National Surplus (Reserve Fund for Exceptional Contingencies) Act 2019: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann authorises the Minister for Finance, pursuant to section 6(1) of the National Surplus (Reserve Fund for Exceptional Contingencies) Act 2019 (the ‘Act’), not to pay the prescribed amount (€500,000,000) under section 5(2) of the Act into the National Surplus (Exceptional Contingencies) Reserve Fund for the year 2020 having regard to the fact that in accordance with section 6(3) of the Act the Minister is satisfied that, by reason of the exceptional circumstances posed by the public expenditure undertaken to remedy or mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 virus, the payment of the prescribed amount would place an undue burden on the public finances.

This motion relates to section 6 of the National Surplus (Reserve Fund for Exceptional Contingencies) Act 2019, which established a fund in the same name, more commonly known as the rainy day fund. The Act was commenced on 31 October 2019 and the fund was subsequently seeded with a €1.5 billion transfer from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, on 15 November 2019. I am seeking the Dáil's endorsement for a motion not to transfer the €500 million contribution for 2020 into the national surplus reserve fund.

Deputies will be aware that, under section 5(2) of the National Surplus (Reserve Fund for Exceptional Contingencies) Act 2019, the Minister for Finance is required to make a payment from the Exchequer of €500 million to the rainy day fund every year from 2019 to 2023. The Act also provides, under section 6, that in any given year, the Minister for Finance may make a proposal to the Dáil not to transfer that contribution into the fund. This proposal can be made that the Minister is satisfied on reasonable grounds that by reason of the existence of exceptional circumstances the making of the payment of the prescribed amount into the fund would place an undue burden on our public finances.

This year, we have indeed seen challenges to the State that are unprecedented in their nature. We have met those challenges with great determination, with resolve and with the use of more resources than ever before in our history. This has been made possible as a result of the careful management of our public finances over recent years which saw our economy grow during that period. It is also important to acknowledge that our preparedness for these more challenging times was also made possible through the support and solidarity of the European Union, particularly the leadership and work of the European Central Bank, and most importantly, through the hard work, dedication and resilience of the Irish people.

Following approval by Cabinet on Tuesday, 23 November, that I, as Minister, would not transfer €500 million into the rainy day fund in 2020, I am proposing this motion. I am satisfied that by reason of the exceptional circumstances posed by the pandemic and the needed public expenditure undertaken to remedy and mitigate the impact of this virus on our society, the making of the payment of the prescribed amount would place an undue burden on our public finances. The unforeseen impact of this disease has had a major impact on the level of public expenditure in areas such as employment supports, social welfare and public health. The Government has been able to respond swiftly and assertively during 2020. We were able to do this because we had the financial resources and the creditworthiness resulting from the budget strategy proposed and pursued over a number of recent budgets.

As a result of last year's budget, we entered 2020 with a surplus of €1.3 billion. Entering the year with a budgetary surplus also reaffirmed our reputation with the international bond markets as we needed to borrow further to deal with the employment and economic impacts of the pandemic. To date, the total value of support measures amounts to over €25 billion, mostly in the form of direct taxation and expenditure measures. Indirect measures such as credit guarantees have also formed part of the policies that we have used. Given the continuing presence of the pandemic and the economic disruption it continues to cause, the Government is committed to maintaining these supports for as long as they are required.

Accordingly, budget 2021 provided further stabilisation measures amounting to just under €12.5 billion. The measures can be seen working throughout the economy in supporting employment and businesses through the crisis. The €25 billion mentioned is in the order of eight times' last year's budgetary plans. We have never experienced a challenge like this in modern times. Equally, Ireland has never delivered such a strong response to a challenge. The scale of budgetary support in 2020 has been unprecedented and is among the highest in the EU and OECD.

Given the likely impact of Covid-19 on our public finances, it was clear from earlier this year that the making of the planned €500 million annual contribution was unlikely. This was signalled in the April 2020 stability programme update. This motion follows closely on the Cabinet decision on Tuesday, 6 October and the subsequent budget motion to withdraw the full €1.5 billion value of the fund to remedy and mitigate the occurrence of the exceptional circumstances for the State arising from Covid-19, in accordance with section 9 of the 2019 Act.

I want to reflect on the rationale for establishing the fund. The effects of the economic and financial crisis that began in 2008 were gruelling. Although we have made significant progress, there is no doubt at all that those effects are still felt today. The rainy day fund which the previous Government committed to creating in A Programme for a Partnership Government was an important plank of the policies that put our national finances on a sound and sustainable footing and built our resilience to external shocks. The rainy day fund was an economic buffer and support available for drawdown in the event of a sharp economic downturn. It allows the Government to mitigate the effects of the downturn we are experiencing at this time. In particular, it will allow investment by the Government to continue even if there is a sharp reduction in tax receipts.

We have experience of the great financial crisis of 2008 where, because we had no available resources, current expenditure was cut back severely and capital programmes came to a near complete halt as a consequence of that crisis. The result was severe in terms of the impact on Government programmes for many of our citizens and in terms of underinvestment. Our aim in establishing the rainy day fund was that, in the event of a future economic or budgetary shock, we could maintain our investment programmes, particularly our capital investment programme. The latter delivers the infrastructure that is required by society and the economy. Maintaining capital expenditure is also likely to support employment and help us to escape the recessionary cycle caused by sudden economic shocks. Expenditure on core capital programmes is to increase by €1.6 billion next year to €10.1 billion. This is the largest amount that has ever been allocated to investment in schools, homes and public transport. It is exactly the type of increased investment and expenditure that we were not in a position to make a decade ago.

The rationale behind establishing this fund, which enjoyed broad support across the political system, was to accumulate funding that could be deployed in the event of an adverse shock to the economy. That decision has been proven correct and we have seen the value of the fund. No one knew that the time of the fund's use would come so quickly. Nobody imagined the circumstances in which it would be deployed. The Government continues the work started under the two previous Governments to put in place policies to protect our public finances while continuing to invest in the infrastructure and services that are so important to our people. This approach helped to achieve a balanced budget and sustainable tax base before the advent of the pandemic. All of those steps put us in a much-improved position to plan for the medium and longer term.

I will conclude by reflecting on the decision to draw down the fund. From earlier this year, given the impact of the pandemic on the economy, I considered that the requirements of the fund had been met and that it was appropriate to draw down those resources. Due to a number of successful debt issuances by the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, earlier in the year, there was no immediate need for drawdown of the fund during the early months of the pandemic. Under the European system of accounts, the funds drawdown will not be counted as general government revenue and it will not improve the general government balance. Equally, when the money was transferred into the rainy day fund, it did not count as general government expenditure. The drawdown receipt by the Exchequer was used to offset funding requirements arising from budget 2021 and the need to support the increase in Covid-related expenditure. It was important that the fund was in existence to provide support for this expenditure. Similar to returns to the Exchequer from the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, using the rainy day fund meant the State has been able to provide for additional and much-needed support during this time without having to borrow more, thereby reducing the burden of repayment or refinancing costs on future generations.

