I am glad to have this opportunity to contribute again on budget 2020. I wish to quote from the opening remarks of the Taoiseach earlier because I thought we had gone to a parallel universe:
One of the earliest recorded examples of economic strategising appears in the very first book of the Bible. Joseph, son of Jacob and Rachel, was able to predict the trajectory of Egypt's economy - a period of boom, followed by a period of bust. Forewarned, he was forearmed, and he was able to guide the country through the worst of the crisis, saving his own people as a result.
Imagine it, the Taoiseach invoking the Bible. That was a mouthful for him or the speechwriter who dug it up for him. The Taoiseach was caught out later in his speech on the pronunciation of a name. I do not have the best pronunciation but he had obviously not even read his speech.
The Taoiseach likes to quote from the Bible but he should try and live by it and look after the people who are less able to look after themselves. The waste in the past number of years has been a shocking indictment of this Government when it has had the considerable benefit of corporation taxes. That money has been squandered like snow in a ditch.
This is a raggle-taggle, harum-scarum budget put together under the mighty cloud of Brexit. I am not making light of Brexit and how serious it is but I am demanding that the Government does something tangible. There have been words, support, strong statements, leaks and unintended leaks, and whatever else from Ms Merkel and others. The Government should tell the EU to pony up. If the EU wants to show support for Ireland, it should put some money in our bank account and not have us borrowing to deal with the astronomical undermining of our economy and people by the forthcoming and unfolding Brexit, a no-deal one if it happens.
The Government has had three years to look at the issue of Brexit and Ireland still seems not to be prepared.
As I said yesterday, the budget is like a fist of Presto. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will know what Presto is. It is brought out to hens in the yard and when it is thrown out, the cock will get most of it because he can fight and he is the strongest. That is what this budget is like. The Government is throwing out crumbs to people who have to try and live day to day.
As usual, once the details come into focus. many of us can get a clearer sense of what yesterday's statement by the Minister, which went on for an hour and ten minutes, entails. Reaction has been swift, and, in some cases, it has been brutal. This is among independent observers, including NGOs and others who work at the coalface such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul or housing trusts. The Minister said this is a budget without precedent. It certainly was that. Never before has such a lack of attention been paid to a national housing emergency. This is the most incomprehensible neglect. There was barely a paragraph on it. I salute the hard work done by Fr. Peter McVerry and Brother Kevin in the Capuchin Day Centre who feeds the homeless but the Government hardly mentioned it in the budget. That is certainly unprecedented. It is crazy. The Government just wants to wish this crisis away because it knows an election is in the offing and it thinks it can walk past and ignore it.
The Minister stated that the Government had allocated €6.6 billion for the delivery of social housing supports in the past four years. There is no point talking about the past four years because the Government has failed utterly. I am only speaking for Tipperary but I cannot see the houses that were built in Tipperary right from Carrick-on-Suir to Moneygall, and across from Ballingary to Araglin and the Galtee mountains. The Minister neglected to say that this essentially translates as the transfer of massive sums of public money to private and corporate suppliers of housing. It has been farmed out and it is not working. I am not here to speak on behalf of developers or builders but the reason it is not working is it is not profitable for people to build houses. I have said here a thousand times that it must be profitable for a man or woman to do a day's work for a day's pay. It must be in some way reasonably rewarding. There should be some job satisfaction but, above all, they must be able to make ends meet. The rate of local authority building has been abysmal under the Government. This is apparent everywhere, including in Galway, the county of the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, who is representing the Government in the Chamber.
