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Budget Statement 2021 (Continued)

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 999 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten] While I welcome today's announcement of the shared island initiative, which I hope will build co-operation across the island and develop key cross-Border projects, it must include the development of the Beara-Breifne Way, which currently runs from the Beara Peninsula in west Cork to Blacklion in County Cavan. The way needs to continue from there along the Ulster Way to the Glens of Antrim, completing the Ulster Way and ensuring that the route, which would be Ireland's answer to the Camino, is marketed in a similar way to the Wild Atlantic Way.

While the investment in housing announced today is welcome, it will not deliver in the short term. As a short-term measure, we need to encourage families living in our cities to give up their homes and relocate to rural towns and villages, to streets that have not seen a football kicked on them in a generation, while helping to ease pressure in our cities. I propose that we provide a €15,000 grant to first-time buyers purchasing an existing property in a town or village with a significant residential vacancy rate. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government is providing a subsidy of €30,174 on average to provide a new serviced site in the city of Dublin. For every family that takes up this offer, gives up a house in Dublin and relocates to a part of the country that has been decimated by depopulation, it would save the State more than €15,700.

There is no doubt that the funding secured for the health and disability budget is welcome, but it is vital that it be converted into the delivery of services for those who need them. For example, the 5 million additional home help hours are very welcome. In the past, however, home help hours provided for in various budgets have not been delivered on the ground. Home carers have had a challenging year because of isolation and a reduction in available home help as well as family help thanks to cocooning and Covid-19 restrictions. Some 60% of intellectual disability centres are yet to reopen. In terms of the carer's support grant, giving just €25, or less than 50 cent per week, over and above what is being given to ordinary taxpayers under the stay-and-spend scheme is not an adequate acknowledgement of the work that carers are doing across the country, in particular full-time carers.

Although I welcome that funding is being provided to address the impact of Covid-19 across various sectors of the economy, the fear is that it will not prepare any of them for the new reality post Covid and post Brexit.

I have suggested that we establish a pilot microgeneration scheme on farms. Down the years, the Government has subsidised the upgrading of the electricity network to farms. That should be used to allow farmers who have large amounts of roof space on isolated sites that are suitable for the deployment of renewable energy to generate electricity for their neighbours. Such a pilot initiative in the agricultural sector would be an ideal way of identifying challenges in microgeneration in advance of implementing the commitments that I signed Ireland up to under the EU renewable energy directive.

I welcome the pilot environmental programme in agriculture, for which €20 million has been set aside. If Deputies will recall, however, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, announced €3 million for a similar scheme 12 months ago. Not one cent of that has been drawn down. It is imperative that any environmental scheme that is put in place be utilised. It is also imperative that we develop environmental schemes that are farmer focused and farmer designed and deliver benefits to rural communities across the country.

I am disappointed that the Government did not take a suggestion that we proposed, namely, a suckler cow environmental scheme that paid €200 per cow for up to 20 cows to sustain and support suckler beef production. This would have been based on the innovative smart farming initiative of a number of years ago that involved the Environmental Protection Agency, Teagasc and the IFA and that I supported as Minister.

I will work with the Government to ensure the funds that are made available are utilised to achieve the goals it has set out, but I am concerned that budget 2021 is just tinkering around the edges instead of providing the type of real reform that could bring life back to rural communities, regional Ireland and our towns and villages while also responding to the challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly There are five Deputies to speak in the Rural Independent Group slot, beginning with Deputy Mattie McGrath, who will have ten minutes.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Seisear.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I beg your pardon.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The budget is a missed opportunity in the main. While there are some nice bits and pieces to keep certain sectors happy for the moment, it is a missed opportunity in this time of severe crisis due to the pandemic to deal with wastage and how money announced for various sectors does not percolate down to the ordinary person on the street.

The announcement of the new Covid restrictions support scheme of up to €5,000 per week for businesses impacted by level 3 or higher Covid-19 restrictions is welcome. It is certainly needed by the industry. Budget 2021 also provides a support scheme of €55 million for the tourism sector, but that industry has been decimated and this support is coming late. The €55 million will do little or nothing for the tourism industry, which is very important for all of our counties, including Dublin. Dublin is ina stad. It is at a standstill.

The decision on the commercial rates waiver is welcome. It will be extended to the end of the year and beyond and is badly needed. Measures like it are lifelines. The decision is also welcomed by struggling businesses, which have a dreadful fear that such supports may have to be extended even further. They may need to be. Living from month to month or three months to three months is not good enough.

It has been decided to allow those in receipt of the PUP to earn up to €480 per month or €120 per week for casual work, but it is not "casual" work. A self-employed person, such as a plumber or electrician, who is doing vital work for the Leas-Cheann Comhairle or me needs to be able to look after us in these times while also receiving the PUP. Otherwise, that person might lose us as customers. People have to keep their businesses viable. As such, it is vital that they be allowed to earn money. That said, €480 is restrictive in light of plumbers' call-out fees. I say "plumbers", but it could be road builders, electricians or anyone else. It is important that we keep such people active and ready to go for when they are wanted.

The VAT cut is too little and too late. Dropping from 13.5% to 9% is a wasted exercise. Those businesses are closed in the current lockdown, and there will be more lockdowns if the powers that be in NPHET get their way. According to a paper by Dr. David Nabarro of the World Health Organization, lockdowns around the world have not worked and they are not the way to go. I put that to Dr. Holohan, the Taoiseach and others yesterday. We have conflicting messages. The problem is that while I respect the qualifications of these scientists and doctors, business representatives are not involved in NPHET and neither is the Garda Síochána, which has to try to handle the situations that arise. A representative of self-employed people is not involved.

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