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Budget Statement 2019 (Continued)

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 973 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen] It would have been truly opportunistic to walk away as some did in this Chamber. They did not show up and did not take any responsibility.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh The Deputy refused to meet.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen While we were not successful in forming a Government it was crystal clear that the public had soundly rejected Fine Gael’s notion that the recovery was being felt nationally. The public categorically rejected the Tory-style tax cuts for the rich, and it was in this context that Fianna Fáil negotiated the confidence and supply agreement to underpin a new Government. Fianna Fáil wanted Ireland to have a stable, functioning Government. The reason for that was a deeper sense of that responsibility to ensure the State provides for its citizens. In these deeply uncertain times around the globe parties of the centre ground have a duty to work for the common good. The confidence and supply agreement for all its frustrations, has provided stability during a period when our closest trading partners in the UK and US are mired in political crisis. It is in that spirit too that we approached this budget.

  As Deputy Michael McGrath has alluded to, we have kept faith with the agreement, often in difficult circumstances and with messy compromises, to maintain the centre ground in Irish politics. We have worked for the ordinary citizens who want their Government to work for them. Other parties have been content to sit on their hands. In Brendan Behan’s words, they are "like eunuchs in a [brothel]; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves”. It is in this context that Fianna Fáil honoured the agreement to secure three budgets.

  At the core of the confidence and supply agreement is the principle that there must be a minimum of a 2:1 split in favour of investment in vital public services over tax cuts. In reality, for the last two budgets it has been more like 3:1, moving to 4:1 in this budget. It is worth remembering what a sea change this has been. In the budget before the 2016 election, Fine Gael and the Labour Party settled for a 50:50 split, ensuring that it was regressive in nature. That budget was opportunistic and was designed to buy the electorate. In a country which was crying out for investment in public services Fine Gael and the Labour Party chose excessive tax cuts.

  Our agreement has delivered a rainy day fund that will help finances when the next downturn occurs. It has delivered successive cuts in USC directed at low and middle-income earners, has secured a €15 increase in the old age pension, a €15 increase in the carer’s and disability allowances, and a €15 increase in unemployment benefit. It has delivered on increasing the home carer’s and earned income tax credit, and on decreasing capital gains tax for entrepreneurs. It has delivered on restoring pay to our public servants, bringing an end to pay inequality.

  In education it has delivered on reducing the pupil-teacher ratio, providing for 500 new guidance counsellors, restoring postgraduate grants for low-income students and boosting third level funding. In health, it has delivered on the reactivation of the National Treatment Purchase Fund. Funding for mental health has also been addressed, as has the issue of retrospective pay for section 39 health workers.

  We fought for the extension of mortgage interest relief for more than 400,000 homeowners, increases in rent supplements and housing support payments, the reopening of the CLÁR programme and local improvement scheme and an extra 1,600 gardaí on our streets. The agreement also finally brought an end to water charges.

  As we face into the deep uncertainty of Brexit the arrangement has provided stability. Preparing our State for Brexit runs through our approach to this budget like a seam of rock. By honouring the confidence and supply agreement Fianna Fáil has delivered for people across Ireland.

  As has been alluded to, housing is the key test for this budget and this Government. It is a fight for the right to have a safe and secure roof over one's head as the basic starting point of any decent life. The homelessness crisis that scars our towns and cities challenges us to act decisively. The plight of tenants struggling to make ends meet as spiralling rents drain more and more of their income demands action. The dream of home ownership is slipping away from a generation and intervention is needed. It has been said that too often the Government has focused on spin over substance. Since coming into power Fine Gael has launched Construction 2020, Social Housing Strategy 2020, Rebuilding Ireland in 2016 and capital plans in 2012, 2015 and 2018. These six separate plans exclude the numerous relaunches involved. This is more launches than local authority homes built in several counties so far this year.

  Now is the time for real ambition and genuine delivery. The State needs to return to building on the same kind of scale that defined the ambition of the 1930s. To address the housing crisis a major capital injection is needed. Today’s announcement falls short of that but it is a start and a move in the right direction compared with the past number of years. The €60 million boost to homelessness funding must be the beginning of a campaign to end the nightmare of emergency accommodation into which so many families have been locked

  We also need value from the investment we make. The protracted delays and blame game between the Department and local authorities do nothing for the 10,000 homeless or the more than 100,000 languishing on waiting lists. We have worked for and sought an increase in local authorities' discretion to build without undergoing the four-stage process, and we have been successful in that regard. Cutting through red tape and focusing on getting bricks and mortar in the ground has to be at the heart of the Government’s focus on delivery.

  Fianna Fáil believes in home ownership. We believe the State has a central role to play in supporting home ownership and ensuring that each generation can have the chance to own their own homes. In order to make that dream a reality we have successfully fought for a revamped affordable housing scheme to be launched in this budget. This is designed to help those above social housing income levels but who struggle to afford a home of their own. In contrast to the scheme initiated by the Minister in June, this will quadruple funding and set out new criteria. A €100 million fund per annum over the next three years will see some 6,000 units in train by 2021. This is the beginning and, in combination with the new Land Development Agency, it should be able to play a greater role in delivering decent, affordable homes in the years to come. These units will be available for sale at an average price of €200,000 for single earners up to €50,000 and joint income earners up to €75,000.

  In the rental sector we need to retain and attract landlords to prevent losing the badly needed supply of their units which are so vital in the emergency and immediacy of the problem we have. The acceleration of mortgage interest relief is a step in the right direction. We realise much more work is needed to incentivise long-term leasing that will facilitate tenants who want and deserve stability in their accommodation. I expect further work on this in the upcoming finance Bill. It is easy for snake oil salesman to spin easy solutions to this crisis or shout from the sidelines. This crisis deserves more, however, than to be kicked about in the game of politics. We are committed to the more difficult route of holding the Government to account and seeking to ensure delivery. We know the fight for a decent home for every citizen will be a long fight, but I want every family to know that we are on its side. Not simply for the grandstanding on budget day but day in, day out, we fight in their corner.

  I would like to mention the issue of mica in the north west, particularly Donegal and Mayo. The Minister made a commitment to address this issue in the coming year and we expect to see the detail of that during the course of the year with a Revised Estimate to accommodate it.

  Before I comment on the expenditure on health, it is important to acknowledge and sympathise with Ms Emma Mhic Mhathúna's family following her death earlier this week. Emma always spoke bravely about the need for quality, accountability and reform in our health service. She wanted this to protect her five young children as they got older, and she wanted a health service that we could all be proud of rather than one we would use as a political football. She spoke passionately about the need for change and for the recommendations of the Scally inquiry to be implemented. This is in all of our interests and there should be all-party agreement to ensure this is delivered in memory of her and many others, and for all of the women and families affected following the recent CervicalCheck revelations. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam.

  The state of our health service continues to be a stain on our society. Morale among health professionals, such as doctors and nurses, has hit rock bottom. GPs are being forced to close their practices to new patients and many are even leaving the country. Consultants are warning of shortages in specialist areas and there are too few acute and mental health hospital beds available. As a result, patients are feeling it on the ground. Nearly one million people are on waiting lists and thousands of patients continue to lie on trolleys. The Government’s health policy has failed, and yet it would like us all to believe that the public healthcare system is a lost cause, that no matter who is in government, it cannot be improved. As the former Taoiseach, Mr. Seán Lemass, once said:

A defeatist attitude now would surely lead to defeat. We cannot opt out of the future.

We cannot afford the fatalism the Government has taken to our health service.

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