The motion, which proposes not to pay the annual €500 million contribution to the rainy day fund is, of course, not preferable, but it is necessary. It is the right decision in order that Exchequer funds are available when they are most needed to respond to the crisis with which we are dealing. I want to be in a position again to build up resources in the fund to deal with potential future economic shocks, but doing so during the course of this unprecedented pandemic-driven economic crisis is not sensible. The issue of resourcing the fund will be a matter for Government to decide in the future, when it is appropriate. I commend the motion to the House.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an méid a dúirt sé ansin. Tuigimid ar fad gur in amantaí eisceachtúla a táimid mar gheall ar an bpaindéim. Bhí dea-scéal mar gheall ar an bpaindéim inniu le daoine ag fáil an vacsaín don chéad uair. Tá súil againn ar fad go gciallóidh sé sin go mbeidh deireadh ag am éigin leis an bpaindéim seo.

This motion authorises the Minister for Finance, in accordance with section 6(1) of the National Surplus (Reserve Fund for Exceptional Contingencies) Act 2019, not to pay the prescribed amount of €500 million into the national surplus reserve fund for 2020. This relates to the much-vaunted rainy day fund that was established by Fine Gael to burnish its image as a prudent manager of the public finances. It was also championed by Fianna Fáil in an attempt to restore trust in its ability to manage the public finances after it torpedoed the economy a decade ago. Despite being established in June 2019, three years after it was promised in the programme for Government, it still has not got off the ground and no money has been transferred from the Exchequer to the fund since it was established. Indeed, this same motion was brought before the Dáil on 17 December last year.

The only resource that has been transferred to the fund is the €1.5 billion, as the Minister indicated, that was transferred from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. This was a case of simply reshuffling resources from one account into another. That €1.5 billion has since been drawn down in response to the Covid-19 crisis, which was the right thing to do. The motion before us proposing not to transfer €500 million to the national surplus reserve fund is also the right thing to do. For that reason, Sinn Féin will support the motion.

Over the past year, the Covid crisis has brought unprecedented challenges to our health service, to our economy, as well as to the jobs and incomes of our people. It hardly goes without saying that 2020 will go down as an exceptional year in the history books. Not since the Spanish flu has the world been gripped by a global pandemic of this kind. It is only right and proper that the State brings all financial resources to bear as we combat this virus, attempt to regrow the economy, assist those who have been left without work since March, along with those businesses struggling as a result of this pandemic.

Today we glimpsed the light at the end of the tunnel with the roll-out of the vaccine in the North. It is a day of great hope and relief to see vaccines being rolled out. Today, Irishwoman Margaret Keenan, a grandmother of 90 years who lives in Coventry, became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 jab following its clinical approval. I certainly am looking forward to the opportunity to take the vaccine and to return to normal life, hopefully, as soon as possible. I hope we see the timely, efficient and equitable roll-out of the vaccines with appropriate staffing levels in the centres for dispersing them. I also hope these centres will be accessible for both rural and urban dwellers alike. We must continue, however, to put resources into contact tracing if problems were to arise. It is important we ensure all information about the vaccine is conveyed to the public in as a clear, concise and comprehensive way as possible.

Since the beginning of this crisis, Sinn Féin has said the Government must act fast and do whatever it takes to save lives, protect incomes and support our economy. Only by taking radical action can any long-term damage to our economy be avoided. Sinn Féin took issue with the provisions of the legislation which established the national surplus reserve fund. Section 9 of the legislation allowed for the fund to be used to transfer Exchequer resources to the banking sector, a provision we opposed at the time. We submitted amendments to ensure the fund would be invested in infrastructure, housing and capital infrastructure in our health service. Those amendments were rejected at the time.

The Minister referred to the importance of capital investment in these times. Today, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, referred to the importance of capital investment in order for us to build our way out of this crisis. This crisis has really laid bare the weaknesses in our health system, our childcare sector and our social safety net. The best response to crisis is a preventive response, ensuring resilience in order that our economy and society are well placed to respond to challenges when they arise. For Sinn Féin, our resilience is undermined by the deficiency in our health service and the serious failures of our housing system. These failures have been exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19. These challenges must be addressed to enhance the resilience of economy and society, ach, mar a dúirt mé ag an tús, táimid chun tacú leis an rún seo. Tuigimid go bhfuil sé fíorthábhachtach go mbeidh aon airgead atá ar fáil don Stát in úsáid chun déileáil leis an bpaindéim seo agus chun cinntiú go mbeidh tacaíocht ag gnólachtaí agus ag daoine ar fud fad na tíre.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Last year, the Government took the opportunity not to pay €500 million into the rainy day fund due to the threat we faced of a no-trade deal Brexit. We are conscious that this threat is still with us. To a degree that partly informs the Minister's consideration of the approach that we are taking with the rainy day fund this year and the motion before us.

My party's concerns over the concept of the fund, how and why it was established and the fact that seed funding for it was obtained from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, at a time when, in our view, that funding might have been better deployed in investment in public housing and public infrastructure, have been well rehearsed. The Minister will recall those points being made by our then finance spokesperson, Joan Burton, when the enabling legislation was brought to the House several years ago. We shared the concerns expressed by Sinn Féin colleagues opposite about the potential for moneys in the rainy day fund being allocated to the banking sector in the context of any difficulties that may arise on that front.

Nobody could have predicted that the world would stop turning in 2020 as a result of a global pandemic. Nobody could have foreseen the scale and the nature of the international response with the massive investment of borrowed, cheap money to keep businesses alive, services open and people out of penury, as well as to keep people safe. Everything has changed. The debates which took place here just a year ago may as well have taken place 20 years ago, such is the immense scale of change and uncertainty over the past ten months.

Today at the budgetary oversight committee, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council welcomed the fact that some of the economic strain of Covid-19 will be taken up by contingency and recovery funds. The council is concerned, as am I, that up to €8.5 billion of Covid spending, if one includes non-Exchequer funding this year, may end up in the base to be repeated year on year with no indication as to how the Government plans to foot the bill. Additional spending on health, for example, is required because the pandemic has certainly exposed and indeed exacerbated some of the existing deficiencies in our public health system. Sláintecare will also need to be paid for.

It is all well and good speaking of rainy day funds. However, when those who are charged with critiquing fiscal policy express their alarm at the transparency in government spending and how we pay for the kinds of services most of us in this House want to see evolve in the coming years, we should all take note. The over-reliance on volatile corporation tax receipts is extremely problematic. The Government needs to plan for how we meet this challenge on how we diversify our tax base.

