Financial Resolution No. 7: 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 relation to finance.
-(Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation)

This Government got this budget very wrong and badly let down hundreds of thousands of workers, families and small business owners. Sinn Féin would have done it differently and we set out how last Friday when we published our alternative budget ahead of the Government's budget. We would have built up greater capacity in our health services and, critically, we would have started to work to rebuild our country in a better, stronger and fairer way. Budget day saw no relief for people who saw their PUP cut. It saw no relief for renters and nothing delivered for families paying the highest childcare costs in Europe. In fact, for motorists who cannot afford to go green, we saw increased costs by means of the increased carbon tax the Government announced.

There was a much-trumpeted increase in the arts budget, but is it a once-off, a Covid contingency? If it is, then that is welcome, but that also means that it will evaporate this time next year and we will be back to a much-underfunded arts budget once again. The €50 million for the live events sector depends mainly on restrictions being lifted to allow live events to go ahead again and would mainly benefit the very large companies capable of carrying out large, socially distanced Covid-ready events. It is a welcome boost for those who work in that sector and who were facing going to the wall without some support. I am not denying that.

However, there is nothing in this budget to help the thousands of artists and live entertainment workers whose PUP remains cut and who are dependent on the original temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, which was also cut. These are workers whose mortgage arrears are building, whose utility bills are piling up unpaid and who have no work and none likely in the near future. They are not allowed to work and the Government reduced the supports for them at that very time. What does that say? Many of these workers will find themselves even worse off than they were on Monday, possibly even cut off from the tax warehousing and Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, which were announced, putting them even more on the back foot. Clarity is needed for those workers and an emergency hardship fund needs to be established to ensure funding and supports get to where they are needed and needed most.

I leith na Gaeilge, ní bheadh mórán Gaeilgeoirí ag gearán faoi airgead breise a bheith caite ar an nGaeilge nó ar an nGaeltacht. Ní chóir go mbeadh an tAire agus an tAire Stáit ag maíomh as seo más rud é go bhfuil an méadú seo ceangailte díreach le Covid-19 agus muna gcuirfear leis an mbuiséad an bhliain seo chugainn. Tá go leor imris i gceist leis na figiúirí atá tugtha dúinn. Is dona liom an tslí ina gcaitheadh le Foras na Gaeilge arís i mbliana. Tá €1.7 milliún curtha ar fáil don Fhoras Teanga, ach níl a fhios againn cé mhéad den airgead sin a rachaidh go dtí an teanga sin darbh ainm Ultais. Sa deireadh thiar thall, ní bheidh ann do na príomheagrais Gaeilge ach pinginí i gcomparáid le roinnt de na heagrais eile. Ní bhfaighidh Údarás na Gaeltachta ach pinginí i gcomparáid le Fiontraíocht Éireann nó IDA Ireland. Ós rud é go bhfuil sé léirithe go minic ag lucht Údarás na Gaeltachta go bhfuil siad in ann poist a chruthú ar bheagán airgid, ba cheart go mbeadh i bhfad níos mó maoinithe ar fáil dóibh, go háirithe i gcomhthéacs Covid-19. Má tá géarchéim ann sa Ghaeilge agus sa Ghaeltacht, ba chóir don Rialtas i bhfad níos mó airgid agus i bhfad níos mó tosaíochta a thabhairt don teanga agus d'earnáil na Gaeilge ná mar atá leagtha amach sa bhuiséad seo.

This week we had a budget like no other. The total budgetary package announced this week came to in excess of €17.75 billion. Budget 2021 represents the largest investment in the history of the State. The budget deficit for 2020 will be around €21.5 billion and next year it will be about €20.5 billion. The national debt level for 2020 will be around €219 billion. The words "shock and awe" come to mind, but this unprecedented budget is absolutely the right one for these unprecedented times. Covid-19 and Brexit, be it deal or no deal, pose a real threat to livelihoods and to our economy generally. The budget is rightly based on the assumptions of there being no EU-UK trade deal and that the virus will be around for all of next year. For the first time in many years, the budget has been broadly welcomed by a wide range of interest groups, and that is noteworthy.

An allocation of €4 billion extra has been made to the Department of Health. The budget provides for an additional 1,146 acute beds. Currently, there are around 11,000 acute beds in place. In addition, a permanent increase in adult critical care beds, from 255 pre-Covid to 321 by the end of 2021, will be delivered. As the second wave of Covid-19 gets under way, it is vitally important we have enough capacity in our ICUs.

