Financial Resolution No. 4: General (Resumed)

Debate resumed on the following motion:
THAT it is expedient to amend the law relating to inland revenue (including value-added tax and excise) and to make further provision in connection with finance.
-(Minister for Finance).

The next slot is a Government one. Four Deputies are offering. A total of 20 minutes have been allocated. I will not be interfering. The Deputies can decide among themselves how many minutes they will take.

Is mór an onóir dom é an deis seo a fháil inniu chun Meastacháin mo Roinne do 2019 a phlé. I welcome this opportunity to outline to the Dáil the principal features of the 2019 Estimates for my Department. Our culture, heritage and language distinguish as people. They play a hugely positive role in our lives enhancing our physical and mental well-being and nourishing our national psyche. The Government recognises the importance of culture, heritage and the Irish language. That is why the Taoiseach has put on record a public commitment to double the spend on arts and culture by 2025.

Budget 2019 was an important milestone on this journey. The funding package of €339 million for 2019 for developing culture, heritage and the Irish language is an increase of €36 million, or 12%, on that of last year. Earlier this year, the Government launched Project Ireland 2040 to ensure delivery of significantly improved social, economic and cultural infrastructure. My Department's part in this is the €1.2 billion plan for investing in our culture, language and heritage. The level of investment proposed under this plan will transform our cultural, heritage and language infrastructure across the country. Next year, we will see a very significant increase in capital spending by my Department, which will rise by €21 million to €75 million. This will allow for the very important planning and early-stage implementation phases of a number of Project Ireland 2040 culture, heritage and language projects.

In broad terms, the total allocation for 2019 of €339 million is broken down along the following lines. There is almost €190 million for culture, which is an increase of 13.5%; over €54 million for the conservation and protection of Ireland's built and natural heritage, which is an increase of 15%; over €54 million for the Irish language, the Gaeltacht and the islands; and €40.4 million for North-South co-operation, including support for two North-South implementation bodies, namely, Waterways Ireland and An Foras Teanga.

The funding package I have secured for my Department for 2019 allows for increases across each of the hugely important programme areas. I will discuss these in more detail. Almost €190 million, including almost €42 million in respect of capital, has been allocated to culture. This significantly increased capital allocation will allow for the planning and early stage implementation of works at a number of our national cultural institutions under my Department's ten-year capital plan as part of Project Ireland 2040. The transformation and renewal of our national cultural institutions is already under way. I note that work has commenced on the National Library's refurbishment and the National Archives will begin moving files off-site shortly in advance of starting its redevelopment work. Many other cultural institutions are at an advanced stage with their proposals, including the National Concert Hall, the Abbey Theatre and the National Museum of Ireland. Our capital investment programme under the national development plan envisages expenditure of €460 million over the decade of the plan. In addition to this, in 2019 our national cultural institutions collectively will receive an increase of more than €2 million in current funding. We also will be providing the funding for the essential preparatory work for Galway 2020. This increase in funding also provides for increases to key institutions and agencies that deliver arts, creativity and culture across the country and to further develop the core programme areas to increase citizen engagement with creativity. The Arts Council, for example, will receive an additional €6.8 million in 2019 to enhance its support for artists and arts organisations. This allocation is more than double the 2018 increase and brings Government support for this very important body to €75 million. The Government and I welcome the very positive reaction of the Irish arts community to this news. The allocation to Fís Éireann will increase to over €20 million and will greatly assist in the implementation of the audiovisual action plan and further our ambition to enable Ireland to become a global hub for the production of film, TV drama and animation and double employment in the sector. I also acknowledge the announcement by the Minister for Finance with regard to the extension of section 481 by four years to December 2024. The Minister will also introduce a new short-term tax incentive for productions based in certain regions. Both measures will support jobs, investment and growth in this hugely important sector.

2018 has been a hugely significant year for Creative Ireland. We have seen wonderful events like Cruinniú na nÓg that we want to expand. We are committing an €1.5 million to Creative Ireland to allow it to expand further and faster. This additional allocation will enable the expansion of Creativity in the Community programmes, work on creativity with primary and secondary schools and, hopefully, an even bigger Cruinniú na nÓg. We are also delivering in terms of Global Ireland 2025. We are delivering in terms of Culture Ireland because we want to make sure that we are competitive on the international stage. We have incredible events like the Venice Biennale and the GB18 programme. I will give €100,000 to Culture Ireland for 2019. This is in addition to the extra €500,000 that was allocated to Culture Ireland last year. Next year will be another milestone year and I am providing an additional €250,000 for commemorations.

With regard to heritage, there will be a capital investment of €285 million in sustaining and protecting our landscapes, monuments, buildings and wildlife over the coming decade. This will translate into total funding over €54 million for my heritage programme, €39 million in current expenditure and €15.6 million in capital funding. There are various different allocations in terms of the Irish Heritage Trust, an interpretative portal for the national monuments, traditional buildings skills and the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage in Dún Laoghaire. Additional capital funding will allow for more than 520 additional built heritage restoration projects next year.

The Gaeltacht, the Irish language and the islands were given a total of €54.3 million. In addition to funding for Foras na Gaeilge, an additional €3 million in capital funding and €2 million in current funding was provided. With regard to North-South co-operation, there is provision of €40.4 million to Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster-Scots Agency. In conclusion, the proposals I have outlined are really significant for my Department and have been widely received in a positive way. I look forward to rolling out our ambitious plans.

I cannot be responsible for Government time. I did warn the Deputies so somebody will have to-----

In this budget, the Government has a set target with regard to jobs, investment, innovation and building resilience in the face of Brexit shocks. In that regard, I warmly welcome the additional funding of €5 million announced in the budget for the local enterprise offices, LEOs. This brings the LEO capital allocation for 2019 to €27.5 million, which is a significant increase of 22% on the 2018 figure. Since their establishment, the LEOs have been working in partnership with Enterprise Ireland and local authorities and have responded with impressive jobs growth and new ventures locally. At the end of 2017, 37,483 people were employed by LEO-supported client companies. As part of the new funding, business advisers who will focus on key clients with growth potential will be appointed on a competitive basis together with the provision of soft supports such as management training, mentoring and other targeting programmes to address productivity and innovation. Another significant measure open to all LEO clients will be the €300 million future growth loan scheme, which addresses gaps in the marketplace for loan terms longer than five to ten years.

Having regard to the challenge presented by Brexit, a key element in the additional funding will be the establishment of a new customs training programme for all businesses - exporters and importers - to be rolled out in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland. This will ensure that the businesses are adequately informed and have sufficient plans in place to manage what might be new trading relationships on the island, with the UK and more generally.

It is also crucial that retailers and small companies are familiar with the opportunities and challenges posed by the EU digital Single Market. This is why I welcome the doubling of funding from €625,000 to €1.25 million in respect of the initiative to stimulate the online retail sector to be administered by Enterprise Ireland and delivered via two competitive calls.

High standards are an important part of the essential toolkit for SMEs to open up new markets. In that context, I also welcome the additional funding provided to the National Standards Authority of Ireland.

Creativity, design and innovation are key drivers of productivity improvement and export success in key markets. The additional funding of €1.8 million announced in the budget for the Design and Craft Council of Ireland is intended to expand marketing and developing programmes, to address serious risks from Brexit and the loss of craft sales to UK tourists.

A safe business is ultimately productive and profitable but the increased economic activity presents additional health and safety challenges. Consequently, I welcome the Exchequer funding being made available to the Health and Safety Authority for 2019 to enable it to pursue its overall goal of making healthy and safe workplaces an integral part of doing business in Ireland. Among other things, the funding will be key in increasing support and advisory activities to industry and enterprises, especially SMEs, with the emphasis on practical preparations for Brexit and identifying trends in the cross-Border trade in chemicals for domestic and industry users.