The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council reminded the budgetary oversight committee this morning that the programme for Government commits to service improvements, while, at the same time, ruling out any changes to income taxes. That is a third of the total tax system, in terms of value, ruled out of financing our recovery and development in the coming years. We know economic growth will do some of the heavy lifting but not enough to deliver even on the existing service delivery commitments in health, education and so on that the Government has agreed, let alone any future commitments that might arise over the next couple of years.

A grown-up conversation needs to be had on tax and PRSI. Even organisations like IBEC, the primary representative of employers and business, is up for that debate. This is a debate, however, that the Government is incapable of having and certainly unwilling to have. Refusal to take this on, along with the question of designing effective wealth and asset taxes, will come back to haunt this country. It will also lead to questions over the sustainability of the Government's own plans for economic management and social investment going forward.

I thank the Minister for introducing this motion. It is appropriate and I fully support the concept that the rainy day fund should be used this year to deal with the significant crisis created by Covid.

Economic stabilisation is really important. However, while we are focused now on the urgency of dealing with Covid, we must also create space for embarking on what is a phase of truly transformative change that will happen in Ireland over the next ten years. In that time, we are going to have to halve our greenhouse gas emissions, which will involve truly massive changes in the way we live. We will have to accommodate the ageing of our population, which will result in the number of workers per retired person go from 2.5 to fewer than 1.5, on its way down to well below one in the years after that. Our cities outside of Dublin will have to grow at twice the rate of Dublin. We are going to have to cope with Brexit, Covid, and digital change. This is massive infrastructural change on a scale we have not seen. There will be massive policy change and massive behavioural change. This requires that we now prepare to be able to undertake this change on an unprecedented scale. We have an opportunity with the review of the €120 billion national development plan, the new national economic plan and the €5 billion contingency the Government has set aside over the coming 12 months. We must use this opportunity now to design new policy tools that are adequate for the scale of the challenge we are embarking upon. At the end of this decade, we must have a resilient enterprise sector and a resilient public service that can meet much higher expectations in the midst of this massive change. We must enjoy a higher standard of living for our people, having made the change.

What will be at a premium is our capacity to adapt very rapidly in policy terms. We need to speed up if we are to achieve this. We have seen many cases where needed change has been delayed unnecessarily. We have not always been able to seize the early mover advantage. We have done so in many key enterprise sectors but not generally in some of the more traditional sectors and in the public service itself.

We have to deliver a number of critical factors now if we are going to be able to undertake change in a much more rapid manner. There is the issue of legitimacy and at the heart of the next decade of transformation, we need a new social contract. It has been articulated in the programme for Government and it must be given new life. The type of threats people will encounter during this period of rapid transformation will be very different. Ageing throws up particular difficulties. Dealing with greenhouse gas and changing behaviour throw up particular difficulties and they will focus on particular communities. The concept of consultation will have to be strengthened. Our planning process gets bogged down in endless delays, even for infrastructure that is recognised as very needed. We have to find a way of breaking the logjam that has become a feature of our system. Some of the elements are there. Our success with the Citizens' Assembly in climate and many other areas shows us the way. Climate dialogue shows us the way. We need to move to a planning system that can embrace more negotiated portfolios of developments for our cities, sectors and land use throughout our community so there are community gains that can easily give capacity to deliver big projects. Our present system is far too adversarial and we need to think about how this will be changed.

We also need new capacity in the public service to deliver at scale and at pace. This is something we have found difficult to do, most notably in areas such as housing and health. We are beginning to see the seeds of the new approach. The Land Development Agency is a new groundbreaking approach, whereby the State will take the role of shaping the nature of development in our country. The national broadband plan points a new way to how public and private can co-operate to scale ambitious objectives and deliver them in a timely way. There are other large capital projects for which we must now mobilise. For example, the State needs to lead the way in offshore renewable energy and commit now to building a platform for this, which we have not yet done. We must undertake to have the capacity to do land use planning in a more strategic and long-term way than we have done in the past.

I am disappointed that the preventative unit in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has been wound down. Never has it been more important that we start to think about long-term preventative policies. The closing down of the unit is a mistake. We need to invest massively in leadership at every level in the private sector and, most particularly, in the public sector, building the capacity to lead, and have honest conversations about what we are trying to achieve and how to bring about improvement. This is something we have not been good at and we need to make the time available for it.

We need boldness in action to match the boldness of the ambition we are undertaking in terms of transformative change. Shakespeare described Macbeth as being not without ambition but without the illness that should attend it. We have a problem in that we are very strong on ambition in this country but without some of the capacity to undertake the changes that are necessary to deliver it.

Another area where we need to plan for massive change is regulatory infrastructure. There will be significant changes in the expectations of the financial system as it starts to invest in long-term green technologies. This needs to be built into the regulatory environment. Our managing of data and how they are used needs a new regulatory infrastructure. Our capacity to protect citizens at this time of difficult transition needs strengthening.

The Minister is handling in an extraordinarily competent way the challenges we are facing. Ireland has been fortunate to have had the steady hand we have seen at the tiller in the Department of Finance. Now the challenge is to plan, and to find the space to do the planning for the long-term future in this period of transformative change. Space has to be created in the public service to do this long-term planning in a way I do not think we are now equipped to do. These are changes in the way we manage assets in this country, the way invest in them at scale, the way we mobilise private investment and the way we regulate and deliver the sort of community we want to build. These need considerable thought, time and effort in our public service. People are working hugely and urgently to deliver in the short term and we need to find space to do important thinking for the future. I would like structures to be put in place that can allow this thinking and make sure we are ahead of many of these challenges that are coming on us at a very fast pace. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute on this important matter.

I welcome the motion. Sinn Féin opposed the establishment of the rainy day fund because we believe that when the country is in the middle of a housing crisis with a healthcare service on its knees, schools crying out for funding, people scared to leave their homes because of a lack of gardaí and roads that are not safe, we do not need to put money away for a rainy day because we are in the middle of a rainy day. We need to invest in housing, healthcare, schools, gardaí, childcare and roads.

Ever since the rainy day fund was established, the Government has proved it is simply only good optics. No money has been transferred from the Exchequer into the fund. This is because even Fine Gael knows money is better spent elsewhere. We fundamentally disagree on where the money should be spent. While Fine Gael focuses on vulture funds, bankers and big business, I believe we should invest in people and services. We want to come out the other side of this pandemic and get back on our feet again. When we do so, we want the establishment of a united Ireland for everyone. With the launch of Sinn Féin's document on the economic benefits of a united Ireland, of which I have a copy if anyone would like to read it, we see it is the best way forward for our country.

