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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 Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy] If I remember rightly, the target was 100,000 jobs. There are jobs initiatives in this budget which are welcome but they will have a tiny impact on the level of unemployment. The reduction of three months in respect of jobseekers' payments makes me wonder what people are paying PRSI for, yet lower income workers are being drawn into that system. We are getting more TUS schemes when what we want is more jobs.

In its manifesto, Fine Gael told us that it was not going to impose a property tax because it would impose a tax on people who are income poor and asset rich, mainly elderly people. It spoke about people in negative equity who are most affected by this budget and this tax. A property tax takes little account of ability to pay. The value of the home may be considered without any consideration of the level of debt attached to it. People who have paid stamp duty and development contributions now see a facility in the budget for someone to buy the house next door for half the price being exempted because he or she is a first-time buyer. That will create significant resentment. I do not believe it is about first-time buyers. Rather, it is about the property market first and foremost.

There is a trend here that we saw before. It seems that this will be a slush fund for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to shore up a dysfunctional local government system that delivers a tiny range of services. If we look at some European systems, we can see that everything from child care to policing to leisure facilities is paid for by property or poll taxes or rates. The inequitable distribution of the fund has been a feature for decades and I have no confidence that this will change in centralised environment. Other charges will be imposed, such as those for water and wastewater. People are paying for the maintenance of roads through their motor tax and paying bin charges. What will they get for paying this property tax? It is a valid question for people to ask. We must remember that the reason for this is a decrease of just over 40% in the income of local authorities since 2009. This has been taken from the local authorities to pay back this significant debt.

The silo-by-silo based approach to the budget ignores the cumulative effect of its impact. This includes the imposition of a property tax, cuts to child benefit, increases in the cost of solid fuel, the fact that people will no longer be exempt from paying PRSI on the first €127 of their weekly income, the now annual increase in third level registration fees and the increase in the monthly threshold for the drug repayments scheme from €132 to €144 per month. Some families pay this every month. If one pays this every month, that comes to €1,700 per year, which is a very sizeable amount. The cumulative effect is affecting possibly the same households with all those measures having a major impact on them. People are already struggling and the cumulative effect of this will in some cases take the food off people's tables. Some are just about keeping the roof over their heads. I am very concerned that the level of personal debt has not been considered in this context.

I welcome the vouching system for political expenses which should have gone further. Had the leader's allowance provided to Independents been at the level it is now and the other allowances reduced to that level, it would have generated savings to the Exchequer of €1.197 million. The travel and accommodation allowance should have been tackled. I do not believe the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is the appropriate body to oversee any kind of review. It should be an independent review as the commission is not representative and the process is not transparent and not good enough.

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Today is the beginning and the end of the budget debate. It is the beginning and the end of the discussion of how we finance vital public services. I say it is the beginning and the end because regardless of what the Opposition say, the Government will still plough ahead with what is obvious economic suicide. We were told by the Government that we could make a submission if we wished. If that process was one of serious engagement, it would be great but it is not. It is a process that demands that we show the Government what we have but we do not get to see what the alternative is - that is, until today when it is too late.

The most striking part of the two Ministers' speeches was the use of the slippery language of deceit. Yeats and Wilde must be turning in their graves at how the English language was abused here today in order to justify the unjustifiable. The Minister for Finance says with a totally straight face that unemployment is down. There is no mention of the fact that people are leaving this country in droves. If a tsunami came to our shores and one half of our population was wiped out, would the Minister come in here the next day and tell us how he solved the unemployment crisis? If he did this, it would be no more farcical than what he said today. The Government can try to ignore and forget the people who left this country but we will not forget them. Unemployment is only down because of what the Government has done, namely, driven them out of the country.

The unemployment crisis will remain the same unless some fundamental reforms are made, many of which were promised when the two Government parties were looking for votes. Upward only rent reviews is one example. This is crippling businesses but the Government now claims that it would not be possible to tackle it. How convenient but for whom? It is not convenient for the ordinary people.

Local government reform was promised. Meaningful reform would mean huge savings which could be passed on in the form of rates reductions. Current rate levels are unsustainable and are crippling existing businesses and preventing new entries into business. One example is a hotel in Roscommon which remains closed because anyone interested in opening it would face a rates bill of almost €50,000 per annum. I predict the hotel will fall into a state of disrepair and become derelict because of unsustainably high rates. At the same time, the manager of Roscommon County Council earns more than the Prime Minister of Spain. There is a suite of directors of services costing the guts of €750,000 per year. We also have more chief and assistant fire officers - a total of four costing €400,000 per year - than New York city. The Government is standing by this. The result of this madness is that businesses are crippled with high rate bills and the Government is doing nothing about it.

Healthy competition between businesses is the lifeblood of a successful economy. When this Government came to power, we were promised a robust Competition Authority. We have had no luck there. The former head of the Competition Authority, John Fingleton, estimated that lax enforcement was costing the Irish economy €4 billion per year. The Government would get many home helps out of that. What did the Government do to help business? It introduced the Competition (Amendment) Act which was not worth the paper it was written on. It contained no provision for civil fines and no rewards for whistleblowers although we know what the Government thinks about them because we heard it in the Dáil yesterday. It contained no effective private enforcement even though it is part of European law. The Government is great at telling me about European law but not very good at sticking to it. There was a failure to prevent regulatory capture. Finally, to show that this Government does not believe in real competition, the Competition Authority is underfunded to the point where there are only two gardaí taking care of it. We have more gardaí in a small part of west Roscommon than that.

Put all this together and it is clear that the Government is crippling business. We often hear about governments that are pro-business and pro-people. This Government is neither and is the enemy of both business and people. Does the Government believe the Irish League of Credit Unions when it states that 1.8 million people are left with only €100 at the end of every month? If it did, it would not have done what it did with PRSI today, would not have imposed a further property tax and would not have cut the suckler cow premium scheme for farmers. If the Government gave a damn, it would not have cut child benefit. I know some members of the Government might use it for holidays but when I was growing up, it was used to pay the electricity bill.

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