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Budget Statement 2018

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Snippet Contents:

The budget was a serious damp squib and particularly disappointing in view of it being the first budget of the new Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the first during the Taoiseach's time in charge. I was at the Ireland versus Wales football match in Cardiff last night and I can assure the Minister that the spirits and well-being of the people of Ireland got more of a boost from that match than they got from the budget. It is a pity. The budget lacks honesty and is incredibly disappointing. The only funny part of budget day so far was when Fianna Fáil said it does not play games with political issues. I suggest that they read The Prince by Machiavelli, which was written in the 16th century or about 500 years ago. I think Machiavelli wrote it about Fianna Fáil.
Before I address the main issue I want to cover, which is the failure to deal with the housing and homelessness problems, I want to speak on climate change. A few months ago, the Taoiseach said he would bring a fresh approach to how we deal with climate change. The budget contained no measures addressing the electrification of public transport, which people thought might happen, no extra investment in rail, no State-built renewable energy and the carbon tax has once again been kicked down the road.
It breaks my heart that the Government has been so incapable of dealing with the housing crisis. The budget did not address affordable housing at all, unless I missed it. No affordable housing scheme was proposed. In September 2011 Fine Gael and Labour did away with such a scheme. It is a huge problem. There is a problem with social housing. The stock of social housing countrywide is 9% while the European average is 17%. We do not have an honest approach to building social housing through local authorities but affordable housing could also be provided using local authorities. However, the will to do it has to be there. It seems that nobody wants to reinforce local authorities and make them fit for purpose. For example, there is a serious lack of technicians. However, there is no point in saying people are not fit to do a job. They should be made fit to do it. Technicians can be hired. If the Government got serious about building social and affordable housing through local authorities and facilitated a €100 million project, fees would be a minimum of 4% if such a scheme were being developed in the private sector. That would involve hiring technicians to work on the project. For €100 million, that would be 40 technicians at an average of €100,000 each, although one would probably not need that many. That would be completely doable through local authorities but the Government has to want to do it. There is currently a four-stage approval process for housing schemes. The system is almost designed to stop building taking place. I have spoken to local authority workers. The Government keeps saying there is plenty of money but those in local authorities are finding it hard to get the money from central Government. The process is so slow that it is not happening.
Another big problem, apart from the Government not wanting to reinvent local authorities because local government has more or less been done away with and the Government would not like to bring it back, is that local administration is currently weak. The lack of an honest approach to the huge problems in how housing is supplied is shocking.
The Minister today addressed the vacant site levy. Is he well? As I have previously pointed out in the House, the vacant site levy, which is another measure brought in by Fine Gael and Labour, has so many loopholes that it is useless. If the owner of a vacant site has a mortgage for 75% or more of its value, he or she will pay a levy of 0.75%. If he or she has borrowed more than 50%, he or she will only pay a levy of 1.5%. Will the Minister deal with such circumstances or will he only address the figures he gave of a 3% levy, rising to 7% in the second and subsequent years? I did not get an answer to that. It is nonsense. If the site is occupied and something is officially being done with it, its owner does not have to worry about the levy. If an owner is worried about the latest scheme, he or she can put up hoarding around the site, erect a commencement notice and take the grass off the site. That would be the job done and it could be left for another 20 years without incurring a tax liability. One could farm the vacant site. If one wanted to avoid the levy but were not a farmer and did not want to farm the site, one could give a farmer the use of the land for free. It would then be in use and, therefore, not subject to tax.