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Finance Bill 2014

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Deputy Pearse Doherty

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Pearse Doherty

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Snippet Contents:

It has been a very interesting three weeks since the Minister introduced his latest budget. Like the previous one, as I said on previous occasions, it is unfair and contains harsh cuts. However, what has since been in the minds of the people, as we saw clearly and as was evident last Saturday, and what the budget cannot be divorced from is the issue of water charges. While the Government claims that water charges are not part of budget 2015, the reality for families is that they are very much part of it and this is a further austerity measure coming down the road.
The Minister has tried to provide sweeteners for the public who are simply saying enough is enough, that they will not pay his charges and that they want them scrapped. He has suggested tax credits will be available for those who have tax liabilities and those who do not. On budget day he announced measures which he said would allow for a maximum tax credit of €100 to be received by those with a tax liability. However, it is bizarre, given the number of officials involved, Cabinet meetings, sub-committee meetings and Economic Management Council meetings and the fact that Irish Water and water charges has been the burning issue in the State for many months that he left out tens of thousands of families from the scheme. Three weeks have since passed and we still do not have clarity on his tax credit proposal. It does not appear in the Finance Bill and he has not indicated, unless I missed it in his Second Stage speech, that it will be brought forward by way of an amendment on Committee Stage. This reduces and curtails debate. We had a discussion earlier about the fact that as a result of Members not turning up on time this morning the amount of time we had available at Question Time to hold the Government to account was restricted. Similarly, by the Minister and the Government not getting their act together in bringing forward the amendment on tax credits to off-set water charges we are allowed less time for scrutiny. We will not be able to deal with the issue at the finance committee and will not have sight of the Government's proposal before we have to propose Committee Stage amendments. This is simply not the way to do politics. I ask the Minister to confirm whether he has sought the approval of the Attorney General or the Cabinet for a proposal of this nature.
It is very clear that the Government is scrambling frantically to try to appease a certain group of individuals. I tell the Minister clearly that it is not going to work. I believe he is around here long enough to know members of the public have had enough. They are not going to buy into tax credits for water charges that they simply do not want. They are not going to buy into sweeteners from the Minister for Social Protection to off-set the charges. They are not going to buy into an extension of fixed rate charges. I was proud to be standing with people in Donegal at one of the biggest rallies held. There were 10,000 people in the market square in Donegal, while another 1,000 turned out in Lifford, as well as about 4,000 in Ballyshannon, and none of them had a placard demanding tax credits or flat rate charges or clarity. What they did demand was that the water charges be scrapped. Unless it listens to this demand, the Government will go down with the charges.
The Minister knows that over 200,000 took to the streets last weekend. He bravely says this was the last sting of a dying wasp, or words to that effect - as the people will have their day, let them go out and it will all fizzle away - but I am telling him that they are determined. They are determined to travel in numbers to the capital city on 10 December to show him that they are not giving up the fight. Despite all of the pressures on them in travelling long distances, they will be here and we will be with them. I hope they will prove the Minister wrong and that he will show a little more humility in understanding where they are at, that they are simply at the end of their tether, that they cannot take this additional austerity measure and that any repackaged water charge will simply not wash with them.
This week, at the presidential dinner, the Taoiseach said that without water charges, the tax rate at which some would have to pay would go up by 4%. We have had other Ministers say child benefit would have to be reduced. This is scaremongering and a sign of desperation on the part of a desperate Government that is simply out of touch with the people. The comments of the Taoiseach confirm at least one thing, namely, that there are alternatives to water charges, if the Government wanted to pursue them. However, an increase of 4% in the marginal rate of tax is not one of them.
In a letter to a Fine Gael colleague of the Minister he said that if Irish Water was to be on the State's books, it would cost an extra €550 million in 2015, reducing to some €500 million in 2016. The demand is where the Minister would get the €550 million needed and how he would raise it while reaching the deficit target. The Minister knows well that the deficit target the Government intends to reach in 2015 is 2.7% and that the deficit to be reached under the rules is just below 3%. Therefore, he knows that we have headroom of about €570 million in order to be below the 3% figure. These facts are indisputable, although the Minister is shaking his head.