The Minister for Finance said he was allocating a further €20 million for homeless services to provide support to citizens in emergency accommodation and increase preventative measures, long-term support and day services, yet, as Focus Ireland has pointed out, the range of unmet needs and the absence of policy responses to the particular problems faced by these young vulnerable families is symptomatic of the absence of any overarching strategy to deal with the escalating crisis of family homelessness. That is a damning indictment coming from Focus Ireland, which has a long track record in supporting the homeless and trying to get homes for families. The Government should be ashamed. Focus Ireland also said that while Rebuilding Ireland recognises that family homelessness raises different challenges than homelessness among adults, it offers no analysis or policy responses to these challenges. We have had enough of examining and reports; we need meaningful, tangible responses that will deliver outcomes. I do not like using these kinds of words but we need to put roofs over people's heads and provide for the most needy. The Taoiseach can return to the Bible and wax lyrical about passages from the different scriptures. He has a damn cheek.
Now we hear, as my colleague, Deputy Boyd Barrett, pointed out yesterday, a €27 million cut in central Government funding for local government has taken place. Councils were starved in the years of austerity and in the years since, when corporation tax revenues were available, which they might not be for much longer, the Government used them to plug holes here, there and yonder. It is a con job. They should just get the spin machine out to con the people. The Government knows that money will not always be there and it is a very unwise practice to use it to block holes in the public purse. It could be called creative accounting. Local government is starved of funding. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government will announce plans in the House to build so many houses in Tipperary, Kerry or wherever, but the council officials tell us they have no money. There are drawings, a consultation period, Part 8 process and this goes up to the Department, then six months later it goes down to the county council, six months later again it goes back to the Department, and then back down to the county council six months after that. This goes on and on and not a hen house built or even a planning permission approved. This means is that funding from central Government has been reduced by another 13% in this budget, which is staggering. It is all in the fine print. Amidst all the gloss and spin, media briefings and press conferences that went on yesterday, there was nothing about that €27 million. The county councils have closed up shop. We used to build rural cottages in Tipperary. We used to give housing loans to people who were able to build houses but now the county councils do not have even a bob to give them. Where was that 13% cut in the Minister's speech? It was a real trick-of-the-loop job, or hide and go seek or whatever name someone cares to put on it.
The Minister said the Budget was framed in the context of Brexit. Sin é an cheart. That is true but the Brexit issue has emerged as a great place to hide things and keep other things out of sight. People are becoming weary of it. They know the Government has not done proper planning or proper engagement with communities, especially in the Border counties, and in the production sectors that make our exports. I will not mention the beef industry, which the Government has abandoned. Brexit has emerged as a great place to hide but the Government parties will have no place to hide when it comes to the election, whether that is November or next February or May, as the Government hopes. The increases in carbon taxes and on that it has introduced will not come into play after next May. This is creative politics, not accounting, to try to dupe the people but the Government is dealing with an educated electorate, and thank God, it sees the Government for what it is.
Brexit has become a byword for inaction with this Government and an excuse to target the least well off. Gach lá, it is the daoine beaga, the little people, who are the target while the big boys waltz away. The Government would not engage with the banks or tackle the conglomerates as I have demanded for the past five years. In my own county, I refer to Coolmore industries. We are all in awe of its magnificent success in the racing fields and in the employment it gives but it wants 27,000 acres of land. I appealed to, and begged the Government - I will table an amendment to the Finance Bill - to ensure that the owners of any farm over 750 acres, which is big enough for ten families, should be taxed 50% because they are not farmers. These are conglomerates gobbling up land and killing off communities with families unable to survive. Whether it is schools, GAA or soccer fields or clubs, these communities are locked up. The company has put up a fence and there is security everywhere. A snipe would not go through the ditch. When we had landlords, the men and women who worked there always got milk, food and alms and they looked after them but not a snipe would go through these lands because they are so well fenced and secure. There are combines in the fields all summer during harvest time and they have security watching all night in case anyone will attack them. No one is going to attack them but people are extremely upset that any small or medium-sized farmer cannot extend or buy a bit of land because Coolmore wants it all. The IFA, ICMSA and others tell us that they are putting a floor under the price of land. They are and they are pulling the two legs from under any farmer who wants to farm or try to. Now they have gone into cattle, if you do not mind, with beef feedlots for the Goodman empire and the other conglomerates in the meat business. To hell with the ordinary people. They can put a floor on the price like pulling a shutter and opening or closing curtains.
