This time last year I spoke about a missed opportunity. I spoke about how the budget should be judged on its impact on families living in hotels and patients on hospital trolleys. Now, a year on, what has been the result? In October 2016 when the last budget was announced there were 2,470 homeless children in the State. Last month there were 3,048. That is what budget 2017 delivered. That is what the so-called centre of Irish politics delivers.
The Government, with Fianna Fáil’s support, cut in excess of €500 million in taxes in that budget. It has the audacity to come back in here this year and propose more of the same while our citizens are denied basic rights. In the real world, in modern Ireland in the year 2017, people are dying on our streets because of the housing supply crisis. Out there in today’s Ireland the equivalent of the population of roughly ten counties, nearly 700,000 people, are currently languishing on hospital waiting lists, many in chronic pain awaiting much-needed operations, while other patients are left on hospital trolleys in our accident and emergency departments and hospital wards, like the 514 people on hospital trolleys today. Despite this, Fine Gael, its Independent friends and Fianna Fáil have come in here today and told us now is the time to cut taxes and to return to the boom and bust politics of the past.
At the centre of this budget is the lie that we can fix the health and housing crises while at the same time cutting people's taxes. Those who support this budget know it is a lie - the same lie they tried to spin last year. It says something about how little the Government can achieve when its main claim about this budget is that it will balance the books. The Minister knows it is possible to balance the books while at the same time beginning the process of sorting out the crises in health and housing. He knows this because Sinn Féin showed him how it can be done. We demonstrated that in our alternative budget.
However, did the Minister ever ask what his version of balancing the books means for the child who hears their mother locked in the bathroom of their hotel room crying night after night because she believes that she has failed her daughter? What does it mean for the parents who have to watch their children suffer in pain because they cannot access treatment in our crumbling health service? How comforting is his version of balancing the books for the elderly man who was lying on a hospital trolley this morning? These are the realities of the Government's policies. While the Minister may not want to hear it, this is as a result of what the Government did last year and in previous years. The Minister is further normalising these policies here today with the help of Fianna Fáil.
Unfortunately, the only conclusion we can reach is that the Minister simply does not get it. He does not get what it is like to have to wait and wait to access hospital services while suffering in pain. He does not get what it is like to have to wait on a hospital trolley and suffer the loss of dignity that goes with that. He does not get what it means to be a front-line worker in these circumstances. He does not get what it is like to bring kids up in a hotel and have them walk through the hotel corridor in their school uniforms every morning while the other hotel guests look on in bemusement. If the Minister got this even a little bit, he would not come in here and prioritise tax cuts. Every cent that he puts into tax cuts is money he takes away from developing our health services and building homes for homeless people.
This is a budget that tolerates and normalises mass homelessness of children and older people. It normalises our crumbling health services. The people deserve better than that. Sinn Féin will not stand over these choices. It is a disgrace that this is the best Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael can cobble together. Where is the urgency? Has the Minister not noticed that people are dying on our streets? In the midst of the darkest days of the recession in 2012, there were fewer children in homelessness and in poverty than there are today, five years later. There were also fewer people on trolleys and hospital waiting lists in 2012. That is the Minister's legacy and that of the other Ministers who have stood and applauded, and cheered him on as he has delivered successive budgets.
The need to be seen to cut taxes means this budget amounts to too little spread too thinly for the services our people use every day of their lives. However, the Minister managed to find a few bob for pet projects and I am sure his ministerial colleagues are patting him on the back. Deep in the document he produced today, on page 132, we see that he found €5 million each year for the Government's new spin machine although previously, if we are to believe him, the Taoiseach told us it would be cost neutral. As we know, that €5 million is the equivalent of 50 resource teachers and 56 SNAs. However, the Minister believes that the Government's image is more important than putting that money into front-line investments.
The Government plans to increase capital expenditure on public transport by a measly €9.6 million. We have argued for €170 million on public roads and transport this year - 17 times more than the Government's figure. Incredibly, given the state of our roads and public transport, the Government plans to spend almost as much on opening Stepaside Garda station for the Minister, Deputy Ross, than is planned to be spent on the entire new public transport services within the same Minister's Department.
The Minister spent his entire energy on negotiating tax cuts, and the health, housing and other needs of the population must make do with whatever is left over. The result is that in 12 months we will be back here and we will have spent the previous 11 months arguing why the health service is just as bad as it was, or even worse. We will be asking why waiting lists have grown longer and why the housing crisis has not gone away.
The answer is what is happening today. It is because the Minister has decided to prioritise other areas. He has no new targets to deliver extra homes. With a €1.2 billion package, it is unbelievable that the Minister will not deliver one additional social house. That is just crazy. There is a housing crisis. It is not acceptable that, after spending €1.2 billion, the Minister is targeting delivery of the same amount of social housing as he targeted in the middle of this year. These are the Minister's priorities. His priority, and that of Fianna Fáil, is negotiating tax cuts. There are €335 million in income tax cuts when the people want to see the Minister challenge and address the crisis in housing and homelessness. We, as a people, have not lost our values. We do not accept that our children must live in this situation day in and day out. The Minister, however, has obviously hosted focus groups and had polling carried out, as did Fianna Fáil, and now he believes that tax cuts, USC cuts and marginal changes will get him the votes the next time around.
Níl le déanamh againn ach sracfhéachaint a thabhairt ar na beartais cánachais atá sa bhuiséad chun an gné lochtach de a fheiceáil. Níl plean ar bith anseo. Níl ann ach buiseád a bhí curtha le chéile faoi dheifir ionas gur thig leis an Rialtas an seachmall a chruthú go n-éireodh go geal leis chun a chuid gealltanas lochtach a chomhlíonadh. In ainneoin é seo, tá a fhios ag madaí an bhaile go ndearna an Rialtas praiseach cheart ó thaobh na mbeart atá á moladh aige inniu.
