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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 Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] We need input from a wide variety of people. There are 40 members of NPHET and there is plenty of room there to have a good mixture. Above all, the team needs to be reshuffled. That is not to demonise any of the current members, but we need to understand the full impact of the lockdowns.

I welcome the money provided for disability services but my concern is whether that money will percolate down to where it is needed - the centres that have been closed and the people who are usually brought on the bus to school or to the services they need. Some of them have been locked away for almost nine months, they have regressed enormously and their families are suffering. The money being given is welcome but it is too little and too late.

An extra €38 million is being given to mental health services but anybody with a modicum of reason who has assessed this area knows that an investment of up to €100 million is needed. In my own county of Tipperary, we do not have a single long-stay mental health bed, even though we have been fighting for better provision since the introduction of A Vision for Change. It turned out to be a vision for disaster because the long-stay beds in St. Michael's mental health unit in Clonmel were closed. Now we are told that €2.1 million will be allocated under Covid measures but we still will not have a single mental health long-stay or short-stay bed. We are waiting for the past year for a new crisis house project to go to tender. People have suffered enormously during the pandemic and now that we are going into the winter, with its short days and long nights, there will be a greater need for mental health services. The situation is awful and I will continue to push for extra funding. I will keep raising the issue in the House until we get some modicum of decent service for the people suffering with mental health and psychological issues. Many people are suffering with a bit of depression in the current situation because of the lack of work, stimulation, money and everything else.

I welcome the provision for the arts but again I wonder whether that money will percolate down to where it is needed. The Arts Council will get a big chunk of it, as it always does, but will any of it go to the scoileanna rince, for example, whose activities have been totally stopped, or to the musicians and other people who entertain us in bars and keep us all going? This is the problem with bodies that are set up, some of which are quangos. The Arts Council does a lot of good work but the money must go to where it is needed, which is into the pockets of the people we need to revitalise our economy and pass on their talents, abilities and education to the daltaí in the dancing schools and so on. Some of the boys and girls in those schools end up in the world championships or performing in Riverdance. They need to be supported and the funding provided must reach them.

A recent report by Grant Thornton found that an investment of €80 million is needed for the An Post network. The former Minister, Deputy Naughten, knows the issues facing the company. We need to support our post office network. It is vital, now more than ever, that small rural post offices are able to survive, as well as urban services. Post office staff know the local people and offer an important connectivity in communities. If somebody is missing - it could be a person who is feeling a bit down and does not turn up to access a payment - the staff in the post office are the first to press the panic button. Funding must be provided for the post office network, but the money appropriated today will not be enough at all.

I welcome the 600 extra recruits to An Garda Síochána. That was a measure many of us sought because there was no recruiting for a long time. We need the new recruits and the extra cars in the Garda fleet. I want to make a special appeal in this regard. We have seen in Tipperary during the pandemic that community division has been reincarnated and reinvigorated. I spoke earlier today to Superintendent Denis Whelan in Cahir Garda station, who told me that he does not have the numbers and that, day in and day out, his community gardaí are being pulled out to do other duties. The same is happening in the community policing units in Clonmel, Cashel, Tipperary town and lots of other places in County Tipperary. We need more community gardaí and we need to ensure they are properly supported. There is excellent work being done in this respect under Sergeant Ray Moloney in Cahir.

Agriculture is our primary industry but it is not being stimulated and there is not enough funding going into it. I do not think we have the right people in charge. I am not saying anything against the Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Michael McGrath, but we do not have the right people in the Department. We need the types of people, like TK Whitaker, who were there during a previous crisis.

I believe it was Churchill who said that one should never let a crisis hold one back. We should be borrowing when ECB rates are at 0.5%. We have not touched the banks. Fianna Fáil railed against the banks when it was in opposition and spoke about what it would do. Now that it is in government, it has not touched the banks even though they are fleecing their customers. They are taking people to receivers and through the courts. The county registrar in Tipperary has had 60 or 70 repossession orders land in on top of him in the past few days. We can borrow money at 0.5% and we should avail of it. Other countries are doing so and using the money productively to stimulate their economies. Regulations should be introduced to extend the moratoriums on certain payments but, more important, we must avail of the money that is being offered by the ECB at such low rates. Some countries are still paying back the money they borrowed after the Second World War. That is the way it should be and that is the type of solidarity we need from Europe.

