not considered to be a rent pressure zone. This budget has done nothing to help the citizens who are earning just above the threshold to qualify for social housing, and not earning enough to secure a mortgage. With an €11 billion spend available in the budget, the Government could have at least raised the threshold to give some real hope to those families and individuals who find themselves lost in despair and trapped in the battle to provide a roof over their heads.

5:35 pm

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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With respect to the justice Vote, I welcome the measures introduced. Everyone will welcome additional gardaí on the beat and new recruits passing through Templemore. I wish to make a point about my constituency of Waterford. It may be an issue for the Office of Public Works, OPW, but we are waiting for upgrades to the Garda station there, which is now the headquarters south east Garda division. There are additional civilian staff coming in and there is nowhere for them to be accommodated within the station. I ask for that matter to be raised with the Minister. We need funding and the development of that station if it is to have any chance of actively trying to fulfil its remit.

Yesterday's budget of €11 billion was of a scope before never seen in the country. Certainly, the economic and social challenges facing the country, because of the energy crisis and the resulting inflation, are also of an extraordinary magnitude. Whatever our politics, we hope that this budget will have a significant impact in the context of reducing the chronic pressures facing households and businesses. There has been must talk in the House, yesterday and today, of the need to support households, but I would like to focus for a few moments on the SMEs that are facing catastrophic energy costs and extremely difficult trading environments. The SME sector is constituted by micro, small and medium enterprises. Between them, they employ over 1 million people. The SME sector has for many years been the bedrock of national revenue generation, long before the money tree of foreign direct investment arrived, with the associated corporation tax it has brought, which is most welcome. The SME community has heretofore, and largely on its on, generated the taxes that have put gardaí on the beat, teachers into classrooms, nurses at bedsides, and secured Department of Social Protection payments.

What is happening in this sector? I will provide the Minister and Minister of State with an idea of where things stand. I wrote to the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform in respect of this issue recently. I highlighted the case of a manufacturing business in the south east that currently employs more than 40 people. Its monthly utility costs rose from €9,000 in January to €21,000 in April and to €42,400 in August. The company makes a range of components for sale through trade and retail outlets. It uses electricity predominantly in heating and cooling processes as part of its production. It has no way of mitigating its electricity usage without reducing its output, and thereby reducing revenue. Under the proposed Government SME support scheme, the firm would be able to claim 40% of its increased electricity costs from its average base where 150% of the annual cost increases have occurred. It well qualifies for the scheme. A rough calculation delivers a support of €13,300 per month. However, that is capped at €10,000, which means that this company can see support extended which would reduce the firm's present energy bill from €46,000 to €36,000. The revised annual energy cost would be €432,000 per annum versus €108,000 for the previous year. That is a net 300% increase year on year. In euro terms, it is an additional operating cost of €324,000 annually, or a whopping €27,000 per month.

I know the business very well. It is operating in a challenging and competitive sector and has tight margins. I can promise the Minister and the Minister of State that there is not a spare €320,000 lying around anywhere for the business to plug the gap. It is a business that would have been severely impacted during Covid, and it is only getting back on its feet. It is also extremely sensitive to consumer demand activity at retail level. Reducing energy bills for this business means reducing activity, and thereby reducing turnover. It is not possible for this business to scale down in order to save costs. It will not improve its profitability and it will not make the business viable at present to support the levels on offer. It is a rural business that employs 45 skilled and semi-skilled operatives. If it stops manufacturing, the products it makes will most likely be replaced by cheaper imports. The employees working in the business will struggle to find jobs to which they are suited, and a number of them who are middle-aged will quite likely end up in long-term unemployment. My question for the Minister and Minister of State is as follows. How does it advance our national interest to support crisis cost-of-living measures for families while not supporting adequately the businesses which keep many of these family breadwinners in employment?

The SME support package that Government has unveiled will not do enough to keep these businesses viable, which they were up to some months ago. If we do not make significant efforts to keep these businesses operational to some degree, we will have very little on which to build an economic recovery into the future, which we obviously want to see following this crisis. Yesterday, the Government announced contributions to a rainy day fund. How much water will be bail before we take a significant look at how we can meaningfully support SMEs over the next 12 months? I urge the Government to examine this issue. I also ask the Minister and the Minister of State to engage with officials in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in particular to ensure that they stay close to business groupings to understand the pressures that are coming down the line. What is going to happen here is that a number of business promoters are going to try to keep trading in the hope of reducing their costs. They will then start to fail to meet supplier payments and return their VAT payments. Ultimately, their businesses will become insolvent, at which point they will fail and go into liquidation. We are going to see people who spent 50 years of their lives developing intergenerational businesses basically becoming insolvent. Those people will ultimately become liable for loans and possibly debts. That is not fair to anybody. As I said, these were all very viable businesses before we arrived where we are now. What I am saying very clearly is that the Government support of 40% is not adequate. It is not enough to address what is happening. We need to get major actors to sit down and work out at what point a support is viable, at what point it is better to keep companies trading and to keep employees employed, and what support moneys should be directed to that point. I can say that we had, and have had, a very vibrant SME business sector in this country for years. We have been slightly overtaken of late with the windfall taxes that are coming from the FDI sector. However, as has been said by both the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, that revenue may well be transient and may be gone in 12, 18 or 24 months. We do not know where it will finish, but we need to sustain our SME bedrock in this country. That means we need to support them. I call on the Minister, the Minister of State and those in Government to ensure that we do not have a catastrophic failure in the SME sector before we try to step in and provide adequate support.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak on budget 2023 and on the immediate cost-of-living package that the Government is introducing to support families, citizens and students right across our country. I am very pleased to have worked with the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, to try to put in place a budget package that helps everybody - because the cost of living is something that everybody requires assistance with - but which also tries to target supports to those most in need.

The budget we unveiled yesterday is a cost-of-living budget. It is designed to help everyone in our country. It is designed for the most vulnerable, for the squeezed middle and for those who need our public services. We know that families need support. We know that students need support with their education and training and the costs associated with that.

We are aware that students and their parents are not immune from the cost-of-living crisis that is being experienced in this country and many other parts of the world. We understand that daily costs are rising. It is more expensive for everyone to do the daily shop and to pay electricity bills. We know that students and parents are also facing those costs. Therefore, we have tried to take real and tangible steps in this budget to support people and to help them access third level education and achieve when they are there.

We are putting money back in the pockets of students and their parents by introducing seven immediate measures that will be implemented straight away in order to provide tangible relief for students from the challenges of the rising cost of living. There will be a once-off €1,000 reduction in the undergraduate student contribution fee for higher education students eligible for the free fees initiative. To be clear, students who have paid this fee will receive a €1,000 refund from their university or college. If some of the fee is outstanding, the money will be knocked off the outstanding amount. We have introduced a once-off reduction of one third in the contribution fee for apprentices in our third level education system. This is important. We are also introducing a once-off double payment for all student maintenance grant recipients. Before Christmas, students will receive double the amount of whatever student grant payment they are due.

For our postgraduate students, we are announcing a once-off increase of €1,000 in support to all postgraduate students who qualify for Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, support. That level of support will increase from €3,500 to €4,500. We are also putting a further investment of €8 million into the student assistance fund for the current academic year. We are introducing a once-off payment of €500 for PhD students who receive an Irish Research Council, IRC, or a Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, award. Accepting that it is going to cost more to put the lights on in our colleges and institutions across the country, we are putting in place a once-off ring-fenced fund for the third level sector to assist with rising energy costs.

This is my third budget as Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. This budget sees an additional investment of €288 million from the Department for the sector, bringing our budget to well over €3 billion. With this significant new investment, we are now able to fund a number of major priorities for this Government. In my role, I have met apprentices, students and their families. I have met researchers and staff across the country. They have been clear about their requests and hopes for the future of third level education. They want the third level system to be adequately and properly resourced. That means a workable staff-student ratio, decent facilities and additional places and capacity. This budget provides additional resources to advance our world-class education and training. As part of budget 2023, we are providing an extra €150 million investment to the higher education sector over the rest of this year and next year. This will deliver a reduction in the staff-student ratio for our universities, taking us a step towards OECD norms and helping to improve our global rankings. This is probably the first reduction in staff-student ratios in many years. In addition, the funds will provide for the extra 60 medicine places in higher education at an agreed and sustainable rate, co-funded by my Department and the Department of Health. Most importantly, due to the work of the reform programme, Funding the Future, we will fund a university or intuition by an additional 25% for every new student who enters higher education next September. At the moment, we are paying approximately €6,500 for every student who goes in the door of a university or college. That will rise to just over €8,200 from September. I thank the Irish Universities Association, IUA, the Technological Higher Education Association, THEA, and Professors Anne Looney and Tom Collins, my co-chairs of Funding the Future. We have a lot of work to do but this demographic work and the new core funding work, coupled with the money we are providing in light of the energy crisis, will assist.

In respect of further education and skills, my Department will provide 3,000 Skillnet Ireland places through Skills Connect, which aims to reskill the unemployed, returners and other impacted groups for industries facing labour shortages. We will support the Government's climate action plan by providing over 2,000 Skillnet places to provide upskilling opportunities in emerging technologies and expansion of programmes to include sustainable finance, green tech and responding to climate change. To support business through the impact of Brexit, this Department will also provide 7,400 training places through Skillnet Ireland to assist our SMEs to adapt to new market and regulatory realities. A further 1,000 places will be provided to support the digital transformation and sustainability journey of larger companies, including those impacted by Brexit.

Supporting our Housing for All strategy, my Department is providing €30 million funding as part of the budget to increase capacity for apprenticeships in 2023, including addressing the backlog in apprenticeships exacerbated by the pandemic. I am delighted to inform the House that there is also additional funding for social inclusion measures in apprenticeships, such as a bursary for apprentices for under-represented groups, and funding to roll out the access to apprenticeship programme, which will be transformational for the lives for many.

My Department will also invest a further €4 million in further education and training to deliver on our further education and training, FET, strategy, our transforming learning strategy and, crucially, the adult literacy for life strategy, tackling adult literacy, numeracy and digital skills.

Budget 2023 does more than all this. We are trying to fundamentally shift our student support structures. There are many one-off payments, as is right and proper, to help students and their parents between now and Christmas. We have also taken real steps to drive down the cost of education more permanently. We cannot have a situation where this country urgently requires a workforce and society that is educated and skilled, yet some people still feel as though aspirations are out of their reach. Every single person studying in third level today is the bedrock upon which our future prosperity will be built. It follows that third level must walk in the footsteps of second level. That has to mean universal access for all. In this budget, we are providing an extra €75 million to increase our student supports on a permanent basis through the student grant scheme. We are increasing the student maintenance grants effective from January. Students will not have to wait until next September. Effective from January, the monthly student grant rate will rise. The special and band one maintenance grant rates will increase by a further 14% and all other maintenance grant rates will increase by 10%. We are also making sure that the permanent amount of students who will benefit from half fees will increase. At the moment, people whose household earnings are €55,240 only pay 50% of fees. That will rise to €62,000. From now on, anyone earning €62,000 or less will never pay full fees and will only pay a maximum of €1,500. We are making permanent the undergraduate student contribution reduction of €500 for anybody earning less than €100,000. We are also keeping the funding in place for metal health well-being supports. There will also be a permanent increase in the PhD award stipend of €500 and a permanent increase in the postgraduate fee contribution grant of a further €500, from €3,500 to €4,000. These are some of the measures that I and the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, are working on.

