Finance (No. 2) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed)

I am delighted to speak on the Bill. I congratulate and thank the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and most importantly, the staff in the Department of Finance. A few months ago we reached a deal on the promissory note. I again wish to put on record the work done by those who work in the Department of Finance to restore the public finances. I commend their vocation to service. The work they have done behind the scenes has been second to none.

There has been much talk about austerity. It is a word that is often abused. In effect, it is about living within one’s means. It was not the case that everyone did not live within their means but we are paying the price now. We must achieve a balance. The Government is a coalition of the Labour Party and Fine Gael. It is not the Fianna Fáil Government that effectively held power and sway. I remember coming to this House for ten years from the Seanad when Charlie McCreevy was effectively carried shoulder high from the Chamber. At times we had a sing-song in the smoking area of the Members bar where it was a case of whatever you are having yourself and we will do what we have always done, namely, deliver, not worry about the consequences. As a country, Government and individuals we are paying the price now.

I welcome the scheme of tax relief for home renovation work. The relief will be granted at a rate of 13.5% on qualifying expenditure up to a maximum of €30,000, excluding VAT. The minimum expenditure must be €5,000 excluding VAT. The scheme is most welcome. It will kick start the economy for registered builders and contractors. It is particularly welcome in my area where we do not have many large industries. I urge the Minister to extend the provision to landscape gardeners. The Department of Finance has confined the scheme to the interior of the house. The black economy is active in the gardening area and registered landscape gardeners find it difficult to compete. I ask the Department to look favourably at such an extension. What we are trying to do is kick start the local economy and get people back to work.

This Bill will implement the seventh austerity budget the Irish have endured since the economic collapse. The Government has said it will be the last such budget but the reality is that the Government is wedded to the principle of austerity. It takes a view of the poor, those on low wages, the unemployed and young people that, in its mind, justified and necessitated the use of austerity measures.

While this is the seventh austerity budget, it is very definitely our second austerity Government. Fine Gael does not believe in adequately funded public services but in undermining them. It does not believe in the public good but in private profit. The Labour Party believes whatever it is told it has to believe and, with honourable exceptions, spouts the arguments of elitist right-wing neoliberalism with gusto, to a level not even heard among most Fine Gael Deputies. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton is a fine example of this. Nowhere can a greater defender of attacks on the poor be found. The Minister for Social Protection is a disgrace to the principles on which the Labour Party was founded. In this budget, she will oversee the cutting of social welfare rates for those under 25 years. Anyone who cannot find work and who is under 25 will be expected to live on the paltry sum of €100 per week. This measure, which is an extension of a previous cut, will see people fall into very bad circumstances. The previous cuts resulted in some young people, especially those coming out of care, becoming homeless and having to resort to emergency accommodation.

The Minister claims core pay has not been cut. This will not be much comfort to those who will become homeless due to yet another cut to the tiny sum on which they live. The Minister for Social Protection insults us and the intelligence of the public when she responds to this reality by claiming we have no faith in young people and that she is investing in them. It is sickening to have to listen to such utter rubbish. It is sneering nonsense.

Young people are being kicked when they are down and given one option, namely, to leave the country. Many young people have chosen to leave, helping Fine Gael and the Labour Party claim they are tackling unemployment. Many more will go in the coming months due to this budget. The Government is literally forcing our children out the door and calling them layabouts, thereby adding insult to injury.

Another cut made by this Government and overseen by the Minister for Social Protection is the cut to rent supplement for couples. This is on top of a previous cut to rent supplement, which also contributed to making some people homeless following its implementation. The Minister knows this because groups such as Focus Ireland told her so. They compiled reports on the effect of this policy, which the Minister, Deputy Burton, dishonestly claimed would help to lower rents.

These cuts to very vulnerable people, who literally have nothing to get back in terms of discretionary income, are totally unjustifiable and damaging to overall society. They come in the context of 112,000 people on social housing waiting lists, nearly 100,000 people on rent supplement and 30,000 people or so in the rental accommodation scheme. Rent has increased year on year and 5,000 people are homeless.

Never has the housing need been so high in this State or so severe, yet this budget targets those very people who are struggling most to obtain adequate housing. I have in the past made the clear point that this budget will make people homeless. Given this assault to people with a housing need, one would hope the housing budget would receive some kind of boost to offset the potential damage. The Government was certainly intent on making it look like that. It claimed it would invest €30 million in providing 500 homes. Five hundred is a drop in the ocean. One might think every little helps but the problem is evident when one examines the figures. Local authority housing funding is being cut by €15 million. Funding for voluntary and co-operative housing is being cut by the same amount. This supposed boost is just the repurposing of existing funds in a headline-friendly package. It really sums up the Government. All it is willing to give working-class people is spin, and it really believes it is very good at it. However, one cannot eat spin or build houses with it. All the fraudulent column inches claiming something is being done will not change that.

Housing has been cut by 10%, having been cut year on year since 2008 by a total of €1 billion. Somehow, Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, cannot see that spending €30 million is not a boost when there is a cut of €60 million. She claimed that people with disabilities would comprise a specific focus in the provision of new housing through the budget. This does not stack up with the numbers. Adaptation grants were cut by 40% last year. Dublin City Council had to close its scheme for the year as the money had run out by the summer. The new grant money included in this budget is money to help people to extend their houses. I do not doubt that, for some, having bought a small home during the boom that is now unsuitable and unsellable, a new extension is essential to their comfort. However, it is scandalous that it is possible for someone to get a grant to subsidise the construction industry to build him or her a pool room while elderly and disabled people go without basic upgrades to their homes to make them accessible.

Other cuts in the budget, representing a policy of continuing austerity, include the abolition of the bereavement grant, which helped poor people, especially the old, to afford the cost of a funeral. Increased prescription charges on top of the previous charges are also a feature. Medical cards have been cut. Some tens of thousands of people will be affected as a result of the cuts to medical cards under the budget.

There have been cuts affecting local drugs task forces. I have been a member of the Finglas–Cabra drugs task force for more than 12 years. Year on year, there have been cuts. The cuts affecting many of the drugs task forces have been across the board. The Finglas–Cabra drugs task force is the least subsidised in the country. It gets the least money, yet there will be an across-the-board cut rather than one that accounts for the specific needs of each task force. The Finglas–Cabra drugs task force is one of the most active in the country.

There have been cuts to maternity benefit. The cut to the telephone allowance for the elderly, which helps pay for an alarm system, is putting the lives of the elderly at risk. The savings in this regard are so minuscule that it does not make sense to cut the allowance, thereby putting people at risk, particularly those in vulnerable or rural areas and isolated locations where people do not have family present or where people do not come to visit.

This is a budget that attacks the poor, vulnerable and working-class people as a whole. It is a budget by a party that holds this approach as a matter of principle, and that party is supported by another that does not know what principles are about.

There was, is and will be an alternative, that is, a fair and equal approach to how a society and economy should be run. Sinn Féin gave the Government the opportunity to embark on that path again this year and it was rejected. We will continue to put forward the path to that alternative.

As we are meeting today, representatives of the troika are packing their bags. Indeed, they may well be at the airport by now, on their way back to their homes or offices. It is clear that there is a difference between what the troika is saying and what the Government is saying about what might happen after the IMF programme comes to an end in December. In all of the discussions, with differences of opinion and differing statements, there is only one key question. Will the troika's departure mean that the Members of this Parliament can, at long last, begin to build an economy that works for all of the Irish people rather than forcing Irish people to create an economy for Irish and European vested interests? The answer is that the troika's exit will not make a whit of difference - not a whit.

Despite the official line from the Government about the State regaining its sovereignty, it is very evident that the troika will still insist on overseeing the policies to be pursued by this Government and possibly by its successors, depending on what happens nationally and internationally over the next several years. We are debating the measures in the Finance Bill today because of that very background and context. The entire austerity programme, all that has flowed from it and all the harm it has done is a consequence of the bailout programme, necessitated by the disastrous decision to bail out failed banks. The question now, which should be debated in this House and not decided in some back room in Brussels or by the German Government, is whether this State should enter into a new credit agreement and what policy and fiscal conditions would attach to any such agreement.

It is apparent from the signals emanating from the troika that it is keen to retain its oversight of the State's financial and economic policies. For instance, there are reports in the media today regarding the troika's briefing on our health services and its recommendations for further cuts. Some of what the troika argued, for example, about the high price of GP visits and of generic medicines is valid and has already been highlighted by Deputies in this House, including members of my own party. However, we have seen that the cuts imposed as part of the austerity programme have had a serious impact on the level and quality of patient care. That should make us very cautious indeed about the continuing influence of the troika over the coming years.

It is vital that we regain our financial sovereignty and that we use that sovereignty to pursue positive policies that will stimulate growth, rather than what we have seen here over the past number of years. Sinn Féin has set out its alternatives and we have outlined how we intend to pay for them. We would abolish the property tax, which is an added imposition on already-struggling households, but we would compensate for that by taxing those who can afford to pay more. Among such measures would be a third rate of tax of 48% on income earned in excess of €100,000. We would reintroduce the non-principal private residence charge and set it at €400, as well as increasing DIRT by 3% to 36%.