The Minister for Finance stated: "In preparing for no deal, we can ensure that the Government has the necessary resources at its disposal to meet the impact of Brexit while keeping our public finances on the credible path they have been on since 2011 [no one believes that] and that our responsible management of the public finances means that we will meet the challenge of a no-deal Brexit from a position of strength." Just look at the national children’s hospital. It is a gaping monstrosity of a black hole gobbling up every other project in health, including mental health. I am happy to be wearing a green ribbon for World Mental Health Day tomorrow. We do not have a single bed in Tiobrad Árann. There is not a single long-stay bed for mental health in the whole county, which is 120 miles long. Today other Members told us that €25 million was unspent in the budget but we cannot get a 24-7 specialist nurse to look after people. They are bundled into overcrowded emergency departments - I salute the staff there - which is no place for people undergoing mental health episodes or psychotic attacks.
They are hunted down the road to take their own lives. What is going on is insane. The lunatics are running the asylum. The Government then has the cheek to state it is managing the finances prudently. This morning the Taoiseach talked about spending €17 billion on health services. He must be in awe and envious of the money the Minister for Health is getting compared to what he was getting when he was the Minister for Health, but it is being wasted and gobbled up. It is like giving candy to a child, with no meaningful assessment of outputs. One million hours has been thrown at home helps, but we insult family carers by not recognising them by not providing them with decent care services. We have young people in County Tipperary who are providing care on a 24/7 basis and suffering from burnout. One can allocate 1 million hours, but there is a need for 2.5 million to allow the home help service to catch up. Above all, there is a need to lift the embargo that is crippling the HSE officials who are dealing with this issue, good officials who are not allowed to provide any more home care packages. It is all spin. We welcome the announcement of an increase of 1 million hours, but, as I said, there is a need for 2.5 million to allow the home help service to catch up. There is also a need to lift the crippling embargo to allow family members who want to do so to go home from hospital and free up stepdown beds. To allow them to do so, there is a need to have homecare packages in place for them. The cheek and arrogance of the Government in stating that it is being prudent. Fifty years ago Fine Gael had the name of being good and financially prudent.
Turning to broadband provision, there is no service available in vast areas of my county, anywhere within a mile or half mile of any town, be it Clonmel, Cahir, Carrrick-on-Suir, Cashel, Tipperary town, Roscrea, Nenagh, Dundrum or Templemore. There might be a service available three poles away, but one might as well be in Mongolia as one cannot receive or use it. The Government is discriminating against rural people, be they students, farmers or those who want to work at home and travel less. A farmer must fill in all of the different application forms required, while students must complete their CAO forms, as well as study. People also want broadband for social purposes. It is complete discrimination and diatribe for the Government to suggest it is being financially responsible. The national broadband project has trebled in price and will run to five times the price indicated. It would not matter if it was ten times the price because people living in rural Ireland will never have a service.
Eir was mentioned by the Government. For while I was hoping the project might be given to that company, but thanks be to God that did not happen. I know of a 93 year old woman who was without her telephone service for several weeks and every excuse in the world was given. She was relying on it to be able to use her independence alarm to provide for her safety as she lives alone. She had to wait seven weeks in 2019 to have the phone fixed. I salute the workers in Eir because there are not enough of them on the ground. They have to deal with all kinds of bunkum. They have to obtain a road opening licence from the county council in order to fix a wire. My county is one of the worst in giving such licences on time. One can have to wait for five or six weeks. An entire community near Fethard was without connections recently because of a delay of seven to eight weeks which resulted in total confusion and bedlam. To hell with the people of rural Ireland. Once we have everything in Dublin, they do not matter. Eir should be ashamed of itself. Adam Ledwith is our go-between here and also frustrated, as we all are.