I further welcome the additional funding in the budget for the Workplace Relations Commission. This will facilitate the improved delivery of full range of its services to regional locations.

Collectively, the budget measures announced will provide my Department and the offices and agencies with the necessary supports and resources to continue to be centrally involved in strengthening the indigenous business sectors and in building resilience within the regions.

I did my best answering in the time.

The Minister of State did more than his best.

I cannot understand how the division of time has gone so extraordinarily wrong but I suppose these things happen.

That is not a matter for the House; it is a matter for the Government.

I agree.

I welcome this budget. I am happy that my Department will spend €2.3 billion in 2019, which is an increase of 17%. The Government projects which were recently announced will go full speed ahead in all three areas. These include BusConnects, the metro, tourism and sporting projects to which we committed much capital in the past.

Responses to announcements in my portfolio have concentrated mostly on value added tax, VAT, so I will begin by responding on this. The Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin, the Independent Alliance and I fought strongly against the worst aspects of this. It was not helped by the big hotel lobby working very hard. One could not chose anyone less helpful to one's cause than those who have been gouging customers in Dublin hotels recently. They did not help their cause, or that of the bed and breakfast owners or small hoteliers who needed the lower VAT rate to maintain employment and prosperity by opposing the VAT proposals. I regret that they were not levied on their own and that the penalty extended so far down the ladder. That is as it is now, and that is where we are.

While we opposed taxes being increased in the tourism industry, it was not all bad news. We managed to negotiate with the Minister for Finance to allocate an additional €38.5 million to target those in the industry who might suffer from the increase in the VAT rate. We are pleased to have that and it will help the tourism agencies in product development and on other products which will hopefully benefit the industry, which is thriving still and defying gravity in terms of the currency movement in the UK. We negotiated that €38.5 million for the industry, which would not have been provided otherwise. I regret that despite the fact that we fought hard for it, others in this House did not and we should note Fianna Fáil's silence on this.

The Independent Alliance had a good budget. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, negotiated €150 million extra for disabilities, the Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan, had the idea of the gambling tax which will raise another €15 million, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin "Boxer" Moran, ensured that money for flood relief schemes will be made available and that this will continue. That is a great tribute which puts our stamp on the budget. We also negotiated the social welfare Christmas bonuses with the Minister for Finance. I am proud that the home conversion grant will come into being following a trial last year of which we were particularly supportive. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has assured us he will spell out the scheme details at an appropriate time after he has reviewed this and the Abhaile scheme before Christmas. I am also proud that the Minister for Finance included a sentence in the budget about property tax. The Independent Alliance has ambitions about property tax, namely that it shall not hit the vulnerable and that increases should be minimal, if at all, as a result of next year's revaluations. It hurts the vulnerable, older people and people on fixed incomes. I welcome the Minister's agreement to put a section in the speech which acknowledged their difficulties. Finally, I welcome the change in the inheritance tax which was achieved by the Independent Alliance.

I am sorry that I must stop but I must give my ministerial colleague her time.

As an independent progressive, I welcome the budget. It is one which favours public services, which through childcare, welfare and income tax reforms favour low-income households. Childcare was once again a key part of the budget. The €89 million additional funding means Government investment will have increased by 117% since 2015. The benefit for those on lower incomes is significant. A lone parent with a net income of €26,000 and two young children will receive an annual increase of €1,404, a family with a net income of €30,000 with two young children, using 25 hours of childcare will receive an annual increase of €1,716 and at the higher income level, a family with three children and a net income of €53,000 will receive an almost fivefold increase of €3,796 annually. These measures not only ease the financial pressure on families but open opportunities for parents, particularly women, to enter education, training or work. These labour activation measures were sought by employers and trade unions alike. The CSO labour force survey for 2017 shows the participation rate for all working age women increased by 1%, and 2% for those aged between 25 and 44. This is evidence that our investment in childcare is impacting women's participation in the labour force. As we continue the transformation of childcare, it will help and support others to follow the same path.

Childcare is key to the budget but it is only one of several progressive measures. Each helps level the playing field by investing public funds to ensure all children have an equal opportunity and experience equality of outcomes. We must reduce child poverty to do this. The latest CSO figures show that one in every five children lives in homes with an income below the poverty line while one in ten lives in consistent poverty. The increase in social welfare rates, increasing the qualified child payments, the extension of the fuel allowance, the increase in lone parent's disregard and the increase in the back to school allowances all benefit these households.

For the first time the budget also distinguishes between the different costs all families face as children age. It introduces different qualified child payments for children of different ages. Expenditure on public services have also been substantially prioritised over tax reductions. As a result, those on lower incomes benefit most. Welfare dependent individuals will receive an additional €5.50 in disposable income per week.

True progressives also have a global view and I also welcome the decision to increase our overseas development aid to the highest level in a decade. As a nation, we should be proud of the work undertaken in our name in some of the most impoverished and dangerous places on earth.

One of my Department's main missions is to protect and support the most vulnerable children. We are building on the record-breaking €750 million secured for Tusla this year. In 2019, that budget will reach €786 million, an increase of €33 million. The additional funds will be used to progress key priorities including the implementation of recommendations made by HIQA following its investigation into the management of child sexual abuse allegations.

Budget negotiations are tough. That should come as no surprise. I went into mine firmly focused on delivering for our children and young people, in particular, those who are in vulnerable situations and those who are in low income households. This budget has delivered improvements for them. Of course, more is needed, not least of which is a greater focus on those with lower pay. The OECD recently noted that Ireland has the second highest proportion of full-time employees in low pay in the EU. It shows 22.5% are low paid. Our childcare changes will benefit many in that situation, as will other budget measures. I look forward to continue working with my colleagues, and, indeed, those on the other side of the House, as well as campaigners and advocates, to come up with further proposals to address this and other challenges.

We now move to the Sinn Féin. There are 20 minutes, commencing with An Teachta Peadar Tóibín, atá ag roinnt a chuid ama le na Teachtaí eile.

The Minister, Deputy Zappone, mentioned that she is a progressive Independent and underlined "progressive" a number of times in her speech. In the previous four budgets, through tax and USC, the Government has cut incomes in the State by €2.3 billion. That might be okay in happy days when there are no extreme difficulties affecting the State but the Minister and her colleagues preside over a Government which allows for vulture funds to pay a tax rate of 2.5%, they allow for banks, which are making billions of euro of profit in this country, pay no tax for 20 years, and 80 persons who have a net worth value of over €50 million in this State pay a tax rate at the same level as somebody on the average industrial wage. That is not progressiveness by any definition whatsoever. Hundreds of millions of euro have been foregone by the Government.

This year, the Government had €1.5 billion to focus on what it might think of as progressive objectives. In the middle of the worst housing crisis in the history of the State, only €80 million of additional funding out of €1.5 billion was focused on the building of housing. When it came to the private landlords, it was a little different. There was an increase of €121 million in additional HAP payments and that will be swallowed up by landlords with increased rents where there are no effective price controls. In addition, there was a landlord bonus of €4 million in tax breaks given.

In these progressive times there are more workers but 100,000 of those workers are living in poverty at present. International comparisons show that one in four Irish workers now lives below the poverty line. Also in these progressive times, one in five of the population of the State is on hospital waiting lists. I would say, rather than being progressive, this Government is one of the most divisive Governments in the history of the State.

I noted during the budget debate there was little talk of the national debt. The interest we pay on the national debt is the fourth largest spending category of the Government, behind social protection, health and education. There is nothing progressive about that either.

