Budget Statement 2014

The story of insolvent Ireland is familiar to all our people and the sacrifices people have made in recent years are well known. Reckless policies were pursued by the Fianna Fáil-led Government. This continued until Ireland was no longer able to borrow on the international markets and the Government had to turn to the lenders of last resort. The help from the IMF and the European authorities came at a high price. Hundreds of onerous conditions were attached to the loans; Ireland lost its sovereignty and the troika came to Ireland. The Fianna Fáil-led Government collapsed in a shambles and a Fine Gael-Labour Party Government took office, with a mandate to sort out the disaster, stabilise the economy, get people back to work and restore the sovereignty of this republic.

The new Government immediately set about this task and renegotiated the bailout programme. Among the more notable achievements were the extension of the maturities and the reduction in interest rates on the European loans, the promissory note changes, the liquidation of Anglo Irish Bank, the restoration of the minimum wage and an agreement that half of the proceeds from the sale of State assets would be used for capital investment. The Government has reduced the deficit and controlled the national debt. We have reduced interest rates to levels below those that pertained during the so-called boom, the economy is in its third successive year of growth and 3,000 net new jobs are being created each month.

The purpose of this budget is to continue the progress we have made, reinforce policies that grow the economy, establish the conditions which will create jobs and prepare for exiting the bailout programme. To this end the Government has designed this budget. We will bring in a deficit of 4.8% in 2014 and a small primary surplus, demonstrating that our national debt which has been rising for so many years is under control. We will achieve these targets by an adjustment of €3.1 billion, €2.5 billion of which will consist of expenditure cuts and tax increases.

As W. B. Yeats said at Easter 1916, “too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart”. I know there is a view that the consolidation should go further, but people have already made many sacrifices.

One of the primary tasks of this budget is to lay down the conditions for a successful exit from the bailout programme at the end of the year or, to put it another way, to fund ourselves fully through the international markets in a sustainable way at competitive interest rates. We are well on course to do this and as the economy continues to grow and jobs continue to be created, we have a fair wind at our backs to achieve our objectives and restore our sovereignty.

Focus on Employment

While the Government was in the past two and a half years focused on implementing and ultimately exiting the EU-IMF programme, we have also been following another parallel programme. This parallel programme took the economy sector by sector and the Government built on the strong sectors of the economy and repaired those sectors which were damaged. The objective of this parallel programme is to support businesses to create jobs and get people off the live register and back to work.

For example, in the tourism sector I reduced VAT to 9% from 13.5% within the first 100 days of this Government, an initiative that boosted the tourist industry. I introduced a number of measures to support farmers and help those farmers who were preparing for the ending of milk quotas in 2015. Last year I introduced a ten point tax plan to support the SME sector. I introduced over 20 measures in Finance Act 2012 to support the financial services sector, while a range of initiatives were introduced in the past two years to support the recovery in the property and housing market.

I have also introduced measures to enhance the attractiveness of Ireland as a destination for foreign direct investment and we have continually defended our 12.5% corporate tax rate.

While many of these initiatives on their own may be small, taken together they have played a significant part in the recovery and in the jobs market. In this budget I will follow the same approach. Creating jobs is the primary objective and today I am introducing 25 pro-business and pro-jobs measures. The total cost of the tax elements is in excess of €500 million in a full year. This very significant investment is designed to help businesses in key sectors achieve their full potential growth and create jobs.

Pro-Jobs Tax Measures

This Government continues to focus its policies on creating and maintaining jobs in all sectors of the economy. I will now set out the tax measures that will support job creation and then the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, will set out the public expenditure measures that will support job creation.


In recognition of the importance of the tourism sector to the overall economy and as a major source of jobs, I reduced VAT in this sector to 9% in the jobs initiative of May 2012. As I outlined earlier, this initiative has proved to be a major success, helping to create more than 15,000 new jobs as well as protecting existing jobs. As Deputies will be aware, the rate of VAT for the tourism and hospitality sector and the other sectors to which it applies is due to revert to 15.5% at the end of this year. However, it is important that we reinforce success when possible, so I have decided to continue the 9% rate of VAT for these vital sectors.


Hear, hear.

This will support the increased number of jobs already in place and accelerate the creation of new jobs. To further support the tourism sector, I have also decided to reduce the air travel tax to zero with effect from 1 April 2014.


Hear, hear.

I expect the airlines to utilise this initiative to develop new routes and build traffic volumes, thereby helping tourism, and I have reason to believe they will do so.

Agrifood and Fisheries

The agrifood and fisheries sector is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry, employing 150,000 people, producing an annual output of €24 billion and exporting €9 billion worth of goods to more than 160 countries. It is entirely appropriate that the sector has been the recipient of significant tax relief and incentives over the years, but these have grown over time and there is now a significant information gap about their cost and effectiveness. Therefore, I am announcing, in conjunction with my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, that an independent cost-benefit analysis will be undertaken in this area.

The objective of the review is to identify what works and what does not, and to redirect the existing level of tax expenditure towards achieving maximum benefit in this sector of the economy.


Hear, hear.

This review follows recent reviews of property, film and research and development tax expenditures. Any recommendations will be considered in the context of budget 2015.

I also wish to announce that the farmers’ flat rate addition will be increased to 5% from 4.8% with effect from 1 January 2014. This scheme compensates farmers for VAT incurred on their farming inputs. In addition, I am extending capital gains tax retirement relief to disposals of long-term leased farmland in certain circumstances. The purpose of the change I am introducing in this area is to encourage older farmers to lease out their farmland on long-term leases to younger farmers, in circumstances where the older farmers have no children who are willing to take up farming. The eligibility for young trained farmer's relief is also being extended by the addition of three more qualifying courses to the list of relevant qualifications required for the 100% rate of stock relief and for stamp duty relief on the purchase of agricultural properties, which I will maintain.

Property and Construction Sector

In my previous budgets, I have included important measures that have begun to return the construction sector to growth. I introduced these, as I have continually stated, with the objective of helping the construction and development sector return to sustainable levels in line with most economies. No sector has been hit harder since 2008 and a return to a normalised construction and development sector is needed to provide jobs for the thousands of unemployed construction workers. Furthermore, in light of the increases in property prices due to the supply limitations in some areas, it is important that we increase the supply of suitable residential housing stock to prevent the emergence of a new property bubble. This includes the building of new homes and the renovation of existing housing stock in Dublin and our main urban centres.

Home Renovation Incentive (HRI)

I am introducing a home renovation tax incentive scheme. The home renovation incentive will provide an income tax credit for homeowners who carry out renovation and improvement works on their principal private residences in 2014 and 2015. The incentive is payable over the two years following the year in which the work is carried out. The credit will be calculated at a rate of 13.5% on all qualifying expenditure over €5,000 and up to €30,000. Qualifying works include extensions and renovations to the home, window-fitting, plumbing, tiling and plastering. This incentive will support fully tax compliant builders and move activity out of the shadow economy into the legitimate economy as all expenditure and relief claims will have to be registered electronically with the Revenue Commissioners.

Living City Initiative

Last year I announced the Living City initiative for Limerick and Waterford. Following further consideration, including a cost-benefit analysis that I am publishing today, I have decided to extend the initiative to Cork, Galway, Kilkenny and Dublin and broaden the eligibility criteria to include all buildings built prior to 1915. The initiative should assist the regeneration of retail and commercial districts and encourage families to live in the historic buildings in city centres. It will be commenced after EU state aid approval is secured.

Capital Gains Tax Relief

In budget 2012 I announced an incentive that exempted commercial property purchased by the end of 2013 from capital gains tax if held for at least seven years. I am extending the purchase period to the end of 2014.

Real Estate Investment Trusts

Following the successful launch of the real estate investment trusts, REITs, in Ireland, as provided for in the Finance Act 2013, I have agreed with my Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, to propose the addition of REIT investments to the five investment options already in place under the immigrant investor programme launched last year by the Department of Justice and Equality. This would be subject to conditions placed on the minimum level of investment and withdrawal of funds to ensure alignment with the overall purpose of the programme.

NAMA Investment

NAMA is delivering and committed to delivering additional significant investment in the economy right now. It expects to have approved €2 billion in funding for Irish projects between 2011 and 2015. This level of investment could be increased depending on the pace of economic recovery. The investment will include the construction of 4,500 new houses and apartments in Dublin, in addition to much needed office accommodation in the city centre and investment in commercially viable retail projects.

NAMA is also willing to make €2 billion in vendor capital available to purchasers of commercial properties in Ireland. It has already lent €375 million of this across six major transactions.

Foreign Direct Investment

Ireland's corporate tax strategy has three key elements: rate, reputation and regime. The tax rate is settled policy. We are 100% committed to the 12.5% corporation tax rate. This will not change, but, increasingly, tax reputation is also a key factor in winning mobile foreign direct investment. In the past 12 months the international rules for taxing multinational companies have been a focus for much debate across the globe. Global challenges require global action. This is now happening through the OECD base erosion and profit shifting project, in which Ireland is playing an active part.

Let me be crystal clear. Ireland wants to be part of the solution to this global tax challenge, not part of the problem. That is why today I am publishing a new international tax strategy statement which sets out Ireland's objectives and commitments in relation to these issues. I will also be bringing forward a change in the Finance Bill to ensure Irish registered companies cannot be "stateless" in terms of their place of tax residency. Countries are increasingly competing more and more aggressively for mobile foreign direct investment. I want Ireland to play fair - as we always have done - and I want it to play to win. That is why I will continue to examine ways in which we can ensure our corporate tax regime remains competitive.

Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Investment

All economic sectors have a vital role to play in our economic recovery. However, to create additional jobs, we need to support the creation of new businesses which are very effective job generators. At present in Ireland the aspiration to set up a new business is lower than the EU and OECD averages. Too many people in Ireland see themselves as employees for life. We must encourage people to start their own businesses.

To do this we need three things: entrepreneurship, innovation and investment. Today I am announcing a series of measures under the "Build Your Business" initiative which focus on these factors.

To promote entrepreneurship, from next year, I am giving a capital gains tax relief to entrepreneurs who reinvest the proceeds from the disposal of assets, on which CGT has previously been paid, into a new investment in productive trading activities. The relief will be a tax credit equal to the lower of the CGT paid on the previous asset disposal or 50% of the CGT due on any gain from the future disposal of the new investment. EU state-aid approval is required for this measure.

To encourage innovation, I am implementing the key recommendations of a review of the research and development tax credit that I am publishing today. These improvements relate to the outsourcing of research and development, qualifying expenditure relating to the base year and the key employee provision.

I am introducing a new start your own business scheme to assist individuals who have been unemployed for at least 15 months to start their own unincorporated businesses by giving them a two year exemption from income tax. This scheme, in combination with the home renovation initiative, will assist construction workers to return to work.

To stimulate investment, inspire entrepreneurship and support and protect jobs, I am removing the employment and investment incentive from the high earners restriction for a period of three years. This will encourage investors to invest up to the annual limit of €150,000 under the scheme. Additional equity will enable SMEs to expand and enhance the credibility of their credit applications. Furthermore, I propose to exempt share transfers on the Enterprise Securities Market of the Irish Stock Exchange from the 1% stamp duty that would otherwise apply.

I am bringing forward the start date of the new film relief scheme to 2015 from 2016 and extending it to include non-EU talent to help attract additional major film productions to these shores. These productions are job rich and can often give a knock-on boost to the tourism sector. This extension will be subject to EU state-aid approval and it will be coupled with the introduction of a withholding tax.

Building on a measure in last year's ten point plan to help SMEs, I am increasing the cash receipts basis threshold for VAT from €1.25 million to €2 million with effect from 1 May 2014. This overall increase in the threshold of €1 million since 2012 will assist cash-flow and reduce administration in a larger number of SMEs.

Magdalen Laundries

The Government has decided to give effect to one of the main recommendations of Mr. Justice Quirke in his report on the individuals who worked in Magdalen laundries. To this effect, I am announcing that all lump sum payments to claimants will be tax exempt.

Shadow Economy

The shadow economy causes distortions in the real economy because it puts legitimate and compliant business at a competitive disadvantage. I am introducing seven measures designed to further support the Revenue Commissioners' work targeting VAT fraud, illegal tobacco selling, unlicensed trading in alcohol products and fuel laundering. I believe that compliant taxpayers should have an independent, fair and efficient appeals process open to them, and that is why I am announcing a reform of the Appeal Commissioners in 2014. Presentations and more detailed information on the measures I am announcing today are available on the budget website.

Banking and Credit

The banking sector has a very important role to play in supplying credit at competitive rates to support economic growth. As shareholders in the main banks, our objective is to manage them commercially to create and protect value for the taxpayer as the shareholder, but they must also supply the credit lines necessary to sustain and grow the economy. Credit unions also have a key role to play in providing access to credit and other important services in local communities throughout the country. The Government is a supporter of credit unions. We have provided significant funding and we will continue to work closely with the movement so that credit unions can continue to play a full part in Ireland's recovery.

We must continue to ensure that businesses, particularly SMEs, have access to credit from a diverse range of sources. Sources of alternative funding continue to rise. These include the National Pensions Reserve Fund, the European Investment Bank and private providers such as Silicon Valley Bank.

At European level we are leading the debate on non-bank funding models for business as we promote the jobs and growth agenda both at home and abroad. Given the importance of the export sector to sustainable economic growth and employment, we are discussing with the European Investment Bank the feasibility of an EIB-supported trade finance initiative that would proactively support Irish exporters in growing their businesses abroad.

The Credit Review Office fulfils an important role in assisting borrowers who have been refused credit by the banks. I am announcing an increase in the limit for loan applications that can be appealed to the Credit Review Office from €500,000 to €3 million to facilitate requests from a broader range of SMEs. The level of awareness of the full suite of developmental business supports remains low among SMEs and entrepreneurs. In order to address this, a comprehensive communications strategy will be rolled out in the coming months. To improve the framework of credit supports available to SMEs, I am also announcing a subsidised financial training programme for small businesses consisting of two days dedicated offsite training, together with expert mentoring support. This programme will be carried out in conjunction with the Skillnets management works programme and is designed to improve the financial capability of SMEs.

The banking sector also has a key role to play in supporting customers who are in mortgage arrears. We have put in place a comprehensive suite of measures to help mortgage holders; the personal insolvency regime has been overhauled and the insolvency service is now up and running. The banks have been set targets by the Central Bank. Within the next 12 months I expect the vast majority of customers currently in arrears will have been offered and accepted a sustainable solution. Homeowners in mortgage arrears must be given the opportunity to address their problems, move on with their lives and fully re-engage with the real economy. This is important not just for the homeowners but for the entire economy.

Public Finances and Economic Forecasts

I will deal now in more detail with the financial targets I referred to earlier in my statement. The forecast deficit for 2013 is 7.3%; for 2014, it is 4.8% and for 2015, it is 2.9%. We have beaten our deficit target during each year of our programme and a deficit of 4.8% will beat the target again next year. I am pleased to announce that this is the first budget speech since 2007 that is taking place against the background of an increase in employment. Data for the second quarter of the year suggest employment grew by 1.8% over the year, a rise of 34,000 jobs, with full-time employment up, as well as part-time employment. Employment is now expected to grow by about 1.5% this year and next year. My Department is forecasting GDP growth of 0.2% this year, strengthening to 2% next year. The forecast for next year is better than the 1.8% growth forecast endorsed by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council because it takes account of the budgetary measures that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, and I are announcing today.

Total Voted and non-Voted expenditure will be €64.9 billion in 2014. Voted expenditure, with expenditure funded by the social insurance fund and the national training fund, defined in the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 2013 as the Government expenditure ceiling, will be €52.9 billion in 2014. The Government has decided that the Government expenditure ceilings for 2015 and 2016 will be €51.5 billion and €51.9 billion, respectively.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, will provide information on expenditure in his statement immediately after mine. Full details on expenditure in 2014 will be set out in the expenditure report he is publishing today.

Ireland’s debt is forecast to peak at 124% of GDP at the end of the year. This debt ratio is very high and reducing it must be a key priority. The first step is to reduce the amount being borrowed and, ultimately, to cease borrowing, particularly for day-to-day spending. The effectiveness of the steps we have taken since entering office, including in this budget, is visible from the small primary surplus forecast for next year; in other words, excluding the interest burden, we are paying our own way again.

I stress that one reason for the current high debt ratio is the policy decision to ensure the State is well funded as we leave the EU-IMF programme. We have built up a large stockpile of cash to ensure the State has sufficient funding at the end of the year to meet its financial commitments into early 2015.

In the coming years, the NTMA will manage down the level of the State's cash reserves to significantly lower, but still prudent, levels. All-in-all, the debt ratio will move onto a downward path from next year onwards – to 120% at the end of 2014, 118.4% at the end of 2015 and 114.6% at the end of 2016. This downward momentum will further enhance market confidence in Ireland.

Tax Measures

The deficit target and the initiatives to support jobs that I have announced must be paid for. In total, some €1.2 billion of additional revenue is required in 2014. Measures introduced or announced in budget 2013 have resulted in an estimated carry-over of €500 million and I am announcing close to €700 million of new measures today. Equity and transparency were taken into account in devising these measures, the full details of which will be contained in the finance Bill to be published shortly.

Income Tax

In the last budget, I abolished top-slicing relief on all ex gratia lump-sum payments made in respect of retirements or terminations of employment, where they were €200,000 or over. Given that it operates to provide additional relief to those who may be in receipt of very significant ex gratia lump-sum payments, I have decided to go further this year and abolish this relief entirely.

In relation to medical insurance relief, I have decided to cap the amount of premium on which tax relief will be available to €1,000 per adult and €500 per child. This will restrict the exposure of the Exchequer on premiums paid for gold-plated medical insurance policies, while not affecting the majority of individuals who avail of more standard levels of medical cover, for example, a family of two adults and four children will still receive tax relief on premiums of up to €4,000 per annum. Only the portion of any premium that exceeds the new thresholds will not qualify for tax relief.

There is no specific tax credit for children in the Irish tax code; rather credits are applicable in respect of children in different circumstances. There is, however, a one-parent tax credit which may be drawn in full by both parents. From next year, I am replacing the one-parent family tax credit with a new single person child carer tax credit of equal value. This new tax credit will be available only to the principal carer of the child. This is in line with the payment mechanism for child benefit. This policy change was recommended by the Commission on Taxation in 2009.


For reasons of equity, I have decided to abolish the tax relief that was available for acquiring an interest in a partnership.

Tobacco Products Tax

Turning to excise, with effect from midnight tonight, excise duty on a packet of 20 cigarettes is being increased by 10 cent with a pro-rata increase on the other tobacco products.

Alcohol Products Tax

Also, with effect from midnight tonight, excise duty on a pint of beer or cider, and a standard measure of spirits, is being increased by 10 cent, and the duty on a 75 cl bottle of wine is being increased by 50 cent. I understand that this increase will impact on vintners but it must be considered in the context of the retention of the 9% VAT rate on food and hospitality services, which are an ever-increasing proportion of vintners' revenue.

Tax on Savings

With effect from 2014, I am introducing a new higher single unified rate of 41% for DIRT and the exit tax that applies to life assurance policies and investment funds. The previous differential rates based on payment frequency will no longer apply. This measure will incentivise investment and spending in the economy, which is vital for the creation of jobs.

Levy on Domestic Banks

The Government has decided that the banking sector should make an annual contribution of €150 million to the Exchequer for the period from 2014 to 2016. We will introduce the levy on the same basis as the one that yielded over €100 million each year from 2003 to 2005. The contribution from each institution will be broadly based on the amount of tax paid on deposit interest in 2011 and reflects the significant role played by the banking sector in the crisis.

