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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald]  It now seems that the Government wishes to recreate itself as saviours of the struggling classes. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are coming to the rescue to save unfortunate welfare recipients in their hour of need. For that reason people outside the House now refer to this budget as the "fiver budget". There are budget fivers all around. We are still not clear when the €5 increases will be paid. We are clear that it is not a fiver for younger welfare recipients. For them, it seems that they are only worthy of an increase of €2.70.

We are also clear that for all of the talk about championing pensioners, the Government has left one particular group of pensioners in a desperately unfair situation. I refer to those pensioners who, because of their work contracts, must retire at the age of 65 but are not entitled to the State pension until the age of 66. Time was when there was a transitional pension for that set of pensioners. The previous Government, which included the Labour Party, put paid to that. This was the budget where the Government should have reversed that cut. There is an insane situation whereby 65 year old workers having, in many cases, done their full 40 years and sometimes more, retire at the age of 65 and are sent off to seek jobseeker's benefits. That is not a sustainable position. Anybody who actually cares about pensions or pensioners in this State would have addressed that issue as a matter of priority.

The Taoiseach failed to reinstate the bereavement grant. He mentioned my constituency, the north inner city, in his remarks earlier. I will tell him one lesson that comes from the communities I represent, namely that the abolition of the bereavement grant was among the cruellest of all blows in the course of the austerity budgets. If the Government cared about people at their most vulnerable moments and was the saviour of the struggling classes, it would have reinstated that grant and taken the opportunity of the budget to do so.

The Taoiseach often lectures us about the squeezed middle. They include middle-class voters that he assumes we in Sinn Féin have no clue or concern about. The budget finally lays bare that canard. It delivers for many of the struggling squeezed middle families precisely nothing, and they are very disappointed.

What has the Government left intact for those families? Not a single cent in the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil budget has been set aside for the abolition of water charges. Fianna Fáil cannot be trusted on this issue because, after all, domestic water charges was its idea to begin with. It said it would suspend or abolish them and do this, that and the other. The budget resolves the mystery for us. It is now very clear that the Government and its partners in Fianna Fáil have no intention of abolishing water charges. That is not missed by the squeezed middle because it is bill that will be with them, it seems, come March. If I am wrong and the Government proposes to abolish water charges, it has not taken account of that in its budgetary arithmetic.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I have.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The squeezed middle are still left with a tax on their family homes. It has been acknowledged in the course of this debate that property prices are rising, and in all likelihood that will continue. That is a big deal for the squeezed middle and the families who are faced with a charge which will only escalate.

There is nothing for the squeezed middle in respect of student registration fees or apprenticeship fees. The Fianna Fáil benches correctly criticised the last Government for its U-turn on and betrayal of third level students and their families. It seems to have conveniently forgotten all of that. Student registration fees of €3,000 are a big deal for the squeezed middle and struggling middle classes. That seems to have passed the Government by.

There is not an additional cent in the budget for school capitation. What does that mean for struggling families? It means that schools are under pressure which, in turn, places parents under pressure because lights have to be turned on and heating bills paid. Had the Taoiseach read our alternative budget he would have seen our costed proposal for an increase in school capitation grants. Perhaps having read it, its sheer common sense might have occurred to the Government and it might have included it in the budget. It might have done that if it really cared about the middle classes, struggling families and the squeezed middle.

Where we get to the point of almost comedy is when Deputy Martin tried to portray himself as the champion of workers. Goodness, gracious me. That is good one. This is almost at the pitch of high farce, coming as it does from Fianna Fáil. After all, it cut the minimum wage. That was its bright idea to vindicate workers' rights. Not alone that, between the collective efforts of the parties in Government, they have created a scenario whereby we now live in a low-wage economy.

When we brought forward a proposal to deal with one of the core issues in respect of the low-wage economy, namely banded hour and low hour contracts, what did Fianna Fáil, the champion of the workers, do? It said it could not possibly do that and needed to push the proposal down the line to some indeterminate place in the future. Every time something solid or concrete comes to this new political Chamber that will advantage workers, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael connive to shoot it down or push it down the line. That is the real level of their commitment to workers' rights.

There was a lot for landlords in the budget. The Taoiseach said that was to incentivise them to stay in the business of renting properties. I put it to him that is in stark contrast to the absence of anything real or substantive for renters. I again remind him that Sinn Féin, the party of Opposition, brought forward a proposal for rent certainty. That did not go very far. We can only surmise, given that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil voted against rent certainty and rent certainty measures in this budget, that they are not bothered about or interested in rent certainty.

In terms of health, very big figures have been put out into the public domain. However, when one strips everything back and takes account of demographic factors, the Lansdowne Road agreement and pay commitments, one finds that only €147 million is available. We cannot have a supplementary health budget this year. A figure of €147 million means that we have a major problem in terms of service delivery.

Deputy Martin beats his chest and points to a 56% increase in waiting lists of over two years. He is correct. What is the solution? It is a miserly, miserable and pathetic €15 million. The Government is not seriously suggesting that is the answer to a crisis of that magnitude.

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