I referred earlier to the troika's comments on further cuts in the health service. We agree that savings can and should be made, but not through further cuts to services. Such savings could be made on branded medicines as well as by altering prescribing practices. It is shameful how much more we pay here in comparison with our European neighbours for medication. It is absolutely shameful and we should not allow it to continue. Sinn Féin would charge the full cost of private care in public hospitals and implement measures to improve productivity. Indeed, there is much scope to improve productivity. We would also reduce consultants' pay by 15% on income between €150,000 and €200,000 and by 30% on income of over €200,000 per annum. We would introduce similar reductions for those in the public sector on higher rates of pay and pensions. That would include a 15% reduction in public sector salaries between €100,000 and €150,000 and a 30% reduction in incomes over €150,000. Neither would we leave ourselves untouched. In regard to Oireachtas pay and allowances, we would reduce the Taoiseach's and Ministers' salaries and reduce the salaries of TDs and Senators to €75,000 and €60,000 respectively. When we say we feel people's pain, let us mean it. We believe that ideas such as those I have outlined would be a much fairer way of making savings in the public finances than continuing to target those least able to afford reductions in their income. The savings would also protect front-line public and voluntary services.

There is also a need for a genuine stimulus programme, and we have shown how such a programme would be financed. The Government claims to be in favour of such a programme but has done nothing to deliver on that claim. Indeed, the cumulative impact of the cuts across every sector has had the opposite effect by taking money out of the economy, with the inevitable impact that has had on employment and job creation. Even potentially positive aspects of the Government's own programme, such as the proposal to establish NewERA as a proactive public entity involved in the energy sector, appear to have been put on the shelf. The reason is that the entire thrust of the IMF programme and, indeed, the dominant ideology of this Government - including, increasingly, of its Labour Party Ministers - is opposition to public investment. Sinn Féin, on the other hand, along with many key sectoral groups such as the ICTU, have outlined the need for substantial public investment which would pay massive dividends in terms of job creation and reviving the economy. Particular focus is needed on the sectors in which we already have or could establish an advantage. Agriculture and food is clearly one such sector and so is renewable energy. There has been much talk of the potential here in wind and wave energy. Not only have we the capacity to become self-sufficient in electricity, we could also become exporters of electricity from renewable sources such as wind. We could, but unfortunately this Government seems devoid of any real strategy to ensure this comes to fruition. There is much talk about renewable energy, but it appears the State is content to allow the sector to proceed haphazardly instead of taking the lead in both policy and investment. In the absence of a political strategy, private companies will continue to cherry-pick the projects and ride roughshod over people's rights, and will perpetuate the enrichment of investors while paying buttons to this State and its citizens.

I call on Deputy James Bannon, who is sharing time with Deputies John Paul Phelan, Anne Ferris and Brendan Ryan.

I welcome the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2013 and the fact that it is being dealt with in the same year as the budget statement. This is a pro-business and pro-jobs Bill in which at least 25 measures are being introduced. For example, the retention of the 9% rate of VAT for the tourism and hospitality sectors will support the increased number of jobs to be created in a quickly expanding sector.

The start your own business incentive scheme will provide for an exemption from income tax up to a maximum of €40,000 per annum for two years for individuals who set up a qualifying unincorporated business, having been unemployed for at least 15 months prior to its establishment. This is a great employment activation measure. However, we must do a better job of promoting the schemes that are available to help businesses.

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, was in Longford on Tuesday night, at my invitation, meeting local business leaders. Businesses from all over the midlands were represented. It was a successful meeting at which the general consensus was the need to encourage companies to regionally diversify investment across Ireland, particularly in the midlands. Hopefully, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, represented at this meeting, will breathe new life into the midlands. We need to sell the employment and business advantages of the midlands abroad. Inward investment is essential and, more than ever, the lifeblood of rural areas such as counties Longford and Westmeath. The midlands has the right people with the right skills and a fine third level educational facility in Athlone Institute of Technology.

Infrastructural provision is an essential part of any development. The unfortunate curtailment of road projects such as the N4 and N55 improvement schemes has an adverse impact on economic recovery. We cannot congratulate ourselves on being to the forefront of cloud computing technology if businesses and households cannot get basic broadband services, as has happened in counties Longford and Westmeath. If foreign investors do not find the basics here, they will go elsewhere. We need more multinationals to invest and locate in the midlands, the best place to do business. Those representing Abbott Pharmaceuticals, which is based in the home town of the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, have told me they are fond of the midlands as they consider it one of the best environments in which to work.

I welcome the increase in the farmers' flat rate addition from 4.8% to 5% with effect from 1 January 2014. The flat rate scheme compensates unregistered farmers for VAT incurred on their farming inputs. The flat rate addition is reviewed annually in accordance with the EU VAT directive. The increase to 5% in 2014 continues to achieve full compensation for farmers.

I have one major concern with regard to the change to the eligibility thresholds for medical cards for those over 70. In last year’s budget, the gross income threshold for an over-70s medical card was lowered from €700 a week to €600 for a single person and from €1,400 a week to €1,200 for a couple. For some reason, however, in this budget the threshold is €500 for a single person and €900 for a couple. That is simply unfair to elderly couples, and I question the measure's constitutionality.

I very much welcome the abolition of the air travel tax and the fact that we are already seeing the benefit in jobs and new routes into the country.

Before the Government took office, 250,000 people had lost their jobs in the previous three years and our country’s sovereignty had been sold out by the previous Administration. Up to 36,000 jobs have been created this year alone. By the end of the year, we hope our economic and political sovereignty will, after many years of hardship, finally be restored.

Regulation is a significant burden on small businesses. We need to make it easier for small businesses to be set up. Will the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, take note of this?

The Deputy’s time is up.

I know my time is running out and that Deputy John Paul Phelan from the fine constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny wants to get in.

Yes; the Deputy is eating into his time now.

This is a pro-jobs and pro-economic-growth Bill. I commend the Minister on putting it together.

The last few times I have spoken in the Dáil, I have had the unfortunate distinction of being after Deputy Bannon, who is even more verbose than I am.

I commend the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2013 to the House. While I like Deputy Colreavy, I am not sure what types of bicycle they have in Leitrim. In Kilkenny, one can only pedal a bicycle one way, not backwards, because of the mechanics of it.

One can still ride it in the wrong direction, though.

This budget, while containing many difficult measures, is taking the country one step further in the right direction. Deputy Colreavy referred to the troika leaving the country and a few minutes ago the European Central Bank announced a cut to its lowest interest rate ever, 0.25%. There are some positive signs of growth. While I agree there are not enough signs, I found it a bit churlish of Deputy Ellis to concentrate on the Social Welfare Bill and emigration without acknowledging that Central Statistics Office figures show that 35,000 additional people are working in Ireland over the past 12 months. While I would like to see employment rates grow more quickly, it is the first time they have grown in the past five years, as well as the first time unemployment has dropped below 400,000. This is a step in the right direction.

I forgot that Sinn Féin’s budget proposals spoke about reducing politicians’ wages, with a substantive cut for Deputies. That is a fair political point to make, but there was no cut for Senators. Maybe the result of the referendum changed Sinn Féin’s mind on the value of the Seanad. It is puzzling that Sinn Féin did not propose to cut Senators' current pay of €60,000. It is also ironic when one considers that Sinn Féin opposed the Haddington Road agreement, which saw a €5,500 cut to Deputies’ salaries.

I commend the Minister on the retention of the 9% VAT rate for the tourism sector, which was an issue of concern in Kilkenny, where tourism is a significant industry.

I have welcomed the job creation initiatives in the Bill; the home renovation scheme, the start-your-own business scheme, the extension of the Living City initiative to the restoration of old buildings in Dublin and the broadening of the eligibility terms for film making tax exemptions will all provide considerable job opportunities for people working in my constituency. I have spoken in great detail about each of these initiatives on another occasion and look forward to monitoring their effects as they become embedded in their respective marketplaces.

Today though I will speak specifically about the Magdalen laundry provision in the Bill. The legislation provides much-needed clarity on the tax status of survivors who were admitted to and worked without pay in 12 named institutions listed in the Bill. Victims in these institutions who are eligible for redress payments finally have confirmation that there will be no obligation under the law for them to pay taxes on their awards. With respect to the adults and children who suffered and continue to suffer, directly or indirectly, I remind the House of the names of the 12 institutions mentioned in the legislation. They are House of Mercy Training School, Wexford; Magdalen Home, Forster Street, Galway; Monastery of Our Lady of Charity, Sean McDermott Street, Dublin; St. Mary’s, Cork Road, Waterford; St. Mary’s, New Ross, County Wexford; St. Mary’s, Pennywell Road, Limerick; St. Mary’s, Sunday’s Well, Cork; St. Mary Magdalen’s, Donnybrook, Dublin 4; St. Mary’s Refuge, High Park, Grace Park Road, Drumcondra, Dublin 9; St. Mary’s Training Centre, Stanhope Street, Dublin 7; St. Patrick’s Refuge, Crofton Road, Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin; and St. Vincent’s, St Mary’s Road, Cork. It is welcome that the Government is continuing to honour its commitments to the victims of these institutions. There remains, however, a significant gap in governance and the legislation on this abuse and other redress schemes for which the State is rightly accepting part liability. As it stands, there is still no commitment to 50:50 payment of redress from these or other religious orders. They are not paying their fair share and if that is allowed to continue, the sad irony is that money paid to the victims will be paid by the innocent children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the victims, with other innocent citizens, through taxes and cuts to public services.

There are high value assets owned by church bodies in Ireland that enjoy charitable tax status and considerable annual State investment in the form of building grants and payments to cover day-to-day running costs. In many cases there is an accounting assumption in the books and accounts of such church-run, State-sponsored facilities that pension deficits for their staff will be funded by the State at some point in the future. There must be some mechanism available to the Government to claw back from religious organisations a fair contribution towards the redress bill, whether through taxation or other means. If there is no such mechanism, I respectfully suggest the Minister give strong consideration to this issue in the next budget.