Similar levies are in place in other EU member states including France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and full details about the measure will be set out in the Finance Bill. In addition, and to level the tax position of all banks, I am removing the restriction on the use of deferred tax assets for NAMA losses.


In line with the commitment I made in budget 2013 to restrict the subsidisation by taxpayers of pensions that deliver incomes of up to €60,000 per annum, I am reducing the standard fund threshold from €2.3 million to €2 million from 1 January 2014. I am also changing the current single valuation factor of 20 used to value defined benefit pension entitlements to a range of higher factors that vary with the age at which the pension is drawn down. This will improve the equity of the standard fund threshold regime as between defined benefit and defined contribution pension arrangements and between those who retire at an early age and those who retire at older ages. Further details of the changes to the standard fund threshold regime are included in Annex B to the summary of budget measures.

Pension Levy

I wish to confirm that contributions to pension schemes will continue to attract income tax relief at the marginal rate of tax. I wish to confirm that the 0.6% pension levy introduced to fund the jobs initiative in 2011 will be abolished from 31 December 2014. I will, however, introduce an additional levy on pension funds at 0.15%. I am doing this to continue to help fund the jobs initiative and to make provision for potential State liabilities which may emerge from pre-existing or future pension fund difficulties. The levy within the existing legal framework will apply to pension fund assets in 2014 and 2015.

High Earners Report

Today I am publishing the report of the Revenue Commissioners on their analysis of the high earner restriction in 2011, which covers the latest figures available and relates to measures to limit the use of certain tax reliefs and exemptions by high-income individuals. The yield is down when compared to the report for the tax year 2010 due to falls in the incomes of these individuals and the closure of tax reliefs such as the abolition of the patent and stallion fees exemptions and the capping of the artist exemption. This has resulted in many of these individuals' moving into the regular income tax system. The report shows that the effective tax rates for different categories of high earner are around 30% to 40%. This confirms that the restriction is working to improve the balance between promoting tax equity with regard to those on high incomes while maintaining the incentive effect of the various tax reliefs introduced to achieve a particular public good.

Apart from the measures that I have just announced, Deputies will be pleased to hear that there will be no increases in income tax or the universal social charge in 2014; there will be no increases in the 9%, 13.5% or 23% VAT rates in 2014; and there will be no increases in excise duty on petrol, diesel or home heating oil and gas.

EU-IMF Programme Exit Strategy

As I outlined earlier, one of the primary tasks of this budget is to secure Ireland’s exit from the bailout programme, an ever-present element in our political and economic decision-making over the past three years. This budget will bring the deficit to 4.8% again, ahead of the required target. It will move us to a small primary surplus. This will give the financial markets the confidence to continue lending to us. This is essential for a State to be able to provide the vital public services demanded by its population. The reality, with which this country is now all too familiar, is that if a State cannot borrow funds at sustainable rates then it cannot provide a definitive level of public services.

Ireland will be the first euro-area country to exit an EU-IMF programme of this type. Countries that have exited IMF programmes have had follow-up programmes or backstop arrangements to ensure a return to the markets at very little risk. Ireland is fortunate in that the NTMA has almost €25 billion in cash balances; in effect, we have a credible backstop already in place. When the budget is concluded I plan to have consultations on our exit strategy with the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. Having heard their views, I will advise the Government on the appropriate course of action.


By the time the majority of the measures I have announced today become law on 1 January next, I am confident that Ireland will have left the EU-IMF programme.

We will have closed this chapter of Ireland’s history that began for most of us with the Governor of the Central Bank announcing to the Irish public that the country would be forced to turn to the lenders of last resort. There will be no promissory notes, there will be no Anglo Irish Bank and there will be no bank guarantee. We will have exited the programme and Ireland will have been handed back her purse.

We will still have difficult choices to make and further actions will be required to meet our targets in the years ahead. The recovery is well under way but there are still risks. However, there are also many opportunities that must be embraced. This budget has been carefully calibrated to support the growth in jobs that we have seen in the past 18 months and to keep Ireland on the path to sustainable public finances and economic growth. We are well along the recovery path and it is time now, as a nation, to begin to look forward to the future. I commend this budget to the House.


Hear, hear.

I call the Minister-----

Now for the bad news.

Now for the broken promises.

How did you pick him out?

Do not be getting excited.

Hold on to the seatbelts.

I call the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, to make his statement, without interruption.

This budget and Estimates process sets out to deliver on this Government’s promise to the Irish people at the last general election to fulfil our commitments under the troika programme foisted on the Irish people by the previous Government and to restore Ireland’s economic sovereignty. In pursuit of this goal, the two Government parties agreed a strategy for this budget and the Estimates. It involves reducing the tax and spending consolidation from the published €3.1 billion to €2.5 billion, targeting a general government deficit of 4.8% for 2014 and in the process, achieving a primary balance. This strategy seeks to reassure international investors that we are committed to reducing our deficit to below 3% of GDP by 2015 as we work to exit the troika programme. It seeks to put us on a path to long-term debt sustainability and ease the burden on future generations. It seeks to encourage growth in the domestic economy by targeting a consolidation no greater than is necessary to achieve our fiscal goals and by investing for future economic growth. Equally importantly, it seeks to minimise the impact of austerity on the Irish people.

Economic Policy

This is the last of our budgets under the fiscal constraints of the troika programme. We have made good on our commitments to the international community that has supported us in recent years, and we do not underestimate this effort; it is a testament to the courage and fortitude of the Irish people. "No austerity" is the catch-cry of those that have argued that there were alternative strategies available to this Government. Nobody is ideologically committed to austerity but austerity is what is left after Fianna Fáil in government drove the economy into the ground and led us beholden, like the famine victims of old, to seek relief outside this country.


Hear, hear.

Get off the stage.

Some have argued that rather than seeking consolidation of our position with international support, we should have harnessed whatever remained of our resources and, with a final throw of a dice, spent it all in an effort to reinflate our economy, regardless of the international economic environment. We tried that before, in 1977, and it led to more than a decade of hardship. As I have stated consistently, Government policy is not focused solely on getting the deficit down, important as that is.

We have supported enterprise and job creation through direct investment and structural reforms, measures that are now demonstrably beginning to bear fruit. We have also sought and secured better terms from our international borrowers. Our task now, as the Minister, Deputy Noonan, stated, is to plan for the future. We must ensure that the sacrifices of the past few years have not been made in vain and that we use the progress made as a platform for future sustainable growth and development.

Expenditure Consolidation

The expenditure measures I am announcing for 2014 amount to €1.6 billion from an overall consolidation package of some €2.5 billion. We have gone a long way in meeting our fiscal targets. At the end of 2010 the deficit was more than 30%, a truly staggering sum. Our target deficit for 2014 is 4.8%. Since we took office in 2011, this Government has managed to reduce spending in a balanced, strategic and responsible way.

That is not what the Deputy and his party said before the election.

This is in stark contrast to the previous Government, which oversaw a litany of disastrous decisions that failed-----


Hear, hear.

You said we did not spend enough.

-----the Irish people.

Real Consolidation

The progress we have made in bringing stability to the economy and meeting our fiscal targets must be viewed in the context of the increased demands on public services. Not only have we reduced spending in absolute terms, we are delivering more services with that reduced money. We have a growing population, which increased by almost 350,000 between 2006 and the last census in 2011. The numbers in receipt of the jobseeker’s payment have increased by almost 200,000, or 130%, between 2008 and 2012. Numbers in education have increased by 78,000, or 8%, from 961,000 in 2008 to 1,039,000 last year.

In spite of SUSI.

Medical card holders have increased by 540,000, or over 40%, an increase between 2008 and 2012 from 1.35 million to the highest level of medical card ownership in our history, currently at 1.89 million. The number of people of pensionable age has increased by 65,500, or 13.5%, since 2008.

Budget Reform

There are few areas where reform has been more manifest than it has been in the actual budgetary process. We have moved, in line with the new European arrangements, to an October budget, which should ensure we can achieve one key goal of the Oireachtas committee system: the examination of public spending before the money is actually spent. This should bring about a qualitative difference to our debates about spending over the next few years.

Our first task upon taking office as a new Government was to undertake a comprehensive review of expenditure. This was not a once-off effort. The review of what we do, how we do it and whether we are using the resources of the people appropriately and achieving the policy goals we have set has become the new normal. To this end, a further comprehensive review of expenditure and a review of the capital investment framework will commence in the coming months.

Public Service Reform

I would like to acknowledge the contribution public servants in this State have made to our recovery.


Hear, hear.

Over the course of the past five years, the public service has reduced in size by almost 10%. The cost of the pay bill has fallen even further, by some 17%, and the Haddington Road agreement which I reached with the public service unions earlier this year will permit that cost to fall still further. These savings need to be protected and sustained, which means we must continue to demand further efficiency across all areas of the public service. In addition, we must ensure that public service managers across every sector make full use of the extra 15 million hours achieved and the hard won workplace flexibilities agreed in Haddington Road.

However, as we reform and improve, there are immediate pressures that need to be addressed. In recent times I have come to the view that there are some areas of the public service where we simply need to provide more staff after five years of downsizing. For that reason, the target for public service numbers next year has been adjusted to allow some additional scope for extra staff in classrooms, hospital wards and front-line policing.

These important additional resources are a reform dividend, only made possible because of the savings being delivered across the system as a whole. That can be done. There can be a fresh intake of people, while at the same time we intend to reduce the pay bill next year by €500 million. I intend to publish a revised public service reform plan by year end, building on what we have achieved and setting out a new ambitious programme of reform. That plan will focus on innovation in terms of service delivery and an increased focus on outcomes. As one example, today the Government is announcing a pilot phase for a new model of financing social interventions called social impact investment. It uses private capital to provide better outcomes for citizens.

To determine the potential for social impact investing in Ireland, the pilot phase is seeking private sector investment partners to provide long-term, stable homes for homeless families in the Dublin region. The project will provide families and children, in particular, with better lives through increased levels of school participation; reduced levels of anti-social behaviour; and reduced levels of adult homelessness. This measure is radical, reforming and demonstrates my commitment to explore any model of intervention that can better use resources to protect the most vulnerable in society.

Investing in Jobs

The Minister for Finance has set out a series of measures to promote employment. That is a priority of my Department and every Department. Our current five year capital framework sets out a €17.1 billion investment programme between now and 2017 to maintain and improve the country’s infrastructure. In recognition of the importance of stimulating economic activity, we have sought to augment that programme when possible, consistent with our troika commitments.

In July last year I announced a €2.25 billion infrastructure stimulus package. These projects are progressing as planned. Five of the nine PPP projects have already issued to market and the flagship Grangegorman DIT project, valued at over €200 million-----

How many times has the Minister announced it?

-----is due to issue by the end of this month. A total of 13,000 direct and many more indirect jobs are expected to be created by this programme. Earlier this year I announced €150 million of direct Exchequer capital and a further €250 million of PPPs. The extra Exchequer money is being invested in 28 badly needed school projects, maintaining the local road network and a local authority housing insulation scheme. All 25,000 local authority houses that are not insulated will be insulated under this programme. We are now including social procurement contract clauses in schools capital works for the first time ensuring a proportion of the workforce is drawn from the long-term unemployed.

Investment in our recovery is, of course, not confined to central government. Commercial semi-State investment in the next three years is set to reach €5 billion. Through NAMA, as the Minister for Finance has mentioned, we will invest a further €2 billion in Irish commercial property in the next two years.

We are transforming the National Pensions Reserve Fund into the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to invest on a commercial basis in projects in Ireland rather than in projects across the globe, projects in Ireland that support economic activity and employment here. The value of the NPRF discretionary portfolio at the end of June 2013 was €6.4 billion.

Members will be aware that the Government recently successfully concluded the award of the national lottery licence for a figure in excess of €400 million. I have already pledged to this House that €200 million of this dividend will be and is ring-fenced to ensure the construction of the national children’s hospital, under the direction of my colleague the Minister for Health. I am pleased to be able to announce that the further €200 million in capital spending arising from the balance of lottery licence proceeds will be used to support local economic activity and job creation. These projects will, of course, be subject to public spending codes. The €200 million is to be invested from the lottery licence in 2014 and will help to fund:

- road maintenance and repair works;

- a new round of sports capital grants;

- the building of a new national indoor training arena at the National Sports Campus;

- the better energy programme;

- housing adaptation grants for older people and people with a disability;

- the national city of culture initiative;

- the development of a large-scale, multi-functional events centre in Cork;

- the Wild Atlantic Way driving route tourism project along the west coast; and

- a number of 1916 commemorative projects.

The funding allocations for these and other projects will be included in the Revised Estimates volumes for 2014, which will be published before the end of the year. I will refer to further allocations from this programme later in my speech.

Arising from our State asset sales programme, now well advanced, and the classification of the State’s investment in Irish Water, I hope to be in a position to announce a further programme of capital investment next year.

Healing the Scars

The last six years have left both emotional and physical scars on this country. Nowhere is this problem more acute than in the area of housing.

We have allocated €10 million to resolve the problems at Priory Hall, a particular blot on the national psyche and an example of all that was wrong under the last Government. In addition, €10 million will be provided for an unfinished housing estate resolution initiative. Details of the scheme will be announced by my colleague, the Minister responsible for housing, later today.

I am allocating €30 million of the lottery licence proceeds to recommence, for the first time in many years, the State’s housing building programme. This will facilitate up to 500 additional housing units between a small number of new builds and the restoration of previously uninhabitable units to the housing stock. I regard these two measures as extremely important and I hope to return to further enhancing those measures as resources allow.

Job Creation and Activation

As I stated earlier, job creation continues to be the top priority for this Government. While the numbers in employment have risen by 33,800 this year and the unemployment rate is down from 15.1% in 2012 to 13.3% in September, we all recognise the seriousness of the challenge that remains. We will continue to invest in the people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves out of work.

Pathways to Work 2 sets out our strategy for tackling unemployment and, in particular, long-term unemployment. The total 2014 allocation for activation places in education and training and work experience is €1.6 billion. This will provide nearly 300,000 places in work, education and training programmes across the Departments of Social Protection and Education and Skills, an increase of 18,000, or 7%, since 2012.

Importantly, of these places, 94,000 will be reserved for the long-term unemployed, an increase of 78% on the 2012 provision. I am providing an additional €9 million in capital expenditure to complete the roll-out of the one-stop-shop Intreo offices to provide better services for the unemployed seeking work.

I am allocating a further €14 million to a youth guarantee fund, which will support additional activation places for people under 25. It is in this context that we are extending the €100 reduced rate of jobseeker’s allowance and supplementary welfare allowance to existing recipients who reach 22 and for new entrants aged up to 24 on or after 1 January next.


The reduced rate of €144 will apply to those reaching 25 from January 2014.


Please, Deputies.

These are unemployed people.

It should be noted that the rate for those availing of the back to education scheme is €160 per week. It is in education and training that our young people should be.

There are no training courses for them.


We will also continue our support for employers across all sectors in creating and sustaining jobs. Our enterprise policies are continuing to secure new investments, employment and export growth. Taking account of requirements in these sectors, I am allocating total capital expenditure of just under €450 million for the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to drive the jobs and enterprise agenda.

Current Expenditure

I am proposing to allocate €49.6 billion to voted current expenditure in 2014.


The demands of a growing and aging population pose a particular challenge for funding the provision of health services and health reform. I am allocating almost €13.3 billion for the Department of Health in 2014. This includes an additional €187 million against profile to fund reforms and to help ease some service pressures. In line with the programme for Government, I am allocating €37 million to fund the roll-out of free GP care for children aged five and under.

While taking the medical card from their parents.

The Minister for Social Protection is taking €30 million from maternity benefit.

This is a first step in our programme to provide free GP care for all.

I am also allocating €20 million for the development of community mental health services as envisaged under A Vision for Change. I have agreed to a much reduced headcount savings target of 1,000 to protect front line health services. While health is a key priority for Government, the fact is that it accounts for 27% of public expenditure and, therefore, cannot be immune from making a contribution to our recovery efforts. In order to fund its contribution to our fiscal targets, we have to strike a balance between funding services through significant savings on pay, savings on drugs and measures relating to eligibility for medical cards and increased charges.

New savings measures will include €50 million on drugs from generic substitution and reference pricing, €113 million from a review of all medical cards to remove ineligible and redundant cards ---

The Minister denied that last week.


The Taoiseach said there was no change in policy.

Some €25 million will be saved by a lowering of the income thresholds for the over 70s medical cards to €900 per week for a couple and €500 for a single person and €30 million for private bed charges in public hospitals. Further details of the Health Estimates will be announced by my colleague, the Minister for Health, later today.

Social Protection

I am pleased to announce that the burden of the adjustment on social protection expenditure will be reduced by €150 million in 2014 to €290 million. This is the third year in succession that this Government has delivered a lower consolidation than that set out by its predecessor and reaffirms our commitment to both health and social protection. Department of Social Protection expenditure remains the largest single area of public spending, accounting for almost 40% of gross current expenditure. This area of expenditure cannot be excluded from savings.

The household benefits package remains a significant area of spending, accounting for over €280 million this year. In order to reduce costs, we have decided to discontinue the remaining telephone allowance for all recipients from 1 January-----


That is a disgrace.

They will not be able to ring the Minister's office with the phones taken off them.

-----a measure that will save €44 million.


Shame. Shame.

We will standardise the rate of maternity benefit at €230 per week for new claimants from January. This will save €30 million in 2014.


Will Members please allow the Minister to present his Estimates without interruption?

The number of waiting days for entitlement to illness benefit is being increased from three days to six days. This will save €22 million.

That is a cut.

However, I am pleased that, again, I can confirm there will be no reduction in the basic social welfare rates for people of working age or for pensioners.





Hear, hear.

Is the Minister seriously claiming that a reduction of €290 million is not a cut?

I am pleased to confirm that child benefit rates are being maintained at €130 per month.


Hear, hear.

Yet the Minister has taken away paternity benefit.

What about the respite care grant?

And finally, there will be no reduction in the rate or the duration of the weekly fuel allowance.

Further details of the social welfare package are set out in the expenditure report and will be outlined in full by my colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, later.


As I have already outlined, education has been a considerable beneficiary of our capital investment programme since we took office. We are building more schools to meet the needs of our growing school-age population. I am allocating just over €8.7 billion to the education sector. As a result, I am pleased to be able to report that we are not increasing either primary or post-primary class sizes.


Hear, hear.

I am also making provision for the recruitment of more than 1,250 new classroom and resource teachers for the school system next year.


Hear, hear.

A further €5 million will be allocated to extend the reach of the books-to-rent programme in primary schools.


We will be providing additional funding to the Department of Justice and Equality to increase staff for the Garda vetting service. Also in the justice sector, it is expected that the new court of appeal and the legal services regulatory authority will be established next year.

As previously announced, we will begin a new Garda recruitment programme next year, alongside the independent review of the force agreed under the Haddington Road agreement.


Making my Estimates speech last year, I said I was confident that, as a people, we would come through this mess - a mess that was created by those opposite, who now jeer, that was endured by the people of Ireland and that endangered the very viability of our State.

The Government demanded more.

Today, I am more than confident; I am certain. Yes, there will be difficult days ahead. Yes, there are still difficult decisions to be made, but we are now picking up speed and our goal is in sight.

I commend these Estimates to the House.


Hear, hear.

When will the Government announce the cuts in detail?

