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Snippet Contents:

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Having listened to Deputy Peter Mathews, it is clear that the Finance Bill can give rise to a very varied debate. I suppose that is because the Bill reflects what we are as a society and how we decide to fund public services, tax people, raise general taxation and implement indirect taxation. It is all contained in the context of the Finance Bill itself, so it is important legislation from many aspects. Apart from giving legislative effect to the budget, it also gives legislative effect to how we construct society. It ensures that citizens pay for services, as well as how much they will contribute.
When we discuss the Finance Bill in future there should be a stronger emphasis on what we are trying to achieve as a people. One could argue that this budget has been framed on the basis of the State being saddled with an unfair debt. From that flow the difficult choices that Governments have had to make for a number of years. Even in the context of having to make difficult choices, people can still prioritise. This Government has made the wrong decisions in many aspects of the Finance Bill because it has prioritised people who are under enormous pressure, including families on lower payscales.
Zero-hour contracts now apply to huge swathes of the working population. Every week we hear about unemployment numbers dropping and employment increasing, which is welcome. We all know that the way to step out of poverty into a productive society is through employment. However, zero-hour contracts effectively mean that while some people are employed - according to statistics from the CSO, the Department of Finance and the Department of Social Protection - they are in a difficult and invidious position. They do not know from week to week how many hours work they will get.
I do not expect every business to outline a pathway for an individual's working life, but surely there is a threshold of decency whereby people would know from week to week roughly how many hours they will be working. Zero-hours apply predominantly in low-pay areas, but they are now creeping into other areas of industry alsol. Some multinationals are now using zero-hour contracts, but I am more concerned about those at the lower end.
In a recent case, Dunnes Stores would not even turn up to the Labour Court. In recent years, that business has been falling over itself to say it promotes and encourages everything that is good in Ireland. It is simply not good enough that we have companies in this country that wrongly dismiss the labour relations machinery that is at their disposal to ensure we have an organised workforce and corporate structure compatible with decency and fairness. It is important to say that in the context of this Bill.
The Bill also targets those on lower payscales, while tipping the balance to those on higher payscales. The Minister of State can juggle the figures anyway he likes but the various examples in budget 2015 demonstrate that is so. The document refers to pseudonyms such as Benny, Ann, Marie, Niall, Sarah, Gerry, Brenda, Seamus, Marion and Sinead. I imagine they are deeply personal stories but behind these pseudonyms, the fact is that higher earning people did proportionately much better than lower earners.
I do not begrudge those on the higher end getting a break, but when one is making difficult choices with limited resources one must target areas most in need. This does not only apply to taxation but also to speech and language therapy, pupil-teacher ratios, waiting lists and the cap on the fair deal scheme. We are led to believe that the fair deal cap cannot be moved, but that cap is a choice made by the Government which has decided to cap it at roughly €965 million. The Government decided to fund tax reductions to the higher paid by continually borrowing money while at the same time capping funding for the fair deal scheme. Over 2,000 people are waiting 15 weeks to access a nursing home because a political decision was made in the context of this Finance Bill.
The thinking behind the legislation is whether it will get Fine Gael back into Government. The Government has its statistical data, focus groups and polling data, and it has obviously decided to go after certain cohorts. Going through the Bill it is clear that it is primarily constructed for electoral purposes. I do not deny the right of any political party to advance its own philosophy, but it should at least have the decency to come out and say so, rather than pretending that this is to build a fair society. This legislation is aimed at getting as many Fine Gael Deputies as possible back into Dáil Éireann.
The Minister of State cannot stand over this legislation and say that it is fair and balanced when people are sleeping in the streets because they cannot access basic accommodation. In addition, people are waiting 15 weeks, an extraordinary length of time, for the oldest and most vulnerable member of their family to get into a nursing home. Others are waiting an extraordinary length of time to access speech and language therapy. Schools in the most deprived communities are struggling to retain teachers and provide basic education in disadvantaged areas.
There are choices to be made. The Government states that it has had to make all these hard decisions because of the troika, but that is nonsense. First and foremost, there should have been a fundamental move to assert our authority and independence, as a State within the European Union, and to insist that we would get a break.
Deputy Peter Mathews and others are right to say that not enough is being done to insist on a retrospective application for Ireland to alleviate that burden. I do not mind how much I am blamed. That has happened, the election is over and we are in a new era. Blaming me and my colleagues, however, is not enough to lighten the load on those who have to carry that unfair burden. We should move beyond the politics of this situation. I have repeatedly called for an honest debate on how we were treated by our European colleagues.