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Budget Statement 2018 (Continued)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 1

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  7 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly] Some 65% of the homeless are lone parents. The Government can make an announcement about more money going into child care but there must be a transformation of child care from a poorly regulated, market-based scheme to a fully available public service, as there is in other jurisdictions such as Denmark where, as a result of the state providing child care in a similar way to how we provide school education, it has the fifth highest level of female participation in the workforce in the OECD. They are the types of initiatives we should be considering.

One can bandy around figures, and we all do it, and it can sound good but when it trickles down into the real lives of people, it has a tendency not to be that good. We are doing many things wrong. Consider our prison service, on which we spend hundreds of millions every year. In many cases, people who are spending tonight in prison are people who previously, perhaps, would have been in a psychiatric hospital and would have had support for the other problems they have or they are people suffering from drug problems whose addiction causes them to blight the communities in which they live. However, what do we do for them? We expensively lock them behind a prison door and do not deal with the issues that caused them to be there in the first place, such as the systemic poverty and the dislocated backgrounds most people in prison come from. Instead, we have a scenario where, according to a report produced this week, there were 8,500 drug seizures in the 14 Irish prisons in the last seven years. We have cut €1 million from drug treatment facilities in the prisons yet the people who are going into the prisons have addiction problems that cause them to carry out crimes, which is a further cost on society. It costs nearly €70,000 to keep a woman in prison for a year. However, 90% of women in prison are there for the short term, for non-violent, minor offences. When a woman goes to prison, unlike, in the main, when a man goes to prison, she often ends up losing her home. Her children must be cared for by the extended family or go into care in other jurisdictions. The cost to society, both in the short and longer term, is immense.

We are not examining any of these issues. We throw a couple of million here and 100 million there to get a headline or news flash and then go home and forget about it. There are systemic problems in our State and they come back to the point I made at the start, that we consistently spend less and tax less than most of our European Union peers. It is a fact. It does not mean that the ordinary citizens who cannot get by now should be fleeced. They should not. The figures show that in the case of consumption taxes and so forth, which are incredibly regressive and affect the poorest people in the State, Irish people pay €200 per head more than their European peers. The poorest people in Ireland pay way more than their peers in Europe, but the richest people pay way less than their peers. Unless we bridge that gap the problems we have will continue, including the inadequate access to health care, education and decent pensions and, critically, the fact that there are people on the streets tonight who will not have a roof over their heads and that families will be obliged to share accommodation intergenerationally and with strange families. It is like a return to the years of the tenements. Sadly, nothing in this budget will address that.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae First, I must take the opportunity to thank the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, for the proactive way he has dealt with the problems we have in County Kerry. I thank him for accepting my invitation to visit Kerry during the summer and for the assistance he has given us on two projects. I also wish to thank him in advance for the announcement he will be making in the near future. I wish to be the first to do that.

Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran: Information on Kevin Boxer Moran Zoom on Kevin Boxer Moran The Deputy is.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae The Minister of State is the right man in the right place and the longer he sits in his current seat, the better.

First, all day today I have been receiving calls from people who are in receipt of various payments and are due to receive an increase in those payments. They have been asking me why some increases are being implemented at midnight tonight but they must wait until next March for their increases. It is a fair question. We all know the reason but it is unfair for people who are struggling, whether they have disabilities, are elderly or whatever their personal circumstances. It is awful that they must wait for so long even though they must start paying the increases after midnight tonight. That point should be made.

I went through the budget in great detail to see if there was anything in the health budget that would help people whose lives are dependent on necessary drugs. They are living from week to week at present. I refer in particular to the people who are waiting for the drug Respreeza, which treats a lung illness. Unfortunately, they were notified by the drug company that the drug treatment plan was going to be discontinued at the end of September. They are now living from week to week, with some of them running on reserves and others having nothing. These are serious issues and I had hoped they would be dealt with in the budget. We must take care of people who are relying on a drug to keep them alive, whatever the cost. I have said repeatedly here that we cannot put a price on a human being's life. We cannot tell somebody that it is costing too much to continue to provide them with their drugs. We - the State, the Government and the health service - should not be allowed to do that. Every person's life is extremely important.

I have been studying the sugar tax very closely. It is another tax and when something like this is created it might be with the intention of doing something good. There is much talk about obesity, people's weight and so forth. However, I do not believe one can legislate for people's behaviour. If they want to eat too much or drink a sugary drink, I do not see taxing that as a solution. I have studied what Mr. Kevin McPartland from the Irish Beverage Council has said on this and noted his views. He opposes such a tax, and I believe he is right. The group he represents is right. Putting 30 cent on drinks with more than 8 g of sugar per 100 ml is ridiculous. We are simply putting another unwanted burden of taxation on families. That is not right. I do not believe it will make a difference to people's use of sugary drinks.

The same applies to increasing the cost of cigarettes. I said in the House many years ago that I would be happier if nobody in Ireland smoked a cigarette. However, it is a free country and people smoke them. It is not an illegal activity. They are perfectly entitled to smoke. I do not agree with increasing the price of a packet of cigarettes for the working or retired man or woman. It is a choice for people to make themselves if they wish to smoke. It is a free country. However, I do not believe we should continuously tax something people wish to do. Where does one finish with the taxation? I do not agree with it.

On behalf of the people of County Kerry, who I am glad to represent in the Dáil, I welcome the retention of the VAT rate for restaurants, pubs and the hospitality sector. There are great towns in County Kerry such as Killarney, the tourism capital of the world, Killorglin, Dingle, Kenmare and Tralee. They are the finest towns and can compete with any place in the western world or anywhere in the world. These places give great employment and great value for people who visit our county, be they from around Ireland, Europe or elsewhere in the world.

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