Will Members leaving the Chamber do so quietly to show some respect to the Opposition spokespersons?

The statements of the main finance and public expenditure and reform spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed an aggregate of 60 minutes in each case.

With the agreement of the House, I will share 30 minutes of my time with Deputy Sean Fleming.

As we all know, the last five years have been incredibly difficult for the majority of people in this country, to varying degrees. People’s incomes have come under sustained attack, their living standards have worsened and their future plans have had to be changed. Above all else, people look to the Government to give them hope that there are better days ahead. Including today’s Budget Statement, a staggering total adjustment of more than €30 billion has been introduced in the public finances since 2008.

We all hope the country is on the cusp of recovery, but it is too early to draw definitive conclusions. All of us involved in politics, particularly those in government, have a responsibility to ensure the sacrifices made by the people are worthwhile and that Ireland is put firmly on the road to sustainable recovery. It means staying focused on the task ahead. Fianna Fáil believes a budget adjustment of a similar order to that proposed by the Government is required. We accept that there is no easy way to put through tax increases and spending cuts in the order of €2.5 billion. However the litmus test of the budget is not the response of the Opposition but whether the people outside the House, those most affected by its measures, believe it to be fair. I am not naive enough to think one can achieve consensus on what constitutes fairness, but our definition is whether the burden of the adjustment has been spread in line with people's ability to carry it. By any reasonable analysis, this is the Government's third successive budget that places a disproportionate share of the burden on those least able to carry it.

Fianna Fáil wanted more cuts.

It over-promises and under-delivers. When one strips away all of the PR we have seen in recent days, this budget targets the elderly, medical card holders and young mothers. It abandons people who are struggling to keep their homes and, yet again, incredibly, the Government has gone out of its way to insulate the better-off from the worst effects of it.

The way pensioners have been targeted in this budget is disgraceful. They are our parents, grandparents, people who have lived through far greater hardships than any of us can appreciate. Not only will many of them lose their medical cards, they will have higher prescription charges and lose their telephone allowances and bereavement grants, while DIRT is going up. Even the dead are not safe from the Government. As if it is not enough to take property tax from the estates of the deceased, the Government is removing the modest grant their loved ones receive to give them the dignity of a decent burial.

The Deputy has some neck.

In a famous quip a few years ago the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, asked the then Minister for Finance, the late Brian Lenihan, what he had against the third child. What does the Minister have against young mothers? Only three months ago he introduced tax at the marginal rate on maternity benefit, taking up to €108 a week out of their pockets. Today the Government is taking another €32 a week out of those same women's pockets. That is a cut of €140 a week from the pockets of women who have just given birth to babies. From where is this coming? What is the logic? I cannot understand it. The strategy behind the budget seems to be to divide and conquer, isolate the weaker sections of society and those on the margins and to do so in a way that maximises political advantage for Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

In recent days we were bombarded with spin from the Government parties that the coping classes, those who pay for everything, as they put it, would be given a break in this budget.

Unfortunately, when the reality sinks in, many people will be left bitterly disappointed when it becomes clear what this budget means for them and their families.

The Deputy's political party.

The tone of self-congratulation coming from Government Buildings will ring hollow tonight when people realise its full extent. In many ways Opposition spokespersons are responding to a budget we have not yet seen. We have the Government's speeches and the booklets that have been distributed, but shortly individual Ministers will attend press conferences in their offices to explain what the budget means for their Departments.

The story will get even better.

Only then will we find out the full extent of the cuts and increases buried in the detail of the budget. That detail is often carefully drip-fed in the hope it will hardly be noticed. A full assessment of the budget can be made only when we have all of the facts at hand. My colleague, Deputy Sean Fleming, will highlight some of the cuts the Ministers have not mentioned in their statements but which will become very clear on an analysis of the booklets.

Often, in the hours and days immediately after a budget an issue takes on a life of its own when its full magnitude is realised. In this budget, that issue could well be removing the telephone allowance, not just from pensioners but from carers, blind people and people on disability allowance. Most people do not go to bed worrying about the general Government deficit, the debt-to-GDP ratio or the yield on Government bonds, though all of those metrics are important.

They did a few years ago.

They worry about ordinary things. They worry about putting food on the table, paying their mortgages and paying their electricity bills, and at this time of year they begin to worry about providing for Christmas. If they are lucky enough to have a job they worry about holding onto it, and if they have not got a job they worry about finding one. It is only when people see things getting a little easier that they will accept that the economy is recovering in a way that is meaningful and holds relevance for them.

Halfway through its term in government, this is a good time for the Government to take stock of the economy, of where it said the economy would be at this time and of where we actually are today. I believe the fairest and most important measures of economic performance are growth, jobs and the public finances. On growth, the economy has not performed anywhere near the level the Minister and his colleagues predicted it would when they first came to office approximately two and a half years ago. Back then, the Minister said the economy would grow by 5.5% from the beginning of 2012 to the end of the current year.

He said it would rocket.

He now estimates that over that period it will have grown - if we are lucky - by 0.4%. That is a prediction of 5.5% versus a reality of 0.4% growth in the economy. We have had little or no growth over the past two years and the forecast for next year has now been downgraded for the third time since the Minister came to office. The predicted growth rates of 2% and 3% are always for next year or the year after, but they never seem to arrive. The economy today is approximately €5 billion smaller than the Minister said it would be at this time when he came to office.

It goes without saying that the weak external environment has been a drag on our exports. That fact, alongside a struggling domestic economy, has resulted in an overall economy that remains fragile and largely flat. Where the Government has scored best is on the public finances. On coming to office, the Minister predicted that the deficit at the end of this year would be 7.2%, and it is now going to come in at approximately 7.3%, which is welcome. Fianna Fáil welcomes the fact that the reduction on the deficit remains on target. I am sure both Ministers will acknowledge that the progress in the public finances is not limited to their tenure in the Departments but is also due to the work of the Minister's predecessor in the latter years of the previous Government.

Our deficit, while still high, is continuing to come down. The achievement of a deficit below 5% in the current year is an important step towards achieving the milestone of a deficit of less than 3% by the end of next year. However, there has been a marked difference in how the Government has gone about bringing about that adjustment. The measures it has taken to date have unquestionably been regressive. They have targeted those on low and middle incomes in particular, and these people have borne the brunt of the budgets, while the wealthiest in the country have been asked to contribute precious little.

There has undoubtedly been an improvement in the jobs market in recent months, and that is welcome. As far as I am concerned, every new job, whether a part-time or a full-time job, is good news. However, we all accept that the level of unemployment in this country remains a national crisis and the scale of the task ahead is immense. Let us look at the facts. The official measure of unemployment is the CSO quarterly household survey. According to its latest figures, the number of people officially unemployed has fallen since March 2011 by less than 7,000, from more than 307,000 to more than 300,000. Over the same period, the number of people in employment has increased by 12,700, and the total now stands at 1.866 million. It is true that the more recent data are more encouraging and, hopefully, a real dent can be put on unemployment numbers in the year ahead.

However, this is all a far cry from the promise of 100,000 net new jobs we heard from the Government on coming into office. Job creation in the private sector has played a role in the reduction in the number on the live register, but so too has forced emigration. In the last two years for which we have full data, 2011 and 2012, almost 170,000 people emigrated. Of those, almost 90,000 were Irish nationals. No town or village in the country has been left unaffected by the scourge of emigration. The harsh reality is that the Government is actively encouraging people to emigrate. I have a letter here that was sent by the Department of Social Protection to somebody on the live register who was formerly employed in construction. The letter tells him about a job vacancy in his area, not in Cork, Limerick or Dublin, but in Canada. This is a letter from the Government - from the Department of Social Protection - to an individual who is looking for a job in this country.

That is the consequence of the Fianna Fáil Government.

Please refrain from interrupting.

The letter goes on to give a detailed description of what the job in Canada would involve and states that if the person is interested, he should send his CV to an e-mail address within the Department of Social Protection.

Fianna Fáil overheated the construction sector.

This is hurting.

Deputies should restrain themselves. We want to hear what the Deputy has to say, and others will have their say afterwards. I ask all sides to stay quiet.

The Deputy should be too embarrassed to reply.

Did the Minister not hear me? What I said applies to Ministers as well as to backbenchers.

Just like the Tesco ad, the truth hurts here. So anxious was the Government to assist that person in applying for the job in Canada that it provided information on the CV format Canadian employers like to see. This is the truth - a letter from the Irish Government. The person was informed on the back of the letter of a whole range of vacancies in Canada which could be applied for - vacancies in cabinet making, carpentry, fence building, glazing, finishing carpentry and so forth. God knows how many people have received this letter from the Department of Social Protection, but when we combine it with the Minister's decision today to cut the jobseeker's allowance rate for young people, what message does this send out to the young people of Ireland? It gives them the message that they are not wanted here, there is no future in this country for them and they are better off going abroad to Canada. That is the message people will hear from the budget today and it is the message in the letter they are getting from the Department of Social Protection.

While multinationals remain a critical part of our economy, Fianna Fáil believes that not enough attention has been paid to the indigenous economy, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises. The Minister has announced a number of measures in his package today which, to be frank, are underwhelming. To use the Minister's terminology, there are "a few bits and bobs". That is about it; there is nothing of any great significance. I sincerely hope these measures are more successful than the measures he introduced last year. The take-up of the microfinance loan scheme has been minimal and the scheme is already under review. The temporary partial loan guarantee scheme has had an exceptionally low take-up and is being re-examined because of its limited application. The Minister is giving a two-year tax holiday for unemployed people who start up a new business and is providing for a whopping €1 million as a cost, because he knows well that the last thing unemployed people starting a new business are worried about is their taxation bill and profits for the first two years. This is the kind of window dressing we get from the Government when it comes to job creation.

The lack of credit is hampering many businesses and we would like to see far more innovative measures to address this, such as tax relief for individuals and making loan capital investment to SMEs. We would like to see a special low capital gains tax rate for new entrepreneurs starting up businesses, not the type of cumbersome roll-over relief on capital gains tax he has announced today. We believe that a State-backed enterprise or investment bank should be considered for the provision of capital to growing businesses. This could be done by means of a stand-alone bank or by using the infrastructure that exists within Permanent TSB. Such a model is already well established in Canada, the US, Germany and is currently under development in the United Kingdom.

In many respects, the main issues that affect small and medium-sized businesses in Ireland did not even warrant a mention in the budget. We know electricity and gas prices are going up for businesses and we know they are crippled by the burden of local authority rates. We know revaluations going on throughout the country are causing havoc for SMEs, leading in many cases to dramatic increases in the rates burden they face.

We know the collapse in property values has contaminated many good trading businesses and there is a need for a new approach in this area. The banks need to be required to restructure SME debt to ensure viable businesses can continue to grow and expand. Today the Minister announced illness benefit will not be paid for the first six days a person is out sick. I presume where an employer has a sick pay policy he or she will have to pick up the tab for the extra three days.

Another cheap shot.

With regard to the VAT scheme the announcement of an increase in the threshold for cash receipts to €2 million is significant and it is to be welcomed.

The Minister announced a number of measures with regard to construction. The message I want to convey today is the main issue to address in construction and property, if one wants to get the sector moving again, is the lack of credit and the fact many young people who have been saving and want to buy a house for the first time simply cannot get a mortgage from the banks. The priority must be to fix the banks to get a normal level of credit flowing in the economy again to give these people an opportunity to buy a property for the first time. There may well be areas, particularly in Dublin, where there is a shortage of certain types of property but the main issue which needs to be addressed in the short term is the lack of credit.

The Minister announced a certain change to corporation tax today. He should be under no illusions; Ireland's corporation tax policies are under siege. We need to send out a strong united message from the House that Ireland values its ability to determine its own corporation tax policies and that our rules are transparent and in line with OECD guidelines. We need to be far more proactive in making the case definitively for retaining autonomy and setting our own corporation tax rate. This needs to be a priority for the Government at the highest level. None of us should be complacent about the mutterings we hear from Germany about the ongoing coalition government negotiations there, whereby Ireland's corporation tax regime has found its way onto the agenda. Let us not be complacent about this. It poses a real and substantial risk to this country and needs to be addressed.

Last month the European Commission sought information from Ireland, as we know, on how certain multinationals are treated from a corporation tax point of view. We need to insist this preliminary investigation which has been launched is dealt with as quickly as possible, because for as long as it remains open-ended it is a cloud hanging over our inward investment offering and needs to be addressed. The reality is Ireland is at war to defend our corporation tax rate and system. What we have heard from the Government until now is there will be no unilateral change and we will move along with other countries to implement the OECD initiative on base erosion and profit shifting, BEPS, and any changes would be part of a co-ordinated initiative. What the Minister has announced today is a departure from this. It might be regarded as a minor change, and certainly the notion of a "double Irish" has given us a bad reputation in recent times as hardly a week goes by without a significant international newspaper or media outlet covering the issue, but we need to examine it in great detail. There has been a departure from the stated policy until now that we will move in line with other countries.

Will Deputy McGrath support it?

Let us see the detail. I will not play politics with corporation tax.

What has Deputy McGrath been doing for the past half an hour?

The Government is heavy on detail today.

There is no detail so far.

The Minister stated it would be in the finance Bill so let us see what is in it.

Tonight between 400,000 and 500,000 people will sleep in family homes where the mortgage is in some level of arrears. Alongside unemployment it is the single greatest economic and social challenge we face in the State. They received a cursory mention in the Minister's speech. The issue was glanced over, and it was clearly a box-ticking exercise for whoever wrote the speech that a mention was given to mortgage arrears. However there was nothing new in it. The Government's response to the crisis so far has been to give the banks more power, to allow them repossess homes more easily and quickly, and to dilute key protections borrowers have had.

A total of €9.4 billion.

The eviction Bill.

Today 143,000 family home mortgages are in arrears and there is no easy solution to the problem. No one suggests the banks can throw away the capital the taxpayers have given them and they must be prudent. One thing is certain; the problem will not be solved if banks are allowed to continue to run the show. Last March the Central Bank issued targets for the banks to offer sustainable solutions to those in arrears. The Government warmly welcomed the new targets programme but it has since been shown conclusively the banks have effectively made a mockery of the process, relying on threatening legal letters to reach their targets. The Minister stated he does not regard a threatening legal letter to be a sustainable solution. Let us back up these words with actions. We await confirmation from the Central Bank as to whether this is acceptable.

In the majority of cases presented to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform the bank's solution was to tell the borrower it wanted the home back and the person either had to sell it or give the bank the keys, or the bank would go to court to repossess it. This was the message from the banks in the majority of cases. In many cases these threats were made to people before any other forbearance measure was even tried. The message from the Government has been that repossession is the last resort, but the reality in very many cases about which I personally know - and I am sure every Deputy also knows of cases - is that such a letter was the first action the banks took in respect of people in mortgage arrears. It is simply not good enough. The banks in this country owe their very existence to our citizens and the least they can afford to do is show some compassion and civic-mindedness in dealing with mortgage arrears. We need more proper long-term sustainable solutions and not mere sticking plasters in the short term. We need more permanent interest rate reductions, sustainable split mortgages and debt for equity arrangements. We all know it makes far more sense economically and socially to keep people in the family home where it is at all possible.

The establishment of the new insolvency service was a welcome initiative, but there is growing evidence already that thousands of the most distressed borrowers in the country who most need access to the service are being locked out because they have no ability at all to repay any of their debts within the insolvency guidelines. In many cases they simply cannot afford the fees being charged upfront by the personal insolvency practitioners. The Government's singular response to the mortgage arrears crisis was to abolish mortgage interest supplement for new entrants. This is the one payment people rely on to make interest payments on mortgages, to try to keep the wolf from the door and prevent banks from coming at them.

This is a shameful decision. If the Minister announced it was to be replaced with a radical new innovative policy to support those in mortgage arrears of course we would examine it and its merits.

The Government is in bed with the banks.

The one safety net people had, the one direct cash support from the Government to those in mortgage distress, has been pulled from under them. I cannot understand the logic behind it. It will only make the situation worse.

The Minister announced a new levy in respect of banks operating in Ireland. It is fair to say nobody will chain themselves to the gates outside Kildare Street tonight to protest against the introduction of a bank levy.

I would not rule out Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett.

Or Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett can speak for himself.

Who will end up paying this levy? Will the banks simply be allowed pass it on to customers by way of increased fees, charges or higher variable interest rates? We know we do not have a properly functioning banking system and we must ask whether this measure will help. At a time when we are trying to attract more competition in the banking sector in Ireland I must ask whether the introduction of this levy will make it less likely we will be able to attract competition into the banking sector here.

The Minister is removing the restriction on the use of deferred tax assets for NAMA. This is a big win for the banks and I would like to see much more detail on it. If the banks return to profitability, which I hope they do, what will this mean in terms of taxation they will not have to pay? We need more information on this because it would seem there is a far bigger win for the banks by way of tax they will not have to pay from the levy announced today.

While people are coming to terms today with budget 2014 the truth is last year's budget has not finished with them yet. Next year hard-pressed home owners will be faced with a double local property tax charge. From the Minister's point of view I am sure he views the local property tax as a major success, bringing in €50 million more than expected and with Revenue achieving a very high compliance rate. The full year's charge being levied on 21 March next year will really hurt people and could have significant implications for the domestic economy. I remain of the view the tax is unfair in that it does not take into account ability to pay in any meaningful way and it is being levied even on those who cannot afford to make their mortgage repayments.

The Minister announced a significant change on pension tax relief. I wish to ask on a point of equity whether it applies to the highest echelons of the public service. For example, will the pension tax relief of a person continuing to pay into a pension which will yield in excess of €60,000 also be curtailed? I take it, from the Minister's response, that it will be.

The Minister has announced that the lower rate of VAT will be retained in the tourism and hospitality sector. That decision will be warmly welcomed by a sector that has undoubtedly benefited from the announcement. However, I have to raise the issue of the pension levy. The Minister has announced that the levy is to end, but the booklet states it is to increase. In 2014 it appears it will go from 0.6% to 0.75% and then down again to 0.15% in the following year.

Check the small print.

It is one or the other. The Minister cannot have it both ways. The truth is that he has played a three-card trick. Since he announced the pension levy back in 2011, he reiterated time and again - he did so again in last year's Budget Statement - reassuring all those affected by it, that it was to end in 2014. He has now broken his word. As he knows, the levy has very significant consequences for those with pension savings. We know the scale of the crisis in defined benefit schemes, in particular, including a deficit of €1.5 billion alone in the ESB. As the Minister is not abolishing the levy, let us not play with words. He is increasing it in 2014 and reducing it in 2015. Will that be the end of it? I said in 2011 that I just did not believe the levy was to end in 2014. I believe people will treat with some cynicism the trick the Minister has played with the levy. Until we shone a light on this issue, the proceeds from the levy were being diverted into the general Government coffers and not used for the jobs initiative; therefore, I am glad the Minister has made further announcements on the initiative.

Will the Minister clarify whether there is PRSI of 4% on top of the higher DIRT rate? He seems to be indicating that there is not; therefore, the figure of 41% is inclusive of PRSI.

In regard to excise duties, again, the Minister has left the off-trade untouched and is targeting the on-trade with the increase in excise duties. He knows what our view is on this issue. We believe the problem in regard to alcohol sales is, frankly, encountered in the large multiples, where alcohol is sold exceptionally cheaply. There is a need to reduce the enormous discrepancy between the on-trade and the off-trade, but the Minister has made no moves whatsoever on that front.

