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Snippet Contents:

The notion that nothing is happening - Deputy Crowe's suggestion that it is an entire failure - demonstrates how devoid of credibility the Sinn Féin Party is. The only way to be credible is to base what one says on the facts, not to recycle speeches from last year and the year before. Some of the speakers from Fianna Fáil were doing the same. Deputy Michael McGrath, who led for Fianna Fáil yesterday, spent a great deal of his speech criticising cuts and measures that occurred in previous budgets. Legitimate criticism, perhaps, but not relevant to this budget. I ask colleagues opposite to read these speeches and read the materials that are put before them in the House.
This is a prudent budget which balances the twin objectives of safeguarding the recovery and raising living standards. By any reasonable view, that is what it sets out to do. It will see the continued reduction of the debt and deficit, which is the borrowing the State has to undertake. Those realities were inherited from the catastrophic policies of the previous Government. The budget also sees us investing in the essential public services which were devastated by those policies, including education as the Minister, Deputy O'Sullivan will no doubt address. It sees us increasing the incomes of families left to pay the price of the disastrous policies of the previous Government. The incomes and living standards of individual citizens and families will increase as a result of this budget. That has become manifest. There is no point in my colleagues opposite denying it if they want to be taken seriously.
I say it is a fair budget and I do not accept the suggestion that it is not fair. I will come back to that in a moment. It is a budget that unashamedly distributes the early returns of our recovery to our citizens, families and communities across all sectors. It is a progressive budget that increases the take-home pay of middle income earners as well as those on lower incomes. The greatest impact of the tax measures will be on people who are on average and low incomes. That is a fact.
The distortion in which Sinn Féin Deputies and others have sought to engage in the last 24 hours is not being bought by the public. Low or middle income earners up to €70,000 know they will see a gain, albeit a modest one, in this budget. All the talk by Deputy Crowe and his colleagues about the well heeled, the higher paid and so on is given the lie when we look at the measures. No income above €70,000 will benefit disproportionately from the tax measures. Someone earning €40,000 will benefit to a certain degree, someone earning €50,000 will benefit a little more and someone earning €60,000 or €70,000 will benefit a little more again. However, once we hit €80,000 or €87,000 - the salary my colleagues opposite enjoy along with all of us in this House - the benefit goes. The cut-off is €70,000.
The Sinn Féin Deputies should face the facts. They should find other things to criticise, by all means, and propose alternatives if they can. They should stop trying to deny the facts of the matter. The tax measures are progressive because there is no added benefit to somebody earning over €70,000. My colleagues should try to tell me if I am wrong. Clearly, that is what the budget provides.
With respect to Deputy McLellan, the budget places the family at the centre of our recovery by increasing child benefit and family income supplement, and by introducing paid paternity leave for the first time. She can say it does not go far enough and there are comparators in Europe that do more. She is right, I agree with her. Here, we can get into having a realistic debate where people are saying we could and should do more. However, Deputy McLellan should at least face the fact that for the first time ever we have introduced paid paternity leave in this country, a very short time after coming out of the worst recession and economic crisis we have ever had. She should give some credit where it is due.
I am particularly pleased to see further progress towards universal health care through the extension of free GP visits to all children under 12. This is a programme I had the privilege to instigate when I was Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children. Deputy Crowe made reference to it and I am not sure whether he was criticising it. He was making a point about medical cards generally, I think. Regarding free GP care, it is a progressive measure to introduce universal access to primary care, GP services. It will be transformative for our health system. I hope it has the support of Sinn Féin.