I am pleased to have some minutes to comment on the budget which was announced yesterday. The budget needed to try to achieve two aims. First, it had to make a serious impact on reducing our deficit problem. Fine Gael agrees that the figure required for that needed to be approximately €6 billion in the first year. However, the budget had to try to achieve that in as fair a way as possible. There is no fairness in making cutbacks and tax increases amounting to approximately €6 billion. There is no fairness in what is happening because essentially we are creating a debt for our children and grandchildren to pay because of our inadequacies as a State and the mistakes we made. If we are to secure funding for next year to put Ireland on a path to recovery, there is a need for a very serious adjustment in the way the State functions in order to close the gap between what we earn and what we spend.
Second, and perhaps more important at this stage after two very tough budgets, there needed to be a sense of hope and direction. If we are asking people to endure sacrifice and pain, reductions in income and increases in taxes, there must be another strategy in parallel to the deficit reduction strategy, which is about creating jobs and growth. As I listened to the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, I was not inspired by what he had to say, namely, that we would continue to give money to our existing agencies in the hope that they will perform better than they did in the past. That is no longer good enough. We need to change the way we do things, for example, the way in which the public sector operates. We need to assess, examine and benchmark the way in which our agencies work. If they are not working we must change or abolish them. It is not only about spending money.
However, when Fianna Fáil talks about budgetary strategy money is all it seems to talk about. We are either to spend more or to spend less but there is nothing about addressing the vehicle for delivery of the service, the way in which we structure the State and politics. Political reform is about reducing a Minister's or the Taoiseach's salary instead of addressing the way in which we make decisions in this House and the way in which Opposition parties are given resources to hold the Government to account in a proper fashion. We need to ask whether we need both a Seanad and a Dáil to pass legislation effectively and whether we have an electoral system that elects Deputies who are fit for national legislative work as opposed to looking after local issues within constituencies. None of those issues are even mentioned in this budget, never mind addressed.
In terms of the cutbacks made, there is neither justice nor the level of fairness people should expect. When one looks at the exceptions made to social welfare cutbacks one sees these were political decisions. There was a great deal of pressure by Fianna Fáil backbenchers for the State pension not to be cut and therefore it was not cut. My party agrees with that. However, it seems there was not sufficient political lobbying to protect carers, blind people, widows and the disabled. A decision was not taken to prioritise those areas in a political way. That is not acceptable.
A number of very vulnerable sectors rely on State-sponsored income to support their livelihoods and the Government should have protected those other vulnerable areas. It could have done so even in the context of this budget. My party priced the protection of widows, blind people, carers and the disabled as costing in the region €96 million. We also devised a plan of alternatives to make up that difference and published it last week. In typical fashion, the Government decided to ignore it.
In its four year strategy Fine Gael chose not to target child benefit. However, if the decision was taken to target that benefit it was immoral to cut the child supports of a person on social welfare to the same extent as the supports of a person who is earning €100,000, €150,000, €200,000 or €250,000 per year. If child benefit is to be cut it should be cut from people who can afford to do without it, not from those on the lowest incomes. There is no fairness or equity in the budget when family supports for children are being cut for families who are on €15,000 to €25,000. The cut for them is to be made to the same actual extent, never mind the percentage, as the cut to families where the parents are millionaires. That says a lot about the moral compass of Fianna Fáil.
I shall make a couple of points in regard to my area of interest, transport. The Government has made a big play of cutting from €10 to €3, per person per journey, the travel tax which we charge people for leaving Irish airports. The travel tax never made sense. It does not make sense to tax a person for the privilege of coming to Ireland when we are trying to attract millions of people here to spend their money, set up businesses, take holidays, stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and so on. We are taxing people for the privilege of coming here to spend their money. That makes no sense at €10 per passenger and it makes no sense at €3 per passenger, which will raise a miserable €30 million next year. If something does not make sense, we must get rid of it and find another way of raising money or cutting expenditure that makes sense. If we are serious about the tourism industry in Ireland, we need to make Ireland easy and cheap to access through our airports, whether regional or national. We do not need to charge or tax people for the privilege of coming here.