Appropriation Bill 2014: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Appropriation Bill 2014 is an essential element of financial housekeeping that, as Deputies are aware, must be concluded by the Dáil this year. The Bill serves two primary purposes. First, the Appropriation Bill is necessary to authorise in law all of the expenditure that has been undertaken in 2014 on the basis of the Estimates that have already been voted on by the Dáil during the year. The amounts included in section 1 and Schedule 1 to be appropriated for supply services all relate to amounts included in the Estimates or set out in the Revised Estimates Volume 2014, voted on by the Dáil in January 2014 as well as the Supplementary Estimates, also voted on by the Dáil in 2014. Second, the passage of the Appropriation Bill is essential to provide a legal basis for all existing voted expenditure to continue into 2015. It allows payments, including social welfare payments, salaries and pensions as well as payments to suppliers for goods and services to continue pending a vote by the Dáil on the 2015 Estimates.

Under the rolling five-year multi-annual capital envelopes introduced in budget 2004 Departments may carry over from the current year to the following year unspent capital up to a maximum of 10% of voted capital. Section 91 of the Finance Act makes legal provision for this capital carryover by way of deferred surrender. Under this enabling legislation the normal requirement under the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act 1866 to surrender unspent moneys in a financial year to the Central Fund may be deferred in the case of capital moneys, subject to certain conditions. Among these conditions is that the unspent capital sums must be set out in the Appropriation Act by reference to the Votes concerned. The Appropriation Act determines definitively the capital amounts which may be carried over to the following year. The capital carryover facility forms an integral part of the rolling multi-annual capital envelopes.

The multi-annual system is designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the management by Departments and agencies of capital programmes and projects. It recognises the difficulties inherent in the planning and profiling of capital expenditure and acknowledges that for myriad reasons capital projects may be subject to delays. The carryover facility allows for a portion of unspent moneys, which would have been lost to the capital programmes and projects concerned under the annual system of allocating capital, to be made available for spending on programme priorities in the subsequent year.

The amounts of capital carryover by Vote are set out in Schedule 2. It is proposed to carry over a little over €79 million from a total capital programme of over €3.5 billion. This €79 million is split across seven Votes, with the largest amounts arising on the Votes of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The liabilities in respect of the first payroll payments to staff and pensioners mature on 1 and 2 January 2015 and form part of the supply services for 2015. However, as funding must be in place to ensure staff and pensioners have access to funds on these dates, Departments and Government offices will need to pre-fund their commercial bank accounts. Section 3 puts in place a mechanism to provide for advances from the Central Fund to the Paymaster General's supply account in December 2014. These advances are to be repaid to the Central Fund in January 2015.

A provision in the Appropriation Bill provides legal authority for Departments and Government offices to have a credit issued in respect of the Central Fund. This facilitates the accounting treatment of salaries and pensions payable on 1 and 2 January 2015 as expenditure that comes under moneys voted by the Dáil in 2015 in respect of which the usual processes and mechanisms for voted moneys in 2015 will apply.

Section 15(1) of the Health Service Executive (Financial Matters) Act 2014 provides that from 1 January 2015 the Health Service Executive Vote shall cease to exist and the salaries and expenses and certain other services administered by the Health Service Executive, including miscellaneous grants, shall form part of the Vote of the Office of the Minister for Health. Section 3 of the Appropriation Act 1999, as amended by section 4 of the Appropriation Act 2005, provides that funds relating to certain excise duties on tobacco products be transferred by the Revenue Commissioners as appropriations-in-aid to the Health Service Executive. The amount involved is approximately €167 million. The incorporation of the HSE Vote into the Vote of the Office of the Minister for Health requires that these excise duty receipts be appropriated to the Vote of the Minister for Health with effect from 1 January 2015. This change requires a revision to section 3 of the Appropriations Act 1999, as set out in section 4 of the Appropriation Bill 2014.

I remarked at the outset that the Appropriation Bill is an essential element of housekeeping which those of us in the Dáil are required to undertake. The passing of the Bill will authorise in law all of the expenditure that has been undertaken in 2014 on the basis of the Estimates voted on by the Dáil during the year. Crucially, passage of the Appropriation Bill will allow the payments required to deliver our public services and pay our public servants to continue in 2015 in the period before the Dáil approves the 2015 Estimates.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Appropriation Bill 2014. Essentially, the purpose of the Bill is to give statutory authority for the amounts voted by the Dáil during the year either by way of the original Estimates or Supplementary Estimates.