I congratulate both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on winning the battle over which tax cuts to make. Two tax-cutting parties cannot decide which way to cut taxes so they have cut them twice. What absolute geniuses. I am sure that bit of political theatre, which has been playing out on our television screens and on the plinth outside Leinster House in recent days, was of great interest to our homeless families. Cutting the USC and widening the tax bands will help some people but it will help some more than others. Those who will benefit most will be those who earn most. Giving back €53 a year to a person on an income of €20,000 is pathetic. Somebody on €25,000 will receive €66 back a year. That is just over €1 per week. Those on €30,000 are in line for the life-changing amount of €78 per annum, while they have to put up with the crumbling services the Government is delivering. This is stark because more than 50% of our people have incomes under €30,000. They are in line for an increase of €1.50 a week. Fianna Fáil, those custodians of equality, have managed to ensure that this budget package includes a reduction in the 5% rate of USC, meaning that those on incomes in excess of €70,000 will get €328 back per annum. That is four times what half the population will get back under this package.
In this package of personal tax measures worth €335 million, the major benefits will go to those on incomes that are much higher than average. To put it in context, particularly for those who want to purchase a house or who are trying to set off in life and are thinking about purchasing a house in the future, this €1.50 a week must be measured against house prices that are rising by €50 a day. More importantly, it amounts to spare change while our public services and infrastructure are still recovering from the brutality of the austerity years.
If there is one thing a budget can do, it is that it can really physically shape the country in which we live and set out a vision for its infrastructure. It is a challenge to have the foresight and political courage to invest in the long-term interests of the people. Sadly, the Minister does not do long term. Another year passes by without the imagination to invest in our railways, our roads, our schools, our hospitals or our cross-Border infrastructure. In normal times, that would be a bad mistake. At a time we are facing the threat of Brexit, it is unforgivable. The measures announced today are at best weak and at worst counter-productive. Brexit could lead to a drop of up to 7% in GNP and nothing the Minister has announced today will help the Irish State prepare for that. Now is the time to build up our defences, to look at our transport hubs, to bring balance to the State and to look to towns and cities outside Dublin. The failed Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil model of tax breaks for private developers, funded by the selling of public assets, is a disaster waiting to happen.
The Minister talks about Brexit. He launches the odd scheme here and there but he misses the big picture. The Minister said he is up for taking us on a journey. It is a journey on which he is selling off the wheels to pay for the petrol. The short-sightedness of this budget is staggering. It ignores those who will bear the brunt of this lack of vision. The Minister's plans for a loan scheme in respect of Brexit does not get to the heart of the issue, which is to invest to meet the challenges of Brexit. The Minister's capital expenditure plan of €790 million is miserly in comparison to that which Sinn Féin advocated and to which €1.6 billion would have been allocated. The Minister's plan will struggle to cover depreciation costs alone, never mind the type of increased capacity that is so desperately needed. This would be the case if all of the capital spend was direct expenditure but we know that it is not.
As we all know, not just Brexit but also changes in how the United States faces out to the world and how the EU manages its affairs are coming. These things are largely beyond our control. This country is a small boat on an open sea but we can control our own infrastructure. We can make sure our transport, energy and water systems are fit for purpose. We can ensure that we have the strongest base going into choppy waters. That is the sensible thing to do but the Minister does not do sensible. That is why he has decided in favour of tax cuts again instead of investing sufficiently in capital expenditure. The Government's capital investment plan puts capital investment at just 2.16% of GNP for 2018. That is shockingly low. It is reckless and unsustainable and is one of the lowest levels of capital investment in the European Union. The Minister will tell us what will happen in 2021, but it is now - at this point in time - and next year that investment needs to be ramped up.
For every €1 in tax cuts, up to €4 could have been spent on capital investment and this would have been smoothed out over the coming years. It is a shocking use of the limited space we had in this year's budget. This budget fails the Brexit test because it fails the investment test. Sinn Féin's capital investment plan, Fighting Brexit, would have increased capital investment by €1.65 billion above the Government’s plans, resulting in a rate of capital investment to GNP of 2.84%. Spin and announcements will not see off the challenges of Brexit but a well-planned and ambitious capital plan would give the economy the boost it needs. This is not a budget fit for a country catching up on infrastructure and with a young, growing population. The State's infrastructure is creaking after years of an investment drought. More and more international investors and companies identify this infrastructural deficit as the biggest issue facing our country yet the Minister has missed the opportunity to deal with it sufficiently in this budget.
Let us look at what the Minister has announced in the area of health and compare it with the reality of what is needed. From the budget document we see that €646 million of this year's increase is current expenditure. Let us examine what the health system needs just to stand still - not to improve any services or to reduce the number of people on trollies, the time spent on waiting lists or the numbers on those lists. The health system needs €129 million to cover demographic changes, that is population growth and ageing in 2018. The health system also needs an extra €165 million to cover the cost of pay agreements and €97 million of carryover funds to cover the cost of measures introduced last year, the full effect of which will be felt in 2018. It also needs a budget increase of €300 million to cover the overspend, that is to properly fund what is actually delivered in our hospitals. In summary, the health system actually needs an increase of €691 million next year simply to stand still.
This Government, along with its backers in Fianna Fáil, has chosen to leave our health system short of the money that is needed to stand still. That is why we have such a number of patients on trolleys. That is why we have a waiting list that is out of control. That is why people are waiting such lengthy periods for operations. In real terms, the Minister is cutting the health budget at a time of deep crisis. Our health system will be in worse shape this time next year as a consequence of the budget the Minister has brought before us. Not investing in health is another massive failure on the part of the Minister. That is because it is simply not a priority for him.
