Friday, 18 December 2020
Appropriation Bill 2020: Second Stage
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and congratulate him on his elevation. I will begin on a discordant note, although the responsible Minister is not present. I wish to raise two issues. We all support the Appropriation Bill, which is an important parliamentary fixture, as Senator Kyne stated. It is normally taken on the last sitting day of the legislative calendar and gives the Government the approval to spend and embark upon the Estimates process in Departments. Every Department is listed in the Schedule. We are spending €70 billion or thereabouts. Senator Gavan, whom I disagree with, raised issues about tax reliefs and so on. We set up the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, which is something about which we agree. However, it is important to consider how we can debate these measures without shoehorning that debate into the last day. I do not blame the Minister of State, but if we are serious about parliamentary reform, this is an area where we as parliamentarians can play a role, not just in scrutinising, but in debating. On the Order of Business, Senator Kyne, Senator Casey and others spoke about the hospitality sector, supports for local government and so on. That is why this is important.
It is regrettable that the Bill does not make any mention of councillors' pay and conditions. We are allocating moneys, and rightly so, to members of An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces, the Departments and all sectors in terms of salaries, expenses and "retired pay, pensions, compensation, allowances and gratuities payable". However, no decision has been made by the Government on councillors' pay and conditions. We have had the Moorhead report under the former Minister of State, Deputy Phelan. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, has sent a submission to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It is time that the Government made up its mind. If it is for local government and our councillors, that means paying them properly, fairly and justly irrespective of who they are and their political ideologies. They work hard and deserve to be treated fairly. Money has rightly been given back to people as part of the unwinding of the FEMPI legislation, but for some reason it seems that there is obfuscation and procrastination on this matter by the Government, in particular the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath. I appeal to the Minister of State to ask the Department to sign the statutory instrument and pay the public representatives of our country at local authority level a just and fair level of remuneration for their work. That is what we have to do. This has to stop. It is codology of the highest order that we are on the last sitting day of the Houses of the Oireachtas in 2020 yet there has been no Government decision on councillors' pay and conditions. I appeal to the Minister of State as a former local authority member to continue representing and advocating for these people who do a great amount of work that we can see every day.
Almost €70 billion in Government spending is an extraordinary amount and deserves to be discussed in more than just one shoehorned debate. In the context of next year's financial outlook, the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, stated that he could not rule out some tax increases. I call for a debate rather than kite flying in the Houses. Critically, the ordinary citizen cannot pay much more. As Senator Casey eloquently stated on the Order of Business, there are hard-pressed people in the hospitality sector who have lost businesses and jobs and who have no incomes other than the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. They are facing into an uncertain 2021. The Minister of State knows well where I am coming from in this regard. As a Government, let us not fly kites in public about tax increases. People are justifiably concerned and they deserve better than Ministers saying that we might have to increase taxes. They cannot take much more.