The Bill deals with expenditure of €42.657 billion in 2014. This seems like a big figure and in fact it is a big figure. The way this €42 billion was divided across society shows the Government's priorities and choices in 2014. Some of the choices by the Government were cruel, unfair and hit the most vulnerable hardest. Worse, many of these choices were unnecessary; they need not have been taken.

I had hoped the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, would be before the House but perhaps the Minister of State will relay this information to him. The Estimates for 2014 which the Minister announced on 15 October 2013 were flawed. The Minister for Health and the director general of the HSE disowned these Estimates within 24 hours of their being published. They were right and the Minister, Deputy Howlin, was wrong, as evidenced by the need for a Supplementary Estimate of €680 million last week. The Government's projected estimate of expenditure on budget day for 2014 amounted to a general Government deficit of €8.16 billion, or 4.8% of GDP, well within the ceiling of 5.1% of GDP under the excessive deficit procedure. Had the Minister, Deputy Howlin, factored into his budget for 2014 the Supplementary Estimate of €1.2 billion passed in the House last Thursday - it was required to meet known expenditure - the Government would have ended up with a projected deficit of €9.36 billion, corresponding to 5.7% of GDP, well in excess of the 5.1% ceiling permitted. The Minister knew he could not face that prospect in the House in October last year and that is why he cooked the books on budget day last year.

That may be reason enough to vote against the Minister's management of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. However, the main reason we are voting against the Bill is because it reflects the unnecessary, cruel, unfair and divisive choices the Government has made in allocating the €42 billion based on its policy positions in 2014.

In 2014 the Government chose to cut the rent supplement by €29 million and remove it entirely for 8,000 households. This was on top of the cut of €49 million in 2013 when the Government also removed 8,000 households from eligibility for rent supplement. The Government discontinued the mortgage interest supplement to all new applicants in 2014 and removed from eligibility for the scheme 4,000 families who had been in receipt of the payment. This was in addition to the 5,000 families the Government removed from eligibility for the mortgage interest supplement scheme in 2013. The Government cut the mortgage interest supplement payments by 68% in 2014. The Government also cut the jobseeker's allowance to €100 for those aged up to 25 years. These three decisions inevitably lead to an increase in homelessness and the numbers of people sleeping rough on our streets as well as children with nowhere to call home.

The Government's choices helped create that problem but its response was to allocate €440 million in 2014 from the local government fund to Irish Water to install water meters, pay bonuses and consultants. This Government had a choice to spend taxpayers’ money in 2014 on rent supplement and mortgage interest supplement but it chose instead to spend it on installing water meters, paying bonuses and consultants in Irish Water.

This morning when I was on the way in here in the car the first thing I heard on the radio was an advertisement by Christy Moore, the famous singer, appealing for funds for the Simon Community which deals with homelessness. This is a sad but real commentary on the Government’s actions and choices in 2014. It is shocking that help for homelessness has to be funded by voluntary donations. Worse, 30 minutes later, I heard another advertisement by Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy seeking funds for Focus Ireland, which also deals with homelessness. She said it is the worst situation in 30 years. It is no wonder because the Government cut the rent supplement, the mortgage interest supplement and the jobseeker’s allowance for 25 year olds. How could they pay rent on €100 a week when the Government will not give them rent supplement? Does the Minister of State get the connection between Sr. Stanislaus and Christy Moore looking for money for homeless people and the Government’s choices that created homelessness?

I do not get the connection with the Bill.

Shortly after that on "Morning Ireland" I heard a spokesperson for the Simon Community who said there had been a 41% increase in homelessness in the past two years. This is a direct result of this Government's actions.

In 2014 the Government cut maternity benefit. The Minister of State, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, abolished the telephone allowance for elderly people living alone in the budget announced in October 2013 and it came into effect in January 2014. The Government abolished the one-parent family payment for new applicants where the youngest child is over seven years of age in the middle of 2014.

The Government had the choice to spend taxpayers’ money in 2014 on the telephone allowance for elderly people living alone, on maintaining maternity benefit and one-parent family payments but chose instead to spend it on installing water meters and paying bonuses and consultants in Irish Water through Vote 25 of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, which it thinks we will support today. We certainly will not.

