Finance Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)

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

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Finance Bill 2014.

This is a very important budget and I would like to discuss the measures it introduced relating to agriculture. It is an extraordinary budget for the agriculture industry that is based on taxation review. While the review may have passed by some people, it was long-awaited and it is very in-depth and captured the essence of what we need to do in agriculture. This should be compared with the view of previous Governments which described agriculture as a sunset industry. We all know to where that led. I heard one Deputy saying earlier that it was unfair to give agriculture such prominence and that Fine Gael was an agricultural party. I have news for him. Somebody has to protect agriculture and there are people across this House who will protect it because it is vital to protect this indigenous industry. I suggest that before shouting for Dáil reform, these commentators should inform themselves before they criticise.

There are a few elements of this Finance Bill that need to be tweaked, the first of which is the definition of an active farmer. We need to be flexible in this regard because the definition of an active farmer can be broad. Essentially, it must reflect practicalities. If a person is making all the decisions on a farm and all the moneys are moving from his or her account to pay suppliers, such persons need to be defined as active farmers even if they are unable to do all the tasks themselves or may need to employ contractors. One cannot just say that a person must spend 50% of his or her time farming because some people are very good organisers. I am an active farmer and I would be very disappointed if somebody suggested that I was not. It reminds me of the clause that used to be in the old retirement scheme which stated that once an elderly farmer retired, he or she could no longer farm, which was nonsense. It is just a matter of tweaking the definition.

The other issue I wish to raise relates to income averaging. I am delighted that the Minister increased the period from three to five years for income averaging. This makes sense at a time of market fluctuations. The price of grain has collapsed this year while the price of beef is down but we know these prices will change again. We need flexibility in our taxation regime and this is exactly what this change does.

The Minister introduced a revolutionary measure in the budget. He has allowed the allowance for off-farm income to be included in income averaging. This is important because it shows that our policy with regards to agriculture is to encourage diversification. I cannot over emphasise the importance of this; it is exactly what we need to do. Businesses will crop up because of the shared resources of people in agriculture. In the legal framework proposal for CAP before it started, there was a suggestion of a grant for people who would diversify on farms. We may not attract large businesses into rural areas but we will increase the number of small businesses and encourage them to employ more people.

Off-farm income allows for a balance in that it makes a bigger contribution in poor years for farming. I know what I am speaking about because I created a business in this exact manner, and it is something I feel very strongly about. We need joined up thinking, however, because some county councils are not reflecting this approach in their policies. We may need to change the county development plans, especially given that county councils are more business-oriented, with CEOs and local enterprise offices. They need to start encouraging businesses. Currently, when a county council official arrives on a farm, there is an air of suspicion. That has to stop. We cannot allow a situation to arise in which planners order that a farm that received planning permission for agricultural activities 20 years ago be subjected to a review because the activities have changed. We cannot stifle diversification. There is a logjam at local level which has to be removed. While I welcome the policy on diversification, we need to ensure local authorities take it into account. The diversification strategy is a clever way of encouraging people to stay in the workforce, especially where spouses may have the skills required to start a business. A previous speaker suggested that this budget was not good for job creation. I will not take lessons from somebody who has never created a job. This is a good budget for job creation and it is a good time to grow a business. That kind of nonsense is irritating, especially when it is not founded on facts.

Section 18 of the Bill deals with land lease income exemptions. This is a provision I will seek to amend slightly on Committee Stage because it could be important. At present we do not have a retirement scheme for agriculture, but this provision could substitute for a retirement scheme if it were amended slightly to allow income exemptions to be provided to related parties or companies. If somebody is going to let land for a term of 15 years or longer, which is necessary in order to make it accessible to younger farmers, the section as it stands only allows an exemption if the land is leased to an unrelated party. Most of the land in this country is passed on to sons, daughters or nephews for the good reason that the owner of the land will have to live with them for the rest of his or her life and must therefore be able to trust them. Many of the issues in land succession and long-term renting arose because people were blackguarded. That tends not to happen when the land is leased to one's own. This would also allow elderly farmers to remain on the farm and be available to advise and help out. Many elderly farmers do not want to retire completely because farming is what they have done all their lives. Perhaps we could amend the parts of section 18(b)(i) and (ii) which state "is not connected to the qualifying lessor or with any of the qualifying lessors" to include the phrase "unless the lease has bona fide commercial terms and conditions." By renting the land under commercial terms and conditions, the arrangements will be up-front. The related party's money is as good as anybody else's money. We want long-term land availability to succeed so that young farmers can remain in the sector. I was fortunate to take over our farm when I was 25 years old because it allowed me to expand our activities significantly. Thankfully, we now employ a significant number of people because we had time to grow. If a farmer takes over in his or her mid-40s, his or her potential is strangled. I urge the Minister to consider this amendment favourably.

This budget has been a revelation with regard to agriculture in that it fundamentally changed Government policy for the sector. A few more tweaks will make it an outstanding budget for agriculture and for job creation. If we encourage small businesses in rural areas to employ one or two more people and get the local authorities to work with businesses and farms, as opposed to some sections working against them, we will create a fantastic environment for job creation. I am incredibly excited about the potential in this regard. Irrespective of whether they are working in the Civil Service in Dublin or are farming, people understand the importance of indigenous job creation. Our agricultural industry has not let us down to date and it will not let us down in the future.

If the issues I have raised could be addressed, I would be very grateful to the Minister. We have an opportunity to change the mindset of previous Governments which called farming a sunset industry. Their idea of crop rotation was beet, wheat and bungalows. We know what happened to the bungalows and the beet. They left us with nothing and we are rebuilding our agricultural economy from scratch. We have done a mighty fine job of it in a short time.

I thank the Minister for Finance for framing this Bill in a way that will have a positive impact on Irish households. The primary changes it introduces to income tax and universal social charge rates, which I am sure will be welcomed by all income tax payers, provide a clear indication of our progress and recovery. In a move carefully designed to assist families who are struggling to make ends meet, the Bill raises the threshold at which USC can be imposed on gross income from its current level of €10,036 to €12,012. This will alleviate the fiscal burden on hundreds of families and put an extra few bob in their disposable income.

The Bill, which is based on our budgetary policies and strategies, demonstrates to families and young people who pay income tax that we are supporting them. For families and individuals who are not currently paying income tax, it encourages new employment opportunities through the extension until the end of 2015 of relief from corporation tax on trading income and certain capital gains for new start-up companies for their first three years. Earlier this year we saw an increase of 47% in the number of Irish technology start-ups. These figures, in tandem with the Finance Bill, will encourage more qualified and experienced people to enter business in the coming year, thereby giving rise to more employment. The Dublin Web Summit taking place in the RDS this week is a clear indication of the appetite for start-ups among Irish people. It is in our psyche. We have a responsibility to nurture and facilitate this thirst and enthusiasm, and I am delighted to see it reflected in the Bill in the form of extended relief for corporation tax on trading income.

Yesterday I outlined the solution proposed by New Beginning to the mortgage crisis of non-performing loans. Despite the progress that has been made to date, families continue to face repossession and the grim prospect of losing their homes. We have an obligation to prevent this crisis from recurring. A strong deterrent to its recurrence can be seen in the relief from DIRT on savings for first-time buyers, who will be able to apply for a refund of DIRT paid on interest, earnings and savings used for deposits. The problem of increasing rents and the scarcity of rentals in Dublin and elsewhere will be also alleviated through this provision because it will be easier for first-time buyers to enter the property market. It is no secret that the availability of rental properties has plummeted across the country, particularly in Dublin. In addressing this issue, the Finance Bill makes a welcome modification to the exemption from income tax, PRSI and USC on income received in respect of rooms rented by homeowners in their principal residences. Home owners will now be exempt from the aforementioned taxes where the rent received does not exceed €12,000 per year. That is an increase of €2,000 from the current exemptions.

The Bill will repeal provisions contained in the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 on the notorious "double-Irish" loophole. This is a positive step in the Government's radical reform of Ireland's fiscal policy.

This Bill seeks to address the difficulties that Irish people have bravely endured over the last number of years. It is a welcome move in the right direction and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the House to support it.

We have arrived once again at that time of year when we take stock of the financial position and resources of the country and consider what the Government needs to collect in revenue and how it will spend it. Unfortunately, the language of this presentation is one of total confusion and complexity. Individuals and lobby interests zone in on the particular part of the jigsaw that affects them and the big picture is missed year in and year out. The experts who are professionally trained and versed in discussing the changes adjust their fees and have their business breakfasts to try to de-cloud the situation and inform people about the effects of the changes on their own much more straightforward budgets.

The Finance Bill is so named because it puts the algebra and arithmetic onto budget 2015. The Minister's Budget Statement started with a lot of heavy, labouring sentences patting the Government on the back for what had been achieved and what the Central Statistics Office told us, by way of metrics and measurements, had occurred in the various quarters last year and to date. As I said in another debate, these data are all in percentages; there is no idea of scale. The Budget Statement should set out clearly that the total amount of money to be collected will be X billion and that expenditure will be Y billion. That information should be simply laid out on a page. Instead we have paragraphs which weave the reader in and out and around, mesmerising with percentages and possibly frying his or her brain.

We were constantly reminded in debates in this House that expenditure had exceeded the revenue of the Government by some €14 billion per year, or more than €1 billion per month. That was the headline figure thrown at us for several months in the early part of this year. We need to know whether that money is being spent on things we can see - goods and services - or to pay the interest on our borrowings in the past, or a mixture of both. We are actually at an even balance between the revenue earned by the Government through taxation and the expenditure on goods and services undertaken. We are paying off the €9 billion or thereabouts in interest on borrowings that we owe.

