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Financial Resolution No. 2: General (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 924 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin] In addition, there are 4.5 million refugees beyond Syrian borders and, worst of all, 1.5 million people have been injured and 250,000 people killed. This is the gravest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Ireland is doing a little bit but, of course, we should be doing more. We should be leading the van on this but, again, sadly, that was not the choice the Government made yesterday.

We in the Labour Party believe this budget contains some welcome developments but we also believe it is littered with poor choices. We do not believe it reflects the ambitions, the hopes or the passions of the Irish people, and we will oppose it for that reason.

Before I conclude, I want to return to an issue mentioned at the beginning of my contribution and which I raised on Leaders' Questions this morning. It is truly astonishing that the Minister for Social Protection does not know on the day after the budget announcement when increases to social welfare payments will take effect. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, did not know the answer to that question when asked on "The Sean O'Rourke Show" this morning. As I said, the Taoiseach could not answer a straightforward question on that matter when I put it to him on Leaders' Questions today.

We need to be clear on this. The date that a measure takes effect is not just an administrative change, as the Government and Fianna Fáil would have us believe. Every additional week, one way or another, involves a cost. If the Government cannot confirm the start date, then it cannot confirm the cost, and if it cannot confirm the cost, then it cannot stand over the budget documents published yesterday. I know this well, having had to do it in forensic detail for the last five years. This would be funny if it was not so serious. Quite frankly, we should not be asked to continue debating a document when it is crystal clear the work on it is not yet finished.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith I want to start by emphasising the word "prudent" in the budget. It was a word bandied about very much all day yesterday and again today in regard to how "we need to be prudent", "we are in recovery" and "we are on our feet again and we need to be prudent with public moneys". To put it in context, I want to paint a picture of a fiscal space that we are told by the Government and others amounts to a total of €1.3 billion. What the Government ignores when it talks about the fiscal space is a whole tranche of other wealth and revenues that are available to the population of this country but are not being touched by the Government and, indeed, have not been touched by previous Governments. Need I mention the Apple tax of €13 billion, which may not all come back to the Irish State but a chunk of which certainly is due to us? There is €9 billion in NAMA which we are told we cannot spend because we would be breaking European fiscal rules. We are continuing to pay €6.3 billion on the interest of the debt to Europe, much of which is odious debt which is not the responsibility of the Irish people. We are ignoring at least €4 billion in possible collection of corporation tax, given the effective rate of 12.5%.

We have had a lot of waffle from Ministers and others about how wise they all are and how they are prudent. The word is thrown around like a badge of honour: "Look at us now; we spell prudence the correct way." That prudence amounts to the following. Landlords' interest relief will be €8 million. The help-to-buy boon to builders and developers will cost us €50 million and, while there are people who want to buy houses for more than €600,000, this measure is definitely going to drive up the cost of housing. The new reduced rate of capital gains tax for entrepreneurs disposing of business interests of up to €1 million will cost €13 million. The increase in inheritance tax relief for amounts over €300,000 will cost €22 million. Reduced DIRT will cost us €9 million. There is €100 million worth of prudence - a series of measures that are unnecessary and aimed at sections of society that will reward Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the future with their votes. That is, indeed, very prudent.

We then come to the multinationals and the measures that are not taken in regard to the opportunities to alter tax and revenue streams coming to the people of this country in a meaningful way. To take one example, we have reduced the VAT rate on the hospitality and tourism sector and kept it at a reduced rate, costing the State €620 million. What is the justification for this prudence from the Government? Is it a sector that is struggling and fragile? This is not this case. Since 2014 the accommodation and hospitality sector has had an increase of profitability that passed 2007 levels by 40%. While shareholders and CEOs in this sector enjoy the largesse, what has happened to the workers at the hand of this prudent Government? We are seeing the proposal to increase the minimum wage by a glorious 10 cent an hour. That is not prudence; it is total indifference. Some 20% of our workforce who depend on the minimum wage will see their glorious earnings increase by about €3 a week.

I want to point out, in case anyone has missed it, that the very wealthy in this country were very wealthy before the crisis, they remained wealthy during the crisis and they have grown wealthier since the crisis. They have been untouched by this budget. We have a tax haven, the foundations of which were built by Fianna Fáil - by Charlie Haughey, Bertie Ahern and Charlie McCreevy, to mention a few historical characters - and it remains a tax haven under the watch of the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and the Minister, Deputy Noonan. We contrast this talk of prudence with the attitude to Apple and others, and we contrast the largesse to landlords and corporate bodies, with the prudent attitude to young unemployed people, who will gain an extra €2.70 a week, not even the bus fare into the city for a job interview. We also contrast that with the rise of some €5,000 that the Deputies in this House will get.

Again, this is not prudence; it is indifference. It is blindness that ignores workers, the unemployed and the low paid. Despite all the talk of increases in social welfare, all social welfare recipients will be on less than they were in 2009 after this budget, except for old age pensioners. That is not to resent the increases going to old age pensioners but to draw attention to the fact that even the increased lone parent payment will mean lone parents are still €37 a week worse off than they were prior to 2009. Ministers can pat themselves on the back for measures such as child care and the proposals to give this to a minority of parents who may benefit from accessing a place, but there is a blind spot with regard to workers in this sector, who are on precarious hours and low pay. We ignore the reality that we cannot provide decent social services in any sphere unless we provide decent jobs and decent wages.

I want to concentrate on a couple of other areas, the main one being housing. What really expose the farce of this prudence are the measures announced to deal with the housing crisis. Let us remember there are 140,000 families in housing need on local authority lists and over 6,000 in homeless accommodation. All of this is the fallout from the crisis caused by the very bankers and developers who were nursed and cajoled by Fianna Fáil in the past and by the current Government, backed up by Fianna Fáil. Apparently, it is to help those who suffer the most from the crisis that we are taking this prudent approach, but it is not to help the homeless or the people in need of homes. No, the prudent approach is to help the developers, the builders and the landlords who were responsible for the crisis in the first instance, and to help some of those who may aspire to buy a house for over €600,000.

The figure of €1.3 billion to deal with the housing crisis is a lie. It was another opportunity for the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to announce again and again the same headline figure and the same rhetoric, as he has done on countless occasions since launching his Rebuilding Ireland programme. If we had one local authority house for every time he had a PR opportunity on this figure, we would be doing well. What funds have been earmarked to build good quality local authority public housing in order to see the stock of public housing rise? The answer is none.

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