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Finance Act 2004 (section 91) (Deferred Surrender to the Central Fund) Order 2020: Motion (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Neale Richmond: Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond] I urge the Minister to look again at this matter when he and his fellow Minister, Deputy Donohoe, start the budget projections and calculations for next year - I know it is early to talk of that now - in order to use the €16 million that came into the Exchequer last year and to ring-fence it for investment in addressing the causes of crime at source.

Deputy Maurice Quinlivan: Information on Maurice Quinlivan Zoom on Maurice Quinlivan This order, as the Minister will know, is not the most exciting matter we will speak about during this term but it is nonetheless quite an important piece of housekeeping that we, as a Parliament, need to complete. It is a technical motion to ensure that unspent capital is carried over from 2020 to 2021. The amount of money we are discussing are not insignificant, however, standing at more than €709 million. It is important, therefore, that we give this the level of consideration that it deserves.

The pandemic and associated restrictions have put a pause on some capital projects. There are several, however, that I would like to refer to briefly. These are projects in my home constituency that need to be completed as a matter of urgency. The Minister will have heard me raising some of these over the past number of years and I wish to raise them again today and state that capital programmes need to be done.

There is a road in my constituency called the Coonagh to Knockalisheen road and the Minister is probably tired of me talking about this. This is a critical piece of infrastructure in the regeneration programme for the city of Limerick, not just for the north side of the city but for the whole city, particularly the Moyross area and the area around Caherdavin and south-east Clare. At my request and that of other Deputies, I understand that the Taoiseach met with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, last week to talk about this road. Unfortunately, on Monday on local radio a Green Party Deputy spoke about how the Government was looking to deliver two thirds of this road.

That is actually bonkers. The only way to describe this is as a crackpot decision. An Bord Pleanála suggested that the plan being discussed by the Green Party would not be feasible, would not get planning permission and would end up with Moyross becoming not just the cul-de-sac that it is now, but a rat-run which would increase traffic. I am pleading that the Coonagh to Knockalisheen road is put back on the agenda. It is partially built and €70 million has been poured into it already. The contract is there ready and is sitting on the desk of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, who is in ideological opposition to signing this contract tender. The company which has been awarded the tender is ready to start in the morning. I appeal to the Minister to speak to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, who should not delay this. The communities are frustrated and outraged. This critical piece of infrastructure needs to be delivered as this is not just a simple road.#

The other issue I raise is University Hospital Limerick. We have a consistent problem there with overcrowding. It is the most overcrowded hospital in the State. There is a plan there to develop a 96-bed unit. I would very much appreciate it if the Minister could keep this project on the radar and that it is expedited as fast as possible. Unfortunately, the last three days have seen an average of 50 people a day on trolleys, which is the highest in the State by a country mile. In January of this year we had 949 people lingering on trolleys in University Hospital Limerick, which is totally outrageous and needs to be looked at. We opened a 60-bed modular unit there recently and, unfortunately, it did not have the impact that we had anticipated. There is a plan for a 96-bed unit that needs to be expedited as fast as possible.

The third issue I wish to raise is the flood defences. This week marks the seventh anniversary of the devastating flood where Limerick City was very badly affected, particularly the King’s Island and St Mary’s Park areas. Seven years later we do not have the flood defences built or put in place and very little has been done. I urge that this capital project and that those flood defences be progressed and put in as quickly as possible. This is an older community where people are very stressed and get very worried when the tide a higher and the rain is like we have seen in the last number of days.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I am happy to have the opportunity to speak in this short debate on this technical order on the carry-over of capital expenditure. The Social Democrats are happy to acknowledge that they do not, in principle, have an issue with this and will comply with the requirement of a Dáil approval for that order. There is no doubt that the figure we are carrying over is very substantial at close to €710 million. It will be added to the expected capital expenditure for next year, bringing the total capital expenditure to €10.8 billion. This is a massive sum.

I am not going to stand here today calling for particular projects in my own constituency to be funded because that is not the approach that should be taken, even though we will hear those pleas from many Members. That is one of the fundamental problems associated with how we spend money in this country. This is not the money of any party or of the Government, it is the people’s money. There should be an assurance from the Government that that money will be spent wisely and fairly. Unfortunately, we have not seen that in the past. Big decisions about big capital and other expenditures are very much related to what are regarded as political priorities. It is more about holding seats than doing what is right by the people. There is a very strong public demand to get away from that nonsense and to stop this idea that if one does not have a Minister in Cabinet then one’s constituency is going to lose out. That has probably been the case since time began in this country but it is wrong and should not be the case. It has also resulted in a great deal of money being wasted and spent in areas where it was not needed. The corollary of that is that there are many areas which have been completely starved of funding. That kind of approach is just not good enough and is not one that is taken, for example, in other countries. I have looked at this in some detail in respect of health expenditure but this applies right across the board. It should not be a matter of who shouts the loudest, who has the most well-resourced lobby group or who has the most clout in Cabinet. That is a very outdated and unfair way of approaching the whole issue of spending. We should move to a much more transparent and progressive way of taking decisions on public expenditure. It should be on the basis of an objective resource allocation. This is standard practice across the rest of Europe. When it comes to spending in whatever area it is, one builds a resource allocation model that is objective. One looks at and profiles the different parts of the country in terms of socioeconomic status, from an age perspective, from a rural perspective or from an intense urban deprivation perspective. All of those types of factors play into the status of any particular area.

That is what we should be doing. We have the data to do that in small areas. The late Trutz Haase did exceptional work in this area which fed into some of the model that we built into the Department of Health back in 2011-2012. That work needs to be built on. Let us do away with this pork barrel type of politics, about who can shout the loudest or who has political clout and develop a way spending money in this country, which is the people’s money, in a way that is fair and achieves the objectives that we have set out for the country in developing into a modern, progressive and fair country that actually works. That is why we have services that just do not function. People ask why on earth we cannot have decent public transport, why housing is so expensive or why we cannot have access to proper healthcare. All of these things are taken for granted in other modern, progressive countries but do not happen here. My fundamental message to the Minister is to take an objective and transparent approach to the spending of money and set criteria by which he can gauge the wisdom of those decisions.

Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill: Information on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Zoom on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill I am very pleased to speak on this motion. The year 2020 was an exceptional one and we have not been able to achieve the capital expenditure that we wanted to. It is sensible to roll it over in this way. What Covid-19 has done to the management of our economy and to the management of our public finances is to provide an extraordinary counter cyclical opportunity. This is situated against a completely different approach from the European Central Bank and a different approach generally in how we think about economies, stimulus programmes and in how we plan and imagine our economies and societies for the future. There are, of course, no advantages to Covid-19.

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