Finance Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Finance Bill 2013, which puts into legal effect the measures announced in the Budget Statement in December 2012. Part and parcel of the budgetary process is the passing of legislation in the House, some of it by way of the Finance Bill, some by way of special legislation for the family home tax and some by way of social welfare legislation. It is one overall package and for various reasons, the passing of legislation is subdivided into different areas. It is always important to remember when we are talking about any aspect of the budget that we are talking about the overall budget in that context.

I agree with many of the commentators who argued that the budget was unjust and regressive. It was a policy decision of this Government to make more of the adjustment by way of cutting expenditure than by increasing tax. It was a political choice. I suspect that the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock, and the Labour Party would have been happier if the balance had gone the other way but, as the smaller party in Government, effectively the Labour Party had to either like it or lump it. That is the coalition Government we have at the moment and the smaller party has to lump it in all of these situations. As a result, we got far more cuts than increases in taxation. That was the Fine Gael approach and that party is pushing forward with this agenda. The only surprise, possibly, is that the Labour Party has been so willing to go along with it.

For the second year in a row, the Government has introduced a budget that is deeply regressive, both socially and economically. It does nothing to foster economic recovery or to provide a vision and direction for the country. Low-income family households have taken a wide range of hits and the cumulative impact of the changes in the budget will be devastating for low to middle income families. The change in PRSI, for example, will hit the working poor far harder than it will hit those with incomes above €100,000. One must ask if that is fair and I do not think that anybody thinks it could be so. However, it suits a particular agenda and that is why that decision was made.

The budget is economically regressive because it does not address unemployment. The unemployment rate is stubbornly high and there will be hardly any increase in domestic demand this year. The only reason unemployment rates are falling is that, unfortunately, some of our brightest and best are continuing to emigrate. Without emigration, the unemployment problem would be much worse.

Budget 2013 had a phenomenal impact on families and contained multiple measures that will impact negatively on them, particularly those with children and those on lower incomes. Such measures include the reduction of €10 per month in child benefit for the first two children, €18 for a third child and €20 for a fourth or subsequent child. The budget also abolishes the PRSI allowance which increases PRSI by €264.16 for those working and liable to pay PRSI contributions. It also introduces the family home tax which is being dealt with under separate legislation. The budget trebles the prescription charge for medical card holders to €1.50 and increases the monthly cap for a family to €19.50. If one multiplies that figure by 12, one can clearly see the impact it will have on families on low incomes or social welfare payments. The increase in the drugs payment scheme threshold from €132 to €144 will also hit those on the lowest incomes hardest. The abolition of the cost of education allowance of €300 will affect the unemployed and lone parents especially. In addition, there is a cut of €325 in the respite care grant. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, presided over all of these cuts. She initiated all of them and cannot blame Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the troika or anyone else for them. These were her choices in her budget. She chose to make those individual cuts and decided it was necessary to do so, in an effort to support the agenda of not asking those who could afford to pay a little bit more to do so. The thrust of these measures is to cut payments to those relying on State support rather than making those who can afford it pay a little more.

On the issue of the decisions of the Minister, Deputy Burton, the meanest, nastiest and worst aspect of this Finance Bill is the proposal contained in section 8 to tax maternity benefit. In addition to that, it may have escaped the notice of some that the Minister also wants to tax adoptive benefit and health and safety benefit. Now, for the first time ever, the Government is proposing to tax maternity benefit. I intend to comment on four specific sections of this legislation, some of which are fine, some which require clarification and some which require amendment, but this section must be deleted. This House should not pass this legislation with the section proposing to tax maternity benefit in it. The legislation states that maternity benefit payable after 1 July 2013 will be taxable. That means that for those women who went on maternity leave in January of 2013, any payment they receive up until the end of June is not taxable. However, if their maternity benefit payments run into July, the amount payable in July is taxable. That is a disgrace and should not be done. My party will be opposing this section. The Minister for Finance may talk about some transition arrangement to handle that situation but no transition arrangement is required. All that is required is the dropping of section 8 of the Bill.

I thought it was a very mean proposal when it was announced on budget day but this week we have learned where it is coming from. Over the weekend there was much publicity surrounding the fact that the Mangan report on child benefit is to be published this week. That report has been on the Minister's desk for over 12 months. I believe the Minister, Deputy Burton, wants to tax child benefit and would have done so in the budget but for the fact that the Revenue Commissioners were far too busy drawing up the plans for the family home tax. I believe Revenue made some remarks to that effect last year, namely, that it took all of its resources to deal with the preparation and implementation of the system for the family home tax and it could not have taken on another big logistical task in the same period. Therefore, the taxing of child benefit was not done but I believe the Minister will try to get her way in the next budget.

I would have been happy to have a proper debate with the Minister but she did not let the issue of taxing child benefit go. She said that if she could not tax child benefit this year, she would start by taxing maternity benefit. She did not get to tax child benefit but is starting the process by taxing children before they are born. This is a forerunner to taxing child benefit. If one is taxing maternity benefit, it is logical that one will follow on by taxing the next payment the mother will receive from the State, namely, her child benefit. The woman will get her maternity benefit while she is on maternity leave and when she starts receiving child benefit she will already be in the tax system for her maternity benefit and so will pay tax on her child benefit too. Who will pay the tax? What of the complexities of those who are cohabiting, those on separate tax assessments, of married couples, single parents and so forth? Who will bear the tax? Will it fall on the mother? I suspect it will because she will be the recipient. We are now seeing the forerunner to taxing child benefit and the burden will fall on the mother, who is primarily the one in receipt of the payment.

A tax on maternity benefit is effectively a tax on childbirth. It is anti-women, anti-child and anti-family. Some people might think it is a good idea to tax maternity benefit but I do not. It is also anti-work because it makes it more difficult for women to participate in the workforce. If women take time out to have children, they will be taxed on the small amount of money they receive from the State. I urge the Minister to remove this section from the Finance Bill. I particularly ask the Labour Party to reconsider this measure because taxing maternity benefit is the Minister, Deputy Burton's forerunner to taxing child benefit and that must be stopped in its tracks as quickly as possible.

Section 12 of the legislation deals with benefit-in-kind as it relates to travel passes. I ask the Minister in his reply to give further information regarding what is involved here. The legislation is complicated and makes reference to benefit-in-kind and approved transport providers, including some private bus operators. As I understand it, if a company provides a travel pass for an employee for travel that may be required in the course of his or her work, there may be a benefit-in-kind implication. Section 12 extends this to the Civil Service, An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces.

