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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 Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins] I urge the Minister of State and every other politician present to examine this matter. Would any of us wait three months for our wages? I do not believe we would.

I am glad to see that an additional 250 jobs will be introduced through the rural social scheme next year. How are these going to be allocated? I urge the Minister of State to consider west Cork. The last time these jobs came on stream, my constituency received the lowest number despite being the largest area covered. While the additional jobs are great, the devil is definitely in the detail.

The €2.50 is a positive step towards reinstating the telephone rental allowance for the elderly, but the Government should keep it in mind for further increases in next year's budget. Many of my constituents who rely heavily on the telephone to call their friends and families felt it was an added security measure where mobile phone and broadband coverage has been weak. While the increase is welcome, €2.50 will not get them far with today's expensive landline-to-mobile calls. Where would €2.50 go on a telephone bill per week?

Recently, I met INTO delegates to discuss with them their pre-budget submission. While it is good that the pupil-teacher ratio has been reduced to 26:1 and 1,300 new teaching posts are to be created, I am disappointed that there has been no increase in the primary capitation grant. Many schools are struggling to cover costs and they rely heavily on parents fundraising. The Government promised an annual increase in the capitation grant in the programme for Government. Why has it not kept its promise?

The additional €2.5 million for the Irish language and Gaeltacht affairs is welcome. The Gaeltacht islands, such as Cape Clear in my constituency, will be glad of that. However, I am disappointed that islanders who have sought a chaperone to accompany children to school on the mainland have been forgotten about. There seems to be no budget for this. Many of my constituents spend hours every day taking their kids off the islands to school in the morning, returning to the island and then heading back to the mainland again in the afternoon to collect their kids because all schools on the likes of Sherkin Island have been closed. Keeping this up is unsustainable for those parents because they are unable to maintain their jobs at the same time.

I am disappointed that the equalisation between the earned income tax credit and the PAYE tax credit that the Irish Farmers Association sought has not happened and that the Government's promise to deliver this by 2018 was not kept.

I have called for increased funding in the targeted agricultural modernisation schemes, TAMS, and investment aid in horticulture but I do not see how these calls have been delivered upon. That is disappointing. I pushed hard on the beef data genomics programme where an increase in funding to the tune of €25 million was needed. This does not seem to have materialised. Was there any additional funding for sheep welfare, which is a significant issue for many farmers in my constituency?

The budget contains further incentives for solar farms but 200 solar farms have already gone through an unregulated planning system. It is time to stop giving a free run to companies in erecting solar farms under the noses of ordinary residents. This is a major cause of concern in my constituency, especially in Kinsale, Bandon and Enniskeane, given that no planning regulation is in place. While I support and acknowledge the importance of the uptake of renewable energies, I call for the immediate introduction of regulations in respect of these solar farms before any other funding is allocated.

Youth Work Ireland and Scouting Ireland are two excellent organisations that work with young people up and down the country. I have not seen much help for the likes of them materialising in today's budget allocation to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. While I am delighted with the extension of the preschool year to two full years, I am disappointed that organisations for teenagers and young adults have not received much, or any, additional funding.

Many people are calling this "The Late Late Show" budget, with something for everyone in the audience but not much for anyone.

Deputy Michael Harty: Information on Michael Harty Zoom on Michael Harty The budget is an extensive document and it is difficult to deal with each issue comprehensively, so I will only address a number of them.

One topic three quarters of the way through the Budget Statement related to a VAT compensation scheme for charities. I am delighted that this has finally been introduced. Last year, the then Minister for Finance undertook to review this matter. I am happy that it has been included in this year's budget. A review group was set up in 2015 to examine it. The current Minister has decided on a Danish model of VAT compensation involving a budgetary fund. He has placed €5 million in that fund, which will be made available for charities to reclaim VAT on funds that they have raised through public donations. Charities have consistently raised funds by selling flags, holding street collections, selling lines and organising public events, so paying 23% VAT on those raised funds seemed quite wrong. It was a tax collection system in respect of charities. It reduced the amount of money that they could spend on their services, which were often delivered on behalf of the Government. As such, introducing a VAT compensation scheme in the budget is a positive measure. It will give certainty to charities over the funds that they raise in future. I hope the fund of €5 million will be built up year on year so that charities that claim VAT will get most, if not all, of their VAT back. Unfortunately, €5 million will not be sufficient to allow all charities to claim their VAT back but it is a start and I welcome the Minister's introduction of this scheme. Many people have worked on this matter over the years. I thank the Minister for listening to my representations on the scheme over the past year. It is an important component of the budget.

Budgets are set pieces and we want to know how much money will be allocated in them, but it is more important to consider how the allocated money is spent. In this regard, I will refer in particular to our health spending. The Minister has announced a €685 million increase in the health budget, representing a 5% increase in health spending. However, when one takes the demographic changes into account - a growing population, the increasing age of that population and the growth in demand that these two factors place on our health budget - that 5% increase is rapidly whittled away. The entire 5% will be taken up by demographic considerations in the budget. The increase is just keeping pace with spending.

The increase does not address the legacy issues that have built up in our health service over the years either. We have a large waiting list for elective care with almost 100,000 patients awaiting elective hospital procedures. Some of these are serious procedures. We have a list of more than 500,000 people waiting for outpatient appointments. We have a bed shortage in our hospitals given that more than 1,500 beds have been removed from the system in spite of a growing population. We need to view the increase of €685 million in that context. We need a large increase in bed capacity, including ICU beds, which play a critical role in allowing patients to have surgical procedures.

We need to consider how we are funding our health service. Each day, almost 500 people are on trolleys. A trolley count has become institutionalised. It peaks every winter. Last year, it peaked at 612. This year, it will peak above that.

None of the €685 million will address these issues. We need health reform. The Sláintecare report was published last May but there was not one mention of it in the Minister's speech. The report contained a reference to transitional funding, which we need to build into our health service over and above our current spending. The budget makes no mention of transitional funding to deal with the legacy issues in our health service.

We need to consider how we are spending our money and not just the gross amount offered in the budget. The budget mentions employing 1,800 staff. We all know the difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff in our health service. To recruit 1,800 staff will be a mammoth task and significant challenge for our health service.

The budget makes reference to a €90 million access plan.

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