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Budget Statement 2021 (Continued)

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 999 No. 2

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  3 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty] Today was an opportunity not only to protect jobs but to create them. A decade of Fine Gael in power created a housing crisis that has not gone away, as well as road and rail networks and infrastructure in desperate need of upgrading to connect our regions and communities. Now is the time to significantly increase public investment, at a time of historically low interest rates when even the IMF is calling on advanced economies to ramp up capital expenditure through sustainable borrowing. We would have seized this opportunity and increased capital investment by an additional €2.5 billion. The Government has announced €600 million extra in capital investment. That is a paltry figure given the need to stimulate the economy and the needs in other areas, particularly housing. Our package would in itself have created 26,000 jobs by investing in our regions, upgrading our transport network and delivering the biggest public housing programme in the history of the State.

This investment was nowhere more needed than in the housing market. Despite a demand for change by the people in the election in February, this Government is determined to continue with the failed housing policies of the past. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael created a housing crisis that has locked a generation out of secure and affordable accommodation, during which rents increased by more than 31% since 2016 and which resulted in the highest increase in homelessness in the history of the State. Renters continue to hand a third of their pay package over to their landlords monthly. Families and couples are struggling to find homes as they simply cannot afford them. We were told that things were going to be different now that we have a Fianna Fáil Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and that Fianna Fáil would tackle the housing crisis but it is very clear today that this crisis will remain with us for as long as this Government is in power. Níl a dhath anseo inniu chun déileáil leis an ngéarchéim tithíochta a chruthaigh Fine Gael. Ar an mhalairt, tá sé anois á shoiléiriú ag an Rialtas.

At his party's conference, the Tánaiste and leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Varadkar, said that Fianna Fáil was a party with no ideas, no policies and no alternatives. That was true then and is definitely true today. Where are its big ideas? Its big idea is to extend the help to buy scheme, which will push up the prices of homes for first-time buyers. Over 40% of people who availed of the scheme since it was introduced already had the required deposit to secure a mortgage. This is not an affordable housing scheme; it is a sop to developers. It does not encourage them to reduce house prices but to increase them. That is the reality and the Government knows it. Today, the Government has decided it wants to pump more money into this scheme and therefore into the pockets of developers. This is the best that Fianna Fáil has managed to come up with after being out of government for a decade. It would be embarrassing if the stakes were not so high. This is the affordable housing that the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has been planning for four years. He will try to explain himself but the reality is he needs to try again and he needs to try a hell of a lot harder.

Our broken housing system was exposed by this pandemic. Not only should this budget have been a radical departure from the failed policies of the past, but it should have provided immediate protections for renters who are vulnerable in the present. The Minister's first act in the area of housing was to strip away the protection renters had from eviction during this time of great uncertainty. Shame on him. Today, he has delivered just €110 million in funding for affordable housing, which is to fund an as yet undecided shared equity loan scheme and 400 cost-rental homes. The Government has not even seen fit to invest such a paltry sum into genuinely affordable working homes for working people. It speaks volumes that this is the level of injection involved. So much for this Minister for housing, who made so many promises to deliver genuinely affordable homes for working people to rent and buy.

It gets worse. The Minister has secured funding for just 593 real social homes above what is already committed to in 2021. This is an insult to the thousands of homeless families and tens of thousands of people languishing on local authority waiting lists. Rents will not decrease or be frozen under this Government. Things could have been done differently. This was the time to reduce rents through a refundable tax credit, to freeze rents and to give people certainty. It was the time to build the largest public housing building programme in the history of the State, delivering 20,000 social affordable and cost-rental units in 2021. Again, this Government has failed to act.