The Minister is abolishing the air travel tax from April next year in an effort to boost tourism. However, as evidence of the lack of cohesion, he is decreasing the budget for tourism programmes by €13 million. He is giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

It is welcome that Ireland is on course to exit the bailout programme in two months time. We do not regard the putting in place of a precautionary line of credit as being in any way a second bailout. We encourage the Minister to take all necessary prudent steps to ensure Ireland can exit the bailout programme in a sustainable way. However, in many ways, the enemy of the Government from that point onwards will be complacency because fundamental reforms in the sheltered professions, the banking system and in terms of labour activation remain to be put through. A lot of work has to be done on that issue.

We supported the liquidation of the IBRC in good faith and I do not regret that decision. However, I am not happy with a number of issues that have emerged since. I am not happy that credit unions lost some €14 million because of the way they were treated, that the employees were shafted from the point of view of redundancy or that mortgage customers of the former INBS now face the potential risk of losing the protections afforded to them under the code of conduct for mortgage arrears, depending on who goes ahead and buys the loan book.

The Minister needs to do a lot more work in respect of the ESM. Mr. Wolfgang Schäuble today said it was not probable that we would get a retroactive deal on bank debt recapitalisation; therefore, a huge body of work remains to be done in that regard. The Minister has indicated previously that he will set out a medium-term economic strategy. I want to know that we asking the big questions about whether our debt is sustainable, whether we have a proper funding model in place for third level education, pension provision, pension liabilities and universal health insurance and whether we have a vision for Ireland's role in the European Union.

Yet again in budget 2014 the Government has targeted some of the weakest in society. The basic level of comfort given to older citizens is being systematically unravelled. Those struggling to keep the family home have been given another kick. This is a Government that talks about fairness but does the opposite. It is a Government that has set records for broken promises. At a time when the people want to see it show compassion, exemplify the values of the country and show true leadership, they have been badly let down. This budget fails the basic test of fairness. Even within the accepted constraints, it could have done better. It is now over to the people to pass judgment on it.

It is a pity they did not all get stuck in the lift.

In the days leading up to the budget we were told to expect a family-friendly budget, one that would help hard-pressed families. What we have got instead is a litany of cuts and tax increases which, taken with the last two budgets, show a Government which is both lacking in imagination and a basic commitment to fairness. The last two budgets hit those relying on public services hardest. It has been our view all along that the split of taxes and expenditure in this budget should be of the order of 50:50, but the Minister has chosen not to do this. Instead, he has chosen to let those who rely on State services and the Departments of Health, Social Protection and Education and Skills bear the brunt of the expenditure reductions and costs. It is what we call a regressive budget. Again today we see that the Government is allowing the burden of the adjustment fall disproportionately on those who can least afford it, but we do not yet know if we have the full story. As happened last year, I expect that tonight and tomorrow there will be a series of press releases from various Departments highlighting the specific measures and cuts that are not being highlighted this afternoon and that these will be even more painful than what we have heard in the last hour.

There is no doubt that there is one common thread in the budget. It hits the elderly generation extremely hard, with young out-of-work individuals also in the Minister's sights. The Government has in the past called for intergenerational solidarity, but what it has announced today will ensure that cannot happen. I point, in particular, to the issue of medical card eligibility. For the second year running, the Government has shamefully cut the eligibility criteria for elderly people. It is attacking our parents and grandparents - those over 70 years of age. We know from research carried out by the ESRI that medical cards are a progressive anti-poverty measure. They provide an essential safety net in terms of access to GP care, medicines and hospital treatment for low income families and older people who are more likely to have greater health care needs. Despite being a Government that talks about creating a universally accessible health care system, it is actually intent on undermining and eroding access to it, as evidenced by these cuts. There has been a reduction in the number of discretionary medical cards and a fall in the number of families with GP visit cards. We are seeing blatant health care rationing on economic grounds, while clinical and health needs are being ignored. The number of discretionary medical cards has been specifically targeted by the Government. The Minister said there was no policy change, but the practice being implemented on a daily basis by the HSE is somewhat different. People throughout the country have been receiving letters from it advising them of a review of their medical cards and many have had their cards withdrawn recently. This process will intensify as a result of the changes announced in this budget. Last year the Government reduced the medical card weekly income limits for those aged over 70 years by €100 for a single person and €200 for a couple. Today, it is reducing the limits by another €100 a week for a single person but by €300 for a couple. What does it have against elderly married people such that the cut is more than double for a couple in a house than for a single person? The Minister is now bringing down the figure to €900; it was €1,400 just two budgets ago. At least 35,000 elderly people will lose their medical cards because of that decision alone.

It is disgraceful.

Some 35,000 elderly people are watching today who will lose their medical cards as a result of this decision. In fact, it was based on the Minister making a reduction of €200, but the figure is probably higher at €300 per couple.

The medical card is highly valued by older people and those on low incomes. It provides reassurance and a right of access to health care at a time in their lives when they are more likely to have significant health care needs.

Many of the services required by these elderly people are not easily accessed through private health care, yet the Minister has today cut the tax relief for private health care insurance for many of the elderly people who need good quality health care packages because they cannot rely on the health care system, especially now that he has reduced the availability of medical cards. Some elderly people will be hit through the income tax relief for private health insurance while others will be hit through the removal of medical cards. There is a good reason to provide older people with free health care services. As we know, their physical health deteriorates as they get older.

One by one, the commitments made in the programme for Government in this regard are being abandoned. Universal health insurance will never see the light of day and the promised White Paper is a figment of the Minister's imagination. We were told there would be funding to provide more residential places, more home care packages and the delivery of more home help and other professional community services. The opposite is the reality. The fair deal scheme has a waiting list of 1,500 and is on the brink of collapse.

Last week, the Dáil debated a Fianna Fáil Private Members' motion on discretionary medical cards. When this Government took office 80,000 people in Ireland had discretionary medical cards on medical grounds. The figure today is 53,000. Of course, the Minister will say there is no policy to reduce the number of discretionary medical cards, but the facts demonstrate otherwise. When one looks past the headline figure, the situation is even worse. We have heard of cases in which applications were not granted in the case of young children with multiple complex conditions and adults with severe illnesses such as cancer and motor neuron disease. Many of our incapacitated senior citizens are also being denied medical cards under the practice operated by the HSE. There is a clear intent to reduce the number of people who have medical cards, regardless of their health care needs. Today's budget changes are a further step in this process.

There is one positive development with medical cards. The extension of the free GP card to children under five years of age is welcome. Everybody will agree with that. However, that will do nothing for the many families with young children over five years of age who suffer from serious medical conditions and are currently denied medical cards. It is shameful that the expansion of the categories of patient covered by the medical card scheme comes at the cost of reduced cover for core low-income groups. People have been refused discretionary medical cards even though they have been diagnosed with debilitating clinical conditions. This is simply not fair. It is worth recalling that it was only in August of this year that the Minister of State at the Department of Health wrote to parents in Galway to say the Department was unable to state when children with intellectual disabilities who will leave school this year would be offered appropriate services due to the current funding situation. Parents were told that some places would be offered "which will not fully address individuals' requirements". The Government's original plan was to introduce so-called free services for long-term illness patients, but this proposal has floundered. The same might happen to the medical card scheme for children under five years of age.

The Minister is leaving. He probably has a media appointment. It is an example of the commitment of the Government to Dáil reform. After the vote on the Seanad last week the Government spoke about Dáil reform, but now, when most of the Opposition spokespersons have yet to speak on the budget, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform have left the building.

The media are more important.

They are more important than the national Parliament. That shows the commitment to political reform in this Chamber.

Last year the Minister said that his measures to reduce the cost of drugs and prescribed items would save €160 million in 2013 and €330 million in 2014 and subsequent years. We all know these figures were a figment of the Minister's imagination. It did not happen, and never will. The Department of Health has been promising for the last two years to make substantial savings in this area and it has clearly failed to achieve its targets. It recently emerged at the Committee of Public Accounts that the senior officials in the Department of Health and the HSE who are responsible for purchasing these drugs and prescribed items have never met the suppliers of these products. This is a shocking situation and it explains why they are not getting the best prices. I recently asked the chief executive of the IDA if he could help the Irish taxpayer to get a better price for products in respect of IDA client companies in Ireland. He refused point blank to do so. The IDA has refused to engage with the Department of Health and the HSE on the matter. This behaviour is unacceptable. All government employees must work together for the good of the Irish taxpayer. I believe the Department of Health and the HSE have failed and do not have the ability to achieve these savings. The task of procuring drugs and other prescribed items should be taken from them and handed to the National Procurement Service in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

With regard to the health figures mentioned today, I wish to highlight some of the items in the booklet circulated by the Minister. We talk about medical cards but I will put on the record the cuts that are taking place. The Minister says he is reducing the income thresholds for the over-70s to €900 per week for a couple and €500 per week for a single person. That will save €25 million, according to the Minister's figures. The medical card probity examination will save €113 million. Effectively, everybody with a medical card had better be aware that, from tonight, the Minister intends to hunt them down and cancel as many of those cards as possible. The single biggest saving in the Department of Health is to cancel existing medical cards. The Minister has identified a saving of €113 million in respect of current medical cards by ensuring they are cancelled in 2014.

That is it. It can mean only one thing.

The Minister went on to mention another mean cut. We talk about getting people back to work, but the Minister said that when a person returns to work he or she will now only be given a GP card instead of retaining the full medical card. That will save the Department of Health and the HSE €11 million. Cutting medical cards for people who should be incentivised to go back to work is counterproductive and is a move in the opposite direction from what the Minister for Finance said about encouraging people back to work. People do not want to lose the value of a medical card, but the Minister is saying today that if they go back to work they will lose it. They will be given a GP card, but the Minister will not be long about taking that from them as well. It is counterproductive. All of the savings in the medical card budget in 2014 will amount to €149 million. People with medical cards had better be aware that this Government is after them.

There has been a 400% increase in prescription charges since this Government took office. The charge started at 50 cent per item and it will be €2.50 from the start of next year. That is a major and substantial increase. Of course, the Taoiseach promised in the election campaign in 2011 to abolish the prescription charge, but not only did it remain at 50 cent when he took office, it was increased to €1.50 last year and will be increased to €2.50 next year. Again, we know who will pay it. It will affect many people and will cost approximately €20 per week for people who rely on that scheme.

There is a figure of €666 million in savings to be achieved by the Department of Health as a result of the budget announced today. In last year's Budget Statement, the Minister said that a further €400 million in savings were to be carried forward by the Department of Health in 2014. When that is added to the €666 million announced today, the total cut in the HSE budget will be over €1 billion in the coming year. It is no wonder the Minister is attacking medical cards. The core budget in the Department of Health will not hold up. It is flawed and inaccurate. It will collapse and we will be back in the House discussing Supplementary Estimates over time.

I will now discuss the Department of Social Protection. The Labour Party leader, Deputy Gilmore, is present and I am sure he will have a particular interest in this area as the deputy leader of his party is the Minister in that Department. This time last year one of the Tánaiste's colleagues said in the Chamber that the one group of people in this country who have come through this crash and still have their incomes intact are pensioners.

That does not hold water 12 months on. A raft of cuts and charges in the past two years commenced with the reduction from 32 to 26 weeks in the fuel allowance. The Government also increased tax on solid fuel and increased tax on savings through deposit interest retention tax, DIRT, which has been repeated today. People will be afraid to put money in the bank when the Government will take 41% of it in DIRT. People will keep money at home, which is not safe. The Government has slashed the home help hours for elderly people and the rising cost of medical insurance has increased due to Government policy. The Government has removed some of the tax relief on it today. I referred to the increase in prescription charges, which cost €20 a month to many people. The Government has changed the income threshold for medical cards for older people, cut the respite care grant in the past 12 months and elderly people must pay a full year's property tax in 2014.

The abolition of the telephone allowance is the third round of measures to hit the living standards of older people. The telephone allowance enables older people to keep in touch by phone with their family and neighbours without it being too expensive. It makes them feel safe and secure in their homes. It is a miserable cut on the older generation who already feel isolated. Has the Minister considered the case of a vulnerable elderly person living alone using a pendant around his or her neck as an alarm to alert a family member in an emergency? The pendent that we see used by our elderly relations is linked to the landline in the house. Cutting the payment for this vital support is an example of how the Government has descended. The Government is cutting the lifeline by which elderly people can contact family members in case of emergency by abolishing the allowance for the telephone.

It is shameful.

I ask the Government to reverse this measure.

The Government is in the process of gutting the household benefits package and failing to recognise its social and economic value. Every pensioner over 70 years relies on the free telephone allowance, and the Government is hitting every person on the carer's allowance, everyone between 66 and 70 years in receipt of the State contributory or non-contributory pension and everyone in receipt of the widow's and widower's pension.

In addition to doing that to elderly people, the Government has singled out people with disabilities for this cut. The Government is also targeting people on disability allowance. Everyone in receipt of disability allowance will be affected by this €26 cut, since it was started last year. It amounts to €6 per week and the Government will say it does not hit the weekly rates but it hits the monthly allowance. It amounts to a €6 per week cut for people who relied on the telephone allowance a few short months ago. It will be abolished entirely.

Apart from the elderly, the Government is hitting everyone in receipt of disability allowance and every person on the invalidity pension, the blind pension and disablement benefit. Why is the Government attacking the old and the disabled? They are not the people who caused the problem. We can throw the blame around but I know it was not our parents, our grandparents or people on disability allowance, invalidity pension, the blind pension and the disablement payment who caused the problem They are not responsible for the cuts and they should not be asked to bear the brunt of them. The cumulative impact of these measures on recipients is to undermine their ability to live dignified, independent lives. It goes against every instinct of Irish people, who have always valued the principle of social solidarity and intergenerational support. These decisions are shameful and unfair.

Electricity prices increased by 20% since the Government came to power and gas prices have increased by more than 30%. Further increases will be directly felt by the 410,000 currently in receipt of the telephone allowance. This is hitting the same people. On the one hand, the Government praises the valuable work of carers but it is hitting everyone in receipt of the carers allowance through today's change. When the Minister for Social Protection is asked about it, she glibly says they can go to the community welfare officers. It is terrible to say that to elderly people. Vulnerable, elderly or sick people and those on disability do not have the wherewithal to fill out a form for the community welfare officer. It is a glib response from a Minister who is out of touch.

The cumulative impact of the cuts to the household benefits package represent an unprecedented attack on older people, carers and people with disabilities. Age Action Ireland correctly highlighted the hugely stressful psychological impact of the cuts and highlighted the widespread anxiety about further cuts and the uncertainty it causes for older people. It is important to note that many of those affected are included in the 35,000 or 40,000 people from whom the Government is taking the medical card if they are over 70 years. It is a double whammy.

My colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, mentioned the abolition of the bereavement grant. There is no way to describe this other than to say it is simply lousy. This is a PRSI payment for which people paid and now the Government is asking hard pressed-families to go to the community welfare officer for an exceptional needs payment to cover the cost of burying a relative. It runs counter to every instinct and tradition in the Irish people. I cannot believe a Labour Minister would stoop so low. Some 20,000 families will lose the grant next year. I am shocked the Labour Party would do that.

Many cuts will be introduced by the Labour Party and by the Minister for Social Protection that are not included in today's announcement. Changes to one-parent family payments will be introduced from 1 January. For families with more than three children, there will be another cut to child benefit with the rate for the fourth and subsequent child reduced by €10. It will occur on 1 January even though it was not mentioned today. There is no mention of this in what the Minister called a family friendly budget.

Parents had been promised by Deputy Burton that changes to the one-parent family payment would occur only once a Scandinavian-type child care system was in place. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, scoffed and said recently that we did not need such a model but in the meantime the changes are going ahead. In a few weeks, the Government will make changes, on top of the changes announced last July, to the age of the youngest child at which the one-parent family payment ceases and the ability of lone parents to earn money in part-time work. The changes will save €112 million in a full year but will come at major cost to the families. Lone parents experience a rate of poverty twice that of the national average. They have been failed by a Minister who will introduce these cuts on 1 January.

At present, lone parents are entitled to work and stay in receipt of the full one-parent family payment if their income does not exceed €130 per week. It is to encourage persons in households with a greater incidence of poverty to go out to work. Income above that figure results in a deduction from the allowance. This was done to encourage them to work. Yet again, in 2014, the Government will drastically reduce the amount they can earn while retaining the lone parent payment. For many, this means it will not be worth their while to go out to work. It is a classic lose-lose for the recipient and the taxpayer.

The change to the mortgage interest supplement is one of the worst measures in the budget announcements. I am at a loss to understand the logic of deciding to effectively abolish mortgage interest supplement. More than 97,400 mortgages are in arrears for more than three months. Deputy Michael McGrath said tackling the mortgage crisis is central to the well-being of Ireland as a society and an economy. In the two and a half years since the Government came into office, the number in mortgage arrears has more than doubled. Against this background, I am deeply concerned by the decision to effectively end the mortgage interest supplement scheme. It is the only direct cash contribution by the Government to people in mortgage arrears. Can the Minister blame the banks if they send letters to people telling them to vacate their houses? The banks will say the Minister is abolishing the mortgage interest supplement. The Government is leading the attack, followed up by its friends in the banks, on people in mortgage arrears. The Government is saying to the banks that it will not give any more mortgage supplement and that the banks can do their business. I refer to a letter in my office from a lady who is in mortgage arrears with the State-owned Permanent TSB and the total amount of arrears is €106.

She was not even a month in arrears. The Minister's bank, the State-owned bank, wrote to that lady telling her to dispose of the mortgaged property and get out of her house because she was €106 in arrears. How can one blame a bank for sending that letter when the Minister stands up here today stating the Government will not support that person either and will abolish the mortgage interest supplement? A few short years ago, when the Minister came to power, the cost of mortgage interest supplement was €60 million per annum. The Minister, Deputy Burton, has told me she dislikes it because she thinks it is money for the banks.

She dislikes him too.

She dislikes the payment because she thinks it is money for the banks and as a result, those in mortgage arrears are the ones who will suffer. The Minister is cutting the allowance now. Some 19,000 mortgage holders were benefiting from the scheme when he came to office and by next year, he will have the scheme almost abolished.

As has been mentioned, the Minister is reducing jobseeker's allowance to €100 for new claimants up to the age of 25 while at the same time consistently failing to have proper activation measures in place to help them get back into full-time employment. This is a charter for the young people of Ireland to emigrate. My colleague demonstrated clearly the official policy of the Department in telling the unemployed to go work in Canada and elsewhere. This is the backup measure to such letters, when the Minister says to the young people the Government will cut their jobseeker's allowance if they stay here in Ireland.

The Minister is also cutting sick pay. This will be another burden on small businesses. This is another example of where the Minister, Deputy Noonan, states he wants to help business but, through the expenditure cuts, he is making it more difficult on small businesses by putting this cost on them. There are 200,000 small businesses in Ireland employing more than 655,000. These are a key sector of the economy. Many of these jobs are in the retail and hospitality, where employee costs account for over 60% of total costs. These small companies do not have the flexibility to move staff around if somebody goes out sick and it will be a barrier to future employment in those areas.

If one looks at the figures in the Department of Social Protection, as announced by the Minister in the booklet today, the attack on illness benefit, as I just mentioned, will result in a €22 million saving to the taxpayer but will be a cost to Irish business and employers, and that is a disincentive to employment. For the jobseeker's allowance change, by not giving this payment to young people the Minister, Deputy Burton, has factored in €32 million because she wants them to emigrate. The Minister is making a cut to maternity benefit to save €30 million. She is reducing the amount she will pay many women who are going on maternity leave, on top of taxing their maternity benefit from 1 July earlier this year. What has the Government against expectant mothers that it will tax and reduce their benefit? Shame on the Minister.