When the late Albert Reynolds took power, he promised that he would have a telephone in every house within one month and he did. He was able to do this back in 1979. Now, it takes seven, eight, ten or 15 weeks to have a phone fixed. When one has to use the phone line, one is on it for an hour and 20 minutes, as one has to listen to music and is passed from one person to another, from Billy to Jack. One has to appeal not to be passed on to somebody else to have one's query dealt with. The human touch is gone. It is disgraceful how people are being treated, especially in rural Ireland but also in cities. There are answering machines to deal with everything, but there is no one available, except for slick PR ads.
I mentioned yesterday the disastrous economic stewardship of the national children's hospital, a project which is going to suck up resources. I have six grandchildren and another is expected any hour. None of those children, should they ever need it, will be able to access it because one cannot access it by road and there is no helipad. A helipad will be required three stories high that will be capable of taking a light aircraft on a calm day. It is madness and lunacy. The lunatics are running the asylum.
The Government had its chance to dump the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, but it would not do it. Where is the credibility? The Parliamentary Budget Office has informed us today that a total of €440 million in recurring over-runs in the Departments of Health, Education and Skills and Justice and Equality is expected in 2019. This means that budget 2020 projects Supplementary Estimates of €335 million, €50 million and 55 million for the Health, Education and Skills and Justice and Equality Votes, respectively. Is this creative accounting? It beggars belief. Does the Government think people will accept this drip-feed of information? The devil is in the detail. He is certainly roaming around here and dressed in a collar and tie and sometimes wearing a dickie bow. This has been a consistent feature in the lifetime of the Government. The Minister for Health, in particular, seems to be absolutely incapable of manning his Department. We heard what his former friend, Mr. Tony O'Brien, had to say about him. This is the same Minister who sat here one night and defended him. Mr. O'Brien said he was like a frightened rabbit caught in the headlights. I said he would not run a sweet shop or move a wheelie bin up and down the street. He has no experience and no expertise but plenty of arrogance. There were 500 patients on trolleys yesterday in our little country. There are busloads of people being organised by the Healy-Raes and Deputy Michael Collins. A number of constituents of mine have also travelled to Belfast. "Belfast or blind" is their motto. It is some legacy of the Government. How many of the people in question in west Cork and County Kerry were strong and lifelong members of Fine Gael? That is how they were treated - they were being allowed to go blind. There is none so blind as those who cannot see. That is the Government's motto, but the people in question can sense and know what the Government is doing to them and they will be waiting at the ballot box with their peann luaidhe or little pencil. They will give the message where it hurts and will finally get through. Unfortunately by then, too much damage will have been done.
The leadership of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, IHCA, which I met recently at a briefing here, voted no confidence in the Minister for Health at an emergency meeting held to debate what consultants see as a crisis in the public system, but he will still appear on "Six One News" and bluff and blunder. He will announce a dental scheme for young people without engaging in consultation with the Dental Association of Ireland or understanding how it will deal with the proposal. When I was young, there used to be school visits to have our teeth checked, but that is happening less and less. Now there is utter confusion as children will all be told to go to the dental surgery without an appointment and that they will receive treatment for free. It is a total con job to scatter people with a Blunderbuss, just like the British did in the war to divide and conquer. Both we and the Government know that they will not receive any treatment and that these are the actions of a con artist. The Government should be in a circus, but I would not put it on a high wire because it can only walk on the ground.
The IHCA made the extraordinary statement that the Minister was shirking his responsibility to fix the health service, but he does not know what shirking is because he has shirked responsibility for every aspect of the job since he was given it. He should not have been given it as he had no experience to put him in charge of a €17 billion budget, at which more and more money is been thrown every other year. The president of the IHCA, Dr. Donal O'Hanlon, said consultants did not believe the Minister had the authority, understanding, inclination or experience to deliver timely, quality hospital care services. They are not my words but those of the president of the IHCA. I am adding my own words because I know from personal experience the arrogance that oozes from him. He thinks he can walk on water, but it will swallow him up. He may be able to walk on the seafront in Greystones or Bray, but the water will encapsulate him and he will be gasping for breath. The president of the IHCA said the Minister had increasingly become complacent and deaf to the suffering of patients across Ireland. Of course, he is. As I said, there are 500 patients on trolleys. It is disorganised bedlam in emergency departments. Putting mental health patients in on top of them, as has happened in Tipperary, is unacceptable. We begged and pleaded, including Caroline Lonergan and many others in Tipperary, for families to have a simple room, to where patients who were psychotic could be brought. The families are begging for help, but they are grasping at straws. They could rest in peace in such a room, away from the madness and bedlam in the emergency department. However, they were refused, notwithstanding the fact that a new 40-bed modular unit was being built but which will not be staffed. The person in question will not be given one of these beds.
