Financial Resolution No. 9: General (Resumed)

Debate resumed on the following Financial Resolution:
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 Housing, Planning and Local Government)

I wish to touch on a few matters that are particularly important to the part of the country in which I live. When the debate was adjourned yesterday, I was about to deal with carbon tax.

There are three Deputies in the Roscommon-Galway constituency and I am the only one who supported the introduction of carbon tax. I do not like taxes and I do not like the carbon tax. We have to be particularly careful in rural areas not to be pushing people too much on carbon taxes but our party is trying to recognise the need to revitalise our area now, particularly in view of what is happening with Bord na Móna. The Turf Board was established in the 1930s and Bord na Móna was established in 1946. For more than 60 years it has kept the local economy going, particularly in the area around Mountdillon, Lanesborough and the Loughrea power station. In recent years there has been a massive reduction in the number of workers at the ESB power station in Loughrea. Now, the position of Bord na Móna is going to change completely. Our party wants to see how we can help communities because, as the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Canney, knows, communities in our part of the country will be very badly hit by this development.

I live only a few minutes from the Loughrea power station and all the Bord na Móna workers live near my home. Regardless of whether we talk about Loughrea or Shannonbridge, there is no doubt that a serious situation is developing. Bord na Móna workers were told only a year ago that just transition would occur over eight to ten years. They are now being told that it will happen in one. Our area will be a black spot unless the Government gets serious about coming up with new ideas. That is why, in the context of discussions on the budget, our negotiators, the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party and our Front Bench insisted that there would have to be a just transition fund. The fund is for the communities, not for the Bord na Móna workers. The problem in this regard is two-pronged. First, there will be damage to the communities and, second, there is the prospect of unemployment for Bord na Móna workers. Some people will accept redundancy packages. It is great to talk about repairing the bogs but it will not be possible to have the same number of workers in Bord na Móna as used to be the case. It is extremely important, therefore, that a just transition fund and just transition commissioner are put in place as quickly as possible. The goalposts have moved dramatically for Bord na Móna in the context of my part of the country.

I welcome the €5 increase in the living alone allowance. The increase of €2 a week in the fuel allowance is not enough to compensate people who will be hit by fuel poverty because of carbon taxes. The National Treatment Purchase Fund will not solve all the ills in the health sector but Fianna Fáil fought for the extra money. I hope that money will in some way help to shorten waiting lists and assist people who have been waiting for treatment for a long time to get the care they need.

My colleagues and our party leader have outlined our disappointment with some aspects of this budget, which was framed against the backdrop of Brexit. As we meet here this morning, we do not know what will be the final outcome of the negotiations on Brexit. We sincerely hope that there will be a successful outcome and that Britain will be able to leave the European Union with a deal. This is an issue that has consumed political life in the Oireachtas. For all the deficits and deficiencies in our political system, the Oireachtas has worked very hard to ensure that we have a united front on Brexit, analysing and outlining the difficulties and challenges that it poses for the entire island. It is particularly disappointing that for the past three years there has been no assembly or Executive in Northern Ireland when we could have advocated strongly and with one voice in the best interests of all the people in Northern Ireland. It is to the shame of the DUP and Sinn Féin that they could not reach agreements, along with the two Governments, to ensure that the people who elected assembly Members to Stormont would have their voices heard. Not only do we not have a functioning Executive, there is no North-South Ministerial Council. The council is one of the very important bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement and it allowed members of our Government to meet their counterparts in the Executive twice a year. In addition, Ministers met in sectoral format to discuss issues of common concern to their Departments. They worked together and achieved progress that often went unheralded in the public domain. They were doing good and important work on behalf of all the people of this island and using the potential of the Good Friday Agreement.

