Wednesday, 13 October 2021
Budget 2022: Statements (Resumed)
Martin Conway (Fine Gael)
The Minister of State is very welcome. I will start by acknowledging the contribution of my good friend and colleague, Senator Ruane. The points she made are very pertinent and the Government must listen. A knee-jerk response is not what is needed; we need a multi-annual and intensive programme to deal with the communities that Senator Ruane spoke about. The issues she referred to will only be resolved with resources and money and a willingness to do it over a protracted period of time, starting immediately. This also needs all-party agreement.
Overall, the budget has done a small amount for a lot of people. It is a post-pandemic budget and a certain amount of realism about what we can achieve is required. During the pandemic we learned that our health services are not really fit for purpose and need significant investment. In that context, I welcome the fact that we are looking at an investment of €22.5 billion in our health services, including €250 million in a targeted response to waiting lists. I do not know how far that €250 million will go because I presume it will be used to buy capacity in the private hospitals to get procedures done as quickly as possible in some form of catch-up programme. We need a little more information on that.
The health service will employ 144,000 people - up from 103,000 - within the next couple of years. This includes administrators, nurses, doctors, consultants and so on. It is a huge investment in human resources and we really need to see a benefit from that for the people of this country. If we want any legacy from the pandemic that is positive, it should be that we have a health service that we can stand over. At this moment, we do not have a service we can stand over. In spite of the fact that €23 million was spent building a 60-bed modular unit as part of the accident and emergency department at Limerick University Hospital, there were still 83 people on trolleys there last week. There is something wrong somewhere when a 60-bed unit is built to alleviate overcrowding in an accident and emergency department and still there are 83 people on trolleys. We have been told that there will be a 90-bed unit and that is very welcome but when we build that unit, will we still have 83 people on trolleys? There is a problem somewhere and I do not know the solution. I am not the Minister for Health but it must be addressed. We need to do more than just throw money at the problem. That is just one issue. I very much welcome the provision of free contraception for girls up to their mid-20s but would like more detail on the roll out of that service. Overall, I want to be positive and an investment of €22.5 billion in health is significant by any standards. I look forward to teasing through the details with the Minister at the Joint Committee on Health and in this House in the coming weeks.
I also welcome the travel card initiative for young people, through which they will get discounts on public transport. However, I want to see an equalisation of travel costs. For example, a person working in Galway who travels by train from Ennis pays €7.50 whereas a similar journey from Maynooth to Dublin costs €4.90. Why is there a difference in price when the distance is the same? The journey from Ennis to Limerick is a little cheaper and works out at €6.19. While the travel card is very welcome, an equalisation of the cost of public transport funded by the State throughout the country is necessary. Why should somebody living in Ennis, Ennistymon or Kilrush pay more to travel to work than somebody in Maynooth or Leixlip? That said, the travel card is a good initiative.
Overall, the budget was framed by people who want to do their best, who are committed to public service and doing their best. On the whole, it is very welcome. Did any of us think we would be in a situation where we are only borrowing €20 billion as opposed to the projected €30 billion? That is significant and there are a lot of positives in it. That said, a note of caution is important and I would like some more details on the travel card scheme and the roll out of contraception for young girls.