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Financial Resolution No. 15: General (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore] Those who oppose the property tax will have to explain to their electorates how they intend to provide services on the very same streets they are canvassing. When combined with the changes to local government announced by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, we are driving the most fundamental modernisation and reform of local government since 1898.

This budget is not only about deficit reduction but also about reform. It is not only about building a financial bridge to a more stable future but also about shaping that same future. While this financial crisis imposes real constraints on what the Government can do, it is also the case that we are not wasting the crisis. This budget has prioritised education by reducing to a minimum the expenditure reduction measures in the Department of Education and Skills. There is an increase in capital spending to provide schools to serve demographic needs. We are driving ahead with fundamental reforms of what happens in the classroom, including junior certificate reform, the national literacy and numeracy strategy and a sensitive reappraisal of the position on patronage.

In social protection, we are developing a system that is far better suited to the needs of a modern open economy, in line with principles similar to the "flexicurity" approach driven by social democrats in Scandinavia. While social protection needs to provide income support for those who lose jobs or suffer illness, we are moving to a system whereby one's first day on the live register is also one's first day on the route back to education, training and a job.

In health, we are driving ahead with our primary care strategy and have published a roadmap setting out the steps towards universal health insurance. Despite all the financial problems and the planning issue thrown up by the mistakes of the previous Government, we will begin construction of a national children’s hospital.

Notwithstanding the many financial constraints we face, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, has been one of the most reforming justice Ministers of the modern era and has made real strides on penal reform with limited resources. In addition, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is working to end the practice of committing 17 year olds to St. Patrick’s Institution.

After a series of hard budgets, we now have an income tax code which is among the most progressive in the developed world. This budget makes the system even fairer. The challenge we face, however, is to ensure that when people pay their taxes, the State makes the best possible use of their money. The work the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, is doing in driving reform in the public service is driven by that principle. I am committed to ensuring we have the best quality, service driven public services. To achieve this objective we need to make the best possible use of public funds. Such is our commitment to better schools, hospitals and local services that we are determined to take back control of our financial destiny.

We are also bringing transparency and reform to the system of political funding. I note that no single measure caused as much outrage among members of the Technical Group yesterday as the suggestion that they be required to audit their leader’s allowance in the same way as political parties.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy That is not true.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore The hypocrisy we have heard from that quarter now comes with a price attached.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy Shame on the Tánaiste.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore For the people of Ireland, what this budget does is bring the end into sight. No one can understate the sacrifices and no one should overstate what has been achieved. However, we can see progress and it is being made with a purpose. Even in these most difficult times, we have the resources to drive important reforms and we have protected those who most need to be protected.

This is the centenary year of the Labour Party. The men and women whom I have the honour to lead in this House know full well the cost this budget will bring to the families and communities they represent. However, they also know this budget is not about today or tomorrow but is a bridge to the future. Delivering it is part of our commitment to bringing our country back from the abyss to a stronger better future. While none of this is easy, it is necessary. In the future, people will look back and ask the following three questions of the Members and parties who were in this House at this time. Did they take responsibility for solving the problem or seek to exploit it? Did they act with fairness? Did they think of the future? In respect of all three questions, the Labour Party and this Government will be able to answer "Yes", which is something of which I, for one, am proud.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Irish people have shown time and again that they are willing to accept hard choices. They understand there is no easy way out of an unprecedented crisis which has engulfed Ireland and much of Europe and the world in recent years. However, their support is based on measures meeting two core principles. They want budgets which are both fair and make a clear contribution to returning growth and job creation. This budget fails on both measures.

Last year, having won a mandate from the people promising a radical and progressive Government, Fine Gael and the Labour Party chose to abandon their promises and introduced by far the most regressive and unfair budget in many years, as shown in independent assessments. This year they have done it again. In some cases, Ministers appear to have sat down to find new ways of making sure the most vulnerable suffered more. To take only one example, how else can one explain first cutting home help and then cutting respite care?

In the ever growing mountain of documents and press releases which have accompanied this year’s budget one thing is already clear. This is a deeply unfair budget presented by a Government that has no strategy for growth and job creation other than hoping something will turn up. Driven purely by the short-term political tactics of competing parties, it systematically betrays election promises and places the heaviest burden on those who are least able to bear it. Its budget will further damage the confidence that is essential for recovery.

Yet again, the Labour Party and Fine Gael used true, half true and completely false leaks during negotiations. Their growing band of Malcolm Tucker wannabees were constantly on the telephone to journalists briefing for and against different Ministers and talking up the resolve of their parties. Now we know that for all the tough talk from the Labour Party, ongoing muttering from its Backbench Deputies and soothing words of its Ministers, the party has once again been shafted. On the other hand, the Fine Gael Party used every tactic it could muster in an ultimately successful move to protect the highest earners from taking more of the load. It was a direct trade-off. Every one of the regressive welfare cuts could have been avoided with an increase in the universal social charge for the highest earners, a proposal which enjoys widespread political and public support. Fine Gael should have the honesty to explain the reason it demanded that supports for the poorest families be cut rather than hitting those who earn the most.

For all of its smug sense of having prevailed over its coalition partner, the Fine Gael Party must also explain the reason it did not lift a finger to try to stop a family home tax, which the Taoiseach once described as "unjust, immoral and illegal."

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The Fianna Fáil Party drew up the property tax in the memorandum of understanding.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin No, we did not. The memorandum of understanding refers to a completely different type of tax from the one the Government has introduced.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The Deputy should not come in here with that.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The only Government strategy evident this week is a public relations strategy.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The Fianna Fáil Party signed up to a property tax.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Government has been putting its trust in the idea that people will not compare the claims it is making-----

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Fianna Fáil signed up to it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Deputy Martin has the floor.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I did not interrupt the Taoiseach and I would appreciate an opportunity to make my contribution to the House.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I am merely reminding the Deputy of the truth that his party supports a property tax.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Government has been putting its trust in the idea that people will not compare the claims it is making with the substance of what it has decided to do. Most Ministers have been making claims which are the direct opposite of the truth and have been using unprecedented gimmicks to try to cover up the hard reality of their choices. In the next few weeks, they will have to explain exactly what is involved in many of the general adjustments in their allocations. At that point, there is no doubt we will find many more unfair, damaging and avoidable cuts. However, from what is already known there is more than enough to see the mean spirit and lack of direction which lie at the heart of this budget.

The overall fiscal framework for next year is widely accepted and we believe it to be correct. It did not originate from the troika but is a required next step in bringing the deficit to a sustainable level. As the budget documentation points out, the major part of the fiscal adjustment was done in previous years, with next year and the year thereafter being easier than previous years in relative terms.


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