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Financial Resolutions 2020

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Budget Statement 2021

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Deputy Verona Murphy

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Snippet Contents:

As a matter of integrity, we are locked in here to protect the integrity of this budget process on budget day. What is the point of having these procedures in place if the Minister or his officials leak almost all of the budget to the media in advance? It is a cynical exercise by those in power to curry favour with their friends in the press which undermines the political process.
There is one underlying problem with this budget which is highlighted in all its pages. That problem is simple. The Government is currently in the business of crisis management rather than crisis prevention. The Government is letting crisis after crisis evolve and develop, irrespective of the consequences, and then wants to be looked upon as the heroes for trying to sort out the mess. To deal with the consequences of these crisis, the Government is throwing billions of euro at these crises to try and resolve them, money taken from the pockets of each and every citizen, and to fight fires which have been fuelled by bad Government decisions. These crises are many in number.
There is a crisis in housing. Housing supply has been in crisis for the past nine years. A major contributor to that crisis in rural areas is the crazy minimum density issue. An Bord Pleanála is currently implementing policies which do not exist by insisting that housing developments contain 35 dwellings per hectare even though there is no regulation which orders this. The housing Department and the Minister have failed to address this. Addressing it would assist in housing supply at no cost. I welcome the increased incentives for first-time buyers but these incentive schemes are useless to buyers unless the supply of housing is adequate and this starts by amending ministerial guidelines.
There is a crisis in the hospitality and tourism sector. This has been primarily caused by Government actions. We can blame Covid-19 all we like but it was not the virus which caused these problems. It was the way in which Government responded to the virus. Twice in 2020 the Government forced most of this sector to close at 24 hours' notice. This Government's choices have left thousands of businesses in tatters and hundreds of thousands relying on the PUP. As Milton Friedman once said, "The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem and very often makes the problem worse." An example of this is the ill-thought-out changes to the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, and moving to the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS. This is closing businesses down. I have misgivings about the Government's approach to dealing with the virus, particularly the practice of opening and closing large sectors of the economy every few weeks. This is unsustainable and has impacted particularly heavily on the tourism and hospitality sector. The reality is that the VAT reduction announced today will not benefit a hospitality sector that is currently closed.
There is a crisis in health. We wasted millions of euro renting private hospital capacity rather than using the money to bring our public hospitals' capacity up to scratch. This is not a problem which arrived with Covid. Hospital capacity in the public system has been an issue for years. Every year, on budget day, we hear headline figures of so many billions of euro of an increase for the HSE. Throwing money at the HSE over many years does not seem to be resolving our fundamental capacity issues. We are in the second wave of Covid and have no tracing capacity or capability. This is a logistics function that should have been easily resolved. Why has it not happened? Poor contact tracing means our hospitals will fill with Covid patients.
There is a crisis in mental health. The focus here should have been on early intervention but, instead, we are at emergency treatment. It is, again, crisis management rather than crisis prevention. Only in recent weeks, the Government failed to provide a child psychologist for the children of Wexford when the only applicant was met with a human resources, HR, obstacle and has since taken a job elsewhere.
There is a crisis in disability services. The lack of funding and lack of planning is leaving our most vulnerable to cope at home and without day services or transportation to reach appointments. Families of people with severe disabilities are being told that services are being cut because of social distancing. Are we losing all sense of perspective? Surely proper care of the most vulnerable should take priority.
There is a crisis in transport. Failure to prepare ahead for 1 January with fast, efficient daily direct ferry services from Rosslare to mainland Europe will cause supply chains to collapse. We need immediate investment here to increase capacity and to ensure our goods move freely to mainland Europe. We need measures to remove traffic from an under-productive and over congested Dublin Port by opening and operating ferry services from regional under utilised ports. Further expansion of Dublin Port will increase levels of congestion traffic which, in turn, will cause more emissions to be sent into the atmosphere in Dublin city. One should remember that every time a truck is caught behind a set of traffic lights or stopped in heavy city traffic one litre of fuel is wasted.
Failure to allow for the alleviation of VRT in the car rental sector will stunt the growth of tourism to the regions. Our ailing tourism attractions in Wexford, such as Hook Head, the Dunbrody Famine Ship in New Ross, the Heritage park, Enniscorthy Castle, Wells House and Gardens and all of our magnificent beaches from Ballymoney to Rosslare, all need tourists and cars to get them there. They have now been made more expensive. By increasing the carbon tax in this way, does the Government realise that it has almost instantly driven up the price of every product that is transported? That is an increase in the price of everything from toilet rolls and dishwashers to farm machinery. This Government has many ways in which it could manage and reduce carbon emissions in the sector. The transport sector has many ways in which it saves carbon but it is never incentivised or helped to do so. There appears to be no thinking outside the box. It seems to be too handy to slap on another few cent on the price of fuel every October.
There is a crisis in agriculture. All of the above have consequences for the agricultural sector and fishing sector. There are fewer options available for farmers or fishermen to sell their goods due to closures of hotels and restaurants. Everything has been made more expensive for this sector. Rather than increasing costs on those who are struggling, why are we not taking measures to decrease the cost?
Everything is linked, except, it seems, Government policies. In the time I have been in politics, policies appear to be decided upon by the vote-getting egos of Ministers, senior advisers and Departments with little or no regard for the needs of the people they represent. They mask their actions by advancing the notion that the policy they are implementing is for the greater good when the reality is it is whatever is most politically expedient.
We have a list of crises the length of the Minister's arm. I had not time to mention them all. We must move from a strategy of crisis management to the more useful strategy of crisis prevention because we cannot merely keep throwing good money after bad to manage crises that could have been prevented. Ministers, Secretaries General, assistant secretaries and political and policy advisers need to have a detailed knowledge of their brief. Crisis prevention starts here.
I was elected as an Independent Deputy for the Model county a mere eight and a half months ago. It is my belief I should act responsibly in casting my vote here in this House. I will not play politics with emotive issues to satisfy a political narrative. This Government is in office four months now and it has been anything but smooth. Governments take time to settle in. We are about to face the most challenging and difficult circumstances economically and socially that the State has ever witnessed. We need stability. It is on that basis that I will support the budget today. My vote is on loan. The current approach being adopted by this Government must change if it wants to continue to rely on my support.