Apart from the national debt, there is also household debt to consider. Many households took out huge loans in the period up to 2008, whereas the State did not take out a lot of loans in the same period. However, the State's revenue was coming mainly from income taxes and VAT in the construction industry and stamp duty on transactions related to property, all of which collapsed. There was still expenditure on goods and services by the State which is harder to reduce. That is the story that needs to be told clearly to the people. It is very simple to tell it, but what is contained in the Bill is not simple.

It is important to consider what led us into this horrible situation where the debt of households, the nation and businesses that are not banking and financial businesses now totals four and a half times the value of the production of goods and services in the State. That is massive. When Ashoka Mody of the IMF left here after his job was done, he said Ireland was carrying too much debt. He is now telling postgraduate students in the United States how one can address economic, fiscal and financial matters in countries in which mismanagement has led to problems. He said we should not be carrying this much debt and that a lot of the debt that had accrued - which is still with us - had come about because of losses.

The next question to consider is what losses occurred in Ireland following the collapse? Going back a little further, how did the collapse occur and what was its nature? The answer is very simple. We had six Irish-owned banking and building society institutions operating here and six others that were foreign-owned. The Irish institutions were Allied Irish Banks, Bank of Ireland, the EBS, the Irish Nationwide Building Society, Anglo Irish Bank and permanent tsb. The foreign-owned banks were Ulster Bank, Bank of Scotland (Ireland), ICICI Bank, Danske Bank, KBC Bank and Rabobank. All of these banks between them funded the domestic economy.

People might wonder if we need to consider all of these details and the answer is "Yes." There is a connectivity between the 40 homeless people who were sleeping on Grafton Street two weeks ago, the 90,000 mortgages in arrears - representing the guts of 500,000 people under stress, strain and at risk of sickness and separation; the 250,000 people who have emigrated and the 350,000 who remain unemployed. All of these people deserve to hear this narrative because it has not been told. These banks provided credit in this economy which grew, between 2001 and 2008, from three times the size of national income of some €160 billion to five and a half times that sum. It was a credit explosion and it could only have happened where there was a dereliction of duty by the boards of directors of all these banks in those seven years.

We do not need a committee of inquiry to figure all of this out. The facts are on the balance sheets of these institutions. All that needs to be done is to lay them out on trestle tables in a hall or an assembly area large enough to accommodate all the members of the boards of these banks during that period and representatives of all the auditing firms. All we need to see are the balance sheets at six month intervals from 2001 to 2008. We do not need experts or lawyers to explain it to us. We do not need people from the investment banks of the world who collectively have paid more than €150 billion in fines and penalties for their misdemeanours in this period. Ordinary people in this country and elsewhere have been thrashed by the establishment financial system and continue to be thrashed. That is wrong.

As I said, the Bill puts the arithmetic and algebra on the long and meandering thing that is the budget, moving little pieces of the jigsaw instead of looking at the big picture. The losses in the Irish banks were not the €64 billion about which everybody talks - that is simply the amount that was put into the banks via the raiding of the National Pensions Reserve Fund and includes bits of capital from the troika loans. The actual losses to the six Irish-owned banks on commercial property or NAMA-type loans were some €50 billion, with a further €35 billion lost on mortgage loans. At the same time, the foreign-owned banks lost at least €40 billion.

This has been funded by their parent companies and the citizens of other countries who supported Lloyds Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and so on. Add it all up and it comes to €125 billion in losses due to the credit-pyramid bubble overseen and created by the boards of the banks between 2001 and 2008. What is the value of our gross domestic product? It comes to €160 billion or thereabouts. The losses in the domestic banking system amounted to 65% of our GDP. The United States has a GDP of €12 trillion. According to all of the books, including Timothy Geithner’s Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises, Too Big to Fail, All the Devils are Here, the Americans thought the whole world financial system was collapsing. Its total bank losses were contained at €1 trillion, one eight, or 12.5%, of its GDP. Ours came to 65%.

The Trichet letter to the late Brian Lenihan printed today is not really important. It was just setting out the framework for what had to happen to fund and bridge the Government’s expenditure for three years, while the revenue figures could be brought around for normal budgetary purposes. Of the €125 billion in losses, €31 billion arose because of Anglo Irish Bank which was funded by deposits and issues of senior secured and subordinated bonds. We were told by the European Central Bank and the European Union, by Mr. Joaquín Almunia, Mr. Olli Rehn and Mr. Jean-Claude Trichet, that we were not allowed to incur losses on the funders of that bank, as well as the others. That was wrong.

On 28 September 2008 the guarantee for all of the liabilities of the Irish-owned banks, an exposure of €400 billion, was entered into under duress. It was based on negligent and fraudulent information supplied by the banks. In insurance, as the Ceann Comhairle will know, if someone supplies information on a risk that is not truthful and comprehensive, it voids the contract of insurance. A guarantee is a contract of insurance or indemnity. We had every right in the world to selectively choose which liabilities would be guaranteed. Customer deposits should have been secured but not the senior secured and subordinated bondholders.

A budget is about taking a picture of revenue against expenditure which we think we should fairly maintain to provide services such as schools, hospitals, water, buses, trains, health and education. Anglo Irish Bank was a completely busted flush around the time of the guarantee. Mr. Trichet and others in Europe did not want the system to be strained beyond its survival. The Government was headlocked into writing three promissory notes, an IOU, to resuscitate the busted Anglo Irish Bank, with Irish Nationwide Building Society, to the tune of €31 billion. This coincided with the requirement of the bank to redeem bonds that had initially been issued to the original subscribers and sold into secondary markets to risk-takers. The only way the ECB could lend money to this busted bank to wrongly redeem all of these bondholders was if the Government stepped the people up to the scaffold to the tune of €31 billion. We are still on the scaffold for €25 billion of that figure in that horrible story.

These bonds are now called prom-bonds. There was no deal on the promissory notes. Instead of a vest with grenades with a ten year fuse, we have one with a 40 year fuse. The Government does not have the guts to get this story across and tell the ECB it is justified in tearing up these bonds.

Did the Deputy go over and tell the ECB himself?

Today during Leaders’ Questions, Deputy Catherine Murphy rightly said that was what should be done. When I, with her, Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, MEP and Nessa Childers, MEP, told the Governor of the Central Bank in July that the guarantee was like an insurance guarantee and, therefore, voidable and what had had happened as a result was wrong, he actually became irritated. People only get irritated when one is getting near the truth. It is wrong that 40 people are sleeping rough on Grafton Street and that 90,000 household mortgages are in arrears.

There are 15 directors in Bank of Ireland, half of whom are not even Irish, while the other half have not lived or worked in Ireland for a long time. There is only one woman on the board and she is English. They are making policy decisions that mean that there will be no principal write-downs in the sustainable resolution of its mortgage books. These directors are disconnected and do not know what is going on. It is wrong.

If the Government is afraid to travel over to Frankfurt and Brussels to insist on making the case, there are others, like me, who will. I have already gone once.

Did you succeed?

We made an impression.

Who said that?

We know we made an impression. Do you want to know why?

Through the Chair, please, Deputies.

When we told Bundestag finance committee members that, if the scale equivalent of the losses in our system put on the Irish people was actually put on the German people, it would have come to €1.3 trillion and their eyes were like saucers. It was not the established members of our finance committee who made this point but some of us outliers who had paid our own way to the meeting. When we made these points, the Chairman asked us to keep it down because he did not want to upset their view of us as the best boy in the class. The Irish people would have been gobsmacked if they had seen it.

It is not right. The lives of 1.5 million people have been turned inside out as a result of a credit-pyramid bubble leading to an asset-price bubble that has collapsed. Last Saturday’s marches were not just about water rates but also about household mortgages. It is like the gathering on a boil before it bursts. We are at that point.

This is the narrative that has to be told. The press has not done us proud. It has been busy chasing the bones of what story can grab a headline, instead of sitting down in a disciplined way to measure stuff. With the authority of correct measurement and causality, accountability and responsibility, one then begins to see one’s way out of the dark blizzard in the forest.

In the meantime, however, too many people are hurting, which is plainly and simply wrong. We have got to stop.

I am sorry, but the Deputy is over time.

I will be very brief. The Minister of State knows that there are only two sources to pay taxation: the income of people and the income of corporates. For the last four and a half years, the corporates - whose incomes have risen - have paid nothing incremental towards the cost of recovery. Nothing.

Will the Deputy, please, resume his seat?

Three and a half years ago, I told the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, that there should be a 2.5% levy on corporate profit tax for the multinational corporations or NMCs, which would have brought in €2 billion a year. To date, it would have brought in €6 billion which is 60% of the cost of restructuring the country's water systems. They are the big picture things.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Having listened to Deputy Peter Mathews, it is clear that the Finance Bill can give rise to a very varied debate. I suppose that is because the Bill reflects what we are as a society and how we decide to fund public services, tax people, raise general taxation and implement indirect taxation. It is all contained in the context of the Finance Bill itself, so it is important legislation from many aspects. Apart from giving legislative effect to the budget, it also gives legislative effect to how we construct society. It ensures that citizens pay for services, as well as how much they will contribute.

When we discuss the Finance Bill in future there should be a stronger emphasis on what we are trying to achieve as a people. One could argue that this budget has been framed on the basis of the State being saddled with an unfair debt. From that flow the difficult choices that Governments have had to make for a number of years. Even in the context of having to make difficult choices, people can still prioritise. This Government has made the wrong decisions in many aspects of the Finance Bill because it has prioritised people who are under enormous pressure, including families on lower payscales.

