Appropriation Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

In my contribution last night I touched on the carryover into 2022 of an unspent €800 million. I also highlighted many issues in Waterford. Although I wanted to keep the observations to a national context I am afraid the announcements overnight force me to do otherwise. The Department of Transport's support package of €108 million to regional aviation bypasses Waterford Airport yet again. Not alone do we not get any money out of the total €160 million package but the Department withdrew €350,000 in stopgap funding while we were waiting the development of a new runway, subject to An Bord Pleanála permission. The funding was withdrawn despite Waterford Airport being the busiest private flying airport in the country, despite it seeing significant expansion and the recent announcement of the Atlantic Flight Training Academy, and despite that a planning application was pending with An Bord Pleanála. Two weeks ago, at the transport committee I asked a principal officer for a response on why Waterford was being excluded. I am still waiting on that. Is Cork the preferred location for a future Rescue 117 contract? It appears to be what this policy is stating.

With regard to our hospital services, I have highlighted to the Minister and colleagues the failure of the South/South West Hospital /Group to expedite the appointment of 24 whole-time equivalents to cardiology to expand the hours. We are still at 39 hours per week. It is the most underfunded model 4 hospital, with the third longest waiting list, in the country. There are 1,000 fewer whole-time equivalents than in Limerick and 2,000 fewer than in Cork.

Waterford Institute of Technology is still waiting for an announcement on the capital funding the Minister has in mind despite it being announced for its equivalents in Dublin and Cork two years prior to their designation. It has been confirmed that the college cannot borrow from the European Investment Bank to support student teaching spaces and only student accommodation. In the meantime, an engineering block promised since 2012 looks like it will not be delivered before 2025 or 2026.

It is hard to understand all of this in the context of the programme for Government citing Waterford as a centre for expansion in the south east. I refer to Deputy Ring's speech in recent days. How does a public servant get sacked in this country? Everybody in the Government tells me they are trying to initiate policy to support Waterford in the south east. I can only conclude it is being held up within the Department. If we are going to issue new Covid certificates perhaps we should develop a new national certificate for people from the south east so we can clearly delineate them from the rest of the population and discriminate them as we are with regard to funding in the region.

If developing Waterford and the south east is a significant part of the programme ,why do we suffer procedural delays that do not attach to any other capital project? Why do we suffer endless financial reviews and project reviews while others skate on unhindered? I could certainly point to where the €800 million could be spent in the most underfunded region in the country.

Fianna Fáil will fully support the Bill. It is an essential element of the financial housekeeping that must be concluded by the Oireachtas within the calendar year. The passing of the Bill will authorise in law all of the expenditure undertaken in 2021 on the basis of the Estimates voted through by the Dáil during the year. The passage of the Bill will also ensure payments funded from voted expenditure in 2021, such as the housing assistance payment, jobseeker's allowance, disability allowance and the non-contributory State pension. We also have nurses' pay, teachers' pay and all of the other pay and pension funded from voted money that can continue to be funded throughout 2022.

I will use the remainder of my time to reference some of the outliers that remain. The past 18 months have recalibrated how we see front-line workers. Now the person working in the supermarket is seen very much in an heroic aspect. Prior to the pandemic perhaps we would have considered their role quite apart from someone in the fire service or the Garda. They have been very much on the front line throughout the pandemic. It is the same for teachers and those in the early childcare sector. Many people have been cogs in a massive wheel keeping our country functioning during a time of crisis.

As we negotiate our way through Covid, pass the Bill and look at maintaining pay levels for our public servants, there are a few issues we need to examine. We had a good announcement recently by the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, that fourth year student nurses are to receive a 12.5% pay increase for their hospital placement. This is good and right. They are falling into line and helping us through a crisis period. There is also the two-tier pay system in the teaching profession for entrants to the profession after 2011. On average, they earn €4,000 less per annum than colleagues who entered prior to 2011. I was a teacher until the general election. It was wrong that the teacher across the corridor from me was earning on average €4,000 less per annum. Cumulatively across her career if this is not rectified there will be a discrepancy of income of approximately €100,000.

That is wrong, given that we are doing the same job and lifting the same load every day. I know talks are under way to advance this but it needs to be a major priority to wrap up all of that in 2022.

