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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 Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue] Anytime they were found, their sole contribution was to peep up and canvass for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to go into government, neglecting the platform and the canvass they had undertaken in the election campaign. A very dim view has been taken by many people who voted for them in terms of the value of the vote that they cast. Some members of the public will simply cast an opposition vote. I remember canvassing a person during the general election and fighting hard for his vote. He told me that he would not be able to vote for me on that occasion, despite the fact that he wanted to give me a number two. He said he was voting for another party but that he would never want that party to be in government. He said that its members were great at opposition and at shouting, so he was going to vote for them. He liked the way they shouted but he was not voting for them to go into government. Maybe they were true to that particular person's vote but that was the exception. People who actually voted for one party or another, or for an Independent, ultimately wanted to see the mandate they were giving to that person implemented in government. That is the approach that my party took. That is also the approach that the public wanted my party to take, as well as other parties who failed to live up their responsibilities and who continue to huff and puff now. They failed and showed their true colours because when they got the opportunity to take on responsibility, they would not do so.

Regarding the influence Fianna Fáil has brought to bear on this budget, the ESRI has shown that this is the first budget in the past five or six years which is progressive in nature and which gives the small benefits of the improving economy to those who most need them. That is the direction that has been taken although I would have a number of problems with many measures in the budget. Certainly, in terms of the steer of the budget, it is important that it is going in that direction. In several previous budgets under the last Government, the ratio of expenditure increases to tax reductions was 50:50. Indeed, in the first year that there was a little money available to spend, we saw the top rate of tax being reduced by 1%. That happened three budgets ago while at the same time there was massive pressure on our public services. In this particular budget, the expenditure to taxation ratio was 3:1. Furthermore, the tax measures are targeted at those who are most under pressure. The general thrust of this budget is a welcome departure and is starting to reflect the views of the public. Fianna Fáil is making every effort to exert whatever pressure it can to ensure that the fairness in public services that we seek to achieve is reflected in public policy, albeit from the Opposition benches.

As my party's spokesperson on agriculture, I wish to refer to a number of measures in the budget relevant to farming. There are some welcome measures in the budget, particularly the €25 million fund for a new sheep scheme. There has also been a welcome increase in the funding for the rural development programme, RDP. However, it must be pointed out that the form and record of the Government on the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP and the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, under the RDP, is not good. In both cases, we have seen an underspend over the past two years, which were the first two years of the reformed CAP programme. The upshot is that farmers have been missing out on much needed income. The uptake of those schemes was less than what was expected because the schemes were closed prematurely and there was also a delay in commencing them. Fianna Fáil will be pushing in every way possible to ensure that the RDP allocation is spent in full. We will also work to ensure that the aforementioned schemes are reopened and brought up to capacity. In respect of the BDGP in particular, we will seek to ensure, in the context of the underspend from the first two years, that a payment of €200 per cow is made to support our suckler herd, if at all possible. That is our objective in terms of the RDP underspend and the BDGP.

The loan fund is a new departure which will be welcomed by some. It is certainly something which, at EU Commission level, will be seen as a financial instrument that is available to farmers to deal with income volatility. However, it is crucial to ensure that it does not draw from single farm payments or from payments to the various agricultural schemes. While the loan facility is something that farmers will certainly avail of, particularly those who are under financial pressure, there must be a separate scheme or payment for the tillage industry. The Government has indicated in recent days that the loan fund should be the preferred avenue for providing support to tillage farmers, even those who have actually lost their crop this year. I would draw a very strong distinction between those farmers who have actually harvested their crops, although they are under pressure for the fourth year in a row, and those farmers who have not been able to harvest their crop. The former need our support but the latter are in a crisis situation. They have not gone away. They are still out there, dealing with the after effects of the very bad weather this year. They have either not harvested at all or if they have done so in the past few weeks, they have harvested a crop that is worthless. They do not have the cash flow or income to be able to meet their outgoings. This is not confined to specific parts of the country and affects only a minority of tillage farmers, but for them it is a crisis. If they are to be able to continue in the sector, the Government must provide an emergency or crisis fund to support them and to acknowledge the tremendous difficulty they find themselves in.

I wish to touch on the issue of the challenges facing the mushroom sector. The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine met the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Phil Hogan, this morning. My party spokesperson on horticulture and food, Deputy Jackie Cahill, raised the matter of the mushroom sector with the Commissioner. As a party, Fianna Fáil will continue to push this issue. The particular and very immediate pressure on the mushroom sector demands a response from Government to ensure that the sector can survive and pick up again. There is a good future for the mushroom industry in the longer term but it is under very significant pressure at the moment.

There are several other issues on which I look forward to achieving progress and following up.

Deputy Lisa Chambers: Information on Lisa Chambers Zoom on Lisa Chambers I welcome this opportunity to contribute to the debate on budget 2017. There is no doubt that the budget was a test for the minority Government. It was a hurdle that had to be overcome but many in the media and the public generally thought that the Government would fall at this particular hurdle. I very much welcome the fact that we have come through this budget intact. It was an important point in terms of ensuring the stability of our Parliament, making sure that our country continues to be run properly and efficiently and that Parliament continues in situ. It also marks an important turning point in terms of how we conduct the budgetary process.

  We will look back on this particular budget in years to come as a point in history when we really changed how we did our business and when things were done very differently in terms of how we put our budgets together. It is a huge privilege to have played a role in that, to have been here for that budget process and to see it completed. It will be fully completed in the next few weeks. In terms of the budget process in question, I sat on the new Committee on Budgetary Oversight, the first of its kind in this country. That committee allowed for cross-party influence and participation in the budget process, which is not the norm and which had never been done before. The idea behind that was to take away the big-bang effect of budget day and to ensure that there would be no surprises.

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