Arts funding was mentioned by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, a few minutes ago. According to recent CSO data, artists are now earning 3.5% less than they did in 2013 in the pit of the crisis. They are getting breadcrumbs in funding from this Government.

Ní mór don Rialtas a adhmháil go bhfuil an dochar déanta aige ó thaobh na Gaeilge de freisin. Tháinig titim de 11% ar líon na gcainteoirí laethúla Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht de réir an daonáirimh is deireanaí. Níl ach 500 páistí idir trí bliana d'aois agus ceithre bliana d'aois sa Ghaeltacht a labhraíonn Gaeilge go laethúíl lasmuigh den chóras oideachais. Is uimhir uafásach é sin. Tá an Ghaeltacht iomlán ag crochadh ar an méid chomh beag sin. Tá tromlach na réamhscoileanna sna ceantair Ghaeltachta ag feidhmiú trí Bhéarla.

The following will be of interest to the Minister, Deputy Zappone. A minority of children in the Gaeltacht have access to Irish language níonaraí. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs refuses to communicate with the Gaeltacht níonaraí that operate in the Irish language and with regard to the development of skills for those who work in that sector, none of the níoraraí function with Irish on itstheir curriculum. Currently, Irish is invisible in the early education curriculum, even in the Gaeltacht.

Tá an cás mar gheall ar infheistíocht dochreidte. Tá an méid airgid laghdaithe faoina leath an bhliain seo ó 2008. Tá an méid atá an tír ag caitheamh díreach mar an gcéanna agus a raibh sé in 2008 ach tá an méid atá á chaitheamh ar an nGaeilge laghdaithe faoina leath. Tá Foras na Gaeilge fós ag fáil titim airgeadais i mbliana. Tá eagraíochtaí leithéidí Chumann na bhFiann, Oireachtas na Gaeilge, Glór na nGael, Gael Linn, Gaeloideachas agus Conradh na Gaeilge go léir thíos mar gheall ar infheistíocht.

Sleepy Joe McHugh has done very little when it comes to the Irish language in this country. In committee a few weeks ago, I asked the Minister of State how many new Gaelscoileanna were developed in this State over the past while and Sleepy Joe McHugh shrugged his shoulders. The Minister of State does not even know how many new Gaelscoileanna are operating. He came in here last night without a shred of paper, without a single fact on Irish language investment. The Gaeltacht is hanging by a threat and the Government is cutting that threat by ignoring it.

This budget has been a non-event for most people. Their experience is that whatever has been given has been taken away somewhere else. In agriculture, which is the brief I mainly look after, there has been additional funding given to some sectors. However, it is a time when farming is under significant pressure. In particular, those in the beef sector are suffering some of the worse prices ever. While that is outside the budget remit - I had questions this morning to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed - the Government is inclined to shrug its shoulders and turn its back when it comes to providing for the small farmer and the farming community. That is evident when we see the prices that have been returned. The Minister stated it is not his place to set prices but yet this State, through its taxpayers, invests hundreds of millions of euro every year in Bord Bia and other agencies to promote and market Irish food abroad. We have delegations going all over the world to get new trade deals so that Irish food can be exported but back at home the farmers who produce that food are on the bread line. If the State is providing such funds to market these produce, there is an obligation on the State that the primary producers get a fair return for it. This applies cross all sectors, but particularly across agriculture and fisheries.

The average farm income continues to fall. It has continued to fall for the past number of years. The measures the Government put into the budget come to €52 million, and only in the case of €44 million of that is it specified where in agriculture it will be spent. In my party's pre-budget submission, we stated that we would spend €62 million in the agriculture sector, and that was without having an additional €1 billion which the Government found only the night before the budget. If we had an additional €1 billion in the coffers, we would certainly propose an enhanced package for the agricultural sector, particularly to support the small farmers and the small family farms.

In the rural development section, the Government stated that there will be an additional €53 million next year in capital funding. This is funding that has already been announced and already been clearly earmarked through the national development plan and yet it is wheeled out again as if it is new funding. There are serious questions to be asked as to where the Government is going in this respect.

One of the big issues in many parts of rural Ireland is Brexit and what will happen in respect of that. Again, the Government has put in place a tiny amount of funding to ensure people can prepare for the impact of Brexit, particularly in the Border and north-west region. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle would understand this, particularly in his constituency. Brexit will have an immense impact and yet the Government seems only to say that it is engaged in negotiations. However, there is no hard cash on the table and that is what small businesses need to ensure they can survive through the volatile time ahead.

Many other issues affect rural Ireland. With regard to the remit of the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, Deputy Finian McGrath, those who live with a disability in rural Ireland live with a double disadvantage because they cannot even access the services available. Many of them cannot travel to the services available. I had discussions earlier this week with the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, about school bus services and I welcome the additional funding of €9 million provided there. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, tells me most of that will be for special needs children to get them to the particular places that they need to go.

The school bus service that should be in place should provide for children in rural areas to get to school. Unfortunately, the service has been withdrawn continually because the rules change all the time. If one lives on a road on which fewer than ten children live, the bus will not go there. If this is up the road, that will not happen, and if that is up the road, the other will not happen. If one is not going to the closest school, one cannot get to school. The rules are affecting people in every rural area. It is not only a matter of children not getting to school but it is also about the ability of the parents to get to work. If a parent cannot get a bus to bring the children to school, he or she cannot take a job because the children need to be brought to school and collected.

All these issues arise despite the Government having had an additional €1 billion. When we produced our alternative budget, we did not include that €1 billion, yet we would have been able to put money in place for all the measures I am referring to. I wonder where the priorities lie. Housing is clearly not the priority. There is a crisis in housing throughout the country. Health is not the priority either because the health crisis is continuing. Sufficient resources are not being put in place. We need a budget that delivers for the people rather than vested interests.

The Government will be charged with continually looking after those who are already well looked after.

I am having a serious bout of déjà vu. I have been the Sinn Féin spokesperson on transport, tourism and sport since I was first elected in 2016. Every October since then, I feel I have been making the same speech. That is because, in every budget since the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, took office, almost nothing has been delivered for the transport sector. The major problems that existed in 2016 remain. We have had decades of infrastructural neglect and a decade of severe cuts on top of that. Local and regional roads are crumbling and the Minister refuses to invest in them. Iarnród Éireann is in dire need of infrastructural investment. There is no sign of that either. National infrastructure is decades behind. The Minister has shown complete disregard for his portfolio since taking office. His lack of interest is well known. Frankly, it is outrageous. He is the Minister but he certainly does not act like one. He is more interested in his pet peeves, such as judicial issues that do not concern him. Instead of meddling in other portfolios, it would be welcome if for once he looked after transport, tourism and sport like he is supposed to. Perhaps he was given the transport portfolio because the Government had no intention of investing in transport and believed it would be easy to play him. However, this is a Fine Gael budget and the Minister has allowed himself to get played by the Government.

The only achievement of the Minister that I can think of is the privatisation of public transport services. One would imagine, given the legacy in other states, such as Britain, that even he could see beyond ideology and recognise the merit of public transport remaining in public ownership. A total of 10% of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann routes have been put out to tender. The more lucrative routes among these were awarded to a foreign, private profit-making company. There is no reason for this other than ideology. Now another 10% of Bus Éireann routes is being put out to tender. Just as the Government has a mental block when it comes to social housing, it cannot get to grips with managing public transport. Private companies will not take care of social policy for the Government. Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus will happily manage public transport in the State if the Government only sees its way to investing in them sufficiently.

