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Budget Statement 2021 (Continued)

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 999 No. 2

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  6 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín] However, there is nothing in the budget about funding, planning and delivering together. There is extra money for North-South projects and I welcome that, but if the two parts of the island continue to do business with their backs to each other, we will be looking at the damage caused by Brexit and Covid in front of us as well.

  On the issue of strategy, there is no change in Government strategy in the budget. The Government Covid strategy is a yo-yo one involving going in and out of restrictions and lockdowns, which will radically reduce the ability of this country to function. It is based on an approach of waiting to see what will happens in the next 14 days. That must stop. The budget should have included a Covid-19 impact commission to study exactly the outcomes of the restrictions.

  In my last few seconds, I note the €4 billion being allocated to health will simply allow us to maintain the status quo because capacity has been gutted massively in recent times.

Deputy Seán Canney: Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on the budget, which I consider to be a wartime budget. It is a situation we never thought we would have to face. The level of spending is remarkable.

My first concern relates to the complete absence of a medium-term plan for the next five years. In essence, the State is working in the dark with no clear direction of travel. The programme for Government envisaged a fiscal strategy being produced with this budget, but that is not happening. Although Brexit and Covid-19 remain the urgent priorities, it is important to continue to prepare for the future and the regional development that all Deputies crave. The budget is spending big. It is a significant amount of money. However, I am concerned about whether the State is getting value for money in its spending. How will the outcomes be measured to ensure the State gets value for money, particularly in the area of health?

There is no doubt that the State needs to support people. The expenditure so far this year and that included in budget 2021 is on people, the economy and supporting businesses. There is a lot to be said for that, but the budget needs to be fair and effective. The travel situation has decimated airports and the regions are suffering accordingly. I welcome the funding provided in the budget for regional airports, but a proper strategy needs to be put in place to revitalise Shannon Airport and Ireland West Airport Knock and help to regenerate the regions. As all Members are aware, the north and west have been redesignated as areas in transition. They have been downgraded as a result of the lack of economic activity.

Rural pubs feel abandoned by the Government. That is what is stated on billboards all over County Galway. The pubs opened in September and closed in October. The restart grant will not help them going forward. They need continuous support that will keep the businesses alive and pay for standing costs.

Another issue which must be addressed is that of anomalies in the pandemic unemployment payment. People aged over 66 got no support, but those under 66 got €350 in the form of the Covid payment. However, the former were asked to maintain their businesses, such as pubs, and continue to pay their bills. I refer to the issue of arrears in Covid payments since last March which are being kicked further down the road. Those who are due arrears should be paid them.

Two groups that deliver services to communities and need recognition are school secretaries and community employment, CE, scheme supervisors. The Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Michael McGrath, spoke about the unsung heroes in the Covid fight. School secretaries and CE scheme supervisors have played their part and it is time for this House to deliver for them. I ask the Ministers to initiate substantial talks with school secretaries to ensure the issues affecting them are put to bed, while the issues relating to CE scheme supervisors should be sorted out once and for all. I met a CE scheme supervisor who will retire on 5 January after approximately 40 years of service to his community. I would like to think that he will have something when he retires, rather than just being disregarded. These issues appeared in parties' political manifestos, but they need to be sorted out now.

Yesterday I met a professional Irish dancing teacher. Her profession is lost in this crisis. This issue has not been discussed by previous speakers. There are no financial supports available to her, but all Members are aware of the impact that Riverdance had worldwide and what it brought to this country. It is great that funding is being made available to the music industry and the performing arts sector, but it needs to filter down to those who play music in pubs at the weekend or teach Irish dancing and give this country a significant amount of enjoyment and well-being.

I note that it was decided to increase the income threshold for medical card applicants over the age of 70 in the budget. I believe that measure was included in the budget last year but has not yet been implemented, which is a disgrace.

The situation with regard to post offices is getting worse. I do not know whether any provision has been made in the budget for dealing with it. It is a big problem that will face us in the coming months.

The carbon tax increase will have a greater negative effect on people in rural areas where there is no public transport available. They have no choice but to use a car. It is essential. There is no Just Transition for those people. It is unfair to impose additional costs on certain sectors of society during Covid-19. The increase is anti-rural and anti-farming and it comes at the wrong time.

I note the LEADER programme is getting an additional €4 million funding. As Members are aware, the programme is due to finish in December of this year. The next programme will not come into being until the Common Agricultural Policy is sorted out with the European Union. An allocation of €4 million will not keep the scheme going. It may pay wages, but it will not deliver funding to the communities that need it most. It is important that the Government considers this issue and puts a transition fund in place to keep the projects going through the next 12 months.

Before I left Tuam in County Galway this morning, I met three plumbers who were going to work. They asked me whether I was going to Dublin for the budget and I told them I was. They told me not to forget about them. It was not a joke. They are worried about the future and a possible further lockdown. I ask the Government to consider classifying the construction industry as an essential service to the economy because a lockdown would be disastrous for those plumbers. They all have mortgages and young families and a part to play in rebuilding Ireland.

In the context of the budget and the situation faced by the State, it is imperative that we seek to ensure there is balance in what is being done. We must ensure that it is possible to deliver on proposed capital expenditure and that we do not spend the money on preparing reports or doing studies rather than getting work done on the ground. Housing is a very serious issue. I am concerned at the low number of houses projected for 2021. It is not ambitious enough. It is important that, as a Dáil and the people who are responsible for providing these houses, we make sure we deliver them as quickly as possible. There is much discussion of serviced sites, but the one thing that needs to be done is for infrastructure to be put in place in towns and villages where it is required. The Minister, Deputy McGrath, addressed that matter in his budget speech. If the regions and rural areas are to grow, we must ensure they have the necessary infrastructure. Right now, there are difficulties building a house with a septic tank or as a result of the lack of municipal treatment plants. That is the reality. I refer to affordable housing and such matters, which are very important. We need to do our business differently, better and faster in order to deliver results.

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