The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on budget 2017, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister or the Minister of State to be called on to reply not later than 6.55 p.m.
Order of Business
The budget is better and fairer than any of the five budgets introduced by the previous Fine Gael and Labour Party Government owing to the influence of Fianna Fáil. The confidence and supply agreement we entered into with Fine Gael required us to facilitate budgets and ensure they agreed with the priorities outlined in the framework document. That agreement gave priority to investment in public services over tax cuts and required a 2:1 split in budgets to recognise the new priorities and enable us to start investing in the people again. This has been more than achieved in the budget. We have seen a 3:1 split in public services over tax cuts, which is welcome.
Fianna Fáil has achieved on many issues and the first was capital acquisitions tax. In recent weeks we read that the Government would increase the threshold for group A relatives where a parent wanted to give a gift to his or her child. The threshold has been increased for groups B and C owing to contributions made by Fianna Fáil.
The second element I am happy Fianna Fáil managed to improve is a reduction in deposit interest retention tax, DIRT. Many people, including the elderly, have a lot of money deposited in banks and applying DIRT would be unfair. I am glad that the Government has taken a step in the right direction.
I am unhappy with the first-time buyer's grant. A lot of first-time buyers will have watched the Minister for Finance deliver the Budget Statement today, but I knew exactly what would happen to the grant. Last week I mentioned in this House that we had heard whispers about a first-time buyer's grant worth €10,000. Today we have heard that there will be a first-time buyer's grant of €20,000. That will put an extra €20,000 into the hands of auctioneers and developers.
The grant will do nothing for people who live in Dublin, specifically in my constituency where there are no homes being built. I do not know where homes worth €400,000 are being built, but they are not being built in Dublin. The new initiative directly discriminates against first-time buyers in Dublin. The grant should have been applied to second-hand homes. The grant will not increase the supply of new homes. Instead, the Government needs to reduce development levies, introduce a site tax, analyse the costs associated with building houses such as the certification process, or reduce the number of building regulations. It needs to come up with a pragmatic way to increase supply. The grant goes nowhere near that and is disappointing. I cannot believe it has been increased to €20,000 when the sum originally mooted was €10,000.
With the day that is in it, I congratulate Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on their first post-election budget. It has been gas to hear a lot of the contributions made about the budget. It is clear that the backroom deal is not about what is best for the people, the economy or services. It is a budget in which Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil dance to each other's tune and see how close they can get.
Sinn Féin should have entered government.
Fair play to Fianna Fáil for staying in the room. For God's sake, will we have to listen to the phrase "we stayed in the room" for the next 20 years?
Fianna Fáil believes it is just so wonderful for staying in the room with its partners. Nobody has ever been able to tell me the difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
The reason is-----
The budget will not end the crisis in health and housing. It will not provide for the end of water charges that are due to be paid in March 2017. It will not end the crisis in homelessness. It will not end the hardship being experienced by tenants or mortgage holders. It will not close the tax loopholes that the partners in government deny are there in the first place and because of which the country has lost billions of euro. It will not address the decades of neglect in rural Ireland in any sense of the word. We have been told that we will get an increase in Leader programme funding, but we have not been reminded that millions of euro have been cut from the current programme. In County Mayo alone as much as €9 million has been cut from it. I am, therefore, extremely interested in the size of the increase in Leader programme funding.
The budget will be wrapped up and sold to the people on the basis that we are being responsible and fair because these are two words of choice.
Obviously, Fine Gael and especially Fianna Fáil have been told to use these two words ad nauseam. I am not sure whether they are getting this advice from their Tory Party advisers or Michael O'Leary these days and find it-----
It is not Slab Murphy.
Is the Senator sure?
A couple of things were mentioned that I cannot let pass. Senator James Reilly will be familiar with this from his time in the Department of Health. First, it has been said that what has been introduced today is a budget for auctioneers and developers. I believe it is. It will benefit auctioneers and developers and do nothing to ease the homelessness crisis. When I became a member of Mayo County Council, I could not believe that approximately 52% of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors were auctioneers.
An honourable profession.
They were to be representative of the public. The other issue is home help packages. I heard members of Fianna Fáil saying it was terrible that packages and home help hours were not provided. We know what Fianna Fáil did to the numbers of home help hours and home help packages and how Fine Gael continued the Fianna Fáil approach to health services. The budget is absolutely under-whelming and will do nothing to ease the crisis. It indicates that there is no understanding of how ordinary people are suffering such as people with children who have special needs, patients on hospital trolleys and those who are suffering as a result of the austerity imposed on them.
Last week I called on the Leader to arrange a debate on the Defence Forces' preparedness for Brexit. Two days later I attended the conference of the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, in Cork. The Defence Forces are in a state of crisis. We heard in Cork about a soldier on parade who wore a non-issued pair of boots. He had to buy them himself because he could not get a pair of boots issued from the central clothing store. There are large stocks of uniforms held in central clothing, but they might be the wrong size or whatever else. This soldier was not able to get a pair of boots. We also heard about soldiers who were unable to get clothing when they needed it. The climate survey carried out for the Defence Forces shows an appalling situation. On top of this, the attrition rates for commissioned officers are at crisis level. Listening to the radio one morning, I heard that the career choice for a commissioned officer above the rank of captain was a move to Aldi. We are talking about the people who defend the country and represent it with honour on behalf of the United Nations which they have been doing since the late 1950s, yet these young men and women are unable to get clothing. Young officers who go through their training at the Curragh and are a credit to the country have no career trajectory or options ahead of them. It is time this House held a long debate-----
I apologise for interrupting but somebody's phone is interfering with the microphones. That is not very helpful.
