Finance Bill 2020: Second Stage

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

Today, we discuss the Finance Bill 2020, which will give legislative effect to the budget for next year. The Bill has been the subject of detailed discussion in the Dáil and I expect that it will also be subject to detailed discussion and consideration here in this House. I look forward to the contributions of Senators.

Ireland currently faces many challenges. Brexit could rightly be seen as the most immediate future threat. We remain uncertain of the final outcome of Brexit but we must ensure that we are prepared for the worst-case scenario.

I understand that Senators have been circulated with a section-by-section brief on the Bill, so I do not propose going into that level of detail now. I will focus on the main initiatives included in the Bill.

Climate change is another issue which might be seen as a future threat, but it is one which we must address now. In line with the programme for Government commitment, carbon tax is being increased in the budget by €7.50 from €26 to €33.50 per tonne of CO2 emissions. This increase applied to auto fuels from budget night and will apply to all other fuels from 1 May 2021. The additional revenue raised will be used to fund public expenditure measures to meet the goals set out in the programme for Government. The Bill also makes provision for the transition of our carbon dioxide-based vehicle registration and motor tax regimes to the new, more robust worldwide harmonised light vehicle test procedure emissions test from January of next year. As a result, our vehicle registration tax, VRT, regime will be based on emissions performance levels which are much closer to performance levels in the real world than is currently the case. Further measures include the extension of the nitrous oxide, NOx, emissions regime and the accelerated scheme of capital allowances for energy-efficient equipment.

Covid-19 is a present and future threat and challenge and I am confident that we will see our way past it. Last week, we saw the lifting of some of the restrictions regarding Covid, notably with the reopening of non-essential retail and services, hospitality and places of worship. Later in the month, we will see a further easing, including easing of some travel restrictions which will allow us to enjoy a Christmas closer to what we would normally have, but still short of what we would like.

The Government has taken action to ensure that the worst impacts of Covid are mitigated and that the economy is in a position to recover from the periods of restricted trade and forced closures as quickly and easily as possible. It is fair to say that the smooth reopening of non-essential retail and services was greatly facilitated by the supports the Government put in place, including the restart, restart plus and restart top-up grants, the Covid restrictions support scheme and the other supports in the form of the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, and the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. These are all parts of the broader range of supports put in place both at national and sectoral levels to help us through the pandemic.

The Government recognises that economic health and public health are intertwined and that the better our public health, the stronger our economic health will be. Therefore the Government's action has rightly been substantial and extensive. For example, as at 3 December, 41,200 employers were registered with Revenue for the EWSS. A total of €1,022 million has been paid out to 39,000 employers covering 420,800 employees. As of 4 December, 351,400 of those whose income from employment has been affected due to Covid-19 were being facilitated through the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment.

It is important to recognise that the EWSS is a bridge between regular employment and the PUP so the effectiveness of Government supports, including the EWSS, should not only be considered by reference to the level of uptake of EWSS by employers but also by reference to the numbers of people who continue to rely solely on the PUP. Some 75,100 employees in the EWSS in October have made PUP claims in November.

I would like to specifically refer to the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS. The CRSS provides support for businesses that are forced to temporarily close or to operate at a significantly reduced level because of Covid restrictions that either prohibit, or significantly restrict, customers of the business from accessing the premises in which the business is carried on. The scheme generally operates when level 3 restrictions or higher are in place and ceases when restrictions are lifted.

As of this morning, 14,000 businesses have registered 16,000 premises for the CRSS with Revenue. A further 2,800 registrations are currently at applicant registration stage. Claims for CRSS payments of €92.7 million for 16,600 premises have been made to date and €91.4 million of this has already been processed for payment. Section 11 of the Finance Bill provides for the CRSS and has been significantly improved during its passage through the Dáil.

Qualifying businesses can apply to the Revenue Commissioners for a cash payment in respect of an advance credit for trading expenses for the period of the restrictions. This payment will be equal to 10% of those businesses' average weekly turnover in 2019, up to €20,000, and 5% thereafter, subject to a maximum weekly payment of €5,000, for each week that those businesses are affected by Covid restrictions. To qualify under the scheme, a business must be able to demonstrate that, because of the Covid restrictions, the turnover of the business in the period for which the restrictions are in operation, and for which a claim is made, will be no more than 25% of an amount equal to the average weekly turnover of the business in 2019, or average weekly turnover in 2020 in the case of a new business, multiplied by the number of weeks in the period for which a claim is made. As restrictions are eased and a business is no longer required to prohibit or considerably restrict customers from accessing its premises, it will then no longer qualify for CRSS.

One of the amendments to the Bill, as initiated, provides for an additional restart week, which will be payable to businesses on reopening. This recognises that businesses may take some time to reopen once the restrictions are lifted. Businesses may also incur additional costs in the form of physical adaptation of premises to ensure social distancing, getting in fresh stock or supplies and the provision of personal protective equipment, PPE, as they reopen. Another change was the inclusion of an appeal mechanism for businesses refused the CRSS. The scheme will operate from 13 October 2020 to 31 March 2021, and there is provision for the Minister for Finance to vary aspects of the scheme by ministerial order. Registration for affected businesses has been open since 1 November, and claims have been accepted by Revenue since 17 November. Payments issue within two to three days of valid claims being processed.

The Government also recently announced the provision of an additional seasonal payment of up to double the level of CRSS support, subject to a statutory maximum of €5,000 per week. This will be payable to businesses which cannot reopen through December due to extended restrictions, such as pubs that do not serve food. This additional payment will be paid for the weeks beginning 21 December 2020, 28 December 2020 and 4 January 2021. This is in recognition of the additional financial impact on those businesses of being closed at Christmas, which for many would have been a particularly busy trading period.

As I said, the Finance Bill provides the legislative basis for the budget. Tax measures announced on budget day included an expansion of the tax warehousing provisions to include the balance of 2019 income tax and 2020 preliminary tax obligations for self-assessed taxpayers whose income has been adversely affected by Covid restrictions, as well as the excess temporary wage subsidy scheme payments received by an employer which are due to be repaid to Revenue. There were no broad changes to income tax in the budget, but the Bill makes provision for specific announcements, such as equalising the earned income credit, with the PAYE credit by raising it by €150 to €1,650, and increasing the dependant relative tax credit from €70 to €245. This will ensure that the salary of a full-time worker on the top rate will remain outside the universal social charge, USC.

It is important to draw attention to something not in the budget or the Finance Bill, that is, there is no change to the rate of corporation tax. The Minister reaffirmed the Government's commitment to the 12.5% rate of corporation tax and our continued commitment to a corporate tax regime that supports economic activity and that is transparent, sustainable and legitimate.

