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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 Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett] It has also been a disaster economically because we are caught in a cycle of surge and then lockdown, and the Government has no strategy to get out of that cycle. It is not pursuing the strategy that has been pursued in Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and in many other places where most of the time most of the people are living normally, and where the economic damage is far less. I wanted to underline that.

The area of music, arts and events has been most devastated by this. I have spoken about it many times but it has to be highlighted again. The people in this group have been locked down for the full 357 days of this pandemic. Their livelihoods, like their industry, are absolutely devastated. When we talk about capital investment, it is very important to stress that the greatest capital we have is people. They are the most important capital we have. Nowhere is that more true than in the area of arts, music and cultural events. The people who work in those areas are the capital. To be honest, the Government has abandoned that capital. The creative and imaginative human talent that is at the cornerstone of what this country is and its culture, and the things that have made our lives bearable through this grim and terrible pandemic, have effectively been abandoned.

I will give the House some figures around the musicians. These are possibly new figures from a survey by the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, which show that 41% of those surveyed, who are musicians and people in the events and music industry, have had 100% income loss; 24% have had 90% to 99% income loss; 20% have been forced into other employment, which is human capital leaving music; 56% feel they will have to take up other employment and effectively leave; 22% have had to sell the equipment essential to their work; 26% are struggling to pay their mortgage; 31% are struggling to pay loans; 45% struggle to pay their bills; 17% are on the verge of losing their vehicles; 25% receive support from services for mental health problems; and 45% are concerned about their mental health. This is the damage being done to our musicians, our events workers and our artists who have been completely locked down. Many of the grant support schemes such as the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, and the grant announced in the past couple of days continue to exclude the vast majority of these musicians, arts workers and so on. I could add in taxi drivers because they do not happen to have a premises or fit the other criteria for such schemes, but we will talk about them on another day.

There is a €709 million underspend, which is a lot of money because the €10.1 billion will be now €10.8 billion in 2021, as the Taoiseach has said. I am sure that most of it at least goes to important projects but it is interesting that some industries have recorded super profits. Some of them have been getting supports during the pandemic and have been doing well out of the pandemic. The huge numbers of musicians, arts and events workers, however, are devastated and their mental health is on the floor. They are selling the equipment and the vehicles they need to ply their trade, and yet they are excluded from the Covid support schemes. I ask the Minister, that given we have all of this money underspent, to consider a bespoke scheme to support those music, arts and cultural workers who are on their knees and who have been locked down for the entirety of this pandemic so we still have a culture and a music industry when this is over.

Deputy Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I thank the Minister for the opportunity to raise a number of issues in this debate. An underspend of €709 million is a substantial sum of money. It also raises the issue of how we assess projects and why it takes so long for them to be assessed and approved. I especially want to address the projects identified by the Office of Public Works, OPW. It appears to be quite a slow process in the context of dealing with projects coming through. How can we fast-track some of those projects?

  I welcome the Minister's approval of funding for the Glashaboy flood relief scheme some weeks ago, but the need for that scheme was identified more than eight years ago. It was only recently approved. More than €2 million has been spent on that project in environmental impact studies, which must be done. However, €2 million spent without a sod yet turned raises very serious questions about the process. The Blackpool flood relief scheme is awaiting approval and I hope it will be approved very soon. Again, however, it is a case of waiting eight or ten years for approval. There must be a faster way of dealing with these projects, assessing them to determine whether funding should be made available and ensuring it is made available in timely manner. These are important projects. These are just two projects, but there are projects right around the country where the OPW requires new infrastructure to be put in place.

  I will also raise the issue of elective hospitals. Ireland has a serious shortage of hospital beds and we need to tackle this. Covid-19 has emphasised more than ever the need to deal urgently with the issue. We have identified the need, and a clear plan is set out, to build three new elective hospitals around the country and yet we seem to have made very little progress on simple things such as identifying sites and even on consultation. A recent report in the Irish Examiner from a group identified a site for the new elective hospital for Cork. There has been very little consultation, however, with the current voluntary or private hospitals in Cork, including the Mercy University Hospital and the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital. There must be consultation but these three building projects must now be prioritised. They should not be delayed further. The consultation has gone on for the past three years and now we need to prioritise it. It should not be another three years before we even start to apply for planning permission. Even if we decided the sites in the morning it would still take 12 months to come up with designs and a plan, and 12 to 18 months to come forward with full planning permissions. Then it would take another three to four years before we would have them built. We are talking about five years down the road before any of these projects will be delivered. I ask the Minister that these three projects would now be given priority because we need them.

  We also need to address the whole issue of elderly care. The Joint Committee on Health yesterday had a report from the Department of Health and the HSE showing that 81% of people who are in nursing homes are in private nursing homes. We have community hospitals and HSE nursing homes, but many of these require major refurbishment. Can we fast-track those projects? The population over the age of 65 is currently 720,000 but by 2030 it will be 1 million. There will be an increase in demand for nursing home care, as well as trying to roll out additional home care support.

  We need to look at how we progress the building of schools. I recently had to deal with some issues in the context of a school building project. I ended up dealing with six different authorities, including the OPW, the Department of Education, the county council and the ESB. I could not get a straight answer because it appears there was no one person co-ordinating the project in real terms, even though the boards of management in the schools were working very hard to get the boxes ticked and the decisions made.

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