Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Budget 2020: Statements
-----and that is not a bad thing. The people are looking forward to exercising their franchise and making a determination on how this Government has failed to manage our health services and our housing crisis. Those are two of the major issues the Government promised to deal with. Any Government or any politician must be judged on how it respects, treats and cares for its marginalised people, be they people with disabilities who are stuck in institutions because the Government has failed to deliver homes for them, children who are not given the necessary supports, children with autism who came to the audiovisual room to talk to us, or people who are waiting for treatment for serious illnesses. As the Minister of State knows, there is a range of those issues. I respect him and he is a good politician. He meets these problems every day in his own constituency and he understands and empathises with the issues with which I am dealing.
I thank the many organisations that took the trouble to send in pre-budget submissions. However, it is disappointing that many of them were led to believe their submissions were very important while most of this budget would have been worked on some weeks ago. I particularly acknowledge the good work of many of the approved housing bodies, AHBs, particularly Respond, on the issues around housing, affordable housing and homes and public housing policy, which is important. There was little or no reference in the Minister of State's speech to local government and local government finance. I want to dwell on that because it is an area in which I have an interest and expertise and I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. I went to the Dáil Chamber today to listen to the Minister introduce the budget. I expected local government and local government finance would be part of the budget for 2020 but the words “local government" were not even mentioned. We all know that there needs to be a new model for how we will finance our local authorities.
That leads me on to the local property tax, another issue that was not addressed in today’s budget. We have heard numerous promises from the Minister regarding the property tax and he has stated online on his website that there were previous commitments and wanted greater clarity on local property tax. In 2018, the Minister announced a review of the local property tax. It was to include an examination of the outstanding recommendations of the 2015 Thornton review on local property tax, of which the Minister of State would be fully aware. The purpose of the review was to inform the Minister for Finance regarding any actions he may recommend to Government concerning the overall yield of the local property tax and its contributions to the total tax revenue. At the time the Minister said: “Even though it would be 2020 before LPT liabilities would be affected by any property revaluations, it is important that the Government is able to make its position clear in relation to [the] LPT in a timely way so that householders will be aware of its plans for this tax ... [by] November 2019" in terms of the revaluations. We do not know anything about the current review of the local property tax. Is that because a general election might be held in a matter of weeks or months or because there is an issue regarding the local property tax? Why do we not hear more about it?
I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work the Minister of State’s ministerial colleague, Deputy Phelan, on commercial rates. That is welcome. I want to be positive. I am not here to knock anyone but rather to address some shortcomings. He has done considerable work on that with respect to the commercial rates Bill. It has given councils more powers to vary their rates and bring in incentives in terms of designated areas that need improvement or to be upgrading. That is a positive. We need to increase capital funding for local government, but that is a matter for discussion on another day.
I welcome the Minister’s support for a number of areas in healthcare. More could have been done on home-care packages. I acknowledge we do not have endless amounts of resources but it must be a frustration for all of us in terms of people who want support and home-care packages.
There is a very substantial capital investment in public housing but we need to deal with the issue. I have always said I support the principles of Rebuilding Ireland and it is important we keep focused on its five pillars. We talked about addressing the homeless issue, which is pillar 1, accelerating social housing, building more homes for people, utilising existing housing and improving the rental sector. That is important. I acknowledge and welcome the package for housing in budget 2020, which is €2.9 billion. The provision of €2.5 billion for the housing programme in 2020 is a positive. A further €20 million will be provided for homeless services, bringing total funding to €166 million in 2020, which is another positive. There is provision for capital funding of more €1.1 billion to support the delivery of a further 11,000 new social homes in 2020 and a further 12,000 units will be delivered by 2021. There is an additional €80 million for the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme but we need to be careful about this. We have built a monster which we call HAP, in respect of which we are giving millions upon millions of euro of taxpayers money to private landlords. We are turning our backs on tapping our land resources and building affordable public housing for our people.