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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 Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy] That scheme and others, for example, proper regulation in price competitiveness among energy suppliers, would mean people have the incentive to retrofit. The incentive would be enough to get large-scale take up.

The same decoding is required to understand fully the Minister's childcare proposals. Of course, we welcome the increased thresholds and the extension of parental leave. However, it cannot be repeated often enough that the Government's parental leave measure of an extra two weeks per parent will not come into effect until November 2019, over a year from now. The Minister talks about wanting to get to seven weeks "over time", and that is the crux. "Over time" could mean anything. It could be the following year. It could be in ten years' time. It is a big picture in terms of the promises but when one looks at the detail, it is disappointing given the magnitude of the cost of childcare in most household budgets.

While there are, of course, aspects of this budget that are welcome, the reality is far too much of it is coded language. This will be evident over the next few days as we see the departmental budgets. Another aspect is one must look at some of the measures repeatedly to be sure it is not a restatement of funding that is already announced. The areas that this has been most deficient in is the current housing crisis and the report yesterday on climate. These are two areas that we needed to act on in today's budget. For that reason, it is disappointing.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan There are many threads to this budget but there was no tapestry woven today. I will start by looking at those positive threads that one would welcome because it is important that we achieve the balance in politics of recognising where something is done right.

I was glad to see the relatively significant increase in overseas aid funding. It is critical for this country, particularly when we are in receipt of €9.5 billion funds in corporation tax which largely comes from our location. As the domestic centre of companies that deal in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, we more than anyone else have an obligation to meet those development goals and set 0.7% of our income to overseas aid. We are nowhere near there yet but if we repeated this next year, the year after and in subsequent years, and really went for that, it would serve our country well. It would say something. It would back up what we did by signing the sustainable development goals in New York negotiated by an Irish civil servant. I welcome that increase and I hope that we can repeat it next year and subsequently.

I also welcome the investment in people with disabilities. It is hard sometimes to judge what is the clever and correct economic choice. If one looks back over the past 20 or 30 years, much of our funding was spent on health, education and social welfare. That, in the long run, can really strengthen an economy. We want an economy which is not merely about how much one can earn so that one can flaunt consumption, but how we can create a society where our economy supports those who have to care, and in doing so improve the environment and society, that my security is enhanced when the Minister's security is also provided for, and that society benefits when we support and look after the weakest among us. I welcome that spend.

Similarly, I welcome the investment or putting aside of money in the rainy day fund. I have been in government at times when we had incredibly difficult choices with €6 billion in cuts to make and I would have loved at that time had we had €2 billion that we could turn to. In the proper economic approach where one acts counter-cyclically, the Government has that fund which it is allowed to spend within the European rules. I understand that this rainy day fund will allow us to expand spending at the time when the economy is contracting.

I am worried, I will be honest, that in this time of phenomenal growth - 7.5% growth is remarkable by any international comparison - we are still not in surplus and are still allocating an additional €1 billion next year to health. I do not dispute the need for health spending but it is of concern that we are seemingly unable to generate a surplus when one would think in this circumstance we would. For that reason, I welcome the investment in the rainy day fund.

When I read it first and heard the Minister speak, I said to myself that some of the investments in education were the sort of measures we were looking for. I refer to the increase in provision for capitation fees so that the vision of the late Minister and former Deputy, Donogh O'Malley, is carried out in full and one will not have parents wondering how can they afford books and transport. When one looks at it and does the maths on it, however, one realises that what is being provided for is not enough. It is so many threads but not, as I said, forming a tapestry by concentrating spending in a certain area. I wish we had gone further in education, particularly in that payment so that parents would not have to pay for primary and secondary school education.

Similarly, when I saw the €150 million investment announced for third level education, I said it is not enough but at least it is a step in the right direction. When one does the maths afterwards, again one realises that because the numbers of third level students are rising so dramatically there is no real increase. We need an increase for our economy to be strong and to stop the slide of our universities down the international league tables. I understand the main reason for that is the considerable change in the staff-pupil ratio in our third level colleges. The only way to address that is to provide the additional resources so that we teach in smaller classes, in tutorial systems rather than large lecture theatres. The funding announced today simply does not do that. It is not enough. I would prefer to have withdrawn one or two other threads and to put funding into that to give a clear signal to the rest of the world.

More than anything else, there is a certain shock among those in the environmental community as to the signal that went out today with regard to the Government's attitude to climate change. It should not be a shock to us because we are battling this day in, day out. I refer to the story around this carbon tax being pulled. It seems, at the last minute, because the Independent Alliance was unhappy with it and Fine Gael, similarly, took a political calculation that it would gain electorally from it rather than lose, they pulled it. That was a shocking decision. It is not that the carbon tax in itself was the key measure for us to take action on the issue. It is a useful tool, but it is only that. It is only one of many that we need to turn to. The fact that it was dumped at the last minute in this way sends a signal which is seen as a symbol of the Government's entire outlook and approach to the climate change issue.

The Minister's argument that we need to conduct further research, I will be honest, really stuck in the craw because this is the day after there was an international report that could not have been clearer. He must have been making his decision at the same time, if he was listening to the news or reading any newspaper of note, that the alarm bell sounded. In that decision, Fine Gael has hit the snooze button and said, "We do not care."

It was the same day, if the Minister wants economic analysis, that the Nobel prize for economics was awarded to Professor William Nordhaus, who is an expert and who has been writing for years on how one introduces a carbon tax. There is no shortage of research to show how one does this. It would have been easy to have that done over the months. It was done by the Department of Finance - the tax strategy group produced a paper. We do not need that much significant additional analysis.

I was glad to hear the Minister on the radio this evening say he really wants to go to €80 a tonne, but waiting for 2030 to do that and putting off the day when we start to take action on climate change will cost us all dearly. It is a terrible mistake.

The Minister could have read the work that Professor John FitzGerald, Ms Sue Scott and other notable economists did here more than ten or 15 years ago, showing how one applies a carbon tax, and that if one redistributes the money by investing in clean technology solutions and in retrofitting people's homes to make them energy efficient and ensuring that one addresses the issue of fuel poverty, it has a net economic benefit.

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