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Budget Statement 2018 (Continued)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 1

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  2 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe] Later this year, as has already been announced, the Government will publish the national investment plan and the national planning framework. These initiatives, which will work together, will outline where we believe, as a country, we should target resources and build capacity so that we can grow sustainably. The consultation process is already under way and I am confident that upon publication, we will have a blueprint for economic and social progress covering the length and breadth of this country.

Conclusion - Building the Republic of Opportunity

  This Government of Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and Independent Deputies-----

Deputies: And Fianna Fáil.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Order, please.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe -----seeks to renew opportunity in our Republic and create new opportunities for our Republic. The budget achieves sustainable and affordable tax reform, delivers improvements in services and ensures increased investment in our national infrastructure. We are broadening our tax base to make it more resilient and secure in the future. As a country, we normally only make these decisions at times of national difficulty. Let us resolve to do this differently now. We are increasing current spending in line with how we expect the economy to grow so that we can continue, step by step, to deliver sustainable improvements for all. Where we are spending more on our schools, hospitals, homes and public transport, we do so to bring a secure, productive and fairer future that bit closer. Our national horizons are now different. Yes, there are risks. Yes, there are challenges. But we have achieved so much and we can, and we will, achieve more. That is why I commend budget 2018 to Dáil Éireann.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I thank the Minister and call Deputy Michael McGrath.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath I wish to share time equally with Deputy Calleary.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath On what is world homeless day, the budget and, more importantly, the Government will be judged by how it tackles the scourge of homelessness and our housing crisis more than by reference to any other issue. Today's budget is introduced in a very positive economic environment but under the dark shadow of escalating crises on the Government's watch in housing and health.

During the stalemate which followed last year's election, Fianna Fáil was the only Opposition party to recognise it had a responsibility to ensure the country had a Government. That remains the inescapable backdrop to the minority Government and the budget. Today's budget includes progress - in some cases modest but progress nonetheless - on many of the key priorities in our confidence and supply agreement. These include reductions in the universal social charge rates with a particular emphasis on low and middle income earners, avoiding the sudden loss of mortgage interest relief for 420,000 mortgage holders, an increase in the tax credit for almost 150,000 self-employed people, €55 million in funding for the National Treatment Purchase Fund, an increase in funding for housing assistance payments, extra funding for current and capital social housing budgets, a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools, ring-fenced funding of €35 million for mental health services in 2018, a further €5 in all weekly social welfare payments, including the old-age pension, as well as increased capital investment in key sectors of the economy. These are just some examples but Deputy Calleary will go into much more detail on the spending side.

This is the second budget introduced under the confidence and supply agreement. It is a budget which we, as a party, have sought to influence in the direction of a fairer Ireland. This means prioritising public services and investment in our economy. We have achieved this with the overall budget day package placing twice the emphasis on public investment over tax reductions. Were it not for our involvement, I do not believe today's budget would have such a mix. The two-to-one split is not a meaningless one. Shaping budgetary policy in this way impacts favourably on the funding of schemes, programmes and services for people nationally. While it would be wrong to overstate what one budget can achieve, especially when resources are limited, we welcome the progress made on many of the commitments we secured in the agreement last year. Last year, we ensured the country received its first progressive budget in six years, a fact confirmed by the then Minister and now Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar. Today's budget builds on that progress towards fairer budgets.

The economy is going well, which we welcome, but there is deep uncertainty about what lies around the corner. There are critical questions on the future. What does Brexit mean for Ireland? What impact will a Trump presidency have on inward investment? What impact will Europe's renewed focus on corporation tax have on Ireland? If these are some of the economic questions, the questions for our society are far more fundamental and significant. The defining feature of the Government so far has been its abysmal failure on housing and health. Some of the figures which will be quoted today are far more important than others. Today, there are 8,270 people in emergency accommodation in Ireland, including 3,048 children. There are 678,438 people on some form or other of hospital waiting list. We remain committed to the political agreement we entered into last year but no one can argue that the Government's performance in housing and health is either acceptable or sustainable. We have been told consistently by the Government that money is not the issue, in particular in respect of housing. If that is so, our message to the Government is very simple: "No more press releases, policy launches or glossy brochures; just get on with it and build the houses the people in our country need". The Government really seems to have run out of ideas in health. In the talks last year, we proposed the reactivation of the National Treatment Purchase Fund, which was resisted at the time by Fine Gael but which appears now to be the centrepiece of its policy to tackle spiralling hospital waiting lists.

No doubt, Sinn Féin will shortly launch a blistering attack on the budget and, I hazard a guess, as was the case last year, an even more blistering attack on Fianna Fáil.


Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley We are putting forward a costed budget.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath They are good at attacking, which is what they do. However, our message to Sinn Féin is a very simple one. It had its chance to influence the Government when it really mattered. The opportunity was there but Sinn Féin bottled it. The party is the classic hurler on the ditch. It is full of opinions and wisdom but when the opportunity comes to don the jersey, take to the field of play and take on some responsibility whether at Westminster, Stormont or in the House, it runs for the hills.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins Hear, hear.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath It is much easier to throw stones from the sidelines rather than to go into the battle and fight one's corner.

Our party welcomes the fact that the economy is doing very well in overall terms. GDP growth was 5.2% last year, will ease to around 4.3% this year and is forecast to soften further to a still healthy 3.5% next year. It must be noted, however, that the Department of Finance forecasts that growth will slow every year between 2016 and 2021, all this against the great unknown which Brexit remains. Growth of 3% to 4% per annum is what we need to maintain. It is a sustainable level which avoids huge pressures and overheating in the economy. While Ireland is not obliged to reach its medium-term fiscal objective in 2018, Fianna Fáil believes the Government is right to seek to do so. Achieving a balanced budget in structural terms next year is a significant milestone which will have been achieved as a result, primarily, of the sacrifices of the Irish people. Beyond 2018, establishing a rainy day fund is the right thing to do. It is a fund on which we can draw when economic conditions are less favourable. Such a fund is a sensible part of budgetary policy and will be a sure sign that we have matured and learned the lessons of the past.

The principal revenue-raising measure in the budget is the increase in commercial stamp duty to 6%. In view of where the economy is at and the use to which the proceeds are being put, we support this increase. We hope the measure will redirect some of the construction capacity being absorbed by the commercial sector into building the homes we need as a country. It is important that where land zoned for residential development is sold and actually built on, this increase in stamp duty will not apply. I welcome the Minister's comments in that regard.

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