Ending partition and uniting Ireland would open doors and create opportunities for all the people on this island, especially ordinary people. A united Ireland would be an Ireland for everyone. That is why I think we should put an end to the optics and to the rainy day funds that mean nothing, and that we cannot put money into anyway. Let us focus instead on creating a shared Ireland that works for the people. Instead of dismissing this idea, the Minister should read the document and he will see for himself that there is merit in our arguments, and that the best way forward for this country and this island is unity.

I heard Deputy Bruton describe financial matters and how the Minister is doing a great job. I represent the people of Cork North-Central. For 20 years, we were promised another hospital. This was a promise made on medical advice and based on the medical requirements and needs of Cork city, but we still do not have it - we have no hospital on the north side of Cork city. We have no northern ring road. We have no infrastructure to bring jobs to Cork North-Central. We cannot even get traffic calming measures. We have a huge waiting list with regard to children waiting for assessment of needs. We are looking for money. If we are going to have extra money and if we are going to invest, we have to invest in ordinary people to make a difference to their quality of life. I want to work with the Minister. I hope the Minister will take this document into consideration.

On behalf of the Social Democrats, I am glad to participate in this debate and to say that, as a party, we very much support the motion. It simply would not make sense to do otherwise or for the Government to consider transferring a huge amount of money into this fund. We welcome the clear decision in this regard.

There is no doubt that we are in a situation where unprecedented spending is required. I support the Government in what it has done to date in regard to the response to Covid, both in terms of the health response but also, of course, the response in respect of providing income support for the many thousands of people who have lost their jobs or have lost hours and work as a result of Covid, and also the substantial funding that has been provided to support the business community in this extremely challenging time. We support the Government in the action it is taking in regard to this decision and, indeed, the decision last year also not to transfer €500 million on the basis of the challenges faced by the country in the context of Brexit. Those two decisions are absolutely right.

The twin challenges that face the country with the unimaginable perfect storm that now exists regarding both Covid and Brexit are certainly unprecedented and pose the most enormous and unbelievable challenges for us. At this stage, there needs to be a rethink on previous decisions that were taken in respect of this fund and it is good that is happening. However, the fact that we are discussing this and that, for the second year in a row, the decision has been taken not to support the rainy day fund gives rise to significant questions about the existence of the fund in the first place.

I would like to raise the question of the decision made by Government to draw down the existing €1.5 billion which was in the fund for the purposes of budget 2021. On the face of it, it looks as if this is exactly the kind of unexpected occurrence for which the fund was intended. That is the case, in theory at least, but we need a lot more information regarding how that decision actually stacks up. The Minister referred to having access to that substantial amount of money and not needing to borrow €1.5 billion as a result of that drawdown. However, there are other questions in respect of which it would be helpful if we got some more information. As we know, the NTMA had invested that money and it was getting a return on it, so it would be interesting to hear exactly what that return was. In the context of a situation where money can now be borrowed very cheaply - at zero interest rates, or to some extent at negative interest rates - it would be very interesting to know whether a cost-benefit analysis was done on that decision. It would be helpful if, in his wrap-up speech, the Minister provided information as to how that stacks up in the context of what interest was being achieved on the fund, and what could have been done if a decision had been made to leave the fund there and borrow at those very low interest rates. I would be interested to hear the answers to some of those questions. That kind of detail was not provided to us at the time the decision was taken.

Apart from that, this debate raises questions about the rainy day fund itself. Given the very constrained grounds on which the fund can be spent, does it make sense to put money aside for situations which are unprecedented, although I absolutely accept those unprecedented circumstances have arisen this year? However, we have to ask would we be better off putting money aside for what is the generally accepted rainy day situation, where unexpected funds coming from corporation taxes are put aside for counter-cyclical measures to be put in place at a time when we have a dip in the economy. Would it make more sense to put that kind of money aside in the context of an infrastructure fund? The Minister has not actually said what his intention is for the future of the fund, which would be interesting to hear.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak in support of this motion and, indeed, in support of this concept. For everyone in Ireland, 2020 has been an unprecedented year. After years of preparing our businesses and the economy for the threat of Brexit, we also faced a new challenge in Covid-19 and the economic ramifications that followed. These twin threats have had an immense impact on every aspect of all our lives - our businesses, our finances, our mental health and our families. When the Covid crisis hit Ireland, it became clear that extraordinary actions would be required to protect our citizens. The Government took the necessary action to shut down large sections of our economy, when necessary, in order to save lives and protect our health service and our front-line workers. It did so effectively and, as a result, we are now in the position of having one of the lowest - if not the lowest - rates of Covid-19 in Europe.

While this was the correct decision, it came at a great cost to our economy. Of course, the main goal of these restrictions is to save lives and protect the health service. Many thousands lost their jobs or saw their income decline. Many businesses closed permanently and the damage was felt around the country, with no corner untouched. GDP fell by 6.7% in the first and second quarters of the year, although this was less severe than the decline seen in the rest of the eurozone, in the UK and in the US. While these restrictions have saved lives, they have had a serious cost to the economy, so measures have been put in place to limit such damage as much as possible. We have certainly been supported by our colleagues in the European Union through this crisis but much of the support is down to our own fiscal prudence in recent years. Indeed, the Government has committed to keeping supports in place for as long as they are required.

We must remember that the reason we have been able to respond to the pandemic so quickly and without hesitation is because we had the financial resources in place which allowed us to do so. We started 2020 with a surplus of €1.9 billion and a rainy day fund of €1.5 billion. The economy was healthy and growing steadily. There were many challenges but we were able to put the health of our citizens at the forefront of our crisis response. It was because of this that we did not immediately need to draw down on the rainy day fund during the first months of the pandemic. When it became clear that more restrictions were required, the decision was made to utilise these funds for budget 2021. By using these funds, we do not have to borrow more on the market. Although Ireland has a high credit rating on the market which means we can borrow at an affordable rate, we always have to be cognisant of burdening future generations with excess debt.

It is available to us but we should not take advantage of it.

As we look towards the end of the Brexit transition period in a number of weeks, although we still do not know whether a deal will be agreed between the EU and the UK, this rainy day fund will become even more important. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, deemed it appropriate to draw down the rainy day fund for budget 2021 to ensure that the needs of people, businesses and the economy can be met. Budget 2021 has been designed to protect Ireland from the twin burdens of a no-deal Brexit and Covid-19. It is the largest budget in the history of the State with more than half of spending going on Covid supports to see the economy through this crisis. A recovery fund worth €3.4 billion was included to allow the Government to react swiftly to the challenges that may arise from Brexit and the continuing challenges of Covid-19.

