Financial Resolution No. 4: General (Resumed)

Debate resumed on the following motion:
THAT it is expedient to amend the law relating to inland revenue (including value-added tax and excise) and to make further provision in connection with finance.
-(Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan)

Budget 2018 is taking place at a time when we are making good progress in a range of areas under our control. At the same time, as we look beyond our shores we see uncertainties, risks and a rapidly changing global economy. Thankfully, we have moved beyond crisis management and are now in a position where we can plan for the future. However, regardless of the choices we make, our journey will be shaped to some degree by forces beyond our control. Brexit, potential changes in US tax and trade policy and a broader international shift in attitudes to trade and globalisation will impact on our economic future to an unknown extent. This budget ensures that we remain in control of our destiny. It insulates us from uncertainty from abroad and enables us to lay the foundation stone for building a better, stronger and more secure Ireland in the years ahead.

The best economists agree a budget is not a collection of numbers but an expression of a government's values and aspirations. Budget 2018 is an expression of our values and aspirations for the country, a powerful statement about how the economy is doing and what that means for our society. Our values are self evident from yesterday's budget. We believe in balancing the books and have succeeded in doing so for the first time since the crash. We believe the next generation should be free from the burden of excessive debt and we want them to be optimistic about building their lives here. We believe in continuing with debt reduction, all the time proceeding with prudence and acting responsibly so we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. We believe in modest, sustainable tax reductions for middle income individuals and families so we can make life easier for those who work hard and make it possible to fund our public services and welfare system through the work they do and the taxes they pay.

At a time of very low inflation, budget 2018 means that a family with a gross income of €60,000 per year is likely to be approximately €1,000 better off this time next year in terms of take home pay, both because of the tax changes announced in the budget and average projected pay increases of 2% next year. That might appear to be a modest enough gain, but it will make a difference for the families concerned. It enables a family to plan for the future with renewed optimism and, more importantly, it is real and sustainable. It is also only the start of what I believe will be a prolonged period of real income growth and rising living standards. It is easy for people to dismiss the gains in this budget in terms of the tax reduction being only €5 or €10 per month or the price of a cup of coffee. However, the people who make that argument would not even give people the cup of coffee. They oppose USC cuts and income tax cuts altogether.

Consider the benefits over a year or two of the USC and income tax reductions, the benefits of the pay increases that we have negotiated with public services, the pay increases in the private sector, the increase in the minimum wage as well as the reduction in the cost of living by reducing prescription charges and introducing subsidised child care. When one takes all of them together, one sees how they add up and become of real value to individuals and families. It will never be about just one announcement or one budget. It will be about a series of announcements and budgets containing different measures - some to reduce taxes, others to increase pay and others to reduce the cost of accessing public services.

We also believe in helping people who need it most. We have strengthened the safety net by increasing weekly payments by €5 for a wide range of people, including pensioners, carers, people with disabilities, the blind, widows, one-parent families, and those seeking work or those on employment support payments such as community employment, Tús and the rural social scheme. We believe in bigger budgets for public services so we can make a real difference in the areas that matter to many people, such as education, health and housing. For example, funding is being provided to deliver a further 1,300 additional teaching posts as well as an estimated 1,000 new special needs assistant posts in 2018. New funding will be provided for higher and further education by an increase in the national training fund levy, and we want an allocation of an additional €310 million up to 2021 to meet infrastructure needs in higher and further education.

Health has received a record allocation which will allow additional resources to be focused on reducing waiting times, increasing capacity in our acute services, enhancing mental health services and services for people with disabilities. There is a particular focus on primary care, including a new general practitioner, GP, contract which is central to the development of the reformed health service we all wish to have. The Minister for Health has also announced measures which will reduce the monthly cost to patients of their medicines. This will benefit people with medical cards and people who do not have medical cards will pay a reduced monthly maximum under the drugs payment scheme. However, it is not simply about spending more money. As our experience during the mid-2000s demonstrated, increased spending must be accompanied by reform if it is to deliver results. Extra spending does not equal better services. The correlation is indirect at best and often absent altogether. In the case of the health service, the Government is working on a reform roadmap in response to the Sláintecare report of the Oireachtas all-party committee.

The Government understands the stress faced by people without a home and the strain that homelessness is on our society. We know so many people struggling to buy or to rent a home. These people are not faceless statistics, but our friends and families, constituents and supporters. They are people we know and we want to help them. The total budget for housing is now €1.9 billion, an increase of €600 million compared to 2017. This investment will see housing provided to 25,000 individuals and families in 2018 by the State. These are new tenancies. The Government recognises the need to go further in its work on housing and we have therefore announced that €750 million of the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund will be made available through a new vehicle, called Home Building Finance Ireland, HBFI, to drive commercial investment in new house building. It will use the expertise of many existing staff of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, as that organisation comes to the end of its mandate. The housing budget also includes an increase for housing assistance payments of €149 million and a further €18 million for homelessness services, bringing the total spend to over €116 million, with an extra €31 million in social housing current expenditure.

We believe in supporting individuals and families and allowing them to plan for the future. We believe in making work pay. We also believe in laying the foundation stone for a sustainable and prosperous economy which benefits all our citizens, young and old, in rural and urban areas. Budget 2018 is built on these values and is also built on our aspirations. We wish to improve people’s lives and enable individuals and families to plan for the future with confidence. We aspire to create a sustainable economy that supports the life cycle of our citizens from cradle to old age, one that reflects the reality of life and not simply a changing economic cycle. We aspire to full employment, a job for everyone who wants one and the opportunity to move up to a better one if one works towards it.

We wish to share the benefits of our return to economic growth by improving the lives of people in their later years. Among the changes included in budget 2018 which will have a direct impact on older people is a further €5 increase in the State pension to come into effect in March. This is the third year in a row in which the pension has been increased above the rate of inflation. There is also an increase for the free travel scheme and a range of measures to keep people independent in their homes. The telephone allowance is being partially restored and the fuel allowance extended by another week.

We believe in ensuring all parts of the country have an equal opportunity to share in our economic growth and prosperity. The Department of Rural and Community Development was established for that reason and it is already delivering results. Funding is being directed towards creating the conditions for sustainable rural development and providing local level supports to help sustain vibrant and sustainable communities across Ireland. We have included a range of benefits for rural Ireland in the budget. This includes the retention of the special 9% VAT rate for the tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors, which is all the more important in the context of Brexit and vital for the economy in rural Ireland. It is particularly important in the Border areas where increasing VAT on hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation, hostels and accommodation, which must be kept together under EU VAT law, would be damaging for the economies in places such as Louth, Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal.

The budget provides the resources to allow for the recruitment of an additional 800 gardaí during 2018 to tackle crime, both rural and urban. There are an additional 250 places for the rural social scheme. Funding for the local improvement scheme is being maintained at €10 million and there is an increased focus on rural recreation projects, town and village regeneration and EU schemes, such as Leader and PEACE.

We have already taken a number of actions to mitigate some of the economic risks arising from Brexit. However, challenges arise from the fact that we still do not know what will be the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Therefore, we need robust and comprehensive plans across a range of scenarios to ensure we are ready for whatever ultimately emerges.

We are already experiencing currency fluctuations which are having an adverse impact on businesses, particularly in sectors which are heavily exposed owing to their levels of trade with the United Kingdom. Our enterprise agencies are continuing to work directly with businesses, offering advice and support to help them adapt to these challenges. We have provided resources in the budget to double the number of Brexit-related staff in State agencies. The investment of an additional €3 million will enable the recruitment of a further 50 staff, doubling the additional Brexit-related posts to 100 in 2018 to ensure a joined-up response to Brexit. This is also further evidence of the implementation of the Government's plan to double Ireland's global footprint and it is something we should do even if there was no Brexit.

Importantly, the budget provides for a €300 million loan scheme to give cheaper credit to small and medium enterprises, SMEs, and the agrifood sector. This will provide affordable financing to businesses that are or will be impacted by Brexit. The new scheme is open to all trading SMEs and large firms employing fewer than 500 people. The scheme will result in a sizeable reduction in interest rates charged for lending to approximately 4%. It will be delivered by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, through commercial lenders to get much needed low cost working capital into businesses. We are also delivering targeted investments in agrifood, tourism and other sectors to help them respond to the challenge.

It is likely that our enterprise policy, Enterprise 2025, will need to be reorientated in certain areas to reflect changes in the external environment which are likely to be ongoing rather than transient. We are anticipating changes in the external environment and we are swift to respond to new circumstances. These changes are part of the reason I announced on my recent visit to Canada the Government's intention to double the team Ireland footprint overseas by 2025, with new and augmented diplomatic missions, as well as significantly increased resources for our investment, tourism, cultural and food agencies overseas.

The Global Footprint initiative includes new and augmented diplomatic missions and an increased agency presence overseas. It will enable us to effectively promote our interests and values on the international stage and aid our efforts to diversify and grow trade, tourism and inward investment. Budget 2018 includes provisions for relevant Departments and agencies to allow them to begin the work of expanding our global footprint. When I announced this initiative a few weeks ago it as dismissed as spin, as is always the case. I am now setting out the facts and the way in which it is taking place. This budget provisions include an increased allocation to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of €23 million for next year, which includes a provision to raise staffing levels overseas, and provision of €112 million to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to further enhance Ireland's tourism offering and market the country abroad. I expect that these increased allocations will start to take effect quickly. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, has announced that Ireland will open new embassies in Santiago, Chile; Bogota, Colombia; Amman, Jordan; and new consulate offices in Vancouver and Mumbai. Other developments include the commitment to develop a new Ireland house in Tokyo and developing our links with China on foot of the Tánaiste's recent successful visit to the region.

In addition to these announcements, relevant Departments and agencies are preparing a comprehensive plan for consideration by government by the end of the year. The plan will identify further opportunities to expand our global footprint in the short and medium term. This is more than simply an investment in embassies; it represents an investment in the agencies that work hard to promote this country and whose work is integral to our future. There are, therefore, also increases for Bord Bia, Tourism Ireland, Culture Ireland, the Irish Film Board, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland. This is an investment in Ireland abroad to ensure we are secure at home. It takes a long-term view of the challenges to this island and offers a global solution to immediate dangers.

The problem with the values and policies of the far left is that they want to sacrifice the economy to pay for improvements in society, without understanding how quickly it becomes unsustainable. Venezuela is just the most recent example of this - a promising start is ending in bankruptcy, poverty and oppression. There are many other examples in history of exactly this. The far left wants to do everything based on nothing and wants everything to be free and paid for by someone else. This is an unsustainable model which can only fail. The same problem occurs in reverse with the values of the far right.

We believe in the politics of the centre, where we have a strong opportunity orientated society underpinned by a strong, competitive economy. The two form a virtuous circle rather than being in conflict. We are thinking not just about next year, but the next ten years and beyond, about an economy that creates opportunity and a society that flourishes precisely because our economy is based on strong foundations.

This is the seventh budget since Fine Gael came to office and the second we have put together with the Independent Alliance and Independent Ministers. Working first with the Labour Party and now with the Independent Alliance and Independent Ministers, we have made remarkable progress in bringing the country back from the brink and giving us all hope and options for the future. This budget contains something new. It lays the foundation stone for our ambitious plans for the years ahead. Having rebuilt the Republic, we are now able to build something new, a republic of opportunity for all our citizens, free from the boom and bust cycles of the past.

One of the old Irish jokes with which many of us are familiar is the story of the tourist who stops on a country road and asks for directions and the answer he is given is: "Well I would not have started from here." This was true of where we stood in 2011, when the then Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputies Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin, respectively, faced incredible challenges in rescuing the economy and had to do so from a starting position neither would have chosen. Things are different in 2017. Having done the hard work and made the policy decisions and the Irish people having endured enormous sacrifice, we are now where we want to be. We are starting from a good position, we know where we want to go and we know how to get there. This is the budget where we begin.

Last week in the House, Members paid tribute to one of my forebearers, Liam Cosgrave. In his first budget as Taoiseach in 1973, Mr. Cosgrave took pride in the fact that it was people-centred to reflect its greater values. By putting stability first, it was able to put people first. This budget attempts to do the same. We honour Liam Cosgrave's memory again in our words and actions and we honour his legacy by continuing his work for Ireland. It is the only vision for our country and the one that offers long-term prosperity.

In budget 2018, the Government is establishing a rainy day fund in line with the confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil. As a first step, we are allocating €1.5 billion from the Irish Strategic Investment Fund and €500 million per annum from 2019 onwards. This is a long-term project to build some protection for future macroeconomic shocks. We will not do this on our own, but rather after consultation with the Dáil and Seanad. We want Members' input, which we will use to help shape our approach. The Minister for Finance has, therefore, published a consultation paper on the fund and the Government looks forward to hearing the views of the Oireachtas on its operation.

For Ireland to succeed, we need to think long term, which means planning for a country that will be home to almost 6 million people in 2040. For this reason, budget 2018 prioritises investment in capital infrastructure. We are investing in the future. Central to this is the new national development plan the Government will approve before the end of the year. The ten-year framework will also help to ensure a phased approach with sequencing, which avoids overheating or the development of imbalances in the economy, as occurred in the past. In doing so, we will ensure investment in education and higher education, roads and public transport is timed and targeted appropriately into the future. The same is true for housing, health care, broadband and investment in sport and culture. This approach is essential to ensure all parts of the country share in the recovery and our growing prosperity. To achieve this, the Government has ring-fenced an additional €4.1 billion for allocation over the period until 2021. This is in addition to the existing capital plan and the extra €2.2 billion already committed to housing. This will increase capital expenditure by more than 70% over the next four years to almost €7.8 billion by 2021. As a result, public investment in Ireland will moving from relatively low levels to being among the highest in the European Union.

We are confident about what we can achieve because it is grounded in recent experience. I know people are sceptical about ten-year plans but they should think for a moment about what was done in the past five years when we had little money. Luas cross-city is complete and will open to passengers in December. Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork is open, as is the National Gallery extension. The national sports campus is a reality. Greenways have been open across the country. After decades of talk, the new national children's hospital is under construction.

Consider Newlands Cross, the Gort-Tuam motorway, the N11, New Ross and Enniscorthy, 50 primary care centres and 200 new schools all over the country. That is what was done in the past five years when we had very little money for capital investment. Imagine what we can do in the next ten when we will have a lot more.

On these benches, we are not going to take lessons in accounts or accountability from some parties in this Chamber, least of all from Sinn Féin. I was interested to see that Sinn Féin's budget submission this year was called "On Your Side". I like it as a title. It was familiar to me because it is actually the slogan that we used in our local election campaign in 2004.

Look at what that brought us.

Interestingly enough, Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission from a couple of years ago was entitled "Route to Recovery" and was about going towards a "just society", something that also rings a bell because it was a slogan that Fine Gael used many times in the past. If history is to be repeated, I look forward to reading Sinn Féin's submission in a few years' time and its plans for building "a republic of opportunity".

Looking back on what Sinn Féin has submitted over the past few years, one feels like one is reading not so much an alternative budget, but an alternative reality. Sinn Féin has had so little faith in the ability of this country and this Government to get things right that it claimed only a few years ago - I will cite its leader's post-budget speech - that the budget loomed over us like the end of world. Sinn Féin revelled in apocalyptic language about how bad things were and how they would never get better if the Government's fiscal policies were pursued. It claimed that there would be no recovery, the deficit would never be reduced, unemployment would never fall and families would never see their finances improve. The only solution that Sinn Féin could offer was a war on wealth, higher corporation taxes, higher income taxes, a plethora of new levies and telling the IMF and Europe to get lost.

Each year, Sinn Féin confidently predicted that our approach was not working until it saw that it was. Then it began saying that the effects were only temporary. Now it has very little to say about the economy at all except that it is "on your side". It condemns a budget that includes €387 million in income tax reductions for working people and families. If Sinn Féin and other parties of the left cannot support modest reductions in taxation in times of economic growth and fiscal surplus, what would they do to middle-income families if there was another downturn? I think we all know.

Do not include us in that.

They would tax them to the hilt. It might have been better if their economic policies actually had been on the people's side during the worst years of the economic crisis. They offer easy answers but no real solutions.

Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile.

I think the Deputy is in there.

We on this side of the House - Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and Independents - believe in improving living standards for people who work hard, get up early in the morning, work at night, and work weekends and shift work because we believe that work should pay, and we make no apologies for saying so. It is one of our objectives and part of our value system. Moreover, because we believe that work should pay, we want everyone, including those on low and middle incomes, to benefit through pay incentives, tax reductions and cheaper access to public services.

In the last budget, we reduced the USC. In this budget, we are taking further steps to reward work and attain a sustainable increase in living standards. The threshold for payment of the higher rate of income tax is being increased by €750 while the 2.5% and 5% USC rates are being reduced. Self-employed people also benefit from a further increase of €200 in the earned income tax credit and stay-at-home parents have their tax credit increased for the second year in a row.

We are responding to the needs of young families. Having introduced paternity leave for new fathers, we are also working to improve provision for both parents further, including extending paid maternity leave for mothers of premature babies. This is fully funded in budget 2018.

This year, we implemented a number of policies to expand access to child care for working families, including a universal child care subsidy open to all children aged six months to three years. In budget 2018, we are providing another €20 million to develop the free preschool programme further to ensure that the two-year service is available to all children from 2018. It is now open to children who are two years and eight months old. We are also increasing the family income supplement by up to €10 per week for low-income working families.

Free GP care has been introduced for children under six, as well as medical cards as a right for children with severe disabilities. The cost of prescription medicines is being reduced in this budget, for people and families with or without a medical card. Dental benefits, like the scale and polish, are being restored this month, as well as subsidised eye glasses and hearing aids.

We have a pay deal now to restore the pay of public servants, which has been agreed and is fully funded in this budget. The minimum wage has been increased for the second time by this Government of Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and Independents.

Improving the living standards of middle Ireland - of people who work hard, who contribute to our society and our economy, those who get up early in the morning - is not achieved by a single action or a single budget. It is about sustained progress step by step: lower taxes; better pay; better conditions; and more subsidised public services. This budget is just another step in that direction.

The focus of the budget is on building a sustainable and resilient economy, but this only has meaning and value when it has tangible benefits for our people by rewarding work, protecting the most vulnerable and creating opportunity. I believe that, in this budget, our partnership Government with the Independent Alliance and Independent Ministers and Deputies has struck the correct balance between planning and preparing for an uncertain future, as well as improving the quality of life for our citizens. Our philosophy is simple: when we have it, we make it count. We do not squander it. We do not spend it for the sake of spending it. We invest it in the future. We spend it carefully because it is the people's money, not ours.

This budget provides the foundation stone for us to build into the long term. Individuals can plan for the future, as can their families, confident in the knowledge that our prosperity will be shared and sustainable. We have faith in the future because we have learned from the lessons of the past.

The budget reflects this Government's values and aspirations, and our partnership Government believes in making a difference in people's lives. We believe that, with the right values and aspirations, we can make a real difference. We know where we want to go. We are on the road. Budget 2018 is another small, sustainable, steady step on that road.


Hear, hear.

This is a modest budget that has been, by some distance, the most overspun in our history. It represents a significant step back from the Taoiseach's intended radical and regressive policies. It includes many individual items that are welcome and it conforms to the core agreement that budget policy must be sustainable and progressive.

However, there are also major gaps in this budget. It contains no coherent long-term economic strategy. It fails to address some essential issues. It is tokenistic and lopsided in preparing for the enormous economic and social threat of Brexit. Most of all, it will amount to nothing unless the Government starts to deal with the delivery gap, where there is increasingly less connection between what is announced and what is delivered.

Students of political history will remember that Commissioner Phil Hogan was once forced to resign as a Minister of State when his office mistakenly faxed a few budget headlines to a journalist an hour before the then Minister for Finance announced them to the Dáil. If this standard were still being applied, most of the Government, including the Taoiseach, would have resigned weeks ago.