The same applies to the early childcare sector where talks are ongoing and there is positivity, I believe, in that regard. This is also something we need to look at because I spent a number of years in Mary Immaculate College training to be teacher. The lecture hall beside me had people doing early childhood studies. There were so much overlap in the training modules that we are doing that we just ended up going down different career paths, that is, primary school teaching versus the early childhood sector. What we take home in pay cheques, that is, teachers versus those in crèches and preschools, is incomparable. Once and for all, we need to acknowledge the highly skilled and valued work of people in the early years sector. I know that efforts are being made by Government, but in 2022 when we all make new year resolutions, this should be the year that we look at those who fell into the front line, who kept as buoyant and who kept the country upright during the Covid-19 pandemic, and do the right thing by their salary and pay conditions.

Overall, the Bill will not be the most exciting business to go through the Dáil this week but it is necessary. It is functional and will allow all of the payment streams from Government to continue without too much kerfuffle and for that reason I imagine it will pass here without too much debate or dissent. I thank the Ceann Comhairle and Minister.

Glaoim ar an Teachta Ó Laoghaire agus tá trí nóiméad aige.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle. This legislation represents necessary housekeeping that has been identified and it is a constitutional requirement that relates to the mandate and powers to ensure that money is expended. As a general point, this pandemic has taught us about public spending and the role of the State and that, contrary to some of its critics, it is capable of being agile, responsive and innovative when required and when the political will is there. That is not to say that all public expenditure can be clumsy and careless but it does provide a response to some of the critics who believe that the State is inefficient. The pandemic has proven that that is not the case and that the role of the State is crucial.

I will raise a number of areas of expenditure, some of which are areas the Minister will be sympathetic to and will potentially have been working on himself. It is important, nonetheless, to give them an airing. He will be aware, when it comes to capital expenditure, of the plight Cork Educate Together Secondary School finds itself in. We were both there when it was officially announced in 2016. The position in that school has been continuing since then. I do not need to fill the Minister in with the details as if it had been another Minister I might have needed to do so. We have a situation where the Department is spending €80,000 to €90,000 a year on school transport to take students from the south side to the other side of the city. It is very frustrating for the school, in that only half a class can do art, they have to go to Collins’ Barracks for physical education, PE, or to the Glen Resource Centre as the school has no PE facilities itself. There is a great deal of time lost in education because of the time spent travelling. It is vitally important as I know that this is not just about funding. Some of this is about the State’s ability to plan ahead, identify where there is going to be population growth, have the work done in advance to know where a school will need to be built and to have that part of development done. I urge the Minister to continue working with the Minister for Education to have this delivered as soon as possible and to bring that nightmare to an end.

I welcome the €13.7 million additional funding for Cork Airport. On funding for aviation, we need to be aware that the recovery is not going to happen over a year or two but potentially over three or four. Although these undertakings will also need to carry their own water, additional supports will be needed from the State for three to four years to enable all our airports to recover. Cork Airport is crucial to our own region.

I wish to raise briefly in the last few seconds I have left the issue that was raised this morning regarding the assessments of need of 4,000 children. It has a great impact, not only on their quality of life but on their ability to reach their full potential. This has been dragging on for far too long. There have been so many false dawns in how we address this. It urgently needs to addressed because many children are losing out and their potential is being undermined by their failure to get the assessment of needs and the services that are necessary to follow it.

The Bill will authorise in law all of the expenditure that has been undertaken in 2021 based on the Estimates that have been voted on by the Dáil during the year. The moneys that have been voted on are brought forward and made into law. I am sure that there are many wish lists at the end of year for all parties concerned. Housing, certainly is one for the first-time buyers, the trader-uppers and the downsizers, and social housing and the homeless are paramount for the years ahead.

Another wish list would be for accountability in the health system. Ursula von der Leyen earns €351,000 per annum and answers to 447 million people. Paul Reid earns €426,000 per annum and answers to 5 million people. He oversees a broken health system that has not improved over the past 12 months. University Hospital Limerick. UHL, has topped the poll in eight weeks out of ten for overcrowding. How many intensive care unit, ICU, beds have been created through this time? When are the waiting lists going to be dealt with? When is the trolley crisis going to be dealt with? Where is the value for money? As I have continually said there are loads of rules and regulations but nothing is enforced or there is no accountability.

