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Financial Resolution No. 5: General (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 893 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney] Following a Government decision to establish the emergency aeromedical support service on a permanent basis, I am pleased to announce that an additional allocation of €2.2 million was provided in the defence Vote for reimbursement of Air Corps costs incurred in the provision of this service. This is now a permanent service, in partnership with the HSE and the Department of Health.

With the onset of winter, it is important to also highlight the assistance provided by the Defence Forces for the civil authorities. Apart from weather emergency responses, the Defence Forces have the training, equipment, skills and expertise to assist the civil authorities to deal with a range of diverse events, ranging from fire fighting, maritime patrols, air ambulance duties to missing person searches.

I acknowledge the vital contribution Civil Defence volunteers make to the State. The Department of Defence provides support for local Civil Defence units, including central training, as well as supplying vehicles, boats, uniforms and personal protective equipment for volunteers.

The Defence Forces as a whole are opening a new chapter in their development and modernisation and the asks being made of them by the Government, to which they will have to respond. We now have a White Paper that charts a very exciting future in which the Government will give strong support through a clear policy and appropriate levels of funding. The Defence Forces will respond in the way they respond to every challenge - by delivering on the asks made of them by the State. We should be very proud of the work they continue to do.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Deputy Sandra McLellan is sharing time with Deputies Martin Ferris, Jonathan O'Brien and Seán Crowe.

Deputy Sandra McLellan: Information on Sandra McLellan Zoom on Sandra McLellan I take the opportunity to express my deepest sympathy to the family of Garda Golden, the families of those who died in the Carrickmines tragedy and the family of the homeless man who died on Westmoreland Street on Saturday night.

  Yesterday evening I received an e-mail from the One Family group about the budget announcements. If I am to be honest, it did not make for great reading. The group referred to the budget as a "let down for poor one-parent families". Contained within the letter was the following:

...this government has heaped cuts on those one-parent families who rely on social welfare in the past four budgets. Child poverty rates have rocketed. [I]f Government really wants to be family-friendly to all families then more needs to be done to be aware of the reality of the diversity of families in Ireland and what they need.

The budget, when looked at proportionately, will do very little to protect and fails the most vulnerable. For the Government, there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to a realisation of the realities. It had the opportunity yesterday to make the lives of vulnerable people more secure, yet it introduced another budget that, once again, favoured those most well-off in our society.

  I welcome the additional allocation being made available to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, as it was an issue I brought up just last week. However, I repeat what I said then. Serious investment is required in the social work sector to allow ratios to be brought down to more workable levels in the hope of producing a more efficient service and allowing those children most at risk to be protected in so far as is humanly possible. Family resource centres also require adequate investment, at both national and local level, to facilitate their work, given the ever-rising number of vulnerable children and families presenting to their services. Prevention is better than emergency firefighting.

  Some 1,496 children are still living in emergency accommodation and judging by trends in the housing sector and ever-increasing rents in the private sector, this number will continue to rise. Yesterday the Government could have attempted to tackle this crisis but instead decided against it. The introduction of rent caps in the private sector would give struggling families some sense of security, but this opportunity was ignored. It could also have looked at the possibility of increasing rent supplement limits. In an article in The Irish Times just last week it was highlighted that over 90% of available properties were out of reach of someone who received rent allowance. Does the Government fail to hear the voices of those who need help most or does it deliberately turn a deaf ear? When looked at objectively, one can only derive that, with thousands of people in need of rent support and less accommodation available, this will result in more people being subjected to homelessness and becoming part of a crisis that has already reached astronomical levels. All it requires is a basic analysis and the application of a minimal amount of logic, but, not surprisingly, this has evaded the Government yet again.

  The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, said yesterday that child care was a key priority for the Government. He said the increased allocation would allow him to bring forward a package of measures to ease the burden on working families. I welcome the extension of the free preschool year, but what about those children ranging from zero to three years of age? There is very little in the budget that will be of benefit to them. It is virtually impossible to expect someone to go back to work on a full-time basis when so much of their wages would be spent on child care. Take, for example, a family on the minimum wage and lucky enough to be given full-time hours. They must seek child care, which would account for a huge proportion of their income. The Government speaks about getting people to return to employment, but the policies it implements make this very difficult. The additional funding allocated to the ECCE programme is welcome, but it is still a far cry from the 0.8% of GDP which is the average figure across OECD countries.

  It is welcome that Sinn Féin's lead on the introduction of two weeks paternity leave was followed by the Government, although it is very unfortunate that it does not plan to implement this legislation until September 2016. It seems to be based on the premise that the coalition will still be in power this time next year, about which I would not be so sure. We had suggested there was space to go further and extend maternity leave, allowing for another six weeks to be afforded to either parent, but, unfortunately, this was not taken on board. If the Government is really committed to child care and the aspiration to follow a Scandinavian model, it needs to address the gaping holes and the many questions that arise from the double-speak.

Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris There is precious little for struggling farmers in the budget. My party, Sinn Féin, has repeatedly called for the restoration of the farm assist payments to their 2013 level. The Government's refusal to respond to that call which is echoed by farming organisations shows a disconnect from the realities of life for those who are struggling in rural Ireland. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton's claim that farm assist could be replaced by jobseeker's allowance shows how little she and the Government care if they end up destroying rural life as we know and cherish it.

There is a definite trend in all of the new measures which shows that the future of the family farm and the rural way of life, from which most of us come, are not a concern for this or the previous Government. This is despite all of the promises and spin in which the Government has been engaged for the past few months. In the case of farmers, it started with the abolition last March of milk quotas. One would think they were after winning the lotto the way this was heralded, but many small dairy farmers are now in trouble, yet the Government sits back, as the Taoiseach did this morning on the issue of homelessness, and tells us the market will resolve everything. The banks are chasing small dairy farmers and the market price of milk is too low, but the worship of market forces and the disregard for the vulnerable, not just in farming or rural areas but all over the State, mean that in everything the Government does, including the budget, the vulnerable are on their own.

Has nothing been learned from what happened in the last few years? Is the Government so insulated from the real world that a return to boom and bust politics is acceptable? It is trumpeting the fact that it has made taxation changes to help the less well-off when it is clear from the figures that the cuts to the universal social charge and the changes to PRSI will put triple the amount in the pocket of someone on €70,000 per year compared to the average worker. The person earning €70,000 will benefit to the tune of €886 per year, while a person on €25,000 will receive less than €230 per year.

The way the Government is handing out lollipops might win it a few votes in the general election, but it is damaging the tax base in the long term. Reducing taxation income in such a way can only mean more damage to public services in the future and the Government is doing this in a totally dishonest way. Saving up trouble for the future is the way boom and bust politics work, but the Government does not give a damn about the suffering this will mean down the line for the most vulnerable, as long as it can cynically pull the wool over people's eyes until the general election. It does not even pretend that it is working towards a meaningful long-term investment in infrastructure and front-line services.

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