It is genuinely remarkable how often the Taoiseach has leaked and commented on the budget in recent months. It is even more remarkable how different the budget is from his rhetoric. From the moment when he formally launched his bid for the Fine Gael leadership up to the past ten days, the Taoiseach set a particular tone for this budget. In speeches, interviews and innumerable leaks, he set out his overriding priority. This was the reorientation of budget policy away from the people he dismissed as caught in a culture of dependency and victimhood and towards the highest earners. Time and again, he and his Ministers announced that this was going to be a budget that returned to the Fine Gael core priority - tax cuts that would benefit the highest earners the most.

To back this up, they spoke out against a wide range of progressive social spending. Social protection payments were due to be held down. The Minister responsible even announced in August that pensioners would have to go back down the queue. The Taoiseach said that increases would be minimal, the health sector was told it would have to make do with what it had, and so on across nearly every public spending area.

The intention by our new Taoiseach to make a significant move to the right on budget policy is not an empty charge by the Opposition. It has been his core policy message for four months. To him, there is a group that is deserving of attention, and then there is everyone else, dismissed by him as caught in "a culture of dependency and victimhood". In a phrase that I hope he by now understands has caused immense anger, he has said that we should focus only on those "who get up early in the morning".

Is that not a misquote?

If we were to follow this approach, where would we leave those who are retired or sick, who have disabilities or who have found themselves in need of a hand up?

What would it say about us, as a society, if we allowed this type of mentality to guide public policy?

That is the background to the discussions that were held in recent weeks. The uncontroversial truth is that any insistence on trying to push through the Taoiseach's regressive policy would have been a fatal breach of the agreement which enabled this Dáil to nominate a Government. The fact that the budget bears so little relationship to the Taoiseach's stated priorities is its principal saving grace. When Fine Gael was much freer to set budget policy, as it was in the previous Government, it delivered five out of five budgets that where highly regressive and heavily weighted in favour of the highest earners. Last year, as a result of the confidence and supply agreement, this changed completely. Every independent review confirmed that last year's budget was more progressive. On budget night last year, the Taoiseach, who was then Minister for Social Protection, said at a press conference that it was the first fair and socially just budget for a very long time. I am very pleased that we were able to stop the attempt to return to unfair and socially unjust budgets.

It is especially notable that nearly all of the positive points being highlighted by Fine Gael Members relate to measures forced on a reluctant Government. In health and education, the only significant initiatives are those that the Government wanted to either delay or ignore. If one wanted, one could describe this as cynical or opportunistic. What matters is that Fine Gael’s core right-wing impulse appears to be as strong as ever. The Taoiseach announced last month that he wants this direction incorporated in a new Fine Gael manifesto that is to be finalised in November.

We make no apology for using our position in the Dáil to act responsibly and deliver important policies. Unlike any other party, we have taken a substantial risk by stepping away from the old model of how business was done here and have worked to be constructive. It remains our view that the people expect their representatives to focus on substance and this is what we have done. We have been subject to loud and passionate attacks from those in Sinn Féin and on the far left in the past 24 hours. No doubt this will continue during the remainder of the debate. They will forgive us if we do not recognise their right to tell us what we should do with the mandate we won. They faced the problem that they entered the Dáil with the intention of trying to influence nothing. If one looks back at the debates on the formation of the Government, one will see their shrill demands that there be a majority Government formed. The latter would have left them in peace to oppose everything for five years. They are not angry with Fianna Fáil because of what is in this budget; they are angry because Fine Gael’s impulses have been held back and this makes it harder for them to campaign. Sinn Féin is particularly sensitive, wanting to be taken seriously, on the one hand, but ,on the other, complaining every time it is challenged in a debate.

As we all know from the epidemic of bullying cases and the fact that the powerful local interest is always protected by party headquarters, Sinn Féin does not believe that others have a right to criticise it. When it comes to refusing to answer questions, it beats even the Taoiseach. When Deputy Adams and his party loyalists stand up to deliver the agreed line demanding other things in the budget, we all remember that they held the Department of Finance in Belfast but failed to produce a budget last year or this. As a result of its failure to have the Executive re-established, massive cuts are being implemented in schools, hospitals and social services throughout Northern Ireland. These cuts are of an order of magnitude greater than anything implemented here. Community groups doing essential work are unable to get funding and the situation will keep getting worse. Perhaps the real reason Sinn Féin is leaving Northern Ireland with no voice at the Brexit negotiations is that it wants to avoid introducing a budget and being accountable for it. The self-righteousness and the extra volume we are getting from Sinn Féin here is impressing no one.

While we are very pleased to have blunted the edge of Fine Gael policies and to have delivered significant measures to benefit all groups and especially those in need, we disagree with many of the Government’s priorities. I will address a number of them later on. It is important to consider first the overall budgetary situation and direction of our economy. We believe that the basic thrust of fiscal policy should be balanced and that we should have a steady reduction in the significance of the national debt next year and in the medium term. As part of this, we have insisted on a policy of proceeding with a rainy day fund to serve as a contingency. In its letter to the Minister, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council said that the core assumptions behind the budget are acceptable. However, it raised a serious issue concerning our knowledge of the underlying state of the economy. The council, echoing some detailed research work, has said that we do not adequately understand the impact of many policies or even the correct way to assess where we stand in terms of the economic cycle. We know from the contortions involved in creating GNI* that getting correct statistics is an urgent matter. It is surprising that the Government continues to give no priority to dealing with this. This is the impression given in the budget documentation where the part of the CSO's allocation which will go to improving the reliability and usefulness of these statistics is tiny. It is also well below the priority given by the Taoiseach to other presentational matters.

As Deputies Calleary and Michael McGrath said yesterday, important assumptions underpinning budget figures announced by the Minister are unsure. In each case, the Government has decided to take an optimistic assumption concerning revenues or costs. Independent commentators have suggested that the revenue projection for stamp duty is not much better than sticking a finger in the air. In terms of the tax on sugar in drinks, there is no reason to believe that the UK will succeed in implementing its regime by April and this will have an impact on the measures announced yesterday. As such, there is more uncertainty built into the budget figures than has been admitted.

A more important point is that the budget contains a fiscal policy but the Government continues to have no general economic policy. It is remarkable how little has been done to review or develop the core economic model outlined before the recession. For example, IDA Ireland's priority areas are as they were a decade ago. The identified drivers of growth have not changed nor have underlying assumptions about the productive capacity of the economy. The reality is that the Government’s sole focus is on trying to find ways of politically benefiting from the economy rather than trying to influence its direction. In this, it continues to tell a highly partisan story which undersells Ireland. The fundamental reason that Ireland has had a strong recovery is the impact of investments and policy decisions made over decades. Investment in people, infrastructure and pro-enterprise taxation are the reason we have had strong growth. Complacency and regressive policies are why this growth has been accompanied by rising problems and unfairness.

One of the great lessons we should learn from past policy successes is that we have the capacity to shape the economy if we are willing to look beyond the endless search for short-term headlines. The best example of this is our high-tech sector. The Taoiseach loves attending photo opportunities at high-tech companies' facilities but he does not appear to understand why these companies are here in the first instance. They are here because a decision was taken to invest in research and to train people and build the expertise required to put Ireland at the cutting edge of what we knew would be a dynamic sector. Many of the sectors in which we are now strongest and which employ tens of thousands of people, directly and indirectly, did not exist when the crucial investments were made. Twenty years ago, the entire dedicated budget for research in education was zero. That was transformed. First, we rebuilt large parts of the third-level system, brought in institutional strategies and helped individual groups. This was extended to world-class research centres and increasing industry partnership. We did this through a diverse funding and policy model which did not try to direct everything into Government-defined silos. We built a research system and not just a few tiny centres for Ministers to visit and claim credit for. In implementing this vision, every target was met ahead of time, with Ireland dramatically improving its international standing on every single research metric. That is why we host so many world-leading companies. Unfortunately, the Government does not appear to understand this. To quote the Taoiseach's former favourite band, LCD Soundsystem, in doing this, we are losing our edge.

To compete and win in the future and to create high-value jobs, we have to be more research-intensive. One of the less noticed but most significant announcements yesterday came from the Minister of State with responsibility for science and technology. Under pressure, he admitted that the Government looks as if it will fail to hit its research funding targets by a wide margin. The new science strategy looks as if it is already going to fail.

As Deputy Lawless has pointed out repeatedly, we are missing enormous opportunities as a result of the Government’s failure to show a commitment in this area. There is much reference in the budget to Brexit, which we all understand is a long-term economic threat for our country, but the specific measures included come nowhere near the urgent or ambitious response we need. In fact, they come nowhere near to the policies that have been leaked and briefed during the past two months. The funding will not double our international footprint in the way promised. It will not provide direct funding for businesses being undermined by Brexit. It will, at most, offer to loan the affected companies an average of €3,300 each at a slightly reduced rate of interest.

Incredibly, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, central to trade development, will get 40% less for Brexit developments than the Taoiseach is receiving for his communications unit. Deputies Niall Collins, Donnelly and Darragh O'Brien have already addressed some of these failings and will do so further during this debate.

In terms of investments which can build a strong economy and support a strong society well into the future, yesterday's budget was basically silent. This is a reflection of a government which is increasingly focused on the short term. When the long-delayed capital plan is published in the coming weeks, it will no doubt be presented as visionary and transformational. It will be nothing of the sort. It will address many delayed and essential projects, and also basic demographic pressures due to numbers going to school, commuting to work or requiring care. However, the capital figures in the budget mean there will not be, in the next three years at least, any new vision for the development of our country.

Before going into detail about specifics in the budget, it is necessary to address the controversy of the Taoiseach's new strategic communications unit. At the most immediate level it is genuinely amazing that the Taoiseach has decided that selling a corporate message for Government is a greater funding priority than the service helping children with disabilities to access supports, town and village renewal, the PEACE programme or any number of important programmes which will receive less than this new unit. However, at another level this decision gives rise to concern about what we can expect from our new Taoiseach. He has long been known as our most media-focused member of Government. Privately and publicly, an active attention to how he is presented has seemed a greater priority for him than managing tough issues or proposing significant policy departures. His period as Minister for Health was a case study in deflection and obfuscation, culminating in a rush for the door.

In justifying the strategic communications unit, he recently said that there is a huge problem with people not knowing what the Government is up to, that there is a thirst for more information about Government and that this needs to be filled by a central co-ordinating body. Where does this evidence come from? Deputy Jack Chambers is insistent that he has never gone to a door in Dublin West and heard a demand that Government must spend more on communications. There is no doubt that it is the duty of Government to communicate with the public. However, the evidence is that this is not what the Taoiseach actually wants. The Taoiseach does not want to inform the public; he wants to sell a message to the public. We know by now that he sees no difference between selling the Government's message and selling himself and his party. At the end of the day it all remains, as he reminds us in every tweet, a "campaign for Leo". Frustrated at the refusal of the public to roll over in gratitude to Fine Gael at the last general election, he believes that the positive stories need to be sold better. That is not communication; it is propaganda.

If the Taoiseach wants us to take him as being sincere, there is something he could do. If he genuinely wants to improve communication of what is going on, he should give a commitment that the unit will also publicise bad news. Instead of scheduling the release of bad statistics on Friday afternoons with no ministerial comment, he could schedule them for a midweek morning and present them himself. He has bruised many ministerial ribs elbowing them out of the way as he gets into the photos for their announcements. Would he commit to giving as much of his time to answering questions when things go wrong?

In August, the Taoiseach was hyperactive in the media, but both he and his Minister went missing when the appalling homelessness figures were released. Last Friday, the Taoiseach had nothing to say about record hospital waiting lists, while his Minister was also nowhere to be found. The Taoiseach is already highly sensitive about the charge that he is more interested in style than substance. That is unfair; we know well he would like to implement a more radical and regressive budget policy. If he wants to stop people being outraged at the obsessive attempts to spin and manipulate news, he should back off on this new propaganda machine and start engaging with tough issues.

On the specifics of the budget, the tax package is, as I have said, significantly more progressive than was originally proposed. I am particularly pleased at the USC reductions, which we have achieved, and which ensure lower and middle income earners are helped. There has been something almost surreal in our dealings with Fine Gael on the USC. That party campaigned in the last general election with colourful signs emblazoned with "Abolish USC". There are many photos of the Taoiseach and his Ministers holding them. However, they have been reluctant to agree a much milder policy.

Fianna Fáil is also pleased to have protected mortgage interest relief from abolition. This relief has problems, but in the context of the current dysfunctional market and possible interest rate increases, abolition would have made a tough situation even more difficult for a vulnerable and substantial group. Our insistence on having that in the confidence and supply agreement has led to its delivery in this budget.

The overall social protection package is substantially better than it would have been if left to the priorities announced by Fine Gael in August. As Deputy O'Dea has pointed out, the cumulative impact of these increases and the ones we secured last year help. A €10 a week increase for pensioners, for example, is a step change versus where they would be if past policy had continued. At €343 million, the social protection provisions are the largest single element of the budget, which is quite different from what the Taoiseach announced as his priority.

We remain concerned that the Government has no apparent interest in issues concerning poverty. It is not addressing poverty traps and it is more interested in finding ways to label people rather than help them. In this respect, the marginal increases in community development programmes show a continued reluctance to take a long-term approach. As we demonstrated in the past, significant progress can be achieved in breaking intimidating inter-generational cycles of poverty and exclusion. However, this requires a whole-of-Government approach to working with communities. If the Government regards these communities as passive recipients of Government communications, then obviously it will not take the required action.

The experience of the Leader programme since the Government undermined it and substantially reduced its funding has been telling for communities in rural and regional areas. Extraordinary bureaucracy has prevented it spending what it has, which was already a huge reduction on what it previously had. It is undermining the community spirit that characterised the Leader programmes across the country. It has been hailed as the best example of that kind of community intervention by the European Commission.

This budget was designed to say as little as possible on housing in order not to spoil the big launch by the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, in the coming weeks. However, the basic thrust of policy is clear from the overall allocations. As Focus Ireland and others have pointed out, there is no increase in the targets for social housing to be built. While the scale of the problem has got worse in the last year, the building commitments have not increased. This is a concern, but in reality the continued failure of the Government to deliver on housing promises means that it will be tough for them to hit even these old targets. That has been the story of recent years - a series of initiatives announced, but no delivery on the targets contained in them.

The delivery gap between ministerial announcements and what is actually built is at the root of a worsening situation. The Government even underspent the allocation for helping families avoid homelessness by 11%. We expect that the House will hold a full debate on housing in the context of the Government's forthcoming publicity campaign and this will be an opportunity to go into this in more depth.

The chaos which developed in the health sector during the years of the former Ministers Reilly and Varadkar has continued to get worse. For the first time in decades, Ireland does not even have a Government strategy for its health services. I listened with interest to the exchange on Sláintecare that the Taoiseach had with others. My understanding was that the Fine Gael members of the committee had signed up for Sláintecare, but the Government itself does not have a strategy. It looks like we will have to wait for the publication of service plans before we can properly assess the significance of what has been allocated. What we do know is that the National Treatment Purchase Fund will, at our insistence, be expanded significantly and will help many people on waiting lists. The closing down of the fund's primary work by Fine Gael was an enormous error which directly caused immense damage. It tells a lot that the only substantive initiative in acute services mentioned by the Government is one it previously strongly opposed.

The Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Harris, have a adopted a policy of implying that endemic staff failures are at the core of why Supplementary Estimates are needed and targets are missed. Every time their failures are noticed they try to shift the blame by writing a stiff letter to the HSE demanding that something be done. Before Fine Gael got hold of it, the HSE had a record of delivering its service plans and staying within agreed budgets even in very tough times. This has changed because of the approach of the Minister's office to demanding that more be promised than is funded and that priorities keep changing.

The failure to deliver all promised mental health funding has become a serious issue and it is one which the Government has been warned about. The €35 million extra we secured for next year is less than is needed but it is probably at the maximum of what can be spent. There was bad faith last year in respect of the mental health budget and its allocation. We will be insisting that money gets spent, that there will be continuous monitoring of how it is being rolled out and that genuine relief is given to those who want to access mental health services. That access is not there at the moment, particularly for children and adolescents. The House will remember that Fine Gael announced the impending abolition of prescription charges and then proceeded to increase them massively. They have been a cause of real hardship and the reduction which we secured is an important step.

Resources for education are a priority in the confidence and supply agreement. We have insisted on reducing the primary pupil-teacher ratio because of research over many years which shows the damage which can be caused by large classes, especially to children from disadvantaged communities. We also continue to believe that giving teachers the opportunity to spend more time focusing on the needs of individual students is essential. Obviously the announcement yesterday was over-spun by both the Minister and the Taoiseach. Some 545 of the extra teachers are being driven by demand due to demographic changes. As the population increases, the number of teachers employed increases automatically to keep the ratio at its current level. The additional special needs teachers and assistants are badly needed. While the commitment which we secured to restore a dedicated guidance and counselling service in second level schools has not yet been fully implemented, the 100 extra posts next year will make a difference, especially in schools serving disadvantaged communities. The ring fencing of those posts is essential to ensure the proper delivery of guidance counselling in our schools.

As Deputy Byrne has outlined, we certainly do not welcome the continued reluctance to invest significantly in the DEIS programme. The series of initiatives such as DEIS which Fianna Fáil initiated and implemented while in government was central to securing the lowest ever level of early school-leaving and other essential educational objectives. Labour’s cuts some years ago were a disgrace. Unfortunately for this Government, new communications campaigns are more than three times greater a priority than extra funding for disadvantaged schools. It is extraordinary that there is no focus on DEIS or early school-leaving and that there is incoherence across Government with regard to the delivery of a comprehensive strategy for early school-leaving. The school completion programme, for example, in under the remit of Tusla, when it should not be. It should be under the remit of the Department of Education and Skills. The National Educational Welfare Board was incorporated into Tusla. It should not have been, it should be in the Department of Education and Skills so that there could be a whole-system approach to early school leaving and a continuum of services. Currently, those services, particularly those for early school-leaving, are in decline.

In respect of justice, the former Minister, Alan Shatter, has recently been on a vindication tour of the media. He has looked at the evidence and decided that not only does he not have a case to answer, but that he was one of our greatest Ministers for Justice and Equality. Thankfully, amongst those of his policies which are now being reversed is the approach to policing which saw gardaí withdrawn from vulnerable communities throughout the country. The expansion of Garda recruitment in the confidence and supply agreement will have a significant impact.

Fianna Fáil also welcomes the fact that there was some progress on the core priorities for agriculture in the confidence and supply arrangement. The increased funding for the areas of natural constraint scheme for farmers in budget 2018 is a small step in the right direction. It is important that the details of the criteria and roll-out of the loan programmes announced in the budget are made known without delay. It is disappointing however that there has been no movement on income tax averaging measures as proposed by farming organisations or increased suckler cow supports. The ultimate litmus test for budget 2018 will be whether the payment packages promised are actually delivered on time, as the delays up to now have caused hardship for the farmers who so desperately rely on them.

Overall, this is a modest and over-hyped budget. It does not contain major initiatives which will fundamentally alter the direction of economic or social policy. As we have now come to expect from this Government, the bigger the publicity campaign is the smaller the substance will be. The budget does, in general, conform to the agreement reached last year. In particular it does not enable the major shift of policy rightwards trailed repeatedly by the new leader of Fine Gael. It is a budget with which we have issues, but it includes important measures and is more progressive than any budget introduced during the Fine Gael-Labour coalition. The biggest problem remains a Government made up of people who lack any obvious interest in delivering on commitments as opposed to simply talking about delivery. Crises in vital areas such as health and housing can only be addressed if the excuses stop, the endless spin is put to the side and we start seeing delivery.