How many people are in receipt of these travel passes? How many people are paying benefit-in-kind tax in respect of them? Has this applied in the public service before now? Is this a new measure or is it clarification of the legislation relating to benefits-in-kind? Is there a change regarding approved transport providers? Why would some employers provide a travel pass to be used in the course of a person's work? Who pays for it? Is this another way for public bodies to subsidise transport companies?

I could mock, but now that rural Garda stations are being closed, are gardaí to be given travel passes and told to get the bus? Will gardaí be given travel passes to go from Portlaoise to Rathdowney, Mountrath, Ballacolla or Ballinakill, where Garda stations have been closed at night or completely? With Garda stations closed during the night must we hope that some of the bus companies will operate during the night? In Portlaoise, we have an out-of-hours bus service from Portlaoise to Dublin Airport. Are the gardaí expected to use a travel pass and travel on these buses, now that the Garda stations are no longer open? I say that facetiously, but I would like to know what is behind this measure, how many are claiming the allowance and what are its benefits. I ask the Minister to shed some light on this area.

Section 12(j) changes the "specified rate" from 4% to 5% and from 13.5% to 12.5%. The explanatory memorandum does not give details of this measure, except to say it relates to preferential loans. Does it refer to preferential loans given by financial institutions to their staff? There is nothing wrong with that. These loans carry a benefit-in-kind charge, which is correct. A person who gets a loan at 4% while the rest of us would be charged an overdraft rate of 10% should be liable for a benefit-in-kind charge. The Minister seems to be changing the rates here.

I ask the Minister to clarify this matter when he speaks at the conclusion of this debate. Preferential loans were issued to employees in the financial services industry, many of whom have been made redundant or are facing redundancy as a result of liquidations, of IBRC for example. Are these people required to repay those loans because they are no longer employees of the companies that granted the loans? Were new loans issued to them? Were their gratuities or lump sums reduced accordingly? The Minister has information on the number of employees of financial institutions who are in receipt of preferential loans because people have been paying benefit-in-kind tax on them. All redundancies have been voluntary to date but that may not always be the case. There is a benefit-in-kind tax implication for those people. I do not have a problem with this section, but I would like more information on the area.

Section 49 deals with the mineral tax rebate on auto diesel for haulage and bus operators. I welcome this provision. Many people feel it will benefit the transport industry and will allow transport companies to buy fuel in Ireland rather than buying it when they are on the Continent, perhaps at a cheaper rate. Fuel will be purchased in Ireland, the Government will gain tax and jobs will be maintained in fuel depots. It is good that the measure also applies to bus operators, who may be entitled to a rebate on the auto diesel used. It will help keep their costs down and I welcome that.

This amendment to the Finance Act 1999, however, has an unintended consequence. Who is a qualifying road transport operator? Section 49 defines a qualifying road transport operator as a person who holds a national or an international road haulage operator's licence or an equivalent EU licence, or a person who holds a national or international road passenger transport operator's licence or an equivalent EU licence. There are people in the haulage business who, because of Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport legislation, do not have one of those licences and are not, therefore, qualifying road transport operators. I ask the Minister to take this into account and to ask his officials to do so. I welcome the provision but there is an omission here. Perhaps IBEC did not fight the case strongly enough.

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has issued a leaflet for the guidance of applicants for road haulage licences. The first paragraph of the leaflet is headed, Who needs a road freight carrier's licence. It says a licence is required when goods are carried for hire or reward. The leaflet then clarifies:

Hire or reward haulage arises when you are paid for carrying someone else's goods. If you only do own-account work, i.e. carriage of your own goods in your own vehicles driven by yourself or your employees, you do not need a carrier's licence.

The word "not" is underlined in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport document. Many companies in the transport business, therefore, do not have a road freight carrier's licence because the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport says they do not need one if they are drawing their own goods. The second page of the document lists those who are exempted and do not require a road freight carrier's licence. The document states:

If you propose to carry any of the following commodities in this State only, a carrier's licence is not required: cattle, sheep, pigs, turf; milk to a creamery or a cream separating station; milk containers to or from a creamery or a cream separating station; livestock by farmers for neighbours locally; newly harvested wheat, oats or barley during the period 1 August to 30 November each year from a farm to a place of storage, assembly or processing.

Again, the word "not" is underlined in the document.

Many companies in the agricultural area have their own transport lorries and do not subcontract their haulage to independent contractors. They do not have a road haulage licence and cannot, therefore, avail of the rebate. We want the Minister to widen the definition of those eligible for this measure to include the two categories the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport says do not need a road freight carrier's licence. I am thinking of my local quarry, Carroll Quarries in Castletown. They own their own lorries and deliver their own goods. They do not qualify for the fuel rebate. If they subcontracted their haulage to a transport company that company would qualify. The same is true of many cement manufacturers. I suspect many bakeries and companies in the confectionery business carry their own goods in their own lorries. As they are not required to have a road freight carrier's licence they do not qualify for the fuel rebate. We want that situation redressed.

The Bill, as drafted, will force companies to contract out their transport. The tax incentive can be granted to a subcontractor but not to a company that is carrying its own product. I accept that this consequence is unintended and that our proposal might make matters slightly more complicated. However, if two lorries are drawing from a quarry, cement factory or bakery, one owned by the company itself and another by a licensed haulier, it is not fair that the driver of one lorry qualifies for a fuel rebate while the other does not. That must be looked at.

Section 29 deals with the living city initiative. I support urban regeneration. The section gives a good summary of the scheme. It is important that we have proper, integrated area plans conducted by local authorities and an independent advisory panel to assess the areas to be included. It is not good enough for a Minister to walk up a street and decide that a certain 40 houses should be included. That is not the way to do business. It is also important that all the buildings be listed.

All work, internal and external, now requires planning permission. There will be a major cost in doing the cost-benefit analysis of the scheme.

The scheme must then be designed, must secure EU approval and then must go through the planning process. That cannot be done in 12 months. Preparatory work should have been done and the scheme announced so that it could move quickly. People in those areas who may have intended refurbishing some of those properties for commercial or residential purposes will now put the projects on hold until they secure EU approval. A stay has been put on the development of some of those houses by announcing such a process at such an early stage. There should be an independent and more transparent method of identifying the locations and cities that are to be included in the scheme.

Overall, however, I am happy with the scheme. It is good to regenerate urban areas but we need information, clarity and a shorter timescale.

I welcome the Bill; there are many positive initiatives in it. The budget was designed to generate as many jobs as possible. As someone from a small business background I welcome the many positive measures in the Bill for small businesses.

