Seanad debates

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

3:30 pm

Photo of Maire DevineMaire Devine (Sinn Fein)

Great. I will lash through this. The Government is attempting to hoodwink us once again. The Minister of State needs to remember that, as a nurse and trade union member of long standing - at least 12 years - I know that we have been very vigilant and alert to budgets and mental health spending every year. In the last few years, an additional €35 million went to health services but in reality this year, only €14 million in new money is being provided. The Government withheld €25 million that was announced in the budget last year. This seems to be the yearly modus operandi. All money is announced as being new. The Government is not serious about mental health. It insults patients, staff, carers, families and campaigners. Health needs a game-changer and I do not think this budget has provided it.

My other point relates to the carbon tax and our ability to try to go green. Senators Mulherin, Marshall and I attended the Inter-parliamentary Conference on Climate Change in Helsinki at the weekend. We learned a lot. Coming back here, the Taoiseach said that his preference for an election would be for May 2020. I do not think it is necessarily up to him to decide that. It might be that the wolves have something to say about that. It is interesting that 28 weeks of a fuel allowance starts on 30 September and ends on 10 April. Why is he stating that extra taxes for home heating, etc., will be incurred from May? It will apply to transport from tonight. By May, however, the election will have happened and the Government will not have to stand over this unfair tax burden that is falling on people. At present, the cost for 50 bags of coal is €119 and that will increase to €155. Gas cylinders, that people in poverty still use, will increase substantially in price, as will the cost of diesel and petrol. The increase relating to the latter will take effect from tonight.

The carbon tax did not have cross-party support. I cannot say that loudly enough. This matter is being spun to the effect that everybody is agreeable. I did not agree to it as a member of the relevant committee and neither did two others. The carbon tax cannot change behaviour because the behaviour involved, relating to home heating and transport costs, is inelastic. Home heating keeps us warm and transport enables mobility. The Minister of State wants to change behaviour, but home heating is essential for human survival and transport is essential to enable us to go to work, school, the shops, etc. These are not consumer choices but essential infrastructure. Citizens need affordable, sustainable infrastructure and this is a matter for Government policy. It is certainly not addressed in the budget.

I welcome the proposal for a commission to give advice, arbitrate and put forward regulations to facilitate that just transition for workers and communities to move towards new technologies and cleaner energy. I hope the just transition commissioner will not be undermined in the same way that the way the Data Protection Commissioner was regarding the recent public services card scandal.

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