Seanad debates

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Budget 2022: Statements (Resumed)

 

10:30 am

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)

Budget 2022, with an overall expenditure allocation of €87.6 billion, reflects the Government's commitment to return the public finances to a more sustainable position, address challenges in the key areas of housing and climate action, enhance public services and social supports and ensure a balanced recovery from the pandemic.

To respond to the pandemic, the Government made available over €30 billion in funding for direct expenditure supports. This funding was targeted at supporting our health service to respond to the crisis, to provide income supports to people who lost their jobs and to ensure the survival of enterprises beyond Covid. Next year it is appropriate that these support measures be withdrawn in a phased manner. Therefore, €7 billion is being made available to continue our fight against the pandemic. In reflecting on this year's experience, where the €5.5 billion that was set aside in contingency funds in budget 2021 was ultimately all required following the resurgence of the virus, the Government is holding €4 billion in reserve to allow us to respond if there is an unexpected deterioration in the situation with the virus.

Turning to core expenditure, the summer economic statement sets out a strategy for incremental increases in public expenditure over the period to 2025 and by setting a growth rate for expenditure in line with growth in the economy, the Government is seeking to ensure that these increases are sustainable. In aggregate, core expenditure is being increased by €4.2 billion to €80.1 billion in 2022. This represents an increase of 5.5% on this year, with current expenditure growing by 4.6% and core capital expenditure up by 11.5%.

An allocation of over €22 billion will support our health service to protect lives, including an amount held in contingency. Up to €1 billion of this will be used for Covid-related expenditure, including for testing and tracing, the vaccination programme and PPE. Included in this amount is €250 million to tackle hospital waiting lists. The additional €1 billion in core current funding for health underscores the Government's commitment to the delivery of Sláintecare, the progressive reform of the health system to implement universal healthcare. This funding will also enable the hiring of up to 8,000 additional health service staff next year.

In order to protect the most vulnerable in society, the Government will provide more than €22.2 billion in core current expenditure for the Department of Social Protection next year. Additional funding of €558 million is being provided for a package of welfare measures, including a general €5 rate increase for working age and pension age recipients, increases to rates for qualified children and those living alone and for measures to improve the quality of life for carers and people with disabilities. The Government is very aware of the impact of increasing energy costs on households and the need to protect the most vulnerable. In response to this, the weekly rate of fuel allowance will increase by €5.

Providing educational opportunities to all children is essential to supporting equality in our society. In this context, there is an increase of €440 million in core current expenditure to the Department of Education. This education funding will allow for the recruitment of 1,165 additional SNAs, bringing the total number of SNAs to almost 19,200 and the recruitment of an additional 350 teachers to reduce the primary school staffing schedules by one point. It will also allow for the recruitment of an additional 980 special education teachers and an increase in the number of schools and children benefiting from supports within the DEIS programme.

An increase of €149 million in core current expenditure for the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and funding under the National Resilience and Recovery Plan, NRRP, will allow for the provision of new apprenticeships, new Springboard places, student supports and a range of upskilling and reskilling opportunities among other measures. This will include training to support jobseekers and to address climate and low-carbon economy issues, including 8,900 places on skills to compete programmes, 35,000 learners on green skills modules and additional retrofit and Nearly Zero Energy Building, nZEB, expansion places.

Additional funding is being provided for childcare, targeted at delivering sustainability for providers, parents and children. This will support improvements in the quality of services by enabling providers to attract and retain staff, including degree-qualified staff. Reforms to the national childcare scheme will extend the universal subsidy to children under 15 from September 2022, benefiting up to 40,000 children and will remove the practice of deducting hours spent in preschool or school from the entitlement to subsidised hours under the scheme.

Increased core current funding of over €140 million for the justice Vote group will provide for recruitment of an additional 800 trainee gardaí and 400 civilian staff in An Garda Síochána. The increased allocation will also support Courts Service modernisation, enhanced prisoner services and additional staffing for the Data Protection Commission, DPC.

Addressing key infrastructure requirements in areas including housing and climate action is a key priority of Government. The revised National Development Plan, NDP, provides an historic package of-€165 billion over the period 2021 to 2030 to transform our country. The plan will support economic, social and environmental development across all parts of the country and will play an essential role in shaping our responses to the challenges of the present while preparing us for the challenges of the future. In support of the ambition in the NDP, capital spending for 2022 will rise to over €11 billion. This represents a very substantial commitment and supports the process of increasing voted capital expenditure to 5% of GNI* by 2025.The increased funding will support housing delivery, as set out in the recently published Housing for All strategy, with an overall capital allocation to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage of €3.4 billion in 2022.

Record funding to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications will help support Ireland in meeting its climate targets through the new climate action plan and will also support the continued roll-out of the national broadband plan. It will transform our transport system through investment in active travel and public transport and will deliver key health capital projects, including the continued construction of the national children's hospital and of primary care centres.

To foster new investment and development opportunities on a North-South basis and to support delivery of key cross-Border initiatives, €50 million is being made available under the shared island fund in 2022.

Also for 2022, there will be a total official development assistance package of more than €1 billion. That will enable a particular focus to be placed during 2022 on responding to the global impacts of the pandemic.

The sustainable increases in core expenditure that are laid out in the budget, coupled with the phased unwinding of the exceptional Covid-19 expenditure, will ensure a pathway back to a more sustainable budgetary position while also ensuring that the necessary resources are available to enhance our public services to further develop critical social supports and to transform our infrastructure.

I commend this budget to the House and I look forward to engaging with colleagues on these important matters.

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