Finance Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)

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

As I said before the adjournment of the debate last night, despite repeated claims by the Government of its success in inducing economic growth and restoring the fortunes of the economy, the truth is the budget did not allocate enough money to solve the housing and homelessness emergencies. It did not allocate enough money to deal with the shambles and crisis in the public health service. It has not ensured restoration, even now, of the pay slashed from public servants during the period of austerity. It has failed to allocate sufficient investment in key infrastructure in areas like the arts and the development of renewable energy. Indeed, it has come up short in all the urgent investment and public spending requirements. In respect of practically every inequality and injustice facing this country, the budget failed to deal with the problems, crises and injustices.

The key question is why that is the case. Is it because there is simply not enough money? Is it because this Government's priority, as becomes clear when we look at this Finance Bill, is to ensure that the people who actually have money are not taxed? Yet, they could be taxed to boost our tax revenues to allow us provide the resources that could solve the housing and health crises. That would allow us to restore pay equality for nurses and teachers and invest in our infrastructure. The Government refuses to tax those who have the money.

This is summed up by the issue that has surfaced again in recent days relating to Apple and the €13 billion. It is really rather extraordinary. It is not simply that the Government does not want to collect the €13 billion, or €19 billion including interest, that could transform the situation in this country for ordinary people. In fact, the Government is now facing fines and notice of legal action from the European Commission because of its refusal to collect that money and put it in an escrow account pending the outcome of the appeal. Incredibly, the Government is spending millions on the appeal to ensure that the people do not get the €13 billion. The Government is spending taxpayers' money defending Apple's tax evasion.

That begs the following question. Why, even under instruction from the European Commission, has the Government not put the €13 billion in the escrow account? We are told it is because of commercial sensitivities and difficulties in getting an investment manager for the escrow fund. I thought that was what the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, was for. The NTMA is well capable of managing bonds and reserves of funds. Why, in the case of Apple, has it taken a year? Why are we now risking fines to find an investment manager? I will explain the reason - it was indicated by Bloomberg in recent weeks. It is because the Government is treating Apple with kid gloves. I suspect the Government may be even negotiating with Apple as to who the investment manager should be. Incredibly, the Government put in a condition that whoever gets the contract for managing the escrow account must be managing at least €500 billion worth of assets. What companies manage €500 billion worth of assets? Only American companies do. What are the difficulties in sorting out this problem? It has to be that the Government is dancing to the tune of Apple. That sums up what is going on in this country.

Whereas the profits of these corporations have jumped by an absolutely extraordinary amount, they pay pitifully low levels of tax because the Government is ensuring that they do not pay the tax. There are massive loopholes designed specifically to ensure that they do not pay tax. That is not speculation, given the treatment of Apple.

I have heard on the grapevine that a further four or five Apple-type cases are coming down the line from the European Commission involving some of the other big US multinationals in respect of which the Government has given the same favourable treatment and designed specific tax breaks to ensure they do not pay taxes. We can see this when we look at the tax expenditures outlined by Revenue. They are absolutely extraordinary. Between 2015 and 2016, the figure for tax breaks under the heading of intra-group transactions jumped from €2.9 billion to €9 billion in one year. Who is benefitting from that increase of €7 billion in the tax loophole? This is in addition to the research and development tax credits, which amount to €700 million, and €2.7 billion for losses brought forward. The losses-brought-forward heading was mostly to benefit the banks. They pay no tax even while they are ripping off those with tracker mortgages and other mortgage holders on a range of fronts. They are paying no tax. Yet, the Government will not tax these companies. That money could provide the billions we need to transform our economy.

None of that is in the Finance Bill. Instead, there is a little tinkering and some tokens. There is nothing serious to give us the revenues we need to solve the problems. All of this is summed up in the treatment of Apple. Apple is only the tip of a big and rotten iceberg, reflecting how this Government, of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, protects the biggest and most profitable corporations in the world from paying any taxes and robs the people of the resources they need to solve the urgent social crises our society faces.

We have dealt extensively with the general questions of the budget previously and, therefore, I do not intend to rehash them, except to say this is a budget for the 1%. It is a small-state budget. This budget will not resolve any of the crises facing people in this country.

Something very interesting was said yesterday by Deputy Michael McGrath. He said that the bedrock of our industrial policy is our competitive corporation tax regime.

It is very revealing to have it said in such stark terms by the so-called Opposition, but we know it is a view shared by the Government. It illustrates the very limited nature of strategy that exists from the point of view of the capitalist class in this country and its political representatives. The notion that being a tax haven is an industrial policy is laughable. Nowhere in the world, apart from tax havens, do they say that an industrial policy is made up of a "competitive corporation tax regime". It is laughable in terms of a description and there is a real problem if that is the policy but it also sums up the reality of Ireland functioning as a corporate tax haven.

To starkly illustrate the point I will give the figures for corporation profits and the effective rate of corporation tax paid on them over the past five years to 2015, the year for which the latest figures are available. In 2011 total profits declared before deductions was €77.5 billion and total corporation tax paid was just over €4 billion, which is an effective rate of corporation tax of 5.37%. In 2012, just over €80 billion in total profits was declared and €4.4 billion was paid in tax, which was an effective rate of tax of 5.4%. Total profits in 2013 was €87 billion, while total corporation tax paid was €4 billion, which means an effective rate of corporation tax of 4.7%. In 2014, total profits were €103 billion in profits and close to €5 billion in tax paid which was an effective corporation tax rate of 4.75%. In 2015, which are the latest figures available, corporation tax profits have doubled in the period to €156 billion, while only €6 billion was paid in tax, giving an effective rate of corporation tax of less than 4%.

That is utterly wrong. It represents a robbery of working-class people in this country and of developing countries in particular. It robs from their public services and has real consequences for real people. The other thing is that it is utterly unsustainable and to stick to the idea that one's industrial policy is going to attract corporations here on the basis of paying little or no tax due to low rates of tax, little regulation and everything else is utterly blind and shows the short-sighted nature of the strategists for capital in this country.

When one looks around the world and, for example at Brexit and the possibility of a bargain-basement Brexit driven by the Tories, it will include also slashing regulation on corporations if the Prime Minister gets away with it. Donald Trump repeatedly makes reference to Ireland's corporation tax rates and the need to slash to 20% US corporation tax rates. One can also look for examples elsewhere in Europe. It is a dead-end strategy. It is a race to the bottom in which everybody loses except for corporations and does not provide any sustainable future.

An industrial policy must be based on public investment, supporting research and development and investing in infrastructure. A socialist industrial policy must have its bedrock of public ownership and investment in the likes of green energy, in which the private sector simply refuses to invest. There is a daily consequence of that for the people on trolleys in hospitals. There was a very impressive protest yesterday by pupils, parents and teachers of Gaelscoil Chnoc Liamhna who have been in prefabs for 21 years and those involved have encountered obstacles but they have not been promised school buildings that do not involve going in and out of separate prefabs and having cold classrooms for another five years. They rightly do not believe those promises without an indication that something will happen. They are dealing with the consequences of what is happening in terms of industrial policy.

Social Justice Ireland produced stark figures indicating 17% of the population are at risk of poverty, 25.5% are experiencing deprivation and that without the social welfare system, 46% of the population would have been living in poverty in 2015. They face the consequences of the political choices which, as Deputy Boyd Barrett outlined, are encapsulated in the Government’s attitude to Apple.

There has not been sufficient debate in this House on the so-called sugar tax, which is obviously a tax on particular soft drinks, as opposed to sugar full stop. I am opposed to the soft drinks industry. I agree wholeheartedly that soft drinks play an important contributory role to health crises in this country and lead to obesity and it would be much better if people drank fewer soft drinks. What I do not agree with is introducing another regressive tax. We have had so-called green-washing before whereby austerity taxes were introduced under the guise of being environmental taxes such as water charges but now we have health-washing of taxes and taxes being brought in on the basis that they are somehow to improve people's health. The reality is that it will be a regressive tax. Ireland has a regressive, not a progressive tax system, whenever one takes into account the amount of indirect tax paid by people. The Government, Fianna Fáil and other right-wing elements always say we should just look at the income tax, which is progressive. Yes, the income tax on its own is progressive but it could be a lot more progressive, as we will outline, but when one takes into account all the indirect taxes such as VAT, of which consumption taxes are a major part, then it is not a progressive system where the bottom decile of household income earners pay 27.75% of their gross income in tax in total and the top 10% only pay less than 2% extra, namely, 29.2%.

