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Budget Statement 2018

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Snippet Contents:

On what is world homeless day, the budget and, more importantly, the Government will be judged by how it tackles the scourge of homelessness and our housing crisis more than by reference to any other issue. Today's budget is introduced in a very positive economic environment but under the dark shadow of escalating crises on the Government's watch in housing and health.
During the stalemate which followed last year's election, Fianna Fáil was the only Opposition party to recognise it had a responsibility to ensure the country had a Government. That remains the inescapable backdrop to the minority Government and the budget. Today's budget includes progress - in some cases modest but progress nonetheless - on many of the key priorities in our confidence and supply agreement. These include reductions in the universal social charge rates with a particular emphasis on low and middle income earners, avoiding the sudden loss of mortgage interest relief for 420,000 mortgage holders, an increase in the tax credit for almost 150,000 self-employed people, €55 million in funding for the National Treatment Purchase Fund, an increase in funding for housing assistance payments, extra funding for current and capital social housing budgets, a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools, ring-fenced funding of €35 million for mental health services in 2018, a further €5 in all weekly social welfare payments, including the old-age pension, as well as increased capital investment in key sectors of the economy. These are just some examples but Deputy Calleary will go into much more detail on the spending side.
This is the second budget introduced under the confidence and supply agreement. It is a budget which we, as a party, have sought to influence in the direction of a fairer Ireland. This means prioritising public services and investment in our economy. We have achieved this with the overall budget day package placing twice the emphasis on public investment over tax reductions. Were it not for our involvement, I do not believe today's budget would have such a mix. The two-to-one split is not a meaningless one. Shaping budgetary policy in this way impacts favourably on the funding of schemes, programmes and services for people nationally. While it would be wrong to overstate what one budget can achieve, especially when resources are limited, we welcome the progress made on many of the commitments we secured in the agreement last year. Last year, we ensured the country received its first progressive budget in six years, a fact confirmed by the then Minister and now Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar. Today's budget builds on that progress towards fairer budgets.
The economy is going well, which we welcome, but there is deep uncertainty about what lies around the corner. There are critical questions on the future. What does Brexit mean for Ireland? What impact will a Trump presidency have on inward investment? What impact will Europe's renewed focus on corporation tax have on Ireland? If these are some of the economic questions, the questions for our society are far more fundamental and significant. The defining feature of the Government so far has been its abysmal failure on housing and health. Some of the figures which will be quoted today are far more important than others. Today, there are 8,270 people in emergency accommodation in Ireland, including 3,048 children. There are 678,438 people on some form or other of hospital waiting list. We remain committed to the political agreement we entered into last year but no one can argue that the Government's performance in housing and health is either acceptable or sustainable. We have been told consistently by the Government that money is not the issue, in particular in respect of housing. If that is so, our message to the Government is very simple: "No more press releases, policy launches or glossy brochures; just get on with it and build the houses the people in our country need". The Government really seems to have run out of ideas in health. In the talks last year, we proposed the reactivation of the National Treatment Purchase Fund, which was resisted at the time by Fine Gael but which appears now to be the centrepiece of its policy to tackle spiralling hospital waiting lists.
No doubt, Sinn Féin will shortly launch a blistering attack on the budget and, I hazard a guess, as was the case last year, an even more blistering attack on Fianna Fáil.