It might be mine because it controls my hearing aid. I am sorry.
The House must have a debate on the Defence Forces with the Minister. It is a crisis. The Defence Forces are below strength and that cannot continue. They have no voice, aside from that of their representative bodies. They have nobody to speak for them and there is no industrial relations process open to them other, than through their representative bodies. As a former proud member of the 1st Infantry Battalion in Galway, I would like to have the opportunity to voice some of their concerns. I ask the Leader to organise that debate as quickly as possible.
With regard to the budget, I wish to highlight the homelessness issue. The level of homelessness is one of the greatest scandals of our time.
The fact that children are forced to grow up in hotel rooms is totally unacceptable. The imposition of rent controls should be a priority. I do not agree with the granting of tax relief to landlords who are driving rents up to unsustainable levels. The housing crisis cannot be solved by the private sector but needs capital spending on new social homes. The first-time buyer's grant will not make homes affordable. It will push people into huge mortgage debt again and the benefits will go, once more, to builders.
I welcome the increase in duty on tobacco, but an increase in the tax on alcohol which is also detrimental to the health of people and a significant burden on the health service should have been imposed. The increased income from this tax could have been ring-fenced for the relevant services. I am not involved in the temperance movement or anti-alcohol, but I see the impact of alcohol on a daily basis. I work at the coalface in this area and know that alcohol can have a devastating impact on individuals and families.
While I welcome the extra €1 billion for health services, I hope some of the additional money will be spent on mental health services, for which there is such a need. As we all know, the number of referrals to the child and adolescent mental health service, CAMHS, increased by more than 50% between 2011 and 2014. Too many people in mental health distress who are at risk of suicide are being forced to present at emergency departments or Garda stations because there are no appropriate services outside office hours. We must see continued investment in community mental health services and 24-hour services are needed for people who are particularly at risk of suicide. Staffing levels in specialist mental health services for particular high-risk groups of adults and children require urgent attention. In 2009 the Mental Health Commission issued an amendment to its code of practice for the admission of children under the Mental Health Act 2001 which reads as follows:
In respect of the admission of a child to an approved centre for adults, the following applies:
a) No child under 16 years is to be admitted to an adult unit in an approved centre from 1st July 2009;
b) No child under 17 years is to be admitted to an adult unit in an approved centre from 1st December 2010; and
c) No child under 18 years is to be admitted to an adult unit in an approved centre from 1st December 2011.
Is this code of practice for the admission of children under the Mental Health Act 2001 being implemented? This is a matter that requires urgent attention. It is extremely important that we protect vulnerable citizens and who are more vulnerable in society than children and fellow citizens in mental health distress?
I know that we will have statements on the budget later, but for all of the love-bombing between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and all the talk of fivers flying around, it is a somewhat underwhelming budget. Like many colleagues, I listened in the Dáil Chamber to the Budget Statements of the two Ministers. It is disappointing to see the lack of ambition in some areas, particularly in the child care sector. I think we are due to have a debate in this Chamber on child care in the coming weeks. In the light of today's announcement, I welcome the holding of that debate. I very much welcome the package of child care measures announced, but it lacks ambition to have the universal payment limited to children under the age of three yers rather than children up to the age of 12. We should also have seen an extension to the paid paternity leave provision that was commenced under the previous Government.
I have also sought a debate in the House on third level education funding. In the budget that can was kicked down the road. The Minister made reference to the Cassells report but only announced that he would conduct a review of the Exchequer and employer contribution without actually grasping the nettle of reform. While the increase of €36.5 million for higher education is very welcome, I understand it is to be shared between the areas of further and higher education. As a result, it will be sprad quite thinly across a sector that is so in need of additional funding.
Others have spoken about the disappointing allocation for the arts and the very small increase in the minimum wage of only ten cent per hour. There is a Twitter war about the overseas development aid allocation. As I read it, there is no increase, but the Minister has recently tweeted that there would be an increase in official development assistance. If that is true, it is very welcome, but it is certainly not evident in the Estimates. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on development more generally, official development assistance and, in particular, development and gender, noting that this is United Nations International Day of the Girl Child.
While there is recognition in the development programmes of the particularly disproportionate disadvantage suffered by girls in developing countries, we know that in developed countries sexism and sexist attitudes still prevail as exemplified perhaps in the recent revelations on tape by US presidential candidate Donald Trump. It seems that sexist attitudes towards women are not confined to any particular country or culture. It is very disturbing to see a US presidential debate sink to a new low. I ask the Leader for a debate on our overseas development aid contributions, our commitments to meet international targets and the recognition of gender in development programmes.
Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, of which the overall objective was to raise awareness of health issues and mobilise efforts in supporting mental health initiatives. I can say with a fair degree of certainty that no family in the country has not been affected directly by the issue of mental health, whether depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug issues. I absolutely agree with Senator Frances Black. We all have an obligation to continue to reduce the stigma attached to mental health distress. It has been a pivotal factor in promoting the importance of good mental health. I am staggered that the rate of youth suicide in Ireland is the fifth highest in the European Union. Older people, especially older men, may also be vulnerable. Suicide is affecting an increasing number of Irish people of all ages. We should endorse Mental Health Day and must work together to try to erase the stigma attached to mental health distress.
