Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Appropriation Bill 2015: Second and Subsequent Stages
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I compliment him on doing a fine job. Every time we have emergency situations he is certainly doing a good job. The big debates in this House over recent months were on issues such as health, law and order, legislation on burglaries, home care for the elderly and child care. Those are the big issues. We all appreciate that the books must be balanced, and it is very easy to get up on a soapbox and make a speech, but I do not think that is what it is about. However, there are areas that need to be examined as priorities. We did not expect the recent terrible flooding. I do not know how people are able to put up with that, and some of the stories are heartbreaking. Some of these people have been hit repeatedly and flooded on two or three occasions. Whatever is decided financially for the future, we have to deal with the flooding as an emergency in the same way that any other country would. I was very impressed to see the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, lay aside the European rules during the UK's flooding events and order the rivers to be dredged. I know there is a fisheries element there which needs to be looked at. Compensation has to be realistic, because even though money has to be found quickly, €5,000 or any money like that is not going to be sufficient to repair the affected properties.
Regarding An Garda Síochána, I do not think there is any value in asking who closed this station or who closed that station. Burglary is a big issue at the moment.It is not an exaggeration to state that people are petrified in their homes. We all agree with Mr. Justice Hardiman that, apart from the theft of property involved, breaking into a person's home is an act of aggression. Having listened to all the arguments, I believe gardaí are still needed at local level. Neighbourhood Watch and so forth should also be funded.
On the issue of health, which was raised by several Senators, no right-thinking person would agree to allow someone to lie on a trolley for an excessive period. However, when we see a person of 80 or 90 years on a trolley it strikes at the heart of our compassion. I am not sure money is always the reason. There are vested interests in the health service and everyone involved in the system must be prepared to co-operate. If money is needed to ensure people are given proper care and maintain their dignity, it must be provided.
There is much to be said for providing assistance to allow elderly people to remain in their homes. I have never met an elderly person who wanted to move into a nursing home because this is invariably viewed as marking the end of their lives. There are some wonderful nursing homes and Senators will have seen how well they look after elderly people. If an elderly person can remain at home with a degree of independence, we must ensure resources are provided to support him or her to do so. The elderly have worked and paid taxes throughout their lives and their loved ones would like them to remain at home. Many supports, including in the area of security, are available to them. We should help elderly people who wish to remain at home and live mobile, independent lives.
The issue of children has been discussed in the Chamber on many occasions. Children are the most vulnerable group in society and we must help parents, whether they are single or married, in whatever way possible. All Senators will have heard stories about giving with one hand and taking away with the other. If we are genuinely concerned about the welfare of children and the opportunities afforded to them in life, we must provide them with assistance and support.
All of these issues form part of the budgetary process and it is not easy to prioritise one issue over another. The least well-off and most vulnerable must be given priority at all times. It is interesting that these are the people who very often do not have a voice. The well-off - I am not being anti-capitalist in this matter - are generally well able to make a case for themselves and often do well in budgets. We have to give the most vulnerable hope and show them that we respect them and want them to retain their dignity. We must also ensure they are always given priority when finances are being distributed. Has this been done? A significant degree of poverty persists. One need only consider the number of meals and other assistance provided to the poor. Many people are still going to bed hungry, while others cannot afford to heat their homes. Unfortunately, because we do not experience poverty ourselves, it often remains below the radar. The House should discuss the reality on the ground in a non-partisan manner. I would hate to have people trying to win votes out of people's problems and difficulties.
Some people are too proud to admit that they do not have a single euro to spend.One may blame the economy or world situation, but Ireland is a country that has been so good when people in other countries needed help. We are still good at that and we should continue it. However, I still think there is goodwill there. Funnily enough, I cannot talk for Fianna Fáil on this one. I would not say anything about pushing up tax a little if it would help those people because we cannot feel good ourselves - it is not good for our morale - when we see this is happening and we are unable to do anything. At the end of the day, it is only the legislators who can do this. We should be discussing specifics but we cannot really go into specifics at this time. However, I hope that any time we have funding to dispense we will always keep the vulnerable in society at the top of our priority list.