This is the second budget produced by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil together. It should carry the signature of Deputy Micheál Martin alongside that of an Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and that of Deputy Michael McGrath alongside that of the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe. It is a budget for the status quo and for continued disadvantage and inequality. Of course it is not the first budget of this nature. The lives of ordinary citizens will not be improved in any substantial way as a result of the package which the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, unveiled yesterday.

Judging by the measures which the package contains, the Minister seems to live somewhere far removed from the Ireland of 2017. On planet Paschal there is not an unprecedented housing crisis and 3,000 children are not growing up without a home. On planet Paschal our health service is not crumbling and there are not nearly 700,000 people on hospital waiting lists. On planet Paschal families are not worried about the overwhelming cost of child care and citizens with disabilities have their full rights, including those under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

On a neighbouring planet, planet Leo, it is all about building a republic for opportunists. Incidentally, in another galaxy, on planet Micheál all the worst bits of the budget are Fine Gael's and all the least worst bits are Fianna Fáil's.

They are the good bits.

The Minister's failure to deal with any of these emergencies is not his fault. He cannot be blamed because he is obviously not aware of the housing emergency, the crisis in health care, the real cost of living difficulties facing families or the lack of disability rights. How else could one explain a budget which does nothing to address, reverse or tackle these never-ending crises? How could anyone explain a budget which will not even deliver one additional social housing unit beyond the target set by Deputy Simon Coveney in 2016. Even worse, there is no allocation of funding or laying out of targets for genuinely affordable housing. The investment in health will barely help hospitals to survive, never mind improve.

Some people may see this as a result of ignorance and others will say that the Government does not understand the scale of the problems. Of course, there is another explanation. It is that this Government does not believe in equality and that it does not govern in the interests of struggling families, the poor or those who rely on State-led services to get by. In the part of Ireland shaped by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, when one falls behind, one is left behind. If one is struggling, homeless, sick, poor, has a disability or is unemployed or badly paid then one should not look to the Government for real answers or solutions. The message from the Minister and the Taoiseach in this republic of opportunity is "you are on your own". This budget is firmly with Deputy Leo Varadkar's vision of a mé féin society.

Last week the Taoiseach declared that no one here has a monopoly on compassion. Of course he was correct but that matter should not be judged on the eloquence with which we express our compassion or on the rhetoric we espouse. It should be judged on the action taken to match the fine words. A compassionate government would deliver a compassionate budget and budget 2018 is far from compassionate. It is a betrayal of all those whose daily lives are impacted by the nigh permanent crises which are strangling essential services.

The worst is that the Government could have made better choices. It has a choice but the narrow ideological position which Fine Gael has taken up means that it cannot even consider an alternative. There are alternatives. Sinn Féin produced a fully-costed alternative budget last week. I sent it to the Taoiseach. It is a citizen's budget because we believe that citizens have a right to a home and to access to timely, quality health care. We believe in a public health care service based on need. We believe in providing affordable housing for all. We believe that these solutions must be funded by progressive taxation. Child care, like health care and housing, should be a right for all citizens.

It should not just be a privilege for the well-off. That should be the starting point. As the Taoiseach said in his little parable about someone seeking direction, it depends on where one starts. It depends on the principle, the core values and the objective. For us, it is all about equality. It is all about the rights of citizens and a rights-based society. On this basis, we said there should be no room for tax cuts in this budget. We said all available resources should be directed towards rebuilding vital public services. We outlined a package that would make a big difference in the lives of those who currently cannot make ends meet. It includes the delivery of 10,000 social and affordable homes, serious investment to tackle the crises in the health and mental health services, halving the cost of child care, cutting students' fees by €500, increasing jobseeker's benefit for younger people and providing additional services for citizens with disabilities. We also proposed scrapping the property tax. We believe those on higher incomes should be asked to contribute extra to fund decent health services and decent public services. We do not shy away from the reality that this State needs a more progressive taxation system. We do not talk about creating quality public services one day and promise tax cuts the next. We cannot have it both ways. Our solidarity levy at 7% on the portion of incomes over €100,000 would affect only 3% of workers but the revenue generated would benefit the other 97%. Our proposals are about achieving economic equality and sustainable prosperity for everyone.

However, the Government decided to ignore these suggestions and instead implemented measures that will disproportionately benefit the better-off in society. Those struggling to get by, those living with disabilities, the poor, the vulnerable - what do they get? Crumbs - that is what they got. The concept of quality public services - a responsive system of social protections funded through progressive taxation - is a proposition the Government refuses to grasp. It is, after all, refusing to claim the €13 billion in unpaid taxes from Apple which is owed to the Irish people. It does this while standing over legislation that allows AIB to go without paying any tax on its profits for at least the next 20 years.

The Government has proven itself capable of creativity and generosity when acting in the best interests of the wealthy, corporations and banks, but where are its imaginative solutions for ordinary citizens? Where is the Government's deal for those who cannot make ends meet? Do the leaders of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael know what it is like not to know how to make ends meet? Do they not meet constituents every day who do not know where they are going to get the money to put food on the table this evening or tomorrow, or to get their kids to school? It seems that the only time conventions can be set aside is when it is done to the benefit of the rich and the powerful. The energies of the Government are channelled in the wrong direction. In the case of Apple, it protected the profits of a huge multinational company, defended again by Fianna Fáil. Where is the protection for those living in emergency accommodation, for citizens with disabilities and their carers, for those on hospital waiting lists or those who are forced onto the breadline by exorbitant rent and child care costs?

I was very taken by a little slot on "RTÉ News" outside the GPO the other evening. Some people were voluntarily giving homeless people haircuts while others were providing denture repairs and free dentures, out in the open, as well as providing food. That is the real Ireland that does not find any echo in this budget. Instead of solutions, those who are crippled by the cost of living crisis get lazy lipservice, expressions of empathy and self-absorbed sound bites. The nature of the budget reflects the mindset at the heart of the Government. Citizens' needs and rights are not seen as entitlements to be upheld and advanced but as claims. In the eyes of the Government, people do not have rights; they have claims to rights which can be undermined, ignored and set aside.

Listening to Teachta Micheál Martin a few minutes ago, I felt a bit sorry for the Taoiseach. However, I have to say that it is no surprise that this budget comes from a former Minister with responsibility for social protection who led a campaign to demonise those who avail of social welfare supports when they fall on tough times. According to this mantra, it is the poor, the unemployed, the single-parent families who are taking the State for a ride, not the greedy bankers and corporations. That is the type of ideology that has shaped this budget.

Perhaps the most farcical feature of the entire pantomime of this last period of discussions is the position of the Government's B team, Fianna Fáil. It is beyond all credibility that Deputy Micheál Martin and his spokespersons continue with the pretence of being an Opposition party. That is plainly nonsense. While Fianna Fáil, the abstentionist party, may not vote for this budget, the truth is that it is its co-author and the guarantor of its passage. In fairness, the Government gives Fianna Fáil full credit for this. The Minister and Taoiseach rightly commended it. Fianna Fáil's approach to the budget is simply an extension of the sleekit instinct that brought about its U-turns on water charges, rent certainty, bin charges and the banded hours contracts, and that causes us to see an untruthful narrative that underpins Teachta Martin's observations about the North repeated cynically here today.

This is a budget grounded in the core values of the political establishment. For hundreds of thousands of citizens, life is dominated by worries about money, getting or keeping a roof over their heads, paying hospital bills and meeting school costs. The high cost of living combined with inadequate, underfunded public services means that many families, if they are lucky to have work, work long hours and still cannot make ends meet. That is not an accident. It is a direct result of Government policy. Once again, a budget has been produced that does very little to change this.

Those of us in Sinn Féin want to build a society and a recovery in which no community or citizen will be left behind. We want to see the development of fair and more equal processes that are rooted in the reunification of our country. We watch and are part of the effort to stunt the worst effects of Brexit and the economic, political and social challenges are real and immediate. The Government is setting up a €300 million loan scheme at competitive rates to help small businesses deal with the fallout of Brexit. That is not good enough for those businesses that could go down as a result of what is happening. We think that the budget fails in vision. It could have at least started the process of turning the tide in the housing and health crises. Instead, it will only compound these catastrophes. Sadly, as was also the case 12 months ago, this budget meets the electoral aims of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and very little else. It is a do-little budget from a do-little Government, supported by its do-little partners.

Speaking here in the Chamber yesterday, the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform told us that the budget 2018 announcements were a redoubling of efforts by the Government to rise to the challenges and respond to the risks of tomorrow. That is how he put it. If yesterday was good news, heaven protect us whenever there is bad news coming from the Government. Budget 2018 is the ultimate expression of political inertia and this inertia will cost the State and our people dearly for generations to come.

In his remarks, the Taoiseach said he is all about enabling people to plan for the future. Nothing could be further from the truth. As his budget amply demonstrates, Fine Gael not only tolerates the fundamental fractures in our society; it now actively seeks to normalise those deep inequalities. Children are being reared in emergency accommodation for years on end.

Home ownership is out of reach for an entire generation of young people and young working couples. Lone parents are denied the chance to build a stable environment and a better future for their children. Workers in the child care sector see no light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to their poor pay and conditions. Families are impoverished by child care costs which are equal to a second mortgage. Rural parents, who want their children to fulfil their potential, have no idea how they can afford to rent when their children attend university and, much less, how they might meet registration fees. Tens of thousands of renters are literally sick with worry at the thought of another rent hike which would make the roof over their heads unaffordable and might render them homeless.

For the avoidance of doubt, these are not people who want everything for free. On the contrary, these are the people who pay for everything. As a matter of fact, these are the people who pay the Taoiseach's generous wages, his allowances and the wages of his Cabinet members. These are the people, many of whom form 50% of the workforce, who earn €35,000 or less per annum. This is what they live on. If they are on fixed income for whatever reason, either through lack of work or ill-health, they have to live on modest sums, less than €200 a week in many cases. These people are wizards. How they manage to provide for themselves and their children should not be met with derision from the Taoiseach. It should win his admiration. God knows, they could teach many Members how to budget properly.

For those who pay for everything, they do not get to decide to forget about the basics, to neglect their children or not pay their basic bills. They know and understand that there are certain fundamentals in life which must be done and met. Rather than sneering at these individuals, the Government would do well to learn that lesson. In the case of public administration, public policy and good governance, one does not get to walk away from health and housing. One does not get to look the other way and leave thousands of people without a secure roof over their heads or to leave 700,000 people on medical waiting lists. One does not get to leave elderly people and others to the indignity of lying for hours, in some cases days, on hospital trolleys, if they are lucky. If they are not, they might be left sitting in a chair or, as it happened in my local hospital, left lying on the floor of the accident and emergency department. These are not people looking for anything for nothing. These are people who pay for everything. They are the people who have built and sustained this State.

Yesterday's budget was reckless. It was the worst expression of the politics of the past, despite all the ráiméis about new politics. Far from building the Taoiseach's republic of opportunity, he deliberately and wilfully thwarted the ambition of an entire generation. The social costs of this - emotionally, morally and financially - will be a great burden to the State for decades to come. The Taoiseach's Government is rudderless. It has been revealed that the emperor has no clothes. The Taoiseach is buck naked with no vision or ambition for our country or for our people.

It is no surprise that Fianna Fáil is with the Government every step of the way. Teachta Micheál Martin comes from the old stock of that party and he has imprinted his politics on all those in the ranks behind them. We had a double act yesterday of Deputies Michael McGrath and Calleary. One told us the Government's performance in housing and health was neither acceptable nor sustainable, while the other said that Fianna Fáil's participation in the confidence and supply agreement is delivering for people across the island - Janus-faced Fianna Fáil. This is the definition of the politics of yesterday. It is tired, cynical, dishonest and the reason we have crises in housing and health.

Fianna Fáil has historically looked to others to deliver public services. There was a time when it deferred to the church and its men in the mohair suits tipped their caps to the private sector. The rest is in part a sad and sorry history. Fianna Fáil and now Fine Gael are simply unable to think big, beyond their own political self-interest, or the next election. It is this limitation that has resulted in the deepening fractures in society, the fractures that Fine Gael and its coalition colleagues including Fianna Fáil refuse to sort out. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael sat around a table in advance of budget day and decided not to commit to build a single additional social affordable home. They decided the health service should be allowed to just stand still in 2018. The Independents in Government endorsed those decisions.

How these decisions can be described as delivering for people across the island, as Fianna Fáil would have us believe, is mind-boggling. When the spin is stripped away and the numbers exposed, the reality of the grand coalition's failures is there for all to see. The Minister for Finance told us yesterday that the Government would increase its ambition for social house builds in 2018. That is simply not true. The former housing Minister already announced the 2018 social housing allocation which means these moneys had already been factored into existing targets which remain unmet. The Government did not provide for a single additional unit beyond what has already been committed to some time ago by it and those who keep it up and running.

It appears from comments from the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, in the media this morning that he either did not bother or simply forgot to include affordable housing in the budget. In the absence of any additional moneys allocated, we are still none the wiser as to how he would be in a position to extend these affordable schemes if he so wished. Criticism must be directed at the Minister for his failure to effect any real change in the Government's public housing strategy. His ineffectiveness must be a massive disappointment to the many front-line agencies which had hoped for and were led to believe there would be a change in direction.

Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Independents have also sold us all a pig in a poke with the health allocation for 2018. The Minister for Finance made much yesterday of his multi hundred million euro figure. That is just budgetary trickery. As things stand, all of the promises of additional staff, reductions in the cost of medicine or investment in infrastructure are not worth the paper on which the Minister's budget speech was written. Factoring in the Government's own 2018 allocations for demographics, carryover amounts, pay agreements and the Health Service Executive's forecasted overspend, the 2018 allocation will at best enable the Department and services to stand still.

In real terms, it can be argued the Department of Health has seen a small decline in its funding envelope for next year. That is a shocking failure by the Government and, more particularly, on the Taoiseach's part as a health professional and former Minister for Health. The Government continues to manage the health service in a manner that seeks only to tinker around the edges. On the one hand, it denies the system of the resources and investment it rightly and desperately needs.

The Government also turns its face away from the fact that the two-tier nature of the health system fractures delivery and adds to the cost of the system. It refuses to confront those realities and panders to the vested interests which sustain that broken system.

The cut and paste job in respect of mental health in the budget and in Fianna Fáil's mockery of a pre-budget document is unforgivable. It demonstrates how out of touch the Government and Fianna Fáil are with service users and providers. The Government claims it is allocating an extra €35 million to developmental health services in 2018, which, even if true, would be inadequate. However, it is not true. Mental Health Reform did its sums very quickly yesterday because it is well accustomed to being let down by Government after Government in the context of mental health allocations. Its calculations gave the lie to the figures in the budget. It estimates that there might be an extra €11 million for developmental health services in 2018. It is worth reminding the House that 11 years have passed since the publication of the then Government's strategy on mental health, A Vision for Change. The strategy rightly enjoyed widespread support and is a fine document. However, the difficulty is that it was not implemented and we are now one year past the end of the envisaged ten-year programme but there is still no real prospect of proper investment in services that save vulnerable people's lives.

Child care is another critical infrastructure area ignored by the Government in the budget. I raised this issue with the Taoiseach last week or the week before. I commended to him the proposition in Sinn Féin's fully balanced and costed document that set out a fivefold increase in the child care budget. It could and would have meant a halving of child care costs for struggling families. However, the Government looked the other way and refused to regard affordable child care as a public service and crucial infrastructure. The budget delivered a little improvement in that area but not nearly enough. If the Taoiseach has listened to vox pops of public reaction to the budget, he cannot have missed the fact that parents have said that improvement was not enough. A minor addition to sessional, part-time child care does not solve the problem for working families. The sooner the Government wakes up to that, the better.

Child care is a low-pay sector. Those working in it are predominantly women. All Members familiar with those services know the precarious nature and low pay of employment in that sector need to be addressed if we are serious about early childhood development and education and proper services. However, nothing was done in the budget to address those issues.

Fianna Fáil's fake pre-budget document does not mention women, gender or equality even once in 24 glorious pages. I am disappointed that the Taoiseach did not take the initiative in the real budget, which was co-authored with Fianna Fáil, on gender discrimination against women in the context of the State pension. I thought all Members accepted the necessity of restoring the pre-2012 pension bands and rates that were vandalised by Deputy Burton and the Labour Party. I thought all Members were in agreement on that. We have been lobbied on these matters by women from urban and rural areas. However, as the Taoiseach knows, a very strong lobby for those changes has emerged among rural women. Those women had the impression that there was a consensus in the Dáil to right the wrong in terms of the State pension but the Government has failed to do so.

The Taoiseach said that the budget is in line with his wishes and aspirations. I have no doubt that it is. The difficulty is that he does not wish for nor aspire to an equal society. The irony is that for one who presents himself as a person of fiscal rectitude and who believes in competition and economic vigour, his budget is not only dangerous but deeply stupid. If he took a moment away from slagging those he regards as less entitled or who want everything for free, as he put it, and instead reflected on the evidence, he would understand that equal societies are prosperous societies. The evidence tells us that. Sinn Féin's pre-budget document set that out and we will campaign and fight for that. I hope that at some stage, rather than Sinn Féin borrowing election slogans, the Taoiseach might see the light, cop on and be won over to the logic of equality.

Hear, hear. Fair play.

The budget contains no central message other than self-preservation. However, it could not have been otherwise because the Government is afraid to make choices. Beholden to Fianna Fáil, the Government ensured that every sector received a gesture. A former Fianna Fáil Minister for Finance was at the heart of this budget. It was a tribute to Charlie McCreevy in every respect, right down to reductions in income tax being paid for by tax revenue raised on property transactions. However, a person who earns €30,000 a year will now get an extra €2 per week. We have been down this road before and we know how it ends. Last night, the Taoiseach said he would not bring us back to boom and bust but the core message of the budget harked back to the days of McCreevy economics. Like a bad tribute act, the Government will keep pretending that everyone can be given a tax cut and spending on services can be increased at the same time. The myth that one can be all things to all people has been resurrected in this budget.

Let us end the pretence. When it comes to the hard tack of politics and the biggest political event of the year, together, marching hand in hand, go Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Fianna Fáil was yesterday so desperate to have something to say that it resorted to attacking others in opposition, as it has done again today. Fianna Fáil is in coalition with Fine Gael in all but name. It is claiming credit for nearly every measure in the budget and, as I said, the shadow of McCreevy looms large.

The sums in the budget barely add up. Last night, the Taoiseach pledged that sustainable steps will be taken but that is the spin the Opposition has come to expect, as proven by the expenditure of €5 million on a communications unit. As all Members know, budget measures such as stamp duty increases that have a commercial or market-moving impact are introduced on budget night by financial resolution. The Government attempted to imply that the financial resolution on stamp duty was put in place last night to avoid lobbying from the property sector that might undermine the measure. However, if it had not been brought in immediately, hundreds of property deals to the value of millions of euro would have been conducted in advance of its implementation. The more serious issue is the leaking, days in advance of the budget, of the information that stamp duty would be increased. That is commercially-sensitive information of the kind that makes people rush deals through. The Government and the Department of Finance have serious questions to answer about that leak. How many millions of euro in potential revenue was lost? How many options for land were signed on Monday and Tuesday in advance of the financial resolution? What revenue has the State lost out on?

Other serious questions regarding stamp duty that highlight the shadow of McCreevy that looms over this budget have been asked. Will the €376 million it is expected to raise through this measure actually materialise?

Industry has its doubts. In 2015 and 2016, commercial property stamp duty receipts were inflated. There are serious questions about the fiscal sustainability of how the Minister for Finance funded his budget. If the Opposition parties built a budget on the kinds of measures announced yesterday, it would be laughed out of court. Half of the extra budget revenue is built on a potentially volatile property transaction. It is also based on a growth in GDP of 3% which may or may not materialise. The shadow of Brexit looms large over the potential in that regard. Another €150 million is based on restrictions to corporation tax, which will impact upon intellectual property. It does not get more volatile than that. If an Opposition party said it would raise an extra €100 million on tax compliance, it would be mocked as having made up the numbers. Yesterday, the Government found this money down the proverbial back of the sofa, with €50 million relating to PAYE compliance, €30 million for business compliance and €20 million in respect of tax avoidance. This begs serious questions as to how much revenue is not being collected.