Zero-hour contracts now apply to huge swathes of the working population. Every week we hear about unemployment numbers dropping and employment increasing, which is welcome. We all know that the way to step out of poverty into a productive society is through employment. However, zero-hour contracts effectively mean that while some people are employed - according to statistics from the CSO, the Department of Finance and the Department of Social Protection - they are in a difficult and invidious position. They do not know from week to week how many hours work they will get.

I do not expect every business to outline a pathway for an individual's working life, but surely there is a threshold of decency whereby people would know from week to week roughly how many hours they will be working. Zero-hours apply predominantly in low-pay areas, but they are now creeping into other areas of industry alsol. Some multinationals are now using zero-hour contracts, but I am more concerned about those at the lower end.

In a recent case, Dunnes Stores would not even turn up to the Labour Court. In recent years, that business has been falling over itself to say it promotes and encourages everything that is good in Ireland. It is simply not good enough that we have companies in this country that wrongly dismiss the labour relations machinery that is at their disposal to ensure we have an organised workforce and corporate structure compatible with decency and fairness. It is important to say that in the context of this Bill.

The Bill also targets those on lower payscales, while tipping the balance to those on higher payscales. The Minister of State can juggle the figures anyway he likes but the various examples in budget 2015 demonstrate that is so. The document refers to pseudonyms such as Benny, Ann, Marie, Niall, Sarah, Gerry, Brenda, Seamus, Marion and Sinead. I imagine they are deeply personal stories but behind these pseudonyms, the fact is that higher earning people did proportionately much better than lower earners.

I do not begrudge those on the higher end getting a break, but when one is making difficult choices with limited resources one must target areas most in need. This does not only apply to taxation but also to speech and language therapy, pupil-teacher ratios, waiting lists and the cap on the fair deal scheme. We are led to believe that the fair deal cap cannot be moved, but that cap is a choice made by the Government which has decided to cap it at roughly €965 million. The Government decided to fund tax reductions to the higher paid by continually borrowing money while at the same time capping funding for the fair deal scheme. Over 2,000 people are waiting 15 weeks to access a nursing home because a political decision was made in the context of this Finance Bill.

The thinking behind the legislation is whether it will get Fine Gael back into Government. The Government has its statistical data, focus groups and polling data, and it has obviously decided to go after certain cohorts. Going through the Bill it is clear that it is primarily constructed for electoral purposes. I do not deny the right of any political party to advance its own philosophy, but it should at least have the decency to come out and say so, rather than pretending that this is to build a fair society. This legislation is aimed at getting as many Fine Gael Deputies as possible back into Dáil Éireann.

The Minister of State cannot stand over this legislation and say that it is fair and balanced when people are sleeping in the streets because they cannot access basic accommodation. In addition, people are waiting 15 weeks, an extraordinary length of time, for the oldest and most vulnerable member of their family to get into a nursing home. Others are waiting an extraordinary length of time to access speech and language therapy. Schools in the most deprived communities are struggling to retain teachers and provide basic education in disadvantaged areas.

There are choices to be made. The Government states that it has had to make all these hard decisions because of the troika, but that is nonsense. First and foremost, there should have been a fundamental move to assert our authority and independence, as a State within the European Union, and to insist that we would get a break.

Deputy Peter Mathews and others are right to say that not enough is being done to insist on a retrospective application for Ireland to alleviate that burden. I do not mind how much I am blamed. That has happened, the election is over and we are in a new era. Blaming me and my colleagues, however, is not enough to lighten the load on those who have to carry that unfair burden. We should move beyond the politics of this situation. I have repeatedly called for an honest debate on how we were treated by our European colleagues.

I have said time and again that the European Commission failed in its principal duty to uphold the various treaties that underpinned the solidarity of the European Union. My party is a pro-European one, and I fully endorse and support the concept, but sometimes the construct of how decisions are made and the implementation process are inherently unfair. At the heart of the European project is the Franco-German alliance - or the Germano-French alliance, for those in Germany. The bottom line is that it is undermining the principles of solidarity and support for smaller nations. My party campaigned for and negotiated all the treaties, but there comes a time when we must question whether the Commission has the teeth to ensure the treaties are upheld and small states are defended. Has it gone beyond that to the point at which Chancellor Merkel and the President in the Élysée Palace, whoever it may be at that time, get together and make decisions that are incompatible with supporting smaller member states? That has been the form of the outgoing Commission, as well as the former President, Nicolas Sarkozy, President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel.

That is why we are taking these difficult decisions. Within that, the Government must make a choice about where to disburse the available funding. The Government has decided to go down the wrong route in implementing tax cuts at the higher rate rather than improving services. I support the concept of encouraging enterprise and rewarding effort, which must be at the heart of any society to encourage people to lift themselves, give themselves a break and prosper through upward mobility. It is a key cornerstone of what I believe in, but the legislation we are debating does not do that. It has decided to go after cohorts of people and to soften the pressure they are under. I am not denying that they are under pressure, but measures were taken to soften that pressure by heaping further pressure on others so that, politically, it can be sold to a certain cohort.

When the Government was raising taxes, we were told that everyone had to carry the burden. Increases in PRSI, for example, applied across the board and took the same amount from high and low earners. When giving it back, however, the Government is giving nothing, or very little, back to the people at the bottom and much more back to the people at the top. It is simply wrong, because the people at the bottom are under huge stress and pressure. I am not one for the populist stances that emanate from some in this House and outside, but the reason so many people were on the streets last weekend, on a wet and miserable day in Cork and the west of the country, was not because they see Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett and others as champions of liberation but because they are under major pressure. They want to vent in some way and ask the Government to realise that they can give very little more. People are under phenomenal pressure. The water tax is deeply unfair because it affects the lower socioeconomic groupings much more than the higher groupings. It is another regressive form of charge taxation.

The one thing we can say about the Government is that it has been progressively regressive. Budget after budget has been more regressive. It is not just Deputy Billy Kelleher saying that; every independent in-depth analysis of the budgets proposed by the Government has shown them to be regressive. The ESRI and other organisations are independent and their analysis shows the sharing of the burden to be regressive. They have said it time and again, but each time the Government has reinforced that in the subsequent budget. At the end of 2014, we are speaking about the impact in 2015, which will be equally regressive.

The Government has a lot to do to rebalance this through difficult decisions on the limited resources available to the Government. The idea of borrowing money that must be paid back to give a tax break to someone on a higher income, when people are sleeping on the streets not 150 yards from where I stand and people are waiting years for speech and language therapy support, is inherently wrong. The popular thing would be to slap the Minister of State on the back and say that we would have done better and given bigger tax cuts to those on higher incomes. However, the days of auction politics, which was championed by many political parties in my lifetime in the House, have only led us one way. Choices must be made, and the right choice would have been to look after those who needed State support and assistance and to give them the basic standard of living that any decent society expects its citizens to have. There are homeless people without any form of shelter, and there are more than 2,000 elderly people, at the end of their lives, waiting for up to 18 weeks to be approved for the fair deal nursing home scheme.

When the dust settles and we end up implementing these proposals in 2015, people will see it as inherently unfair. I was taught an interesting lesson during the local elections. The issue of discretionary medical cards was one that put the Government under major pressure but, interestingly, the number of people it had an impact on was not huge. The Irish people saw it as inherently unfair that the Government was asking an old person, or someone with a disability or a life-limiting illness, to give up his or her discretionary medical card to fund people who are well able to fund their own health care. The people said in May 2014 that enough was enough and asked the Government to restore discretionary medical cards, whether to a neighbour whose child had a disability or to a grandmother who was seriously ill and at the end of her life. They asked not to be given something that they did not really need. That is why the budget is a repeat insult to the basic inherent decency in Irish people. We must start with those who need the most help and work from that. The principle is being undermined on every page of this legislation.

My party spokespersons will go into the detail of the Bill on Committee and Report Stages, but the debate on Second Stage of the Finance Bill allows us to outline our views on the broader direction of the Government. This will be judged in the context of election in 16 months, and the people will be the final arbiter of the Government's term in office. To date, as an Opposition Member, I was hoping the Government would have done better. The Government has betrayed the trust handed to it in March 2011, when the Dáil was swept aside in a democratic revolution. There should have been fundamental changes to how things are done, yet we do not have a basic change in how we prepare budgets. A simple commitment was made to in-depth engagement by the Parliament with the budgetary process, but there is none. I will speak on the budget and the Finance Bill that implements it in legislative form for the next minute and a half, but all engagement takes place after the figures have been published. With the best will in the world and even with the finest speech made on this side of the House, am I expected to convince the Government to do a U-turn? I could not do so, because it would be seen as a U-turn, but I would like a format under which I have some input prior to the publication of the figures.

In such circumstances, I would also have an input into the framing of the budget itself. Unless they are under extreme pressure and their necks are in the noose, Governments and Ministers for Finance do not announce that they are going to change certain budgetary provisions because there are problems with them. That just does not happen. The only way this Parliament can have a meaningful input into the budget is by ensuring these debates take place in advance of the budget.

In order that we might be involved in framing it.

Yes. We would be in a position to help create the basic foundation on which principles could be built and influence the direction it might take. By having such an input, individuals and political parties could have a meaningful role on the outcome. I would not expect any Government to cede its sovereignty in respect of the formulation of budgets. It is the right, duty and entitlement of the Government of the day to formulate the budget. Equally, however, all Governments have a duty to honour the pledges they make. One such pledge made by the current Administration is that this House would have a meaningful input into the way budgets are framed.