The Minister and his Government do not understand the gap between where our health system is and where it could be. Every day, rights are being violated because of the underfunding of our health system. Although one would not know it listening to the Minister as he balances the books, our health service is on its knees, from primary and community care to our acute hospitals and everything in between. Only last month, senior doctors in the Irish Hospital Consultants Association warned that there was clear evidence that our acute hospitals are beginning to fail.
Although the continuous crises in the health service have meant that people have become almost immune to shocking stories and news about it, the situation can never become normalised. In January this year, 612 patients were left on trolleys, the highest ever recorded number of patients on trolleys in the history of the State. That is not normal. Currently, nearly 690,000 people are waiting for surgeries across the State, the highest number ever recorded. That is not normal. As of May, 29,688 people were waiting for a first-time occupational therapy consultation, nearly half of whom were children and teenagers. That is not normal. The list goes on. It is a litany of shame. The Government has failed to run a functioning health service and is continuing to preside over its failure.
I will use one story to illustrate how bad these failures have been over the course of Fine Gael's time in government since 2011. During that time, a child in Dublin - just one example of thousands that could be recited here today - was diagnosed with scoliosis and her parents were told she needed surgery. The young girl joined the waiting list like many others and she waited and waited and waited. She was left waiting for almost two years for her spinal fusion surgery. Because she was left waiting for so long, the surgery did not take correctly and the young girl’s spine continued to curve. The screws in her spine have now become loose and are causing her severe pain. The young girl is now back on the spinal fusion list for scoliosis surgery again. She is in chronic pain and has been waiting almost six months for her second surgery with no set date as of yet.
This is a result of Fine Gael's policies. Did the Minister and his colleagues intend to do that to the young girl? Of course not. Nobody would set out to do that. However, let us be clear that when the Government underfunds our health system, that is what happens. People will be in pain. Lists will get longer and patients will be left languishing on hospital trolleys because of the actions and inaction of the Government. These are Fine Gael's policies and that is what they lead to. There is no shying away from that. No matter how often this happens, it is not normal.
The Government's failures in health not only destroy the morale of the diligent staff in our health service, but they put lives at risk. No doubt they have cost lives, too. To what end? This is not the fallout of ambivalence; this is policy - the Government's policy. It is the commodification of health care and the dereliction of the role of the State in protecting the sick and the vulnerable.
Cé gur tháinig meadú ar an mbuiséad sláinte anuraidh, níor chuidigh an t-airgead seo ach leis na seirbhísí a choinneáil i bhfeidhm. Mar thoradh ar na ciorruithe suntasacha a rinneadh ar an mbuiseád sláinte idir 2012 agus 2015, tá an maoiniú méadaithe atá á fhógairt inniu de dhíth chun na bearnaí a líonadh.
Because the health spend was cut so significantly in the years 2012 through 2015, the health service is left using any slight funding increases essentially to plug the gaps to which those cuts have led. We can see what these cuts and the privatisation agenda have meant for patients, but what has it meant for staff? The recruitment moratorium in the health sector, which was introduced by Fianna Fáil two years before any other sector of the public service, severely damaged our health service. So, too, did the continuation of this policy. The Government's policies and inability to address the problems in the sector have reaped a whirlwind on the health service. As a result, we now are faced with a recruitment and retention crisis as staff leave or even refuse to countenance working in the system. What has the Government's response been? It has been for the Minister for Health to beg health care staff to give the HSE another chance and work in Ireland. This comes brazenly in spite of the HSE and the Government repeatedly ignoring health care professionals’ basic appeals for better working conditions, adequate training and fair play.
As Dr. David Tansey stated in a letter to the Irish Independent on 30 September, such a response:
illustrate[s] a worrying indifference on the part of the Government to addressing the reasons behind why so many of our young healthcare professionals are emigrating. This cavalier attitude of expecting young doctors and nurses to return to a HSE in a worse state than it was five years ago, just because the Minister asked them to, is both naive and disrespectful to medical professionals on the front line.
There is no doubt but that this Government has no plan for health care. It inherited a crisis and has no intention of fixing it. Even beyond funding, the Government will not embrace the reform and initiatives needed. There has to be better ideas and management of the funding that is provided. For example, there is the idea of a single integrated waiting list management system, which would create a national waiting list of patients and procedures. Such a master waiting list could utilise the full capacity of our hospitals and the skill sets of our doctors and nurses and allow patients to have their procedures carried out quicker in a hospital that has the ability to do so, rather than waiting for months on a list for a single hospital. Sinn Féin has pushed this idea for over two years now under the name Comhliosta and, despite promises from the Minister for Health to pilot such a project, there has been little movement. That is a constructive idea.
What we get today from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is more money for the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, which is outsourcing our health system. Fianna Fáil has stated that Fine Gael is bereft of any new ideas in respect of the health system but the only idea Fianna Fáil has put forward is the one it came up with years ago, which was to privatise part of the health system. Putting money into the National Treatment Purchase Fund will not significantly reduce waiting lists. It will just divert much-needed funds from the public sector to the private sector. The beneficiaries of this will not be patients waiting for surgeries but private interests who seek to profit from people’s sickness and illness.
Sinn Féin does have a plan. It is called universal health care and it works. We all accept that investment is not the only answer to the issues in our health system but anybody who dismisses it as anything other than the key to improving our health system is wrong. There is no way to deliver the 500 extra beds next year we believe are needed to tackle the accident and emergency scandal without more investment. The 250 extra nurse and midwives needed for our maternity services can only be delivered through the public purse. This investment should be the start of a move towards universal health care. That is the way to end the permanent state of crisis in our hospitals and other services.
