I move amendment No. 1:
In page 8, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:
“(3) Subsection (2) of section 12 of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2013 is repealed.”.
There is significant opposition among trade unionists and trade unions to this anti-trade union legislation. The punitive and draconian consequences mapped out in the Bill are disproportionate and unprecedented. The measures include, for instance, a freeze on increments for three years, a nine-month delay of pay restoration measures and the iniquitous two-tier system of pay which discriminates against workers who commenced employment on or after 1 January 2011. The opposition and unrest are patently obvious outside the gates of Leinster House this evening where members of the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, including all of its national officers and the national executive, as well as members of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, ASTI, including its general secretary and president, are protesting. There is significant opposition to this legislation.
Amendment No. 1 seeks to repeal section 12(2) of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2013 because clearly there is no longer any emergency. The section requires the Government to bring forward, by the end of June every year, a declaration of a financial emergency, but clearly there is no such emergency and that is not just Deputy Seamus Healy speaking. A series of Ministers have said it, including the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan. At a meeting of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight on 21 September 2016 he said the opinions of the political parties during the general election were to the effect that the rates of USC needed to be reduced, that it was an emergency tax that had been introduced at a particular time and that "now that the emergency was over," work should continue to phase it out. On 13 October 2015 when introducing the annual budget he said:
The forecast deficit for 2015 of 2.1% is well ahead of our original target of 2.7 % and our excessive deficit requirement of less than 3% of GDP. Consequently, we will exit the corrective arm of the Stability and Growth Pact and move into the preventive arm of the pact.
The then Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, said in an opinion piece in The Irish Times that "while the emergency is over, the need for reform is not." On three occasions Ministers indicated that the emergency was over. Also notable is the fact that in the last two budgets significant reductions in income tax and USC were granted to the top earning 5% of citizens whose incomes exceeded €180,000 per annum. If one looks at the situation nationally in terms of how very wealthy people are faring, we find that in terms of GDP per head Ireland is wealthier than Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Italy. In fact, Ireland is ranked eighth in the world by this measure. The richest 12 individuals in the country have €50 billion in total assets, of which they have gained €6 billion in the last year. The top 300 richest individuals have €100 billion in total assets, of which they have gained €12 billion in the last year. The financial assets of the top 10% are now €37 billion above the peak boom levels of 2006. The top 10,000 personal income recipients have incomes totalling €6 billion per year or an average income of €600,000. There are significant gains being made in this country which is ranked as the eighth wealthiest in the world. In its pre-budget submission the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul told us that the income share of the top 1% had increased by 20% between 2014 and 2015. Ireland also has the luxury of not needing to collect €13 billion due to it from Apple. Today the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Paul Kehoe, told the House that the Government wanted the country to join the PESCO arrangement. That will commit us to spending an additional 2% of budget or €1.5 billion extra per year in the next few years. It is quite clear that there is significant wealth in the country and various Ministers have confirmed that the emergency is over.
It is my belief the provision in the legislation regarding the declaration of a financial emergency is unconstitutional. It is being used to reduce pensions, increase pension contributions and control pay and conditions of employment. I questioned the former Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, about this at an Oireachtas committee. It is important to read his response. He said:
The bottom line is I agree with the thrust of what Deputy Healy said about pensions being a preserved property right. That has been determined by the courts. That is why we have taken very careful advices from the Attorney General, of which some have already been tested in the courts. The criteria required, as I have put on the record before, are that to sustain pension contributions, there needs to be an emergency which needs to be certified.
He went on to say the contribution had to be one towards addressing the emergency, that it needed to be proportionate in terms of a person’s income and that it needed to be non-discriminatory. In other words, one cannot say one category of people should be deprived of a pension and that another category should not. Clearly, reductions in pensions and increases in pension contributions are subject to there being a financial emergency and it being certified every year. However, it is quite clear from ministerial statements, data for the incomes and assets of the very wealthy in this country and the fact that the country is now the eighth wealthiest in the world, that there is no such emergency. The declaration of an emergency is simply being used to deprive people of their pension rights, increase their pension contributions and reduce and control pay and conditions of employment. I commend the amendment to the House.