A range of other vital measures are included in the Bill to support businesses across the economy. These are targeted at the agricultural, tourism, film, housing and start-up sectors. The Bill also provides for the announced temporary reduction of the VAT rate for the hospitality and tourism sectors from 13.5% to 9%, with effect from 1 November. This rate applies to catering and restaurant services, tourist accommodation, cinemas, theatres, museums, historic houses, open farms, amusement parks, certain printed matter and hairdressing. Many of these businesses will be reopening with the easing of restrictions and will see the benefit of the VAT rate reduction. Noteworthy also is the introduction during the passage of the Bill of accelerated capital allowances for farm safety equipment, with particular emphasis on supporting those who have suffered life-changing injuries as a result of incidents on farms. This underlines the priority afforded to the issue of farm safety in the Government's programme.

We are going through extremely difficult and challenging times, but we are equipped to get through them because of the strong position we were in when we entered these difficult times.

We face further challenges ahead, but I am confident we will overcome them. The Finance Bill always contains difficult choices between what people would like and what it is prudent to do, and we must remember that borrowings must eventually be repaid. It is right that we take advantage of our ability to borrow at low rates, but we must do so judiciously. We are beginning to see the start of the end of this traumatic time and our way to the resumption of normality next year. This will be in no small part due to the actions of the Government, including those in this Finance Bill. I commend this Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State back to the House, and I promise I will not mention the VAT refund scheme today. I will leave him alone on that issue. The economy is going through a turbulent time, with the two most dramatic impacts which none of us probably ever believed we would be dealing with, namely, Brexit and Covid-19. These impacts have disproportionate effects on different elements of the economy. Equally, some sectors of the economy are doing exceptionally well during this time, and that must be acknowledged also. This budget, however, is framed against the backdrop of Covid-19 and its impact. I must acknowledge the support, and the certainty of that support, which has been given by the Government to businesses to try to sustain them and allow them to stay open. Direct support was provided through the CRSS, the EWSS, the restart grants, the commercial rates waiver scheme, access to cheap money, the PUP, etc. I will come back to some of these aspects and address them later. There has also been significant support provided through indirect funding from other State agencies.

When Covid-19 arrived, people in business had all sorts of plans which were affected, especially in my sector, in the short term. We all hoped it might be another seasonal thing which would hit us for two or three months and then we could get out of it. That has not been the case, however. It has now almost become a long-term crisis, and my greatest concern now lies in the long-term impact this situation is having on the financial viability of businesses, specifically smaller businesses. I have some issues regarding the future. Most of these businesses are probably operating weekly losses. Those businesses had probably calculated these weekly losses based on a period of something like eight weeks, but that has now extended to 30 or 35 weeks and they are not 100% sure where this is going to end.

Without the EWSS and the CRSS, businesses would be closed now. I do not deny that. I must also acknowledge the efficiency with which the payments are being received by businesses. I do not have exact figures, and it would be nice to get an analysis of them, regarding the warehousing of our taxes, specifically concerning how much is being used by businesses and how often. I ask that because businesses operating weekly losses are relying on that mechanism more and more to lodge their debt and allow them to keep going from week to week. The problem, however, is that that debt still exists. Once September arrives next year, there will be a call on that debt and there will then be a charge of 3% on that debt any time after its non-payment. Are we, then, just transferring the viability of businesses from today to next September, possibly, because of these weekly cumulative losses that businesses are sustaining?

I have some reservations, therefore, concerning where businesses will find themselves in September 2021. As a business person, I appreciate the supports which have been provided. I spoke previously about how vitally important the CRSS was, but I have a level of frustration in that regard as well. It was not quite portrayed as something which would be the salvation of businesses, but certainly as a huge support. However, the CRSS continues to get more complex and complicated.

It depends of the level of turnover being less than 30%. I have issues with cliff-edge support schemes, such as the employment wage subsidy scheme, where an employer going over 70% turnover loses it completely and going over 30% results in the loss of CRSS completely. There is no harmonisation or transition period to gradually adjust. If I am in business now, I need to keep under 30% or under 70% so that I get the payments and can keep the business afloat. I do not know what happens after that.

Employers qualify for CRSS under level 3. Government tweaks allow hotels to bring guests into the restaurant. A small business might have been getting a subsidy of €1,000, €4,000 or €5,000 and all of a sudden that is lost because just one element of its business has been reopened under level 3 which was not open under the previous level 3 but yet it is based on restricted capacity. All restaurants are operating at 50% or less of their capacity. Even though access to the premises is not being restricted, the business is being restricted in the level of turnover compared with normal times. We should consider tweaking CRSS to address this issue. I am more concerned about the collective losses businesses are sustaining that we have not seen yet. Many businesses are parking their debt until a future date.

The accelerated capital allowance for farm safety equipment is very welcome.

I understand where the Government is coming from. Equally the Government needs to understand the frustration for struggling businesses. Opening, closing, hiring staff, letting staff go and trying to find staff again especially at Christmas time are all having a direct impact on businesses which are trying to sustain themselves. I look forward to Committee Stage where we can go over all this again.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. The debate on the Finance Bill is a very important annual process. Last Christmas we had balanced books, near full employment and obviously success on Brexit. This Christmas the landscape unfortunately is quite different. We are running a deficit. We have unemployment officially of 7% but if all those on the pandemic unemployment payment are included, it could be up to 20%. We are also in a make-or-break week on Brexit. Whether there is a deal or no deal, Brexit will have an impact on our fundamentals for a number of years. If there is no deal, it could have an impact for a long period of time. We are in a weaker position now vis-à-vis a year ago because of the Covid challenge that all economies, including ours, are facing.

The State agencies, IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Údarás na Gaeltachta, have been preparing for Brexit and are supporting businesses by encouraging them to diversify markets, and avail of online trading vouchers and schemes. The July stimulus scheme and the budget increases for those organisations have been very positive. The investment in our ports to ensure we have alternatives to the land bridge through Britain is also very important. There could be an impact on getting raw materials and exporting goods from Ireland. Thankfully due to Government stewardship over many years, lenders have the confidence to lend to Ireland to get us over the challenges of Covid.

One can imagine where we would be if we had defaulted and not repaid our debts.

I welcome the commitment in the Finance Bill to retain the section 481 reliefs. The film sector is very important. Our technical ability, our language and the scenery here make Ireland an attractive place in which to make films. These tax incentives are an added bonus.

I acknowledge the commitment to increase carbon tax as a method to change behaviour. This is a commitment the majority of political parties made before the general election and have made for a number of years. However, I have often asked the Minister for Transport about alternatives to cars in certain parts of Ireland if we keep increasing carbon tax. There are alternatives in Dublin. There are plans in Galway and other cities for greenways and commuting. However, will more rural areas really have a bus that passes by people's door in Cleggan, Claddaghduff, Tully or Tullycross every 15 or 20 minutes? Without such a service, how can we reduce the reliance on cars in rural areas? I am particularly concerned about the issue and as we continue to increase carbon tax, it is a challenge we need to face.