The damage caused by the scandal of the Magdalen laundries and other church abuse stories is of a scale that matches Ireland’s modern day banking scandal. The financial cost to generations of Irish people of this and other abuse redress schemes, without fair contribution from the church, will certainly exceed €1.5 billion. This House has agreed that the banking scandal will be the subject of an inquiry. The church scandals also need separate public inquiries, with witnesses from the State and church organisations being called to give evidence. If there is an expectation that the people will suffer an unfair share of the cost of these redress schemes, the people are entitled to know why.

I welcome the retention of the 9% VAT rate for tourism related industries. This has been a successful initiative by the Government to stimulate this area of the economy and its extension for a further year is important as we work our way towards recovery. I have supported the campaign for its retention for at least another year and I am glad it is included in the Bill.

The home renovation scheme is also a welcome initiative and I hope it serves to stimulate the construction industry. Another legacy of Fianna Fáil’s economic collapse is the high number of highly skilled tradespeople who are now long-term unemployed, many of whom are my friends. The home renovation scheme which is already up and running will, I hope, go some way towards stimulating this sector of the economy and getting people back to work. The scheme is open only to people who are compliant with the local property tax scheme and will allow them to claim tax relief on home improvements to a maximum credit of €4,050.

One issue in the budget which caused many people to contact my office was the proposed replacement of the one parent family tax credit with a new single parent child carer credit. This proposal was a mistake and unfair and I was pleased to hear the Minister say on Tuesday that, after listening to the views of Deputies, he would bring forward an amendment to this section on Committee Stage. This amendment will allow the credit to be used by a non-primary carer in situations where the primary carer has no tax liability. I welcome this amendment and look forward to supporting it on Committee and Report Stages.

With the opportunity the passage of a finance Bill provides, I ask the Minister to consider an important matter in the context of amendments on Committee Stage. I would like him to re-examine the position of people, predominantly apartment dwellers, who bought homes during the boom years and pay hefty annual management fees. These homeowners are also subject to the local property tax. There are many in my constituency who pay Celtic tiger mortgages on properties in negative equity and are due to pay both the local property tax and their management fees. January, for people living in apartments or managed estates, is a month of extra financial hardship. The bill for management fees can range anywhere from €800 to over €1,000. At a time when almost everybody is tightening his or her belt after Christmas and planning annual household budgets, apartment dwellers and those in managed estates have the extra bill for management fees to cope with. I accept that there are complex issues surrounding management fees, including issues to do with non-compliance.

I am glad to have the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this debate. A number of underhand changes included in the budget will have a significant impact on people's incomes, for example, the increase in the DIRT tax, the reduction in the tax credit for medical insurance and the abolition of the single parent tax credit. I am glad to hear the Minister is contemplating introducing an amendment in that regard. People who save, either by putting money aside for their pension or on deposit in a bank, are being hit by punitive taxes. The €500 million jobs package is grossly exaggerated. Changes to the pension regime, the expiry of the reduced 4.5% rate of employer PRSI and changes to sick leave benefit will have an impact for all business in terms of cost of employment. Increases in excise duty will do much to negate the benefit of the retention of the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector.

I would like to focus on a number of elements of the Finance Bill and will begin with the issue of medical insurance tax relief. The reduction in tax relief for medical insurance is based on a flawed and misleading understanding of the market. The Government has said that this change will only affect "gold-plated" policies, but it will impact approximately 90% of all private health insurance products currently on the market. Customers will end up paying more for their health insurance and more people will be driven out of the private health insurance market, despite the Government's stated intention of creating a system of universal health insurance. The CEO of GloHealth stated that given the obvious benefits, the decision to cut health insurance tax relief is counter productive.

We have a struggling public health system that is becoming ever more overloaded and patients will wait longer for their treatment, with all the consequent distress and suffering. It does not need to be this way. By keeping health insurance affordable, the Government could support the use of additional capacity in private hospitals, while also protecting the HSE's revenue from private patients in public hospitals. Where is the fairness both Fine Gael and Labour always talk about? This measure will have an impact on 90% of people. People in my constituency will be affected, from the Cooley mountains to the Boyne River. This is unfair and wrong. It needs to be changed. In the Fine Gael five-point plan, Fine Gael promised it would "create a completely new, fairer, more efficient health system." We are still waiting for these changes. The Government has been in office nearly 1,000 days, 974 days to be precise, but these changes are non-existent.

The increase in DIRT tax is another example of short-term and short-sighted action on the part of the Minister. Section 18.4 of the Fine Gael manifesto referred to DIRT tax and stated that deposit interest retention tax would be increased from 25% to 30% to encourage higher levels of household consumption. The Government has increased the tax on deposit savings by a massive 14%, with an additional 4% PRSI also applying. This is a punitive tax on people who have prudently saved money from their after tax income. Any pensioner earning over €18,000, or €36,000 for a couple, is liable for DIRT at the full rate of 41%, even if they are only subject to income tax at 20%.

For low income families under 66, the threshold is even lower. The Department of Finance appears to believe engineering an environment of low returns on savings will prompt consumers to increase spending. However, this strategy severely penalises people who are putting money aside for expected future expenses, including children's education, medical costs and nursing home care. The increased DIRT rates take no account of people's income level. Low income earners who have put aside some savings pay the same rate of DIRT as millionaires. Why has the policy been changed in this area? DIRT penalises the prudent, the smart and sensible people who want to save to make a better life for themselves, their children and grandchildren.

Before I conclude, I would like to welcome the start your own business scheme. This is a progressive and positive move that offers some prospects of creating employment. However, there is a need to peel away the suffocating costs that stifle development. Take for example the issue of farm expansion. Food Harvest 2020 suggests the world needs more food. In the dairy sector alone the capital expenditure required to gear up production levels on individual farms is horrendously challenging for farmers. Capital write-off is over a period of seven years, but there is a strong case to be made for reducing that to a three year period or giving individual farmers the choice of three or seven years. The suckler cow scheme is the basis of our beef industry. While any encouragement to retain the number of suckler cows in the national herds is welcome, there is a need for an overall strategy to ensure we have the raw material for the beef industry in the future.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I did not get the opportunity to make many of the points I would like to have made in the debate on the budget as the debate was concluded before I got that opportunity. Therefore, today I intend to speak not just on the Bill but on the broader fiscal decisions the Government has made in the budget that feeds into the Bill.

The Department of Finance comes in for significant criticism regarding why we are where we are and the difficulties that have fed into the economy over many years. There is a political responsibility for that, but there is also an administrative responsibility and culpability. However, it beggars belief that we now have a situation where the Minister and Department of Finance are now systematically undermining the Minister for Health. The poor Minister for Health was at an Oireachtas committee meeting a couple of weeks ago, after the budget, at which I asked him a simple question about private health insurance. I asked him whether he was aware a cap had been put on the relief available for it. He said the first he heard of it was when the Minister apprised him of the tax implications of the budget.

I have no wish to pick a fight with any Minister here, but one of the central tenets of the Government's health policy is universal health insurance. This means we need to have a vigorous, vibrant health insurance market if we want to attract as many people as possible to take out private health insurance. This is the basic principle of universal health insurance. We can argue over implementation of universal health insurance or whether it is the right way to go, but the central tenet remains the same. We are waiting for the White Paper on universal health insurance, but the Minister for Finance has decided to drive a coach and four through Government policy. This beggars belief.

I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution and, I hope, some constructive observations on the Bill. I appreciate the economic backdrop against which the budget was constructed. I recall vividly the first few Cabinet meetings I attended from March to June 2011 when our reputation was in tatters and on the floor. I am somewhat bemused by the contribution of the previous speaker who was a Minister of State in the outgoing Government that left us with a forlorn task.

I did not abandon ship halfway through, like the Deputy.

We only had enough money in the national coffers to pay pensions, wages, for public services and meet day-to-day commitments for five months. How quickly people have forgotten, particularly those who contributed to our losing economic sovereignty; that is beyond me. Fianna Fáil has rewritten history and reinvented itself at a pace that has astounded even some of its own members and supporters. Of course, the general public is right to look ahead towards a brighter horizon but that they should put the blame on those who have tried to rescue the situation is unusual.

As Deputy Billy Kelleher said, there were choices. I recall the choices made by Fianna Fáil to cut all social welfare rates by 4%, including the blind pension and the disability allowance. At the time I gave out about it, but I understand also that it is difficult to make cuts in any area. Restoring our reputation abroad was the first crucial step we had to take. We then had to engage in a rescue operation which has taken the best part of two years and been severely circumscribed by the troika agreement, on which the signature of the previous Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government is indelibly imprinted. Now, we are embarking on the recovery phase. Of course, the huge sacrifices made by the people - citizens - and all of the various measures they have had to encompass, the burden of tax increases and expenditure cuts they have had to carry are all laid out in the troika agreement. It was a sovereign agreement and, while there might have been a chance to work within it, the overall targets had to be achieved. The people have been instrumental in getting us towards this phase of recovery. They have carried the load.

The staging of rebellions would have given some degree of satisfaction, but it would not have contributed one iota to finding a solution. I recall a colleague of mine who died this morning, former councillor Mark Nugent. He contributed hugely to the creation and salvation of Bord na Móna to what it is today. When he was a worker-director, he always said one had to face up to things and explain them clearly and unequivocally to people. The people may be angry, but they understand that it is for the best of motives to achieve the best results. That is what he did. In his memory and in tribute to his loyalty and integrity, we could all copy what he achieved in his political life.

