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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 Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty] Today, the Government and Fianna Fáil have presented more solutions for landlords than for struggling tenants and those in dire need of a home, which says it all. These landlords are collecting rents that are more expensive than at any point in the State's history. The vast majority of landlords who will benefit from the increased landlord mortgage interest relief announced today are raking in fat profits. By itself, this measure is entirely useless. This budget is full of handouts and incentives for landlords but this is not a landlords' crisis; it is a renters' crisis. For another budget, the Minister has refused to give citizens any relief from this crisis. Freezing rents is what is required. We have said it time and again. Giving real certainty is what is required but the Minister has failed to bring this unforgivable mess to an end because he believes, as does Fianna Fáil, that the market will clean it up for him. He is blinded to the solutions because he does not believe in them. Sinn Féin has proposed the construction of 15,000 social and affordable homes in its alternative budget for 2019, an emergency rent freeze and proposed tax relief for renters equal to a full month's rent. We have put forward a radical and ambitious housing package targeting the core pillars of the crisis in affordability and supply. This budget is starved of the ambition and focus needed to end this crisis. How out of touch must Deputy Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil be to keep a straight face and call this a housing budget? How many times must the names and memories of citizens deprived of a basic human right, the right to a home in their own country, ring out in this Chamber and the streets outside this building before the Government finally grasps that it needs to invest in, and build, social and affordable housing?

As I said at the beginning of my contribution, for what will soon be three budgets that the Deputy and Fianna Fáil have declared "housing budgets", Amanda will be homeless. She says her life is being robbed from her. It has being robbed because of the policies of this Government. It is robbing the life chances of 10,000 homeless citizens. This is not a mild political problem that the Minister can ignore. This is now a social tragedy of historic proportions for which he and his Government will forever be blamed. Nothing he can do now will heal its reputation as an administration and rightly so. All he can do now is do the right thing and invest but for another budget, he has failed to do so. Renters need a rent freeze, rent relief and a doubling of social and affordable housing in 2019.

This Government is running out of excuses and Amanda, Orla and the people of Ireland are running out of time. So on the day when the Minister has condemned this State to yet another year of widespread and systemic housing policy failure, let us not mince words. This Government is responsible for creating and repeatedly deepening one of the worst social crises in the history of the State and has done so with the support of its colleagues in Fianna Fáil because the housing crisis is the direct result of the policy failures of the two parties passing the budget before this House. They alone are responsible for the failure to invest adequately in social and affordable homes. They could have taken that decision at any time over the past seven years but they refused to do so, instead cutting taxes and ensuring the wealthiest and the elite in society were protected at all times.

What is most frustrating for people, and for me as a public representative and finance spokesperson, is that all of this is avoidable. There is no reason the "supplying incompetence" agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil has brought forward three budgets that have completely underbudgeted for our health service. Health is one of our most important public services. For some time now, in budget after budget, we have witnessed the systematic underfunding of the health service. The inevitable outcome is that the health service cannot deliver the services people need without going over budget because it was underfunded in the first instance, which has resulted in what the Minister likes to call an "overspend". This budget offered the opportunity to set out a sustainable and credible funding path for health to address capacity issues and funding shortages and to deliver a sustainable delivery plan for Sláintecare but no capacity solutions have been offered. We have not heard any. Instead, we got financial chicanery and budgetary deceit. The Minister has not offered a sustainable way forward for the health service and his measures have put it at huge risk in the coming years. He has used unexpected and unreliable corporation tax receipts for a quick, short-term fix for the health budget, which is wrong. He has done this on the back of a corporation tax bonanza announced during the weekend. What has he done? He has blind-sided the Opposition and the public and responded to the Government's chronic underfunding of health by throwing volatile multinational tax receipts at our hospitals and our primary care centres instead of putting them on to a sustainable footing. The short-termism of funding a health service off a once-off corporation tax windfall is not just deceptive but extremely dangerous. We have been here before. The script has been written on the Opposition benches. Short-term populism through volatile revenue has Fianna Fáil's fingerprints are all over it. The Minister scrambles to plug the gap this year with corporate tax receipts that are volatile and heavily concentrated but they simply cannot be depended on.

I remind the Minister of the consequences of the Government's neglect. One in five people are stuck on waiting lists for basic emergency care. These people need it but they cannot get it in a broken and under-funded system overseen by Fine Gael for seven years now. The life chances of children with acute illnesses are being thrown away because they cannot access the services they need. There are pensioners whose lives have been put on hold until they can see a surgeon. If this is all the health system can offer citizens in a society as wealthy as ours, then it is a sign of an unprecedented failure. Around the world, citizens can have their needs met on time and as a right, not as consumers. This is what the Irish people deserve; nothing else will do. Tinkering around the edges will not deliver the health service that is their right. The Minister has proposed to reduce prescription charges for those over 70 by 50 cent and the drugs payment scheme threshold by €10. Prescription charges are a tax on ill health and any measure to lower them is welcomed but the Minister's moves on prescription charges and the drugs payment scheme are not ambitious enough and should have gone a lot further. It is unfortunate that it seems they will only be reduced for those over 70 as these costs are a huge burden to working families as well. Sinn Féin had budgeted for a €1 reduction in prescription charges across the board as the fairest way to reduce this unfair tax on ill health. We also budgeted to lower the drugs payment scheme to €100 and it is disappointing that the Government is only suggesting it will reduce this to €124. Medicines are completely unaffordable for countless families in this State and the Minister has done the least he possibly could to change this reality.

Today, he has once again failed to end the staffing crisis that is impacting on public health. We know that nurses and midwives are balloting to reject the Minister's pay agreement and we have the distinct possibility of a strike among these professions, yet he chose not to address the issues that are causing a recruitment and retention crisis throughout the health service. He has made it clear to them that they will be waiting until the Government is swept aside. Our health service needs real and sustainable investment into the future. The Minister has not done this today. Instead, he has used volatile corporation tax receipts to fund current expenditure in health, used the health service as an election tool and put it in danger of collapse in the coming years because his investments are not sustainable.

He announced new funding for the NTPF. This has Fianna Fáil's fingers all over it, which it proudly admits. The party is siphoning public moneys to line the pockets of private healthcare. Are private healthcare operators now vying for top spot on the Fianna Fáil gravy train along with property developers because it looks that way? The NTPF is short-term populism. As Dr. Sara Burke of the Centre for Health Policy and Management in Trinity College has pointed out, "Over a decade of pouring hundreds of millions into the NTPF is proof it does not address the underlying causes of the long waits for public patients in the first place", yet Fianna Fáil and the Government simply do not get it. Diverting public money into private healthcare is not only wrong; it does not make any financial sense in the long run. While we welcome the extension of GP care to what we understand is up to 100,000 people, this is the first acknowledgement that the Government cares at all about giving people the healthcare they deserve. However, it has not announced how capacity will be increased to deliver this. Based on speaking to GPs this morning, it seems there has been no consultation on delivering this. Currently, there is no capacity to deliver the levels of care we have and the Government has done nothing to change this.

There should have been dialogue and investment first in increasing the number of doctors on the GP training scheme in order that the number of GPs and the capacity to deliver services can be increased.


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