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Financial Provisions (Covid-19) (No. 2) Bill 2020: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 996 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry] The Nevin Economic Research Institute, NERI, estimated in 2018 that €1 billion of State investment can create 10,000 jobs directly. In fact, it is less than €1 billion, it is €575 million when one gets one's tax back and takes into account one's savings on social welfare. The aforementioned €575 million creates not just 10,000 jobs directly but also 6,750 jobs indirectly and therefore, for €575 million, it is possible to create 16,750 jobs. Spending this stimulus money on such an initiative would see 200,000 jobs, and more, in construction, in banking and finance, in green energy, in apprenticeships and among young people.

My final point is that this is a bigger recession than was experienced in 2007 or in 1974-75. The comparison is with the 1930s and the Great Depression. What does this mean for Ireland, a small open economy? It means mass unemployment, inequality and tax increases, as well as cuts down the road. I will conclude by stating that what will come onto the agenda in the years to come is not this or that change, it is system change. I refer to a break with capitalism and a democratic socialist alternative.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy The way the Government and the political establishment have been marketing the July stimulus, one would think that it is going to transform the economy and that it will be a landmark for the Government and will show that it is up to the tasks ahead. The reality, however, is that the stimulus package is socially unjust and regressive and is economically irrational from the point of view of the majority of people in this society. Moreover, the propaganda campaign that the Government has used to sell the stimulus is fundamentally dishonest. The Government feeds us austerity and calls it stimulus.

The Government claims that this is the greatest ever State investment in the economy, at €7.4 billion. While Fianna Fáil and the Green Party may have forgotten their last period in government, the rest of us have not and people remember that they spent €64 billion on a stimulus based on bailing out the banks. What we see in this package is a litany of handouts for business, the stay and spend incentive, which will do nothing to stimulate demand among the hundreds of thousands of unemployed people who cannot access it, the wage support scheme that looks like it has been designed to be abused by businesses seeking to exploit cheap labour and a raft of tax breaks. What do workers get? Massive cuts to the pandemic unemployment payment with more cuts to come in the future. It cannot be called a stimulus when all the investment will benefit a small minority and it contains measures that will make hundreds of thousands of people worse off and take hundreds of millions of euro out of the economy while doing so.

Let us take the example of the help-to-buy scheme. It has expanded further and that is simply more money going into the pockets of developers. Even at this time of economic crisis and the deep depression that is opening up, the Government's stimulus includes more money for private developers. It is a measure that stimulates demand in the housing market, in a context when demand already massively outweighs the available supply. The Government's answer is to stimulate that demand further, which is a recipe for the continued driving up of house prices and putting homes further out of the reach of more and more working-class people. The only way to solve the housing crisis is by doing what the Government does not want to do, and that is mass building of public housing. If there is a supply shortage, increase the supply and do not push up the price.

I draw attention to something contained in the July stimulus that has attracted little attention so far, namely, its labour activation measures. Let us look at a press release from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, over which the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, presides, which has announced an additional 10,000 places are to be provided on the youth employment support scheme, YESS. That is a lot of people, especially when we remember that the total number of people who went through the JobBridge scheme, which was a major controversy at the time, was 38,000 people over five years.

This YES scheme is to be expanded from a small scheme for 18 to 24 year olds to people of all ages. It is a return to the widely-hated JobBridge scheme, or ScamBridge as we termed it at time, except that it has been made even worse. There are three-to-six-month internships, at 24 hours a week and with weekly pay of €229. That is €26 extra for 24 hours of work a week. That is less than the €50 top-up, which was rightly seen as an insult when it came to the JobBridge scheme. It amounts to less than €1.08 an hour and it is designed to drive down wages. It is no accident that it comes in the same week as the decision to not increase the minimum wage and to slash further the PUP. It is all designed to depress wages across the economy.

That is what we get, instead of the State directly investing in creating the jobs we need in health and education. People will not accept JobBridge 2.0. They will see it as the scam that it is. Internships currently available on the scheme include working as a warehouse operative, an administrative assistant in a credit union and a pharmacy sales assistant. Like JobBridge, those sound much more like jobs rather than genuine internships. The justification that this scheme is for young people with no work experience, always a flawed justification, is now gone given that the scheme has expanded.

A socialist stimulus would involve real public investment in green infrastructure and in green energy and public transport in particular. It would invest in green jobs and bring welfare payments back up to a basic minimum of €350 a week. Our stimulus package would be a socialist green new deal and not hand-outs for big business and austerity for the rest.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly We move on now to the Regional Group. I call Deputy Naughten.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and congratulate her formally on her election. It is great to see a woman from the west of Ireland in the seat that she now holds.

I thank the Minister for taking this debate. I welcome the stimulus package as in principle, it should be welcomed. While I have concerns that it may not be as focused as it needs to be, the intention has merit and I welcome that the package has been brought forward. I will flag some concerns with the Minister and I hope he will address them during the Committee and Report Stages of this legislation, or between now and budget day.

One of my concerns is the temporary wage subsidy scheme. I had advocated that this should have been more extensively used than the pandemic unemployment payment. I welcome that it is now being extended and put on a statutory basis. I have concerns, however, regarding the Bord na Móna seasonal staff in my part of the country who have been directly impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. Initially, there was a fall-off in demand for electricity and subsequently they have been affected as a result of planning decisions. Many of those seasonal staff were not called back by Bord na Móna prior to 1 March and as a result they are ineligible for this subsidy. They are not in receipt of the PUP and in many cases, are drawing off their means-tested payment under unemployment assistance at this stage. If we are talking about a just transition, therefore, we must ensure that we have a just transition for the seasonal staff in Bord na Móna who have lost out on the temporary wage subsidy scheme and the pandemic unemployment payment. I hope the Minister will engage with Bord na Móna on this specific issue.

When the Minister is engaging with Bord na Móna, I would be grateful if he could raise another issue. Last October specific funding was set aside for Bord na Móna. We had legislation before us last week with the same purpose and the objective was to try and guarantee employment for Bord na Móna employees in a just transition through rehabilitating bogs across the midlands. Staff have informed me that as a result of the agreement reached in the context of the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, there is no commitment to employing Bord na Móna seasonal staff to carry out this rehabilitative work. They definitely will not be employed during the three winter months of the year but there is also no guarantee that those workers will get employment during the other nine months of the year. It is imperative that Bord na Móna staff members have the opportunity to gain employment as a result of the investment being channelled through the company and into the midland counties.

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