With January fast approaching and many details of Brexit still largely unknown, this fund will be of huge value to businesses, employers and, crucially, the individuals involved therein. Customs charges, tariffs and fees will possibly be a new reality for all Irish businesses and although the vast majority have prepared for those changes to the best of their abilities, issues will appear over time because it is impossible to be fully prepared for Brexit, particularly when we still do not know the exact form it will take. However, we are now able to reach these issues as they arise and without hesitation and, in doing so, we were able to support our businesses as best as possible.

We have the ability in this country to react to a constantly changing world and ensure that our citizens are not left behind and are supported at each step. When the rainy day fund was established in October 2019, Covid-19 did not exist and Brexit was still some time off. Little did we know just how valuable this fund would be to Ireland. The prudence shown by this Minister has been vitally important. All those who received the pandemic unemployment payment, Brexit supports or training or who availed of the employment wage subsidy scheme did so with the support of this fund.

Although we are not in a position to contribute to the rainy day fund this year, it is because of this fiscal responsibility that we have protected our economy. When we are past these crises and are in a position to build up the fund, we will once again be able to put our economy in safe hands. I have to stress that. I have reacted to comments from some people who say they object to the process of a rainy day fund but in the past few months, we have seen the importance of it. I fully accept that while we are not in a position nor should we aspire to contribute to the fund at the moment, it is of vital interest to the country that we continue to prepare the next phase of the rainy day fund as soon as possible. We have seen how important it is to every single individual in this State and how much more important it will be as we move forward.

Fiscal responsibility and careful management to ensure that we always have a life jacket when we need it is always important. There will always be challenges in an economy in every sector. There will always be decisions to be made by responsible finance and public expenditure Ministers but at the heart of that must be a commitment to a rainy day fund that provides that protection, that life vest, so to speak, at difficult times when we need it. We have very much needed it in the past few years and we cannot put any future eventuality or difficulty solely into the hands of the global economy. The markets are favourable now but they may not be in the future. We have continuing European solidarity but Covid-19 has hit all of Europe and those resources might not be available if something as drastic as a pandemic, albeit one like this has not been seen in a century, occurs. We never know what the next challenge will be and ensuring that we have that level of security and decent, common sense is vital. If we were running a business or a household we would always have a little extra put aside in case a rainy day occurred. If it is good enough for every household and every decent business in the country, it is the responsibility of any Government to ensure that we can meet any potential difficulties in the future. In that regard, I implore the Minister to reinvest in a rainy day fund when the opportunity arises.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. I have to put it on the record that when this rainy day fund was first announced and we were on the opposite side of the House, we were not in agreement with it because it was more of a rainy day fund for the banks rather than health, infrastructure or housing. However, it is amazing how matters have changed in less than 12 months.

I listened to many Deputies who spoke in the debate. In terms of the Minister's contribution, I commend him on how this time, he has taken on board the issues of all the Irish people. Towards the end of his contribution, he stated "Similar to returns to the Exchequer from the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, using the rainy day fund meant the State has been able to provide for additional and much-needed support during this time without having to borrow more, thereby reducing the burden of repayment or refinancing costs on future generations." That is an important sentence because we know what happened with the bank bailouts a number of years ago. It is us, all the people of the island, who are suffering.

I want to throw around a new idea because this is a worldwide pandemic and we are all in it together. I am veering slightly from the motion but has anybody ever mentioned a European or a world debt write-down on this because we are all in it together? We have to acknowledge the fact that this is a great deal of money. The gross spending for 2020 that was voted on was approximately €70 billion. As that has now increased to approximately €86.5 billion, there will be much flipping and flopping with the figures on the Minister's side to try to balance those books.

To get back to the reserve fund, all of us seem to agree on it and are supporting it in the House. However, I believe the reserve fund needs to be re-examined and tweaked, whether by way of amendments or whatever, to ensure that it will be a specific emergency fund. We should be putting money into it for when an emergency arises in health, housing or whatever. There are other ways of being prudent. Some people might say that the Minister got lucky with the way this fell but I do not believe that is the best way to describe it.

We welcome the fact that this fund lessens the burden on the people of this country. We welcome the fact also that we have come to an agreement in the House and shown that things can be done without having to shout across the floor at one another and that we can communicate with one another because all of us were elected here to work for the people we represent. However, when this pandemic is over, I urge the Minister to look at this rainy day fund again because we have to have two choices. We must acknowledge that even before this rainy day fund was set up, we had, and still have, emergencies in housing, health and across many other structures, whether it is mental health, infrastructure, jobs or issues with schools. If we can come into this House and agree on measures now and plan for the future, even on this specific fund, I believe we will be here again saying that we will agree on that.

As a member of the budget scrutiny committee we were engaging with the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council today and it pointed out that the significant expenditures related to Covid-19 and, previous to that, Brexit, that led the Minister to defer the plans to put €500 million into the rainy day fund were part of a trajectory of debt, even though it approves of the Minister's decision to make them available, as do we in the Opposition, for which we would have to pay the piper at some point in time. The way it put it was that hard choices were coming, not immediately but in the medium term. I think we all know what hard choices means. Hard choices means austerity or raising taxes. That means we have to really think about those consequences and decide which way we will address that problem. The choice the Minister has made for now is to borrow. As I said, we agree with the decision. In fact, in terms of the increases in capital and current expenditure, we would have gone further.

We did not need Covid as an excuse to do some of the things that we have now had to do, particularly having to increase the capacity of our health service, invest more in housing and so on. Nonetheless, we agree with the countercyclical, emergency approach to dealing with this crisis. How do we finance it in the medium to long term? How do we make those hard choices? The approach that the Government has taken is borrowing.

The alternative that we have argued for and that we have seen put into practice, with a tax that is almost a cut and paste from People Before Profit's pre-budget submissions for the last few years, has now being imposed in Argentina, and not by a radical left Government. A Covid solidarity wealth tax has been introduced, which is on wealth and assets in excess of £1.8 million sterling, which is quite a high threshold, on the richest 12,000 people in Argentina. They expect that it will raise 300 billion pesos. That money will be spent on health, relief for small and medium enterprises, social developments and so on. There will be slightly higher taxes for people who have wealth and assets kept outside the country. It is a fairly middle of the road regime adopting a policy that the Government regularly dismisses as being off-the-wall left-wing economics. That should give the Minister pause for thought. While the Fiscal Advisory Council does not pronounce on specific measures, when I asked it directly if we need to look at these options and if it is legitimate to look at wealth taxes as a choice to deal with the debt situation that is developing, it said that we need to start to look at these things.

I will put it simply. If one borrows, one is borrowing from people who have much surplus money, with interest. If one introduces wealth taxes, one takes the surplus money off them. Which is better value for us, borrowing from very rich people with surplus wealth who make more money from having surplus wealth, or taking it from them with taxes to equalise the distribution of wealth and to fund needed social services, infrastructure and so on? I put it to the Minister that it is the latter and the decisions that he has had to make here are indicative of a fundamental change away from austerity economics and debt-financed spending towards redistributive wealth taxes.

