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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 Maurice Quinlivan: Information on Maurice Quinlivan Zoom on Maurice Quinlivan] We have a major problem in this country with uneven spatial development with the result that the greater Dublin region is overdeveloped at the expense of the development of the rest of the country. What we need is a major capital investment programme in infrastructure across the whole country. This is not rocket science. For example, we need a proper motorway between Limerick and Cork, which is not mentioned in the Government's budget. This is a critical piece of infrastructure which everyone in Cork, Limerick and the regions says is needed for spatial strategy and spatial building. We also need to know when the much-heralded broadband programme will be rolled out. How will we ever attract foreign direct investment to the regions outside of the greater Dublin metropolitan area if we do not invest in these crucial projects?

I want to put on record my disappointment with the retention of the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector. This sector employs some of the lowest-paid workers in the country and is characterised by precarious and flexible - in the worst meaning of the word - work practices. It is now making huge profits yet continues to refuse to engage with the trade unions to set decent pay and conditions for the sector. As detailed in our alternative budget, Sinn Féin would have removed the 9% rate for hotels but left it for pubs and restaurants. In the interest of fairness and decency, the Government should have done the same.

The move to increase the self-employed tax credit is welcome. My party would have gone further, increasing it to €1,300, as detailed in the fully costed pre-budget submission we made. This is a fairness issue, and I am disappointed that the increase represents a dragging of feet on it. The tax credit, like other credits, should be tapered off so there is no open-ended gain for the higher earners.

There are other provisions in this budget that are also found in the Sinn Féin alternative budget. Where the Government does the right thing we will support those measures and make sure they are implemented. When it comes to tax and the USC, the measures announced in budget 2017 fail the test of fairness, fail to help those in need of a break, fail our public services and lay the seeds of another economic disaster. These are the wrong choices and they will further delay job creation and sustainable labour market development.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley This budget, which we had anticipated and hoped would bring some good news, is disappointing. There are some measures in it that Sinn Féin looked for, as the previous speaker said, but unfortunately, they are very few and far between. There are a number of questions to be asked about the budget. Has it reduced the cost of living for those on low and middle incomes? Has it put money into their pockets? The answer to both questions is "No". Another question must be asked: will the budget improve the crisis in our public services or even deal with it in any substantial way? No. It fails that test. Will it create jobs and address the lack of investment in badly needed infrastructure such as housing, hospitals, roads and water services? Again, it fails that test.

The budget is a disappointment. It has failed to address key issues such as housing, the crisis in our health services and water services. Provision is not even made for the abolition of water charges, which the party sitting to my left promised to do prior to the general election. We have an underinvestment in infrastructure, and that is a fact. The figures are there. The EUROSTAT figures show that we are almost at the bottom of the pile in this regard. The proposed increases in expenditure on health are minimal and will do little to sustain our hospitals, such as Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise, which are stretched to breaking point year in and year out. There are 560,000 people on the hospital waiting list. What do we get? A sum of €15 million through the privatised National Treatment Purchase Fund - €15 million taken out of the system to deal with the hospital waiting list crisis.

We welcome some measures proposed in the budget. Sinn Féin has been very clear and puts a lot of emphasis on the fact that if we are critical of a proposal, we will try to address it and put forward clearly thought out, costed alternatives that work in other countries. This is not pie-in-the-sky. We set out very clearly a substantial investment in health, capital investment and day-to-day spending in health to address the shortfall in staff - in nurses and doctors - and all the other areas that need to be addressed.

We set out a clear housing programme. What does the Government do? It gives rebates to people who can purchase houses for as much as €600,000. Are they middle-income earners? Measures such as this drive up the price of houses. This is straight out of 1977 Fianna Fáil economics or maybe even boom-time, 2006 or 2007 Fianna Fáil economics. It is a replay of that.

Regarding broadband, an area about which I am very concerned, the Minister responsible has not given a definite date for the completion of the procurement process. It was supposed to be completed this year. Then, in answer to a Dáil question I submitted a few weeks ago, he said it would not be rolled out until next year. Two days ago the Minister could not confirm on what date in 2017 it will happen. In the midlands, in Laois, south Kildare and counties such as Offaly, we are very concerned about this. We need broadband to create and sustain jobs and for economic development.

As I said, we set forward very clear commitments on social housing, in which we need to invest. We need to bring down the cost of housing, and measures need to be brought in to deal with the cost of land. That is for another day, but we need to deal with it.

Regarding the cost of living, there is no point in giving €1.97 extra per week to those on €20,000 or €2.93 extra per week to those on €30,000 if the money flies out of their pockets or is taken back in other ways. We set out a number of areas in our budget proposal that we would address, and the cost of living is the key issue. We would abolish property tax and water charges and end the motor tax instalment penalties, which disproportionately affect low-income earners.

Regarding measures for the self-employed, we propose an increase in tax credits to €1,300. We welcome the fact that the Government has increased them to €900. That is a good move by the Government, but it needed to go further to bring parity with PAYE workers.

We proposed extending medical card cover to children with disabilities. We looked for that and the Government did it. A reduction in prescription charges needs to be revisited. The Government failed on that.

We proposed to increase the school books grant and tackle third-level fees, which were increased four times by the last Government, even though it promised not to increase them. Ruairí Quinn signed the famous pledge. The fees have now risen to €3,000. We wanted to reduce them, and we costed that.

Regarding rent controls, for God's sake, I have two Independent Ministers in front of me, and if they do one thing, they should try to get it into their heads that we must bring in rent controls. The rent threshold limits were increased recently, which is welcome, but we told the Government at the time, and we have been saying for five years, that if they are increased without bringing in rent controls, people will still become homeless. The last case that came through my constituency office door the other morning before I came to the Dáil was that of a family paying €600 per month in rent. They had a letter in their hands stating that the rent was now €850 per month. That is way over the limit. It is €240 over it.

There are a number of areas the Government needs to address, and this budget fails that crucial test on employment, public services and fairness.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Budget 2017 provided the Government with an opportunity to invest in and create a fairer economy. It could have been about cutting the cost of living and improving our public services and infrastructure. Ar an drochuair, a mhalairt a bhfuair muid. The budget is not about what is best for our people, economy and services. It will not end the crisis in health and housing, it will not deliver tax fairness and it will not end water charges. The Government, with the support of its friends in Fianna Fáil, has crafted a budget that will benefit a wealthy minority that will reap the rewards in the form of tax breaks for landlords and a return of €20 million in capital acquisitions tax to a few thousand people, all to the detriment of those most in need. Plus ça change.  A better way is possible. Sinn Féin brought forward proposals that would invest in our future, lift the burden on working families, ensure tax fairness and deliver homes, health care and education.

  The announcements made regarding the provision of disability services are miserly. There is no mention of an increase in personal assistant hours or funding for housing adaptation grants. There is no investment in our neurological services.


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