When one is in the clutches of the moneylenders, one is in very severe difficulty. I hope the public's tolerance, patience and forbearance which I acknowledge will see a return to a measure of hope and prosperity, though certainly not on the scale of the economic lunacy we witnessed during the illusional boom years.

The Labour Party has ensured since it entered Government that the least well-off and basic rates of social welfare have been protected. Some of the cuts were certainly hard to take. However, I hope when matters progress, that we will be in a position to reverse them. Today the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, has announced the restoration of the summer works scheme and the small works remedial scheme for schools, which are hugely important. This is a huge relief for boards of management and parents associations and will give sustenance to the construction industry, particularly local registered builders who are compliant and will have an opportunity to improve the school environment, which is essential. Education is our way back and must remain our number one priority. The Labour Party made sure it was our number one priority and we should be very proud of the achievements of the Minister in the budget.

Banks are still not lending to small businesses, particularly start-up businesses. This remains one of the big issues. The Government has to consider the establishment of a State investment bank, which has long been Labour Party policy. I authored the policy on a strategic investment bank and it was my own idea. It would be analogous to the ACC and ICC model. These were great institutions when they were in the control of semi-State institutions and provided much-needed capital for businesses and the agriculture sector. We can go back to that model. It is only when they started to become involved during the property boom that some of the institutions lost their way. A State investment bank is essential. I believe we need such a bank to help the economy to recover, businesses to get off the ground and, in particular, ensure there will be competition.

The new training agency, SOLAS, must be much more effective and focused than FÁS was. It must ensure young people are trained and given the skills needed in the growing sectors of the economy.

The transfer of the local property tax revenue to local authorities will enable them to be more effective and they should be encouraged to be more developmental and support local small businesses. The people should be in a position to see where their hard-earned money is spent. I am not happy that the transfer has been deferred to 2015 and believe this issue should be revisited.

Much spending during the boom was not well targeted. As a result of the reduced resources currently available we have an opportunity to assess projects much more carefully and apply good financial practice. Multi-annual budgeting should be introduced in all areas of public expenditure.

Banks need to remain competitive, not revert to the cartel philosophy that they followed before the arrival of the foreign banks that are now departing. Many of the foreign banks certainly had an influence during the boom that was not helpful to the economy. The only positive thing that can be said is that they brought competition. I hope the banks will not return to the old level of charges imposed. They need to cop themselves on, particularly those that have been rescued by the ordinary people of the country.

Local tourism interests will certainly gain from the 9% VAT rate. It is good news, particularly for the hospitality and tourism sectors, that this rate has been retained as one of a suite of measures to boost the economy and create much-needed jobs. It was initially introduced as part of the jobs initiative and it is imperative that it be retained to ensure the continued success of the tourism and hospitality sectors. I am delighted that, despite the challenging economic times, it has been retained because it has led to the creation of additional jobs.

The home works scheme will boost the economy. In particular, the tax relief for home renovation and maintenance works will give homeowners and small builders a boost. It will incentivise homeowners to spend money on their homes by offering them a tax break of 13.5%. As I said, it is good news not just for households but also for builders and contractors at local level. The measure will create employment and business for small-scale builders, carpenters, plumbers and other workers in the construction sector. Crucially, it rewards registered and tax compliant tradespeople, clamping down on illegal activity in the local economy and ensuring the Exchequer benefits from legitimate activity.

The build-your-own business initiative announced in the budget is designed to help aspiring entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. For many people who are keen to start their own businesses, the initial income tax payment can be a huge deterrent in taking the plunge. Under the new initiative, a long-term unemployed person starting his or her own business can earn an income of up to €40,000 per annum for two years without paying any income tax. I encourage anyone interested in finding out more information on this initiative to pursue it.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. The previous speaker referred to restoring our reputation abroad, which is something we have done in a really good way. As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, I meet many people in the Houses or on trips abroad who refer to the fact that confidence in the country has been restored and who pay tribute to the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, in that regard.

I acknowledge the work done by the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, in the budget. While difficult decisions have had to be taken and while few people have been cushioned from the economic crisis, we are beginning to see tangible results from the measures taken by the Government during the past two years. The economy has stabilised and returned to growth. There will be growth of 0.2% this year and the forecast for next year is for growth of 2%, which some commentators stating that it could be even higher. This will create greater confidence and stability, encourage people to spend more and lead to the creation of much-needed employment. One must commend the work done by the Government, IDA Ireland and the other development agencies in attracting foreign direct investment, FDI. Earlier today I met the new Korean ambassador, who referred to the fact that confidence in Ireland has been restored and spoke about furthering bilateral and trade relationships between our two countries. Retaining our 12.5% rate of corporation tax is critical in terms of sustaining FDI, and people want to invest in this country. We face a major challenge but there are many positives for us, including our English-speaking population, the fact that Ireland provides an access point to 500 million other citizens across the EU and the ease of doing business here.

I would like some of the investment to which I refer to be spread to the regions. At present, 80% of FDI goes to the three big hubs of Cork, Galway and Dublin. I would certainly like the regions to obtain a larger slice of the cake. I commend the new business manager of IDA Ireland, Mr. Conor Agnew, who is focusing on promoting FDI in Clare, Limerick and north Tipperary. I know Mr. Agnew will prioritise investment in these locations and the surrounding region.

Tá mé buíoch go bhfuil seans agam labhairt faoin mBille Airgeadais. Is cinnte go bhfuil rudaí dearfacha sa reachtaíocht seo.

It was clear that Ministers would accentuate the positive aspects of the budget. According to the Minister, members of the public would be astounded by all the good news in it. Businesses and investors were certainly astounded by how well they did and the farming community also benefited from it. Those who have more got more in the budget, while others, namely, sections of the older community, young people and lone and separated parents, were astounded by how badly they did. The budget placed further stress on those who are most in need of protection.

Owing to my particular interest in people with mental and physical disabilities, I noted that, in acknowledging the positive aspects of the budget the Disability Federation of Ireland also pointed out that plans for social inclusion have been weakened. As a member of the Oireachtas group on mental health which made a pre-budget submission, I note the budget contains a commitment to provide an additional €20 million for mental health services. What is the relationship between this funding and a previous allocation of €35 million to mental health services, much of which was not spent? Those with physical and mental health issues are still waiting to see what further cuts will be imposed on them in the health budget. Some of them have already been affected by the loss of the telephone allowance announced in the social protection budget. I refer, in particular, to those who depend on a telephone connection for access to the Internet.

The question one must ask is how the measures in the budget and Finance Bill will contribute to the ability of people with mental and physical disabilities to live their lives independently and with dignity. It would be amazing if the organisations which are most involved with people with disabilities and those on low incomes, for example, Social Justice Ireland and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, stated the budget was fair and proportionate. As we all know, budgets do not tend to be proportionate and do not reflect the principle that those most able to absorb cuts should be most affected by them. The many calls for equality proofing of budgets and social impact analysis continue to be ignored.

Debt lies at the heart of all recent budgets and finance Bills. Ireland is paying the highest cost for the banking crisis. While no one denies that we should repay lawful debts, unlawful debt is crippling sections of society that must endure austerity for the benefit of the financial markets. I do not have a background in economics but I know that we have more debt that we can pay or be expected to pay. The Minister, in his Budget Statement, pointed out that "excluding the interest burden, we are paying our own way again." We can only imagine what could be done if we did not have the burden of paying exorbitant interest rates. The budget deficit may have declined but it remains the highest in the European Union. How can we have real recovery or achieve significant economic growth when we must make interest payments of this magnitude?

One measure that has caused considerable difficulty is the change to the one parent family tax credit. Almost immediately after this measure was announced, One Family, the organisation most involved with single parent families, made its concerns known. It described the change as a retrograde step on the basis that the one parent family tax credit facilitates the collaborative approach of parents who have separated but have agreed to share responsibility for their children. Deputies have received numerous telephone calls and e-mails highlighting the impact of this cut on families which must already cope with the stress of marriage or relationship breakdown.

The change to the one parent family tax credit constitutes the single largest cut in income for separated fathers who wish to take responsibility for their children while not living in the same house. The measure has implications in terms of the Equal Status Act. In light of the many changes in society, we must examine the way in which parents are designated and the move away from having one primary carer towards the principle of shared responsibility where parents are joint carers. It is not fair that the behaviour of some parents who are not willing to support their children and wrongly avail of the tax credit is being used as a reason for discriminating against many fathers. The Minister has indicated he will re-examine the issue. The loss of income arising from this measure could have serious effects on the relationship between children and non-resident parents. The One Family organisation has pointed out that this may be an unintended consequence of the budget.

The cut cannot be justified, especially as everyone knows separation costs money. If the measure is implemented, it will create further problems for people in cases where maintenance cannot be paid. One Family suggests that, to avail of the tax credit, a child and parenting agreement should be in place between parents. This is a written agreement between parents setting out the amount of child maintenance to be paid after separation and an agreed plan on parenting issues. One Family is willing to engage on this proposal for a shared child support credit. I hope the Minister takes up its offer to discuss the proposal, under which the tax credit would be targeted specifically towards families who are in shared parenting arrangements and where child maintenance is being paid.

The Minister's proposal to replace the current tax credit with a single person child carer tax credit will be problematic and will result in a financial loss to parents of between €1,600 and €2,500 per annum. If the primary carer is a woman who is not working, she will not receive the new tax credit and it will also be denied to the father on the basis that he is not the primary carer. Everyone loses in such a scenario.