The transport budget announced this week is shameful. Was the Minister even at the negotiations? That is the first thought that entered my head. He must not have been at the negotiations given the budget. Did he sacrifice transport, tourism and sport for his pet projects, on which, incidentally, he did not deliver? One such project is the granny grant for one granny. There is no other explanation. The capital budget for transport, as announced, was €30 million lower, which is unheard of. We in Sinn Féin would have allocated €123 million more than the Government, with our capital mainly targeting local and regional roads, public transport accessibility and sport. We suggested our allocations before the Minister for Finance found €1 billion in the bottom of a sock.

Our roads are crumbling and have been for years but there is no money forthcoming from the Government to address this. It is another example of short-term vision. There is not even any cop-on because the longer one allows the roads to deteriorate, the more it will cost to fix them in the long run. Additional current expenditure is only €50 million but the Government has not explained where that money is going. When can we expect some detail on that? The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, should answer that because he is a member of the Government. Will any of the money go towards CIÉ public service obligation, PSO, subventions? Is there additional funding for PSO subventions? I have looked high and low and cannot find a reference to it anywhere in the budget proposals. Will the Government just continue privatising services so this will no longer be its problem? Perhaps it could even closed some rail routes because it cannot be bothered to invest or tackle the serious problems facing Iarnród Éireann, including the serious safety issues that have been flagged on many occasions in the public arena.

We would have allocated an additional €71 million, representing a 25% increase on the figure for 2018, for PSO subventions in 2019. That is €20 million more than the entire €50 million allocation by the Government for the entire Department. It is because we value public transport. We know its merit and that it is the solution to many of the problems we face - not only congestion but also air pollution. The additional funding would increase service provision in rural areas and increase frequency where transport services are shockingly poor.

Housing and transport both required serious investment but the Government failed to deliver on both.

Budget 2019 represents yet another budget in which the most vulnerable are failed to deliver for those who need it least. The clear priorities in this budget are landlords, vulture funds and banks. The rest, including our most vulnerable citizens, get the scraps from the table. The Minister for Finance referred to this as a "caring budget". For whom is it caring? From March next year, young jobseekers aged between 18 and 24 will live on €112.70 per week, €90 less than those a few years older than them. This is despite the fact that young jobseekers, numbering almost 8,000, are among the largest cohort of our population who are long-term unemployed and this is despite the fact that Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government figures for August of this year show 875 young people aged between 18 and 24 are homeless. Where is the caring in this budget for them? Instead, the Government continues to discriminate against young jobseekers based on their age. There is no rationale for this. It is cruel and leading to mass homelessness and poverty. The Government has committed to lifting 100,000 children out of consistent poverty by 2020. Budget 2019 represents the clearest signal yet from the Government that it will not even meet its own targets. This is because the Government made a choice to direct money towards landlords, banks and vulture funds instead of those who need it. This is despite the fact that thousands of children live in poverty every day in this State. Where is the caring in this budget for them? They lived in poverty before budget 2019 and will continue to live in poverty after it. Shame on the Government. Clearly its intentions are not focused on those who need money the most.

The increase in the qualified child payment is welcome. That the Government has finally acknowledged the increased cost involved in raising children over the age of 12 and its targeting of this age category are welcome. The payment needs to be built upon in every budget from now on.

The maintenance disregard for lone parents is also welcome but major issues still arise regarding the child maintenance process. This measure will not rectify this. Child maintenance should not be included as household income when it comes to means-tested payments, including rent supplement. Child maintenance should be recognised by the Government as income for the child, not as anything else.

There must be an end to lone parents being forced into the courts system to seek child maintenance from an ex-partner. I again call on the Government to examine Sinn Féin’s proposal for the establishment of a child maintenance service such as the one in place in the North. Child maintenance, when paid, plays a role in lifting children out of poverty. We should not ignore that simple reality.

I ask the Government to consider not only our proposals regarding child maintenance but also a Bill I introduced in the House last week. It provides for the establishment of a social welfare commission, which would use evidence and input from stakeholders to set the income required by different household types that are in receipt of social welfare to ensure that these households are protected from poverty. The commission would report annually, ahead of the budget, on any increases needed for social welfare payments. Rather than fivers for everyone, we need targeted and specific measures to start delivering for the most vulnerable people in society, not for the banks, vulture funds and landlords who need them the least.

I thank my colleagues for their contributions on the budget. I always listen to constructive criticisms but my strong response is that major parts of this budget show that it is a caring budget. In addition, according to a number of independent economists it is the most progressive budget in recent years.

I had the great honour of being appointed Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities two and a half years ago. One of my main objectives was to increase the investment in disability services, which had seen much underinvestment during and after the financial crash. This objective has been achieved. There have been considerable increases in the disability services budget and I am delighted to have secured an additional €150 million for 2019. That brings the disability budget to €1.838 billion. That is a record amount of spending on disabilities. This will allow us to tackle pressing issues such as assessments of need, emergency residential places, respite care, personal assistance and home support hours, among other things. These are my priorities.

Another of my objectives was to put the person with the disability at the forefront of our thinking. That is why this year the disability community and I pushed so hard to secure the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, ratification should mean something to the daily lives of people with a disability and the extra funding I have secured will support this objective. Of course, we are playing catch-up after the downturn, but I am confident that we have been, and continue to be, on the right track in improving the lives of people with a disability.

It is important to highlight the Government's record on these issues in response to the point that this is not a caring budget. I will outline some of the measures we have implemented over the last eight months or so. The carer's grant of €1,700 per family was restored to 101,000 families. Eligibility for the medical card has been extended to children in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance, an extra 11,000 children, at a cost of €10 million. An extra €10 million was provided for respite care homes in 2018. Some €3 million was provided for the establishment of the decision support service in order to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. There have been €5 increases over three years in the disability allowance and carer's allowance. Above all, the historic measure was that, after many years and despite many parties talking about doing it, last April we ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The points raised by some of my colleagues are very important. When this amount of money is going into the services we must ensure it is spent on the people and families with disabilities. That is a genuine concern. I listened to Deputy Micheál Martin speaking earlier about families in rural Ireland. He made a valid point. In fact, I was discussing it this morning in my office with a group of parents from the Carlow-Kilkenny region. They made the same point. It is something we must examine. The services have to be designed around the person with the disability whether that person lives in a rural area or an urban one. Some people living in urban areas have better quality services than others and that is not acceptable. It is something I intend to tackle head on.

With regard to what is happening in our services, reform and investment are ongoing. There must also be accountability. At present, 8,399 residential places and 182,506 respite nights are being funded. Some 1.46 million personal assistance hours are being provided for 2,357 people. As regards day services, the service plan will deliver 24,856 day places, 42,552 day respite sessions and 2.93 million home support hours for 7,447 people. That work is ongoing. We have 130 new residential emergency places, 135 new home support services for emergency cases and 120 in-home respite supports for emergency cases. As regards new directions for school leavers, there are approximately 1,500 people with physical and intellectual disabilities leaving school each year at 18 years of age. They are going into day services or rehabilitation training and we provide day service support for them.

Another important issue on which I am trying to make quick progress is moving people from congregated settings. Some 170 people are moving from large residential institutions into community settings. The service fund of €45 million over three years is supporting this transition and innovation. The commitment to stakeholder consultation and engagement is key. The neuro-rehabilitation strategy will progress the demonstration project in CHO 6 and CHO 7 on the managed clinical pathway. Most importantly, there is a comprehensive value improvement programme.

These are just some of the things that are happening in disability services. Over the last number of months I have been listening to parents with regard to the priorities for funding. I am delighted to have secured funding for additional therapy posts for assessments of need and therapeutic interventions. We know how important early intervention is in supporting children to reach their potential. The Government is fully committed to progressing disability services for children and young people with disabilities. Increased investment in this area will provide 100 additional specialist therapy posts, which will allow the HSE to put more resources into clearing the backlog in assessments of need. It will also free up resources to deliver therapies to children who are on lengthy waiting lists.