I do not know if the Minister of State is a fan of social partnership. I was involved in the process relating to it when I served on the other side of the Dáil. I am of the view, therefore, that for too long budgets were not even framed within the precincts of this House. It is time we returned to a situation where this Parliament has some meaningful input with regard to the direction in which Irish society should move. Ultimately, the Bill before us is concerned with the shape which that society is going to take.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Finance Bill. I am opposed to it and the approach taken by the Government in the recent budget. That budget represents little more than an attempt to buy votes with borrowed money. It is the fourth regressive budget introduced by the Government. On this occasion, the current Administration has chosen to provide tax cuts but these will be funded by more debt and are skewed towards higher earners. As a result of the provisions contained in the budget, the benefit reaped by an employee on €70,000 will be four times greater than that which will be garnered by a person on the minimum wage. When the Government previously increased taxes, it raised money from people on a flat-rate basis and regardless of their incomes. The abolition of the PRSI allowance resulted in €264 being taken from everyone in the country, regardless of how much they earn or how well off or poor they might be. The 2% increase in VAT was another regressive measure which took money out of the pockets of the least well offer on a disproportionate basis. This Government also introduced cuts in respect of the respite care grant, education and health services. As a result of the cuts to health services, people's medical cards were withdrawn and others were obliged to spend more time on hospital waiting lists before they could get to see consultants or have medical procedures performed.

Another regressive measure introduced by the Government was that whereby the ESB was obliged to make payments of tens of millions of euro each year. That company passed the cost in this regard on to its customers, leading to higher energy bills. The poorest and most hard-pressed families in the country found it extremely difficult to pay those bills. Again, the most was taken from those who could least afford it. When the economy was on the way down and when money was being taken out of it, the charges and cuts that were introduced were focused on the less well off. As growth returns and the economy rebounds - there is not much evidence of this in many parts of the country as yet - the Government is beginning to spend again. However, instead of returning what it took from the less well off, it is giving money to those who are better off. In its recent budget, for example, it decided that the best way to proceed was by reducing the higher rate of income tax rather than focusing on services. As a result, a couple with a single income of €41,000 will be better off by approximately €174 per year whereas, as a result of the budget and the Government's approach to taxation, a single person who earns €70,000 will be better off to the tune of €746 per year.

The Government has decided to go down the road of giving money to the better off and is seeking to pay for this by introducing even more flat charges, including that relating to Irish Water. The latter, which is another regressive charge, will be the same for every family, regardless of income. The Government is again seeking to take money off families regardless of their ability to pay while simultaneously allocating funds in a way which it believes will win votes for it at the next general election. It is time the Government changed its approach and realised that charging people for water is just not on. Families in which there are four adults will, regardless of their income, be obliged to pay up to €500 for water each year. The Government must revise its approach. It must suspend the system of water charges rather than continuing with the current farcical situation which has given rise to great concern among people throughout the country who simply do not have the money to pay the bills the Government expects them to pay. Unfortunately, this Administration does not give any consideration to people's ability to pay when it introduces new charges. That was made obvious by the fact that it did not put in place any structures to provide assistance to those who might find trying to pay those charges more than they could bear.

My party has regularly challenged the Government on the floor of this House to indicate how it expects those who simply cannot afford to pay to meet the bills with which they will be presented. It never provided an answer in this regard. It scrambled about, returned to the Dáil and indicated that those in receipt of the household benefits package would receive a payment of €100. A week later, as more pressure was exerted in respect of those who are unemployed or on low incomes, the Government decided that a €100 payment would be introduced in respect of those in receipt of fuel allowance. On budget day, it decided to bring forward a tax rebate of up to €100 for people obliged to pay up to €500 in water charges. The Government gave so little thought to this issue that it forgot to make provision for those people who find themselves beneath the threshold and who are not in receipt of either the household benefits package or the fuel allowance. It is obvious that this Administration did not give any consideration whatsoever either to how people were going to pay or whether they could afford to pay. Under the charging regime that was originally introduced, a household in which two adults live would be expected to pay €278 per year, one with three adults would have to pay €381, for a household with four adults the charge would be €483 and - regardless of income - a household with five adults would be obliged to pay €586. This is money which the vast majority of people simply do not have at present. It is obvious that the Government was blind to that fact and that it intended to proceed with its regressive approach to budgetary and financial matters of imposing flat charges on people, regardless of either their incomes or ability to pay.

The recent budget clearly illustrates that the Government is looking towards the next general election. It is obvious that its members asked what they might do in order to put out a good PR story and give themselves the best possible chance of winning votes in that election. In the meantime, families were left wondering how they were going to pay their water charges. In addition, people's medical cards continue to be withdrawn, others continue to wait to see hospital consultants, waiting lists for hospital procedures continue to grow and schools throughout the country continue to be starved of funding. With regard to the latter, the Government made no provision in the budget in respect of the summer work scheme or the minor works grant in order to assist schools in the year ahead. Instead, the boards of management of schools will be obliged to go back to families and ask them to stump up the cash required.

The Government should listen to the people, suspend water charges and review the entire set-up.

A decision was taken by the Government to establish Irish Water without debate or consultation with anyone in this House or outside it. My colleagues and I on the Opposition side were compelled to walk out of the Dáil before Christmas as the legislation was run through the House. Only after many Government refusals to answer questions did we learn how much it is spending in establishing Irish Water.

Initially the former Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, now safely ensconced as an European Commissioner in Brussels, told us the cost of Irish Water would be €10 million. Only later on a radio programme did we learn from the chief executive of Irish Water, Mr. John Tierney, that the cost of consultants for the project will reach €175 million by the end of next year. Very little has been heard of the chief executive since and the €10 million cost suggested by the former Minister is incorrect. Not one euro of the €175 million cost of consultants' fees will improve pipes or water quality.

The Government has decided to proceed with a metering programme that will cost up to €500 million. Again, none of this money will go towards improving pipework or water quality for households that suffer poor water quality day in and day out. All in all, in establishing Irish Water the Government will spend more than €650 million in a manner that contributes nothing to water quality and network improvement. Meanwhile, the Government asked people who are provided with bad water to pay full water charges and only reconsidered this when it was dragged over the coals. It is time the Minister of State reconsidered the whole operation.

It is incomprehensible that the Government expects people to sign up to be charged for water when at this point they do not know what they are signing up for, what the charges will be or what the structure will be. Day after day the public is being treated to a different story on this from a different member of the Government. Yesterday the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, gave her view and we later learned this was only her personal view rather than that of the Government. Other people denied the figures raised by the Tánaiste and claimed they are still under consideration. Meanwhile, the Government expects people who do not know how they will pay water charges or what will be the level of those charges to sign up, return forms and agree to its approach.

It is time to draw a line under this matter. The Government should spend the money that has been allocated for Irish Water on improving the water network. In future, people's ability to pay and financial circumstances should be the determining factors when the Government is budgeting for the measures it is to introduce. The confusion surrounding this issue has added to difficulties. Those currently being charged for water, including businesses and farms, are unsure as to how they will engage with Irish Water. Many small businesses and small farms with domestic allowances have made water payments to local authorities for some years. After the establishment of Irish Water representatives of such enterprises wondered how they would engage with the new body and asked who they should pay and how much. They were told that the answers are not known but will be sorted out as things go along. Donegal County Council charges businesses and farms €1.50 per cubic metre of water but Irish Water will charge households €2.44 per cubic metre. There is no clarity as to how this makes sense and the people to whom I referred are being told they will have two bills - one from the county council at the lower rate and one from Irish Water at the higher rate.

Group water schemes were also left in the dark as the Government pursued a hidden agenda that people do not understand. Representatives of group water schemes asked how such entities would be billed, if at all, and were not given answers, apart from "we do not know". Some people say they should sign up as a group water scheme that is availing of public water and therefore pay charges. However, Irish Water's online system allows users tick only one such category and this means they do not have to pay at all. Those in group water schemes do not know how they stand and there are more than 600 such schemes in Donegal. Some people in group water schemes are one day told that metering will occur at the entry point to the scheme and another day that they will not have to pay at all. Other days they are told they will be metered and will have to pay if using water from the local authority. This is an unacceptable way to treat people who worked hard with neighbours and other members of the community to lay the water pipes that serve them. It is indicative of the lack of thought that went into the establishment of Irish Water and deciding the charges involved. There is no clarity as to whether Irish Water will take over group water schemes - we cannot get an answer.

A similar situation applies to housing estates. Previously, if management of an estate was to be assumed by a county council the county council in question made decisions as to responsibility for roads, lighting, water and sewerage. Now the water and sewerage elements of such estate must be sanctioned by Irish Water. Irish Water representatives recently briefed councillors in the north-western counties and indicated it will not take responsibility for housing estates that are not connected to public sewerage - that is, any estate with its own treatment scheme. This means that hundreds of estates in Donegal, and many more in other counties, will not be taken over by local authorities, as their residents had hoped. Irish Water has washed its hands of such matters and does not want to deal with people who are not connected to the public sewerage system. This is yet another example of how poorly planned this matter has been. Irish Water will be more focused on collecting revenue than maintaining the level of service that existed previously via local authorities.

The former Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, was involved in establishing Irish Water and he has said that this body is a sham that is not fit for purpose. Meanwhile, those who tasked the Deputy with establishing Irish Water continue to stand by the body that he was instrumental in setting up. There must be a complete change of approach and the public must get some certainty. Water charges should be suspended and there must be a review of how to approach the matter. The national water system must be audited. Instead of spending funds on consultants to set up Irish Water and installing water meters the Government must listen to the people.

