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Confidence in Taoiseach and Government: Motion (Continued)

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 861 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming] In the past year, the Taoiseach has been forced to sack the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Garda Commissioner, the confidential recipient and many other people. He has been forced to sack the Minister for Health and to exile the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. It is clear that the Government learned nothing during all of this. I introduced legislation in this House last week, on foot of the McNulty affair and the sham appointments to State boards, to put such appointments on a statutory footing. I do not want them to be made by way of guidelines, which is what the Government is determined to do so that it can avoid a statutory process.

The medical card fiasco has continued in the past year. The probity review that was announced 14 months ago as part of the October 2013 budget has caused havoc in the health cards system. We have not got over that yet. The Minister is still talking about trying to provide for more discretion at local level, but that has not happened to date. One of the problems with this Government is that it does not deliver on its promises. One of the reasons for that is that all of its budgets have been regressive. It has had options, but each year it has chosen to impose most of its adjustments on front-line services that affect people who are waiting to access accident and emergency services, to get outpatient appointments or to move up the fair deal waiting list.

The Government established the new Department of Children and Youth Affairs and held a referendum on children's rights. It blew that referendum. It has yet to be enacted because of the actions of the Taoiseach's office, the offices of certain Ministers or certain Government offices in seeking to use the people's money to influence how they should vote in the referendum. That referendum has not yet been implemented. I applauded the establishment of the new Department, which was outstanding. However, approximately 800 children are sleeping out of home tonight. They are in hotel rooms and bed and breakfasts. They are carrying their bags up and down the stairs. They do not know where they will be for Christmas. What kind of stress is that putting on their mothers and fathers? That is what this Department of Children and Youth Affairs is doing for children. It is doing very little. The impact on families is extraordinary.

I met a lady in Mountrath this morning before I came to the House for this debate. She told me she will scream if she hears once more that Ireland is out of recession. The Government has been screaming at the people that the country is out of recession, but the majority of people have not felt that in their own pockets. I know there is more spending in the shops. One third of the population is probably doing well. They probably have more money, but two thirds of people do not.

The Government also established the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and gave it the simple job of drawing up accurate budgets and expenditure plans.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Simple, yes.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming In 2012, after the establishment of the new Department, we had the biggest overrun in Government expenditure since the foundation of the State. That was exceeded last week when Supplementary Estimates of €1.184 billion had to be introduced to make up for the flawed budget of 13 months ago. We told the Minister the day that budget was introduced that the budget and Estimates process was flawed. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has failed and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has done nothing for children yet. I know new agencies have been set up, but that does not help the children who are sleeping in bed and breakfasts tonight.

Irish Water, which is a Fine Gael brainchild, was established during the course of this year. The Government promised to abolish quangos, but it did the exact opposite. We now have the biggest quango to be set up in living memory. It must be remembered that people are already paying for water services. The extra €140 million that will come in from this, after the payments from the Department of Social Protection are taken into consideration, is no longer fundamental to the national finances. That €140 million is not necessary. It is not worth the €700 million that the Government is sinking into the ground on meters or the amount of money it is paying to consultants. Why do we have this? The Government has started to use a new phrase. It says it is going to repair the water leaks off balance sheet and fix our water supply off balance sheet.

The Government promised in its Budget Statement two months ago that it would provide €2.6 billion for social housing over the next three years. Much of that is to be off balance sheet. We will no longer build social houses from our own resources as we have done since foundation of the State. It now seems that a social house can be built only if it is off balance sheet. The Government had announced that €3.8 billion would be provided for these purposes over an extended period. Two weeks ago, the Minister, Deputy Kelly, said that much of this will be off balance sheet. The Government's answer to everything is off balance sheet. The second half of its equation is tax cuts for the wealthy. This Government is the only one that is off balance sheet. People's water bills are not off their balance sheets. They will come out of their bank accounts. The homeless people and the difficulties on the street are not off balance sheet. The Government tries to outsource the solutions to such problems because it does not want to handle them directly.

Over the past two months, the Government has followed its mantra of tax cuts for the wealthy and off balance sheet solutions. The people of Ireland will not buy that. The Government made too many promises. The Taoiseach is looking after his own. Fine Gael people will probably thank him for that. In the budget, the Government announced a 1% cut in the top rate of tax paid by the highest earners in the country. It has promised a further 1% cut ten months out from the next budget. I never before heard of a tax announcement being made ten months before a budget. The Government's economic emphasis is on further tax cuts for the people at the highest income levels. More off balance sheet solutions will probably be proposed to deal with problems like homelessness, housing and water services.

This is a divisive and regressive Government. Every budget it has introduced has been socially and economically regressive. The burden of the adjustment in each of its budgets has been more heavily weighted in favour of expenditure cuts than taxation measures. Each of the Government's budgets has been unfair. They have lacked fairness. I actually think that is what Fine Gael wants. Fine Gael is happy with this divisive measure. It has made a divided society. I believe it suits some of the Members opposite to have a divided society. We saw that in the political pong-pong here this afternoon. They want a chasm in society. They do not want a homogenous middle ground. Most Irish people like to be in the centre. The Government wants a battle of the right and left. I believe it wants a divided society. It has divided society. However, the people of Ireland are very united in their determination to vote no confidence in Fine Gael and the Labour Party at the ballot box the next time they get an opportunity to do so.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Minister, Deputy Howlin, is sharing time with the Minister, Deputy Bruton.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I am pleased to have a brief opportunity to contribute to this debate, regardless of how ill-conceived the tabling of this motion of no confidence was. I was struck last week by a line in a piece about W.T. Cosgrave by the historian Michael Laffan, in which the endeavours of the last six years to rescue the State were compared to the task faced by Cosgrave in establishing the State in the first instance. There is a tendency in some quarters to talk down this country. In time, we will look back on the collective effort of the people of Ireland to rescue this country and we will be very proud of it. It will be seen as one of democratic Ireland's greatest achievements. Ireland has gone from being one of Europe’s sick men - the so-called PIIGS - to being the fastest growing economy in Europe. This real success is a real tribute to the fortitude of the Irish people.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams And to yourself, Brendan.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I accept that we have more to do and issues to resolve. That was the case during the Celtic tiger years and it is surely the case now after six years of fiscal retraction. The Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, has led our national recovery alongside the former Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, and the current Tánaiste, Deputy Burton. The Taoiseach will go down in history as one of our finest taoisigh. He will retire with a record of real and substantial achievement. I am proud to have served in his Government. We have turned around the State's economic fortunes. We have been a real reforming Government. I am proud to have placed legislation supporting whistleblowers on the Statute Book for the first time and to have restored the freedom of information regime in the way it was originally designed in the 1990s. We have extended and strengthened the powers of the Ombudsman. This House sits longer than at any stage previously in our history. Contrary to popular belief, the guillotine is practically redundant. For the first time in decades, councillors at local government level are sitting down to make real decisions on the deployment of resources. That process, of itself, has been revealing.

The no confidence motion was tabled by an unholy alliance of those who created the mess from which we are recovering and those who are determined to make it worse. It is a limp affair, offered by parties that are going through the motions.

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