Tá nóiméad amháin fágtha.

Finally, the household benefits package and the bereavement grant changes have been fundamental issues and the Minister has gone out of his way to attack the elderly.

I refer to two items. One relates to the overall Government waste. I would advise the Ministers to read the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. There is €300 million of waste in there. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, is refusing to deal with it. He has not even added it up. His Department has stated that it has not even checked the figures in the report. The Minister would be better eliminating that waste and inefficient use of Government resources rather than punishing the Departments of Health and Social Protection.

On how this budget will go down, I learned, when the Minister, Deputy Howlin, announced what the investments from the national lottery licence of 2014 will help fund, that this is the Government local elections slush fund. There is €200 million to buy the votes in the local elections. It is the Government's local elections slush fund. That was to be put into job creation but the Minister is using it to buy votes with such measures as road maintenance, sports capital grants, the indoor training arena, housing grants for the elderly, the city of culture initiative etc.

Such a suggestion from Fianna Fáil.

These are all worthwhile issues but the Minister is introducing them, from the proceeds of the sale of the national lottery which should have been ring-fenced and kept for the national children's hospital, as a slush fund to buy votes in the local elections in May 2014. I would ask the Minister to reconsider a number of those changes.

Deputy Sean Fleming could give us classes in how to buy votes.

I do not know what the Minister, Deputy Howlin, has against young people in asking them to emigrate. I do not know what he has against expectant mothers. Especially, I do not what he has against the elderly, where he is hitting their medical cards, hitting their free telephone allowance and hitting them everywhere it hurts. They will be afraid in their homes tonight. They will be losing their alarm that they need in case of an emergency to ring a family member and 35,000 of them will be losing their medical cards as a result of this budget.

I call Deputy Pearse Doherty who, I understand, is sharing with Deputy McDonald.

I will start by reading something:

The Government has made ... major mistakes and it continues to make them today. ... The Government never learned that one cannot cut and tax one's way out of a recession. One can only grow out of recession. Consequently, its slash and burn policies were counter-productive ...

That statement is spot on and I could not have written it better myself. I have uttered words similar to those on many occasions, particularly during previous budget speeches. However, I did not write those words. The Minister for Finance wrote them, and he delivered them when he stood on this side of this House in response to Fianna Fáil's austerity budget in 2010.

The question we can legitimately ask ourselves today is: "What has happened since?" Have the corridors of power had such an effect on the Minister, Deputy Noonan, that he decided to implement, not one austerity budget but three, that he himself has said are counter-productive, because here he is again today - this time, in October, on the Minister's third budget announcement - peddling the same policies which he, the Government and his party have said were counterproductive. These policies were counterproductive.

Let us look at where they have got us. There are high levels of unemployment, high levels of emigration and high levels of poverty. This year we expect 0% growth in the domestic economy. Níl aon dabht gur gheall páirtithe an Rialtais cuid mhór - níl dabht ar bith i dtaobh sin - ach is beag atá á chur ar fáil acu.

The Government delivers its third austerity budget in a year that marks the centenary of the 1913 Lock-out, a time when great Irish men and Irish women stood up against greed, unfairness and the unending pursuit of profit on the back of the Irish workers.

Sinn Féin supported the employers.

One hundred years after the great event, the words of the poem that celebrated that should be engraved on the doors of the Minister for Finance:

What need you, being come to sense,

But fumble in a greasy till

And add the halfpence to the pence

And prayer to shivering prayer, until

You have dried the marrow from the bone;

The Government has dried the marrow from the bone of ordinary Irish working people the length and breadth of this State. Along with Fianna Fáil, it has inflicted on the Irish people six successive years of austerity and over €28 billion of taxes and cuts, and its members come in here today and tell the Irish people that that was not enough, that they want more. They tell ordinary families that they need to pay more taxes. The Government tells them that their public services have to be diminished a little more. The Government tells them that the safety nets that were there to protect them need to be stripped away, while it fumbles in its greasy till and protects the highest sections of society - the bankers, developers and - let us not forget - themselves. Ní thuigeann an Taoiseach agus an Tánaiste nach féidir a thuilleadh a fháisceadh as muintir na hÉireann.

One hundred years after the Lock-out, the Government has locked itself into a policy of austerity. The Irish people, locked outside the gates of Leinster House today, are protesting at this budget, but the Government will ignore them, just as it ignored them in successive years and just as it ignored the pleas from civic society that the policies of austerity were not working for them, their families or their communities. Like in 1913, this is a day when the Irish people deserve to see courage and leadership in challenging the economic woes inflicted on the State.

My party has categorically proven to the Government that it had a range of options when it came to formulating the budget.

Where would the money have come from?

We submitted those options to the Government last week in our alternative budget proposals. They would have reduced the tax burden on ordinary families. They would have protected public services and would have invested in jobs in a real way, providing the type of jobs that we need to kick-start the economy and get it growing again.

It did not add up.

It did not add up.

It was costed. It was costed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.


This is the real Sinn Féin.

A big black hole.

The Labour Party does not want to hear the truth. Let it shout me down as much as it wants, but this budget was costed by the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.


May we have order, please?

I am more aware than many of the problems facing the State. Tá an imirce, an dífhostaíocht agus an bhochtaineacht mar chuid de ghnáth shaol na ndaoine anois ar fud na tíre. Feicimse sin gach lá, i mo cheantar féin i dTír Chonaill agus san iarthar go háirithe. Is ó iarthar na hÉireann é an Taoiseach, ach níl dabht ar bith faoi ach nuair a amharcann muid ar na polasaithe atá á gcur i bhfeidhm aige, sa cháinfhaisnéis seo agus leis na polasaithe a chuir sé i bhfeidhm le dhá bhliain anuas, go dtugann sé cúl ar mhuintir an iarthair agus ar mhuintir Mhaigh Eo nuair a shuíonn sé isteach ina ghluaisteán agus nuair a thugann sé aghaidh ar Bhaile Átha Cliath. My party, Sinn Féin, does not shrink from meeting the economic problems the State faces, but we would face them with courage, leadership, honesty and, more importantly, solutions to provide for ordinary families and communities. What the Government has given the people today is another budget which is lacking in vision, fairness and fair solutions. For the third time it is a complete capitulation by the Labour Party, the members of which sold their principles for the price of power.

That is why they get excited when it is pointed out to them that today they are delivering more cuts in the Departments they said they would protect.


The Minister is an expert at delivering these budget statements. As usual, he led off with all the guff about how great he was and he buried all the bad news. It is not possible to make an adjustment of €2.5 billion in the way the Government does without hitting people where it hurts. This budget was written by spin doctors and the devil is always in the detail. The Government has returned as usual to the same hard-pressed families and asked for more such as hikes in excise duties; cuts to maternity benefit - the second time mothers have been hit - cuts to illness benefits and a 7% cut in the drugs initiative. I congratulate the Tánaiste on that one. What is the Government's reason for the cut to the telephone allowance? They have cut the benefits for old-age pensioners hard and now taken the telephone allowance from them in order that they cannot telephone to complain about it.

Who wrote that one? Give them a P45.

The gang that is heckling will know that many elderly people have been coming to our constituency offices during the years because of financial pressures. They have been looking to disconnect their telephones. However, they also know that they need a telephone to have a personal alarm monitor. The Government's cut today will put elderly people in jeopardy. Deputies opposite can heckle all they want, but that is the reality. The reason they have decided to target the elderly is beyond me.

It is disgraceful.

Let us look at the other cuts such as those to the rent supplement. Probably the most despicable of all is the cut to the bereavement grant, which is absolutely wrong. The Taoiseach should talk to any family dealing with a bereavement. The only support the State provides for eligible families to bury their loved ones, young or old, is the €850 bereavement grant, which is being taken away from them. It is wrong. The Taoiseach should not strip away this grant from families who need it at this time. The cost of burying a loved one is expensive-----

That is not true.

A payment of €6,000 is made if there is a dependent child. There is also a pension payment for six weeks.

-----yet the Taoiseach has decided to cut the bereavement grant of €850. This decision is wrong. The Taoiseach knows this, as does his backbenchers. Anyone who has faced a bereavement will know it is wrong.

Measures have been introduced in an attempt to soften the blow and I welcome them. Sinn Féin has called for some of them. However, the context in which they have been introduced is brutal. Sinn Féin also called for free GP care for the under-fives, but the Government has at the same time withdrawn medical cards from very vulnerable persons. It is pitting grandparent against grandchild in order to make pitiful savings, but people can see through this. It is not right that a medical card is taken from the grandparent to be given to the grandchild. Free GP care could have been provided for children aged five years and under while also protecting vulnerable elderly people.

While I welcome the introduction of the bank levy, I ask why it is restricted to a short period of time. This and the previous Government have pumped €65 billion into the banks, for which a short-term levy does not make up in any way.

I am glad that the Tánaiste is in the House because we have not heard a bloody single word about the game-changer, the seismic shift from the ESM, European Stability Mechanism. The only word we heard about it was from the German Chancellor, who told us it was not on. When will we get this money back? The Government has pumped €21 million into the banks and Fianna Fáil gave the remainder. The Government and the budget are silent on this question. The bitterness of what the Government is asking people to swallow today is made no sweeter by the handful of measures with which it hopes to distract the public.

Sinn Féin's alternative fair budget argued for a lower adjustment and I am glad the Government that has heeded that call. However, I am disappointed that it was done by sleight of hand.

They are waiting for the Deputy to tell them.

The budget has introduced an adjustment of €2.5 billion in taxes and savings, while at the same time using money from the State's cash reserves from the sale of the national lottery and other sources to bring the actual adjustment announced by the Minister to €3.1 billion. This is sleight of hand. The people are not naive when it comes to the games played by politicians. They can see when they are being sold a pup because the Labour Party needs a fig leaf to cover its blushes. Caithfidh muid ceist a chur: céard do a sheasann Páirtí an Lucht Oibre i 2013? Céard do a sheasann sé níos mó? The Labour Party should have argued for a lower adjustment but also a budget that would have given something back to ordinary families. That is what Sinn Féin proposed in its alternative fair budget. We set out a series of measures such as the abolition of the property tax. The Government wants to implement the property tax in full on 1.8 million households. We proposed abolition of the property tax and a rebate to taxpayers of approximately €278 per annum. Why not do as Sinn Féin proposed and take 296,000 of the lowest paid out of the universal social charge tax net?

We did that two years ago.

It can be done and the Government could go further, but it has refused to do so.

Why not restore the respite care grant? I remind the Tánaiste that it was one of the nastiest, most vicious cuts implemented on the 82,000 carers of loved ones the length and breadth of the State. Why not restore the €325 grant and put it back into their pockets? Has the Tánaiste still not learned the lesson that the Government should not cut the grants to people caring for their loved ones at home?

The reduction of €5 million in the cost of the rental of school books is welcome, but it does not go far enough. We have argued that half of all core subject school books should be provided free of charge. The Government has failed to deliver on the commitment to roll out school meals in an additional 500 schools, for which Sinn Féin called.

The Government is silent on the fuel allowance which it was forced to extend last year as an emergency measure. Why not extend the season permanently? Too many citizens are living in fuel poverty.

Our alternative budget measures allowed for an adjustment of €2.5 billion, with 30 taxation and spending measures which have been costed by the Department of the Taoiseach, in order to eliminate waste in the public service, make it more efficient, reduce the higher salaries and the salaries of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and ask those who earn the most to pay their fair share in taxation in order to help the recovery of the economy.

Not only is the Government not prepared to give something back, but it has slashed another €1.6 billion from essential front-line services. Parents of sick children and children with special needs have described it as very stressful to have medical cards for their children taken away by the Government. The parents of these children should not be forced to become full-time lobbyists to get the attention of the Taoiseach. They should not have to spend precious time away from their children, attend protests or write letters to Departments.

They should not have to provide a begging bowl to get what is theirs or what is required for their children by right. Where is the Government's threshold of decency?

I encountered a group of parents and children earlier this year and it is absolutely astonishing to imagine that until now, the Government has been implementing a policy of providing profoundly deaf little children with only one hearing implant. That is the equivalent of providing a short-sighted child with a pair of glasses with only one lens. We all know the provision of two ear implants is better for a child's development so why are they only being given one? To make matters worse, when an implant fails - as is frequently the case - these children are cast back into a world of silence once again.

I and many other Deputies have heard the heartbreaking stories from the parents of these children, who have had to witness their baby's distress, confusion and frustration when the child goes from hearing the world around them to hearing nothing. The parents have run a campaign over the past year for their children and all the nation's children. They are in the Gallery and they are the true heroes. They are the people who stand to fight this Government in order to get what their children should have by right.

This country's purse strings are not the Government's alone. The money by which it runs the State and with which it pays Ministers handsomely comes from taxpayers' pockets. It comes from the pockets of the parents in the Gallery. When the Government cuts or under-funds health services, it cuts or under-funds the services that taxpayers have paid for. If the Minister for Health cannot manage the health budget, he should be fired. If he has neither the guts nor the will to take on powerful lobby groups which are sucking money from health services instead of putting it into front-line services, he should be sacked.

The Taoiseach promised on taking office that Ministers who do not perform will be moved out of the way, so he should do the right thing. Sinn Féin has a Private Members' time motion on bilateral cochlear implants and the Government should make an announcement on them, as it should have done today. It should give the gift of hearing to the 200 children as time is running out for them.

We have heard many figures and we must ensure that we do not forget some very important examples. There are 142,892 family homes in mortgage distress at the end of June this year, and that figure has doubled in the life of this Government, just as it doubled under the life of the previous Government. I am sure the Taoiseach cannot begin to imagine the worry and anxiety that people face when they cannot pay their mortgages. He cannot put himself in the shoes of a husband or wife sitting down and looking at their children, worrying about losing the roof over their heads. Unfortunately, there are tens of thousands of families in that position. It is not they do not want to pay their mortgages but that they do not have the means to do it. Fianna Fáil's housing policy saddled these families with unsustainable debt and Fine Gael and Labour have at every opportunity protected the banks, supporting them and enabling them to pursue these families for the debt. Where on the Taoiseach's list of priorities is the Irish family with an unsustainable debt burden?

This year the Government was forced to acknowledge the issue of mortgage distress because the bare facts, from the bank balance sheets, indicated there was a problem. What were the solutions? The Government removed the Dunne judgment, which was the only protection people had with regard to repossession of the family home. It gave the okay for banks to issue 15,000 letters threatening repossessions, which is unbelievable. The Government has allowed personal insolvency practitioners to cherry-pick the most lucrative cases, leaving the banks happy to always be in the knowledge they will have the final say, as the Government gave them a veto.

In our fair budget proposal we set out a plan for publicly funded insolvency practitioners, so at least every person in mortgage distress could be assured access to the service and have it free of charge. We have also produced legislation that should be adopted to strengthen the hands of families with distressed mortgages in dealing with the banks. There are countless solutions and we have debated the issue in this Dáil term on numerous occasions. The Government should start listening to the solutions and implementing them for the benefit of the 142,000 families currently in mortgage arrears.

Instead of listening and considering real solutions for those families, trying to tip the balance away from banks and in favour of Irish citizens, the Government has cut mortgage interest supplement, which is a payment to people with mortgages who have lost their jobs.

Blame the banks.

It is unbelievable. It is not our fault that we are seeking logic where there is none in the Government's policies. It does not make sense. Níl dabht ar bith go gcodlóidh na hAirí go sámh anocht, cé nach mbeidh codladh ar bith ar aithreacha agus mháithreacha mar go mbeidh siad ag luí sa leaba agus imní orthu faoin mhéid atá rompu maidin amárach.

We must take our hats off to the Government because it has been consistent with the banks, and it is clearly on their side. Ministers indicated the recommendations of the Mercer report would be implemented and bankers' pay would be cut, yet top bankers were allowed to make savings by firing low-paid staff, closing branches and cutting customer care. At the same time, the likes of Richie Boucher, the head of Bank of Ireland, continued to pay himself in excess of €800,000. We can provide the facts and eliminate all the bull we have heard from Ministers in this Chamber over the last number of months. Not one of the 2,500 bankers earning above €100,000 in the banks bailed out by this State has taken a penny of a pay cut in base salary this year. Earlier this year the Government refused to use the State's shareholding in Bank of Ireland to force Richie Boucher to take a pay cut.

The Taoiseach should riddle me this. He has no problem standing here and telling the citizens who put him in office that the young unemployed must take a cut and tighten their belts, that elderly people must do with less or that those on disability pensions must have less. He has no problem telling children they must soak up the cuts being dished out. Yet he has a problem turning up to the Bank of Ireland annual general meeting and using the power vested in the Government as a shareholder to say to Mr. Boucher that his more than €800,000 in remuneration is not on, as this country is broke and we are making difficult choices.

The Government's priorities have been exposed. How do the Taoiseach and Tánaiste justify to themselves and the Irish people the fact that a 24-year-old, under the Government's policies, can live on €100 per week after today but Mr. Boucher can pay himself over €800,000?

The young person would get €160 on the back to education scheme.

Write it down.

I will give way to the Taoiseach if he is willing to justify that.

The Deputy cannot make up the rules of the House as he goes along. There are Standing Orders.

A Deputy can give way under the rules of the House.

There should be order.

That is under Standing Orders.

Is the Taoiseach is willing to justify the policies of this Fine Gael and Labour Party Government announced today? A 23-year-old unemployed person can live on €100,000-----

It is €100 per week.

A hundred euro - yet the Government will sit idly by and not let out a peep at the annual general meeting about Mr. Boucher earning €800,000. I allow the Taoiseach time if he wants to justify that.

There will be an opportunity for people to contribute later.

The Irish people and their economy are feeling the effects of the Taoiseach's ambitionless policies. We have faced the reality this year, despite the predictions from a few years ago, that there has been zero growth in the economy. Nevertheless, the introduced budget has gone beyond the necessary targets set by the troika. The troika deficit target for this year was 5.1% of GDP but Fine Gael and the Labour Party have signed up to a plan which has the deficit at 4.8% of GDP. The Minister for Finance told us this equates to €480 million of austerity measures that are not required to meet the troika deficit. Why does the Government believe that putting the foot on the accelerator of austerity will do anything for growth? The Minister vehemently stated that we could not cut ourselves out of recession.

Our proposals demonstrate how a multi-billion euro stimulus package can create around 100,000 jobs. That is how to drive economic activity, but what we have is the Government's third budget that tells us yet again it will use the National Pensions Reserve Fund of €6.4 billion.

Seventeen billion euro.

The Government should send postcards to Perth and Canberra in Australia, and to New York and London, because the young people of this State could not wait for it to get its act together. They have given up and left. It is time the Government got its act together. It announced that policy almost three years ago. When the Government came to power the unemployment rate was 13.5%, as per the live register. Now it is 13.3%. That is in addition to the 176,000 people who have emigrated on the Government's watch.

There is a black hole in the Sinn Féin budget.

Now it is 13.3%.

Stop muttering over there.

That is in addition to the 176,000 people who have emigrated on the Government's watch.

What about the pickaxe handles?

Deputy Doherty has the floor. I ask for quiet on both sides.

Some 176,000 people have emigrated on the Taoiseach's watch. Sixty percent of the unemployed are now categorised as long-term unemployed. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is fond of saying that the Government does not create jobs. That is one thing we know for sure - it definitely does not. We are in a jobs crisis and the Government's official response has been to hold press conferences and issue glossy reports.