Research has proven that the problem is not the increase in the attendance at emergency departments; it is the bottleneck in the flow of patients to the rest of the hospital system from the emergency departments.

I believe the Minister is a good one. I have been self-employed from a very early age. If I ran my business the way the health system is run by some of the people there I would have been out of business. I was accountable for my business and to my family that my business would work, and I was accountable to the people who I employed. They did the same for me. I am thankful that I have the same people with me at all times and I treat them like family. We are family because we support each other. I hate that in my county of Limerick I see our hospital being top of a poll for overcrowding eight weeks out of ten. On my first day in the Dáil, I asked for a business model for hospitals and for a bed structure to be put in place and to go back in time to when the rounds were being done. Beds were being released at 11 o’clock after rounds. It then gave the opportunity for beds to be cleaned and put back into the system by 1 p.m. and it created a flow of people but it also gave infrastructure for nurses and doctors within the hospitals. They knew what beds they had and on what time they would have them. It gave a structure.

I have asked for an audit system on the hospitals. Some of the public hospitals are working very well and others are not and I need help to sort this out. The Government has thrown money time and again at this and has created massive buildings with similar technology and it has not fixed the problem. This is a management problem. Management needs to be held accountable for this situation.

I will move on to something that I have spoken to the Minister about, which is looking to the future to make provision for people working then. I brought this up with him in connection with the wage subsidy system that is unfolding at the moment. I said to him that 11,000 people will be affected by not qualifying for the scheme because the restrictions that were put in place are at 71% or 72% of their turnover in 2019, which means they will not qualify for the scheme on 1 January as one has to qualify by 31 December. If we take the hotel industry, it has lost €250 million of bookings because of Government Covid-19 restrictions.

Businesses have lost bookings for November and December that they needed to carry them through January and February, when they do not have bookings, to be ready for March and the tourist season. They have not lost only two months; they have lost four months. The hospitality sector has invested in outside dining for customers to meet guidelines but it has been hit twice by new guidelines. This is the second Christmas this has happened. Does the Minister know any other business that could survive losing its Christmas trade two years in a row?

Yes, the Government did help. The employment wage subsidy scheme was the best thing it has done. However, 18% of the hotel industry, with 11,000 people, will not qualify now for a wage subsidy. The Minister may say they can qualify for the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, but the problem is it is very difficult to get people who were in receipt of the PUP back into the industry in which they were working. To me, it is the same figure that can be made accountable for this. I read a news headline just before I came into the Chamber. An Irish company that delivers Mercedes-Benz vehicles into this country got €108 million in wage subsidies. It will cost €7.5 million to protect 11,000 jobs in the hotel industry, not to mention the hotels themselves, and future-proof tourism in Ireland. I have asked the Minister, Deputy McGrath, to go to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. He stated he would do so. I have asked it of other Ministers in the House. People are telling me the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is looking backward; he is not looking forward. I am in business. I know that when you are in business, you have to look forward and move forward.

This is about 11,000 jobs. It would cost €7.5 million for them to qualify to be on the wage subsidy scheme. Businesses in other sectors have been on the wage subsidy scheme all year because they did not meet their targets. Some business came off it because they projected they would reach their target, but some of those businesses are not affected by Covid because they can still work and the projections have not been interfered with. The hospitality sector, however, is the one sector that has been affected twice. I am pleading with the Minister to save 11,000 jobs and future-proof the hospitality industry by putting in €7.5 million for the sector so the wage subsidy scheme can go ahead for businesses that do not qualify because they have gone marginally over the limit.

I have been raising the issue of fuel costs in the House in recent weeks. I even highlighted it by bringing a truck onto the grounds of Leinster House. My secondary school maths might not be as good as that of many Deputies but I know how to add, multiply, subtract and divide. By my calculations - I am not out by much - the Government has taken in €8 billion as a result of the extra tax increase on fuel since January 2020. I calculated the figure on the basis that an average car burns €100 worth of fuel, which is approximately 12 gallons. The price of fuel has increased by 19 cent per litre. On the basis of 2.2 million cars, it works out at approximately €1.2 billion in extra tax. I then considered the truck industry. There are approximately 40,000 heavy goods vehicles, HGVs. I worked out that figure as well, which is €1.6 billion. The light goods vehicles, that is, vehicles under 3.5 tonnes, of which there are 338,000, account for €2 billion. The balance is accounted for by the agricultural sector - the tractors that are used to put food on our table, set crops in the ground and feed animals. It adds up to €8 billion in extra tax.

