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Budget Statement 2019 (Continued)

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 973 No. 2

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Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry The longest in the history of the world.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Indeed, possibly the longest in the history of the world. We have emergency legislation in an economy that is recording record growth rates, where the Government is boasting about the level of economic growth and where corporate profits have doubled since the Government came into power from €77 billion to €144 billion. Some people in the economy are doing well but still it appears we need emergency legislation to keep the pay of public sector workers down, which is outrageous. The problem is not just that it is unfair on those workers but unless the inequality and unfairness are addressed, we will not get people to return to the health sector, in particular, to education or to other key areas of the public service where we need them.

I will give a few more examples of the miserable give back in the budget for ordinary working people. A single public servant on €25,000 will get an extra 51 cent - whoopee. They will be dancing in the aisles for that one. It would not even get them a cup of coffee. A couple, with one on the average industrial wage of €39,000 and a partner on €31,000, with two children and struggling to pay the rent and childcare, will get a grand total of €3.50 per week, just about the price of a cup of coffee. That is what the Government is giving back to working people.

Then we have education, which is very serious. The budget has increased the capitation grant to schools by 5% but this still leaves it at €22 less than it was in 2008 when the State started to cut. Even with this 5% increase, which brings it up to €178.50 per pupil, it is still less than the €200 it was back in 2008. So much for a recovery for our schoolchildren and for the funding we desperately need. As a consequence, there has been no move on pupil-teacher ratios in our desperately overcrowded schools, which are among the most overcrowded in the western world. One of the biggest failures in the budget is in the area of third level education. This is quite shocking. We have just had reports that this year our universities are again tumbling in the world rankings. The Government has boasted it will have 15,000 more places in higher and further education, 3,500 additional places in undergraduate education, which sounds good, and 18,500 additional people going into higher level education. One would think this would require additional funding. Do Members know how much additional funding will go into higher education? It is 1%, at €13 million more than allocated last year. This is supposed to cover 18,500 additional students in third level education. This means the amount going into further and third level education per student will drop significantly, when there is a crisis in investment and funding already and we are tumbling down the world rankings in universities and higher education. This is a serious problem. One does not have to be a socialist or a radical to understand what this means for the future capacity of the country to develop a sustainable economy or to withstand the inevitable shocks we will face.

We had a report this week stating the climate crisis is even worse than the worst imaginings we had previously. Ireland is one of the worst performers in addressing climate change. It is not meeting its climate change targets and it will face hundreds of millions of euro in fines in the coming years because of its failure to meet its emission targets. What do we get in budget? Next to nothing. One thing I will concede, and it is something we have been campaigning for strongly over the past five years, is that extra money has been provided in the area of forestry. I acknowledge this, and I am glad it is happening, but if it is not linked to breaking from the current industrial model of forestry and the monocultural model of the Sitka spruce, it will not deal with the environmental problems. It will cause as many environmental problems as it will solve. We need to link any additional funding and forestry to the development of native and broadleaf species-----

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger Yes.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett -----and not to the monocultural industrial model, which is damaging the environment. The extra money is welcome but a radical change in policy is needed.

A key area where the Government could do something to address emissions is public transport but there is nothing radical or changing in the budget. Even with the small bit of additional funding, there will be significantly fewer subsidies going into the bus system than there were in 2008 when the cuts started. The BusConnects plan contains no serious investment in additional bus capacity, which means robbing Peter to pay Paul and taking buses out of one area to put them on more profitable routes in another area without increasing the capacity of the bus service. It contains nothing radical to encourage people to get out of their cars. In fact, more people will have to get into their cars if the BusConnects plan goes ahead because certain areas, particularly those with elderly and less mobile people, will lose public service routes. People in my area will have to get into cars to go to St. Vincent's hospital because there will be no direct route. They will have to get two buses and then walk a hell of a lot further than they would have had with the direct bus. They will have to get into cars. What the Government could have done, which is what we proposed and what has been done in other countries such as Estonia, is make public transport free. It would cost €580 million but, by God, it would be a good investment. It would cut CO2 emissions. If we also increased public transport subsidies to EU levels and increased the bus fleet by approximately 500 or, even better, by approximately 1,000 buses, then we would have a public transport system that people would use and it would make a difference to congestion and CO2 emissions.

Social welfare and dealing with the most vulnerable in our society is a dismal picture. There is a small increase in the back to school allowance but it is still less than it was in 2008. Ten years on, we are still giving less to poor, vulnerable and less well-off families, who are crucified by the cost of sending children back to school at this time of the year. The back to school allowance was always inadequate but people are still being given less than they received in 2008 when all the cuts started. With regard to teenage poverty, nothing has been done about the apartheid under 26 half-rate for young jobseekers. There have been small increases in the qualified child allowances but the Vincentians, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and other groups state it is not nearly enough to deal with child poverty or to cover the cost for lower income families of bringing up children. Child benefit is still below 2008 levels by a significant margin. The amount for one child is still €26 less than it was in 2008, the amount for two children is still €52 less than it was in 2008 while the amount for three children is €115 less than it was in 2008. The income disregard for single parents, who are one of the most disadvantaged groups in society, is still less than it was when it was introduced 21 years ago in 1997. There is still no restoration in terms of the cuts visited on loan parents.

We could state the catalogue of the budget's failures to address the serious issues of the housing crisis, a crumbling health service, galloping climate change, a crisis in education and inequality and deprivation in our society might be forgivable if there was no money to address it and there was no money to go around.


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