5:45 pm

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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I will echo some of the comments made by the Minister. I thank the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputies Donohoe and Michael McGrath, for their engagement with us to arrive at a total voted spend for our Department of approximately €3.9 billion. That significant sum of money will be spent on people engaged in the further and higher education sector, research, innovation and science. It will help to drive forward the agenda, give people skills, upskill and educate people for the workforce and to address the gaps we have in our labour force.

I welcome the positive impact that yesterday's budget in its totality will have in every community in Ireland. It is important to remember where we have come from. We have come through a pandemic when we were one of the best operators globally. We had the lowest number of deaths as a result of Covid-19. That is a testament to everybody up and down this country. We came through the pandemic and are now dealing with a war in Ukraine and a cost-of-living crisis that is impacting many people up and down the country. This country was able to deliver a budget with €11 billion to address the cost of living and other measures that will roll out next year. It is significant that we are able to do that without borrowing. There has been chaos next door in the UK since its budget was announced. It is borrowing to fund tax cuts and the unlimited liability of the cap on energy prices. There has been a fallout from that recklessness. The stability we have here is, by comparison, remarkable.

I will comment on some of the positive aspects in our Department, including the one-off €1,000 reduction in the undergraduate student contribution fee; the one-off reduction of up to 33% in the contribution fee for apprentices; the one-off extra payment for all maintenance grant recipients, which is a doubling of one monthly payment; and the one-off increase of €1,000 in the supports for SUSI-qualified postgraduate students, which will mean a rise from €3,500 to €4,500. Our changes to the student assistance fund are important. We invested heavily, and rightly, in the student assistance fund throughout the pandemic and thereafter. We will continue to do that Students face many challenges in their daily lives. We give a lot of taxpayers' money and resources to every college and campus around Ireland so they can exercise their discretion and engage with students to support them in their hour of need of assistance through the assistance fund.

We have been able to increase our budget, fund more apprenticeships and continue to expand our range of apprenticeships. We are also dealing with legacy issues arising from core underfunding and addressing pension liability hangovers.

5:55 pm

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank the Ministers and the Ministers of State for attending this debate. On behalf of the people of Kerry, I have a very important message for them about what happened today. While we discuss the budget and while people are particularly concerned about business, everyone in Kerry who has a business, be it big or small, got a revised rate demand today. I will give some examples of the changes in their rates. A business owner whose rate was €26,000 per year has had it increased to €68,000. Another person's rate has increased from €3,000 to €16,500 per year. These businesses include jewellers' shops, bakeries, ordinary shops, hair salons and tyre centres that are facing increases of 200%, 300% or more. This comes at a time when we are talking about protecting small businesses and are trying to encourage them to stay in operation.

The Ministers and Ministers and State know that changes to these rateable valuations were deferred due to the pandemic. I tabled parliamentary questions on this issue in advance because I expected it to come. Surely the Government should have seen fit to have stopped this and that this was not the time to go ahead. It was not the time to re-rate businesses. It is totally insane and will put people out of business. All I can tell the Ministers and Ministers of State is that my phone was on fire today with people telling me their stories about trying to figure out how they will survive. That is an issue that needs to be debated by the House in full. Since it is so fresh, and they are the Ministers representing the Government, I want to place on the record of the Dáil that ratepayers in County Kerry, be it north, east, south, west or mid-Kerry, are suffering and are worried tonight because of the bills they got in the post today informing them their businesses were being re-rated.

Budget 2023 is so fragile that a senior economist at the Department of Finance warned at a press conference yesterday that a cold snap across Europe this winter would have a significantly negative impact on Ireland's economic outlook because the country is on the brink of a recession. The budget did nothing to avoid a recession or steer the country into a better place by developing a roadmap for energy self-reliance, which would provide cheaper energy prices. The Government's budgetary strategy, like its energy strategy, is devised on the basis of hope. That hope revolves around hoping a cold snap across Europe this winter will be avoided and that the wind will blow at home in order that wind energy can be produced, even though it only has the potential to provide up to 30% of electricity supplies. Yes, budget 2023 involves spending and tax measures amounting to €11 billion. However, despite this record level of spending, the true factual reality is that most people will still end up worse off when inflation and cost-of-living increases are factored in.

I could go on for a long time about the budget. I ask the Government to please look at the rates situation as well because that will have to be stopped, if businesses are to survive.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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Issues regarding tax relief for agriculture are subject to EU approval. Why was this not dealt with before the budget? There is no recognition for the amount of technology that agriculture has embraced. Farmers have changed everything about the way they farm so they have played their part in addressing climate change. If this Government fails to recognise what agriculture is doing, it will see lower yields leading to fewer commodities and a shortage of products, which will, in turn, lead to food shortages, yet agriculture got the lowest amount of expenditure in yesterday's budget.

The role of biodigesters was highlighted by me and the Rural Independent Group a year ago. The Government is a little late and years behind Europe. So many young farmers in Macra na Feirme looked to this budget as one that would provide additional measures in respect of farm succession from older to younger farmers in a way that would attract future farmers. There is no cover for escalating fertiliser costs. Further support is only available for beef and sheep farmers and there is nothing for the pig farmer. Unfortunately, the rollover of the fodder and tillage scheme in the budget, while welcome, is completely insufficient to mitigate rocketing farm input costs, which are now at least 40% higher than a year ago. Increased feed, fertiliser, energy and other costs simply cannot be sustained by many farmers. Failure by this Government to allocate a once-off farm payment to mitigate the dire situation will result in many farmers pressed to the brink and forced out of business.

What the Government decided to do was to put a 10% levy on concrete products to fund the mica-pyrite rebate. Why not go after the culprits, such as the manufacturers and insurance companies that certified the defective products? The Government has made provision for a slurry storage scheme in the budget; such storage is all made from concrete. What the Government has done is put inflation into the farming sector. On the one hand, it came up with a scheme for slurry storage, while on the other it put on a 10% levy. It did not only do that; it put on 10% plus 13.5% for supply and fit, in addition to 10% plus 23% for supply only. The Government has inflated the cost for farmers who are trying to do their bit for climate change. It has created more inflation. This is across the board, from any young person who is trying to build a new house to any person who wants to renovate or upgrade his or her house. The Government has put on a 13% levy across the board for everyone in this country. Well done to the Government. It has now hit another nail into people in rural Ireland who might want to build a future for their farming and family sectors. It has helped to upgrade, and make more, inflation for this country. Well done.

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on budget 2023 and how it pertains to education. I am joined by my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for special education, Deputy Madigan.

Budget 2023 provides for an increase of more than €440 million in core funding for the Department of Education. This is a very significant increase and one that furthers the work of recent years in reducing class sizes, reducing costs for families, tackling disadvantage and supporting the achievement of all students.

The introduction of a new scheme to provide schoolbooks free of charge for all students in primary school has been a priority of mine since taking office and signifies an entirely new chapter in Irish primary education. This permanent initiative will greatly reduce the burden on families and reflects the importance this Government places on education for all children.

In this budget, the Government is also continuing to deliver on its commitment to reduce class sizes. For the third consecutive year, I have brought in a measure to reduce class sizes by lowering the staffing schedule for schools, bringing it to an historic low of 23:1 in primary school. When the new staffing schedule will be implemented in the next school year, we will see further reductions in average class sizes and in the pupil-teacher ratio. It is a remarkable achievement that in every budget for the past three budgets over which I have presided that we have successfully reduced the pupil-teacher ratio by one point, as I said, bringing it to a historic low of 23:1.

Since 2021, the Government has invested in an enhanced summer programme to support students at risk of educational disadvantage and help mitigate learning loss as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The programme has been extremely successful and the Minister of State and I are very pleased to announce funding this year to maintain the availability of this programme for all schools. It has been enormously valuable to students and continues to grow in popularity and impact. The Department is currently reviewing the summer programme in order to maximise the number of schools offering it and the number of students availing of summer provision in schools. The review involves engaging with other jurisdictions and stakeholders.

Other new measures are included to address the impacts of Covid-19 and increase retention rates of students in schools, especially those from groups at risk of educational disadvantage. I am also announcing social inclusion measures that include enhancing the capacity of the education welfare services in Tusla that come under my Department's remit, as well as an increase in schools completion programme funding and funding for the home-school community liaison programme.

The Department of Education is also anxious to ensure a significant capital allocation to continue the roll-out of Project Ireland 2040, under which our schools will receive €4.4 billion in capital investment over the period from 2021 to 2025. This significant investment allows us to move forward with certainty on our ambitious plans and to deliver high-quality school building projects with a real focus on sustainability for our school communities across Ireland.

The budget allocation of €860 million for 2023 will deliver 300 building projects that are currently at the construction phase. The majority of these projects are expected to be completed in 2023. These projects include 50 new school buildings and extensions to approximately 250 schools. The continued roll-out of the national development plan will involve a further 150 school building projects that are currently at advanced stages of planning. These will commence construction in 2023.

This budget also provides funding in 2023 to progress our plans for senior cycle reform, which is also rooted in student well-being and putting students at the centre of the process, as they always should be. This is the single largest reform of the leaving certificate since it was established in 1925. It is right and proper that appropriate resources are now provided to advance this programme of reform.

I have always believed that education is the very cornerstone of our country and I am very pleased to see that this Government is making such a significant investment in our education sector. This education budget is a progressive and inclusive budget that places learners and their needs at its very centre.

I also welcome many of the other initiatives in budget 2023 such as the double payment of all welfare payments in October in addition to the normal double payment at Christmas, energy credits of €600 per family, a reduction of an average of €1,200 a year in childcare fees, two €500 tax credits for renters, a €500 grant for carers and those with disabilities, a €12 increase in core welfare payments, a reduction of €1,000 in college fees for all students, double SUSI payments, energy supports of up to €10,000 a month for SMEs, funding for 1,000 additional gardaí, a publicly funded IVF scheme, the extension of the GP visit card scheme meaning that more than half the population will now be eligible and free contraception for women up to 30 years of age. This has very much been a cost-of-living budget to support families and all sectors of our society. I welcome budget 2023.

6:05 pm

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I take this opportunity to thank my officials in the Department of Education, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Ministers, Deputies Michael McGrath and Donohoe, for their support in respect of special education, which is a priority of this Government. The Tánaiste appointed me to this role. This is my third budget as the very first Minister of State with responsibility for special education. In that time, I have increased the budget by 40%, which is significant. This budget in particular is significant. It is a budget of €2.6 billion, which represents a 10% increase on last year. In fact, it makes up 27% of the entire departmental budget. Last year, it made up 25%. This is an acknowledgement by the Government of the importance of special education.

We have increased the number of special needs assistants, SNAs, by 1,194 this year. We have increased the number of special education teachers by 686. These increases will go a long way toward supporting children with additional needs in mainstream classes, special classes and special schools. Over the last three budgets, I have increased the number of SNAs by 3,300 and the number of special education teachers by 2,000.

