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Estimates for Public Services 2015 (Continued)

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 900 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming] The financial position may have improved but I take issue with some of the choices made by the Government in the past year or two. While Supplementary Estimates to provide additional money for Departments are welcome, the Office of Public Works, which comes within the remit of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, has not spent, nor is it projected to spend, all the money allocated to it by the Oireachtas for flood relief last year. Despite nationwide flooding, the Department will probably roll over or return to the Department of Finance capital funding it did not spend this year. At the same time, the Minister is before the House today seeking approval for a Supplementary Estimate. Deputies take the budgetary process seriously. If we agree to allocate the Office of Public Works money to spend on flood relief, we expect the office to do its job in this area. It was the responsibility of the Minister to ensure the money was spent.

Major problems have arisen with the Government's management of this year's expenditure programme. While I welcome additional funding for services, my principal difficulty with the Supplementary Estimates is that the €600 million in additional funding for the Heath Service Executive should have been provided in January 2015. This would have enabled the HSE to plan the provision of health services for the 12 months of this year in an orderly and efficient manner and avoided some of the problems that have occurred in the health service in the past year. Having told the HSE its budget would be restricted and no further allocation would be made this year, hey presto, as we reach December, the Government proposes to provide an additional €600 million to enable the HSE to meet overruns. It has been told to spend this money as quickly as possible before the end of the year. One of the reasons for the crisis in the health service is the lack of proper budgeting. While the Supplementary Estimates are welcome, the funding provided should have been included in the original Vote to allow for proper and planned expenditure during the year as opposed to rushing to spend it in the final fortnight of 2015.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I have noticed in many of the Minister's public pronouncements of late that he attempts to make a virtue, as he sees it, of increased and ahead-of-profile tax returns while keeping a firm reign on public expenditure. The Minister paints this position as one that reflects prudence in his governance. Listening to him, one would never believe he was a Minister in a Government that had hacked billions of euro from public services during its time in office. I suggest that rather than boasting that he will continue to starve public services of the resources they need to repair some of the damage inflicted by the Government and modernise and improve access to and the quality of these services, he would be better off arguing for progressive investment. Instead, he toes the quintessentially right-wing, Tory and Fine Gael Party line of small government and low public expenditure. He appears to subscribe fully to the ideology of private wealth and public squalor pursued by Fine Gael, the Labour Party's sister party.

The Supplementary Estimates reflect some of the reality of underinvestment and low spending. The allocation for health is the figure that jumps out most. While Sinn Féin has no objection to additional moneys being provided for the health services where they are needed, one must wonder why, year after year, the Government takes at least two bites out of the health cherry to get the spending profile right. Even with an additional €600 million, the health system will continue to creak and come under pressure. Hospitals will continue to be understaffed and patients, including many elderly people, will continue to wait on trolleys. Those who are not so lucky will sleep on chairs, and when things get really bad, some of them will sleep on the floors of accident and emergency departments.

I always have the sense when the Minister presents figures that it is being done for the optics. While he spins out substantial figures, the reality is that he continues to preside over a system that is massively underfunded. If recent indicators or public positions adopted by the Minister are anything to go by, it appears he hopes and intends to proceed into the next election and Government, if he is so lucky, with the same guiding principles he has demonstrated over the past five years, namely, to look after the haves, deal in a tokenistic fashion with the have-nots and place public services under enormous and unsustainable pressure.

From next year onwards, the Government will no longer have available to it the facility of introducing Supplementary Estimates. I have not heard a convincing answer from the Minister or any other member of the Government how this will work out. I foresee difficulties, however, because the Government's record on forecasting and getting the numbers right is not a terribly good one. If the Minister has an opportunity to respond, I ask him to sketch out how health, social protection and education services will be able to stand on their feet and have the budgets they require to function in the absence of the release valve of the Supplementary Estimate.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett These Supplementary Estimates are a belated recognition, prompted by a looming general election, that one of the major slogans deployed by the Government in its first years in office was completely bogus. I do not know if the Minister remembers the slogan that we would get more for less but it was repeated ad nauseam when the Government was inflicting the most savage and cruel cuts in vital public services and supports and infrastructural and capital spending. Its claim that it was a reforming Government that would get more for less was a complete fallacy. The most obvious place in which this fallacy has been exposed is the health service where the slashing of budgets, staff numbers and investment has led to a diabolical position in which we have unacceptable waiting lists of up to two years for people in chronic pain who need operations, while tens of thousands of other people in hopeless and desperate circumstances must wait for procedures and many others must lie on trolleys for days on end. That is the legacy of the more for less fallacy the Government has promoted.

  Another major area in which the more for less fallacy has been exposed is housing. How wrong can a Government be? It has managed to generate the worst housing crisis in the history of the State by butchering and effectively stopping investment and spending on social housing. We are now paying a heavy price for this failure and the lack of sufficient investment in flood relief, drainage and water infrastructure generally. All these chickens are coming home to roost.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Did the Deputy refer to investment in water infrastructure?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I referred to underinvestment.

  In recent years, we argued that the Government could get the money to obviate the need for cuts from a number of sources, including the corporate sector through corporation tax.

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