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Budget Statement 2018 (Continued)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae] We do not want the VAT rate to be changed because hotels in Dublin believe they can charge what they like. Hotels in County Kerry are competitive and offer value for money. I am not being critical of hotels in Dublin but we must call a spade a spade. They are very expensive and charge whatever they like on weekends when concerts or other events take place, which is not right.

  I like to hear what people have to say and the did a survey this evening in which visitors to the website were asked whether they felt were better off, worse off or their circumstances were unchanged after the budget. Some 46% of respondents indicated they did not feel better or worse off. While they did not say their circumstances were disimproving, they did not believe they were improving. This is the view of people on the ground.

  Considering the improvement in the economy and that the Government had some money, albeit not an awful lot, to play with, why in the name of God did the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection not insist that the bereavement grant be reintroduced? On one day last week, I received five calls from people in genuine need because they owed money to undertakers who specifically asked me whether a bereavement grant was available. I was sorry to tell them that one of the decisions of the previous Government, which was known for its high-handed and outrageous behaviour because it had a large majority, was to abolish the grant. I am grateful to Fianna Fáil for entering into a confidence and supply arrangement with the Government and Independent Members such as the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, who supported the Government because we needed a Government.

  Why does the Government not accept that it has been humbled and reintroduce the bereavement grant? People find themselves in genuine need when a death occurs. Households face unprecedented bills which they cannot afford to pay. These are honourable people who want to pay their bills. The bereavement grant should have been introduced in the budget. I respectfully ask the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, to urge his Government colleagues to reintroduce the grant in some shape or form even at this late stage and however they manage to do it. We all know things can happen at a later time and I ask that this be done now.

  I appreciate the funding provided to community employment schemes over the years and the great work these schemes have done. Last night, I travelled around south Kerry with my nephew, Johnny, and we visited Caherdaniel, Castlecove, Sneem, Waterville, Valentia, Portmagee, Ballinskelligs, Kells and Glenbeigh. We were everywhere.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Did the Deputy have the military with him?

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae No, that will be later on. Travelling around the area, we saw the value of community employment schemes because in many of these places there is little else besides a little farming and tourism. On that point, I thank the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, for helping us with the filming of "Star Wars". The area is now all the rage and everyone is blowing about how good the film is, which is true. I acknowledge the work the Minister did at a critical time. When I told her we needed this, that and the other, she did what I asked. This means an awful lot of money for south Kerry, the county and Ireland, and I hope we will reap the rewards.

To return to community employment, the more money we invest in these schemes, the better, because they help the communities, the environment and individuals. Small farmers and others need a little extra income. The Minister of State comes from humble beginnings and will know what it is like to need a bit of a boost every week. Whether the sum involved is €150, €190, €220 or €250 extra per week, it can be the difference between surviving and being unable to survive.

The more money that can be invested in fibre optic broadband in our communities, the better, because it will help small businesses and households to create employment for themselves. It will also assist with education, which is the backbone of everything. If we cannot educate our young people, we will have nothing. I thank the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, for the work he has done on this terribly important issue to date.

How am I doing for time?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Deputy is over time.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae I would like to continue but I do not want to encroach on my colleagues' time.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins While I welcome many aspects of the budget, I fear the devil will be in the detail and we will not see what will really happen until the coming weeks, as has been the case many times previously.

I sincerely hope the Government's actions to relieve the pressure on housing will work. Whether one lives in Castletownbere, Bantry, Bandon, Dunmanway or Clonakilty, the story is the same - there is huge demand for housing and a complete lack of houses.

I welcome an increase of €9.6 million in transport funding for road infrastructure. I note, however, that the Oberstown interchange and Sallins bypass will receive funding. I wonder if any investment will made in roads outside the greater Dublin area. For far too long, roads in west Cork and other rural areas have been left behind. I refer, for example, to the N71 from Inishannon to Ballydehob, the R581 from Bandon to Castletownbere, and the R582 from Coppeen Road. In terms of our road network, Cork South West is simply and sadly closed for business.

It was great to hear the Minister speak of investment in bus services with the aim of making the public bus service faster and more efficient. The biggest issue facing my constituents is whether they can get any type of bus. I ask the Minister to consider rural areas beyond the Pale for investment. Unfortunately, without the hard-working organisation, Local Link, people in my constituency would not know what a bus was.

I welcome the recruitment of 800 new gardaí and an additional 500 lay staff to work in the Garda next year. When these jobs materialise, I hope Garda stations that were closed in recent years, such as Ballinspittle, Goleen and Adrigole Garda stations in west Cork, will be reopened. These closures had no benefit in terms of saving money, as they resulted in an increase in rural crime and theft and left people fearful in their homes. Does the budget provide for the reopening of any of these Garda stations?

The decrease by €10 in the threshold for the drugs payment scheme is also welcome as it will help in a small way to alleviate pressure on middle income earners.

The increase in the health budget by €685 million is most certainly necessary. However, the devil will be in the detail. I will await publication of details on where and to whom the additional funding will be allocated. Will any funding be allocated to Bantry General Hospital? Today, in an extremely serious development, a top consultant at the hospital whose patients travel from as far away as Cork city and rural County Kerry to have operations performed in the state-of-the-art surgery at the hospital, found out that his contract may not be renewed. It is feared by many people that scheduled operations, such as biopsies and scopes, will not proceed and this development is the first step in the closure of the hospital's surgical theatre. It is an outrageous attack on every single person in west Cork. Funding must be found immediately to prevent the theatre's closure.

I also hope hard working, self-employed and farming families who have been discriminated against in the nursing home support or fair deal scheme will receive some help and the Minister will take into account aspects of the motion on the fair deal scheme tabled by the Rural Independent Group and rejected by the Government last July.

The increase in the carer's allowance will be gladly accepted. We must acknowledge the great work done by family carers. A number of concerned constituents who visited my clinics recently indicated they had been waiting 15 weeks for a payment to come through.

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