One opportunity that I wanted to seek out this year was the establishment of some sort of incremental funding or one-off funding for the National Council for Special Education, NCSE. We managed to achieve that by means of funding of €13 million. The NCSE had not received any extra funding since 2003. Its CEO, John Kearney, will now be in a position to employ 161 staff. Of these, 109 will be special educational needs organisers, SENOs. He will also have 40 staff dedicated to rolling out the Irish Sign Language, ISL, scheme under the Irish Sign Language Act 2017. He will also be able to employ other administrative staff that have been badly needed over the decades. It is important that a visible and effective presence be felt on the ground. The SENOs are the first point of contact for many parents and families. It is vital that this funding was not just given and increased, but also that it be expended in a meaningful way. I have every faith in Mr. Kearney that he will do so.

It is very important that the most vulnerable in society, children with additional needs, are looked after and have access to an appropriate placement whether in a mainstream class, a special class or a special school. I hope that the measures we have brought in today will help to achieve that aim. We will have 370 special classes opening next year. These will accommodate 2,000 children. We will also have 250 special school places across 42 special schools. There is demonstrable and ongoing work under way. We also have the emergency legislation brought in earlier this summer by the Minister, Deputy Foley, and myself. This will help to increase the number of special classes being opened. It has rightly been pointed out that it is not just about opening special classes, but also about making sure that they are adequately resourced and that they have the supports they need, including grants and staffing resources such as SNAs or special education teachers. We will absolutely make sure that is the case. We now have more than 20,000 SNAs and more than 19,000 special education teachers in this country. That goes a really long way towards supporting our children. We have also increased funding for the assistive technology scheme by €2 million, an increase of 60%, and we have some funding going to special schools under the free schoolbooks scheme. Approximately €1 million of the funding for that scheme will go to special schools, which will help our most vulnerable children.

I commend this budget to the House. There is also some funding for the National Educational Psychological Service, which will receive 54 extra staff members. Lastly, on summer provision, as the Minister, Deputy Foley, has alluded to, this is something we wanted to announce at the time of the budget because it allows schools certainty in planning, allowing them to get their staff knowing that they can hold them and that the funding is there to do so. There will be €40 million in total for schools to hold summer programmes in 2023.

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I speak this evening on my own behalf and that of the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin. Tá an-áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt leis an Teach faoin €1.142 billiún don Roinn seo atá i Meastacháin bhuiséid 2023 agus chun achoimre a thabhairt ar roinnt de na bearta a thacóidh le teacht aniar, forbairt agus fás na n-earnálacha a bhfuil freagracht orm astu.

Tá ról lárnach ag na hearnálacha a bhfreastalaíonn an Roinn seo orthu ar shaol laethúil agus ar thaipéis fhéiniúlacht na hÉireann. Bunaíonn comhlachtaí agus gníomhaíochtaí cultúir na hÉireann, cinn scríbe, nithe agus díol spéise turasóireachta na hÉireann, óstáin, tithe leapa agus bricfeasta, tithe tábhairne agus bialanna, ócáidí spóirt agus lúthchleasaithe na hÉireann, ardchaighdeán ábhar meán cumarsáide na hÉireann agus pobail Ghaeltachta na hÉireann na paraiméadair dúinn mar phobal coiteann agus cuireann siad go suntasach lenár bhfolláine fhisiciúil agus mheabhrach.

As we recover from the pandemic, we face the challenges presented by the economic situation, climate change and the war in Ukraine. We look to these sectors to continue to reinforce our resilience and mental fortitude but we must also ensure that these sectors continue to generate economic activity and contribute to the development and stability of the overall economy.

I will give details of the total 2023 funding for the sectors supported by the Department. There is an allocation of €214.7 million for tourism services. This funding will allow for continued additional funding of €15 million for overseas marketing of Ireland as a destination and the development of The Invitation project. It will also provide investment of €15 million in continued additional funding to support measures such as domestic marketing, investment in skills development and retention and long-term investment in the US College Football Classic series. Funding is also secured to allow Fáilte Ireland to continue its work in the area of sustainability. Other allocations include €36.5 million in capital funding for tourism product development for the continued delivery of enhanced visitor experiences in line with the national development plan, NDP.

Tourism businesses impacted by rising energy costs will also be able to avail of the Government's newly announced temporary business energy support scheme, with grants of up to €10,000 per month. Prior to the onset of Covid, the tourism industry generated revenue of almost €6 billion, supporting more than 260,000 livelihoods. That equates to one in ten of all Irish jobs. Irish tourism has had a strong year in 2022 but serious rebuilding lies ahead and, therefore, our primary focus is the consolidation of this industry in a post-Covid environment and the development and marketing of Ireland as a desirable and competitive destination for both overseas visitors and domestic tourists.

On arts and culture, we must remind ourselves of the context for funding last year. This was an unprecedented year for arts and culture, against the backdrop of the pandemic when extensive restrictions were in place. Survival was the primary focus. Thankfully, this has now changed. Against this context, however, record levels of funding have been maintained, with total funding for the arts and culture sector in 2023 amounting to €352.4 million. This budget provides for the retention of the record €130 million for the Arts Council, in recognition of the transformational impact of this funding. It also provides an additional €10 million to fund the basic income for the arts pilot scheme, a three-year €105 million scheme involving 2,000 artists and creative arts workers that aims to support each beneficiary in developing and sustaining a professional arts practice with a payment of €325 a week for three years. Some €7 million is being provided in additional capital funding for artists' spaces. An allocation of €3 million is being made to develop, oversee and manage a new archive and exhibition space as part of the overall national centre for research and remembrance. Provision is also being made for income tax relief for areas of cultural heritage, such as uilleann pipe makers and harp makers. A further €6 million has been allocated for the night-time economy to support performances and eight night-time advisers.

Funding for the media and broadcast sector in 2023 will total €306.3 million. This represents an unprecedented and innovative package of supports right across the sector, from local newspapers to audiovisual media services. In particular, it provides €7.5 million for the establishment of coimisiún na meán, the media commission that will oversee effective regulation of online safety, support the provision of high-quality public service broadcasting and put in place an expanded development and support framework for the wider media sector. These commissioners will be selected by November of this year. The recommendations of the Future of Media Commission are being implemented, including the introduction of a new media fund of €6 million, which will enable supports to be provided to the entire media sector on a platform-neutral basis. Our changes to VAT on newspapers and digital publications will also support the sector and thereby help support jobs, production and independent journalism.

Some €15 million for public service broadcasting, to provide interim support for RTÉ in 2022 through the licence fee mechanism, has also been agreed. The provision of an additional €7.3 million in 2023 will enable TG4 to better serve our Irish-speaking communities right across the country. We are particularly pleased to announce that this includes the development of a new Irish language channel for children, a really exciting development that recognises the importance of fostering engagement with their national language from the earliest years of childhood. TG4 will launch a new dedicated children's channel, Cúla4. This will be a totally new channel operating from morning until evening and will include a children's news service, entertainment, educational content, drama and Irish animation, and will reflect the diverse backgrounds of children living in all parts of Ireland but particularly in Gaeltacht and Irish-speaking communities. Its development will also support new jobs.

Regarding cost-of-living challenges, we are pleased to see funding provided to address the impact of energy bills on not-for-profit and voluntary organisations. A sum of €60 million will be provided for arts, sport, Gaeltacht and community organisations. In particular, €35 million was secured between myself and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to help support sports clubs and organisations right across the country with rising energy costs. This will help with floodlight costs, heating gyms and sports halls and a range of other energy costs. Details are being finalised as to how this will operate and engagement with the sectors will occur in the coming weeks.

Tá mé sásta méadú 10% ar mhaoiniú d’earnáil na Gaeltachta a thuairisciú, arb ionann an leithdháileadh iomlán do 2023 agus €94.2 milliún. Úsáidfear an maoiniú méadaithe seo chun na héachtaí a baineadh amach go dtí seo, a d’eascair as cur chun feidhme Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú), 2021, a fhorbairt tuilleadh, béim a chur orthu agus pobail na Gaeltachta a fhorbairt agus a chothú. Leis an maoiniú breise in 2023, déanfar foráil do leithdháileadh €1 milliún chun dlús a chur le cur chun feidhme Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú), 2021, d’fhonn spriocanna uaillmhianacha earcaíochta a leagtar amach ann a bhaint amach. Beidh leithdháileadh breise €1.75 milliún ann do scéimeanna tacaíochta Gaeilge na Roinne, a n-úsáidfear chun tús a chur le cur chun feidhme an phlean dhigitigh don Ghaeilge agus na straitéise do na healaíona atá teanga-bhunaithe, atá le foilsiú go luath. Cuirfear maoiniú breise €2.5 milliún ar fáil do scéimeanna tacaíochta Gaeltachta na Roinne, a n-úsáidfear go príomha chun tacaíocht bhreise a thabhairt d’earnáil na gcoláistí samhraidh Gaeilge agus chun cur le bearta um chuimsiú sóisialta a bhaineann le teanga. Beidh maoiniú méadaithe arb ionann é agus €1.3 milliún ann d’Údarás na Gaeltachta agus d’Fhoras na Gaeilge d’obair na n-eagraíochtaí seo i dtacaíocht a thabhairt do phobal na Gaeltachta agus d’earnálacha foilsitheoireachta na Gaeilge faoi seach.

I am also pleased to announce a 2023 provision of €174.8 million for sports and recreational services. This allocation will provide for measures such as an additional €8 million for Sport Ireland, which will enable continued support for our high performance system in the lead-up to the 2024 Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games. It will also allow for the ongoing implementation of key actions in the sports action plan, including completion of a national swimming strategy and the development of a new coaching fund for national governing bodies of sport, as well as increasing core funding for national governing bodies. We will also enhance the roll-out of the SportForAll initiative to facilitate increased opportunities to play and participate for all people, regardless of ability, age or background. We will continue the development of the Sport Ireland campus in Blanchardstown to deliver world-class, state-of-the-art sporting infrastructure and facilities for high performance athletes and the public. The 2023 funding for the sports capital and equipment programme stands at €34.5 million, which builds on the €150 million we allocated earlier this year, while funding for the large-scale sports infrastructure fund has also been progressed to ensure that our sports infrastructure throughout the country can continue to grow and develop to meet the ever-increasing demand in this area.

Tá mé cinnte go dtosóimid an bhliain 2023 le fuinneamh, dóchas, agus saothar macánta nua, a bheidh neartaithe ag tionscal turasóireachta láidrithe, earnáil bheo ealaíon agus cultúir, earnáil spóirt lena gcuirtear le rath méadaithe idirnáisiúnta, timpeallacht ina leagtar béim ar rannpháirtíocht níos mó leis an nGaeilge, agus earnáil meán cumarsáide níos sábháilte agus níos dinimiciúla.

6:15 pm

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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The people needed a game-changer in this budget. It seems that this has been spread too thin and we have not got that game-changer, particularly on the big challenges facing society in housing, health and the cost-of-living crisis. The Government's energy proposals do not give the certainty the Sinn Féin proposals would have given to families, workers and business. A credit is still vulnerable to significant price increases in energy that could drive up prices again. What we proposed would have cut energy prices to what they were last summer and capped them at that level.

I cannot comprehend the approach being taken to affordable housing. There is an underspend from last year of €240 million. Countless houses have not been built on time. The increased allocation for affordable housing is totally inadequate and the targets for cost rental are actually down. Only 378 affordable houses are planned for Cork city between now and 2026. That is approximately 98 houses a year for all the people who do not qualify for social housing and cannot get a mortgage. Incredibly, the Government has failed to address that. That is 98 houses for hundreds, if not thousands, of eligible workers and families. Recently, the council received 800 applications for just 32 houses in Glanmire. These are people who do not know what future they have. For them, the situation today is the same as it was yesterday.