When costing tobacco increases, we were told by the Department of Finance that these measures would be mostly revenue-neutral. However, the Government is relying on €64 million to come in from this year's tax increase. We also seriously question the amount the Government expects to raise on the national training fund levy. Just last week, the Department of Finance told us that a 0.1% increase in the national training fund levy would yield €42.5 million. Yesterday, the Minister for Finance said he expects to get €58 million in 2018 and €63 million in a full year from the same tax increase. I would like to know, on the basis of what the Department told us weeks ago, from where the extra €20 million came.

When one looks at where the Minister is getting his money, it is clear that the sums do not add up. All that matters for now, however, is keeping the show on the road for another year. The Government preaches prudence and no return to boom and bust, but McCreevy economics are again at the heart of this budget. Ten years on from the beginning of the financial crisis, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are taking us back down an unsustainable, imprudent and dangerous path. Funding cuts with volatile tax revenue and padding out the sums to ensure they do not add up. Have we learned nothing?

For those with a family member on a waiting list or people trying to buy or rent a home, there is nothing in the budget to resolve their problems.

On health, only one real policy has been agreed by this so-called do-nothing Dáil. Following months of work, a ten-year fully costed plan to implement publicly-funded child care was published in May with cross-party support. There was no mention of Sláintecare in the budget or of implementing the first year of the programme which, all in all, is quite modest. Yesterday, Fine Gael abandoned Sláintecare. Has it now been abandoned by Fianna Fáil? In its alternative budget, Labour committed to funding the first-year implementation of Sláintecare. What this would mean, in practice, is the removal of inpatient hospital charges and a reduction in prescription charges. It would expand the provision of home care packages and home help hours, increase services for people with disabilities and add an extra €25 million for mental health in the first year. Instead, what this Government did to tackle waiting lists of over 600,000 was to allocate an extra €30 million for the National Treatment Purchase Fund, bringing it to €55 million. This will be welcome for those who will benefit from it but, in reality, it means less funding for public health services and a drop in the ocean in real terms in respect of the waiting list figures. In theory, it is an extra €685 million on top of the amount allocated to health in 2017 but, if one looks at the numbers, it is really only an extra €269 million for services and new measures. The reason for this is that most of the increase will be for staff costs and the €300 million deficit that will be carried over from this year. Families worried about their sick children or ill parents will be able to buy the proverbial cup of coffee while they wait at the accident and emergency department. At the heart of this budget is a lack of ambition to resolve the problems Irish people face by investing in public services.

The sad reality of budget 2018 is that no real extra money is being provided to build new social housing. There is no effort to provide an affordable housing scheme. We heard the question from young people on "Prime Time" last night: what use is an extra €5 a week in a tax cut if they cannot afford to pay their rents or even get on the first step of the housing ladder? The focus should be on public services and addressing the real crises that people face. This budget does nothing to resolve the central problem facing young families across Ireland, but particularly in our cities, and those in work who are trying to get by, who trying to raise families and who are struggling to cope with rocketing rents and rising home prices. There has been no effort to provide affordable homes for sale or rent, no tax on vacant housing and no additional funding for public housing. We have a failed housing market and it is time for action from the State to address it.

The capital allocation on which the Minister for Finance focused yesterday was already provided for under the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness. The numbers have already been announced many times, including by the Minister's predecessors. Under Rebuilding Ireland, the plan was for 5,900 units to be built or bought under Part V. That is exactly the same number announced yesterday. Labour proposed a costed increase of an additional 5,000 public housing units built on publicly-owned land. We have 700 sites available to do this. This is the crisis that the budget ignores. The following is the breakdown of what the State intends to provide next year: 3,800 homes will be built directly by the State; 1,200 will be Part V builds or rebuilt vacant homes; 900 homes will be delivered through acquisitions; and a further 2,000 homes will be secured through long-term leasing arrangements. That is a total of 7,900. Can anyone tell me from where in the private rental market an extra 2,000 units for social housing will actually come? This is why the Government has tried to massage the numbers of homes provided and hide its failure on housing provision by allocating an extra €31 million, which will be provided for the sheer purpose of renting within the private sphere. This just confirms that the only real extra money is for landlords. There is an extra €149 million for HAP. We have a supply-side crisis and the Government's response is to allocate more money for renting. What is needed is direct State action.

As well as there not being any plans for a national affordable housing scheme, we have also seen a missed opportunity to repurpose NAMA to take the lead on the development of affordable housing for the State through approved housing bodies. Instead, under the newly named Housing Building Finance Ireland, or HBFI, as the Minister called it yesterday, the €750 million being diverted is coming from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, another private finance vehicle for developers, with no assurance that any housing built will actually be affordable, and there is the rub.

We welcome the move to increase the vacant site tax, though we had called for it to be brought forward by a year and we are disappointed that it will not come into force until 2019. There is no mention of a vacant homes tax, despite it being named as one of the main priorities of the new housing Minister on his appointment by the Taoiseach. With more than 100,000 homes lying vacant across the country, this would surely have been an easy political win for the Minister. For those who are homeless, those struggling to rent and those desperate to buy a home for their family, it is tragic that the Government has totally wasted the opportunity to directly fund homes for those who need it.

I ask the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, where the extra money for the disability sector is. There is no additional money for emergency respite accommodation or for children awaiting assessments of needs. In the headline figures for the health budget, I see only an additional €15 million for disabilities provision. It states the provision of services and supports for children and young people with a disability throughout their childhood and as they transition to adulthood continues to be a priority and is a key component of the programme for Government. This €15 million is not worth the paper on which it is written in terms of the needs that arise in this sector and it will not facilitate adherence to the Disability Act or meet the Government's legal obligations to ensure people have a timely assessment of needs as and when they need it. Independent Ministers threaten to go out onto the plinth and say they will retire if they do not get funding and I see a lot of posturing over this issue but I see no evidence of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, having delivered anything in this budget for the disabilities sector. I am sure he will have an opportunity to come into the Chamber and rebut what I am saying but I am looking at the expenditure report for 2018, which is the Government's own document, and I see nothing that speaks to the needs of people waiting for assessments or that will give comfort to the disabilities sector, whose demands are set out in legislation and are there as of right.

I also see nothing on the access to emergency respite for people with intellectual disabilities. As people grow older we have seen a growing need for emergency respite care for people with intellectual disabilities but I see no additionality for that particular budget. If I am asked by the people I represent where the additional moneys are for emergency beds, I will have to tell them there is no evidence of them. That is a failure of delivery on the part of a Minister who has said a lot about what he was going to deliver for the sector but has not delivered anything of substance or that will even make a small impact on its needs. The National Federation of Voluntary Bodies could not, by any objective analysis, state that there is anything new for people with disabilities in this budget. This is supposed to be a republic of opportunity, which assists people who get up early, who have their dinner in the middle of the day and who do a hard day's work or whatever glib soundbite du jour one wishes to use but this budget has forgotten people who are still marginalised in society and who deserve more. I stand indicted as a Minister in the last Government when, with the coffers not exactly full, we had to make serious cuts but the current Government is turning a corner, getting 3% growth and giving minimal amounts of money back to people in tax cuts. Consequently, €50 million or €100 million could have made a serious dent in meeting the needs of those people whose voice is not as strong as those of us in this House. This is a missed opportunity and the idea of a republic of opportunity clearly only pertains to some in society. I am very disappointed that the Minister of State with responsibility in this area, Deputy Finian McGrath, has not delivered anything across the disabilities sector, despite his rhetoric. It is shameful.

I acknowledge the work of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, in respect of child care. It would be easy to say there has not been any progress on this issue but a 7% increase in capitation will have a positive impact. There is also €20 million for the early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme and an extension to two years. These are positive, incremental changes to child care, which I welcome, but we cannot disregard the fact that some people are still paying €1,000 per month for child care, which is not tenable. I agree that there is much to be done to build capacity within the sector and the voice of the sector was very strong in the run-up to the budget, as it lobbied for recognition of the talent at its disposal to provide its services. More could have been done, however, in terms of paying the appropriate wages to the highly-qualified workers in the sector and there is some work to be done by all of us to assist that process. We have to look at the possibility of sectoral employment orders in this regard.

We await the Minister's justification of the €40 million spend allocated to Tusla but we need to build out a child care sector throughout the country, whether one lives in Dublin, Ballydehob, Sligo or north Cork. There needs to be an equivalent standard across the sector and equality in rates of pay and capitation. Much has been made about the living wage for child care workers and we advocate a standard minimum wage, while those with additional skills and qualifications should be paid commensurately.

I would like to know more about how the €40 million for Tusla will be allocated. There is much to be done in regard to how Tusla operates and for many in this House, there remains a lack of transparency about what exactly Tusla does. I am not criticising it but there is work to be done on its part.

Anecdotally, I hear stories of burnout within the social work field. I hear stories about a lack of capacity in certain areas of child protection and within the whole Child and Family Agency umbrella. We need to hear from the Minister exactly what will be achieved through the use of the extra €40 million. This is an overlying budget of €754 million, which is quite a lot of money. We need to see more with regard to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. We need to see exactly what is going to be done on the school completion programme. We need to see what is going to be achieved on mandatory reporting and how the family resource centres are going to be funded. I understand there will be an expansion of the family resource centres but we need to see where those expansions will take place and how they will be able to meet the needs within their communities. There are good elements in this budget but there are still a lot of questions out there as to what exactly the Government has announced. It is worthy of further interrogation.

I shall now turn to the issues facing older people. One of the biggest issues facing us is the ability of the State to have in place a nursing home support scheme that will reflect the fact that Ireland has an ageing population. Families are increasingly under tremendous strain in respect of their loved ones when the time comes to either live independently into their elder years or be facilitated in a nursing home. We must have a proper debate about the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF. There has been an increase of €35 million in the allocation to the NTPF in this budget. Again, I am not sure what impact that will have for people who are waiting for a bed in a nursing home. Increasingly we are hearing that people are incurring additional costs, even when they are in the nursing home, and I do not see anything in the budget that speaks to older people in that regard. We need to ensure that we look after our older people. I do not understand why there is only €32 million allocated for additional care beds. The Government's budget document says that 45 additional home care packages per week will be rolled out during the winter period. I am very hopeful that this is a typographical error. If it amounts to 45 additional home care packages per week, it is an absolutely paltry figure and a derisory sum of money. There are also questions to be asked around this. Perhaps the line Ministers' officials are listening to this debate but to be honest I doubt they are. These are questions to be answered.

The Deputy is right there.

As for the rainy day fund, once upon a time we had a National Pensions Reserve Fund, which was de facto a rainy day fund, and this became the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. Now the Government will take €1.5 billion out of that to seed the rainy day fund. Once again this is an exercise in optics. The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund had more than €5 billion on deposit due to a failure by the Government to invest in Ireland. Now, instead of finding off-balance sheet measures to boost housing, transport or broadband provision, this money will be left on deposit. This is while a budget is crafted on unsustainable tax increases.

There is much that has been left out of this budget. I would describe it as a blancmange budget. It is bland, boring and lacking in energy. It is enough to keep the punters reasonably happy and it is hopeful that nobody will get too exercised about it. It did, however, miss an opportunity. It missed an opportunity to do some really good work in the disability sector. It missed the opportunity to do some really good work for older people and in particular for those who find themselves in nursing homes. The budget is a missed opportunity and the notion that Fine Gael is representative of this so-called "republic of opportunity" is a fallacy. It is a misnomer. It is disappointing that the Government has not delivered more when it could have.

I wish to share time with Deputy Paul Murphy, with 15 minutes each.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I did the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, the courtesy of listening to the entirety of his speech yesterday. I also did the Taoiseach the courtesy of sitting here and listening to the entirety of his speech here this morning. On neither occasion did the Minister for Finance or the Taoiseach do us the courtesy of being in the House to listen to the responses. I would say that this is a very studied decision on the part of the Government. There are certain critiques they do not want to hear. They want to dish out the criticism, which has now become almost an obsession with the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, who cannot miss the opportunity in his speech to hit out at what he describes as "the far left". He contrasts it with the moderate centre and he did this again this morning. The strategy is to attack the far left, to eulogise the Government as the pragmatic and moderate centre and not even bother to listen to what others have to say. We are good enough to attack but - it appears - not good enough to listen to. I suggest that this obsession tells its own story. It expresses a concern on the part of the Government about the traction that our arguments are getting with ordinary people in society. The strategy of the new communications unit - which is obviously writing these scripts with the Taoiseach - is to try to kill off the far left through silence and ignoring it. They will insult the left but will not actually take on board the arguments being made.

I find it deeply ironic. Apparently the pragmatic centre consists of the people who think it is okay to have 8,000 people in homeless accommodation. They think it is okay to not ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to not allocate resources in the budget for those people. They think it is right to not mention Travellers at all in the budget. The second anniversary has just passed of the fire in Carrickmines when ten Travellers died because of the utter failure of the State to provide basic accommodation for Travellers. Two years on and there is not a dickie bird in the budget in this regard. We could go through the list - the poor, young people, the disadvantaged and those in homelessness. There has also been nothing for students in the budget. Third level students with inadequate grants are suffering from student poverty and paying fees they cannot afford but there is nothing for them.

I announced a lot of money yesterday in that regard.

I shall hear the Minister of State's response and I shall do her the courtesy of listening.

I have spoken at length about housing in my last couple of interventions in the budget. I will not repeat the points except to say I really wish the Government would wake up to the new development that is happening. We do not even have hotel accommodation for families who are homeless, never mind emergency accommodation or council houses. The Government would want to get on to this because it has just started to happen in the last few weeks. We are now facing into the winter and it is getting serious. Families who are homeless cannot even get into a hotel now. The Government should wake up to the unfolding disaster.

I will turn now to affordable housing, the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF and the proposed home building finance Ireland vehicle, HBFI. Last year, LIHAF received €200 million to give to private developers for infrastructure. The fund is now getting €175 million and HBFI is getting hundreds of millions from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.

What is shocking about this is that the premise for the funding was that we, supposedly, would get up to 40% affordable housing in return. I have no doubt that with that subvention developers will, at some point when they can make money, build houses. The issue is that if the State is putting the money in, are the houses going to be affordable? Will they help to address the housing crisis or will they just make money for developers? The Government has no guarantees about their affordability or the proportion that will be affordable and it does not have a fix on what constitutes affordability. Nevertheless, it is still giving them the money.

In Cherrywood, we are giving Hines €15 million - having already given it the entire site at a knock-down price from NAMA - yet we do not even know how much affordable housing we will get. It may be 1% or even less than that. At the same time, Hines is saying that €300,000 is not enough for it to make a profit and is talking more in the region of €400,000. Meanwhile, average house prices in Dún Laoghaire are now €500,000 and it has been stated that what is on offer has to be relevant to market prices. We are giving the developer a massive subvention and we have no guarantee of getting anything back on that site. The same is true everywhere else. We do not know what affordability is or what will be the proportion of affordable housing. Nevertheless, we are dishing out the money to these guys. It is scandalous. The Taoiseach said it was all about first principles. The Government's first instinct and first principle on housing is "Give the private developers money and we will think about the rest and the consequences afterwards". I am afraid to say that this is also Fianna Fáil's instinct.

The position in respect of disabilities is scandalous. The Disability Federation of Ireland, Mr. John Dolan and others from the community affected by disability are outraged. They are outraged that the Government broke its promise to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. That was supposed to happen last year yet there is still no commitment to do it. What did we get for children with disabilities in the health budget? Against a disastrous background, there is €15 million extra and nothing more. Consistent poverty for people with disabilities rose from 14% to 22% in 2015 alone. There is nothing in the budget on personal assistance hours and nothing significant for home supports. There is nothing about the 7,600 people with disabilities who are on the housing list. If all new social housing units the Government says it will build next year were given to people with disabilities, it would not meet half the need. People with disabilities have been completely ignored in the face of an absolute crisis. There is chronic underfunding of assistive technologies for people with disabilities. The list goes on. It is a shocking omission in respect of one of our most vulnerable groups.

There is no mention of Travellers. There was a 90% cut during the austerity years to funding for Traveller accommodation but two years after tears were shed in the House about the shocking, unacceptable deaths in Carrickmines as a result of the disgusting conditions in which Travellers are forced to exist, not 1 cent has been provided. There is nothing for Traveller education, funding for which was also cut during the austerity years. It is shocking.

I turn to child care and I hope the journalists are listening because a little bit of mathematics needs to be done. I do not promise to know all the answers. What was the big-ticket item in the budget last year? There was a great deal of fanfare about it. I refer to the child care scheme of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, which was supposed to provide significant assistance from September 2017 to help parents meet the extortionate cost of child care, which runs at approximately €1,000 per month for working families. Last year, €35 million was allocated for the programme to cover its cost from September 2017 to the end of the year. That is €35 million for one third of the year. This year, the extra allocation is €20 million, which does not add up and which does not cover a full year. If €35 million covered the period from September to the end of the year, the full-year allocation to meet the requirements of the scheme would have to be €105 million. That is unless, of course, the scheme is not working at all or the Government is back-pedalling from it and not really bringing it in. I think the phrase used in the Budget Statement is "We are taking a step towards it". Therefore, we are not introducing it in September 2017, we are taking steps towards it. The reason the allocation may be inadequate could be the Government's reliance on private child care providers that cannot deliver. They do not have the capacity and, in any event, they are not required to supply the places. That is what is happening. It is either a failed scheme or not enough money is being allocated. I suggest it is both.

What about students? Registration fees are now €3,000 while the average cost for a student to go through a year at third level is, according to the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, €11,000. The grant levels have remained unchanged, with the standard grant set at €3,000. This is against costs of €11,000 and registration fees. This is a Government which claims to be composed of the sensible, pragmatic people who want a sustainable economy and to create jobs. Does it think that is possible when students are existing in poverty and when many people are disbarred from education due to the fact that they cannot afford to enter third level or because postgraduate grants to further improve education levels were cut? There has been no restoration of those cuts nor has there been a reduction in apprenticeship charges.

The position in respect of the environment and climate change is a joke. Everybody knows that if we are to meet our targets and deal with runaway climate change, we must massively increase the use of public transport. Where are the measures to do that? They are not there. How is the Government going to increase the use of public transport and get people out of their cars? The answer is just not there. The level of subvention is pathetically low while fares are prohibitively high and at punitive levels. In fact, some of the Government's policies have actually cut back bus services to towns, villages and suburbs. That is not going to cut it. I will not go over the points about forestry, which I have discussed, except to note the pathetic underperformance in the context of afforestation levels, which are significantly below the 4,000 ha per year level the National Council for Forest Research and Development, COFORD, said was necessary in a serious programme to increase forest cover. There is nothing on that. It is just not happening.

Are those at the pragmatic centre as sensible as they suggest or are they the ideological extremists who just attack the left, give massive tax breaks to the rich, fund developers, let the homeless rot and forget about Travellers and the disabled? Do they think that everything will be fine as long as they look after their rich friends with massive tax breaks and corporate welfare for the wealthiest people in the country? I call that extremism. That there are families with nowhere to go tonight is extremism. We have the temerity to suggest that housing is a human right, but the Government cannot agree with that. We suggest that health care is a human right, but it cannot agree. We suggest that people with disabilities have a human right to be treated equally, but the Government cannot agree with that either. That is extremism. It is apartheid, inequality, discrimination and every other rotten thing which destabilises and which is corrosive to the coherence of our society.

Could we afford all of the things we propose? This is where we disagree with our Sinn Féin comrades and others on the left. We think it is possible to give working people a break and to fund all of those services.

