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Financial Resolution No. 5: General (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 893 No. 1

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  1 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] In the following decade this area was transformed. It dramatically improved the work of our universities and provided the foundation for the huge expansion in research activity in business. The budget documents talk solely about activities already in place, so we must assume that this Government’s policy of drift and damage to our research base is going to continue. In an unprecedented petition signed by 800 scientists earlier this year the Government was warned that some of the best scientists who have ever worked on this island are leaving because of a short-sighted and damaging set of policies implemented by the Government. The so-called new world class research centres are anything but new. Most of them were established 12 years ago and all are funded under a competition launched over five years ago.

Basic research, which is funded in every country that has a high standard of living, is being undermined. One research centre which is ranked first in the world in the critical area of immunology was refused funding because of this Government’s policy. Professor Bill Campbell is the first Irishman to win a Nobel Prize in a science area for 64 years. This Government’s policy means that his studies could not be funded in Ireland. Clearly, the Government decided that there were not enough votes to be bought in committing to long-term industrial and research policies, and our country will suffer as a result.

Before she became leader of the Labour Party, the Tánaiste went to great lengths to present herself as a radical alternative to Deputy Gilmore. However, beyond this rhetoric was the reality of a Minister implementing cuts which were almost designed to maximise the hurt which they caused. After this budget, 38 of the 40 major cuts implemented in social protection schemes will remain in place. There is a Fine Gael agenda for helping the highest earners, but none for those hit by the social protection cuts.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Explain that.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The €3 pension increase is a case of doing something in order to claim the Government cares, rather than to acknowledge the real issue. The Taoiseach should go out and speak to the pensioners. They will be insulted and angry at this. The reason is the €1,200 that was taken from them in the last two to three years and the flat taxes and charges that were levied, including property tax and water charges, with no connection to ability to pay. There was the abolition of the telephone rental scheme, cuts to fuel allowance, the change to the household benefit schemes and the medical prescription charge increasing to €25 a month. All of these had a savagely corrosive impact on the weekly pension. That is what people will tell him.

The Government also removed 16,000 people over 70 years of age from the medical card scheme.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The Deputy's party is the high tax party.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Then it decided to give them a GP card.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen The Tory party.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Seán Lemass would not stand for that.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Taoiseach is fond of meeting people. I met a woman the other day who told me that her biggest problem was the cost of medicine.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The high tax party.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It was not the card or going to the GP. She told me she could manage one or two visits to the GP, but not the cost of her prescribed respiratory drugs.

  That is the type of spin and media management the Taoiseach continually engages in. He took 16,000 medical cards from people over 70 years of age-----

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The high tax party had nothing to do with it.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin -----and he increased the prescription charge by 400%.

  What about the Taoiseach's and Tánaiste's anti-women initiative?

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock This from Fianna Fáil.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin In 2012, the Government changed-----

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Ask Senator Power about that and Fianna Fáil's leadership.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin -----the eligibility criteria for women for their pensions. The Taoiseach got a letter yesterday-----

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny A leader with no followers.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin -----from a woman who is a former employee of Aer Lingus. The Taoiseach does not like to hear the truth. I did not interrupt him.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, will you stop these interruptions from the Taoiseach? He can give it but he cannot take it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Martin has the floor.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I am quoting his party's Senator. I thank Deputy O'Dea for his assistance.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste changed eligibility and it has cost many women who had to spend time at home after having worked up to 30 or so years. It has cost them an entitlement to a pension. They changed that sneakily in 2012, along with 100 other sneaky, underhand cuts.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea It is kicking in now.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Taoiseach got a letter yesterday which he should read.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny From whom?

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It is from a woman who is retired. She had to leave the workforce to look after her elderly mother and aunt for a number of years. In previous years she would have been eligible for a pension as her contributions would have been up to the criterion. However, she could not believe it when she discovered that she was no longer entitled, because of the sneaky change introduced by the Labour Party and Fine Gael in 2012. That is the reason older people among the public are angry. They can see through all the fog and spin in their daily lives.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, announced the end of the private pensions levy as if it were some major concession. It has been both socially and economically damaging. It was morally wrong. Many people with pension funds outside the public service are very angry about what was done. Their pensions were raided, with no planning put in place for the pensions crisis that is about to hit us. It was a bad policy which probably cost the State more than it collected due to reduced investment. It should never have been introduced in the first place. Overall, no significant improvements or reforms have been proposed for social protection, which is an appropriate symbol of five years of neglect and regressive cuts by this Government.

