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Financial Resolution No. 2: General (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 924 No. 2

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  4 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall] The Government is continuing with the arrangement, whereby it is insisting on a ceiling of €25 per month. There is no fairness whatsoever. Again, it is another regressive measure.

Nothing has been done to address the issue of the reduced VAT rate. Many claims have been made about the contribution it has made to the hospitality industry. I put it to the Minister that whatever about supporting hotels in certain areas to improve business - there is no doubt the measure has been successful in that regard - that there can be no justification for providing for a reduced VAT rate for the fast food industry. The biggest health problem we face in the country is obesity. Why are we making fast food more affordable? There is no justification whatsoever for this. The Government needs to start taking up this issue at a European level to ensure we can change the rules for the grouping of products for VAT purposes. The measure runs contrary to public health policy.

Deputy Catherine Martin: Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin Yesterday the Taoiseach said the budget had been based on prudent management. I agree, but only to the extent that the prudent and, no doubt, clever management relates primarily to the internal workings and machinations of government which only serves the Government, not the people and the real issues they face in their day-to-day lives. With super self-serving dexterity, the Government danced around most of the real issues such as truly tackling the housing supply issue and tackling the inequalities in education. Not one political hot potato was touched.

  Many references have been made to the budget as being a type of "Late Late Show" budget and I have to say I agree. The reason the budget has wound up with that descriptive label is that the Government has evidently shown clear and growing traits of being a "one for everyone in the audience" Government. Therein lies the problem. Unless it changes course and its priorities, that is the rock on which it could eventually perish.

  The weeks leading up to the budget were dominated by a spin battle between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, with the Independent Alliance and other Government Independents also getting in on the spin action. They have been taking credit, laying claim and claiming ownership of ideas. That is why the budget failed miserably. Having such a competitive distraction appeared to be the priority. The twin motives were the burning desire to claim credit, while at the same time avoiding having the courage to take any difficult decision at all. This has resulted, unfortunately, in us being left with a budget that fails to serve the medium to long-term needs of the country which should be the underlying principle of any budget. No doubt, it has been an immediate to short-term success for all those involved, as It has been a master class in governmental survival, while at the same time skilfully allowing an opposition party to save face. The price paid for pulling off this coup will become clearer as time passes. Politicians and political parties dodging bullets was the priority and the order of the day and placed way above the people. I say, "Well done," to Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Independents in government. They have managed to avoid walking on any thin ice and are the winners for now. Unfortunately, they are the only winners, which is a very sad outcome because the losers are the people who have seen and will see the budget for what it is.

  The budget lacks long-term planning and a strategic vision for the country. As Helen Keller said, the only thing worse than being blind is having sight and no vision. The people rightly expect any teething process for new politics bedding down to be long over and a mature, non-self-serving approach to put people before politics to take over, but they have been left disappointed and let down. With the limited resources available and in trying to do the impossible of keeping everyone happy for the time being, inevitably many people were left out or ignored. Young people have been left behind and let down in the budget. Yesterday the Minster, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, stated that in order to ensure the benefits of recovery were felt by all, all social welfare payments would increase by €5 per week. This statement might make some politicians feel good when they hear it for the first time, but it is simply incorrect and grossly inaccurate because not all social welfare payments will increase by €5. The youth were not included. The Government has decided that 18 to 24 year olds only deserve an increase of €2.70 per week and 25 year olds, an increase of €3.80 per week. It is a clear case of age discrimination. At a time when we should be aiming to bring young emigrants home from abroad, the Government introduces measures to alienate them further. The Minister says this is to encourage the youth to take up courses of education and engage in further training. I respectfully suggest a fairer way to encourage this would have been to remove the €200 euro charge for PLC courses that continues to act as an impediment to access and an obstacle to participation for many students.

The budget has failed children in primary education. Primary school classes in Ireland are the second most overcrowded in the European Union, but the Government has decided to leave them as they are. There has been no effort to reduce class sizes; therefore, over 100,000 children in classes of 30 or more pupils have been left behind, forgotten and ignored in the budget. How can young primary school pupils receive the quality education they deserve and that their teachers have been trained to give in classes of that size? Primary schools remain the Cinderella of the education sector, with the lowest level of spending on education occurring at primary level, which leaves schools operating on shoestring budgets and dependent on parental contributions and fundraising.

  While I welcome the addition of 100 new guidance counsellors for secondary schools, the total number of counsellors remains significantly less than it was before the 2012 cuts. What was needed was full restoration of the ex-quota guidance counsellor provision. The opportunity to do so has been missed. Children deserve equal access to this vital resource and the inequality will continue in the growing number of second level schools, with some having the resources to pay privately for a counsellor, while others with very vulnerable children will remain without this support. If we are to truly value all children equally, their well-being should be front and centre and all schools should be given the resources they need to support all children.

  The Government and the largest Opposition party seemed very cosy and happy yesterday with the announcement of an additional €36.5 million for the higher education sector in 2017. The truth is that, despite the momentary feel good factor associated with the announcement, a sum of €36.5 million is totally inadequate and the direct result of the populist decision of the Government which felt compelled to give a little to as many people in the audience as possible. It is not only fully aware of the inadequacy of this additional funding but knowingly allowed it to happen because the Fine Gael manifesto in this year’s general election clearly stated the higher education sector needed €100 million just to stand still. The Government is sitting back and paying mere lip service by throwing a patently grossly inadequate sum at the higher education sector. It will do little to tackle the effects of successive cutbacks which have had a devastating impact on students, lecturers and the position of Irish educational institutions in international rankings.

  The budget lacks a strategic vision. It is a most alarming and worrying blast from the past in playing primarily to developers through the help-to-buy scheme for first-time buyers which will serve to fuel demand but, crucially, not tackle head-on the need to increase housing supply.

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