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Budget Statement 2018

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Snippet Contents:

Today's budget is an important moment for centre-ground politics. It is an opportunity to continue on a fairer route to how the State delivers services for citizens and it gives working people a much needed break. It is a chance to build fairer policies founded on sustainable finances. It is also an important day for practical politicians. There are politicians in the House who see problems and debate them and others who see problems, debate solutions and seek to implement these solutions. In that spirit, the Fianna Fáil Party has left its print on this budget. We stepped up to the mark in 2016 to ensure that the country had a stable Government in uncertain times. Since then, we have emphasised investment in services, particularly housing, health, mental health, education at all levels, child care and improving the social and capital condition of communities, while at times focusing tax reductions on low and middle income earners. The minimum two to one split between expenditure on services and cuts in tax has been the hallmark of our policy, one which has fundamentally set the parameters of the entire budget.
The confidence and supply agreement is not a document created by spin doctors. It is directly responsible for a wide range of measures, including: the €5 increase in the pension and working-age payments for a second year in a row, targeted packages for the most disadvantaged and a phased reversal of cuts in telephone and fuel allowances; extra resources for housing and homelessness and a focus on delivering instead of announcing, as signified not only by today's measures but also by initiatives in recent weeks, such as the legislation on vacant properties introduced by Fianna Fáil last week; the investment of €55 million in the National Treatment Purchase Fund, which has been derided by many but which, if properly used, can give those waiting on surgical waiting lists a chance of treatment; the first proper investment in the mental health services that will deliver on the vision in A Vision for Change; a reduction in the drug payment scheme that will reduce medicine bills for working families and those with chronic conditions; reductions in prescription charges; a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio at primary school level which, in addition to the planned demographic-related increases in teacher numbers, will make primary school classes smaller; expanded guidance counselling; greater postgraduate access; a greater investment in local and regional roads and community facilities; an investment of €25 million in the areas of natural constraint, ANC, programme assisting those farmers who farm in the most naturally disadvantaged of conditions; tacaíocht bhreise do na heagraíochtaí atá ag obair lenár dteanga dhúchais; and the establishment of the Public Service Pay Commission, which has delivered a sustainable package of pay rises to public servants and which offers a pathway to pay equalisation for new entrants.
These and other measures clearly show that Fianna Fáil's participation in the confidence and supply agreement is delivering for people across the island. Our participation is focused and laser-like and contrasts with that of the Government, a spin obsessed machine which today awarded itself a €5 million increase in funding for the so-called strategic communications unit, also known as the Government's cheerleading unit. This sum could buy many home help hours or home care packages. While the Government can keep spinning, we will keep delivering.
The Fianna Fáil Party's decision to participate in the confidence and supply arrangement was taken last year against the backdrop of the challenge set for politicians by the people through their voting patterns in the general election. That challenge, which came against the backdrop of an enormously difficult decade, was to provide political stability in an unstable world. It became even more urgent in the context of the Brexit decision taken later in 2016. The challenge was to ensure political stability was used to place fairness in our society, give working people a break and invest in services as central planks in any new political arrangements. Unlike others, Fianna Fáil did not run away from this challenge but took it on and in this budget, as in that introduced last year, we have delivered.
It is important to remember that today is not simply about new measures and changes costing approximately €1 billion, it is also about the €60 billion or more the State invests every year. The way in which the public service invests, ensures value for money and delivers services is key to building a state in which citizens can have faith. Delivery is the key to showing citizens that politics works. Today is about fanfare, ceremony and set-piece debates but we will be here tomorrow, in one week and in one month to ensure all of today's commitments are delivered. The confidence and supply agreement is founded on delivery. At times in the past 12 months, this has meant robust exchanges and difficult meetings away from the media focus of budget day and these will continue in the next 12 months.
As Deputy Michael McGrath stated, the key measure in the budget is focused on homelessness and an affordable housing package. I remind the House, not that it needs reminding, that today is World Homeless Day. Homelessness is not only an economic challenge but a moral imperative in a republic. More than 130,000 households languish on the social housing waiting list. Those renting homes are experiencing the highest rents on record, while house prices are rapidly growing beyond the reach of ordinary working people. The homelessness scandal is a scar on our communities, with some 8,000 people in emergency accommodation. The dream of owning a home is becoming more and more distant for more and more people. Despite figures showing employment growth, people are further away from securing a home than ever. We need to allow people to believe in this dream again. Regrettably, there is little in the budget package to inspire this dream in those who seek an affordable home.
The Fine Gael record on building homes is abysmal. Since 2011, the State has built just 4,000 new social houses, fewer than were built in almost every single year from 1994 to 2009 when Fianna Fáil led a series of Governments. If plans, spin and announcements were houses, we would not have a problem. The plans announced today must result in delivery. The €1.1 billion announced for housing next year must ensure houses are built and people secure homes.