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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 Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly] We are talking about approximately €40 million if a change is made. I would like to know from where this money will come.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I apologise for interrupting the Deputy's infectious and vocal contribution but we need to hear from some of his colleagues.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan As the two previous speakers outlined, this is a threadbare budget. It is incredible that so little is being provided for the two crucial areas of health care and housing. As Deputy Kelly noted, the Minister did not even refer to Sláintecare, yet health care is a crucial issue. I could use all of the words in the GUBU acronym to describe the decision but it is unbelievable that on world homelessness day, when there are 500 more children homeless than there were at this time last year, the Minister did not announce an additional allocation for building social housing this year, beyond the funding announced in the Rebuilding Ireland action plan. That this could occur during such a serious housing crisis is incomprehensible. I understand that Fine Gael is a right-wing party but I cannot understand how Fianna Fáil signed off on this budget.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy Fianna Fáil is also a right-wing party.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan Similarly, I cannot understand how so-called left-wing Independent Ministers signed off on it. They were seated to my right during the Minister's speech, which is probably appropriate, and shouting "hear, hear" when he was announcing the housing measures.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin To be fair, that was only the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan No, it was both the Minister of State and his ministerial colleague, Deputy Halligan. They called out "hear, hear" when the Minister announced the small additional allocation for the housing assistance payment, which will go into the pockets of private landlords. With money scarce, a sum of €149 million could be used to fund public housing but will instead go into the pockets of private landlords through the HAP scheme.

In the housing Bill the Labour Party introduced last year, we called on the Government to use the significant resources and expertise of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, to provide social and affordable housing. The Minister announced that NAMA is to be used in the area of housing but for the private sector. We heard cheerleading for his announcement that scarce resources for housing were to be allocated to the private sector. I do not understand the reason for that decision.

More than 3,000 children are homeless and social housing construction is urgently needed. The Government indicated it would provide funding for 3,800 social housing units next year. The Labour Party, in its alternative budget, costed an additional 5,000 social housing units which we would provide next year. The Minister cited figures on social housing to be delivered next year. The construction of some of the social houses to be delivered in my constituency next year started when I was the Minister of State with responsibility for housing and Deputy Kelly was the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. The delivery of public social housing must be accelerated but budget does not set out any measures to achieve this.

Another costed measure in our alternative budget was to provide more than €20 million to local authorities for housing adaptation grants for older people and people with disabilities. The Minister referred to an increase in funding for these grants. Having done the sums, it is clear that any increase will be tiny and will not make a difference. Funding for this purpose would also have linked in with the point Deputy Kelly made about keeping people in their own homes. The budget almost overlooks this type of support.

There were means available to pay for the measures I have proposed. Notwithstanding the words we hear from the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, about a vacant homes tax, the Budget Statement did not make any reference to such a tax. A vacant homes tax would deliver an easy win. Every day, we hear experts on the airwaves and in the media telling us what needs to be done on housing. One of the steps they advocate is to address the issue of vacant homes. However, we still do not have a vacant homes strategy. Pillar 5 of Rebuilding Ireland provides for the introduction of a vacant homes programme in the first quarter of 2017, yet we are now in the fourth quarter of 2017. If we are to believe the census figures, there are nearly 200,000 vacant homes in the State. Even if one believes the more conservative figures that have been provided, a proactive and determined effort by the Government to use vacant homes would deliver substantial progress. We have not seen a strategy on vacant homes and the register of vacant homes has not been completed, although we hear one is being drawn up.

It is incredible that we have not yet seen a proper Government response on the issue of housing. What we have seen has been announcement after announcement and very little delivery. The targets set in Rebuilding Ireland are not being reached. The Minister indicated that €750 million would be provided to the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and NAMA. This money will be used to create a new market vehicle, rather than for social housing. We already have the Housing Finance Agency, which the Labour Party has proposed merging with NAMA to create a vehicle for driving the delivery of public and affordable housing. The Minister pays lips service to the need for local authorities to provide affordable housing as he has not provided an instrument with which they could do so. The cost of housing in parts of the Dublin is so high that it would remain unaffordable even if prices were to reduce by a certain percentage. We hear much talk and many announcements but there are no credible schemes in place to address the housing issue.

The decision to increase stamp duty on commercial property transactions from 2% to 6% is welcome and one which the Labour Party and other parties had proposed. However, the Government has put all of its eggs in one basket in terms of raising money. There is little evidence to suggest the stamp duty increase will deliver the pot of money required. As Deputy Burton stated, people are already placing properties for sale and there will be loopholes in the measure.

The budget does not propose to generate revenue from the banks or from a betting tax, although an increase in the latter had been floated. No additional revenue will be generated from carbon emissions. I am as flabbergasted as others are that the budget contains little or nothing on the green economy or to address our commitments on climate change and the need to create a sustainable future for citizens. These types of revenue raising measures could have delivered the funding we need for areas of the economy and, more important, society that are crying out for spending.

Children will go to bed tonight in hotels. The effect on children's lives of not having a home of their own and experiencing the insecurity of homelessness has been raised by the INTO in the context of children at school. Much more could have been done on this crucial issue.

There appears to be a lack of knowledge about what can and should be done. None of the speakers from the parties that support the Government pointed out that the budget will not address the issues that need to be addressed.

One of the things that bothered me most about the Minister's speech was his reference to the country being in full employment. Economists may measure full employment in terms of a low percentage of people being unemployed, with a higher percentage of people being underemployed. However, there are people who are unemployed and some of the large number of people in part-time employment want to work more hours. I object to the use of the term "full employment" because it shows a lack of understanding of the position in which people find themselves.

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