Fiscal Responsibility (Amendment) Bill 2019: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2012 to allow the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council to review the policies and proposals of opposition political parties in advance of each Budget and report on whether their approach is conducive to prudent economic and budgetary management.

The Fiscal Responsibility (Amendment) Bill 2019 would see Opposition spending demands and fiscal proposals scrutinised by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, ahead of every budget. As my colleague, Deputy Peter Burke, outlined earlier this year, Fianna Fáil made spending demands worth €4.35 billion in the first six months of this year alone, which motivated me to introduce this Bill. Given the chance, Fianna Fáil would lead this country down the path to financial ruin again. Its only clear policy is more spending demands at every juncture.

The absence of coherent, well thought out policies from the Opposition was made clear when Deputy Colm Brophy recently noted that just five out of 22 Fianna Fáil Front Bench TDs have produced policy papers since 2016, proving that Fianna Fáil is an empty vessel which lacks policies for a range of issues including Brexit, health, housing, broadband, climate, jobs and childcare.

Fine Gael on issues-----

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Irish Fiscal Responsibility Act 2012 to allow the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council to assess the policies and proposals of Opposition political parties in advance of each budget and to report on whether their approach is conducive to prudent economic and budgetary management. This assessment would be published no later the second Monday of September each year. I previously raised this issue at the Committee on Budgetary Oversight with both the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and the chairman of IFAC, Mr. Seamus Coffey, who suggested that this assessment should be implemented in Ireland in line with other European countries where it is general practice. Independent, expert analysis of Opposition spending calls and financial policies is important in order to keep the public well informed. I would be surprised if anyone in the House disagreed with that, unless it did not suit certain Opposition purposes.

This is important now more than ever, in the face of the Opposition's constant stream of spending demands which it seems to pluck from thin air to hide the fact that it has no plans or solutions. Members of the Opposition promise spending to every interest group and lobby group they meet, with no plans on how to do provide that money or balance the country's finances, for which they are not held to account. Despite Fianna Fáil calling for €24 million of increased spending every day for the first half of this year, not a single Fianna Fáil representative has yet explained how the taxpayer would fund its reckless spending pledges. Deputy Micheál Martin has been asked about this on many occasions but instead of answering the pertinent questions, he has resorted to deflection by claiming we are being juvenile and childish. The Deputy and his party's TDs may think that making wild spending calls day in and day out is a trivial matter, but voters do not share that view.

Giving a body such as IFAC the power to examine all Opposition spending calls will ensure that this type of cynical politics is held to account and shown up for what it is. When I called for Opposition parties' plans to be assessed by IFAC, Fianna Fáil dismissed it as childish. However, in 2015 Fianna Fáil introduced its own Private Members' Bill, which in Deputy Michael McGrath's own words, would "mandate the Fiscal Advisory Council to carry out analysis on behalf of qualifying political parties on the effect that manifesto proposals would, in the opinion of the council, have on the budgetary position of the State in advance of a general election" and would also "be extended to pre-budget proposals on an annual basis." That Bill fell at the last general election and despite having spent a number of years in continued opposition, Fianna Fáil has, perhaps unsurprisingly, failed to reintroduce it.

This Bill is about ensuring that when promises are made to different interest groups, the cost of such promises and how that money would be raised are clearly explained. This ties in with Fianna Fáil's lack of policy on a range of issues. Deputy Micheál Martin has proposed a series of housing initiatives over the last month which simply do not stack up. Some are against the law or are un-implementable while others are already in place. Other proposals are vaguely costed and Fianna Fáil has yet to give us an idea how it would pay for them. Even more worryingly, two of the measures Fianna Fáil is proposing are illegal. It has now been more than 600 days since Fianna Fáil promised to publish a housing policy. In that time, we have delivered thousands of homes. We were told that Fianna Fáil was totally opposed to the national broadband plan, though it was very much in favour of bringing broadband to every house. It did not explain its plan for delivering broadband but insisted that its delivery was a priority. When the contract was signed by the Government last week, Fianna Fáil quietly dropped its bizarre opposition to the most significant investment in rural Ireland in decades.

This Bill is about improving accountability on all sides of this House and our Parliament. In this Dáil term, many people are looking to see whether this new politics is an improvement or whether it is even very different at all. This Bill would force Opposition parties to live up to their responsibility to the public and ensure that if they promise billions of euro of extra spending, they must be able to say from where that money will come. That is the simple purpose of my Bill, which I commend to the House.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.