I welcome the Minister of State. We are dealing with No. 2 on the Order Paper, statements on budget 2018. The Minister of State will speak first and then group spokespersons have eight minutes. All other Senators have five minutes. The Minister of State must be allowed at least six minutes to reply so, if the debate is continuing, he will be called at 6.44 p.m., or earlier, if other speakers have concluded. Statements must conclude by 6.50 p.m.
Budget 2018: Statements
It is a pleasure to be here this afternoon. I will be as brief and concise as I can because I know Senators want an opportunity to have their say. I apologise if I am too concise.
I will try to strike a balance. I am more eager to have an opportunity to hear what Senators have to say, and hear their views and thoughts and take the opportunity at the end to respond. The overriding objectives of the budget are to safeguard our national finances and help to rebalance our economy, provide for steady and sustained improvement in people's lives and make sensible and long-term investments to benefit us now and in the future.
The budget is framed in the context of a number of existing and forthcoming challenges but also looks to create opportunities. The budget is also framed to comply with the confidence and supply agreement between the Government and the main Opposition party, Fianna Fáil, and it is appropriate to acknowledge its contribution.
As Senators are familiar with the detail of what has been announced by the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform in the Dáil. I will focus on the key themes of the budget, namely, rewarding work, supporting housing, improving services, particularly health and education, increasing investment and Brexit. I will also address recent developments in international financial services and the cost of insurance.
The economy continues to perform well, with real growth at 4.3% expected for this year and 3.5% for 2018. This is perhaps most evident in the labour market. Employment has increased in each of the past 19 quarters and this has been well balanced across the sectors and regions. Employment at more than 2 million is at its highest level since 2008. Unemployment currently stands at 6.1% and is expected to average at 5.7% next year, which is a significant improvement since a peak of more than 15% in early 2012. At these unemployment levels we are close to what is considered full employment in Ireland.
The budget delivers the Government's long-standing target of balancing the books in structural terms next year by reaching the medium-term budgetary objective, better known as the MTO. Adhering to our budgets and ensuring continued growth will achieve a reduced debt ratio and will build upon the resilience of the economy and public finances. The rainy day fund, for which further details were announced today, represents a further important element in this strategy. It is also important to note the nation is still heavily in debt, as a nation and as a people. We are at 106% gross national income, and with regard to personal indebtedness of the people of the country, we are one of the most highly indebted nations in the world.
The Government is firmly committed to ensuring work is rewarded. The point at which an income earner attracts a higher rate of income tax is being increased next year by €750 per annum, raising the entry point for single earners to €34,550. This represents further progress towards ensuring people on average wages do not pay the higher rate of income tax. Changes have also been announced to the USC, with targeted reductions in the rates but no narrowing of the base. The lowest rate is reduced by 0.5% to 2% from 2.5%, and the ceiling has been raised to ensure full-time employees on the national minimum wage do not pay the upper rate of USC. The reduction in the 5% rate to 4.75% will reduce the top marginal rate of tax on incomes up to €70,444 to 48.75%.
There are also a number of initiatives to assist small and medium enterprises to deal with international challenges. The earned income credit is being increased by a further €200 to €1,150 per year from 2018. This will benefit more than 147,000 self-employed individuals, generating economic activity throughout the country. In addition, the key employee engagement programme, KEEP, has been introduced to help small and medium enterprises attract and retain key employees in a competitive international labour market by providing for advantageous tax treatment on share options.
The home carer credit has been increased by €100 this year to €1,200 per year, assisting more than 80,000 families where one spouse works primarily in the home to care for children or other dependents. A working group is being established to plan over the coming year the process of amalgamating USC and PRSI over the medium term.
The area of corporation tax has had substantial reforms in recent years and Ireland has played its part.
Ireland offers a stable and competitive corporation tax system which is recognised internationally as one of the most transparent in the world. We are very clear that the 12.5% tax rate is and will remain a core part of our offering. Members will be aware that the Seamus Coffey report, published by the Minister for Finance last month, set out a roadmap for a number of reforms. One of the recommendations made in the report, relating to capital and interest allowances for intangible assets, better known as intellectual property, is being introduced with effect from midnight. The Minister has announced a consultation process as part of updating the international tax strategy.
The budget outlines a number of important developments for investment, with the allocation in 2018 being increased by €790 million. Total capital expenditure will more than double between 2015 and 2021, from €3.7 billion to €7.8 billion. That will make Ireland's public investment levels among the highest in the European Union and enable critical bottlenecks to be addressed. Taking a longer term view, the publication of the national investment plan and the national planning framework later this year will allow us to identify where we should target resources and capacity to support sustainable growth.
The Government's continued prioritisation of housing is clearly evident in the budget. The allocation of €1.83 billion for housing in 2018 will support the continued implementation of the Rebuilding Ireland action plan and the new initiatives and targets arising from the review of the plan. The increase of €149 million in the allocation for the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme will enable 17,000 additional households to be supported and accommodated in 2018. Increased funding for homelessness services will support the provision of emergency accommodation and other supports for those who need them. Additional funding of €500 million is being provided for the direct building of an additional 3,000 social housing units to reach the Rebuilding Ireland target of 50,000 units by 2021. It is expected that 3,800 new social housing units will be delivered by local authorities and approved housing bodies next year. Further measures have been announced to support an increase in the supply of housing in the coming years. They include making up to €750 million of the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, available for commercial investment in housing finance, changes to stamp duty on commercial property, the vacant site levy and the new deduction for pre-letting expenses.
It is clear that Brexit is one of the most significant challenges we face. It will bring with it permanent changes in our trade patterns. As it represents a structural change, it is important that we respond appropriately. The Minister for Finance has announced a Brexit loan scheme to assist small and medium businesses to undertake the innovation and sourcing of new European and international markets that will be needed in response to Brexit. The loan scheme, developed in conjunction with the Tánaiste and Minister for Business Enterprise and Innovation and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, will provide up to €300 million at a competitive rate for SMEs, including food businesses which are uniquely exposed to the UK market, to help them with their short-term working capital needs. In addition, the budget for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation will enable the recruitment of a further 40 staff across the Department and enterprise agencies to bolster our ability to proactively respond to the challenges and opportunities arising from Brexit. The retention of the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector will help to mitigate the impact of Brexit on the tourism and hospitality sector, particularly outside Dublin. The cost of the tax forgone is €490 million in a full calendar year.
An effective health service is essential to our well-being. The budget provides additional funding of €685 million for the sector, an increase of 5%. Health funding is now at record levels. It will support the recruitment of some 1,800 additional front-line staff. It will also provide for an increased allocation for the access plan which will ensure patients will be able to avail of the medical care they need in the most appropriate setting for them. As part of the access plan, funding for the National Treatment Purchase Fund has almost trebled, to €55 million in 2018. Prescription charges for medical cardholders will be reduced. Additional funding is provided for primary care services. An increased capital allocation will permit investment in critical health infrastructure, including the national children's hospital and a range of primary and community care schemes. With the level of resources being provided, a focus on value for money in the health sector is essential. Health policy is being supported by increased taxes on tobacco and sunbeds and the introduction of the sugar tax.
Education is an important foundation for society and the economy. The increased allocation in budget 2018 will provide for additional teaching posts, reduce the primary pupil-teacher ratio and increase the number of special needs assistants. In addition, the national training fund levy is being increased to provide additional funding for the further education sector next year. Additional capital will address the infrastructure needs of the higher and further education sectors. It is important to highlight that for the first time the further training sector will have a capital programme which is going from zero to €53 million.
The Government's commitment to dealing with crime is evident in the provision of additional resources for the recruitment of an additional 800 gardaí and 500 civilian staff during 2018. However, the increased spending is contingent on a commitment to drive reform throughout the organisation.
Fairness is important at all times, particularly for more vulnerable members of society. All weekly social welfare payments, including disability allowance, carer's allowance, jobseeker's allowance and benefit and the State pension, are to be increased by €5 per week from 26 March 2018. Measures have also been announced to facilitate working families in receipt of the one-parent family payment, jobseeker's transitional benefit, family income supplement and the qualifying child payment.
The budget introduces a broad range of measures, on some of which I have touched. However, significant increases have been announced in the areas of child care, child protection and tackling crime, with measures for the arts, in respect of climate change, agriculture, food production and rural development, all of which will lead to real progress.
How am I for time, a Leas-Chathaoirligh?
The Minister of State is all right for time.
We have all night.
We are not curtailing the Minister of State.
Ireland has a strong track record in winning foreign direct investment. One of the key pillars of this success has been the growth of international financial services in recent decades. There are now 90,000 people working in the financial services sector. The Government is fully aware of how competitive the global financial services environment is and launched the international financial services strategy 2020, IFS2020, in March 2015. The strategy aims to grow the numbers employed in the sector by 30% net in the five-year period to 2020 and I am pleased to say we are on track. By the end of 2016, there had been 13% growth in employment from 2015. Around 40,000 are now employed directly across 400 indigenous and multinational firms, with a further 50,000 employed indirectly, giving a total of 90,000. The industry is now nationwide, with 30% of jobs outside Dublin in counties such as Donegal, Galway, Limerick, Cork, Kerry, Louth, Kilkenny and Wexford. As part of my role as Minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for financial services and insurance, I have undertaken a number of regional outreach visits and witnessed at first hand the attractiveness of the regions for financial services. Ireland will continue to compete for investments in the international financial services sector. A number of firms have already announced the creation or expansion of operations here. Ireland is a fully committed member of the European Union and we will be the only English-speaking nation and this will be the only common law jurisdiction in the Union after the United Kingdom's exit.
