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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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  6 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross] In that sense, those who relieve the Government of the burden of imposing extra taxes directly to increase the subvention - they are very large subventions - are acting in its interests. It is obvious that they are and quite obvious why. The structure of these agencies and semi-State bodies makes them, in effect, tools of the Government. The members of the board of the NTA and, I assume, the boards of other regulators are all Government appointees. It is the same story time and again about State institutions, that they are tools of the Government and filled with directors who are friends of the Government and meet its wishes. Time and again what they are doing is imposing taxes by another name by increasing fares or charges elsewhere.

One of the most unpleasant experiences many of us must suffer is travelling through Dublin Airport, which is a semi-State monopoly and has all the signs of it. It is not just that parking in the short-term car park costs approximately €40 a day, which is absolutely outrageous, but there is no competition which means that one must pay it. However, the culture also permeates some of the stores that occupy this semi-State monopoly. Has anybody travelled through various parts of the airport and tried to obtain foreign exchange at inconvenient times of the day? The outlets are not open. They only open at times that are hugely profitable because the monopoly has given another firm a monopoly at the airport and the public service remit has gone out the window.

One of the things the Government could have done in the Finance Bill was set up some form of quick-fix inquiry to examine the semi-State bodies, find where there was waste and examine what was wrong with the culture. However, there is no quick-fix for it because the culture is sick, monopolistic and anti-consumer. In effect, it meets the Government's wishes and collects taxes by another name. The Labour Party loves quangos. It makes absolutely no bones about it; it has always been in love with them. Fine Gael wrote a wonderful document when it was in opposition about Ireland as the land of 1,000 quangos. In its input to the Government the quangos could have been a target for savings in public expenditure, not just CIE but Enterprise Ireland, An Post, the Dublin Airport Authority and so forth. Attack the culture, examine it and ask them to put their houses in order. However, there is no pressure on them to do so. Instead, Governments appoint top heavy boards of individuals who are not qualified to be there but damned well paid for it. This is an area of expenditure cuts which could be tackled each day but never is. It is taboo.

FÁS was a Fianna Fáil protectorate for many years and untouched. We could not debate it in the Seanad; for years we were refused debates on it. Now we know why. It was because it was working in a world of its own. Other semi-State bodies are unsupervised, almost unregulated and live in worlds of their own which have nothing to do with either the commercial or the consumer world. If the Government was serious about tackling the budget in a radical way, it would look at that area to see where it could make savings. It would find there was plenty of room for them. It would be politically difficult in certain cases, of course, but these are difficult times and if it wants these opportunities, it should take them.

I have a suggestion for the Government. It is welcome that the Bill apparently heralds the end of the pension levy. It was an absolutely deplorable innovation when it was introduced. The levy was straightforward daylight robbery of individuals' savings. It made significant differences not just to people's pension pots but also to the pensions they were receiving. In recognition of the fact that it now knows this was wrong, the Government should consider repaying some of the money to those from whom it stole it. It should look back, count the cost, admit it was wrong and state it will repay the money in order that people's pension pots will be intact. This was official theft. It was the same as taking money from somebody's deposit account, which I doubt any Government would contemplate.

I cannot understand how the Government, when it raided these pension pots and decided to target the pensions industry because there was so much money available in it, did not decide simultaneously that the way to raise money from the pensions industry was not to crucify pensioners, just as in raiding CIE it crucifies customers, but to go for the industry. I recall making this suggestion to the Taoiseach in the House three years ago. He agreed that I was right that the industry was full of very rich people living off the fat. He did not say this, but he acknowledged that there was scope for huge savings and taking money from those who were earning too much. It is an industry of parasites. It is full of fund managers who do absolutely no good for pensions. In fact, they lose money most of the time. There was much scope in that industry to take money out of the pot from those who were milking it, as acknowledged by the Taoiseach at the time, instead of taking it from pensioners. A repayment should be made by the Government to those from whom it stole the money.

Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor: Information on Mary Mitchell O'Connor Zoom on Mary Mitchell O'Connor There is no denying the impact the financial crisis has had on Irish workers and families. We have slowly worked our way towards fiscal health as individuals, families and a nation. In the efforts to recover from the global financial crisis most of us were asked to shoulder a heavy burden. Many people recognise that burden as a reality in society. However, the self-employed, in particular, believe they are being asked to carry more than their share of responsibility. They are a critical component of the national economy. They take significant risks, often without a safety net. Their goal is to contribute to the economy and secure a living for themselves, their families and employees.

Budget 2015 is about building futures for families and creating jobs and the Government is doing so with gusto. However, many small business owners believe the new USC rate of 11% will put undue stress on their finances. Instead of expanding their operations, many business owners believe they will be forced to save costs wherever they can. I received a letter from a constituent who said: "I can understand imposing extra charges on people who earn more, but I think then, we should be given rights as well - and also incentives to take on more staff."


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