Seanad debates

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

3:30 pm

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)

It is related to it and I will explain the reason. I refer to the measures that have been included in terms of the contingency fund. From the very beginning we spoke about the rainy day fund and the inflexibility in that in terms of what we needed to do. It is not enough to save those business. I am concerned to hear the Minister of State say that viable businesses will be supported. How do we determine which businesses are viable? How long will it take those businesses that are being fleeced by insurance companies and other charges to become unviable businesses? That is the connection I make to it.

On the services and supports that are desperately needed, we look at issues such as a health care procedure, an affordable home, a seat on a school bus, a home care package, affordable insurance, as I said, or a secure job. We constantly talk about increasing employment. There are many people who are categorised as being in employment but there is no point having a job if one cannot afford to have a roof over one's head or pay the bills. That is the problem with it. It is a manipulation of the figures. The people on zero-hour contracts who have no certainty and are on very low wages do not meet the threshold for, say, a medical card and are living in poverty. That is the reason we have to do the redistribution of income.

The glaring omission in this budget is the absence of a wealth tax. Why is this Government, with Fianna Fáil, so reluctant to introduce a wealth tax? Does the Minister of State believe that the non-stop accumulation of wealth by a very small proportion of society is sustainable or justified? Can he not see that even those who are facilitated to avoid paying tax on extreme wealth will be worse off living in a society of unrest and turbulence caused by inequality and marginalisation? These are the people who, even in the recent recession, sat and watched their assets multiply in value due to the massive quantitative easing programme throughout the EU and beyond. That is not earned income. All they have to do is sit around and watch while the policies, whether it be European or Irish, increase their wealth all the time.

I will contrast that with a home help worker who does an extra couple of hours in a week or a farmer goes a few euro above his farm assist threshold. They are hauled in before a Department and the money is taken from them. That is where the real unfairness lies. The only difference between the two is that the earned income of the ordinary worker is mostly spent in the community creating jobs and having the Keynesian effect of stimulating the economy with the multiplier effect. It makes no sense whatsoever for this Government, with Fianna Fáil, to treat workers and families like this while continuing a policy that leaves the top 5% owning more than 46% and the top 1% owning more than 27% of wealth. It does not add up, and it certainly does not add up for workers and families across this State.

Is it the case that it is easier for this Government, with Fianna Fáil, to take the few euro travel allowance from youngsters with disabilities who are trying to access training or education or children with autism having to beg for school places? I know young people in Achill who have to get to Castlebar, and that is why this carbon tax and climate change debate does not make any sense.They must go to the nearest training centre in Castlebar because everything is centralised. Not only is that a three-hour round trip, they do not have any transport. The HSE will say it has no money and everybody else will say they have no money and there is no money for these people. That is the gross unfairness. I am looking at this budget through the lens of those families who desperately want to access these services for their children. Surely at a time when we as a small, open economy are vulnerable to external shocks, or should we say, certainties such as Germany's declining economy, China's slowdown and the US trade wars topped off by Brexit, we should be investing in key infrastructure that will produce jobs and indigenous businesses while implementing a fiscal policy that encourages the multiplier effect.

We already have a carbon tax. Since 2010, we have collected €3.35 billion in carbon tax. Last year, we collected €435 million in carbon tax. Can the Minister of State tell me how much of this has been ring fenced for climate action measures? That is why Sinn Féin is opposed to any increase in carbon tax. It is purely because it is not working and will hit those who can least afford to pay it and those living in rural Ireland. Carbon tax is an instrument of economists, not climatologists. A total of €3.35 billion collected to date has failed to reduce emissions. In fact, they have increased. The UK has no carbon tax yet its emissions have reduced. Norway introduced a carbon tax in 1996 and its emissions have increased. The truth is that carbon tax raises revenue. It does not reduce carbon emissions. Fine Gael and its partner in government, Fianna Fáil, tell us that carbon tax will change people's behaviour. This is awfully important. However, for many of us living in rural Ireland, the Government has failed to invest in the alternatives. Keeping warm and mobility are the behaviours in question. Many children do not even have a seat on the bus to school so how does the Government hope to change people's behaviour? Does it want us all to stay at home? It centralises all the services yet provides no transport. A six-hour round trip in a taxi to Galway University Hospital already costs in excess of a whole week's pension for many elderly people who must attend on a regular basis, so how much does the Government think it will cost now? Has the Government or Fianna Fáil ever considered how they are pushing people in rural Ireland into poverty because of their skewed and thoughtless policies. When we try to-----

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