Instead of setting up an entity complete with bonuses, the Government should listen to what they have to say. The Government should change its approach and not put charges on people without any regard to whether they can afford it. The Government should focus on ensuring that investment is put into our water services and that people are respected and given the service they need. Money must be put into ensuring they have a consistent water supply. Furthermore, any decision taken about how this is to be funded should have at its core the principle of ensuring that nothing is asked of people without giving foremost consideration to their ability to pay, something we have not seen from the Government in respect of Irish Water and, unfortunately, something we have not seen from the Government in any of its four budgets. For these reasons I will be opposing the Finance Bill. I urge the Minister of State and the Government to take on board what is being said by the many people on this side of the House and to change their approach.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. It is surprising that so few from the Government benches are offering to speak in this important debate, which takes place every year. Precious few Government people have been around between yesterday and today.

I wish to make specific reference to section 27, which relates to the windfall tax. This windfall tax was introduced in 2009 by the late Mr. Brian Lenihan. It was intended and designed to prevent speculative land transactions based on the rezoning of land. It was designed to ensure we learned from some of the mistakes of the past and the litany of abuse of our planning system, that we heard about in the subsequent planning tribunal.

In a reply to a question about the tax from Deputy Michael McGrath at the end of September, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, stated: "The windfall gains provisions were introduced primarily to discourage overheating of the property market by way of speculative transactions involving rezoned land rather than as a revenue-raising measure." By the Minister's own admission, this tax was never intended to raise money but to prevent overheating of the property market. We now find ourselves in the incredible situation whereby we had an anti-speculation tax that existed when there was little or no speculation in the property market but is now being abolished by the Government precisely when there is significant evidence that such speculation is returning to the property market. This makes no sense whatsoever. Have any lessons been learned from the past? Who is dictating Government policy in this regard? Why is it that the current Government seems to be in a position of repeating mistakes that were made previously when it comes to land speculation and the property market?

I am keen to know more about the advice that was taken in respect of this measure. I know from a reply to a parliamentary question that I received in recent days that the Minister has said he listened to the submissions and, presumably, took on board the pre-budget comments made by the Construction Industry Federation, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, Property Industry Ireland and Chambers Ireland. These are the same people who were giving all the advice in the build-up to the boom and who contributed in large measure to the bust that we are all still reeling from. We are seeing Fine Gael looking more and more like Fianna Fáil in the bad old days.

I am keen to discuss the role of NAMA in all of this, because the Minister said he consulted with NAMA about this measure. The windfall tax was a potentially significant policy instrument in respect of land rezoning. In the reply to which I referred earlier, which I received last week from the Minister, it emerged that the views of NAMA were sought, among others, when the Minister was considering a review of this tax. I am keen to know precisely how great an influence NAMA had on the final decision to abolish this tax. This is an important point. From the point of view of the transparency and accountability of that body, it is important that we know the extent of that influence. As we know, the role of NAMA, legally enshrined, is to maximise the value of the State land and property assets it controls. This role puts it in direct conflict with sustainable planning and rezoning policies. I believe NAMA should have no say whatsoever in how planning and rezoning is determined. This is part and parcel of the rezoning policy that was pursued for so many years, disastrously, in this country. To dampen down speculation, the windfall tax was introduced. One of the bodies that stands to benefit significantly from the abolition of this tax was one of the bodies that the Minister consulted on the matter. At the very least there is a conflict of interest, and it is wholly inappropriate that this has been the case. There is a need for some transparency on the matter, and I would welcome the Minister's comments.

I will comment on some of the other provisions and the budget in general. The backdrop to this budget is the fact that we are now finally starting to emerge from an exceptionally black period in our economic history. Fingers crossed, things are starting to pick up. We are all holding our breath to see whether these early signs of recovery will continue. This is the first budget in which there has been any leeway to do anything and the first that has not been dictated by bottom-line figures, although we are still obliged to meet earlier commitments. What this budget required more than anything else, given that we are starting the comeback as a country and as an economy, was a vision for the country. It needed a vision that recognised the extraordinary damage that has been done to the country and the economy in recent years. It required a vision that was about repairing that damage and uniting people around a shared vision of the future. It should have been about restoring confidence in ourselves as a people and as a country as well as restoring confidence in the political system to handle the situation. Unfortunately, we have got none of that vision. What we have got from this budget is the Taoiseach's vision, which, we can all see now, is a vision not for the people but for re-election. That is the beginning and the end of what this budget is about.

We know that during the period from 2008 to the present, everyone took a hit from the collapse of the economy.

However, the brunt of the recession and of austerity was undoubtedly borne by those who were least able to shoulder it. Two groups stand out in particular, welfare recipients and the working poor. The latter are people who perhaps lost their jobs or found it very difficult to stay in jobs or, after struggling to get jobs, the jobs turned out to be very poorly paid and they ended up not much better off than being on welfare. That is due to the low pay culture that has developed in this country in recent years. These people, by and large, were worst hit. They suffered cuts in their income. They were especially affected by cuts in services. People who are a little more comfortably off, although they experienced cuts in their income, in many cases were still in a position to pay for the services their families needed. However, people who were welfare dependent or who had low incomes, the working poor, did not have the money to buy services. They were doubly hit in that regard because the recession saw severe cutbacks in services across the board at social and community level.

In addition, the people who were hardest hit were also hit by the introduction of so many new taxes and charges. The manner in which those taxes and charges were introduced was very regressive as, to a large extent, the new charges did not take account of people's ability to pay. If one tells people they must pay for services and pay new charges, people on low incomes are proportionately far worse hit because they do not have anything to spare. The introduction of new charges imposes a far greater burden on them, to the point where many of them simply do not have the money to pay them.

A significant subset of the welfare dependent group and the working poor group is poor children. Last week, the UNICEF report showed that in the period 2008 to 2012 the number of children living in poverty rose by 10%, bringing the level of child poverty in this country to 28.6%, which is close to the bottom of the league in terms of developed countries. By any standard that is a matter of shame for this country. All of what one might call the developed world, OECD countries and so forth, was affected significantly by the recession, but the vast majority of countries managed to have policies to protect children from shouldering the brunt of the recession. This country did not. It was not done in the period in question, from 2008 to 2012, and it has not happened since then. Ireland is now fifth last in the league.

In the run up to the budget the Taoiseach said that the first priority for the Government was to cut the top rate of tax. Incredibly, and presumably supported by his colleagues in the Government, the Taoiseach said that after eight years of severe austerity and all it entailed for families the first priority in the budget was to cut the top rate of tax, a measure that would benefit the top 18% of earners in this country. Imagine the difference it would have made if the Taoiseach had said the first priority in the budget would be to end child poverty. Think about what it would have done in terms of confronting the reality of the worst damage that has been done by the recession and putting in place a vision and a course of action for forthcoming years in respect of identifying what our priorities should be. Think of the confidence it would restore to people that the appalling situation in which families have found themselves and the growing rate of child poverty were going to be reversed. Think of what it would do for our country and its future. The 28% of children who are currently living in poverty are tomorrow's adults and parents, which means we are back into the intergenerational sequence of poverty. That could have been broken if there had been vision from this Government. Regrettably, there was no evidence of that.

Consider, also, the confidence it would have restored in the Government and in politics that, at last, after the awful times of the last few years, the Government was looking at reality and deciding that the priority for this country had to be the 28% of children currently in poverty. Instead of that, the Taoiseach and the Government decided that the priority at this point in the development of the economy is the 18% of people who are best off in this country. It is just outrageous. The Government has chosen to introduce a tax package that will cost over €600 million. Let us consider what will happen as a result of that tax package. A millionaire gains €747 from the budget. A person on the minimum wage gains €173. How is that fair? A part-time worker on €9,000 per annum gains nothing from this budget. A high earner on €109,000 gains nearly €750. The gap between the lower paid and the better off widened significantly in the budget. No amount of Government spin, wishful thinking or contrived statistics will change that fact.

It is quite galling to hear Ministers and Government backbenchers uttering the nonsense that this budget was about cutting tax for low and middle income earners. It was not about that at all. This was predominantly about cutting tax for the better off. Of course, there were other ways to deal with it. There are measures and steps that can be taken to target any tax relief, but the Government chose not to do that. It sought to mislead people, I believe deliberately, by saying there was a clawback, that while it reduced the top rate of tax by 1% there was a clawback through USC. Overall, when one takes into consideration the widening of the standard rate band, which benefits all those earning very substantial incomes, that clawback did not exist. Everybody earning over €70,000 per annum benefits to the tune of €747 per year and double income, high earner households gained double that amount. By no stretch of the imagination can this be seen as a fair budget.

The UNICEF report to which I referred showed that children bore the brunt of the recession and identified what measures the Government should have taken to tackle the problem. It should have invested in family support services, which have been decimated in recent years, and properly funded preschool services. The provision of a year of free preschool education is all very well but it is seriously under-resourced, especially in the poorest areas. The report states the Government should also have invested in education. Rather than improving education services, however, it chose to implement more cuts. It failed to take the opportunity to reverse the forthcoming 1% cut to the capitation payment. Despite hitting the poorest and most vulnerable children in society, the Government believes it is all right to allow it to proceed.

The Government should also improve health services for children. At community level, primary health care services have been slashed and long waiting lists have developed for speech and language therapy and occupational therapy. Some 9,000 cases involving child welfare and protection have not been allocated a social worker. Moreover, 400,000 people are on waiting lists for hospital services and 60,000 are on waiting lists for primary care services, which are very important for children.

