I agree with Deputy Rabbitte that the amount of time allowed to speak on the Finance Bill is extremely limited. I will make a few points which strike me, and would strike anybody, who looked at the budget closely.
Who will be celebrating when this Finance Bill is passed at 10 p.m. tonight? There is one group of people who will undoubtedly be celebrating, the speculative group, as Deputy Rabbitte referred to them, who sit on building land which enjoys planning permission but which they refuse to release or on land which has been zoned but for which they refuse to seek planning permission. They might have looked forward to paying 40% capital gains tax one year, they might have enjoyed paying it at the rate of 20% another year and then faced, if one was to believe the great bible of the current Government on the housing crisis, the Bacon reports 1, 2 and 3, a capital gains tax regime of 60%. They will not now pay capital gains tax at the rate of 60%. In addition, those who might have felt they would be affected by the 2% speculative tax will not pay it. Those who own many rental properties now face the most attractive regime to encourage them to buy more.
This budget, when one looks at those measures, cannot be described by any fair-minded person interested in housing as little less than a speculators charter. It is a matter of fundamental disgrace that local authority applicants are being told, for the first time since the 1970s, they will not be offered accommodation for at least five years. Rents have escalated and land which should be released for building purposes is not being released. It is that group of speculators who will celebrate at 10 p.m. tonight having received the finest give-away ever from a Minister for Finance.
It is at the same time a slap in the face to all those voluntary organisations and socially minded people who drew attention to the housing crisis, who are aware of the number of homeless people, who are aware of the number of people on the housing lists who have abandoned any prospect of putting a roof over their heads. I want to try to tease out what the Minister for Finance is trying to do.
The dangerous side of this Bill and the short discussion on it is that some of the Minister's fundamental assumptions of financial strategy might not be adequately addressed. He proudly said on "Later with O'Leary" the other night that the Government was right of centre. The Minister smiled wryly at the reference to an article in the British Telegraph of Tuesday, 13 February 2001 describing him as the Celtic Thatcher. It said: “Celtic Thatcher takes on Brussels”. The Minister sat back and gave one of his little smiles. In a way he is setting up the parameters of the forthcoming election. People should think long and hard about this Government. This speculative class to which the Minister has tied himself, the people who have done more than anyone else to enhance their greedy desire, have also shattered political confidence in this country. They are the ones responsible for offering various types of carrier bags and envelopes to the Fianna Fáil Party and for bringing them before the tribunals.
I hope the public think long and hard about who they will support. Do they want more of this McCreevyism, none of it startlingly original? We have heard much of it before. The Minister spoke about taking money at the top rate of tax from those who can well afford to pay it, those who are enjoying all the concessions under the various schemes. His description of taking tax from these people is, "I am giving them back their own money". That phrase was used by Mrs. Thatcher in Britain. That is ignorance and there is no economic basis for it. Speculators made their money from an economy into which people put their sweat and blood, into which hundreds and thousands of millions of pounds was invested by Irish taxpayers over the years. Do they pay education costs, the costs of infrastructure, the costs of the health system? Of course, they do not but the Minister chooses to take up this little populist piece of rubbish and say, "I am giving them back their own money". This kind of folksy ignorance, without a shred of serious economic basis to it, is precisely what the mad baroness in Britain came out with.
I thought the day would never come when I would say perhaps the Daily Telegraph got it right. It would have been different – and we are expected to say how it might have been different – if one approached the relationship between economy and society from a different set of assumptions. If it had been approached from a rights perspective, one would have arrived at the conclusion that at a time of unimaginable surpluses one could narrow the gap between that range of provisions that are available in every other European country, those countries which operate higher tax regimes but which enjoy public parks, different kinds of amenities, child care provision, which have first-class health services and public transport, none of which we have. Instead of saying he will use the surpluses to lift the life of our citizens to some kind of provision in the public space, the Minister comes out with these little trite pieces of British ignorance of the worst kind, “I am giving the people back their own money”.
I hope people see how that rights approach has been entirely discarded. I heard of a case of a person who attended the Regional Hospital in Galway and went home untreated after 18 hours. When the person returned the next day he saw 30 people lying on trolleys awaiting treatment. Is that the way to treat people? Is it fair to tell people who need a house they have to wait five years for one? The remark, "there are always people who will have to be lifted up" was made in this House today. A Deputy described the Irish economy as something like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, "It's so good we do not know what to spend it on, holidays abroad, cars, whatever". This is so offensive to a country which desperately needs to restore social cohesion and which needs social solidarity, which should be using its surpluses to say a person's right to a decent health service, a house, to travel safely in old age, to live in a proper environment is a right. There are no rights, there are only concessions.