Tá cearta daonna á ndúiltiú ag an Rialtas de bharr a gcuid polasaithe, gan tracht a dhéanamh ar an easpa maoinithe atá á thabhairt dár gcuid ospidéil. Mar a dúirt mé, tá bealach níos cothroime ann. Ar an drochuair, tá achan cuma ar scéal nach bhfuil fonn ar an Aire an infheistíocht chuí a dhéanamh agus na leasuithe cuí a chur i gcrích. There is another way but unfortunately I hear no evidence today that the Government is up for the investment and reform needed. It is clear from the announcements today that the health of our people will have to wait another year to be considered a priority.
The Government’s record when it comes to people with disabilities has been appalling. The fact that we are the last remaining EU state to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, despite being the first to sign up to it, speaks for itself. Mór ár náire. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has made this his Alamo. On the day the Government is cutting over €300 million in tax, the Independent Alliance has to stake it all on delivering €3 million from the budget for the basic rights of people with disabilities. The €300 million in tax cuts is fine but €3 million to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is controversial. People with disabilities in Ireland are at almost twice the risk of living in poverty as the general population. There is a serious lack of appropriate, accessible private and social housing. There is a lack of accessible and readily available public transport, parking and public spaces. People with disabilities have great difficulty finding and retaining employment. Respite care services fall well short of what is required and the amount of personal assistance hours does not even come close to what is needed.
Parents are being forced to spend hundreds of euro every month on private therapy if they want to see their child talk, walk, or have any hope of realising their individual potential. The situation as it stands is dire. Budget 2018 was an opportunity for the Government and Fianna Fáil to make a real difference in the lives of those who are living with a disability in Ireland. For our part, Sinn Féin put forward proposals as part of our costed alternative budget.
Under our proposals, the disability allowance would have been increased by €6 while the needs of people with disabilities in education and housing would also be addressed.
I am sure the Minister is aware today is World Mental Health Day. Thankfully, in recent years, there has been a sea change in our attitudes as a society towards mental health. Unfortunately, the resources have not always followed the more progressive thinking. Today is no different. In mental health, the Government has yet again theoretically allocated the magic €35 million figure. This is not the first time as it is announced every year. The actual full spend has yet to materialise. It is literally a copy and paste from last year's budget document which is about as much thought as the Government ever gives to the vital issue of mental health.
Young people with mental health issues are suffering at the hands of severe underfunding. They are among our most vulnerable citizens yet we do not protect them or respect their rights. Currently, staffing levels of child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, are at a meagre 53% of those recommended in A Vision for Change. In turn, this is causing excessively long waiting lists and endless distress on young people and their parents. As of July 2017, over 2,400 children and young people were awaiting assessment by CAMHS. These young people and their families face travel issues due to the inordinate distance they have to travel to access mental health care. We need 12 additional child and adolescent mental health teams, which would cost €8.9 million in 2018. Is that not a worthwhile investment for the Government to make? There is agreement across the mental health community that the implementation of A Vision for Change has been incomplete and uneven, despite widespread support from service users and providers. Those are not my words but those of the charity Mental Health Reform. That is a damning indictment not only of Fine Gael's failure to commit to and drive the mental health strategy but also of Fianna Fáil's. Eleven years have passed since the strategy was first launched. Mental Health Reform's recent review also identified several policy shortfalls in the strategy itself, shortfalls exasperated by the emergency in social and affordable housing and failures to protect adequately the rights of mental health service users.
We have to do better. Tá bealach níos fearr de dhíth. Caithfear freastal ar riachtanais an phobail i dtaca le meabhairshláinte. This is about real people and real lives, not a political game, as Fianna Fáil said, played out for the media. In 2017, a woman in James Connolly hospital was found to have taken her life in a side room of the emergency department. All psychiatric beds were occupied. She had nowhere to go and staff were not able to care for her properly. This tragic story is not exceptional, unfortunately.
Deputy McDonald previously raised with the former Taoiseach the case of Ryan Dempsey, having met his family. A young man, just 22, he died alone in a ward off the accident and emergency department in St. James's Hospital, without hope that he would get the care he needed. He had presented to the accident and emergency department and had been discharged five times in just six months. There was never a place for him.
Ryan and others were failed by a system which is not fit for purpose due to decades of neglect and underfunding. CAMHS in places like Cork has turned away children who have expressed suicidal thoughts because they simply cannot take on more cases. Staffing levels in the service are at just over 50% with this chaotic environment taking a huge toll on those working in it. In Cherry Orchard Hospital in Dublin, 11 CAMHS beds were closed this year out of a total of 63 across the State, well below the promised 100. The Linn Dara unit there was opened just two years ago.
Sinn Féin's alternative budget provided for an additional €51.23 million investment in mental health services and care. We identified several areas where additional funding is urgently needed. It is needed - not wanted nor wished for - to keep people alive. Instead, the Government has allocated only €35 million, a highly doubtful figure. Community mental health 24/7 crisis intervention needs to move beyond the current Monday to Friday week-day service. If we are to have a fit-for-purpose crisis service, we need to move to a seven-day roster. Currently, at-risk and vulnerable people are being left with no option but to attend emergency departments or Garda stations. This is wholly inappropriate. Sinn Féin proposes to treble the current budget for counselling in primary care, increase the number of mental health and intellectual disability nurses, fund counselling and other mental health services for people in direct provision and better resource suicide crisis assessment nurses.
Today is not just budget day but also World Homeless Day. I do not know if the Minister was aware of this when he announced his housing budget for next year. The Government has €1.2 billion at its disposal but no additional social housing units on existing targets will be provided. That is appalling. There will be no capital investment in affordable homes, funds are limited for getting vacant units into use and only 3,000 units on the social housing targets through to 2021 above the existing plan will be provided. There has been no change to the overall social housing target. The existing target is 5,869 units, set when Deputy Coveney was housing Minister. Today, the target announced for next year is 5,900 units. Only €26 million for repair and lease is a low level of investment in securing access to vacant properties. There should be ten times this investment in repair and lease to deliver units. Only €25 million has been allocated for the local investment housing activation fund with no guarantee that any of these units will be affordable.