The so-called sugar tax on soft drinks in reality will be another regressive tax. It became a matter of controversy in the US presidential election whereby it was introduced in Philadelphia and Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed socialist, opposed the tax while Hillary Clinton was in favour of it. There was a dispute, some fact-checking was done and the conclusion was that the so-called soda tax in America would disproportionately increase taxes for low-income families and people of colour. That is the consequence of sugar tax. The vast majority of it will be passed on to consumers and will disproportionately affect low-income earners.

If we are serious about public health what we should have is a proper amount of physical education, PE, in primary schools. According to a UCD study we are the third lowest in 37 European states, with the average time spent on PE being 46 minutes in a week. That is not impressive when one looks at the reality of physical education. That compares with religion getting two and a half hours a week, regardless of ethos. If we really wanted to improve public health we would invest in a national health service in order that people's poor rate of visiting dentists and tooth brushing would be tackled by people having access to and a connection with a dentist and doctor among other health professionals. Ireland would increase its spending on health promotion, which relatively speaking is low.

If the Government is serious about tackling soft drinks companies then it should regulate where and how soft drinks are available, for example, not having can machines in schools and it would tax those companies. Ultimately, soft drinks companies, which are part of major conglomerates, should be in public ownership and under democratic control. A secondary issue is the fact that the by-product of the sugar tax will be to incentivise further the sale and consumption of artificial sweeteners, which are also not without complications. Some studies show they can lead to an increased consumption of sugary foods because they make people crave the taste of sweetness and are potentially addictive. Studies involving saccharine and rats have shown a link to weight gain and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. I am opposed to the sugar tax, which is regressive. There are better ways of tackling the issues, as I have outlined. We will bring forward amendments on Committee Stage.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Finance Bill. The mathematics on which it is based may be wobbly for the simple reason that a third of the budget is built on stamp duty, which will make available an extra €300 million, and the rest is based on increasing the old reliables. The one third estimated to come in from the new stamp duty, amounting to approximately €360 million, will put a bit of trepidation into certain parts of the market. I will go into that in depth later on as amendments will be required.

I agree with the spirit of it in terms of taking on vulture funds and land hoarders.

Politicians are going around the country day in and day out to towns where many buildings have, unfortunately, closed due to the recession. We are trying to encourage people to buy such buildings. We do not need to give them another kick in the teeth. If we are trying to revive small towns we need to make sure we provide incentives. I am not talking about land hoarders or vulture funds. However, the first €300,000 of any purchase should be dealt with in the tax code. The price of a house in Dublin would not be €300,000 because, unfortunately, people have to pay a lot more. There are exemptions, but we need to try to encourage people to set up small family-run businesses. A grave mistake has been made. It is not helpful in terms of encouraging people to set up businesses.

Until last December farmers could, in the interests of efficiencies, receive reliefs when farms beside them came up for sale. Farmers now face a 6% stamp duty rate when buying land on the open market, which is a grave mistake. I will table amendments in that regard. We can see where political allegiances lie when the Bill goes to committee.

I listened with interest to the previous Deputy and a lot of what he said about the sugar tax is correct. The money generated should be invested in education, in particular physical education, in order to create awareness in national and secondary schools. There is no point in imposing a tax for reasons other than helping people. We should not take money from where it should do good. We know what problems may arise down the road. We should redouble our efforts. Money should be targeted towards helping people who have problems with obesity and to educate the next generation.

My first budget was on 10 October 2014. The self-employed who owned small businesses faced a discrepancy of €1,650 between what they and PAYE workers could claim in tax relief. On the day the then Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, clearly stated that anomaly would be addressed within three years. The figure reduced to €950 and an additional €225 brought the total to €1,175. It is disappointing, given that the Minister said the problem would be solved.

I welcome the rise in payments for old age pensioners. It is not a lot, but at least things are going in the right direction. Many Deputies have spoken about pensions, especially the current debacle whereby people who reared our generation and were forced to give up work are at a significant disadvantage. The system penalises them for rearing another generation. The issue needs to be sorted out rapidly. Something like €60 million would resolve it. I know there is no pot of gold to address what went wrong, but putting people on a level pegging would be a start.

Working people are having a euro taken from one pocket and put into another. There is nothing in the budget for them. People need to be aware of the backdoor charges which are being introduced. There is a rise in the PSO levy. The ESB is increasing the price of electricity. People should go through all of the different costs and they may, unfortunately, be worse off. People talk about those who get up early in the morning. Having done all the sums, while on paper there may be one or two euro a week for people if they go through the taxes which are being introduced by the back door and which nobody keeps an eye on they may find, they will be worse off.

The Minister has introduced certain measures for crèches. However, some staff in crèches around the country are on very low rates of pay. We need to examine the child care sector. It is good that over 2 million people are working, but we have to make sure we make work available to those who want to work and that the system is workable for them. Facilities must be in place and they must be affordable. There is no point working every day if one has to throw every single penny back into a crèche. I recognise that moves have been made. However, there is significant pressure on many people.

One of the biggest talking points in the budget was agriculture. The other side of that is rural Ireland. It was announced that rural Ireland got an increase of 12% in its budget. However, when one drills down to the budget for each Department, one finds that the biggest section of Ireland has the smallest budget in every Department. That sums up what is going on.

I welcome the ANC announcement, which was in the programme for Government. It was unfortunate to read in how CAP is dished out. There was a commitment in the programme for Government that there would be a review of CAP, whereby 80% of the grants go to 20% of the farmers. The average in each section of the country is there in black and white for anybody to see.

I can rest my case for the simple reason that large landlord farmers are still coining it. Smaller operators, who are the heart of rural Ireland, rear families and are involved in communities and keep them alive, are being treated in the same manner as they have been down through the years despite a commitment in the programme for Government to sort out the issue. Obviously that is not being addressed in the budget.

I was baffled that a party which, in the eyes of the media in particular, was the so-called farmer's party would hammer family members with a 6% stamp duty.

I recognise that in the Finance Bill, the Government has changed the consanguinity rule for people under 67 years, and that it has been abolished. However, if one buys land 20 or 30 miles away, where there was a tax exemption, it has now gone.

The Government must be mindful of small farmers who might be trying to buy 10, 15 or 20 acres at the most, which will be their only purchase in life in addition to what they already own. They cannot compete in a situation where the European Investment Bank, EIB, has given money to people in Norway to come in and buy our land from us and take it over. We cannot compete with that. The small farmers in areas of the country who are trying to buy 10 and 20 acres do not have that kind of money at their disposal. The message which this budget clearly sent out is that we can forget about the small family farm, we are courting the guy who can afford to pay 6%. That rate does not matter to the big fella and a vulture fund can afford it because it bought it for half nothing but what about the small farmers with 20 or 30 acres, in Cork, Kerry, Mayo or Donegal, who for once in their lives try to buy 10 acres that come up beside them? Will we let the whole lot be planted around them by foreign investors who are coming into this country and taking it over? Is that the Ireland we want? That is the message that is going out from this budget. If politicians take responsibility, we will make sure it is not.

In small towns, there may be a shop, pub or some small hardware store that could be bought with €300,000 or €400,000. Do we not want to keep someone local in those businesses or do we want to charge them an extra €4,000 in every €100,000? That is what we are going and telling them, to get the hell out and abandon their town. This affects farmers and small businesses but it is about something above that; it is about everyone who lives in rural areas of Ireland who want to see small towns prosper and recover.

The way this has been done is ill-advised and ill-thought out. I agree with the Minister of State. If we had to put 50% stamp duty on vulture funds, I would have no problem with that, I agree with it 100%. We can hit them because they bought it low. The funds might start talking to people who they are trying to drive out of their houses, having bought their loans from other banks at 30% or 40% of their value. They might finally start talking to them if we hit them with a real, substantial tax or stamp duty. That might be the solution for these guys who will not come to the table and who are faceless in this country, and send middle men in to talk and bring people around in circles.

We must make sure that like the thresher which separates the grain from the straw, we separate the family operation, the small farm and business from the rest because they are the heart of many communities. Unless we do that this budget is saying goodbye to more buildings and towns around the country. That is the clear message we are sending out.

I ask the Minister of State to consider what we are trying to do when amendments to the Finance Bill are tabled. If the Government wants to bring in the money by hitting the big vulture funds, that will not be a problem This Dáil would back it 100%. This country needs to send out the message that it wants to encourage SMEs and family farms because the message going out at present is that we are a country that encourages landlordism and one can forget about everything else.