I welcome the reiteration of the commitment to the 12.5% rate of corporation tax the Minister mentioned in his budget speech in the Dáil. It is disappointing that some commentaries refer to Ireland as not being transparent on our corporation tax. Foreign direct investment, FDI, corporations are very important to employment, PRSI and rates for local authorities. As people paying tax like to know that all companies are also paying, we can understand why this issue is continually raised. The contribution of FDI to the tax take is important in any year and more so in 2020 because of the impact of Covid on other sectors of the economy.

I welcome the range of supports provided to businesses, the pandemic unemployment payment, the employment wage subsidy scheme and the CRSS. Certain businesses have expressed concerns over the CRSS, including supply chain businesses. For example, wholesalers supplying the pub trade have been unable to sell because pubs were closed for a period. They are not included in the CRSS because they are not regarded as a bricks and mortar-type businesses and do not have a front door through which customers come in. However, they are supplying to businesses that have that front door. That aspect of the CRSS needs to be reviewed.

While again not being bricks and mortar, betting pitches are permanent positions individually purchased at racecourses. They are bought and sold similar to real estate, but bookmakers have received no supports over the past year. A relatively small number of people are involved. They have no package of reliefs and are not eligible for the CRSS. The on-course betting sector has been decimated this year.

On section 17, I join Senator Casey in welcoming the farm safety and disability adaptation equipment scheme. Farms are dangerous places owing to equipment, livestock and farmers being outdoors in all weathers with the hazards of slips and falls, etc. Unfortunately, fatalities are all too common. I commend the Minister of State with responsibility for farm safety, Deputy Heydon, on his involvement in championing this scheme. It provides capital allowances for equipment to prevent accidents and also helps get people back to work after accidents. Obviously, the severity of accidents varies, but people ending up in a wheelchair may still want and need to carry on their farming businesses. I welcome the scheme that has been put in place and commend all who were involved in it.

Section 36 deals with the primary medical certificate for the disabled drivers and passengers scheme, an issue that was taken to the Supreme Court in the summer.

It is one of the issues that affect people who, all of a sudden, found they were not able to proceed because the scheme was in limbo. This change will allow the maintenance of a status quo in the scheme for a period. That is to be welcomed because all Members, as politicians, have come across cases of people who have applied for a medical certificate on their own behalf or that of a child with a disability. It is certainly welcome that that has been looked after, albeit in the short term while there is a review.

I welcome the provisions of section 39 relating to the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector. Some people may point out that 9% of zero is zero, but it is a reduction in the rate in the course of what has been a tremendously difficult year for many businesses in the hospitality sector across the country. Small businesses rely on seasonal trade from tourism, good weather and people going to some of the most rural parts of the country to spend a few euro. Those businesses are vital to local economies, as well as to rural and urban Ireland. It is to be hoped that this measure will have a positive impact in terms of keeping the doors open and the lights on for 2021, when we hope the vaccine will be available and we can get back to business again.

I thank the Minister of State for his contribution. I look forward to the remaining Stages of the Bill.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. I am standing in for my colleague, Senator Sherlock, who cannot be here. I promise that I will not mention the VAT rebate scheme, although the Labour Party was disappointed that the Government amended the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2020 earlier today.

Of course, the Finance Bill is an annual occurrence but, as previous speakers stated, its edition this year is set in a very different context as we face the unprecedented twin challenges of Covid and Brexit. I am conscious, as are all Senators, of the knife-edge status of the Brexit talks today. The Bill is very wide-ranging, but it must be read in the context of those challenges, given the serious upheaval of the past ten months. I wish to touch on three specific elements of particular concern to the Labour Party, namely, the taxation of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, housing policy and low pay more generally.

First, I wish to acknowledge on behalf of my party that the early decisions made at the start of the pandemic by the then Government to provide income support to workers on a massive scale and to provide the sort of supports that have been spoken about and debated in this House over the past ten months were clearly instrumental in staving off even worse job losses and in keeping firms and businesses afloat. The House has heard very eloquent discussion already this afternoon on the importance of those supports to business. I think all Members should acknowledge the tremendous efforts made by people across Ireland to keep transmission levels down and to keep our society going. There have been unprecedented levels of support for social cohesion and community solidarity which have been so important, much more important than any criminal justice measures could be, in keeping Covid rates down and public health to the forefront. If there is any positive political message from the past ten months, it is that we have seen immense value being placed on public services such as health, education, welfare, as well as the value of social solidarity in itself. That is very important.

In that context, the decision to create the PUP is very welcome, but I wish to turn to the concern of the Labour Party regarding the belated attempt to retroactively apply income tax to the PUP as provided for in section 3 of the Bill. I know we will be able to debate this issue in greater depth on Committee Stage on Friday and I understand that the Minister of State contests the assertion that the provisions of section 3 are not retrospective, but it is difficult to interpret section 3 as having any other meaning. The Bill states that section 3 "shall be deemed to have come into operation on and from 13 March 2020". I have before me a letter sent by Ms Eilis Barry, chief executive of Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC, to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and dated 4 December. The letter highlights her concern that there is a direct contradiction between the Bill and the provisions of the Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Act 2020 which set out that PUP is payable as supplementary welfare allowance, an allowance specifically set out as being exempt from income tax.

FLAC has raised concerns regarding this apparently retrospective application and has asked to meet the Minister to discuss these matters further. I raise this issue with the Minister of State to ask that the Government not pursue a retrospective application of income tax on a welfare payment as such a move would be likely to provoke additional anxiety for the many, many people who are already struggling due to the extent of closures and, indeed, the accumulated stress of ten months spent in and out of lockdown. I was very moved by the description of the stress on business owners of being in and out of lockdown, the imposition of restrictions, the uncertainty around when restrictions would be lifted and the extent to which businesses could open. I am conscious that even those businesses that have been able to open are operating at reduced capacity and, therefore, will have immense difficulty in making ends meet. The last thing people need now is an additional hit to their finances.