It is interesting that the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is present. Many of the measures associated with the budget relate to jobs. I wish to talk about initiatives to reduce youth unemployment and to get young people back to work. At the moment more than 400,000 people are claiming benefit, with just over 300,000 of them long-term unemployed. About 30% of those under 25 are currently unemployed. If we are to make any changes to the Bill, the PRSI holiday for employers who take on employees who have been unemployed for over six months should be extended to cover any person under 25 who is taken on irrespective of the length of time he has been unemployed. It should not matter if that person has been on the dole for a day, a week, a month or six months. There should be a PRSI holiday for taking on such workers.

Certain groups cannot get benefits because they live at home and are not entitled to unemployment benefit if they are means tested as living at home. That group cannot be categorised as unemployed although they are not working. I hope the Minister will consider a PRSI holiday for employers willing to take on people who are under 25 even if they have not been unemployed for over six months.

This week the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation we launched a policy document, Creating Policies that Work - Actions to Address Youth and Long-Term Unemployment. One of the things that was suggested during our discussions was that a fund should be set up for young entrepreneurs. We currently have funds for female entrepreneurs and those who are starting their own businesses but there is nothing for young people. I am talking about people under 25. We have all seen the young people who are involved in the BT Young Scientist of the Year. There are young entrepreneurs with new ideas and the Patents Office could sign them up straight away to make sure their idea is registered as their own. They find it extremely difficult, however, to bring the idea any further. Why? They cannot access funds because they have no credit history. If there was a young entrepreneurs fund, like the female entrepreneur fund which is set at €250,000, and it was set at €750,000 and the Government put in €250,000, that seed capital would generate other funds from major companies like Google and Facebook, which would boost the fund to generate jobs for those people under 25 years who have good ideas but are stymied because they cannot access credit.

I have highlighted the positive measures for jobs in the budget and I hope the Minister of State will consider acting to help the motor industry. It has had an horrendous January. Car sales have dropped by about 20% on last year's car sales but we put up both VRT and motor tax. If we could reconsider those increases it would stimulate the motor industry, which is a huge industry in the country.

I welcome the budget and hope the Minister of State will take on board my couple of ideas. This was a positive budget for job creation.

The Finance Bill 2013 puts into law the provisions outlined in the budget. Much of the Bill merely imposes what the Dáil has already agreed to on a temporary basis, such as the fuel rebate. The Minister has announced some new measures, but the general thrust of the Bill reflects announcements that had been made at pre-budget and budget stage last year.

This is the second Finance Bill to be introduced by the Minister. The bulk of the changes and the continued difficult, harsh and unpalatable measures which we have to impose on our people are dictated by the agreement entered into by Fianna Fáil with the troika as a result of Fianna Fáil's poor management of the economy.

Deputy Fleming seems to be very concerned about maternity benefit. Under Fianna Fáil, there was a time when full-time employees of the State were entitled to tax-free maternity benefit on top of their salary. That changed three years ago and now we are introducing measures to make maternity benefit taxable. Those who are solely in receipt of maternity benefit will not pay tax because they will have a tax credit. This will only affect women who are in receipt of other income while receiving maternity benefit. That might help Deputy Fleming to understand that the system is fair.

Also, Deputy Fleming is very concerned about the household tax so I would like to remind him this was another Fianna Fáil measure. It was Fianna Fáil that got rid of the rates in 1977 that we now have to replace - as agreed by Fianna Fáil with the troika. I know the party has a slogan "wrong tax, wrong time" but we must deal with the issues as they were agreed. It has now become apparent that while the Minister was preparing the budget he was also in deep negotiations with his colleagues in Europe to renegotiate the promissory note, which was another fine example of poor management by Fianna Fáil.

The measures implemented by this Finance Bill are another step in the right direction towards restoring our economic sovereignty. The primary objective of this government is to restore the country's independence. To achieve this we must reduce the running costs of this country. We have negotiated a successful deal on the promissory note. We now have to stay on the same road and renegotiate other banking debt agreed to by the previous Government and, most importantly, personal debt which is sucking the lifeblood out of our people.

I am glad to say that 85% of the heavy lifting is now done. We have also been able to keep our commitment in the programme for Government that we would protect two fundamental principles - core social welfare payments to assist those people and families who have unfortunately lost their jobs through no fault of their own and no increase in income taxes so that we can reward work and effort and people can plan knowing that their net pay will not be reduced through tax increases.

I have stated on many occasions in this House that the only way to recover is to create new jobs. In order to achieve that, we must help existing businesses to grow and encourage people to set up new business. Fine Gael is committed to this approach and judging from the reaction to the budget and the Finance Bill, this is being recognised by business people. From the feedback I have received in my constituency of Cork North-West, this was very much evident in a recent conference on building the blocks of success that we held with the Charleville Chamber of Commerce. In Cork, the president of the chamber of commerce, Mr. John Mullins, while acknowledging the ongoing challenges facing the Government, accepted that tough decisions regarding our expenditure were unavoidable. Mr. Mullins expressed the view that the overall impact was positive from a job creation point of view and acknowledged the focus the Government has placed on the vital role of SMEs. The reinforcement of its commitment to the 12.5% corporation tax and the absence of any increase in employers' PRSI were most welcome. There was a particular welcome also from employers, who, ultimately, are the ones who take the risks and create the jobs, that the transfer of sick pay costs to employers did not materialise. Likewise, the business associations across the board welcomed the Government's efforts to recognise the potential of small businesses. It must be stated that 70% of employment comes from small businesses.

The budget introduced sufficient stimulus measures that will assist employers in maintaining or increasing employment by remaining competitive. I was personally pleased that our representation to the Minister for Finance for the implementation of an essential user rebate for the tax compliant licensed road haulage operators has been accepted. This is the first time the country has ever recognised the significant work of the haulage sector. As we are an island nation and exports are our lifeline, a viable, stable and effective transport sector is essential. Not only does it benefit our export sector, but it reduces costs to Irish consumers because of the lower costs on transportation. I am also convinced that this will benefit the Exchequer as the transport companies will now buy their fuel at home and pay Irish excise duties. No doubt they will also create new jobs.

The expansion of this fuel rebate to the coach sector is also most welcome. The initiatives the Government has already taken in the area of tourism have substantially increased jobs in this sector and the fuel rebate for coach businesses will help provide an added boost. In fact, 6,000 new jobs were created in this sector last year.