People are genuinely concerned about the situation and want to be assured there will be an ICU bed for them if they need it. The progress made in the budget is most welcome but this investment needs to continue in future budgets. Currently, Ireland has fewer than six ICU beds per 1,000 population; the European average is 11.5. The Irish Medical Organisation is calling for 550 intensive care and critical care beds to be provided. Some reports have indicated that approximately 580 permanent ICU beds are needed. ICU beds are expensive. They must be accompanied by highly specialised staff, including anaesthetists and critical care nurses. I am pleased that approximately €1.8 million has been provided for the training and education of the staff who are needed.

I understand negotiations are taking place with private hospitals for an additional 130 ICU beds to increase our surge capacity. This is the correct approach. The wholesale takeover of the private hospitals earlier this year was, in hindsight, a mistake and caused a lot of problems throughout the health service generally. In the weeks and months ahead, we need to continue with non-Covid procedures and have ICU capacity to facilitate this. ICU capacity in the acute hospital system must be increased for the long term.

I refer to foreign direct investment, FDI, and multinational companies. We hear talk of a K-shaped economic recovery whereby the multinationals continue to grow while the domestic economy has collapsed. FDI is an essential component of the Irish economic model and it has worked very well for us since the 1960s. Multinationals employ approximately 250,000 people and they pay 79% of all corporation tax. Multinational employees pay 45% of all income tax receipts. We are very fortunate that income tax and corporation tax have held up well despite Covid-19. In 2020, just under €7.5 billion was received in corporation tax receipts. This revenue has been vital in paying for the Covid-19 crisis.

Sinn Féin in its alternative budget proposed to take €720 million in corporation taxes from multinational companies. This is a most unwise proposal. These companies do not have to locate in Ireland and instead they must be encouraged and supported. The OECD recently proposed a new global maximum tax rate for multinational companies. This is the so-called pillar 2 reform. Reform of corporation tax is needed and the OECD is the place to deal with this at a global level. No doubt this process will pose problems for Ireland but we can respond to these challenges in a pragmatic way as the situation unfolds.

I welcome the proposals brought forward in the budget on education. There will be a further reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio at primary level by one point, providing from more than 390 mainstream teaching posts in addition to the more than 265 posts being recruited for to meet pressures throughout primary and post-primary levels. This is most welcome. The allocation for education in 2021 is an unprecedented €8.9 billion.

I also want to refer to the housing budget outlined earlier this week. An additional €500 million is being directed towards capital expenditure. This will facilitate the construction of 9,500 new social housing units in 2021. A total of 12,750 units will be added to the social housing stock, including leased units. I wish the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, well in his endeavours. As I have said previously, he has hit the ground running. There are concerns about how long it takes for proposals to be sanctioned by the Department and I know he is dealing with this issue. I also welcome the fact that a practical affordable housing scheme, whereby people can fill out their application forms and apply for specific housing units, will be announced in the coming weeks. Certainly during the recent general election the big issues were housing, health and education. These three areas have been given significant attention in the budget and I have no doubt progress will be made as a result of the allocations made in budget 2021.

It is a regular occurrence that Opposition Members stand up and say the budget is a missed opportunity but the reality is we are operating in a scenario whereby everybody is coming up with plans, whether budget plans, plans for Brexit or roadmaps for opening, but then we come to the old quote that everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth. This is where we are at present. The one thing we need to ensure is that we have the capacity to deal with the problems we are about to face. We have all had many discussions on ICU capacity. I have a fear the budget just does not give what is absolutely necessary. I accept we are not starting in a good place. We are actually starting from behind. This is something that will have to be addressed soon.

We have also had multiple conversations about test, trace and isolate. Even today, we have an issue with air travel. It is necessary that we put in place the capacity at test, trace and isolate level and that we look into various means of rapid testing being part of the system alongside PCR testing to deal with some of the shortfalls. We have all heard many anecdotal stories about people not being contacted for six days, during which time they did not realise they had been in contact with somebody with Covid-19. The impact of this is that we are dealing with the large numbers of cases we have throughout the island. We need to put a structure together that can attack this problem. It is as simple as that.

I also call on the Government moves not only to deal with the traffic light system for air travel but also, alongside the airport and even the airlines, though some of them have their own sins at this point in time, to come up with systems that do not impact on our community testing regime. We need this connectivity as an island nation. It is as simple as that.