In 2014 the Government also took the medical card from thousands of people over 70 years of age. It increased the prescription charges to €25 per month. It cut funding to the elderly under the fair deal scheme, and to the acute hospitals, resulting in many hospitals, the latest being Beaumont, having to close the doors of their accident and emergency departments to the general public. It gave Irish Water a blank cheque. We will not support the Government’s expenditure choices this year.

The Government does not poverty-proof or gender-proof its spending plans. Many of the cuts I highlighted today are hitting women and children the hardest. The Government does not family-proof its spending plans. It presides over regressive budgets which hit the vulnerable and the weakest hardest. It is creating a divided society, social exclusion and inequality. In 2014 taxes are €1.1 billion ahead of target. Therefore, some of these choices did not need to be made. They were cruel and should not have happened. They display a Government that has no interest in fairness and should not be supported. It says it is spending €42 billion but does it think of the effects of that €42 billion? Its biggest cuts affect those who can least afford it. That is the essence of the Appropriation Bill, to give statutory approval to the expenditure which went through here by way of Estimates and Supplementary Estimates, many of which we criticised. We told the Government on budget day 2013 that its budget was flawed, that it lacked fairness, that it was regressive and would hit the most vulnerable the hardest but the Government ignored us and ploughed ahead with its expenditure cuts because it is more interested in looking after the wealthy. This Government is simply interested in making the most vulnerable take the hardest cuts. It reflects a core in this Government that is out of touch with the people.

As the Minister of State described it, the Appropriation Bill 2014 is necessary to give effect to the constitutional requirement to validate payments before the end of the calendar year, and thereby to give statutory authority for the amounts voted by the Dáil for the original Estimates, Revised Estimates and Supplementary Estimates. It also provides for the capital carryover from one year to the next, for the authorisation of certain receipts as appropriations-in-aid of specific services, and a mechanism to advance funds from the central fund to the Paymaster General's supply account in December to transfer and discharge liabilities due on 1 and 2 January. In other words, this legislation provides for a series of year-end clearance issues. Consequently, it must be enacted prior to the Christmas recess.

Every year since 2003, with only two exceptions, the Appropriation Bill has passed all Stages without either debate or vote. The first exception was in 2009 when the Labour Whip, without explanation, called a vote. In that first full year of austerity budgeting, Sinn Féin voted with Labour against the Bill, in protest. The second exception is this year, when for the first time the Government has allocated an hour for a mostly symbolic Second Stage debate.

This arises because of the strenuous objections made by my party colleague, Deputy McDonald, and others last week to the Government's insistence that the Supplementary Estimates be voted through, not only without Dáil debate but also without the spokespersons being provided with full information in advance with respect to Supplementary Estimate No. 12, despite having requested this information in committee. As the Minister admitted at the time, this information was reasonably requested. I understand that today's debate has been conceded as a consequence of these valid objections.

We are dissatisfied with the expectation that we pass the Supplementary Estimates in the absence of necessary information. We do not, among other things, want to hold up people's pension payments before Christmas.

Today's break with the appropriations rubber stamp tradition is something that I wish we could simply welcome. Unfortunately, it is virtually an empty gesture. Opposition Deputies are categorically excluded from putting down substantive amendments, due to the ongoing constitutional restriction pertaining to money Bills. Any serious counter-proposals cannot even be democratically debated or defeated, much less passed by way of majority vote. The House is simply not allowed to actively consider alternatives. In the interests of democracy, my party earlier this year drafted and attempted to move the 34th Amendment of the Constitution Bill that would have remedied this anti-democratic provision, and in doing so given effect to a recommendation of the Convention on the Constitution in this respect but so restrictive are the current rules that we were prevented from even doing this.

Last week the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, confirmed what we already know about this Government's budgetary allocations, in this year and in previous years. The percentage losses were greatest, not just for those with the highest incomes, but also, and most unfairly, for those with the lowest incomes. Successive budgets since this Government took office in 2011 have imposed higher than average losses on the poorest 10% of households. The greatest proportionate losses were experienced by single unemployed people but the ESRI also found that middle income families have not been insulated from loss.