We would look at the money being made in profits by the big corporations, vulture funds and property speculators in enormous tax breaks that were deliberately designed to give massive amounts to them. I mentioned them last night. A total of €9 billion was given in 2016 in tax breaks for intragroup transactions in the big multinationals. Is anybody examining these? Could some of the business correspondents examine this stuff? A total of €23 billion in tax expenditures that mostly go to the big corporations in this country is not talked about. We pretend it does not exist but billions of euro are going into their pockets every year, which could be going into education, health, and housing, and giving struggling workers who have been hammered by the USC and other cuts a bit of a break in their incomes.

Yesterday in our response to the budget, both Deputy Boyd Barrett and I went into detail about different areas. Today, it would be useful to have a broader look at the budget debate and at what type of society we are in favour of. The new Taoiseach likes to make shapes about having an ideological debate. He likes to throw cheap criticisms at the so-called far left. He does not want to engage in a serious debate and he does this from the mythical position of the so-called new European centre. I am happy to be described as "left wing", "socialist" and as standing for radical change but if he wants to have an ideological debate, there has to be a little honesty about where people are coming from. The Budget Statement and the budget documents drip with ideology. They are not ideology free, as they represent the ideology of the ruling class. They are the dominant ideas in our society and, therefore, they are treated as if they are common sense. However, we had a right-wing budget and that flows from the fact that we have a right-wing Taoiseach, a right wing so-called leader of the Opposition in the form of Deputy Micheál Martin, the Independent Alliance, a right-wing grouping, which on the plinth earlier described themselves as the voice of the underprivileged, which caused some amusement for those looking at the record of the positions of the Minister, Deputy Ross, in particular, and various right-wing Independents. The result is a budget written by the so-called extreme neoliberal centre of Irish politics, which is very right wing and which, instead of offering up the so-called republic of opportunity, will copperfasten a society that they stand over, which is a republic of deep inequality, deprivation, oppression of many in our society and insecurity;.

Those are the right-wing policies of the Government and the so-called Opposition in the form of Fianna Fáil. What are the hallmarks of the budget and what defines what kind of budget it is? It is a small state budget. Ireland has the lowest spending as a percentage of GDP of any EU member state at 28.7%. During the crisis, austerity was dressed up as a policy to resolve the crisis but, in reality, it was about exercising a massive transfer of wealth from working people and the 99% to the 1%, from the many to the few and, in doing so, shrinking the State dramatically and maintaining that shrunken State afterwards. That is what we are currently experiencing. The vast majority of the cuts implemented over the past seven or eight years continue. The budget is characterised by privatisation, private finance and PPPs.

Yesterday, we had a discussion about how the budget and the Minister for Finance could be characterised in a way that is memorable for people. Initially, the idea of Paschal the Penny-pincher came up because the increase of €5 a week, which is really less than €4 over the course of a year, will be taken away before people even get it. The Government has performed tricks, for example, with mental health spending where an additional €11.3 million is being dressed up as €35 million, which is inadequate in any case, and, therefore, the description of the Minister as such is accurate. However, it is not so accurate to just describe him as Paschal the Pennypincher because, on the other hand, he was extremely generous to the vulture funds, which will receive a benefit worth billions of euro as a result of changing the eligibility for capital gains tax from seven years to four years, and to the so-called hospitality sector, which will receive €500 million again next year as a result of the reduced VAT rate. In total, more than €2 billion has been given to this sector. He is penny pinching in respect of ordinary people but he is very generous to the rich. We came up with something that sums him up better - Paschal the Privatiser. That sums up the budget. It is not open, blatant privatisation. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport took Oral Questions earlier. He said I always go on about privatisation and that I am just playing to my own base, seriously suggesting there was no evidence of privatisation in the public transport system.

Noam Chomsky summed up the classic strategy of privatisation - defund, make sure things do not work, get people angry and hand it over to private capital. That process has been under way for decades but it was accelerated during the financial crisis with the various attempted and implemented privatisations. This is well summed up in the tripling of funding to the NTPF, which involves the outsourcing of public patients to the private sector at a higher cost than it would cost publicly. It is about creating a health crisis because the Government and previous Governments representing the traditional extreme centre have underfunded our public health service for decades. Now it says the answer is to have a little privatisation. That sums up the approach of the Government and the establishment parties to the health service. It is the case in respect of transport whereby no additional funding was provided for public transport while an agenda of privatisation is being pursued in Irish Rail through various outsourcing contracts and, in particular, in respect of bus services with 10% of Dublin Bus routes going to a private operator, despite the Dublin Bus bid coming in lower. It is planned to tender 40% of Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus routes over the next number of years. It is the case in respect of education. A total of €200 million has been allocated for PPPs, where of course the public takes the risk and the private operator takes the gain. A small increase of 0.1% in the national training fund levy ensures employers have a central role in determining priorities in this sector in 2018 and beyond, bringing corporate influence even more to the heart of education. In every single key area, in respect of what are meant to be public services, an agenda of privatisation is being pushed by the Government. This is a right wing, ideologically Thatcherite budget.

This is summed up better in the area of housing than anywhere else. No additional money has been provided for the building of social or affordable homes. Instead, the Government has taken €750 million of workers' money from the Irish Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, which was traditionally in the NPRF, and given it via Home Building Finance Ireland to private developers, which Deputy Boyd Barrett has explained simply and well on multiple occasions. This is money that could be used to build houses directly. Instead, the money will be loaned to private developers who will build houses for profit with the State buying some of these houses back from them. A total of 10% of the houses they build will be bought back with them making a profit. It is an extraordinary solution to the housing crisis. The private developer in Cherrywood is trying to sell back to the State a three-bed apartment at a cost of €442,000, which includes a discount. It is complete madness. If the Government's aim was to resolve the housing crisis, clearly it would use the money to build the houses to deal with the supply crisis it likes to talk about.

It only makes sense within the framework of the extreme centre. That framework is one where the market must answer the question and provide. Therefore, we must incentivise the market and the private developer by giving them the funds and hope that something trickles back to us. In reality, that is flood up economics towards the top because it is the people there who benefit. That is their ideology and it is also codified in the fiscal rules. That is the other reason the Government is doing this with the €750 million as opposed to building directly. The fiscal rules have written those neoliberal rules into EU law and make it difficult, without stretching or breaking those rules, to do that. Instead, the Government is driven to take this roundabout and ineffective way of resolving it.

The other area where this stands out is the reliance on housing assistance payments. A recent presentation by Dr. Rory Hearne and Dr. Mary Murphy to the housing committee outlined that over the course of 30 years, more than €20 billion will be given by the State to private landlords. This is presented as if it is social housing and a resolution for people's housing problems, but it is simply a massive subsidy from the State to private landlords. Again, it is ideology, resources and money that are fuelling the housing crisis.

I spoke mainly on climate change yesterday but I wish to add a couple of points. I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett that it is a joke to pay lip service to climate change and do nothing to invest in public transport, which is a key element. The cycling budget line is one of the most pathetic items. It is €3 million. Does it really need to go into the budget? A sum of €3 million is allocated to cycling when the demand from those who are campaigning for proper investment in the sector is for at least €145 million. It is utterly pathetic and shameful to put that €3 million in the budget. There is also a lack of investment in green energy, in particular. That will not be done by the private sector. It can only happen through massive public investment.

Of course, €5 million has been allocated to the spin unit which, so far, mostly appears to be funding the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, arriving at different places for various appointments. I believe that one of the jobs of the spin unit is to limit this debate and to use the fiscal rules and the consensus that exists among all the big political parties about the fiscal rules, that it is a choice between a little more public spending or a little more tax, to ensure that no debate can take place. Throughout most of the media yesterday and today we were presented with this bland debate because everybody agrees on the essential parameters and everybody is arguing over crumbs. We must break out of that framework. It is a framework constructed by the extreme neoliberal centre and reinforced by the fiscal rules. It is an extremist framework because it means we cannot resolve the housing crisis, the crisis of low pay, the crisis of insecure, precarious employment or the crisis where one in four people are facing deprivation or social exclusion. It is a straitjacket that must be broken. The rules of the EU fiscal treaty, the six-pack, two-pack and so forth must be broken and a radical alternative must be built.

That is what we set out in our budget statement. We outlined how people's lives could be transformed on the basis of the wealth that already exists in our society. We set out how to provide child care, homes, a decent health service and so forth. The money to do it is there, but it is a question of who owns the resources, how they are allocated and used and the economic system. It points out more generally that our problem is capitalism, a system whereby the profit of the few is prioritised. That is ideologically and economically dressed up as the best way for things to happen. However, the housing crisis demonstrates that capitalism does not work. We must build a socialist alternative based on public ownership and sustainable growth, both economically and environmentally.

To make that happen, it is not enough for us to be in this House to give out about this and that. We are not speaking to anybody who is going to be convinced on the vast majority of things, to be honest. It is a question of struggle. We won a massive battle on the water charges which we were told we could not win. Massive people power, mass self-organisation, demonstrations and mass non-payment won a victory we were told we could not win. We must do that again. The Government will not take action on the burning housing crisis because it is completely locked in by the fiscal rules and its own ideology. There must be a mass movement to demand action on the building of homes. The trade union movement has a particular responsibility, and an opportunity, to take that action. If the trade union movement were to call a massive demonstration on the housing issue, there would be a response, as happened in the case of Apollo House. We simply say that enough is enough, people will not take it anymore and build a mass movement to demand action on housing, health and child care. In doing so we would be building a political force that can deliver the type of change we need.

I am sharing time with Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan and Catherine Connolly.

This budget and the overall approach of the Government can be summed up in three words, "crisis, what crisis?" According to the speech by the Minister for Finance, everything is going according to plan and no major changes or emergency actions are required. It is a case of give a bit here, take a bit there, stick a plaster on the health service, prioritise the Fine Gael vote and carry on business as usual. This flies in the face of reality for many people, given the 139,000 children in consistent poverty, the 680,000 people on hospital waiting lists and the escalating emergency in housing and homelessness. These are not just figures; the 139,000 and 680,000 are humans.

Two families per day are losing their homes. That means another 1,000 children, at least, waiting to get into bed and breakfast accommodation, hotels or hubs over the next year. We are being informed by people that they cannot access emergency services. I recently dealt with a young woman with three children, one of whom is on the autistic spectrum, who recently found themselves homeless. She linked in with Focus Ireland and had to self-accommodate daily. On two nights the woman was told the services had nothing for her family. She was told to go to the Garda station. Instead, she rang around friends to try to get accommodation quickly. She managed to get that from friends. She was depending on the charity of friends to get her children a roof over their heads.

There are three key issues. Of course, there are others but these are the key areas demanding urgent emergency action. With regard to poverty, a key factor is the widespread existence of low pay. Some 24% of workers are low paid and 100,000 people with jobs experience poverty in one form or another. The Indecon report on lone parents was supposed to be delivered long before the budget but was only released last Monday. It showed an increase in the number of lone parents working but found that 52% were worse off due to the cuts introduced by Deputy Burton in 2012. She shed crocodile tears here yesterday about her shock at how children were being treated in the budget. Simply having a job without the necessary support of child care, housing and good public services does not, in itself, lift many people out of poverty.

The 30 cent per hour increase in the minimum wage is paltry. The minimum wage is still €2.15 below the living wage recommendation of €11.70 per hour. Let us be realistic about what the living wage recommendation represents. A person working full-time for this hourly rate would have a wage of €23,000 per year. This worker gains nothing from the lowering of the 40% tax band. He or she will gain very little from the USC reductions. In fact, it is a grand total of €1.21 per week. Contrast that to somebody who is on €72,000 per year who gains €6.30 per week. That is not a fortune either, by any means, but it demonstrates once again that tax cuts favour the better off. Tax cuts which have favoured the better off since 2015 - the wealthiest 20% of people in this country and business - now total more than €3 billion.

What could we have done with this €3 billion in terms of providing services for homeless people, improving health care and addressing poverty?

Ireland is a low tax economy, except in the area of value added tax which impacts most on those on low incomes. If we want to tackle the housing and homelessness crisis, the problems in the health service and the scourge of high levels of poverty, we cannot afford to continually cut taxes on higher incomes, allow 13 of the 100 richest corporations to play below 1% in corporation profit tax and have the lowest level of employers' PRSI in Europe. We must tax wealth.

Billions of euro in potential income could be found. Between €5 billion and €10 billion is being passed up every year because of an ideological obsession with low taxes. Changing this approach would not mean increasing taxes on low to middle incomes. Leaving income tax rates as they are for higher earners on annual incomes of more than €70,000 would hardly cripple this group. Increasing PRSI for employers towards the European Union average would raise up to €4 billion per annum, which could be used to address the issues to which I referred.

Implementing the call from Social Justice Ireland to introduce a 6% minimum rate of corporation tax is hardly a mad revolutionary proposal. Based on this rate, a company making a profit of €100 million would give €6 million to the State and keep €94 million. While this would hardly amount to a raid on profits, it would raise billions of euro. A wealth tax set at a low rate of 1% would raise a minimum of €500 million per annum. These are the alternatives, the measures that would provide the funding needed to solve the crisis in housing and health without breaking the fiscal rules.

Ireland has refused to take from Apple €13 billion in taxes which the European Commission determined we were owed. The Government is spending €3.6 million challenging the Commission's decision and defending Apple. In recent days, Mr. Paul Sommerville estimated that Ireland had lost €500 million through its failure to collect the €13 billion from Apple on time because of fluctuations in exchange rates. This €500 million and the €13 billion the Government refuses to collect could be a game changer for the country.

The extra money allocated to health in the budget is a sticking plaster when major surgery is required. Of the €548 million announced, €97 million is a carryover from 2017 and €165 million will be used for an agreed pay deal. The remainder may not be enough to fund the existing level of services and complete projects such as the new national children's hospital. At least another €1 billion would be necessary to solve the most urgent problems in a system in crisis. The Sláintecare report called for another €600 million per annum for five years to implement the proposals in the report. This is a conservative estimate of the additional funds required.

The lack of urgency in addressing the housing and homelessness crisis is simply mind-boggling. The budget provides €750 million in credit for developers to be administered by the developers' friend, the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. This is an insult to the 8,000 homeless people, 100,000 people on housing waiting lists, 60,000 people in serious mortgage arrears and at least 100,000 people struggling with sky high rents. We could build 5,000 public social housing units on State owned land with €1 billion.

The Nevin Economic Research Institute has proposed a programme to build and acquire 70,000 affordable rented units over five years at a cost of €12 billion. The programme would require start-up capital of €3 billion. The €3 billion return the State received for AIB shares could have been invested in this programme and we could have begun to develop the National Pensions Reserve Fund. The initial €3 billion could have been leveraged to €9 billion off the books by the Housing Finance Agency. Credit unions offered €1 billion for this type of housing investment.

While these proposals are not rocket science, to be successful we would require a break from developer and private sector led solutions to the crisis and the obsession with a low tax economy. Without such a break, we will have a permanent crisis in health, housing and homelessness and large numbers of families will be condemned to live in poverty. This is hardly a republic of opportunity.

Listening to the Minister for Finance allocate various amounts to different Departments and areas yesterday, one could be forgiven for believing that great inroads were being made. Increases in allocations are always welcome, especially as too many budgets in recent years moved in the opposite direction. However, the big question is whether the budget will make a difference and, if so, for whom.

I hope the funding provided to address the housing crisis will have an impact but I doubt it will given the scale of the challenge. Additional funding for the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme may help recipients of the payment to meet rental costs but tenants are finding it difficult to find landlords who will take the HAP. Moreover, the scheme will not provide the additional housing that is needed.

Various housing reports recommended using a special purpose vehicle which would meet EUROSTAT conditions for an acceptable off-balance sheet initiative. Home Building Finance Ireland, HBFI, is a welcome initiative for smaller developments but where does social housing fit into it? The alarm bells ring when one learns that HBFI will draw on the skills and expertise of the National Asset Management Agency given what happened to some of NAMA's projects and the vulture funds.

I indicated previously that the proposals in respect of a vacant site levy were inadequate and the levy was not being introduced soon enough. Landlords and owners of vacant sites have been sitting on them for years. While the budgetary provisions on a vacant site levy are welcome, I wish they would come into force sooner. Many landlords and owners are sitting on vacant houses and apartments. A levy should have been imposed on houses and apartments that have been left idle for a specific period without a valid reason.

The scale of the housing challenge is vast but the budget did not set out the radical measures needed to address it. The shortage of social housing and the requirement for affordable housing will not be met by the marketplace. Planning and special status for social and affordable housing must be fast-tracked and treated with the same urgency as student accommodation when it was fast-tracked in Dublin city.

High standards are needed for social housing and front-line staff working with people in supported accommodation who have a mental health issue and others in recovery from substance abuse. No one wants the recovery of such persons to be jeopardised by having them placed in unsuitable or harmful accommodation.

The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, announced an additional €250,000 funding for evidence-based community plans for alcohol and harm awareness promotions. I hope the Minister of State will consider projects that support people in recovery from alcohol abuse and for which there is evidence that they work. One project which comes to mind that is not in my Dublin Central constituency is the Áit Linn programme in Ballymun which, despite making a difference and saving thousands of euro through its support for people in recovery, is struggling to survive as it does not know from where its funding will come.

The additional funding provided for the new drugs strategy is very welcome after many years of cuts to drugs projects and services. The increase in social welfare payments also moves in the right direction, as does the increase in the Christmas bonus to 85% of the value of the relevant payment. I hope the Christmas bonus will be restored in full next year.

The Taoiseach referred to giving something back to everyone. My preference, as I outlined during Leaders' Questions before the summer recess, would be to focus on a particular group rather than trying to give a small amount to many people. In my view, we should focus on people with a disability. Deputies are aware of the levels of exclusion and poverty experienced by disabled people. Their poverty is often caused by the additional costs they incur as a result of their disability. The minor but positive measures in the budget are not, as Senator John Dolan stated, the "game changer" that was needed. I do not believe many of those who gained through yesterday's tax measures would begrudge more money being provided for those who have a disability. They need an amount that would make a real difference and enable them to live independently and with dignity. I refer in particular to adults with an intellectual or physical disability who are being cared for by ageing parents who also have health issues. A republic of opportunity must ensure opportunities for those who have a disability.

The tax measures announced in the budget will deliver larger gains for those on higher incomes compared with those on lower incomes. Like previous speakers, I read Social Justice Ireland's budget analysis which showed that Ireland's tax take is still significantly below the European Union average. Effective tax rates have been declining in recent years. A low overall tax rate is not compatible with real socioeconomic progress.

I note the European Anti-Poverty Network, EAPN, Ireland welcomed the investment in welfare and services on the basis that it will help partially to repair the damage done in the past.

However, EAPN Ireland is also critical of the tax cuts and will seek a more ambitious plan next year.

Next Tuesday, 17 October, is the UN day for the eradication of poverty. Ladies from the SAOL Project will be in the audiovisual room at 4 p.m. to discuss their involvement in a project called Object Poverty. It would be interesting to see what difference the budget has made to those who know what real poverty is about.

As for the Minister's comments on corporation tax, I cannot agree that our system is "internationally recognised as one of the most transparent in the world." We have a 12.5% rate on paper but we still do not have clarity on the effective rate. While we are committed to the base erosion and profiting shifting, BEPS, initiative and country-by-country reporting, we will not support public country-by-country reporting except in respect of the European banking sector.

Our transfer pricing regime needs to be extended beyond trading activities, given the indications that the level of profit shifting into Ireland is high. We must go beyond the Coffey report. I hope that proposals and ideas like these will be raised during the public consultation meeting the Minister has suggested. Corporate tax avoidance drives global inequality. Taxes lost through avoidance deprive countries of the finances to provide services.

In recent years, we have had a magic figure of €35 million for mental health services. We never know whether it has been fully used but now there is to be a further €35 million. I hope that we will see real movement on this matter. The amount is not enough and exactly where it is going must be shown.

