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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 Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace] I am actually getting tired of hearing in here that the Government really cares about rural areas. It is wearing a bit thin. All Deputies from outside Dublin know many of the towns and villages are dying and need help. They need a different government approach.

  There is a small village in the south of Wexford called Duncannon. The residents there have been on to me for a couple of years about a footpath of 300 m that they want to extend from the playground to the village. It would also connect to a housing estate with 56 houses. The road there is really dangerous. If there is a person walking on the road and two cars meet, one of the cars has to stop for fear of hitting him or her. When the local authority is asked why it will not build the footpath, it states honestly that it does not have the money. Given that the local authorities are totally dependent on central government for money, the Government would give them money for such projects if it actually cared about rural areas. It is not giving enough.

  Any notion that the budget is connected to the reality of people's lives has been well challenged by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. I am talking about the lack of reality in the budget and the disconnect between its provisions and real Ireland. The Minister actually said today, "this Government and the Irish people will not be found wanting in addressing some of the major humanitarian crises and development challenges our planet faces." Give me a break. Let us just mention Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Shannon. It is said we are worrying about the humanitarian crises in the world today but we have tea with the Saudis and UAE crowd and we are grand with it. The worst humanitarian crisis on the planet today is in Yemen. The people are being starved out of it. That is the latest tactic. Most of the bombs have hit non-military targets from the start in Yemen. Now crops and animals are being bombed to reduce the amount of food. The port of Hodeidah, where most of the food comes in, has been blocked. It is ridiculous, yet we say we care about the rest of the planet. We are still allowing Shannon to be used by the US military to bomb the living daylights out of anything it wants to bomb.

  With regard to climate change, the report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released some days ago. It was damning. According to the climate change performance index, Ireland is the worst performing European country. Our carbon emissions are a shocking 60% higher than the EU average. What is in the budget today about climate change? It is a load of nonsense. The Taoiseach said in August that if we are to meet our climate change obligations, we have to grasp the nettle by increasing the carbon tax. Maybe the Government has another budget coming up next week and we will see climate change dealt with but we have not seen anything yet. There was nothing in the budget today.

  The budget refers to using compressed natural gas in our vehicles as an environmentally friendly alternative to diesel. The idea that natural gas is in any way environmentally friendly is propaganda by the fossil fuel industry. It is not true. We know from numerous studies that the increased use of natural gas in road transport is largely ineffective in reducing greenhouse gases or air pollution. The immediate benefits are small or non-existent while the environmental and societal costs and costs to operators are negative for almost all vehicle categories, particularly large commercial vehicles. Natural gas is a fossil fuel and, as such, should be kept in the ground. Instead, the Government is talking about spending money to incentivise its extraction and burning it. It is nuts.

  There is more money going into the forestry sector. It would be welcome if the programme were not an environmental disaster. Tree plantations in Ireland are dominated by non-native varieties that require fertilisers and pesticides. They are destined for pulp, fibreboard, paper products or, worse, the generation of energy. We have the second lowest level of tree cover in Europe. We should be incentivising farmers to plant a mix of native species that will stay in the ground and achieve long-term carbon lock-up but we are not doing it.

  With regard to housing, spare me, Lord. The Minister said today, "We are working hard to deliver sufficient housing to provide secure and affordable homes for all our people.". I am sorry to say that is not true. The Minister said, "In the rental sector, I am bringing forward the full removal of the restriction on the amount of interest that may be deducted by landlords in respect of loans used to purchase, improve or repair their residential property.". The Government is to subsidise them even more. In Germany, rental properties are subsidised but on the condition that they are rented below the market rate. Here the rates are off the Richter scale, yet we are still going to incentivise the landlords. The Minister stated:

We have established a €100 million serviced sites fund to support local authorities in bringing forward lands for subsidised, more affordable housing. I intend to increase the level of this fund to €310 million over three years.

For how long have we been subsidising housing in this country? Despite the amount of subsidisation, the budget today is bringing in more. Since we came in here in 2011, nearly eight years ago, the Government has refused to do what needs to be done to address the problems regarding the supply of housing. It is listening to the wrong people. It might say it is not going to listen to those of us over here ranting and raving about housing until the cows come home but I am sorry to say it is listening to the wrong people. It does not understand the industry. I do because I spent my life in it. The Government is going in completely the wrong direction. It is going the same way as Governments have gone for the past 30 or 40 years. Introducing a subsidy in the manner in question, supposedly to produce affordable housing, is crazy. It is not the way to do it.

  The Government members were in here only a couple of weeks ago telling us how wonderful the Land Development Agency is. The Minister for Finance said today that the Land Development Agency has been established to better co-ordinate State lands for regeneration and development. The agency will be NAMA Mark II. It will co-ordinate State lands all right, but for developers to provide unaffordable housing. There is no sense to that. As the Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan, will know, we introduced a Bill in July on this matter. The Government should address the root cause, where it all starts.

  Let me give the two main reasons housing is unaffordable in Ireland. First, the price of land is crazy because we do not control it and, instead of taxing land-banking, we incentivise it. Second, the Government is not prepared to hire builders to build housing, although it is prepared to hire developers who will hire builders to build housing. As I keep saying, the builder and developer are two different animals. It just so happened that some builders, like myself, became developers 15 or 20 years ago but the average developer now is not a builder. He hires builders. Some build but the big boys do not. They are looking for a serious profit. They are looking for €60,000 to €80,000 in profit per unit. If they have land, they would like about €100,000 per unit for it. If the Government sorted out the local authorities, made them fit for purpose and let them hire builders, who would be very happy to make €10,000 in profit per unit, they would be delighted. The Government is paying an extra €100,000 per unit, at a minimum, to allow the big developers to supply the housing for it. It is not prepared to fix the problem. It could produce a unit for €100,000 less by organising bodies itself to work in connection with the local authorities. I do not understand why the Government will not do this.

  The Government used section 43 as an excuse not to tax land-banking. Other countries tax it. We say at times we are following international best practice but we are not. They do it much better in other places. We are ignoring the good aspects of how they operate.


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