I acknowledge the Government did not have hundreds of millions available for this budget to solve things. Some good things were done, such as tax coming down, but we should look at the area of transport, which delivers food and is very important to the entire economy. When our lorries go to England or to other countries, they must pay a tax because they are Irish lorries. We face a situation, and Deputy Michael Collins who is in the Chamber knows even more about this than I do, where lorries come in from Spain that go down to the end of Cork and drive up to the top of Donegal and the Irish people do not receive a red cent from it. They haul fish and bring backloads in with them. They are doing a lot of Irish work out of business. It needs to be addressed and is something I spoke about a long time ago. When we go into England, we must pay £10 to travel on their road and if one does not, there is a fine of £500. This also applies in Northern Ireland. Irish hauliers are crucified and many have lifted their business from the country and gone to Bulgaria and other places where they have bought their insurance for a fraction of what it costs here, because they had to. They can get it for approximately one seventh of the cost they were being quoted in this country. That is unfortunate because not only is it a loss to the Exchequer but when others are able to come in, it creates further problems for the business.

It is a good thing that the country is picking up or certain parts at least, and we need to ensure that we introduce a system of apprenticeship. One cannot get drivers at the moment, farmers will say they are struggling to get workers and we are struggling to get the ordinary tradespeople to build our buildings. We can talk about getting as much employment as we want or building as many houses as we want but if we do not have the guys or the ladies who can do the work, we are in serious trouble. The emphasis has been one of driving people towards college, and giving a secondary status to trades. I acknowledge positive reforms in apprenticeship this year, where accountancy and a few other apprenticeships have been added. It is very important and I welcome it. We need to speed it up and look towards Germany and Norway, where the latter has something like 330 different apprenticeships. It is hugely important that we drive this on because we must build the buildings, we need different expertise in different sectors and this must be encouraged as much as possible.

I also welcome developments in the colleges this week, where NUIG has borrowed its first €60 million from the EIB. We need to drive this on as part of the efforts to solve the shortage in housing. It will not solve it all but the colleges have a lot of land. It is a licence to print money because they are sure of getting people in and the buildings are necessary for student accommodation. It will not solve the whole problem but each person who finds accommodation takes pressure off some city somewhere in the country, which is very important.

When the amendments are introduced to the Finance Bill, I ask that the Government protect the small family farm and small businesses. I do not mean the big businesses, because whatever the Government wants to do with them, it will have 100% backing from this Dáil. I ask the Government to look hard at this matter and give them some relief.

The Rural Independent Group has 20 minutes and I call Deputy Michael Collins.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. During my statement on the budget three weeks ago, I warned that what appeared to be a soft budget would prove quite different when the finances were broken down over the following weeks.

I hate to say "I told you so" but as we are trashing out the Finance Bill to implement all of the proposed budgetary measures and as there has been time to examine the various increases and decreases, it is clear that what I said was correct, namely, that the devil would be in the detail. The extreme increase in the rate of stamp duty, from 2% to 6%, for the conveyance and transfer of non-residential holdings is absolutely detrimental to small farms and businesses throughout the country. Businesses and farmers in rural areas are struggling to survive as matters stand. This huge rise in the rate of stamp duty will diminish the intentions of entrepreneurs to start up or expand in the near future. I am totally opposed to this new measure.

On budget day, I welcomed the €5 increase in all social welfare payments. However, why must the recipients wait until next March to receive this increase? Why could it not be effected immediately, as with the increase in the price of cigarettes? The increased rate of stamp duty came into effect on 10 October. The €5 million investment in the new strategic communications unit to allow the Government to improve its image among members of the general public was totally unnecessary and unacceptable. This €5 million would be better spent on addressing the problems in our health system or on the housing crisis.

The budget did very little for the agricultural sector. The Government not only implemented the insane change regarding stamp duty, it also did little to improve the lives of those in the agriculture sector. This is our biggest sector. The Government's failure to equalise the income tax credit for the self-employed before 2018, as promised in the programme for Government, was both disappointing and cruel for our self-employed.

On the fishing sector, I agree with Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice regarding Spanish lorries leaving Castletownbere in their droves every week. There is every incentive for foreign vessels to be looked after in our waters. Last week, our fishermen experienced one of the worst crises in many years. Their pots and materials were smashed up against the rocks by Storm Ophelia and Storm Brian. We are looking for a compensation package for those fishermen just so they can replace their equipment. The request is falling on deaf ears. The Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, passed the request to the Minister but the latter has not replied to help the fishermen at this time.

Overall, I am disappointed with both the Finance Bill and the various measures the Government has introduced. I do not believe I will be able to support it without a number of changes in respect of the issues I have outlined.

I very much support the call by Deputy Michael Collins for a compensation package to be put in place for fishermen. I have been contacted by many fishermen from around the coast who have been affected adversely in recent weeks. The tools of their trade have been destroyed. Quite simply, they do not have the money to replace them. They were not expecting this to happen. They are not covered by insurance and are in really dire financial circumstances. I hope and expect that the Minister will seriously consider putting in place a compensation package for the fishermen who are genuinely affected and hurt. Not a lot of money is required in each case. However, putting no package in place would be enough to place the fishermen at a considerable disadvantage.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Finance Bill because it gives us an opportunity to catch up on developments that have just transpired. When a budget is first introduced, one does not really see the detail. It is only in the following days, when one studies it and everybody gets an opportunity to go through it, that one sees exactly what is in it and, more importantly, what is not. In this case, I was hoping people who are less well off would be taken care of. People who were struggling through the economic downturn got nothing in this budget that is of any consequence or importance.

Since I became a Member, I have always said it should pay people to work. Young families who have a mortgage, are struggling, trying to pay for child care and working are really finding it difficult to make ends meet at present. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, knows the kinds of people about whom I am talking. They are individuals who are out working every day of the week, who may have a loan for a car and who have a mortgage. They have to pay for child care and they have many other bills, including for health care. All they see is that they are getting hit continuously.

Of course, we must also talk about the elderly and disabled. I agree with the sentiments of Deputy Michael Collins, who stated the Government is boasting about an increase of €5 per week but not giving it to people until March. As a rule, it has always been the way of Governments and Departments of Finance to apply increases at midnight but not give out any benefits for about six months. That is wrong and the practice should stop. When the Government says it is giving people something, it should give it to them immediately.

I am not happy about the increase in the rate of stamp duty for farmers. When I look through the exemptions and other provisions, I am still worried about transactions relating to land. We must always ensure that people who are changing ownership of land are catered for. In many cases, the farmer is just the custodian of the land. He does not have it for its monetary value and is only holding on to it for the next generation and trying to improve it. That must always be borne in mind when people are dealing with finances and budgets.

With regard to the vast amount of money that is being made available for electric cars, in the region of €10 million, I am totally opposed to it. I consider it a waste of money.

In recent days, I was dealing with a couple of awful cases involving people who provide care for individuals who are, unfortunately, terminally ill and who are seeking carer's allowance. I raised this matter yesterday and want to raise it again today because I want to drive home this point. I appreciate the reaction that I got from the Minister, Deputy Coveney. He saw merit in my case and believed it deserved a hearing. When the person being assessed for the carer's allowance is terminally ill, he or she does not have four or six months in which to have the claim processed. The application process should be streamlined. Once the medical evidence is submitted to the Department and once it is medically proven that, unfortunately, a case is terminal, there should be absolutely no delay. No individual or party in this House will disagree that when a person is terminally ill and somebody is seeking to care for him or her, that person should immediately be put on the carer's allowance. It is only right, proper and respectful. I want that to be driven home today, as was the case yesterday.

As I stated, when one studies the budget and goes through all the ins and outs, one realises that it will mean very little improvement in the lot of people in rural areas. Earlier this morning, I saw the cranes against the skies here in Dublin. This city and the remainder of the country are absolutely unrelated to each other at this stage. I refer to the price of property, the rents that are being charged and the work that is taking place here. I do not begrudge the people of Dublin the work but they should not believe it is being replicated throughout the country.

Consider the case of someone working on a community employment scheme in south Kerry. He or she may be glad and lucky to be on it. Here in the Dáil, I have raised the number of people the authorities are trying to remove from schemes. It does not make sense to me. When people are on schemes, that is all they have. They want to remain on them for as long as possible. They certainly do not want to be called in and asked questions about what they have at home or what they have under the bed. That is happening in Kerry at present. Is the rest of the country being treated in the same way? The percentage of people being called in is extraordinarily high, and I cannot make sense of it. I would like answers on this.

