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Snippet Contents:

When we talk about the budget that has just been introduced, it is important to understand where we have come from in the past three years. Anyone who came in here in 2011 and saw the figures that were in front of us knows that there were even some people in this House who were looking for sovereign default. The issue of a possible collapse of the euro also arose. It looked as though, if the euro did not collapse, we would certainly be outside it, and if we managed to stay inside the eurozone, there would be a two-tier eurozone, with us in the second tier and the rest of Europe in the first tier. Fast-forward three years and we see a budget that is attempting to give something back. Perhaps we would always like to give an awful lot more back, but one certainly sees the transformation over a three-year period, which must be acknowledged and recognised. It has not been easy. There are very many people out there who over the past number of years and through no fault of their own saw their living standards decimated, with job losses, unemployment and emigration. If nothing else, the budget that was announced two and a half weeks ago must have been okay, because we are not talking about it any more. Two weeks have passed and there is no debate or conversation about the budget we have just had. Obviously, something very positive happened within it.
People often ask me what the budget means for them. They are trying to read through all the commentary. I always say the same thing to them. It is probably not as good as what we on this side say, while it is certainly not as bad as what those on the other side say. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. The fact is that this will give a little something back to everybody. If nothing else, it will hopefully create some confidence - confidence that the years of austerity are finally coming to an end. As someone who is relatively new to politics since being elected to Galway County Council in 2009 and to the House in 2011, I felt there was something different about sitting here two weeks ago listening to the details of a budget that did not involve cuts. That was somewhat different for a person who came into the House in this era of politics. We can finally start to talk about a different situation for our country, and it is something that is very welcome.
I would certainly agree with many of the key measures that have already been mentioned by Deputy Kyne. We have set out very clearly where we stand on corporation tax and have moved to allay the fears of other countries and jurisdictions. We still have a huge reliance on foreign direct investment and we need to encourage more of it. Coming from County Galway, like Deputy Kyne, I see the number of multinationals there. We need to make sure they understand the role they play in this country, the role they play in respect of Exchequer figures and the amount of money they contribute, but it is very welcome that we have set out very clearly what we are going to do in that area.
The retention of the 9% VAT rate in the tourism sector is very welcome. It is a very proactive move. I know it is linked to the pension levy, which was a real bugbear for many people. I welcome the fact that the Minister for Finance has moved to remove it over the next two years. I also welcome the reduction in income tax and the USC. I do not think I have ever known a tax that sticks in people's throats like the USC. I understand that it was introduced in an emergency budget in 2008 and that it raises quite a level of income for the Exchequer. However, I would like to see if we could come up with a way, over the next number of years, of improving growth figures while reducing the USC with the intention of removing it. It might be very aspirational but, hopefully, as the country continues to grow, it will happen. We must also be very cognisant of the fact that we still borrow money just to run the country on a daily basis. While we are moving in the right direction, we certainly have a long way to go.
One final issue I would like to address, which was also addressed by Deputy Kyne, concerns the issue of the active farmer. We need to see changes in how that is framed within the Finance Bill. Between 50% and 60% of our farmers are part-time farmers. They need enough farm income to drive up their overall income. We have seen quite a level of investment in infrastructure over the past number of years, so the mantra from now on is "Work smart", not "Work hard". The amount of time farmers need to spend on their farms is not as great as it used to be, but I can assure the House that many of these farmers are as skilled and productive as any full-time farmer, and they should not be discriminated against for that reason. It must be recognised that any farmer out there who is thinking about transferring the farm to his or her son or daughter can still do that. The way it is framed in the Finance Bill needs to change, with amendments on Committee and Report Stages, because the way it is framed now actively discriminates against some young people who want to get into the industry. There is a bright future for agriculture, and the measures announced are very welcome, but let us not put a stumbling block in front of many people who want to help the future of this industry.