Last week, I put questions to the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation on the need to ensure that adequate supports will be put in place to assist enterprises through the difficulties that will arise on foot of Brexit. I highlighted the needs of the Border region, including counties Cavan and Monaghan. There is a high level of interdependence between the economies on both sides of the Border and, in particular, between people in Cavan and Monaghan and our neighbours and friends in Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh. We have many common interests. The major sectors in these five counties are agrifood, construction products and engineering and they will be the most adversely affected by Brexit because they are heavily dependent on Britain for their export market. I appeal to the Minister of State, and to the Ministers for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and for Finance to ensure that specific programmes are put in place to assist those sectors in that region through the challenges and difficulties that will arise no matter what form of Brexit we have. I have appealed to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on may occasions to prioritise the infrastructural needs of the Border region. Our road infrastructure needs to be upgraded. Unfortunately, legacy issues caused us severe difficulties with lack of investment in infrastructure due to the difficulties and the troubles over so many decades. As that region will be most adversely affected the Government needs to prioritise investment there to assist enterprise and business to remain competitive, not alone to create new jobs but to ensure we maintain as much as possible the existing employment we have. Already there has been a negative knock-on effect from Brexit. I know of businesses in Monaghan and Cavan which had proposals to invest in expanding their operations but which put them on hold because of the uncertainty that has arisen on foot of Brexit.

It is absolutely scandalous that 10,700 people, including 70 children, were homeless last month. This Government has failed abysmally in the context of housing. It is most disappointing that there has not been a better rate of progress in the provision of social housing. When the Tánaiste was Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, I asked him repeatedly, through parliamentary questions and in committee debates, to ensure that income eligibility limits for social housing would be increased. Not only do people not get council houses, they cannot even get on the list to be considered for council housing. I have previously given the example of a lone parent, a young woman who has three children who are going to school. She was working four days a week, poorly paid, and was getting family income supplement but could not get on the council housing list. It is ludicrous that the family income supplement payment is factored in as part of a person's income when being assessed as an applicant for social housing. That person and thousands of others like her have no chance of getting mortgages from financial institutions.

At the same time, they are not eligible for local authority housing. Year after year, we have been promised a review of the income eligibility limits but nothing has happened. There are many vacant local authority houses, known as voids, throughout the country. The Department provides very limited funding to local authorities for the upgrade and return to habitable use of vacant local authority houses. It needs to properly fund the local authorities to ensure that they have the resources to bring up to standard those houses that have been vacant for some time. The number of boarded up houses in housing estates across many towns is a regrettable sight. The councils do not have the funding to bring them up to the required standard such that families or individuals could be allocated tenancy of them. This is bad housing policy.

I welcome the increase in home help hours but it is not adequate. In the region that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I represent - Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan - there are lengthy waiting lists for home help provision. Applications are being approved but people have to wait up to, on average, 80 days for the service to be put in place. In many instances, the applicant is in a residential nursing unit or an acute hospital and in urgent need of the support. Additional home help provision would result in a saving to the Exchequer as it costs less than supporting a person in a residential unit and it also enables the person to remain at home.

Yesterday, I attended an exceptionally good presentation in the audiovisual room by Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, where it outlined the need for service provision for people who have suffered a stroke or brain injury. Acquired Brain Injury Ireland is doing exceptionally good work. I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, to bring to the attention of his colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, the need to ensure that this organisation is properly funded and that its request for a regional neurorehabilitation centre is progressed without further delay.

On mental health, at Fianna Fáil's insistence additional funding has been provided for this area over the past few years but, unfortunately, the services are far from adequate. Not only do we need increased funding, we need policies and programmes put in place and personnel and clinicians to be appointed to ensure that services are brought up to a proper standard.

All of us in the Chamber now represent rural constituencies. An issue of major concern to us is the proposal at EU level to reduce the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, budget post-2020 by 5%, which, when calculated over a seven-year timeframe, will mean a 15% cut by the end of the term of that budget cycle. The Taoiseach has indicated his opposition to the proposal. I hope that he will enlist the support of other Government leaders to block this proposal that would do huge damage to farming throughout Europe and to the agri-sector as well. The Common Agricultural Policy is not about a transfer of funds to the farming sector. Rather, it is about ensuring that Europe has a secure supply of safe food for its citizens and it also plays an environmental role through various schemes. It is important that Ireland resists any reduction in the CAP budget. It was disappointing that during the term of the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government, when Ireland held the Presidency of the European Union and the previous CAP policy was finalised and agreed, there was, unfortunately a 10% cut in funding, the first time in the history of the Common Agricultural Policy that CAP funding was reduced. I again ask the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, to bring to the attention of the Ministers for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform the need to ensure that the Border region is prioritised for investment.