A number of speakers from Sinn Féin have already said how we support this motion. Although I do not think the Minister needed to have it pointed out, they have also put on the record that we were not necessarily supportive of it previously, in the sense that we saw deficiencies in infrastructure and housing, which are major issues that need to be dealt with. The fact is that it is a rainy day fund and it would be madness to put money into a rainy day fund at this point when we are in the middle of a flood and need a financial ark. The supports are all necessary to ensure that we maintain businesses, people and society as we understand it. Beyond that, we will need to look at stimulus because there will be fallout. We know the pain that people have had, both individually and collectively, over this period. We need to ensure, first and foremost, that we get through this gap as healthily as possible and when we are in a safer, better place, following the major roll-out of vaccines, that we can stimulate the economy and ensure that we do not enter into an unnecessary recession.

I welcome the Government's action plan regarding insurance. It is fair to say that the insurance sector was impacting negatively on businesses, community organisations and so on long before the pandemic. I welcome what the Government has said about it. It is talking about bringing down the costs for consumers and businesses, introducing more competition into the market, preventing fraud and reducing the burden on business, community and voluntary organisations. Many businesses, voluntary organisations and community centres have been priced out of operating by public liability insurance. We need all the solutions that are offered and we need to ensure that the Government follows through on everything, whether that is replacing the book of quantum with the new guidelines with appropriate levels of personal injuries awards or enhancing the role of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. There are a number of positive actions to be taken. The Government will look at the disgrace that is dual-pricing. This is all necessary.

We are dealing with this issue at the same time as the pandemic and while we are unsure what Brexit will look like. It depends on which news cycle one sees. There have been some positive sounds from the British Government but we do not know exactly what we will deal with. Even in the best case, we have no certainty about matters such as vaccines being delivered via the landbridge. We have heard about the difficulties for hauliers with regard to contingency plans in Britain. We have difficulties here, with the port companies talking about possibly using Dublin Port Tunnel and other infrastructure as parking bays. We need to see a full audit of all contingencies, accepting that we do not know for certain what will happen, and we need all necessary supports for these three issues.

Aontú is a party of fiscal and social responsibility and these two policies are often presented by the Government as opposites, but they are not. One can be fiscally responsible and socially responsible at the same time. It is possible for a country to provide for housing, health, education, transport, communications and the environment and yet be fiscally responsible. This simply means that key resources are provided consistently and fairly. It also means that expenditure is carried out in the most efficient and effective way. If one looks at the history of this State and the history of the parties that expound the most the idea of fiscal responsibility, one is actually looking at the political parties that have crashed the country financially. Looking at expenditure, the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan are examples of decisions and deliveries which are not fiscally responsible. They are fiscally irresponsible in a gross fashion in that they went substantially over budget.

In the 2000s, Fianna Fáil dressed itself up as the party of economic and fiscal expertise, while at the same time it drove the country off an economic cliff. Fine Gael also dressed itself in the clothes of fiscal responsibility. However, it continued to bail out the banks even after the EU stated that bail-ins were the logical thing to do. When the EU said that the Cypriot bank bail-in was the right thing to do, Fine Gael continued to deliver the old system of a bail-out with a significant cost that we are still paying today.

Fine Gael allowed for significant fiscal exposures to continue too. We have a substantial dependency on foreign direct investment. Foreign direct investment is positive and we welcome it, but our country is far too heavily dependent on foreign direct investment and indigenous sectors have never been developed to the extent that they should be. In most countries, foreign direct investment is considered an interim strategy to get the domestic economy to a level at which one can depend on economic activity being mostly produced by indigenous enterprises. This Government has also allowed us to become dependent on corporation tax from ten different companies.

The chief financial officers, CFOs, of ten individual companies could radically determine whether or not we have a big hole in our budget on an annual basis or policy in the United States could change radically. We have a big fiscal financial exposure also in that level of Government policy.

I will give another example. In the past number of days, I have learned of the indemnification of the vaccine. Hopefully, he vaccine will be the key to getting our country back to normality. It may well be the case that the Government will logically indemnify that process given the massive costs if it does not. However, nobody knows in this Chamber who is indemnified, how much they are indemnified for and the potential cost to the State. This particular issue has never been discussed. It is incredible that the media and political space is consumed on the issue of tweets at the moment, yet what could be hundreds of millions of euro of potential costs to the State has never been discussed properly in this Chamber.

Deputies have been kept like mushrooms, in the dark and covered, unfortunately, with manure.

Maybe so. The Government, in fiscal terms, took the wrong decision in the level of stringency it pursued on the lockdown. This country was the sixth most strictly locked down country on the planet. Some 96% of all countries on the planet decided to have a less stringent strategy. This was despite the fact that we had the second lowest level of Covid-19 in Europe. One will say, correctly, that those two things are dependent upon each other. We have the second lowest level because of those stringent restrictions. That would be wonderful had there not been a massive cost in health, finance and society terms. Very few people are discussing this issue. Given the history of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, I have no doubt we are heading towards a 2011, 2012, and 2013 situation here. There is no doubt there will be significant cutbacks in expenditure over the next number of years to achieve balanced budgets and to make some effort at ordering the runaway debt that this country has entered into over the next while. When one measures that, it does not lead to a view that this Government has been fiscally responsible.

This is called a rainy day fund. It is raining on many people already. Some 56 homeless people have already died in this State this year. This is much more than last year or the year before because we have not built the homes for them. Some 844,000 people are on our healthcare waiting lists. There are 612,000 people on outpatient waiting lists. We are talking about cancer, heart disease, stroke and mental health. If the Government is willing to put that money into a rainy day fund and willing to allow that level of ill-health, that means that the Government is actually making a financial statement. It is saying that it tolerates this level of homelessness and ill-health because it has the money but is going to put it into a rainy day fund. It is lashing rain on hundreds of thousands of people in this State and we need to ensure that we focus these moneys as soon as we can towards ameliorating their existence.

Táimid ag bogadh ar aghaidh go dtí an Rural Independent Group with Deputies Mattie McGrath and Richard O’Donoghue, sharing.

I understand from the motion that exceptional circumstances exist and that a payment of €500 million this year would place an undue burden on the public finances. Some €9 billion is being made available from the European Central Bank, ECB, through the pillar banks as a stimulus to businesses in the economy. Where is the money going? The ECB has given this to the Irish banks.