The work, investment and reform have started. We are implementing a caring budget.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, for sharing his time to allow me to contribute on budget 2019 with regard to local government. A significant increase of €60 million, from €125 million to €185 million, in direct support by the Government has been provided for in the budget for 2019. As with most other Departments, much of the expenditure relates to pay and pension matters. It is also worth pointing out that the direct contribution of the Exchequer to local government is but a small part of the overall fund. In 2017, the last year for which full figures are available, €477 million was collected through the local property tax. All of this money is spent in local authorities around the country annually. Commercial rates collection in 2017 amounted to €1.34 billion and development levies from that year totalled €212 million.

All of those figures will increase, some of them substantially, in 2019.

This means that in excess of €2 billion will be expended by each of the 31 local authorities across the country under various headings in terms of their functions and the services they provide. One of the key announcements in terms of funding provided in the budget for the local government sector is the €12.4 million in 2019 for fire and emergency services, which is an increase of almost €2 million on last year's allocation following on from the reports conducted and in train in regard to the fire safety measures that are necessary and currently available and that should be available into the future in our local authority housing stock and public and private buildings across the country.

In the coming weeks, a local government reform Bill will published. This Bill will focus primarily on the expansion of Cork city and the amalgamation of Galway City Council and Galway County Council. The budget makes provision for increased funding to ensure these measures can be executed. There will also be plebiscites in May 2019 in three local authority areas - Limerick city and county, Waterford city and county and Cork city - in regard to directly elected mayors. This involves a rebalancing of the functions and roles of the executives of local authorities and the directly elected member, which will lead to executive powers at local government level in Ireland being exercised, for the first time, by a person directly elected by the people, provided the people vote for this in the plebiscites.

A key measure also included in budget 2019 is the re-establishment of a fund for estates to be taken in charge. In 2013 or 2014, provision was made for a one-off €10 million fund for local authorities, available on application by them, to enable them to complete estates that were almost finished. I refer in this regard not to ghost estates but to estates where footpaths, street lighting, street surfaces or wastewater facilities had not been completed. Many local authorities have continued this work from their our own resources. I welcome that once again there will be support available from central Government for the taking in charge process for the many hundreds of estates built across the State during the Celtic tiger, most of which remain in private hands and not under the control of the local authorities.

There are several housing initiatives included in budget 2019. One of those initiatives, the serviced sites fund, will have a fundamental impact at local authority level. The local authority will take an equity stake with the buyer, to be repaid over time or when the house is sold, and the applicants will be selected openly and transparently by each of the local authorities providing the homes. While in many parts of the country housing land stocks are low, many local authorities have suitable housing lands, often located in smaller towns and villages around their areas. This serviced sites fund will be targeted specifically at those areas. When the purchasers of these houses have made their repayments and bought-out the house, this money will be retained in a separate fund by the local authorities and will provide a rolling fund for affordable housing into the future.

Another measure that will commence in January 2019 but of itself is not a revenue generation measure but will generate some revenue for local authorities is the vacant site levy. It came into effect this year but the collection period only commences on 1 January 2019. As mentioned by other members, this has led to an increase in the number of planning applications being lodged to build much needed residential accommodation in each local authority area across the country. It will also provide limited additional funding for local authorities into the future.

The budget also makes provision for an increase in the funding for housing adaptation grants to €57 million. This will enable up to 12,000 home adaptations to take place. These are vital grants administered by local government, often for the most vulnerable living in the most isolated parts of our communities. The increase in this allocation by central Government is welcome. Also, €13 million in funding is ringfenced for specific Traveller accommodation schemes, including the provision of additional group housing measures and €32 million is provided for the remediation of a further 460 houses affected by pyrite. There was also an announcement of a similar scheme for mica-affected homes, particularly in the north west of the country.

I welcome the announcement this morning by the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, of pilot schemes to encourage more people to live in some of our provincial towns. Six towns are selected, one of which I am delighted to say is Callan in Kilkenny. It is hoped that new and refurbished accommodation will bring people to live in the centres of some of our market towns that have suffered so much over the last ten or 12 years.

I will focus my remarks on sport and tourism. This morning, I received a telephone call from a hotelier in Killarney who, while very disappointed on the VAT front, was furious about the hypocrisy on the opposition side in regard to the VAT rate increase, particularly from Deputies Michael and Danny Healy-Rae who I note are not in the Chamber. During the debate on Tuesday evening, both Deputies criticised me for not having done enough on the VAT rate. God knows, I did all I could but, unfortunately, I was unable to have it extended for the fifth time.

It was a matter for the senior Minister.

The hotelier was infuriated when he learned yesterday that Deputy Michael Healy-Rae had not voted for the introduction of the reduced VAT rate in 2011. One would think from the pontification that took place here on Tuesday evening last that it was his idea. The hotelier was further infuriated when he read in this morning's Irish Independent that the same Deputy was at a book promotion event in County Kildare when the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, was making his Budget Statement.

The hotelier seems to spend a lot of time following up on what Deputy Michael Healy-Rae is doing.

Putting one's private budget ahead of the public budget is scandalous. The hotelier was right to be furious.

On the VAT rate increase, I fought hard to retain the 9% rate. Unfortunately, I was not successful. The reduced rate was in place between 2011 and 2014 as a temporary measure for three years. I fought hard to have it retained in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Unfortunately, I and others were not successful in having it retained this year. What we did get is a 26% increase in the tourism budget, which is an enormous increase. This money will be spent on international marketing of tourism and on our management of tourism in terms of product development, experience development and on ensuring there is a sustainable tourism industry here into the future. We have experienced an unprecedented growth in overseas visitor numbers and in tourism revenue. It is critically important that we manage this growth properly, that we work with the industry to ensure we do not kill the golden goose and that we continue to strive to make tourism a sustainable industry. This level of investment will be critical to Tourism Ireland, an outstanding international tourism marketing agency, being able to target the best markets and ensure that visitors come here for longer and spend more and, thus, grow the revenue at a faster rather than the growth in visitor numbers. It will also allow Fáilte Ireland to target its investment in the regions and rural areas that need it most through products like the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East and Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. With a cross country break to the industry through a tax measure one can target investment through additional Government resources. This is very positive. The budget also makes available substantial funding on the capital front for greenways, which will benefit regional and rural areas. I am excited by the massive increase in funding for tourism because since the economic crash there have not been any substantial increases in this area.

Now we have them and I am excited about that. I am looking forward to working with the agencies and industry to ensure a better and sustainable outcome as a result of this budget for the entire tourism industry and, more important, the 240,000 people who know work in it. When we introduced the temporary three-year VAT reduction in 2011, the industry was on its knees and we had a major unemployment problem. That has been completely transformed. We want to keep that going and ensure that every community benefits as much as possible.

In the area of sport the story is also positive. There will be a €15 million increase in sport expenditure next year, which is a 13% increase. It is the first time since the crash that the national sport governing bodies will receive additional funding. They will receive €2.3 million next year which is a major boost to them. They are happy with that and I am happy to have helped to deliver that. An additional €1 million will be allocated to the women in sports programme, which is critical, while an additional €1 million will go into local sports partnerships to appoint disability officers throughout the country, which is a significant and positive step forward as well.

Some €1.5 million will be allocated to our high performance athletes in preparation for the Tokyo Olympic games. I am very pleased with that and I know that our high performance athletes are pleased with it as well. Those athletes inspire community participation and inspire people to get involved in sport, which has an overarching effect on everybody. Some €40 million will go towards the sports capital programme while the new large scale sports infrastructure fund, which will distribute €63 million to projects over the next four years. It has been a positive budget for tourism and sport and I look forward to working with everybody on the front line in both sectors in the coming year.

