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

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 857 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher] I have said time and again that the European Commission failed in its principal duty to uphold the various treaties that underpinned the solidarity of the European Union. My party is a pro-European one, and I fully endorse and support the concept, but sometimes the construct of how decisions are made and the implementation process are inherently unfair. At the heart of the European project is the Franco-German alliance - or the Germano-French alliance, for those in Germany. The bottom line is that it is undermining the principles of solidarity and support for smaller nations. My party campaigned for and negotiated all the treaties, but there comes a time when we must question whether the Commission has the teeth to ensure the treaties are upheld and small states are defended. Has it gone beyond that to the point at which Chancellor Merkel and the President in the Élysée Palace, whoever it may be at that time, get together and make decisions that are incompatible with supporting smaller member states? That has been the form of the outgoing Commission, as well as the former President, Nicolas Sarkozy, President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel.

That is why we are taking these difficult decisions. Within that, the Government must make a choice about where to disburse the available funding. The Government has decided to go down the wrong route in implementing tax cuts at the higher rate rather than improving services. I support the concept of encouraging enterprise and rewarding effort, which must be at the heart of any society to encourage people to lift themselves, give themselves a break and prosper through upward mobility. It is a key cornerstone of what I believe in, but the legislation we are debating does not do that. It has decided to go after cohorts of people and to soften the pressure they are under. I am not denying that they are under pressure, but measures were taken to soften that pressure by heaping further pressure on others so that, politically, it can be sold to a certain cohort.

When the Government was raising taxes, we were told that everyone had to carry the burden. Increases in PRSI, for example, applied across the board and took the same amount from high and low earners. When giving it back, however, the Government is giving nothing, or very little, back to the people at the bottom and much more back to the people at the top. It is simply wrong, because the people at the bottom are under huge stress and pressure. I am not one for the populist stances that emanate from some in this House and outside, but the reason so many people were on the streets last weekend, on a wet and miserable day in Cork and the west of the country, was not because they see Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett and others as champions of liberation but because they are under major pressure. They want to vent in some way and ask the Government to realise that they can give very little more. People are under phenomenal pressure. The water tax is deeply unfair because it affects the lower socioeconomic groupings much more than the higher groupings. It is another regressive form of charge taxation.

The one thing we can say about the Government is that it has been progressively regressive. Budget after budget has been more regressive. It is not just Deputy Billy Kelleher saying that; every independent in-depth analysis of the budgets proposed by the Government has shown them to be regressive. The ESRI and other organisations are independent and their analysis shows the sharing of the burden to be regressive. They have said it time and again, but each time the Government has reinforced that in the subsequent budget. At the end of 2014, we are speaking about the impact in 2015, which will be equally regressive.

The Government has a lot to do to rebalance this through difficult decisions on the limited resources available to the Government. The idea of borrowing money that must be paid back to give a tax break to someone on a higher income, when people are sleeping on the streets not 150 yards from where I stand and people are waiting years for speech and language therapy support, is inherently wrong. The popular thing would be to slap the Minister of State on the back and say that we would have done better and given bigger tax cuts to those on higher incomes. However, the days of auction politics, which was championed by many political parties in my lifetime in the House, have only led us one way. Choices must be made, and the right choice would have been to look after those who needed State support and assistance and to give them the basic standard of living that any decent society expects its citizens to have. There are homeless people without any form of shelter, and there are more than 2,000 elderly people, at the end of their lives, waiting for up to 18 weeks to be approved for the fair deal nursing home scheme.

When the dust settles and we end up implementing these proposals in 2015, people will see it as inherently unfair. I was taught an interesting lesson during the local elections. The issue of discretionary medical cards was one that put the Government under major pressure but, interestingly, the number of people it had an impact on was not huge. The Irish people saw it as inherently unfair that the Government was asking an old person, or someone with a disability or a life-limiting illness, to give up his or her discretionary medical card to fund people who are well able to fund their own health care. The people said in May 2014 that enough was enough and asked the Government to restore discretionary medical cards, whether to a neighbour whose child had a disability or to a grandmother who was seriously ill and at the end of her life. They asked not to be given something that they did not really need. That is why the budget is a repeat insult to the basic inherent decency in Irish people. We must start with those who need the most help and work from that. The principle is being undermined on every page of this legislation.

My party spokespersons will go into the detail of the Bill on Committee and Report Stages, but the debate on Second Stage of the Finance Bill allows us to outline our views on the broader direction of the Government. This will be judged in the context of election in 16 months, and the people will be the final arbiter of the Government's term in office. To date, as an Opposition Member, I was hoping the Government would have done better. The Government has betrayed the trust handed to it in March 2011, when the Dáil was swept aside in a democratic revolution. There should have been fundamental changes to how things are done, yet we do not have a basic change in how we prepare budgets. A simple commitment was made to in-depth engagement by the Parliament with the budgetary process, but there is none. I will speak on the budget and the Finance Bill that implements it in legislative form for the next minute and a half, but all engagement takes place after the figures have been published. With the best will in the world and even with the finest speech made on this side of the House, am I expected to convince the Government to do a U-turn? I could not do so, because it would be seen as a U-turn, but I would like a format under which I have some input prior to the publication of the figures.

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