Every politician and every Member of this House would wish that the less well-off in society would not have to share in this pain. Politicians, by their nature, want to announce good news to people but it was this type of attitude by previous Governments that got us into so much trouble in the first place. We must make the right decisions now to protect the future of our economy for both our children and our grandchildren. As I stated, 85% of the heavy lifting is now done. We can now begin to see a brighter horizon. I commend this Bill to the House.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to say a few words on the Finance Bill which is another important part of the process of recovery of this country as we get there bit by bit. I will address a couple of issues in the few minutes available.

The Minister stated that we are now in a position where we can be optimistic as a country. That is an important point to get out there. People need to know the country is recovering. They need to know there is hope. When we are out there meeting people on a daily basis, they are worried and concerned. They are trying to manage, week to week. If they know the country is turning around, they will buy into what we have to do here. They will accept it, work with us on it and try to help. However, they need to know. The signs are there to prove that we are not merely making this up. This country is turning around. There is hope and the Minister was correct to state last night that we are bringing in a finance Bill during a period of optimism when matters are improving.

A couple of recent movements provide us with proof in that regard. Our record of winning jobs in the past two years is good. It is not brilliant when compared to the problem of unemployment, but to be winning more jobs per week than we are losing is heading in the right direction. We are coming from a position where there were nearly 280,000 jobs lost in the three years before we came into office. We are in a position of stemming that rot. We are back, and trying to win more jobs per week. That is what it is about, winning more jobs every week than one loses because there are still certain sectors, such as construction, banking and some of the financials, in which there will be more job losses as these sectors return to their proper levels and proportions of GDP. There will be adjustments but we are on the right track.

The sale of Irish Life yesterday, but also the raising of funding on the markets by our banks and also by the State during January, sets out a positive image of the country and that international investors believe in the future of this country. They would not invest their money in this country if they did not believe it has a future. People can see such facts. Investment is coming into the country. Slowly but surely, we are winning that game.

The recent deal on the promissory note is a very important initiative. I have listened to Opposition Members state it is not a deal at all and the Government took over the debt. It was made national debt by the previous Government. None of us likes it. On the night of that deal, I spoke here before we knew about it. We hated having the Anglo Irish Bank debt, the promissory notes, etc., but we were stuck with them. One could not merely take out the Sinn Féin magic pen and wish them away. It does not work that way. One must negotiate. One must work on it and deal on it. If Members understand the time value of money and the net present value of money, they will realise that it was a good deal that will stand the test of time. It will prove to be a win-win for us in the long term in terms of the actual debt, but even in cash terms. In trying to run this country for the next couple of years when funding is short and is very hard to get, from a cash point of view alone, if nothing else, that deal was a win-win for Ireland. It will free up money, with which we can fund other projects, but it also means we need not go out this year to find the guts of €7 billion or €8 billion to pay back this year's payment, last year's and the interest. It frees up the necessity to raise that funding, quite apart from the fact that 40-year funding, if one applies net present value, represents a win-win for us. If we stood here a couple of years ago and were strong enough in our deals with Europe when we needed approximately €60 billion to continue paying for the country's services and €60 billion to save the banks, and if we had gone out there and looked for €100 billion long-term funding with a term of 40 years or 50 years at 1%, everybody would have been happy and we would not have been under pressure over the past couple of years. That is the way one would do it - one would get long-term funding when one has short-term difficulties that one cannot manage to pay back. Therefore, the deal is a win-win.

Returning to the bigger problem, last night the Minister spoke of returning stability to the public finances. As I mentioned previously, it is only in time that people will realise the real damage the era of former Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, and Fianna Fáil did to this country in 2001 and 2008 when they let expenditure go completely out of control in nearly every Department. If one analyses the departmental expenditure trend - I have seen it previously but I will get the information again in parliamentary questions - we can see the reckless spending during those years. That spending was not from permanent revenue. It was from short-term gain from a housing boom and construction, and yet Mr. Bertie Ahern and all his colleagues in Fianna Fáil, including the newly reformed Deputy Martin, decided to spend it on long-term initiatives. They gave the people lower tax rates and extra services. In many cases, they gave staff extra pay. What they really did was give people false hope. Based on that everybody used the new wages, lower taxes and better services - all of which, let us not deny it, were nice to get but were not sustainable - to take out mortgages and loans because they were confident they could repay them. The boom was built on sand. People are faced with a reduction in their disposable income due to wage reductions, increased service costs or taxes, etc., and yet their debt still exists. That is the mess with which they were left. We are aware it is not the right time to introduce either the property tax or charges or to reduce overtime allowances but there is no choice in the matter because at the same time the previous Government was encouraging everybody else to blow their money, it itself did so and committed the State's finances to an unsustainable position. This left us overdrawn some years ago by €20 billion and last year by €15 billion. This year, we are still overdrawn by between €12 billion and €13 billion.

Nobody will continue to lend us that money to spend on services if we continue to be overdrawn. We have no choice other than to reduce that deficit somehow. That is done through negotiation and it is a slow, hard and difficult process. People need to recognise the context for the Finance Bill which is trying to introduce measures to help reduce that deficit gradually. At the same time, the ten-point plan for small business is trying to encourage job creation. Much of that plan relates to freeing up cash for small businesses. In the Departments we now have Ministers - the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, and the Ministers, Deputies Noonan and Howlin - who understand how important it is for businesses to have cash in order to conduct their businesses and create jobs. Many of these initiatives free up cash and allow that.

I ask the Minister to consider something that is not contained in the Finance Bill. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, who is present, is aware that the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has introduced a pilot voluntary scheme to allow communities to repair their own local roads. As the Minister of State travels around the country he will see many local roads - especially given his responsibility for OPW - and will have seen the problems people are experiencing. In my county, mainly in the Kells electoral area, roads are crumbling and falling apart. They are being left in a very dangerous situation owing to reduced investment in them over the past four or five years. These roads need immediate work and this scheme allows residents, in conjunction with the local authorities, to fix the roads that would not be due for fixing under the local authority's three or four-year road plan.

As part of the Finance Bill, the Minister should consider introducing a VAT exemption, some form of rebate scheme or a tax relief to offset some of the costs communities bear to make their roads safer and more user-friendly. It is not ideal that our local authorities cannot keep up with the crumbling roads. It is not necessarily their fault given the systems that have developed over the years and a reduction in the money available in the country's present economic situation. So it is not their fault and it is not ideal that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport should need to introduce such an initiative to encourage locals to spend their money. However, if we see that as a short-term solution, we need a whole-of-Government approach and the Department of Finance may have a role in easing that financial pressure so that if people decide to spend money fixing their local road to make it safer, there is a bit of tax relief on that. That is the right approach.