The Labour Party has concerns about the distributional impact of this retrospective taxing of state supports and the capacity of workers, particularly low-paid workers and young workers, to repay. We should not forget that 84% of people in the arts, entertainment, events and recreation sectors who were in receipt of the PUP in May remain in receipt of it right now. It is clear that these sectors, along with the hospitality sector, were significantly hit and remain deeply impacted. I and my Labour Party colleagues have met many of those who were working or running businesses in those sectors and remain very stressed and anxious about their prospects. I am conscious that there are anomalies. For example, theatres and live drama are still not open even though cinemas are open. There are many whose livelihoods have been badly hit as a result. In the accommodation and food service sectors, 78.8% of those who were in receipt of the PUP in May remain in receipt of it right now. Those under the age of 25 are the most likely to be in receipt of the PUP. These are people who, through no fault of their own, have been without steady work for so much of this year. This measure seems to set a strange new precedent and the Labour Party is very concerned about it, particularly in light of the number of people affected disproportionately in the sectors I mentioned.

In summary, given the fact that in spring and summer people had no reliable information on the tax status of the PUP, and given the stated intention of the payment, which the Labour Party acknowledges was to keep people afloat through difficult times which have not yet ended for many workers, we think it would be grossly unfair to take a decision to retrospectively apply income tax to the payment. I look forward to the response of the Minister of State on that issue.

The second major concern the Labour Party has with the Bill relates to the area of housing policy. There is strong evidence that the housing market remains dysfunctional. There have been concerning reports in the media today that it will take years to meet the level of demand for housing. Subsidies to property developers simply do not work to address the outstanding need for housing. They categorically do not increase the supply of affordable housing. However, the Government seems determined to push forward with subsidies to property developers in the Bill. The Labour Party has serious concerns in particular about the extension of the so-called help-to-buy scheme which may have the unwelcome, unforeseen and perhaps unintended effect of pushing up prices for everyone. We know that for many years Ireland had one of the highest home-ownership rates in western Europe, but the context is very important in that regard. We now see a housing market where the prospect of home ownership, particularly for younger people and younger generations, has never seemed more remote. That is thanks to many years of Government policies aimed at or with the consequence of stimulating demand but which ignored the fundamental problem of supply.

I acknowledge that this is not just a problem of this Government's making. It is the cumulative effect of years of various housing policies of successive Governments. The help-to-buy scheme is particularly egregious in this regard. An independent assessment by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, found that the scheme was poorly targeted and likely to further fuel the growth in house prices. Research shows that 56% of claims under the scheme were for homes worth more than €300,000 and that 40% of all claims to date have had a loan-to-value ratio of less than 85%. In other words, one could surmise that the help-to-buy scheme subsidises those who already have their deposit saved, while it is, perhaps, not doing enough to help those who are looking for genuinely affordable homes. This is a recurring theme as we survey current Government policy, with its economic focus is on propping up demand and supporting spending.

For all that Ministers talk about learning the lessons of a decade ago and of the recession, one might question that assessment given this Bill once again puts funding into solving a problem that does not exist, namely, lack of demand while ignoring the fundamental weakness in our housing market caused and exacerbated by a lack of adequate supply of affordable housing.

The final point of concern is the issue of low pay in this country. The Labour Party strongly believes it was a mistake only to increase the national minimum wage by 10 cent this year and it is a matter of profound regret to us that the Low Pay Commission seems on the point of collapse. Establishing the commission was a high point of our time in government where we sought to take minimum wage policy out of the realm of day to day political pressure. What we did not envisage was that the commission would be used to divert from justified wage increases. We believe the failure to agree a fair increase to the minimum wage at this time is especially worrying considering the broad problem of low pay in our economy due to particular features in our economy, pre-tax income inequalities are among the highest in the OECD, and it is left to our taxation and welfare system, as we all know, to do the heavy lifting in ensuring decent standards of living for a huge number of workers. OECD data tell us nearly a quarter of Irish workers are getting by on low pay, a figure second only to the massively unequal United States. We have an opportunity to close that gap through minimum wage policy. A 10 cent increase absolutely flies in the face of that, particularly in a pandemic when we had the opportunity to show workers our appreciation for how they have gone above and beyond, particularly workers in front-facing sectors, in food services, retailing and so on. We believe it was a missed opportunity and that the minimum wage should have been increased further. It does not seem unreasonable to us to ask that subsidies to the private sector of the very justified supports that were given to those in business through the pandemic would have carried with them basic conditions as to how employees in those sectors are treated, especially in sectors like hospitality where we know that low pay, precarious contracts and low trade union density are endemic problems. It is not good enough in our view to tell low paid workers that they should be grateful to have their jobs. As a country we must do better than that. We think money should be better spent with a much more equitable distribution between workers and employers.

We acknowledge the immense work that has gone into supporting businesses and workers through this pandemic but we have serious concerns with three aspects of the Finance Bill, in particular, namely, a lack of sufficient action on low pay, a lack of sufficient action on housing and our concerns about the taxation of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. We have grave doubts that this Finance Bill will deliver for those who most need our support at this difficult time.

It is nice to see the Minister of State who is welcome to the House. The budget came at a time of great challenge for our country, economy and people. Budget 2021 was primarily a response to that challenge. Since this pandemic began Sinn Féin has committed to constructively engage with the previous and current Governments in the best interests of our people while holding the Government to account, as is the job of any Opposition. Sinn Féin argued for greater levels of wage subsidy for low income workers in order to protect incomes and enhance the take up of the scheme and argued that administrative changes could be made by Revenue to ensure that women returning from maternity leave would be eligible for the scheme. These changes came to pass and were welcome.

In terms of income supports, the employment wage subsidy scheme, in its original iteration, reduced wage supports by up to 50% and excluded a cohort of the lowest paid workers. It was clear form its announcement in July that it would be insufficient to protect jobs and support businesses when the threat of the virus remained in our communities. Sinn Féin was relentless, as the Minister of State will know, in calling for the scheme to be amended with higher levels of wage support for workers and their employers in order to avoid a jobs crisis as public health restrictions inevitably increased. The same was true regarding the pandemic unemployment payments with the Government having cut the level of payments in previous months for thousands of workers who had lost their jobs as a result of public health restrictions.

On 19 October, as the Government announced its decision to move to level 5, these cuts to the pandemic unemployment payment and wage subsidy schemes were reversed, reintroducing a top rate of €350 per week. This was common sense, a recognition that the previous cuts were ill-judged while the treat of the virus and further restrictions remained. It was also a vindication of Sinn Féin with the Government implementing policy decisions that we had been calling for in the previous weeks and months. We welcomed those policy decisions made by Government. They were necessary.

While many of the workers faced the pandemic unemployment payment, we hear that the banks, one of which the State owns and another which it partly owns, are now refusing a further mortgage moratorium. I take this opportunity to ask the Minister of State to urgently intervene on this topic.

Banks across Europe, as the Minister of State will know, will be allowed to offer payment breaks on mortgage and personal business loans again after the European Banking Authority revised its stance on the issue. The Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, however, said last month that Irish banks did not intend to avail of the relaxed rules. The Minister has the power. We own one of the banks and we have a stake in another to make that change. I commend a number of Senator Casey’s points in terms of business supports. In the same way, mortgage holders need those supports. The simplest way would be to ensure they get a further break from mortgages. As the Minister of State will acknowledge, many families are still suffering.

