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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 Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd] Long may that be the case.

As my colleagues noted, the burden of the budget is falling on people in a manner proportionate to their income. In other words, the greater one's salary, the more tax one pays. Speakers have referred to equity in the context of the property tax and I accept it will be difficult to pay the tax. North of the Border, however, people pay a property charge whether they live in a terraced house on the Falls Road or in a semi-detached house on the Malone Road. The average annual charge equates to €1,200 and every improvement a person makes to his or her home results in an increase in the tax. Moreover, councils may impose an additional amount and I note with interest that members of Sinn Féin on Belfast City Council and other local authorities in the North have proposed raising funds locally for local issues.

The property tax will deliver greater accountability and democracy in local government because from 2015 onwards local authorities will have the power to levy local charges to improve their local areas. While some will argue that 1977 was a long time ago, the most damaging political decision taken in our lifetime was made in that year. I refer to the ridiculous decision to abolish property charges and road taxes. This proposal was used to buy the 1977 election and the country suffered as a result.

This Government did not create the current appalling financial mess but was elected to deal with it. Our role is not to be popular but to do a job. We are fighting to get out of the current mess and taking tough decisions. There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel as it is clear from conversations I have with people involved in commercial life, whether business or property, that a change is coming. The tough decisions being made and the burdens being imposed on people, proportionate as they are, will deliver success and the Government will stay the course.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin The members of the coalition Government and all who support it in the Oireachtas should hang their heads in shame at the disgraceful budget introduced yesterday. For members of the Labour Party in particular, yesterday was a day of shame. Where now are the claims of their party to be the protectors of the vulnerable? A leading member of the Labour Party, who was previously a member of both Democratic Left and the Workers Party, once famously had a bonfire of documents in his back garden, as I am sure some of the Deputies opposite will remember.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock On a point of order, I did not hear the Deputy's point.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin That is too bad. The Minister of State can read the blacks.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock Will he repeat what he said?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny It was not relevant to the discussion.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Today, members of the Labour Party must be regretting that they did not burn every one of the posters they put up all over the country in the final week of the 2011 general election campaign featuring the slogan, "Protect Child Benefit - Vote Labour".

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock The House is about to hear a lecture in partitionist politics from Sinn Féin.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin I ask the Chair to allow me to speak uninterrupted and ask the Minister of State to have manners and listen.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny I ask everyone to address the motion.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Even the political opponents of Fine Gael and the Labour Party are shocked at the extent of their attacks on children, the poor, the sick, the old and financially struggling families. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, with his talent for stating the blindingly obvious, indicated the financial crisis could be summed up in one word, namely, "debt", before proceeding to pile more debt on household budgets that have already been pushed beyond breaking point. The cuts to child benefit are the single worst assault in decades on the incomes of families with children. They hit low to middle income families worst and come in the wake of the children’s referendum when Fine Gael and the Labour Party claimed to be defenders of children’s rights.

I deplore the cynical spin from the Government, repeated by many media outlets, that the cut to child benefit is €10 per month. The position is much worse than that. The cut of €10 per month applies to the first and second children, while the cut for the third child is €18 and it is €20 for the fourth and subsequent children. This equates to a €58 monthly cut for a family with four children and €98 for a family with six children. Do members of the Government have any conception of the impact of such cuts on struggling families? Tens of thousands of families rely on child benefit payments to pay monthly bills that keep their children fed, clothed, in school and with a roof over their heads.

Among the cruellest cuts was the Government's decision to impose a reduction in the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance, which severely punishes the most needy families. Need I remind the House that it was a children’s footwear tax that brought down a previous Fine Gael-led coalition. Are there any brave souls among the Fine Gael and Labour Party Deputies who will stand against these cuts?

Families will also be hit by the so-called property tax. This is not a property tax but a family home tax that will result in unsustainable debt being piled on unsustainable debt for families across the State. The family home tax will be resisted and opposed even more strongly than the household charge. It is clear that some Government voices are very uncomfortable with this measure and I call on the Government, even now, to step back from the brink by not proceeding with it. I urge maximum opposition across the State to this cruel measure. Let there no doubt that the choice is to tax wealth as opposed to family homes.

A cynical but futile attempt at deception is being made about the true impact of this budget. It began with the withholding of the budget documents during the speech of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and is being maintained across all Departments, none more farcical than the Department of Health. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, tried to give the impression that spending on health would increase when the truth is that cuts of €781 million are to be imposed in 2013. Fine Gael and the Labour Party are destroying our health services. When they cut more than €750 million from the health budget for 2012, in addition to the €1 billion cut in 2011, we said the cut was unsustainable and would cause significant damage to the health services. They then cut a further €130 million last August and only this week the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, had to ask the Dáil for an additional €360 million Supplementary Estimate to prevent services from collapsing before the end of 2012. Next week, we will have the bizarre spectacle of the Minister coming before the Select Sub-Committee on Health to address his Supplementary Estimate for 2012, just as he is planning to impose further unsustainable cuts for 2013.

The Minister for Health and his Cabinet colleagues are imposing massive cuts that are unsustainable and will deliver further hammer blows to our public health services. The Government promised free general practitioner care for all, yet it is planning to impose further restrictions on access to the medical card in 2013 in order that fewer of even the most needy will have access to free GP care. So much for the trumpeted so-called health reforms of Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

The Government’s failed austerity programme has resulted in the savage cutting of 950,000 home help hours in 2012. Far from restoring these vitally needed hours to some of our most vulnerable citizens, Fine Gael-Labour Party spending cuts in 2013 will mean more home help cuts, notwithstanding the vague claim by the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, that there is a commitment to "restore" these services. Anyone relying on a Labour Party Minister of State to deliver on that promise after this budget is living in cloud cuckoo land.

I will describe the reality of the cuts in home help hours using some examples I cited to the Minister in committee last week. Last Saturday, people with disabilities and older people met in Cavan town in my constituency to protest at these cuts. One local example they gave me related to a 94 year old man whose home help hours have been halved from 11 to five hours per week. I have also received a representation on behalf of a 99 year old man in County Mayo who is living alone and has had his three hours home help per week cut to two. I could provide several more examples but will instead conclude by reflecting on the fact that, despite vehemently opposing prescription charges for medical card holders imposed by the former Minister, Ms Mary Harney, the Labour Party and Fine Gael have trebled these charges to €1.50 per item and increased the monthly maximum payment from €10 to €19.50.

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