Let us look at the Irish Government loan guarantee scheme launched in September 2020. Some €2 billion of this was administered by the pillar banks and it is due to expire in December. The total amount withdrawn from this is €60 million. The pillar banks have only given out 3.5%. The available money that was borrowed at 0% should be used. There was never a better time to put money into the Irish Infrastructure Fund. Take a leaf out of Michael O’Leary’s book where he purchased aircraft during the biggest slump that ever hit the aviation sector. Spain has borrowed €890 million to fund a 282 km high-speed train connection, creating 17,000 jobs. Ireland is lagging behind.

We are in exceptional circumstances as other Deputies have rightly said and it is raining down on the whole world. We need to have people who will invest in our infrastructure so that our infrastructure can invest in us. Covid-19 has shown the lack of amenities in Ireland in broadband services, infrastructure and earlier on today we heard an Taoiseach, Deputy Martin, speaking about bringing people into the towns and villages where there is infrastructure. We do not have infrastructure in Limerick. Askeaton is waiting 30 years for a sewage system and Oola is waiting 20 years for one. The Government is trying to encourage people into towns and villages where there is no infrastructure. I ask for investment to be made in Limerick and in the future of our country and the country will invest in you. This comes from a business background. I am in business all my life and if I do not invest, there is no future for me. I ask the Government to invest in rural Ireland.

I too welcome this motion. Certainly, we cannot invest the €500 million at this time to be used in the rainy day fund. It is foggy tonight but it is raining every day. I think the Minister is in the fog and is hiding behind his mask because he has handled this economy appallingly with his Thatcherite policies by allowing the banks to run away and do what they like, like a runaway train. Deputy O’Donoghue has just outlined what they have done. They are not giving out the money and should not have been given or have got their greasy paws on the funding that we got from the European Central Bank because they have failed the people. They are fleecing them. There are evictions and every type of bullying and intimidation being carried on in our systems. The children’s hospital will be some monument to the Government, if it ever gets built. If the whole Government fitted inside it a time capsule could be put over it and see how it goes. The national broadband is a fiasco and it is fiasco after fiasco.

On Minister's pay, it costs over €1 million a year to keep the Minister in his job, between himself and his advisers. Can he not think or talk for himself without having so many advisers? I question the whole lot of ye: ye have plundered this country and economy. The Cabinet yet again today signed off for judges and even for party Whips to get a bigger allowance but it turned down and would not pay the nurses last week. It clapped for them but would not pay them. History will not be kind to this Government in the way it has the building houses as if it was building sand castles on the strand at the seaside. If one builds them there they will at least wash away in the tide but the Government is not even building them to get washed away in whatever kind of rain is going. If it was raining money the Government would be out with its umbrella turned upside down to see would it send it away. This is the kind of economics the Government is operating on. None of ye ever ran a business in your life; they know nothing about running an economy or a business.

That is the sad part about it but the saddest part of all is that they know it all. They do not take advice from anybody else; they are superior people. They clung on to power this time and said that they did not want to be in government but they are back in government to keep Deputy Martin in place just because he wanted his shot at the top job and the Tánaiste then gets back in the next time. History will not be kind to this Government when one considers all the people who are homeless and are sick on waiting lists. The way the Government handled the Covid-19 pandemic is nothing short of a disgrace. It thinks that it has money to fire away for everything. It will indemnify all the big pharma companies and to hell with anyone who will have an issue with or is injured by a vaccine. The Government will give them nothing but will look after the big people and to hell with na daoine beaga. I would say something that may be unnecessary and I will not say it but it starts with a “b” and ends with “l”. That is the way it is. Go raibh maith agat.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta. Táim ag bogadh ar aghaidh go dtí an Grúpa Neamhspleách agus an Teachta Pringle.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle. The rainy day fund of €1.5 billion was already drawn down for budget 2021. The initial plan to set aside €1 billion per year has already been reduced down to €500 million per year due to the exceptional circumstances of Brexit. Now we have the further exceptional circumstances of a global pandemic. We had to have this motion not to pay the prescribed amount put before us.

Many of us in opposition argued at the time that the €1.55 billion and subsequent annual amounts would be better spent on much-needed infrastructure. We asked for housing, schools and actions to address poverty. This year, we have seen that the underinvestment in housing has exacerbated the spread of Covid because so many live in cramped and overcrowded accommodation. We hear about schools thinking about taking more time off over the winter because they do not have proper ventilation systems to keep teachers and students warm and safe.

In January 2019, during the Second Stage debate on the National Surplus (Reserve Fund for Exceptional Contingencies) Act, Fianna Fáil claimed it had the rainy day fund idea in 2015. In that debate, the now Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, said to the current Minister for Finance, "I am sure the Minister will take the advice of the NTMA, which will have delegated authority in this matter, that at least some of the fund could be put on longer term notice so there may be some return available for the fund to be delivered." I am sure the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, is now glad the Minister for Finance did not take his advice. We would not even have access to these needed funds if he had.

For decades, majority Governments of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have misspent public money. There is plenty of money in the country but their priorities are all wrong. Recently, in our lacklustre efforts to address climate change, we agreed to pay €50 million to Estonia and Denmark to make up for us missing our target. The statistical transfer of 3,500 GWh of renewable electricity had to be paid for. What other fines will we have to pay the EU for missing our agreed targets?

I said in other speeches during the term of this Dáil that the Covid-19 pandemic has already highlighted the inequalities in our society. The normal social protection payment of €203 per week — for the disability allowance, for example — was deemed far too low for those who were temporarily laid off. They were to get €350 per week. I am not saying that the pandemic unemployment payment should have been lower; I am saying our basic protection payments should be higher. Our student nurses and midwives could be paid as well.

This week saw the publication of the results of the Fundamental Rights Agency's survey on the lives and conditions of Travellers and Roma in six EU member states, namely, Ireland, France, the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium. The survey found that 31% of Irish Traveller households are living in acute poverty. Of the six countries, Ireland's poverty rate was the highest. Surely that is an embarrassment for us all.

In September 2020, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's online conference on tackling child poverty before and after Covid-19 highlighted the level of food poverty and hunger in single-parent households, calling it tragic. At the conference, the CEO of One Family, Ms Karen Kiernan, stated her organisation had never dealt with so many food and hunger issues. She said:

Everywhere people with children were talking about families being hungry. They have had bigger food bills because the children were at home.

Before Covid, many schools had breakfast clubs and school meals, but these safety nets fell away when schoolchildren were staying at home.

On that point, the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality is meeting online and continuing its important work. On Saturday last, 5 December, it met to discuss the following topics: identify and dismantle economic and salary norms that result in gender inequalities, reassess the economic value placed on work traditionally held by women; and scrutinise the structural pay inequalities that result in women being disproportionately represented in low-pay sectors. The assembly is doing important work in exposing the gendered aspects of our policy decisions. The presentation showed that because our tax and social welfare systems are based on the male-breadwinner model, they are more likely to leave women in poverty when they reach pension age. Dr. Adele Whelan of the Economic and Social Research Institute presented research showing men have an average weekly pension income of €433, compared with just €280 for women.