There are 88 patients on trolleys in Cork University Hospital, CUH, today. That is a new overcrowding record and that has happened before we are even into October. Many healthcare staff are worried about the winter. There were 529 people on trolleys across the State today. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, has said there is no real or meaningful plan to support the CUH emergency department. The budget underlines that point. There is not one additional acute bed in the budget, as CUH hits record levels of overcrowding.

In fact, we are still waiting for 300 beds promised two years ago. Tá an córas sláinte ar tí ghéarchéime. Tá sé faoi bhrú millteanach agus níl go leor le feiceáil sna hospidéil ná sa phobal.

Education is, as ever, a mix of some good and some missed opportunities. The one-off funding package is welcome but it will not address the funding problems that schools have been desperately struggling with for years. They are barely able to afford their bills. Parents will feel this too as they see voluntary contribution letters come through the door. The Government has not addressed the funding crisis that is affecting so many schools across the State in a long-term or sustainable way. I welcome that the Government has finally listened to the Opposition and the calls from Sinn Féin and many organisations for free school books. We have asked for that for over a decade. It has been in place in the North for seven decades. The Government has finally moved. I do not understand why this does not include secondary schools, given that their books are more expensive. They have iPads and they are less likely to have book rental schemes. Críochnóidh mé go luath. Tá ceithre nóiméad agam, an ea?

6:25 pm

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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The times are four, three and three. They do not fill the slot. Deputy Clarke might wish to speak.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I will make two brief final points. I welcome the allocation for special education. It closely resembles what we called for ourselves. The point with regard to special education is that it is not just a matter of the budget. The situation that arose last year was a matter of planning, not the budget. We need to make sure that we do not have a repeat of it next year. The budget should be in place but now that the powers are in place, we have to get the planning right this year.

The reduction of the pupil teacher ratio by one is welcome but it is a shame that the recommendation of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation and Sinn Féin for a great leap forward, by reducing class sizes by two points, was not taken up.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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Before I address further and higher education, I want to say that I hope the school transport debacle is solved for now. I urge the Minister, Deputy Foley, to publish the review or to get it sorted out as soon as possible so that we are not in the same situation with school transport next year. I acknowledge the advances that have been made in this budget to support students and to help them and their families through the crisis. I thank the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, for at least listening to some of the recommendations we made inside and outside this Chamber over the past year. The Minister knows that there is a great uphill climb to address the chronic underfunding of the third level sector. There are issues with the €307 million gap, precarious working conditions, the staff to student ratio, student supports, particularly for part-time students, those studying in the North and those forced to study abroad, and students with disabilities. Those are just some of the matters that need to be addressed in further and higher education.

The most striking matter in the budget is that there is no specific provision for student accommodation. In the midst of the student accommodation crisis, it is hard to believe that this has been excluded. Advanced student accommodation projects are sitting on the shelf because the Government will not support the colleges to deliver them. In our alternative budget, we allocated an additional €81 million to get the projects on site and under construction, to deliver affordable college-owned accommodation and to take the pressure off the private rental market. I ask the Minister to go back to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to make sure that funding is put in place. Otherwise, we will end up in the same situation next year and the year after with student accommodation, until we are in a situation where we have on-campus accommodation for students owned by higher education institutes.

Parents who are paying rent for their students are excluded from the tax rebate introduced for others. Rent is rent. If parents have proof that they are renting accommodation for their students to attend college, then they need to be eligible for that fund. I ask the Government to go back to look at that. We cannot just exclude students because we do not like the way that rent is being paid. There is proof of that rent being paid and it has to be changed, even at this stage.

The Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, supports and the cuts to fees to help struggling students and families are welcome and sorely needed. Sinn Féin wanted to see a 25% increase in the SUSI maintenance grant. This was a recommendation from the independent SUSI review commissioned by Government. It called for a 25% increase before this year's inflation and the cost-of-living issues. Reducing the fee by €1,000 is the right thing to do but we need to abolish fees. I appreciate that the Government has gone from a position of saying that it will absolutely not touch fees to a situation where it is abolishing them, at least temporarily, this year. That needs to be permanent. We cannot be an outlier and one of the few countries that charges fees. Eleven other states do not charge student fees and we need to do the same. In a situation where we desperately need apprentices, we should abolish apprenticeship fees.

I welcome the €500 for PhD researchers but it does not go nearly far enough. Less than half of all PhD researchers will be eligible for this. PhD researchers do not have worker status, so they are not eligible for the rent rebate. The Government needs to look at that. We need to treat PhD researchers as workers. The exploitation of PhD researchers is crazy, when they are so valuable to our economy and nation.

Membership of CERN costs less than €1.5 million. The Minister and Government need to ensure that we have associate membership of CERN. It is vitally important to future research and development in this area. The benefits from it speak for themselves. There is a multiplicative effect of at least three times and up to 20 times from the investment there. It has to be done to address the problems that we now have with climate change and many other problems that are arising which will face this country in the future. Some €1.5 million is such a small amount, from which we get so much back by being a member of CERN.

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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Last week, in this Chamber, I raised the urgent need for intervention for the sporting community to ease the enormous burden that sports clubs, sporting facilities and swimming pools are currently facing. I welcome the announcement of a fund of €35 million to help sporting communities to deal with rising energy costs, which are an issue for floodlights, heating and, particularly, swimming pools. Like everything, the devil is in the detail. We need to make sure that this funding is prioritised for community facilities, with inclusion at the core. We cannot allow a repeat of previous years, where State funding to support swimming pools ended up in the pockets of five-star hotels and high-end facilities that could not be any further removed from the communities they are based in. Some of these luxury swimming pools charge annual membership fees of €1,500 per year and refuse access to children. I am looking for a commitment that no public swimming pools will close this winter as a result of the high energy costs. They are important. As the Minister said, we cannot develop a national swimming strategy and, at the same time, allow pools to close over winter. We have to do everything we can to ensure that this important sporting infrastructure is maintained through the winter.

This budget represents yet another missed opportunity to support the grassroots community. We need an urgent step change in how the Government supports grassroots. The grassroots provide the foundation for all our international achievements. While increased funding for high-performance athletes is welcome and is long overdue, this must go hand-in-hand with increased supports for the grassroots of Irish sports that ensure young people have the opportunity to reach the highest levels of sports participation. We should not allow a huge funding gap to develop between elite and grassroots sport. England invested in winning medals to the detriment of grassroots sports. It is important that that is not replicated here. Sinn Féin's proposal recognises the importance of giving support directly to those involved in grassroots Irish sport.

The impact of sport lies in creating a strong and healthy society. We recognise that no child should face a barrier to sport participation due to costs, and that families should not be forced to quit sports as the household bills skyrocket. Sport is very important to everybody, for our mental health, physical health and emotional health. We must ensure that we protect it and invest in it. Our leisure card scheme would provide that support directly to families, and benefit community-based sports groups. The leisure card, to the value of €130 annually, is aimed at making a wide range of activities affordable to every child.

It is very important that the provision of special classes is in the local schools in the local community. The large established schools in Dublin, in Dublin 6 and 6W, must now be encouraged and pushed to open up special classes as a matter of urgency. We bus children out of their communities. For example, I believe that €170,000 per day is spent on taxis and buses to send children with special needs and additional needs out of their community in south inner city Dublin. This is something we cannot accept. We must invest in that area. This budget does not do that. Money is being promised, and the funding for the SNAs is very welcome, but the reality is that unless the schools are pushed and encouraged to open up the classes then we will not have an all-inclusive education system in Ireland.

6:35 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I propose to deal first with the Department of Defence Vote, before moving on to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

For 2023, the total allocation for the defence sector is €1.174 billion, comprising €893 million for Vote 36 - Defence, and €281 million for Vote 35 - Army Pensions, which is an overall increase of €67 million on 2022, doubling the increase in the Defence Vote from last year. What is not yet accounted for in the Defence Estimate is the provision for the new pay deal, should it be approved later this year. This would add an approximate further €45 million to that figure, with the combination of pensions and pay. This means that in all likelihood the Defence Vote next year will be about €114 million more than this year.

This allocation reflects the commitment of the Government to providing a financial platform for the defence sector to initiate the required transformation, as recommended by the Commission on the Defence Forces. It also assists in bringing our defence capabilities closer to European norms and ensures the Defence Forces maintain their ongoing capacity to deliver on all roles assigned by the Government, both at home and overseas.

The additional €35 million in capital funding is particularly welcome. The Commission on the Defence Forces reinforced the urgent requirement for significant capital investment on defensive equipment programmes and on upgrading and modernising the Defence Forces built infrastructure. This brings the total capital allocation to €176 million, a 25% increase on 2022, the single biggest annual capital investment ever provided to defence.

I place huge importance on capability development, and in that context the additional capital funding will provide added impetus to the major capital investment programmes currently under way in the defence sector. In particular, this allocation allows my Department to progress its consideration of the development of the primary radar capability and the procurement of additional force protection equipment.

A significant number of building projects will also advance under the Defence Forces built infrastructure programme, which will modernise and upgrade defence built infrastructure over the coming years, and include the provision of a new cadet school in the Defence Forces training camp at the Curragh, and the development of the university students administrative complement, USAC, student facility in Galway, along with facilities improvements and accommodation upgrades in multiple military locations across the country.

The defence group pay and pensions budget has increased to €823 million and will be used to meet the ongoing pay and allowance costs of the Defence Forces, civilian employees and departmental civil servants, along with the pensions costs for more than 13,000 ex-members of the Defence Forces and their dependants, including the costs associated with the existing Building Momentum pay deal. The allocation includes funding to facilitate further recruitment to the Permanent Defence Force, in line with the recommendations of the commission.

Funding is provided to facilitate implementation of a number of key recommendations of the commission, such as specific enhancements to pay and allowances and the recruitment of the head of transformation and strategic HR roles in the Defence Forces, as outlined in the high-level action plan. These appointments will place the focus of transformation on the organisation’s greatest asset, which is its people.

The increased allocation of €175 million in non-pay current expenditure will assist the Defence Forces in meeting escalating standing and operational costs anticipated in 2023. It also includes funding for Civil Defence and the Irish Red Cross Society.

The allocation for Vote 35 - Army Pensions - has increased by €10 million to €281 million. The funding allocated in budget 2023 will enable the Defence Forces to deliver effectively on all its key domestic and international responsibilities, to enhance our national and international security capability, and to facilitate progression on the structural and cultural transformation as recommended by the Commission on the Defence Forces.

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks for all the work undertaken by the Permanent Defence Force, Civil Defence, the Reserve and my Department during 2022. We are very proud of their dedicated efforts as we look forward with confidence to 2023. In time, 2022 will be seen as a benchmark year where significant change and modernisation was agreed and planned for. We certainly intend on funding that change now and into the future.

I shall now turn to foreign affairs. Budget 2023 is a strong statement of Ireland's enduring commitment to global solidarity. Through our international development programme we are seeking to address the consequences of a brutal and illegal war on our Continent, the relentless impact of climate change, and a growing and devastating hunger crisis, especially in the Horn of Africa.