Stay-at-home parents felt discriminated against in this budget. They are seeking a more flexible child care allowance in order that they can decide for themselves what is best. I hope that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, will meet them and discuss this issue. The additional funding for the area-based childhood programme has been welcomed by those involved.

Parents and families in disadvantaged areas are dependent on community-based, not-for-profit child care. They are working with vulnerable people, dysfunctional families and our new communities. Some of them are facing a crisis in attracting and retaining staff, though, particularly if they are reliant on the community employment, CE, scheme. We are seeing the effects of that. Due to such difficulties, one child care project I know of - the Community After Schools Project, or CASPr - must cut services that are badly needed. People cannot afford to have them cut.

Regarding the 50 cent increase in the tax on cigarettes, I would be delighted to support a complete ban on cigarettes for health reasons. However, I take the point made by Retailers Against Smuggling that the increase on a packet only fuels the illicit cigarette business. The extra 50 cent will not go directly into anti-smoking campaigns.

The hospitality sector will be delighted with the VAT rate on tourism but I must make the point that Dublin and other cities are doing well. We know the cost of hotel beds in Dublin and we know how well the restaurants are doing. In fairness to rural areas, they need to be considered because it looks like all of the benefits are going to the cities, as the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, knows.

The Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, is present, so I will welcome the small increase of €23 million in our overseas development aid, ODA, budget and a commitment to continue that in an upward direction. Some €13 million or so is going to Irish Aid, whose focus is on poverty and hunger, but my question is on the remainder. We have EU commitments but there are concerns about how the European Development Co-operation, EDC, budget is being spent, particularly in light of the increasing securitisation agenda. I would prefer to see the whole amount going to Irish Aid.

The Minister announced new consulates and embassies. There will be disappointment in some countries. Developing new trade markets will be explored because of Brexit. The report on business and human rights is coming, though, so I hope that when we consider trading partners, we will be committed to decent work and living conditions.

The climate change provision is very disappointing. It only scratches the surface and is not ambitious. It is disappointing that we will be one of five EU countries that will miss their 2020 targets. There is nothing in the budget to indicate that we have a chance of meeting those targets.

The increase in the arts and culture budget is welcome but I hope that the Minister will adopt a policy of positive discrimination towards community arts and culture. There is much going on in all of our constituencies for people who do not have access to the big cultural events. It is important that we do this.

Dúirt an tAire, an Teachta Donohoe, go bhfuil sé ag tacú leis an straitéis don Ghaeilge agus tá fáilte roimh an mhéadú airgid don Ghaeilge agus don Ghaeltacht. Ní dóigh liom, áfach, go ndéanfaidh sé aon difríocht ó thaobh na rudaí atá riachtanach don teanga.

Budgets cannot just be about economics. They must also include philosophy and ethics. The first philosophical and ethical question to be asked is on what kind of society we want, with budgets then based on the principles of justice, fairness and equality. We want an equal society but the unfortunate reality is that we are becoming a more unequal one.

I have the advantage of having had a chance to reflect on, read and re-read the budget and to read the Minister's Budget Statement, which seems to be 20 pages in length but is actually 22 pages. The error in pagination perhaps symbolises the weakness of the figures contained in those 22 pages in terms of making for a fairer country.

One could not but welcome the social welfare and education additions or the money given to housing and health. While one might look at these and decide not to be negative, given that these are good measures and people will have more money in their pockets, one can only stay with that analysis if one views the budget in isolation. The key to understanding the budget lies on page 132, though, on which we see that the strategic communications unit is being given €5 million. It was supposed to be cost-neutral. Significantly, and if the Minister of State might listen-----

-----that cost did not appear in the Budget Statement.

Dwelling on this, I wondered why one might need a communications unit. Surely the Dáil is the place from which to send one's message and to outline a proper, just budget. We do not need spin doctors. We do not need €5 million to spin a story. It should be evident from the way that we are providing services.

What I find even more ironic, if that is not a bad use of the word, is that one of the main gentlemen in the spin unit is the chairperson of COPE Galway, which has been left with little hope of housing the homeless. I will put a figure on this. COPE Galway worked with 369 homeless children in 2015 and 512 in 2016. The figure is rising. The Minister of State is familiar with Galway. The main man in the spin unit is the chairperson of COPE Galway, which must resort to fundraising on the streets of Galway and arranging a sleep-out, in which regard it encouraged the manager of Galway City Council to sleep out on the streets, rather than holding the system to account and telling it that this situation is intolerable.

Recently, I attended a funeral mass at which the priest read out a notice encouraging those in the church to give to the most important collection that day, which was COPE Galway. We in Galway are reduced to having a charity, the chairperson of which - he was or may still be, I do not know - is in the spin unit. Actually, let us call it what it is, namely, the strategic communications unit, just in case the Leas-Cheann Comhairle corrects me.

The more I thought about this matter and the more I read, I realised that we had 22 pages of spin. It is insulting to reduce a discussion down to how much we can reduce tax by and a false debate between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael as to whether the reduction will be in the universal social charge, USC, or in tax and how much will go towards spending as opposed to listening to the people of Ireland, who have elected my colleagues and me to the Dáil to represent them. At every stage of my political career, they have asked for services.

Let us take Galway as a microcosm. The money in the budget will not even keep the health service running at a standstill. One must ask what is happening. Deputy Boyd Barrett and his colleagues have referred to the systematic running down of public services in order that money can be given to the private sector and it can be claimed that it will do better.

The message from the 22 pages is that we must not distort the market at any cost. In fact, it is spelled out on one of the pages.

That is when the Minister refers to NAMA having a major role. NAMA, an organisation that had an integral role in the housing crisis, is now being given a role in the solution to the crisis it caused. The Minister talks about avoiding a distortion of the market yet the market is allowed to distort our lives and the lives of the three people who are outside the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as we stand here in luxury. They were there last night and this morning. They are all over the city. What we are doing here with the housing money is simply putting money in the pockets of the landlords. I have said repeatedly in the Dáil that there is a need for landlords. We need them but to balance the market, not to distort it. To balance the market we need a public housing construction programme. That has not happened and we have absolutely abandoned it. The housing assistance payment, which the Government is now putting nearly €200 million more into, will actively push rental prices up. It was introduced by the Labour Party and Fine Gael before the last election. When that legislation came in, the Government said it was the only game in town for social housing. It twisted language on its head to say putting somebody into private property was social housing. To add insult to injury, one of the main auctioneers in Galway was on "Prime Time" the other night and confirmed there were only 15 new properties available. The city council is building 14 properties this year and in the private market, we have 15. One would imagine that at some stage the Government would say we have a major problem and a major emergency that we need to deal with and that it would acknowledge that helping the private system is just part of it. It should send out a very strong message to the vulture funds and private landlords that the Government will have a major role in this. That has not been done.

The Minister mentioned gender proofing in his speech. It is an absolute insult to the people and families of this country suffering as a result of domestic violence. There is not a mention of it. The SAVI report was carried out in 2002. Various organisations asked for a minimum of €1 million to carry out a review of the SAVI report. That €1 million has never been forthcoming yet we have €5 million for a strategic communications unit.

The increase in the Tusla budget, as I understand it, will barely allow it to stand still. I draw the Minister of State's attention to the economics of domestic violence - I am told the figure of €2.2 billion per year is outdated. In that context, we have 143 safe places for women and children when we should have 446. In 2015, 4,800 people - women and children - were refused safe places. In 2015, 9,712 women turned up at refuges; that is almost 10,000 people. Their children, over 2,000 of them, are not even covered in the homelessness figures. I would like to think we are here in the Dáil to share ideas. Perhaps foolishly and naively, I would like to think we are here as a power house of ideas to deal with these problems. I have been here almost two years giving out the same figures. If they do not affect the Minister of State emotionally or on a psychological level, I am hoping they will affect him on an economic level. It does not make sense not to deal with the domestic violence crisis. We should review it and at the very least come back with €1 million or a little bit more for a review. In addition, we should provide the various organisations with enough money to carry out research. I understand those organisations are talking to the university in Galway about doing research on the effects of domestic violence. There is no money for it yet the Taoiseach can give €5 million to a strategic communications unit.

With regard to disability, 13.5% of the population has a disability of one sort or another, which is 643,131 people. It is a finite number and they asked for a finite increase in the disability allowance in addition to what they are getting now to allow them to live independently and with dignity.

The Government is well aware of the rural, regional and city divide. We have had many presentations on it. I will refer to just one organisation. Comhlachas na gComharchumann agus Comhlachtaí Pobalbhunaithe represents approximately 30 organisations and is looking for a miserly €600,000 a year to keep almost 1,000 people in employment. If one compares that to what the IDA is getting, one can see who is in the ha'penny place here.

There are many other figures I could refer to. The most glaring is corporate taxation. I know I will be stopped very soon. The biggest untruth in this Dáil is about corporate taxation. I cite the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General which says that 13 of the 100 companies with the highest taxable income had an effective rate of less than 1%. What spin is going on in this Chamber when an open and accountable corporation tax is referred to?

On the issue of climate change, how many times do we have to say this is the last Dáil that has any chance of taking effective action? On an economic level, it makes absolute sense to deal with climate change. I will cite people who are far more expert than me. The Climate Change Advisory Council suggests that fines for non-compliance and failure to meet the 2020 and 2030 targets could be between €3 billion and €6 billion. The EPA has told the Government we will not comply with our targets for 2020. The Stern report told us that on an economic level it is 20 times cheaper to prevent climate change than to deal with its aftermath. As recently as 2015 the London School of Economics concluded there are net economic benefits to tackling climate change. None of this has been tackled in the budget. I regret using emotional words but the Government should be ashamed of itself for introducing this budget under the guise of fairness and long-term investment.

I welcome aspects of yesterday's budget but the devil could well be in the detail. The €9.6 million for transport and road infrastructure needs further examination. Is that €9.6 million going into the greater Dublin area or will there be serious funding for roads in west Cork? Our N71 route through Innishannon, Bandon, Clonakilty, Skibbereen and Ballydehob is choked of any realistic funding to open up west Cork to do business. We in west Cork will no longer be the poor relations. Our N71, R581 and R582 have been left behind when funding for passing bays could easily have been granted. I hope the budget for transport and roads reflects this.

The budget for the Department of Justice and Equality needs further clarity. Is there a budget for the opening of Garda stations? West Cork was struck the worst with regard to Garda stations being reopened. Will Ballinspittle, Adrigole or Goleen Garda stations be reopened? Will funding be put in place for this?

Health is the most critical issue for the people of west Cork. Can the Minister clarify if there is a budget in place to pay for staff in Bandon Community Hospital? We found out in the past few days that the extension completed in August stands idle and cannot be used by the people in the Bandon Community Hospital catchment area because the HSE is not funding staff for the extension. It is quite clear. If a Minister put funding in place for a bypass, would he or she leave the bypass unopened? Why is funding in place for a community hospital when the extension cannot be staffed and remains closed to the public?

I mentioned the carer's allowance which was increased. We should welcome an increase and I am not discrediting it in any way.

I mentioned that some people have been waiting three months, but I was corrected by a constituent who told me they had to wait eight months before getting their carer's allowance. Would any of us wait for eight months to get our payment? That is totally unfair. It is astonishing to be announcing more funding when the Government cannot sort out the issue of the carer's allowance in the first instance.

Bantry General Hospital has a massive catchment area, covering tens of thousands of people, in west Cork. Where does it stand with regard to its budget? The announcement in recent days casts serious doubt over the future of the surgical ward. It is extremely alarming that funding may not be available for two consultants. Does the Government plan to fund an increase by shutting down hospitals and cutting funding for anything that happens in rural areas in order to increase funding for the capital? A health budget should be a budget for all, not for some. This apparent downgrading of Bantry General Hospital will be nothing short of scandalous if it goes ahead. I call on the Minister to clarify if this is the case.

Many women have been left high and dry by the State when it comes to the provision of pensions for those who worked in the home. These women have saved the State millions of euros in what would have been spent on child care or carer's fees. They went back to work for a number of years after their families were reared and are now realising that they do not have enough stamps to qualify for a State pension.

Many homemakers in my constituency of Cork South-West have brought this issue to my attention at various clinics. They feel that they have been discriminated against. These women feel they have been left high and dry by the State. That is an awful thing for them to feel in light of the way in which they served the State for so long. Did the Minister create a fund in this budget for these women or did our State leave them high and dry once again?

This budget needs to be different from others. It must give to all and not just to the capital of our country. We need our facilities in rural areas. Along with my two elected colleagues, I need to put a stop to the downgrading of these services in west Cork. The Minister needs to give us the necessary funding to do so.

It was interesting to see Deputy Connolly contributing just a minute ago and now she is in the Chair. That is what is called double-jobbing, capable work or capable use of time. Déanaim comhghairdeas léi as a cuid oibre.

I am glad to be able to speak on the budget again today. I welcome some aspects of the budget that are positive. However, as I said last night, the Minister is trying to spread it all too thinly. It is like a skip of snow on the Galtee Mountains that disappears with the first ray of sun. The Minister is trying to be all things to all people and to be Mr. Nice Guy instead of dealing with some basic problems.

The issue of disability was mentioned. This morning I received an email, which I hope the Minister got. It states:

Dear An Taoiseach, ministers ...

There are 643,000 disabled people in Ireland. [E]very year approx. 23,000 join those ranks from injury, strokes, development of disease or from birth. Those newly disabled persons will enter a world of discrimination and human rights abuses.

The budget yesterday showed scant regard for disabled citizens' gross inequality. 5 euro on benefits will not 'fix' the medical, financial, employment deprivation and discrimination, [€5 is welcome, but what will it get one?] experienced by large swathes of disabled people [those with difficulty accessing services and their costs].

The inequality of disabled people in Ireland amounts to wholesale Human Rights Abuses. Is this why this Government has not yet ratified the UN Convention on Rights for Disabled People (UNCRPD)? After signing up to it ten years ago, Ireland remains the only European country NOT to ratify.

The Minister might well put his head down and he should keep it down because this is shameful. I hope he is listening to me. The email continues:

The facts speak for themselves; Poverty rates for disabled people has been consistently rising (not falling) from 14%-22% in 2015 alone [a shocking increase in poverty rates].

I recently buried a very good friend from Tipperary, Daniel Gubbins. He was a wonderful young man of 25. His personal assistant, PA, whose name eludes me, brought him to a different level in his life. He was able to do so much. He was a wonderful doer in any event. He was a singer, an entertainer and a real activist on behalf of people with disabilities. His PA became part and parcel of his life and his living. The PA was in mourning because he empathised and was so involved with Daniel. I saw how a PA can assist emotionally. The email continues:

Budget 2018 makes no mention of funding for personal assistants (PAs) that would assist disabled people get into the community, become equal with others, enable employment, and release us from the prisons of homes, nursing homes and institutions.

FG made this a specific electoral manifesto promise in 2011. [I]t is recorded there as a promise. Broken [like so many others].

7,600 disabled people are on the social housing list. Disability accessible housing has consistently been ignored, condemning again disabled people to nursing homes or institutions.

That is an awful indictment. We know how bad the housing crisis is and how inept the Government is in dealing with it. This cohort of people who are disabled are extraordinarily disadvantaged by this.

The email continues, "At present 1,200 young adults are languishing, against their will, in old people's homes, where they are depressed, despairing and often close to suicide." Can the Minister imagine that? I am sure he has been to some of these homes, has seen them and knows the families. The email also states:

There is nothing in the budget addressing the crises in accessible housing provision or support for independent living [despite all the Government's pomp and €5 million for spin].

1 in 4 disabled people do not use public transport as it is totally inaccessible.

Out in rural areas we do not have it except for the rural transport such as Ring a Link, a model I am involved with. The email further states:

There is nothing in this budget offered to ameliorate isolation, loneliness of those disabled people longing to join the world but unable to due to abysmal transport equality. [It is an abysmal failure.]

Basic mobility equality begins with having a decent wheelchair! My group hears how substandard, second-hand wheelchairs offered to disabled people by the HSE simply cause restriction, pain, disadvantage and create inequality to mobilise and be fully participatory in society.

That is one part of it. The Minister did not mention disabled people; it is as if they were never there. In all the pomp and spin, the spin doctors get so engaged with Ministers that they forget these issues. They become accustomed to them and want to feel they are not even there. There is a saying, "If you want to know me, come and live with me." The Government has an attitude of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. All those issues are there, not very far from us, and it is so sad.

Rural areas were very scantily dealt with. I will not go into housing and the crisis in Dublin too much, as I already did so last night. It is plain and simple. The Government has lost the will to build the houses and it has lost the ability to do so. At the stroke of a pen, the Minister could have cut the VAT rate to the purchasers of houses if he was so hung up on not giving it to the builders. I am not a spokesperson for the builders, but we should cut the VAT rate there and instruct the county managers to cut the development charges and reduce the charge relating to change of use. Many empty business properties have not been used for five or ten years. Change of use should be allowed, without any red tape or bull. The Government has also made matters more difficult with the new layer of architects' fees. Some 53% of the cost of a house goes in taxes, fees and levies. If the Minister had the will, he could halve that to 25%, the level at which it used to be some years ago, overnight. I totally welcome the increase in the vacant and unused sites tax, but it is too slow. Kid gloves are being used and the increase will not really kick in until 2019.

I also welcome the cut in prescription charges and the changes to DIRT. However, nothing was done in respect of motor insurance. Every person living in a rural area has to have a car because they do not have access to public transport. Some families have two or three cars. There is a racket going on in the insurance industry in respect of both young and elderly people. The Government set up a working group which came up with 77 - or was it 97? - actions; three would have been enough. We need to put manners on the insurance companies and get them to support the people, not persecute them. However, the Government did nothing in that regard. Insurance was not even mentioned in the budget. It is as if it was never a problem and was swept under the carpet. The report was put up in Government Buildings or perhaps the Government had to rent out another building to fit all the reports it and the HSE commission.

Nothing has been done with regard to a land tax, which we debated last night. My budget submission, which I handed to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, last week proposed a land tax on farms of more than 750 acres.

Above that there would be substantial land tax, because no farmer needs more than 750 acres. There are farmers in my county who are not farmers but vulture funds. They are vulture funds, fair and simple. They are amassing 10,000 acres, 12,000 acres or as much as 17,000 acres of land. No small farmer can buy a ha'penny worth of land or do anything else. That is an option the Government shied away from because these farmers are its friends, its buddies. Charles Haughey introduced an innovative scheme in respect of tax on stallions decades ago that proved hugely successful. The equine industry has benefitted from it. We have a lot of pride in our equine industry and we support it but companies involved in the industry do not need to become vulture funds, buying every ha'penny worth of land out there and leaving nothing for anybody else. There are many areas which the Government could have looked at, but it did not. It chose the old reliables. The Minister can say that fuel duty was not increased or whatever else but he could have looked at many areas.

I welcome the measure on the pupil-teacher ratio. While the ratio will only change by one pupil, I welcome it. It is a step in the right direction and tús maith, leath na hoibre. On the area of counselling services, support services and audiology services, the Minister tells us about the big budget which the HSE is given. It is ever growing, like a wild mushroom, and expands every year. There are fewer outcomes however. I am sorry, I will correct that. There are many outcomes and many of them are very good but it is now normal to see patients on trolleys in my local hospital in Clonmel, south Tipperary. We had the highest number of patients on trolleys in the country the other day. It is chronic. The Government spent money to change the name of the hospital to South Tipperary General Hospital. It was always called St. Joseph's but the Government had to get rid of that. I still know it affectionately as St. Joseph's, as do most people. We have the highest levels of overcrowding in the country. The Minister of State is from Galway and will know University Hospital Galway and big places like that. Our hospital is a Dickensian old building. We have narrow corridors. We have more trolleys than Beaumont or Cork University Hospital or any other such hospital. That means the overcrowding is five or six times as bad because we do not have the space, the bed numbers or the wide corridors. We have nothing like what is in those hospitals and it unfair to be grouped with them and to always be ranked second or third to them. This week we rank ahead of them. Between Limerick and Clonmel, there were 80 people on trolleys this week. It is a shocking indictment. It is dysfunctional. The front-line staff and the doctors are under huge pressure. I cannot salute them enough.