This issue of taxing the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, is bizarre. While the PUP was put on a statutory footing on 5 August for the five months from its introduction in March, it was not subject to tax as an urgent needs payment. Section 3 of the Finance Bill 2020 seeks to retrospectively tax a payment which was exempt from tax by law. Regardless of the amount of tax this would incur, this is an unprecedented move that the Government has failed to justify. I am unconvinced by any argument the Government has put forward to retrospectively tax a payment that was, by law, exempt from tax for a period of five months. If the Minister wants to start a retrospective tax system, I can suggest many more areas in which to start rather than taxing the pay of ordinary workers.

I acknowledge there are measures to be welcomed in this Bill, some which are long over due. Section 9 increases the earned income credit to €1,650, equalising the tax credit for self-employed with that of PAYE workers. This is a welcome change and long over due, with this commitment having been made more than four years ago by the previous Fine Gael Government. Section 4 provides for an exemption from income tax for payments made by the HSE to those in receipt of the mobility allowance. This is a positive move which Sinn Féin welcomes. Similarly, the increase in the dependent relative tax credit, provided by section 5, is a welcome development.

The carbon tax provisions in this Bill will, however, have a negative impact on workers and families, with a disproportionate impact on low income, lone parents and rural households. Sections 26 to 28, inclusive, provide for locked-in increases in the carbon tax every year until 2030. These provisions will result in a 39% hike in carbon tax next year alone, followed by further increases year on year. Without affordable alternatives, a carbon tax will not reduce emissions. At present, alternatives, be they electric vehicles or home retrofitting, are least accessible to low income households. If households are not able to afford these alternatives, they will simply spend more heating their homes, cooking their food or running their car. That is the reality. We have had a carbon tax for more than a decade and our emissions have gone up, not down. It is a burden because the alternatives to fossil fuels are not realistic for the majority people in terms of affordability. The fuel allowance is often quoted. It is a means tested payment. The accessible income limit for a couple where the qualified adult is aged under 66 is just €513.70. What this means in reality is that many low paid workers, and as Senator Bacik pointed out one in four workers in this economy is a low paid worker, have no means of affording these carbon tax increases and they have no supports available under this budget. Thousands of households that do not qualify for the fuel allowance are struggling to get by at this great time of financial insecurity. The increase in carbon tax is permanent. The Bill seeks to lock-in year on year increases in the carbon tax until 2030, increases that the Department of Finance has itself classified as regressive. There is no such provision in the Social Welfare Bill to lock-in year on year increases in social welfare payments until 2030. The fact remains that now in the midst of an unemployment crisis that has disproportionately impacted low income households, this was the wrong time to increase carbon tax. It was right time to put a pause on the increase. Sinn Féin will express these concerns on Committee Stage.

I move on to motor and VRT tax changes. These measures are compounded by sections 33 and 34, which provide for changes to motor tax and reliefs given to certain electric vehicles. These changes, as the Minister of State will know, will disproportionately benefit wealthy drivers while penalising those unable to afford an upgrade to low emission or electric vehicles. A just transition must be based on prioritising access to alternatives for those most vulnerable to an increase in these taxes.

The State is in a good position at present to support incomes, jobs, businesses and our economy. The cost of borrowing remains low. The European Central Bank, ECB, policy remains in place and certain tax receipts remain robust, but a spectre hangs over the future course of our public finances.

A spectre hangs over the future course of our public finances. Overperforming corporation tax receipts have aided the ability of the State to fund its response, but they cannot be relied on forever. While our deficit has increased substantially, it is manageable and was necessary. However, questions remain over the intentions of this Government to reduce it. The programme for Government explicitly ruled progressive taxation measures and committed to deficit reduction. The Government must at some stage set out how it plans to square that circle. I can commit that Sinn Féin will oppose any attempt to reduce the deficit through funding freezes for our public services, cuts to social protection or aggressive tax hikes. Sinn Féin will demand a just recovery.

I wish to highlight something that happened at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment last week. Both IBEC and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, urgently called for a specialised short-time work scheme for companies that will be affected by Brexit. It was striking to see IBEC and ICTU on the same page but it was disappointing to hear that they both acknowledged they had not had a positive response from a number of Departments. This is something that is urgent. We all know that Brexit is going to be hard, and it is a question of how hard, yet we have not seen a response to this urgent call. I would like to use this occasion to call on the Minister of State to make an intervention now to ensure that a German-style short-time work scheme is in place for the beginning of the new year.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I welcome the Finance Bill and wish the Minister well with it.

I highlighted an issue concerning redundancies to the Minister of State, Deputy English, at a previous debate in the Seanad. There is a problem for small family-run businesses that are sole traders or self-employed and that employ people. The Redundancy Payments Act 2003 introduced the provision that two weeks per year must be paid in redundancy. It is right that a person who is made redundant gets two weeks per year. However, the sole trader or family-run business, who is self-employed and who employs people, must find two weeks per year to pay the redundancy whether he or she is downsizing or the business ceases. In the next number of months or whatever, a lot of those family-run small trader businesses will close, never to open again, but they will still have to pay redundancy. While at some stage they can claim an inability to pay and the State will take up the two weeks per year, in the case of the self-employed small or sole trader, the State comes looking for the money, and at the end of the day a charge is put on the private property - the house - of the sole trader.

I am bringing in a Private Members' Bill to exclude the family home in this case as it is only right it should be protected, and we have seen where it is protected in many cases. In this case, a small businessperson, a sole trader, who is self-employed and employing people can end up with a charge on his or her house, and when that person dies, the house goes to the State. It is something the Government should consider very seriously, and I hope it will take on board the Bill that I will propose.

My next issue concerns people who own two or three houses or apartments and want to make a business out of renting property. The Government has continually said that it does not want such activity as it drives up the price of property for first-time buyers and whoever else wants to buy a house. Many a family has made a living out of renting property but more and more of them are going out of business because of the taxation policy. They are being taxed to the hilt. I do not know what a person would want to be to buy property to rent but he or she would want to have cash and not to borrow.

Those people are getting out of that business and the money that they are getting for their businesses is going into funds that buy houses but have no tax to pay, which is an inequity. While the person who buys one, two or three apartments, houses or whatever is being driven out of the market the funds are going back in to buy blocks of houses and hide behind real estate investment trusts or REITs and so forth but pay no tax. While the Minister for Finance has said that he does not want to use a taxation policy to interfere with the housing market, in effect he is because the REITs are buying houses and paying no tax. He should reduce the tax for the person who has a few properties and place some kind of tax on REITs and vulture funds that are now in the property game.