Today, the Government announced what it calls a €500 million stimulus. I welcome the extension of the 9% VAT rate, which we had called for. However, there is no sense in increasing the pensions levy to 0.75%, which will be done from 2014. I am also pleased to hear the announcement of several other measures, including an increase in the VAT accounting threshold, for which we had also called. However, an investment of €500 million is a drop in the ocean when we face a crisis of such magnitude in regard to jobs. Let us be honest. It comes on top of many undelivered commitments from the Taoiseach and his colleagues. They are serial announcers but they always choke on delivery.

We are halfway there.

There are many other issues we can deal with at a later stage when the Finance Bill is introduced. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald will deal with some of these issues too.

What about the basic €1 billion that is missing from these sums?


Deputy Doherty to conclude. He has the floor.

The reality is that how the Government treats the deficit can either add to or fix the problem.

You cannot do it.

There is scope for deficit reduction next year from fair measures. Sinn Féin has shown the Government how to do that, but this Government does not do fair. It is not in its dictionary nor in its vocabulary. The Tánaiste left that wee four-letter word outside the door when he entered Government Buildings.

Where is the billion? That is all.

Gerry does not know.

In his speech on the first day he was elected, the Taoiseach delivered a powerful observation of where the State stood. He said our Republic had been betrayed, that people were afraid of losing their homes, and that parents were being rendered speechless at the sight of their children boarding planes to countries where our spring is their autumn and our today is their tomorrow.

There is the exit of the bailout. We have achieved economic independence.

The Taoiseach's words were:

Employers are traumatised by laying off staff and shutting down businesses. Workers pray for invisibility as they queue for the dole. Families worry that the neighbours might see the Vincent de Paul calling to their door, dreading the postman dropping bills like stealth bombs into the hall.

What has the Government done to make the situation better for the people the Taoiseach described?


We cannot hear the debate up here.

The answer is "Nothing," because he has intensified their pain, worry and anguish. Our Republic was betrayed. The Taoiseach has had three opportunities to fix it in three budgets. There is nothing in what he offers today, however, that will put the economy on the right track or offer people the solace they need.

The bills will still fall through the letter-boxes; the planes will still be full of our young people leaving; the dole queues will still snake around the corner of the block. People are still losing their homes, and the St. Vincent de Paul has never been busier. I say to the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste that their Government's budget is as empty as were the words of the Taoiseach on the day of his election to office.

Sinn Féin still does not have one.

I ask for order in the House. Every Deputy is entitled to be heard.

Every Deputy includes the Taoiseach.

Today, citizens throughout this State needed to hear a message of hope. The elderly, the unemployed, families in mortgage distress and households struggling to survive needed to see actions that would inspire confidence. The Taoiseach needed to take decisions that would give some relief to families and workers who have been battered by the austerity budgets during his time in government. Today, however, he has let the people down, as we witness again the actions of a Government that is arrogant, out of touch and utterly indifferent to the devastation a cocktail of cutbacks, unemployment and emigration has laid on our society.

The sight of the two Ministers with responsibility for finance taking to their feet with a message of hardship to deliver tough medicine to the citizens is now an annual Fine Gael and Labour Party event. The constant refrain of "fairness" serves only to underline just how unfair their Government is. It is nothing short of astonishing to hear this use and abuse of the vocabulary of fairness. Many terms could be used to describe this Government's policies over the past years; many words can describe the vicious austerity budgets, but fairness is not one of them. Tá méadú suntasach agus scanrúil tagtha ar líon na ndaoine a bhfuil ag streachailt lena gcuid morgáistí. Is iomaí clann atá fágtha gan phingin rua ag deireadh na míosa. Tá na daoine seo tuirseach agus tá siad ag fulaingt. Tá sos uathu. A fair budget would have given low- and middle-income households a break by putting money back in their pockets, but this Government's targeting of low- and middle-income families has been relentless. Its attack on the living standards and spending power of the average citizen has been ruthless. Its assault on basic social protections has been calculated and cruel. Notably, these sit side by side with an absolute determination to protect the wealthy, and wealth itself.

Having listened to the twin Ministers for hardship, Deputies Noonan and Howlin, I can only conclude that the Government is determined to leave struggling households in their despair and to force many thousands more of our young people onto the emigration path. Yet it seems to live in a world of make-believe, applauding its members for what it calls tough decisions as they congratulate one another on the bravery of their stance. For the sake of clarity, and for the record, the Government needs to know that families who cannot heat their homes, couples that cannot make their mortgage repayments and parents who Skype their children in Sydney and Boston will not be joining in this chorus of self-praise.

People across the State and those in enforced exile will now wonder whether recovery is actually possible on this Government's watch. It is now clear that it does not have a plan for economic growth, for employment or for debt relief. Clearly, it has no clue whatsoever about the provision of decent public services. What makes this all the worse is that today, in the Dáil, the question is whether the Government even cares. It is now almost three years in office - three long years during which people have not seen any real improvement in their living standards. People who are sick and have had their medical cards taken away, people with disabilities who have faced cut after cut, young jobless people and people at work - all of these see no prospect of improvement. The Government's legacy right now is one of hopelessness. The citizens of this State could not have been clearer in the mandate they afforded this Government in 2011. The Taoiseach and his colleagues knew what that mandate was. The people voted for change. What they have got is more of the same.

Today marks the point at which almost €30 billion has been bled from the economy. Economic growth stands at 0.2% for this year. That is the Minister's boast. Unemployment is at 13.3%, and of that figure the long-term unemployment rate is 60%.

It hardly needs to be said to the Government that this is not a success story. Far from it, no matter what way one tries to spin it. To borrow a phrase from the Taoiseach, today's budget delivers another almighty wallop to the people.

The real tragedy and scandal is that it does not have to be this way. The Government has the option of giving real relief to struggling families. Sinn Féin set out the costed alternatives in our fair budget proposal. It included abolition of the tax on the family home, meaningful, substantial assistance with the cost of school books, help to heat the home and extension of school meals. We put all of those measures on the table and all of them were costed and deliverable.

There was a €1 million gap.

Sinn Féin’s budget 2014 proposals are truly fair because we sought to give low and middle-income families a break by putting money back into their pockets. The Government could have taken the almost 300,000 of the lowest paid workers out of the universal social charge net. It could have honourably reversed its cut to the respite grant and given carers a break. The Government could have called a halt to the constant ratcheting up of third level fees. All of those measures were possible but the Government set its face against them. One must ask why that is the case. Is it because all of the tea and sympathy rhetoric routinely spouted in the Dáil by Government Deputies is just bluff, or is it due to something else?

The Government is trying to sort out the country.

Could it be that the Government holds the people in contempt?

The social welfare budget is to be cut by €290 million. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, and the great champions of working people in the Labour Party stand over that. It is abundantly clear that the Government has a hang-up and problem with young people. I am not sure what they have done. The cut of €44 per week to jobseeker's allowance for people under 25 years requires an explanation. No rationale was offered by the Minister in making the announcement. Does the Government believe those under 25 are a layabout generation? Has the Government noticed there are no jobs for them or is it simply giving them yet another reason to emigrate and become someone else’s problem? Is that the analysis of the Government? When I heard the Minister announce the cut, although it had been flagged in the media, I found myself thinking, what next? I wonder what we can expect next year. Perhaps the Economic Management Council will offer to pack the suitcases of young people and book their flights. It might even give them a few bob for their taxi fare to the airport.

That is just ridiculous.

They could get cheaper flights with Ryanair.

People in that age group who have seen their friends forced to leave this country en masse because of the failures of the Government, Fianna Fáil and politics in this State will be thinking something along those lines. The Government will have to give an explanation to those people and to their families as to why it was deemed appropriate to target them in this way. I cannot think of a measure that could be seen as a greater incentive for young people to leave this country very quickly because the Government of recovery and democratic revolution that was all about change does not want them to remain in the State. That is how it looks to me and I suspect that is how it will look to them.

It is not just the cut to the jobseeker's allowance that sends this message to that generation of people. Graduates face indefinite periods of rolling unpaid internships. In fact, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, who is sadly not with us, recently admitted to taking on 35 such young people in his Department, yet not one of the interns was offered a full-time position, despite similar recruitment needs arising. Just recently, the same Minister, Deputy Howlin, has hired three additional researchers under the JobBridge scheme tasking them with the overhaul and simplification of the Statute Book. I give that specific example because it speaks volumes about how the Government views young people. The Government is disinterested, dismissive and it has no regard for these young people. The coded language of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, when it comes to young people aged 25 and under who find themselves without work is reprehensible. The Government seems to blame them for its failures. The Government has failed to create the environment within which young people can flourish. It is that simple. It is the Government that failed to create the environment in which jobs can be created. That happened on its watch. The Government has cynically and deliberately created and sustained an environment for emigration.

It is not just the young who are in the Government's sights in the budget. Others have referred to the cutting of the telephone allowance, which will affect not just older citizens but carers and people with disabilities. I would love to have been a fly on the wall for that discussion. It would be really interesting to know what was said. It is unfortunate that Cabinet discussions and those of the Economic Management Council where the lads took the decision are not available. I would be truly fascinated to know how anybody in his or her right mind would have considered that a good idea - to leave people who are in a vulnerable, dependent position, potentially without access to a telephone. Does the Taoiseach believe that is a good idea? Does it strike him as clear thinking? Judging from the expression on his face, I suggest he thinks perhaps it was not.

Unlike previous Governments all of the decisions were recorded.

All of the decisions will be available.

Go back to sleep, Taoiseach.

They are all written down unlike in the time of previous Governments.

The Government removed the telephone allowance from older people. That will cause them huge distress and grief.

Sinn Féin wants to pay for nothing.

The Government also cut the bereavement grant. I could hear the sighs from Members when that was announced. I imagine the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste will be aware from their own constituencies that the cost of burials has loomed large for people for a very long time. It is very expensive to bury a loved one.

What is the average cost?

It is €6,000 to €7,000.

The bereavement grant gave people some modest intervention and assistance towards the cost.

What is the average cost?

It depends on what part of the country about which one is talking.

The Government is so mean-spirited that it takes even that grant from people.

It depends on what part of the country about which one is talking.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald has the floor.

The cost is higher in Dublin. It depends on the part of the country.

It depends on the part of the country in which one lives.

I know that, Caoimhghín. I am asking Deputy McDonald a question.

The Taoiseach is being disruptive and bad mannered.

In the social welfare area, the Government has also made cuts to invalidity pensions.

Please. There should be just one voice.

I am sure the Taoiseach has read the budget book in the same way as I did.

For the information of Deputy McDonald, a funeral can cost €10,000 in Dublin.

He is standing over the cuts.

The undertakers wrote to the Minister to ask that the grant be paid to them directly.

I am sure the Taoiseach realises that cuts to the invalidity pension for those under 65 and those over 65 with qualified adult dependants will range from between €3,500 and €5,500. That is a huge wallop for those families. There is a refrain in the cuts to maternity benefit rates. First, the Government taxed maternity benefit and then it cut it. It is clear the Government's commitment to children is wafer thin.

However, this is not all the Government has done; it has also cut the adoptive benefit. One does not have to be a genius to figure out that these cuts will have a real impact on families and new parents, many of whom are struggling badly, as we have already heard. So much for the touchy-feely governmental approach to children and their parents.

The Government's attitude to people who find themselves reliant on a welfare payment stinks. If one imagines for a second that people are living it up on a payment of €188 per week, for example, one is mistaken. I challenge every Member, including the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, to give it a try and see how they would get by on such a small amount. Perhaps what is needed is a little dose of reality, a little taste of what it means not only to count the euro but also the cent, day on day, week on week. Perhaps that would soften the Government's cough and perhaps its Economic Management Council would take a very different view on how the Government analyses these matters and the decisions it takes budget on budget.

I know all about it; I do not need a lecture on this. I know more about this than the Deputy cares to know.

The budget envisages a cut of €666 million to the health budget. One should bear in mind that the expenditure of the Department of Health routinely runs over budget. The Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, for all his bluster, presides over that reality. Budget 2013 contained €1.173 billion in full-year cuts. At the time in question, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, presented the blanket figure with scant detail as to where specifically the savings would be found. Today's announcement is similar.

The Government's decision to extend free GP care to children of five years and under is welcome, but it can only be taken in the context of the removal of medical cards from thousands of very sick people. The Government, including the Taoiseach, has tried to deny the fact, but it is a fact none the less that removing discretionary medical cards from cancer patients and children with complex medical needs is happening and is causing real hardship and distress. When the Minister for Health is challenged on this, he tells the cameras that these people have fallen through the cracks. I do not know who is he kidding. Katie Connolly from Cork is aged five and has fallen through the cracks, as the Minister would have it. She has Down's syndrome, asthma, a heart condition and juvenile arthritis, but she has been denied a medical card and a GP visit card. That is Katie's story. A response from the Government that she and her family have fallen through the cracks is simply not acceptable.

The decision to grant care to the under-fives must be considered in the context of the reality of a proposed €130 million cut affecting medical cards. The Government's documentation refers to "medical card probity", which is code for medical card cutbacks. Bizarrely, the Government has sought, over the past 48 hours or more, to court public popularity with a suggestion of granting medical cards to young children, while at the same time cooking the books and working up a strategy to introduce massive cutbacks in the general provision of medical cards. This is perverse.

Media reports - no doubt leaked by Government insiders - tell us the extension of GP care for the under-fives will be delivered in the new year, but we know from experience that there is no guarantee of this. The Minister for Health promised a GP card for all suffering with a long-term illness within his first year in government. Those with long-term illnesses, or real and complex medical needs, are still waiting for the promise to be kept. Katie and all the other Katies throughout the State need to be awarded their medical cards and to keep them. Nothing short of that will suffice.

Earlier, the Minister referred to mental health service provision and trumpeted the fact that €20 million is to be held for spending in that area. I am surprised that the Minister is not aware that the all-party mental health group sought a further €35 million in the budget. Very often, mental health services are referred to as the Cinderella of the health service. Let us say today, on budget day, that €20 million is not enough. In making the decision, the Ministers concerned knew full well, as they do now, that they were cutting the cloth too tight and that mental health services will remain under-resourced. We know this is happening at a time when the number of mental health problems, not least those causing deaths by suicide in this State, is reaching a chronic level.

The increase in the prescription charge to €2.50 per item, with a cap of €25, represents a very mean-spirited cut. It is all the more astonishing given that it is being introduced by people who fought tooth and nail against prescription charges in a previous incarnation. In the interest of joined-up thinking, did the Minister consider, when taking away the telephone allowance and making this decision on prescription charges, that it would prove to be a hit on the double for so many, including the elderly, carers and people with a disability? Did the Government join these dots or is it not the kind of thing it does? Perhaps it does not bother doing that sort of real, live thinking in the Economic Management Council.

The Government has failed to realise the huge savings possible through the use of generic drugs and by driving value-for-money deals with the large pharmaceutical companies. It is a real shame that more energy has not been dedicated to finding those real and substantial savings in the system. If it had done so more effectively, it could have kept its hands off people who rely on health and social supports.

The reference in today's budget to the front line was little more than the worst kind of gesture politics. We know the front line is under unbearable strain and that waiting lists for surgeries and procedures are growing. The HSE confirmed to me just this week that it cannot provide physiotherapy services to school-going children with disabilities. I refer to schoolchildren over five in the north-west Dublin region. The waiting list for children under five is over two years. Similarly, waiting lists for speech therapy for children are as long as two years. There is no joined-up focus among Departments. Today's three year old who needs speech therapy will become tomorrow's five year old in need of a special needs assistant because the necessary, and minor, intervention will not have been made earlier. It bears all the hallmarks of bad governance.

Third level students and their families have been hit again by today's announcement. To add to the insult of the SUSI debacle, there is the injury of hikes in registration fees. The Government's ongoing assault on third level students and their families has meant and will mean a real struggle for students to stay on and graduate from college. If we add to this the difficulties of people who have been denied access to further education because of under-funding of students returning to education and postgraduate students, we can correctly measure the Government's commitment to the knowledge economy and economic recovery.

I also note the Government is to cut social welfare payments to people who take up FÁS courses and that will end the long-term unemployment bonus paid to FÁS, VTOS and YouthReach participants. That is hardly progressive and hardly the stuff of encouraging people into education or, dare I say it, into work.

Deputy McDonald should go back to whoever wrote her script because it is wrong.

On the area of taxation, Fine Gael has, once again, had its way and the Labour Party has allowed the burden of this budget, €1.6 billion in cuts, to fall on those living on modest incomes. This Government refuses to consider an increase in income tax on individual incomes of more than €100,000. It will not entertain or hear tell of the idea of a wealth tax on assets in excess of €1 million.

Does that include pensions?

In fact, the Government becomes aggressive and irrational when those ideas are even aired-----

Are pensions included in the Deputy's definition of assets?

This Government will not ask those who have more to pay more in a time of crisis.

The Deputy does not even know if pensions are included. She does not know her own party policy.

The contrast between the Government's sensitivity for those at the top is in stark contrast to its treatment of those in the lower income brackets. It persists with the farce of taxing the family home at a time when almost 200,000 families find themselves in mortgage distress. There was a time when Fianna Fáil was rounded on by Fine Gael and the Labour Party, when in opposition, for protecting golden circles. It is now very clear that Deputies Gilmore, Quinn and others are pursuing the same approach from the comfort of their ministerial offices.

Public and civil servants have had their dose of tough medicine over the last series of budgets and the Haddington Road agreement is just the latest instalment in cuts and increased working hours for those workers charged with delivering essential services. Doing more with less is how the Government spins it.

As everybody in the country has to do.

It must be truly galling for public servants to see the outrageous pay and pensions still afforded to a tiny minority funded by the public purse. It must be infuriating for the average public sector worker to have his or her terms and conditions of employment lumped in with a discussion of payments to current and former Taoisigh, secretaries general and Government special advisers. Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore, Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin, the band of boys dedicated to cutting all round them, are all overpaid. However, in their scramble to find savings, they seem to have overlooked this simple reality. I encourage them to look at the international comparisons and I assure them that when they do, they will not be able to justify the salaries they are receiving. Today's budget should have reflected that and cuts should have been made accordingly.

The so-called stimulus plan, the €500 million of pro-business measures announced today, is little short of laughable. The key ingredient for economic recovery is investment and we are all fully aware of that. On numerous occasions we in Sinn Féin have set out plans and funding streams for the necessary scale of investment needed to impact on jobs recovery but the Government has given us the deaf ear. It does not want to know. I believe the Government's single biggest failure - it has many - is the failure to invest at the required level for jobs. It is the single biggest failure. Half-baked schemes to massage the figures on the live register will not cut it. We need investment of scale. This Government has spent the past three years dithering and foostering about jobs and stimulus, talking a lot about it but failing abjectly to deliver any of it.

Is that why the numbers of unemployed have dropped?

That is because of emigration.

Maybe that is what explains the Government's anxiety to cut jobseeker's allowance for those under 25 years.

Does Deputy McDonald not accept that jobs have been created?

The safety valve for the Tánaiste's political skin is to ensure that young and not-so-young people leave because his Government cannot provide the jobs and the opportunities for them here.

The Government is happy to leave the domestic economy crippled by a double whammy of cuts to the disposable income of those who spend most, namely low and middle-income workers. It does not have the ability to think strategically and to invest wisely. The Government had no problem pumping funds from the National Pension Reserve Fund to prop up the banks but it singularly failed to deploy this fund, of some €6.4 billion, to get people back to work. There have been announcements about this fund on three separate occasions but the Government still has not delivered. Government Deputies should not come back in here talking about it again until they are in position to deliver it. Investment of scale is required to deliver significant employment and opportunities for our people, in particular for our young people.