What kind of policy is the Government implementing? It is like the extermination of the Jews - let people die on the streets and in the fields and take their own lives. The Government does not care. Everything is all right in Dublin, but to hell with everybody else. After three years in office, the Minister has presided over an unacceptable increase of 153,914 patients on outpatient waiting lists.
Imagine these figures. One would hardly see them or read them out because they are so embarrassing. Some of those 153,914 patients have been waiting for three of four years. This amounts to a 37% increase, or almost five additional patients every hour, while over the same period, the number of patients treated on trolleys has increased by 36% since May 2016. The Government should be called the "Government of the trolleys". There is a song about my trolley and your trolley, but these figures are disgusting. The Government has not one shred or ounce of shame. If it had then it would not preside over the figures for the number of people treated on trolleys. In many cases in South Tipperary General Hospital, Clonmel, these patients do not have a blanket, a pillow or a sheet to lie on. Can one imagine that? Our NGOs go all over the world helping out in war-torn states and would not see conditions as bad. Not a pillow, not a sheet nor a blanket. They must cover themselves with their jackets and patients of 93 and 94 years of age have to lie there with huge indignity. There are no sockets along those corridors into which drips or other intravenous equipment could be fitted up. It is disgusting. People in prisons are treated 20 times better. These patients have nobody to feed them, to help to wash them and there is no dignity in going to the bathroom. It is scandalous. There are only vending machines laid on for them. The Government should be brought to the Hague to be tried for war crimes. Noise on those corridors causes sleep deprivation and sleep deprivation is a war crime. The Government should be summoned to the Hague and the International Court of Justice for a war crime in the way it treats patients in Tipperary and throughout the State, and especially those mentally unstable people in Tipperary, which could be any of us at any time. None of us know what can trigger a mental health issue. It could be just a very fine line. These people are being treated with disdain. The Government should be tried for war crimes because of sleep deprivation abuse. Yet, hundreds of millions of euro more will be allocated to the very same Minister, in the absence of significant reform around recruitment and retention. There has been no reform whatsoever but still the Government will throw money at it. It does not appear to matter. Every year the bill grows by nearly €750 million.
I welcome that the Christmas bonus will be paid, but again people have to be thankful for what should be a right or a just reward for our people, who built our country. Ní neart go cur le chéile. They raised their families and worked very hard to educate their families. The Government, however, crows about it and claims how good it is. We are aware that another €30 million is required for non-recurring costs in other Departments, including the Departments of Finance and Transport, Tourism and Sport. The Department of the Taoiseach was not mentioned at all. I read a report in the newspaper recently about it - I do not look at them a lot - and I saw that the current Taoiseach spends a lot more on little incidental expenses than the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, did. It is probably on makeovers to make sure he is ready for the selfies. It is disgusting. Where is the moral compass? If they ever had one the Government has certainly lost it, and this Taoiseach has lost it. The people of Ireland are waiting for him to do his tour around the country when he thinks he will be going out to get votes.
