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Finance Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 857 No. 1

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  11 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly] The reality is that people are not. They are getting up earlier, working longer for less than they did years ago while the cost of living is rising. It is an absolute disgrace the Government missed an opportunity to target those families.

Water charges have to be brought into this context. Even the few crumbs the Government threw at people will be massively wiped out by water charges. Nobody is taken in by this idea that the Government will cobble together some magic solution in the next two weeks which will keep water bills low, allowing it to limp on to the next general election, after which they will skyrocket. The Taoiseach has consistently said he needs money to invest in Irish Water's infrastructure and that is why the charges are in place. He speaks about taking a couple of hundred million euro - with the budget concessions it might be down to €300 million - out of the pockets of householders to do that. He is masking the fact that in this budget alone €400 million was given back to the high earners in our society through tax concessions and paybacks. Instead of further enriching the rich, the Government could have nullified the whole basis for the water charges to begin with. Deputy Mick Wallace referred to research from Michael Taft from UNITE which showed the top 17% of earners got tax cuts to the tune of approximately €400 million courtesy of the Government. What other conclusion can one draw but that it will be hard-pressed home owners who will pay for water charges who will also pay for these tax concessions?

We already pay for our water. The people already pay €1.2 billion, largely sweated off the backs of taxpayers, to our water infrastructure. The setting up of Irish Water cost €640 million. That is money paid twice by taxpayers through property tax and the use of their pension funds. Now, the Government wants us to pay water charges again - paying for it a third time. The big carrot for this is that this money will be used so that Irish Water can borrow money so we can pay that back again, essentially paying for it four times. It is absolute and utter lunacy.

Could we get the money elsewhere? One only has to look at the headlines in today’s newspapers about the activities of the multinational sector and corporations to know we could. Not only did the Government give back €95 million to corporations in the recent budget, we have one of the lowest corporation tax rates in Europe which is not even implemented. We see supposedly gilt-edged reputable companies consciously organising their tax affairs so they can avoid paying tax in this country. There is a direct link between an erosion of our public services and the Government’s decision to make ordinary householders meet that deficit. If these corporations even paid the effective rate of corporation tax - remember it is the lowest in Europe - this State would have €2.5 billion extra to play around with every year. That is more than enough to invest in a proper water infrastructure system, to improve all benefits and deal with those on the bottom.

The Government, however, chose not to do that. Instead of protecting citizens, it has consciously used this budget to protect those at the top. It is incredibly unfortunate that the Government has not taken positive initiatives to encourage investment. I agree with the points made by Deputy Mick Wallace on that score.

It is a crime that billions of euro of citizens’ money in pension funds is invested abroad. While I accept these are private pension funds and the Government cannot control private money or direct them what to do, it can encourage them as to what to do. We have a tax system which benefits high earners in tax breaks for pensions. Manipulating the pension tax benefit system to link the benefits at home in Ireland would encourage those pension funds to invest in Ireland. It is only by putting people to work on some of the programmes to deal with massive infrastructural deficits that we will transform the economy. It will get more people back to work in a serious way, not zero-hour contracts or part-time rubbish jobs or JobBridge internships over which the Government stands.

It is a little bit rich to listen to lectures about how we need to conserve water when for the past four years the Government has been in power it has not put a single water butt on to a Government building, not to mind investing in a proper system of rainwater harvesting in State buildings or a programme of grants to allow people to remediate their houses to cut down on water consumption. These are also activities that could get people back to work and improve the buoyancy of our economy. Some of the pension funds I referred to earlier could be encouraged to invest at home through these initiatives. Again, however, it is another wasted opportunity.

The facts speak for themselves. The rich have been made richer at the expense of ordinary citizens. Thankfully, the people have seen through that. They are up off their knees and will not be taking it anymore.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I call Deputy Olivia Mitchell who is sharing time with Deputies John O’Mahony and Anthony Lawlor. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell It is hard to believe that only three weeks ago on the eve of the budget the newspapers were full of concern that there might be a giveaway budget that could jeopardise the national recovery or that not enough would be given away. In the event, every single taxpayer and welfare recipient will be better off as a result of this budget, albeit by a modest amount. It is not the amount that is significant. It is the fact that, after so many difficult years, we at last have a budget that does not take more from us than it gives. The budget’s thrust was very much focused on increasing employment and securing the recovery, ensuring that progress we have made painfully over the past four years is sustained in the future. While paying ourselves more in pay and benefits may be a short-term stimulus to the economy, if it is done at the cost of more borrowing, then it can only undo what has been achieved and will send us into an ever downward spiral.

The measures announced on budget day and included in the Finance Bill are both prudent and proportionate. Changes in tax and the universal social charge, USC, taken together ensure every worker’s pay packet increases. This is true of both PAYE workers and the self-employed. There is considerable upset, however, among the self-employed about the onerous 11% USC rate. It was introduced and increased to ensure there was no disproportionate benefit to the self-employed with incomes over €100,000 compared to those on PAYE and has its roots in the changes to the PAYE ceiling back in 2011. Notwithstanding the logic of it, the optics are not good. It appears to the self-employed that they are being punished relative to the PAYE worker on a similar income. The assumption the self-employed had a tax advantage prevails and may have been true in the past. The rules, however, changed and Revenue has become far more efficient in collecting from the self-employed. The rule has changed also in that they are paying tax in advance rather than after the event.

Over the years of the recession, we lost an awful lot of our entrepreneurs; some of them were wiped out forever. We need now to grow and nurture a whole new generation of employers, however small the size of their business. Without them, there will be no new jobs. No matter how logical or justified this higher rate of USC is, it creates the perception that the self-employed are being penalised in some way and not valued.

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