Next year the budget for international development will be the largest ever. Ireland will provide more than €1.2 billion in official development assistance, which is an increase of 17% on this year. This includes an increase of €100 million to the Irish Aid programme in the Department of Foreign Affairs, €75 million to be channelled towards responding to the direct and indirect impacts of the war in Ukraine, including food security, and €25 million towards meeting the international climate finance commitments that we have made.

Given the urgency of the needs and the growing appeals for life-saving assistance, I am proud we are responding already with an additional €30 million this year in humanitarian assistance for the food security and nutrition crisis across the Horn of Africa. We know famine is imminent in the region, and Ireland will now be in a position to build urgently on the response that we have put in place to date.

I will also be seeking Government approval in the coming weeks for an additional €30 million this year for institutional support and stabilisation in Ukraine and Moldova. Of course, this is separate to the very significant funding also being provided to other Departments this year and next to look after all of those who have sought refuge in Ireland from the war in Ukraine.

The Government is committed to significant and continuing increases to Ireland's official development assistance programme towards meeting the 0.7% of GNI target by 2030. When I was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs in 2017 the budget for our international development programme was €743 million. For next year it will be 64% higher than that. This progress ensures Ireland can maintain its leadership role on hunger and nutrition, can respond to the unprecedented levels of humanitarian need, and meet our obligations to some of the most vulnerable people in the world who are suffering most from the impact of climate change while contributing least to its cause in the first place.

In addition to the significant increase in official development assistance next year, the Department of Foreign Affairs will work with additional funding of €16 million secured in budget 2023 to improve services for our citizens and broaden our reach across the world. I am committed to increasing resources in the passport service to ensure that we can meet citizens' demands, particularly given the expected continuing high levels of applications next year.

This involves putting in place adequate staffing while also investing in new technologies as part of the passport reform programme.

We will also continue to deepen and strengthen our global presence in established markets and in new markets overseas to drive job creation and exports as well as inward investment, tourism and international education. These new resources will allow us to operate with new Irish consulates that have just opened and are due to open shortly in Lyon, Miami and Toronto as well as a new embassy in Tehran that we expect to open next year, and to commence planning for the opening of three further missions in Islamabad, Milan and Munich.

Above and beyond everything I have mentioned, budget 2023 will enable the Department of Foreign Affairs working through our team at headquarters and more than 100 overseas offices to continue essential work to develop North-South and east-west relations post Brexit. We will ensure the Department can continue to provide quality consular services to our citizens travelling and living overseas as well as other supports to particularly vulnerable Irish communities. It will ensure Ireland's values and interests are advanced through our engagement at the UN and in other multilateral forums as we conclude our term of the UN Security Council at the end of this year. It will also allow us to strengthen our engagement on EU matters as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our accession to the then European communities, which is now, of course, the EU.

Across my two Departments, we have seen very significant increases. From a defence perspective, when the likely increases that come with a new pay deal are accounted for, I think it is the highest ever increase in defence in Ireland. It is certainly the highest ever percentage increase in terms of capital. It makes a very clear statement to back up the commitments we have made following the recommendations from the Commission on the Defence Forces that this Government will implement those recommendations in full and we will fund the change that is needed to grow and expand the Defence Forces significantly over the next few years, where we need to add thousands of extra people to our Permanent Defence Force and, indeed, the Reserve.

On foreign affairs, I never thought I would be Minister for Foreign Affairs at a time of war in Europe but I am and it is my job to make sure that, as a wealthy country with an economy that is doing extraordinarily well despite all of the headwinds there are internationally, we share some of that wealth. That is what we are doing in terms of expanding, growing and increasing the funding to our development aid programme. People should think about this for a second. Back in 2000, we spent about €250 million on development aid. We are now spending more than €1.2 billion and we need to keep increasing that figure significantly year after year as the country can afford to share at least some of our wealth with people who literally have nothing and, in some cases, children who are starving. That is where we are focusing some of the increased resources now, on the Horn of Africa, over the next few months.

I thank the House and I hope Members will support the priorities we have set out for both the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

6:45 pm

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
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There is a fundamental divergence in the ideological and strategic approach of the Minister and me on the defence budget. The premise of the Minister's strategy towards the development of the Defence Forces seems to be one of "If they build it, they will come". Unfortunately, as this plays out, his foregrounding of capital expenditure means that while he will have secured a whole lot of new tanks, ships and so on, there will be very few members of the Defence Forces left to crew them. The Minister's failure to address the retention crisis in the Defence Forces in this budget means we will witness a loss of its members this year of between 600 and 800 personnel. That is this year alone. That is not sustainable. To reach the Minister's target of 400 extra personnel this year in addition to the establishment figure of 9,500, the Defence Forces will need to recruit more than 1,000 extra personnel next year. The Defence Forces needs to be made an attractive career option. One way of doing that is the full implementation of the working time directive, something the Minister has consistently dragged his heels on. Other allowances also need to be addressed along with all the other recommendations in the commission's report.

I fully welcome the increase in the overseas aid budget. It is very welcome but we need to see a roadmap for how Ireland will achieve the 0.7% GNI* by 2030. That needs to be forthcoming. Increased funding for overseas development aid is critically important especially given the worsening food crisis in the Horn of Africa.

The Minister has chosen to ignore the needs of Irish citizens in the North in terms of their ability to access passports. We need to see the creation of a passport office in the North. Unfortunately, the Minister did not cater for that in the budget.

Budget 2023 offered an opportunity to commit to an extension of our global footprint. As a neutral state, this is especially relevant for areas where there is ongoing conflict, war or oppression. That is why Sinn Féin continues to campaign for the establishment of an Irish embassy in Palestine to facilitate an increased role in conflict resolution and humanitarian support. I welcome the new missions opening in Tehran and other places mentioned but we need one in Palestine as well.

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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I am very pleased to hear the Minister use the word "context" in respect of the defence budget because that context needs to be put in the record of this House. The context is one of where funding was coming from an abnormally low base to begin with. I am also concerned the Minister only made a brief passing reference to the Commission on the Defence Forces in relation to culture but not on the level of ambitions.

While the infrastructure budget is absolutely welcome for Galway, the Curragh and other facilities, some are truly in desperate need of an upgrade. Yesterday's budget included initiatives that had already been announced. It was just the funding to go with them.

I have been told the vague references to the required transformation is not what the members currently need to hear. It is not giving them confidence that the Government is actually taking on board the report from the Commission on the Defence Forces and that it is not taking it seriously. Also lacking is a Government commitment to quantifying and addressing the issues around the working time directive.

While I welcome the very first tentative steps towards providing primary radar, the reported €15 million earmarked for the exploratory research to procure that system, without the accompanying capability - that is, people - to maximise its use will be another exercise in futility and another example of the half measures the Defence Forces have been subjected to in recent years. We all remember the naval tax credits that could not be given when ships could not go to sea because of a lack of staff and the naval patrol duty allowance that was committed to but is yet to be implemented.

Therein lies the gaping hole in the Government's approach. There is no clarity on the level of ambition the Government is aiming for and no pathway to achieving it. More concerning again is that there is no real recognition of the necessary and urgent need to invest in the serving members of the Defence Forces and to ensure in the shortest possible time that the Defence Forces become modern, diverse and have the necessary coherent structure so that they can provide a viable career.

I will make one brief comment on the foreign affairs aspect of the Minister's remit. Before taking up my position on the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, like most people in this House, my world had four seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. However, there are NGOs which will tell you there is actually a fifth: the hunger season. It is a hunger season that is getting longer, more profound and is quickly becoming a starvation season for many people beyond these shores.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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The €11 billion figure can by default sound like a success but this budget is a failure to invest in State services.

The headline tax cuts may look good, but in reality, they are very poor value for people. At nearly €11 billion, this budget could have been a change one. This budget should have been about investing in our public services. Public services are getting by on threadbare budgets while the Government tax cuts will disproportionately benefit the better-off. The €1.1 billion income tax package should be used for social care and healthcare, education, public transport, community facilities and climate action. What about the thousands of people on waiting lists for community disability network teams? What about multi-annual funding for mental health beds in Bantry hospital and beyond? What about the wastewater treatment plants throughout the country that need investment? Any benefit for households will quickly be eaten up by some of the highest childcare costs in Europe, rising rents, so-called voluntary school contributions, GP home visits, home care and so much more.

These tax cuts will end up costing average families more. If that €1.1 billion were invested in services, it would have significantly larger positive impact due to economies of scale. The same amount of money given in small amounts to many people is much less efficient and is an irresponsible fiscal policy. It is obviously ideologically driven and that is the main difference between a social democratic approach and the centre-right approach of the Government parties. It is painful to watch them attempt to make this seem like a progressive budget. They should at least own their own policies.

It is clear these long-term decisions will benefit the better-off while the more vulnerable, those on disability allowance, carers and pensioners only get temporary measures and one-off payments. In the middle of a housing disaster with record numbers of homeless people and failed Government policy, the least we could expect is a new approach. However, instead we get more half-measures that benefit developers and investment funds more than people who need a home. Young people and families are being priced out of the rental market and home ownership is simply impossible to many. Yesterday's budget offers no hope and will probably be the final straw for many young people who are considering emigrating.

The Government has made a big deal over its renter tax credit but everyone knows that in reality it will be quickly gobbled up through rent increases, not to mention those on fixed incomes who will not be able to avail of it. Without a rent freeze, what is the point? We need a rent freeze and we need it now. Today when I looked, I found only ten places to rent in my entire constituency and fewer than 100 homes for less than €300,000. At the same time there are hundreds of vacant and deteriorating houses in towns and villages throughout the country. Meanwhile, incredibly, the budget has introduced a 0.3% tax on vacant homes. This is a blatantly empty gesture when house price inflation is running at about 8%. We all know that 0.3% will be utterly useless in tackling vacancy and dereliction.

It feels like the Government somehow does not realise that we are years into a desperate housing emergency. Where is the urgency? We drastically need policies with teeth to stop speculation and at the same time support to help to turn vacant and derelict buildings in urban and rural areas into homes. This is more economically and environmentally efficient. It is beyond belief that the Government is not doing this on the scale that is required. This Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Government, like the Fine Gael Government before it, is failing to address the housing disaster and the situation is getting worse under continued failed policies. Budget 2023 can be added to this list. Again, ordinary families and young people will pay the price for the Government's failures.

On disability, in July the Government agreed to the Social Democrats motion calling for an increase in disability allowance of at least €15 a week and a cost-of-disability payment of €20 per week. Instead, the Government is only giving a €12 increase for core welfare and a €500 one-off payment when obviously disability is a long-term permanent issue for people. It is not only highly cynical but deeply disrespectful to give disabled people and their families the impression it is going to recognise their struggles and then actually give them almost €700 less this year. Instead of €1,040 more every year, there is only a once-off €500.

Temporary payments do not address systemic issues of poverty, exclusion and disempowerment for people with disabilities. Government reports have highlighted that it costs up to €12,300 more annually to live with a disability in Ireland. While I welcome the additional funding for disability services, it still falls short of the amount outlined in the Department of Health's own disability capacity review to 2032. Although funding is essential, it also needs to be supported by plans for implementation. The children's disability network teams are chronically understaffed and there are major issues with retention and recruitment. These issues must be addressed if the budget is to make a real impact for those children and their families.