This morning, telephone calls were made all over Ireland to cancel surgery for men, women and children. These calls are being made every morning. On budget day alone, all surgical appointments in University Hospital Limerick were cancelled; half of surgeries in certain specialties in University Hospital Galway were cancelled; in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital all elective admissions were cancelled except for cancer patients; four of the 13 operating theatres in St. James's Hospital were closed; and 15 patients in Beaumont Hospital in need of urgent neurosurgical care were not transferred.

Today, thousands of parents are asking in desperation when their boys and girls will get help. In some counties, children with special needs have to wait three and a half years to see therapists.

We are on that Deputy Donnelly.

In other counties, parents are being told there is no waiting list because there are no therapists. Children with scoliosis are not being operated on for three years. That means that their spines are being allowed to curve to 100 degrees, more than twice what happens in other European countries. In some cases, such as that of Aaron Daly and his daughter, Sophia, parents are being told that because they have been waiting so long surgery is no longer possible.

Today, doctors all over Ireland will meet patients who have life threatening and terminal conditions. In some cases, those doctors will know that had they seen them earlier, had the diagnostics been done sooner or had the patients not had to wait so long, they would be treatable. This is the reality of healthcare in Ireland today. This is what the budget needed to address and one would think that with a spending increase of €1.6 billion, it could have done that, but it did not.

As with so much from this Government, the health budget is spin. It is an optical illusion designed to make the Government look busy while disguising its failures. The Government boasts of significant additional spending. It states proudly that this is a Sláintecare budget, but that is absolute drivel. The total spending on healthcare will increase by €1.6 billion. That amount could have made a huge difference. It could have secured for tens of thousands of people the treatment they need. It could have built beds, hired clinicians and funded new drugs. It could have launched Sláintecare, which is the plan to modernise our healthcare system so that people do not spend years on waiting lists and can access healthcare, not if they can afford it, but when they need it. In spite of beginning the year with the largest health budget in the history of the State, the Minister for Health will end the year with the longest waiting lists in the history of the State and will still have managed to overspend by €750 million.

Of the €1.6 billion in additional funding, €2 in every €5 will be needed to cover that overspend. Another €2 in every €5 is needed for pay agreements and to account for demographics. That leaves €1 in every €5 for improved services. Of that €1, between 10 and 15 cent is for Sláintecare. At least €600 million is needed to launch Sláintecare, but due to Government mismanagement, the strategy will get less than a tenth of that, which means that next year it will not be implemented in any meaningful way. Public spending on health has increased every year since 2013. Total spending on health has increased every year since 2010. In 2016, the Minister for Health inherited the largest health budget in the history of the State, one of the highest per capita spends anywhere on earth. In 2017 and 2018, that budget went up again. Somehow people are waiting longer than ever before to see doctors, to get scans and to be operated on. There is a recruitment crisis in our hospitals, consultant posts cannot be filled, six in ten general practitioner, GP, surgeries cannot take on new patients, nurses are considering strike action for the first time in 20 years and yet, on top of this, we heard on Tuesday that the Minister has also overspent by €750 million.

Now we are told that the money is not there. Some €750 million can be found down the back of the couch to pay for mismanagement. We are told money cannot be found to pay for children with special needs, children with scoliosis, lifesaving drugs, the reversal of the FEMPI legislation for GPs, pay equality for new entrants or Sláintecare? The budget details were still being agreed on Monday. Given the severity of what was announced on Tuesday, one would have be expected the Minister for Health to be at work fighting on behalf patients and clinicians. That is what the Fianna Fáil team was doing. However, the Minister was opening a playground in Wicklow.

The healthcare system is in crisis. Official figures put the waiting lists at in excess of 700,000. If we add those waiting for diagnostics and mental health treatment and children waiting for therapists, the total is 1 million. None of this is inevitable. Healthcare is not some unfixable black hole. Between 1997 and 2010, Fianna Fáil increased healthcare spending. It opened 1,600 hospital beds, added 40% more consultant posts, introduced the nursing degree and doubled student nursing places, launched the national cancer screening programmes, launched the national cancer strategy and introduced a massive increase in home care. Deaths from cancer fell by 11%, infant mortality fell by one third, cardiovascular disease fell by 40%, deaths from heart attack fell by half and deaths from stroke fell by half. The credit for this does not go to Fianna Fáil; it goes to the doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, scientists and all of the other amazing women and men working in our healthcare system. However, Fianna Fáil knew how work with them to get results on behalf of patients. Waiting times fell from years to months, but that is not the case anymore. In 2011, the number of people waiting more than six months for a hospital appointment was less than 10,000; today, more than 35,000 people are waiting. For every person waiting more than a year for surgery in 2010, there are now 20 people waiting more than a year. How is it possible to mess things up so badly in healthcare, given so much money?

If the €1.6 billion announced on Tuesday represented real new investment I would welcome it. If it had the foresight to reverse FEMPI measures for GPs and not tie them to a new GP contract, I would welcome it. If it comprehensively addressed the fact that we cannot recruit doctors in our hospitals, I would welcome it. If it was used to improve the working conditions for nurses, I would welcome it. If it was being used to build enough new community and hospital beds rather than cover overspend, I would welcome it. It does none of these things. Next year our doctors and nurses will remain overstretched. Our hospitals will remain over-capacity. Our patients will continue to wait and suffer and every one of them deserves better.

I am pleased to be given the opportunity to respond to the budget. I will restrict my remarks to housing, planning and local government in which the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, is involved. I was appointed as party spokesperson on the issue in May 2018. Since May I have endeavoured, along with my party, to be constructive in my approach and in dealings with the Government. We are in the midst of a housing crisis bordering on a national catastrophe. This crisis affects every family in the State. It affects them in different ways. First, it affects the more than 10,000 people who have no homes to go to. It affects the 4,000 kids sleeping in hotels, emergency accommodation, cars and Garda stations. It also affects the thousands of other people who are sleeping on couches and blow-up beds in their parents' houses. It affects the tens of thousands of working people who at this moment and until this budget, under the stewardship of this Government and the last, had no hope of owning or purchasing their own homes and ended up paying exorbitant rents of €2,000 or €2,500 per month in some instances for substandard accommodation.

Fianna Fáil's approach to this budget is to bring about some real policy solutions in that area. I was looking back at where we started, for example with social housing provision. Before we entered the confidence and supply agreement in 2016, the budget allocation for social housing was €430 million. Fianna Fáil has a track record in delivering social homes and public housing and in actually building houses. What we have done in that period of time is to pressurise the Government and insist it increases that budget, as it is today after this budget, to €1.34 billion. That is a 300% increase in provision for social homes. They are real homes for real people in this country.