I stood with farmers in Musgraves the other day. I met them to hear their concerns. I have met the IFA and other groups and heard their concerns. We all need to consider how we can improve things. I do not believe farming is the problem in the context of emissions, much as the Government states it is the problem. I believe the statistics put forward by the Government are wrong because it has not allowed for putting slurry directly into the ground. There are different sectors of it that have not been allowed for, so the statistics are wrong.

I want to save the planet. Ireland accounts for 0.01% of the issue on the planet but we have more sanctions than any other European country. The sanctions imposed in Ireland are the highest in Europe. The Government statistics go by head of population, using a figure of 5 million people, so we are higher. Everyone in the world wants products from Ireland because we have the best grass, milk, beef and freshly grown vegetables. That is why everyone wants Irish products. However, the Government is pricing Irish farmers out of the market. It is pricing the future generation of farmers out of the market.

I will finish on this. I implore the Minister, Deputy McGrath, and his Government to ask the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to see common sense and save 11,000 jobs in a sector where businesses have lost four months of revenue. The Government should not be short-sighted. If the scheme is to be amended for those workers only, that is fine. I want to save 11,000 jobs and I am using common sense. When you consider the billions of euro the Government is taking from people on fuel alone, let alone the extra tax it is taking on food, clothes and shoes, the €7.5 million it would cost to save those jobs is not out of the way. The Government takes a margin of tax on everything that is in this building. I just looked at fuel. A sum that does not even equate to 1% of what the Government is taking in can save 11,000 jobs.

The creation of 100 jobs in Limerick was announced yesterday. I welcome those jobs. I would welcome the creation of one job in Limerick. I welcome the creation of jobs anywhere in the country. An investment of €70 million has been put in to get those 100 jobs in Limerick. I am sorry that I was not present for the announcement. I had to come up here and represent the rest of the country. I wish the company well. I hope it will employ far more people. I hope every employer in the country will employ more people. However, for today, I want the Minister, Deputy McGrath, to use common sense and his power as Minister to persuade the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to save 11,000 jobs in the hospitality sector.

Part of the Bill relates to ensuring money can be rolled over from projects that are not completed or carried out in the current year and transferred to the following year. I am putting in my stake in respect of any moneys left over. There are 676 local improvement schemes on a list below in Kerry. Last year, 11 of them were done and 19 were done this year. It is totally unfair on those people. Of the 676 schemes, there are 90 or so old applications going back as far as 2006 or 2007 that were lumped in with the applications submitted in 2018. That is very wrong. Many of them are still waiting.

I ask that any money hanging around should be directed to the local improvement schemes in Kerry.

There is another aspect of the local improvement scheme that was called an emergency hardship scheme. It related to roads used by nurses, doctors or home help personnel to visit a patient. That scheme would help those people but for the past four or five years we have not got a bob for those kinds of roads. We are in dire straits. I know money cannot be left behind so I am in favour of the Bill if the Government ensures it directs any money left over towards two schemes, which are the local improvement and emergency hardship schemes. I would appreciate such action on behalf of the people of Kerry.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on his handling of the public finances and in particular the flexibility that he and his Department have shown in responding to what has been a very difficult time in spending on new priorities that changed so rapidly. I recall a time when the haggling over even a few thousand euro in his Department would make one blanch but the Department has stepped up to the plate and been able not only to respond but also to come in with very solid public finances at the end.

I also welcome the opportunity to have an important end-of-year reflection on our priorities. Covid-19 has, understandably, dominated our thinking but I will speak to four important areas where I have done much work with colleagues. They are care of the child; building a circular economy strategy; securing the future of local media; and vacancy, dereliction and the opportunity to drive the revival of our town, village and urban centres. In all four areas we need to do much better because we are putting at risk resources that will be crucial to the country's well-being. We must significantly reprioritise these areas as national priorities.