Banking has changed completely. Nobody is building houses now bar a few because it is not profitable to do so and it is hard to get funds. Bank managers used to take a chance on builders or whatever but that day is gone because there are no bank managers to talk to and the small builder who builds one or two houses finds it very difficult to get funds to do any development. This matter must be looked at because many a family has been reared by small builders and they owed a debt of gratitude to bank managers all around the country. Those bank managers are gone and small builders are going with them resulting in the ever-increasing cost of housing and everybody being pushed out of the market.

I welcome the Minister of State. This is the first time for me to address him about finance in this very important debate.

I wish to focus on the significant farm safety measures in the Bill. Amendment No. 65, passed in the Dáil, was a very important statement by this Government. It showed that farm safety needs to be considered as a policy priority. There is really significant stuff regarding farm safety in this budget but it needs to be highlighted to the farming community. The ability for farmers now to get capital allowances for adaptation grants after an accident is very positive and an important step forward.

The high level of farm accidents, which occur on a daily basis, is a blight on our community and society. We are literally less than 5% of the workforce but we have 40% of the accidents, which is a significant figure that we must address. This provision is a great start, which we need to welcome, but there is more to be done. I never saw the logic in having a VAT rate of 21% on farm safety gear like a power take-off or PTO shaft. A really significant effort has been made in this budget to incentivise farmers to ensure their equipment is up to the proper standard, which is the kind of approach we need. We do not need the stick all the time; a carrot is very important. This is why the measures in this Bill are so important for the agricultural community. It sends the message that we are listening, that we care and we need to put something in place to limit the number of farm accidents. I welcome the measures and acknowledge that they are a step in the right direction. I spoke about farm fatalities the first time that the Seanad sat. Over the past six or eight months I saw the burial of two of my neighbours due to farm fatalities, one person was killed by a bull and another in an accident involving a farm tractor. Farm safety is one of the key agricultural issues. If we want to attract more people to work in the industry then we must make it safer, particularly as it is an industry where one must work a lot on one's own.

I welcome these really important measures in Part 1 of Schedule 35. They are what we need to see. It is a great step forward and I hope that in the next budget, we can move that barrier forward and pick up more aspects relating to farm safety.

I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. As others have said, agriculture as a whole is important. This has always been the case and I am sure that in the next number of years this Government will prioritise agriculture. I come from a farming background and there is always a view within farming that any time the country has hit a crisis, it is always the agricultural industry that has got it through. The past ten years have been no different, with the agrifood industry getting the country back flourishing.

I welcome what colleagues have said about farm safety and I compliment the work of the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, since taking that role in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. He has really hit the ground running and the work he is doing promoting farm safety is very important. There are a number of organisations around the country, particularly Embrace FARM, which have done phenomenal work highlighting the dangers of working on a farm. I know from my early years working on a tillage farm every summer the dangers that come with the work because of big machinery like tractors and combine harvesters. We know the daily dangers that come with the work and we can never highlight those enough. The Government's work, and certainly that of the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, in highlighting farm safety, is very important.

It is noteworthy that, during the passage of the Bill, there was the introduction of an accelerated capital gains allowance for farm safety equipment, with a particular emphasis on supporting those who have suffered life-changing injuries as a result of incidents on farms. This underlines the priority afforded to the farm safety issue in this Government's programme.

Section 17 refers to the schedule detailing equipment type, including hydraulic linkage arms mounted tractor jacking systems, and these are to be included in the new section 285D of the principal Act. Much has been put into this measure to support farm safety through the Finance Bill, so it is really important that we welcome it, promote it and talk about it as much as we can.

I welcome the Minister of State. We very much support the Finance Bill but there are nonetheless some huge concerns. As we have heard today, with the potential for a no-deal Brexit, there may be a significant impact on the agricultural sector. Within the budget there is roughly €340 million for Brexit measures and I know there is a €5 billion EU fund that is available to the 27 member states, and we will be able to access early next year. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, was in the House last week to speak about that. We need to work closely with colleagues to see how we can access that fund very quickly at the start of the new year. It is shocking to think there will be such a high level of tariffs on agrifood going outside Ireland to the UK, which is one of our largest markets.

There are some other elements of the budget I want to commend, including supports for businesses and people in precarious jobs, as well as people who have lost their jobs in the hospitality sector. It is absolutely shocking, and the temporary wage subsidy scheme, now the employment wage subsidy scheme, and the pandemic unemployment payment have saved families this year that have been in really difficult positions.

We very much welcome and support the Bill but I still have major concerns about Brexit and how we must be able to access funding very early next year.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit agus ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis as ucht an Bille seo. I hope this Bill will put us on the right track as we emerge from Covid-19. It is important that we are publishing our Finance Bill while we try to walk a tightrope on matters relating to Brexit and Covid-19. It is the backdrop because these matters are affecting people. Many Members have spoken about businesses, employers and employees affected by the catastrophe that is Covid-19.

It is worth reflecting on the role of the Government in producing a finance Bill. In recent weeks and months I have wished that the commentariat, opinion writers and Opposition would reflect on the nature of government in the context of a crisis. The target measures put together by the Government are about ensuring support for people who are working and taking risks. To be fair to some of the Opposition, they have demonstrated a measured and reasoned approach instead of a scattergun philosophy.

I thank the Senator.

I was not referring to the Senator at all and he may protest too much. The Minister of State and I have had our battles around the retail export scheme and we will not revisit them. In the hospitality sector there is a VAT reduction and a Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, and we can add to that the extension of debt warehousing measures relating to income tax and reliefs for the self-employed. They are all welcome. Listening to some of the news on the radio, one might swear the Government was only about one issue but it is not. We must also consider the implications of Brexit, and I wish everybody success in dealing with it. The help-to-buy scheme is an important element of the housing suite of measures.

There is also the regional film development fund. The film industry is important and we are basking in the success of our independent film-makers, actors and actresses. The Minister of State is aware of the issues around the tax anomaly concerning CityJet and the potential move of the base from Ireland. Could we get a comment on that? I am a member of the Committee on Transport and Communications Networks, and I know our aviation sector, like others, has gone through a tumultuous time.

The corporation tax roadmap is important and I welcome the certainty that has been provided in this respect. There are those who criticise foreign direct investment and I would like them to go back to what could replace it or how they would see an Ireland without such investment. People work in this sector, as well as in ancillary services or businesses, and there are potential opportunities in new markets.

In that context, I want to make one reference. I know we have a One China policy, and it is all about economies of scale, but for some reason, Taiwan seems to be nobody's child when it comes to this policy. I ask the Government to look at the issue of Taiwan. I did not realise there was a time limit of five minutes, so I ask for the Acting Chairman's indulgence for a few minutes.