Then there is the matter of the banks and the favourable treatment they have received yet again. Stamp duty has increased again by 1.5%. I put it to the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy English, that his Government has allowed a situation where families are trying to repurchase their family homes back from vulture funds. The former Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, said that vultures were a necessary part of nature. Vultures, however, come and attack my sheep when they are lambing, and pick the eyes out of them before the lambs are even fully born. That is what vultures are. This is what people think of vultures, yet the Government believes they are a necessary part of life today. People who may want to buy back their homes will now find it much more difficult. Part of the 1.5% increase means they would have to form and set up a company. They cannot get money except from moneylenders at 10% or 15%. A decade has passed since the taxpayers bailed out the banks to the tune of €67 billion. The banks are writing their own law every day of the week. They are merciless and our main pillar banks are the most merciless of all. They do not care about people, people's lives or their mental health. There have been suicides and yet the Government makes it easier for the banks all of the time. The Government will not engage with the banks and will not touch them or put any tax on them. The Government is in hock to the banks and is afraid of them. The banks and big businesses, the meat industry and the big multiples, and the conglomerates who buy up all of the land, own the Government. They have the Government in both pockets and the pockets are zipped. The Government is toothless, useless and fruitless because it will not even engage with them.
Consider the beef industry for example. The Government set up another task force. Who does it put in charge of it? A retired senior civil servant who was a Secretary General of the Department for however long he was there. There is nothing wrong with this person in his job or his person, but he is a total and absolute insider. He knows every comma, every dot and every syllable in the rules that the farmers want changed. These are the rules that always support the factories. The appointed person should be able to be an independent chairman and not have anything to do with the Department. While I have nothing against him personally, he should not be there. The role should be filled by somebody from outside who knows nothing about the industry but who would be clinical, who would give a fair hearing to the beef producer organisations and independent farmers and who would put respectful manners on Meat Industry Ireland, MII. It is a joke to think that this insider, and a safe pair of hands as far as the Government is concerned, would have been reappointed. The Government has lost all interest in the beef industry. The Government pumped billions of euro into Anglo Irish Bank, Irish Nationwide, Allied Irish Banks, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB at a great social and financial costs to the taxpayer. Many lives were lost, taken at their own hands because of bullying and intimidation. Today that bill stands at €42 billion, with the State's financial watchdog telling us that taxpayers will continue to pay €1 billion every year. This is shocking.
I have only nóiméad amháin left but I want to single out a mean and desperate cut made in yesterday's budget. Once again it was a sleight of hand by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan. Last week it was the hare coursing and the greyhound racing. Now the Minister, Deputy Madigan, has unceremoniously decided to take the funding from Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, which is an outstanding organisation that is valued by many of us here. We and our children have taken part in its events. For 15 years, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann was funded separately to the Arts Council, and by God did they earn it. The Comhaltas promoted our ndúchas, our heritage, our rince, ár n-amhránaíocht agus gach rud mar sin. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann had 750,000 visitors at its most recent fleadh close to the Minister of State, Deputy English's constituency in Drogheda. It was held there for the past two years. There were 15,000 performers from all over the world. Comhaltas operates in 18 different countries worldwide. Some €50 million was brought into the Drogheda economy because of the fleadh in the last year. What kind of a death wish has the Minister, Deputy Madigan, against rural Ireland? The Minister has decided, without any debate or discussion, to give the funding to the Arts Council. Comhaltas must now go begging, cap in hand, to the Arts Council to get money from it. We know who will win that war. It will be the fancy things that are put on such as parades here in Dublin, and God knows what. It will be every kind of different arty-farty stuff, although the arts do great work too. Comhaltas should not be in that situation. The organisation has outstanding prowess. It has done us proud on the world stage, and iar-Sheanadóir, Labhrás Ó Murchú, is its ard-stiúrthóir. I ask the Government, and I demand, that this money be put back in where it was and not to have Comhaltas going like beggars looking for the funding. It has earned it. It has done us proud. It has promoted our heritage, our teanga agus ár ndúchas. This Minister, Deputy Madigan, does not know who to attack next in rural Ireland. This is a direct attack on our heritage, our ndúchas, our culture, our rince, ár dteanga agus gach rud mar sin. The funding has to be put back in where it was, and this has to be answered in a debate in the Dáil.