I was listening today to the Government's friend, the German Finance Minister, Mr. Wolfgang Schäuble, who has knocked on the head any notion the Government may have had about a retrospective recapitalisation of the banks. As my colleague Deputy Pearse Doherty asked earlier, what has happened to that so-called game changer? For all the talk about the new bank levy, progress and exiting the bailout, would it not be a real scandal and tragedy if the very people who are being cut, cut and cut again are left with the legacy of that €65 billion in bank debt? Would that not be a scandal? Mr. Schäuble had something interesting to say today. When asked why the banks would not be recapitalised, he said that "everything is fine" in Ireland. He said that on the airwaves - "everything is fine" in Ireland. I can only presume the Government has told Mr. Schäuble, and reassured him, that everything is just fine in Ireland. If only he knew the truth. If only the Government could speak the truth and act in the interests of the truth because everything is not fine. A total of €1.6 billion in cuts to the most vulnerable, the young and the elderly, is not fine. No matter what way the Government spins it or dresses it up, the people are alive to that reality.

I welcome the retention of the 9% VAT rate which makes a lot of sense.

How would Deputy Wallace pay for it?

I also welcome the new round of sports capital grants. The value of sport in our society is still very much underestimated. I hope that this time around the soccer clubs in Wexford are treated fairly. Last time round, the biggest sport in the county got only 5% of the money allocated because Deputy Howlin interfered and commandeered the bulk of the money for his own backyard.

It is good to see that the Government is starting to think about social housing but €30 million is a drop in the ocean.

It is a start. It will build approximately 180 houses. If I got the job, I could build them in about 18 months.

The Deputy would have to pay his taxes though.

The two-year exemption from income tax for new start-up businesses will not cost the Government any money. Clearly the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, has never been engaged in trying to set up a business or he would know that.

Sadly, the general thrust of the budget is similar to its two predecessors. This Government has been in power for two and a half years and one would not need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that it has not worked in the best interests of the people at all times. In fact, it has created and promoted a programme of fiscal policies that is making our society more unequal, unjust and unsustainable.

Is that why we are in recovery?

The last budget led to an increase of 1.3% in taxes for a worker on an annual salary of €20,000, while a worker with a salary of €100,000 experienced a 0.2% increase in taxes. That means the impact on the person earning €20,000 was six times greater than on the person earning €100,000. What measures are being taken in this budget to counteract the situation where those who cannot afford to pay for the mistakes of bankers and governments are being forced to pay a higher proportion than those who can? Rising inequality, massive youth unemployment, rising levels of poverty and homelessness, diminishing quality and rising costs of public services, as well as increasing instances of social unrest, violence and crime can no longer be blamed on the after effects of the financial crisis. These are this Government's legacy.

The Government, and its predecessor, has not seriously looked at alternatives but has pretended the troika forced its hand in increasing inequality and poverty in this country. One in ten children now lives in consistent poverty, one in ten people experiences food poverty while over 50,000 people were forced to leave Ireland in a year. We have astronomical school-class sizes and an understaffed health sector that puts lives at risk, including those of pregnant women. This is the work of the Government. The hand-wringing and talk of tough budgets is disingenuous. The Government has made a political choice in presenting this budget today, as it did with the past two budgets.

Worryingly, the so-called party of equality, the Labour Party, has overseen successive budgets that have been termed “regressive” by the ESRI and that have clearly disadvantaged certain social groups disproportionately. The Department of Social Protection’s own analysis of budget 2013 showed that lone-parent households and households with children were hardest hit. Sadly, for the public not much has changed in budget 2014 with mothers penalised again with increases in maternity benefit tax and young people’s welfare provision reduced.

Neither of these is a surprising move by this Government, given its track record to date. It, instead, chooses the unsustainable path, the socially divisive path, the regressive path, the path that has been tested again and again and found wanting. We have failed to learn from the lessons of some disastrous austerity measures of the past. Latin America and South-East Asia had the same type of austerity shoved down their necks by the International Monetary Fund in the 1980s and 1990s. It was only when they found the strength and courage to ignore them and take a different path that they managed to turn their economies around, not just for business but, more important, for their people.

These measures included regulation of fiscal and monetary policies, the introduction of new capital control mechanisms, increasing direct taxation revenues, applying well-directed, progressive fiscal and industrial policies, increased social spending, strengthening regional institutions by boosting their financial reserves, reinforcing public institutions, contributing directly to strengthening democracies and recovering key public roles. In some instances, they carried out programmes of debt cancellation. This Government is not seriously pursuing any of these measures. In fact, in some cases it is charging in precisely the opposite direction. Instead of looking at the situation from anything resembling a rational standpoint - that is taking for granted that it is rational to look after the interests of the people of our country irrespective of class – the Government seems to have no capacity to think seriously about the damage it is unleashing on the nation today and well into the future.

The programme for Government states "equality is at the heart of what it means to be a citizen in our democracy. This Government believes that everyone has the right to be free from discrimination and that we all benefit from living in a more equal society" yet the Government presides over a significant increase in inequality. According to a recent Oxfam report, inequality in Ireland is four times the OECD average. All but those at the top echelons of our society are feeling the debilitating effects of the current fiscal and social policies implemented by the Government. The Government not only does not give a damn about inequality but actively promotes it.

Is the Government aware just how its policies affect people? It is playing a dangerous game with the lives of others, the majority of whom it will never meet. It really does appear it does not stop to think about the people, their lives and their needs. In contrast, it has done very well in looking after the needs of the financial markets, the banks, the captains of industry, the protected professionals and global corporations. This budget will do nothing to provide jobs for our young people. The Government is making this country uninhabitable for our young people who continue to leave in their tens of thousands. For what? For the sake of people who do not need the Government’s help, many of whom do not even live here. The Government has declared economic war on its own people. It is successful in driving our young people out of the country. It is not a brain drain; it is an expulsion of our youngest and brightest.

The Deputy must conclude as there are ten other speakers.

I am reminded of the Lou Reed song, "Statue of Bigotry":

Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor huddled masses

And I'll piss on 'em and club them to death.

Welcome to today’s Ireland.

When I hear Fianna Fáil berating the Minister for using the lotto funds as a slush fund for next year’s local elections, it is a real case of the pupil becoming the master. The Government has become more Fianna Fáil than Fianna Fáil itself. That contribution was a fitting conclusion to act one of the annual budget pantomime when we sit here through set-pieces with mock indignation, all the drama and the hype but knowing how it will end before it even starts. Unlike the real Grimm fairy tale where granny is found alive and well, this budget tale is far grimmer where the wolf just does not eat granny but granddad, new mothers and medical cardholders. It is grim for estranged parents trying to look after their children who will lose a one-parent family tax credit for non-principal parents and, particularly, for our young people who are unfortunate enough not to have a job.

This is the Government’s third budget. Many hoped it would have been third time lucky but it has not been for most ordinary people in this State. If one was wealthy this morning, one will be even wealthier going to bed tonight. The Government can dress it up all it likes claiming this is a battle to get our economy back on the road and we are all grappling with an economic crisis. That is not true. What has taken place here is a counterrevolution in which social policy has been stood on its head and the Government has embarked on the path of neoliberal capitalism by eroding public services while driving down wages and living conditions. No wonder the EU establishment is proud of the Government. While we would expect this of Fine Gael, we did not expect it from the Labour Party, in this the hundredth anniversary of the Lock-out.

It is insulting to hear the Government talk about tackling a dependency culture among the unemployed. What about the real dependency culture of the banks on the taxpayer? What about the dependency culture of the elite in this society who act as parasites on everyone else? Has the Government spoke about the dependency culture of the multinational corporations which use this State to bleed us dry by walking away without paying their fair share of tax? Instead, the Government chooses to scapegoat underprivileged young people. It talks about activation measures as if the responsibility for unemployment rests with the unemployed. That is an absolute joke. The Government claims it created 34,000 jobs last year and will do the same this year. It said nothing about the 33,000 people driven out of this State, however.

We reported the economy created the jobs, not the Government. Governments do not create jobs.

The Minister is correct that this Government certainly does not create jobs but other Governments have. With 500,000 people unemployed and this Government’s rate of job creation, we will be waiting 30 years for it to be tackled when many of us will be long dead. The Government is driving people into scam labour schemes to massage the figures. Its policies have failed and its solution is more of the same.

We had to listen to the miracle Minister, Houdini Howlin, tell us he is going to pull off the miracle of providing more teachers, nurses, doctors, midwives and gardaí. It is not as if we need more gardaí as there were 65 of them alone on Merrion Street today.

They are there because of what happened last year.

At the same time, the Minister will be driving down the public service pay bill by €500 million. How is this genius going to accomplish this miracle? The only way is by a race to the bottom, slashing public sector wages - which the Budget Statement reveals - outsourcing decent jobs, yellow-packing and driving down wages in the private sector. What is the result? There will be less money in people’s pockets and, accordingly, less money to be spent on services and so on.

The Government claims it will provide 30,000 social housing units. That is not a start. It is a fig leaf. It is bit like prescribing Panadol to somebody with two broken arms and legs who has also been shot in the head. The Panadol might relieve the headache for a minute but it will not solve the problem.

The problem is that the Government has taken billions of euro out of this economy, as had its predecessors. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, puts his chest out and talks about an education budget of €8.7 billion.

It is called regaining our economic sovereignty.

He says nothing about the €8.5 billion that we will be paying on interest on the national debt. Who is paying for this? Our children.

While the Minister for Education and Skills makes the big claim he has not increased class sizes, he has created a hellhole for teachers and students. A teacher in my constituency wrote to me on how they coped pre-cuts because children and teachers had support systems to make it workable, even if it was not desirable. Now, she is concerned about the loss of learning, special needs, English as a second language and other supports, and how this will affect the cuts. It is unfair on children to have to deal with this.

There have been no cuts in education in this budget.

Ministers are immunised in their cosy little club in here but they do not actually know what is going on outside these doors.

If they did, they would realise that to take away mortgage interest supplement when so many families are about to lose their homes is lunacy. Unfortunately we do not have much time but it is ironic that the Government can come here some evening and change the law overnight, keep us here until the early hours to deal with a new burden on the taxpayer, but cannot bring in any measures to deal with the wealthy. The Government cannot tackle a small wealth tax that would allow it to cancel the home tax. It could not bring in a 1.5% increase on the top 10% of earners which would yield an extra €400 million. It deals with some aspects on the pension but not the whole lot of it. The Government will be judged by how many people are at work and on that it will flounder because there can be no economic recovery without job creation. That cannot be left to the private sector. Only a State-led programme will do it and the Government has failed terribly.

This budget targets the sickest and poorest in our society, the young, the squeezed middle, the elderly and even the dead. Some 20,000 families will lose the bereavement grant in 2014 as a result of this budget. During the 2011 general election campaign the Labour Party and Fine Gael sought a mandate to burn the bondholders, not to give another cent to the banks, said it would be Labour's way, not Frankfurt's way and that the vulnerable would be protected. They broke all those promises long ago and robbed the clothes of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. They have cynically and deliberately reneged on those commitments and targeted the most vulnerable in our society. This budget takes from those on low and middle incomes here and gives to the very rich at home and abroad. Next year €9 billion will be paid out to service the debt on borrowed money to bail out rich investors on the one hand and to subsidise the low-taxed rich here at home.

As the Government regularly says, somebody has to pay. Why must the poor, and low-income and middle-income families always pay? Why do the rich and powerful always get away scot free? Not long ago then Minister Deputy Joe Costello told us here that Ireland was the seventh wealthiest country in the world. Not long ago the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan told me the top 10,000 earners in this country earn €595,000 each per year and that the top 20,000 earn €437,000 each per year. Why is there no higher rate of income tax for these people who are not paying their fair share of taxation? Why is there no wealth tax to ensure they pay their fair share? The wealthiest 10% of people in this society have increased both their incomes and assets during this recession.

The only thing this budget does for jobs is to guarantee that jobs in the public service would be eliminated and that the money taken out of the pockets of those on low and middle incomes will depress demand and eliminate jobs in the private sector. The only way to create sustainable jobs is for the State to invest in publicly-owned modern industry, but the Government is ideologically opposed to that. Over-dependence on foreign direct investment has placed our people at the mercy of others. This budget has a raft of broken promises. One was made by the Labour Party at every door during the last general election campaign when they knocked and said they would not touch child benefit. They reversed that last year with savage cuts on child benefit. From 1 January 2014 there will be more child benefit cuts. Fourth and subsequent children will lose €10 per month.

I specifically refer to the savage attack on the sick and elderly, the cuts to medical card holders. There are €666 million of cuts in the health budget. Some €149 million of those are cuts to medical card holders. This is social vandalism. It is shameful. It is an attack on the ill and the elderly, the most vulnerable in our society, and the Labour Party should be ashamed of itself. Its founder, James Connolly, is turning in his grave, as are Brendan Corish and Frank Closkey, because they would not have countenanced such attacks on ill and elderly people. When will this Government stop attacking and terrorising sick and elderly people? It has targeted them this year with the withdrawal of their medical cards.

It is not possible to overstate the fact that sick and elderly people are traumatised and in daily fear of losing their medical cards. This budget will make matters worse. The postman or postwoman, who was always a welcome sight for elderly people, will become a source of anxiety as people wonder if he or she is bringing the white letter notifying them that their medical card is under review and will be withdrawn. Sick and elderly people are being targeted in this budget to pay banks and bondholders and protect the very wealthy in this society. Elderly and sick people were always able to get discretionary medical cards, particularly when they needed ongoing medical treatment. Even before these cuts come in, people with such serious illnesses as cancer and motor neuron disease and children with very difficult illnesses do not qualify for medical cards or are having them withdrawn. This must stop. This serious attack on sick and elderly people is unworthy of this Government and the Labour Party. I call on all civil society organisations to organise to force this Government to reverse this despicable decision and policy to target sick and elderly people.

I was hoping to be able to address my budget day comments to the Ministers, Deputies Howlin and Noonan but, sadly, half way through Fianna Fáil's response they left. I consoled myself that at least I would be able to address the Taoiseach, but then he left. So I thought at least I will be able to address the Tánaiste, but during Sinn Féin's spokesman's speech he left. I mean no disrespect to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn.

I do not take it personally. There is something called collective responsibility. I will report Deputy Donnelly's remarks.

Deputy Quinn is leaving for Brussels.

It is an outrage that on budget day neither Deputy Noonan nor Deputy Howlin would see fit to wait in Dáil Éireann to hear what Members have to say. I am sure both Ministers are dying to get on the six o'clock news but we could have started before 2.30 p.m. today if that were the case.

Then it would have been the one o'clock news.

I acknowledge a small number of measures in this budget. The retention of the 9% VAT for the hospitality sector for one year is to be welcomed. The levy on the banking sector is something we could all support. There are two real questions for us - is this budget fair and will it kick start the social and economic recovery so badly needed in this country?

In his budget document Deputy Howlin provided a lovely graph from the ESRI which shows that according to the income deciles the budget changes mean the more one has the more is being taken from one, unless one is in the bottom decile, in which case a huge amount is taken from one. It turns out that this information includes 2008 to 2013. In the same paper the ESRI has another graph which does the same analysis, used on budget day by Deputy Howlin just for the Fine Gael and Labour budgets. That graph does not appear in Deputy Howlin's document, but if it did it would show that the last two budgets directly have taken more from those who have less per income decile.

It is incredible. The less one has the more one is asked to give. Is that the case in this budget? We do not know because, despite repeated requests for a quality analysis in order that we can answer that question, we have not received that analysis. However, when it is issued, we will see yet again that this budget takes from those who have least to give and benefits those who are well off.

Why do I believe this? Let us look, for example, at what young people in their late teens or early twenties see when they look at this budget. They see a further cut in State funding for the universities and colleges which between 2008 and 2015 will see a 50% cut in State funding per student. They see a reduction in the level of social protection. I do not know why this applies to young people under 25 years or why the same logic does not apply in education and training when one reaches 26.

Let us look at what parents of young children see when they look at this budget. They see the second cut in one year in maternity benefit and see no support to meet the cost of the most expensive child care on the planet.

If those in the negative equity generation look at this budget, they see an end to mortgage interest relief, an end to rent supplement and see a full year of property tax coming their way, regardless of whether they own the house. If they are in negative equity to the tune of €100,000, they will still be charged property tax on the market value of the house.

What else do people see when they look at this budget? They see an increase in pension charges and if they have been fortunate enough to save some money, they see additional charges. There is no additional support for mortgage holders who are struggling to restructure their mortgages with the banks. A pensioner looking at this budget sees a cut in the number of medical cards, a cut in household benefits and a cut in invalidity pension.

A local employer looking at this budget sees the cost of employment rising through having to pay more in sick pay. We see total tax relief for entrepreneurial activity at €7 million, but we see nothing at all about lowering the cost of employment and, for example, about making local authority rates more affordable.

What do people aged between 50 and 65 years who have €100,000 or a few hundred thousand in the bank see if they look at this budget? They see a range of tax reliefs for their investments. They see a tax rebate for getting work done on their houses. This budget introduces a tax relief for having a nice extension built onto one's house, but it reduces tax relief for those who cannot afford to pay their mortgage.

This budget could and should have been a catalyst to kick-start social and economic recovery. It could have exceeded the deficit and reinvested in families, education, entrepreneurship and job creation, but it has failed sadly in this regard. It continues to grind down our youth, the negative equity generation, families and, for some reason, women who have just had children. The story of this budget is not what it is, but what it could have been.

When I first came into this Chamber, I welcomed the coalition of cuts. Unfortunately for the people, whether working men or women, young people, a person who has lost a job or a young person hoping to get a job in the future, this budget does nothing to address the key problems facing them. The economy remains stagnant; we still face a mortgage crisis and the jobs crisis has not got away. There is nothing for young people, except potential emigration. Is it part of the Minister for Finance's foresight to reduce tax on air travel in April 2014? That is just about the time many students will be about to do their leaving certificate examinations and think about the future. That reduction will make it easier for them to travel out of the country. It is sickening to think about what this budget could have meant and to look at what it is now.

This budget targets the sick, young adults, the elderly and pregnant women and protects the wealthy. This is the result of the three budgets of a Government with the Labour Party in power.

I agree that jobs have been created. Some 33,000 have been created and this figure has been bandied about as if it was a big hurrah for the economy. It is good to see jobs created, but some 12,100 of them are part-time jobs. This means that people do not have enough hours to earn a decent wage. There are 150,000 part-time workers who want more hours, an increase from the 4,000 in 2007. There are some 86,000 people on Mickey Mouse schemes, with no real jobs for them at the end of them. To June 2013, there was a fall in numbers at work in the key 25 to 34 age group and also in the 20 to 24 age group. This group is now being hit with a cut in their unemployment benefit. This is scandalous, particularly when there has been a drop in the level of employment among this group. The Government should be ashamed it is introducing a cut in the welfare provision for this group. It has shown no foresight in this budget in that regard.

The claim by the Minister for Finance that there is growth in the economy for the third successive year is a joke in bad taste that will leave a sour taste in people's mouths. After a disastrous economic collapse, we are bumping along at the bottom and continue to do so in an endless programme of austerity. What the Minister should have done in this budget was to launch a proper job creation programme. He has over €6 billion in the strategic investment fund that should have been allocated in the next two to three years in a programme aimed at improving the infrastructural deficit and job creation in the domestic economy in areas such as water services, broadband provision, green energy projects and early childhood education services. This would deliver real investment returns in the medium term, with immediate benefits in job creation, increased income tax and lower welfare costs.