The recent surge in non-life premiums, in particular on the motor side, has had a significant impact on society as a whole as many struggle to afford insurance which is, after all, an essential requirement for day-to-day living. While average motor insurance premiums have begun to stabilise this year, prices increased by almost 70% from 2011 to their peak in July 2016. It is against this backdrop that the cost of insurance working group was established by the Minister of Finance last year. It resulted in the publication of the report on the cost of insurance. The recommendations include the establishment of a national claims information database and a personal injuries commission. Since publication of the report, the responsible bodies have been implementing the actions assigned to them in the detailed action plan. The second phase of the working group which I chair involves considering the impact of the cost of employer's and public liability insurance on the competitiveness of certain business sectors. Given the complexity of the issues involved in the area, it is expected that a final report will be published during the autumn to winter term, rather than at the end of September as originally envisaged.
While the overall fiscal and economic backdrop is positive, nevertheless we face challenges, both domestically and internationally.
The Government is addressing these challenges within the available resources, domestically in regard to housing, continued improvements in services, notably in health and education, rewarding work and making the investment necessary to support a growing economy.
On the international challenges, additional resources are provided to address Brexit and to increase our footprint on the broader global stage. We are also addressing our infrastructure requirements through the capital programme.
We must look to opportunities, and I have outlined our approach in regard to financial services. I have also outlined the continuing progress in reducing insurance costs, which affect both households and businesses.
This budget has increased the amount of resources available and has continued the pattern of making steady incremental progress on a broad range of issues. It will bring about improvements in our services and in terms of opportunities in our country. I commend today's budget to the Seanad.
I call Senator Gerry Horkan. The Senator has eight minutes.
I appreciate that my party in the Dáil had an hour and I have eight minutes, so I will do a brief summary of most of the points I want to address. I thank the Minister of State and welcome him on what I believe is his first time in this Chamber. It is certainly his first time in this Chamber as a Minister of State addressing a budget speech.
Is the Senator pleading for injury time?
I am not, no. When and if I am in the Chair, I will give everyone an opportunity. The Order of Business is the Order of Business, so eight minutes is eight minutes.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the budget. This is not like any normal budget because even though Fianna Fáil as a party is in opposition, we entered a confidence and supply agreement, a unique arrangement that had never been done before in this country, in May 2016 after the last general election. This agreement requires us to abstain from the vote on the budget provided our core priorities, which are published and are available and about which there is nothing secret, are implemented.
As a result of our party's influence, last year's budget was the first progressive one in six years, a point that Deputy Michael McGrath acknowledged, as did the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, when he was a Minister. Fianna Fáil has again used its influence to leave its print on this budget, and it is a better budget for Fianna Fáil being involved in its production.
We have worked to emphasise investment in services in housing, health, mental health particularly, education at all levels, child care and in improving the social and capital condition of communities, while all the time focusing tax reductions on low and middle-income earners in particular.
The minimum two to one split of services to tax cuts has been the hallmark of our policy and has fundamentally set the parameters of this budget. The more right wing, US-style approach that Fine Gael had used in the past was rejected by the electorate in 2016, and Fianna Fáil, through our confidence and supply agreement, has ensured that in its place an emphasis on fairness and building of our public services and communities has taken priority.
Our party welcomes the fact that in overall terms the economy is doing well. GDP growth was 5.2% in 2016. It will ease to approximately 4.3% this year, and the forecast is that it will be approximately 3.5% next year, which is still healthy. Growth of 3% to 4% per annum is where we need to keep it. I remember being told in school that if we grew by 0.5%, we would be doing well. It is a very healthy position to be in, but it needs to be at a sustainable level and we must avoid a situation where huge pressures build up in the economy, particularly approaching full employment, which puts other pressures on us in that it is difficult to find the number of employees needed, particularly for areas like construction in terms of housing and so on.
For those reasons, even though Ireland is not obliged to reach its medium term fiscal objective in 2018, we believe the Government is right to seek to do so. Beyond 2018, we believe that establishing a rainy day fund is the right thing to do. It is a fund we can draw on when our economic conditions are less favourable. Such a fund is a sensible part of budgetary policy and would be a sure sign that we have matured and learned lessons from the past.
In the last election, Fianna Fáil was the only party that campaigned to retain mortgage interest relief to 2020. Both Fine Gael and Sinn Féin said it should be abolished in one go. Fianna Fáil fought for the extension because of what it would mean to nearly 430,000 people. These people and families bought houses when property prices were at a peak. They have suffered worst from negative equity whereby the mortgage exceeds the value of the house. Last year we secured agreement that mortgage interest relief would be retained until 2020 and phased out over the next three years as opposed to ending it overnight, and the details have been confirmed in the budget. In simple terms, in 2018, mortgage holders who benefit from the tax relief at source will keep 75% of the benefit they had in 2017, 50% in 2019 and 25% in 2020. Again, that is one of the many Fianna Fáil stamps on this overall budget. At a time when more than 50,000 families are in serious mortgage arrears of over 90 days, it was essential that we would keep this relief going for the next three years. That would not have been possible without us fighting for it in the confidence and supply agreement.
As the Minister outlined, however, we need to aggressively tackle the high cost that individuals and families in our society face, whether it be high mortgage rates in terms of interest rates, motor insurance premiums, which the Minister discussed, the cost of energy, waste collection, rent or health insurance. The Minister is now involved with the working group on motor insurance but as he is aware, the joint committee produced a very good, thorough report with many recommendations, which are also being implemented. I commend all the members, including the Minister when he attended the committee, on the production of that report. It is welcome that motor insurance costs appear to be stabilising, but they are still very high and it is hoped they will reduce to a sustainable level into the future.
As a party, we have placed a major emphasis on the cost of mortgages and the cost of insurance. Motor insurance continues to be a major issue and while the figures have stabilised, individual motorists are still seeing very significant increases. We will continue to hold the Government to account on the implementation of the recommendations of both the Cost of Insurance Working Group and those in the joint committee's report.
Not only is today budget day; it is also World Homeless Day. That should serve as a stark reminder that the housing crisis is the most serious issue facing this country. There are over 130,000 households on the social housing waiting list. Many have been on the list for many years. The country is experiencing the highest rent costs on record. They are higher than at any previous point in time, including the boom, while house prices are rapidly growing beyond the reach of many ordinary working people.
The homelessness scandal is a scar on our cities and towns, with some 8,000 people in emergency accommodation and over 3,000 of those being children. The dream of owning a home is fast becoming more and more distant to more and more people, including many of those with good jobs. In spite of growing employment figures, young workers believe they are further away than ever from owning their own home.
It is time to get local authorities building again. Success will not be counted purely in numbers. It will be counted in terms of the bricks and mortar, the estates that are built, the developments, apartment blocks and so on across the country but, as we would all acknowledge, particularly in the major urban centres.
Currently, we have 680,000 people on hospital waiting lists. We need both extra resources and managerial and human resources policy changes to bring our health services up to scratch for 21st century Ireland. It is acknowledged that we are spending a lot of money, but we are not seeing as much of a return as I would like to see for that money.
For working families and those with long-term and chronic conditions, the reduction in the drugs payment scheme threshold is welcome. The reduction in prescription charges is also welcome in terms of alleviating daily and weekly health costs. Boosting personal assistance and disability services is crucial to giving people with a disability a genuine pathway to inclusion. That will be the subject of post-budget engagement on our part and we will aim to ensure that this year's Health Service Executive, HSE, service plan will reflect our priorities in that area. We are also putting the HSE on notice of our intention to see substantial improvements in home help hours and home care packages in its 2018 service plan.
This is the second budget produced under the confidence and supply arrangement. I am sure many people thought we would not get this far but, as a party, we are determined that we will fulfil our part of the bargain in terms of three guaranteed budgets with a review at that point, subject to our priorities being included. It is by no means perfect, but it is stronger, fairer and more ambitious for Ireland than it would have been without Fianna Fáil's input. Our sole focus at all times has been to secure progress on measures contained in the confidence and supply agreement, not for our own benefit or for the sake of it, but in the interests of the people we represent.
In terms of social welfare, child care, education, the pupil-teacher ratio, guidance counsellors, investment in infrastructure, the new technology-based firms, NTBFs, coming back last year and a further investment this year, motor insurance and housing, they are all very important. However, as the Minister pointed out and as the former Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, stated in his last contribution in our former Chamber, as a country we are the second most indebted in the world per head of population after Japan. In that context, and in the context of Brexit, we need to be aware of the challenges we face but it is a better budget as a result of our party's involvement. I thank the Minister of State for being here and listening to us.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, to the House. It is a complex budget so I do not intend to go into much of the detail, but I thank the Minister of State for giving us a brief run through the Schedule.
The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has delivered his first and this Government's second budget. That is a remarkable milestone. I note what Senator Horkan had to say on the issue of a third budget. I do not know if that is Senator Horkan's take or that is Fianna Fáil. We are now two budgets down and there is a third to which Fianna Fáil is committed to supporting. We can have a great debate about Fianna Fáil abstaining or supporting but ultimately by abstaining, it is supporting the budget. Fianna Fáil will be supporting the budget, subject to the conditions agreed and formalised in the confidence and supply agreement.
Today the Minister for Finance has signalled the Government's intention to create stability and a degree of certainty by balancing the books, investing in infrastructure and supporting families and businesses. That has to be acknowledged, given the difficult financial space. Reference was made to Rebuilding Ireland, the Government's action plan for housing which addresses one of most pressing needs in terms of infrastructure for our people and our country. The Government has set down major and ambitious targets in its housing plan. In that context, I welcome today's announcement of an increase in funding for local authorities for the construction of new social and affordable housing. That is the correct course because the local authorities, all 31 of them, are capable of delivering once they are given the necessary resources.
