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Budget Statement 2019 (Continued)

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 973 No. 2

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  4 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty] This would have enabled patients to be seen for free in a timely manner and not be forced to wait weeks for an appointment or be forced to attend an emergency department for treatment. General practitioners are the cornerstone of our primary care services and we must ensure that we have a supply of GPs for the whole of the State. However, the Government completely ignores their concerns and opinions and has done nothing to tackle the capacity crisis in primary care. Expanding primary care must be the start of a long-term plan of investment in health, towards a truly universal system based on need and we must have the capacity to deliver that. If the Government was serious about free GP care, it would have delivered on this but it is not serious and it did not do so.

The only end point for our health service is a universal system of world-class care, free at the point of need for every Irish citizen as a birthright. If we want a system truly worthy of the compassion and duty of care Irish citizens show one another, then the Government has to fund it and fund it in a sustainable and long-term manner. The Minister was faced with the choice today to sustainably address the systematic problems that were the result of underfunding the health service over many years and he chose to engage in the same type of voodoo economics that drove us to financial ruin more than a decade ago. The Minister's actions today regarding the health service put the future sustainability of this most essential public service at even greater risk.

Childcare costs are increasing faster than subsidies are matching them. Despite the measures introduced today, which are welcome, many families will continue to pay the equivalent of a second mortgage. With the exception of what citizens must pay for a fundamentally broken system of housing provision, childcare is now a primary burden on family incomes. In fact for many people, overwhelmingly Irish women, the only means by which it can be avoided is to sacrifice their career ambitions. This says to these women that their lives are not equal. How many careers were set aside because care for children was simply out of reach? Tackling the cost of childcare is one thing, but introducing meaningful reform to the sector is also important.

Sinn Féin proposed slashing the cost of childcare in half but most importantly, we would also make an allocation to make the minimum entry level wage for childcare workers a real, living wage. This would be a core component of a new and comprehensive sector-wide agreement that would improve working conditions and quality of service across providers in the State. Furthermore, we also would increase capitation grants to childcare providers next year to enhance core funding and drive quality improvements. These are the decisions needed to give Irish people the public services they deserve and have earned, having endured the Government's austerity programmes for years.

There are many challenges as we face into the uncertainty of Brexit. If recent weeks are anything to go by, the DUP-Tory alliance is hell-bent on inflicting as much economic damage on this island as is within its power. Citizens' rights must be protected and businesses need certainty. This will be one of the biggest political and economic challenges of a generation and the Irish people need a proactive Government, willing to step in and invest in their needs. This is with or without a hardening of Britain’s Border in Ireland. Whatever the outcome of Brexit, the outcome for Ireland will not be good. As a priority, we need to do all that we can to prepare the economy for many rocky Brexit years ahead. This means investing more into education across all levels. This means capital investment and it means investing in the full potential of small and medium-sized businesses on this island. These are urgent objectives for the Government and this budget shows another missed opportunity to achieve them. What is needed to help upgrade the capacity of small and medium-sized businesses is a further investment in their digital profile. One fifth of businesses have no digital presence whatever and one third cannot process orders online, but nothing in this budget will give struggling small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, such backing. This budget needed to drive productivity among small businesses at a time of uncertainty. Making research and development tax credits more accessible to small enterprises would be of vital importance to their fortunes in the future, as would increasing from 25% to 30% the rate at which they can benefit. These are measures which Sinn Féin proposed but against which the Minister turned his face. If this is a Brexit budget, and it must be, then it has failed to give the investment needed to get our economic house in order. Sinn Féin would have increased funding to Enterprise Ireland to a record €300 million, with an increased allocation of €27 million, and would have increased support for IDA Ireland to continue to drive foreign direct investment in difficult times ahead, particularly in the regions. That needs to be done, however, with the support of others.