I also join Senator Ivana Bacik in raising the issue of child care, particularly because it is International Day of the Girl Child. Girls grow up to be mothers and, in the main, it is mothers who are impacted on by our pitiful response to the costs and provision of child care services. We support the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone's increase in funding for families to meet their child care costs, but we have a number of concerns with the design of the scheme. The proposed scheme is essentially two schemes, a high level subsidy of €8,000 per annum for low income families earning below €47,000 and a much lower universal child care subsidy up to €900 per annum for households earning more than €47,000. The major problem I can see immediately is that the scheme only begins in September 2017, which means that essentially we have a full year to wait before families and particularly mothers are catered for by the Government.
There are also a number of other issues that I can foresee. It is possible that the scheme may discriminate against couples who opt for joint assessment of income. The Minister is proposing a scheme that requires households to input their PPS number into a system which tells them whether they are eligible. If an individual is earning under €47,000, he or she may become eligible, as could a couple earning under that amount who are jointly assessed. If, however, one person in a couple is earning under €47,000 and the other is earning more than that sum but they are not jointly assessed, he or she may become eligible. It is something for which we need to look out in this area. This is not a progressive proposal. If a couple is earning more than €47,000, for example, €48,000 or €49,000, they become eligible only for the subsidy of €900 per annum. That is terribly unfair because that is the same subsidy paid to a family earning a combined income of €200,000. That needs to be considered.
Capacity is a significant issue. There is an insufficient number of child care places, with long waiting lists for families seeking child care services. This will put extra pressure on the system. I would like the Minister to address this issue in some way. I ask the Leader to call on her to bring forward the starting date of the proposed scheme.
Families cannot wait until September 2017. I was disappointed not to see an extension of paid paternity leave and an element of maternity and paternity leave sharing between couples.
I propose extending the time allowed for the debate on the budget to three hours. It seems this House is undermined a good deal. We have been given two hours, yet there are hours for it in the Dáil. I would like the Leader to accept that proposal.
To clarify, is the Senator formally proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?
Yes, I am.
We will take it as a proposal.
I found the budget quite bare and sketchy. I was looking at the health service, in particular. A figure of €35 million is being talked about. We know that this sum has been promised year after year. Even last April, they attempted to take it back. The cheque has never actually been lodged in the bank account. I would like to delve a little into the health aspects of the budget. It is World Mental Health Week, not World Mental Health Day. It runs for the week and we need to be reminded of it. Then again, last week Fine Gael saw fit to vote down the Private Members' Bill which sought to provide for a 24-hour, seven day a week service. It is a little ironic for those responsible to stand up and talk about it when they are not prepared to put their money where their mouths are.
In welcoming the budget I want to welcome,in particular, the announcement by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, of the €1.9 million allocation for the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It includes extra moneys for the reopening of Killarney House. They will provide for the staffing-----
Is there anything local about it?
Is it being opened again?
It is a major national visitor attraction.
Senator Paul Coghlan to continue, without interruption, le do thoil.
It is a magnificent house which has been beautifully restored at great cost.
No doubt the Senator will be at the opening.
It needs staffing. Thanks be to God, following today's announcement, it will be able to be reopened in early course in 2017. It is within the town and the national park. The beautiful grounds and gardens cover 35 acres and stretch all the way to the shores of Lough Leane, just north of Ross Castle.
It is a short distance from the Senator's house.
It is a magnificent property located within the town of Killarney, with which you are most familiar, a Chathaoirligh, if I may say so.
On Munster final days only.
The national park stretches all the way from Muckross into the town, west of Muckross Road. Perhaps I should leave it at that because there seems to be much tittering. I know that we are all enjoying the budget which is a very good one, contrary to some of the remarks made. I look forward very much to debating it.
With a fiver a week - go away.
I have taken the Senator's point and thank Senator Paul Coghlan very much. I will let Senator David Norris in. He reminds me a little of the song, "Nobody's Child", but I am always looking out for him.
I will adopt you as a parent.
In loco parentis.
You are very caring.
I am bored senseless by the budget. It is a complete and utter waste of time. The details have been leaked for weeks. I remember a time when Ministers were fired for the smallest leak. We know all about it. We would have been better off with no budget at all. Let the country continue and let it recover. The housing grant is completely mad. It is back to the crazy days of 2008.
I am keen to raise one issue. In budget 2011 the Government cancelled the maintenance grant for postgraduate students. As a result there was a decline in the number of postgraduate applications. The worry is that this decline takes place most severely in the more deprived socioeconomic areas. Instead of encouraging people from deprived backgrounds to take part in university life fully, as well as research and so on, we are actually discouraging them. The latest figures from 2015 show that 2,542 individuals received assistance in the payment of tuition fees. That is a decrease of 8% and the figure is probably worse this year. Mr. Tom Boland, chief executive of the Higher Education Authority, said: "The HEA would be concerned if a lack of financial support is preventing less well-off students from continuing with their studies to postgraduate level." That is what seems to be happening.
In the report of the expert group on higher education Mr. Peter Cassells says supports for part-time and postgraduate students are very limited and urges an increase in payments. Will the Leader be kind enough to contact the Minister for Education and Skills and make these points?
Although our university rankings appear to be falling, I gather the universities made mistakes in the way they presented the figures and we are much better off in terms of the rankings than it appears. However, at a time when we do appear to be sinking owing to a lack of investment, investment in postgraduate students and particularly maintenance grants for students who come from lower socioeconomic levels is very important.
I am very disappointed with the measure for first-time buyer's grants in the budget as it increases the city-rural divide and inequalities in our society. A person privileged enough to live within the M50 belt can avail of the grant but outside it it will apply to almost no one. Contrary to my colleague’s belief that this plan is welcomed by auctioneers, it is anything but. Young families from Belmullet to Mullingar see no housing starts or benefits from this measure in the budget. It is certainly discrimination.