I have previously discussed with the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, the concerns of communities in Magheracloone, County Monaghan, in regard to the subsidence that occurred there some time ago. Along with others, I asked him to meet a local group to discuss the matter, and he did so. I now ask him to ensure that the Department keeps in mind the concerns of the local community and works with people there to allay their fears and ensure that safety issues are dealt with in the best possible way.

Can we restart the clock on the basis that it would be to the benefit of everybody in the House?

How many minutes will the Deputy need?

Approximately ten minutes.

I will need approximately eight minutes.

As there are no other Members offering, the Deputy can have 20 minutes.

Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I do not like having to rush a speech which I have prepared. I appreciate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle facilitating me. I also appreciate that other Deputies are not here.

It is fair to say that this stage of the budget debate is a bit like cold turkey a week after Christmas. On the other hand, there are important points to be made. Backbenchers do not get to contribute in the high profile part of the debate but there is no reason to think that what they have to say is any less worthy of concern.

I am very disappointed with this budget. Within the financial constraints the country faces, much more could have been done on a number of issues. Climate change is the flavour of the month. I will comment on the carbon tax later. There are more fundamental challenges facing society on climate change than the carbon tax. In terms of public discourse, particularly in financial and Government circles, everything seems to be predicated on continuous economic growth and output. If every country in the world does this, we will accelerate the day we all run out of resources and lose our ability to create a sustainable society. The basis of modern society is to encourage people to buy more even if they do not need what they are buying. The reality of the consumer society is that it is focused on ever increasing sales and not on people's real needs. At the same time, homelessness and poverty are rife in our society and the gap between the most well-off and the poorest in society, not only in income but in standard of living terms, is widening. The future cannot lie in the continued destruction of our resources and ecology, but in a much better distribution of wealth and ensuring that everybody's basic needs - a home, adequate means, the opportunity of gainful employment for those who are fit to take up employment, suitable welfare for those who are not, heat, food, etc. - are catered for. This Government, while tinkering around the edges, has not engaged in any meaningful vision of the future of Irish society. The same can be said of the European Union, which is fixated on economic growth and is not doing much for the people that I represent. In my view, the carbon tax is only justifiable if there are suitable mitigating measures for those most affected and alternatives to enable a change of practice. In the case of the carbon tax in this budget, people living in rural Ireland and the less well-off are going to be most affected and the mitigating measures will do little for them.

As the Minister of State knows, in rural Ireland the use of a car for leisure and work is a necessity because there are no public transport solutions provided. This is not because rural areas are naturally more carbon intensive but because of inequities in policy. It is extraordinary to note that the expenditure per head of population on bus services in rural areas is one fifth of that in urban areas. This is a fact that few people recognise and certainly the elites do not want to know about it because it does not suit. It is also a fact that bus fares per kilometre in rural areas are twice those in urban areas. I would have thought that the carbon tax was an ideal opportunity for the Government to address this injustice to rural dwellers and start giving equality of fares and improving the services. In page 20 of the budget, the Minister states there are going to be measures on rural transport. I asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport a parliamentary question this week about what measures we were going to get. All he did was rehash a cold dinner and tell us that he had given more money for the last three years to Rural Link. He referred to some minor changes in bus services, some of which affect my constituency, that are already decided for the last six months and are going to happen. The budget says one thing but cold reality from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport says another because we are beyond Stepaside.

On home heating and the fuel allowance, as many rural dwellers live in stand-alone houses, they have great opportunities with renewable energy, particularly renewable micro-energy such as solar, small windmills and so on. Again the Government has not grasped the nettle. It has not included feed-back tariffs or allowed for payments out of the public service obligation, PSO, to be given for micro-renewable energy. Someone who has a large windmill can get a payment under the PSO but if he is producing renewable energy and feeding back into the grid, which most people cannot do, he does not benefit from this. People do benefit in many other countries. The Government has missed an opportunity to introduce it.

