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Budget Statement 2018 (Continued)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary] We need to address the discrimination being experienced as a result of the 2012 changes to the eligibility criteria for the contributory State pension because 35,000 pensioners have had their payments cut. These cuts can be up to as much as €50 a week. Many are parents who made the decision to take time out of the workforce to raise their families and are now being penalised by the State for doing so. It is unfair and we must define a path to reversing this unfairness.

Ten years ago a budget measure on diesel cars changed the buying behaviour of the motoring public. Maybe those who championed it at the time do not like to be reminded of it now. Today's tax changes may not have the same level of impact but will raise consciousness about electric vehicles and begin a conversation we need to have about replacing fossil fuel vehicles with more sustainable modes of transport. Personal behaviour is one thing but it is only a small component. The national transport fleet needs to be radically transformed to lead the way. The forthcoming capital plan should be climate change proofed in this area but it must also provide the infrastructure to encourage people to take the leap so they know they will have the back-up for their new vehicles. The allocation of additional moneys for cycle paths and lanes around the country is welcome but I respectfully suggest we get cyclists to design them rather than engineers.

A specific Department for rural and community affairs was a key commitment in our 2016 manifesto. We welcome the Government's belated approach to setting up this Department. This is the first budget for this new Department so it is still too early to measure the impact of its promised cross-governmental approach on rural and community affairs. One of the new Department's key pillars is the Leader programme. However, blockages in Leader, which has suffered from dire underspend, have to be a Government priority in the coming weeks. Failing to utilise these badly needed funds completely is a lost opportunity for communities across the country. It seems to me there are too many cooks spoiling the Leader broth. There are many inconsistencies across the country in the application process and groups with good and ambitious ideas for their communities are being frightened away by layers of red tape and administration. The Minister should cut the layers and open up the programme, otherwise the potential of Leader as a driver of rural and community development will be lost forever. Last year's boost to the CLÁR programme must be built on and work should be prioritised to reinstate initiatives under the old CLÁR programme which assisted small and local businesses to remain in rural areas. The relaunch of the local improvement scheme is an important step in raising the quality of private roads across the Irish countryside. Our securing of an extra €80 million for the regional roads programme must be spent comprehensively around the country in order to address the challenges our regions face.

Is duais chultúrtha í ár dteanga náisiúnta. Tá acmhainní breise ag teastáil don straitéis 20 bliain chun é a chur i bhfeidhm ina hiomláine. Mar gheall ar an gcomhaontú muiníne agus soláthair idir Fhianna Fáil agus an Rialtas, tá an tiomantas tábhachtach sin cláraithe ag an Rialtas. Glacaimid go bhfuil roinnt beart san áireamh sa Ráiteas Buiséid inniu. Ní thuigim, áfach, na gealltanais, ar lámh amháin, ón Rialtas agus é ag caint faoi thábhacht na Gaeilge nuair a gcaithfimid, ar an lámh eile, troid chun airgead beag a fháil le haghaidh na straitéise don Ghaeilge. Ba chóir don Rialtas a bheith níos dearfa agus an straitéis á chur i bhfeidhm. Is eagraíocht nuálaíoch í Údarás na Gaeltachta. Le blianta beaga anuas, bhí an t-údarás an-tacúil don phobal Gaeltachta ó thaobh úsáid na teicneolaíochta a mhéadú, go háirithe ar an gclár GTeic. Ní mór don Rialtas breis maoinithe, go háirithe infheisitíocht caipitil, a chur ar fáil don Údarás chun an clár sin a leathnú.

The success of the 1916 commemoration programme last year was fantastic and it showed the importance of arts and culture to our Republic. That success has faded and we need an honest conversation about arts and culture funding and the sustainability of the sector in 21st century Ireland. The Fine Gael election manifesto promised a doubling of arts funding but a 4% increased allocation to the Arts Council this year is not a doubling. Once again we have the spin versus the reality of delivery. There is a need for a cross-departmental approach to securing our arts. Our Department of Education and Skills needs to be involved in terms of securing the values of the next generation so they understand the importance of arts and culture. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation needs to be involved in providing support for those seeking to develop their businesses. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport needs to be involved. Many Departments have a role in providing a sustainable future for our arts and culture community but that role must be underpinned by proper funding.

Members of An Garda Síochána are the backbone of the safety and security of our State. They perform the most important duty of upholding the law and keeping our citizens safe. The scandals and controversies that have beset the organisation over the past number of years do not reflect on the ordinary members of the force who continue to serve our communities well and continue to retain the confidence of their communities. Our gardaí help us in our worst moments. They protect against criminality and resist threats to our State. That is why boosting Garda numbers to 15,000 was a key part of our manifesto and a central plank of the confidence and supply negotiation. Today a further significant step has been taken towards that number. Putting in place the resources to enable the force to achieve civilianisation and freeing up gardaí to go on the beat is also vital and we have further progress on that front today. The upcoming Commission on the Future of Policing must be taken into account in 2018 in setting out the development of the force. The disappointing failures in the force over the past number of years risked unravelling hard won public support. The Government needs to ensure the resources that will be required by the commission will be in place as it does its work.

The ongoing recruitment in our Defence Forces is welcome but is in danger of masking the serious morale and condition problems that are afflicting all arms of our Defence Forces. Our Army, Air Corps and Naval forces are doing outstanding work on a daily basis, nationally and internationally. That work places them in personal danger every day. This work is not fully appreciated by the Government and we need far more than tea and sympathy to address the challenges facing our forces. There needs to be a pathway to address the capital investment required in facilities and equipment and there needs to be action to address the standing of Defence Forces representative organisations in terms of the Workplace Relations Commission which will allow them to represent members properly and meaningfully.

Of all sectors, agriculture is most acutely exposed to Brexit. Farmers across the country are in trepidation of what may come and of a lackadaisical approach on the part of Government to that challenge. Farmers in areas of natural constraint are particularly vulnerable. For this reason and to help to ensure we have the human infrastructure to deliver on Food Wise 2025 and to maintain rural communities, we welcome the boosting of areas of natural constraint payments to their 2007 levels. We have worked hard for this in the past 12 months and the Minister now needs to step up to the mark to ensure this extra investment is targeted at those who need it most. We welcome the commitment to a second competitive fund to assist the agriculture community in tackling Brexit. However, it will not be enough. This sector requires a laser-like focus to prevent damage to our food industry, our food exports and our farmers on the ground. We also need in advance of budget 2019, an accurate and honest assessment of the impact of the withdrawal of the UK on Common Agricultural Policy funding given its importance in terms of direct payments to farmers and supports for the regional and rural development programmes.

The year 2018 must also bring a fair and sustainable resolution to difficulties facing our community post office network. This has been dragging on for far too long and it is time to act. There is huge potential within this network if properly resourced. It is ironic on the day that a rise is announced in the minimum wage and in social protection payments, which are often delivered through this network, that most of those who operate community post offices work for much less than the minimum wage. The talking must finish.

Brexit has also had unforeseen impacts on public service broadcasting as a consequence of significant curtailment in advertising from UK based companies. This is impacting on RTÉ and on independent, local and national broadcasters. We value public service broadcasting in this country. It is important we make the investment to sustain it in these uncertain times.

The budget is a warm-up act for the forthcoming capital plan which will be published before the end of the year. The transport priorities within that plan must address the transport deficiencies within Dublin, including Metro North and DART underground, and the continuing regional deficiencies such as the N4 Sligo-Dublin, the N5-N26 Mayo-Dublin, the A5 Donegal-Dublin and the N20 Cork-Limerick roads. As I said previously, a key requirement of our confidence and supply agreement is the upgrade of regional and local roads.

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