People in rural areas have been left deeply worried about climate action due to the rhetoric put forward by the big players. This budget is a missed opportunity to invest in and outline a just transition for small farmers and rural residents. Instead, we have the repackaging of the same agricultural schemes and retrofitting announcements when targets continue to be missed. The lack of public transport remains one of the largest social and environmental issues in rural areas. Vulnerable groups and whole communities are screaming out for Local Link services but the fund is just not there.

Climate action should have been at the forefront and the centre of this budget. Instead, it is only an afterthought. The underinvestment in public services will cost families as will the lack of ambition in climate action. Long after the once-off measures are spent, the larger systemic issues will remain and everyone will end up paying for the Government's mistakes.

6:55 pm

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I will be sharing my time with the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon. I am delighted to speak about the agriculture budget introduced by me, the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, and the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, who is abroad representing the Government at the moment.

In an overall sense, the Government has delivered an €11 billion budget to support our families, farmers, fishers, businesses and economy through a period of tremendous uncertainty. This is a budget for urban and rural areas and for all of Ireland. Budget 2023 is a critical one for our largest indigenous export sector, which is facing a period of uncertainty. Some €2.14 billion has been allocated to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine for next year, an increase of €250 million or 13% on the budget in 2022. This sits alongside the incoming Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, which will deliver an additional €1.2 billion in national funding on top of the outgoing CAP. I have increased all funding streams to farmers to ensure the sector is protected and enabled to prosper.

Coming into budget 2023, my strategy was to take a long-term as well as a short-term approach to protecting our farm families' incomes. As I said, our great sector is facing a period of uncertainty and change. However, what is not in doubt is the need for our farmers, fishers and food producers to continue to produce world-class safe and sustainable food. Outside factors, particularly the illegal invasion of Ukraine, are eroding farm incomes. This has been a key priority of mine throughout 2022. Since February, I have introduced €90 million worth of extra supports for farm families and their businesses. We are still in the midst of farm input challenges and I am using this budget to address this. For 2023 we will have a second fodder support scheme which will pay farmers upwards of €1,000 per farm family. This is the front-loaded this year to assist farmers to make decisions on their businesses for next year. We will also have a new €10 million tillage incentive scheme as well as a new €28 million suckler beef support scheme which will sit alongside the €150 per cow new suckler carbon efficiency scheme. I will continue to stand foursquare behind our beef and suckler farmers.

There will be a new grant aid scheme to ease fertiliser price pressure, comprising an enhanced multispecies sward scheme, a red clover scheme and also for the first time an €8 million grant aid scheme to assist in the cost of spreading lime. Funding for organic farming has been increased by 80% to €37 million. Farmer access to the business energy support scheme has also been secured as well as the continuation of the reduction of excise duty on agricultural diesel to nil. These measures will support all farmers and will deliver real money to farm families at an important time.

Looking to the longer term, this budget lays the groundwork for strategic supports for the sector over the next five years through the new €10 billion Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, strategic plan. This CAP includes a 50% increase in Pillar 2 funding over the outgoing one.

I have secured up to €500 million in 2023 to support farmers in their efforts to tackle the challenges of climate, biodiversity and water quality. Notably, the measures include funding for 30,000 places in a new flagship agri-climate rural environment scheme. This is the largest ever agri-environment scheme run by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I am also introducing €8 million in a grant aid scheme to support the spreading of lime as well as advanced multispecies sward red clover scheme. This will help farmers with rising fertiliser prices and help them move towards a reduction in chemical fertiliser.

Critically, I also secured an increase in the targeted agriculture modernisation schemes, TAMS, to €90 million. This will help fund the proposed increase in the grant rate for TAMS to 60% and a stand-alone investment ceiling of €90,000 for solar installations. As an immediate step, farm dwellings are now eligible for inclusion for solar panel investments. I am confident that these will be very beneficial to farm families and their businesses and I expect significant farmer interest in this space.

With regard to taxation, I am delighted that we could agree a new accelerated capital allowance for slurry storage, which will help drive further improvements in slurry storage and management as well as water quality, coupled with improved nutrient use efficiency and reduced dependence on chemical fertilisers. Ultimately, this will help reduce emissions and is a measure of the Government's commitment to supporting farmers and improving environmental sustainability.

I am a firm supporter of generation renewal and facilitating the transfer of land to the next generation when it is appropriate to do so. We agreed the renewal with the Minister for Finance of vital tax reliefs including stamp duty relief for young, trained farmers for stock relief, the renewal of capital gains tax for farm restructuring and stamp duty relief for farm consolidation.

I am also delighted to announce that farmers will have access to the temporary business energy support scheme, which will provide important support to farmers and food businesses. It is a significant measure which will be a direct and rapid practical support to farmers and food businesses at a time of escalating costs.

The marine and seafood sector has faced challenges too and we have responded in this budget with the largest ever seafood sector budget, up 62% in 2022. This includes funding for schemes under the Brexit adjustment reserve and the seafood sector task force. Funding will also be provided for the upcoming European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund, as the budget also includes energy supports for seafood sector businesses.

I am very much aware of the challenges facing farm families. I am working closely with the Ministers of State, Deputy Heydon and Senator Hackett. Over the year ahead we will continue to support vital farm families in every way we can.

7:05 pm

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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Ingenuity and innovation flow throughout our agricultural sector. As our most important indigenous industry, farming and food production employ more than 160,000 people. It generates €14 billion in exports, which brings money into rural communities throughout the country. It is a sector on which the Government places a significant value, and one we want to grow and continue to provide for farmers, fishers, foresters and their families, and for all those employed further downstream.

Budget 2023 is designed to put money back into people's pockets, help with the cost of living and back business. It will do that for farmers and the agrifood sector too. Farmers face great uncertainty due to rising production costs. The three Fs of feed, fuel and fertiliser have been directly impacted by the war in Ukraine and soaring energy costs. From the outset of the war, our focus has been on providing targeted supports to farmers to protect food production. That approach has worked. So far we have provided more than €90 million in additional supports to farmers. Budget 2023 builds on that commitment. There will be schemes to help offset high fertiliser costs. We have extended the full removal of excise duty on green diesel and we have put in place supports to deliver vital feed stocks for our livestock sector, working closely with the tillage sector.

Looking ahead, Food Vision 2030, our ten-year strategy for the sector, identifies research as a central part in maintaining a competitive, sustainable and strong industry. That is why I have strengthened my Department's research fund to €20 million for 2023. This will allow us to roll out a significant call for new research projects next year and ensure a steady pipelines of climate solutions for the sector in the coming years, giving us time to implement the science and technology that is available to us today.

I will give an example. In 2016, we funded the RumenPredict project. Teagasc and was able to identify traits in beef cattle that allow for the selection of low methane emitting cattle without impacting animal productivity and, therefore, farm profitability. We are now in a position to incorporate this trait into our national breeding strategies. Building on that, in the follow-on call in 2019 we funded METH-ABATE, which is currently testing feed additives such as seaweed and validating their ability to reduce methane emissions from our pasture-based system. That is how the pipeline of research projects work. The continuous investment by the Department in research in recent years and the increased commitment this year will mean the projects we fund next year will be part of delivering the solutions we will need later in this decade.

Farm safety is a priority for me. As of today, unfortunately, ten people have lost their lives in fatal incidents this year. That is ten farms, families, and communities left devastated. I have put more resources into this area and increased my dedicated budget to €2.5 million for 2023. In the coming year, I want to prioritise having more physical safety infrastructure on farms. Recent figures from Teagasc show there are more than 4,500 non-fatal incidents on farms every year. More than half of these incidents involve livestock. That is why I have pushed to increase the grant rate for farm safety equipment under TAMS to 60%, subject to EU approval. I want to make it more feasible for farmers to invest in better animal handling units and calving pens. This will help not only reduce the number of injuries but also increase work efficiency, in particular for older farmers working alone. We must ask why so many fatal incidents involve farmers in their 70s. It is because we have so many farmers still working in their 70s. Some years ago we introduced a series of tax reliefs that made the long-term rental of land more attractive and encouraged more plan generation and renewal. These vital tax reliefs, which should never be taken for granted, have been extended in budget 2023. They give security to older and younger farmers to plan for the future and to highlight our continuing commitment to an industry where we see a bright future for young farmers.

I acknowledge the significant commitment the Department has made to the equine industry, one that employs thousands of people the length and breadth of this country, from the significant investment in Horse Racing Ireland to the investment in Horse Sport Ireland to a commitment of €1.9 million for the upgrade of the National Equine Centre, which plays a critical role in preventing diseases and pandemics in the horse world. We have shown a big commitment to the sector and that will come to fruition. Like all the measures outlined, it is an investment in rural Ireland and in farmers. We announced a significant investment in equine TAMS for next year, which is important not just for the equine sector and small breeders, the majority of whom have five mares or fewer, but also from a farm safety perspective.

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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This budget has not given people the certainty they needed. People on middle and low incomes who were worried about energy costs at the start of the week will are still going to be worried at the end of this week. There is great concern across the board that we will see increases in rent in the coming months. It is incredible that, at a time there has been so much talk about the squeezed middle, 1.8 million workers will not get a single cent from the Government's main tax proposal. In the midst of a health crisis, there is not a single additional acute bed delivered and the situation in housing is just as appalling. This budget was about political choices and many of the choices the Government made were the wrong ones. Now more than ever we need a change in direction. We need a fresh start, but the Government has failed to provide.

Budget 2023 offers little for Ireland's family farmers. We heard all the rhetoric last week at the National Ploughing Championships but the Government has completely failed farming families in budget 2023. Behind all the repackaged announcements we have heard about from the Minister, the fact is that just €11 million of additional resources have been allocated to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, beyond what was pre-committed in non-core Brexit-related funding.

Sinn Féin had outlined in its alternative budget a suckler farm payment of up to €300 per cow and calf pair. We had provided for an increased sheep improvement scheme of €20 per ewe. We had allocated an additional €25 million for farms in areas of natural constraint and €15 million of additional funding for organics. We had also provided for all of the non-core expenditure included in the Government's figures. However, we had also provided for young farmers, including the so-called forgotten farmers, and had provided for key environmental measures through Exchequer funding that would allow farmers to deliver on climate action targets.

The Government's budget, on the contrary, will not provide sufficiently in any of those areas. It will mean little for our farming families. At a time when farmers face multiple challenges from Brexit, rising input costs and climate obligations, this is clearly a budget from a Government that fails to recognise the scale of these challenges.

7:15 pm

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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It was about 12 weeks ago that the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, met representatives of the Irish fishing industry, who outlined the seriousness of the crisis and the impact of their break-even sum for fuel being 60 cent a litre while they had been paying more than €1. They explained how they could not afford to go out to sea and how other European member states had intervened, such as France, Spain, Sweden - I could go on.

For whatever reason, however, the Minister and his Government have failed to intervene to provide emergency financial supports to the fishing industry. Representatives met him again in recent days and, I have to say, I am shocked a rescue package for our fishing industry was not announced in the budget. I cannot figure it out for the life of me. The Minister put out a statement through his officials that is utter spin. He announced a record investment in coastal communities, yet he knows that about two thirds of that comprises European Brexit funding to compensate for the loss of quota. The Government is actually dropping investment, therefore, from the central Exchequer into fishing and coastal communities and has refused to provide an emergency budget for fishermen. Fisheries both on the islands and inshore, along with every producer organisation, co-operative and fishing or seafood organisation in this State, have united to say this is an unprecedented crisis and to highlight that it has been one thing after another with the lack of quota, Brexit and now this fuel crisis.

