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Budget Statement 2013 (Continued)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald] How gross is that? Just like Fianna Fáil before it, the Government runs a twin-track strategy of austerity, cutbacks and charges on workers alongside a craven appeasement of bondholders, bankers and international financial institutions. When one adds to that the truly warped sense of entitlement of senior politicians and the upper echelons of the public service on bumper salaries and pensions, then the full-scale madness at play becomes evident.

Let us be clear; none of that is lost on the general public. The budget is very bad news for everyone who counts the cent at the end of each week, who are put to the pin of their collar just to survive. There is no comfort in this budget for families saddled with negative equity - who are in mortgage default or muddling by on interest-only arrangements. There is no comfort for them but there is a tax on their home as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads. For the average working family this budget means a tax of between €300 and €500 in a full year on their home, a cut to child benefit, a reduction in health and education services and a decrease in their take home pay.

The decision to set aside the PRSI exemption is truly disgraceful. It will mean a reduction of €261 per annum regardless of income. That will be the cut, regardless of income, whether one is on €18,000 per annum or €180,000. Not alone that, the Government also decided to tax maternity benefit. Those who wish to start a family are to be penalised for the choice. That is a regressive measure that is anti-family and anti-woman. For those out of work the prospects are even grimmer, mainly because the Government has failed to deliver any job creation plan despite all of the talk. It cynically relies on emigration – the loss of our brightest and best – to reduce the numbers on the live register.

The Government is to reduce the social protection spend by €452 million. The pretence by Government that it has protected welfare payments is downright dishonest. It is a lie. The Government is cutting the jobseeker’s benefit entitlement by three months. That will hurt people. People who try to get back to education are being penalised by the reduction in the back-to-education grant. For those out of work who need additional assistance who must often wait for their welfare application to be processed, the budget for exceptional needs payments has been cut by €6 million.

The Labour Party and the Fine Gael Party claimed that they would protect social welfare. We see today that they have done nothing of the sort. The treatment of children in the budget is shocking. It runs against all the fine words and concern for child welfare expressed in the course of the children’s referendum only some weeks ago. The Government is cutting the back-to-school allowance, which is intended to allow parents purchase clothing and footwear in order to get children back to school. The Government thinks it is morally or politically justifiable to cut the allowance by €50. The Minister indicated that an additional €14 million would be awarded to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. That is tokenism at its cheapest and most cynical. No doubt the manoeuvre was cobbled together to save the blushes of the backbenchers who surely must have some strand and sense of decency left. The Government has cut child benefit again. I aim the point in particular at the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Gilmore, and the Labour Party. That will hurt families. A family with two children will be down €240 per annum, while a family with four children will lose approximately €700.

Perhaps Members of this House do not understand what the child benefit payment is used for. Let me acquaint them with reality. It pays for such things as electricity bills. It buys a warm winter coat or a pair of shoes for children. A cut of that nature will mean that families will not be in a position to do those ordinary and necessary things. The Government has form in terms of child benefit. When the cut was made last year and lone parents were targeted, the Government promised a world-class Scandinavian model of child care to compensate. What a joke. If one were to ask the parents of this country, in particular mothers, about this world-class service, I am pretty sure of the answer one would get. It does not exist. This is a bad day for children and a bad budget for parents.

The Government has failed the first real test of its commitment to children and their welfare since the referendum. In direct contrast, the Government treats those on high incomes and those who are very wealthy with kid gloves. There is no additional tax on individual incomes of more than €100,000. There is no proposal to broaden the tax base. One could do it by levying a wealth tax. That would be a real property tax. Those at the upper echelons of the civil and public service are still protected – not by the Croke Park agreement – but by the Government. There is no tough medicine for them. The Government has flatly refused to address the runaway pay and has tinkered around the edges of dealing with excessive pension pots of a small number in the public service. The same Government will now go back looking for more from rank and file civil and public servants who exist on very modest incomes. So much for fairness, reform and political change.

Our country is in crisis with nearly 15% of the working population on the live register. The working class is hurting. The middle class - middle Ireland – is hurting too. Families who never thought they would see the inside of a community welfare office are now hard pressed to put food on the table and keep the lights on. We have said that to the Government time out of number, yet the Government sneers at our proposal to introduce an emergency pay cap of €100,000 in the public sector. That is a fine income but the Government sneers at the idea because it is not a choice it wishes to make. Were the Government to make such a choice, it would have allowed it to provide free school books for every child in the State; an additional incentive for one-parent families to remain in work; it could have doubled the budget for school meals; increased the fuel season allowance by six weeks; it could have reinstated 950,000 home help hours; and it could have restored the training and materials allowance for community employment schemes. The Government could have done all of that but it does not have the bottle to make such a choice. While it would be a hard choice, it would also be a fair one.

The Government’s “I’m alright Jack” attitude is perhaps most clear in its failure today to deal with politicians’ pay or to deal conclusively with allowances. The Government has tinkered around the edges. Bully for the Government. Let me highlight some of the measures the Government has left intact. It will still give committee chairpersons an additional €9,000 for the glory of chairing a committee. It will still give so-called super-junior Ministers an additional €17,000 just for showing up at Cabinet meetings. The Government will still shell out huge salaries in breach of its own cap to its special advisers.

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