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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] Morale in the force has taken a significant hit in recent times and reform of the organisation is essential. Implementing the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing must be a priority for Government. Key to that reform, however, is having enough gardaí on the street. For this reason increasing Garda numbers to 15,000 was a fundamental part of our 2016 manifesto and subsequently the confidence and supply arrangement. With 800 new gardaí in 2019 on the streets and in rural areas the force will be better placed to serve the public and tackle crime.

The current strain on our Defence Forces is not only a risk to the country but also deeply disrespectful to the men and women who serve this country. Our sailors continue to perform heroically in very difficult circumstances in the Mediterranean. Our soldiers are deployed in some of the most hostile environments on the planet and continue to do this country proud in seeking to bring peace and stability to regions tormented by war. At home the Defence Forces defend this State with dedication and honour. It is altogether shameful that we continue to hear of the conditions our men and women in the Defence Forces have to put up with. Our dedicated service men and women in Óglaigh na hÉireann need to be treated with respect. I look forward to the next stage of the Public Service Pay Commission which will deal with this issue and focus on the pay and conditions in the armed services. The current situation cannot continue. A pathway for fair pay and conditions for our Defence Forces personnel must be put in place.

Urgent action is required to tackle climate change. It is now certain that Ireland will miss its climate change targets under the European Union energy directive and the Paris Agreement. This will not only be damaging to us financially, but will be catastrophic if every nation fails to meet its targets as well. Ireland will be particularly vulnerable if climate change becomes irreversible. Last year, my predecessor and colleague, Deputy Calleary, indicated there was a need ensure the new national development plan was climate-proofed. It has now emerged that no such proofing took place, which shows where Fine Gael stands on the issue.

As Deputy McGrath alluded to, the agrifood sector is most vulnerable to the impacts of Brexit, no matter how Brexit actually unfolds. Farmers up and down the country are living in fear of what Brexit may bring. If a no-deal Brexit takes place this sector will be put under ferocious pressure. Family farms will be particularly vulnerable. I welcome the launch of the new pilot project for the suckler cow scheme. It is shocking that the Brexit loan scheme, announced last year, has not yet been established. This is yet another example of Fine Gael failing to deliver for farmers. Cashflow in the sector is already under severe pressure and low-cost credit is critical to helping them survive. They expected that facility to be available to them long before now. The Minister, Deputy Creed, confirmed last week at a committee that it will be open for applications in early 2019, which gives very little time to adjust to Brexit which is set to materialise, in whatever form, on 29 March 2019.

The decline of rural towns and villages continues to be a major issue facing the country. There is a clear disconnect between the more prosperous urban areas and rural Ireland. The decline of the post office network is just the latest in a series of blows to rural Ireland. Banks too have closed their branches, leaving local businesses high and dry, and the Government has failed to deliver on broadband. The national broadband plan now lies in tatters and on the brink of downright collapse, although we hope this will not be the case. This is having a devastating impact on rural towns and villages, where broadband connection has the potential to breathe new life into an area. With support from the Government rural areas can be reinvigorated. In the 2016 election Fianna Fáil called for the expansion of the LEADER programme and the reopening of the CLÁR scheme, along with the local improvement scheme. However, the Minister, Deputy Ring, and his Department seem to be the Cinderella of the Cabinet. The underspend in the Department does not bode well for having any positive impact on rural communities. LEADER and the town and village renewal scheme, as well intentioned as they are, are falling far behind profile. Once again, delivery on announcements comes back to haunt this Government. Rural Ireland deserves better.

The tourism sector will be disappointed by the VAT increase, in particular those who own small and medium sized hotels and restaurant owners in rural and Border areas. I welcome the €35 million for the tourism sector that was announced to help to counteract the VAT increases, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport as to how exactly this allocation will be utilised.

Our national language and rich culture is not simply an economic asset; it is an intrinsic part of who we are as a people. My party and I are disappointed with the lack of progress on further funding for the Irish language towards achieving the aims of the 20-year strategy.

Our tradition of sporting endeavour across a wide range of fields has always done us proud. Funding for sports needs to be more than just a PR stunt for the Minister, Deputy Ross, at Dublin Airport.

Fine Gael’s dire record on capital expenditure from 2011 has left Ireland lagging far behind its international competitors and struggling to cope with a growing population. The crises in health and housing are testament to that neglect, and will now take years to resolve. Earlier this year the Government announced, amid much fanfare, a new and glossy national development plan, under which we will see new schools, new hospitals, new transport links, new roads and new Garda stations. Critically, and all too characteristically, the report was scant on detail. Given the appalling nature of housing and health in this country, one is entitled to ask when these new capital projects will be delivered.

The summer economic statement confirmed that €1.5 billion extra in capital expenditure was to be spent in 2019. This is to be welcomed, but when asked what this €1.5 billion would be spent on there was precious little by way of concrete plans. On numerous occasions I asked the Government to provide details, both here in this House and in the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. Frankly, the answers I received back were equally scant on detail, and I regret to say they displayed the same pattern as all other plans introduced by this and indeed the last Government. Will the national development plan be delivered for the people? I sincerely hope so, but I fear not. Fianna Fáil would establish a national infrastructure commission to oversee the delivery of the national development plan and outline key priorities to the Government. The failure to establish such a body under the national development plan was a serious mistake and I fear the plan will now drift and deadlines will be missed.

We need a clear transport plan for Dublin city. With a growing population the capital is already bursting at its seams and major transport blockages are emerging. We need more buses rather than fewer, and we need key transport links to the airport.

This budget represents the third budget under the confidence and supply arrangement. Many predicted that we would not get to the first budget. Many predicted we would not get through the removal of water charges. Many predicted we would not achieve a second budget, not to mention a third. I am firm in my belief that Fianna Fáil has made a positive impact on the direction this Government is taking.

Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe: Information on Kevin O'Keeffe Zoom on Kevin O'Keeffe Hear, hear.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen This is not the position Fianna Fáil wanted to be in before the 2016 general election, but when Ireland required a stable Government we chose to act, and in so doing changed the direction the country was heading. Every Member in this House seeks to serve the citizens of this country and seeks to improve the quality of life for the public. We cannot allow politics in this country to fragment in a way that leaves the door open for extremist groups who wish to impose their views on society. We must serve the public. We must give them the vital public services they require. We must create an environment that enables them to work in a decent job so that they can provide for themselves and their family, and we must ensure that they have a safe roof over their heads.

Fianna Fáil believes that only by working towards these aims can we achieve a prosperous and fairer Ireland. This budget is certainly not the budget we would have written, but there is little doubt that this budget is a fairer one because of our input via the confidence and supply arrangement. Through often difficult discussions and messy compromises we have upheld our side of the agreement. We look forward to the finance Bill, which will hopefully address some of the issues that have not been detailed in the budget. We look forward to the Revised Estimates in some areas which will account for some of the commitments given during the course of our exchanges. This budget is fairer because of the input of Fianna Fáil, and can accommodate the needs of all. We are thankful that we have been able to preside over three budgets that did what they said on the tin in terms of the ratio of funding for vital public services compared to taxation.

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