The principal group who get concessions in this budget are the speculators who, as I said, have a unique identity. Every one of those who attached themselves to those now being investigated for corruption were people from that speculative class. They drove a stake into the heart of Irish democracy and instead of that connection being broken, the Minister rewards them almost without their asking for it. Our colleague in Galway West, Deputy Molloy, as Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government with special responsibility for housing, spent about a year and a half standing on his hind legs saying we had no housing crisis and that the Bacon reports would solve all. Now the Bacon reports are discarded and no reasons are given why the members of the lobby which counts, which always counted and which always had a monopoly on the corruption and who knew where to go, are those who benefited. He will not have to come with a mask over his face to go into the tent at Galway races next year.
There are a few important points in relation to this. In 1955, 55,000 people left this country. They are now elderly and would like to come home, many to the places they left in much harder times. However, they cannot dream of coming back due to the housing shortage. There is something incredibly deadly about the morality of a country that accepts that something as basic as a roof over one's head can become the basis of speculative reward. It is time we built houses and when local authorities are slow to do it to establish a housing authority that will build them within a timescale to enable the State to offer houses.
It is part of the madness of this new version of ourselves as prisoners of the economy rather than as members of the society that the Tánaiste can say she will bring 200,000 people into the country because the economy needs them. Fine, but where are they to live? What about the housing needs of the entire population? She would say, rather like old Friedrich von Hayek who, as Mrs. Thatcher mentioned in many of her lectures afterwards, used to say, "Prime Minister, the markets will do it for you – be patient and the markets will do it."
Those engaged in every civilised economic discourse in any of the academies I know at present could tell the Minister that there are things the market cannot do. It cannot give you universality in health, it cannot give you universality in housing and it cannot give you universality in education. That is why there is a barbarous ignorance to this kind of logic that informs his decisions.
He pushed when it came to individualisation but when those of us who say that a woman has the right to choose whether to rear her children for a few years or that she be driven into the economy, we are supposed to be old fashioned. All we say is that one should not be penalised for choosing to want to look after one's children and to be with them at a time when society is torn apart by this ridiculous kind of selfish economics. That is all we asked the Minister yet he drives on his individualisation tax proposals as something that is supposed to be an automatic benefit, something progressive and when the markets are finished it will all be all right. It will not be all right.
The test of a budget or a Finance Bill is in the kind of country we create with it and what kind of life we want from it. Do we want the Tánaiste saying not just the 200,000 but also pointing to those who had gone out on retirement suggesting we bring them back as well. Why should we bring them back? Not to ensure that they might have a better standard of living or that they might have some enjoyment in old age, but because the economy needs them. That is why I use the phrase "prisoners of the economy". This is the deadly right wing logic of a Minister who, on Olivia O'Leary's programme, said he is proud to be a member of one of the only right of centre Governments in Europe and looks disparagingly at those who enjoy child care, good education, public transport, public parks and safety that are available in Europe.
The mentor, the Tánaiste, gives us her occasional insights into what she thinks we should be doing. She thinks that, for example, a country that probably pays no tax is a good thing. We are all willing to be taxed to provide the kind of country that will give dignity in old age, a good health service and provide an education that will give people chances.
There is a gap between those who are doing best under these tax concessions and those who are at the other end of the scale and as that gap widens it is markedly insulting to tell the latter they are defective people who will catch up when the benefits of the booming economy gets to them. When we examine this Bill and the thinking in it we see a clear division. There are those who are followers of a market model that suggests the people can drag themselves after it but who will make it efficient and will run it the way they do now and will to give back to those who pay most and there are others who suggest that this model is inimical to the public interests. It will shatter social cohesion and will drive bigger wedges between the gaps already in society and tragically it will not give us something we had the opportunity to have for the first time. We could have had a first class education service or a first class health service. We could be building tens of thousands of houses. We could have driven the speculators back into their place. We could have a happy country. We could have been talking about shortening the working week and the working day or increased holidays but we cannot do any of it as we have been condemned to prison by this ridiculous, nonsensical, right wing and ignorance based system of running the economy of which this Finance Bill is just instalment four.