It found that families at all income levels had been squeezed as a consequence of successive budgetary decisions taken by the Government. Budget 2015 will result in those on the lowest incomes losing the most household income. Contrary to Government claims, this remains true, even when one takes into account the revised flat rate water charge. The ESRI's analysis of this issue chimes with Sinn Féin's view of it. The top 10% of households gained the most from the budget, with patterns of loss concentrated in the bottom half of income distribution. Fiscal prudence, economic stability and budgetary sustainability could be achieved by means of a fairer distribution of budgetary pain. It is interesting to note that the Fine Gael Party's policy of protecting its target electorate, namely, those in the upper income bracket, has overcome the Labour Party's pretensions of protecting those on lower incomes.

The legislation will give statutory authority to the largest Supplementary Estimates in the history of the State. Last week the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform tried to have the House pass them without debate. This followed a discussion in committee during which he had failed to provide the final figures which had been prepared and were available, despite Opposition spokespersons, including my colleague, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, having requested and discussed the very same information last year.

The Minister claims Supplementary Estimates of nearly €1.2 billion spread across nine Departments will be covered by tax receipts that are running ahead of the deficit target as a consequence of Government prudence and largesse. He further insists that only €510 million of this figure is new money, as the rest arises from savings. He denies this allocation effectively amounts to an admission that, at the time of the budget, the Government under-funded the health sector by a minimum of €680 million, the agriculture sector by as much as €177 million, the transport sector by €162 million, the education sector by at least €103 million and the environment sector by €34 million. As time prevents me from examining each of these sectors in detail, I will focus briefly on expenditure on health services and pensions.

The additional allocation includes a Supplementary Estimate for the health sector that is the largest in the history of the health service. It stands at €680 million, including a €510 million overrun, the scale of which is more than €100 million larger than expected. This irrefutably demonstrates that the level of spending cuts previously imposed on the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive was not sustainable or consistent with the delivery of an acceptable level of health care to citizens. On a number of occasions this year, the accident and emergency service in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, was forced to close to new admissions, such was the level of pressure on the service. In some cases, 30, 40 or 50 patients were lying on trolleys and staff faced severe pressure as they tried to deal with patients. Patients on trolleys experience delayed diagnosis, which means reduced levels of care and causes the poorer outcomes that have become the hallmark of the Government. While a full and frank confession has not been forthcoming, the Government has been forced to finally acknowledge this by way of deed. Deputies on this side of the House are all ears if the Minister of State wishes to make a full and frank confession. It could be therapeutic for him as it would allow him to enjoy Christmas more. The Minister for Health has insisted that the supplementary allocation will not affect the health funding available next year. I hope that proves to be the case.

The total additional spend on pensions will be €22.25 million. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform correctly insists that the hard earned pensions of workers who made lifelong contributions to the Civil Service should be paid on time for the holiday season. I fully agree with him and also accept that it can be tricky to predict the final number of retirements in any given year with accuracy. However, it should be noted that nearly 20% of these pensions involved payments in excess of €100,000. Some 263 of them are lump sums of more than €100,000, of which 24 are in excess of €160,000 and 169 are worth between €100,000 and €130,000. At the other end of the scale, 176 people received a meagre pension of less than €10,000. The Minister is asking the Dáil to stand over his failure to redress significant pension income inequality and the ongoing payment of gold plated pensions. My party's consistent concerns and demonstrated viable alternatives have been repeatedly ignored, most recently in October. Nonetheless, the individuals due to receive the financial supports and incomes detailed in the Supplementary Estimates should not face delays in payment.

Sinn Féin does not endorse the philosophy of austerity underpinning the Government or the consequent persistence and aggravation of economic inequality. It is vital that the Minister reconsider the political direction in which the State is moving and realise that the Government has an opportunity to achieve its objective of fiscal prudence, while delivering a fair and equal society.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak to this legislation. I warmly welcome the debate, as it gives Deputies an opportunity to examine the finances of the State and how taxpayers' money can be most effectively spent.

Sometimes an impression is given that certain groups, specifically poorer sections of society, do not contribute. This idea is wrong and should be hit on the head in this debate. All citizens are taxpayers and contribute to the economy.

The impression is also given that the well-off are the only group who are feeling the pinch. The opposite is the case. While the wealthy may have to forgo one foreign holiday, others have problems in putting food on the table or paying the household charge or water tax. These are the economic problems many face. Let us not forget the squeezed poor and low paid who have suffered in recent years as a result of the Government's austerity policies.

In discussing how public money is spent and the effectiveness of such spending we must look closely at what is being done in 2014. We must not forget those on low incomes. A recent ESRI survey found that the less affluent had suffered most in recent budgets. In other words, the poorer sections of society were hammered again.

