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Budget Statement 2019

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Snippet Contents:

Paid parental leave and subsidy increases must form part of a broader suite of measures, including shared maternity leave, to broaden the capacity of parents to share responsibilities. The additional resources announced are but a drop in the ocean, unfortunately, as well intentioned as they are. The prolonged delays in the roll-out of the affordable childcare scheme, ACS, which seems to be moving further and further away rather than getting closer begs serious questions of the Department. We need a far more radical approach to deliver childcare with the State driving it on.
Fianna Fáil has always believed and continues to believe that a well-functioning public service with appropriately paid public servants is the bedrock of an equal and prosperous society, the bedrock of an Ireland for all. This is why public sector pay and conditions formed a key part of the confidence and supply arrangement. We supported the negotiations between the Government and the unions and the public service stability agreement. We supported and facilitated the enactment of the subsequent legislation. Major issues with public pay and equality were not, however, addressed. The dismissive attitude taken by the Government served to add fuel to the already growing fire. Fianna Fáil called for pay equalisation for post-2011 workers from the very beginning and pushed an amendment to the public service pay legislation forcing the Government to act. The recent agreement represents a sea change in policy for the Government that we welcome. Unions are in the process of considering the agreement and we await the outcome of that process but concerns have already been raised over the length of time it will take to achieve full pay equality.
Many commentators have criticised the amount of pay public servants have received over the last number of years. That commentary is misguided. If public pay was so high, why would there be a shortage of nurses, doctors, consultants, members of our armed forces and, in some cases, a shortage of teachers to teach our children? The fact of the matter is that in key parts of our public service, most notably in health, we have huge shortages in key positions. I welcome that the Government has implemented here today the recommendations from the Public Service Pay Commission but it would be a mistake to think that this in itself will address the significant shortages in key areas of the public service.
A fair society requires a social protection system that provides vital supports to those who need them most. Having a strong social protection package over the last two budgets ensured that the least well-off benefitted the most over the past two budgets. While some look down on those receiving social protection, Fianna Fáil most certainly does not. For this reason, we negotiated for a strong social protection package in this budget. We called for and delivered an increase of €5 in the State pension, as well as similar increases in the disability allowance, unemployment benefit and the carer’s allowance. This brings the total increase under this agreement, across all scales, to €15. When people take the risk of starting their own business they need to be given adequate protection if that business fails or they are forced out of work. We called for pay related social insurance, PRSI, relief to be extended to the self-employed and I welcome that this has been delivered. The social protection package negotiated in this budget is consistent with the previous two and will provide much-needed relief to people on the ground. 
Education is the cornerstone of a prosperous State. It is the ladder of opportunity for every generation. That is why Fianna Fáil has fought to advance it in the confidence and supply arrangement. The pupil-teacher ratio has been successfully reduced, guidance counsellors have been restored and postgraduate grants have been reopened for lower-income students. Far more needs to be done if education is to continue to be a viable path forward for all children, regardless of where they are from. Too often, parents are expected to make voluntary contributions to the running of schools. This is yet another expense for families to stump up. Fianna Fáil believes no parent should be asked to make such contributions and that free education should be free. The increase in the capitation grant of around €10 million for schools in a given year is a welcome step but much more progress is needed.
In respect of justice, the most important function of the State is to provide safety and security to the people in order that communities throughout the country can live in peace. An Garda Síochána is on the front line in that quest. It often provides comfort to those undergoing unimaginable trauma, continuously tackles the violent criminal gangs that are all too common in Ireland today and polices our roads in order that lives can be saved from the carnage of motor accidents.