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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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Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea This budget is first and foremost an arithmetical exercise, as all budgets are, designed to bring in a certain amount of tax, spend a certain amount of money and come to a final result at the end of the day. A budget also needs to be more than just an exercise in mathematics, but the problem is that this one is not. A budget needs to be part of an overall strategy and must have a certain strategic element. It must be obvious where it fits into that strategy. I can see no evidence of any overall or coherent strategy in this budget. It lacks direction and is aimless. Quite honestly, I have seen more coherence in a bunch of fireworks. There is no direction or plan involved.

Before the most recent general election, the Labour Party favoured a 50-50 split between tax and expenditure, while Fine Gael's position was 3:1 in favour of expenditure. When both parties got together to write a programme for Government, they compromised on 2:1. I can understand that but in a compromise at that level when budgeting, especially in a time of crisis when one is trying to close a yawning fiscal gap, one must introduce measures that basically pass two tests. First, they will necessarily take money out of the economy, which will reduce activity, but they must also be geared to do minimal damage and create opportunities for the country to begin to grow back to prosperity. The second criterion is that a budget must be fair in order that those with the broadest shoulders take the hardest hit. There is no evidence that this budget has either direction or fairness. This budget is simply a compromise, consisting of a mishmash of measures to which both Government parties, or at least one of them in particular, could be persuaded to sign up, rather than having any coherent strategy.

That is underlined by the much publicised row over the universal social charge. Apparently, the Labour Party's Cabinet members went into various meetings on the basis that they wanted to increase the universal social charge for people earning more than €100,000 per annum. That was also part of our policy proposals. Fine Gael said the only way it would agree to that would be if the Labour Party agreed to let it punish the poor by reducing social welfare. Fine Gael apparently proved to be particularly unyielding on that, so both party leaders had a side meeting and what emerged was something called a mansion tax. What a nonsense.

Deputy Shane McEntee: Information on Shane McEntee Zoom on Shane McEntee Over three years, Fianna Fáil's budgets broke the country. I will not be lectured to by the Deputy.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea I did not interrupt anybody here and I expect at least the same courtesy from the Minister of State.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny Please allow the Deputy to continue.

Deputy Shane McEntee: Information on Shane McEntee Zoom on Shane McEntee That is why the Green Party walked.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea The mansion tax is a phantom, a chimera and a shameless fig leaf to conceal the naked capitulation of the Labour Party to the demands of Fine Gael. How can a party that calls itself Labour and claims descent from Connolly and Larkin sign up to consecutive cuts to the clothing and footwear allowance? In addition, there have been cuts to the back-to-education allowance, respite care grant, jobseeker's benefit, household benefits for the poor and elderly and a trebling of prescription charges.

The latter is an invention of the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly. He was the man who proved that not only could Fine Gael not keep its pre-election promises, it could not keep its post-election promises either. After the election, I well recall Deputy Reilly saying that he intended to abolish the prescription charge. I do not take anything he says particularly seriously. He has proven that he is the man with the un-Midas touch. Everything Midas touched turned to gold, but everything Deputy Reilly touches turns to mould.

Deputy Shane McEntee: Information on Shane McEntee Zoom on Shane McEntee The Deputy would know all about that.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea The discussions on how this matter was played out between both parties, which got a lot of coverage in the national newspapers, is most interesting. In last Monday's Irish Independent, a Labour source - and Labour was part of the Government the last time I checked - said: "We feel Fine Gael are out of touch and decided to throw welfare cuts into the pot ... It reveals the priority of our coalition partners about who they want to protect and who they want to target." That is from a Labour source and is well said. I could not have put it better myself.

Deputy Shane McEntee: Information on Shane McEntee Zoom on Shane McEntee Why did you not say it on Sunday?

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea In the same edition of the Irish Independent, a Labour Party Deputy - somebody who is keeping the Government in office and will probably vote for this budget also - said: "They [Fine Gael] don't care about the ordinary punter ... We're furious." Not furious enough obviously, although we will see next week. I notice that a lot of them are wrestling with their consciences. I have been here a long time and I have often witnessed the spectacle of Labour wrestling with its conscience; it usually wins. Let us hope the trend changes on this occasion.

  The old guard in the Labour Party, what some political journalists like to refer to as the grumpy old men, the leadership who are coming up to retirement on massive pensions, seem to be dictating the pace. Their policy can be summed up in one sentence - pensions before principle.

  There was an extraordinary story in the Irish Independent on Tuesday, from a Fine Gael source this time.

Deputy Shane McEntee: Information on Shane McEntee Zoom on Shane McEntee The Deputy writes rubbish every week on Sunday.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny Please, Minister.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea It said that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, wanted to have even more savage cuts. He said: "We were ... irked that she [Deputy Burton] put herself out as the protector of the oppressed when she had put forward this package." She actually had to be talked out of a couple of cuts, including to the bereavement grant and some other aspects of social welfare. It is difficult enough to live in this country under this Government, but if the Minister for Social Protection had her way, it would be equally difficult to die under it.

That is where we stand. I am looking forward to see how that contest between the various Labour Party members and their consciences plays out next week when we have to face up to it and vote on these social protection measures. I can assure the House that, as my party's spokesman on social protection, I will give them every opportunity to vote against any of those measures they wish.

The greatest social and economic problem facing this country, and from which many other problems stem, is the scandal of unemployment. In his budget speech yesterday, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, told us that "Unemployment fell by 3,600 on an annual basis in the third quarter of this year". In the name of God, what planet is this man living on?

Last week in Limerick city, a small businessman advertised for two full-time jobs and one part-time job. They were not highly paid jobs and were pretty difficult. He got 700 replies, 80% of which were from people who were massively overqualified for the work in question. There are 50 applicants for every job vacancy. That is the reality of unemployment in every quarter, not just the third.

Deputy Shane McEntee: Information on Shane McEntee Zoom on Shane McEntee It is different in my county to yours. People are working.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea In his budget speech last year, the Minister for Finance said "The core [mission] of this Government is to get Ireland working again". Therefore the core mission and unifying aim of the Government was to bring down unemployment.


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