Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Budget 2020: Statements
I thank the Minister of State for his opening statement. We are all very aware that Brexit presents an enormous challenge and it has been a considerable feature of this budget. It is prudent to make plans in that respect. A number of sectors are exposed, one of which is agriculture. In that context, €110 million is to be provided by Government, including €85 million for beef farmers. We are obviously very aware of the concerns within the beef sector at the moment. Farmers are battling very tight margins. It is important that they are supported regardless of whether there is a Brexit deal.
I have a number of points to make on the area of agriculture. I am concerned about the impact of the rate of stamp duty on land purchases being increased by 1.5%, to 7.5%. The Minister of State has mentioned that there are a number of measures in place such as consanguinity relief of 1% and the young trained farmers relief, which allows farmers under the age of 35 not to pay stamp duty. The reality, however, is that very few farmers under the age of 35 are able to purchase land. It is important that Government seeks to support farmers who want to purchase. We need to look ahead. Based on the challenges currently facing the agriculture sector, it is difficult to see new farmers taking up that career and making further land purchases. This is an additional cost. The rate increased from 2% to 6% last year. An additional 1.5% is a concern.
The 1.5 cent to 2 cent increase on a litre of agricultural diesel will have an impact. With regard to supporting farmers, we know that changes are needed as part of our transition in respect of climate change. I note the decision with regard to a diesel rebate scheme for hauliers, but it is also important to support farmers. As I have said, farmers are facing very tight margins. Any increases have a significant impact.
With regard to the midlands, it is positive that the region is going to be supported in light of Bord na Móna's move away from peat harvesting and An Bord Pleanála's decision not to grant planning permission for the power station at Shannonbridge to convert to burning biomass. That has huge repercussions for the midlands area. I have raised this issue with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on several occasions. The just transition fund of €600 million is important and necessary. We need to support workers in retraining and reskilling. I also note that €20 million will be provided to develop a new model in which houses will be grouped together for upgrading, as set out in the climate action plan. This will be targeted at the midlands and will allow for the creation of a considerable number of jobs. That is very important. Another €5 million is to be provided for bog restoration and rehabilitation. All of that is very important. It is also important that the Ministers, Deputies Bruton and Donohoe, and the Minister of State have taken on board the real concerns that people in the midlands, including workers, staff and their families, have about the repercussions of Bord na Móna's decision.
Crossing over to health, I note that 1 million additional home help hours will be provided next year. This is very positive. I receive many calls from individuals and their family members every week. These individuals have particular needs. They have been identified as needing home help and have been approved for that service, but they have not had hours approved and are on waiting lists.It is not good enough that they are on a list and waiting for the service to commence. If we want to support people to live at home for the longest time possible, we should ensure that home-help hours are allocated and home-care packages are put in place in order to facilitate early hospital discharges and ensure that people have a decent quality of life in their own home. I know from my background in healthcare that it is not good enough for people to be on waiting lists.
I note that additional funding is provided for the fair deal scheme. I have constantly raised this issue, particularly in recent months, with the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Daly, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. It appears that the fair deal scheme budget is under severe pressure. Some people have been approved for the scheme but not had the money transferred to them in a timely manner. It usually takes about a month for that to happen, but some people are waiting up to nine, ten, 11 or 12 weeks in order to transfer to a nursing home or they are paying privately to transfer to a nursing home setting. This is a very important issue.
Reference was made to the issue of insurance. It is hoped that further discussion of the issue in the House will be facilitated. It is important in the context of the budgets of individuals and businesses. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, was heavily involved in the passage of the Judicial Council Act which provides for the creation of a new personal injuries guidelines committee. It is important that we be updated on the current status of that committee. As the Minister of State outlined, the Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Clarke, has the ability to set up a committee to consider guidelines on this issue. It is important for Senators to be aware of the current stage of that process such that action can be taken as quickly as possible to support struggling individuals and businesses.