The Minister of State referred to financial housekeeping. Many of us have challenged the way in whcih the Government approaches financial housekeeping. The number of children living in poverty has increased and the position is getting worse. The school completion programme in my constituency is an excellent project which operates breakfast clubs and provides supports for disadvantaged children. One project supports 1,800 primary schoolchildren. This week the budget for the programme was cut by €47,000. This project ensures children are fed in the morning and can attend school. Since it commenced, the attendance rate at primary school of the 1,800 at-risk children who participate in it has increased to 95%. Some of the children are from very poor families, with several living in hotels. These measly cuts need to be challenged when discussing the figures set out in the Bill.

The budget did not provide for the full reinstatement of the respite care grant. Many families are under severe pressure.

Many of them also have family members who have a disabled child, perhaps a disabled adult child. I would ask the Minister and all the whizz-kids in the Department of Finance to look at this particular issue in the near future and return the full respite care grant because people are suffering out there.

Another issue which really gives me a bad pain in the head is when I hear people, particularly members of the Labour Party, say they protected people on social welfare. The under-25s are still on €100, down from €188 and, despite people jumping up and down in here every day about housing, we saw the horrific €20 million cut to rent supplement. What does that mean? It might just be a figure to some people but 8,000 people in this State were affected by that cut. We all know what has happened in regard to the health Estimates and what happened off-balance sheet with Irish Water. Many of the figures I have heard and which have been presented in this House are off the rails and we have Fr. Ted economics coming out of some people. In recent days we have seen the crisis in regard to Beaumont Hospital, where funding is needed to get 100 people into proper home support and home care packages in order to free up accident and emergency.

This is all related to housekeeping. The Minister of State said the Bill is an essential piece of housekeeping which we in the Dáil are required to undertake. I am saying this housekeeping fails dismally. He also said the passage of the Bill will allow the payments to deliver our public services. The Government's record on public services in the past four years has been a disaster. Let us look at the 15% cut to disability services and the fact nothing has been done about class sizes, meaning we have the highest class sizes in the European Union. It is very important, when we are discussing these figures and this Bill, that we deal with this in a comprehensive manner.

To go back to the legislation, the primary function of the Appropriation Bill is to give statutory authority for the amounts voted by the Dáil during the year, either by way of Revised Estimates or Supplementary Estimates. The Bill also provides for definitive capital carryover from 2014 to 2015. The statutory authority for this was introduced in the Finance Act 2004, which specified that the amounts, by Vote, must be included in the annual Appropriation Act. On an important point, when we dig deeper into the Bill, we see it also includes a section which provides for receipts from excise duties on tobacco, which currently accrue to the HSE under Vote 39 but will transfer to the Office of the Minister for Health under Vote 38 when the disestablishment of the Vote of the HSE occurs. It is very important that we understand health is something that has to be protected, and I would support any Minister in any party who does that. However, at all times, it must be cost effective and value for money as public money must be spent wisely by everybody. It is the same with excise duties. Those who are paying excise duties make a massive contribution to the wider debate.

The legislation will, first, give statutory effect to the individual 2014 Estimates, including the Supplementary Estimates, and will formally appropriate the various sums which the Dáil has voted over the year. Second, it will authorise the utilisation of certain departmental receipts as appropriation-in-aid for specific services mentioned in this legislation. Third, it will provide for the carryover of capital savings by Vote. Those are the specific issues dealt with in the legislation. The important point, when we talk about housekeeping and the legal basis for all existing voted expenditure to continue into 2015, is that we ensure public money is spent wisely.

I welcome the opportunity to make these points in regard to the Appropriation Bill. It is important that we recognise that value for taxpayers' money is an essential part but also that the major cuts to services that have happened in recent years have been a disaster for the country, for the people and for the economy. Again, I urge caution when spending public money in the next 12 months.

I call the Minister of State, who has five minutes.

I have a lot to get through in five minutes and I am not sure where to start. I found a lot of Deputy Fleming's contribution quite disingenuous. There is no new policy in this Bill. The Deputy is around this House a lot longer than I am and he knows the Appropriation Bill gives technical effect to issues that have been debated to the Nth degree in this House and have been voted on and passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Deputy talked about charitable organisations advertising on radio. I do not believe certain individuals he has named would like to be linked to his own political ideology. However, it is important to note that charitable organisations, which we all support in this House, have always advertised for funds, and it is a very important part of what they do.