People need to live and the economy needs to get moving. Mechanisms of stimulation are available and they should be availed of for the benefit of the self-employed and of ordinary working men and women. A Deputy mentioned the plumbers going to work every morning. Those people need to be able to work if our economy is to recover, but that will not happen if there is no money in the system. The money must be printed and released and, in time, it must be paid back. I am in business all my life and I know that everything must be paid back, but the rates of interest currently available offer amazing opportunities. There was a missed opportunity today for the two Ministers to deal with the banks. They should ensure they are lending or else they should get rid of them. We bailed out AIB to the tune of 90% State ownership but all we are hearing from bank managers is that they must get value for money. We are not getting value for money because the banks are not supporting our economy but instead are actually terrorising people. I could not believe that the Government parties and some Independents voted some weeks ago to end the moratorium. We need money to flow in the economy if we are to be able to look after people with disabilities and the elderly. Pensioners are only getting an extra €5 per week and those who are working, whether driving taxis or lorries or whatever, are not getting a penny under the PUP. Older people have been neglected once again by being given only a miserable fiver.

I conclude with a warning that the carbon tax is going to have a draconian effect on rural Ireland. Every man who buys a tank of diesel, every agricultural contractor and every lorry driver will feel the effect of it. A green energy policy is lovely on paper but, in reality, it will punish ordinary people, including those who need to fill their tanks with home heating oil.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins There are parts of today's budget which I welcome. For rural Ireland, however, including my constituency of Cork South-West, it is mostly a severe kick in the teeth. In particular, I must talk at length about the carbon tax. It will add €1.51 to the cost of a tank of diesel and €1.30 to the price of a tank of petrol. This budget looks like a Dublin 4 budget which Green Party members can claim as a victory because it is a green budget. Did they give any thought to the people who have to pull up at a filling station two or three times a week to fill their tanks? They have no choice but to do so because they live in rural Ireland. This measure is an attack on farmers, hauliers and fishermen. Let nobody in the Green Party, Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael who supports this measure say to farmers that they should think about getting an electric tractor or ask the guy going out fishing in the morning, whether an inshore fishermen or whatever, why he does not put an electric engine into his boat or trawler. It is ridiculous.

This budget is quite simply a hit on the people of rural Ireland. That is what it is, start and finish, and the Government is standing idly by. At the last election, I was the only politician in the whole line of people running in Cork South-West who said there should not be a carbon tax because it would hurt the people of rural Ireland. The other candidates were quite happy with it but here we are today and we know people will be hit in the pocket because of it. Farmers, hauliers and fishermen have been contacting me all day long telling me it will hit them hardest. It will also hit the ordinary mothers and fathers taking their children to school every morning and going about their daily chores to try to survive. If they are not hit by the carbon tax, they will be hit by motor tax or the new vehicle registration tax. They will be hit one way or the other and those hits are aimed specifically at the people of rural Ireland. Nobody in government should try to fool or cod us today by saying it is all right and people will not be hit. They certainly will be hit and anybody in rural Ireland who thinks that is not the case is fooling himself or herself. This is the issue for which I have the most severe criticism today because it shows that there has been no understanding in the budget for the man and woman who lives in rural Ireland. It is hit after hit for them. Any Independent Deputies who come in tonight and say they will support this are turning their back on their own people.

I very much welcome the €55 million allocation for tourism. The industry in my own constituency is struggling severely and I have called for the introduction of a 0% VAT rate. We were told that it could not be done but the Government certainly could have looked at the UK model and introduced a 5% rate. Instead, it has decided to reduce the rate from 13.5% to 9% at a time when there is no tourism activity at all and people in the industry are struggling and barely surviving. This measure should have been introduced a number of months ago when it would have been an incentive to assist businesses through this terrible pandemic. It was a terrible mistake not to reduce the rate sooner. Now the Government is throwing a small gesture the industry's way by going from 13.5% to 9% in a month's time or two months' time.

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