Another problem we all come across is that of people living in older, badly constructed houses in terms of thermal quality. Some of these houses need repairs beyond insulation and the better energy warmer homes scheme and so on. They need more fundamental repairs and improvements to things like doors and windows. Many of the people living in these houses are of low means. Again, we need a scheme dealing with these basic infrastructural deficiencies that would be available on an ongoing basis through the local authorities, like the housing aid for older people scheme. That is quite a good scheme but the amazing thing is that if one is under 66 years of age in Galway - I think it is 60 in some other local authority areas - it does not matter how bad one's house is, there is no help to do it up. There is no point in talking about insulating a house that has draughty doors and single glazed windows. There is no point in increasing the fuel allowance when all the heat is going out the windows in every direction in a way that the existing insulation schemes will not deal with.

I would like to say a word about disability. The lack of provision of adequate funding for disability since 2011 has been scandalous. In examining the expenditure report that forms part of the budget documentation, it transpires that all that is provided for this key sector is €25 million. This has to include all of the standard wage increases that are going to public servants in the roll-back of the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation, FEMPI; the increased number of people with significant disabilities due to population growth and the thankful fact that people with a disability are living longer; and also the massive increase in the standards of care that need to be provided to people. I had a parent on the phone to me recently who has an adult daughter with multiple and very significant disabilities. They told me that the financial envelope they have for 2019-20 to provide services for that adult is exactly the same as it was in 2008. What other service can be provided for the same cost as in 2008? In this case particularly, new HSE regulations mean that it quite rightly takes two people to do what one used to be allowed to in the past. This family is finding it impossible to buy basic services for a highly disabled person. The measure of any government is its commitment to the most deserving and the voiceless in society. By this measure this Government is an abject failure.

Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá faoin nGaeltacht, faoin nGaeilge agus faoi na hoileáin. Caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil iompar an Rialtais i leith na Gaeilge, i leith na Gaeltachta agus i leith na n-oileán náireach. Níl focal ar bith eile faoi ach "náireach". Tá an tAire Stáit ag déanamh a dhícheall go pearsanta, ach is léir nach bhfuil aird ar bith ag an Rialtas, mar Rialtas, air. Nuair a cheadaigh an Rialtas an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge i mí na Nollag 2010, thug gach páirtí tacaíocht dó. Dúirt siad más rud é go raibh rud ar bith mícheart leis, b'shin nach raibh dóthain airgid ar fáil. In 2010, an bhliain a ceadaíodh an straitéis, bhí €71 milliún ar fáil sna Meastacháin don Ghaeilge, don Ghaeltacht agus do na hoileáin gan Foras na Gaeilge a chur san áireamh. Deich mbliana ina dhiaidh sin, agus lucht an Rialtais ag maíomh go bhfuil an straitéis á chur i bhfeidhm acu, níl ach soláthar de €58 milliún déanta don bhliain seo romhainn. Is léir go bhfuil laghdú de €13 milliún i gceist. Tá titim thubaisteach ó €33 milliún go €15 milliún i gceist ó thaobh caiteachas caipitil de.

Níl anseo ach gearradh siar ar bhunstruchtúr na Gaeltachta agus na n-oileán. Mar shampla, sa deich mbliana idir 2000 agus 2010, caitheadh €100 milliún ar bhunstruchtúr oileánda. Ní dhearnadh aon togra ar luach de níos mó na €1 milliún ar na hoileáin ó shin. Tá sé spéisiúil go raibh €15 milliún ar fáil d'Údarás na Gaeltachta mar airgead caipitil sa bhliain 2010. Úsáideann an t-údarás an maoiniú sin le deontais a thabhairt do tionsclaithe atá ag teacht isteach le fostaíocht a chruthú sa Ghaeltacht agus le foirgnimh a chur ar fáil do na tionscail éagsúla. Ní bheidh i gceist an bhliain seo chugainn ach €9 milliún. San iomlán, ní bheidh i gceist ach €2 milliún breise don Ghaeltacht, don Ghaeilge agus do na hoileáin sa bhliain 2020. Go bunúsach, is léir nach bhfuil spéis ag lucht an Rialtais sa teanga agus nach bhfuil sé i gceist acu an straitéis 20 bliain a chur i bhfeidhm. Tá sé in am acu é sin a admháil. Ba cheart dóibh stop a chur leis an gcur i gcéill agus an fhírinne a insint. Mar a dúirt mé ag an tús, tá díomá an tsaoil orm faoin gcáinfhaisnéis seo. Creidim gur teip ar phobal na hÉireann atá inti.