Where is the vacant home tax? It did not materialise as it is not one of the Government's priorities. Current estimates indicate that houses in developments benefitting from this scheme, such as Cherrywood in Dublin, will be selling houses from €340,000 to €440,0000. Up to €750 million from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund will be made available for commercial investments through Home Building Finance Ireland and NAMA for private developments. Like the local infrastructure housing activation fund, there is no guarantee this will deliver affordable units.
This is the proof that the Government has given up on our banks doing their job in the economy. It is an amount that tells us the Government has no intention of eradicating homelessness in this small wealthy country. It is an allocation that says this Government is okay with children living in hotels. How did the Cabinet sign off on a €1.2 billion package and not deliver an additional social house? Did anyone at Cabinet pipe up and say we should build another couple of social houses with the €1.2 billion to be announced at 1 o'clock in the Budget Statement? I cannot understand how the Minister can stand over this type of budget. Everything in it was actually announced six months ago. We expected the Government to do what it always does. However, we also expected it to pay lip service to the issue but it did not even go that far. This issue is not a priority for the Minister.
Today we learned of a new plan for NAMA to deliver housing. It was new to the Government but one for which we have been calling for years. Sinn Féin even has legislation in the Seanad to make NAMA deliver housing. NAMA's governance structures need to be overhauled but the architecture as an off-balance sheet vehicle to deliver houses is already in place. I put this to the Minister for Finance last year but he rejected the need for any such proposal. I wrote to the Taoiseach and sent him the relevant legislation several weeks ago. I am glad the Minister is toying with the idea of going down this road. We will tease it out in full detail when the legislation comes before us.
None of the plans already announced is working. The Government has plan after plan, announcement after announcement, but the housing crisis is getting worse. Every section of the housing market is affected. There are not enough council homes. Costs of rents are spiralling out of control while house prices are inflated. The figures speak for themselves. There are over 8,000 people, along with over 3,000 children, homeless. Many of these children have spent or will spend more than two years in emergency accommodation. Earlier this month, the Government's special rapporteur on child protection said emergency accommodation denied children several rights, including the rights to health and education, compromising their ability to develop. There are 90,000 households on council waiting lists. Many of these lists have a waiting time of over ten years or more. Rents are continuing to rise to unsustainable levels. If one is lucky enough to secure rental accommodation, one can be often subjected to overcrowded conditions, insecure tenure and poor quality surroundings.
The Government's solution to this is to bring back bed-sits. It is looking back for an easy option instead of developing progressive solutions. Local authorities have been starved of the central Government resources necessary to conduct inspections of rented accommodation.
There is not enough building going on. The flawed statistics presented by the Government do not accurately reflect the number of new builds coming on stream. Vacant houses blight our city centres and are dotted across the countryside. However, no vacant home tax has been implemented. The Government has tried the carrot approach. Private developers have been offered public money for site infrastructure in return for affordable housing units. Unfortunately, the Government has no definition of "affordable", which means different things in different places. The provision of affordable homes for rental or sale is, unfortunately, not a priority for the Government. Plans to develop and roll out a cost rental model were announced but then abandoned.
In some ways, the answer is easy - build more houses. That has not been sufficiently done because Fine Gael does not believe in building social housing. There is no other explanation. The State should deliver 10,000 social housing units next year before any private build is taken into account. There should be no excuses on that issue because it is our responsibility to ensure it is done. We need a new affordable housing programme to build affordable houses on public land that will be made available to families earning less than €75,000. We need to provide our local councils with the capital needed to deliver affordable rental units. That is the scale of investment needed. Is é seo an dúshlán atá os ár gcomhair, ach tá Sinn Féin réidh faoina choinne. That is the challenge that we face. Sinn Féin is up for it. It would deliver no gimmicks, spin or tax breaks but, rather, houses for the people. It has shown in its alternative budget how it could deliver 10,000 social houses and 4,500 affordable houses in 2018.
The State continues to be decades behind other countries in how it values, finances and legislates for early years education and care. It is currently spending little more than 0.1% on early years services. We are at the bottom of the OECD table of expenditure on early childhood educational institutions. The result is raised costs for parents, unsustainable services and poor pay and conditions for the early years workforce. The type of start we give our children inevitably impacts on their progress for life. There is an intrinsic link between the working conditions of those responsible for children and the quality of care and outcomes for those children. Investment in pay and conditions for those we entrust to mind our children is required, along with a genuine State subsidy scheme for all parents who choose to use child care services in order to make child care affordable. Many child care workers have gone to great lengths to obtain qualifications and training, yet low pay means they do not consider a long-term career in child care to be financially viable. That must change. They deserve to be paid a fair wage matching the importance of their career. That is a budgetary matter because the State ultimately subsidises the wages of those workers. We want an early years and child care sector of which we can be proud and that is reliable, high quality and affordable to all. We are a long way off that and, once again, it has not been addressed in the budget. The grand and much-leaked announcements in relation to early years investment fall far short of what is required. Sinn Féin's alternative budget proposed approximately five times more investment in the sector in 2018 than the Government has announced. Sinn Féin's proposals are affordable and deliverable if the political will is there to implement them. However, the Government has decided not to take the side of struggling parents, child care workers or community providers. The Minister is once again making hollow promises to parents which the sector cannot deliver because investment figures fall short of what is needed. We cannot build a modern economy with child care being done on the cheap. The State must put its resources into child care as a priority. However, the budget has made clear that our youngest citizens and their parents do not have the Government on their side. The proposed €20 million investment does not cut it. The second mortgage many families face in child care bills will not be reduced by the budget.
