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Finance Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 856 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Sandra McLellan: Information on Sandra McLellan Zoom on Sandra McLellan] The Government should tell it to one of the 9,500 children waiting to be assigned a social care worker, the person struggling to pay his or her mortgage, the woman living in a household in which there is domestic abuse and who has nowhere to go or to one of the 704 elderly citizens lying in a hospital bed awaiting a home care package or a package under the fair deal scheme. The Government should tell it to Members in the Chamber who listen daily to the tales of poverty, fear, hunger, pain and loneliness. The people concerned are suffering because of successive budget cuts. Budget 2015 represents another wasted opportunity to truly make a difference to the lives of those who struggle most.

Last week a UNICEF report showed that child poverty levels had increased in Ireland by 10% since 2008, ranking it 37th out of 41 OECD countries. It equates to 130,000 children falling into poverty or 130,000 children who have not felt the benefits of this recovery about which the Government speaks so proudly. The report also stated people did not believe children in Ireland had the opportunity to learn and grow every day. Children, specifically those from lower income families, are paying a disproportionate price for the collapse of the banking system and the Government's subsequent unwavering commitment to austerity. In its alternative budget Sinn Féin outlined fully costed measures that the Government should have introduced to address the issue of rising poverty levels. Lower income families are in desperate need of a reprieve, but the Government has been unrelenting in budget 2015 in targeting them once again.

How can the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government stand over policies that decrease a child's chances to have a better future? The Government is creating a continuous cycle of poverty. Children who grow up in poverty are more likely to be impoverished adults who, as a result, will raise their children in the same conditions. That is unacceptable. Some 28.6% of Irish children are living in poverty. That is nothing to be proud of and no Minister or Deputy can spin that fact to suit his or her agenda. The Government has a duty and mandate to protect those who cannot protect themselves, but it has failed to do so. While child benefit is set to rise by €5 a month per child, this will only go some of the way to reverse the cruel cuts made to child benefit, despite the Labour Party's promises that protecting child benefit was a red line issue. Does it have red line issues anymore or has the line between it and Fine Gael disappeared completely?

How many families are struggling to put food on the table, send their children to school or provide a warm, stable home? Those who were asked to give most to fuel recovery have not seen a benefit. In fact, the Government rewarded higher earners. Sinn Féin's alternative budget showed how budget 2015 could have been much better for low and middle income earners. We have advocated consistently for investment rather than austerity. The Government chose to ignore us to try to discredit us, which is shameful. There is more to this than political point scoring.

The Government's budgetary measures since taking office have impacted badly on families and individuals all across the State. Communities have been wrecked, hollowed out by the effects of mass emigration. We have sent our young people abroad; even though they never contributed to its cause, they have been forced to bear the brunt of the recession. That was the Government's political decision. It chose to protect higher earners in successive budgets and has done so again in this one. It chose emigration over the creation of long-term, meaningful employment. We have lost a generation who fill jobs all across the world. Our young people are contributing to other economies, living lives in other communities and seeking better opportunities. The Government left them with no choice.

Last weekend we saw over 100,000 people marching on the streets across the State in opposition to water charges. As water is already being paid for, the new charge is merely a doubling up of the cost. The people have spoken on the issue. Sinn Féin demonstrated that the Government could end both the property tax and water charges and put €800 million into the economy and the pockets of struggling families. The water charge is essentially a tax on a resource that is, fundamentally, a human right. The Government failed to scrap these charges in the budget, despite the will of the people who had elected it. This is another missed opportunity, one that will cost the Government gravely when the people go from the streets to the ballot box.

Each one of us in the Chamber is elected on a platform of policies outlined during an election campaign. Political representation is about political choices. The political choices made by the Government have resulted in a less equal society. Sinn Féin's alternative budget sets out many ways by which we would make different choices, with fairer and more sustainable ways of meeting the State's deficit targets. In addition to scrapping property tax and water charges, Sinn Féin committed to exempting from the universal social charge the 296,000 low paid workers who earn between €193 and €337. We would introduce a third rate of income tax of 48% on incomes over €100,000, raising an additional €448 million, and reintroduce the second home charge at €400 per year, with other measures, including increases in betting tax. In total, the measures contained in our alternative budget would raise an additional €1.7 billion. Crucially, over €1 billion would be put back into the pockets of ordinary working people. This would reverse the growing inequality and poverty in society. It would also help local economies and save jobs.

Deputy Willie Penrose: Information on Willie Penrose Zoom on Willie Penrose I propose to share time with Deputies Sean Kenny and Brendan Ryan.

I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to the debate on the Finance Bill which implements many of the measures announced in the budget. A number of measures must be welcomed. As someone who advocated strongly at all levels for a return of the Christmas bonus to social welfare recipients, I am glad that a start has been made in that regard. Some 25% of the money is to be returned this year and I hope a further 25% will be returned next year to assist people on fixed incomes at a time of year when they face significant additional demands and pressures. Likewise, the living alone allowance has not been increased for many years. Efforts must be made to increase it on a regular basis. People living alone must purchase everything; there is no sharing of costs and they find themselves in challenging situations. It is time to reward all citizens, including those on fixed incomes and those who work hard and were subject to unrelenting cutbacks and reductions in the past six years. They made extraordinary sacrifices to rescue the country and must see some of the benefits that will accrue in the coming years. I hope some of the tax adjustments and alleviating measures provided for in the Bill will be felt by these taxpayers when they start to receive their wage packets in January. It should be the commencement of a sustained restoration.

We need a fair, efficient, effective and competitive tax system that rewards enterprise and contributes to economic growth and job creation. The securing of a properly paid job is the best route out of poverty. Tackling the scourge of unemployment must remain the number one priority. While progress has been made, it is not uniform and in many areas of the country there are significant pockets of unemployed persons, especially in rural areas, who are not feeling the fruits of the recovery and must not be left out. Everyone is entitled to a fair shake.

The State agencies, including IDA Ireland, seem to focus on the major towns and cities. We cannot compel foreign enterprise owners or entrepreneurs to locate in an identified area. However, it seems that, unless there is a seat of learning, a college or third level education infrastructure of some description in a town, the chances of encouraging IDA Ireland companies to locate are remote. I appeal to IDA Ireland to redouble its efforts in Mullingar. We have the facilities, including an excellently appointed park of over 20 acres. We are glad to see a local entrepreneur building on it. It is important to continue to focus on this issue and I call on IDA Ireland to do so with greater vigour. In this context, I welcome the setting up of the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland. The idea was developed and promulgated by me on behalf of the Labour Party when I was its spokesperson on enterprise and employment. It focused on a strategic investment bank, which is a bigger idea, but the allocation of €800 million in funding for Irish SMEs will be used to provide tailored loans and innovative financial products for SMEs at favourable rates. These businesses have struggled to obtain the credit they need. Start-ups, in particular, have struggled in this regard. I hope there will be no blockages or obstacles in the distribution of the finance to worthy projects.

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