Seanad debates

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

3:30 pm

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)

I wish to split my time with Senator McDowell, on a 50:50 basis. The budget is a Brexit budget and there are three key aspects to a no-deal Brexit that the State needs to consider urgently.Those three aspects are policing, customs, and defence, which all relate to the Border.

I am baffled and cannot wait for the Minister of State at the Department of Defence to explain why we are reducing the overall percentage of GDP being spent on defence by 0.02%. We currently spend 0.29% of our GDP on defence, and following this budget we will be spending 0.27%. This is not the first time the defence budget has breached the €1 billion mark. I am concerned that defence is getting an additional €32 million because I wonder whether we will get to spend it. I understand that since 2014 we have returned €92 million of unspent defence funds to the Exchequer. Will we get the €32 million back along with that €92 million? I am not too sure what way that is going. There is also an expected surplus of €30 million in defence. Will that €30 million be left on the books along with the €32 million provided for in the budget, or are we just moving numbers around the place? I do not think the Minister of State will be in a position to answer that question today. I may have to ask the Minister of State at the Department of Defence.

I refer to the increase of €10 million in the pension provision for members of the Defence Forces. How much of that increased pension provision is a result of poor policy that has led to early retirements? Those retirements should not have occurred but did because of a failed retention policy. I am not sure if the Minister of State will be able to deal with that issue today, but these questions will have to be answered by the Government. I would like to know how many of the 12,600 pensioners in question left in the past five years. This all points back to the same thing and it is important that we get to the bottom of it.

A figure of €7 million is quoted in the budget for improved infrastructure. That includes improvements to the Defence Forces training college, the provision of married quarters, quarters for sailors, and so on. However, the Engineer Corps has estimated that €150 million would be required to bring the infrastructure up to standard. I will leave my questions on defence at that because I will have a round with the Minister of State's colleague in the not-too-distant future.

As one of the elders in the House, it is clear to me that the Government will go down as mean for years to come due to the lack of a fiver for the old age pensioners in this budget. A miserable fiver would not have broken the country. I do not know how the Government got away with fivers through the years.

I refer to the help to buy scheme. I welcome that but I am somewhat concerned that the upper limit was not reduced, as the €500,000 limit leaves developers developing properties up to the value of €500,000. Reducing it to €300,000 might have brought the cost of housing down.

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