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Snippet Contents:

Yesterday's budget as per tradition was delivered in two halves, the first by the Minister for Finance and the second by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Since I have been in the Dáil and since the Government took office, it has been the tradition to introduce a range of measures that will cumulatively advance us even further towards an Irish society of two very distinct halves - the rich and the poor or the haves and the have-nots. There was the usual attempt to portray a fair and balanced fiscal outlook but there has been nothing fair about the austerity foisted upon the Irish people through what I would call a bad political decision and bad political decisions in recent years. Yesterday's poor attempt to buy back votes with scraps was a further insult to the intelligence of very many people. Does the Government honestly believe people's memories are that short and that they can be dazzled by a couple of euro a week when their children are still living in exile in forced emigration, when their friends are losing the roof over their heads and when their neighbours are lying in pain on a hospital trolley, waiting for a bed?
The big fanfare in the budget surrounded the USC "bonanza", as one newspaper called it and as the Government would like to portray it, and how it will give back squeezed middle-income earners around €10 a week. If one thinks of that, it is a princely sum of their own hard-earned money that will be quickly soaked up and taken away by water charges, household charges and, of course, all the other indirect taxes. It is a case of fingers crossed on the part of the Government that these people will be so overwhelmed with paying a percentage less that they will forget this tax was only intended to be a temporary measure in the first place.
Speaking of the squeezed middle, I am very disappointed at the Government's attempt to portray this budget as the antidote that hard-pressed working families have been waiting for. Granted, the additional 23 weeks of free preschool will benefit a significant number of families but what about those working parents whose children have already turned three years of age, many of whom have been speaking on the radio this morning? It is too late for these people to benefit from this measure. Ireland is now the most expensive country in the world for child care yet, astonishingly, there was no attempt in this budget to introduce measures aimed at universally affordable and accessible child care for middle-income earners who are currently forking out approximately €1,000 per month. There is a wholly inadequate €3 million allocation to support after-school services which I cannot see stretching very far. The school year only runs for 37 or so weeks of the year. What are working parents supposed to do outside term time? Young working parents have borne the brunt of the recession and they have been left hanging by this budget. It is not good enough. We have again turned our backs on even adequate child care services in this country.
It is interesting that the Minister for Finance said yesterday that the cost of renting accommodation was not a budgetary matter. This was an astounding statement to make. His reasoning behind not addressing rent controls or the price of rent was that he did not want to interfere and make matters worse than they already were. This is exactly what he said. One wonders just how much worse things will get before the Government faces up to the homelessness crisis. There are thousands of young adults over the age of 18 who are living with their parents and sleeping in sitting rooms and kitchens who consider themselves homeless, so there are far more homeless people than those we define as being homeless. It is widely documented that the substantial gap between rent supplement and the famous housing assistance payment, HAP, and the actual rents being sought is causing homelessness and will continue to do so. I do not understand why the Government has not taken up the results of a survey carried out earlier this year that showed that only 12% of rental properties were available within rent supplement or HAP limits.