I welcome the budget, in particular the increase of €1 billion in the health care budget. It is extremely important that it be managed properly. I was interested to listen to the leader of Sinn Féin giving out about the budget. We are trying to encourage more nurses and doctors to come home to work in Ireland, whereas Sinn Féin’s proposed increase in taxation would discourage them from doing so.
Many good people in the health care sector have left the country and it is important that we do everything possible to bring them back. A total of 38% of the doctors working in the country are non-Irish graduates. We need to encourage the many abroad to come back. Between now and 2025 there will be a shortfall of 95,000 medical practitioners in the United States. That is the challenge we face. We are competing in a world market. It is important to use the health care budget wisely and make sure we get the maximum number of frontline staff available to provide services. Many seem to have forgotten from where we have come. We were borrowing money at a rate of 14%. The last Government bond sold was at an interest rate of 0.33%. The unemployment rate has come down from 15% to 7.9%. It is important to make sure we do not go wild because extra money is coming in through taxation. A total of 160,000 more people are working now than four years ago. With over 2 million working, more taxation is coming in, but it is important to spend that money wisely and carefully and that we provide the necessary support services in our health care sector.
I call Senator Paul Gavan. My apologies, Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile is first.
Ná bí buartha, a Chathaoirligh. Gabh mo leithscéal, bhí mé i mo chodladh ansin. Communities along the Border mobilised-----
Gabh mo leithscéal, a Sheanadóir.
Ná bí buartha. Ná bíodh aon imní ort, a Chathaoirligh. Bhí mé comh lochtach mé fhéin.
At the weekend communities along the Border mobilised against the decision taken against their will on Brexit. I have raised this issue consistently in this Chamber. It was impressive and uplifting to see people beyond the realm of politics take to their feet to mobilise in a concerted way against the negative implications of Brexit.
It was good, too, to see people from across the various party political divides represented at the event.
It is critical that we in this House have an opportunity to hear directly, through the mechanism of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, from members of Border Communities Against Brexit. The campaign group is made up of representatives of the agricultural sector and farming community, the trade union movement, the community and voluntary sector, the small business sector and people involved in all aspects of civic and community life. In that context, it is astounding that the budget makes absolutely no reference to the communities along the Border and the unique and bespoke support they require, not only because they are facing difficulties as a result of Brexit but because of the generational difficulties they have faced dating back many years. Never mind the Border's failures in the broader political and economic context, it always has been a hindrance and detriment on a practical level for the people who live along it. With the imposition of Brexit on people in the North, against the will of communities, we will have a situation where some farmers will not just have parts of their land in both the North and the South but also both inside and outside the Europea Union. The case made at Saturday's rally against taking the North out of the European Union was compelling. I am sure the same arguments were replicated at rallies along the Border. I am encouraged that we have had an opportunity to debate this issue extensively and hope we continue to do so. We should take the opportunity, through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, to hear directly from the lobby group to which I refer.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to give us an update on the issuing of passports in the context of the increase in the number of applications since the referendum on Brexit? On another issue relating to passports, it has been brought to my attention that several members of the Defence Forces who applied for military passports more than three weeks ago - such passports are required in order to serve in Lebanon - still have not received them. These members - a sergeant and four privates - are scheduled to fly out next Monday as part of an engineering platoon. It is outrageous that soldiers who are going to Lebanon to represent their country should have to go to such lengths - having to contact a politician - to secure the necessary military passports. I would like to have a debate on the matter with the Minister.
I welcome the €690 million allocated in the budget for capital expenditure by the Department of Education and Skills. I am delighted with the allocation on a personal level because it includes approval for Coosan national school in my constituency to proceed to tender. The school has been on the books for some 16 years and my late sister, former Deputy Nicky McFadden, and I both worked very hard over a period of eight years to get the project to where it is today. It was on the list for 2016 but was subsequently removed. Several months ago I requested that the Minister be asked about that removal. I again ask the Leader to seek to discover how a school can be taken off a list. Fortunately, the Coosan project is now due to go to tender before Christmas, with many Independent Deputies jumping on the bandwagon to make announcements about it. As far as I am concerned, however, it is my announcement because I have been working on the issue for a long time. Notwithstanding the progress being made, I remain concerned that it was taken off the list without any explanation. I would like to know the reason that was done, whether it was the case that the previous Minister removed it before the election or for any other reason. I ask the Leader to raise the matter with the Minister.
I understand the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine still has to announce some of the finer details of the provision for his Department in the budget. However, I note a reference to an increase in expenditure to €211 million under the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS. The original budget for the roll-out of the scheme was €250 million, with a suggested uptake of 50,000 farmers.
What is proposed is described as an additional spend to raise the level of take-up from 38,000 to 50,000. However, the shortfall in the original take-up rate was due to the bureaucracy involved. How does the Minister propose that those 12,000 additional farmers will join the scheme if there is no change to the constraints and the bureaucracy involved? How can we say this is an increase in the budget, bringing the figure up to €211 million, when the original figure for roll-out was €250 million, with a proposed average spend per farmer of €5,000? At this stage, the average spend per farmer, owing to the bureaucracy, is €4,200 in tier 1 to €4,500 in tier 2. How can that be seen as an increase in spend when the money to be available for the original roll-out was €250 million? Today there are bells and whistles about an increased spend that will raise the figure to €211 million. The Leader might obtain clarification.