I do not know if the Minister is aware that thousands of third level students last week took to the streets to demand investment and reject a student loans system. They were not marching for themselves but for the future of education for all. They must be the wrong sort of people because their demands have gone unheeded in the budget. The Government talks about giving families a break but it could have removed a huge burden for tens of thousands of families by beginning the process of abolishing student fees and it chose not to. This budget is about letting the education system carry on as usual. The issues of modernisation and funding have been ignored. Tá tuilleadh infheistíochta ag teastáil go géar chun ranganna níos lú a sheachadadh agus le haghaidh níos mó muinteoirí agus síceolaithe oideachais a earcú. Ach bheartaigh an Rialtas seo neamhaird a thabhairt dó. Níl mórán curtha san áireamh mar chuid den bhuiseád seo fá choinne páistí scoile - idir pháistí bunscoile agus pháistí meánscoile. Again, the Government had other priorities.
Child care and education are not the only issues that young families needed to be addressed in the budget that were not. This is a young country, yet the young gain less when taxes are cuts and lose most when short-term policies are adopted. This is not a budget for the young of this country, such as those whose education is dependent on parents being able to afford student fees that should be lowered, nor is it a budget for young families trying to save for a home or pay their rent. Their right to housing has been relegated below tax cuts. The budget continues the direct discrimination against young jobseekers, who are considered less deserving of help from the State than their older siblings. Young civil servants, teachers, nurses and gardaí will have to wait for pay equality. It could have been different - this could have been a budget for a young country. This should have been the budget, and would have been if Sinn Féin were in government, where pay equality was begun for all civil servants, teachers, gardaí and nurses, where young jobseekers got equal treatment as is their right and where real measures to make it possible for a working family to buy a home were put in place. However, the Government is not on the side of young people.
Discrimination is not limited to young people. The shameless cuts to the pension bands and rates in 2012 that left so many people, mainly women, with lesser pensions has not been addressed. The 35,000 people affected by those cuts have been left to get on with life while receiving less than others because they may have left work for periods, mainly to raise their families. However, that was not a priority in the budget. I welcome the increase in the State pension but the deeper issues of inequality in the pension system have been left unresolved. Why will people on social welfare packages have to wait until later in the year to receive the increases announced? There is no justification for that. Under Sinn Féin proposals, all working-age social welfare recipients would have received an increase of €5 and those with disabilities an increase of €6 at the beginning of the year. This budget will deliver a less equal Ireland for our young people and the women who have fallen into one of the worst traps of the austerity programmes.
Tá feall á dhéanamh ag an Rialtas ar mhuintir na Gaeltachta agus ar an Ghaeilge féin. Tá an Ghaeilge i mbaol báis mar theanga pobail laistigh de deich mbliana. Tá an teanga féin ag sleamhnú chun na cille. Tá aithris á déanamh ag an Rialtas ar a chuid faillí i leith na Gaeilge sa bhuiséad seo. Níl tugtha ag an Rialtas dúinn ach cur i gcéill.
Maíonn an tAire Stáit, an Teachta Joe McHugh, go bhfuil an Ghaeilge “ag dul ó neart go neart”. Léirigh figiúirí an daonáirimh dúinn gur a mhalairt atá an scéal. Tháinig titim 23.6% ar chainteoirí laethúla i nGaeltacht Maigh Eo, titim 18% ar chainteoirí laethúla i gCiarraí agus titim 15.8% ar chainteoirí laethúla i nDún na nGall, mo chontae féin. Is titim í sin de 11% ar chainteoirí laethúla sna ceantair Gaeltachta ar an meán agus titim fosta ar líon na gcainteoirí Gaeilge ar fud an Stáit. Agus ní nach ionadh é, ó 2008 go 2014 tháinig laghdú 89% ar bhuiséad na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus na n-oileán. Tá an Rialtas ag teipeadh go holc ar an Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge 2010-2030 agus tá drogall air plean gníomhaíochta a fhoilsiú lena chuspóirí a leagan amach go sonrach.
Tá todhchaí na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta ag brath go mór anois ar dhá bheartas – is iad sin an polasaí don oideachas Gaeltachta agus an phleanáil teanga. Ach níltear ag tabhairt maoiniú cuí ina dtaobh. Níl raibh ach €1 milliún curtha ar fáil don pholasaí don oideachas Gaeltachta cé go bhfuil níos mó airgid de dhíth leis na cuspóirí ar fad a chur i gcrích - cuspóirí ar nós cúrsaí tríú leibhéal nua a chur i bhfeidhm, múinteoirí agus cigirí breise a earcú, maoiniú breise a thabhairt do scoileanna agus a leithéid.
Maítear go bhfuil an phleanáil teanga mar "last chance saloon" ag lucht na Gaeltachta leis an Ghaeilge a shlánú. In ainneoin é seo, fuair muintir na Gaeltachta buille trom nuair a dúradh leo nach mbeadh dóthain airgid ar fáil leis na pleananna teanga a chur i bhfeidhm mar a leagadh amach iad. Le breis is dhá bhliain anuas bhí eagrais agus daoine áitiúla ag treabhadh le chéile leis na pleananna seo a dhearadh. Anois is gá dóibh athbhreithniú a dhéanamh orthu uillig. Ní "tús láidir" é sin mar a d’fhógair an tAire Stáit, an Teachta Joe McHugh, ag an am, ach masla don phobal Gaeltachta.
