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Budget Statement 2019 (Continued)

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 973 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] The increase in the disability budget is, of course, welcome but how far will it go to address the huge waiting lists. Young children with special needs are waiting 18 months or more for an assessment of needs but the Disability Act 2015 sets down in law that an assessment must be carried out within three months of application. What good is it having disability legislation and nice platitudes if the Government does not act on them? Even after assessment, children who require access to speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and psychologists are left languishing on long waiting lists, meaning that young children do not receive the early interventions they require so badly. I want a guarantee that extra funding will be put into employing more therapists and urgently reducing these waiting lists. It is a crying shame and an indictment on the Government.

Where is the reintroduction of the mobility allowance and motorised transport grant? The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, railed about it for years when he was in opposition. Shame on him that it has not been reintroduced.

I appealed to the Government last week, and during previous budgets debates, regarding a land tax. Once again, the Government has ignored calls to introduce a land tax on holdings of more than 750 acres. With large conglomerates such as Coolmore buying up all the land in County Tipperary and surrounding counties, it has become increasingly difficult for young farmers and family farms to extend their farms because they simply cannot compete against these conglomerates that receive large tax breaks for their industry, such as stallion fees and other supports. They pay no tax. We must support our family farms and allow them to be able to compete, extend and grow. Farmers in County Tipperary cannot compete in the purchase of lands while the Coolmore empire continues to grow. It is well over 25,000 acres now. It is a crying shame. The Government refuses to tax it or touch it. What grip does it have on the Government that it will not do this? It did not do it last year in the Finance Bill but this year I will push hard to get it done because it creates an unfair playing field.

The cost of a packet of cigarettes has once again increased, which is welcome as a way to meet the huge health costs associated with smoking but it is no good as a revenue raising measure if we do not tackle the huge losses to the State as a result of the massive levels of counterfeit cigarette smuggling. The Government must continue to tackle the issue of counterfeit cigarettes in the market. The fines associated with smuggling must be increased drastically to remove incentives for smugglers.

Insurance costs for businesses and young individuals continue to cripple our country and I have seen nothing to address this. There was not a single reference to this huge blight on our economy.

I notice the Minister made no mention of the national broadband plan in his speech. I know the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment is embarrassed by what is going on. When will we get serious about the importance of broadband, particularly for businesses in rural Ireland, students and farmers trying to fill out application forms? It is discriminatory against rural dwellers. Rural-proofing is a farce. We are entitled to the same service, no more and no less, and the Minister of State should know this.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne It is in the capital plan of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Our rural town centres are continuing to die on their feet. Just this week, yet another shop closed on the main street of Tipperary town, bringing the number of closed businesses on the street to more than 21. Most rural towns are the same. I have called for an extension of the living city initiative to rural towns to help bring life back to our town centres. I have also called for a reduction in, or relief towards, planning costs for the change of use of vacant buildings and shops and supports for living over the shop as mechanisms of providing accommodation for smaller households and of revitalising our town centres. It is a no brainer. Tell the local authorities to waive the charges. Get these derelict buildings rejuvenated. Boost the economy by doing the work, take people off the housing lists, and we have more than 3,000 people on the list in Tipperary, and bring life back to our main streets and town centres.

I welcome the increase in the NTPF to try to alleviate our huge waiting lists. Waiting lists for the treatment of the sick and elderly should be a huge source of shame to all of us, especially the Government. We have elderly people waiting more than three years for hip operations and cataract treatment, and children waiting for orthodontic treatment and scoliosis treatment. The list is endless. How far will this funding go to reduce these waiting lists? Today has been a beautiful day. Given the numbers we have on trolleys reached crisis point during the hottest summer in years, how will our hospitals manage during the winter? Unless we address staff recruitment and retention issues, our health services will continue to suffer and I am just not positive about the measures taken today.

The budget will allow for major changes to the fair deal scheme, which I welcome. We fought hard for it. The Rural Independent Group tabled a motion on this last year and I thank Maura Canning of the IFA for the help she gave us. Under the existing regime, farm families are required to set aside 7.5% of the value of their land annually to fund a place in a nursing home. From next year, the bill will be capped, as it is for everybody else, which is only fair. This is in line with what we in the Rural Independent Group sought.

The Government has missed a golden opportunity. Last year, I said the budget was like a shower of snow that scattered widely and melted away. It is certainly an election budget but it has failed to deal with health. We were lucky to get an extra €800 million from corporation tax but it will be sucked into the black hole of the HSE and the Government refuses to tackle it. There are some great people working in the HSE but there is waste and a number of management layers and structures and we see the failure. A very sad funeral is taking place this evening. There have been many other funerals and there will be many more to come. People have been given death sentences and no one has been held accountable. The Minister refuses to resign or hang his head in shame. For the ten years I have been here, the HSE has grown by €1 billion every year, with few outcomes and long waiting lists.

Deputies Michael Healy Rae, Danny Healy Rae, Michael Collins and I have brought people to Belfast in buses at weekends to get simple basic treatments. We have volunteer doctors going out to Third World countries to do these 20-minute operations but we cannot have them for our own people. We send them up to Belfast. The Government has failed to grasp the nettle on housing, health and justice. Deputy Michael Healy Rae mentioned the Garda Síochána. In Tipperary, there have been huge cuts to overtime. We expect gardaí to be the peace line between us and anarchy. I salute them for the work they do. In early September, they were threatened with overtime cuts for the rest of the year. It is an outrage and an insult to them. Some of them are sleeping in cars. Some of them are working in Garda stations, such as that in Clonmel, which are not fit for animals, never mind gardaí, prisoners or visitors. The Government is failing to act on the most basic issues. We have Army personnel in Syria waiting to come home, and the Government just laughed and said they will be home in two weeks. This is despite the gallant service they have given the country. The budget is a missed opportunity and it is very sad.

Deputy Michael Harty: Information on Michael Harty Zoom on Michael Harty I am very disappointed with the references in the budget to the health service. There is no appreciation of the health reality that faces ordinary people on endless waiting lists that are stretching and increasing year on year. This year, health spending has gone over budget by €700 million and a Supplementary Estimate will have to be introduced to cover it. We will add €1.05 billion to the health budget next year. Without meaningful reform, undoubtedly there will be an overrun in excess of €700 million next year.

Sláintecare is a plan to attempt to address these issues but there was scant reference to it in the Minister's statement, which was most disappointing. One must remember what Sláintecare is attempting to do, which is to reorient the health service towards primary and community care and deliver a single-tier health service that can be accessed not by finance, but by need, so that money should not inhibit people seeking a health service and they should receive treatment in a timely fashion. Sláintecare also attempts to move towards universal healthcare, particularly universal primary care. It attempts to integrate our primary care services with our hospital services.

Sláintecare outlined a funding model, which was completely ignored in the implementation strategy, of establishing a ring-fenced national fund that would be a single buyer for all health services. Of course, Sláintecare had an implementation plan. The Government is now using Sláintecare as a fig leaf for all of the ills of the health service and it is turning to Sláintecare as the solution to everything. Of course, it has the solutions to everything but only if there is funding. The budget did not outline how Sláintecare would be funded or how the transitional funding necessary to implement it would be put into place.

The budget has put the cart before the horse. It has expanded eligibility for free care before expanding the capacity to deliver it. It has given 100,000 people free access to primary care. This is welcome and it is in line with the Sláintecare recommendations but Sláintecare stated this could not, and should not, happen unless there is an expansion in capacity of general practice to deliver it. Tomorrow, the Department will go into negotiations with the representative organisations on GP contractual matters.


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