While this budget delivers a €1.5 billion increase in capital spending this year, that is barely enough to undo the damage done by years of neglect by this Government, when we had the lowest investment in capital among our EU competitors. Having allowed this bottleneck to develop, there also are doubts about the Government's ability to deliver on this spending. To give real certainty to any capital plans, this budget needed to invest in a new generation of Irish workers. It needed thousands of more people learning trades and getting involved in apprenticeships; more than the Government has forecast. It needed investment to support these positions and to encourage more women to learn these essential skills. It failed to deliver on any of this and has not been ambitious enough in this regard.

As part of Brexit, there is an opportunity to develop a long-term and more sustainable vision for Irish industry and enterprise. Unsurprisingly, it is an opportunity not seized in this budget. The productivity gap between booming multinationals and our indigenous sector is growing. In many ways, this is creating two economies on our island with a high-profit, high-wage and extremely low-tax environment for billionaire tech firms and a much lower-wage, less productive cohort of small and medium businesses whose biggest markets and opportunities for growth are now receding from the world. In recent years the exports of small enterprises on this island have become increasingly concentrated in Britain and the United States, the President of the latter referring to these exports as his "foe".

World-class public services must be supported by a dynamic and cutting-edge private sector but it must be socially responsible, rooted in community and one in which workers have a real stake. Sinn Féin wants to rebalance our economy and we believe Ireland and its workers deserve a new and ambitious industrial policy. This must rebalance meaningful and productive economic activity to ensure it takes place in every community on our island. As the damaging impact of Brexit becoming increasingly clear, there is increased urgency for the development of a more stable vision for our economy with more stable and transparent economic growth, more stable and dependable corporate tax receipts, a greater diversity of more reliable export markets and the attraction of high-level value-added operations to our Border, rural and western hinterlands. Now is the time to invest and to give Irish business and Irish citizens a bold vision for the future.

When support is needed, it will be needed most of all for the most vulnerable in society. The Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach have said many times that this budget will reverse all cuts to social protection payments made in the past. This is simply untrue. What about the blatant discrimination against young people in search of work? Is their need of a basic income any less than someone a year or two older than them? People aged between 18 and 24 years are expected to live on €112.70 a week, while almost 8,000 of them are long-term unemployed. This is pushing them further into poverty. The Government has continued Fianna Fáil's discrimination against young people and has widened the gap between young jobseekers and those over 26 years by €92.70.

What about social welfare recipients suffering from coeliac disease who used to get a little supplement to help towards the high cost of their medically necessary diet or those suffering from throat cancer and stroke forced on to a liquid-only diet? The Government abolished that supplement back in 2014, yet the Minister did not reverse the cut. While the Minister has increased social welfare payments, he is forcing those living from week to week to wait until March to access it. The Government has not completely reversed the so-called era of austerity cuts; it is prolonging some of the most vicious cuts made to social welfare. While the Government finally invested some of what is needed in people, the Minster should not pretend that it is nearly enough to cope with the costs of living being forced on them. The Minister should not pretend that he has not prolonged the suffering of people with disabilities, lone parents and their children by making them wait until March when he is ready to pay them. Nevertheless, the Minister carries on with the spin that his is the party for those in need. Fianna Fáil brought forward a motion in April that was passed by this House to provide an occupational pension for 1,250 community employment, CE, supervisors and assistant supervisors in line with a 2008 Labour Court recommendation. Clearly Fianna Fáil did not bother to negotiate for this in this budget. Instead those CE supervisors who gave so much to their local communities will be left with nothing to show for it at retirement. That is a disgrace and shows the two-faced politics of that party.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty Sinn Féin welcomes confirmation of the Christmas bonus this year. It will go some way towards lifting the hardship of families at a crucial time. This is during a time of year when many citizens across the State become more vulnerable and their State must be there to offer a helping hand. This is especially true for those who consistently endure fuel poverty throughout the harshest months of the year. The evidence also points to growing hardship among one-parent families, those facing in-work poverty, and citizens with disabilities.

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