The same model could then be used in other areas. The schools summer works scheme has been abolished. If my proposal works in this case, we could then reconsider that scheme. Some years ago I proposed this to the then Minister, Mr. Noel Dempsey, as a way to get work done on schools. He took it on board and invented the devolved grant scheme, which was only a variant of it but was not managed correctly. This is a way to encourage locals to put spare cash into their own services and get tax back on that also. I believe the Finance Bill is the vehicle - excuse the pun when I am talking about roads - to help achieve this and I ask that it be considered.

I could discuss many other issues, including the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on developing a youth entrepreneurial fund, as mentioned by Deputy Lawlor. Other aspects of that report, which we launched yesterday, are the part-time work initiative, which would basically use people's existing social welfare payment to fund a part-time job for them. The Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, along with the Department of Social Protection could play a leading role in using the same money in a different way to get people closer to a full-time job.

I apologise - I do not have a magic pen.

Some of the Deputy's colleagues think they have one. That is the problem.

Perhaps it is a wand.

A magic bullet, maybe.

Sinn Féin has a different way of approaching a problem. Our non-magic pens wrote down the policies and had them costed and verified. We then presented them to the Dáil.

Sinn Féin's costings did not add up. There is the magic pen again.

The Waldorf and Statler Members on the Government benches did not listen. It is not a question of magic pens, but of approaching this in a different way. I hope that deals with the magic pens.

This Finance Bill is not all bad and has some positive aspects. However, the positive aspects are drowned in the overall intention of the Bill and in the tsunami of its regressive and deeply damaging provisions. The fundamental question is as follows. Should people work for an economy or should an economy work for people? I believe the Bill is drafted and crafted on the premise that people must continue to work for and suffer for the economy, which is very wrong.

During the general election campaign and in the initial weeks when it entered power in the spring of 2011, the Government promised so much change. Particularly prior to the general election, there was so much talk of change and taking a different approach to governance. The Government has failed to bring about the change it promised which was so badly needed. The Finance Bill is further evidence that instead of a different form of government and governance, and instead of fresh ideas, we simply have Fianna Fáil under a different name as evidenced by the Finance Bill. Nothing has changed. The Government continues to take money from the pockets of the very people who should be sustaining our local economy.

Some Government Members want to talk about magic pens. While we take money from the pockets of the very people who sustain our local economy, we have this hope that somehow miraculously this will fix our local economy. They want to talk to me about magic - now that expectation is magic. It will not and cannot fix the local economy. If we do not fix our local economy, we cannot fix our national economy. Europe needs to understand that if national economies are not fixed, the European economy will continue to shudder from crisis to crisis.

There is a possibility of doing things differently. The Government parties promised they would do things differently before the general election. Now the Government parties seem to believe it is impossible to do things any differently because their hands are tied and they blame the last lot. There is a possibility of doing things differently. Politics should not be about blame. It is important to have accountability and responsibility when politicians get things wrong. The last lot were accountable and were rightly put out of power. Politics should be about more than just blaming. It is about offering solutions, and offering real and credible alternatives to the people. Ireland has tremendous potential which the Government consistently ignores or to which it pays lip service.

In the long-term strategic development of Ireland as a nation, the Government needs to use all the resources of the State to improve the lives of the people. However, it is time for the Government to think outside the box and to believe that another Ireland is possible. If we look internationally, we see some governments and leaders across the globe that are changing their countries for the better. Last weekend saw the re-election of President Rafael Correa in Ecuador. We could do well to study Ecuador, which went through a period of massive economic turmoil. The Minister of State is laughing.

I know a bit about Ecuador.

In that country the markets ruled the people instead of the people ruling the markets.

With the arrival of Correa's Government came a different approach. It showed the people that it was not necessary to continue to do what had always been done, namely, be submissive to the World Bank and the IMF and pay off external debt irrespective of the social debts which were pending. This process was called a citizens' revolution. An interesting aspect of this citizens' revolution was to use the country's natural resources to aid and benefit the people of Ecuador. Instead of allowing multinational oil and gas companies to exploit the natural resources of the country, Correa changed the system of oil and gas exploration so that it benefited local communities. Why can the Irish Government not adopt a similar approach to our natural resources? Ireland is a country with a wealth of natural resources that have not been utilised or exploited to its benefit. Oil and gas, wind and wave energy have huge potential to benefit this State and its people. What we need is a Government that is willing to commit to developing these areas and making them profitable for the State and the people.

There is a common misconception among the public that Ireland needs low oil and gas taxation to promote exploration and develop its oil and gas industry. Successive Irish Governments and, in particular, the oil industry lobby have propagated this myth for many years. The successful oil and gas lobby, with the help of media commentators, some of whom have strong interests in the oil and gas industry, have spun the myth that Ireland's current system of taxation is the best deal there is in the exploration of its natural resources. The line which this lobby group spins is that the more oil and gas that is extracted from Irish waters, the more jobs there will be for Ireland and the greater will be our infrastructure. It also claims that the current system of oil and gas exploration off the Irish coast will ensure energy security for Ireland, resulting in our no longer being reliant on imported fossil fuels. Oil and gas company public relations spokespersons, and their spokespersons in the media and in politics, subtly imply that Irish homes will have access to cheap fuel if oil and gas companies are allowed to proceed under the current rules. However, this could not be further from the truth. The people are not being told the facts.

Ireland's offshore oil and gas reserves have the long-term potential to be a significant source of revenue for the economy. According to a Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources report in 2006 there is approximately 10 billion barrels of oil equivalent off our western coast, comprised of 6.5 billion barrels of oil and 20 trillion cubic feet of gas. At current oil prices, this equates to approximately €540 billion.

If only we could find it.

While it is true that the actual amount of oil and gas brought ashore has been small, these reserves exist. Currently, little gas and no oil is being extracted from Irish waters. This does not reflect the potential of Ireland's reserves. Companies that discover oil or gas in Irish territory are not obliged to supply these resources to the Irish market. Also, our licensing terms are so weighted in the industry's favour, they do not require the companies to bring a single drop of this oil or gas ashore in Ireland. Ireland's licensing terms do not ensure fuel security for the country. When the Government awards oil and gas companies with a licence, ownership and control of Irish oil and gas is transferred to that company. Under the current licensing terms, the Government cannot guarantee that the oil and gas will be sold to the Irish market, that it will be landed in Ireland or that the companies will employ Irish people. Irish consumers must pay the international price for oil and gas found off the coast of Ireland. At a time when the world is nearing peak oil production, it is imperative that Ireland secures its fuel supply.