We have heard nothing, however, but empty talk, seen cuts and the elimination of mortgage interest supplement for those desperately trying to hold onto their homes. This budget is yet another failed opportunity to address this problem. It provides for a figure of €30 million from the national lottery proceeds to recommence the State's housing building programme. Is the Minister serious or is he having a laugh? This will only build 200 to 300 houses, not even enough to provide for those who may be evicted in the next few months from their homes. This amount will not deal with the people concerned, nor with the 100,000 on housing waiting lists who are desperately trying to put a roof over their heads. It will not even provide for the people who have jobs and a few bob who want to take out a mortgage to buy a home. This proposal is a joke and putting it forward as recommencing the State's housebuilding programme - something in which the Labour Party would have been involved in the past - is a proposal for which the Minister should hang his head in shame.

This budget is an attack on pregnant women, with some €30 million being cut from maternity benefit payments. This follows the cut to maternity benefit made in last year's budget that took effect this year. It is scandalous also that prescription charges are being increased. This issue has been raised on numerous occasions recently. I put it to the Minister for Health that people who had gone to have their prescriptions filled had had them filled in two separate amounts. One person I mentioned had a prescription for 25 mg of lespace which had been dispensed in two separate doses of 20 mg and 5 mg and he had been charged €3 in prescription charges. Another constituent had been prescribed 4 mg of warfarin and it had been packaged in 1 mg and 3 mg does for which my constituent had been charged €3. Now the person concerned will be charged €6 and the cap has been put at a figure of €25. The people concerned will face another cut in their pension owing to these increases.

The issue of people losing their entitlement to medical cards has been discussed in the Dáil on a number of occasions. A woman in my area who used to work in Blindcraft and was a productive member of the community is now on social welfare. She is blind and has other ailments. In the past two years she has been applying for a discretionary medical card. However, she was turned down and had to appeal twice. This year again she has been told she will not get one. Is this refusal part of the effort to save €113 million? People like her desperately need the discretionary medical card.

The issue of the removal of the telephone allowance for the elderly has been mentioned, as has the removal of the bereavement grant. Some €18 million is being cut from the PSO subvention for public transport services. Is the Minister consciously saying he will not support public transport services and that he will be cutting back in that area in the next period?

The Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, has stated he is here to represent the collective Cabinet. He should be ashamed.

The budget targets the young, the old and the sick. Once again, the Government is making the vulnerable pay with mean-spirited cuts and there is none more mean-spirited than the abolition of the bereavement grant. This will force bereaved families to go to a community welfare officer to receive assistance. Until today families could, as of right, apply for and receive the bereavement grant. They will now have to queue at community welfare clinics to apply, on the whim of a community welfare officer, for supplementary welfare benefit to allow them pay for the burial of their loved ones. This shows the depth to which the Government has sunk in targeting the vulnerable and weak in society.

The budget could have been different. It could have been a budget which told the people we were at the end of the austerity process. It could have told them they would have some respite and encouraged them to go out and start spending and participate again in society. However, the Government has chosen not to do this. The Department of Finance's figures show that a neutral budget, with no cuts in expenditure, would see the deficit reduced to 5.8% next year without doing anything. Instead the Government has decided to take another €2.5 billion out of the economy to reduce the deficit to 4.8%. We could have introduced extra taxation on those who could afford it to reduce the deficit to the troika target. I estimate it would require a sum of only €1.1 billion to achieve this target. Instead the Government has attacked the vulnerable, the elderly, the unemployed and the young. This is the choice it has made. It could have reduced tax relief on pensions to save hundreds of millions of euro. It could have introduced a third tax rate for those earning more than €100,000. It could have started the process of introducing a wealth tax which, according to the Department's figures, could raise more than €400 million, but it continues with the cuts in social welfare and to attack those on medical cards and the elderly.

The cut in jobseeker's payments for those under 25 years of age to €100 a week shows the spirit of the Government. There is a film called "No Country for Old Men". We are telling young people who are unemployed through no choice of their own, need support and should be encouraged that this is no country for young people. We are telling them that they are not valued in our society and to get on the boat, head away and emigrate. This is the only message we are sending to them.

The targeted cuts in the telephone allowance will affect vulnerable people who are dependent on household benefits, including elderly persons who live alone. The telephone allowance will be removed completely from them to save €44 million. This measure could have been avoided.

The prescription charge is being increased to €2.50 per item. Many people come to my office because they cannot afford the €19 a month charge. How will they be able to afford the €25 a month charge which the Government will impose on them?

Hidden in the Estimate figures for the Department of Social Protection is a reduction in rent supplement of €54 million next year. It will be made more difficult for people to access the supplement and individuals will be put at risk of homelessness. The attacks on them will continue. The Minister announced €30 million for housing as if this were something about which we should all sing and dance in the streets. As has been outlined, €30 million is a drop in the ocean when one has more than 100,000 families on housing lists throughout the country. This is at a time when there is €440 million in European Investment Bank finance which the voluntary housing associations are unable to draw down. This money is available to the country to provide housing for its citizens, but the voluntary housing associations cannot draw it down. The Government is doing nothing to change policy to make it available. The €30 million for housing will do nothing to alleviate the difficulties faced by so many in danger of homelessness. The Government is also removing mortgage interest benefit. From next year those who are struggling will not be able to obtain any respite.

The Government could have made different choices. It could have decided not to reduce expenditure in the budget and still achieve the troika targets. It could have decided to introduce a wealth tax and make these targets even more achievable, but it did not do so. It chose to attack the young, the old and the sick and this is to its shame.

This budget was depressingly predictable. The Government has clearly chosen as its targets the young, the old, the sick, particularly the chronically sick, and the unemployed. At the same time it has chosen to protect the very wealthy and the profits of enormously profitable corporations. I am sure Fine Gael is very pleased because its stated agenda is being vindicated, that is, to look after the well-off in society and defend the champions of the free market and big business in big corporations. At every hand's turn, they are protected. Of course, one would expect this from Fine Gael, but it must be particularly happy that it has the Labour Party to do the dirty work in the form of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, delivering the pain to the old, the young, the chronically sick and the unemployed. I must tell the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, that this is pathetic on the part of the Labour Party.

The amount of the cuts in the health budget of €660 million alone makes a mockery of any attempt by the Government in the run-up to the budget to state it would improve access to free GP care. In reality, what it has done is attack eligibility to access health care for some of the sickest people in the country, namely, the old and the chronically sick. Frankly, I am sick of it. Day in, day out and week in, week out, very sick people come to my clinic to tell me how they are being denied medical cards. We must plead and beg with the Minister and the Department to give them what they are entitled to. People who are very sick and in pain and on multiple medications have been hit again and again in a series of measures in the budget. It is nothing short of despicable to leave people in pain in this way.

The Government's big plan in health involves delisting drugs, increasing prescription charges, reducing income thresholds for medical cards and what it laughingly calls "probity" - trying to find ways not to give people medical cards. It promised free GP care for everybody, but, of course, we know this will never be delivered. Let us not forget the downgrading of the invalidity pension for 65 year olds. The Government knew 65 year olds were in trouble because of the cut in the State transition payment, but instead of rectifying this unfairness, it has downgraded the invalidity pension for this bracket of individuals who have worked all their lives and reached the age of 65 years. The Government has knocked them down.

The cutting of the bereavement grant is nasty beyond belief. It is bad enough that the Government attacks the old and the sick while they are alive, but to attack people in death really is appalling. This will hit the least well-off and well the Minister knows it.

The abolition of the telephone allowance will probably go down in history as a notorious attack. The one time Minister Ernest Blythe became notorious for decades because he took one shilling off the old age pension. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, will go down in the annals as the Minister who left old people frightened, alone and isolated in their own homes when they needed company and support the most.

The attacks on young people are utterly despicable. Cutting jobseeker's allowance for those aged between 22 and 25 years when there are no jobs available for them is a straightforward invitation to leave the country.

That is what they are doing. The facts are clear and the Government cannot deny them. The CSO tells us that 40,000 people are leaving a year, not all young people but mostly young people. The intelligence, the education and the energy that could help this country recover is being pointed towards the door. That is what this cut is doing to them. It also makes a mockery of the Government's claim that it is defending core payments. This is a core payment, or are young people not entitled to core payments? The Government is slicing and chipping away at core payments. It is the slippery slope to attacking the social welfare state, again, something Fine Gael has long been committed to, but for the Labour Party to do it is nothing short of disgusting.

Other cuts that will hurt young people include the €35 million from third level education and registration in FÁS projects, VTOS and Youthreach, again hitting the least well off. Not mentioned today, of course, is a further €8 million in cuts to the budget of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, where there was a €16 million cut last year. This will precisely hurt the outreach, community and youth projects in the most disadvantaged areas of Dublin, other urban centres and other parts of the country. People have already been out protesting, saying that the futures of the most vulnerable young people in the poorest of areas are being put in danger by last year's cuts, and now the Government is going to do it to them again.

There is also the cut to the mortgage interest supplement. It is bad enough to lose a job but, now, when a person loses a job, he or she will be threatened with the loss of his or her home, compounding one misery on top of another. Then, as a token, the Government tells us it is going to build 500 council houses and spend €30 million. Five hundred council houses against a background of 110,000 families on the housing list will not even cover the new applicants who go on the list this year. In other words, the housing crisis will be worse next year anyway. What is the Government going to do to reverse that?

A serious housing programme and a serious stimulus programme would spend €3 billion, as we proposed. By simply multiplying the Government's figures, a sum of €3 billion would build 50,000 council houses. That would pay for itself over a five- or ten-year period because we would save €500 million a year in rent supplement and generate an extra €300 million or €400 million in extra rental revenue to the State. I do not understand why the Government will not do that but, of course, there is an answer in the speech of the Minister, Deputy Noonan. It is that the Government's answer to stimulating the economy is to give more tax breaks to the speculators and developers who are still standing through the new real estate investment trusts, through breaks in capital gains tax and through other tax incentives for the very same people who ruined the housing market, ruined the economy and inflicted such suffering on ordinary people. I understand why Fine Gael would do it, but why would the Labour Party do it? Can we not make the big corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share and protect the vulnerable people who voted for the Minister, Deputy Quinn?

I am not that disappointed that neither of the appropriate Ministers is here, because they never listen to us anyway. Fortunately, there will be an audience watching outside the House who are far more important than them, and that is who the message is for.

I have to give the Government credit: it has pulled off a master-stroke in this budget which will lead to a reduction in unemployment numbers. It definitely will. It is brilliant, a really smart thing to do. The Government will reduce unemployment numbers, but what will the consequences be? The number it will reduce will be that of people in the 22- to 25-year age bracket, and it will reduce their number by running them out of the country. That has always been the policy. It was the policy for my family in the 1980s and it is the same policy for the people of this generation.

The Government claims that no core payments have been cut. I am sorry but, the last time I looked, people in that age bracket were actually human beings, so how the Government can say their payments were not cut I do not know. Maybe the Government's logic is to pull a lever and to encourage them to go back to work or into a training place by cutting back on their money. We have been told by the Government that its target is to increase employment by 1.5% next year, which is in the region of 30,000 people. That is its definition of success, although I would not deem it a success. However, if the Government is successful, that will still leave well over 400,000 people unemployed. Despite the lever the Government has pulled, where does it expect these people to go? It will not be able to get them a job. Many of these people will already have degrees and will have gone through training. What is the Government going to put them on - a communications course, even though they already have a degree in English? They will have only one route to go, and that is to leave the country. It is no coincidence, because it is exactly bloody well what the Government wants them to do, because that is its solution. Next year, the Government will say: "Look, the unemployment figures are down". If there were a tsunami in Galway tomorrow and the whole population were wiped out, within two weeks the Government would announce with a straight face that it had reduced unemployment in the western region. That is what it is doing with the people who have to leave this country.

The reason I could not give a damn about the Ministers being here or not is that this message is for the young people whom the Government has shafted. However, while there might not be many jobs, there are jobs coming up next May. I would suggest that one of the reasons the Government has made cuts affecting these people is that they are less likely to vote. Not only will I be calling on them to vote next May, I will be calling on them to apply for all of these jobs that are coming up, because it is their last chance before the Government runs them out of the country. There are 18 of these jobs in community development, which pay about €30,000 a year, coming up in Carlow, 18 in Cavan, 28 in Clare, 55 in Cork county, 37 in Donegal, 63 in Dublin, 40 in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, 40 in Fingal, 18 in Galway city and 39 in Galway county. Before I go on, by the way, if they start off on €30,000, they could end up being paid what the Taoiseach is paid, which is about €200,000 a year. There are 33 jobs available for these people in Kerry, 40 in Kildare, 24 in Kilkenny, 19 in Laois, 18 in Leitrim, 40 in Limerick, 18 in Longford, 29 in Louth, 30 in Mayo, 40 in Meath, 18 in Monaghan, 19 in Offaly, 18 in my own county of Roscommon - and, by God, we will be making sure they apply for those jobs - 18 in Sligo, 40 in south Dublin, 40 in Tipperary, 32 in Waterford, 20 in Westmeath, 34 in Wexford and 32 in Wicklow. There are 918 new jobs in total on the way for all of those people to apply for. That is what they have got to do because there is no point in waiting for the Government to do it. Not only does the Government not want to listen to alternatives, even if we provide them; the Ministers are not even here in the first place. That is what people have to do. For a century people have sat back and waited for the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to do it. Guess what? It has not happened; it is never going to happen. The only way things will change in this country is if people go out there and take those jobs off the Government next May, because it has shafted them.

The good news for the Minister, Deputy Quinn, is that Labour Youth has already put out a press release condemning the Government's shafting of the young people of this country. Hopefully, they will leave Labour Youth in their droves and join with the people I am calling on to take these jobs next year, and cut the spokes of the political bicycle. Come the next general election, they will be there to lead the charge and to blow very strong winds of change, if they are still here, and take these parties out of government.

The Minister, Deputy Quinn, is not a socialist. As Deputy Boyd Barrett put it so well, no one is surprised at what Fine Gael has done. They are Blueshirts; they are fascist to the core. The Labour Party is meant to be different. It was meant to be socialist - in other words, to take care of the vulnerable. What has it done with the vulnerable? It has now put some people into a situation in which they will have to be buried in a paper bag, because the Government will not provide the money for them.

That is not socialism.

If the Minister is interested in creating jobs - he appears to think nobody has answers - why not do something about the cost of living in this country and the fact that the Competition Authority is a joke and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, will not do anything about it for obvious reasons? Why not do something about the fact that local authority rates are at such a high level one would have to be daft to set up a business, or about upward only rent reviews? No, as usual in this country, the Government's policy is to get rid of the unemployed by not solving the problem and dumping them out of the country. Then it tells us it did not cut core social welfare rates. To me, the people concerned are human beings, but to the Government they are not. Somebody came up with a focus group and it was decided to shaft them and that the group with five year olds and under who will get medical cards might come to the Government's side. It is about more than focus groups; it is about people. Sadly, however, we know what the Government thinks of them - get them out of the country as they are a bloody nuisance.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, who is not in the Chamber, as many of my colleagues have noted, told us earlier that the Fianna Fáil Government had left us beholden, like the Famine victims of old, to seek relief outside the country. Boy, did we have to seek assistance from outside it. A bailout implies that one is getting something for nothing, but one gets nothing for nothing. If there is to be hope for the future, we will have to deal with the level of debt and servicing that debt. Next year the national debt alone will account for 120% of GDP, at €204 billion. The estimated cost of servicing that debt is approximately €8.4 billion annually. Instead of paying to service that huge number with borrowed money, we are paying to service it from taxation taken from Irish citizens. One way or the other we are paying; let us not think, therefore, that we are getting something for nothing. A sum of €14 out of every €100 collected in taxation will go to service the debt, not just next year but for decades. Where is the game changer promised in June 2012 when we were given to expect that much of our banking debt would be dealt with retrospectively? If we are to hope for the future, we must acknowledge to ourselves and others, particularly our so-called partners, that the level of government debt is the elephant in the room. If it is not dealt with, there is no real and sustainable hope for the future.

The mood music from the European Union is not good. The German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, said today it was unlikely the ESM would be used to directly retroactively recapitalise our banks. He said, "Ireland did what Ireland had to do ... now everything is fine." From where is he getting that message? It is not fine. It is not fine that those on low and middle incomes are being crippled with additional taxation, be it direct or indirect taxation, and that taxation is soaking up huge portions of the incomes of those on fixed incomes such as pensioners or those living on disability payments and so forth. It is not fine that we are so limited in what we can do in terms of the amount of money we can direct to creating jobs, which is the key to sustaining a reasonable level of public services and creating more jobs in the future. If we can deal with this issue, there will be real hope for the future.

It is impossible to talk about this budget without talking about its central theme, the level of government debt that must be serviced. Of course, that is in addition to personal and business debt and, furthermore, the problems with public service pension funds and so forth. There is a really serious problem.

I wish to highlight the issue of medical cards since it is one we encounter week after week. What is the strategy for keeping citizens well? It is impossible to fathom how somebody who has a chronic illness can be disallowed a medical card because he or she is marginally over the income threshold or even quite a bit over it, but it is absorbing all of his or her income, yet at the same time the Government can move in another direction and give children under five years of age free GP care, welcome as that is. Please outline the medical strategy in all of this because it must make sense. It cannot be one at the expense of the other.

The reduction in the social welfare payment for 24 year olds to €100 makes a presumption - it is a middle class presumption - that they all live at home and can get something from their parents. No provision is made for those who have come out of care or must leave home. They, too, must exist on this €100. There are also those whose families are very hard pressed. It is as if unemployment is something that is self-inflicted by the young. The presumption is that the payment is like pocket money. The Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT, conducted a very useful experiment on what it cost to maintain a young person for one week and the figure is way above the €100 provided for in the budget today.

We are told there will be extra investment to maintain local roads. It is all smoke and mirrors or a three-card trick because were there not increases in motor tax earlier this year? The people have paid for these changes themselves and now they are being announced. The same is happening in the case of the huge housing crisis. There are 100,000 families on housing waiting lists. We must build houses and it is welcome that they will be built, but the State is paying a huge sum, €403 million last year, in rent assistance. Often that is given to people at way below the market rents and they must top it up from their social welfare payments. It makes sense, therefore, to build again in some locations. Not only will it provide housing, but it will also provide much needed jobs for people who have the skills to build them. The Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, said he was allocating €30 million from the lottery licence proceeds to recommence the State's house building scheme. However, the table on page 149 of the booklet provided by him shows that the capital allocation for housing in 2013 was €265 million, but that will reduce to €223 million in 2014. Is he taking it from one side and placing it in another?

The cuts to the household benefits package will come at a cost, including the isolation of and risk to elderly people. The cut to maternity benefit for the second year is aimed at a targeted group. While it is positive that class sizes will not be increased, it will be a sign of hope when we are reducing class sizes and restoring some of the supports that should be available in the classroom. Those who are sick and have discretionary medical cards are very much a target. The abolition of the mortgage interest supplement is one of the meanest cuts of all.

Are we returning to a situation where some people will end up in paupers' graves? To be honest, I do not see how some very poor people will be able to bury their dead when there is not even a minuscule grant available to meet only a tiny fraction of the cost. It is a terribly mean cut which will cause all sorts of problems in the future.

Sitting suspended at 6.40 p.m. and resumed at 7.10 p.m.