In the area of foreign and direct investment, FDI, I want to mention the presence of Apple in Cork. The company is celebrating 40 years in Cork this year, and it has grown from having just six employees in 1980, to employing over 6,000 workers of over 90 nationalities in 2020 in its European headquarters in Cork city. This illustrates the point that FDI does work, because the jobs to which I have referred are well paid.

My final comment concerns remote working. The remote working arrangement that is currently in place is not meant to be permanent and full time. I know that there is a task force working on the issue, but we must have a real debate on the issues around remote working. I thank the Acting Chairman and the Minister of State for their indulgence.

I agree completely with what Senator Buttimer has just said about FDI and Taiwan. In today's papers, I noticed that the Taiwanese foreign minister has asked for free countries across the world to show solidarity with them, which is so sad, because I visited the country recently and I saw a free democracy working perfectly. The minister said that there was an imminent threat of invasion from the Chinese mainland to suppress the last remaining piece of Chinese territory on which there is a functioning democracy. I hope that the Irish Government begins to find some courage and begins to consider, not what butter exports to China may do for our economy, but what principle requires us to do, and that is to support small countries, which are functioning democracies, in the face of tyrannical neighbours.

This is Second Stage of the Finance Bill 2020, and I wish to make one point about the principle behind it. I know that the principles of the Finance Bill are hardly to be found easily because the Bill is usually a great agglomeration of specific measures with specific intent. This is the first major Finance Bill of this Government, and a large amount of its content, for example, taxation and postponement measures, is remedial in respect of the problems that the economy is currently facing.

When one flies to London, in times when it is easy to do so, somewhere over Liverpool one gets the impression that the plane is beginning its descent into Heathrow Airport. Similarly, in politics, the Government is getting fairly close to that point already. Quite soon, the Government will be seeing the descent path rather than the ascent path, in respect of its lifespan. When the people of Ireland come to vote at the next general election, which could be three or four years away, but it will be upon us fairly soon, the most critical question which will face both the parties in government and the Government as a whole, will be the judgment of the people as to what they have done in respect of housing and the housing crisis in Ireland. It will be one of the most critical questions that determines where the votes of people under the ages of 40 and 30 go in the next election. It is probably going to be the critical factor that determines whether the present opinion polls are borne out, or other scenarios come to pass.

The reason that I feel impelled to say this on Second Stage of the Finance Bill 2020, is because the entire Government - and not just the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform - must take seriously the issue of home building and homeownership, and the whole question of the capacity of young Irish people to ever become the owners of their own homes, and not to be the tenants of foreign multinational real estate investment trusts, REITs, and the like. The Government must take this issue seriously and it must be seen to be doing so.

In today's newspapers there was another report on the fact that even if major steps are taken now, it may be two or three years before they have an effect. The voters of Ireland are not stupid, and if they see something happening which shows the prospect of a radical change, they may change their attitudes and their voting intentions. I would add that our society is becoming one in which the younger generation is being comparatively impoverished to the benefit of the generation to which I belong. Assets are devolving upwards in terms of age, and ownership and capital are going upwards in terms of age and outwards from Ireland to REITs, multinationals and vulture funds. If we want to change Ireland and to keep what is best about it in one respect, we must ensure that every Irish youngish family can aspire to owning its own home.

I wish to finish on this point. Although now is not the time to start a mini housing boom, now is the time for the Government, through the taxation system, to reassert the values that have characterised Ireland for at least half a century, which include, in particular, that everyone can and should aspire to the ownership of their own home, and to have a real stake in the capital wealth of their country. I want to say, in that context, that unless this Government faces up to that issue - and facing up to that involves facing down the conservatism of the Custom House, and I will repeat that: facing down the conservatism and ineptitude of the Custom House - it is in danger of losing, not simply control over the political future of the country, but a large measure of democracy itself, to populists who will exploit the weakness.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I welcome the majority of the contents of the Bill and the great opportunities that are being afforded across Departments in the year to come. Senator McDowell has raised one of the issues I was going to talk about, that is, the housing issue, and I certainly agree with some of what he said, particularly the fact that the age demographic of those that now own property in this country is on the increase and it is an issue. What I am particularly pleased about is the policy change in respect of how we provide social housing units from the point of view of involving our local authorities across the country. I do not understand why they were not involved in more recent times. The local authorities were the bedrock when we were building houses in this country. I do believe that their input will create a great change in the housing units we will build. It could take another year or 18 months before we see the fruits of that work on the ground, but I welcome that.

There are some exciting developments in regard to the technological universities. When I was growing up there were regional technical colleges, RTCs, across the country. The work they did enabled Ireland to evolve from what it was in the 1970s and the 1980s to what it is today. Most of them evolved to become institutes of technology. We, too, have to evolve. Many great industries have come to this country as a result of the work of the institutes of technology and our universities. I am delighted that we are moving with the times and continuing the trend of attracting a smart economy because of our smart workforce. I am delighted that we are moving forward in the vein of the technological universities.

I am delighted also that there was a small breakthrough this afternoon in regard to the Northern Ireland protocol and Brexit. Brexit will bring difficulties to our shores. We have done a great deal to minimise the impact of it. With Brexit will also come opportunities and we will need to make the most of them.

The budget also makes provision for the development of greenways and walkways, which is a commitment in the programme for Government. It is an exciting venture to develop these greenways and not just the small ones, but the larger ones cross-county and also cross-Border. There are great opportunities to do that. The shared island unit provides great opportunities to move this island forward as one nation and one people on a shared basis. The unit brings with it many opportunities for conversation on the differences between our people on this island be that on a religious or political basis. It also provides an exciting opportunity for us all. Given where Brexit is at now, the timing is key.

I attended the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement earlier today at which we received a presentation on the affordability of a united Ireland. I contributed to that debate. Many people are talking about a united Ireland but it is not talk that I necessarily welcome. The Good Friday Agreement was established on the basis of consent. We need to move forward on the basis of consent. We need to be careful with our language. We all want unity but we need to be careful in how we achieve it. It needs to be done on a similar basis to the Good Friday Agreement. That can only be done on a shared basis. Language is important in all of these matters.

The Finance Bill provides for many great opportunities across many Departments. I welcome this opportunity to speak to it today.

I thank all Senators who contributed to the debate. I appreciate all of the points made. I have taken note of them but it will not be possible to respond to each of them in the time available to me.

The budget was framed to deal with three particular issues facing us this year, namely, Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change. These matters underpin the measures in the Finance Bill.