There are blockages across the HSE. The consultants and the unions are too powerful. The whole shebang must be looked at. First of all, there are too many managers. There are managers for everything but the wind blowing over the roof. There are managers for everything else and I am sure there is a manager for the roof. There is an area manager, a ward manager, a bed manager, a linen manager, a hygiene manager and a food manager. There are managers for literally everything but no one is managing. The matrons should be brought back. They managed, but we cannot mention them. They are taboo. The HSE is dysfunctional and the Government must deal with it.

The Government is now building a children's hospital at the St. James's campus, which I opposed with might and main. It was pushed through. No one could answer me properly on what it would cost. The Government said €600 million at first, then €800 million, then €1 billion, €1.2 billion and €1.5 billion. It is the wrong place to build. There were 55-minute traffic queues in the area yesterday. I have pictures on my phone of staff and patients trying to access the hospital. Can it be imagined how many procedures were cancelled because staff could not get in? What will happen when the children's hospital and the maternity hospital are brought in? It is lunacy of the highest degree. I know the Acting Chair is a lawyer of some renown, I believe she is a barrister, but I would use a stronger word than lunacy. I would call it a corrupt decision. It will be proven in time. It is totally the wrong place when there was a greenfield site out where everybody could get access, including helicopters. We cannot even land a proper helicopter at the St. James's site. The porkies which have been told and the different spins which have been put on the decision are all public relations. Certain people are getting jobs that suit themselves. It is the wrong location. There was 55-minute queue to get in there by car, bus or minibus yesterday. Where will the ambulance go? It is pure sheer madness.

There is also bedlam in respect of access to audiology services in the hearing services clinic in St. Joseph's hospital in Clonmel. There is a two-year waiting list to be seen for a basic interview. It can be more than two years, not to mention any treatments thereafter. This is discrimination against young people with learning difficulties and audiology difficulties. We speak about early diagnosis and give lip service to it. We must also consider the situation for older people, including ourselves. I had something in my ear last week and I could not hear a thing. When we get to a certain age there are problems. Young and old have to wait and are discriminated against. It is worse for young people because they have to receive their education and learn and so on, which is not easy. It is just trotted out.

Deputy Michael Collins and some of my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group invited a group down from Northern Ireland, from Kingsbridge Private Hospital, Belfast. It is offering to treat patients under a European directive. I have patients who have been waiting for hip operations for four years and then there is a mishap. Fair dues to that hospital. The HSE will have to pony up and pay the money because it cannot provide the treatment itself. Now it can be carried out under this European directive. I encourage anyone who is listening to invoke this rule in order to take their loved ones out of pain, agony, distress and trauma.

Mr. O'Brien, the chief executive officer, CEO, of the HSE, recently came out and made accusations about the group Regret, which has issues in respect of the HSE vaccine. I am not making any mention of the right or wrong of the issue but he described these parents as emotional terrorists. I say to Mr. O'Brien, the HSE and the Minister that emotional terrorism is being carried out by the system that treats people on trolleys for three and four days and nights without a blanket, a pillow or any modicum of respect and decency. That is emotional terrorism. How dare Mr. O'Brien accuse parents who are worried about their sick children of emotional terrorism?

The Minister backed him up. Of course he did. It is outrageous. They are the emotional bullies and the emotional terrorists. They cannot see what is going on under their own noses - the agony and the trauma and people going into hospitals and coming out with MRSA. I cannot use the word which I would like to use for it but that is bordering on manslaughter. These people are going in for a procedure while healthy and coming out with a condition that will kill them. This is happening in our hospitals despite all the money which is going in. It is happening because of carelessness, dirt, filth, bad conditions and lethargic efforts to keep the hospitals clean. It is just not good enough. It is as simple as that. They then turn around and call the 400 unfortunate parents who are worried about their sick children emotional terrorists. That is where the emotional terrorism is going on.

People are waiting for orthodontic treatment for four or five years. These are kids in their teenage years. My goodness, these are girls and boys who are being put through this trauma. I recently received a letter about a constituent who had been waiting for 48 months when I intervened. The letter was sort of telling me to get lost but said that the person would now be waiting 60 months. Imagine that I had to send that letter to the patient. I could not do it. I shredded it. This patient was being told it would be necessary to wait 60 months for dental treatment. It involved difficulties with braces and so on. If that is not emotional terrorism I do not know what is. If it happened in a Third World country we would be collecting money to help the people there.

We can keep pouring money into the deep morass of the HSE without any accountability if we like, despite the issue with the children's hospital and all the other issues which are going on. Why would it not continue as it has been proceeding when it has not been held to account? Two former Taoisigh told me that they were going to disband the HSE - the former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen. The present Taoiseach made similar mutterings himself when he was Minister for Health. We now have the Minister, Deputy Harris, who has become a complete puppet for the HSE. He will not take it on. He came down to Our Lady's Hospital, Cashel and saw the pristine condition of a new building, on which we were told €12.5 million was spent. When I asked questions it was actually €21.5 million. I have referred the matter to the Committee of Public Accounts. Everything was to be done with this building but nothing has been done. The replies I have had from the HSE have been a waste of paper, just more files. That hospital is frozen. It could be as good as Beaumont or anywhere else with the investment which has been made in it but it is a patient-free area. No patients need enter here, this building is for officials, paper and the armchair generals who run the HSE. It is not for patients. The Minister was shocked and admitted so on the radio but nothing has happened about it. I asked him about it in Tipperary three weeks ago. I asked him when we would see something there. He said that it would not be the early part of 2018 and would probably be late 2018. He is unable. I will not blame him as he needs support in the Cabinet too but it has to be sorted out. It is a patient-free area. Some €21 million was spent on it so that it could have nice armchairs, nice furniture, colour-coded carpets and the whole shebang. Admittedly, a few day procedures are carried out on the ground floor.

I was a patient in that hospital myself a number of times. There was a fine big bed lift there at the time. I would go up and down in it with the help of a nurse when I was in the hospital for my appendix as a young boy, a buachaill óg. I was also in there in my later years, probably 20 years ago. It now has no lift. During the reconstruction on which we spend €21.5 million - not €12.5 million - the lift was removed. That was a deliberate act of vandalism as far as I am concerned. It was an act of sabotage which prevented it from being used to bring an unfortunate patient upstairs. We cannot bring patients upstairs now because there is only a service lift. A chair can be brought up. That is sabotage and no one has been held accountable. Why would it be taken out? The lift shaft is still there. It is part of the structure of the building and cannot be changed. The lift itself, however, is gone. That was nothing but sabotage.

I mentioned disability and armchairs a while ago. We should think of all the people who have crutches. I collected thousands of them myself for the Jack and Jill Foundation. I wish the Jack and Jill Foundation well on the "Up the Hill" events it organised last Saturday and on the wonderful work it does for very sick children.

We collected thousands of crutches, wheelchairs and everything else and the HSE wanted to take them back but pulled out at the last minute and will not take them back from anyone. It will not take back something like a set of crutches I might get today if I had an injury and might use for a week or two. If that is not wilful waste I do not know what is. It is the same with wheelchairs, even motorised wheelchairs. They are left out to be dumped.

There is a hospital in Clonmel that regularly has no blankets or pillows, with patients taking off their jackets to put under their heads. The front-line staff there do their best under appalling conditions. Of course, we were promised a mobile hospital by my colleague, Deputy Michael Lowry, a year and a half ago now. It was going to be helicoptered in and was going to be great. There is no sign of it. Of course, we were promised a 40-bed unit to be delivered by next year. I set up planning meetings with the planners and asked for a senior person in procurement for the HSE estates to come to the meeting. Nobody turned up. It has no interest in planning for it. It just likes to make these announcements. The units will not be there in October 2019, never mind October 2018. It is very hurtful to the patients I represent from west Waterford, south Tipperary, north Tipperary, Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel, Thurles, Cahir, Cashel, Tipperary town and all the rural areas to be told this kind of stuff without even a planning meeting taking place - it is just spin, spin, spin.

All is not well in the health system and the Government knows that better than I do. The sooner the Government realises that throwing in an extra €780 million a year or whatever with no better outcomes is no good, the better. It is not until Mr. O'Brien and company are held accountable and told not to be threatening people - mothers and fathers - that there will be improvement. Mr. O'Brien as the head of the HSE has to be held accountable. He accused parents of being emotional terrorists. That is an awful thing to do when he is the emotional terrorist, or at least he is responsible for the emotional terrorism that is going on with sick people and people who cannot access operations. There are a lot of good things going in the HSE, a lot of hard work. The community nurses and district nurses and whatever do tremendous work and go above and beyond the call of duty and there are many good outcomes, certainly, but we are tarnished with this.

I am encouraging anybody who has a loved one living with them or near them or a neighbour to apply under the European directive - I do not have the number of the directive here but I will get it out there in the media - to travel to Belfast to do this work. The Rural Independent Group is setting up a meeting with the National League of Credit Unions because the one snag is it has to be paid for upfront. The money has to be repaid under the European directive within a period of three months, I think. The Government will have to pay for this, it has no choice and it will have to wake up and smell the coffee. The people need to do whatever it takes to get out of pain so anyone who has loved ones, friends, neighbours or anybody else, I urge them to go up the road to Belfast, it is not that far over the good Border, while we have no border.

I will move on to the whole area of An Garda Síochána and the row over Stepaside. I visited Stepaside with the Minister, Deputy Ross, during the Government formation talks. He met the people there and I saw it myself. I attended the protest march when it was closed. Of course it needed to be opened. The media now love to attack the Minister, Deputy Ross, as some kind of an alien because he did this. I would be delighted if I got a new Garda station for Clonmel, which I am trying to do as it is the most Dickensian station in the country. It is unfair to expect gardaí to work in it. The public office is not as big as the row of three seats where I am standing. It is antiquated and not fit for purpose. The people of Clonmel would be delighted. I do not know why the people in Dublin and the modern media lads think that the Minister should be ashamed, or that it should be a badge of dishonour to get a Garda station opened. There were five listed and I am delighted and I compliment him on his efforts. I differ from him in many other areas, with his road transport Bill and everything else, but fair play is fine play as far as I am concerned. I would love to get Clonmel sorted. We were promised and are depending now on the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW to get it over the line. We are in a bundle of four. It is not good enough to have the gardaí and the public of Clonmel treated like that. There are many other rural stations and there is investment needed in police cars and equipment. They are still using ink in some stations to do fingerprints. It is just a disgrace.

I know we have huge problems at the top in the Garda Síochána and there are some bad apples at the bottom too and we never hide them. I have been a victim of one myself. I will not go into it today. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Catherine Connolly, is relieved. I think she thought she might have to stop me again. There are problems there as well but we need to support them and we cannot have people like my colleague, Deputy Alan Kelly, who is not here, attacking them every day at the Committee of Public Accounts about Templemore. There are problems in Templemore, but we want to keep Templemore. We want to keep the gardaí going through there to be able to come out and police the streets and give some modicum of security and safety. We need to stop attacking them and support it. If there were wrongs there they must be outed and rooted out but it is not all a bad morass.

Maybe we want Templemore moved to Dublin; the OECD recently did a survey and found that 53% of all economic activity is now inside the Pale. That is a disaster for rural Ireland and it is continuing. I cannot walk around the city now but I am struck by the shadows of cranes. It is great to see it but they are not building houses. They are all building business premises for people to come in and work in the city. Where are we going to get beds for them? Where are we going to fit them? Where is the transport infrastructure? It is not there. This is another crash on the way.

A nephew of mine is working not 200 yards away from here and he is trying to get back cousins and friends who were in England with him and they are mad to come back but they will not because they cannot afford to live in Dublin. The choice is to travel from Tipperary every day and that is bedlam, taking three or four hours if they hit traffic. We have to get that right. It is going wrong and we will not listen to the OECD or anybody else. We all know it but this is our whistle. That is where the activity is happening. We need to have some bit of forward planning and some bit of one hand knowing what the other hand is doing.

There is €5 million, then, for spin - my goodness. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Catherine Connolly, referred to it when she was speaking as well. We had a small meagre bit in the budget which the Rural Independent Group fought for, along with Deputy Harty, for people who collect money, who fundraise out of their own money that they pay taxes on, and support voluntary groups for defibrillators, wheelchairs, accessible minibuses and ambulances. There is VAT charged on it. There is only a small move there. It has to be a physical charity that affects health and the maximum figure is €5 million. It is no bother finding €5 million for spin and more spin, as if we had not enough of it.

A question was asked this morning about the hiring of staff to try and spin this budget out above all our heads. The people are clever enough. We have an educated electorate now and they are sick and tired of the spin. They were sick and tired of the spin in 2016. That is why Fine Gael got the fright of its life. The former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, said he got a wallop. He is gone now and fair play to him, I wish him a happy retirement and do not wish him any ill will. The public is sick of spin. They are too smart, educated and savvy now for the spin and what they want is a decent modicum of services and respect for their vote and for the way they get up the morning. A big play was made of that by the current Taoiseach, the people who get up in the morning and go to work. He gave them some thanks in the budget. After tax, people on under €20,000 will be €1 a week better off. Deputy Alan Kelly was saying yesterday that people got a cup of coffee a day. That increase would not buy a packet of spearmint gum, never mind a cup of coffee. Most cups of coffee I get are €2 so I do not know where he was going with that. It must be Labour Party economics. It is an insult to ordinary working people that the Taoiseach would leave them like that.

It is a budget of spin and a little for everyone and nothing for an awful lot of people. The INMO, the IMO, the Disability Federation of Ireland and its CEO, John Dolan, are just saddened. I have the farming organisations lined up to say how disappointed they are. The road hauliers were not even mentioned, as if they never existed. People like that are keeping rural Ireland going. There is the Farm Contractors Association of Ireland and above all the volunteers, the makers and movers who are carrying this country. If they pulled out of every organisation the country would close down and nothing would be happening. I call on the Government to go back to the drawing board and rethink what it is doing and rethink the spin. It should tackle the fat cats. I mentioned one in my own constituency - we had more last night. They are there. We cannot have a cosy cartel and deny ordinary working people and abandon the ordinary people who are sick and vulnerable.

Is oth liom a chur in iúl don Teach nach bhfuil rian ceannaireachta nó fís ag baint leis an mbuiséad seo agus is easpa uaillmhéine a léiríonn sé, seachas uaillmhian.

For the first time in ten years, we have a balanced budget. Ten years of pain and sacrifice were suffered by many and, unfortunately, many more continue to suffer as innocent victims of reckless financial mismanagement. This budget presented an historic opportunity to do things differently, but it has turned into a glorious mis-opportunity. Budget 2018 had the potential to be a perfect window to begin to make structural and systemic change and to shape a budget for our society, not just our economy. Instead, we have a budget which does a little bit for everyone and nothing significant for anyone. The little bit for everything is an unsustainable con job and it is clear that what the Government has succeeded in doing, at least in the short term, is abating people’s anger, causing a focus on real priorities to be temporarily lost. It is engaged in camouflaging, cleverly distracting people from what should be a pressing and fundamental priority, namely, a caring, compassionate society.

To give some credit and recognition where it is due, however, the Green Party welcomes some announcements in this budget.

I welcome the extension of maternity leave and benefit for mothers of premature babies, which follows on from the Green Party motion passed by the Dáil in April. For those who point-blank dismiss the entirety of new politics, the breakthrough in delivering a better society for mothers of premature babies should be seen as a constructive example of how new politics has the clear potential to work. This is a concrete outcome. Unfortunately, however, it is an isolated breakthrough that does not give solace or represent the seismic shift in Government policy required to prioritise families and put people at the heart of a caring and inclusive society. This is because there is still a distinct lack of coherent vision in the budget.

Overall, there is nothing new in budget 2018. The Government still operates as if the market can and will solve all problems. It still acts as though climate change is a problem that the private market alone can solve. The Government still acts as though the housing crisis is one that the private market alone can solve. This is a budget of missed opportunities. What could it have been? This had the potential to be a budget for mental health. It could have been used to make a substantial investment in mental health, translating words into action and demonstrating, delivering and making A Vision for Change a reality. Instead, the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, speaking with representatives from Mental Health Reform earlier today, confirmed that the €35 million announced for mental health services in the budget includes €20 million promised for this year. A mere €15 million extra is set aside for vital mental health services in budget 2018 when the Government knows that experts in this field are of the opinion that a minimum of €55 million is required. Mo náire sibh.

Our mental health services are struggling. Many hours have been devoted in this Chamber to well-meaning speeches about the importance of mental health. How is it that when push comes to shove and all the cards are on the table, the Government continually comes up short in the context of supporting mental health? By reneging on its commitment to invest appropriately in our mental health services, the Government signalled its utter disinterest, if not contempt, for the human rights of those with mental health symptoms. These are some of the most vulnerable people in society and they simply do not have a voice of their own.

The budget also confirms in the minds of many shattered families that their agonising wait for appropriate interventions and supports for their loved ones will continue under this Government's watch. Tragically for some, this wait has proved fatal. It copper-fastens the sense of hopelessness to which they have become accustomed since A Vision for Change, a blueprint document full of vision but followed with snail-paced change, was launched. According to research, those who suffer from mental illness need a sustained sense of hope. The Government, however, continues to feed them with hopelessness.

The Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care commenced its deliberations in recent weeks. I am delighted to be a member of this committee. However, yesterday's budget does not instil much hope that the Government will pay any attention to our deliberations or recommendations because nowhere in his speech did the Minister for Finance even refer to the Sláintecare document produced by the Committee on the Future of Healthcare. I hope the workings of the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care will not be treated with the same disregard and disrespect. This could have been an historic budget, heralding a new era in attitude and thinking in terms of how the Government treats and prioritises mental health. Alas, it certainly is not that.

This is a budget of missed opportunity. What could it have been? It could have been the budget of investment in education and youth. There is an increase in the levy on employers contributing to the National Training Fund, which is to be welcomed. However, the scale of the investment needed is not there. This investment will not even be able to keep up with the increase in numbers in third level in the coming years. Again, this is a case of the Government moving forward just to stand still. While the direction is welcome, it is not nearly enough. Investment is not investment if it is just to stand still. There is no evidence in this budget of treating third-level education as an investment in our society and our future. A €250 reduction in fees would have come at a relatively small cost to the State. It would have eased some of the financial pressure students are facing in the context of fee payments. Such a reduction was not made in the budget, however.

Once again, the Government is refusing to prioritise access to education. There is no increase in SUSI grant thresholds and the €200 charge for post-leaving certificate courses, which continues to act as an impediment and obstacle to participation for many students, has not been removed. There is also no restoration of the grants available for Gaeltacht placement for student primary teachers, a mandatory aspect of their studies which students must now continue to undertake at their own expense. Níl sé sin ceart nó cóir.

While the increase in teacher numbers at second level and the reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools are to be welcomed, I do not see any indication that the Government is going to address the significant inequality of treatment in the teaching profession. There is a two-tier, indeed three-tier, system whereby newly-qualified teachers earn more than 20% less than their colleagues. This is despite the fact that they are doing the same job and have the same responsibilities. A recent OECD report, Education at a Glance, found direct correlation between teachers' pay and the quality of education. The teaching profession has been devalued and this will have a detrimental effect on the future quality of education.

Neither has the Government addressed the inequality in pensions. Thousands of women are left in a scenario where, in retirement, they now typically have 37% less to live on than men. Many women who got up early in the morning for years in order to work or to look after the nation's children are now entering an insecure and impoverished retirement. They will have limited access to pensions because of low pay, poor conditions of work and having to take time out for caring responsibilities. The homemaker's scheme only allows for the backdating of pension contributions to 1994. What about all the women who were active prior to 1994? It must be remembered that the State-enforced marriage bar meant that up to 1973, women had no choice but to give up their public service and Civil Service jobs when they got married. The homemaker's scheme should have been backdated to 1973.