Ba mhaith liom cuidiú leis an moladh atá déanta ag mo chomhghleacaí go ndéanfaí leasú ar Riar na hOibre ionas go dtabharfaí níos mó ama don díospóireacht ar an mbuiséad inniu.
The budget will not offer much solace to those who have been struggling with mortgages or paying almost double in car insurance compared with what they paid previously, etc. It is ironic that a pay increase for the Taoiseach, Ministers, Deputies and Senators will be announced and that----
That is not included in the budget. The Senator should deal in facts, not spread rumours. There is nothing in the budget about that matter.
What are we getting? How much?
I thought the Senator was bored with the budget.
Please allow Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh to continue, without interruption. I am sure the Leader will deal with the matter in his response.
Bíonn an fhírinne searbh. Old age pensioners, people in receipt of disability benefit and others will have to wait a number of months for the paltry increases they will get in their social protection payments.
Baineann an cheist mhór atá agam inniu le cúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta. Bíonn caint mhór ar "beart de réir briathair", ach tá briathar déanta de réir an beart ó thaobh cúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta inniu agus laghdú scannalach de 9% déanta ar bhuiséad na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta. Tá mé tar éis iarrachtaí a dhéanamh ionas go mbeadh díospóireacht againn maidir le cúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta. Cén fáth a bhfuil an Rialtas seo ag díriú ar chúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta nuair atá gearradh siar á dhéanamh?
Tá laghdú de 9% le feiceáil go soiléir sna figiúirí. D'admhaigh an tAire Stáit, an Teachta Seán Kyne, ar Raidió na Gaeltachta ar ball beag go bhfuil gearradh siar de 9% á dhéanamh ar bhuiséad na Roinne. Tá sé scannalach. Tá sé ag cur as dom freisin nach bhfuil na bunsonraí maidir le caiteachas na Roinne sin le fáil againn. De ghnáth, bíonn briseadh síos sa bhuiséad ar céard atá le caitheamh faoi na rannóga éagsúla, ach níl aon eolas breise tugtha dúinn inniu faoin Foras Teanga, srl. Tá duine éigin ó na meáin tar éis a rá liom go ndúirt oifigeach PR de chuid na Roinne nach mbeidh na sonraí sin ar fáil go dtí an Nollaig. Ba chóir go mbeidís ar fáil inniu againn agus ba mhaith liom dá n-iarrfaí iad sin ar an bpointe boise.
Bhí sé ráite freisin ag an Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna le daoine a bhíonn ag plé le réimse an oideachais sa Ghaeltacht go mbeadh €7 milliún breise le fáil le haghaidh an pholasaí nua oideachas Gaeltachta. Ní fheicim aon rud luaite faoi sin i ráiteas an lae inniu. B'fhéidir go dtabharfadh an Rialtas soiléiriú faoi sin dúinn. Léirigh Sinn Féin sa bhuiséad malartach a chuir muid ar fáil go gcuireadh muid €1.5 milliún breise ar fáil do phleanáil teanga, €5 milliún breise ar fáil mar airgead caipitil d'Údarás na Gaeltachta, €4.5 milliún ar fáil mar chreidmheas cánach agus €7.58 milliún ar fáil d'Fhoras na Gaeilge. Tá teipthe ar Fhianna Fáil chomh maith céanna seasamh suas do chúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta. Bhí lámh an-mhór acu sa bhuiséad atá leagtha amach inniu. Gheall siad do na heagraíochtaí Gaeilge go seasfadh siad an fód ar a son, ach is léir go bhfuil teipthe orthu go hiomlán.
Ba mhaith liom go mbeadh Aire Stáit na Gaeltachta istigh anseo, gan a bheith ag imeacht i bhfolach orainn. Ba cheart dó teacht anseo le míniú a thabhairt dúinn cén fáth go bhfuil réimse na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta mar cheann den líon beag rannóga a bhfuil gearradh siar déanta arís air. Tá sé náireach agus scannalach go bhfuil an Rialtas ag ligint do seo tarlú. Ba chóir go mbeadh náire ar Fhine Gael agus ar Fhianna Fáil, agus ar na Neamhspleáigh atá ag tacú leo, nár sheas siad an fód sa chomhthéacs seo.Tá an t-am istigh.
Tá an t-am istigh.
I will start by saying we had enough excitement with boom and bust budgets. Boring is good enough for me because the excitement of boom and bust budgets was not much fun for the many citizens who suffered as a consequence of them.
I very much welcome the increased money for education, the importance of which to our future needs no further debate by me. People understand this.
I welcome the child care funding increase - it is important that it be focused in the manner outlined in the budget - for providers in order that the Government can have a say about standards and some control over costs.
Of course, one would like to do more, but we have just come out of the most serious economic recession the country has ever endured. It is welcome, therefore, that there will be an additional €130 million or €145 million for child care services.
I really welcome the money allocated for the health service and hope the reforms will continue. As stated previously, money alone will not cure that problem. Senator Máire Devine spoke about putting our money where our mouth was. In that context, specific moneys are being allocated for mental health services. The issue has been taken very seriously by the Government for some time.
There are changes in the universal social charge that will give some small relief to hard-pressed workers. We would love to do more.
There is money for roads and infrastructure. I was especially glad to hear that metro north is still on track and the money for it will also be forthcoming. There is also money for the national maternity hospital, which is very important, and the new paediatric hospital. Again, we are investing in our future and children.
I agree with the provision of money for first-time buyers. I remind those in Fianna Fáil who have cried so much about this that they introduced a similar measure in the 1980s. I thank them as I gained from it when I bought my first house.
What a mistake it was too. Everybody acknowledges that it was a mistake.