At a time of great uncertainty for workers and families, the budget needed to respond by protecting them and giving them certainty that their incomes would be supported, that the Government would do all it could to protect jobs and businesses and that our hospitals and healthcare workers would be equipped to weather the storms and challenges ahead. This Government has failed to provide that certainty. It has cut the pandemic unemployment payment, slashed supports under the wage subsidy scheme, removed the ban on evictions and failed to secure an extension for mortgage breaks without additional interest being charged. It has failed to give certainty to struggling businesses and their workers. It needed to provide them with supports on which they could rely to help to weather the storm - not as a maybe but as a guarantee. It could have done that by introducing a wage subsidy scheme that was fit for purpose and grants of €25,000 and €12,000 that would be delivered not as a contingency or a maybe but as a certainty. It should have provided certain supports for businesses, employers and workers. Failure to do this has heightened the risk of job losses and permanent business closures.

While no one could have predicted this pandemic, our public services were ill-equipped and under-resourced after decades of neglect under Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. That neglect has left our hospitals, healthcare workers and patients vulnerable. This Government has failed to address that neglect and failed to step up to the challenge. It has failed to deliver on the ambition and new direction that is needed. It has fallen back on the tired, failed policies of the past. This is not the budget that Sinn Féin would have delivered. Sinn Féin would have provided certainty to workers and their families. Where we need ambition and vision, we have gotten more of the same, papering over the cracks and trying to limp on. This is simply not good enough for the times we are in. Today was the time to give certainty and set out a new path to rebuild our economy in a fairer, stronger and better way. Unfortunately, this Government has, predictably, failed to deliver that and give that certainty.

Deputy Mairéad Farrell: Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell Long before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we lived the reality of the impact of budgetary choices made by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael year after year. We had record rents, record levels of homelessness, record numbers on hospital trolleys and record numbers waiting for medical treatment. Too many people were forced to live their lives on the financial edge. Workers and families were barely getting by and were just about paying their bills or mortgages. A generation - and counting - has been locked out of home ownership. These shameful blights on our society did not come about by accident. They happened because every year a Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil Minister has stood up here on budget day and made announcements that define the lives of millions. Unfortunately, they have made those decisions based on the premise that our society should serve our economy and not the other way around. The pandemic has shone a light on the ugly reality of a skewed system in which the needs of banks, mortgage lenders, landlords and vested interests have been prioritised over the needs of workers, families and communities.

While no one could have predicted the pandemic, our public services are ill-equipped and under-resourced after decades of neglect. The pandemic has shown us that houses need to be homes, where people can build lives and have a sense of security. Out-of-touch Governments have stood idly by for years. Under their watch, the housing crisis has spiralled out of control and ordinary people have been left to pay the price. This time around, we were told it would be different. "We are all in this together" was the mantra, but those days are already a pipe dream. This Government has chosen to slash people’s incomes through cuts to the PUP. Mortgage breaks for hard-pressed workers and families have been scrapped and protections for renters are out the window. We are no longer all in this together, and that is a choice this Government made. Instead of harnessing the strength of unprecedented social solidarity, community and cohesion, it has chosen to take a different road. It has chosen to return to old habits and the economics and politics of division. That is not what our country needs. We need a vision to rebuild, stronger, fairer and better.

In am na héiginnteachta seo, tá ualach oibre fíorthábhachtach faoinár gcúram mar ionadaithe poiblí breith a thabhairt maidir le cén chaoi is fearr airgead poiblí a chaitheamh. Agus muid ag tabhairt faoin obair seo, níor mhór dúinn cuimhneamh gur ar mhaithe le formhór an phobail ba cheart na cinntí seo a dhéanamh. Caithfimid seasmhacht a chinntiú don phobal agus athshlánú eacnamaíoch a chinntiú atá bunaithe ar chothromaíocht agus comhionannas. Caithfimid seasmhacht agus dóchas a chruthú. Ní raibh an oiread tábhacht ag baint le buiséad d'oibrithe agus do theaghlaigh le fada an lá. Níl aon amhras ach go bhfuil comhthéacs na pandéime lárnach do leagan amach an bhuiséid seo.

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