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Budget Statement 2021 (Continued)

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 999 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Carol Nolan: Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan] I welcome the much-anticipated commitments around the education sector. Education is the engine of progress, both socially and economically, and we need to ensure there is continued investment in that sector across all age groups and categories. I note the Department of Education and Skills currently spends approximately €1.9 billion, or almost 20% of its total education budget annually, on making additional provision for children with special needs. We need to ensure this budget is securely ring-fenced. I am aware the Minister of State with responsibility for special education and inclusion recently announced a series of priorities, including measures aimed at improving initial teacher training, to ensure that teachers and special needs assistants are supported to receive training and ongoing guidance in the area of special educational needs provision.

What I want to see emerge in very practical terms from this budget is a commitment to provide a wraparound support service in schools for young people, including occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, behavioural practitioners and crisis supports in schools. In Laois-Offaly alone, there are currently 1,118 children waiting in excess of 12 months for occupational therapy, while 159 children are waiting in excess of 12 months for speech therapy. It is also vital that sufficient budgetary provision is made to improve long-term planning for the provision of special school and special class places so that no child misses out and that every effort is made by school leaders and boards of management to include children who may not come from a particular catchment but desperately need a place in a school.

On agriculture, the Minister will be aware that farming organisations have called for full compensation for any further losses during the transition period arising from Brexit uncertainty, Sterling volatility and Covid-19 impact across all sectors. I and my rural colleagues will be taking the time in the next few days to digest the exact detail of the budgetary supports provided to the agriculture sector. However, I am aware from reports that today's budgetary approach to the Department's various schemes and taxation measures remains essentially unchanged from last year's budget. Although I had hoped at a minimum to see a further strengthening of the Government's Brexit contingency fund which allocated €110 million to agriculture, I understand the need to refocus this allocation to strengthen existing supports.

Young farmers need urgent supports if we are to encourage young people to take up farming. I fully support the Macra na Feirme submission on this budget, and I support its call for a dedicated debt mediation service to be set up for farmers and for tax exemptions on the leasing of farmland to family members under the age of 30. The Government needs to listen more to the voice of young farmers, who are very well represented by Macra na Feirme.

What is also desperately needed is a commitment to finally bring forward the reforms around the fair deal and the Nursing Homes Support Scheme (Amendment) Bill 2019. We have to make financial provision for these reforms, which must include measures around farm land leased to third parties in line with other Government policy on inheritance under agricultural relief.

I want to highlight several other issues with respect to agriculture. I welcome the Department’s prioritising of the retention of schemes until a new CAP is in place. From what I understand, no income volatility scheme is expected to be put in place, and I believe we need to re-examine this. I also welcome the new measures aimed at increasing funding for new market developments, which will be vital in the months and years that lie ahead. I ask for more detail on the introduction of the new rural environment protection scheme, REPS. As I understand it, only a pilot project is being put in place. We will be also looking closely at the proposal within REPS to link a reduction in the national suckler herd to access to the scheme, which I would find outrageous. We had this with the beef exceptional aid measure, BEAM, last year, where farmers could not take up the scheme because they were not willing to reduce their herd by 5%, rightly so. We have to stop scapegoating and blaming farmers for climate change. We have to be fair. It is a sector we depend upon in rural Ireland and it is the backbone of the rural economy.

It is vital that more support is provided to farm forestry and the forestry sector generally. This is an area of significant employment in rural counties and it needs adequate supports, such as the requested €4 million to restore the farmer premium and the introduction of a harvesting plan grant to assist forest owners.

I conclude by asking that, whatever happens with respect to Covid, the Government remains open and engaged with regard to the many and various concerns and the various sectors that make up Irish life and the Irish economy.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae At the outset, I would like to address this budget for what it is, and that is the Green Party's budget and definitely the biggest case of the tail wagging the dog we have seen since the foundation of the State. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have obviously sold their souls completely for power because not only are we seeing this budget brought before us, but it is terribly important for people to realise that the Minister for Finance, in his press briefing after this budget speech, outlined that the Finance Bill will legislate for a carbon tax hike of €7.50 per annum until 2029 and €6.50 in 2030. This will, in effect, mean he and this Government are marrying future politicians and future Governments to this tax, whether they like it or not. The people of Ireland have to understand that it is going to equate to €9.5 billion of extra taxes being burdened upon them over the next ten years.

  I am not a climate change denier. I am interested in protecting the environment and the climate. I want to ensure the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the future will have a world to live in, and I want to protect every species in that world, including the human species. That is very important because we have to remember the humans who have to live here today, tomorrow and every other day.

  What has been done in this budget is an attack on rural Ireland. As has been aready stated, it is a direct attack. What are we telling people here today, for example? I am sure the Ceann Comhairle will be interested in this. While it is very seldom I do it, this evening I kept an account of the telephone calls I got which were specifically related to the budget and which were negative, and 72 was the number of such calls. Every one of them was from the greatest county in the western world, County Kerry. I received 72 calls telling me what was wrong with the budget. I am only one politician from Kerry and I am a representative of only an average number, and they are not all going to ring me, surely to God. Nonetheless, 72 people rang me to give out about it. They were not wrong and the people who are behind them at home were not wrong.

  I will tell the Minister what they saw was wrong with it. There are people in Kerry today who are proud of the motor car they own, and whether it is five or ten years old, or whether the jeep they own is ten, 15 or 20 years old, it is theirs. They are being told they will be penalised from a tax point of view from tonight due to the excise that will be put on petrol. They are being hit all the time. Why so? What are they guilty of? They are guilty in that they might not have the wherewithal, or they might have other priorities, or their own car or jeep might be doing fine, but the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, thinks they should be driving an electric vehicle. Actually, he does not even think that. I will quote him and remind him again and, until I die, I will keep reminding him of what he said one day. I hate talking about anybody in their absence but I have said it to his face and I will keep saying it to him. He suggested that in villages in rural areas, the people should have no cars and what they should actually do is to have carpooling. He put a figure on it and said that if there were five or ten cars parked in the local village, everybody could come down and use those cars. Would there not be some tearing for the cars in the morning when people are trying to go to work? For God’s sake, that will tell us the mentality.

  Then, we have the geniuses in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who decided to listen to what this man said. If he told them that night was day and vice versa, they would believe him at this stage because they are swallowing everything. Why? It is because of power; it is because of ministerial jobs and being in positions of power. They sold their souls and despite the mandate they had themselves, whereby they were asked to come up here and represent people, they have let down an awful lot of people.

  There are some things I welcome. I am from the tourism capital of the world and there we have Killarney, which is the jewel in the crown of tourism in the world.

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