Before we adjourned this debate to take Leaders' Questions, I was speaking about outputs of the health service and the budget and how the health service, as a key public service, was being seriously negatively impacted by Government policy. Since 2008, approximately €3.3 billion worth of funding has been gouged out of the health service, a large chunk of it by this Government.
We have heard a number of serious, tragic, difficult cases today during Leaders' Questions.
I want to speak about one specific case and I would like if the Minister could listen to it. It shows how citizens are being impacted by the crisis in the health service. I know a 66 year old woman who has just retired from her work. She worked hard and raised her family. She lives about five minutes away from the hospital and had a stroke. It took 45 minutes for the ambulance to come to her house and take her to the hospital. As with a stroke, time is of the essence. She recovered very slowly and eventually reached a level of recovery where she needed access to the national rehabilitation centre. After being clinically discharged she had to wait 13 weeks in the hospital to gain access to the centre where she had rehabilitation and was able to go home although with much reduced mobility. A year later she had a stroke and went back into her local hospital. Two nurses took her to the shower one day to give her a shower. Given the pressure on the nurses, one was pulled away and the woman, who is now 67 years of age, fell, cracked her head on the shower and suffered a brain injury. She was transferred to a major Dublin hospital where she had brain surgery. The next day she had a blood transfusion. For an hour and half she was given the wrong blood which caused renal failure and other damage to her internal organs. She remained unconscious for eight weeks as a result of the brain injury and the incorrect blood transfusion.
This is a woman who, in at least five separate engagements in a period of three years, has been damaged by the HSE and the health service. After eight weeks she started to open her eyes and to communicate. She had a tracheotomy and started to breathe. She is now in serious difficulty. Her future is a nursing home. This is the damage, the vandalism that has been done to the Irish public services by the gouging of the money from these services and the reorientation of that money through budgets towards paying back the bondholders and so on. There are many other things wrong with the State as a result.
I mentioned earlier that we have reduced education investment, there are high levels of personal debt, low wages, precarious employment, rising rental costs, regressive taxation in regard to water charges and property charges, crippling child care costs and exorbitant mortgage repayments. A third of a million of the population has left the State in the past six years. One in six Irish people live abroad, one in four of the cohort between 20 and 30 years of age. The Sunday Business Post conducted a poll recently which found that 62% of the population felt that none of the benefits of the recovery had entered their lives in any way. At the same time the wealthy are getting wealthier. We heard Deputy Eoghan Murphy speak a few minutes ago. He felt that those in upper income range were being discriminated against by the taxation system and called for reform of the universal social charge, USC, so that they would get more money into their pockets.
In the budget, some €180 million was returned to those earning €75,000 and upwards through USC cuts, while there was a €24 million net extra investment in the health service. The difference in priority is clear. Some €69 million was invested in housing, a third of the actual amount of money that went back to that cohort earning more than €75,000, so the wealthy are getting wealthier. The wealthiest 250 individuals in the State saw their wealth grow by 16% to more than €75 billion in the past 12 months.
The week before the budget, Sinn Féin relaunched its alternative budget. Our budget simply sought to reduce the deficit in the same manner as the Government did within the fiscal rules. Our budget was fiscally responsible but it was also socially responsible, which is a key element. It allowed for a competitive economy but also a fairer society. Our budget would have invested twice as much as the Government in public services and the economy through the development of a fair taxation system which brought in a little more revenue to achieve these aims. It would also have put about €2,000 back in the pockets of ordinary citizens.
As the spokesperson on enterprise I am disappointed that so little was done for medium to small businesses in the budget. We in Sinn Féin believe that those who work hard, use their abilities and who take risks deserve to be economically compensated for those activities. Many very small micro enterprises around the country are being forgotten with regard to this type of compensation. We see the whole of the enterprise strategy skewed towards large FDIs. We welcome FDIs and there is no doubt they are important to this country but we need to strike a balance within the economy. If we do not do so we will not have sustainability. Our alternative budget sought to alleviate some of the tax challenges experienced by very small businesses as regards the tax credit earned through income, similar to the plans the Government introduced. We also sought that small businesses would not be penalised by the increase in the minimum wage. We would increase employer PRSI to 8.5% at the threshold of €377 per week. We also sought to differentiate between positive and active investments when it comes to capital gains tax to ensure that entrepreneurs who do invest in an active fashion in their business get to reap the rewards and that they are differentiated from speculators who simply invest in stocks and shares and seek rewards in that regard.
