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Financial Resolution No. 5: General (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 893 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe]  Government speakers are also hyping up the decision to extend free GP care to all children under 12. When will the Government extend the medical card to the seriously ill or those with terminal illnesses, a topic which has been discussed many times in this House? Ministers have focused on the announcement of 1,000 extra nurses to be hired this year, which seems welcome. None of them seems to remember that in February, the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch said 1,500 would retire from mental health services this year alone. We are losing front-line staff in our health service and are not gaining any.

Another much-heralded element of the budget was the minimum wage rise of 50 cent to €9.15, but speakers failed to mention that the HSE will not pay minimum wage to fourth year student nurses, who are currently working 39-hour weeks for nine months on €6.95 a hour. Surely this anomaly needs to be addressed.

I welcome the fact that overseas development assistance, ODA, has increased by €40 million. ODA must play a fundamental role in our foreign affairs and Ireland must prioritise international assistance on efforts to end poverty and inequality around the world, especially as the world is currently suffering an unprecedented number of simultaneous conflicts and humanitarian crises. I again challenge the Government to fully document how it plans to reach the UN target of 0.7% of gross national income for aid spending as the current allocation represents just 0.36% of Ireland's current GNI. In the interest of accountability and transparency I, along with others, have consistently asked the Government to do this and I reiterate those calls today. I also welcome the allocation of €25 million for the refugee resettlement and relocation programme. However, we lack accurate and up-to-date information on this initiative.

Overall, this budget has failed to deliver. Sadly, the recovery is for the few, not for the many. It is another missed opportunity.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Derek Keating): Information on Derek Keating Zoom on Derek Keating The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, and the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, are sharing time and have ten minutes each.

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Alex White): Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White Tired old cliches like "helping the well heeled" and "small minority at the top" are no substitute for analysis. The Deputies opposite are capable of much more than the cliches they have served up in the last 20 minutes or so. Listening to the Opposition speakers and particularly to Sinn Féin on this occasion, although the same applied to some of the Fianna Fáil speakers earlier on, it is clear that they are in denial. They are refusing to face up to the fact that we have a real recovery in our economy and that now, for the first time and not before time, the recovery is finding its way through to the homes, business, communities and citizens of this country.

The improvements are modest. That is accepted by the Government. It has been a long time coming, which is also accepted by the Government. As somebody said on a television programme last night, there is a long way back after the economic collapse and crisis we suffered.

It is no use for Opposition Deputies to give the same speeches today as they gave last year and the years before that. In order to be taken seriously, they need to address the changes that are occurring in the economy and those brought about by the measures in this budget. They need to address the increased investment in areas like education, health and social protection. These are the changes that are actually happening. The Members opposite can say they are not enough and can come up with alternatives for better measures. Then we can have the debate.

Deputy Sandra McLellan: Information on Sandra McLellan Zoom on Sandra McLellan We did.

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White The notion that nothing is happening - Deputy Crowe's suggestion that it is an entire failure - demonstrates how devoid of credibility the Sinn Féin Party is. The only way to be credible is to base what one says on the facts, not to recycle speeches from last year and the year before. Some of the speakers from Fianna Fáil were doing the same. Deputy Michael McGrath, who led for Fianna Fáil yesterday, spent a great deal of his speech criticising cuts and measures that occurred in previous budgets. Legitimate criticism, perhaps, but not relevant to this budget. I ask colleagues opposite to read these speeches and read the materials that are put before them in the House.

This is a prudent budget which balances the twin objectives of safeguarding the recovery and raising living standards. By any reasonable view, that is what it sets out to do. It will see the continued reduction of the debt and deficit, which is the borrowing the State has to undertake. Those realities were inherited from the catastrophic policies of the previous Government. The budget also sees us investing in the essential public services which were devastated by those policies, including education as the Minister, Deputy O'Sullivan will no doubt address. It sees us increasing the incomes of families left to pay the price of the disastrous policies of the previous Government. The incomes and living standards of individual citizens and families will increase as a result of this budget. That has become manifest. There is no point in my colleagues opposite denying it if they want to be taken seriously.

I say it is a fair budget and I do not accept the suggestion that it is not fair. I will come back to that in a moment. It is a budget that unashamedly distributes the early returns of our recovery to our citizens, families and communities across all sectors. It is a progressive budget that increases the take-home pay of middle income earners as well as those on lower incomes. The greatest impact of the tax measures will be on people who are on average and low incomes. That is a fact.

The distortion in which Sinn Féin Deputies and others have sought to engage in the last 24 hours is not being bought by the public. Low or middle income earners up to €70,000 know they will see a gain, albeit a modest one, in this budget. All the talk by Deputy Crowe and his colleagues about the well heeled, the higher paid and so on is given the lie when we look at the measures. No income above €70,000 will benefit disproportionately from the tax measures. Someone earning €40,000 will benefit to a certain degree, someone earning €50,000 will benefit a little more and someone earning €60,000 or €70,000 will benefit a little more again. However, once we hit €80,000 or €87,000 - the salary my colleagues opposite enjoy along with all of us in this House - the benefit goes. The cut-off is €70,000.

The Sinn Féin Deputies should face the facts. They should find other things to criticise, by all means, and propose alternatives if they can. They should stop trying to deny the facts of the matter. The tax measures are progressive because there is no added benefit to somebody earning over €70,000. My colleagues should try to tell me if I am wrong. Clearly, that is what the budget provides.

With respect to Deputy McLellan, the budget places the family at the centre of our recovery by increasing child benefit and family income supplement, and by introducing paid paternity leave for the first time. She can say it does not go far enough and there are comparators in Europe that do more. She is right, I agree with her. Here, we can get into having a realistic debate where people are saying we could and should do more. However, Deputy McLellan should at least face the fact that for the first time ever we have introduced paid paternity leave in this country, a very short time after coming out of the worst recession and economic crisis we have ever had. She should give some credit where it is due.

I am particularly pleased to see further progress towards universal health care through the extension of free GP visits to all children under 12. This is a programme I had the privilege to instigate when I was Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children. Deputy Crowe made reference to it and I am not sure whether he was criticising it. He was making a point about medical cards generally, I think. Regarding free GP care, it is a progressive measure to introduce universal access to primary care, GP services. It will be transformative for our health system. I hope it has the support of Sinn Féin.

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