This legislation is a missed opportunity. The Government had a chance to show we live in a caring and decent society and have set the right priorities. It declined to take it, however, choosing instead to introduce a regressive budget and this regressive legislation which have widened the gap between rich and poor, further alienated many sections of society and increased cynicism about politics. It was for these reasons that 150,000 people took to the streets last week.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Finance Bill. To respond to Deputy Róisín Shortall's point on the fairness or otherwise of the budget, the measures provided for in the Bill further improve the progressiveness of the income tax and universal social charge systems.

As a result of these measures, the top 1% of earners will pay 21% of income tax and the universal social charge, while the bottom 76% of earners will pay only 20% of income tax and the universal social charge. That is progressive and fair.

The budget reverses the progressivity of recent years.

I propose to focus on the agriculture measures in the budget, many of which were positive. As the chairman of the Fine Gael Party's internal agriculture committee, I commend the Minister and his officials, working with officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, on producing some highly progressive changes that will be of great assistance in the areas of land mobility and ensuring young farmers can access agriculture through long-term leasing and other measures.

I also welcome, albeit with a couple of caveats, the retention of 90% agriculture relief for active farmers and non-active farmers who lease out their land for six years or more. The date should be extended until 2016 to give those affected by the changes time to prepare.

The definition of an "active" farmer is a serious issue. The requirement that an active farmer must spend 50% of working time farming is unworkable, unfair and impossible to meet. Part-time farming has become an integral part of the agriculture industry, largely because commodity prices are low and farmers must go off farm to earn additional income. This does not mean such farmers are bad farmers or do not make a valuable contribution to the agriculture sector. A part-time farmer who holds down a 40 hour per week job may be also highly efficient and productive. Some part-time farmers use a contractor model, whereby they hire contractors to plough, till and sow. This does not make them lesser farmers or mean they make less of a contribution to agriculture than their neighbours who perform these tasks themselves. Agriculture needs part-time farmers because the alternative is ranch farming and land abandonment.

I ask the Minister to consider adopting the Irish Farmers Association proposal that an active farmer be defined as someone who farms and files a return under schedule D. This week, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine agreed to write to the Minister highlighting its concerns in this regard. A couple of options are available, including the use of the green certificate. Given that not every older farmer has a green certificate, an alternative would be to use a percentage of the working week.

Long-term leasing is preferable for younger farmers who need to plan and wish to make a lifetime career in agriculture but do not have access to land. We must move from the conacre system. Statistics show that farmland here is sold on average once every 400 years, whereas in France a field will be sold every 80 years. Land mobility here is not good. We must ensure any measures taken in this area do not penalise the children of farmers who wish to inherit a family farm and possibly farm it in future. This is a key point.

On the application of consanguinity relief until 2017, a similar issue arises as in the case of the definition of an active farmer and similar changes need to be made as the measure is unworkable. One cannot require a farmer who works off-farm for 40 hours per week to prove that he or she is working 40 hours per week on the farm. To do so would penalise farmers other than those at whom the measure is directed.

The consanguinity measure provides an incentive to encourage earlier lifetime transfers of farms. The issue that arises is the proposal to implement the measure from 1 January 2015. The incentive of a lifetime transfer may be lost if we do not provide more time. A lead-in period should be provided for the relief, which would apply to all transfers. It should be similar to the lead-in period that applies before the capital gains tax retirement relief applies. As such, consanguinity relief would apply where the disposer transfers the asset before he or she reaches pension age. Children of farmers aged in their early 60s may be preparing to take over the farm. The time to consider such a change is in the period before the parent receives a pension. We should extend the threshold from 65 to 66 years to bring it into line with pension age. This would be a helpful change.

I welcome the changes to the income tax and universal social charge regimes to support employment and job creation, which are our primary objectives. Concern has been raised in recent weeks about the taxation levels that apply to the self-employed. I accept that the purpose of the increase to 11% in the universal social charge rate for those earning more than €100,000 per annum was to compensate for the reduction in the marginal tax rate. A full review of the entire taxation regime, as it applies to self-employed individuals, is required. It is possible to improve how the tax system applies to entrepreneurs and those starting out in business when compared to employees. Even small changes would assist those who have ideas. We must encourage start-ups given their key role in the economy. An overall review of the taxation system is warranted.

Prior to the budget, I met representatives of the Irish Association of Health Stores to discuss the issue of herbal teas. I am pleased that herbal teas and fruit infusions are included in the definition of "unprepared teas" and will be subject to a 0% VAT rate. This is a positive move which will come as a relief to the 101 members of the association and their 400 employees nationwide. They were keen to have the 0% VAT rate confirmed for a number of health supplements that maintain, protect and enhance health. I will continue to work with the association and highlight the case of other health enhancing products over which a question mark remains in respect of VAT.

I met a number of members of the Vintners Federation of Ireland in south County Kildare in the run-up to the budget. Deputies are aware of the pressure faced by small pubs, especially those in rural areas. Publicans launched a campaign on excise before the budget and I welcome the decision not to increase excise duty. In the longer term, it will be necessary to protect the pub trade, which provides an important social outlet and employment. In future budgets, it will be necessary to review excise duty and address the low cost sale of drink by multiples. This issue is now on the radar and needs to be tackled. It is much better to take a drink in the regulated environment of a pub than to pour one's own measures at home, which is the latest trend.

We do not want to lose the pub from rural Ireland. It has a very important role to play.

In regard to the employment investment incentive scheme, I have spoken to a number of companies and financial advisers who are seeking an extension from three to five years of the minimum holding period. Some are growing industries, such as the Irish whiskey and distilling sector where a long holding period is a necessity. The extension to four years is welcome, even though it was not what the industry was seeking. We need to encourage industries and sectors which are recognised as world leaders and I admire the growth in whiskey distilling. It is a proven export product for which we are recognised and rewarded. It is a major help in our attempt to meet and surpass the food harvest 2020 targets of hitting €12 billion in exports of food and drink products. Irish whiskey has massive growth potential and needs continuous support.

The extension of the home renovation scheme to rental properties whose owners are liable for income tax is welcome and shows the positive nature and impact of the scheme to date. Many landlords are struggling to manage increasing costs and additional charges on top of hefty mortgages, therefore improvements to properties are down the lists of priorities. However, given the shortage of quality and suitable accommodation we need to incentivise landlords where possible to keep rental properties to an appropriate standard. I hope the officials and Minister will take on board the points of concern I raised today. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the Finance Bill and the budget, as outlined by the Ministers, Deputies Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin. I share some of the observations made by Deputy Billy Kelleher in the context of demystifying the budgetary process. We are still somewhat archaic in that regard. A lot of consultation takes place in committees with various interest groups which make submissions, etc. The Executive guards jealously its responsibility for the budget without sufficient engagement with all parties. To have the kind of engagement for which we would all yearn, where we would leave our political caps outside the Chamber and work collectively and share the distilled wisdom of all parties, calls for a fundamental honesty of approach. I say this in the context of some previous contributions I heard.

There are so many black holes in the budgetary proposals of other political parties that this Chamber would be engulfed in darkness. We often have the dialogue of the deaf here, where people come in and submit their scripts without ever listening to the points made by the other side. Scripts would be illegible because of the darkness. We might as well hand our contributions to the editor of debates and close the Chamber because nobody seems to be interested in what anybody else has to say. The poverty of the Chamber is its unwillingness to take on board constructive proposals because they might come from Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl or, God forbid, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald if she was here for the debate. We on this side do not have a monopoly of wisdom and neither does the Opposition. God knows, we know it did not have it in the critical years which landed us in the mess we are in. It is something on which we have to work harder so that we can harness the collective wisdom of all Deputies.

Deputy Róisín Shortall has left the Chamber and it is not in my nature to attack somebody who is not here, but it struck me forcibly that despite all her criticisms she was in government when critical decisions were made. She blindly ignored the context in which difficult decisions were made. Of course many reports criticise all of the things which have happened to Irish society in the past seven or eight years, such as child poverty and homelessness. Deputy Billy Kelleher also referred to homelessness and, I understand, waiting lists for speech and language therapy. In the heyday of the boom we had waiting lists and people sleeping homeless 150 yards from where I speak. We need to work harder and smarter, and get more for the taxpayers' money we spend.

The Taoiseach gave hostages to fortune in quoting the objective of reducing the top rate of tax. It was but one of many objectives. In the same breath, Deputy Róisín Shortall went on to speak about the working poor. It must be remembered that people hit the top rate of tax at below the average industrial wage. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are the working poor and who would benefit from the reduction in the top rate of income tax. We need to have some context about where the country is at. We continue to spend more than we earn on a daily basis. We are borrowing money, though we will meet the objectives in terms of reducing our deficit, to run the day-to-day business of the country. We are not borrowing money for investment purposes.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett is in the Chamber. He usually calls for the introduction of a wealth or financial transaction tax. It is interesting that the 11 member states involved in enhanced co-operation in Europe have decided to plough on unilaterally and try to develop a financial transaction tax. We have a 1% stamp duty tax on transactions here. The 11 member states are proposing a financial transaction tax of 0.1%, and one of the 11 has walked away from the table.

We have to be honest about the debate we are having. We have choices. We need to realise we have succeeded in turning around the ship of State. We are creating more jobs. We have an awful lot more to do, but we have succeeded because we are flexible in the way in which we have been able to change. We do not need to disadvantage ourselves. We need employment opportunities and we need to attract multinationals. Such investment is very mobile and goes to Singapore, Dublin, Cork or anywhere else on the globe.