We also sought to extend the start-up relief for entrepreneurs to self-employed people who had not previously paid PAYE. That programme is aimed only at those who paid PAYE. There is a dichotomy of treatment between the two sectors even though we expect them to start up new business. We have also sought a reorientation in regard to people's spending patterns. One of the major trends in recent years is that people are spending billions of euro more online. That means that billions of euro are leaking out of the country as €3 out of every €4 spent online ends up in another state. What we need to do is increase the capability of local businesses to do e-commerce. We have sought a doubling of the current trading online voucher scheme to keep more businesses at home.
We also sought to speed up the administration of the tax system for businesses to resolve the excessive turnaround with regard to registration. Those delays are impacting on businesses and preventing economic activity from taking place. We also included in our budget that small businesses should be allowed to pay tax on accounts. Rather than having to pay all the tax in one instalment they would be able to pay it over and over, which would alleviate the pressures that exist with regard to cash flow within business.
We sought a 50% relief for indigenous craft beer producers to 35,000 hectolitres because it is an important growing sector of society. We sought to improve the opportunities for small and medium businesses to access public procurement. Currently, there is €20 billion annual public spend on goods, services and capital projects and most small businesses are locked out of that. One of the key changes that has happened in recent years that people do not realise is that governments have centralised that process further, thus making it more difficult for people in local authorities to be able to tender for work, which means that the income gets centralised also.
We proposed that tenders should be reduced to make sure they were more accessible to people. This is a very important point. This and the previous Government has divested massively from infrastructural spend in recent years. The Spring Economic Statement indicated that Government spend in this area would reduce from 1.8% to 1.5% of GDP by 2020. Most conservative economists will say that to maintain capital stock we need an investment of 4% of GDP in Government spend. The Government is divesting significantly, which is having an effect on competitiveness. We indicated in our alternative budget that there should be a €400 million extra spend in infrastructure, much of it in housing and some in transport infrastructure.
Added up over five years, that comes to €2 billion extra in our budget plan. We also want to increase the knowledge economy by putting extra funds into education, while scrapping the property and water taxes to create stimulus right through the economy.
The Finance Bill refers to the banking sector. It is important we examine what is a happening in the banking sector. Yesterday, we heard the disastrous news from Bank of Ireland that it is seeking new regulations which would prevent people from withdrawing less than €700 or lodging less than €3,000 at a bank counter. The reasons for this change of attitude in the bank include information technology developments and pressures due to the crash. However, another major reason is the Government has produced an oligopolistic banking market through its policy of two pillar banks with the rest being small players around these. This leads to oligopolistic behaviour from the banks. That means it is a sellers’ market, not a buyers’ market. In banking terms that means the banks dictate terms for everything to their customers. We see that with high mortgage rates, higher than they are abroad, as well as high interest rates for business, again higher than abroad, with closures of banks in provincial towns and with the prohibitions on withdrawals and lodgements.
For a viable banking system, one needs many small non-systemic players. This year, on behalf of Sinn Féin, I launched a policy document for the introduction of a public banking system. When some Members on the Government benches think of public banking, they think of reds under the bed stuff. Yet, a large chunk, some 40%, of Germany’s banking system is public banking. This is a normal element of most healthy banking systems. Such a development would bring banks back into the locality. In our particular plan, we had a plan for ten regional banks to take away from the concentrated oligopolistic nature of the banking system.
I heard the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, on the radio this morning discussing the health crisis. While she did not mention names, it was clear to anybody listening that she had several arguments with colleagues in government. The Minister of State and her party has only 12 weeks left to make a massive mark. It may be the last mark. If I was in her position, and this was the last opportunity I had to make a significant change on a whole range of policy outcomes from this Government, I would be not making just an argument or a case but a stand for these issues.
Tá sé uafásach nach bhfuil seans ag gach duine sa Teach labhairt ar an mBille seo le linn an lae, go mbeidh an ghilitín ag teacht anuas ar an mBille seo chun bac a chur orainne ár gcuid smaointe a chur os comhair an Rialtais. Táimid tinn tuirseach ag éisteacht leis an Rialtas ag rá, "Jeekers, níl solution ar bith ag an bhFreasúra agus ní dhéanann siad aon rud ach bheith ag caitheamh anuas orainne mar gheall ar an ngeilleagar agus conas é sin a réitiú". Tá mé tar éis dul tríd a lán smaointe maithe mar gheall ar chúrsaí eacnamaíochta agus comhlachtaí agus conas gnó a chruthú. Impím ar an Rialtas stad a chur leis na gilitíní seo agus seans a thabhairt don Fhreasúra labhairt ar na rudaí sin. Níl an Rialtas ag cur bac ormsa, tá sé ag cur bac ar na 7,000 duine i gContae na Mí a thug vóta domsa a gcuid tuairimí a chur os comhair an Rialtais.