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Snippet Contents:

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the budget debate in the context of where we are as a society, an economy and a people but also politically in terms of the make-up of the Parliament subsequent to the general election. It is a new dispensation for many Members and it is important to accept that we are finding our way to see how we can work to ensure stability in government, as well as ensuring we have a Government that will do the right thing for the people. In that context, it is fair to say we are trying to move the Government in a different direction. The budget is the first phase in that process. When one analyses the impact and changes in direction in the budget from those which were regressive in the past five years to one which is more progressive, one sees a welcome initiative, but, of course, it is only a step. A great deal of harm has been done to society in the past few years in the pressure exerted on families and individuals. A great deal must be done to ensure it is healed and that we will have a cohesive society which can collectively work through the various challenges confronting individuals and, more importantly, society.
I would like to elaborate on the budget a great deal more than I can, but we are short on time. There are a number of issues that confront us, including Brexit and the profound implications it may have for the economy. The greatest threat to investment and business is uncertainty which diminishes confidence and the capacity of business to invest, create jobs and generate tax revenue.
The other key issues include the broader global political issues beyond our shores. Elections are to be held in France and Germany next year, not to mention the presidential election in the United States of America. There is also in the background, of course, the Apple tax issue. There are concerns about whether the decisions of the Revenue Commissioners and their questioning by the European Commission will undermine our ability to attract foreign direct investment. They are big picture issues, but they impact on our ability in the Chamber to divert scarce resources towards the areas most in need. In that context, we must be ambitious. While we are constrained by the Stability and Growth Pact, we must become imaginative about how we access funding on the capital markets to invest long-term in the provision of infrastructure. I am not only talking about roads and railways but also the expansion of the economy to ensure we will have the capacity to deal with the inevitable demographic pressures, the potential upturn in the economy and the fallout, both positive and negative, from Brexit in companies looking to have their headquarters in this country and use our facilities to access the European market. There are many challenges but opportunities also. To a huge extent the Stability and Growth Pact has tied our hands in seeking access to money, but the State can now borrow at a rate of 0.33% for a ten-year bond. This is the time for us as a people to be imaginative, brave and ambitious for ourselves and those who will come after us. We should be making long-term investments in the productive economy. However, that is an area in which the Government has fallen down to a certain extent. The capital programme and the statements that support it lack ambition. They show no creativity and imagination in setting out a vision for what we need as a people to ensure the productive capacity of the economy can be sustained in the years ahead. Much of that issue needs to be revisited. We have called for the establishment of a commission on infrastructure and public investment to analyse in a critical way what will be required in the next few years and beyond the horizon and plan accordingly.
In my area of responsibility, health, Fianna Fáil welcomes the fact that the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, spoke earlier. He showed a commitment to ensuring we will have sustainable health budgets. The last five were pretend budgets; they were made up. The Government would wander in with a figure which had been plucked out of the sky to pretend that it actually had a sustainable budget to fund health care services. Obviously, it did not because we consistently and regularly had supplementary budgets. The confidence and supply arrangement between my party and the Government includes provision to ensure multi-annual budgeting. The health system cannot plan on an annual basis. It must look at what will happen in the longer term in terms of recruitment and investment to ensure it will have the necessary capacity.