With rents now beyond Celtic tiger highs and homelessness on the rise, housing remains the most challenging issue facing this country and everyone acknowledges that fact. That was also dealt with today. I welcome today's announcement of support for housing construction. The Government now needs to engage with the 31 local authorities and enter the housing delivery market in an aggressive way to address the real shortcomings in terms of housing, with the emphasis on building social and affordable housing. That is really important. It is disappointing that the details of a new national affordable housing scheme, which the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has been promising for months, were not outlined today. I hope the Minister will announce that in the coming days. What is the national scheme? We had one last year but there has been no replacement. The Minister made a commitment to roll out a national affordable housing scheme across the country.
I am somewhat surprised at the stamp duty of 6% on commercial premises because it does not clearly differentiate between large commercial properties - which I understand the Government is trying to target and which is a good idea - and small premises like shops. Why should a small shop in an urban town like Gorey, for instance, incur stamp duty of 6% from midnight tonight? What about the policy in Rebuilding Ireland that talks about addressing these derelict shops in our towns and villages? There is no differentiation made between a small, broken down shop on the high street and a large commercial premises. The Government needs to reconsider that. There are small shops that potentially could be done up, sold on or turned into housing, subject to planning permission but the Government has missed the boat. I urge the Government to review the measure, if not now, then next year.
I want to raise the important issue of the local property tax. There was an expectation that the Government would address this issue in the budget but it did not do so. I listened to the Taoiseach talking about getting up early in the morning. I like to get up early in the morning. Everyone wants to get up early in the morning and wants to work but they want to be rewarded for that work. It is a pity we did not hear more about the Government's intentions with regard to the property tax.
We now know that there will be a merger of USC and PRSI in the long term. The reality is that people earning €13,100 are paying USC. Do Members know what €13,100 amounts to? It is €251 per week. That is crazy and is something that should be addressed going forward. Why are people in that bracket paying USC? I would suggest that nobody earning less than €26,000 should be paying USC. Why should they be? They are struggling to live on that sum.
Why are people who are working hard and who are paying for private health insurance being levied by the Government? We have seen in previous budgets that the Government has addressed this issue in terms of the levy. There are people paying between €300 and €400 for private health insurance. They do not necessarily want it but they have got to have it because when they are sick, they want to get a bed in a hospital and they want to get treated. People are now having to pay for private health insurance. I accept that it is a luxury to have private health insurance but the Government is sending out the wrong message in penalising people by imposing a levy on their private health insurance.
I welcome this budget. It is easy for me to say that, although I am not a member of the Government. I believe the Government has tried hard. However, I would suggest to the leader of Fine Gael, who spoke about people getting up early in the morning to work, that those people need to be incentivised to work. They do not want to be penalised. "Profit" and "hard work" are good words in my political vocabulary. They are important messages and they need to be taken on board.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, to the House. I wish him and his colleagues, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, well with the budget. Of course, Deputies Donohoe and D'Arcy are former distinguished Members of this House. Deputy O'Donovan tried his best to get into this House but did not succeed. I wish them all well with the budget.
I have listened to many budget speeches in the House over the years and believe this is the best one that I have heard delivered by a Minister for Finance in all of my time here. There is something for everybody in this budget. We have had budgets for hard times and when one considers where we have come from as a nation since 2011, then one must acknowledge that this is a great budget. As far as I recall, we had two budgets in 2011 and nobody would have believed then that we would be in such a healthy position at this stage. For the first time since former Deputy Charlie McCreevy was Minister for Finance, we are going to balance the books. That sends out a great message to people who want to invest in this country at this particular time, especially in the context of what may happen as a result of Brexit.
The main provisions of the budget were outlined by the Minister earlier. He referred to real growth of 4.3% this year. Next year growth is expected to be in the region of 3.5%, which is a major achievement. The country is growing year on year. In each of the last 19 quarters the economy has been growing and that growth has been spread across every region. Employment is at its highest level since 2008, with over 2 million people at work in our economy. I remember when there were only slightly more than 1 million people working in the Irish economy but that figure has now doubled. All of those people are paying taxes and paying their way, which is of great benefit to the economy. Indeed, it is the life and soul of the economy. Increased employment means that the Government can deliver public services to the nation.
Unemployment, which currently stands at 6.1%, is expected to average 5.7% next year. This is a huge improvement on the 15% unemployment rate of 2012. Great credit is due to this Government and its predecessor for the way in which they worked to bring the level of unemployment from 15% down to 6.1%. Next year, unemployment is expected to fall to 5.7%, which is a major achievement for the country and the economy.
The Minister for Finance said that this budget delivers the Government's long-standing target of balancing the books, in structural terms, next year. The achievement of this MTO, or medium term budgetary objective, sends out a great message to potential investors. There has been much debate about the so-called rainy day fund. We previously had the National Pensions Reserve Fund, NPRF, which we were able to use to plug holes after the crash in 2010. Some now argue that we would be better off investing the money, given that interest rates are so low.
We could have an endless debate about the rainy day fund, but on balance we are certainly better with a rainy day fund than without one if something happens. It can be of great benefit to a nation to be able to say it has money in abeyance. The old people used to say one time that they would put money by, and they always had a few pounds. We saw this in many family businesses, where people had a few pounds and it was the lifesaving of their business over the very difficult years they went through.
There are many good things in the budget, including the €5 increase in the weekly social welfare payment, which will be very helpful to all the people who are on social welfare, including those drawing pensions. It will be of great benefit to low-income households in the country.
The Minister of State has outlined many issues. There will be an additional 3,000 new build social houses by 2021 and, as we know, the housing situation in the country is in dire straits. To be fair to the Government, it has got to grips with the housing crisis now. We see at the moment that housing builds are back to levels we have not seen for quite a number of years. This is a sector in society that is badly needed because many people are involved in building houses, including solicitors, accountants, auctioneers and banks, and it is an entire sector of our society that has not been working for many years. The crash happened because of too much money coming in through this area and what might happen if we did not have the sector was not budgeted for properly Society needs this area to be working actively, not alone to provide badly needed houses for families but also to keep many arms of society going. It is an area that has not been working since 2011, and we have seen many people in the sector unemployed, such as auctioneers and solicitors. They also suffered greatly.
I have noticed the Sinn Féin policy and its so-called balanced budget. Most of the money it was going to raise was through increasing VAT from 9% to 13.5%. I am very disappointed in my colleague from County Mayo, who wants to increase the burden on the small restaurant and bar person and hotels in the county. They have struggled during all of those years. They are great employers. Tourism is a huge area, and includes hotels and small restaurants. They employ people part-time and full-time. They have struggled during the recession. Many family businesses barely hung on, and were it not for their rainy day fund they certainly would not have held on. To think Sinn Féin wants to crucify them by increasing VAT from 9% to 13.5%. In my view it is criminal because they have been the life and soul of many towns throughout the country, with their small restaurants and hotels, and they have provided huge resources to local communities and provided facilities for the tourism industry to attract tourists into places throughout the country such as Mayo.
We now have another Mayo-based Senator, Senator Conway-Walsh.
Deputy Paddy Burke started it.
You do not have to continue it.
Leave me out of it.
I need to put Senator Paddy Burke straight. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I hope he is in better form than his colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, when he appeared before us a couple of weeks ago.
I need to address what Senator Paddy Burke said regarding VAT on hotel beds. We need to be very clear about this because it is important to get accurate information. Certainly we would abolish the 9% VAT rate on hotel beds only and not on restaurants or bars. The reason we would do this is we all know massive price gouging goes on, in Dublin in particular, on hotel rooms. There is not a hotel bed to be got in the place and the prices escalate and escalate. We ask whether the €190 million would not be better used to invest in housing and perhaps in the children who must go to school from hotels and go home to whatever hotel their parents stay in that night, that is if they are lucky enough to have a bed. Part of this €190 million is given to people who are price gouging and who are multimillionaires. I will make no apologies for that whatsoever.
In terms of hotels in rural Ireland, I absolutely agree, which is why other measures need to be put in place, such as the recalculation of the rates and a re-examination of the charges put on hotel owners in rural Ireland who do not have the footfall there is in urban areas.
Today's budget is a missed opportunity, and this has not happened by accident or through lack of foresight. I want to press the point the budget is well thought out and has a definite ideology behind it. It is an ideology that dictates that as soon as the economy begins to recover those who can afford to give an little in order to help raise the living standards of those who have suffered the most remain the protected species. I say this because €662 million could have been raised if we were to ask those earning more than €100,000 to pay an extra 7 cent in each euro they earn. This would only affect 3% of earners, as 97% of earners under the Sinn Féin alternative budget would not be affected in any way by it. The sum of €662 million could go an awfully long way towards addressing many of the infrastructural deficits Senator Paddy Burke and others, who are familiar with Mayo and the rest of Ireland, know could really do with it, whether it be broadband, roads, sewerage or many other areas where the money is desperately needed.
We talk about unemployment, and I do not want to talk about my colleague, Senator Paddy Burke, all the time, but he has given rise to a few issues that are important to address. With regard to the congratulations on reducing the unemployment rate, which is at 5% or 6%, he absolutely must know there are areas of Mayo and rural Ireland with unemployment figures of above 30%. I live in one of the areas myself. This is even with the huge and savage emigration that has happened. Emigration has been the solution to much of the unemployment in rural Ireland. To be working off the premise we are in a situation with full employment is deeply worrying.