I will make one further point on the impact of the budget on lone parents. Surveys on living conditions show that single parent households are the most deprived of all households and have the least amount of disposable income available to them. In Dublin, for example, there are more than 52,000 lone parent households, with Dublin city having by far the greatest number of such households. I see little in successive budgets or finance Bills that will improve the lives of such families. We are told the economy is growing or that this percentage or that statistic is moving in the right direction. None of this is filtering down or making a positive difference in the lives of a significant number of people. This is where we have a disconnect between theory and reality.

On foreign direct investment, Ireland has much to offer besides its 12.5% corporation tax rate. Significant taxation issues arise in respect of multinational companies which avail of tax loopholes and havens to avoid paying just taxes. The massive profits earned by these companies are not reflected in the amount of corporate tax paid here. As a result, our effective tax rate is much lower than 12.5%. Multinational corporations may be regarded as sacred cows but they should be required to contribute to the economy.

Billions of euro are leaving developing countries. While this outflow has been assisted by corrupt governments in some developing countries, other governments in the developing world do not have sufficient negotiating capacity. I acknowledge the work being done on this issue by Irish Aid and the Government.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Bill, which gives us an opportunity to review the Government's strategy, or lack thereof, for the economy.

I note the bullish remarks made in the Minister's opening speech about the prospects for growth and the prospects for the economy. Generally, that is what one expects from a Minister for Finance in a position of this sort. The view he expresses is undoubtedly the view that is expressed by overseas Governments. It is undoubtedly the view expressed by the troika. It is undoubtedly the view that is expressed mainly by the IMF and the EU as well. The Minister is reflecting the plaudits that he and the Taoiseach have been receiving for their steerage of the economy over their period of office. Indeed, no one is more pleased with what has been happening in the economy than the German Chancellor and her satellites in other countries in Europe, because we are doing precisely what they asked us to do. The question is, at what cost, and is the cost worth it? It is my belief that it is at a heavy cost, that it should not have been paid and that it probably is not worth it. Having said that, I acknowledge the fact that there has been in recent weeks a better mood in this country. There is a little more business optimism. Whether or not it is based on reality is another matter. Undoubtedly, people are beginning to ask whether this is true or whether all the stuff that we are getting from the Government about having turned the corner is correct. What I dread is the possibility that they will be bitterly disappointed.

Of course, I note that the Minister for Finance predicates all his budgets on a 2% growth rate. It is dangerous for him to base his budget measures on growth rates handed to him from somewhere else. It is possibly a little more dangerous to take them from the Department of Finance, but figures from Europe yesterday on European prospects for GDP would not indicate that the sort of growth we were anticipating only a couple of weeks ago will necessarily happen. It is an extremely fragile recovery and it is also something that is extraordinarily difficult to predict.

I will make one or two points about taxes. No doubt, as I have stated, there were some good measures in the budget. There are some welcome and courageous measures in the Bill. The uniform welcome that was given to the retention of the 9% VAT rate on hospitality and tourism should tell the Minister something. It is not only as a result of the strong lobby group that has lobbied hard and successfully, but also because somewhere in the Department of Finance the penny has dropped. It takes a great deal to make the penny drop and precipitate a change of mind in the Department of Finance. Somewhere the penny dropped that by reducing taxes one creates a little employment. The penny dropped because this was done last year as a temporary measure - the rate was reduced from 13% to 9% - and the tourist sector and hospitality sector have boomed, or certainly taken off and prospered, as a result. The significant point is that employment has been retained and has perhaps increased - one cannot measure it exactly - as a result of this measure. There is little doubt about that. One cannot tell what would happen if the rate was readjusted to 13%, but what one can say is that the rise in employment and the cut in VAT coincided and are obviously very much related. The Government, in its wisdom, and rightly so, decided that the cut to 9% would remain. Why did the Minister not draw some rather more sensible and far-seeing conclusions from that and state that tax, of itself, as a weapon, is not necessarily good for the economy or good for the people, and that reducing taxes in certain areas is good for employment in those areas? What I would like to have seen was a statement by the Government that because the measure had worked in the areas concerned it was going to try it in other areas such as the retail sector or, maybe, in a gentle way, in the construction area, where they are crying out for help and need help. These are also labour-intensive areas. If the special VAT rate produces jobs in one area, it will certainly help to produce jobs in another. What seems to have happened here is that there has been a piecemeal decision, partly as a result of strong lobbying, to retain the lower rate, but the Government has not gone the further mile in stating that tax reduction is a weapon that will produce more employment. We rightly make an enormous amount of fuss about defending the 12.5% corporate tax rate, and that was in the Minister's speech as well, because of the extraordinary employment that results from our having a low rate of 12.5%. Undoubtedly, that is the key figure that attracts multinationals. If we can use tax there and we can use tax in the hospitality sector, we can surely use it as well to provide an incentive to small businesses.

Having said that, I do not accept the Government's decision to fund what it believed to be a loss resulting from the retention of the lower VAT rate by increasing the pensions levy. This is a breach of trust of a monumental and inexcusable nature. By hitting the pensions levy and extending it, the Government has broken a promise, but has also hit the sector with cuts in expenditure. Obviously, the Government regards those who have been paying into pensions, particularly the elderly, as fair and defenceless game. Nowhere is that more apparent, as well as in this treacherous measure to increase the pensions levy, than in the increase in DIRT, to which Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan referred. The increase in DIRT also hits those who have been provident, those who have been forced to save for their old age and those who are defenceless. Actually, the rate is not 41%; it is 45% when one includes the PRSI. Savers will really get back a negative amount. Those who have saved money in this difficult period, most of whom are elderly, will be penalised for doing so. The Government may state that this is a means of getting people to spend. I doubt if it will do that. My guess is that savers' instinct will be to circle the wagons even further. It is the lack of vision that is the problem, because the tax incentives have worked elsewhere.

In the short time available to me I will limit my remarks to two issues. I have received correspondence from the Irish Tax Institute. Members will be aware that there has been extensive consultation on the proposal to bring forward the tax pay-and-file deadline of 31 October. The reaction of the overwhelming majority of chartered tax advisers who contacted me from the north west is that the wheel is not broken and we should not try to fix it. If the date is brought forward it will lead to serious cash flow problems for businesses. The earlier date will not lead to greater certainty or accuracy in tax predictions and it will put at risk the efficiencies that are part of the current infrastructure. I ask the Minister for Finance to consider the proposals emanating from chartered tax advisers and to heed their calls given that they are working at the coalface.

While spending time in Boston and Washington last September, I followed the debate about whether the US recovery is city led. A similar conversation is taking place in England about London and the south east. During the boom from 1997 to 2006, London and the south east was responsible for 37% of the UK's growth in output. Since the crash of 2007, their share has rocketed to 48%. Cautious optimism is now being expressed in Dublin about the economy stabilising and property prices rising. All of us, but especially those in the ranks of the Civil Service and officialdom based in Dublin and the Pale, should be cautious about assuming that stabilisation in Dublin will automatically filter into rural areas. As we have seen from the figures for London and the east coast of America, a city-led recovery does not necessarily mean the regions will see the same magnitude of recovery. I am concerned to know what type of plan will be put in place for the rural regions. We need to work on all aspects, such as incentivising new schemes in local authorities to build new houses.

A woman presented to my constituency office last Monday to seek my assistance. The woman and her partner had both lost their jobs. They built their house as far as a square and paid for it that far but they are unable to progress construction further. There is no point in them going to the banks or the credit union because they do not have jobs that would allow a system of repayment. We need to find ways of helping couples in that position. They are in rental accommodation but they own their own land and have brought their house to a certain stage. We also have ghost estates. We have to reinvent policies on rural housing and urban housing in the regions. This is something of which our officials in Dublin need to be conscious in the context of the recovery we want to see.

In the regions we have a history of fighting against IDA thinking about keeping industry in clusters and near services. Clearly there is a need for this among industries but the country in which I want to live is not an east coast developed country with the regions for shooting and fishing at the weekends. This has been a great country where people could work in rural areas. We have to keep that sharply in focus because the Ireland I want to see in 20 or 50 years time is not the ESRI type island of big roads and rail services along the east coast from Belfast to Dublin and down to the south east. I want to live in the country in which I was reared, where services and jobs were available locally and rural people could have the same lifestyles as those who had the advantages of all services on their doorsteps in the more populated urban regions.

The debate on the annual Finance Bill is an opportune time to reflect on the state of the economy and how it has progressed or otherwise over the preceding 12 months. A statistic that should bring some comfort, albeit not sufficient comfort for those who are unemployed, is that 30,000 more people are at work today than on the same day last year. The scale of the task this Government faces is put into context by the fact that between 2008 and 2010 more than 200,000 people lost their jobs. We are slowly making progress. Some of the debates in this Chamber on this and other matters are too sterile and predictable. We need to acknowledge what has been achieved and face up to the scale of the problem. In regard to the predictable claptrap about the sixth or seventh austerity budget, the budgets are austere because it is difficult to return to a situation where we are cutting our cloth according to our measure. The Government has made some progress in satisfying the markets, which is necessary before it begins to filter down.

One of the other significant issues, apart from the number of people back at work compared to last year, is that the markets are showing some confidence in us now. If we had been able to go to the markets when the Government came into office, the cost of borrowing would have been approximately 15%; it is now approximately 5% or less. That is significant progress and, although it does not mean a lot to people out there still searching for jobs, it is a necessary staging post on the road to recovery. The Government is travelling, although perhaps not fast enough, along the road to recovery to meet the needs of many thousands who are still unemployed. It is making progress.