When one looks at the scale of the crisis, we have about 72,000 families, a number that is increasing every day, waiting on our social housing waiting list. We have another 36,000 to 40,000 families on housing assistance payment, HAP. I will return to that. They are all waiting for permanent housing. I am pleased and satisfied that we secured nearly an extra €300 million, or a 25% increase, in the allocation for public homes. Everyone will agree, it is not about money and not even necessarily about policy; it is about delivery. It is about building those homes and housing those families. One of Fianna Fáil proposals was to lift the local authority - I use the word lightly - discretionary cap. There was some support from the Government benches on that. It was raised from €2 million to €6 million. It is a start. Effectively, €2 million means that any public housing scheme being built in the greater Dublin area, and most of the country, of over eight houses has to be referred to the Customs House for a famous four-stage process, which means 59 weeks of kicking it between Department and local authority. None of us wants that. The increase to €6 million will mean that, on average, schemes of up to about 30 homes will go through a one-stage process and give more autonomy to local authorities. I will be very honest. Fianna Fáil wanted to go further than that. We wanted to lift the cap to €10 million. It is something we will do. When and if we are in government, we will give more autonomy to the local authorities and hold them to account if they do not deliver. I want to see an end to the blame game between the Minister, Deputy Murphy, and the local authorities. One is blaming the other and now and again when the Minister is under pressure he decides to throw his toys out of the pram and blame every local authority for not delivering. We are all responsible. The Minister is responsible because at the end of the day he is the line Minister but everyone in the House is responsible for bringing forward policy that will make things better. That is why the affordable housing scheme is an important priority for Fianna Fáil. We believe that for people to have a stake in their communities and country, they need to have a home in it. They need to be able to put down roots and they need to have a secure environment to do so. The best way of doing that is by owning one's own home. The provision of €300 million over the next three years towards a real affordable housing scheme for working people is something that I and my colleagues, Deputy Michael McGrath and Deputy Barry Cowen in particular, have pushed for. I am pleased to see it is in this year's budget.

It is a pity none of our colleagues from Sinn Féin is here because they seem to have a major problem with maths on this. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin, their housing guru, effectively saw it as an increase of €25 million in one year. The Deputy obviously did not read the detail of it properly. It is actually a real increase in one year of €75 million - in fact, closer to €80 million - and a new €100 million for the next two years, totalling €300 million. What we need to see now is delivery of those homes. Initially it will be on State-owned land. Nine local authorities, including Fingal, have answered the call from the Department. We need to see this scheme starting in 2019. It has the potential with this funding to deliver about 7,500 homes for working people. Fianna Fáil would like to see that expanded. I would like to see an expansion of the Part V scheme as well as affordable housing. I want to see the income limits increased. We have to look at them. The €75,000 upper limit for a couple is too low in many areas. There are working couples earning more than that but they are paying exorbitant rents and childcare costs and have no ability to save. That needs to be done. We will be watching that really closely. The regulation for this affordable housing scheme should come to the House within the next two weeks. I want to see that happen quickly and the scheme established and that we start building these homes for people. As I said, we would expand it further if we were in government but we are not. We are trying to use our position here in a constructive way.

I say to those who are not present in the Chamber - Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and Solidarity-PBP - that I brought forward an affordable housing scheme back in May of this year that was debated in this House and for some reason it cannot explain the Government voted against it. Fine Gael opposed it but it was defeated because Sinn Féin, Solidarity, the Labour Party and others decided they were going to vote against affordable housing for working people. We have lost seven or eight months on that. That is a matter of regret but now I want to move forward and see it implemented. I would like to see other parties coming forward with real and realistic proposals and suggestions for implementation. People are sick and tired of housing being used as a political football. They want to see results. They care that there are 10,000 people without homes and 4,000 kids sleeping in hotels. I have met mothers who have explained to me in great detail how when their kids are getting out of the car coming back from school they get changed in the car because they do not want to walk into a hotel with a school uniform on. The reason they do not want to do that is because they know at six and seven years of age that the other guests in the hotel will know if they are wearing a school uniform that they are more than likely living and sleeping in that hotel. None of us wants to see that happen.

I called a number of weeks ago for an establishment of a time-bound task force on homelessness, particularly family homelessness. I was pleased to see in this budget, again at our insistence but, to be fair, with the agreement of the Government, an extra €60 million this year towards tackling homelessness and for emergency accommodation, and an increase up to about €130 million for next year. At the end of the day in all the areas of rent, affordable homes and public housing the big issue is supply and the other issue is affordability.

Unless we get supply back up and running, we will never get to grips with this crisis. The Government needs to show ambition in this regard, as does the Dáil. While an agency such as the Land Development Agency is required, the way in which this agency appears to have been constructed means we will not deliver a home within the next four years. We cannot wait four years; we need to do it sooner.

I was looking back at figures on home ownership. We have slipped to the lowest rate of home ownership since 1971. According to the latest figures from 2017, the average age of a person buying his or her own home is approximately 35 years of age. If one goes back to 1991, the average age was 26. Home ownership rate has now fallen to just over two thirds. It is a problem for many working people who pay rent but do not see any hope of getting out of it.

We also need to stabilise rents and ensure "landlord" is not a bad word. Some commentators bandy about the notion that landlords should be hung from every tree in this country, but that is not a practical measure and it should not happen. There are many good individual landlords in this market. I have a concern about the number of corporate, institutional landlords moving in which now own large swathes of this city and other cities around the country. We need to ensure individual landlords stay in the market because they are part of the solution, but we need to look at some way of incentivising longer-term leases to strengthen security of tenure for tenants. That can be done through the Finance Bill with additional measures we have discussed to ensure we keep landlords in the market because they have a role in this and they are part of the solution, albeit not the major part. People owning their own homes and public housing on public land are the major parts of the solution.

There are many aspects of the housing budget I welcome, many of which I am glad to say are Fianna Fáil proposals and policy positions. This coming year, however, it is about implementation. We need to see delivery on the ground. We need to see boots on the ground, sites started and people housed.

I am pleased that budget 2019 has delivered for higher education. On budget day, I announced three different funding streams: a capital funding stream, the current core funding stream and a new funding stream called the human capital initiative, HCI, stream.

In current and capital spending, new programmes and initiatives will make a major difference to our third level landscape. I am particularly enthusiastic about the new multi-annual HCI scheme. It will be a transformative development for the third level sector. From January 2020, exactly 14 months ago, the HCI will be set up to invest €300 million over the period 2020 to 2024. This ring-fenced allocation of €60 million each year will be a key part of the Government's strategic response to Brexit and other challenges facing the economy. The HCI will be funded from the surplus in the national training fund, and has been made possible by the reform of the fund. The initiative will ensure our higher education institutions can meet the skill needs of our growing and rapidly changing economy. It will mitigate Brexit risks, boost regional development, and realise the objectives of Project Ireland 2040 and our future jobs programme. Now that our economy is approaching full employment, we need to plan for the jobs of the future - jobs that will be crucial in 20 years' time. There are challenges to which I am confident that our higher education institutions will rise. I am pleased the initiative has been so warmly welcomed by the Technological Higher Education Association.

Budget 2019 also provides an additional €57.4 million for new measures in current spending. This is in addition to the separate allocation of €41 million for pay restoration and pension costs. Excluding the latter two items, this means that current spending on higher education has risen by 10% since 2016. We will create places for approximately 3,500 new students. We will also continue to move forward on the reforms to the higher education funding allocation model. We will provide €10 million for innovation and performance funds, and €5 million for building, teaching and learning capacity. There will be €5 million in the new research and innovation fund for institutes of technology. There will be an enhancement and strengthening of services in mental health and counselling, as well as an action plan for safer campuses. Overall, higher education current expenditure will be €1.76 billion in 2019.

On the capital side, we plan to spend €138 million in 2019, compared with €70.6 million in 2018, which is almost twice as much. We will spend €532 million over the next five years. The key projects we have announced recently include the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, facilities in Dundalk Institute of Technology, a new engineering building for Limerick Institute of Technology, LIT, upgrades to the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology Castlebar campus, a future-technology building at Dublin City University and a new sports science, health and recreation building at Institute of Technology Tallaght. More will follow. Project Ireland 2040 provides for a near-trebling of the higher education capital budget compared with the past decade, from €0.8 billion to €2.2 billion.