I am taking this opportunity to again appeal to the Minister to please put together an emergency package. In our alternative budget, we outlined how the Government could use the European funds that are there or central Exchequer funding. Like me, he comes from a community that is surrounded by water and fishing communities. This is something he should know instinctively. He has met these people face to face and seen the whites of their eyes, and he knows the issue. I appeal to him, or to his officials or whoever is blocking this, to please stand for up for his communities and ensure there will be an emergency financial package to bail out our fishing and coastal communities. Leaving aside politics, as two people from Donegal with fishing communities around us, this has to be sorted out.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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As the dust settles on this massive spin operation from the Government in regard to this year's budget, a few things have become clearer. According to many commentators, the next year will see people's living standards decline. Inflation will run at more than 8% for the coming year and living standards will fall by 3% this year and 2% in the following year. The budget electricity grants and the various once-off payments have one common theme, namely, they will attempt to deal with the effects of the crisis but not with its causes. What the Government is offering is breathing space to people who are drowning in a sea of rising prices and the rising cost of living, and while payments are welcome, the process of drowning will continue. The €600 energy grants will move quickly into the profit margins of the energy companies, while the €500 renters’ tax credit will barely register but will be gratefully accepted by real estate investment trusts and various corporate and other landlords.

That is why we in People Before Profit have argued for price controls, rent reductions and rent freezes. Price controls, it was argued by the Government, are just another way of subsidising energy companies, but they are not so if the State refuses to subsidise them. If price controls were allied with a policy of renationalising our energy system, that would allow the State to deal not only with the current crisis but with the looming and ever-larger climate crisis. Like the weather, it seems everyone wants to talk about the broken market in energy, but few will do anything about it. We need to reverse the Thatcherite and Reagan-era reforms that totally deregulated our energy system. Only a publicly owned, controlled and operated energy system can address this crisis and, ultimately, achieve a move away from fossil fuels.

In the past week, yet another giant corporation, Shell, withdrew from the offshore energy projects, just as Equinor did before it. Leaving the unrolling of offshore energy to private, for-profit companies will lead us to the same disaster it did when we relied on private companies for broadband or hospital provision, except that the consequences for our climate targets will be even more profound.

One of the Government's own research papers estimated that in 2016, 475,000 people were living in energy poverty, and we know that the recent price hikes will have driven many more thousands into it. Up to this budget, 370,000 people were receiving the fuel allowance. The various criteria and means-test rules that applied prevented many thousands in energy poverty from receiving the much-needed help from this scheme. I welcome the fact, therefore, that the 80,000-plus pensioners who have been locked out of this scheme will, I hope, now get this allowance, but there are two problems. The 80,000 will not get this help until January, and that means they will lose the €400 bonus that was promised.

Winter is coming, and it is unconscionable that we recognise a problem and a dire need here but defer dealing with it for three months in the middle of a dire energy crisis. The wider problem, of course, is that many thousands more will remain in energy poverty, barred from accessing the fuel allowance. This crisis should be a wake-up call for how we administer this allowance and the payments. We are rightly changing the means test for many pensioners who have been locked out because they had a small private pension that may have pushed them over the limit, but this also applies to many other categories of households, and if we cannot address it in the middle of a crisis, we never will.

Lastly, on the budget for climate and the environment, People Before Profit has consistently pointed out that the crises in energy and climate are intimately linked, and so are the solutions to both. It is ironic the climate received so little attention or comment in this budget. You would be hard pressed to know the Green Party was in government if it were not called out every now and again to justify carbon taxes on ordinary people. The low-key silence on climate in this budget is astonishing, especially when we consider that, as I said, the energy and the climate crises are so intrinsically linked.

According to the headline figures in this budget, the funding for climate, amazingly, is 17% below last year's spend, driven by a 35% cut in the energy transformation heading. A 35% cut in energy transformation during a worsening climate crisis is decidedly odd. That fall in the spend of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications seems to be accounted for this year by the spend on emergency gas-fired generation and electricity grants, but in both cases, as I understand it, large sums, of €128 million and €40 million, respectively, were taken from the retrofitting programme to fund them. Despite the spin regarding the announced targets of 37,000 homes to be retrofitted, we are well behind the existing targets and falling further behind each day.

Like our emission reduction targets, our retrofitting targets are weighted heavily towards the latter years heading to 2030 - mañana, mañana. It is revealing that €128 million is being taken from the retrofitting funding to pay for emergency gas-fired generators. Regardless of the Minister's reasoning for the 17% cut in the budget this year, the Green Party should have argued to retain the funding total and use it to push for greater retrofitting programmes or to trial free public transport. Instead, unbelievably, we are hiring an emergency gas-fired plant to keep data centres running.

Just two weeks ago, the Fine Gael Party and the Tánaiste went into a rage against the report of the Commission on Taxation and Welfare, calling its members Marxists and Shinners, all because the commission had dared to suggest we look at taxing wealth to fund public services we will need in the future. The truth is Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil cannot bear the idea of taxing wealth or profits. This budget is about leaving intact a system that is overseeing growing inequality, leaving profits and wealth untaxed, leaving market delivery of key public services unchallenged and not addressing systemic reasons behind the energy crisis and the wider crisis in society.

It could not be otherwise because these two parties have dominated Irish politics and society for the past 100 years. Winter is coming, but I am afraid so is change for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

7:25 pm

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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This is a budget that invests in essential infrastructure of all modes of travel and supports greater safety and sustainability. It supports the protection and renewal of our national, regional and local roads and in the case of regional and local roads, enhances walking and cycling options along these roads. It supports regional connectivity and promotes maritime safety and security.

As Minister of State with responsibility for road safety, I was very pleased last week to open officially the new safe routes to school programme at An Mhodhscoil in Limerick city, which will help make the journeys to school for pupils safer to walk, cycle or scoot. This project was delivered under the safe routes to school programme, which will be continued into 2023. It is part of this Government's commitment to spend almost €1 million per day on walking and cycling infrastructure throughout the country.

I am also particularly pleased to have secured funding to allow a significant piece of research to take place to understand the barriers and encourage more young girls, particularly adolescents, to choose cycling. I sincerely hope we can instill long-term habits that will benefit not just our environment but also the health and well-being of women of tomorrow.

We have a maritime budget of €109 million, which will be allocated in 2023. As we mark 200 years this year of the Irish Coast Guard, we continue to look to the future of our service. This is a critical service carried out by hundreds of volunteers around the country in our coastal immunities. Funding will be provided to enhance building and IT programmes as well as investment in the search and rescue service, including training and equipment, providing the coastguard with the tools and technology necessary to support it in serving our citizens.

The haulage and logistics sector is one that has ensured our supermarket shelves have remained stocked and that our pharmacies were equipped with medicines and other key products that continued to be available for families, communities and businesses. The haulage sector did this flawlessly as Ireland navigated the turbulent waters of Brexit and Covid-19. Earlier this year, Government put in place a significant support package for the haulage sector to help meet the increased costs of doing business. I hope to be in a position to announce further supports for our hauliers in the coming weeks.

In recognition of the importance of our regional airports in supporting connectivity to the regions and enhancing balanced regional development, the Government has sustained the substantial high level of supports to regional airports since the onset of Covid-19 throughout the recovery of the aviation sector. A total package of €36 million was also announced in yesterday's budget. Funding of €30 million will be provided in 2023 to support regional airports under the Regional Airports Programme 2021-2025. This programme will deliver €16 million in current funding and €14 million in capital funding, which will support our regional airports of Shannon Airport, Ireland West Airport Knock, Donegal Airport and Kerry Airport. This programme also funds Exchequer-funded public service obligation, PSO, air services between Donegal and Dublin. Following an extensive procurement process, a new PSO air services contract came into effect this year, marking the Government's commitment to ensuring continued connectivity to this region.

In addition and in recognition of the important role of Cork Airport to the economy of the south and nationally, capital funding of €6 million will be provided to Cork Airport in 2023. This funding will support the commencement of a significant security screening project at Cork Airport next year. This funding is consistent with the programme for Government action to deliver capital programmes required to support services and ensure the safety of our State and regional airports.

Budget 2023 includes €10 million to strengthen Ireland's post office network. I am acutely aware of the importance of supporting our 900-strong post offices throughout the country, which play a vital role in community life in our towns, villages and cities throughout the country. The funding announced in this budget marks the first time in the history of the Government where we are providing direct financial support to our postmasters. It will give them certainty and stability, allowing them to plan and develop their services. This is part of a €30 million three-year funding package that recognises the central role they play in our communities and ensures families and businesses can continue to access public services close to where they live.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick County, Fine Gael)
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I am delighted the Government has continued to support the work of the Office of Public Works in 2023. Our gross allocation of €609 million demonstrates the confidence the Government has in the Office of Public Works to continue to perform our key infrastructure delivery and protection role. The Government support on the back of the significant allocation of investment funds in the national development plan, NDP, leaves the Chairman and staff of the Office of Public Works well-positioned to deliver the programme for Government both in terms of flood risk management and estate management responsibilities.

The ongoing work under the flood risk management programme, which includes climate adaptation measures, will see substantial completion in 2022 of the Douglas and Ashbourne flood relief schemes. In 2023, funding of €125 million will be available to provide protection to communities throughout Ireland from the impacts of climate change. This funding will allow for substantial completion of four major flood relief schemes at Athlone, Templemore, Springfield and the Dodder in Dublin, providing protection for more than 1,500 homes and businesses.

Commencement will begin, following a consent process, on up to seven major flood relief schemes at King's Island in Limerick, Raphoe, Morrison's Island in Cork, the Poddle, Glashaboy, Blackpool and Crossmolina in County Mayo. These projects will provide flood protection to more than 2,500 properties when completed, and include the maintenance of more than 2,000 km of arterial drainage channels throughout the country and 112 km of flood defence embankments.

In parallel, on the estate management programme, the Office of Public Works will further support key climate action targets by increasing the energy efficiency of the State's portfolio as well as delivering on the Government's ambitious National Development Plan 2021-2030.

An amount of €154 million will be provided in 2023 to progress major projects such as a new Government data centre at Backweston, County Kildare, a new office development at Leeson Lane and the fit-out of the Distillers Building in Dublin 7. In addition, the deep retrofit of Tom Johnson House will be an exemplar of an energy-efficient State office for occupation as a headquarters building by the lead Irish Government Department on the environment, namely, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

The total provision of €484 million to the estate management programme will allow the Office of Public Works to strive towards the creation of a more agile, digitally enabled, climate-friendly workspace that will meet the current and future operational needs of our client Departments and will see further progress towards a programme of proactive building maintenance for more than 2,000 buildings in the care of the Office of Public Works. As part of estate management, the Office of Public Works has been provided with additional funding to increase recruitment of professional and technical staff such as architects, quantity surveyors and engineers. The funding allows the Office of Public Works to design, manage and implement key projects on other Departments' behalf such as the Government's nationwide modular homes project to house Ukrainian refugees, improved infrastructure at Rosslare Europort to deal with the dramatic upsurge in activities such as Brexit, and to implement the An Garda Síochána capital build programme, including the completion of Military Road and the redevelopment of Bailieborough Garda station in 2023, among others. Progress is also being made on the national Irish Coast Guard station upgrade programme, including at Bunmahon in County Waterford.