Not at all. Houses are very expensive in Dublin and this will give young people an opportunity to get on the ladder. It is not always that a house is the first purchase, as it can often be an apartment that starts a young family on the ladder. People need to live close to where they work and much of the work is available in Dublin. There is also much work available down the country and the issue should be addressed through the regional action plan for jobs. There is clearly much more to be done, but we have also put money in to address housing shortages and homelessness. Having put in €1.2 billion, the Government has done as good a job as could be done with the limited increased funds available. Never let the perfect get in the way of the good.
We just have seen small snippets of the budget. When we see what areas are being addressed, we can see how the most vulnerable in every area are affected. This is Mental Health Week and there are volunteers in my constituency putting on over 60 events to help people who are queuing to get appointments to see doctors. The budget should address such issues and unless that happens, we might as well throw the money down the river. The money is available and it is up to the Government to see to it that those areas which need it will get it. It is the same in the case of people with disabilities. There are more than 500,000 people with disabilities in Ireland and people are waiting 12 weeks to receive carer's allowance. They need that money. This is a budget that can work if the money is used wisely. If it is not, it will be no good.
I am very disappointed that old age pensioners must wait until next March for their €5 increase. It should be given to them earlier. They are the most vulnerable in society. The same applies to jobseekers and carers. Unless the budget delivers to those in need, from people with disabilities to those affected by the housing crisis and patients on trolleys, it will not be a success. Until we see it and let it go forward, I hope I will be able to work with it and ensure the people I represent will get the best out of the budget, like everybody else.
With respect to Sinn Féin's comments-----
Tá an t-ám istigh.
-----Fianna Fáil at least sought agreement, while Sinn Féin did not. It added nothing. At least we tried to help.
Fianna Fáil signed off on it. It is a Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael budget.
Not at all.
They are not codding anybody.
Sinn Féin is clearly worried about Fianna Fáil in elections. The party peaked too soon.
The Senator's party has gone back down.
Not below what we got in the general election.
I refer to a new insecticide developed by Bayer that is being considered for approval for distribution on the Irish market. A lot of concern has been expressed about the insecticide flupyradifurone.
The insecticide has been linked with killing bees and other insects that are crucial for the growth of crops and other vegetation. This is a worry as three quarters of the world's crops are pollinated by bees and other insects. With the number of environmental experts and research that outline the harmful effects of the insecticide or the serious risks it poses for food production and the entire food system, with the way it challenges ecological diversity and biodiversity, will the Leader of the House take up the issue with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine? Will they allay my concerns and the concerns expressed to me about the possible introduction of the insecticide in Europe? Other European countries have challenged its introduction but, in general, Brussels has given it a green light. Use of the insecticide has been challenged in the United States. There has been cause to ban certain insecticides that have been shown to kill off bees. We all know, from recent publicity, the crucial role that they play in food production.
I welcome the main provisions contained in the budget. I welcome the increase in funding for health, social welfare, education and child care services. I look forward to the relevant Minister outlining in detail where increases will be made in the provision of funding for further education. I hope funding has been increased for the Youthreach sector as it provides badly needed educational training for vulnerable young people who have dropped out of school. Education is crucial to their lives and chance of progression in life.
Like my colleague, Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile, I was on the Cavan-Fermanagh border at Aghalane last Saturday. I was joined by my colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, and Cavan county councillors, John Paul Feeley, Sean Smith and Eugene Greenan, for a community protest to highlight the concerns of the communities on both sides of the Border about what Brexit meant for both counties and the general Border area. There were four other protests that were attended by political parties from north and south of the Border. I am gravely concerned - it is the one major concern I have with the budget - that only €1 million has been allocated to provide extra personnel to deal with the effects of Brexit. Will the Leader of the House engage with the Taoiseach and his Cabinet colleagues as a matter of urgency? The Government must allocate an extra €1 million to tackle this crisis head on. Nobody knows the extent of the crisis, but Border communities have already suffered as a result of the depreciation of sterling. We lived with a border for long enough. At the time people had to travel, through necessity, across the Border to shop because goods were far cheaper in the North because of sterling. The one thing that the protest I attended on Saturday signalled was that the communities on both sides would not tolerate going back to the situation prior to the peace process. That should be noted very clearly.
I wish to make another point and thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence. The peaceful protest was led by Fr. McVeigh, a priest from County Fermanagh. People from communities on both sides of the Border, business people, people involved in the agriculture sector, community leaders and others, participated. While the protest lasted, a PSNI helicopter flew over the public meeting.
If that is not incitement, I do not know what is. As we are not returning to it, people should get their act together and deal with it.
I broadly welcome the budget.
Absolutely. Like Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, I am disappointed immediate effect is not being given to the social welfare increases. The litmus test of a society or democracy is how it treats its old age pensioners, in particular. Whatever boom and doom occurred and whatever destruction took place in the economy, it certainly was not the fault of old age pensioners. They have no options and their circumstances are highly circumscribed. I am glad that the Minister was able to do something for them in the budget. It vindicates the position adopted by my party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin. We have been criticised by Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, but Fianna Fáil took the responsible road by entering into a confidence and supply arrangement with the Fine Gael Party. Will we ever forget how Sinn Féin members were so terrified when the negotiations were taking place? They were like rabbits caught in the headlights for as long as the talks went on-----
-----for fear the finger would be pointed at them and they would eventually have to step up to the mark and do something responsible which they will never do on either side of the Border.
Absolute nonsense. Fianna Fáil is co-signatory of the budget.