With regard to the rainy day fund, we have all these infrastructural deficits and serious problems in health, with almost 700,000 people waiting for treatment and hundreds of people on trolleys and everything else in terms of people being able to access treatment. We also have many people who are homeless and who are about to be made homeless. Surely it is a rainy day for them. The money in the rainy day fund, I believe, should be used to invest in vital infrastructure. We know every single euro invested in this would mean a return of €4.
Now I will get to Fianna Fáil. Earlier today, Fianna Fáil spoke of its achievements in mitigating some of the worst aspects of Fine Gael's budget, and we should be so grateful that Fianna Fáil is here to save us. It is very proud the cut in mortgage interest relief was only 25%, but I want it to explain to first-time buyers why this has happened at all. Either Fianna Fáil has influence or it does not. Either it has red line issues or it does not. The tax cuts that were negotiated between Fianna Fáil and the Government behind the scenes are of no interest to those who are on hospital waiting lists or in emergency accommodation.
Those who earn more than €70,000 will save €328 per annum whereas those on €20,000 will save a mere €53 a year, about one euro a week. While €53 does not seem like a great deal of money, put together the tax cuts amount to €335 million. That €335 million means a lot to those on the waiting list for operations or for those waiting for funding of essential medicines. It certainly means a great deal to those who are waiting ten years or more on the social housing waiting list and those who are living in areas that are seriously restrained by chronically poor services, such as transport and broadband. I want that figure of €335 million in tax cuts for the most well-off to be at the forefront of everybody's mind every time they are told that the money is simply not there. This goes to show where Fianna Fáil exerted the pressure and Fine Gael jumped in to protect the highest earners.
The headline figure announced today for health spending does not even cover the amount needed to allow the service to function and to stand still as it is. Demographic pressure-----
The Senator has one minute remaining.
That time went quickly. I will have to save the rest for later in the week when the other Ministers will be present.
Demographic pressure, public service pay and the carry-over mean that the service needs an additional €691 million per annum. In this budget, the Government has set aside only €685 million, leaving a shortfall of €6 million. This fact has been put out today and it has not been disputed by the Ministers so far.
The 50 cent increase in excise on the packet of cigarettes is the right thing to do. I would say that measure is cost neutral. There is elasticity in an action that would cause people to change their behaviour. The Government has factored that in as €64 million. That certainly worries me.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I grew up listening to the late Liam Cosgrave as he was enunciated on "Hall's Pictorial Weekly". It was not a bad way to get an interest in politics. It was entertaining. To his family, his political family and friends, I express the sympathy and condolences of the Civil Engagement group.
The Civil Engagement group, CEG, called for equality, transparency and sustainability in budget 2018. We called not only for economic transparency but also transparency in social and environmental issues. For a Government with a great capacity for communications, it is telling that those qualities do not jump off the pages, so to speak. The CEG set out five principles for the budget. We hoped it would deliver joined-up thinking for sustainable development. I have already referred to the elements of that which come through the sustainable development goals that Ireland has signed up to, namely, prioritising investment in public services and social infrastructure, and addressing social, economic and gender inequality. I might mention briefly that 70% of carers in this country are women. There are issues for families, young people and elderly people. We called for fairness in taxation. We are a low tax take country at a time when we have major unmet needs across all sectors, be it disability, children and older people. We need to meet our international standards and commitments.
The organisation, Family Carers Ireland, is very disappointed at the response to its call for investment in home care which seems to have fallen on deaf ears. There is a lack of appropriate home care, respite and other vital community supports as well as personal assistants for the disabled. It is disappointed that thousands of family carers throughout the country who are in contact with its centres do not have enough home care support, which leaves them burned out and stressed, with their own health being put in jeopardy. The provision of emergency respite care is a significant issue. We heard Deputy Leo Varadkar speak on this matter on the night he was elected Taoiseach. I know of adults with disabilities who are now acting as carers for their aged parents. That is the position in 2017 as we move into 2018.
The HSE has supplied figures which show that more than 1,200 young people with disabilities are in nursing homes because the services that are needed to allow them to remain in the community are not in place. The Taoiseach is reported this morning as saying that the average family will be €500 to €600 better off. Perhaps that is so, but what is the position of the average family where one of its members has a disability? Another 60,000 to 80,000 families who are not dealing with the issue of disability today will join the families already dealing with disability. That family would happily give up their €500 to €600 if they knew they had access to the services, supports and information they need in a timely fashion.
The Budget Statement did not reference the United Nations convention, yet the convention was strongly and repeatedly referenced by the Taoiseach since his election. In other words, we have been marched up a hill, like the grand old Duke of York, only to be marched back down again. We have had four months of talks about the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and today we have a damp squib. I acknowledge that there have been improvements in the past year for people with disabilities, and today a number of measures that have been set out are all right.
My bitter disappointment is that this Budget Statement could have been a game changer. It could have set the plan and given hope for the emancipation of people with disabilities and their families. This is the commitment of the State to the UN convention. We have for the first time ever a Minister of State supporting the Government on disability issues who attends Cabinet meetings, but the Government does not have a coherent package in line with the stated commitment to improve the inclusion of people with disabilities. In spite of promises from the Taoiseach, the disability community has been sidelined. People with disabilities should not be sidelined at a time when so many issues impacting directly on them need to be addressed in order for the Government to implement its own commitment. As recently as last week the Taoiseach said that he wished to acknowledge absolutely that there are many shortcomings and problems and that much more needs to be done. He also referred directly to finalising spending priorities for 2018: "I am sure we will find additional funding for disability ... that is going to have to form part of the budget and the estimates process". The Taoiseach made other statements. On 14 June he stated in the Dáil, "As a Government, we are renewing our commitment to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this year and to improving services available to people with disabilities, especially respite care and emergency residential places." He also said on 4 October in the context of spending rules that disability will have to form part of the budgetary Estimates. In recent correspondence to me, the Taoiseach said that he appreciated that ratification of the convention is of major concern to people with disabilities and their families and agreed it is not good enough that so much time has elapsed before something has been done about it.
Let me cut to the chase. In the absence of any further clarification, and I hope there will be further clarification, poverty will remain stubbornly high because of the extra costs of daily living that are not being tackled. There is no comfort that there will be resources to support people to live in the community. A total of 1,200 young disabled people are in nursing homes today. There is no commitment to provide social housing to tackle the growing waiting list. There are no resources to turn around the appalling unemployment rate for people with disabilities.
The announcement of the funding of an additional 1,000 special needs assistants, SNAs, in schools stands out.
Where will the kids they are working with go after school? The Government is not thinking about that conundrum.
The 5% increase, the Christmas bonus, the reduction in prescription drugs threshold payments, the increase in the telephone allowance and the charities tax relief are all to be welcomed but they are marginal in the scheme of what needs to be done. The budget had the resources and the Government has the capacity to present us with a whole-of-Government approach. It also has a Minister of State to assist with it, but it has not happened. It is a sad day for the 643,000 people in Ireland with disabilities. There was not something for everyone in this budget, as Senator Burke has suggested.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and wish him well in his portfolio working alongside the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. Looking at the budget and listening to the broad brush strokes that were set out by the Minister in the Dáil today, it brings to mind the vastness of the competing interests for the budget and how passionately and with great integrity people can argue their case, and rightly so. It is the job of the Minister, the Minister of State, working with him, and all of us to try to get the balance right. However, there is always room for more investment and somewhere towards which we strive to improve the lives of our citizens and fulfil their potential and that of the country.
I agree with Senator Burke. We always need to take stock, and times like this give us that opportunity. We are in a position to make choices about where we spend money. We balance books. That is never glamorous, but it is the responsible thing to do. It also sends out a positive message as regards investment which in turn can create future growth and more money to spend on public services.
As Senator Dolan has rightly described, there are many countries where people never arrive at this position or get to debate the rights of individual citizens and how they can be empowered. As far as I am concerned, there are many good aspects to living in this country.
This is a good budget which tries to speak to a multitude of competing interests. It does not just do it in generality. Let us face it, there is, and rightly so, a big emphasis on housing and health. We see a bigger budget than ever in education. We will see an additional 1,300 teaching posts. At 26 to 1, the pupil-teacher ratio will be at its lowest ever. That is pretty good news. It was one of the asks of the INTO. Many teachers are struggling with big classes. We also see that the number of special needs assistants will increase by 1,000, which will bring the total number in the State to 15,000 come next September. We see an increase of 1,800 gardaí to be recruited.
It is 800.
Did I say 1,800? My apologies. I am getting carried away. There will also be 500 civilian workers.
We now have a debate on child care and an investment in child care that is unprecedented. Do we have a distance to go? Yes, we do. However, to my mind we are coming from pretty much the dark ages and a lot of that is related to the position which women occupied for a long time in this society but is being broken through. There are new attitudes about child care and shared responsibility between men and women. We are a truly modern society and, therefore, we will have more issues concerning affluence and how we distribute wealth.
One of the cornerstones of what Fine Gael has had to say and has been supported in this budget is rewarding people who work hard. Without that, no taxes are generated. I understand the arguments relating to VAT, etc.
A matter I have raised in this House time and again is the renewable heat incentive scheme. A sum of €17 million has been announced to set that under way. I consider that very welcome. Not only will it help farmers and small businesses to displace fossil fuels but it will help us to achieve our renewable heat targets. On the €300 million being made available in a Brexit loan scheme for small and medium enterprises which will also assist the food industry, that has proven very successful on the farming side and I know that further measures for farmers will be considered. All of these are practical measures. I welcome this budget and look forward to seeing its implementation and the benefits on the ground for our citizens, society and country.