I caution the Government against raising the bar of expectation on the basis of leaving the bailout in December of this year. That does not mean a lot to the individual who finds himself unemployed because we will still not have an enormous amount of money.

As we see the troika members booking their flights leaving Ireland, which is welcome, and we regain our economic sovereignty, we will continue to be in a delicate position for many years to come as we struggle to generate wealth and distribute wealth in a fair and equitable way. I agree with Deputy McHugh. The opportunity is now to plan for a balanced, regionally sustainable recovery. That is not always evident. The overwhelming objective of Government is to get the economy right along broad principles but it cannot lose sight of the objective of having it regionally sustainable.

I welcome the provision in the budget to introduce a new suckler cow welfare scheme or something of a similar nature. I would like the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to consider a commission of inquiry into the beef industry. It is profitable for factories, retailers and everyone in the industry except the farmer. It is a multibillion euro industry earning us enormous sums of money in exports, with over 100,000 people involved at farm gate level. However, very few of them make a living and most suckler cow farmers die in debt. We must look at a way to ensure the farmers who are the foundation of the industry can make a reasonable living. I welcome the Minister's initiative but a more fundamental appraisal of the industry is necessary.

The Minister for Finance is not known for his timidity but the Government measures on alcohol are timid in the extreme. We have a serious societal problem with alcohol abuse. The stock response is to raise excise duties but we fail to grasp the real problem, which is the imbalance between consumption on licensed premises and through off-licences. That is the real societal problem and we wake up on Saturday, Sunday and Monday mornings hearing on the radio about someone being stabbed in a domestic setting because of excess alcohol, perhaps fuelled also by drugs. We must ensure that we encourage alcohol consumption on licensed premises rather than through off-licences. In the former, there is peer group interaction, supervision and intergenerational solidarity. There is a real weakness. I have heard reference to the idea that minimum pricing is not possible because of some issue in Scotland and a review of Scottish legislation. We are a sovereign nation and the only law that has been interpreted in respect of this area upholds the right of states to introduce a minimum price for alcohol.

The Minister needs to do so.

The single parent tax credit is the issue on which I have received most representations. We must acknowledge that while some parents may wish to abscond from their parental duties, the majority of people take their parenting responsibilities exceptionally seriously even if their marital circumstances have broken down.

It is unfortunate that the Government falls into the response of assuming that most men walk away from parental duties; they do not. The Minister has sent a signal that he will deal with this in some way by apportioning the tax credit to one party or the other where either party may not have a taxable income. Where there is a court agreed apportionment of custody in light of financial circumstances, the credit should also be apportioned on that basis. If there is a 50-50 agreement on parenting, the credit should be apportioned 50-50. It is a significant asset, amounting to approximately €1,600 a year. Hitting someone unilaterally overnight by taking it away is a financial blow that many cannot survive. I welcome the signal sent by the Minister for Finance of some movement but more needs to be done to achieve equity.

I agree with the last two speakers in this regard. The position of this country is much better than it was two and a half years ago, whether we like it or not.

Does Deputy Durkan feel it?

The feeling is not as important as comparing what the feeling would have been if we had continued in the direction we were heading in when this Government took over. In response to prompting from the Opposition benches, which are normally occupied, the Tánaiste noted that the country was broke. That is the underlying factor.

We have some Opposition Members in the Chamber.

We are delighted to have our own Opposition Members.

The real Opposition. The "others".

The internal Opposition.

With one or two notable exceptions, the theme running through the speeches from the Opposition benches over the past two and a half years is that they want more money spent every day, in every way, on every subject matter and every service. That means more money borrowed. No one has ever asked where we will get the money but when these Opposition Members are pressed they will say that we get it from the banks. Having burned bondholders on funeral pyres over the past two and half years, saying they do not want to pay and that they want debt written down, they want at the same time to spend more money. I would love someone to tell me how this is supposed to work. We have had much economic advice over the past number of years and I would love some economist to tell me how it is expected to spend more money-----

The answer is in these books.

I have read all these books and I treated them with the same contempt that I treated them with when I read them first. I am not an economist and I apologise to the economists but I have read economics-----

The dismal science.

------and it is a most elastic science that is applicable in retrospect more than at the time it should be applied.

There is no doubt about the difficulty the Irish people and the Government faced and there are no easy answers. The answers undertaken by the Government have not been easy. We must compliment the people of the country for their indulgence, forbearance and sacrifice. Without exception, every person in the country was scared two and a half, three and four years ago because they did not know if they would survive. That was understandable. I did not think we would survive and I did not think our society would survive. I thought we would have broken down, in the same way as happened in other jurisdictions, and that we would run away from our responsibilities. I compliment the people of this country on the stoicism with which they have addressed the issues. That is recognised by people on the offside of the Opposition benches. I cannot understand why the people who normally sit on the main Opposition benches, some of whom are in parties and some of whom are in other Opposition groupings, do not accept that we cannot spend money we do not have. We must still borrow the money we spend for day-to-day running expenses of the country.

Austerity is a term regularly used on the Opposition benches. In this context, it means running our affairs within our means and paying for ourselves as we go along. If we do not accept that and decide to go for broke and do what we have been told by Members on the Opposition benches, disaster will naturally follow.

I have heard Keynes being quoted as if he was an old buddy who had suddenly sprung from the undergrowth and had been unrecognised for a number of years. I have read Keynes, as has everyone else in the House. With apologies to economists, Keynes did not get it right all the time and he took a long time to get it right.

I have a tough act to follow. Of course it is not easy to take money from children. Of course it is not easy to take money from child benefit. It is very difficult to take money from elderly people. It is very difficult when elderly people have to have their phones cut off. It is not easy to take money from those people who cannot protect themselves. Those dangerous young people put up a resistance.

It was a socially divisive budget setting young against old, rural against urban, the able against the disabled, those with jobs against the jobless, public against private. The budget was socially divisive by attacking what keeps people together. People are fighting each other because of the policies designed by the Government. People will not come together to offer an opposition because everyone is worried and at their wits' end. I agree with Deputy Durkan that it is not easy to take money from people who cannot defend themselves. It is very difficult for people such as that to stand up against city hall.

The Minister of State, Deputy Perry, knows I have great personal regard for him. However, once again the Government is seeking to pull a three-card trick on the people. We hear a lot of talk about fairness and about spreading the burden across society fairly. I have noticed that this language is well overlaid with a practised faux empathy. I have just listened to a dose of it. When one looks behind the curtain or up the sleeve of the Minister attempting to pull the three-card trick, one finds that the truth bears no relation to the bluff being pulled on the people. The Government - unfortunately, the Labour Party in particular - sought to excuse a savagely regressive budget last year by introducing what it described as a catalogue of taxation on the rich, a range of wealth taxes. The Government admitted then that it would take a greater portion of income from low-income families but that it would catch the wealthy with wealth taxes. Half of the promised €500 million in wealth taxes introduced in last year's budget were to be raised from a limit of €60,000 on tax relief on pensions. The Government, willingly or unwittingly, has failed to implement these measures. The wealthy have not paid their taxes. The half a billion euro scheduled in wealth taxes has not been collected. Instead, this Finance Bill is making an arrangement to protect many of the gold-plated pensions, including those of many former Ministers. Senior civil servants will be protected.

Senior politicians are protected and as a relatively well-paid public servant, I am no worse off as a result of this budget, which I am ashamed to say.

Coincidentally, this Bill will protect the pensions of the people who designed the legislation. The Government has wilfully demonstrated an inability to enforce last year's initiative to collect a wealth tax in the country, which has resulted in a shortfall of €130 million. The wealthy can avoid that tax but ordinary people cannot avoid the hand of the Government; it is not easy taking money from people who cannot defend themselves. Coincidentally, the €130 million is equal to the value of the levy on top of the other levy; the wealthy are not paying their taxes but the worker is levied in order to pay for the shortfall in the wealth tax introduced last year. It seems very easy to do this. Needless to say, these effects will be apparent in the economy. There are people struggling on modest pensions but some others are getting off the hook.

In the recent property boom, many in this House expressed the opinion that a mature rental sector drove that expansion. That is the kind of rental sector that would be common across Europe. A key problem is that the sector was and is dominated by a very short-term approach, both in terms of gains sought by an investor and the structures provided for in rental agreements. Regulation of the sector has been poor, to say the least, and rather than seeking a more mature approach to a rental scheme in the country for families who wish to rent as a long-term option, the Government has failed to make any progress in improving regulation of the sector. For renting to become a viable long-term option, it must be encouraged, and landlords must be responsible in approaching a relationship with a tenant with a long-term strategy.

The Government has imposed PRSI on rental revenue without regard to the costs incurred by the property owner who is renting the property. That will drive away investors in the rental sector and lead to ordinary people being denied the opportunity to provide for a proper home for themselves and their families. The drive towards ownership as the only method by which a family may have a home has also been reinforced by savage cuts in social housing funding, as noted this morning in the House. The investment in the capital programme for social housing is €15 million but we failed to capture €130 million from the wealthy in this country. There are over 100,000 families on the social housing waiting list, and the €15 million to be invested in their future is a tenth of what we failed to capture from the wealth tax last year.

PRSI is also charged on income derived from interest on savings, and it is added on top of the DIRT rate of 41%. This is one of the ten savage cuts that have been implemented against elderly people, who depend on savings to secure some income in order to get through their final years. This Bill will also ensure that health insurance costs will rise for more than 500,000 policyholders. Coupled with the Government's policy of reducing the number of discretionary medical cards, this will drive even more people into the no-man's land of health care, meaning that ultimately there will be a worsening of the health outcome for individuals in society.

