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Martin, Micheál

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Financial Resolutions 2017

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Financial Resolution No. 2: General (Resumed)

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Financial Resolution No. 2: General (Resumed)

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Deputy Micheál Martin

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Micheál Martin

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Snippet Contents:

I am, a Cheann Comhairle, through a circuitous route.
Sinn Féin is obviously uncomfortable with the full scale of the policies it advocated in the Right2Change manifesto this year. Everybody should read the manifesto to which the party has signed up because its alternative budget includes almost €2 billion in new taxes.  The claim that this would have no negative economic impact shows that the party remains obsessed with its left flank rather than offering a credible alternative.
I congratulate Deputy Brendan Howlin for his newspaper article on Monday in which he condemned the budget as not being "fair, progressive or sensible".  Given that even his one-time colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, has said the past five budgets were not "fair and socially just", the Labour Party is clearly still living in denial.
Before dealing with the detailed areas covered by the budget, it is important to address the budgetary process which is a shambles.  It works directly against soundly-based policy and credible political debate.  This must be the last budget produced in this manner. If we assume - I accept that the assumption could be naive - that the Government was not deliberately misleading people, both in public and in private, the appearance of an additional €300 million in the past week suggests, at best, a lack of control. It was not acceptable that so many additional millions of euro became available at the eleventh hour and communicated to other parties a few days in advance of the budget announcement.
There has been no serious review of what the budget will deliver or the figures behind it.  Ongoing activity is sold in the same way as new initiatives and the debate is reactive rather than strategic.  The spring economic statement and announced spending envelopes are meaningless and never reflect the final outcomes. The idea of an annual budget day should be ended.  Let us have detailed scrutiny of "no-policy-change" Estimates and policy initiatives in advance.  A single high-stakes political showpiece makes no sense and does not deliver good policy.  Most countries have a more lengthy and iterative process which makes greater demands on the government and the opposition alike. We will insist on the early establishment of the independent Oireachtas budget office and seek early discussions on a deeper reform of the budget process. That would impact on the Opposition as well as on the Government and would carry with it responsibilities for Opposition parties in making proposals. The Committee on Budgetary Oversight was not in position early enough to have a meaningful impact on this budget. People need to face up to the challenge. If we have proper budgetary scrutiny within Parliament, people must properly assume responsibilities in that regard.
As I have said previously, the fact that the fiscal space is limited still allows for choices.  The forced rebalancing of the budget towards essential services and supports has allowed for some improvements.  Public services have been cut to the bone in the past five years and had to be given priority. Fianna Fáil insisted on services being given priority over tax cuts as it was the right thing to do. The increases in pension and other payments are a direct result of the rebalancing and specific provisions of the confidence and supply agreement.  To brief otherwise fools no one.
On pensions, Fianna Fáil makes no apology for giving priority to the elderly.  In recent years cuts to a range of vital supports for the elderly, including the fuel allowance, the abolition of the telephone allowance, the increase in the prescription charge from 50 cent per item to €2.50, and the imposition of the property tax have had a disproportionate impact on those surviving on the State pension. All of these measures, cumulatively, had a negative impact on the net income of pensioners, with the huge health expenditure they incur.  The increase in pension payments, on which we were clear, and other changes such as the changes in prescription thresholds will help, although the prescription charge of €2.50 is still too high. I recall Senator James Reilly coming into the House as Minister for Health five years ago to propose the abolition of the 50 cent charge, but he then proceeded to increase it to €2.50. That has had a significant impact on those who take a lot of medication. GPs and pharmacists say this is the particularly the case for pensioners and those who are ageing. The increases in other payments are possible only because of the rebalancing forced on Fine Gael due to the confidence and supply agreement.  It is amusing to watch those who took an unreconstructed right-wing approach in the general election and the negotiations afterwards trying to soften their image through partisan briefings.