At the beginning of October, the ESRI's quarterly report highlighted the disparities between the domestic economy and the export economy, showing that exports held up quite well during the Covid pandemic. The author, Dr. Conor O'Toole, stated:

[In] 2021, we are facing the perfect economic storm of a no-deal Brexit coupled with ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. While a rebound could be expected next year even with public health restrictions, any recovery would be stopped in its tracks by a no-deal Brexit.

The first day of January is fast approaching. The perfect economic storm is not of our making and we will have to brace ourselves for it, but, as usual, it will be the most vulnerable, the many, who are left out in the rain. The rainy day fund of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party was only ever meant for the few with the big golf umbrellas.

I thank Deputies Mairéad Farrell, Nash, Bruton, Gould, Shortall, Richmond, Buckley, Boyd Barrett, Ó Murchú, Tóibín, Mattie McGrath, O'Donoghue and Pringle for their contributions, all of which I listened to and noted. The contributions of the Opposition Deputies caused me to reflect on where we stand now regarding the challenges we face and how we have equipped ourselves to be ready for them. Opposition Deputies and my Government colleagues focused on the challenges we are currently dealing with, namely, the prospect of a no-trade-deal Brexit and the ongoing challenge we face in keeping our country safe from Covid, but while these are the challenges that are uppermost in our minds, there are, as Deputy Bruton noted in his contribution, so many other challenges approaching that will be great in scale and will require change in our society and economy but that will also create opportunities and prospects for our country that we must seek to pursue. Those challenges are great. They concern climate change, the use of technology, the changing nature of trade, and the potential for future change in respect of corporate taxation, for example, and international taxation. However, what struck me so strongly when listening to the contributions of most Opposition Deputies was that we are now in a position to borrow huge amounts of money at interest rates that are among the lowest in the European Union. There are two reasons for this, the first concerning the role of the European Central Bank and the different approach it has taken to how this crisis needs to be managed. The second concerns the creditworthiness that our country has regained because of how it managed its public finances in recent months and years. On listening to most Opposition Deputies, I noted that the very approach that has helped us in recent years to borrow at such low interest rates continues to be rejected by the Opposition today.

Deputy Gould referred to representing the people in his constituency and to their needs. I represent people in Dublin Central who have exactly the same needs. It is the case that we have been better able to protect the most vulnerable at a time of such great challenge because we entered the crisis with our public finances in strong condition and with a regained perception that Ireland is a country that is creditworthy. That has mattered in facing this challenge. As I heard the debate unfold this afternoon, it appeared to me that there were a couple of dividing lines. The first concerns those who believe the great challenge of Covid, which has caused so much death and difficulty and such harm to so many, has exposed all the weaknesses in our public services. There is little doubt but that there were many challenges within our public services to which we had to respond quickly as a result of dealing with Covid-19 but, on the other hand, we saw our gardaí, hospitals and schools all respond to the huge challenge. Even in our darkest days of Covid-19, earlier in the year, our public health services and those who work in them responded with success in helping our country to contain the terrible disease and minimise the number of people who were getting sick from it and losing their lives. Every life lost was a life lost too many, and every person who got sick due to Covid-19 was a person too many, but our public services responded in a way to help us, as a country, deal with the disease that I contend showed their strengths.

The Opposition contends it was a demonstration of weakness and of what more needed to be done.

The other side of the argument regards the future of our economy. Speaker after speaker said, broadly, that they disagree with the rainy day fund being set up and are glad that I am not putting a deposit into it at the moment.

That is not what we said.

That is what Deputy Gould said. He said that the Sinn Féin policy was that it disagreed with the rainy day fund being set up and is glad that a deposit is not being made in it at the moment. That is the Sinn Féin stance on the matter.

That is because we want to spend.

That is a perfectly legitimate political point of view. Of course it is and I am not disregarding it as a point of view. However, it is reflective of the fact that in response to budget after budget and during the general election campaign, Sinn Féin stated clearly that it disagrees with the policy I was pursuing to balance our books and have a surplus. It is precisely the approach that we have taken in recent years that has now been of great help to Ireland as we have needed to borrow billions of euro quickly. The approach that I took is one of the reasons why the interest rate we are paying on our debt and the new debt we are incurring is low in comparison to many other European Union countries. The Sinn Féin response to that will refer to the role of the European Central Bank. I acknowledged the role of the European Central bank earlier in my speech. It is not an institution that Sinn Féin has had much good to say about either.

A debate will ensue regarding where we go after the decision we make on the rainy day fund. The decision that we are making now is the right decision. It is the right decision not to be depositing in the rainy day fund this year. It is also right to ensure that if we do make deposits in the years to come, they have to take place at a time when our deficit is declining and our tax revenues and employment are increasing. I believe that is the right point for those deposits to begin again in the future.

There are those who take a different view and say that we need to continue with massive borrowing. That again poses the contradiction that I believe is at the heart of that approach. Those who tend to advocate higher and higher borrowing tend also to be those who warn about the dangers of the financial markets. The more one borrows, the more reliant one becomes on the financial markets. It is also the case that if I put forward any measures to use tax as a way of reducing our need to borrow, the same people are opposed. In the most recent Finance Bill, Sinn Féin opposed the carbon tax. In the debate on the Bill, Sinn Féin made it clear that it wants to oppose the local property tax. I have no doubt at all that if any other measures are brought forward in the future, they will be opposed. The hypocrisy of it. Sinn Féin stands in front of the people and tells them that it wants to tackle climate change because it recognises there is a climate crisis and yet it opposes the single form of taxation that scientists and experts on climate change say we need to implement. This is the debate that is to come.

I believe that we will have an economy that will be able to recover. I believe that recovering economy will be able to deal with many of the funding challenges that we will have and many of the needs that are there. Our country has shown its ability to respond to a crisis of this scale by carefully looking after our financial affairs. We will have to make choices in the future regarding how we ensure our national finances become safe again. Those will be choices and debates that we will contest and debate in this House.

Deputy Bruton quoted Macbeth in his earlier contribution. Perhaps it is appropriate for me to quote what Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar when noting that:

There is a tide in the affairs of men

Which, taken at flood, leads on to fortune.

He also noted:

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures.

We have seen a great sea change in the environment within which our country has to look after its people in 2020. While there has been suffering, harm and loss of life due to this pandemic, I believe that the way we have run our economy in recent years has allowed our country to respond in a way that has no precedent in its economic history. The question is whether we want to rebuild our ability to do that again in the future. I believe we should and while I note and appreciate the Opposition's support for the motion we will pass later this week, it is also clear to me where the debate will lie.

Question put and agreed to.