Alas, this may be the budget that draws a line in the sand and brings the Government to an end.

Fianna Fáil facilitated the operation of this Government for four budgets now. This was through the confidence and supply arrangement which many grassroot supporters found hard to stomach but I acknowledged the responsible role my party leader Deputy Micheál Martin took. This budget had a bit of all things great and small, but not everyone was happy. This is understandable. As stated this budget was arrived at by providing safeguards in the event of a no-deal Brexit and was even headlined as such in the document.

If our Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, gets a universal agreement from Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, and our counterparts in Europe, could we have changes in spending and perhaps a supplementary budget introduced?

Budget 2020, as well as being Brexit-proof, attempts to bring in measures to get us to play our part in climate change. A climate action programme is an urgent requirement as are some of the initiatives proposed, such as greater and faster conversion of our social housing stock to incorporate heat conservation measures and safeguards for workers who face career changes due to climate change. Economies, however, do not run alone on clean air. A transition period is needed to allow improvement in work practices. I say this when one references our agriculture and transport sectors. The carbon taxes proposed must give exemption from proposed increases in fuel taxes to hauliers.

The Government of 2011 had a productive agricultural sector as one of its forte sectors in returning the economy to recovery. I ask it not to throw it in front of the bus now. This budget is a lost opportunity for the beef sector the confidence of which has been undermined in the recent disputes at the factory gates of beef processors.

We hear of money being sent back by the Minister's, Deputy Creed’s, Department. How can this be the case when we have applicants for targeted agricultural modernisation schemes, TAMS, left waiting unnecessary periods for approval and in turn payment of their grant applications?

I am a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has received a whopping €2.7 billion, an increase of €384 million over 2019. That is fine. The money is supposedly in the bank, but yet we see on road construction that there is a standstill regarding some projects like the Dunkettle interchange and the Ardee by-pass to name but a few. What happens next? We see €240 million allocated to another project namely the Westport-Ballina dual-carriageway. I am in favour of opening up the western corridor but could we not progress at a faster pace the provision of the M20 motorway, Cork-Limerick via Mallow, Buttevant and Charleville? I acknowledge the announcement in the last few days of the Macroom by-pass in another sod-turning ceremony but we need to get more boots on the ground.

Given that I am the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on sport, I have to express my dismay that no overall increase in spending has been provided for. The projected spending of €125 million is the same as last year. Yet the Government does a robbing Peter to pay Paul exercise. That is, capital expenditure has been cut. So much for the commitment of the Minister, Deputy Ross, to a multi-annual sports capital spending programme. I welcome that Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics 2020 have been provided for. I also welcome that the national sports policy is further progressed with the provision of extra investment.

Tourism still plays an important role in generating extra economic activity. I welcome the additional Government funding in Budget 2020. Rural Ireland is forever more dependent, thus we must ensure that we get the same attention and promotion. I must highlight some of the attractions we have in north Cork outside of the Munster Vales initiative. I will name a few: Doneraile Court, Annesgrove Gardens, Kingston Square and Mallow Castle, all of which have benefitted from Government funding down through the years. Another attractive stately structure is Castlehyde House, the purchase of which I put before the Government. This leads me to Fermoy, a town situated on the River Blackwater, renowned for its angling richness, recreational activities and, of course, home to Fermoy Rowing Club. The River Blackwater, however, has a weir that day by day goes into further disrepair. Its structure is close to total collapse. It is fitting that the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, is here. Planning is currently being prepared by Cork County Council, but we are looking for a commitment from the Government for funding. I suggest that the Minister of State might bring back to his senior ministerial colleague, the Minister, Deputy Ring, that his Department of Rural and Community Development take up the matter under the urban rural regeneration fund which would be welcome.