Budget 2019, in current and capital spending, is hugely significant for higher education. It turns the corner in restoring our institutions to a strong footing to meet the needs of our economy and society. I listened carefully to the many voices in this sector. I have met the presidents of all the institutions, visited the campuses and seen the facilities, and spoken to the stakeholders and the students. I know what is needed. I am pleased that after a difficult decade, we are delivering.

I wish to acknowledge that our investment in higher education is based on resources provided by the Irish taxpayer. As Minister of State, my focus is on one key person: the student. I am determined that next year and beyond our taxpayers, parents and citizens will see value for money and excellent outcomes from the students at our third level institutions. We will all benefit.

I echo the sentiments of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, about the engineering building in LIT. LIT is a fine establishment in Limerick. I studied there for a number of years and it is great to see it progressing under this Government.

I welcome the overall budget that was put before us by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. The area of County Limerick, in particular, that will benefit from it is the engineering building of LIT but other projects that also have received a boost include Limerick Prison, which had a redevelopment, Shannon Foynes Port Company, which will share in part of the connectivity funding that has been announced, and Troy Studios. Section 486C, which provides for relief on tax, has been extended to 2021, and will have a knock-on effect on the film and television industry in Ireland. Our arts are something to be celebrated but although we are starting to learn, we do not use them enough to promote our tourism.

We should migrate arts and sports over to other areas to foster communities and help people with mental health difficulties. That will help their emotional well-being and mitigate against stigma. There is a huge crossover between the arts and mental health, and I will continue to push that.

I also welcome the fact 800 new gardaí will be recruited. Rural crime has been at the top of the agenda for the past number of years. I live in a rural part of Ireland. The closure of the Garda college in Templemore had a major affect on parts of rural Ireland but it was reopened by the previous Fine Gael Government in 2014 and we are starting to see those gardaí come through, which I welcome. I have the utmost respect for what gardaí do each day in their jobs. They are very much an integral part of the community and I want to see them facilitated. I impress on the Minister, and the powers that be, that a weighting be placed on rural areas as well as urban areas. I am a huge believer in community gardaí. That type of on-the-ground intelligence is paramount. It is often local people who are feeding these roving gangs information and intelligence on what is happening on the ground. That is something we have been told of over the last number of years. They are also using the motorway network. We have to pinpoint it there.

Returning to the arts, the €75 million includes an increase of €7 million. This feeds into Project Ireland 2040 and the Global Ireland 2025 strategy on pushing out our footprint in tourism and in the context of Brexit.

I refer to attracting other markets in agriculture, by trying to grow our footprint throughout Asia. That is still an untapped market for Ireland. I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, on signing the deal with China on access to that market earlier this year. We need to start pushing into more markets like that. We need to use the businesses we have there to create more demand for Irish produce. Our produce in the food sector is second to none and we have a signature story to tell about our agriculture in Asia. Countries there look to the West for premium-type food.

I want to talk about the €55 million increase in mental health spending. The Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care is about to complete work on a final report next week or the week after. I ask that the report be implemented as soon as possible, especially on IT systems, waiting lists, referral paths and recruitment. Those are the major issues we have found. Mindfulness, prevention and early intervention are also important. They are not just buzzwords. They need to be delivered. I recognise that the Ceann Comhairle sympathises with this, especially the mindfulness aspect. It has not gone unnoticed.

There has been much discussion and debate on a carbon tax. As the Tánaiste mentioned earlier, we need to learn from what happened when we tried to change behaviour with water charges. Bringing people along with us is real leadership and that is particularly the case with ca arbon tax. Whatever political affiliation we might have, climate change is going to affect us all down the line. It is not about dividing, but it is about bringing everyone together on that. I welcome the formation of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, of which I am a member. There are many ongoing discussions. I find it highly educational as someone who does not have a background in the area.

On the politics side, we need to be able to bring the people with us when we put these things in place. We need to have alternatives and we need to invest in them. If we had put up the price of diesel, petrol, oil or coal, consumption would not have changed. It would just have been harder on the pockets of those going out to work, old age pensioners, those on disability allowance and those trying to use solid fuel over the winter period. The carbon tax was not going to work. I heard the Green Party stating it would have sent a message, but it was not going to work in practice. We have to study the practicalities for the people on the ground. We need to bring people with us but we also have to provide credible alternatives. I understand climate change is upon us and it needs to be worked on but how we do that is important. I do not want to fall into the trap of what happened with water charges, that is, putting a tax in place to change people's behaviour. We have to have a bottom-up approach from our electorate. That will be a campaign in which it will be incumbent on all of us to play our part, regardless of political divisions in this House.

There have also been a number of initiatives announced in agriculture, which I welcome, particularly on the staffing and ICT needs on the regulatory side. That always needs to be worked on to make sure that applications get through as quickly as possible. I already mentioned the promotion of new markets. The existing stock relief has been renewed for three years to cope with income volatility. The extension to farms of income averaging with off-farm trading income is also welcome. A sum of €53 million is to be provided in capital for the first round of projects under rural regeneration and the development fund. Rural Ireland is getting more and more funding. I refer in particular to e-hubs in small towns. I remind the House that rural Ireland is not Limerick city, Cork city or even a big town Rural Ireland is the countryside itself, the small market towns with populations of 1,100 or 1,500. Those are the type of towns where we need to start putting in e-hubs. Many of those towns, and surrounding areas, as a result of the deal that has been done with the Government, now have broadband access as well. I welcome all the money starting to pour into rural Ireland through the Minister, Deputy Ring's Department of Rural and Community Development.

There is the town and village renewal scheme, as well as funding from CLÁR. The local improvement scheme, LIS, has increased over the last number of years and I see it in County Limerick. There is rural regeneration, €60 million for Brexit support and 800 gardaí being recruited. In education, 950 special needs assistants, SNAs, have been announced, which is very welcome.

Turning to corporation tax, I am very much a believer in holding it at 12.5%. I hear Deputies talking all the time about corporation tax and how corporations are getting away without paying tax but there is never a mention of the number of people employed in these organisations who are paying tax. In Limerick, the number of people employed in those corporations, the downstream industries and indigenous industries that have been set up because of people being employed in, and acquiring skills from, these multinationals is nothing to be sniffed at. We have to be very careful about the message we send out. That is especially the case against the backdrop of trade tensions globally and Brexit. I welcome the loans in respect of the effects of Brexit. We must mitigate against those risks not only for small to medium sized enterprises but also the agricultural sector.

I recognise that in health we have had a €1.5 billion increase in spending. On waiting lists, I will continue to campaign for a highly efficient text messaging system for "do not shows" in outpatient appointments. That should be done. We can use technology much more to our advantage. We need to be proactive, informative and have an integrated communications process to notify people on these waiting lists. I refer, in particular, to people who may have been on the list for a period of time and may not be able to attend. The same could be done with utilities. A text message could be sent to people ten to 15 days before an appointment, telling them to telephone if they have to cancel. Somebody else can be slotted in then.

I would like to challenge the line that was used in respect of the arts by some Opposition parties. I refer to the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market on copyright and content generation in the arts. Artists have been campaigning for this and Fine Gael has voted for the progression of this directive. Sinn Féin, however, has voted against it. I heard a Member say today that we are not giving enough to the arts. I do not understand why one thing is being said in one jurisdiction and something else is happening in another jurisdiction. Clarification on that would be very welcome. As I said at the outset, rural Ireland has had its challenges over the past number of years, particularly with emigration and recession. We are, however, starting to see an influx of people.

I welcome the increase in the sports capital tax, €35 million for tourism generation and €10 million for greenways. The great southern greenway is in County Limerick. I have said before that we need to enhance and upgrade that, using the greenway for cycling instead of country roads. I hope that is done.

Deputy Neville has three minutes remaining.

Debate adjourned.