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Snippet Contents:

I am glad to contribute to the debate on the Finance Bill, which is effectively the implementation of measures in the budget. It is interesting to see that none of the opposition parties is represented here now. Maybe that is an indication that they are conceding that the budget was an excellent one.
I welcome many of the measures, which, for the first time in five years, demonstrate that there is some light at the end of the tunnel for those people who have sacrificed so much on the back of difficult decisions that had to be taken by this Government after our economic sovereignty was surrendered in 2010 following the boom-bust cycle of the noughties.
Many of the measures, particularly the removal of another 80,000 people from the USC and the reduction of USC rates for those on lower incomes, are very much to be welcomed. I assume and hope that that will continue and that there will be greater measures in budget 2016.
In addition, child benefit measures and the partial restoration of the Christmas bonus provide a welcome signal to vulnerable people on low pay. The restoration of Garda recruitment and the replacement of Garda vehicles are also welcome budgetary steps. Garda recruitment ended in 2010, but it is now up and running again so that crime can be tackled with a consequent reduction in crime figures. New Garda vehicles are badly needed because the mobility of criminals and the types of crimes they commit must be combated.
In the education sector, the budget will provide for 900 extra classroom teachers, 480 resource teachers and 365 special needs assistants. These posts are necessary to maintain the pupil-teacher ratio at its present level. Education is a crucial pillar of our economy and is the reason we have been attracting so much inward investment in recent times. That needs to continue into the future.
Measured supports for home refurbishment, which were announced in last year's budget, have now been expanded. This is a boost for employment in the construction sector which is spread throughout the regions. It is important that construction is not confined to the major urban centres. The recovery is evident in the main cities, but not so in regional areas. These measures will help to achieve that spread, however, as well as supporting employment in the construction sector. In addition, they will help businesses that are tax-compliant while restricting the black economy.
The introduction of a 9% VAT rate a few years ago when the Government first took office has been one of the success stories and has created thousands of jobs. Such jobs in the tourism and hospitality sector are spread throughout the country. Improved and targeted marketing by Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland has been very visible on the ground this year, particularly in the Mayo constituency that I represent, with the Wild Atlantic Way. Various targeted marketing concepts mean that employment is being spread throughout the country. That was badly needed and is thus very welcome.
One factor needs to be noted, however, given the return to growth in the tourism sector. The 9% VAT rate is there to support tourism, so that sector should not take advantage of increased visitor numbers - which are now back up to 2007 levels - by raising prices and thus becoming uncompetitive. The Government has done its part but the tourism sector must continue to take the opportunity without exploiting tourists.
In my region, Ireland West Airport Knock had its busiest ever year, with more than 700,000 passengers, including more than 100,000 in August alone. This emphasises the crucial importance of the facility.