Housing is an ongoing crisis and we need to expedite the construction of more houses. I note the Minister in his budgetary statement acknowledged that there has been a great reduction in the number of people working in the construction sector which must be a worry.

Health has also been covered in the budget which is also an ongoing crisis and our spokesperson, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, has given a good outline as to where issues can be resolved and addressed. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I thank my colleague, Deputy O'Keeffe, for sharing time.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on Budget 2020. I am very conscious in contributing that I do so with one hand tied behind my back. While we are very much an Opposition party, the budget would not have been passed were it not for the confidence and supply arrangement that currently exists. Were it not for Brexit we would not have facilitated a fourth budget. This has proven to be the correct decision when one looks at the turmoil that exists across the water in the House of Commons, compared to the stability that we have here. That stability has given the space to the Government to be able to go out and negotiate with our European counterparts and with the UK Government.

Yesterday I was at a talk by the Right Honourable Ken Clarke in Dublin Castle who acknowledged the sensible approach being taken by the House of Parliament in Ireland in comparison to the ongoing charade in the House of Commons. While this morning and yesterday there has been reason for a little bit more optimism on Brexit than there was on budget day, even with the DUP putting up some resistance, the fact that the party is continuing to engage with the UK Government and that the UK, Ireland and the EU will work right up until 31 October to achieve a deal, is a good sign. It is imperative for both of our countries that a no-deal Brexit is prevented. When one looks at the figures for 2018, Ireland exported €16 billion worth of goods to the UK, which is 11% of our exports, and imported €20 billion worth of goods from the UK, which is 22% of our imports. The level of trade and interdependence between both countries cannot be underestimated. In saying that, while the mood music has changed, it is important that we continue to prepare for the worst-case scenario as our businesses and companies rely on that.

In that context, I was somewhat concerned about some of the proposals that came from the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, on the business supports. In particular - I raised this the following day in questions to the Minister - there are no grants available to small micro-businesses. The only supports that are available to micro-businesses are repayable grants and loans while larger multinational and larger indigenous firms will be able to avail of grants. It is important to point out that we must be able to support our smaller businesses by way of grants. Putting additional financial burdens on smaller businesses may not be the answer and may not help them overcome a difficult period. I hope a hard Brexit is prevented.

People sometimes forget that, even if a deal is achieved, it will only be the first phase. There will still be many more phases. While there will be a transitional period in which to work out a trade deal, what supports will exist for SMEs? They will still face many challenges under the transitional arrangements.

Albert Einstein once said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. The last Fianna Fáil Government was rightly criticised for over-reliance on transactional taxes, including stamp duty, and for using the yield for current expenditure. The problem was compounded by the international downturn and when the transactional stamp duty dried up, it led to corrective measures being more severe. I fear the current Government is poised to make the same mistake, but this time by over-relying on corporation tax. In 2011, €3.5 billion was taken in, which was 10% of our overall tax receipts. In 2018, the yield increased to €10.4 billion, which is 19% of all tax collected. More worrying, of the €10.4 billion, 45% was from ten multinational companies. This amounted to €4.7 billion from ten international companies in 2018.

What has been very positive in this regard is that both of the main centre ground parties have been consistent in their support of the corporation tax rate of 12.5%. The consistency and certainty have been a foundation stone in attracting foreign direct investment. We will continue to support this but we also need a policy that will attract the key decision-makers among the foreign direct investment companies, the multinationals. We need a policy that ensures the decision-makers of the companies will locate in Ireland. If the decision-makers of a company are here during a downturn, there will be a much better chance of the company weathering it and staying in this economy. In saying that, we need to consider rebalancing our tax base. We need to consider introducing much greater supports for our SMEs. The existing supports are not working. That is not a message coming from me but a message coming loud and clear from the SMEs and their representative bodies. I acknowledge there has been an increase in terms of the tax credit but it is still not on par with the arrangement for PAYE employees, despite there being a commitment to this effect in the programme for Government.

With regard to capital gains tax, the objective is to incentivise entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and to reward risk. Growing business creates additional jobs, which is good for the economy, but our lifetime limit of €1 million is paltry by comparison with the limit in the United Kingdom, which is £10 million. This needs to be addressed. Our research and development regime is laden with red tape. Only 2% of SMEs are availing themselves of the measure in this regard. That also needs to be addressed.