When compared to international standards, Ireland's licensing terms are very generous to oil and gas companies. A report carried out in 2007 by the US Government Accountability Office studied the licensing terms of 142 fiscal systems. It found that among all the countries studied Ireland has the second lowest Government take. In the United States the minimum Government take is 42% and in Norway it is 75%. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture published a report in May 2012 entitled Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration, in which a number of recommendations were outlined. While the report states: "[R]etrospective changes to fiscal and licensing terms can risk long-term reputational damage...", it also agreed that "[F]uture agreements can reflect policy changes necessitated by significant changes in the policy context and circumstances, for example a large increase in the number of commercially viable finds or the size of fields". The report further states:

The joint committee believes that the overall tax take should, in the case of future of licences, be increased to a minimum of 40%. The tax take should increase from existing levels according to a sliding scale based on the rate of profit (that is to give an overall tax take of 40% for small commercial discoveries, 60% for medium commercial discoveries and 80% for very large discoveries).

Renewable energy also has huge potential to benefit this State. According to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, in response to a question I put to him, only 16% of Irish electricity consumers receive their energy from wind sources. Ireland has a lengthy coastline that enables us to develop a large amount of wind energy but there is no national strategy in place for the development of wind energy. We talk about a national strategy as if one were in place but there is no national strategy on the use of renewable energy to benefit this country and its people. What we do in this regard is respond to approaches made by different companies who are in it for profit. We need to stand back and to think outside the box. We need to say what we want from renewable energies that will benefit this country and its people and will improve energy security in Europe.

Our primary focus should be a strategy, the benefit of which is to those who control the resources, namely, the Irish people. We are light years away from this type of strategy and need to develop one fast. We are operating on an ad hoc basis, responding to proposals that are made by people whose only interest in this area is to get as much as they can from it and get out with their profits intact. We need to take control.

In recent weeks the Government signed a memorandum of understanding with the British Government to supply Britain with a large amount of wind energy. We will pipe our natural resources out of the country. I am not saying this is a bad thing.

We are getting paid for it.

It may well be a good thing. The problem is I do not know what arrangements have been entered into or how much we will get from it. I do not know how much Britain will benefit from it or what the payback will be for Irish people. I do not know what impact it will have on Ireland's energy security policy or where it fits as part of a national strategy.

It was built using European money.

I repeat I do not know what benefit it will be to Irish people or the Irish State.

We are exporting people. That is not a benefit to the Irish State.

It is energy, Deputy.

I suspect the Minister of State does not know-----

I do actually.

If he does I ask him to let me know how much the Irish people will benefit from the export of energy to Britain. Up to now I have been unable to get this information.

It is capacity.

If the Minister of State can get me this information and quantify the benefit that will be made available to the Irish people from this, with regard to employment and income to the State, I ask him to please do so.

So we should not be doing it.

I am not saying it is a bad thing but in the absence of a national strategy it is another ad hoc decision. It might be good or it might be bad, but I do not know what decision-making process was used.

The Deputy has one and a half minutes remaining.

Economically we are in a very bad place. We need to think totally differently about energy than we do at present. I hate the term "outside the box" but I cannot think of another way to explain it. We need to take a lateral view and look at it from a different direction. We need to ask what can we do to increase employment and energy security in Ireland.

We also need to ask what can we do to maximise the income for the Irish people. Why is the Government giving a fair deal to the companies producing it? How do we acquire knowledge so we know we are not being taken for a spin by some of the companies which are lining up? We need a national strategy very quickly as otherwise we will continue to struggle.

Recently I attended a public meeting in Carrick-on-Shannon where a chap in the audience asked a very simple question which I found difficult to answer. He asked how and why have we, as a nation, allowed ourselves to be put in a position where people fear government rather than government listening to and respecting people and representing their opinions. It is a simple but profound question and we need to be able to answer it.

Deputies Michael McNamara, Regina Doherty and Joe O'Reilly are sharing time.

I commend the Bill to the House. It is a good Bill for the entirety of the country. It is also particularly good for the mid-west for reasons I hope to outline. The Minister for Finance published the Bill and discussed it in detail last night. He also set out the specific sections which apply to the aviation sector. Plans for an international aviation services centre were key to the Government's decision to separate Shannon Airport from the Dublin Airport Authority at the end of 2012. An independent Shannon Airport, combined with the landmark establishment of Shannon Development, could conservatively generate between 3,000 and 3,500 new direct jobs over the next five years according to the Government-appointed task force which reported towards the end of last year. This jobs figure is separate to the construction jobs which would revolve around growing air traffic at the airport and establishing the aviation sector centre. The aviation business development task force was led by Rose Hynes, who has since become the chairperson of the airport. The task force concluded that an independent airport combined with a land bank could be successful and sustainable and contribute significantly to the economic development of the mid-west. I believe the Finance Bill is further proof of the Government's support for aviation generally in the country, which will be of particular benefit to Shannon Airport as it seeks to establish itself as an independent entity.

The Finance Bill provides for an amendment to the definition of industrial buildings whereby industrial buildings allowances will apply to hangars, tear-down pads, parking and ancillary facilities for a period of five years from the commencement of the legislation, while the construction of new aviation-specific facilities such as hangars and tear-down pads will enjoy an accelerated capital allowance over ten years. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, stated these measures are designed to attract additional aviation sector businesses and jobs to Ireland, and to encourage Irish and overseas businesses already located here to expand their operations. Although these initiatives were initially proposed by the Shannon aviation business development task force, they will be made available to all airports in the State. Nevertheless, I hope Shannon Airport will be able to avail of these measures and I am confident it will.

As somebody from east Clare, I spent a considerable amount of time in Limerick city when I was growing up, it being the major city for the mid-west. The increasing dereliction of Limerick city is a source of considerable disappointment to all of us in the mid-west. It is very hard to attract tourists to an area with increasing dereliction. One of the Government's first acts was to combine Limerick City Council with Limerick County Council, and this is beneficial because for decades the rates base of Limerick city was being undermined by Limerick County Council. This has now stopped. I am pleased to see an initiative in the Finance Bill, which applies not only to Limerick city but also to Waterford, whereby owners and occupiers - it is important to point out it is also occupiers - of Georgian buildings in Limerick, which is a very beautiful Georgian city, will be able to avail of tax reliefs to repair buildings. I greatly welcome this. It is not a developer-led type of initiative, which was so favoured by the previous Government and which contributed so much to the economic ruin the current Government inherited. It is occupier-led so people who live in these buildings will be able to avail of it to ensure the buildings are repaired to their former glory and contribute to what is a unique architectural heritage on the island.

