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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 Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher] I welcome some of the initiatives announced. Everybody is falling over each other to take credit, but I want issues to be addressed and resolved. There are action plans for education, health, transport, disability services and a plethora of other areas, but we need action plans that can be implemented in a meaningful way.

Has Sinn Féin again taken up its abstentionist policy? There is no Sinn Féin Deputy in the Chamber. Sometimes they turn up. It would be welcome if they were here now because yesterday Deputy Mary Lou McDonald referred to the National Treatment Purchase Fund in a sneering way. We had campaigned for its establishment in order to ensure the issue of waiting lists would be addressed. The people I represent do not have the luxury of having private businesspersons to fly them first class to the United States to avail of private health care and check-ups. The people Deputy Mary Lou McDonald purports to represent do not have that luxury. The National Treatment Purchase Fund was put in place to shorten waiting lists and ensure people could access health care and diagnostics in a timely manner. I do not think anyone should be condescending about the effort made in that regard. The fund is required and should be broadly supported as it will have a meaningful impact on people's lives in shortening waiting times in accessing diagnostics and seeking interventions.

I look forward to implementation of the plans outlined in the budget.

Deputy Aindrias Moynihan: Information on Aindrias Moynihan Zoom on Aindrias Moynihan I thank the Acting Chairman for giving me the opportunity to discuss this most important budget, the first to be introduced by the new Government. Without a doubt, it is a Fine Gael budget, but Fianna Fáil agreed to facilitate the minority Government based on the confidence and supply agreement. Budget 2017 reflects much of the framework policy agreed to. Unlike other parties which threatened to plunge the country into another general election, Fianna Fáil stood up to the mark earlier this year and ensured we would have a stable Government. That meant we were able to avoid the political paralysis seen in Spain which is facing its third election this year. From the outside, Fianna Fáil has been able to apply pressure in a number of ways. One of the key ways in which this has happened is through the agreement that in the framing of any budget available funds would be split 2:1 in favour of public services, but on this occasion that push from the outside reached much further and there is a 3:1 split. This has enabled provision to be made for additional resource teachers to support students, additional gardaí to protect communities, additional CLÁR funding for rural communities and to allow a partial restoration of guidance counsellors in schools. The funding for ex-quota guidance counsellors is significant, but the remaining posts need to be restored to enable more students to benefit from this measure. It is important that young vulnerable people have this support available to them at a key time in their lives. The increase in teacher numbers is important and the measure will help to deal with the demand from a growing population, although the issue of pupil-teacher ratios has not been addressed. It needs to be dealt with, especially at the lower end of the scale in smaller schools where one teacher teaches first, second and third class. Smaller rural schools took a bigger hit in previous budgets.

Is ábhar buartha dom é nach bhfuil go leor airgid á chur ar fáil do Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge i mbliana. Anuas ar sin, baineadh 35% den bhuiséad caipitil don Ghaolainn agus Gaeltacht. Braithim go léiríonn sé seo neamh-shuim an Rialtais i gcúrsaí Gaolainne. Go forleathan timpeall na tíre, tá atmaisféar báúil, fuinneamh agus suim ann. Teastaíonn daoine a bheith páirteach sa Ghaolainn agus i gcúrsaí a chur chun cinn. Braithim go bhfuil an Rialtas ag caitheamh uatha an deis iontach sin atá ann. Tá sé riachtanach go rachadh an Taoiseach agus an Rialtas i ngleic leis agus go gceartóidís an botún atá déanta acu ansin.

There is no need for uncertainty as to when social welfare payments will increase. It is not good enough. The increases should be paid as quickly as possible. The money must be available, based on the figures included in the budget. The Government should be able to clear up the uncertainty and increase the payments at the earliest possible date.

The Macroom bypass project is constantly referred to as a source of anxiety for people living in my constituency. In his Budget Statement the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, referred to a number of road projects, including the Tuam and New Ross schemes but not the Macroom bypass project. Last week, when he discussed construction projects on the horizon with the CIF, he referred to a range of road schemes, including the Dunkettle interchange in Cork but overlooked the N22 road project. This is a source of serious concern for many in the mid-Cork and Kerry region. To put the matter in context, this is happening at a time when there is a disappointingly low level of investment in transport in the budget, which is causing anxiety. We are facing a mid-term review of the capital programme and the message that the Macroom bypass project must be prioritised does not seem to be getting through. It must be prioritised.

The money allocated for broadband provision is important and we will hold the Government to account on the issue. Broadband provision is important for rural communities and needs to be delivered.

Tuigim go bhfuil an t-am ag éirí gairid mar sin. Scaoilfidh mé leis.

Deputy Niamh Smyth: Information on Niamh Smyth Zoom on Niamh Smyth I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate on budget 2017. As Fianna Fáil spokesperson on arts and heritage, I welcome the modest increases in funding for the Arts Council, Culture Ireland, the Council of National Cultural Institutions and the Irish Film Board. However, we must acknowledge the reality. The arts, culture and film budget was increased from €156.5 million to €188.5 million in 2016, but it is to be reduced to €158.3 million in 2017, a cut of 16%. This is a retrograde step following the additional investment made by the State in the arts and culture sector to fund the commemorative programme this year. The same investment should have been made in the Arts Council.

Fianna Fáil has a strong tradition of supporting the arts and culture sector. It has always acknowledged the impressive contribution the arts community has made to the country. We are committed to protecting the independence of the arts community and ensuring a stable, sustainable and secure funding model for the arts through progressive increases in State expenditure in line with improvements in the economy and the public finances. We are committed to enabling full community engagement to benefit from State funding for the arts and supporting the arm’s length principle to promote the Arts Council’s autonomy in distributing State funding to artists and arts organisations. We are committed to enhancing provision for the arts in the education sector and, in particular, the roll-out of local arts in education partnerships through ETBs across the country. We are committed to ensuring local authorities will implement local arts action plans which benefit local communities and artists and bring the arts directly to the people.

The budget presents minimal measures to cope with the fundamental challenges posed by Brexit. In the light of this, encouraging active co-operation between the Arts Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland is now more important than ever. In June Fianna Fáil placed the arts front and centre in a Private Members' motion which called for sustained increases in arts funding. The motion won cross-party backing and reflected widespread public support for improved arts funding. I am delighted that an additional €5 million will be allocated to the Arts Council, with a further €2 million for the Irish Film Board and €1 million for Culture Ireland.

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