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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 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin] Those with neuro-rehabilitation needs have been ignored for too long and they deserve to lead full and meaningful lives by giving them quality, tailored rehabilitation and support. It is for that reason that Sinn Féin, as part of our alternative budget proposed an additional €3.412 million for neuro-rehabilitation teams and transitional services.

  I refer to the issue of broadband. I note with concern the strong indication from the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, that there will be further delays in the procurement process of the national broadband plan, which is totally unacceptable. When the national broadband plan was initially announced in 2012 the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government indicated a completion date of 2018. The latest indication of a delay in awarding the procurement contract is just the latest in a string of delays to the national broadband project. All we have got in budget 2017 is another miserly €15 million.

  Just over a year ago, I raised the rural broadband scheme with the then Minister, Mr. Alex White, emphasising the difficulties faced and the disadvantages involved for broadband users and aspiring users in rural areas. He told me:

The Government recognises that high-speed broadband network deployment is of strategic importance for growth and innovation in all sectors of Ireland's economy and society. On 29 September last, the Government approved an allocation of €275 million for the national broadband plan which will provide the initial stimulus required to deliver the State intervention. Combined with commercial investment, this will ensure 85% of Ireland’s premises have high-speed broadband by 2018, with 100% coverage by 2020.

Now the Minister cannot confirm the procurement process will be complete by this date, which means it is likely that the roll-out process will not have even commenced by 2018.

  The provision of high-speed broadband to every home in the country would significantly benefit the economy. The Government has failed to ensure broadband is available to all the families and businesses across rural areas, so much so that we have the most pronounced two-tier coverage in Europe. Ireland sits in 20th place in Europe for national broadband connectivity and this situation is hampering job creation and development in many parts of the country - in particular in rural areas and certainly, as I know only too well, across the counties of Cavan and Monaghan. It is unacceptable and I have chosen to major on that point as so many of the others have been covered by colleagues over the three days of this debate. Ireland cannot afford further delays to broadband roll-out, as the Acting Chairman will know all too well.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy The next speakers on the Government side are the Minister, Deputy Zappone, and the Ministers of State, Deputies Halligan and Kehoe.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I am grateful for the opportunity to give my remarks on budget 2017.

During the negotiations leading up to the formation of the minority Government, I emphasised the importance of creating sustainable social and economic growth and greater equality through investing in services, as I believe this is the formula to tackle inequality and to drive the economy more fairly. I hope and believe this budget is better for my contribution to it as the only Independent woman in Cabinet and fairer to our citizens because of the collaborative involvement of the wider Parliament. I proposed a 4:1 ratio between spending and tax cuts back in April and I am happy that we, as a minority Government supported by Fianna Fail in opposition, are moving towards this with a total budget adjustment weighted at 3:1 towards spending.

I agree that the reduction of tax burden on working people, especially among the low- and middle-income earners, and self-employed through the cuts in the USC and improvement in the earned-income tax credit are needed, although the services in areas such as child care, health and education will make even bigger impact in people's lives. The ground-breaking investment in child care services which I will come back to later, along with increased spending in education, increases social welfare payments and increased health budget will outweigh the impact of any tax cuts to households on low- and middle-incomes because the enhanced public investment will provide greater potential to build a social economy with more quality jobs and equality.

I welcome a number of progressive measures in this budget that are particularly opportune. I welcome the modest increase in pensions and all working-age social welfare payments including those for lone parents. These changes will not be enough, but I am certain will somewhat help to reduce poverty and income inequality.

I also welcome the increase in income disregard for one-parent families and in the job seeker's transition allowance from €90 to €110. This is something I have campaigned for and I am proud that the minority Government has been able to deliver this in its first budget.

I am particularly pleased with the additional €500 allowance for parents in receipt of back-to-education allowance. The continuing access to higher and further education especially for lone parents has been of particular concern to me. I am pleased to see a measure that will help to make education more accessible for lone parents. The child care package will also help to assist lone parents to achieve their career and education goals.

As a Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I am delighted that 50,000 additional children are to benefit from school meals. Food poverty is one of the saddest manifestations of child poverty. Children suffering from malnutrition as a result of poor diets and having to attend school on empty stomachs is one of the most distressing aspects of child poverty. I will continue to do what I can to combat causes and consequences of child poverty.

I also welcome that the medical cards scheme is to be extended to all children in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance. These children need extra help and it is good that we can make a contribution to this.

Investment in education is good our society and our economy. As an educator, I am passionate about providing all of our people with opportunities which ensure greater equality across geographic regions and socioeconomic backgrounds. For this reason I strongly welcome the increased spending in education which will allow for the recruitment of an additional 2,400 teaching posts, including 900 resource teachers.

I also wish to congratulate the Minister for Finance on his effort to address further cases of misuse of our tax code by certain companies in light of the amendment proposed in the forthcoming finance Bill. However, there is scope for additional changes in this regard.

The reality of being part of the minority Government means that one sometimes has to make sacrifices in order to deliver on other goals. Raising the ceiling of capital acquisition tax, CAT, is a regressive measure that will benefit a very small group of individuals who are already in receipt of a windfall regarding wealth. The relatively high CAT ceiling puts our citizens on an unequal footing when some of them can now inherit such a large amount of wealth without paying any tax on it. However, as I said, I am supporting the budget, which I believe is progressive although I do not agree with this particular regressive measure.

Budget 2017 sets out a radical new approach to child care. I appreciate there has been a lot of information to digest a very short period of time in this regard. There are two new developments. First, we are targeting those on the lowest incomes; let us remember that 220,000 children woke up this morning in poverty or at risk of poverty. Each child aged between six months and 15 years from these low-income families can receive a subsidy of up to €8,000 a year. All households whose net income is below €47,500 can receive a subsidy. People on very low incomes will see their weekly contribution to full-time child-care reducing from €85 a week to about €4 a week. By anyone's standards that is radical. This creates new opportunities for these families in terms of education, training and work. More importantly it gives each child a level playing field on which to start their life's journey. In addition, we have a new universal scheme which is aimed at all children between six months and three year. They will be entitled to a subsidy of 50 cent per hour, meaning that a family with a child using the maximum of 40 hours a week will benefit by €960 a year.

I am encouraged by the response to date. I greatly welcome the public, media and political debate on child care, which is long overdue.

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