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Confidence in the Government: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] Sinn Féin has also proposed new spending of €338.68 million on eight or nine specific areas. They do not include in any of those areas additional funding for local authorities, public transport, tourism, sport or the arts. They do not propose to reverse last year's cutbacks to capitation, to agriculture or to the redundancy rebate, or to reverse the removal of the clothing and footwear allowance for two and three year olds. In fact, Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission does not propose to reverse any more than nine of the cuts made by the Government last year. In reality, it actually now accepts most of those cuts, and that is reflected in their submission.

Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris That is not true.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Finally, to echo the words of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, the Government is doing the things it is doing not because they are easy but because they are hard. The Deputies in this House who support the Government do so not because it is easy but because it is hard. Often it is very hard to do the right thing.

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Fergus O'Dowd): Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd When the Government came into office a year and a half ago the international ten-year rate for our bonds was about 15% and we could not borrow any more at that rate. All of these very difficult financial decisions have had to be made because we have surrendered our economic independence to the troika and we are bound by the conditions under which they lent to us. If there is any measure we can make of the changes that have taken place in the country since we came into power, it is that those ten-year bond yields were at 4.7% yesterday. There is increasing international confidence in the capacity of the Government to deal with our financial situation, to take the tough decisions that have to be taken and to work together, as we do, as a united Government to ensure that we create a future, particularly for our young people.

The emphasis in this budget, which has been missed by many people, is on creating the conditions to create more jobs. It is also about facing up to the question of how to increase inward investment. In the last 12 months the IDA has announced 11,000 new jobs as a result of foreign direct investment, which is the largest figure it has had in many years. There is also recovery in private sector job creation; in the last 12 months we have seen the creation of almost 20,000 new jobs, whereas in the previous few years we lost more than 250,000 jobs. We believe that the country is on course. The difficult decisions have been, are being and will continue to be made. It is like a ship turning around in the ocean - it is happening slowly but it is surely happening and the signs are very clear. When I go to Europe and meet my colleague ministers there is a universal acceptance among them that we are different from Greece, that we are meeting our requirements, tough as they are, and that we will stay the course.

One of the issues about which Sinn Féin has attacked us tonight is the property tax, which is effectively a wealth tax. The more one's property is worth, the more one will have to pay. Is there anything more democratic than that? One pays according to the value of one's property. I agree with Deputy Varadkar with regard to the property taxes in Northern Ireland. Let us be very clear on this. There are two parts to the property tax in Northern Ireland. The first is set by the Executive, which is the regional input. Then there is a local addition, which is made by each of the individual councils. In Belfast last year, Sinn Féin supported an increase in the local property tax of 2.5%. Not alone is the party not against the tax; it actually increased it. If one examines the property tax data on the Falls Road or any other road in Northern Ireland one can see that each property is listed by number and street name. One can also determine whether the owners have built an extension, whether the property has a garage and so forth, as there is a proportionate increase in the property tax if one improves one's house in any way. The figure I was given for what each household pays in property tax is the equivalent of €1,200. How can Sinn Féin sustain opposition to an unfair household charge - and it was unfair - of €100 while at the same time increasing a tax of more than €1,000 in the North? That is the reality up there and that is the truth of the matter.

We are spending €1 billion more per month than we actually take in. How do we address that? Some people argue that we should tax those on higher incomes, but we do that already. The OECD has said that the Irish PAYE system is the second most progressive tax system in the world. The more one earns, the more tax one pays. That is fair and equal. At the same time, we must attract new businesses and investment. Our highest rate of tax is 52% at present but we are competing with other countries in Europe and around the world for inward investment and the income tax rate is a key indicator. We do not believe we should increase the higher rate of tax. We believe that the tax system we have is fair and proportionate in every respect.

I wish to focus on my own constituency, which also happens to be the constituency of Deputy Adams. Since we came to power almost 18 months ago, more than 2,000 jobs have been created in County Louth. In fact, one in every ten euro of inward investment is going to what is called the North-South economic corridor. Many people are missing what is really happening in our country and particularly on the Belfast-to-Dublin corridor. It is has a first-class rail system, a fantastic road network, ubiquitous high-speed broadband access and a massive potential to grow. There is a new synergy between Ireland, North and South, in terms of the realism of both Administrations, and by working together we can make even greater strides. Obviously, people coming to work in County Louth can come as easily from County Down as they can from County Dublin. That is how we are developing the region in which I live. That is the future for our country.

Having lived in a Border county all my life I know all about the horrors and the evils that existed, but I acknowledge and accept that Sinn Féin has moved on from that and I very much welcome that fact. Let us try to build and increase the bonds between North and South. That is the future for this country. Developments should also have an impact from Donegal to Louth and across all of the Border counties. There is room for new synergies in our health systems, North and South, and that is an area which is under active discussion. That is the way we must go. We are in a new Ireland. We are in a very difficult place financially right now but we are getting there and are working together.

The other issue I want to address is water reform. At present in the Republic approximately 54% of all treated water never gets to a tap. We spend €1.2 billion on our water infrastructure. Over the next few years we will create thousands of jobs through improving our water infrastructure, which is a very progressive move. We should stress the positive, stress the changes that are happening, look to the future, look to young people and put away all of this negative opposition for opposition's sake. We must build on the good things about which we all agree and work together.

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