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

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 924 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath] The additional funding includes money for pay, as well as to fund development and meet key priorities. The key priorities for me will be the provision of residential and day care places for all adults with disabilities. We must also ensure we deal with speech therapy and occupational therapy issues. These are important services which will be dealt with in the next 12 months. It was an historic moment when €10 million was provided for medical cards for children who qualified for the domiciliary care allowance. This is very important because the measure will benefit more than 6,000 children.

It is important to note the major contribution of the Independent Alliance to the budget, particularly in the extension of medical cards but also in the 25% reduction in the maximum prescription charge from €25 to €20 per month for the over-70s with a medical card. We worked very closely with all of our colleagues on the investment of €50 million in the National Treatment Purchase Fund and, of course, the increase in the social welfare Christmas bonus from 75% to 85% of the full weekly payment. Those who say the budget is not full of practical ideas should note that it is riddled with practical, sensible ideas and based on having a just and compassionate society.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy): Information on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Zoom on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Everyone is aware of the need to take more action to promote and improve health and well-being. It is clear from the results of the first wave of the Healthy Ireland survey launched late last year that there are many threats to the health and well-being of people living in Ireland. Obesity, tobacco consumption, alcohol abuse and physical inactivity rates are leading to increases in the levels of chronic conditions and putting a significant strain on the health service. I will launch the second round of results of the survey next week to build on the evidence available on the need to take action on this front. The results of the survey are assisting us in targeting actions to promote healthy lifestyles.

I am delighted that the increase in expenditure on health and well-being initiatives is 4.9%, versus an overall increase of 3% in the health budget. This shows that the Government understands the importance of prevention and is committed to helping people to stay healthy.

In 2017 we will commit €2.5 million to fund the continued extension of BreastCheck to all women aged 50 to 69 years on an incremental basis. That decision was made by the last Government and is being continued with by the Government. I am delighted that we are able to allocate €7.8 million for the expansion of the child vaccine programme to allow us to commence the rotavirus and meningitis B vaccines programme for newborns.

I welcome the increase in the price of tobacco products as this is positive for health and well-being and achieving our aim to have Ireland tobacco-free by 2025. While we have made significant progress in getting smoking rates into a downward trend, it is clear that we must continue to make progress. I recognise that many people are addicted to nicotine products. I also know that many of the people concerned wish to quit. I urge them to contact the HSE's QUIT service to avail of the supports available.

I look forward to having discussions with my officials and the HSE in the coming days and weeks to agree ways by which a range of priorities can be advanced in tackling obesity, physical inactivity, smoking and alcohol consumption levels, as well as promoting sexual health and childhood vaccination. I am particularly pleased with the establishment of the Healthy Ireland fund, a major initiative that will allow the Government to support innovative, cross-sectoral, evidence-based projects, programmes and initiatives that support implementation of key national policies on tackling obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption levels and promoting physical activity and sexual health. Healthy Ireland seeks to empower people and communities to improve their health and well-being. In that regard, the fund will make a real difference. It will help us to work with our partners in other Departments and agencies to provide appropriate support and guidance on how best to address these broad determinants of health.

I refer to the sugar and sweetened drinks levy, on which the Minister for Finance made a strong statement on its introduction following a public consultation process which will close on 9 January next year. A consultation paper was published on budget day, on which day the Department of Health also published the evidence that supported the policy which aimed to reduce consumption and effect behavioural change.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher I welcome the opportunity to speak in the budget debate in the context of where we are as a society, an economy and a people but also politically in terms of the make-up of the Parliament subsequent to the general election. It is a new dispensation for many Members and it is important to accept that we are finding our way to see how we can work to ensure stability in government, as well as ensuring we have a Government that will do the right thing for the people. In that context, it is fair to say we are trying to move the Government in a different direction. The budget is the first phase in that process. When one analyses the impact and changes in direction in the budget from those which were regressive in the past five years to one which is more progressive, one sees a welcome initiative, but, of course, it is only a step. A great deal of harm has been done to society in the past few years in the pressure exerted on families and individuals. A great deal must be done to ensure it is healed and that we will have a cohesive society which can collectively work through the various challenges confronting individuals and, more importantly, society.

I would like to elaborate on the budget a great deal more than I can, but we are short on time. There are a number of issues that confront us, including Brexit and the profound implications it may have for the economy. The greatest threat to investment and business is uncertainty which diminishes confidence and the capacity of business to invest, create jobs and generate tax revenue.

The other key issues include the broader global political issues beyond our shores. Elections are to be held in France and Germany next year, not to mention the presidential election in the United States of America. There is also in the background, of course, the Apple tax issue. There are concerns about whether the decisions of the Revenue Commissioners and their questioning by the European Commission will undermine our ability to attract foreign direct investment. They are big picture issues, but they impact on our ability in the Chamber to divert scarce resources towards the areas most in need. In that context, we must be ambitious. While we are constrained by the Stability and Growth Pact, we must become imaginative about how we access funding on the capital markets to invest long-term in the provision of infrastructure. I am not only talking about roads and railways but also the expansion of the economy to ensure we will have the capacity to deal with the inevitable demographic pressures, the potential upturn in the economy and the fallout, both positive and negative, from Brexit in companies looking to have their headquarters in this country and use our facilities to access the European market. There are many challenges but opportunities also. To a huge extent the Stability and Growth Pact has tied our hands in seeking access to money, but the State can now borrow at a rate of 0.33% for a ten-year bond. This is the time for us as a people to be imaginative, brave and ambitious for ourselves and those who will come after us. We should be making long-term investments in the productive economy. However, that is an area in which the Government has fallen down to a certain extent. The capital programme and the statements that support it lack ambition. They show no creativity and imagination in setting out a vision for what we need as a people to ensure the productive capacity of the economy can be sustained in the years ahead. Much of that issue needs to be revisited. We have called for the establishment of a commission on infrastructure and public investment to analyse in a critical way what will be required in the next few years and beyond the horizon and plan accordingly.

In my area of responsibility, health, Fianna Fáil welcomes the fact that the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, spoke earlier. He showed a commitment to ensuring we will have sustainable health budgets. The last five were pretend budgets; they were made up. The Government would wander in with a figure which had been plucked out of the sky to pretend that it actually had a sustainable budget to fund health care services. Obviously, it did not because we consistently and regularly had supplementary budgets. The confidence and supply arrangement between my party and the Government includes provision to ensure multi-annual budgeting. The health system cannot plan on an annual basis. It must look at what will happen in the longer term in terms of recruitment and investment to ensure it will have the necessary capacity.

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