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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 Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins] For the lower income worker, it immediately wipes out a benefit since the Government is trying to introduce the water tax. Its presumption is that it will get the water tax in, but I have a different presumption. For workers earning €15,000, the net change, after water charges, is minus €61, according to the numbers of the Commission for Energy Regulation, while for a worker earning €70,000, after the budget and water charges, the net income gain will be €570. That is the difference and how fair the Government's budget has been. Let us consider all of the figures, for example, those for working couples and those with children. The more a person earns the more he or she will gain.

  Another element in making the overall tax system regressive is the preoccupation with low corporate taxes. Low corporate taxes are supposed to incentivise investment, which means higher productivity, economic growth and job creation. The problem is that this is not backed up by the evidence. The OECD has seen a significant fall in corporation tax rates. In 1981 the OECD member average rate was 49%; in 2012 it was 34%, far above the Irish rate of 12.5%. With the exception of a number of years in the 1990s, the level of investment and growth was lower in the 32 year period since 1981 than in the previous 30 years. Low taxes on business are not proof in the worst economic crisis since the OECD was formed.

  Let us consider the position in Ireland. The pattern is similar. The 12.5% corporation tax rate was in place in 2003. According to the theory, it should have led to high investment, high growth and full employment. In the ten years since 2003 the reality is that we have the lowest growth rate in the history of the State, the lowest rate of investment, seen the biggest crash and the highest level of unemployment. We need a new model for the economy and society. We need to put people's interests before those of big business and the wealthy.

  A point was made about how in the case of the fundamentals the devil was in the detail. The devil is in the detail when it comes to VAT and other cuts. Families are forced to pay the property tax, the household tax and the water tax that the Government intends to bring in. What happens in society in general and what has happened recently is that the wealthy have become wealthier. The richest 85 people in the world added a collective €668 million per day to their wealth in the past year according to the charity Oxfam. The study concluded that global inequality was firing out of control as the number of billionaires had doubled during the period of the economic crisis. In March 2009 there were 793 billionaires throughout the world, but as of March 2014 the number had rocketed to 1,645. That is the type of society in which we are living and the type of society in which the budget has been framed. It is the same in Ireland. According to the Irish rich list of the Sunday Independent, the 300 wealthiest individuals in the country were worth €57 billion in 2011; in 2014 they are worth €70.75 billion. That is the extent of the wealth they have gained during the period of austerity on the backs of ordinary people who in the past eight years have had to take the brunt of the €30 billion in cuts in their pockets. That is not fair; the budget is not fair and the Finance Bill is not fair.

  These are the fundamentals that need to be addressed to apply real equality or have any move towards equality in people's pockets. We need a fair and progressive taxation system under which the wealthy pay their fair share. A mere 1% wealth tax on €70 billion would raise €7 billion. A financial transaction tax has been mentioned many times in the Dáil. If it was set at 0.1%, it would bring in €500 million. The Government has choices, but it has not made them. It has listened to the troika, the OECD and the ECB, but it has not listened to the people. Its priority is to protect the wealthy in society and it will continue to protect them in the coming period, rather than protecting the majority from the worst austerity and then when the opportunity comes, give them some gain in their pockets. However, it has not done this; the budget does not do it; neither does the Finance Bill. Therefore, I have to oppose it.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross Last week, within ten days or two weeks of the budget being introduced, we saw a major rise in fares on the Luas, the DART and Iarnród Éireann trains. These fare rises were introduced at a time when the Dáil was in recess and while the row over Irish Water was raging. They may not seem relevant to the budget or the Finance Bill, but when we see a semi-State body acting in this arbitrary way, we must ask some questions. Why is CIE raising prices and public transport fares at this time? The company raised fares last year and has raised them far beyond the rate of inflation for many years. Inflation is simply a dot in the distance when we compare the rate with the rise in public transport fares. Why did the company raise fares? We could possibly understand fares being raised last year because the company had argued that fuel prices were rocketing and passenger numbers were going down. This year it raised them, despite the fact that fuel prices had been falling and passenger numbers were going up. When we try to find out from it or the regulator why this is happening, they say growth costs money and that because the company is seeking to grow capacity it costs more money and that the company has to expand. Either way, it seems this semi-State body is going to have a right to increases fares, whether it grows or shrinks. We must be a little puzzled by such an attitude and response.

I suppose the reason is that semi-State bodies work in a sphere of their own. In this case, CIE is fully owned by the State. They are monopolies, although not altogether in this case but very nearly. They are allowed to do virtually what they wish in terms of fares and are now acting as tax collectors for the State. I will explain what I mean in CIE's case. As everyone knows, it receives a large subvention from the State which, thank God, has gone down from approximately €300 million to €265 million. As it cannot make ends meet with a cut subvention, what does it do? It simply applies to the regulator to put up fares and it puts up fares in an outrageous way. Instead of receiving a subvention from the State, it crucifies the punter. That is really the same as paying tax by the backdoor.

The Government ought to examine the regulators not only in the case of CIE but in the case of many semi-State bodies, particularly State monopolies. It ought to examine the regulators - in CIE's case, the National Transport Authority gave the all-clear - to see what they are actually up to because I cannot recall a time, certainly in the case of transport costs, when the public was not such an easy target or soft victim. When people kick up about the behaviour of State monopolies - I am referring to the DAA, CIE, An Post and one or two others - the Government constantly maintains it has nothing to do with them and that it is simply a matter for the regulators, but the regulators simply provide a fig leaf. The National Transport Authority and the regulators for many of these bodies are simply acting in the interests of the Government; they are certainly not acting in the interests of the punter.

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