Finally, the 2023 allocation will continue to allow the State to present its wonderful heritage assets to the public, which have provided much needed respite to all in recent years. The value of these heritage assets to the State cannot be overstated. We will continue to protect our built and archaeological heritage through sustainable conservation and refurbishment for the enjoyment of current and future generations. In 2022, the heritage estate will see improvement projects in Phoenix Park, Dublin Castle and across many other locations throughout the country, including a new Blasket visitor centre, Anne's Grove and the Céide Fields visitor centre in County Mayo. The much valued and essential work of the Office of Public Works will continue at pace due to this 2023 allocation.

I know the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will agree with me that the Office of Public Works has a very special place in the hearts of everybody who works in this House. It should be complemented for work it does in looking after all of us.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on budget 2023. I will focus my comments on the transport and climate budgets. At a time when we need a transformation in transport to make it safer, more accessible and more affordable, budget 2023 fell far short. Despite a concerning level of antisocial behaviour on public transport, there was no funding for a public transport policing unit. While the 20% fare reduction was extended to the end of 2023, which is welcome, Sinn Féin would have made it permanent. It also was not expanded to commercial bus operators as it should have been. These services are particularly important outside Dublin. In the last two weeks alone, two commercial bus operators have ceased trading.

A company in my constituency, Ashbourne Connect, is scaling back services due to a lack of Government support.

Despite the lack of public transport in rural Ireland, there is no plan to accelerate the roll-out of the Connecting Ireland mobility plan. Sinn Féin allocated €25 million to deliver this plan in double-quick time in our alternative budget. Similarly, in terms of access, and despite parliamentary party motions from senior Ministers, the short hop zones were not extended to more rail stations either. This is badly needed in my constituency for stations such as Gormanston, Laytown and Drogheda and elsewhere such as Kildare. Sinn Féin’s alternative budget allocated funding to kick-start the Navan rail line and the western rail corridor projects but again this was absent from the Government’s announcements yesterday. We also need to see increased investment in the public transport accessibility retrofit programme. Sinn Féin would fund that programme to the tune of €27.5 million next year. That is the scale of ambition that is needed. In active travel, we saw media leaks about reducing VAT on bicycles and e-bikes but this did not make the cut either. This proposal would cost in the region of €6 million and I hope that funding could be found in the expected underspend in the transport budget this year. It should be done and would make a significant difference. Elsewhere, we need to invest in ports for renewables and we need to support hauliers to keep their vehicles on the road and to move to cleaner vehicles.

On climate action, it is a case of good money after bad as the Government continues to pursue its failed and punitive policy. As usual, we have smoke and mirrors when it comes to figures. The budget document states that there is a 35% reduction in funding but the press release states it is a 34% increase. That spin fools no one. On climate funding, the Taoiseach said earlier that “Every cent raised by the carbon tax is going directly” to climate action. That spin fools even less. We know that none of it is ring-fenced. That argument was blown out of the water when millions of euro were siphoned off to buy diesel generators earlier this year and we know that €88 out of every €100 raised in carbon tax goes to the general Exchequer and has nothing to do with climate. It is time to get honest with people.

There are progressive and fair ways to do climate action and that is what is meant by a just transition. Sinn Féin’s alternative budget set out a clear plan to overhaul the Government’s unfair and failing retrofit plan, for example. This includes targeted supports to those based on need not ability to pay, a dedicated scheme for those dependent on solid fuel and fast-track roll-out of cavity wall and attic insulation for this winter. The Government ignores our appeals. We set out funding to address the identified barriers in realising the potential of our renewables resources and in resourcing our planning system, agencies and notifiable bodies. We also set out funding to increase investment in solar photovoltaic, PV, panels for households, businesses and schools.

Importantly, we would tax those who pollute the most. We would introduce a pollution tax on private jet departures and empower communities to climate action through sustainable energy communities, the creation of a local energy action fund and local renewable energy projects. We would make schools catalysts for climate action and would create a fund for new community woodland parks. The Government needs to change tack but there is no evidence from budget 2023 that it will.

7:35 pm

Photo of Pádraig O'SullivanPádraig O'Sullivan (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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Despite what we have been listening to across the way over the past number of hours, I am here to commend the work of all Ministers from the three parties on much of the work and investment that has been put in during recent months.

With regard to my area of education, the allocation of €50 million for free books for primary schools is encouraging. I have no doubt that in time, once this system is embedded, that will be rolled out at secondary level in a future budget. That is much to be welcomed. I have taught in classrooms where there have been more than 25 or 30 children and I have experienced how those overcrowded classrooms are one of the biggest barriers to effective teaching. It is great that for the third year running this Minister has reduced the pupil-teacher ratio. When she started, it was 26:1 and it is now down to 23:1. That is not to mention the introduction, between SNAs and special education teachers, of 2,180 new posts and both Ministers are to be commended on that. There is also a 10% increase in the overall special education budget, which accounts for a significant portion of the Department of Education's overall spend. Something that is much needed is the financial award of 54 posts for the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, which it is to be hoped will provide much-needed psychologists so that we can make further dents in those backlogs in assessments of need.

Something that I have been involved in during the past 12 months and that I am glad an allocation has been made for is the provision of 40 new Irish Sign Language posts. This will allow children who are deaf or hard of hearing to attend mainstream schools with the constitutional right they have to be facilitated by an Irish Sign Language interpreter who will accompany them into the class. The money is there for those posts and that is also welcome. I also have to acknowledge the progress that has been made on the school transport issue. This is an issue many Deputies have experienced in recent months and every summer in recent years. It was encouraging the Minister said that she thinks that under the current review we will finally move to a demand-led model. I welcome the provision of extra money to facilitate the 6,000 concessionary ticketholders.

I would also like to reference childcare as somebody with three young kids, all at preschool level. We have seen a significant intervention from the State for the second year running, which accounts for approximately €1 billion of an investment. That is bringing costs down for families and that is welcome. I am hearing reports that some families could benefit with up to €2,500 per annum off their childcare costs. I mention an issue that the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Rabbitte, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and I have worked on in recent months, and it was great that the Minister of State raised it earlier in her contribution. Some €900,000 has been allocated to Cork and Galway for the first time for a paediatric neurology service. Families will no longer have to travel from all corners of the country to the National Rehabilitation Hospital. They will now have the facility available to them in Cork and Galway to meet nurses and consultants. A sum of €1.7 million has also been allocated for the provision of neurological nurses. Filling those posts needs to be a matter of urgency.

The biggest criticism I am hearing from the Opposition benches is that this budget did not provide certainty. I find it laughable they say it did not provide certainty. It is giving people cash, including pensioners and carers. People with disabilities have also seen a significant increase in their incomes so it is not true to say the budget lacks certainty. The price cap that has been spoken about in Britain does not provide certainty. As we can see, they have already revisited their limits on that and what is happening across the water is not providing certainty whatsoever. This Government has provided certainty. It is putting money into people's pockets and into energy credits.

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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Despite the challenges people are facing with the cost-of-living crisis, the feedback I have been receiving on the budget has been positive. That is because people, from our children to our older people, are getting the help they need and deserve. Before the summer I surveyed 500 of my constituents across Clondalkin, Lucan, Palmerston, Newcastle, Rathcoole, Saggart and Brittas and I asked them what they wanted the Government to prioritise in the budget. Unsurprisingly, their top five priorities were health, housing, energy costs, tax cuts for the squeezed middle and childcare. I presented their feedback directly to the Minister for Finance and I am so glad it was used to help shape this budget because there has been investment, including record investment in many cases, to reduce the cost of healthcare, build more homes, help first-time buyers, help with the rising cost of energy bills, cut tax for the squeezed middle, and significantly reduce the cost of childcare. In short, the budget has been about putting money back in people's pockets.

I am also pleased that the budget invests in women. It does that by expanding free contraception to 16- to 30-year-olds, removing the VAT on period products such as menstrual cups and period underwear, increasing access to hormone replacement therapy, HRT, by reducing its cost, and creating more women's health hubs to improve gynaecology care for women with endometriosis and going through the menopause.

Crucially, it provides a budget for the first time ever to support publicly funded IVF, which will be life-changing for couples across this country. This is also a budget that puts young people and students front and centre through reduced third level fees, double payments of SUSI grants, a €500 reduction on fees for middle-income families sending kids to college, the creation of more opportunities for apprenticeships and the extension of the youth card for public transport at half price. We have also seen free school books for primary schools, more subsidies towards early education and afterschool care and extra funding for school buildings that is badly needed in my constituency and special needs education supports such as SNAs.

Energy credits and the tax credits for renters are extra measures that have been broadly welcomed by people who have contacted me. I am glad that these, along with the increase in the threshold for the higher tax bracket, will help the squeezed middle in my area. We have seen a €12 increase in core social welfare rates, greater access to the fuel allowance, an increase in the working family payment, double child benefit, a once-off double week of cost-of-living support for everyone on social welfare, pensioners, carers and people on disability and jobseeker's payments.

This is an extremely challenging time for many families and businesses. I know the financial strain that households are experiencing in their budgets is a major concern and worry for people. I hope this budget helps put people's minds at ease because it puts more money back in people's pockets.

7:45 pm

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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Like other speakers, I have spoken to many people today who said this is a good budget. I welcome the measures for families, including in childcare. The cost of childcare is one of the main issues I have been working on in recent years. Today's measure has changed things and is a good support for families.

We spoke about health and education. Primary school children will have free books in 2023. It will be important to look at post-primary education in that respect. All of this funding is welcome. I welcome the measures to give people access to medical cards and GP cards. This is a major issue. I have spoken to people who believe they should have been getting the medical card or GP card and now they can do so. What steps are being taken to increase GP numbers to meet this new policy? This is an important part of the budget and I wonder what steps have been taken on that.

The €40 increase in the working family payment threshold means many more families will be able to avail of this vital support. It is my understanding, however, that even though this is a low-income payment, those who receive it are still not eligible for fuel allowance. I ask that this be checked because it will need to be looked at.

I welcome the decrease in the VAT rate on newspapers. I received many phone calls in my office today from people in the tourism industry who are concerned about VAT supports for the sector, which could run out early next year. I fully support the industry and ask that we do all we can to support, including continuing the VAT supports.

I welcome the reduction in third level fees and the investment into the sector, particularly for apprenticeships. We need to invest more in that area. Will resources and funding be provided to third level institutions to ensure that the reduction in third level fees will support more people going to college? As the Minister will know, Carlow is a now a university town and we are proud of that. We should make sure that anyone who wants to go to college is able to do so and people are not prevented from going to college because they cannot afford it or cannot afford the fees. I ask that this be made a priority.

This week I met farmers in Carlow. They have major concerns, one of which relates to information on what will happen with the energy support schemes. They spoke about solar panels. They want to work with the Department to do what they can. They spoke about what we can do to encourage young farmers to stay on. I also welcome the €500 million to fund the roll-out of the new CAP strategic plan.

Debate adjourned.

Cuireadh an Dáil ar athló ar 8.45 p.m. go dtí 10.30 a.m., Déardaoin, an 29 Meán Fómhair 2022.

The Dáil adjourned at at 8.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 29 September 2022.