The Senator has seen the example of Martin McGuinness.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan to continue, without interruption, please, but he is inviting challenge.
Deputy Micheál Martin deserves great credit for the increases in education.
The de facto coalition.
He made it a red line issue and made it clear that our party considered education to be vital. We must be realistic. The economy has recovered immensely and we will give credit where it is due.
The economy is the economy.
For whom did it improve?
We face a huge problem with Brexit, but if we all act responsibly, if everybody puts his or her shoulder to the wheel and if people will stop sitting on the fence and throwing abuse all of the time, we will make progress.
I welcome and draw the Leader's attention to the wonderful announcement made today by Shannon Airport of the new service provided by SAS, Scandinavian Airlines. SAS has been operating in Ireland for 50 years, but this service will be important for the mid-west. It will give entrepreneurs and business people in the mid-west access to the Norwegian market and, through SAS, access to over 22 other airlines. It is a huge hub for us, a big opportunity for business people and a huge opportunity for tourism interests in counties Clare, Galway, Kerry and the mid-west which has been welcomed by the chief executive officer of Fáilte Ireland. A couple of years ago there was talk that Shannon Airport was going to be mothballed and there was much doom and gloom. A number of us stood up for it when it was under pressure, including men and women from counties Clare and Kerry. It is good news for the mid-west on budget day. I congratulate those responsible for Shannon Airport and ask the Leader to take note of it and ensure further support will be given to the airport, as required.
The Senator has stolen a march on Senator Martin Conway.
I thank the 21 Senators who contributed on the Order of Business and predominantly referred to measures included in the budget. I will deal with them as best I can and apologise if I miss some of the points made.
I echo the words of Senator Ned O'Sullivan. If one were to listen to the merchants of doom and gloom, we would return to the situation in 2001 and 2011 as opposed to where we are today when there are more than 2 million people at work. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, presented his sixth budget to the Dáil today and Sinn Féin voted against every measure, despite voting in favour of the bank guarantee. Let us get the facts right and call a spade a spade. Sinn Féin Members come to this House, week in and week out, and are for nothing and against everything.
Nonsense. The Leader should have read Sinn Féin's alternative budget.
It is fantasy.
It is very progressive.
Fianna Fáil did not even have an alternative budget.
This is the first of three budgets under the confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil. The only party that wanted to go into government was Fine Gael and Independents joined us.
They had to get in.
Fianna Fáil opted out and Sinn Féin would not do anything.
That is not true. We talked to everybody.
The reality is that the only man who wanted to lead a Government was Deputy Enda Kenny.
Deputy Micheál Martin also did.
The people did not support him.
Please allow the Leader to continue, without interruption.
The sacrifices of the people, with the political leadership shown by this and the last Government, have brought the country to a better place. The budget may not be perfect, but we are not going back to the days of boom and bloom, to borrow a famous phrase used by a former Minister for Finance, Ray MacSharry. If one looks at the proposals made in Sinn Féin's alternative budget, one will see that it would tax those at work and those who employ and put the country in hock forever.
Sinn Féin is proposing new taxes worth €1 billion.
To pay for services and invest in front-line workers.
The party would send people away forever on emigrant boats and aeroplanes. The Government is bringing people home. There are now 2 million people at work. If the Senator had his way, we would have placards from here to the Red Cow roundabout and the four corners of the country. We would find ourselves back in the 1950s dancing at the crossroads.
That is absolute nonsense.
Today there are factories at the crossroads. This is a high-tech, low-tax economy.
It is a low-tax economy for high earners.
The Senator should be ashamed of himself.
It is only a low-tax economy for high earners.
I ask Senators to, please, respect the Leader and allow him to continue, without interruption.
The Government and the budget-----
I remind everyone that there will be a debate on the budget after the Order of Business.
In the budget the Government is committed to protecting what is a fragile economy. Senators Brian Ó Domhnaill and Diarmuid Wilson spoke about the problems arising from Brexit. What the Government must now do is not what Sinn Féin would do.
Why is the economy fragile? Who busted it?
Thanks to Sinn Féin.
We are in opposition.
That encapsulates the approach of Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Sinn Féin to everything - we are in opposition and will oppose, oppose, oppose; ochóin, ochóin agus ochóin. The budget is about ensuring what we have to spend and, to be honest, will have to borrow will be spent prudently and invested wisely. It is also about making sure those in all sectors of society who contribute - we must make work pay - will benefit from it. The Senator is caught in a time warp. He should come back into the real world.
The Leader should tell that to the patients on hospital trolleys in Galway and those in mortgage distress.
Sinn Féin has no solutions.
Senator Ivana Bacik spoke about the budget lacking ambition. I remind her of the 2 million people at work. It represents a drop of 7.9% in the unemployment rate from the peak of our economic distress. The ambition is to lift the lives of all citizens and ensure all people will benefit, whether they are working in a factory in Cork, living on the Border in County Cavan or County Monaghan or in the heart of Connemara. No matter what one's political view is, it is important to protect the country, the economy and the people. As the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, said in the Budget Statement, we cannot go back to the old days. We cannot adopt a "Late Late Show" approach whereby we give everything away to everybody. We cannot do that. We did it in the past-----
The Government's measures will increase the cost of housing and keep people out of the housing market, thus exacerbating the homelessness problem.
Please allow the Leader to continue, without interruption.
I will address that issue now. The Government has unveiled the biggest housing plan in the history of the State. It was announced by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, and supported by the Minister for Finance in the budget.
Where are the houses?
As the Senator knows quite well because he is a smart man, the level of supply is critical.
Fine Gael has had six years to address the problem.