These measures are an attack on the prudent and those who have planned for themselves, and it is in stark contrast to the rhetoric which emanated from both Government parties prior to the last general election. Some members of the Minister of State's party are fond of stressing the need for responsibility, and I agree with such sentiments. I am in favour of using tax and welfare codes to encourage separated parents to continue to play a full and wholesome part in the lives of children. Most of them do so with credit. The welfare of children has been a key line of rhetoric from the Government, and the children's referendum afforded them a great opportunity to beat chests on the theme of children's welfare. Again, this seems to have been only for show and diversion, as in this Bill there is a direct attack on the ability of separated parents to play a full part in children's lives.

The Government does not want to rock the boat. Irrespective of personal relations in Europe and the ambitions of some in the Government in Europe, we should admit that a disaster is hanging out there for this country, and we need to make progress in a key area, which is the issue of the bank bailout. I call on the Minister to pursue aggressively the game changer we were led to believe was imminent. It is time to deliver for the people of this country, who have suffered greatly after five, six and seven austerity budgets. It is time for people to have hope so that a dark cloud can be replaced with a silver lining for the people of this country. They are entitled to have hope for tomorrow.

When I left UCD in 1972, my mind was comfortable with the belief in the capitalist market system as a way that would motivate the best production of goods and services in an efficient way, with government policy and establishment behaviour ensuring a fair distribution of the rewards of that production. In the past five years, or even the five years previous to that, suspicions arose in me that all was not well and the inequality across the neoliberal capitalist markets meant the system was not working fairly or well. This came with the arrival of new technologies based on computerisation and information technology. Events and facts have demonstrated this to be the case. That is measurable by people who have devoted their life of work to studying this process and comparing it across the globe, recording events and being honest about what is happening.

I am commending this book, The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz, to everybody in this House and the Seanad, the Judiciary, senior civil servants and those working in the professions of accountancy and law. The book has just come out in paperback. Stiglitz has visited this country many times, including just after the crisis struck. He pointed out a crisis in the balance sheets of the Government, banks and houses and businesses. This is an honest and well-researched book, and if people do not read it, they are doing the people of Ireland a great disservice.

I thank the Minister for coming to the Chamber at this point in the debate.

The Minister is a member of the Economic Management Council, EMC. He introduced a budget recently and we are now discussing the Finance (No. 2) Bill. I was really put out and I thought it was insulting of a fellow Minister in the dominant country in the eurozone to say what he did when the Minister was presenting his budget. On the RTE website there was a headline, “German Minister Rules out ESM Aid for Irish Banks”. The article reported the German Minister as saying: "Ireland did what Ireland had to do. And now everything is fine.” He just does not get it because as Deputy Keaveney pointed out, there is a clear divisiveness in society. There is a clear inequality and it is measurable. There has been a big vacuum, a hole and a hiatus. There has not been a contribution to the society in which we live, the community in which we live, work, play and in which our young work and grow old, by the corporate sector which is here on a short-term residency. That is wrong.

On one of the earlier pages of his Budget Statement he said that Ireland’s debt is forecast to reach 124%. That is wrong. Ireland’s Government debt is forecast to reach 124% of GDP. We know that because of the structural nature of the economy, the engineering of goods and services production and who owns and controls them that GDP and GNP – our national income – are quite wide apart and not good proxies for each other. Government debt to national income is more in the order of 140%. One could add household debt and the non-financial corporate debt or the SME debt together with their contracting incomes. In September 2011 Stephen G. Cecchetti, M. S. Mohanty and Fabrizio Zampolli published The Real Effects of Debt. One could ask where Ireland would have stood if it had been included in that paper. Two years and two months have gone by and we have not even suggested a figure for debt write-down for the economy. It is an awful shame. What are we afraid of?

An article on bloomberg.com asked “Will Germans Pick up the Tab for Deutsche Bank, too?” The Taoiseach told us the other day on Leaders’ Question that the EMC met 11 times in recent months. That is good, but what were the members discussing? If it is a case of twiddling the knobs on the radio it will not help us. Was it about the subject matter in The Price of Inequality, taxes or the big picture issues of who should pay what taxes? As Deputy Keaveney said, it is easy to take back from children and elderly people. It is not easy to say anything to people at the higher end of the scale where the concentration of wealth is found at an increasing rate. Those with scooped out middle incomes and those on lower incomes are under pressure. That is where we should be courageous and put the spotlight and explain to those who are well to do and earning large amounts of money that they should think about its distribution. When one tries to equalise an unequal economy or society it increases wealth. That is proven too. The book is full of proven research.

One could ask whether we want a society that is composed of the haves, the have-nots and the gone-aways – including one of my adult children. No, we do not. Does the Minister remember the figures I suggested at a parliamentary party meeting? A temporary 4% levy for three years on the income of people earning €120,000 and more than that would have produced more than €700 million. A profit levy on corporations of 2.5% would bring in a similar amount. The CEOs and CFOs of corporations would not go away. They are not going to relocate senior management and their families to countries where there might be tropical climates that are not suitable for raising a family that comes from a different climate. I refer to places that have Dengue fever, cholera, smallpox, poor water supplies and unstable situations. To them, climatically, Ireland is heaven on earth but they will not tell the Minister that. They have told me they would not blink if they had to pay a 2.5% levy for a few years on their corporate profits. According to the Department of Finance corporations have made €70 billion and they paid €4 billion in tax, which is 6.5%. People make the argument that there is a difference between reported profits and taxable profits. If a company is reporting profits of a certain amount then they are the profits the company made. Why should they not pay even 10% tax on them? Such companies are happy to tell their shareholders around the world that such an amount is their reported profits.

It is an awful pity that the EMC does not consider the big, strategic problems. I accept there are some little things that are good about the budget and there are things that are very bad but we do not want illusions or language that misleads us and gives us false understandings and hopes. We do not want short-termism in the budget. People should hear that there will be a steady long-term redistribution to make society more equal. That is what Declan Costello advocated long ago. The just society is the type of approach I thought I would get when I joined Fine Gael.

Deputy Mathews is over time now.

There is so much to say and so little time to say it. The way we do our choreography is not helpful.

My overall view on the budget and what we read in the Finance (No. 2) Bill is that the budget has driven a huge wedge between Government and the citizen. It has built on past Government decisions and creates a divisiveness between the administrators of the country and the citizen. There is a deep inequality to which previous speakers have referred that is growing beyond any doubt and that makes people uneasy. That is reflected in their view of politics and politicians. One thing is said at election time and once it is over the commitments are quickly forgotten. In this case there has been very little reform or consideration of democracy or the people we represent. That is reflected in the Minister’s actions in government. It is also reflected by Deputy Mathews on the outside of the tent he once was inside. The Government’s intolerance of a different opinion has brought about the situation and a complete misunderstanding of the real problems that face people.

On one side of the budget balance sheet one has the supports the Government gives to those who are marginalised or sick and supports for education, business and local government. In that category the Minister has dealt a direct blow to the income of those who are less well off. They are less well off because of the budget and they are left confused as well because the spin from the Government is that the headline rates were not touched and people are still on the same amount of money or benefit of one kind or another.

The reality, however, is that the costs of living, paying for services and doing business have escalated. Therefore, there is far less disposable income in the economy. The Minister introduced the full property tax this year and there was consternation over its collection. With that tax, there will be a further erosion of disposable income. There will be considerable pressure on people in dealing with events in their lives, such as Christmas and the new year, while at the same time trying to keep on the right side of the law in respect of the payment of taxes. I am sure those affected will look on in absolute astonishment and disbelief regarding the fact that those who are better off actually do better. Reference was made to senior civil servants and the huge pensions of which they were and are in receipt. Nothing has been done in real terms to correct that. There is no comparison between the life of a pensioner on a State pension and those who collect their pensions from previous employment in the State. We have a duty of care to the less well-off. In this budget, that duty was absolutely ignored.

The other part of the balance sheet that is interesting is the screws turned on those who create the wealth and pay their taxes, including PAYE. They have been screwed also. Their ability to create wealth, pay taxes and share with the less well-off has been affected. The Government has not done anything to help these people. It promised to do things. In this regard, members of the Labour Party camped in a shop on Grafton Street, and the now Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, a former spokesman on justice, said that upward-only rent reviews would be dealt with. He said there would be no problem doing so on taking office. There is considerable correspondence in this regard on commitments given by Members of this House. However, the Government has run a mile from this issue and has not bothered to touch it. As a consequence, the shop used during the election campaign is now closed. In fact, the Government, which is a landlord and involved in upward-only rent reviews, was the reason businesses in other parts of the country went out of business, because it refused to renegotiate or even discuss the upward-only rent review clause. There is much correspondence to prove the point. The Government has let the people down and has not delivered. It did not fulfil and is not fulfilling the mandate given to it.

Another source of disbelief, which is evident every Thursday at meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts and which was evident to the Minister for Finance when he was chairman of that committee, is the scandalous waste that continues within the public sector. It must be seen to be believed. Every single Thursday, there is some systems failure flagged or some report on the loss of a huge sum of money, yet the suggestions made by the committee to plug the holes to try to prevent a recurrence are ignored. Furthermore, Ministers have refused to take them on board. Some of the suggestions made by Secretaries General of various Departments to the Minister for Finance were ignored. I refer to sensible suggestions such as the appointment of a qualified finance person. Yet we can give jobs to ten tip staff in the courts, while we cannot sanction a post in the medical profession. This was the case recently. The Government is creating inequality and divisiveness in society.

