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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 Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara] It is the first time, that I am aware, that states have taken this approach. Ireland is not unique in this respect. It is not a change from a capitalist economy to one that is centrally planned, but a change from an economy to no economy. We are borrowing money, and I accept it is cheap money and that is great, but at some point in the future it will be necessary at least to demonstrate an ability to repay that money, if not actually to repay it. Our headline figure, of course, is good. I refer to a deficit of 6% of GDP. That is, however, predicated upon an artificial GDP, based on us eating the lunches of every other member of the European Union when it comes to corporation tax. Unfortunately, that will not last forever.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins This is an exceptional budget for exceptional times. The headlines refer to billions of euro being spent in this budget to keep us all in this together and keep us all working together. The priority for any Government would have to be combating Covid-19, while trying to maintain people's jobs and livelihoods. This should also, however, be seen as an opportunity to take stock, look at our society, identify the key problems and set a new course. There is, unfortunately, little prospect of that happening with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, or the other parties in government recently, the Labour Party and the Green Party.

Dealing with Covid-19 is a major challenge, but it is not responsible for the parlous state of our public health service. The responsibility for that lies with decades of underfunding and a decade of austerity to pay for the bailout of the banks and developers. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic is not responsible for the housing and homeless crisis. This crisis is the outcome of decisions taken more than 40 years ago to stop building public housing. Covid-19 is also not responsible for the largest class sizes in the EU and it is not responsible for one of the most unequal societies in the world, with unacceptable levels of poverty, including child poverty

It is one thing to allocate high levels of State spending in an emergency, but it is another thing altogether to link such spending to the structural reforms and fundamental changes necessary. To do that, it is necessary to be prepared to admit what was wrong in the first place. Spending a bit here and a bit there and references to Sláintecare will not deliver a single-tier public health service with universal access. Funding is required, but also fundamental reform and a willingness to confront the vested interests that oppose it. I welcome the €38 million allocated to the development of new services in the area of mental health and the €12 million to support the service levels put in place for 2021. As has already been stated, however, that funding must be ring-fenced. In particular, that €12 million cannot, given the need for the required service levels, be taken from the €38 million now allocated. That money must be there to build capacity in our mental health services.

This budget will do nothing to resolve the housing and homeless crisis. Allocating €500 million for capital expenditure contrasts sharply with the €2.4 billion in current expenditure, of which more than €1 billion will go to private landlords through the HAP and RAS schemes. There is no commitment to build public housing, or a commitment to build only public housing on public land. We know there is sufficient public land available to build 100,000 mixed tenancies, including traditional council housing and cost-rental. This budget has no ambition or political will to deal with the provision of housing for the thousands of people who cannot afford the high rents, who cannot afford to buy homes or those languishing on the local authority lists and in emergency accommodation.

Our education system, and in particular our primary schools, have suffered years of chronic underinvestment. The onset of Covid-19 has now shown up the lack of basic facilities such as hot water supplies, which is seemingly an exception in our schools, minimal provision for cleaning and cramped and overcrowded facilities for learning and play. We have the largest class sizes in the EU, with one in five pupils experiencing a teacher pupil ratio of 1:30, or higher. The Budget Statement refers to providing for the establishment of a teacher pupil ratio of 1:25. How many teachers will be needed? Do we have a pool of teachers who are waiting to be brought in to deal with this issue? Do we have teachers in training who can take up those positions?

We enter this crisis with almost 700,000 people living below the poverty line, including 225,000 children. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul commissioned a study which showed that a single adult needs a minimum of €249 a week just to get by. Leaving the core welfare rates at the present level means a continuation of widespread poverty, which will undoubtedly increase as unemployment grows due to the impact of Covid-19 restrictions. We are heading towards having a jobless rate of 50% for workers aged under 25 years old. Those aged under 25 years old comprise 11.7% of the labour force, but make up almost 22% of those receiving PUP. A high proportion of those people would have been part-time, low-paid workers and are therefore receiving the lower level of PUP. Turning to the jobseeker's allowance, some 13,000 people, or 85%, of those aged under 25 years old are on the lowest rate, which is up to €112 per week. The National Youth Council of Ireland estimates that a young person living alone in an urban area, and taking rent into account, needs at least €466 for basic needs. The lowest rate of €112 per week is one quarter of that estimate. Including HAP, that is still short €190 a week for basics.

The National Youth Council of Ireland also called for an increase in this budget of an extra €45 per week for those on the rate of €112 per week, with a view to increasing the level to €203 over a period of two years. That would cost only €35 million. Those aged 25 years old and under have been totally ignored. The PUP should have been restored to €350 per week in the budget. A move to level 3 nationally, and possibly to level 4 in most affected areas, is extremely likely at this stage. The ability to borrow at interest rates of almost 0% is an opportunity to begin redressing these problems in public healthcare, affordable housing, access to good quality education, and where it matters most, at primary level, and to tackle unacceptable levels of poverty. It is an opportunity that has been missed.

My last point concerns contact tracing. I was contacted by a constituent whose partner tested positive for Covid-19 last week, on Thursday, 8 October. She was only contacted today at 2.30 p.m. regarding contact tracing. Her partner was declared positive yesterday and he was contacted today. There are major disparities, therefore, in that system and we must find out why that is the case. We must do that because we know that track and trace is key to chasing down this virus.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice I welcome this opportunity to speak on today's budget. Like most people who have spoken on the supports for businesses affected, I welcome what has been provided. The devil will be in the detail of all of this, however. I state that because many people this evening think that something like €5,000 will jump out to them every week if they are shut down. From what I have seen, however, over the last few years in politics, things do not come that handy. I am fearful of the red tape that will be involved in all of this.

I also welcome other aspects of the budget, such as those in the areas of the fuel allowance and the living alone allowance. One thing that struck me, however, when the Minister referred to business supports and infrastructure, was that only two ports were mentioned. Ireland does not work on only two ports, namely, Dublin and Rosslare. No mention was made of anywhere else, such as Cork, Foynes, Galway, Killybegs or Drogheda. Those places do not seem to exist. We seem to be once again tilting Ireland heading towards Dublin, and because the other port is included in the trans-European transport network, TEN-T, we will talk about it a bit.

Turning to the HSE, and I have heard the debate here this evening, we hear about all of this money being provided. I refer to €4 billion or €4.5 billion. Most of the beds, however, are already allocated. I think that is something like 120 beds or perhaps 130 beds. In the same way as is the case with the N4 in Sligo, that job is done. I am sick of listening to budgets over the last three years that have been concerned with that infrastructural road. It is done and dusted and the diggers are gone so let us not be announcing infrastructural works four or five times. We seem to be a dab hand at doing that.

There was talk about the giveaway budget today, but a few months ago there were kids, and some of them still are kids, who could not be carried to school because of the so-called green agenda. We talk, then, about the DART and intercity rail. We talk about everything. Let us go back some two months, however. What was wrong then that we would not bring those children to school? We are now, however, going to do the devil and all in putting money into this, that and the other. Many of these announcements are already programmed, such as the infrastructure for schools, which is all laid out over a five-year programme. We should be honest with people in what it is we are doing. Among many possibilities, I will call this endeavour today one thing.

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