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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] These citizens are Sinn Féin's priority, and these are the citizens facing financial distress as a direct result of the Minister's policies to date.

Education is crying out for investment. Class sizes across the State are growing and are already among the biggest in Europe. Our seats of public learning, in universities and institutes of technology, are falling behind their counterparts across the world. For the first time in many years, there is no Irish institution in the top 100 in the world. This is not some arbitrary ranking to be achieved for its own sake. It is an indication of how society and the Government value publicly funded education.

The verdict from the budget is clear. The Government does not care enough about education in the State to give it the investment it needs. There is little value placed on the children with special needs, who are hoping to win a lottery just to get a diagnosis. The social and economic benefits of placing education at the heart of society are profound but the Minister is clearly blind to them given that he did not adequately fund this in budget 2019. A lack of investment is undermining our economic potential and squandering what should be the greatest ever generation of Irish pioneers and innovators. This is simply ignoring a central pillar of any society wishing to lead the knowledge and digital economy opportunities in the time ahead. While this undermines the quality of education, the Minister is also doing his best to make education unaffordable. The student contribution charge - student fees - should be a thing of the past. No Government should be charging its citizens thousands of euro to expand their minds and contribute to society. Sinn Féin would do what the Government has again failed to do. We would make student fees a thing of the past by reducing them, next year by €500 and every year thereafter by the same.

No one in rural Ireland expects this budget to change their lot any time soon. I note the silence of many in Fianna Fáil who in previous weeks were on local radio stations and attending local meetings stating that the closure of rural post offices would be a red line issue for them. Lo and behold, they say one thing to the public at home and another when they are sitting in the Dáil and having to put their money where their mouth is.

What is happening the people of rural Ireland is not some natural culture change or the result of young people having their hearts elsewhere. Growing up surrounded by our natural heritage, and protecting that heritage, is the great pride of people in rural Ireland, but it is a pride that is becoming harder and harder to enjoy. In fact, living as their families before them lived is becoming almost impossible. People are not leaving for the good of their health – rural Ireland has been pushed slowly into a steady decline for decades. This budget does nothing to make life easier on isolated rural communities. What little community services remain in villages across the State have been under attack from the Government. Basic broadband is still a pipedream for many families, and economic development remains Dublin centred. This budget needed to be a clear statement of intent that we would invest in rural Ireland and that we would support rural areas. For infrastructure, public services, resourced gardaí, promotion of tourism and the Irish language, it is another year without the necessary investment in a new beginning for rural Ireland.

Is am cinniúnach é don Ghaeilge; tá sí mar theanga phobail i mbaol an bháis. Tá titim ollmhór ar infheistiú sna heagrais Ghaeilge agus Ghaeltachta le deich mbliana anuas. Is é an toradh air sin ná go bhfuil titim shuntasach ar líon na gcainteoirí dúchasacha Gaeilge anois – 11% ar fud na ceantair Ghaeltachta de réir an daonáirimh is déanaí. Sin titim de 11% i gceann cúig bliana amháin. Is tubaisteach an toradh é agus rachaidh cúrsaí chun donais mura ndéanann an Rialtas infheistiú fhiúntach san earnáil seo. Ach ní mar atá. Agus muid i lár Bhliain na Gaeilge is maslach an méid suarach atá faighte ag an Ghaeilge agus an Ghaeltacht. Níl dóthain maoinithe faighte ag an phleanáil teanga. In athuair, tá an Rialtas ag déanamh neamhairde ar phlean infheistíochta Chonradh na Gaeilge agus tá sé ag déanamh neamhairde ar an Ghaeilge a fhorbairt mór-thimpeall an Stáit. Tá an Rialtas ag caitheamh céatadáin fíorbhig den bhuiséad iomlán ar an Ghaeilge agus an Ghaeltacht. Níl ach leath á chaitheamh aige i mbliana agus mar a bhí in 2008. Ní haon ionadh é go bhfuil géarchéim tagtha ar cheantair Ghaeltachta agus Ghaeilge. Is gá infheistiú sa Ghaeltacht agus sa Ghaeilge mar ábhar práinne. Is gá seirbhísí sásúla a bheith ag muintir na Gaeltachta agus na n-oileán araon. Is gá deireadh a chur leis an bhéalghrá agus dul i ngleic leis an chreimeadh teanga go hionraic agus go sonrach.

