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Budget Statement 2018 (Continued)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 1

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  8 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] It would have brought in a lot of money but the Government is not interested in that either. There are many things it is not interested in that it could have done. I welcome that the pupil-teacher ratio is to be reduced by one pupil. Everything is a step in the right direction. We could not do everything together, but we had massive opportunities today.

The mental health forum has described the budget as hugely disappointing. The European anti-poverty agency is shocked by it. The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, said it did nothing to support the farmers in respect of the volatility in their incomes. There could be imaginative ideas in the tax accounting figures; there could be money carried over from one year to the next. The work is weather-bound - with bad weather they cannot make profits - and it is a very serious challenge for the industry.

The Government has done absolutely nothing for mental health. All the Deputies are wearing badges today, and I am sorry I do not have one, but it is a token. What are we doing for the people who cannot get services? What are we doing for the people who found the doors of St. Michael's Hospital in Clonmel locked and are left with no proper services? This is no reflection on those working on the front line. Deputy Healy-Rae talked about that too.

There is scant recognition, although we are talking about an Ireland of opportunities. As I told the Taoiseach the other morning during the statements of sympathy on the death of the late Mr. Liam Cosgrave, he saw an Ireland of opportunity. He is gone a long time from this House, as is his son, and others. Where are the opportunities? We need to have equal opportunity and we need some modicum of fair play. We need to allow the people who want to get up and go to work - the people who get up early in the morning according to the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar - to enjoy some modicum of respect for what they do, for their input, the way they raise their families, the way they contribute to charities, and for the way they contribute to everything in urban and rural Ireland. Take the volunteerism out of Ireland and we might as well close the curtains because it will fall down if we are depending on the public services with the drastic cuts and the lack of initiative and the mealy-mouthed little bits of support they get.

The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is working in a very difficult area, the drugs area. We are not doing anything really meaningful to tackle the problem. The education area again is crying out for support for early intervention, as is the health area with audiology reports and the waiting lists for ophthalmology. There are many different services but they are all cut to the bone. It is acceptable now to have to wait two years for a first audiology appointment in Clonmel. It is an accepted thing to have a waiting list of three or four years for hip and cataract operations and everything else. It is a scandal.

Where is the Government's moral compass? The Government must not have one because if it did, it would not be talking about giving the man who gets up early a euro. It is an insult. I would not give that to a child now because he or she would not get three lollipops for it. It is less than a fiver. The Minister of State knows it as well as I do. She and her colleagues have children and grandchildren and relations. I do not know where the Government's moral compass is gone but it is certainly not in this budget or here today.

Why could we not be imaginative? What is the big deal with balancing the books all of a sudden? Many of us cannot balance our books, but we have managed to survive a long time in business although the banks are no help to us either. We keep the show on the road and we work very hard. Many housewives are keeping the show on the road and there are single parents trying to rear their families and all kinds of families. The Government has victimised the people who stay at home to look after their families. It is going to become taboo next. People will be fined, I suppose, if they do not go out and put their children into child care. The Government should support the stay-at-home people. It should support small businesses and the ordinary working man and the ordinary people who allowed this country to recover and will stimulate it. These people are not the fat cats. They are not the equine industry and they are not the big multi-millionaires. It is the ordinary people of Éireann, the ordinary men and women, who since the foundation of the State have put their shoulders to the wheel when it was needed, as have the small farmers and the farming community.

It is not all happening inside the Pale. As I said, the three major investments today were all inside the Pale. Perhaps one of them got as far as the Ceann Comhairle's constituency or part of it - I think it was somewhere near Naas - but beyond that, it is all forgotten. As someone said, we will have to move the Red Cow. We will have to hunt the Red Cow or else have her tested for TB and put down because we are getting nothing outside the Red Cow. It is just scant talk and speeches. There is €5 million extra for the Taoiseach and his new entertainment team, Skype and all kinds of communications, but we could not find €5 million to give back to the volunteers who raise money to provide equipment that the Government and the Minister of State's Department should be providing. There is something rotten in the state of Denmark but this is what we do. We give €5 million for spin, and we will get plenty more spin for the next week with this budget, but if the Government Deputies keep spinning, someday they will fall off the spinning top and they know where they will end up.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Thank you, Deputy.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae Keep him going, a Cheann Comhairle.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy I am sharing time with Deputies Eamon Ryan and Seamus Healy.

This Government does a lot of talking about opportunities. Today was an opportunity for bold and brave vision, and an opportunity to take Ireland on a new path. However, today the Government decided to let those opportunities go to waste, choosing instead to try to please as many groups as possible in some small way rather than focusing on targeted measures which could achieve real and substantial change. Let us be clear that there are elements of this budget which are to be welcomed, but it is very much a budget that is focused on the next general election rather than the next generation. It is a skin-saving budget for Fine Gael, designed to pacify its natural voter base and its Government partners, including Fianna Fáil, rather than show ambition for the future.

Before I get into any of the specifics, it is incumbent on me to once again raise the issue of our debt burden. It is the fourth largest debt burden in the OECD and the cost of servicing it runs into billions every year. We are hamstrung by it because it forces us to operate within a limited fiscal space. While we agree that we should balance the books on the current side, we very much feel that the capital side needs to be severely challenged.

Once again, we were regaled with tales of the rainy day fund, this thing that has been mooted for the past number of years as if it actually exists. The reality is that, even after today's budget, the so-called rainy day fund will not see its first penny until 2019. I remind the House that we originally had the National Pensions Reserve Fund, which was really our rainy day fund. It was emptied to fund the banking crisis, leaving us struggling to fund pensions into the future. What constitutes a rainy day anyway? I look around at the scale of the housing crisis and I see 3,000 children in emergency accommodation. I do not see a rainy day but a tsunami that is here now, and not coming in the future.

The same can be said of many of our other public services. The Minister flamboyantly spoke about what he called "the continued delivery of sustainable and high quality public services". I am curious to know what high quality public services the Minister was actually referring to because so many of our public services are threadbare. We see it every week with people coming into our constituency offices and showing us the failures in the system. One could describe many of our public services as delivering mediocrity at best. We have a health system that is creaking with waiting lists for basic procedures that would make one's eyes water. We have a public transport system that is disjointed and grossly underfunded. While I welcome the projects that were specifically mentioned today, the truth is that they are not new announcements. Many of them have been announced previously. The Luas cross-city project is about to go live. Some of the announcements we need are about putting vision into our capital funding. The real game changer in the greater Dublin area, for example, would be the DART underground project but that piece is missing.

It is about spending now to save later. I asked Department of Finance officials at the Committee of Public Accounts recently how much it would cost us in hard cash for missing our climate targets. The reply I got was €600 million annually from 2021. We need to spend now to save later. We need to invest in the kind of initiatives that are about having a vision that will save later on.

There are many things to be lauded in our education system, but we need to continue to invest in it. There is much talk about free education but families in late August and early September will tell the Government exactly what free education means. This affects poorer families and for them it is almost embarrassing because they may be trying to stretch out getting things that are needed. A provision of €100 million a year would provide totally free primary education. That is the kind of investment that would put money back into people's pockets in a different way from tax cuts, and would be very targeted.

The political hot potato is obviously the housing system, although listening to the Minister's speech today one would be forgiven for thinking that housing does not actually count as a public service.


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