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

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 925 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Seán Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey Zoom on Seán Haughey] The level of investment in public transport in Dublin must be increased significantly, particularly when we consider that per capita spending on transport here is considerably below that enjoyed by London and Manchester, cities we compete with for foreign direct investment and jobs.

  Fianna Fáil does not agree with every measure contained in the budget. Home ownership is an important objective of public policy. As such, we included in our election manifesto a proposal for a deposit saving scheme to assist first-time buyers to reach the deposit needed to purchase a home. Several experts have given their view that the first-time buyer's tax rebate announced in the budget will do little to stimulate the much-needed increase in supply but will, instead, serve only to drive up house prices further. Given the uncertainty surrounding the impact of this measure, it is necessary to carry out an independent assessment of the likely implications of the tax rebate on the housing market. I understood a number of changes in the scheme have already been agreed for implementation in the Finance Bill.

  The budget will see an increase of €5 per week in core welfare payments. Under the confidence and supply arrangement, Fianna Fáil secured agreement on increases to the State pension. We also welcome the increases in weekly welfare payments to carers, the disabled and the unemployed. Excluding the State pension, these represent the first increases in weekly welfare rates since 2009 and will go some way to ensuring the social welfare payments these groups depend on to maintain their income keep pace with the modest inflation that has occurred over the past seven years.

Deputy John Brassil: Information on John Brassil Zoom on John Brassil Will the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, confirm in his response whether the Finance Bill has already been published? A great amount of detail about it was given on "Morning Ireland" earlier, with reference in particular to changes to the housing tax relief scheme. I have been waiting three and a half days for an opportunity to speak in this House on the budget measures only to discover that the Bill to effect their implementation may already have been published. It would be the height of disrespect to Members to have measures finalised before the debate on them concludes. I notice, too, that if the Central Bank makes a recommendation, it will generally be taken on board, but not a blind bit of notice is taken of recommendations from Members.

  Regarding the tax relief for first-time buyers, I am concerned that the provision whereby eligibility reverts back to the first mortgage drawdown will impact negatively on people who build their own homes. In other words, first-time buyers who are about to move into their self-build home having drawn down the last tranche of their mortgage will not qualify. That is unfair. The last drawdown should be the defining criterion according to which a first-time buyer qualifies or does not qualify for the scheme. As it stands, the provision reverts back to July of this year. I hope that will be changed so that anybody who has a last drawdown after July will qualify. In the case of self-builds, it is only when the last mortgage drawdown is complete that people can move into their home. I will be pushing for that change and have already spoken to my party's finance spokesman, Deputy Michael McGrath, about it.

  I welcome the modest increases in welfare payments provided for in the budget. However, there is a real sense that the disability sector has been let down by budget 2017. It should be a priority in future budgets that the sector receives special treatment. We have a Minister of State with a specific interest in disabilities and I hope that is reflected in future provision. The measures to assist the sector are welcome but underwhelming.

  My colleague mentioned funding for roads, which is under the remit of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross. Together with several colleagues, I recently brought forward a Topical Issue matter requesting that funding for local improvement schemes be recommenced in 2017. The Minister stated clearly in his reply that this would be done. I hope that promise will be adhered to because it is very important for those of us living in rural areas.

  In regard to the rent allowance, I have brought to the attention of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, that the increases in Kerry were in the region of 5% while the increases in other counties were upwards of 15% to 20%. I compared Kerry and Galway as being two very similar counties in terms of population, size, tourism and so on. The report for the first quarter of 2016 gives the average rent in Kerry as €623, with a corresponding figure for Galway of €618. However, the rent allowance increases in Galway were substantially greater. When I checked last Friday on, six properties were available in Tralee, a town facilitating 30,000 people, all of which were outside the rent allowance boundaries. Something must be done to address this problem. Will the Minister of State instruct his officials to ring the relevant social welfare officers in Kerry to ask how they are dealing with the rent allowance crisis there? People cannot find a suitable qualifying property and the situation is getting worse week after week. Nobody seems to be listening to us.

  I hope somebody in Government will take on board the points I have raised today. I hope, too, that the legislation is not already published, because that would mean my proposals have no chance of being taken on board.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Deputies Charlie McConalogue and Lisa Chambers will share time.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I welcome the opportunity to discuss this financial resolution. As my colleagues noted, Fianna Fáil has taken a very responsible approach in recent months, taking into account the challenges facing the country and the need for stable Government. We are aware, too, of what the alternatives to such an approach might be when we see what has happened in Spain, which still does not have a government despite the major challenges facing that country. We were keen to be in government following the election and fought hard for that outcome. Having accepted that we did not have the required support, we decided to seek to offer the most effective Opposition there has been in this House in the context of the unique circumstances that presented after the election.

We have taken the same approach to the budget, our concern being to ensure it was framed in a way that was significantly different from what was rejected by the public in the election and from the approach taken by the previous Government. Although that Administration had a difficult job to do in hard times, in carrying out that responsibility it placed the burden and pressure on the people who could least afford it. Our approach is very different from that of other parties and Independent Members on the Opposition benches. Despite having huffed and puffed for five years in the previous Dáil and having put themselves before the people and sought a mandate for their platform, when the opportunity arose to form a new Government, they headed for the hills and were nowhere to be found for several weeks or even months.

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