With regard to housing and the budget, the truth will be in the telling, which will simply be when there is a reduction in council housing waiting lists and people being able to get an adequate supply of affordable mortgages or affordable cost rentals. We have to look at all of this. It is as simple as that. We have stated we believe the proposals are insufficient but it is all about building houses. We are talking about council-led house building..

I have talked about the necessity for capacity across the board in the health sector. There are difficulties in nursing homes. I will use this opportunity to ask once again that the Minister and the Government consider the point of view of the families who during the pandemic lost 22 people in Dealgan House in Dundalk. A recent freedom of information request revealed damning stories. A document stated the situation was critical with 71 residents completely dehydrated and that there was a risk of renal failure after one or two days of dehydration.

It went on to state that on 17 April, Dealgan House could not deal with the basic care of patients. Something dreadful happened here and we need to ensure it will not happen again. We need answers for the families.

I responded to the core parts of the budget on Tuesday evening and will focus now on how it will do nothing for workers. I will speak particularly about three different groups of workers in a struggle, the first of whom are the Debenhams workers. They have now been involved in a dispute with their former employer for more than six months, since they were thrown on the scrapheap in a tactical insolvency. Incidentally, it was a tactical insolvency that the company was able to carry out because of the failure of the previous Government to implement the recommendations of the Duffy Cahill report.

Since then, the workers have mounted effective pickets and protests, fighting for what they are owed and for what had previously been agreed with Debenhams, namely, a redundancy package of two weeks per year of service on top of the statutory requirement of two weeks. There is more than enough stock to pay for that redundancy with a substantial amount left over but KPMG, the liquidator, refuses to pay that and, instead, made an offer that was extremely insulting for the workers a month ago. That offer was rejected by all the shop stewards, and KPMG then withdrew it but refused to come back to the negotiating table. Incredibly, KPMG brought the workers to court on Tuesday, where it was awarded an injunction against effective picketing by them.

The Debenhams dispute has always been a struggle for all workers, because it is about how workers are treated, the ability of companies to get away without paying their debts to workers and who will pay the price for the coronavirus crisis. That is even more the case now because the dispute is about the right of workers to wage and engage in effective picketing. The workers have, in effect, been told they cannot engage in effective picketing. The problems with the Industrial Relations Acts, which need to be repealed, are being exposed in this dispute. It is vital, therefore, that the entire trade movement and workers in general stand behind the Debenhams workers, continue to engage in effective picketing and refuse to allow the stock to leave the stores because it is simply the only leverage they have.

I have a warning for the Government. If KPMG follows through and attempts to use that injunction to prevent effective picketing, workers - most likely mothers and grandmothers - will be sent to prison, probably in the next week or two, because they refuse to be treated this way by KPMG and Debenhams. The Taoiseach has stated repeatedly that Debenhams, as a company, has treated its workers shoddily. If the workers end up in jail because of the Government's refusal to put any pressure on KPMG to come back to the negotiating table and to make a serious offer, the workers who are put in prison will feel themselves treated very shoddily by the Government, and there will be a substantial political price to pay.

The second group of workers is those at DAA, formerly Dublin Airport Authority. The 130 craft workers rejected overwhelmingly, by more than 85%, a proposal for supposedly new ways of working. These "new ways of working" are a euphemism for getting rid of demarcation and dramatically changing the workers' rosters, which would effectively double the numbers of weekends and overnights they have to work without getting any allowances for any of that work, such as for being on call or for overtime. The workers were correct to reject this proposal but the response of this semi-State company was outrageous. It put the workers on 60% time, not even over three days a week but spread over five days so that the workers cannot claim unemployment benefit for the days they do not work. I praise the workers for rejecting that deal and standing up to a bullying campaign by management. I support them in their struggle to refuse to accept this or to allow the company, in the words of one of the managers, "to end the unions at Dublin Airport", because I think that is the intention.

Finally, I express my support for school secretaries. They are vital at any time for the running of our schools but at this time, in particular, their importance is being demonstrated. The discrimination against the vast majority of school secretaries who are not directly employed by the Department of Education and Skills is quite outrageous. The workers earn €12,700 per year and have to sign on for the summer. It is simply unacceptable and all of them should be directly employed by the Department.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 3.56 p.m. and resumed at 4.21 p.m.