It is really important we do this in a way that is well thought through. We have produced four papers on these matters and they have been developed by conducting wide public engagement, particularly with those people at the coalface. We have also produced detailed analysis of gaps and how they can be tackled by practical policy innovation. As parties in government, we must continue to be innovative and not just leave it to Ministers, good and all as their work may be. It is essential if evidence-based policymaking is to survive and thrive at a time it is under such enormous pressure by much more populist policy thinking. It is important for us to encourage and support this sort of engagement.

In the time available I will deal with the four areas only briefly. With regard to the care of the child, it is long recognised that the underdevelopment of early childhood policies in this country is selling short the coming generation and putting many people under immense pressure, including parents and women in particular, because they must make enormous sacrifices and endure much stress to manage. Those providing the services are frustrated and those running them do not know where their future lies. I welcome the changes made by the Minister in the provisions for the sector but we need genuine innovation beyond what is now being contemplated. We need to see the emergence of a campus-type approach to early childhood provision and innovative access to buildings such as schools, owned or developed by the State, where there is an opportunity to use them. Sports facilities could similarly be used. However, such provisions are simply not being made for children in early childhood. We need a new careers structure and I know the Minister is working on that. We need much more local responsiveness and a much stronger role for the county childcare committees.

I do not know how much attention the Minister has given to the circular economy, which has operated under the radar somewhat. Globally, we are using one and a half times what nature can replenish and Ireland is massively out of line in this respect. We use 60% more non-renewable materials than the rest of Europe per head of population. That is not just fossil fuels but all the other materials as well. Our recycling rate is low and falling, and it is only 10% in the crucial construction sector. Our food waste is equivalent to 1 million cars on the road in terms of climate impact and our circularity rate, which refers to how much we reuse materials to keep them in the cycle, is at 1.6%, which is the lowest in Europe except for Romania. It is one eighth of the average across Europe. We must radically change if our enterprises are to be competitive in the zero-carbon and green wave economy that will break upon us.

I will deal briefly with local media. We risk seeing the end of a diverse and reliable local media, which we have seen as having such value during the Covid-19 pandemic. Our support to the media sector is simply no longer fit for purpose and the diversity of local media is extremely vulnerable in the face of global "tall pines" in the form of social media platforms, which scorch the earth beneath. We risk seeing the end of much of the diversity of local media that gives communities their vibrancy.

There is the question of decay versus town renewal. Approximately 70,000 idle homes are within reach of public policy to activate. In the past four years we have managed to activate 1,800 of them but if all counties did as well as Waterford, we would have activated 9,000 properties. With relatively small policy changes we could make an immense difference. The town centre first policy can genuinely breathe life back into our communities if it is pursued in an innovative way.

There has been much talk across politics about the need for change. I totally agree with the constant need for change and within the Government we must demonstrate that we have that capacity in adopting new approaches like those I have outlined. There was a time when the Opposition felt the need to develop tested policies as an alternative to what is happening and they would form the basis for the contention to enter into government. We have now seen a change in that Opposition parties only seek to offer counterfeit change policies as a basis for entering government. Shameless blame games are portrayed daily by those in the Opposition and magic money appears in debates about childcare. There is a complete locking out of the private sector in the case of both the care of the child and our housing crisis. There is denial that polluters should pay and contribute to the very difficult transition we must make. Such action even goes as far as introducing a Bill banning offshore wind energy generation.

We must get real about the changes that are coming and the way we prepare for them. I wish the Minister well in his work but I ask that he would take those few suggestions on board as he plans for the next couple of years.

We are dealing with this legislation because we need to. We all get the ins and outs of this Bill ensuring that capital money that is unspent will be deferred. I will deal with a number of matters that Deputy Bruton spoke about and on which I agree with him on some level, although clearly not what he said at the end. He spoke about some of the weaknesses we see in childcare and the fact that we have not put a fit-for-purpose system together. It is absolutely incumbent on the Opposition parties to put forward proposals in this regard. We do not have an alternative system that we can test and all we can do is put our costed proposals forward for lessening the impact of childcare costs on families out there.