When it comes to budgets and finance, we have to take care of everybody.

We have to ensure that those who are less well off will be taken care of and that every opportunity is taken to provide work, schemes, or other money-making avenues, be they for small farmers or for people living in housing estates or whatever else. We must always remember that there are two worlds in today's Ireland: Dublin and the rest of the country.

I too am glad of the opportunity to raise a few issues arising from the budget. I first will reiterate what my colleagues have said in respect of social welfare payments. People are very hurt and angry about the meagre extra amount they will now receive. They have been told that they will get €5 but it is not even clear if they will get that full amount. They will now have to wait for another six months, well into next year, and Christmas will have passed before they can get that extra money. Many of the increases in the budget will affect them in the meantime. Many people, then, are very annoyed and hurt over this.

We then come to the matter of the extra funding allocated to the Health Service Executive, HSE, to provide very important services. I stood here one year ago and said I hoped the €950 million allocated in that budget would not just be consumed by the HSE. Most of it was, of course, and we saw no results on the ground in Kerry, where people are still waiting for cataract operations, teenagers are waiting for orthodontic treatment and people are left on hospital trolleys. There are 21 people on trolleys in University Hospital Kerry today. Why are more beds not open in the new hospital in Kenmare? Why at times does Killarney Community Hospital not operate at full capacity? Why are only half of the beds open in the new hospital in Dingle? The land for that hospital was donated free of charge by a local landowner. It is terrible to think that the facility is not now being used for the purpose for which it was intended and there are offices in places where there should be beds. This is very wrong.

As for the fair deal scheme, the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, announced there would be fairness for farmers and those involved in the farming sector. A motion passed here in the Dáil several months ago even though the Government opposed it and Fianna Fáil failed to vote for it. It passed thanks to some of the colleagues to my right here who could see the need for fairness for the farming community. The Minister of State announced the scheme was to go ahead some weeks ago but I have seen nothing addressing it or no funding allocated for it in the budget. I was not happy with his statement to the national newspapers that a cap would be put on farms and farm residences for only three years. It is not fair to take an individual's farm into account in the assessment at all. If a mother or father has gone into a nursing home it is very unfair to think that the value of the farm would be adversely affected. The assessment should take into account the value of the residence alone, not the farm itself, in order that farmers can be treated equally to everybody else being assessed for the fair deal scheme. Farmers should get equal treatment and fair play.

In many such instances, people would stay at home if they could get home help. It is very difficult to get a second home help to come in in the morning or in the evening to operate a hoist, for example. This then demands the presence of family members to help the care assistant with this task, something that is not always possible. If it is no bother to get the fair deal scheme for these people, why not ensure they get more home help instead in order that they can stay in their homes longer? Anyone in a nursing home who is still in possession of his or her senses - some, sadly, are not - will say his or her one ambition is to be at home. Even if such people state the nursing homes are grand and lovely, they all will say they would rather be in their own home. Why not transfer some of the fair deal funding across to be used for more home help?

On the issue of stamp duty in rural Ireland, I very much regret that it is being applied to farmers who need to buy extra land and will not qualify for the exemptions. In order to stay in the running, farmers have to expand and drive on but many farmers who would like to do so will be hit by this 6% stamp duty. Likewise, a young fellow getting a site from his father on family-owned land will also have to pay this duty.

No. That is wrong.

The Minister of State can respond later.

If he is only getting the site, he will have to pay the 6% and transfer the site to his name before he can get a bank loan. I know what I am talking about because people very close to me have had to do this already and will have to do it again now and the duty has risen from 2% to 6%.

I am grateful for the funding that was given to local improvement schemes last year and I hope that it will be doubled next year because people in County Kerry have been waiting for their turn for eight or nine years now. As I have said here before, people in rural Ireland are every bit as entitled to a good road to their door as people in Dublin 4. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine returned €1.6 million to the Exchequer for 2016. I hope that does not happen again this year because people in rural areas are suffering. As a barometer as to what is happening, the proud parish of Scartaglin is not able to continue in the county league because the young fellows are all going abroad. Even in my own parish of Kilgarvan, another six left for Australia in the last few days. Emigration is still happening and rural Ireland is badly affected by it. Let us just take a place like the parish of Lauragh, where the two shops, the post office and the Garda station have all closed. There is nothing there now to identify it as a parish in its own right, barring one pub down in Kilmackillogue. Everything is closing. This is what is happening in rural Ireland. The people of Sneem and Caherdaniel can only field one team between them whereas heretofore, they could put out three and four teams at various times.

During the housing debate last night, I asked for the extension of the repair and leasing scheme to rural villages. The Minister of State, Deputy English, responded by saying that the scheme already covered rural areas. It does not. The only areas that qualify for this scheme are those with an immense pressure for social housing. If the Government wants to revitalise rural towns and villages not already included under the repair and leasing scheme, it will have to extend the scheme. It is no good for the Taoiseach to talk about vacant properties when such properties are not fit to be lived in. It is not fair and we will not have houses or be able to provide housing until he extends this scheme right out around rural areas. Many of the houses in these rural villages are falling down.

That is the truth of the matter. If the Minister wants to revamp those properties, please include them in the repair and leasing scheme because they are not included at present.

This Finance Bill, like the budget that gave rise to it, lacks any kind of coherence or ambition for the country. A small amount of money was spread around very thinly, without any apparent strategic objectives being set. For that reason, it turned out to be much ado about nothing, and a missed opportunity. The small amount of money that was available - which could have been increased, had the Government chosen to do so - could have been used in a meaningful and strategic way to set long-term objectives for the country. Unfortunately, it seems that electoral objectives were more important to this Government than any kind of strategic objectives.

The Finance Bill must be seen in two different contexts. The first is the extraordinarily restrictive fiscal rules that apply and seem to have been accepted in their entirety in this country, and the second is the Government's seemingly obsessive preoccupation with tax cutting, and in particular tax cutting that favours people who are better off and earning far above the average wage, and the impact of that kind of approach on family budgets. On the fiscal rules, we know that during the austerity years capital spending was scaled back very heavily and there was little regard to the long-term impact of such an approach. We are now facing the consequences of that, with a massive overhang of underinvestment in the capital area and in our infrastructure generally. That is holding us back very substantially. There is a huge infrastructural deficit, of which the housing crisis is the most obvious example, but we also see it in the lack of investment in electricity infrastructure, rural broadband, transport and a whole range of areas. We should be investing in balanced regional development, for example.

Just this morning I had an email from a constituent of mine who had recently given up driving into work in the morning, which is the objective we have set and something we are trying to encourage people to do. This person told me that this morning in Glasnevin he was waiting at a bus stop from 7.45 a.m. until 8.15 a.m. and during that period eight buses passed by, all of them full, while the queue at his stop was lengthening all the time. That is a very clear measure of the extent to which we underinvest in public transport. While we know that we should be encouraging people to use public transport for environmental and competitiveness reasons, among others, there is still massive underinvestment in public transport. On the north side of Dublin, there is no rail option for my entire constituency. There has been no significant investment in public transport, and that is why the Swords Road and Drumcondra feature every single morning on the AA traffic reports. This is having a very real impact on people's ability to move around and to get in and out of work effectively. It is affecting competitiveness in a very substantial way in that most people in the Dublin area, and certainly the north side of Dublin, are taking anything from an hour to an hour and a half to travel perhaps five miles into the city centre to get to work.

If Ireland is to catch up, we need to invest very substantially in our infrastructure. That is not happening. We have been hugely constricted in what we can do because of the very restrictive fiscal rules. These rules are undoubtedly damaging Ireland's interests, and they should be very seriously challenged. Under the current rules, the cost of anything that Ireland allocates to infrastructure and other capital projects is calculated over a four year period, which makes no sense whatsoever. If we are talking about significant investment in rail projects, for example, those projects will be of benefit and be in use for 50 to 60 years, so why are we calculating the investment costs of those projects over a four year timescale? Housing is a similar area where there is a massive underspend. We expect houses will last us 60 to 100 years, yet the costs of the investment in them are spread over a mere four years. That makes no sense either.

The amount set aside under the revised capital plan, despite recent improvements, is wholly inadequate by any kind of standard. It is fundamentally unambitious for the country. Investment as a percentage of GDP will remain very low under this plan, and the amount we spent in 2017, for example, is very similar to the amounts we spent during the austerity years when we could not afford to borrow and we were almost entirely dependent on IMF and EU funds to keep us afloat. We are not investing very much more than we did during those very difficult years.

