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Budget Statement 2018

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Snippet Contents:

I am sharing time with Deputies Eamon Ryan and Seamus Healy.
This Government does a lot of talking about opportunities. Today was an opportunity for bold and brave vision, and an opportunity to take Ireland on a new path. However, today the Government decided to let those opportunities go to waste, choosing instead to try to please as many groups as possible in some small way rather than focusing on targeted measures which could achieve real and substantial change. Let us be clear that there are elements of this budget which are to be welcomed, but it is very much a budget that is focused on the next general election rather than the next generation. It is a skin-saving budget for Fine Gael, designed to pacify its natural voter base and its Government partners, including Fianna Fáil, rather than show ambition for the future.
Before I get into any of the specifics, it is incumbent on me to once again raise the issue of our debt burden. It is the fourth largest debt burden in the OECD and the cost of servicing it runs into billions every year. We are hamstrung by it because it forces us to operate within a limited fiscal space. While we agree that we should balance the books on the current side, we very much feel that the capital side needs to be severely challenged.
Once again, we were regaled with tales of the rainy day fund, this thing that has been mooted for the past number of years as if it actually exists. The reality is that, even after today's budget, the so-called rainy day fund will not see its first penny until 2019. I remind the House that we originally had the National Pensions Reserve Fund, which was really our rainy day fund. It was emptied to fund the banking crisis, leaving us struggling to fund pensions into the future. What constitutes a rainy day anyway? I look around at the scale of the housing crisis and I see 3,000 children in emergency accommodation. I do not see a rainy day but a tsunami that is here now, and not coming in the future.
The same can be said of many of our other public services. The Minister flamboyantly spoke about what he called "the continued delivery of sustainable and high quality public services". I am curious to know what high quality public services the Minister was actually referring to because so many of our public services are threadbare. We see it every week with people coming into our constituency offices and showing us the failures in the system. One could describe many of our public services as delivering mediocrity at best. We have a health system that is creaking with waiting lists for basic procedures that would make one's eyes water. We have a public transport system that is disjointed and grossly underfunded. While I welcome the projects that were specifically mentioned today, the truth is that they are not new announcements. Many of them have been announced previously. The Luas cross-city project is about to go live. Some of the announcements we need are about putting vision into our capital funding. The real game changer in the greater Dublin area, for example, would be the DART underground project but that piece is missing.
It is about spending now to save later. I asked Department of Finance officials at the Committee of Public Accounts recently how much it would cost us in hard cash for missing our climate targets. The reply I got was €600 million annually from 2021. We need to spend now to save later. We need to invest in the kind of initiatives that are about having a vision that will save later on.
There are many things to be lauded in our education system, but we need to continue to invest in it. There is much talk about free education but families in late August and early September will tell the Government exactly what free education means. This affects poorer families and for them it is almost embarrassing because they may be trying to stretch out getting things that are needed. A provision of €100 million a year would provide totally free primary education. That is the kind of investment that would put money back into people's pockets in a different way from tax cuts, and would be very targeted.
The political hot potato is obviously the housing system, although listening to the Minister's speech today one would be forgiven for thinking that housing does not actually count as a public service.