We need to address things at a multinational level in terms of taxation, and the double Irish is a welcome step in that regard. We need to be box clever. We do not need to disadvantage ourselves on the altar of competing bids on the Opposition benches about how we could raise more money. It is not as easy as they suspect. I do not want to be personal about Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, but the financial transaction tax is the one area where the hypocrisy of there being easy solutions, if only we were willing to engage with them, is clearly exposed.

I want to raise one specific issue in regard to taxation which I have never quite understood. It is appropriate that the USC rate of 10% was increased to 11% for self-employed people earning more than €100,000. Why is it exclusively the self-employed who pay the higher rate? A significant number of people, many of whom are mentioned in this Chamber on a regular basis, are employees, employers or work in the public service and earn figures in excess of that. Why are their earnings ring-fenced from the higher rate of USC? The self-employed, who are also creating jobs for others, are asked to pay a higher rate. A significant amount of money is involved, on which we should not turn our backs. I would like to know why only self-employed people are affected. The Minister of State might explain the situation.

Deputy Róisín Shortall also referred to the Department of Education and Skills. She was a Minister of State when the decision was made to have a rolling reduction of 1% in the capitation grant for a number of years. She also failed to acknowledge that the Department's budget has increased for the first time. That is because a significant demographic bulge has to be accommodated in new schools, etc. Most of the investment is going into built infrastructure to deliver for children in classrooms rather than into salaries or wages for staff in the Department or teachers or higher capitation rates.

Deputy Micheál Martin referred to a number of points, one of which was agri-taxation. In the past 12 months we have deliberated on the best way to use or refocus whatever resources are available. Significant additional costs are not envisaged, but we need to discuss how it might be best focused to take account of the current situation regarding agriculture. A significant player in agriculture in terms of targets for harvest 2020 are part-time farmers. It would be wrong to send a signal that we value their contribution, their animals and the crops they send to the marketplace and the employment they provide less than the person who is in the fortunate position to be able to work full-time on a farm.

With regard to capital tax reliefs in the agricultural sector, we must be extremely careful about what signal we give out, because these reliefs are valued by the farming community. We must be creative in finding the proper definition to ensure this sector can avail of the agricultural relief and ensure greater land mobility. Deputy Martin Heydon hit the nail on the head in terms of the reluctance in Ireland to sell land and the consequent lack of land mobility, notwithstanding previous incentives, be they installation aid or early retirement schemes, which never really succeeded in achieving their objective. The situation remained stagnant. This is a good proposal, but we need to ensure it is available to part-time farmers and those who facilitate the leasing of their land on to others. We also need to ensure there is relief in the area of stamp duty, because the definition as proposed in the legislation is equally restrictive in that area. We need to ensure the relief is available to part-time farmers and those who facilitate the availability of their land by way of long-term leases to others.

We tend to over-egg on all sides. It is damnation and perfidy from the Opposition benches and a bright new dawn from this side. We must consider the reality of the situation. We are giving back some €600 million, but we have taken multiples of that from people over the past number of years because of the financial situation. I admit that while we are giving back €600 million with one hand, we are taking much of it back through other indirect taxation. However, prudence is the order of the day. We must ensure we never have boom-and-bust cycles again. What is at play here also is a fundamental reorientation of our tax system. Taxes on work are regressive, and the more we can put into people's pockets to allow them discretionary spending the better. On the other hand, we will have indirect taxes, be they in the area of water or property taxes, but these allow individuals some degree of control over the outcome.

I welcome the opportunity I have had to say my few words. I hope this debate is not a dialogue of the deaf and I hope that some of the constructive suggestions from all sides will be taken on board.

I would like to pick up on the point on which Deputy Michael Creed left off, in regard to the potential for a dialogue of the deaf. While it may seem like that, I have attended this debate over the past three days and I believe it has largely been a constructive engagement. It was unfair of Deputy Róisín Shortall to suggest that Government Deputies did not participate. The list of speakers indicates differently. We have had a constructive debate, and the comments made by Deputies Michael Creed and Paul J. Connaughton last night that there is no monopoly on wisdom are fair. Deputy Paul J. Connaughton suggested that people on this side of the House tend to think that everything is wonderful while people on the other side think everything is dreadful. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Neither I nor the Government advocates that this Finance Bill or budget 2015 is a panacea for all the challenges faced by this country. As every Member and citizen knows, we have had several extremely harsh budgets over a number of years involving difficult decisions that have had a negative impact on the lives of all people living in this country. This budget was the first that allowed us to try to give something back. However, I hasten to add that what has been given back has been modest and limited. The budget and the Finance Bill need to be viewed in that light.

A wide range of issues have been raised in the past three days and it will not be possible to deal with all of them in the time available. While all of the issues raised do not relate directly to the Finance Bill, I understand and appreciate how these wider issues arise. It is unsurprising that the issue of water charges has featured strongly in contributions. A number of measures were announced on budget day in regard to the Finance Bill and what we are discussing now to approve the overall affordability of water charges. The objective of these supports is to assist households that pay their water bills. Following on from the announcement on budget day, officials from the Department of Finance are working closely with their colleagues in other relevant Departments and agencies on the development of processes that will be employed to deliver the relief. As the Minister for Finance stated on budget day and subsequently, we will design the measure as broadly and efficiently as possible to ensure the relief reaches all households that pay their charges. As Members know, the Government is expected to make an announcement on this and related matters in the near future.

On the issue of tax progressiveness and fairness, a number of Deputies have asserted that the income tax package was skewed towards higher earners. However, the maximum benefit from this tax package is achieved at incomes of €70,000. The new USC rates on incomes above that level act to cap the benefit in order that those with incomes greater than €70,000 achieve only the same benefit in monetary terms. People come into this House and make disingenuous comments about millionaires getting so much, but the benefit flatlines after €70,000. It may not sound as appealing to a millionaire to say the maximum benefit is achieved at €70,000. That point should not be lost if we are to have an honest debate. The highest proportionate benefit, as a percentage of net income, from the budget tax changes occurs at an income level of just over €12,000.

Since the Government came into office, some 410,000 people no longer pay the USC. Now, following this budget, a further 80,000 will be removed from the USC net. Some 33,000 people have been removed from the top rate tax band. These are people on incomes of approximately €32,800. The band has been increased by €1,000 to €33,800. These people are not millionaires or wealthy people. They are normal people who get up, go to work and earn a relatively modest income but who were paying the higher rate of tax. We have had debate in the media in the past few months about how people here start paying the higher rate of tax at a low income. The budget makes an honest attempt to begin to rectify this, because this entry point to the marginal rate of tax is a disincentive to people who choose to work harder and accept promotion or move from part-time to full-time work. I concede that we have raised the band by only €1,000 in this Bill, but some 33,000 workers who were paying the higher marginal rate of tax will benefit and will no longer pay that rate.

In the lifetime of the Government, we have restored the minimum wage. The availability of social housing is an issue in all our communities, certainly in mine, and we have had significant discussion on this. The budget represents a massive effort to invest in social housing. As a country, we stopped building social housing and moved to a model of private rental, a model that caused significant difficulties in terms of social cohesion. People ended up renting a house for a year, not knowing where they would be the following year or where their children would go to school. They could not become embedded in their communities. We must get back to a situation in which we are building local authority housing, and this budget will help us start on that. I have alluded to housing issues because of the concerns raised in this debate.

Concerns were also raised regarding access to front-line services. While this issue is not directly related to the Finance Bill, it should be noted that the Government announced through the budget the ending of the blanket moratorium on recruitment. This moratorium was a blunt instrument which was implemented absolutely. Sometimes it is necessary to use a blunt instrument when in the midst of a crisis. However, the moratorium led to a situation regarding access to front-line services. In all communities we see its effect. With the ending of the blanket moratorium, we will have a situation in which local managers, paid to manage, will have to act within their employment budget. They will make the decisions in regard to how they spend that budget. I believe this is a better and fairer way to deal with front-line services in terms of closeness to the community.

It is unfair for Deputies to suggest every new job created has been a low-paid job. I have responsibility for the international financial services sector and when I visit companies and meet people working there, the assertion is not borne out by the facts. It is also not borne out by our tax take. The Government has given a commitment to a low pay commission. In regard to getting people to move from social welfare to work and providing supports for people who are trying to move, the Tánaiste has announced that these people will be allowed to retain the qualified child payment when transitioning from lone parent allowance. These important measures are worth noting if our debate is to remain in context.

In response to some of the specific issues raised, Deputy Michael McGrath suggested the abolition of the weekly PRSI allowance two years ago affected all taxpayers equally.

However, I must correct the record because that is simply not the case. Those who did not earn more than €18,304 were unaffected as they were not liable to PRSI.

As regards individualisation of the tax system, the position is that this issue was considered by the Commission on Taxation which, as Deputies will know, recommended no change be made to the current system. As regards the self-assessed and the fact they do not have access to PAYE tax credits, the reasons for this are historic. There have, of course, been changes during the years, with the result that the self-employed now pay tax on a current year basis, for example, and that the PAYE allowance has become a tax credit. However, the Government has signalled its intention to introduce a programme of tax reform. Budget 2015 is for the first year of that programme and I hope we can look at such tax reform issues in subsequent budgets.