Earlier today, Fergus Finlay remarked that this budget can be compared to a bag of dolly mixtures, and I do not think he was referring to the introduction of the sugar tax. The impression has been given quite deliberately that there is, as Senator Burke said, a little bit of something for everyone in this package. However, when the Government tries to do something small for everyone to keep the bulk of people mollified, it ends up doing little for anyone. Sadly, just like the Government, this budget lacks a theme, a vision and any real ambition for our country.
Its measures are designed to keep Fine Gael in government and Fianna Fáil quiet. I am sure the Chairman will disagree with me, but Fianna Fáil must be wondering why it is bothering to keep the Government in office because it is hard to detect Fianna Fáil's fingerprints on this document. I suspect that at Fianna Fáil's Ard-Fheis this week its party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, will have questions to answer from the Fianna Fáil faithful about its continued support for this Administration. As for the Independent Alliance, it is really difficult to know what it stands for now. I was unconvinced about it from the start, and into the second budget of this Administration, I am even more convinced that there is no point whatsoever to the Independent Alliance. How can anyone take it seriously? I cannot detect a single measure in the budget from the Independent Alliance. There is nothing whatsoever.
It was alluded to earlier that politics is about choices. It absolutely is. The annual budget process gives the Government of the day the opportunity to put a philosophical, political and economic shape on its message. After what could be described as a lost decade in terms of investment in our infrastructure and public services, my party was clear in the past two budgets that now, when limited resources are available, is not the time for tax cuts which are for most working people throughout the country not worth the price of a cup of coffee. However, the Government and Fianna Fáil chose to ignore that message and not to accept that argument, which is fair enough because in politics we make choices and decisions.
However, it worries me for the future when I see that the approximately €400 million to be used for the purpose of income tax and USC cuts, small and all as they are for low and middle income workers, is to be directly paid for by increasing the levy on commercial property transactions. Families throughout the country are still paying the price for the destruction of a tax-cutting economic model that was disproportionately built on what property transactions could raise during the 2000s. It has to be asked whether this Government and Fianna Fáil learned anything at all from the Charlie McCreevy and Bertie Ahern eras.
We cannot continue to depend on the expectation that we will have high levels of commercial property activity and to apply stamp duty levies and such to that to fund tax cuts and spending rises over the next few years. This is dangerous short-term thinking and ultimately those sums will not add up. To improve the standard of living of people who pay for everything, we can take a closer look at seriously taxing assets as is done in other mature, developed democracies, but this Government does not seem to have the courage to take that on. Most wealth, as the Minister of State knows, is held in assets. It is not generated from work or anything else. That is why I am concerned about how we identify resources for tax cuts and so on in very narrow policy areas. Most wealth is held in assets and is concentrated in the hands of relatively few individuals and organisations. I am not averse to cutting taxes for working people but I am averse to a system that refuses to learn the lessons of the recent past and that seems to think we can continue to fund tax cuts and improvements to public services through taxes on what is essentially property speculation.
While we are on the subject of tax cuts, those who depend on the State for their income will be angered to see that the €5 increase being provided to pensioners, carers, jobseekers and others receiving social welfare payments, which was promised by the Government today, actually amounts to as little as an average of €3.85 per week in 2018 because the introduction of those increases is only taking place towards the end of March. It will be 12 weeks into next year before pensioners, carers, jobseekers and people on disability payments will get that increase but, averaged out over the year, it will really mean an increase of €3.85 per week and not €5. Tax cuts will take effect in early January, which is fair enough if one agrees that is the approach which should be taken, but pensioners will have to wait until 26 March to see their benefits increase. It beggars belief. I think this is very unfair and it is also unreasonable and unfair to see a situation where we will only have a continuation of the 85% restoration of the Christmas bonus and that the Minister has decided not to continue on that trajectory of increasing the Christmas bonus as we have done as soon as resources became available in recent years. It was 25% in the first instance, then 75%, and 85% this year. I think we would all have preferred to see a full restoration of the Christmas bonus to help families through that difficult Christmas period, particularly for those who depend on the State for their income.
It is clear from this budget that Sláintecare, the signature and arguably only achievement of the do-nothing Dáil, has been effectively strangled at birth by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. There is little available in the budget today to fund the implementation, in any real meaningful way, of the plan, at least to a point where it would represent real progress. Instead we will, for example, spend €55 million a year on outsourcing the resolution of our hospital waiting lists to the private sector. We are not making any real, meaningful attempt to implement what was a set of cross-party solutions designed to resolve a massive social challenge in this country, funding the operation of a fully-resourced public health service.
I welcome the major milestone of a balanced budget on our road to recovery that has been achieved with today's announcements. To have done this as well as creating the conditions in our economic climate to enable unemployment to reduce from 15% to 6.1% has to be acknowledged. In doing that, there is much more to be done but the balanced budget allows us, going forward, to look at many more things such as social welfare increases, which are welcome. Perhaps they could or should be more, but within the constraints of the financial situation, I think they are all that could be done on this occasion, but it is important to keep that going down the line. It is important to say that, looking back over the last ten years, we are way ahead of where we might have imagined we would be when the economy, depending on the way one looked at it, was pushed over a cliff or fell over a cliff ten years ago. Promoting fairness and improvements, the plight of the vulnerable and the lower and middle-income earners should now be a priority and has been a priority, but it can be done better in conditions where the budget is balanced. The reductions in USC and the changes in the tax bands are necessary and must be continued over the next number of budgets, irrespective of who is in government.
I refer to a few things in the area that I cover in the Seanad, which is transport, tourism and sport. The 9% VAT rate has been mentioned and we have heard the contrasting views on it. In the circumstances with Brexit and how tourism has been one of the pillars that has saved and helped to renew our economy, it was, on balance, probably better to retain that VAT rate. I agree that it is not acceptable that accommodation rates, in particular, have skyrocketed over the last couple of years in particular. While the VAT rate has been retained, it is important that our hotel industry now responds to what has been kept in good faith. It needs to be able to respond. For instance, part of the bid for the Rugby World Cup was based on an agreement - I am not sure if it is a signed agreement or what else it might be - from the Irish Hotels Federation not to inflate prices for the period of the Rugby World Cup if our bid is successful. The hotel industry can respond for an event like that. I am talking about large urban areas, because those prices have not been gouged up or multiplied in rural areas. One of the great secrets of our tourism industry that has further major potential is that the hotel prices have not inflated hugely in certain parts of rural Ireland.
I have not yet looked in great detail at the provisions but I ask the Minister of State when the sports capital programme and the date for applications going in at the beginning of the year are likely to be announced. Much important activity is needed in local areas around the country for clubs and regional projects. I very much support the continuation of phase 2 of the national indoor arena and the road infrastructure. The Celtic tiger and associated road development never arrived in certain parts of rural Ireland and it is important that projects like the N4 and N5 are continued and that the M18 continues to Sligo. I welcome the important incentives for electric cars since change is happening in that area.
I do not know about others but this is the second time I have been in these buildings for a budget. It seems really lacklustre. Maybe there is a missed opportunity. I am not sure how to describe it. The two national emergencies in this country are housing and health. This opportunity for a budget to actually do something meaningful for the people of this country has been missed. I am pretty disappointed and I am sure that many people around the country are disappointed too. I want to concentrate on health because that is my area of expertise.
This budget failed to grasp the urgency and emergency that is the health crisis in this country. The INMO and the nursing organisations have come out to describe it as disappointing and regressive from a health perspective. Let us take the example of children being admitted to psychiatric wards. This has happened to two children in my own area of Dublin South-Central in the last month alone, something that is being replicated across the country. Some are left on plastic chairs without even the luxury of a so-called trolley.
We have a paucity of front line staff in our health system. We chased so many out, people who will not now come back because of the stressful conditions and disrespectful treatment by the Governments of the last ten years. I went to Cappagh hospital last week to visit a relative who had had a knee replacement. I was surprised to find only three beds filled and thought that maybe this was because it was a quiet week. I asked the staff there about it and it turns out that of the nine beds there, they only ever admit three patients at a time because they do not have the staff to carry out those operations. One can only imagine the people on the ever-growing waiting lists waiting for year after year in chronic pain and knowing that there are six vacant beds in Cappagh hospital. This is not prudent and makes no sense at all.
If the Minister wants to spin this into claiming that this health budget is the biggest in the history of the State then he needs to do the maths. We have an increasing population that needs to be taken into account, rising demands, increased availability of modern treatments and we have an increase in the population over 65. This so-called "biggest health budget in the history of the State" does not cut it because it does not take changes in demographics, ageing and new treatments into account.
Nurses and doctors will continue to leave in their droves, leaving workplaces that are unfit for their practice. There are no available homes for them to rent or buy because of the housing emergency. How much of the health budget will be sneakily returned? Let us take the example of the €20 million that was returned last year from the €35 million that we had been promised for mental heath for many years, something that caused a furore outside the gates of these Houses in March of last year. Let us also take the €17 million that was returned from Roscommon. The Department claimed that no moneys had been returned but, lo and behold, two days later a report came out establishing that €17 million had been given back.
I want to really question where the €35 million allocation for mental health funding mysteriously goes every year. It is certainly not seen on the front line, in extra CAMHS teams, in occupational therapy, in intellectual disability, and it is certainly not seen being spent on people with disabilities, as Senator Dolan has so eloquently and passionately discussed.
I want to end with a reminder to the Minister that this health budget, and mental health budget in particular, is far too low. The A Vision for Change strategy document for mental health services recommended that it be increased to 8.5% at a minimum. This health budget leaves us standing still; there is none of the vision to go forward that we saw in A Vision for Change. About an hour ago Fine Gael tweeted that the mental health budget has risen to €885 million, an increase of €35 million. Mental Health Reform has tweeted in response to say that in accordance with the figures Fine Gael provided in its tweets - and maybe Fine Gael needs to have a look at that - this only amounts to an increase of €11.3 million. We need clarification on this from the Minister for Health and the Minister of State with special responsibility for mental health. We need them to give us the facts, the plans and the strategies and we need them to keep the money in the mental health budget pocket.