We in the Social Democrats firmly believe that the plan is extremely unambitious and lacks any kind of long-term thinking in terms of the needs of the country. It makes sense to invest heavily now in order to save in the long term. That is what the approach of Government should be. We should be investing in things like an extensive retrofitting programme, rather than the tokenistic stuff that is being done at the moment. If we do that, we will undoubtedly save in the future. We are facing fines of some €600 million per year from the early 2020s because of our failure to meet our targets in that regard. We need to take a long-term strategic view of investing now so that we will save money in the future. Unfortunately that has not been the approach taken by Government.

The partial sale of AIB is a perfect example of how the fiscal rules work against Ireland's interests. The proceeds of that sale could not be used to invest in infrastructure when that would have been the sensible and prudent thing to do. Meanwhile, we borrow funds at historically low interest rates, and in some cases we enjoy negative yields from some investors, yet we are not allowed to capitalise on the opportunity which that situation presents to us. We can get money for next to nothing, and we are precluded from availing of that possibility. We should be borrowing now, when money is so cheap, but fiscal rules are preventing us from doing that. The kind of approach that this forced us to take works against the interests of the country and against any kind of common sense. That is why we say that the Government should be challenging those rules in a robust way. There is no indication that has happened. During the economic collapse in 2008 and in subsequent years, the Government did not challenge the EU on the conditions of the bailout. Everybody is paying an enormous price for that, and we have been burdened with huge public debt as a result of the Government's failure to stand up to the EU. This is happening again now, in relation to the fiscal rules. The Government is taking a cowering approach to this issue, which does not serve the country's interests. The Government needs to stand up for the people, challenge those rules and make the case in Brussels that the EU is forcing us into a situation which is holding back the country very significantly. It makes no sense whatsoever.

At the very minimum, we in the Social Democrats believe the Government should have done what IBEC was proposing to do, which was to use the official GDP figures for the purposes of calculating the fiscal space.

Unfortunately, that has not been done. The Government, for some unknown reason, has decided to use the imputed figures rather than the official GDP figures. If we did as IBEC proposed, it would have allowed an additional €400 million in fiscal space. That should have been availed of and used for infrastructural investment. Overall-----

It is good to see that the Deputy is in line with IBEC.

Yes, that is right. We agree with the point which IBEC has made, which is that we should use those official figures to enable us to leverage additional fiscal space in order to begin catching up on the glaring underinvestment in infrastructure in so many different areas across the country.

The other context in which we are discussing the Finance Bill is that of the Government's attitude to taxation generally. While the Taoiseach talks about giving something back to people, we know that the approach taken in cutting income tax and reducing the USC has had a very minimal impact on the vast majority of people in this country. There is a lot of talk about giving something back. Strategically, it was a mistake to do that. The €300 million, or whatever the precise figure is, which was used for this tax package would have been much better spent had it been concentrated and focused on reducing the cost of living. Instead of doing that, we had a mish-mash of what Fine Gael wanted and what Fianna Fáil wanted.

That resulted in a situation in which our income tax system has become even more skewed and more regressive than it had been. For example, as a result of the changes to income tax and the USC in the budget, a single person earning €23,000 will benefit to the tune of €1 per week. A single person who is self-employed and earning €70,000 will benefit to the tune of €10 per week. Where one person in a couple is working, and the family's income is €35,000, they will benefit to the tune of €4 per week and yet where both people in a couple work and earn €70,000 they will gain €9 per week. Those tax changes have turned out to be quite regressive. We know that the majority of workers earn less than €35,000 per year. The majority of income earners earn less than €35,000 a year. For the vast majority of those people, the tax changes in the budget will be of little or no benefit. At most they will deliver €1 or €2 per week, which would hardly be noticed by most households.

If one looks at what has been happening in respect of the cost of living over the past number of years, particularly during the austerity years, families have increasingly been hit with very significant rises in costs in areas such as housing. In this morning's The Irish Times we read that the cost of renting in Dublin now represents 55% of a person's take-home pay. It is 55% when the standard is expected to be approximately 30%. That is entirely unsustainable for people who are caught in that trap. We also know that the cost of health care is a huge barrier to accessing care. There are issues with the cost of insurance; the cost of child care; the fact that we do not have any paid parental leave; the cost of public transport, with fares are rising all the time; the cost of energy; and the cost of education, as we do not even have free primary education in this country yet. All of these very significant costs are impacting on family budgets, meaning that people have little or nothing left in discretionary income at the end of the week or the end of the month.

For many reasons - equity being one, but also competitiveness and dampening down wage demands - we would have been much better off as a country if whatever funds were available for this year's budget and the associated Finance Bill were used to target the cost of living and to bring it down for all families. That could have happened if the Government had taken that kind of approach. If the Government had listened to what people said last year during the general election, they would know that people are not stupid. They know that it makes much more sense to have good quality public services, which are available to people universally, because they benefit everybody, as opposed to taking this approach of cutting taxes. This approach is not sustainable in the long term because we need to maintain our tax base. We should not be eroding it. That is how we pay for good quality public services. It really is very disingenuous to pretend to the public that the integrity of the tax base can be run down and undermined while still providing people with decent public services. It is simply not possible to do that. Examples of our approach are seen right across Europe, particularly in the Nordic countries. The social contract which should exist is that people pay a fair share of tax relative to their income and, in return, everybody gets decent public services. That is how to create a decent society. Unfortunately, this Government has taken a very different approach.

The other very disingenuous argument which is often used for cutting taxes is that we need to attract people back home - entrepreneurs and the many Irish people who are currently living all over the world. That argument does not stand up at all. IDA Ireland has made it very clear that the big obstacle preventing people coming back home to live and work is the exorbitant cost of housing. IBEC made a presentation to Members of this House which stated very clearly that when it comes to attracting companies to locate here or attracting individuals to return, the two big obstacles it has identified are the crazy cost of housing and the lack of access to decent health care at an affordable cost. IBEC made that very clear. It is not about taxes, it is about the services. If people are considering coming back from Canada, Australia or wherever, they are thinking about whether there are decent schools and good public transport, whether housing is affordable, and whether there is decent public health care. Those kinds of things matter much more to families than getting tax cuts.

While I am on that topic I want to raise the issue of the special assignee relief programme, SARP. It is a nonsense. It is deeply unfair. We should not have it. The SARP tax relief is aimed at reducing the cost to employers of so-called high-end staff by providing special tax benefits. The employee must be on a salary in excess of €75,000 and we know that a great many of them are on massive salaries. This is really a scam to help high earners to avoid paying tax. Not only that, but they are also subsidised in sending their children to private schools.

The Deputy is wrong.

They are given a €5,000 tax break to send their children to private schools. That is deeply unfair. It is a slap in the face to most ordinary taxpayers who are put to the pin of their collar to survive. Again, it is just a front to enable people to avoid paying their fair share of tax, as is the Government's attitude to corporation tax. The Social Democrats fully support the 12.5% corporation tax rate, but we should insist that companies actually pay that rate. The effective rate of tax should be close to 12.5%. There is potential to raise very significant additional funds by doing that.

Finally, I want to talk about another tax scam, which is the tax relief on big pension pots, which is gradually being scaled back. The year before last, however, we were promised by the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, that he would introduce restrictions on effective tax relief for private sector pensions so that nobody would be entitled to tax relief on pensions in excess of €60,000. That did not happen. There is potential there to raise an additional €120 million if the Government were to follow through on the promise it made in 2013.

The net effect of the failure to follow up on that promise is that Ministers and senior civil servants can continue to benefit from pensions of up to approximately €100,000, which is an exorbitant amount. These are people who made the rules to suit themselves. Fairness is needed but it has not been provided in the Finance Bill, which is ill-advised and lacks ambition and coherence. We could have done much better if the Government had taken a different approach.

The Government has listened to the people, continued its commitments and invested in areas that most need investment. We want to improve the lives of older people, share the benefits of the return to economic growth by improving the lives of those in their later years. We want to keep people living in independently in their homes. We are increasing funding for home adaptation grants, which will allow up to 11,000 grants to be provided to support older people to remain at home or much longer. I regularly visit elderly people, many of whom believe they will not be discharged from hospital once they are admitted. We want them to realise that hospitals do a fantastic job and that their goal is to have older people return home as soon as possible after admission. The Government has made a commitment to achieving this.

The introduction of a new telephone support allowance will benefit more than 124,000 people. Telephones are extremely important for older people as they allow them to keep in touch with families and friends. Elderly people living alone have the comfort of knowing that if someone enters their home or something happens at night, they can press their alarm and have a friend, neighbour or garda quickly come to their house.