Mhol Sinn Féin €5 milliún a thabhairt don phlean i gcomhar infheistíocht sa Ghaeilge agus sa Ghaeltacht atá curtha le chéile ag Conradh na Gaeilge. Bheadh €5 milliún á thabhairt againn do chiste reatha Údarás na Gaeltachta agus €5 milliún don chiste caipitil. Bheadh €4 milliún á thabhairt againn don phleanáil teanga. Tá an t-airgead seo atá luaite sa bhuiséad againn anuas ar chaiteachas an Rialtais. Bheadh €2 milliún sa bhreis á thabhairt againn leis an pholasaí don oideachas Gaeltachta a mhaoiniú i gceart, agus bheadh €1.3 milliún á thabhairt againn le tús a chur ar ionad traenála lán-Ghaeilge a bhunú d'ábhair mhúinteora. Molaim suas le €3 mhilliún a chur ar fáil le haghaidh cultúrlann a bhunú ar Shráid an Mhúraigh. Ní mór don Rialtas a bheith ionraic faoi staid na teanga. Is gá dúinn díriú isteach ar an nGaeltacht agus ar an nGaeilge agus infheistíocht chuí a dhéanamh anois ionas go mbeidh sí ag an gcéad ghlúin eile.
The Minister has announced a number of tax measures, some of which I welcome, others I do not. I welcome his proposal, in line with my party's view, regarding commercial stamp duty. We have argued for a number of years that it should be increased. Commercial lending and overheating played a huge part in the banking collapse. It is important we monitor this and take action to cool it. I support the increase in the excise on tobacco, not because it raises any money but because I believe that increasing the price will mean fewer of our people will die from cancer and more of our people will have better health outcomes. However, there is no evidence whatsoever that it will raise any money; in fact, the opposite is just as likely. If the Minister does not believe me, he can ask the Revenue Commissioners. He has put a figure beside it and I believe it is misleading, to say the least.
Today the Minister maintains the help-to-buy scheme, a scheme that has cost the Irish taxpayer €40 million and has contributed in no small way to house prices increasing by €50 every day across the State. The previous Minister for Finance made a commitment to publish the report on this before budget day. The current Minister reneged on that commitment. He wrote to me about the fact that he was reneging on it but he shared it with other Deputies, and that is not acceptable. Information regarding budget day should be provided to all Deputies on an equal basis. I would not have expected the Minister to do such a thing. He should not follow that path in the future. The help-to-buy scheme directly transfers money from taxpayers' pockets, as we know, into the pockets of developers while pricing ordinary families out of the market. Let me repeat once again for Deputy Donohoe, as Minister for Finance: the housing crisis is a supply-side problem. Stoking up demand only makes the situation worse by inevitably leading to house price increases. The Minister should do the right thing and abolish the scheme immediately. Let us not forget that it was Fianna Fáil that originally proposed its own version of the help-to-buy scheme and that the scheme would not be in place only for Fianna Fáil's facilitation of the passing of the relevant legislation through the Oireachtas. This shows the contamination of Fine Gael by Fianna Fáil in the new Government arrangement. However, the Minister has thankfully rejected Deputy Cowen's demand for a €240 million tax cut for developers, so the contamination is clearly not complete yet. Most people who access the help-to-buy scheme do not even need it to secure a deposit. That was the big lie given at the start: that it was to help people get a deposit. We see from the figures that this is simply not the case and that it is money that simply goes onto the price of a house. There is no real benefit for families; house prices increase and only the developers are the winners and I for one believe they have been bailed out once too often.
The retention of the 9% VAT rate for hotels that are full and are charging higher and higher prices while not respecting their workers' rights is political cowardice. I accept that not all hotels are full or are taking advantage of demand to hike up prices but the overall trend in the sector is one that no longer justifies a tax break. I am speaking specifically about hotels in Dublin. Many of them are owned by international investors that are soaking up most of the €190 million tax break, which could be money working towards emergency housing, paying teachers or nurses or building our infrastructure. That is where the money should go. We should retain the 9% rate for the rest of the sector but there is no justification for its application to hotel beds.
The phasing out of mortgage interest relief will hit many struggling families; 419,000 people will be worse off. This could cost families who had to buy at the peak of the crisis hundreds of euro. Nearly 80,000 family homes are still in mortgage distress and how will this affect them? It will just put them further into distress.
The picture of this budget becomes clear: all the talk of new politics is out the window. It is the same old story. The experts warn us that cutting taxes risks overheating and jeopardises our tax base. History tells us that outdated or failed tax breaks must be ended. However, today we have tax cuts on the double, and failed, costly schemes such as help to buy are left virtually untouched. Nothing has changed. There will not be different results in health care for our citizens from a budget that does what the establishment parties have always done: throw it all away, protect the powerful lobbies and expect hospitals and schools to run on the crumbs given to them. This is a budget drawn up by political insiders to suit them and their friends, not a budget for Ireland in the year 2017. The world in 2017 is a different place. Tá an domhain ag athrú agus níl an dara suí sa bhuaile againn ach a aithint go bhfuil an comhthéacs domhanda uilig ag athrú chun donais. The global context is changing, and not in a good way. Our national debt remains one of the highest in the world when taken as a percentage of GNI*, which strips out distortions unique to our economy. Low interest rates, quantitative easing, low oil prices and other favourable winds will not always be blowing in our favour. On the other hand, the impact of Brexit, which the ESRI and others fear may be underestimated in the Minister's own projections, is a storm that will not miss us. On a whole range of other issues, the Minister has done nothing or simply the bare minimum.