Child care is another area where the Government continues to make it up as it goes along. It clearly decided that it had to announce something on child care but it was unable or unwilling to do it comprehensively. The announced scheme is a mess which does not extend child care in a sustainable way. Three hours of care for 38 weeks a year means that working parents will still have to put in place almost full-time arrangements paid for from their own pockets. A comprehensive child care system is urgently needed and it is affordable. That is the reason Fianna Fáil gave priority to child care in its budget proposals. I have no doubt that this will be a major issue during the coming election campaign.

Fine Gael and the Labour Party spent four years sitting on their hands as an entirely avoidable housing emergency developed. As soon as public outrage reached boiling point, they started announcing emergency measures. Yesterday, we had the sixth housing announcement of 2015. It is still too little and too late. The Minister, Deputy Noonan, made the entirely false claim last night that, “there was not a single social housing unit built under Fianna Fáil”.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea Untrue.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin In fact, in every year under Fianna Fáil the funding and output of social housing was higher than in any year of this Government's term. This year, with a housing and homelessness emergency under way, the allocation is less than one third of the allocation in 2010.

  The Government is the sole author of the housing emergency. The Tánaiste instituted cuts and denied any change to the rent supplement scheme, which directly drove, and is still driving, people out of homes. The Government had projections of housing demand but did nothing. It failed even to plan, let alone fund, urgently needed housing units. Ten local authorities have not built a single house this year. There are 1,500 children in emergency accommodation. This is a national disgrace.

  The failures of the Government on housing have been so complete that it has resorted to fixing the figures. There are 130,000 households on the social housing list, 40% higher than the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, will admit. Did the sixth housing announcement of the year provide a route to meeting the social housing need or making home ownership affordable for the squeezed middle? No, it did not. It was another policy soundbite designed to get through a tricky period.

  The Government ends its term with a full-scale crisis in the health system and no idea how to deal with it. First, it said it had the answer to everything and the Taoiseach claimed that everything was heading in the right direction. Last year, he made a scapegoat of the former Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, and installed a new tough-talking Minister who said he would quickly get things under control as he had a better bedside manner. There have been two massive supplementary budgets, trolley crises in emergency departments, waiting times and waiting lists exploding even after they have been manipulated downwards and chaos in recruitment to vital jobs. This is what the new broom has delivered. In fact, he has seen a 550% increase in inpatient day cases which are waiting for over a year. Today, his principal policy appears to be, “I don’t know how to deal with it but heads will roll if you embarrass me this winter.” That is his new policy. Clearly, this is the reason he was a leading member of the November election caucus.

  The budget provides for no significant new activity in health next year. Simply put, the rate of decline is being managed. A few million euro is being thrown at a GP card initiative which will almost inevitably not be delivered next year. Other than that, nothing new is promised. The size of the supplementary budgets is not due to a failure by professionals in the system, but to political decisions. For three years, Ministers have demanded that the HSE promise certain levels of service but have refused to provide the required funds. That is the reason the funding runs out early and there is growing inefficiency in the planning of services. There has been dishonesty and fraudulent behaviour at the heart of health budgets over the last three years. That is why the discretionary medical card debacle occurred, and the distress it caused thousands of families. It is a shame on the Taoiseach that young children lost their discretionary medical cards because he did not provide money for them in the budget that year. Like the housing emergency, it is a crisis caused directly by Ministers.

  Fine Gael has committed itself to running the most negative re-election campaign of any Irish Government. As part of this, it has apparently produced a booklet and memorandum outlining attacks which should be made on me for my time as Minister for Health. One of these attacks is that I supposedly was not able to control spending. The Taoiseach might wish to update that given that this year’s Supplementary Estimate is ten times the size of the one in my last full year in that Department, and that came from increased demand not unplanned services.


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