I again commend the Bill to the House.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I acknowledge to the Minister of State that for me the Bill has highlighted the benefits of the listening process and I am grateful for this, particularly with regard to homeowners affected by pyrite. The Bill proves the Minister listened as he will provide exemptions for charitable bodies which provide properties for recreational purposes and for the properties of incapacitated persons which have been adapted for mobility reasons. These and a myriad of other exceptions will be made. I have great respect for the Minister for engaging in a listening process. However, I also have big concerns for the thousands of people who paid huge amounts in stamp duty on their properties in the past ten years.

It would be remiss of me not to represent those in my constituency of Meath East, some of whom paid the highest stamp duty values because they happen to live in the commuter belt. Most of those people have young families and are now in negative equity. Unfortunately, they were overlooked by the expert group and subsequently were not recognised for the inordinate amounts of stamp duty they had paid in the recent past.

Stamp duty was undoubtedly the poster boy of the tax boom for the last days of the Celtic tiger. Of course, all taxes rose during the boom but the rise in stamp duty was completely disproportionate. By 2006, stamp duty had risen by nearly 1,300% from its 1993 level, while other tax revenues had only increased by 400%. Stamp duty comprised 3% of total tax revenue in the mid-1990s but it reached almost 8% by 2006. For a time, Ireland appeared to have achieved the impossible by remaining a low-tax economy, while spending ever greater amounts on public services. It was all a mirage, however.

A couple who bought a house during the property bubble would typically have paid about €15,000 in stamp duty on a €300,000 home. That home has probably halved in value now. Even the expert group admitted that many people have ended up with bigger debts that they should have because they were forced to add the cost of stamp duty to their mortgages.

The Thornhill report argued that giving a break to those who paid stamp duty would be a boost to some people on high incomes, and that some of the cost of stamp duty was absorbed by sellers of properties during the boom. However, we all know that the majority of people who bought during the boom have stayed put and have no choice but to do so. They did not buy the house as a property - it was not speculation - they bought it as their home. There have been large reductions in household net assets with an uneven impact of cuts across different households. They have been particularly acutely felt by those experiencing unemployment and mortgage distress. There are compelling requirements to deleverage debt.

I would like to have seen the expert group come up with options within the legislation for this huge number of people. The Government has opted to charge a higher rate of property tax than the rate considered by the Thornhill expert group. Successive previous governments had become hooked on the notion of using once-off tax receipts, such as stamp duty in the property boom, to put in place programmes that required annual spending in good times and in bad. Do we not owe these people something?

Stamp duty from residential property brought approximately €1 billion into the Exchequer during the so-called tiger years. It peaked at €1.3 billion in 2006. There must be some recognition of that in whatever system we arrive at, given the extraordinary and extortionate stamp duty that was paid into the State coffers during those days. This matter is further complicated because buyers of new houses who did not pay stamp duty did, however, pay large VAT bills.

From 2008, despite broad agreement then that, as the bubble burst, a property tax was inevitable, political cowardice meant that civil servants in the Department were not tasked with drafting proposals for its implementation. No research was undertaken into what kind of property charge would be most equitable. Instead, there was an Irish solution to an Irish problem - namely, no solution but a loud consensus on the cause of the problem. Meanwhile, revenue accruing to the government from the property market via stamp duty, VAT and capital taxes plummeted by €8 billion in just four years, that is, from €10 billion in 2006 to €2 billion in 2010. Clearly, there was a crisis but instead of making a brave, bold move to do something about it by introducing the long overdue sustainable revenue raising that was required to fill the void, the previous Fianna Fáil Government was content to budget on a wing and a prayer, while slashing spending.

The scale of the task facing this Government should not be underestimated. Just because something is hard to do, however, does not mean it is not worthwhile. I respectfully ask the Minister to reconsider the thousands of homeowners who paid vast sums in stamp duty. I appreciate that we do not have a magic calculator like Sinn Féin does, but I respectfully ask the Minister to reconsider this matter and try to do something for those people in this Bill.

At the outset, I acknowledge the Minister, Deputy Noonan's well crafted and progressive Finance Bill.

I also acknowledge the clear exposition by the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, of the fiscal challenges facing this country and the necessary solutions, both within this House and outside it. We should be proud of the Bill and I am sure that when Deputy Finian McGrath gets to speak, he will be big enough to acknowledge the progressive elements of the legislation, while offering constructive and costed critiques.

The Bill attempts to achieve two broad objectives. First, it seeks to continue making progress on the public finances, which is so vital from every perspective, and ultimately to put our people to work. Second, it seeks to support existing employment while stimulating the creation of new employment.

We have a current budget deficit level of 8% of GDP and are heading for 7.5% next year. We are on course to meet the target of 3% by 2015. That is an extraordinary achievement from a position of effective bankruptcy when we entered Government. At that time, the public finances had gone completely awry with enormous implications for employment, inward investment and borrowing for economic stimulus. The negative implications were enormous then but, conversely, the implications of where we are getting to now will be enormously positive. We are on course to achieve the fiscal deficit target of 3% of GDP by 2015.

It is worth noting also that banks are back borrowing on the markets, while banking is beginning to normalise. We are on course for growth this year, which is a great achievement. While the promissory note deal might be somewhat abstract for the public to fully comprehend, it has enormous implications for the country in that it will prevent the borrowing of €2 billion per year for the next ten years. That has a double effect in that the borrowing would have led to a further reduction in demand in the economy, meaning a reduction in domestic activity as interest would be paid, thus leading to a diminishment of services. The sum of €3.6 billion will not have to be paid for each of the next eight years, with consequent implications for front-line services and economic activity generally. Economists are now saying that by the time we get around to paying the debt in 2038, it will effectively have diminished by over 40%.

It is a major deal for the country with great implications. We are back borrowing in the markets and the yield on Irish bonds has fallen to 3.6% today from 15% in 2011. Confidence is generally recovering, which is indicated by the new rating from Standard & Poor's. It was also indicated in practical terms by the creation of 12,500 jobs for the private sector last year and by continuing quarterly increases in exports, including a rise of 3.6% in the final quarter last year. That is all positive economically.