The more the Government insists everything is fine with our corporation tax system, the more problems stick out. Everything is not fine and it is not unpatriotic to say as much. I welcome the move to cap the intellectual property that can be written off against profits at 80%. I am amazed the Minister can be so precise about how much this will raise because when we asked the Department of Finance just a number of weeks ago, figures could not be produced. Even here though, I am disappointed but not surprised, to see yet again that the Minister has built a nice get-out clause into this year's budget. The cap in respect of the write-off of intellectual property will not apply to companies that have onshored hundreds of billions in intellectual property in the State over the past years. In a single year, annual capital allowances claims for intangible assets have increased from €2.7 billion to €28.9 billion due to the onshoring of intellectual property by multinational companies. In other words, the Minister is leaving the door firmly open for these companies - we know who they are: Apple and some of the other big multinational companies - to be able to write down their tax liabilities to a minimum level because the Minister has said it will only apply from tonight onwards. That is wrong and he should have taken action not to set it from today. He is taking the easy option of making a change while knowing well that the tax leakage already in process will not be stopped. The big movement of intellectual property, IP, onshore in recent years will go untaxed. The winds are changing internationally and it is time to start building a real industrial policy, not one built on unsustainable loopholes. The 12.5% corporation tax rate is not in question. Scaremongering does not add to the debate. This sovereign State maintains the right to set our own tax rates. No one has a better understanding of that and the economic importance of that sovereignty than Sinn Féin. There are, however, huge challenges coming down the road and the Government again has shown why it is not up to the challenges: it still has its head in the sand. I have major concerns that the Government's corporate tax policy is built on sand. We have seen corporation tax receipts increase from €3.9 billion in 2012 to nearly €8 billion in 2017. What makes this tax head especially risky is the concentration of receipts among large multinationals, with only ten payers accounting for 37% of the total revenue in 2016. I shudder to think of the risks of this exposure, given international tax policy developments.
It is likely that we are facing into a double whammy in the form of US corporate tax reform and movement due from either the OECD or Europe regarding the taxation of digital profits. Mooted US corporate tax proposals include the introduction of a foreign minimum tax requirement in tandem with a proposed reduction in the US corporate tax rate to 20%. This could massively erode the advantage that many US companies currently avail of here. Meanwhile, the EU digital tax proposal now has the backing of ten EU countries and could be brought in through enhanced co-operation next year, meaning it can go ahead without us but would still sharply affect us. Whichever measures are enacted, either by the OECD or EU, they would no doubt further erode our tax advantage. We could, therefore, be facing into a whole different economic reality in this State if our tax advantage is taken away over the coming years. I have no doubt that we are becoming increasingly isolated in these matters. We are not isolated because of the 12.5% rate, which my party and the vast majority in this House support; we are isolated because of how we allow companies resident here to minimise their taxes to almost zero. As a State, we are compounding our past mistakes. Consider the Apple case, for example. It has become an embarrassment, and one of the Government's own making. Instead of owning up to the new reality and dealing with the issues facing the State, the Government has doubled down. It is bizarre: the Government is trying to convince a European court that a company incorporated here but without a headquarters here, without a physical presence, without any staff, without a computer, without a desk and without a telephone, generated €104 billion in profits and, because of a loophole in our tax legislation, was not going to be taxed on any of these profits. The Government is trying to convince the EU that the other company that did have a physical presence here - employees, computers, desks, management structures - and that organised the distribution and manufacture of all Apple products outside the Americas is not the company that actually generated those profits. It is laughable. Not only that: the Government has made it worse because it did not follow through on the legally-binding obligation on this State to collect the €13 billion plus interest from Apple and deprive it of that illegal state aid. Now we are being taken to the court for the second time: €3.6 million already spent on souped-up lawyers to appeal, not in our interest but so that we do not get this money.
It is unbelievable that this is where the Government is at and that in the middle of a housing crisis, in the middle of a health crisis and in the middle of all of the different pressures we have, this is its priority for investment.
Last week we learned about who was benefitting from the research and development tax credit to which the Minister has made no changes. Let us look at what is happening. On budget day last year, the Minister published a report stating that action should be taken to ensure this tax credit does not run away and become an increasing cost. The report offered a number of solutions whereby the credit could not be availed of over and over again. Yet, documents I have obtained under freedom of information show that 65% of this €700 million tax credit is going to the top ten companies, which is unbelievable. Indeed, in the internal documents, officials within the Department are questioning whether companies are inflating research and development artificially to avail of this tax credit. Despite this, the Minister has decided no action is to be taken.
No action is to be taken with the bankers either. This is a common feature. Banks under the control of the State are telling us they will not pay tax for 21 years and other banks telling us it will be 20 years but yet the Minister takes no measures to reintroduce the measure Brian Lenihan originally brought in, which would see the losses that are carried forward only applied to 50% of the profits in any given year. This is unforgivable. That banks making a profit of €1 billion - AIB made a profit of €800 million in the first six months of this year - will not be paying tax for two decades is not acceptable given the pressures we are under.
This could have been a very different budget but the Government has returned to form and has done what it always does. It is a budget that obviously has an eye on the election. It is about the resources that are available to try to tick enough of the boxes Government Members think will please enough people to make sure they are returned to the Government benches. We are elected with a mandate, but with a mandate to lead. We are elected to lead this country and at a time of crisis, we need to provide that leadership. I said before that I will measure the Minister's budget on how it addresses the crises in housing and health. In those two areas, he has failed, and not only failed, but failed spectacularly. I repeat that I cannot for the life of me understand that, in a €1.2 billion package, he has decided not to deliver one social house in addition to those announced by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, when he was in the Department. I cannot understand, given the overrun in health, that he has given so little to health, which will not even allow the health service to stand still. Given the fact our constituency offices and the Minister's constituency office are inundated with the hard cases and with the real-life stories of people who are suffering as a result of policies the Minister and his predecessor introduced on budget day, which have left so many people homeless and languishing on waiting lists and on trolleys, the Minister should have done something different. It is very disappointing that this is the type of budget he has brought forward.