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Budget Statement 2021 (Continued)

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 999 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mairéad Farrell: Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell] This is why we need to reverse the cuts to the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment and introduce a wage support scheme that is fit for purpose and targeted and supports all workers.

I was very interested to hear what was said about capital investment. We are in a crisis now and we need to act proportionately. There is nothing fiscally prudent about doing too little too late. Countercyclical spending is the means of getting out of this crisis. This budget should not be about keeping the economy at a standstill and keeping the lights on. It is essential that this budget stimulates the economy by pumping money back into businesses and people's pockets. The risk here is that we do too little rather than too much. This budget does not cut it in terms of capital expenditure. The capital expenditure the Minister outlined amounts to €10.1 billion. I have heard it stated that this is an addition of €1.6 billion. I do not know what school of mathematical thought that is. Where I went to school, €9.1 billion minus €10.1 billion equals €1 billion. This will not provide enough firepower to counteract the downturn. I stressed this to the Minister time and again. It has fallen far short of not only what we have called for but it has fallen far short of what the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IBEC and Fianna Fáil and the Green Party's old pals in the International Monetary Fund, IMF, called for.

A Sinn Féin Government would roll out a €2.5 billion enhanced capital investment programme across a range of areas, including housing, hospitals and schools. This would create more than 26,500 jobs while meeting the needs for affordable accommodation and healthcare services. This is the kind of stimulus that we need. At least 150,000 jobs have been lost during the course of this pandemic, so the question is not merely how we maintain existing employment through the various business and income supports. It is how we begin to replace and expand employment that has already been lost through large-scale capital investment in shovel-ready projects.

I am deeply concerned that the recovery fund appears to be a "maybe fund". I am stunned that the Government feels that the economic crisis is not bad enough for it to allocate this fund immediately. What is it waiting for? Jobs are being lost, businesses are being closed and people are in significant rent and mortgage arrears. Now is simply not the time to wait and see.

Another issue of concern is that the budget the Minister has laid before this House is not only anti-rural Ireland but by increasing the cost of operating a car for the average person while cancelling bus routes, it represents an attack on rural Ireland. These policies are neither green nor rural. This Government seems committed to casting rural Ireland adrift. It had the opportunity to rebalance the scales from the beef barons to the ordinary farmers. This is what was committed to in the programme for Government. This Government committed to "[p]rotect and enhance the incomes and livelihoods of family farms". It was meant to be a "key objective" of this Government. The suckler farmer was left behind in the July stimulus and this budget represents nothing other than outright abandonment.

In our budget proposal Sinn Féin committed to protecting the Irish family farm as a way of life. We proposed a new suckler scheme that would front-load payments at €300 per cow with lower payments after the first 15, committed funds to the national reserve fund to help give young farmers a start and committed to areas of natural constraint to support the less intensive farming this Government claims to support. These policies represent a bold vision that would have provided rural Ireland with a bulwark with which to face the uncertainty of Brexit and the ongoing Covid-19 situation. The people of rural Ireland will not be served by this budget.

Not only are we facing the crisis of Covid-19, we are facing the crisis of a no-deal Brexit. There is no Brexit which could be good for Ireland. With its highly provocative United Kingdom Internal Market Bill 2019-21, the British Government has already threatened to tear up an international agreement and commitment that it entered into. Britain's lax attitude to international law should be of no surprise to us here in Ireland. Its actions threaten the livelihoods of those in Border communities and the agricultural sector, which will have knock-on effects for the wider community. We believe that should Britain exit the EU without a deal, at least €1 billion will be needed in order to support the sectors and regions most directly impacted. We need clarity from the Minister on how much of the recovery fund will be allocated to the Brexit contingency fund.

It has been said that one should never let a good crisis go to waste. Let us not miss this opportunity to reimagine what this country could be and the role of the State in remaking it. Should the role of the State be relegated to merely correcting market failures, as those of the cosy neoliberal consensus think, or should it have grander ambitions? Should it seek to harness the power and resources at its disposal to tackle the burning issues of our day? Should the State take a more active role in addressing income and wealth inequality? Should it take a more active role in providing access to housing and healthcare, basing its actions on need rather than means? Should it seek to create, shape and drive markets rather than just fixing them? To all of those questions, we answer "Yes".

To those who might have looked on as the Government announced its budgetary measures and wondered how will any of this help them, I sympathise. This budget is bereft of ideas, bereft of ambition and, more than that, bereft of an overarching vision. It is characteristic of a Government that has been beset by chaos and whose main priority is damage limitation.

The parties of the Civil War, which have taken turns governing this State for so long, now find themselves in a position where they must enter into a coalition. Even working in tandem, these two old beasts of Irish politics have shown they do not have the vision, the ambition or the drive to rebuild the new Ireland we so badly need. Today, almost a century since this island was partitioned and the Free State was born, a new chapter in Irish political history is ready to be written. The bad news is that today's budget does nothing for ordinary workers and families, but the good news is that people should not lose hope. We in Sinn Féin have the policies, the politics and the people to rebuild Ireland, united, fairer and better.

Deputy Ged Nash: Information on Ged Nash Zoom on Ged Nash We have known deadly disease on our island before. In the 1800s, the Great Hunger saw millions emigrate or die of famine, diphtheria, cholera, fever and smallpox. In the last century, TB or consumption destroyed thousands of lives. It may be folk memory now, but its legacy lingers on. It took the vision of a socialist, Deputy Noël Browne, to deliver the infrastructure and the drive that tackled that insidious disease, but the vision of a social public health system was blocked by vested interests. It has yet to be realised. We must not repeat the same mistake that was made then, the mistake of not finishing his job. This emergency tells us we need to build an Irish national health service of which we can all be proud.

That work should have started today. Instead, we are again papering over the cracks. In times of crisis we turn to the State. We still have some way to go before we can end our two-tier health system. Today I am just as concerned about our two-tier economy. This Government promised a shared future. When he was campaigning against Fine Gael the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, promised us an Ireland for all. Instead we have two Irelands. Billions of euro have been committed in supports for businesses while there are cuts for workers on the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment. There is absolutely no shame about it. We were told there would be no cuts, but a form of austerity is back for those who can least afford it.

The time has come to reimagine this State. That is why the Labour Party has proposed a package of measures worth much more than €11 billion in capital and current spending to plug the gaps in our services and to do whatever it takes to save jobs and lives. Our focus is unapologetically on the interests of working people. Right when we needed a radical response, a different approach, a shared national effort, the dividing lines have been drawn. After four years of the difficult on-again, off-again engagement that was the confidence and supply agreement, the wedding ceremony finally came in June. Today the marriage was consummated, but the wedding speeches did not live up to expectations. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have now become one, for better or for worse. For the sake of the country I hope that the next few months beat their disastrous honeymoon period of self-inflicted cock-ups, exploding clown cars and comical games of one-upmanship. We do not need to do a deep dive through departmental records to uncover any major policy differences between the two Ministers present. If we did, we simply would not be able to find them, because there are none. They are so tight policy-wise that by the time this Government is over we will be wondering which Minister is which. Fianna Fáil has been subsumed by Fine Gael. The merger is complete and Fianna Fáil's long-cherished identity is gone.

All of that being said, it would be churlish of me and my party colleagues not to recognise that there is much to welcome in this package. Who does not want to see extra resources targeted at health, housing, education and wage supports? Will it be enough, however, to stave off the twin threats of Covid-19 and the prospect of a no trade deal Brexit?

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