The extension of the period in which fuel allowance is provided to 27 weeks, commencing in the first week of April 2018, is good news for older people who will receive assistance in buying fuel for several more weeks each year. The measure will benefit more than 375,000 households, particularly pensioners, widowers, people with disabilities, lone parents and long-term jobseekers.

A further €5 increase in the State pension will come into effect in March 2018 and the Government has committed to further increases in the years ahead. Additional investment of €10 million in the free travel scheme is designed to encourage more operators to join the scheme and extend its coverage to remote areas. More bus operators are entering the market in my home county of Louth, which gives people living in rural areas an opportunity to visit urban areas.

The budget also provides for a reduction in prescription charges for all medical card holders aged under 70 years from €2.50 to €2 per item, with the monthly cap reduced from €25 to €20. The Government has also provided support to enable workers aged 50 years and over to find employment. Employers will receive a subsidy of €10,000 for employing a long-term unemployed person aged over 50 years. I would not like people to be considered unemployable once they reach the age of 50. The Government has done as much as possible to encourage employers to take on people aged 50 years and over.

The Government is also tackling housing and homelessness problems through the provision of a total investment of €1.83 billion for housing in 2018. Next year, local authorities and approved housing bodies will build 3,800 new social houses. The social housing current expenditure programme will deliver an additional 4,000 social houses next year. Funding for the housing assistance payment will be increased by €149 million in 2018, which will enable an additional 17,000 households to be supported and accommodated. Coming from Dundalk in County Louth, I know how important it is for people to get onto the housing ladder. The Government is trying its best to tackle the rental crisis. We must act soon to address the shortage of houses.

Funding for homeless services will increase by more than €116 million and an additional €500 million for the direct building programme will result in an additional 3,000 new social houses being built by 2021. The addition of Exchequer funding of €75 million for the local infrastructure housing activation fund will support local authorities in delivering affordable housing. The housing needs of 25,500 households will be met in 2018, which means an additional 98 households will have their housing needs met every day next year. Everyone deserves a fair chance and equality of opportunity. A safety net should be available to those who need it.

People tend to forget that many families split up as a result of the economic crisis of the past ten years and this has contributed to the housing crisis because accommodation is often not available for a spouse who leaves home. It is important to look after both parties when a family splits up. When a man leaves home, he will often find it very difficult to get onto the housing list and secure a two or three bedroom house which would allow him to give his former partner a hand looking after their children. Local authorities could do many things in this area. The housing crisis is not helping anybody.

I welcome the funding provided to recruit more than 1,000 special needs assistants by September 2018, bringing the total number of special needs assistants to more than 15,000. Not a week goes by that someone does not visit my office in Dundalk seeking help to secure a special needs assistant for a child with a disability. The provision of 1,000 new posts is, therefore, very welcome. The funding provided to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools is also welcome, as is the increase in funding for breakfast clubs in DEIS schools.

Budget 2018 will also help working families. The reductions in the lowest rate of universal social charge, USC, from 2.5% to 2% and the 5% rate to 4.7% are welcome. The income threshold for the higher rate of income tax will increase by €750. The entry point for a single earner will increase from €33,800 to €34,550. The combined effect of the USC and income taxation measures will be to increase the annual income of an average family with two incomes by between €500 and €600. Both partners need to be in employment if a family is to get onto the first step of the housing ladder and it is important that we look after this group of people.

The increases in the earnings disregard for one-parent family payments and jobseeker's transitional scheme to €20 per week and in the weekly rate of the qualified child payment by €2 per week are welcome measures. The preschool programme is being extended to ensure preschool children are entitled to two full years of preschool services. This measure will benefit approximately 127,000 children and save families approximately €4,000 over the two years of a preschool programme.

In health, the recruitment of an additional 1,800 staff in front-line services across the acute, mental health, disability, primary care and community sectors is very welcome, as is the increase by €35 million in mental health funding in 2018. The Government has committed to further increasing funding by €5 million in 2019. In addition, €90 million has been allocated to improve access to hospitals for patients. To ensure we have the ability to help the most vulnerable children and their families, the allocation to Tusla will increase by more than €40 million in 2018, bringing the agency's total allocation to slightly less than €754 million.

The Government is ensuring that all parts of the country have an equal opportunity to share in economic growth and prosperity. A sum of €35 million has been made available for the Leader programme and funding for the town and village renewal scheme has been increased by €3 million to €15 million. A further €10 million has been allocated to local improvement schemes. This is badly needed investment and I wish the Government would provide much more for this scheme.

The community services programme, for which €40 million has been allocated, will move to the Department of Rural and Community Development. In addition, the Government has increased funding for the programme of peace and reconciliation, PEACE IV, by €2.9 million, bringing total funding for the programme to €3.7 million.

In tackling crime, the Government has provided further resources to allow for the recruitment of an additional 800 gardaí in 2018. A further 500 civilian staff will be hired to enable gardaí to move from desk work. When one considers that Templemore College was closed only a few years ago and many gardaí were retiring, this is a major boost. While it would be difficult to recruit and train more than 800 gardaí per annum, I would welcome a decision to increase annual recruitment to 1,000 or 1,200 new gardaí. The visibility of gardaí on the beat and in patrol cars, especially at night, is extremely important. The recruitment of 500 more civilian staff in the Garda is excellent because civilians are well capable of doing desk work and this will allow gardaí to be out on the beat where they should be.

I also welcome the increase of €64 million for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, bringing total Exchequer funding for agriculture to more than €1 billion in 2018. This funding will support our largest indigenous industry and strengthen the agriculture sector's ability to meet the challenges of Brexit.

The Minister will also bring forward a €15 million package in response to Brexit. A further €25 million has been provided for a Brexit loan scheme for the agrifood sector. Many people do not realise that the agriculture sector has done a fantastic job over the past ten years to help Ireland out. Exports of food and other agricultural products have kept this country going in recent years. Under the Brexit loan scheme, up to €300 million will be made available at a competitive rate to help businesses with their short-term working capital needs. This will be of assistance to Border towns, including my home town of Dundalk. People are very concerned about what is happening with regard to Brexit. Ireland and the EU are doing their best. The problem seems to be with the UK. Its right hand does not seem to know what its left hand is doing. We are one of the 27 remaining member states. It is important that we work together as part of a team. I hope the UK will sort out its problems as soon as possible.

I welcome the retention of the special 9% VAT rate for the tourism sector, especially in the run-up to Brexit. I also welcome one or two of the increases that were announced on budget day, such as the increase from 13.5% to 23% in the rate of VAT that applies to sunbed services. This measure, which will take effect from 1 January next, is being introduced in recognition of the clear evidence of the link between sunbed use and skin cancer. I encourage the parents of young children to keep them away from sunbeds. The last thing parents want for their children is for them to get cancer. I also welcome the increase of 50 cent in the price of a packet of cigarettes. I am pleased that our corporation tax rate will remain at 12.5%. As a native of Dundalk, which was affected by the recession, I know the town would have been in serious trouble without foreign direct investment. Many of the jobs that have come to the Dundalk area in recent years are supported by foreign direct investment, which is very welcome. People are worried about what is going to happen with the rates of PRSI and USC. I am glad that the Minister intends to establish a working group next year to consider whether a process can be put in place to facilitate the amalgamation of these charges.

I thank the Chair for letting me speak this morning. I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, on doing a fantastic job in budget 2018. While I think it was a fair and prudent budget, I would like more money to be found to help people. This might be possible in budget 2019. The Minister for Finance is doing a good housekeeping job. This Government and its predecessor have learned from past experience. It is important for it to keep doing the housekeeping properly. I congratulate the Minister again on the good job he did with the recent budget.

I would like to share time with Deputy MacSharry.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

As I have already spoken extensively on the budget, I propose to focus on some of the issues that arise in the context of the Finance Bill 2017. I will begin by speaking about the process itself. Many of the contents of this Bill, which was published last Thursday, were signalled in advance. The Bill is being discussed generally on Second Stage before it is the subject of a line-by-line examination on Committee Stage. This process is in complete contrast with the process on budget day, when the budget is dumped on the House and various Ministers make departmental announcements at press conferences outside our Parliament. Nobody ever gets a chance to see the detail. The process of announcing the budget, which goes back decades, needs to be reformed and changed. The kind of scrutiny that is given to the Finance Bill every year needs to be given to the entire budgetary process, including the individual departmental Votes.

