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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 Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith] Under various headings and in an effort to avoid double counting and wishful estimates for the future, the ambition, including the false idea of the rapid-build housing programme, is to build a total of perhaps 1,500 social houses, if we are lucky.

There are other very serious cuts in this budget that are going under the radar. The arts budget is being cut by 16%. As with others, I remember quite vividly how gloriously, poetically and dramatically many Ministers stood up in this House a few months ago to speak to a motion on the arts and how the arts needed increased funding. The Visitors Gallery was packed with interest groups, including young artists and people from the community sector, who rely on public funding for the arts. They were eulogised and praised but then we cut their funding by a glorious 16%.

The sports budget has been cut. I am shocked and ashamed that the budget for the Irish language and Gaeltacht has been cut by 9%. This seems like a deliberate ploy to undermine our heritage, language and culture.

In his speech, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, announced he would tackle corporate tax avoidance. He said that he would appoint somebody to examine this sphere and come up with measures to criminalise tax avoidance. He referred to closing tax loopholes and going after those who do not pay tax and try to avoid paying it. I appeal to him publicly today. If he sincerely means what he said, the Government could take one measure now, namely, to drop the appeal against the Apple ruling. If the Government wants to show this country that it is serious about fairness and tax equality, it should drop the appeal and really consider addressing the crisis for the vast majority, in respect of which this budget does nothing.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry I wish to make some comments on the proposed change to the national minimum wage. There has been insufficient commentary on this in the past 24 hours. The proposal is to increase the minimum wage from €9.15 per hour to €9.25 per hour, an increase of a miserable 10 cent per hour. For me and, I am sure, hundreds of thousands of low-paid workers, it was disgusting to see one of the highest-paid Ministers for Finance in all of Europe condemn the lowest-paid workers in this country to another year of poverty pay when the announcement was made. Actually, the announcement was not made because it was buried in the books. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, was so ashamed of his new policy that he did not even mention it. Neither he nor the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, mentioned it in his speech.

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking at the all-Ireland football final, between Dublin and Mayo, on the television. Croke Park was packed, containing 82,000 people. The number of people in this country who work for a living and live below the poverty line is 82,000. One would fill Croke Park to the rafters with those people, who are mainly women. They are wondering this morning how they will pay the rent, how they will keep up with the increases in car insurance premiums and how they will put food on the table for their children. There was an increase of only 10 cent.

This measure affects not only the people who are currently paid €9.15 per hour but also the hundreds of thousands of workers who currently try to live or exist on low pay. The national minimum wage is the floor that underpins the entire wage structure within the State. There are hundreds of thousands of low-paid workers earning 50 cent, €1 or €2 more than those at the bottom of the chain who are condemned to low pay in what is a low-pay economy.

According to the OECD, in 2013, 23.3% of the workforce, or nearly one in four, were low-paid workers. According to the union Unite, which produced this summer an excellent report entitled "The truth about Irish wages", we have the second highest level of wage inequality in the entire EU-15. Despite this, the Government is offering an increase of 10 cent per hour. The programme for Government states the minimum wage should rise to €10.50 per hour. This is not enough to pay the rent bills. What happened to the promise? It would take 13 years to get from where we are today to a rate of €10.50 per hour if each year the annual increase were the same as what the Minister for Finance introduced in the budget yesterday.

It was argued the minimum wage increase was so small because of the Brexit factor. This is a chilling warning to give to low-paid workers in this country. Brexit is not going away; it will feature next year, the following year and the year after that. The Government seems to be nailing its colours to the mast in this regard and saying the minimum wage will be kept low for years to come. An argument is made based on the Brexit-proofing of the budget. We are told the pitiful increase of 10 cent was just part of the Brexit-proofing process. The same applied to the miserably low social protection increases and the low expenditure increases for education, transport and other services.

There is a deep irony in using Brexit as the excuse for this. What did the Brexit vote represent? Admittedly, the question of immigration came into the mix and clouded the picture somewhat but, fundamentally, the vote was a revolt against what one commentator called "the 30 years of hurt". In other words, the commentator referred to government policy dating right back to the Thatcher era. The vote was a revolt against the policies of neoliberalism that have created a massive amount of social inequality. The irony is that the Irish Government is now using the Brexit vote as justification for a budget that not only copper-fastens neoliberalism in this State but also gives it a huge boost. It will give a huge boost to social inequality.

With regard to tax breaks for landlords and raising the threshold for inheritance tax, does the Government realise that a worker on the new minimum wage would have to work for 43 years before accumulating enough in wages to say he or she had as much as just one person, the chief executive officer of Bank of Ireland, will earn in just one year? The budget rolls back the State.

My colleague Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett made the point yesterday that it seems there is provision for the building of just 1,500 council houses in the State next year. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, unveiled plans for an Exchequer–employer investment mechanism aimed at getting the private sector and big business to bridge the funding gap at third level. Some €15 million has been allocated for the National Treatment Purchase Fund instead of investment in the health service here. With regard to the child care programme, the budget deliberately sidestepped the case and need for State-run child care provision in favour of a subsidy to the private sector.

The CSO produced figures very recently showing the wealthiest 20% of households control 73% of the wealth in the State, but that the 20% at the bottom of the ladder control 0.2%.

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