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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 Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming] Civil servants, however, were able to walk into the Minister, Deputy Howlin's office and say: "Minister, we need money for the retired civil servants". There was no mention of retired council workers or any retirees in other State agencies who do not have the same access to the Minister.

The issue of public sector pay and reform was not sufficiently dealt with here today. We have had some reform and the Minister has spoken a lot about abolishing quangos. In 2011, he said that 48 agencies would be abolished or merged by the end of 2013 but we can see that will not happen. One third of the 48 State agencies earmarked for abolition or merger in 2012 will have completed the process by the end of the year, but the others will not. In addition, of the 46 planned for 2013 it appears that only half of them will be on time. Part of this is down to the failure to pass legislation in this Chamber by the respective line Ministers who are obviously putting up a resistance.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform makes great play about efficiencies, shared services and public sector reform. I support the principle of shared services whether it operates across the HSE, local authorities, the Garda Síochána or Government Departments, including the Department of Education and Skills. The public have seen one example of what this Government means by sharing services and that is the third-level grant processing scheme, commonly known as SUSI.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin That was your invention.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming As the Minister knows, this came into being this summer.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, launched it.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming Yes. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, apologised for the delays but I think he was also apologising for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform because this is a reform issue. Some 66,000 people applied for third-level grants but, as of today, half of them have not yet been approved. Most TDs are now coming across a new phenomenon in their constituencies. I have had numerous examples of where people were informed in writing that they qualified for a 100% grant, only to be told later that the grant had been reduced by 50% or not approved at all. When I followed that up by tabling parliamentary questions I was told that due to the volume of cases, errors inevitably occur. People are having to leave third-level institutions due to those administrative errors. They took up college places on the basis of letters they received - I have copies of those letters - yet subsequently letters were issued which stated something different. It affects students from low-income families who should be eligible for such grants.

I wish to comment on the Department of Children and Youth Affairs because we have had the children's referendum. Apart from cutting child benefit, the Government is also cutting funding to various youth programmes to save €5 million. In addition, the subvention rates towards child care costs and places are also being cut by €3.7 million. Expenditure for the schools completion programme is being cut, as is money for the national children's strategy and the early intervention programme. I am shocked that a few weeks after the children's referendum the Government is cutting the Department of Children and Youth Affairs budget for 2013 and child benefit on top of that.

The Minister could have assisted job growth in the economy by ensuring that money earmarked and passed by this House for capital expenditure on publicly funded projects was used for that purpose in 2012. We now see a massive underspend of €400 million, however. At the end of October, he told us that would not happen when the underspend was €336 million. A month later, the figure had reached €405 million. Every one of the jobs that is not proceeding represents a loss of employment. We estimate that there are 4,000 fewer people at work today because the Minister did not spend the €405 million on projects for which he received funding. Those 4,000 people are suffering due to the ineptitude of various Government Departments in not getting the jobs done.

I appeal to the Minister concerning the €3 billion worth of publicly funded contracts that are due to happen next year. We on this side of the House will do everything to assist him, but will he please ensure the Construction Contracts Bill goes ahead as a matter of priority? So many subcontractors and their direct employees are not being paid for their labour, and every TD is experiencing this in constituency work. The main contractor is being paid by the line Department or the contracting agency on behalf of the State, yet subcontractors and their direct employees have not been paid. That is because of the tendering process and the lack of proper mechanisms to ensure that competent and financially strong contractors would get these jobs in the first place. It is a scandal that people who work cannot get paid. This House is unanimous on that issue. I want to get this legislation over the line because it has been months since we debated it on Second Stage.

The budget contains a number of taxation measures, including the property tax which my colleague Deputy Michael McGrath has outlined in detail, that are not necessary at this time. They should not proceed now. There are a number of very unfair cuts right across the areas of health, social welfare, education and others, that should not happen. They are falling disproportionately on the poor because the Government has decided to make most of the adjustments in expenditure cuts, rather than on people who could pay more. Many of the cuts are unfair and we oppose them. We will be trenchantly opposing this budget due to its unfairness concerning families and the ordinary people of Ireland generally.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Deputies Pearse Doherty and Mary Lou McDonald who are sharing time. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty In recent weeks, people across this State have been gripped by two emotions - hope and fear. They were hoping that the budget the Minister announced today would have made things better, that it would bring jobs and help rebuild our broken economy. They also hoped that it would improve the health and education systems, and that it would ease the burden they have been carrying since 2008.

They are also fearful, however, that the Minister would do what he did last year, that he will continue to repeat the mistakes of Fianna Fáil, and that he will continue to make ordinary people pay for the bad decisions of bankers and politicians.

People want this Government to succeed. Even those who voted against it and did not want it in office, want it to succeed. Like hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, I have shared their hope that this budget would be different, would break with the failures of the past, would chart a new course and would make things better. Today, however, the Minister has dashed all our hopes and has confirmed all our fears. Despite his best attempts to spin what has been announced today, one thing is crystal clear. If I had closed my eyes during either of the Government Ministers' speeches, I could have been listening to Brian Cowen, the late Brian Lenihan or anyone else from Fianna Fáil delivering the same speech. They proposed and implemented many of the decisions that have been announced today. Fine Gael and Labour have swallowed the failed economic policies of Fianna Fáil, hook, line and sinker, and are now implementing them with gusto.

As I listened to the Minister, I wondered if he was living in a different reality to the rest of us. His failure truly to grasp what ordinary people across this State are going through is shocking. I have met these people across the country in towns and villages. They tell me that they are living from week to week; they are finding it tough and are barely able to get by. They are the mothers who go without dinner so their children can eat. They are the fathers who stand in the dole queue, trying to keep some of their pride and wondering if they will be able to meet the bills that are coming in. They are the elderly who gave their lives and taxes to this State and are now living in poverty. Their help is being stripped away from them in every single budget, yet they still hold themselves with dignity.

I am embarrassed to stand in this Chamber, where we are so proud to have been elected to serve, and hear the Minister and the Government let these people down so badly. The Minister pretends that their suffering is not real. What has been delivered in this House today is a bill for the ordinary families of Ireland. It is a bill that picks up the tab for the failed policies of Labour, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil – three parties that have caused, deepened and lengthened the recession.

In December 2010, Fine Gael and Labour stood on this side of the House and rightly lambasted Fianna Fáil for introducing its fourth consecutive austerity budget. When in opposition, Deputy Eamon Gilmore said Fianna Fáil had introduced cuts that broke new ground in political stupidity. He then crossed to the Government benches and did exactly the same thing, not once but twice.

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