After the budgets of the past few years, some people might be forgiven for welcoming today’s announcements as a relatively happy occasion. There are tax cuts, spending increases, higher payments for social welfare recipients and, as Senator Dolan mentioned, a little for almost everyone in the audience.
I would like to start with some positivity, something that is often lacking in modern politics. I am glad to see extra money from the Government going towards health. A 5% increase of €685 million and the hiring of 1,800 new front-line staff should make some difference to delivery in many parts of the health system. I am also extremely happy to see the Government putting into effect the recommendations of my Green Party colleague, Deputy Catherine Martin, in regard to extending maternity benefits to mothers of premature babies born after 1 October this year, correcting a long-running unfairness that left them at a disadvantage and lessened their freedom to make the choices they need to ensure the best care for their babies. The Ministers for justice and health must be commended for entering into this process in good faith and for delivering on their promise to make this idea a reality.
With regard to the new health allocation, I ask the Minister for Health whether he plans to follow a similar course and finally commit to guaranteeing the provision of 24-7 emergency cardiac care for the south east, and in particular the provision of a second, essential cath lab for University Hospital Waterford. This is, as we have sadly seen so recently, a matter of life and death for some in Waterford and the surrounding counties. I ask that this emergency care coverage black spot be prioritised in the allocation of this extra spending.
With regard to housing, I welcome the Government’s late conversion to the principle of increasing the levies on vacant land left undeveloped from 3% to 7% from the second year of inactivity. My colleagues in the Civil Engagement group and I introduced just such a measure here in February, but better late than never when it comes to tackling this crucial source of one of the problems in the housing crisis. A similar penalty applying to empty and derelict properties is as necessary as it is on undeveloped land, and this is something I hope the Government will also follow the Opposition’s lead on. Landbanking is not, and must never be, a right, especially in a time of such pressure as we are currently facing.
While the new allocations for housing construction are significant, the approach taken is still an almost entirely market-led one. I remain concerned that the private sector will continue to hold out for yet more carrots before beginning construction of new stock at the speed that is required. My group and I remain convinced that a local authority-led construction scheme for social housing in high-pressure areas is the best way to deliver housing in the places that need it the most. I remain concerned that the HAP system as currently formulated can too often lead to social segregation and a two-tier housing system. We need to realise an approach to housing that sees homes as a fundamental right and not a system of investment.
On the issue of transport, I listened with dismay to the Minister's allocation of a derisory €3 million to cycling and other active transport. If we are to get serious about creating a critical mass that will allow for those that do not need to drive to switch to other, healthier, more equitable and less socially damaging modes of transport, then €3 million is just not enough. We need something closer to €10 million.
This to me is not a green budget. As we face into huge EU fines for failing to curb our climate-killing emissions, there is no grand plan to change our economy or society to the scale required. There is not even a plan to improve the charging network to accompany the tax supports for electric vehicle owners. There are no new rail projects or sustainable transport supports, nothing on the great aviation fuel tax giveaway, and nothing to recognise the environmental impact of diesel. The people of Ireland would have been better served by a more visionary budget rather than by the small tax cuts here and there that will cost the State hundreds of millions of euro and deny further resources to essential services. What a pity that all the colour that we have seen from the new Cabinet has been confined to the Taoiseach's socks and does not extend to today’s budget. We can only hope that next year's budget will be a little more visionary and ambitious.
I welcome the Minister of State. I wish him, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, and the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, all the best in terms of the budget.
I welcome that this is a balanced budget and there is a little bit for everybody. I am glad to see that the Government has been prudent in the way it has chosen to spend the money and that it is not putting its two feet into it in terms of overspending in any one particular area because we have to remember the history of what we have seen here and the consequences that faced the country. It is great that, today, ahead of schedule, a balanced budget is being delivered.
This is a balanced budget which, I suppose, has a little bit for everybody, from families to small business, to the increases in health and the increases in education. The fact that extra money has been provided in these key areas, especially in education and health, is progressive. It is something that will be welcomed by people across the country. As long as I have been here, that is, for the past 18 months, we have been hearing about cutbacks in education and health and all the consequences across all constituencies. The investment in these areas today is crucial.
In terms of education, I welcome that there will be 6,000 extra apprenticeships. I have stated on many occasions in this Chamber that it is not only about third level education. I welcome the important increased funding in third level education. It is about investment. I also welcome that every family will now be able to avail of the two years' free preschool places. That is the start of education, and then going up as far as the third level. There will also be 6,000 apprenticeships created. On my own doorstep, Limerick Institute of Technology has a number of apprenticeship courses, two of which are at level 8 and level 9. Those kinds of incentives were never heard of previously. People are being encouraged to go back to education and even though some are afraid of third level, the fact that they are going in doing their apprenticeship and they are still getting their accreditation at the end of the day is very important. I am delighted to welcome the increase in funding in those areas.
I note some Members have given out about the retention of the 9% VAT rate and others are in favour of it. I agree that some in the hospitality sector in Dublin have abused it and put up hotel prices, but down the country, be it over in the west, the midlands or whatever, I have seen a number of small businesses using that lower VAT rate to reinvest in their businesses to create jobs. It is important, especially outside the ring of the M50, that the 9% VAT rate be kept. We are beginning to see an increase in tourism in the country. However, when there was no recession in Dublin there certainly was a recession in the rest of the country. For those small businesses that really suffered it is good that the 9% VAT rate is being kept for another year, that we know of. It has helped in terms of job creation and also in investment in properties.
I should have said that I welcome that speech and language therapy is now being brought into the education system. We have never had this before. I also welcome the reduction in class sizes. Speech and language therapy is something that affects a lot of people and it is important. There are 20 speech and language therapists to be used on a trial basis and if it is a success, the service will be expanded across the education system. It is an issue that I have seen in my constituency office involving people whose children have difficulties. These are all important measures.
It is all about investment in our future, starting with the young and going to the not-so-young in terms of the €5 increase. The latter is a small amount but it is important that we invest the money that we have rather than overspending.
I thank the Minister of State for his time.
I will not be overly-cynical of the budget. There are some elements that I will speak positively about, but perhaps with caution in terms of how they will work in implementation.
I will start by noting that I always struggle not to get upset around this time of year. Being a community worker and someone who has worked in addiction and with poverty all these years, I always remember the fear of budget time in deprived communities. When I hear language such as, "There is something for everyone", there is only really something for everyone if they are starting from a basis of some sort of stability in life. What if one's life is so far in the red in terms of health, poverty or a house falling down? I work with people with holes in their walls, with mould in their house, addiction and problems such as alcohol use. Arrears increased so much during the years of austerity that even though it might look like there is something for everyone, if people are so far in deficit in their own self and in their health and community, it actually does not feel like anything at all. It is about being mindful of that when we talk about how somebody will benefit in any particular way from something. I would like to add that to the whole USC debate. In the areas that I talk about regarding the community sector, I would have much preferred to see no cut in the USC and see that targeted towards the most vulnerable groups. There are marginal benefits for individuals but they would make a big impact for groups as a whole.
I welcome the increase in higher education and the capital spend, and the national training fund levy. The capital grants were such a loss to the university sector. As we do not know what the landscape for FDI or research and development will look like after Brexit, we need to be able to expand the university infrastructure so that we can entice research and development into the country in the wake of Brexit.
The ring-fencing of and increase in the national training fund is welcome. However, I was stopped in my tracks by the next sentence of the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, when he mentioned the central role that employers would play in this. This would be a red flag for me. Although I welcome the increase, in allowing employers have a strong hold on the curriculum and on the way courses will develop, it can become very specialised in particular areas of the labour market. One might see arts and humanities and other faculties fall down if employers have too much of any input. It is likely to result in a push for more specialisation to meet existing labour market needs when broader, more flexible entry-level courses are what is needed to improve student retention rates and tackle dropout rates. Employers are already a partner in the educational sector and increased influence would lead to an unfair industrial balance between employers and employees and unions. The focus of employers is likely to be on their particular graduate needs over individual personal development to which college is vital. It is about striking a balance and maybe having more conversations around exactly what a central role for employers looks like in the national training levy.
I wish to flag an issue involving the key employee engagement programme, KEEP. Perhaps the Minister of State can follow up this matter with me. I understand the logic in encouraging employee financial participation due to the positive effect on increasing competitiveness and staff retention. However, I am a little concerned about what this means for tax reliefs. If we begin to tax shares and stocks differently, does this then incentivise employers or employees to be paid more of their wage in stocks and shares? If someone is on €200,000 and then decides to be paid a large portion of that in stocks and shares instead of gross annual income, is there a bit of room there to erode the tax base and how will this be monitored?
Obviously, I welcome any increase in the area of lone parents but what has to be critiqued is the fact that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection only yesterday published the Indecon independent review of the amendments to the one-parent family payment since January 2012. This should have been published weeks ago so that it could have informed the budget. I understand it was supposed to be presented to the Oireachtas on 19 September. The Department missed the boat in terms of addressing poverty in lone-parent families and working families. Although the figures in the report show that there are more working families, they are still living in deprivation and poverty. This report would have been central to being able to address that fully in the budget this year.
I welcome the Minister of State and I welcome the budget.
I believe the best way out of poverty is a job. A job gives self-esteem. It also gives financial independence. Therefore, it is critical that we make jobs pay, that we make work pay and that people who work get to take home more of their pay. This budget supports such endeavour. The economy is only important in so far as it can support society and this budget does that too. I have heard people say that much more could be done in different sectors. That is patently true but we have a finite amount of money. This budget goes a long way towards spreading that in a way that supports workers but also looks after the more vulnerable in our society.