What really needs to be addressed is the high cost of insurance. I do not see the Government doing this with any sense of urgency. Fraud continues to be a major problem, and there are no repercussions. The number of claims paid out is a major problem, and there is no sense of urgency in dealing with it. The lack of transparency is a major problem. Despite a promise to have the national claims database on the record by 2018, we are now approaching 2020 and it still has not been done. Borrowing costs for the SME sector are 65% higher than in the rest of the European Union. That is simply not good enough.

Undoubtedly the commercial property sector will shrug off the rise in stamp duty given that demand is currently strong but I worry that this create a competitiveness issue in the longer term. There have been five changes to commercial stamp duty rates in recent years. This leads to uncertainty. While uncertainty will be accommodated in a buoyant market, it will become a competitiveness issue in the future. This needs to be examined.

The living city initiative was extended in the budget but, funnily enough, there was no funding allocated for the extension. This clearly demonstrates people are not availing of the incentive. It is not working and it needs to be reviewed so that more people will avail of it.

The rebate mooted for hauliers was misleading. It does not do what it says on the tin. This needs to be addressed in the Finance Bill.

The greatest failings of this Government are in health and housing. In the coming weeks, for the fifth time, I will bring a bus of patients to the North for treatment. This is a serious indication of how our health service is failing our citizens, despite the fact that there have been many supplementary health budgets. There could be no more vivid description of the housing issue than the description in this morning's newspapers of a five year old child eating dinner while sitting on cardboard on the streets of Dublin. While the Taoiseach tried to portray a loss of life in Cork as the fault of the victim, surely he could not convince even his hardened right-wing Fine Gael supporters that a five year old is to blame for being homeless. The Government is failing in so many areas. I look forward to the new year, when we will have a general election and the Government's contribution to society will be adjudicated upon by the wider public. I predict and hope it will rightly be issued with its P45.

If Deputy O'Loughlin wishes to contribute, she will have only two minutes.

I was to have seven minutes but I will take two.

I can control only what I have in front of me.

I accept that. My request was sent to the office.

If the Deputy takes two minutes now, that will be all the time she will have. She might want to wait until next week.

I will take two minutes now.

Since I have so little time, I will just refer to a few issues concerning education and equality. With regard to the budget's approach to the education sector, 150 mainstream teachers were announced but this will only cover demographic changes rather than provide a reduction in the pupil–teacher ratio. My colleague, Deputy Thomas Byrne, and I have raised consistently the need for additional supports for educational services for children with special needs. We have used our Private Members' time twice over the past six months in this regard. We are happy there has been some progress but the fact that one in four children with an intellectual disability is being put on a short school day illegally is absolutely appalling. Over 850 children with special needs across the country received home tuition in 2018 because school places could not be found for them. That is absolutely appalling.

We have discovered that €19 million seems to have disappeared from the capital budget of the Department of Education and Skills, despite the need for new schools, even in my constituency. I am not even talking about extensions. St. Paul's secondary school in Monasterevin comes to mind, and a new secondary school has been promised for Newbridge. The amalgamation of primary schools in Monasterevin and the needs of Coláiste Íosagáin in Portarlington must also be borne in mind. That there is less money in the budget is completely shocking.

That nothing has been done to address investment at third level is absolutely appalling. The Irish Universities Association reports a real deficit in core funding in 2019 of €138 million. There is a huge gap between what is provided and what is needed.

The Cassells report has been lying idle on the Minister's desk for four years despite the real concerns it highlighted about third level. The Minister has essentially said that he will not do anything to address the approaching demographic crisis. Instead, we have seen a solo run on third level fees over the past year, with a commitment to take no action on the Cassells report. That is not good enough.

We in Fianna Fáil have stated that a Department of higher education and research is necessary. Such a Department could not get away with leaving something like the Cassells report on a shelf for years. That Department should be established to change the relationship between the State and educational establishments. This situation is disappointing.

I am conscious that I only have a short time, but I will be able to contribute again later.

Debate adjourned.