We must go further in that regard and I have spoken many times about how the State has failed absolutely on the ideas of required community and family supports. We are dealing with a major number of social issues, including long-term and multigenerational unemployment, poverty and drugs on top of these. We are dealing with cases where we have failed to make interventions for communities and families. We have let desperate situations continue from generation to generation.

We deal with the issues, whether they relate to criminality, antisocial behaviour or those who do not necessarily have the skills that are required. It is incumbent on the State to carry out an audit not just in regard to those general situations such as dealing with childcare but also in regard to the issues where we find them, including those weaknesses in society we have failed to deal with. Having said that, it will take a much longer conversation than the three minutes of my contribution to this debate to put proposals forward.

A European Council meeting is to be held this week and the European Union is considering possibilities in respect of block-buys and alternatives. It is putting together a toolbox regarding how states can possibly mitigate some of the worst aspects of the energy crisis. The €100 rebate proposal that was put forward has been put on the back burner. It was not particularly useful. If we are to talk about certain issues we face relating to capital, we will need to get into the planning issues. Everybody from National Broadband Ireland, NBI, to Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, has spoken about difficulties. We hope the Attorney General's review will lead to action and to doing what is necessary. Beyond that, if we are talking about NBI and the national broadband plan, NBP, there is an absolute requirement that we conduct due diligence and ensure we will be able to deliver. We need to deal with some of the difficulties that have come directly from the weaknesses in the contract.

We are over time. I invite the Minister to conclude.

I thank all the Deputies for contributing to the debate. As they highlighted, the Bill is an important piece of housekeeping in which the Oireachtas has to engage every year to ensure we have a proper legal basis for the moneys that were spent over the course of that year and to ensure spending can continue into the following year before the House approves the Estimates for that year.

The issues raised over the course of this debate were many and varied. A number of Deputies highlighted the exceptional support that has been provided by way of public expenditure in the context of Covid-19. It is worth underlining that a total of €30 billion in direct expenditure measures has been provided over 2020 and 2021. The figure for last year was €16.6 billion in Covid-related spending, while the equivalent figure for the current year is about €13.4 billion. The main elements of that €30 billion speak to our response and where our priorities lie as a country in the handling of Covid-19 and the impact it has had on the people.

For example, the Department of Social Protection accounted for an additional €19 billion over the past two calendar years. More than €9 billion of that sum related to the pandemic unemployment payment, which of course was set up in emergency circumstances in March 2020 when hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs overnight. It was an appropriate response to ensure households would continue to be supported during that period and the period since then. In addition, the employment wage subsidy scheme and its predecessor, the temporary wage subsidy scheme, account for just over €9 billion over that period. Over the course of this debate, Deputies again raised issues with the continuation of that scheme, but it has helped to pay the wages, in part or in full, of about 700,000 workers at some point in the past 21 months or so. Overall, it has been a remarkable success in protecting that connection between the employer and the employee over that period.

Of course, the Department of Health and the HSE account for a large share of the additional expenditure. There has been almost €4.5 billion in additional Covid-related spending for the Department of Health since early 2020, which was used to improve capacity in the system and for personal protective equipment, PPE, test and trace resources, the vaccination programme and so on. In addition, we provided almost €900 million in additional funding to the Department of Education, primarily to ensure our schools could reopen and remain open in the face of the very challenging environment they have faced with Covid-19. Similarly, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science received an additional sum of almost €600 million in the context of Covid-19 over that period.

In addition to the wage subsidy schemes, we have provided further supports to businesses to ensure the continuation of employment, for example, through the local authority rates waiver, with almost €1.5 billion provided. We have refunded local authorities 100% of the value of that rates waiver, which was passed on to qualifying businesses. There have also been restart grants and other very important measures in the July stimulus package, and we have sustained funding in a number of other key policy areas such as transport. Because of the imposition of public health restrictions, there was a significant reduction over the past two years in the number of people using our public transport system and the State has had to step in and provide extra support.

Both last year and this year, the State has done what it does best, namely, support our people, invest in public services and infrastructure and ensure we can continue to look after people to the best of our ability. The Bill is important in that it will underpin that spending in 2021 and enable us to continue with that spending in the early part of next year until the Estimates come back from the committees and are passed. I thank all the Deputies for their contributions and look forward to the remaining Stages of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.