Widening the tax bands by €750 and changing the entry point for single earners from €33,800 to €34,550 is a big help to people. It will also be reflected in the 2.5% USC rate being reduced to 2% and the 5% USC rate being reduced to 4.7%.
The earning disregard for the one-parent family payment has been increased by €20 per week. The family income supplement, FIS, threshold has been increased by €10 per month. The qualified child payment has been increased by €2 per week. These are all small changes but they are changes that travel in the right direction and support people who face serious challenges at the moment.
I welcome the fact we have other revenue-raising provisions in the budget, particularly in so far as it shows there has been joined-up coherent thinking by Government. The sugar tax, increase in the price of a packet of 20 cigarettes and the VAT increase on sunbeds support public health policy to protect the health and well-being of people. I really welcome these initiatives.
I welcome the huge increase in the health budget and the fact it is, as far as I know, the biggest health budget in the history of the State. Again, there is job creation with the proposal to recruit 1,800 new front-line staff. The prescription charge has been decreased which, again, will reduce costs for people who are working and not working. The drugs payment scheme threshold has been reduced from €144 to €134, which is another help to people who are working but on medication. I also welcome the €471 million made available for capital funding. The initiative will lead to more jobs in construction and, indeed, the structures when they are built, including primary care centres, will lead to more jobs in staffing as well.
It is critically important that we invest in our future and our future are our children. Therefore, I particularly welcome the new jobs in education, the increase in the number of special needs assistants, SNAs, and the additional 1,300 teaching posts. I also welcome the increase in the number of gardaí to be recruited, including civilians.
I want to talk about the €2 billion that is available for transport, infrastructure and tourism. I am particularly interested in the greenways because, again, the initiative represents joined-up Government thinking. It affords people an opportunity to get out, be healthy and take exercise. I want to particularly mention the greenways that have proven so profitable in terms of jobs created and income generated. We have a wonderful opportunity in Fingal with our coastal routes and the fact that we have six train stations along the route. That means if people feel a bit tired from cycling the greenway they can just park their bikes and get the train home. Last year, 27 million people passed through Dublin Airport and it has been projected that the figure will be 30 million this year. There is an opportunity for them, if they have half a day to spare, to enjoy the coast of Fingal. Let us consider all the jobs that would result from that, not to mention the opportunity to exercise. I hope the Minister of State will ensure more money is invested in the greenways, as I have called for before. Within the allocation of €2 billion, there must be plenty of opportunity to invest.
I welcome the extra money allocated to Tusla and for the early childhood care and education schemes. I also welcome the extension of same to support young families who struggle to pay the cost of child care but want to be able to go out and work.
I thank the Acting Chairman for the time allocated and commend the budget to the House.
I thank the Senator. Time is tight. We have exactly ten minutes before the Minister of State speaks and there are two final speakers. I call Senator Buttimer, who will be followed by Senator Colm Burke. Senator Buttimer has five minutes.
I will defer to Senator Colm Burke first as he has been waiting.
I call Senator Colm Burke and he has five minutes.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and am delighted he is here to deal with this debate. It is important when we begin to speak about this matter that we consider how far we have come since 2008. In October 2008, there was a €2 billion increase in taxation and €1 billion in cuts. On 7 April 2009, there was an emergency budget that had a €1.8 billion increase in taxation and €1.5 billion in cuts. On 9 December 2009, there was €4 billion in cuts while on 7 December 2010, there was €6 billion in cuts. Over two years, there was €12.5 billion in cuts and €3.8 billion in added taxation. That is where we have come from. Today, we have produced a budget that balances but that increases some taxation in order to assist in providing additional services. In particular, the health care budget has been increased by €685 million, which adds up to a huge budget.
A number of people referred to Sláintecare earlier, and it is important we talk about it. One of its deficiencies is that it did not consider the cost effectiveness of the money we spend on health. That is one of my key issues. It is sad that people in this House who have a lot of experience were not included in the committee when it dealt with the matter. For example, my colleague from Sinn Féin, Senator Máire Devine, has a lot of experience.
No, not yet. I am still heartbroken by it. It is dreadful.
She has a lot experience of psychiatric services.
The Senator needs to talk to somebody about that, some professional.
Senator Burke, without interruption.
One of our colleagues, who is in Fianna Fáil, is a GP from Mayo and he has a lot of experience in GP care in rural areas. It is unfortunate that we were all excluded.
When considering health care it is important to consider cost efficiencies. One of the big complaints I have heard in the past 12 months has been how we employed an extra 2,000 in the HSE to work in management and administration. At least now the Minister for Finance has taken hold of the matter. He has called for 1,800 extra people to be recruited to work in front-line services. People have talked about the front line. They have called for more health services to be delivered in health care. We need more health services but we need to have the staff to deliver them. We need the doctors and the nurses.
Sinn Féin continuously highlights that services need to be developed yet it called for increased taxation to be imposed on higher income earners. Sinn Féin does not realise that to attract doctors back to this country there must be an attractive salary and a taxation system that does not discourage them from working here. That is where we need to strike a balance. If we want to keep people here we must compete for medical staff on the world market and it is not simply Cork versus Dublin or Dublin versus Galway. We must keep that goal in mind and that is why it is important that we make sure to reward people for their work. That is why we need to bring about the necessary reduction in the levels of taxation that people are paying, particularly middle income groups. Junior doctors, nurses and care assistants are all very important if we want to develop a health service. This is a good and balanced budget but we have much more work to do if we want to attract back to this country the people we require to deliver the services in health care. Many people are on waiting Iists, so we need people to work in the sector. We do not have them at the moment and we have much work to do to attract them.
Again, I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to take this debate. I wish him well in his term as Minister of State in the Department of Finance.
I thank the Senator.
The last speaker before the Minister of State is Senator Buttimer, who has five minutes.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and commend him on his speech. Being the last speaker is often fraught with danger because one can reach out and attack but Senator Colm Burke has stolen my introduction.
The decade to which Senator Colm Burke referred was a decade of cuts, emergency budgets, emigration and financial emergency. As the Senator said, some €12.5 billion was taken out in cuts and €3.8 billion was added in taxation. This was done to create a platform for a resilient future for our families, friends and communities. Being in government is about making decisions like those that have allowed us to give something to people in today's budget. As the Taoiseach said, there are no fireworks in the budget, which is about ensuring we balance the books. It is not about arithmetic or a computer spreadsheet; it is about ensuring we can invest in people and communities.
Senator Dolan is right when he talks about emergency respite care and respite care. I welcome the allocation in the budget for the primary care fund and the home care and home help package. As we seek to promulgate a just and fair society, we must talk to HIQA and the HSE to ensure we can provide emergency respite care and respite care in our communities. That is not happening, despite the best intent and the allocation of money. We need to have a serious conversation on this issue. As Senators, we know from our communities and constituency offices that many people cannot get respite care because of what is happening in this area. As I said on the Order of Business, I am pleased that the Minister, Deputy Harris, will say to the HSE that the €685 million which has been allocated to health is specifically earmarked for certain projects. That is important.
I am happy that we have tax reform in this budget, that we are rewarding work and that we are telling men and women who receive payments of varying degrees that the time they spend at work doing their jobs, including when they are taking on extra shifts or doing overtime, must pay. We must put a value on work and this budget will do that. I was struck by the commentary of Seán Whelan on "Six One News". He said that of course there is a variation in terms of those who pay because those who earn the most pay the most tax. We need to ensure people on low and middle incomes are also given an opportunity to be rewarded.
Many of us always hoped we would get to this budget. We are now able to plan. We can invest in infrastructure and in the recruitment of an extra 800 gardaí and extra teachers. It was striking to hear my learned friend, Senator Conway-Walsh, saying she opposes the retention of the VAT rate that applies to accommodation. That sums up Sinn Féin's à la carte approach to everything, which can be described as "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two". As the Senator knows quite well, if we start unpicking the VAT rate that applies to the hospitality sector, it will cost jobs. Of course Sinn Féin is about raising taxes - that is its raison d'être - and then spend, spend, spend.
I will conclude on a positive note. This budget will give something back to improve the lives of people. It will help to invest in the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society and our communities, about whom Senator Dolan spoke. We must embrace this budget and plan for the next two budgets so we can ensure we never go back to the bad old days. I thank the Minister of State for his willingness to come to the House.
The Minister of State has six minutes. I have worked out that if he responds to each of the 15 Senators who spoke, he will have 24 seconds per Senator.
If the Chair does not ring the bell after six minutes, there will be no problem.
I will ring the bell after five minutes to warn the Minister of State that he has one minute left.
I ask the Chair to give me a few additional minutes to speak about this important budget. Senator Colm Burke touched on where we started from in 2008, 2009 and 2010. In 2011, we had an income tax take of €11 billion. The projected figure for 2018 is €21.5 billion. That is where the recalculation has come from. Those who pay income tax in this State have now taken up the burden of taxation. That is where we are. I would love to be able to start from somewhere else. I would love to be able to go back to zero, but we do not get those opportunities.
I thank Fianna Fáil for participating. The easiest space to be in is that occupied by the Sinn Féin people who choose not to participate. I am not having a go; I am just pointing out the facts as I see them. In 1987, Fine Gael did what Fianna Fáil is doing now. There is no more difficult space in politics than the space occupied by those who are participating without getting the credit for it. There is some credit to go around. Fianna Fáil is putting the country first. It should not be criticised for doing that. Sinn Féin has a track record of stepping off the pitch. It has stepped off the pitch in Northern Ireland.