With regard to progressivity, it is important to indicate that Ireland has one of the most progressive income tax systems of the EU members of the OECD and the second most progressive of all members of the OECD. The changes introduced in the budget will reinforce this progressivity such that the top 1% of income earners will pay 21% of all income tax and USC collected in 2015, up from 19%. In contrast, the bottom 76% of income earners will pay only 20% of all income tax and USC collected, down from 21% before the budget. I heard Deputy Róisín Shortall describe the Government statistics as contrived, but they cannot only be contrived when they are uttered from this side of the House. These are statistics and they are the facts. We can look at and debate the analysis, but let us also debate the facts.

A number of Deputies spoke about the SARP provisions in the Bill. While the take-up of the SARP to date has been very low, the Minister believes the enhancement of the SARP will help to improve our offering in attracting companies and mobile talent. Companies that avail of it are required to report to the Revenue Commissioners on the number of jobs created or retained that can be attributed to the existence of the scheme. This is a job creation measure. There has to be a linkage between jobs created or jobs retained by virtue of an individual being in this country and availing of the scheme. The Minister will be watching these reports closely in regard to the statistics for the uptake of the scheme.

There was a discussion about the so-called double Irish. I disagree with those who assert that the Minister's announcement on budget day on Ireland's rules on company residence and the so-called double Irish placed Ireland at a competitive disadvantage internationally. I argue the opposite is the case. Industry expects certainty and we are partaking in an OECD BEPS process. Why would anyone wait to arrive at a destination when he or she could have what I describe as a first-mover advantage? Let us get out there and let investors know where we intend to go with the tax code and various regimes we have in place. That is what we have done. This change is very important for the State. It is a small part of a much broader initiative which is set out in the new roadmap for Ireland's tax competitiveness which contains a comprehensive package of competitive tax measures to provide the foundations to maintain Ireland as a thriving hub for foreign direct investment.

Deputy Pearse Doherty asserted that the Minister had misled the Dáil on the issue of the so-called double Irish. That is, obviously, an assertion I reject. The Minister has always been very clear that the double Irish is not part of the Irish tax offering. It is just one example of the many international tax planning arrangements which have been designed and developed by tax and legal advisers to take advantage of mismatches between the rules in two or more countries. Obviously, it is something we are putting beyond doubt as a result of the budget announcement.

There has been a discussion about the amount of tax paid by multinationals. It is an important discussion to have; discussions on all tax issues are extremely appropriate to the Finance Bill and the budget. However, it is also important to have the discussion in the context of some of the documentation and reports published on budget day. I refer Deputies to the report issued on budget day on the effective tax rate paid by companies in Ireland and also the ESRI report on what would have happened, hypothetically, if the corporation tax rate in this country had been increased from 12.5%. A substantial body of work was done by the ESRI and its report has been published. It builds a good foundation for a debate on the matter in the House and I am sure it is an issue to which we can return.

The issue of tax competition was raised and there were questions about who benefited from this practice. Questions were also raised about evidence that supported a low corporation tax rate in Ireland. Again, it is important that these questions be considered in the context of the ESRI's report and the report on the effective tax rate published by the Department of Finance.

Reference was made to the provision of tax relief for crowd funding and loan capital. The Minister has no plans to introduce such tax relief, but investors can, of course, avail of tax relief for qualifying investments in SMEs through the employment and investment incentive.

Reference was made to increasing the tax-free thresholds that applied under CAT legislation to gifts and inheritances, depending on the relationship between the giver and the beneficiary on foot of the increase in property values. While asset values, including property prices, have been recovering in recent times, it is unlikely they have recovered to previous levels or uniformly in all areas of the country. This is a threshold the Minister will keep under review.

On the need to encourage domestic entrepreneurs, a point raised by Deputies Dara Calleary and Michael McGrath and others, section 45 of the Finance (No. 2) Act 2013 provided for capital gains tax relief for entrepreneurs who reinvested the proceeds from the disposal of assets made on or after 1 January 2010 in certain charitable business assets. Commencement of the legislative provisions had been made subject to EU state aid approval. A number of changes are being made to the capital gains tax entrepreneur relief provisions in this Finance Bill in order that the relief will satisfy new EU regulations introduced earlier this year, thus obviating the need for formal EU approval of a relief from a state aid perspective. I hope that in time this is something that can be of significant benefit to domestic entrepreneurs.

There was a significant discussion and, it is fair to say, concern on all sides of the House about the definition of "an active farmer". Concerns were expressed about the revisions to the definition in dealing with CAT relief on agricultural property. I am pleased to inform the House that the Minister will examine these concerns which have also been expressed by others and will see if further amendments are required on Committee Stage. This is clearly an issue that needs to be looked at and I am sure we will be returning to it on Committee Stage.

Quite a few Deputies referred to the abolition from next year of the windfall tax provisions. I would like to restate the rationale behind it. The Minister has done so because the tax is an impediment to the proper functioning of the property market at this time. Such profits or gains will in the future be taxed at normal rates of capital gains tax, corporation tax or income tax, as appropriate. The Minister will keep developments in the property market under very close review and, if it is found that transactions on the sale of land for development are leading to abuse or increased development costs, in particular in providing housing, he will not hesitate to introduce whatever measures are open to him to correct the situation.

It was extremely regrettable that Deputy Róisín Shortall referred to one representative body which the Minister had consulted, as outlined in the course of a reply running to a page and a half to a parliamentary question. The Minister consults widely; the budget process is open to pre-budget submissions and such submissions are received from far and wide and considered in the context of the budget. It is appropriate to do so. To suggest in a slur that some of the representative bodies named by the Deputy in this Chamber were responsible for the economic mess in which the country finds itself is not to recognise the reality that many of these organisations are responsible for significant economic and business activity. For example, Chambers Ireland was among the group of bodies listed. It is very appropriate for the Minister for Finance of the day, whoever he or she may be, or whoever is in government, to consult widely with all stakeholders and participate in an engagement process. We need to make sure that when we get to the stage of introducing a budget, we have engaged with as many stakeholders and heard as wide a variety of views as possible.

There were some queries about the first-time home buyers' issue. First-time home buyers will be entitled to a refund of DIRT paid on savings used to purchase a home, on up to 20% of the purchase price in the 48 months prior to purchase, up to the end of 2017.

Deputy Pearse Doherty referred to the proposal to amend the general anti-avoidance legislation. There are significant numbers of cases involving transactions which have already taken place and which Revenue is challenging. However, pursuing these cases through the courts is slow, the outcome can never be certain and the process ties up significant Revenue resources. That is the reason a settlement opportunity is being provided. Let me be clear: at an absolute minimum, the taxpayer has to pay the tax due and, where interest is relevant, 80% of it also has to be paid. The measure is strictly time-bound. Tax evasion is illegal; tax avoidance is not. Nonetheless, Revenue challenges aggressive tax avoidance schemes and the unintended use of legislation.

There was a discussion during the course of the debate of a proposed levy on alcohol sales in off-licence premises. As the Minister has previously pointed out, EU Directive 92/93 which governs the structure of alcohol taxation does not provide for differentiation in tax treatment based on the location in which an alcohol product is sold. As Deputies on all sides of the House will be aware, however, the broader issue is being looked at in terms of a whole-of-government approach.

Deputies Michelle Mulherin, Denis Naughten and John Paul Phelan raised the issue of petrol stretching. This is a very serious issue about which we have heard a significant amount in recent times. I assure the Deputies that it is being taken very seriously by the Revenue Commissioners and that investigations into the matter are ongoing. To date, 48 premises nationwide have been tested, with samples referred to the State Laboratory. Where the examinations indicate the presence of illegal stretching agents, the Revenue Commissioners will take action and pursue prosecutions against offenders, where possible. I reiterate a call I made previously during Topical Issue debates that anyone with relevant information pass it on immediately to the Revenue Commissioners. There is a section on the Revenue Commissioners' website to enable people to pass on this information.

Deputy Pearse Doherty asked about the VAT treatment of Government funding for the 1916 centenary commemorations. As Government funding is outside the scope of VAT, there will be no VAT liability on the receipt of funding by groups commemorating the 1916 Rising. The Deputy also asked for clarity on the different VAT treatment of Irish dancing and ballet classes. The EU VAT directive, with which Irish VAT legislation must comply, provides for a public interest exemption for education. Ballet schools are regarded as providing VAT-exempt education of a similar kind. This is because, in general, recognised ballet schools are run by qualified ballet teachers who teach to an externally examined syllabus. That was one of the more niche issues raised, but it was also an important one.

A number of Deputies referred to the pension fund levy, which will be very significantly reduced next year and end after that. Other Deputies welcomed the retention of the 9% VAT rate on tourist-related activities. As the Minister for Finance said in his Budget Statement, without the pension levy fund, there would have been no VAT reduction, but he has now outlined very clearly how he intends to wind it down.

I have tried to answer as many questions as I can. No doubt, there will be an opportunity to tease out these issues further on Committee Stage. In his opening statement to the House the Minister mentioned that there were still a small number of matters under consideration for inclusion on Committee Stage.

I will end where I began. The Finance Bill is not a panacea for all of the challenges faced by families. It is simply not possible to do this in one budget after the significant economic crisis from which the country is emerging. We now have the fastest growing economy in Europe, with the expectation that this will continue into 2015 and 2016. We also have one of the fastest growing employment rates in Europe. The budget was the first opportunity we had to try to give something back in a small and modest way. I hope it is something on which we can build in future budgets. I think the message that needs to go out is that the firefighting in the economy is over and that we now need to do all we can to create more jobs, continue to reduce the unemployment rate, increase investment in the country and deliver the public services on which all of our constituents and every citizen in the country depend. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 66; Níl, 41.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.

Níl

  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Jerry Buttimer; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Question declared carried.