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 www.agriland.ie 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.