We did not. We are the chief Opposition here.
I did not interrupt the Senator. Sinn Féin has stepped off the pitch in Westminster. The last time there were difficult decisions to be taken in Northern Ireland-----
On a point of order, I thought we were taking statements on the budget.
That is not a point of order.
It is a point of order.
Sinn Féin chose to step off the pitch in Northern Ireland when the social protection cuts-----
On a point of order, the Minister of State is standing on a rant for an election now.
I have to hear the point of order.
The Minister of State is going on about Sinn Féin. These statements are about the budget.
Chairman, if you do not mind-----
The Minister of State might be better off sticking to the script.
That is not a point of order.
It is a point of order.
I know it is not. I did not know that beforehand.
Sinn Féin is not able-----
The Minister of State should be allowed to respond.
The truth is that Sinn Féin jibs.
This is entertaining, but it is a waste of the Minister of State's time.
You jib. You are jibbers.
How many times is the Minister of State going to say "Sinn Féin"?
You will always jib when the pressure is applied. That is the reality.
Did the Minister of State study psychology by any chance?
I will try to touch on the positivity with regard to the budget. There are some very good things in it. I agree with Senator Reilly that greenways are superb. I also agree with what he said about child care costs. I am glad that prescription charges are being reduced. I completely agree with the introduction of a sugar tax and the measures that are being taken in respect of cigarettes and sunbeds.
Senator Reilly also spoke about family income supplement and the social protection payments made to those who really need such payments. These issues were also mentioned by Senator Ruane. It is very easy to pigeon-hole Fine Gael as a right-wing party that wants tax cuts, but for me and the version of politics I practise, there is nothing further from the truth. I want to see the people who need the most help getting the most help.
Senator Ruane spoke about the superb national training fund, which is doing really good work. I would like to sit down and speak to her about this on some occasion. I have magnificent examples of employer-led interaction with colleges to get under-employed people into higher versions of employment with higher wages and salaries. Everything we are doing today is to try to have less tax. That is the best way to improve people's living standards and drag them out of deprivation. Everything I am doing is about trying to help those who require help.
The figure we have for the key employee engagement programme, which relates to shared remuneration, is €10 million. It is not a huge figure. When I am abroad trying to get companies to establish their bases in the Republic of Ireland, I hear about the importance of this issue all the time.
Senators have spoken about the USC cuts. There is a plain and simple choice between tax cuts. The USC is collecting €4 billion. That is part of the income tax take of €20.5 billion. The taxpayers of this country have paid for the reforms we have made and the direction we have moved in.
The Minister of State has one minute left.
The Chair has to give me an opportunity to respond to people.
I am doing my best.
Senator Byrne spoke about education. Another really important part of the capital budget is the €53 million that is being provided for further education for the first time. It was zero last year, so that will be a huge benefit. There will also be more than 6,000 new apprenticeships.
I will touch upon the VAT issue quickly because a number of people raised it. There was a choice to be made and we chose to leave it because we consider that prudent. There is price-gouging but it is too risky at this stage to do something about it. It may happen in other budgets. If it happens, it happens.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan referred to the cardiac care centre for the south east. I will not go against the medical evidence. I am not capable of interpreting or qualified to interpret the medical evidence. Experts do that. There is a national strategy for cardiac care which I support.
I am surprised that Senator Devine said nothing happened in housing or health. Good Lord. There is an additional sum of €685 million but she says nothing happened. She cannot stick her head in the sand and say that this is not the biggest health budget ever.
It is not.
I do not want to go down the Donald Trump path of saying it is or it is not. This is the largest health budget ever. For people to say that it is not is dishonest.
I have a real concern about housing and the local authorities. Senator Grace O'Sullivan referred to the local authorities. I was on a local authority in 2007. Every director of service who was there has since retired and the corporate knowledge has retired. I do not know if the local authorities are capable of building large quantities of social housing. That is a personal view. I am not saying it is correct. However, I have a real concern about it.
On the €750 million, I am speaking to countless builders - small builders of 20 units or 50 units - who cannot get funding. The €750 million from the ISIF that is to be made available via NAMA for small builders is twice as much money as AIB and Bank of Ireland made available to builders, big or small, in Ireland. That is the scope of the potential impact.
Senator John O'Mahony referred to the sports capital programme. We expect it to be done within a month.
Senator Nash said the tax cuts were not worth the price of a cup of coffee.
Wealth taxes were touched on. We have wealth taxes in this State. By a country mile the maximum wealth in the State is in property and it is multiple times the value of shares, equities and cash. Property is where wealth is held in this State. It is a peculiar thing that we do in Ireland. We hold practically all of our wealth in property. There are wealth taxes. Adding up capital gains tax, capital acquisitions tax and local property tax makes €1.8 billion. The stamp duty will be €1.6 billion in 2018. Added up, that is €3.4 billion. Those are the wealth taxes we collect in Ireland but people say that there are no wealth taxes. To put it in context, it is behind the four main heads of income tax, VAT, customs and excise, and corporation tax, but it is not that much behind where corporation tax was a couple of years ago.
The Chairman should not worry. I will keep going. I am doing the best I can.
I know you are.
I want to touch upon the issues raised by every Senator if I can.
I am giving the Minister of State plenty of discretion.
The Chairman is very kind.
Senator Michelle Mulherin referred to the competing interests in public services. That is so; there is no two ways around it. The Brexit loan scheme for businesses is a really good measure. I had experience of it in the farming sector.
A total of €1.8 billion was also collected in rates, so there are the sums of €3.4 billion plus €1.8 billion. I forgot about that.
I am really pleased about the pupil-teacher ratio, which will be the lowest ever. Let us not pretend it did not happen. It did happen. These are really good things that are happening.
Senator Dolan spoke about 1,200 people with a disability in nursing homes, which is really disappointing. We have increased the health budget by €685 million, however. It is the highest it has ever been. However, I am not certain that we are getting the maximum value from it. Senator Devine might be correct in that regard. I always note, however, when we talk about the health budget, that unless sectors are prepared to give an inch, the health sector, in particular, we will not get the best value. I have seen this from the time I went into politics. No one gives an inch in health, which is wrong because people suffer.
The 1,200 people with disabilities-----
People our age and younger, for the rest of their lives-----
I know that. I know a good bit about the health sector and my point is that nothing happens unless people are prepared to give an inch.
I can tell Senator Conway-Walsh that a choice was to be made about the bed spaces. The Senator cited Dublin and price-gouging. I will not pretend to be pleased with the prices of hotel rooms in Dublin. The Senator, however, is the very person to beat the drum that there is more to Ireland than Dublin. We cannot change one aspect of the pricing for beds because of what is happening in County Dublin. It would be a mistake to do so.
The Senator said that some people can afford to give a little more and touched on the 3% which she considered to be the "protected species". That was the term she used. The top 1% of taxpayers in the country pay 25% of all income tax. The top 3% pay approximately 40%. It is plus or minus a couple of percentage points. I believe passionately that the more one earns the more one should pay. The OECD's analysis is that the Irish income tax system is the most progressive within the OECD. I agree with that. However, if we put another 7% on top of the 54%, which is 61%, that would cost us jobs.
I am out and about trying to get financial services jobs into Ireland. Every single highly paid job brought into Ireland brings in nine jobs under it, which bring in another multiplier downwards. The Senator can go after those people, demonise them and call them a protected species if she wishes, but she is wrong to do so. It is a mistake. We have to get people in. If we get them in at a particular level, jobs will flow from underneath them and another lot of jobs will flow from underneath those.
People are dying because they do not have the treatment.
They do not have the doctors because-----
They are dying-----
"Under" is a bad word to use as well as there is obviously a hierarchy.
Senator Victor Boyhan raised the issue of social and affordable housing. I believe that all of the conversation has been about social housing to the detriment of affordable housing. A good local authority affordable housing scheme has been on the books for years but it has not been used for years because the market has cancelled it out. The market has gobbled up the affordable housing scheme. In some areas it is cheaper to buy on the private market than to buy a house in an affordable housing scheme. That is a mistake.
There is potentially a huge benefit in the €750 million for the smaller builders and for so many people on the average pay, that is, €25,000 to €35,000, which is the average industrial wage. Dublin is in a different space because it is much more expensive in Dublin. We have not been good enough in this area but in this budget there is the likes of the €750 million which will flow for non-NAMA debtors. I made a huge error earlier. I apologise. I said it was only for NAMA debtors. It is for non-NAMA debtors.
I would like to think I have touched on the general issues raised. If there are some that I missed, I apologise. I will try to get back to the Senators again. We do not have to agree on this. I will always respect the Senators' position and their right to disagree with me. I will always listen to their position and will not interrupt them. As I see it, the problem in Irish politics for the past number of years is disrespect. As politicians, we should not be disrespectful of each other. We can achieve far more together than working apart and beating each other up.
I have been in the other room, as I call it, a couple of times and I have been here with legislation. I have done my best to work with people to get legislation through and I will always try to do so. That is the way I am and that is the way I operate. If people want to work with me, by all means, do so; I will always try to accommodate that. I would like to talk to Senator Ruane again regarding those aspects of training funds and employer-led courses. We are in a different place. Within a couple of weeks of my appointment as a member of Government, I used the phrase "lost decade". The next decade will be different. If we can participate better as politicians, everybody will benefit.
The Minister of State was allocated six minutes, which was probably a bit too short, but he had 16 minutes so I thank him for his response. It was certainly a lot more time than he was allocated. When is it proposed to sit again?
Tomorrow morning at 10.30 a.m.
Is that agreed? Agreed.