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Financial Resolution No. 5: General (Resumed)

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Financial Resolution No. 5: General (Resumed)

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Deputy Jonathan O'Brien

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Snippet Contents:

I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to members of An Garda Síochána and the Traveller community.
In my brief contribution I wish to focus on education. Fine Gael and the Labour Party came to office in 2011 and between then and yesterday's budget announcement some €500 million had been taken out of the education budget. We saw capitation grants slashed, increased class sizes, cuts to summer works schemes and minor works grants and Traveller resources. Overall, €500 million has been taken from the budget. Now, with the first budget that, according to the Government, gives us the opportunity to improve public services, one would think education would be a priority.
Does the Minister know how much was included in the education budget yesterday? The answer is €24 million. The Department will spin and state an extra €170 million was included in the education budget. While that is correct on paper, some €154 million of it is earmarked to meet the rise in demographics and the terms of the pay agreement. We were running to stand still in that regard. Therefore, we have just €24 million available, of which we are using €18 million to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio - a welcome initiative - and €6 million to implement junior cycle reform which has not yet been agreed to by one of the main trade unions. There is no doubt, therefore, that the education sector was not a priority yesterday for the Government.
The same goes for the health service. Members on the Government side may shake their heads, but apart from the investment to provide for the rise in demographics, the additional spend in this area is just €18 million for new initiatives. I do not know how the Government can try to explain this. There is no increase for young jobseekers under 25 years, although their income was cut to €100. The opportunity was not taken yesterday to increase this figure. If we look at what the Government has done in regard to the tax base, there is no doubt that it has been completely hollowed out. This will have a detrimental impact on future budgets. Rather than expand the tax base in a fair and equitable manner, the Government has put €180 million back into the pockets of the top 14% of wealthiest earners. Meanwhile, a young jobseeker under 25 years who has received no increase is expected to survive on €100 a week.
The Government massaged the figures for housing. It talks about NAMA delivering 20,000 houses, but the bulk of them are to be built in Dublin, with only 2,000 to be built in the other 25 counties. This will not go far to address the housing crisis. The majority of the houses that will come on line will be affordable and commercial units, not social units. The Government talks about the local authorities and states it has provided them with money and that they should get on with addressing the issues, but it is not as simple as that. It sat on its hands for four and a half years and cut funding to local authorities. Therefore, they did not have the ability to plan the building of houses. Some did not even have architects and some do not even have a plumber. The Government cannot just wave a magic wand and state it has now provided the money and let the local authorities get on with the job. A long-term strategy is required.
Homelessness is on the rise. Despite all the announcements made on housing in 2015 alone - five - we have more people homeless now than when these initiatives were announced. Clearly, the strategies are not working.