The first issue on which I would like to focus is Brexit. This Finance Bill covers 2018, which will be the last year before the UK leaves the EU in 2019. David Davis has said this morning that the negotiations will continue right up to the wire at midnight the night before the date on which Brexit is due to happen. There is no sense within the Finance Bill of the urgency that is needed to tackle Brexit and the supports that are needed for business, in particular, to deal with it. I accept that funding has been promised, but we have heard no detail on that. Many Deputies attended a briefing across the road this morning at which representatives of Teagasc set out their thoughts on Brexit. Teagasc is doing some interesting work on innovation and on opening various markets to Irish farming. According to Teagasc's research, a hard Brexit, which looks likely at the moment, could lead to income reductions of between 30% and 35% in the farming sector. I suggest a similar point could be made about the manufacturing sector. We can see the impact that the fall in the value of sterling associated with Brexit is having on small businesses that depend on the UK market, particularly this year in the tourism sector.

There is no sense in this Bill of the urgency that is required, the preparations that need to be made and the supports that have to be put in place to assist companies that will be affected by Brexit. The representatives of Teagasc had some really interesting things to say this morning about what they are doing to open new markets, particularly in China. They are educating Chinese people about the value of Irish cheese and about new innovative products which use powders. A timeline is needed for that. Small companies need support to foster innovation and to start building new markets, but that support is not available. One cannot build a new market in a single day. The agencies are not receiving the support they need.

I would like to speak about climate change. As I listened to the contributions to this debate over the past couple of hours, I got more and more depressed.

The Deputy knows how I feel.

Last Friday, I spent an hour with approximately 30 sixth class pupils in my local school who had spent the week doing a project on sustainable development and climate change. As I listened to Deputies in this Chamber this morning, I wished they were put through the wringer in the same way that I was interrogated last Friday about what we are not doing on climate change. Christine Lagarde of the IMF has said this morning that "we will be toasted, roasted and grilled" if we do not take action in this area. I was toasted, roasted and grilled last Friday for what we are not doing as a political class to get this country ready for climate change. Following Storm Ophelia last Monday week and Storm Brian over the weekend, it is beyond me that people are still denying that this is a problem and hoping it will go away. As Deputy Shortall said this morning, and it is incomprehensible that people are still denying this, we are facing the prospect of up to €600 million in direct fines if we do not get our act together. That would have an effect on all the services Deputies are trying to protect.

Almost ten years ago, a Finance Bill changed the behaviour of Irish people by encouraging them to move to diesel cars. We need to bring in similar measures now to incentivise the use of sustainable cars, including hybrid and electric cars. The provisions in the Bill before the House do not go far enough because people do not have enough trust in the reliability of such cars and this country does not have the necessary charging infrastructure. I accept that the Bill contains measures to encourage employers to give excess electricity. We need to introduce a series of measures that will wake people up to the reality of what we need to do to confront climate change. While such measures will have an upfront cost, that will be minimal in the context of the fines that are coming at us, the costs associated with flood damage and flood relief schemes and everything else relating to climate change that we are facing as an island nation. I have given an example of how a single measure changed behaviour. I suggest that the Minister for Finance should show a similar degree of ambition by introducing measures that will change behaviour in this respect on many fronts. I am not just talking about motoring; I am also talking about the way we build and heat our homes and the way we approach many other areas. I think this Bill fails that test.

The changes that are being made in respect of stamp duty and capital gains tax are being packaged as a housing measure. I fear that some of these changes will add to land hoarding, particularly in advance of the introduction of the vacant site levy. We should consider one proposal in this regard. If people who have owned land for less than four years sell that land to a local authority specifically for local authority housing or an affordable housing scheme, perhaps they should be given some sort of capital gains tax exemption on the basis that the land in question will be used for social and affordable housing. I suggest that this exemption would not apply in circumstances in which the planning permission is not secured, for whatever reason. There is a danger that the capital gains tax exemptions, in particular, will be used and people will not move on land, particularly outside Dublin and the other large urban areas. The housing problem is not confined to our cities; it is a problem all over the country. I suggest that there is potential within this measure to move on lands that local authorities can buy and start building houses on, which is what we need.

On the night of the budget, I challenged the Minister about the stamp duty figure and the revenue figure. I have not yet seen anything that diminishes my doubts about the sustainability of the figures in question.

We have had some extraordinary years. Granted, it is through the type of people one does not want in the market but they handed over the cash for property development and, in particular, in commercial property transactions. The entire budget appears to built on that single figure, but I have not received any assurance that the figure will materialise on the day.

There are changes in agriculture, but they were always there. The existing exemptions have been extended to apply to the new rate. There is a case to be made for that in today's context of sustaining agriculture generally and, more importantly, sustaining family-led agriculture as opposed to company agriculture which is where it appears to be going. Where a farm is being consolidated or where land is being bought to consolidate a farm or make it bigger some type of incentive should be given, as was the case previously. We are pushing our farmers to increase the size of their operations for sustainability and Brexit reasons and we should put money behind encouraging them to do that.

The national planning framework will be debated in the House this week. We will also have the newly revised, bells and whistles capital plan published in December. However, there is very little in this Finance Bill to encourage people to move home or move away from the cities and work in the regions. Yes, we must resolve the broadband situation and get broadband into homes to give people the technological capacity to work at home, but we should be incentivising companies to encourage people to work from rural areas. We should give companies some type of break with PRSI if they can give their employees the technical skills and equipment to base themselves in a rural area and work there. The technology is available to do it. What is needed is the encouragement. People will sign up for that. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, is from a rural constituency and he knows that people make the trip to the city on a Sunday night or Monday morning against the will of every bone in their bodies. They know they can do as I have suggested but they cannot because we have not sorted out the broadband or given encouragement to companies to do it. In terms of sustaining regional life and, in particular, family life it is something we should consider.

There is a need for a comprehensive review of incentives. Dublin city is doing relatively well. We had the debate on the 9% VAT rate for tourism, restaurants and so forth. Other areas of the country are not doing well. It is time we had a debate on using tax policy to incentivise specific regional areas. Instead of shaking one's head and saying it cannot be done we should be told why it cannot be done. This is a small island but there are precedents all over Europe for city taxes and industrial taxes. If we do not use tax policy to move economic investment around there will be very little enhancement.

Finally, it was said earlier that this country is a tax haven, in the megaphone politics being used in the Chamber. It is not a tax haven. While the speakers were saying that the country is a tax haven they were also seeking more investment in services. Approximately 350,000 people work in multinational companies in this country. If they were gone, we would have a serious problem trying to meet our obligations for services in health, education and elsewhere. The people who use the phrase "tax haven" and slam our tax policy then demand investment in services, but they do not add it up or make the connection between the two. Throwing terms such as "tax haven" around in the Oireachtas is completely out of order. It is unfair and does not reflect the reality. We have a very successful industrial base. Tax is only one reason for that. More importantly, it is based on the quality of our workforce, our education system and the ability of our workforce to respond.

This is the first opportunity I have had to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, on his appointment. I served with him in the Seanad and on the banking inquiry, where we were locked up for a few years. It is nice to see him in that position.

It does not sound good when the Deputy says we were locked up for a few years.

I hope he enjoys his tenure and that he does a good job on our behalf. Now, that is enough of the niceties. Let normal hostilities resume.

I would expect no less.

I am glad to have an opportunity to make some general points on the finances in the budget. This is the Second Stage debate on the Finance Bill and we will get into more detail later. I am well aware of our responsibilities and commitments in the confidence and supply deal, as intolerable as it is at times for the House to put up with it. However, such was the arithmetic and it was the responsible thing to do.

Notwithstanding that, I appeal to the Minister to consider the need to address the pensions issue between now and Committee Stage - I realise a social welfare Bill is due to be introduced as well - and the anomaly that has been highlighted by many people for some time. It has led to a discriminatory situation for women and some men who had a break in work. There is also the issue of stamp duty on farm transactions. There is an exemption for transactions within families and within certain age groups, but most of the transactions will take place outside that age group and outside a family. In effect, we are applying a penalty to people who are trying to consolidate farms and build their output. It is something we should examine.

With regard to housing, last night Members took a fourth opportunity in almost as many weeks to use Private Members' time to highlight the emergency that exists. All we have done in here is engage in window dressing, with talk of PPP schemes and much fluffy language without tangible action. The Finance Bill has failed to be radical and to take account of the emergency. I accept that we hate to think of incentivising building or builders given how out of control things became in the past, but we must be realistic. A third to half of the cost of a three-bedroom semi-detached house in Dublin comprises VAT, levies and other forms of taxation. We might have to be radical and push that VAT rate and the levies down to try to get guys building again. It is not to make all of them multimillionaires and, indeed, it is something we can revisit once things are up and running and building is taking place in the places it is required around the country.

