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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 Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton] In 2015, under the then Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, it was €600 million and subsequent years were not much better. One could forgive it if there was a tangible benefit to be observed in better health outcomes, more operations, fewer people on trolleys and expanded health promotion but there is not a bit of it. Sláintecare is the joint project of all sides of this House. How can it proceed if financial projections in health cannot be accurate for months let alone years? The danger here is that a culture of indifference to financial controls sets in and managers shrug because nobody, least of the responsible Minister, is held to account. If a Minister cannot do the job and deliver targets, he or she should be shown the door. This applies to the current incumbent regardless of how many admirers he has on Instagram.

While today's debate is focused on the specific measures announced by the Minister today, they involve only a tiny percentage of the total income and expenditure of the State for 2019. The full picture is about €70 billion or more. One only gets a true view of public spending priorities by digging deep into aspects of the budget that get no attention in the Minister's speech. One feature of policy that ought to command attention is the continuing challenge of climate change. There can be no doubt now that this is a fundamental matter that will affect every aspect of economic and social life for decades to come but one would not believe that given the Minister's attention to it today. He has cravenly given in to the vested interests that object to carbon taxes and betrayed this and future generations of this country.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Hear, hear.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton It is an awful legacy to leave them. This is spinelessness. Irish households create astonishing amounts of carbon emissions. They are way higher than in most other European households. Why? It is because older houses are badly insulated and because owing to insufficient public transport we all probably over-use our cars. The mechanism of the budget provides an opportunity to nudge people in the right direction so that we all benefit from changes we need to make to lifestyles. Carbon taxes are a form of nudge incentive and a well-established means of coaxing a change in behaviour and attitudes. We are all familiar with and proud of the plastic bag levy. It worked and it was widely imitated. We should know which Minister kiboshed the well flagged idea that carbon taxes would be a key ingredient in the campaign to reduce domestic emissions. This Minister should be named and shamed because any procrastination will cost this State a pretty penny in years to come. I hope it was for the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, that the young people of Ireland have had their future seriously damaged in terms of the failure to address the carbon issue.

June 2018 was the driest month in the Phoenix Park for well over 100 years. We have just experienced a remarkable and memorable summer, following an eventful winter of storms and snow. Long established weather records have been broken in a short timeframe and, inevitably, this gives rise to difficult questions about our level of preparedness for the kind of tumultuous climate change that has been predicted by scientists for many years. The plain truth is that Ireland has been way behind the curve in recognising weather and climate challenges. The Taoiseach has candidly admitted that our country is, by international standards, a laggard when it comes to meeting agreed targets to reduce the kind of emissions that contribute to extreme weather events. Future budgets will have to set aside many hundreds of millions of euro to pay inevitable fines for non-compliance.

It is true that the national plan commits substantial resources to dealing with this matter in future years but I remain sceptical that there exists any genuine sense of urgency to drive the necessary changes in all kinds of areas from farming practices to transport.

For example, we urgently need to fast-track the upgrade of water infrastructure to guarantee supply and to eliminate the shameful contamination of our beaches and rivers. Have the dramatic weather events of which we are all aware influenced the investment decisions in today’s budget? I was glad that the Nobel committee decided yesterday to recognise the groundbreaking work of two economists who have analysed the impact of climate matters on the world economy. By coincidence, the prizes were awarded on the same day as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change delivered its starkest forecast to date. With brutal clarity it pinpoints the areas where remedial action can be taken by Governments acting both collectively and separately. Unfortunately, the gap between the work of scientists and economists on the one hand and politics and policy making on the other has widened rather than narrowed. The latest forecasts will fall on deaf ears in the current White House but that should not hinder other countries, and the EU in particular, pursuing policies on energy, food production and weather protection measures that recognise the importance of policy changes in this area. If anyone has doubts about the long-term impact of dramatic weather events they need only visit any coastal county in Ireland to see first-hand what could be in store for this and future generations. My own constituency is not coastal but it is part of Fingal county, which is most definitely coastal. Development plans for these districts must recognise how events like Storm Ophelia can produce a lasting impact on the local environment. There are beaches in north County Dublin, such as Portrane and Rush, and other beaches north of Balbriggan, which I hope to visit this weekend with some people to see what has had happened to the coast, where the coastlines have receded by as much as 15 m because of Storm Ophelia. The national plan contains many flowery paragraphs about this challenge and umpteen billions of euro are allegedly earmarked to deal with it some time between now and 2040, which is about seven general elections away. It should be remembered that fine words butter no parsnips. If there were to be a Nobel Prize for climate procrastination, President Donald Trump would win but this particular Government might give him a run for his money.

In yet another budget child benefit has been ignored. I find this incomprehensible. For most families in Ireland child benefit has long been a valued addition to the family budget, helping to pay for food, clothes, shoes and all the costs that come with babies and teenagers. Child benefit is currently paid at a rate of €140 per month per child. It is paid in respect of nearly 1.2 million children to over 620,000 families. It is paid regardless of whether parents are in or out of work, whether a couple is parenting together or one parent is looking after the children on his or her own. I do not know if Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael are aware of it but in Ireland, rather unusually, the cost of rearing children is not recognised in the tax code. An individual or a couple has tax allowances and tax credits, but not children.

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