Táim bródúil go bhfuil an Ghaeilge mar theanga náisiúnta againn. Tá gníomhairí teanga den chéad scoth againn. Tá grúpaí pobail díograiseacha diongbháilte againn, ach is gá don Rialtas aitheantas a thabhairt don phráinn atá ann i leith na Gaeilge de agus beart a dhéanamh de réir a bhriathar.

The Minister failed to provide what is truly needed for decent healthcare, to help renters, to build enough houses, to lower the cost of childcare and to increase incomes for struggling citizens but he found money for some PR trickery. It will be no surprise to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, that I refer to the so-called "rainy day fund". It will also be no surprise that I have rejected this, as have businesses and worker groups alike. There are many good reasons for this. With the exception of a select few commentators, this proposal has been roundly dismissed, including by a majority of parties here today. What this suggests is that this proposal is not being guided by economic policy concerns. What the Minister actually did was take a hand-me-down policy from Fianna Fáil and made it his own. This is policy on the hoof and it is clear its final design was being made up as the Minister went along. Now we know it was. A freedom of information response we in Sinn Féin obtained makes it clear that the only possible use for this fund in the way it is currently set up is to bail out a banking crash in the future. That is the reality of what is there, in black and white. It cannot be used to offset Brexit. It cannot be used to deal with health. It is a bailout for the banks. The Government has done it before. The Government partners in Fianna Fáil have done it before. I am sure it is what the Minister is setting up again. It is time to be honest with the people in relation to this.

We will not forget where this proposal originated from. As I stated, it originated from Fianna Fáil. If we were to agree with the policy put forward by Fianna Fáil in its manifesto in 2016, we would be putting €3 billion into the rainy day fund this year. Not only would they have the brass neck to call this a housing budget but they would have to cut housing if they got their way at that time.

For many families, it is not just raining; it is pouring. It is pouring for those who cannot get access to housing. It is pouring for those who cannot get access to health services. It is pouring for those who cannot get access to affordable childcare. If their wages are not disappearing into the pockets of landlords, or to banks charging twice the average EU interest rate for mortgages, they are lost to some of the highest childcare bills in the world. By investing the rainy day fund in public services, and in struggling families, the Minister could choose to bring the spiralling cost-of-living crisis to an end, but for another budget the Minister has refused to do so. This is where this money should be invested.

Of course, no one should be surprised at this. The Government, with these policies, has chosen to side with banks over people, which is nothing short of disgraceful. I should not need to remind the Minister that he represents a Government which is the majority shareholder in some of the biggest banks in the State. Like any shareholder, never mind one which commands the majority share, the Minister has the opportunity to direct the values and principles of these banks. In emergency circumstances, the Minister has the opportunity to intervene. Why then did the Minister sit on his hands this summer as billions of euro worth of mortgages on Irish family homes where handed over to rabid vulture funds? These are billionaire funds preying on some of the most financially vulnerable citizens in the State who did absolutely nothing wrong. Why has another budget passed where the Minister encourages the rank exploitation by foreign investors by presiding over a tax system which offers them tax breaks and tax neutrality? Why will the Minister not intervene? Is it because in the mind of the Government the rights of international funds such as these trump the rights of Irish citizens in distress? So blinded is Fine Gael by its deference to the market that it allows the market scrape the maximum possible profit from Irish citizens, many in their greatest hour of need. When they need their Government, charged with protecting their rights and interests, the Government is busy allowing their mortgages to be flogged off for an easy profit. That is the long scam come full circle. Not only was there never the light of a new society at the end of the tunnel, the Government's policies have allowed the elites in this society, and the culture which drives them, to regroup. There can be no other explanation. Ten years on, the Irish people's bailout of the banks has allowed them to rise to the top of Irish society once again. Who else in our society is allowed to forgo their taxes for up to 20 years at a time when they see profits of over €1 billion? Sinn Féin would bring back in the cap on losses the profitable banks can use to write off against profits so that they would be limited to 25%. This would bring in €175 million this year alone.

In the Minister's books, the banks must come first. Who else in our society would be allowed to charge interest rates on mortgages that are double the European average? Who else in our society could effectively rob their own customers of hundreds of millions of euro and be confident that they will never be held accountable? When the Central Bank produced its report on banking culture, there was nothing new in it.

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