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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 Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris] The media talk about the emergency in the health service and the homelessness crisis, but when the Government laid out its plans for these services yesterday, its policy was to make them do with what they had. It has turned what those dependent on the services call a crisis into a policy of "making do". We can now truly say it is the Government's policy to leave health, education and housing services in the state they are in, with the suffering that implies.

The Government was crowing about NAMA building 20,000 homes in the next five years. Even if that was enough, what has the Government been doing in the past five years since building stopped and suffering and stress for thousands of people followed? I hope it will get its comeuppance before the anniversary of the Easter Rising as it has made a mockery of the 1916 Proclamation. This is not the future the men and women of 1916 envisaged for the country, for which they fought and were prepared to die. The Government has made a mockery of the aspirations for equality of rights and opportunities for the people. It has looked after the top 14%, giving them €180 million in a reduction of the universal social charge alone, while giving less relief for the lower paid.

The Government has shown itself to be cynical in the extreme. Ministers stand and talk about recovery, but it is not a fair recovery. They look after the well heeled, but the rest can continue to suffer the consequences. The Government has made no meaningful attempt to tackle child poverty or homelessness. It has engineered the closure of a refuge for victims of domestic violence. Thousands are homeless; people are dying on the streets; the health service is collapsing, and inequality is increasing on all sides. Sinn Féin has set out a political alternative that puts investment centre stage - investment in services, infrastructure and small businesses. All of this can be delivered through fair and sustainable taxation. The Government calls this fantasy, while visiting a nightmare on the people we represent. Shame on Ministers and the Government.

I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy and offer my sympathy on the murder of Garda Golden and the deaths of the Traveller families who died the other day. I also offer my sympathy on the death of the homeless person who died on the streets and the death of Fr. Gearóid O'Donoghue, a priest in my parish who burned to death in a house fire on Monday morning.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to members of An Garda Síochána and the Traveller community.

In my brief contribution I wish to focus on education. Fine Gael and the Labour Party came to office in 2011 and between then and yesterday's budget announcement some €500 million had been taken out of the education budget. We saw capitation grants slashed, increased class sizes, cuts to summer works schemes and minor works grants and Traveller resources. Overall, €500 million has been taken from the budget. Now, with the first budget that, according to the Government, gives us the opportunity to improve public services, one would think education would be a priority.

Does the Minister know how much was included in the education budget yesterday? The answer is €24 million. The Department will spin and state an extra €170 million was included in the education budget. While that is correct on paper, some €154 million of it is earmarked to meet the rise in demographics and the terms of the pay agreement. We were running to stand still in that regard. Therefore, we have just €24 million available, of which we are using €18 million to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio - a welcome initiative - and €6 million to implement junior cycle reform which has not yet been agreed to by one of the main trade unions. There is no doubt, therefore, that the education sector was not a priority yesterday for the Government.

The same goes for the health service. Members on the Government side may shake their heads, but apart from the investment to provide for the rise in demographics, the additional spend in this area is just €18 million for new initiatives. I do not know how the Government can try to explain this. There is no increase for young jobseekers under 25 years, although their income was cut to €100. The opportunity was not taken yesterday to increase this figure. If we look at what the Government has done in regard to the tax base, there is no doubt that it has been completely hollowed out. This will have a detrimental impact on future budgets. Rather than expand the tax base in a fair and equitable manner, the Government has put €180 million back into the pockets of the top 14% of wealthiest earners. Meanwhile, a young jobseeker under 25 years who has received no increase is expected to survive on €100 a week.

The Government massaged the figures for housing. It talks about NAMA delivering 20,000 houses, but the bulk of them are to be built in Dublin, with only 2,000 to be built in the other 25 counties. This will not go far to address the housing crisis. The majority of the houses that will come on line will be affordable and commercial units, not social units. The Government talks about the local authorities and states it has provided them with money and that they should get on with addressing the issues, but it is not as simple as that. It sat on its hands for four and a half years and cut funding to local authorities. Therefore, they did not have the ability to plan the building of houses. Some did not even have architects and some do not even have a plumber. The Government cannot just wave a magic wand and state it has now provided the money and let the local authorities get on with the job. A long-term strategy is required.

Homelessness is on the rise. Despite all the announcements made on housing in 2015 alone - five - we have more people homeless now than when these initiatives were announced. Clearly, the strategies are not working.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe The Taoiseach stated this morning that the main thrust of the budget was to keep the recovery moving, yet much of the analysis of the budget shows that it will reward the small minority at the top the most. This is the fifth budget the Government has introduced and it has followed the same trend. The analysis of the trade union think thank, TASC, of last year's triple effect of changes to tax bands, tax rates and USC rates found that budget 2015 had given the biggest cash return, in absolute and relative terms, to those earning €70,000 or over. This budget will do the same. It is clear that higher earners are experiencing recovery and that the Government wants to continue to reward them with more and more money, while public services that hold our society together crumble. The budget will put €181.9 million into the pockets of the top 14% of earners by way of tax cuts but spend a miserly €18 million extra on health services and €24 million on the resource-starved education system.

When will the homeless have a voice in this Chamber? When will those faced with losing their home have a sympathetic ear? More importantly, when will they have a champion for their cause in Government Buildings? When, if ever, will the Government wake up to the crisis facing more and more families? How many more homeless people will have to die and how many more families will have to endure raising their children in a hotel or bed and breakfast accommodation with just a kettle? The number of children living in homeless facilities has grown during the Government's enlightened term. Rents and social housing lists have grown during its term. When will it declare an emergency and address the issue of rent regulation? The answer is perhaps never.

The hopes and aspirations of citizens have not grown during the Government's term, but the number of citizens at risk of poverty has. Income inequality has grown during the Government's term. Mickey Mouse job activation schemes have grown during its term, while the idea of a fair society has been hammered under its watch. The number of people working on low wages has grown during the Government's term, while the number of patients on trolleys has increased. Is it any wonder that Irish citizens, especially young people, have continued to leave the State in increasing numbers since the Government began its term of office? Over 500,000 have left since 2008. Will this be the Government's legacy?

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