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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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Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea Bring it on.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The House should also remember that two years ago, the Taoiseach told us he was taking personal charge of ensuring that health stayed within budget and that there would be no more supplementaries.  Some €1.2 billion later, he has some explaining to do. There is little or no chance that the GP card extension will be in place next year and the first phase was delayed by nearly four years from its first announcement.  It has been funded by the removal of tens of thousands of medical cards from the elderly and families under pressure, and it represents a direct wealth transfer from the neediest in our society.

After five years of growing failure on health, this is all the Government has to campaign on. For all the posters promising no more trolleys and instant access for everyone, its health policies have been a shambles. I look forward to this being a core issue in the general election.

The Minister, Deputy Howlin, has introduced the tactic of announcing allocations which are automatic due to demographic changes as being "new" or "extra". The great bulk of the additional allocation to education is to cater for growth in pupil numbers, what we once called the "demographic dividend" and which was not even fought for between Ministers. For other improvements, the fact that only a third of a year needs to be shown in the 2016 figures has allowed Ministers to try and take the bare look off what has been a consistent targeting of education for disproportionate cuts. The bulk of the most regressive cuts, such as to guidance counsellors for disadvantaged schools and the abolition of postgraduate grants for poorer students, remains fully in place and part of a legacy on education of neglect and drift.

It was a brave decision of the Government to send its Ministers into the House to speak for over an hour but not once mention the biggest political and budgetary fiasco of many years. Irish Water was not imposed on this Government.  It was announced as Fine Gael policy years before the troika was ever heard of.  Neither were the form, content and size of the water charges imposed on the Government.  The troika confirmed that if Fine Gael and Labour had wanted to do something else, they could have.

We have the absurd situation where we are paying millions of euro to install meters which are not being used and will not be for the next seven years.  We have constructed a massive bureaucracy in order to impose a charge and another to give people some of the money back.  Some 1,200 people who fix pipes are to be laid off using money raised at a higher cost than State debt.

Deputy Colm Keaveney: Information on Colm Keaveney Zoom on Colm Keaveney A quango.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Instead of ignoring Irish Water, it should be abolished. The other massive and regressive tax introduced by this Government, the local property tax, was mentioned in the budget speeches, but only in order to say that nothing will be done for the next three years.

During this Government’s term in office, there were many difficult choices to make, but it chose to be more unfair than was required.  The direct impact of this was to further divide our economy and society. In area after area, the Government neglected issues until they were allowed to become crises.  It refused to even plan. It abandoned its "democratic revolution" and has refused to change a single significant thing about how Ireland is governed. It has put politics first in everything. This over-hyped budget lacks any vision or direction for our country. It doubles down on an approach which is making us a more divided society.

The Government said it wanted change but all it really wanted was power, and all it now wants is to keep it. I have no doubt the people will not be fooled.  Parties which so readily broke their promises before will do so again. A budget designed to last five weeks has nothing to offer a country which needs a commitment to deliver a State and society which works for all of its people.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Budgets are all about political choices. They are also about the interests that a government seeks to represent. Budget 2016 shows once again that Fine Gael and, to its very great shame, the Labour Party, represent the interests of the privileged few in Irish society. Following the calamity of the economic crash under the last Fianna Fáil-led Government, Fine Gael and Labour assumed office with a huge mandate for political change. However, as citizens have learned to their cost, nothing has changed. Nowhere is this more obvious than in yesterday's budget.

Budget 2016 is an election budget, focused entirely on the short term, without strategic considerations for the longer term or for the public good. In its budget, the Government mimics exactly the boom-bust approach of Fianna Fáil. It is as brazen in playing for electoral advantage as any Fianna Fáil Government. Its budget is a cynical ploy to throw crumbs to specific interest groups in an effort to secure re-election in the months ahead. Sin é. Ach níl muintir na tíre seo chomh dúr sin. Cé go síleann an Rialtas seo gur amadáin iad, le blianta beaga anuas tá ciall cheannaithe ag go leor saoránach.

Since entering Government, Fine Gael and Labour have picked up where Fianna Fáil left off, targeting average families and vulnerable citizens for cruel cuts and unfair taxes like water charges and the family home tax. The Government likes to talk about a recovery but average families have not seen much evidence of this recovery. It is true that things have got better for some but, for the vast majority, little has changed. Tá an téarnamh seo, mar dhea, míchóir agus míchothrom.

The Government has unnecessarily prolonged the recession for the vast majority of our people. It has also caused huge damage to our public services and local communities, and its budget does not wipe that slate clean. The adverse social consequences of eight years of austerity budgets, first by Fianna Fáil and subsequently by Fine Gael and Labour, will take years to resolve. In successive budgets, Fine Gael and Labour have attacked the most vulnerable. I will give a snapshot of their high achievement. They indiscriminately imposed a blanket water tax and family home tax and they abolished the €300 cost of education allowance. They cut jobseeker's allowance and were only short of packing the bags of young people and driving them to the airport to encourage them to leave. They cut child benefit despite promises to the contrary, cut the back to school allowance, cut the fuel allowance by six weeks, or €120, and cut the respite care grant by €325. They introduced a tax on maternity benefit and abolished the bereavement grant. They cut invalidity pension for 65 year olds by €36.80 per week, cut rent supplement and cut the household benefits package. In total, in its first three budgets the Government slashed the education budget by €500 million and the health budget by €2.5 billion. That is some record.

Budget 2016 is a progression of the Government's socially delinquent approach, this time motivated by electoral considerations rather than done under the cover of the troika. It introduced more tax cuts that favour higher earners, and there has been more starving of public services and badly needed investment. The current crises in health and housing are not accidental but are a direct result of the policies of Fine Gael and Labour in government. Let us not forget that those people who lie on trolleys in accident and emergency wards are our own family members, our neighbours and our friends. They did not drop from outer space - they are us. Those households in mortgage distress and the citizens who find themselves homeless - they too are us. So too the 500,000 citizens scattered across the globe as a result of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour emigration policy. The Government has a duty to protect and defend the rights and entitlements of citizens; that is its first call. Instead, the Government has repeatedly attacked those rights and entitlements.

As a result of five years of Fine Gael-Labour Government, our society has become ever more polarised and unequal. This should be a matter of deep shame for the Tánaiste and the Labour Party. Budget 2016 again sees Fine Gael and Labour perpetuating a lie that it is possible to reduce the overall tax take, possible to stand off high earners and wealth, while at the same time maintaining and building front-line services. It is a lie.

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