I will try to respond to the points made in succession. All Senators accepted that this is a difficult economic time. The issues raised with regard to the warehousing of taxes were in regard to take-up and interest charges. There was also reference to a cliff edge for turnover in regard to the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS.

There is a different cliff edge in regard to the percentage of turnover which the Government has tried to ameliorate by allowing for extra weeks when businesses reopen. That is being softened. I accept the point made. I will come back to Senators on the warehousing of taxes.

The issue of carbon tax and the alternative to cars in rural areas was raised. This is an ongoing issue. The issue raised was that some businesses are not eligible for the CRSS even though they are suppliers to a particular company. There is a difficulty in that some businesses do not have a premises that is directly affected.

Senator Bacik referred to housing. I will come back to that. She also mentioned low pay and the minimum wage increase of 10 cent per hour. The latter applies primarily in the private sector in Ireland. It may also apply in particular parts of the public sector. The increase was not solely dictated by the Government. It is important to make that point.

There was much discussion on the PUP scheme. As I have said previously, payments under the scheme were taxable from day one. I recall several discussions during the course of the summer involving several members of the Government and Opposition about the tax bill that might arise next year. During the summer, Revenue announced that people will have until 2022 to commence payments and can pay over four years. All of this debate was in the context that everybody understood the PUP was taxable. Why else did we have that debate for months? It was never an emergency payment. It was inserted into a particular section of the Act to facilitate quick payment.

There is a Schedule in the social welfare legislation that deals with social welfare payments that are exempt from tax. Only payments listed in that Schedule are exempt. The PUP is not listed in that Schedule. The PUP payment is not specifically listed in the social welfare legislation as exempt from tax and, therefore, it was taxable from day one. I know it suits a narrative to say that the Government is trying to tax the payment retrospectively but the truth is that on the basis of the social welfare and taxation measures it was taxable from day one. I know people will continue to make that point. It is not true but that will not stop people repeating it.

On carbon tax and low-income households, the budget provides three measures, the first of which is an increase of €3.50 per week in the fuel allowance. This payment is means tested, which proves it is for low-income families and not well-off people. The qualifying child dependant allowance has been increased as well for low-income families in receipt of social welfare benefits. The living alone allowance has increased by €5 per week. These three measures were introduced to mitigate the increased cost that might arise for low-income families or households because of the carbon tax. They are not geared to the well-off. They are not across the payments. Rather, they are targeted at people on low incomes. It is important to make that point as well.

On housing, many Senators spoke about the importance of home ownership. Other Senators railed against it. It is notable that some Senators are objecting to the help-to-buy scheme. During my lifetime, and that of my parents, we have always had a mortgage interest subsidy scheme. It was a fundamental tenet of every Government in Ireland for generations that tax relief would be provided to help people buy their own homes. That scheme was abolished and we now have the help-to-buy scheme, which is the same scheme in principle but with different details. The scheme is helping Irish people to buy their own home. I have heard from two parties today that they are opposed to this scheme. They made the point that it is money for developers and is resulting in increased house prices. The debate on this boils down to whether one is in favour of the people of Ireland having the aspiration to own their own homes, which the help-to-buy scheme facilitates. If one is against the help-to-buy scheme, one is not in favour of people having that aspiration and would rather see them in a dependency culture, renting from the State, an approved housing body or a private landlord. One is either for home ownership or one is against it. I am hearing a clear division in this House. I make no apology for supporting home ownership or the State assisting people to buy their own homes. I would spend any amount of money if it helped people to do that rather than pay rent for the rest of their lives.

There is a fundamental difference in attitude, and I know what side of the debate I am on. I am on the side of the Irish people who want to own their own homes. Others may choose to be on the other side, and that is their right too.

The issue of farm safety was mentioned by Senators. I appreciate that. There are definitely very specific measures. It does highlight the number of farmers who have accidents, many of whom are older people at home. They may be married men or grandparents whose sons or daughters have gone out to work, and these men are trying to keep the family farm going when they are long past doing that level of work. This is unsafe when many of them are on their own. It is a big issue. Teagasc and others have a major role to play in improving farm safety. There is a disproportionate number of work accidents in a farm setting. This is because of the isolated nature of some of the people who work on their own. In some cases they are often elderly. I am aware that children also get caught up in this but it is really the older people who get caught up rather than able bodied people of a younger age.

I would say thank God for the multinational, financial services and pharma sectors in Ireland this year. They kept receipts from income tax and corporation taxes up. It gave us the money to pay the Covid restriction support scheme, CRSS, the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and everything that went with it. Of course, some people have an ideological issue with that as well. We were lucky to have those sectors. They are the sectors that kept employment up this year and people working in multinational sectors are, by and large, well paid where the wage or salary in those companies are twice the average industrial wage in Ireland. They are all on the top tax rate and have continued to work. Without them, on this occasion, we would not have had a fraction of the taxes that we have had to help to pay for some of the other issues.

I will pass on the matter of Taiwan and will leave that for somebody else.

These are some of the points I wanted to make. Some deal with specifics that have been raised here today such as the carbon tax and the taxation of the PUP. I knew from day one that the PUP was always going to be taxable income. Perhaps some people did not realise this. When one thinks about it, while the PUP is technically taxable it is not really taxable in reality because if a person was to earn the PUP of €350 for 52 weeks of the year, then he or she is not in the tax net. The sum of €350 per week for one year brings nobody into the tax net. In reality, the PUP is not taxable. What is taxable, however, is when people are in receipt of the PUP for a portion of a year and also have €30,000 or €40,000, for example, through their own income for the rest of the year. Of course that is going to be taxable and of course it should be. If one has lived for the year on PUP then no income tax would be payable because one has not reached the taxation threshold. That PUP is taxable is a myth and a way of spinning something. People who receive the PUP are taxed when their other income brings them into the tax net over the PUP level. It is taken into consideration for calculation of income, but no PUP payment on its own is taxable. Nobody in Ireland will pay tax who has been on PUP for the full year and has no other income. They are not in the tax net. Some people have said that the PUP is taxable but in fact tax is not paid on the PUP in practical terms. It was always included in the reckoning of income if the person has other income to tax. If there is no other income then the PUP will not ever put a person into the tax net in Ireland. I just wanted to state this on the record.

I presume my time is almost up. I believe we will be in the Seanad on Friday morning to discuss Committee Stage. We might have time to get into further detail on some of the matters. The Senators can see the position I am taking. I am supporting the measures. I am happy with this Finance Bill. Of course it could have been better. We would love to have been expansive with it but given the times we find ourselves in, with the Covid pandemic and Brexit, we had to take a precautionary approach to our budget this year. We have done as much as we can, given the year that is in it.

Question put.

In accordance with the order of the Seanad today the division is postponed until after the Order of Business on Wednesday, 9 December.