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Budget Statement 2021 (Continued)

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 999 No. 2

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  8 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Marian Harkin: Information on Marian Harkin Zoom on Marian Harkin] We may never again have a chance to borrow at negative interest rates and we should have taken that chance today.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate. I wish I could say the Government has embraced the challenge to give a transformative budget but I am afraid it has failed miserably.

There are good parts of the budget, which I welcome. As my time is limited, I will not itemise them but I welcome the contributions to TG4 and Údarás na Gaeltachta. I welcome the changes to disability supports, small though they are. There are many other elements that I welcome. What is missing is an overall recognition that we have one last opportunity to bring about transformative change because of the challenge of climate change and Covid-19.

The language used throughout this Covid-19 pandemic is we will never go back because we have learned. Equally, we declared a climate emergency and biodiversity crisis on 9 May last year. The Government was forced into doing that by the Opposition in order to move forward. I looked at the two speeches today, doing my best in the time I had, although I will go back over them again tomorrow, but it says it all that in a speech of a good few pages, there is less than a page from the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, on climate change. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, was better with a page and a half. This was instead of both speeches coming from a recognition of climate change and that things must be different; there is no going back and this is our last opportunity.

I looked to see what we have done. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, told us his Department is publishing an analysis of the budget for 2021, which provides clear evidence of its progressive nature and how it protects the most vulnerable in society. It has not been published and we cannot know that it provides clear evidence of its progressive nature because we have not seen it. It would have been wonderful to have that report so we could analyse its progressive nature. I fail to see it going through my notes, particularly when I come from a city where people are waiting more than 15 years on the housing waiting list without being offered a house. I say that to illustrate the extent of the housing crisis in Galway city, which has been evident for a very long time.

I call him the Minister of the briathar saor - the Minister of the passive tense - Deputy Michael McGrath. He stated that for years, supply has failed to keep pace with demand, and rising rent and house prices have pushed home ownership out of the reach of many. It is the briathar saor and he had nothing to do with it, and neither did Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and now the Green Party. Rents, apparently, just rise and house prices go up. The vast majority of people are forced out of the housing net but those parties have nothing to do with it.

In the strongest possible terms I say that government after government have led to this housing crisis with their policies. The Labour Party was also part of that with Fine Gael when it brought in housing legislation. If the party realised it was a mistake, I would love to hear about it, but it introduced the housing assistance payment, which has been the single most important determinant of rents rising and a housing crisis in this country. Between the housing assistance payment, the rental accommodation scheme and long-term leasing, we are putting more than €1 billion per year directly into the pockets of landlords.

I am on record as saying we need landlords and I am not against them. We need landlords in the market but the Government must be i lár an aonach, in the middle of the fair. It has never done that. Today we see the language being used but there seems to be a little divergence, despite the Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Michael McGrath, appearing happily married. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, seems more determined to build social housing, speaking about €500 million for such housing and the building of more than 5,000 homes. It is not possible.

There is sleight of hand all the time when we speak of social housing. It seems that benefiting the private market under the various schemes is what social housing is now about. If we have learned anything from Covid-19, it is to be honest and direct with people rather than giving double messages like the Tánaiste did on "Claire Byrne Live". He undermined the National Public Health Emergency Team and the very next day he went to his parliamentary party to say it looked like a full lockdown would be necessary. We can cite many examples like this. I appeal to the new Minister to speak directly, clearly and honestly to people. If the Government is to put all its resources into the private market, it should say so, but stop pretending otherwise.

There was talk of an extra €28 million for mental health but we were not told that for years, it has been the poor relation in health. We have not been told where the independent monitoring body that was promised to be set up is because nobody has ever trusted any of us politicians - and rightly so - when it comes to mental health. The independent monitoring system has been promised but there is no mention anywhere of that.

There is the question of disability. Earlier this year I received a letter, like all Deputies, on this matter. In this case it was from Ability West, where the training allowance was taken from people at training centres. It was a miserly allowance compared with what I earn but it was taken. It would have been a measure of the Government's bona fides to reinstate that allowance, which meant so much to people attending those training centres, giving them a measure of independence.

I live in a city where large numbers of people receive no respite, so people struggle with husbands with dementia and children with disability with absolutely no respite. The latest letter from Merlin Park hospital indicates no respite has been provided since March this year.

There is an increase in the carer's support grant of €150 per year but the Government has not thought about looking at the majority of Ireland's carers who keep the country going. Without them we could not have an economy but most of them do not qualify for anything. The Government has not looked at the disability payment request, which amounts to very little at €20.

There was mention of 5 million additional home care hours and it is hard to deal in millions, although we are getting used to it now with the monopoly money. Translating that, somebody with a husband with senile dementia is trying to survive on ten home care hours per week. I am ashamed of my salary when somebody is in such a position and I tell them that there will be 5 million additional hours, although I am not sure where they fit into the equation.

I tried in vain to see one mention of domestic violence. Could this be explained to me? Many reporters over the past few days have said it is easy for the Opposition to put forward budgets with no costings but what is the cost of not doing something in this regard? We know with domestic violence the direct cost to the economy is €2.5 billion per year but I cannot find any reference to this new Government's transforming actions dealing with domestic violence. Ireland is obliged to have 472 refuge places but we have 141. There is an epidemic of domestic violence, although the Garda and policing authorities have been brilliant, and I pay tribute to them. They can only do so much.

In a truly transformative budget, we would not divide people or put in a carbon tax as the main climate action element. Climate action would underpin all our actions in bringing people together. It should not be about dividing rural areas from the city. I am over time and the Ceann Comhairle has been patient so I will stop.

  Sitting suspended at 8.10 p.m. and resumed at 8.30 p.m.

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