The Finance Bill does a number of progressive things, which Deputy Finian McGrath and others will be big enough to acknowledge. They know it is the right thing to do. There are major elements, including section 21 which deals with tourism. This allows for an extension of the employment and investment incentive scheme until the end of 2020. That will allow hotels, guest-houses and self-catering accommodation to qualify for a wide range of incentives for investing in the business, including repairs and maintenance. Cash flow would not currently permit this, while banks might not be that fussy about funding such work immediately without this kind of support.

The 9% special VAT rate is being extended in this area of the food industry, etc. It has been a huge stimulus to jobs and will continue to so be in respect of the tourism sector. The tourism industry is vital and provides 196,000 jobs for the country or 11% of total employment. Moreover, it is of great importance in my locality, namely, the lakelands district of Ireland or the Lake District of Ireland, if one likes. The entire Cavan-Monaghan area traditionally has been an important angling tourism centre and there are lots of small guesthouses and hotels which will benefit from the provision in section 21, which I welcome.

Similarly, the provisions of section 19 are critical for my constituency. It deals with the retention of stock relief for young trained farmers, which is important. It is also an incentive for farmers to be properly educated and there is financial support available for them to do this, as well as for registered farm partnerships. I note there is 100% stock relief for young trained farmers and it is being retained until 2015. Moreover, there is 50% stock relief for partnerships, which now have been extended to include beef and sheep partnerships. This is very important for consolidation, improvement in production levels, etc.

Section 46 deals with the restructuring of the capital gains tax. Tax relief will now be made available to farmers where the proceeds of a sale of farmland are reinvested for restructuring purposes and this is very important. This relief also will apply to farmland swaps, subject to certification by Teagasc. This will have a huge implication, in that it will allow for consolidation of holdings, more productive and accessible holdings, economies of scale, etc. Having grown up in a rural community, I am acutely aware of the disadvantages farmers suffer from disparate holdings being miles apart in respect of travel issues and so on. Economies of scale arise in a big way in this regard and consequently, this is highly progressive and will sustain farm families and farm jobs. I personally know many young farmers who are dynamic and enthusiastic about the future of farming in Ireland. They are willing to embrace new technologies and challenges, to revolutionise the manner in which farming is done in this country and they will do their bit to extend production over the coming years. The inclusion of these incentives in the Finance Bill is a clear message of support to these farmers and to the future of agriculture in this country. The Government can be very proud of this measure, which I salute. As Deputy Regina Doherty noted earlier, it has been done by a listening Minister. This issue had been brought to me by representatives of my local IFA executive a number of times and I am happy there has been good news in this regard. Moreover, while it is not germane to this Bill, this provision is paralleled by the huge achievements in the Common Agricultural Policy negotiations or in the multi-annual financial framework negotiations at European Union level in the past ten days. The combination of these budget initiatives and the recent deal on the Common Agricultural Policy is important news for the farming community and I am sure it will acknowledge it as such.

The fuel rebate is an excellent development. It involves partial relief for people who buy auto diesel for business purposes such as hauliers. It has now been extended to coach operators with great implications for the tourism industry and to local buses, etc. It is a good initiative that will involve partial relief up to a maximum amount of 7.5 cent per litre. This is something for which the haulage sector, coach operators, etc., had been lobbying and which was granted by a listening Minister. I believe it will stimulate the economy. It all is predicated on the principle that jobs are at a premium and that employment retention and creation are critical. Ireland's export sector is extremely important and measures such as reforming the three-year corporation tax relief for start-up companies, increasing the cash receipts basis threshold for VAT, amending the close company surcharge rules to improve the cash flow for SMEs and extending foreign earning deductions for work-related travel to certain additional countries are all positive.

I appreciate the Acting Chairman's indulgence and state in conclusion that the Government has had enormous achievements to date across a range of areas including the establishment of confidence, job creation domestically and from inward investment and in respect of foreign lenders' confidence in Ireland with the promissory notes deal being the icing on the cake. The Government has had achievements across all those areas and this Bill is a good and important component of that. However, the Government must continue and a jobs stimulus package is forthcoming. The challenge now is to turn the progress to date into job creation. This will restore the dignity of those who get the jobs. Moreover, each time a job is created, there is a double whammy because the annual cost to the Exchequer arising from the associated health and social welfare-related expenditure falls by €20,000. This Bill constitutes a good day's work, is a step in the right direction and the House should acknowledge it as such. I believe there is an audience outside this House which does not want destructive or negative politics but which seeks positivity and results for people. Moreover, if there is to be criticism, such people want it to be completely constructive, costed and accompanied by alternative plans. The audience outside for what Members have to say is too sophisticated for the days of magic calculators.

I call Deputies Catherine Murphy, Finian McGrath and Ross, who will share a slot of 20 minutes. They will have approximately six minutes each.

On reading the Finance Bill, in an obvious sign of the times I noted it contains much about loan losses, insolvency and the closing off of tax avoidance possibilities. However, I scrutinised the Bill both to establish whether it contained something it should not and if it included a big vision. I must note I did not really discern such a vision. Members get two Finance Bills, the first of which appears on budget day. There is very limited scope to do anything with that because it is shoehorned into an extremely tight timeframe, which is effectively the day of the Budget Statement itself. Consequently, this Bill offers a big opportunity both to debate the economic management of the country and perhaps to embrace some opportunities for meaningful discussion about alternative policies. I hope this will take place both this week and on Committee Stage.

Essentially, there are two dimensions to our economy. One pertains to tax, cuts or the ability to fund public services. However, there also is the issue of where one might invest and where one might get such investment. This investment is of critical importance to Ireland's ability to pay for public services. I believe the silo-based approach to finances ignores the cumulative effect on people. For example, many developments, such as property tax and child benefit cuts or continually increasing fuel costs and third level registration fees, as well as the reduction of the PRSI exemptions, hit the same people and have a significant impact on their ability to exist in many cases.

I asked myself what kind of society we are trying to create. I would be in favour of creating a society that is more equal in terms of people's incomes. However, I cannot discern such an intention in this Bill. It was not present in last year's budget and I do not discern it in this year's budget. For example, measures such as the €127 exemption on PRSI constituted a very big hit for a lot of people. It will cost €300 per year for many people who do not even find themselves in the tax net. While I can understand the reason for the provision of increases in stamp duty on health insurance, I am a little concerned about people trading down to basic plans or perhaps dropping out of the scheme altogether and how the service will be funded. This is not because I am a great fan of a two-tier health service - I most definitely am not - but the public health system certainly is under pressure and one should avoid putting further pressure on it at present.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.