Seanad debates

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Budget 2022: Statements (Resumed)

 

10:30 am

Photo of Pat CaseyPat Casey (Fianna Fail)

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his work on delivering a budget that invests in the needs of all the Irish people as we emerge from the devastation of Covid-19.

Being in government means being responsible for managing the money Irish people pay in taxes. There is no magic money tree. We live in a globalised economy and our membership of the European Union provides massive opportunity with a massive Internal Market and a very strong currency but, crucially, we also have a shared responsibility to ensure the credibility of our economic policies. The endless spending promises by the main Opposition party come with severe consequences for the Irish people. They would crash the credibility of the Irish economic model, which for the past 50 years has steered our people out of poverty and into one of the most advanced diverse, dynamic and successful economies in the world. That is a fact that not only the Opposition but many commentators fail to acknowledge.

Politicians who have the honour of serving in our national Parliament should always have the common good at the centre of their policies. Fianna Fáil is rooted in the common good and this budget, the second budget with the Minister, Deputy McGrath, in charge of public expenditure, has produced a spending portfolio that is ambitious in the area of housing, health and education but also fair in the protections that must be in place for pensioners, those in receipt of welfare and farm families and in fighting the scourge of crime and drugs.

As a Wicklow Senator, I can appreciate the different priorities and challenges the Government and urban and rural Ireland face. Budget 2022 will make Ireland a better and fairer place to live. It is about the Government being there for people when it is most needed. Budget 2022 is a progressive one. The less well off and the most vulnerable in society will benefit most from it. Analysis published alongside the budget shows that the poorest 30% of families will see the biggest gain from yesterday’s budget, namely, a 1.3% increase in the disposable income on average.

Education has been historically one of Fianna Fáil’s most important political priorities. Fianna Fáil-led Governments have always invested in education because we believed that to educate all our people was to liberate all our people. The budget provides an allocation €9.2 billion to the Department of Education in 2022, including a capital budget of €792 million. This allocation will support the Department’s school building programme, which involves in excess of 200 projects. On completion this will deliver more than 30,000 school places, with many of them being in Wicklow. This Government's commitment to children with special educational needs will allow for the hiring of 980 additional teachers and 1,165 additional special needs assistants, supporting those with special educational needs in special classes in special schools and mainstream settings. With more than 19,000 special needs assistants, this will bring investment in special education to the highest level in the history of the State.

Crime, in particular the rampant supply of illegal drugs and the resultant antisocial behaviour and criminal activities that this terrible scourge brings, must be met with additional resources for our front-line gardaí. The recruitment of more than 800 new gardaí is supplemented with an additional 400 civilian staff, which will free up our highly trained police to do the job that is needed to protect the people. As we merge back to normal life after the pandemic, it is vital we do not allow criminals and those who terrorise their neighbourhoods to thrive. This Government will provide our gardaí with the tools to do their job.

It is in the area of housing and the provision of the largest intervention by an Irish Government in the increase of housing supply that I can finally see some delivery to tackle the most serious social crisis all our people face. This is the single largest investment in housing in the history of the State. A multi-annual budget has been agreed of €4 billion per year for the next five years. That will deliver 4,000 affordable houses a year, 2,000 cost-rental units a year and 9,500 new-build social housing. What does that mean? More than 50% of all the houses built between now and 2025 will be controlled by the State, not by the market. This State will hand the keys to people who qualify for these houses, be they affordable, social or cost rental. This is the largest intervention ever by the State in the housing market. Legislation has been brought through these Houses by the Minister, Deputy O’Brien. When I sat on the housing committee with Deputy Eoin Ó Broin, we a shared a view on the Land Development Agency. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, has delivered on that. One hundred percent of public land will be for public housing in the cities of Dublin, Cork and Limerick. That is what we must do and are doing. Everybody agrees that the problem in the rental market is supply. We were criticised yesterday for providing an incentive to attract landlords into the market to provide additional homes for people to rent. We know landlords are leaving the rental market. Following discussion on the removal of the 4% cap on annual rent increases for the past four years, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, removed that cap and replaced it with a link to the consumer price index, CPI. He will be returning to the House to amend that legislation. Legislation on short-term lettings will be introduced, which will have a major impact. We saw that in the way that helped to deal with the homeless crisis at the start of Covid-19. The new legislation will be more easily dealt with. It will bring additional properties into the rental market and allow us to further deal with the homeless crisis. On top of that, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, will provide additional funding of €50 million to return vacant properties in all of our towns and villages. That is another area we failed to deliver on in the past four years.

The budget will provide for a €1.6 billion investment in water services and water infrastructure. We cannot build houses with the current infrastructure but the Government has committed €1.6 billion to investment in water infrastructure. This is a serious investment by Irish taxpayers ensuring the greatest home building programme in our history. I am pleased Fianna Fáil’s commitment to the common good of Housing for All will see results.

The fiscal space was mentioned yesterday. We have had an opportunity to operate outside of the fiscal space and a review of that will happen. The Government has placed strong emphasis on the social impact of housing and, with respect to Europe, it has made the case that the delivery of social housing should be excluded form the fiscal space as we move forward.

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