The Government has refused point-blank to assist the Committee of Public Accounts in examining local government. Only last week or thereabouts, the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said it was a good idea for the Committee of Public Accounts to examine local government. Who discovered all the shortcomings in local government and the millions of euro that were wasted? It was the Comptroller and Auditor General in his report to the Committee of Public Accounts. When did the Minister last see or hear a debate conducted by the auditors of local government on the expenditure of local government? I have not heard one. The Minister still runs with the vested interests within the State to ensure there is no such debate. Where is his promised reform package and why has he not implemented any real reform in the administration of the State since he came into power? It does not exist and the Minister has no intention of introducing it. He should tell the public that.

By proceeding as the Government has done, it is forcing those who are making money and paying their taxes to pay into a system that is leaking heavily on the other side through waste and inefficiencies. The Minister simply ignores this, which is absolutely appalling.

The SME sector, which creates the wealth and jobs, is being penalised at every turn. I understand the 9% VAT rate has helped but the Government has failed to deal with the cost of drink in a meaningful way. The Minister's contribution to the small builders' sector was to introduce a scheme that would assist only the better-off. Those who need extensions will not get them as they do not have the money to spend in the first instance. The Minister has not given the money for the construction programme that local councils might encourage through the grant system for those who need a house to be refurbished because of age or disability. The Minister has reneged on that as well.

What has the Minister done with the banks? He flagged the fee he is to charge them. He said it is new and that he is going after the big banks. So much for his spin, because he gave the banks the mechanism to adjust their taxes because of their losses. They will have the money well back from the State by the time they get to cooking the books for tax consideration and so on. This is similar to what Deputy Mathews was saying. The citizen must pay up because of the problems that exist and the Government tells him that the money can be taken from his pocket, while those who are better off, including corporations and large businesses, have been let off, by and large. It was not decided that for three years, for example, they would have to pay a little more tax, which could possibly be considered as an aspect of corporate social responsibility. The Minister did not even investigate this option. There is nothing new, only the same old story from the civil servants to the Minister. There is nothing imaginative in the budget and nothing that would show the citizen that there is real change in politics and a real belief that we can balance the books in a more equitable way without depriving people of the income they once had through their benefits, etc.

Consider the trouble the State is in with regard to pensions. Every single week we check the pension circumstances of a certain agency or Department and find there is a massive deficit. What will the Government do about that? Not a single word has been said about it. The Government promised gold-plated health cover. What a spin he put on it.

My biggest difficulty with the Finance Bill and the budget is the lack of vision. The budget was supposed to be about rebuilding our reputation and saving us from economic ruin and so forth, but the question remains, at what cost? The Government claims that it wants to rebuild a successful economy, but for whom and at what price? The budget represents a missed opportunity. I noted some media comments to the effect that there had been a muted response from the public to the budget and that it had not really negatively affected the Government. However, much of the pain people will suffer will only hit them in January, although some of it is already on the horizon in the context of the local property tax.

I agree with previous speakers who argued that the people the budget would hurt the most were the most vulnerable in society. Some of the vulnerable people to whom I am referring are in employment and trying to maintain their jobs. They are coming to Sinn Féin advice centres and talking to us on the streets about the difficulties they are facing.

This Finance Bill implements the austerity and social vandalism of the budget. It targets low and middle-income families, poor families, the squeezed middle, everybody from the cradle to the grave. Despite the Labour Party's strong and serious commitments that no cuts to child benefit would take place, fourth and subsequent children will have their child benefit cut by €10 from January 2014. We have the despicable abolition of the bereavement grant by the Government. This Finance Bill is regressive, targets the least well-off and is at variance with the policies, commitments and promises by the two parties in Government.

It is important to note that neither Fine Gael nor the Labour Party has any mandate for the provisions in this Finance Bill. They stood in the 2011 general election on the exact opposite policies. They rightly criticised Fianna Fáil and Green Party policies during that election, were elected on diametrically opposed policies, got into power and are now imposing on everybody across the country the same policies started and implemented by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party.

During the debate I have heard some Deputies saying the country is broke. That is untrue. This country is not broke. Not long ago, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Costello, confirmed that here and told us that Ireland was the seventh wealthiest country in the world.

The legacy of a Government can be seen in how its budgets shape society. Before the current Government commenced its work, much was said about what this country would be like when its term was completed. The budgets so far are not shaping things in the way most people expected and this is part of the reason people are becoming worn out by the process.

It is evident that it is essential we try to create a more equal society. The work of Wilkinson and Pickett, which made international comparisons around the world in a range of areas, demonstrated, from the outcomes for people in regard to health, crime levels, happiness etc., that a more equal society is a better society. They stated that within each country, people's health and happiness are related to their incomes. Rich people tend, on average, to be healthier and happier than poorer people, even in the same society. They also pointed out that what matters in determining mortality and health of a society is less about the overall wealth of that society and more about how evenly the wealth is distributed. Wilkinson and Pickett's body of work spanned 20 years and is well recognised internationally.

What has been very discouraging about what has happened over the past few years is that the budgets that have been produced by the Government have not been progressive nor have they provided opportunities.

I wish to share time with Deputy Michael Healy Rae.

The State funded the Telesis report in 1982 and the Culliton report in 1992. The Telesis report emphasised the inadequacies of an industrial strategy based on foreign investment. It prescribed substantial reductions in grants for foreign firms, with an increase in aid for indigenous firms which were exporting or could be expected to increase exports. Little was done to change Irish policy in these or other directions. The Culliton report came to the same conclusions, despite a decade of severe recession and global restructuring, but nothing changed after this report either.

The logic behind the Government's support for a low corporation tax rate is simplistic and fundamentally flawed in the long term and, ultimately, damaging not only to this country but also to others, particularly those in the global south.

I sincerely thank the members of the Technical Group for allowing me to use some of their speaking time. I acknowledge the presence of the Minister in the Chamber.

I wish to place a number of points on the record. The first of these relates to the Dáil tolerating the drip-feeding - in the Government's favour - of details relating to the budget in the weeks before its introduction. What happened in this regard was ridiculous. In the past, Ministers of State were sacked because information relating to the budget was leaked. No Government should engage in the type of behaviour we saw from this Administration in the lead-up to the budget. For example, there was a real element of cohesion involving certain sectors of the media and particular Government Ministers. Nobody can deny that. In the week prior to the budget, the Minister for Social Protection was obliged to preside over issues such as the abolition of the death grant and attack people who were in a really bad position in the first instance. On the following Sunday, and under a suitably nice picture of her, one of the newspapers referred to that Minister as "Wonder Woman". One could not make it up. In return for statements about Wonder Woman, there was a constant stream of leaks from the Cabinet table. That should not be tolerated by the Minister for Finance. I wish to make one thing clear, namely, that I absolutely do not believe the Minister opposite engaged in the type of behaviour to which I refer. I would not want any aspersions to be cast on his character in that regard. The Minister, who is a respected and long-serving Member of the House, is too much of a serious and respected politician to engage in such behaviour. However, the process of leaking is happening under the Minister's nose and under that of the Taoiseach. I am of the view that leaking is wrong.

As the Minister is aware, for the first time in 25 years members of the farming community are faced with the prospect of trying to survive in the absence of any type of agri-environmental schemes. The rural environment protection scheme, REPS, was great in that the money from it went back into local communities. If they get money, farmers will spend it. However, REPS and the agri-environmental options scheme, AEOS, have been both brought to an end. Farmers are currently experiencing great difficulties in obtaining their area-based payments. This is because large areas of land have been deemed to be ineligible. Much of the land in the more marginal parts of the country contains rocks, lakes, furze bushes and rushes and we have been informed that this land is no longer eligible. In the past, people were told they could let this land but now they have been informed that it cannot be considered for area-based payment purposes.

Young people are leaving the country in massive numbers. This will lead to a situation whereby the country will be deprived of a generation of people and their youngsters. This is because, unfortunately, many of the individuals who have left Ireland will not return. In that context, I wish to highlight a matter I tried to raise on the Order of Business and which relates to the simple things the Government could be doing to make life easier for these people. Instead, it is making life harder for them. I refer to the centralising of the processing of driving licences. Under the new system, young people who are out of the country must return here to renew their licences. How can they do that if they are working abroad? These individuals do not have enough money to return from Australia, Canada or Dubai to have their pictures taken and obtain new driving licences.

I compliment the Minister on retaining the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector. At a certain point he put the wind up all of us when he hinted that the rate might revert to its original level or perhaps somewhere in between. I compliment the Irish Hotels Federation, the Restaurants Association of Ireland and politicians on all sides who campaigned vigorously in respect of this matter and I commend the Minister on listening to what they had to say. This measure, which he introduced in the first instance, is both self-financing and imaginative. I may be wrong but I believe the Minister previously stated that he introduced the measure even though he was not asked to do so. Of course he was asked to do so because we were all telling him to take action to help an industry that was on its knees. I accept he was good enough to reduce the rate to 9%.

I welcome the home improvement scheme but it does not go far enough.

The Deputy's time has expired.

I hope I have not expired.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh has only 30 seconds' speaking time as the debate is due to adjourn.

He will expire in that time.

This is a bad budget, which comes on top of many other bad budgets. The context is not a single day in October when two Ministers announced a regressive budget but the austerity budgets which preceded it. The effects of budgets are not always immediately clear and emerge only when the detail of the various measures is published. The Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputies Noonan and Howlin, respectively, spoke in the Chamber for nearly one and a half hours on budget day.