At present, we are busy fools, talking about the need for solutions and things that might or could work. The reality is that nothing will happen unless the State engages in a wholesale building programme as big as the one carried out in the 1950s. We must incentivise builders to start building what we need and that may require taxation measures, much as it pains me to say it given our past. In addition, we must provide finance to small builders such as the person who built two houses in Collooney, ten in Burtonport, five in Dungloe or 20 in Sligo town. Without those guys using their expertise to do that we will not solve our problem.

I also spoke in last night's debate about the process. If the Minister decided tomorrow to build 1,000 houses in Dublin, provided the money and told a builder to build them it would be between three and six years before a key would be turned, such is the so-called streamlined process within the Department for doing these things. There is much duplication between local authorities in terms of planners, engineers, architects and so forth. It is the same in the Department in Dublin and down to the building unit in Ballina. We are not being clever in how we are doing our business in that regard.

I have digressed a little from finance. One item in the budget that galled me, and it has to have galled the Minister of State too as I know him a long time, is the €5 million for the spin unit. What is that for? There are press officers in every Department who are competent, qualified people. There are press directors in parties and we have the Government Information Service. Now this €5 million is being provided. I mean no disrespect to John Concannon, a personal friend from Sligo and probably one of the country's best marketers. He will be delighted to have €5 million but what will he do with it? My colleague, Deputy Thomas Byrne, tabled a parliamentary question recently in which he asked who was paying for the boosts to Facebook videos coming from Merrion Street. Suddenly, they stopped. Is that what the €5 million is being used for? Is it to boost the image? John Concannon is a brilliant man. What will he be doing with this money on behalf of the Government? He was responsible for the great initiative whereby all the great buildings of the world are lit up in green on St. Patrick's Day. Is it now the case that we can look forward to all the buildings in Ireland being lit up in blue in honour of Varadkar the Vain? The House should have a breakdown of where the €5 million is being spent. Did my colleague, Deputy Thomas Byrne, touch a nerve when he asked who was boosting the Merrion Street Facebook, who was paying for it and whether that is where the money is being spent? I have a problem with that if it is.

The €5 million was not used to provide additional home help hours throughout the country.

To use a local example of Sligo University Hospital, last week I was given figures that show the outpatient waiting list there has gone up eightfold in six months. What could €5 million have done to achieve a reduction in that list? The child and adult mental health services in the north west have a shortage of child psychologists and some 400 children are critically ill regarding their mental health and need to be seen. Would that €5 million not have helped those children greatly? I am sure Deputies could give equally good examples of how this money could have been better spent in their constituencies. Many of us in the House have, for example, mentioned the Translarna drug. It is a very expensive drug and only two children in Ireland require treatment with it. It is around €250,000 per year, or whatever it is, but when one considers the costs to the health service in caring for these children as their conditions worsen without the benefit of the drug, it will cost the State more. Again, would that €5 million not have been better spent?

The Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and the Government hardly need more spinners. All parties have press officers. It is the nature of the beast and we all put out press releases. We are all on Twitter and Facebook and we all put videos up online and so on. What is the €5 million for? I know the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, will not say it here in the House because he has to wear the team jersey and he will defend the Government to the hilt - that is the nature of the game - but perhaps he could ask at his parliamentary party meeting if we could have a break down? Will he then come to the House and say, "The €5 million for the strategic Varadkar-the-Vain promotion fund is going to be spent as follows"? It is not for lighting up buildings in green, as we had for St. Patrick's Day for Ireland following the genius of John Concannon when he was with Fáilte Ireland. Can the Minister of State tell us that the money is for such tangible things? It is Mugabesque - the kind of thing that Robert Mugabe would have done over the years in his country - and it is unbecoming for a democratic State such as ours. It is probably the most disturbing aspect of the budget that has come before the House. I will keep at this until we get a breakdown of where that money is going. I look forward to this time next year when the Department of Finance appears before the Committee of Public Accounts to account for where this money was spent but this far in advance, I urge the Minister of State to put on the record what the money will be used for so we can measure it from a public accounts perspective when the time comes.

The budget has given a small amount to certain people but, sadly, like so many budgets, it has failed on the big picture issues. We also have this disgraceful own goal of €5 million. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's comments.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Finance Bill 2017. Fine Gael and its de facto junior coalition partner, Fianna Fáil, provided for €335 million in income tax cuts and USC. This was much needed money that could have been spent on housing, education and especially on health services.

I am sure the Minister of State is aware of the impending flu epidemic and the winter crisis that is heading towards us in the health services. This was reported by Dr. Muiris Houston in Monday’s The Irish Times and was also recently reported by RTÉ’s "Prime Time" programme. Have these reports and the weeks that followed the delivery of the budget speech changed the Government's mind in any way or convinced it that the health service needs more funding?

I understand that many of those who sit on the Government benches will never have to rely on or use the public health system, but I can tell them that it is in a state of absolute, total and complete crisis. It is in crisis because of the current policies of the Government and the previous failed policies of Fianna Fáil's government. The health service immediately needs additional funding in order to increase capacity by reopening closed beds and hiring more front-line staff. We have a problem in that we cannot even keep the staff we have. We are struggling to recruit any more.

The biggest failure of this budget and the measures before us in the Finance Bill is the absolute and utter failure to tackle the crisis in our health service. The measures, such as they are, are short term and some are populist. The National Treatment Purchase Fund has its cheerleaders in Fianna Fáil, but these measures will not help in the longer term. They are short term if anything. This is one of the most important Bills of the year on which we as legislators will work and days such as this provide us with the opportunity to assess critically the ideas laid out, away from all the hoopla of budget day, as was referred to earlier. We need to look at ideas that are bad and offer up good ideas where we can.

We heard the leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin, giving out at his party’s Ard-Fheis that Fine Gael has gone too far to the right. Sinn Féin rejects right-wing politics and right-wing policies, but we do not abstain on them. We vote against them. Fianna Fáil is happy to abstain on such policies because they too are on the right and support those policies. They do not fear the outworkings of the bad aspects of this Finance Bill because it will not impact them.

What is missing from this Bill tells us the real story. There is no attempt to crack down on exemptions which encourage land hoarding. The failure to do this will only exacerbate and perpetuate the housing crisis. This is good news for developers and good news for landlords, but it is not good news for ordinary workers. Again, as with the crisis affecting the health service, the housing crisis is not too likely to impact those on the Government benches. Maybe this is why it is not a priority.

Where are the moves for pay equalisation for teachers, nurses, gardaí and others? Where is the funding for the much needed commission on nursing? These workers, who provide front-line services, are very likely to be suffering from the crisis in the rental sector, paying 60% of their wages on rent, and more on motor insurance, health costs and the cost of living. They are left with little or no hope despite the fact that they are the people who get up very early in the morning. How does it look to them when they see no action on the tax-free status for the banks for the next 20 years? They see things for what they are, and they see that they are carrying the can so banks can enjoy their status.

I also want to raise the fact that there have been no changes to betting duty, some of the money from which could have been ring-fenced to help with addiction services for those with problem gambling habits. There is a clear lack of urgency in dealing with gambling addiction in Ireland despite all the indicators showing that Ireland has a serious problem.

A recent report showed Ireland has the third highest gambling losses per head in the world, and the highest online gambling losses anywhere. More needs to be done to address this problem which is escalating year on year. I am sure many Members here watched the documentary last night on RTÉ, "Living with an Addict", where we saw the impact gambling addiction has had on Galway hurler Davy Glennon’s mother and brother. It was powerful and emotive viewing and it illustrates how much we need to do to protect those people who have vulnerability in this instance and to protect their families who very often bear the brunt of this addiction.

Currently there is no ring-fenced funding to tackle gambling addiction. The betting tax, already one of the lowest in the world, generates nearly €30 million, with some €6 million of this ring-fenced to support the bloodstock industry. Not one cent of this fund goes to support those with gambling addiction or their families. An increase in the betting tax could have been used for awareness campaigns and addiction support for those who suffer from problem gambling, but yet again the Government has shown its lack of backbone when it comes to dealing with the gambling industry, just like it has done with the banks. For these reasons and many more, I will be opposing the passage of this Finance Bill.

Debate adjourned.