The Deputy referred to the issue of Supplementary Estimates for the Health Service Executive. Again, it is important to note that, in almost every year since the establishment of the HSE in 2005, it required a Supplementary Estimate, although I accept this is the biggest one. Even when we were the wealthiest country in Europe, and the Deputy's party had more money than sense, there was always a requirement for a Supplementary Estimate. Given the health service has come through an extremely difficult number of years in funding terms, to suggest that needing a Supplementary Estimate is wrong, bizarre or out of sync simply does not stand up to any level of scrutiny.

This Bill does three things and, if the Deputy is going to vote against it, which he has every right to do, he needs to be conscious of the three things it does. The Bill ensures public servants get paid in January. It ensures that people on jobseeker's allowance, disability allowance, non-contributory State pensions and all other social welfare payments funded from the social protection budget get paid. It ensures nurses, gardaí and teachers get paid. It ensures there is payment to suppliers of goods and services, including Irish SMEs.

To be fair to Deputy Tóibín, he acknowledged that and he said he did not wish to hold that up. If Deputy Fleming wishes to hold it up, that is his prerogative. He and I will get paid because we get paid out of the Central Fund but other people depend on the passage of this technical piece of legislation each and every year. To try to turn it into a political debate about other policy matters, when there is no new policy in this Bill, is disingenuous. All of the provisions this Bill gives technical and legal effect to have already been debated and passed by these Houses.

The Bill also does another thing, namely, it allows for capital project spending to be carried over. Again, when we have ambitious projects that have not quite got there yet or that need to be finished, rather than allowing the money to go back to the Central Fund, the Bill allows the Department to hang onto that money and deliver those projects. That is to be welcomed. If we do not pass the Bill, that cannot happen.

As the House knows, the Bill refers to transferring tobacco duties to the Department of Health. I know Deputy Fleming's party may have an affinity with the HSE as its leader set up the HSE. This Government gave a commitment to bring back accountability to the health service so that, when Members of this House ask questions, they are not constantly told: "That is a matter for the HSE". The Vote will come under the democratically elected Government's responsibility and that of the Minister appointed by that Government. That is progressive and important for accountability. I know the Deputy has a fondness for the HSE. We do not. We think the transfer of its Vote to the Department of Health is important.

I heard much of the debate that went on in committee about pensions. It is important to say that a lot of what this Bill deals with is the legacy of the Fianna Fáil policy of 2009. Among the figures that party briefed the media on during the week, as is its entitlement given it is public information, is the fact there is a follow-through on some of the decisions taken in 2009, when the Fianna Fáil-led Government decided to introduce the incentivised scheme for early retirement. People took 10% of their lump sum but, when they reach pensionable age, they have to get the other 90%. That was a decision taken by the last Government. There are many former public servants sitting at home today who retired under that scheme on the promise of the last Government that, once the State was solvent - which, thank God, it is, due to the efforts of this Government - they would be paid the 90%. To try to disown that policy choice, when it is one of Fianna Fáil's legacy issues we are working through, is disingenuous.

It is always important to have discussion about whole-of-year budgeting. We must always look at whether we can do things better and what we can do better, and we are determined to try to do that. We now have the comprehensive expenditure report 2015-17 and we have departmental allocations set out over a three-year period to 2017. This allows Dáil Éireann and the select committee to engage on a multi-annual basis and it allows greater foresight to be provided to Dáil Éireann and the public with regard to future expenditure. There will be much need to have that sort of political debate. However, let us not pretend this legislation is something it is not. I do not have the time in the 35 seconds available to me to debate the whole fairness issue.

Certainly, the decisions taken by the Fianna Fáil-led Government were not fair.

In regard to the issues concerning the wealthy, I look forward to having a debate with Sinn Féin in regard to how to define "wealthy". We have categorised our effort in regard to people who are earning between €32,800 and €70,000. I describe these people as being middle Ireland, the people at the backbone of our public services and working in our SMEs. However, we must leave that debate for another time. I commend the Bill to the House and ask that we pass it without too much pantomime.

As 45 minutes have now elapsed, I must put the question: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Question put and declared carried.

In accordance with the Order of the Dáil yesterday, 17 December 2014, we will now proceed to Committee Stage.