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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] In such circumstances, I would also have an input into the framing of the budget itself. Unless they are under extreme pressure and their necks are in the noose, Governments and Ministers for Finance do not announce that they are going to change certain budgetary provisions because there are problems with them. That just does not happen. The only way this Parliament can have a meaningful input into the budget is by ensuring these debates take place in advance of the budget.

Deputy Peter Mathews: Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews In order that we might be involved in framing it.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher Yes. We would be in a position to help create the basic foundation on which principles could be built and influence the direction it might take. By having such an input, individuals and political parties could have a meaningful role on the outcome. I would not expect any Government to cede its sovereignty in respect of the formulation of budgets. It is the right, duty and entitlement of the Government of the day to formulate the budget. Equally, however, all Governments have a duty to honour the pledges they make. One such pledge made by the current Administration is that this House would have a meaningful input into the way budgets are framed.

I do not know if the Minister of State is a fan of social partnership. I was involved in the process relating to it when I served on the other side of the Dáil. I am of the view, therefore, that for too long budgets were not even framed within the precincts of this House. It is time we returned to a situation where this Parliament has some meaningful input with regard to the direction in which Irish society should move. Ultimately, the Bill before us is concerned with the shape which that society is going to take.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Finance Bill. I am opposed to it and the approach taken by the Government in the recent budget. That budget represents little more than an attempt to buy votes with borrowed money. It is the fourth regressive budget introduced by the Government. On this occasion, the current Administration has chosen to provide tax cuts but these will be funded by more debt and are skewed towards higher earners. As a result of the provisions contained in the budget, the benefit reaped by an employee on €70,000 will be four times greater than that which will be garnered by a person on the minimum wage. When the Government previously increased taxes, it raised money from people on a flat-rate basis and regardless of their incomes. The abolition of the PRSI allowance resulted in €264 being taken from everyone in the country, regardless of how much they earn or how well off or poor they might be. The 2% increase in VAT was another regressive measure which took money out of the pockets of the least well offer on a disproportionate basis. This Government also introduced cuts in respect of the respite care grant, education and health services. As a result of the cuts to health services, people's medical cards were withdrawn and others were obliged to spend more time on hospital waiting lists before they could get to see consultants or have medical procedures performed.

Another regressive measure introduced by the Government was that whereby the ESB was obliged to make payments of tens of millions of euro each year. That company passed the cost in this regard on to its customers, leading to higher energy bills. The poorest and most hard-pressed families in the country found it extremely difficult to pay those bills. Again, the most was taken from those who could least afford it. When the economy was on the way down and when money was being taken out of it, the charges and cuts that were introduced were focused on the less well off. As growth returns and the economy rebounds - there is not much evidence of this in many parts of the country as yet - the Government is beginning to spend again. However, instead of returning what it took from the less well off, it is giving money to those who are better off. In its recent budget, for example, it decided that the best way to proceed was by reducing the higher rate of income tax rather than focusing on services. As a result, a couple with a single income of €41,000 will be better off by approximately €174 per year whereas, as a result of the budget and the Government's approach to taxation, a single person who earns €70,000 will be better off to the tune of €746 per year.

The Government has decided to go down the road of giving money to the better off and is seeking to pay for this by introducing even more flat charges, including that relating to Irish Water. The latter, which is another regressive charge, will be the same for every family, regardless of income. The Government is again seeking to take money off families regardless of their ability to pay while simultaneously allocating funds in a way which it believes will win votes for it at the next general election. It is time the Government changed its approach and realised that charging people for water is just not on. Families in which there are four adults will, regardless of their income, be obliged to pay up to €500 for water each year. The Government must revise its approach. It must suspend the system of water charges rather than continuing with the current farcical situation which has given rise to great concern among people throughout the country who simply do not have the money to pay the bills the Government expects them to pay. Unfortunately, this Administration does not give any consideration to people's ability to pay when it introduces new charges. That was made obvious by the fact that it did not put in place any structures to provide assistance to those who might find trying to pay those charges more than they could bear.

My party has regularly challenged the Government on the floor of this House to indicate how it expects those who simply cannot afford to pay to meet the bills with which they will be presented. It never provided an answer in this regard. It scrambled about, returned to the Dáil and indicated that those in receipt of the household benefits package would receive a payment of €100. A week later, as more pressure was exerted in respect of those who are unemployed or on low incomes, the Government decided that a €100 payment would be introduced in respect of those in receipt of fuel allowance. On budget day, it decided to bring forward a tax rebate of up to €100 for people obliged to pay up to €500 in water charges. The Government gave so little thought to this issue that it forgot to make provision for those people who find themselves beneath the threshold and who are not in receipt of either the household benefits package or the fuel allowance. It is obvious that this Administration did not give any consideration whatsoever either to how people were going to pay or whether they could afford to pay. Under the charging regime that was originally introduced, a household in which two adults live would be expected to pay €278 per year, one with three adults would have to pay €381, for a household with four adults the charge would be €483 and - regardless of income - a household with five adults would be obliged to pay €586. This is money which the vast majority of people simply do not have at present. It is obvious that the Government was blind to that fact and that it intended to proceed with its regressive approach to budgetary and financial matters of imposing flat charges on people, regardless of either their incomes or ability to pay.

The recent budget clearly illustrates that the Government is looking towards the next general election. It is obvious that its members asked what they might do in order to put out a good PR story and give themselves the best possible chance of winning votes in that election. In the meantime, families were left wondering how they were going to pay their water charges. In addition, people's medical cards continue to be withdrawn, others continue to wait to see hospital consultants, waiting lists for hospital procedures continue to grow and schools throughout the country continue to be starved of funding. With regard to the latter, the Government made no provision in the budget in respect of the summer work scheme or the minor works grant in order to assist schools in the year ahead. Instead, the boards of management of schools will be obliged to go back to families and ask them to stump up the cash required.

The Government should listen to the people, suspend water charges and review the entire set-up.

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