One cannot have people in houses without incentivising the market to encourage developers to build and people to buy. If the Senator speaks to those involved in the construction sector, they will tell him that the lack of supply is the big and fundamental difficulty.
We should be building social houses.
The Senator has not listened to anything. He has opposed and continues to oppose everything included in the budget..
As we are all aware, first-time buyers are experiencing difficulties in accessing finance. I wish we could do everything for everybody, but the Government must prioritise. Home ownership is good, as is having the ability to supply housing, social or otherwise. Enabling people to own their own homes and put a roof over their heads is the aspiration and objective, in so far as we can bridge the affordability gap, of everyone on this side of the House. The new help-to-buy scheme for first-time purchasers will incentivise the market.
It will lead to an increase in house prices.
In addition, a home renovation scheme will be available.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh will have an opportunity to raise the point she made when we debate the budget later. Moreover, we will have the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in the House on 18 October.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell raised the very important issue of conditions for members of the Defence Forces. He may be aware that the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, held its annual general meeting in Cork last week. I will arrange a debate with the Minister for Defence on the issues raised by the Senator.
There is an increased provision in the budget for mental health services that reflects the Government's commitment to reform of the sector and delivery of A Vision for Change. I participated in an event in Cork last Friday in advance of Mental Health Week. It is an issue that we must keep to the fore. Encouraging people with mental health difficulties to engage with others is very important, as represented by the hashtag #itsgoodtotalk.
Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee referred to the provision of child care. It is an issue we will discuss in the House with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, on 18 October.
I cannot accept Senator Máire Devine's proposed amendment to the Order of Business because the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance are in the other House today. We have no responsibility in the passing of the budget, although Ministers will come to discuss its provisions with us. I would be happy to have a rolling debate on the budget, beginning with the discussion this evening. Moreover, we will have continuing discussions on the budgetary proposals in the debates on the Social Welfare Bill and the Finance Bill. There will, therefore, be ample opportunities to discuss them.
I welcome Senator Paul Coghlan's remarks about Killarney House and its majestic grounds.
Senator David Norris made an important point about funding for postgraduate studies. As an educator, I agree that postgraduate education should be prioritised. I hope the Minister for Education and Skills will come to the House to discuss what is an expansive education budget. In this House last week he demonstrated in his statement on the action plan for education that he had a vision for the education sector and a commitment to deliver on it.
Senator Colm Burke welcomed the increase in the budget for the delivery of health services.
Senators Niall Ó Donnghaile and Diarmuid Wilson referred to the impact of Brexit on the Border region. As Members know, this House is engaged in a rolling debate on Brexit. The Taoiseach has led the Government's response, while the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and other Ministers are engaging with their counterparts in the British Government. North-South engagement is equally important. Watching the news coverage on Saturday of the demonstration attended by Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile, one could not but have been impressed by the manner in which the protest was conducted and aware of the extent of the impact of Brexit on the daily lives of citizens on this island should a hard border be reinstated. None of us in this House wants to see the return of a hard border, a matter we discussed last week in the aftermath of the Conservative Party conference. We will continue to address it.
Senator Gabrielle McFadden referred to the delays in issuing military passports to members of the Defence Forces. I will be happy to raise the matter with the Department. The Senator also referred to a building project at a school in her constituency. I am not familiar with the way in which the lists are compiled, but I will take up the matter with the relevant Minister.
Senator Paul Daly referred to the allocation of funding for the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme. I will ask the Minister responsible to come to the House to discuss this and other issues. I join the Senator in welcoming the restoration of the allocation of €211 million for the scheme.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh referred to cúrsaí Gaeltachta. Níl gach freagra agam. Mar sin féin, tá a fhios agam go mbeidh a €2.25 million increase in the capital allocation for Údarás na Gaeltachta and Roinn na Gaeltachta.
I am told the figure is €2.25 million for support schemes in Údarás na Gaeltachta. A grant of €2.4 million for capital works in 2016 was announced last week, as well as works on Inis Oírr. There is a commitment by the Government.
There has been a 9% cut.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh is wrong to say there is no interest on this side of the House in the Irish language. I very much regret that I cannot have this debate with the Senator as Gaeilge, but, as he knows, I will try. The Minister of State is committed to coming to the House to discuss the matter.
He is willing to come to the House to discuss it.
The Leader has been saying that for months.
Please allow the Leader to respond. The Senator keeps interrupting.
I have explained the position to the Senator on numerous occasions.
The Minister of State is running scared.
He is not. The only person here who is scared is the Senator because the country is going well, something he does not want.
Senator James Reilly raised a budgetary issue, as did Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor who made a point about the timeline for payments. The Minister has said the reason it runs from now is to allow more people to be included in the improvement. The Senator is probably young enough not to remember, but-----
I will accept that.
I remember the time, predominantly when the Senator's party was in government, when the budget was announced in December and it was near the back end of the following year when increases in social welfare payments took effect. I am glad that they will take effect next March. It is important that everyone should benefit from the €5 increase, whether he or she is a pensioner or a carer.
Senator Michelle Mulherin mentioned an insecticide. I will not even attempt to pronounce the name of it, but I will ask the Minister responsible to examine the matter.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan welcomed the announcement made by Shannon Airport. My view, as Leader of the House, is that it is important for the airport to do well. It is equally important, in the context of Norwegian flights from Cork, that transatlantic routes be opened up.
We will have the debate on the budget, although it feels like we have had it already. If I missed the remarks made by any Member, I will be happy to remedy the position, but I am not happy to accept the amendment proposed to the Order of Business.