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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 Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty] We all know the culture is rotten in Irish banks and we all know how they have risen from the dead and tower over citizens once again. As the Government proposes another budget, the real question is why Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil support policies that amount to an ongoing bailout of the banks at a cost to the Irish people. They are not tackling the culture; they are the culture. They embody it and bring it to every budget, and it guides their vision for society. That is why there are crises in health and housing. The Government has brought that culture into this budget. For another year, at least, it has ensured the untouchables can fill their pockets on the backs of Irish citizens. This way of government and these values, which reek of injustice and elitism, must be cast aside.

Sinn Féin brings to the table a new set of values, values on which a new economy and a flourishing society must be built. These values underpin our alternative budget, a roadmap to something better than a stale and harmful vision for Ireland presented by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Every cent of it is costed. Every year, Sinn Féin balances the books. We balance them while also accounting for the inevitable budgetary mess and under budgeting of the health system. Our budget, like the Government's, will also be in surplus next year. This year, our budget would meet the targets set down in the fiscal rules. That is important because a Government charged with stewardship of the economy and investing in the full potential of every citizen can achieve these objectives only with well-managed and sustainable public finances. It is also important because, when Sinn Féin engages with the budgetary process and produces its comprehensive alternative, it does so with two fiscal principles in mind. These principles involve asking whether the proposals create sound and future-proofed public finances and whether they address the social and economic needs of Irish citizens. These two benchmarks cannot be separated.

The health of our economy relies first and foremost on the economic opportunities available to, and taken by, our citizens. It relies on how inclusive our economy is and what stake citizens truly have in it. It must be asked how many women are excluded from the workforce because of extortionate childcare costs, how many children with disabilities are excluded by barriers that can, and should, be removed, how much talent has been driven from our shores in the past decade, how many communities have been cast aside and forgotten because they do not have the right postcode, and how many young people with big ideas living in rural areas cannot get them off the ground because they simply do not have access to basic broadband services. We cannot have a truly sustainable economy until everyone is included and their full potential is cherished and developed, but this Government is blinded by an ideology that sees people as mere cogs in a machine rather than as having potential.

The Government has driven a narrative that states to the people they can have one but not the other. It has turned the concept of a balanced budget into a byword for ideologically driven neglect. Balancing the books is the easy part – we do it every year – but the difficult task for those who make economic policy is making a policy choice that is consistent with a clear and transformative vision for Ireland. When Sinn Féin says it balances the books, it means our public finances are resilient and stable. Crucially, however, it gives people peace of mind that what we are doing is investing to meet the urgent and complex needs of society.

Our alternative budget, and any budget that would be delivered by a Sinn Féin Government, focuses on achieving meaningful social advances. We have a long-term economic vision, a journey on which we believe our economy must travel to give every citizen the living standards and opportunities he or she deserves as a birthright. Presenting a different list of incoherent, electorally driven choices is not the bold strategy we need to transform society. It will not deliver the change needed to keep pace with the changing world around us. These objectives are simple and are grounded in our clear economic vision for our island. Our budget would, for the first time, begin to build real, world-class, universal public services, free at the point of use, dramatically raising living standards and lowering the cost of living.

Our budget would meet the challenge of Brexit. Our budget would take the first step to eradicate poverty on this island, while providing the necessary supports to root out its causes. Our budget would create an Ireland of equals, with community and solidarity at its core, and where everybody does his or her fair share. Budget 2019 needed to reflect the big conversations that are ongoing but it has failed to do so. It needed to start preparing for a united Ireland. These are objectives, and a budget should be a step towards meeting them. These goals are rooted in values that put the welfare and advancement of citizens above all else.

This is another budget rooted in the long scam. It is another budget that ignores the real issues facing Irish society, in the hope that we will all forget. This will occur unless the people decide to bring this scam, and this sham Government, to an end.

Sinn Féin is bringing new, modern leadership to Irish politics, and with it we bring a new set of values and a new and ambitious vision for what our society needs and what it could be. Realising this vision would result in a society where people, not profit, come first; where we invest in Irish potential and do not let it rot away; where we do not run our state or banking, taxation or housing systems to plunder for the wealthiest in the state and beyond; where everyone pays his or her fair share; where we invest to give security, world-class services and a life of fulfilment and dignity to all; and where we treasure compassion and social solidarity, not social exclusion or division.

In closing, I am thinking of Amanda. I am also thinking of Orla and the countless citizens like her who are betrayed by budgets like these. She says enough is enough, that the Irish deserve better and that Ireland needs drastic change if it is to be worthy of living in. I wholeheartedly agree with her. It is well past time for change. The Irish are crying out for it and to make budgets like these a thing of the past. Sinn Féin would bring this change and its vision to government, forming a Government that would have a single-minded purpose: to forge a new Ireland where no one is left behind. This is a purpose that the current Government has failed to realise in budget 2019.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton If it looks like an election budget, if it sings like an election budget and if Leo's choir cheers it like an election budget, then it is an election budget. As I listened today, I could not help feeling a sense of déjà vu. The Minister for Finance was delivering the speech but the voice that came through to me was that of former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy. It is as though we were back in the good old days that we had foolishly thought were banished forever. I wonder how the former Minister was feeling today as he listened to the current Minister, performing as the lead singer of a McCreevy tribute band, blasting out his golden hits, notably his "Top of the Pops" sensation "When I have it, I spend it".

  Budget prudence goes out the window when there is an election in the air. Make no mistake that the echo of the crash a decade ago can be felt today. It seems the current crop of Ministers is determined to pretend it could not happen again on their watch while all around us there are unmistakable signs of future turbulence, not least being the near certainty that the days of minuscule interest rates are slowly coming to an end alongside the uncertainties of Brexit.

  I wonder whether the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach ever even glance over the grim document from late 2010 when the troika arrived to impose its dire programme. The original outline budget sketched out then referred to quite vicious interest rates that could have involved many billions of euro in interest payments on the troika loans. Fortunately, the previous Government managed to secure substantial reductions in interest by recycling the expensive loans from the crash period. That enabled us to exit early from the troika's grip and to have independent capacity to raise funds at remarkably low rates due to a change in European bank policy. These rates are temporary, however, and are not guaranteed. It would be delusional to believe the annual interest burden, which is very high, will remain stable. Everything in this budget is built on the illusion that the cost of servicing debt will remain stable, but all the evidence points to the opposite. Surely the primary lesson of the events a decade ago should be to avoid the pretence that sudden windfalls of tax revenue can provide the basis for spending commitments that last far beyond the lifespan of the goose that lays golden eggs for a short period. So it was a decade ago when low interest rates lured a delusional Government, just newly in the euro, to build property tax shelters into the income tax code, with catastrophic results of boom and inevitable bust.

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