In 2012, the previous Government introduced changes to the eligibility criteria for the contributory State pension. This had the effect of increasing the number of PRSI contributions required for the higher payments. Women are more likely to lose out because of periods of being out of the workforce due to family responsibilities or being in part-time work or insecure employment. Tens of thousands of women are out in the cold and have been forgotten. They deserve better. They deserve equality. This budget was an opportunity for the Government to end this blatant discrimination by reversing the 2012 changes to pension contributions but it continues to turn its back on thousands of women. This is simply not good enough.

Inequality for young people is also not being addressed. There is the inequality in the area of social welfare, namely, the reduced rate of social welfare payments for young people under the age of 26. Why did the Government not end this discrimination by restoring the full rate of social welfare payments for those under 26?

This is a budget of missed opportunities. What could it have been? This could have been the budget for housing. Instead, we have a budget that does more of the same. It does nothing differently. The announcement of €750 million for the HBFI scheme relates to the planned construction of cheap houses by developers.

The increase in the vacant sites levy is to be welcomed, especially when one considers that, earlier this year, when my Green Party colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, introduced the Derelict and Vacant Sites Bill in the Seanad, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael chose to vote against it. I welcome the Government's recognition now that this increase is needed. However, it is being done without conviction. We will not see the full effect of it until at least 2019.

This budget could have seen a shift to focusing on a cost-rental model of local authority building. Instead, the Government is continuing with its outdated logic to the effect that the private market alone can fix the crisis in housing and homelessness.

Where are the tax reliefs for home owners in whose homes major defects are discovered? Simple first steps would include offering tax reliefs for the undertaking of essential repair works through income tax relief in respect of repair costs incurred, a suspension of local property tax and VAT relief along the lines of the home renovation scheme. However, the Government has not provided any supports for those home owners in this budget and that is not good enough.

It is a budget of missed opportunity. It could have been an ambitious climate action budget but it fails to serve the medium to long-term needs of the country that should be the underlying principle of any budget. It lacks long-term planning and a strategic vision for the people of our country. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, stated in a press release yesterday that "budget 2018 delivers leadership" and that the members of the Government "have been called to be deciders, implementers and change-makers". However, I see no real change, ambition or leadership. The essence of leadership is that one has a strategic and sustainable vision.

This budget was an opportunity to be at the forefront of the new clean industrial revolution that is starting to happen and from which we have everything to gain. Every sector of society will benefit from a transition to a fair, clean, green economy. The scale of the change needed is similar to that made in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Ireland made a strategic decision to go from being a closed to an open international economy. This budget will not be remembered as groundbreaking and change-making in the mould of the work of Seán Lemass and T.K. Whitaker. It is not transformative and, rather, will be remembered as more of the same and providing minute nudges in the right direction. It is a budget of missed opportunity. It seeks to keep the status quo tipping along without effecting underlying structural change. Inequality will remain, as will discrimination against young people and women. The Government continues to ignore the opportunity of embracing a just transition to a new, green, fair economy. This budget is definitely not about a just society. It could have been remembered as a budget for mental health, investment in education, housing or ambitious climate action. Instead, it will be remembered only for a lack of strategic vision, fairness, ambition or leadership and as a budget for our economy, not our society.

The budget took a scattergun approach to the country's finances. It lacked any kind of vision or strategy and was a missed opportunity to set the country on a fair and sustainable course. The emphasis on cutting taxes is deeply regressive and unfair and very much widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots. It was not by chance that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil spent the past few weeks scrapping about tax cuts, as it served as a major distraction from the big problems facing the country, most notably the crises in health and housing which those two parties are largely responsible for creating.

In terms of tax changes and income tax in particular, it is important to remind ourselves that the majority of income earners earn less than €35,000 per year, as is borne out by the ready reckoner provided by the Revenue Commissioners prior to the budget. Some 58% of income earners have annual incomes of less than €35,000. We frequently hear the Taoiseach and other Ministers talk about people on €60,000 to €70,000 per year as being middle-income earners but that is entirely inaccurate. There is little or no tax benefit in the budget for the 1.5 million income earners who make less than €35,000 a year. It is interesting to note that of the ten sample households shown in the Department's tax policy change document, only two earn less than €35,000. That is hardly representative of the population. Only one of the fictional households depicted in today's edition of The Irish Times earns less than €35,000 and that person is said to be a student who is working part time. Last night, the "Prime Time" television programme featured the wife of a soldier whose family will gain €1.35 per week from the budget changes. That is an insult to any family that is truly in the middle-income bracket. That is the reality of what the budget means to people. The sum total of the benefit from the tax package announced yesterday to a person with a partner serving in the Defence Forces and her family is €1.35. That is shameful. For the Taoiseach to claim that everyone benefits is untrue.

The Government could have targeted the high cost of living for families instead of bringing in tax cuts that benefit the better off. It could have tackled the high cost of insurance, reduced the price of transport fares, controlled the cost of housing and health or introduced free primary education. Not only would that approach have benefitted all households, it would have been a lot fairer and more sustainable. The Social Democrats party has said in recent years that we should not erode the tax base. How will future services be funded if the Government continues to cut taxes? It would have been far more sustainable and made much more sense if the Government had retained the integrity of the tax base and concentrated on improving public services and cutting the cost of living as everybody would have benefitted from that.

The cost of health care is one of the biggest burdens on families. A huge range of additional costs have been imposed on both those with medical cards and those paying very high medical insurance. The Sláintecare reform programme sets out a plan to cut waiting lists, remove charges and introduce a universal public health service. It is extremely disappointing that the Government has failed to provide the funding necessary to fully implement phase 1 of Sláintecare next year. This was a unique opportunity for the Government to do something of real consequence in respect of our failing health service because cross-party political consensus on the way forward and the kind of health service we need in this country had already been achieved. Unfortunately, the Government has failed to provide adequate funding to implement that. The precise details of the health budget have not yet been revealed but it is clear that the allocation falls far short of what is required.

I am also concerned by the capital allocation in health. Sláintecare recommended an investment of €500 million in capital expenditure to catch up with the underspend of the austerity years and to provide the primary care centres and ICT that is so necessary in this area. It is impossible to get reliable data, as the Minister of State knows, and without such data, there cannot be a fair and effective allocation of resources, nor can there be adequate performance management - whether in respect of administrators or clinical staff - and nor can adequate consideration be given to how services are provided. Without the key data that are required, we do not have the means to measure services or establish whether we are getting value for money. Investing in the ehealth programme now would bring significant future savings. The general approach taken in Sláintecare was to invest now in order to save in the future because the high cost of providing our health services in the way that is currently being done is not sustainable. We have to change the model of care.

Instead, the Government is relying on the stop-gap measure of the National Treatment Purchase Fund. There is little to indicate a real commitment to proper reform of the health service.

We need to move beyond this kind of knee-jerk response to waiting lists and put in place the kind of system change Sláintecare sets out. The individual Ministers' initiatives and short term and stopgap solutions we have had over the past ten to 20 years do not make any appreciable difference in the long term and are extremely costly. One would have to ask why we should be paying some consultants on the double for work they are doing in order to tackle the hospital waiting lists.

Whether one is renting, buying or on a social housing waiting list, housing represents the biggest cost for families, yet this budget fails to introduce an affordable housing scheme to control rents or to fund an adequate number of social houses. The measures outlined yesterday are not sufficient to make an appreciable difference to the housing crisis. For the most part, the Government used the budget as an opportunity to re-announce house building figures that we have known for some time. Once again, the main people who will benefit from the Government's housing policy are developers and landlords. This is yet another budget with far too much carrot and not enough stick. Take, for example, the vacant site levy, probably the headline policy from the Minister's announcement yesterday. He has introduced an increase to 7% at a time when the price of land is rising at around twice that rate. Why should we assume that speculators will not simply weigh up the cost of this tax against the greater benefit they can reap from rising property and land prices and just continue to sit on it? Land hoarding has been a central factor in the lack of supply and the unaffordability of housing. Both this and the previous Government have completely failed to tackle this issue. The tokenistic vacant site levy has lacked teeth. If the Government were serious about driving down the cost of housing, it would have announced an effective land hoarding tax for 2018.

Some of the improvements regarding child care are to be welcomed, particularly additional supports for the formal child care sector and the commitment to improved early years inspections. However, there does not seem to be any attempt to address the root causes of the sustainability crisis in the sector. We all talk about raising standards, but the sector's economic model ties the hands of providers, restricts quality and limits child care workers' terms and conditions and career progression. It is absurd that well-trained early years educators are still forced to sign on during the summer months. I know the Minister, Deputy Zappone, has commissioned an assessment of the economic cost of quality child care, but this is not due until late next year, and I believe she should give a commitment to fast-track this report now.

It is also particularly disappointing that there is no mention in the budget of paid parental leave, as promised in the programme for Government. Ireland has the poorest provision of paid parental leave in the EU. We should ensure that all children can be cared for in the home during the first year of their lives. Equally, no financial assistance is available for the majority of working parents of young children. Over 70% of working parents do not use the formal child care system, and we should have introduced an early years payment to assist those families.

Nor has anything been done to address the impact of successive regressive budgets on one of the groups at greatest risk of poverty and most affected by the cost of child care. I refer to lone parents. Only on Monday of this week, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection published the Indecon study on the impact of the changes to the one-parent family payment. It found significant increases in deprivation among lone parent families after losing the one-parent family payment, yet very little has been done to address the huge, often disproportionate costs lone parents face. A commitment was given that this Indecon report would influence decisions taken in this budget, and it is a real insult to those struggling lone parents that the report was only published on Monday of this week and clearly did not feed into the budget proposals. This is a major failing on the part of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. It is nonsense to claim that the changes that were introduced in themselves reduced dependency on welfare in a situation whereby welfare payments were cut off. There are many benefits to parents accessing education, training and work, but their children should not pay the price for this. We were promised a Scandinavian style of child care for these families. The Government should either fund this kind of child care or reverse the cuts to the one-parent family payment.

I wish to talk about what can be referred to as the locked-out generation. In trying to claim that the Government has done something for everyone, it has ignored those who probably need its help most, namely, the younger generation, those people who are often referred to as the locked-out generation, people in their 20s and 30s. This morning, the Taoiseach said the Government's policies would allow the next generation to be free from the burden of excessive debt so they can build their lives here. How does the Government expect young people to do this when they continue to be locked out of the things that most Members of this House have taken for granted? I refer to such things as reasonable dreams and aspirations to get a permanent job that will provide a pension in the future to enable a person to live life to the full and aspirations to buy one's own place to live, to settle down and to have a family. The reality now is that for a great number of our young people in their 20s and 30s, those aspirations are no longer realistic. It is this younger generation, the locked-out generation, that has borne the brunt of the mistakes of its elders in being saddled with a huge debt, and this will continue for the foreseeable future. This generation is very much locked out, and it seems to a large extent that the people who went before them have pulled the ladder up after them. I refer to things like the lack of affordability of housing, whether one is renting or trying to get on the property ladder, precarious work and the two-tier pay scales that apply for nurses, teachers, doctors, gardaí and a whole range of other people working in the public service. It has been an enormous kick in the teeth for those of this younger generation who are now being deprived of what their parents and grandparents were able to aspire to. These people are paying a huge price and, it seems, will continue to do so for the mistakes of their elders, and there is nothing in yesterday's budget to improve the situation for them.

The budget was also a big disappointment to many women approaching pension age who continue to be denied access to a full State pension because of cuts in qualifications that were introduced in 2012. It is completely unacceptable that these women continue to be punished for leaving the workforce for a period in order to engage in care work in the home. Many of them were forced out due to the marriage bar. This must be addressed in the social welfare Bill, and I will certainly be bringing forward proposals on that.

Overall, the hallmark of this budget is short termism and inequality. To both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, I say that those who fail to learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately, it looks like we are facing back into another troubled period.

Sitting suspended at 4.30 p.m. and resumed at 5.30 p.m.

I will share time with colleagues.

This budget helps build the republic of opportunity we are working towards. It is a fair budget, one that rewards work through tax reductions and breaks down barriers through targeted investment in public services, as well as charting a course over the next few years to provide certainty to families and businesses. The choices the Government has set out in the budget strike the right balance between maintaining the stability of our public finances and improving our competitiveness, supporting enterprise and supporting job creation. This ensures we have the resources to deliver on important public policy objectives in the areas of housing, child care, health and education, along with all public services. Improvements in these areas also improve the general business environment and make Ireland a more attractive place in which to do business, laying the foundations for future jobs growth.

Our headline economic figures are very good, with unemployment down to 6.1%. Four out of every five jobs created are outside Dublin and we want inclusive and regional growth because job creation makes a difference to every individual, family and community. The previously high unemployment figures had a devastating impact on individuals and the reduction in the figures, from a high unemployment rate to normal employment and then full employment, has made a qualitative difference to individuals' lives. The enterprise agencies in my Department, namely, Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and the local enterprise offices, have helped to add 70 quality new jobs every day since 2015 and have delivered a net 50,000 new jobs in the years 2015 and 2016 combined. However, there is no room for complacency and we need to remain vigilant, particularly in view of the various external challenges of which the Taoiseach spoke earlier today, above all Brexit, given the reliance some sectors have on the UK market. We have to make sure there is diversification and at the heart of this budget is help for SMEs to compete, innovate and trade to deal with the challenges of Brexit. We have to help them diversify so that they can trade in the new environment. We have funding of €871 million, €48 million above the published ceiling of €823 million in the Department's Revised Estimates of November 2016 and July 2017. The Department's capital budget has also increased, with a record capital allocation, which is important because if we want to respond to the challenges we have to keep investing in the areas I have mentioned.

The Minister for Finance announced a €300 million Brexit loan scheme to ensure there is affordable finance for Irish businesses currently or potentially impacted by Brexit. Again and again businesses say to me that access to credit is a concern and we want to ensure that viable firms who are experiencing temporary difficulties have access to finance at a good rate. The new scheme will be open to all trading SMEs and large firms employing fewer than 500 people and will see a sizeable reduction to approximately 4% in interest rates charged for lending. The total Exchequer funding for the scheme will be €23 million, with my Department contributing €14 million and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine contributing €9 million.

I have also asked my officials to progress, with the Department of Finance, the SBCI and the EIB, the development of a longer-term loan scheme together with a new business advisory hub service to focus on business development that will allow enterprises to position themselves for a post-Brexit environment. There also will be supports for businesses which use that hub. There is an extra €3 million in current funding to ensure we have extra staff in all the agencies and in the Department to work on Brexit-related issues. It will bring the total up to 100 and will mean we have a joined-up response to Brexit.

We are also improving the budget for the Health and Safety Authority in 2018 to enable it to meet the challenges to its regulatory functions it will face post-Brexit. I brought together all the agencies of my own Department recently to discuss Brexit and look at the different challenges that will arise and there are huge differences in regulations and standards which will need to be considered.

The capital allocation for Enterprise Ireland is €63 million in 2018 and it will also utilise its own resource income, ORI, to support a range of enterprise development initiatives next year. Typically, its ORI is in the region of €65 million but at the end of 2016, EI clients were directly supporting 201,000 jobs. EI's strategy is to both grow and maintain jobs in the face of Brexit with a target to support 60,000 new jobs in 2020. It will continue to support exports to the UK while growing and diversifying outside the UK. In this context exports have grown from €21.6 billion in 2016 to €23 billion in 2017 and are expected to be €26 billion by 2020. It is a very ambitious strategy that also incorporates a eurozone export strategy with a target to double such exports by 2020. A new regional investment fund for proposals, with funding of €25 million, will go ahead in January and will be very important in supporting regional development. Attracting FDI to the regions is an integral part of our growth strategy and the IDA continues to work on that.

Another very important element in supporting research, innovation and development is Science Foundation Ireland which supports the various research centres around the country. The number has grown from 12 to 17 since the beginning of 2017 and we announced four last month - one extra and three we would like to fund. We are joining the European Southern Observatory in 2018, the benefits of which are very significant and include the creation of advanced enterprise-relevant skills in areas such as data analytics software.

The tax package will also enhance our competitiveness and the USC reduction, the KEEP and the new share-based remuneration scheme are very important. We have also retained the 9% VAT rate which other parties, such as Sinn Féin, wanted to abolish for hotels. Businesses need every support they can get at this difficult time as they face currency fluctuations and general business uncertainty. This budget provides a platform for the next stage of our enterprise and economic development.

It strikes the right balance between maintaining the stability of our public finances, improving Ireland's competitiveness, supporting job creation and delivering the public services our citizens deserve.

I very much welcome this budget. I hope that people can recognise all the good it will do in helping people out of homelessness and into new social housing homes, in supporting people in to rented accommodation and in removing significant obstacles to getting more homes built, more quickly and at more affordable prices. Any new home built, be it by the private sector or through social housing provision, any new home brought on to the market from vacancy and any new site developed relieves pressure in other parts of the system. Our constant focus has to be on the supply of new homes.

In total, my Department’s Vote for 2018 will be €2.394 billion. Within that, housing is far and away the biggest programme. All told, €1.9 billion will be available for housing next year, an increase of €600 million, or 46%, on this year. This investment is directly aimed at addressing Ireland's housing shortage and homelessness crisis. It represents an increase of 62% on the capital side to build new homes and 35% on the current side - more than €760 million - to support homelessness, as well as supporting people into new social housing tenancies.

Looking beyond 2018, I have secured an extra €500 million for capital investment in social housing in the years 2019 to 2021, which will allow us to increase the Rebuilding Ireland social housing target from 47,000 to 50,000 homes, the figure recommended last year by the Committee on Housing and Homelessness. This is new money that was not in Rebuilding Ireland to date and which will deliver more social housing homes. As a result of the changes I announced at the housing summit in September, the stock of homes that will actually be built directly by local authorities and approved housing bodies will also increase.

We will almost double our social housing output next year in terms of direct build, moving from 2,000 homes this year to 3,800 homes next year. In 2015 this number was less than 500 homes. Some Members across the House would like people to believe that simply because I announced this four weeks ago, it means that no new social houses will be built next year over the number that was intended. This is nonsense; it is disingenuous and is from people who should know better. Some Deputies in this House cannot welcome the extra capital that is being provided for social housing in Rebuilding Ireland that was announced yesterday, even though they looked for it. Some Deputies in this House cannot welcome the new focus on direct building in that programme, even though they called for it. I welcome the constructive engagement from Fianna Fáil, whose members rightly say that this has gone beyond party politics and who are focused on practical solutions instead of populism.

The budget for local authorities will increase by more than 100% next year to enable them to meet their targets. When we add in Part V homes, vacancy conversions, acquisitions and long-term leases 7,900 new homes with all the security and affordability that social housing brings will be created. Will this alone solve our waiting list problem or meet all of the needs of our people? No it will not. That is why those building figures will increase again the next year and the year after that and the year after that. We will get to 10,000 new social housing homes being added into the housing stock. We cannot do it next year but we may be able to get there by 2020. This is something when one looks back to what was being delivered as recently as 2015. The work and investment that the Government is putting into social housing is working and the last two years are proof of that.

With the new capital investment thanks to a growing economy, we can now do more. That economy is growing in spite of every vote taken against that recovery. These were votes taken by those in opposition who now criticise us forcefully for not doing more. They voted against recovery and against job creation and now they may vote against building new houses. Until we have those houses built, we will continue to support people into rented accommodation through the housing assistance payment, HAP, system. This budget effectively doubles to over €300 million and will support 17,000 new tenancies next year. I thank the Independent Alliance Members for their contributions to that programme.

Taken together with our build, leasing and acquisition targets, every working day of the week next year 98 new households will be supported through social housing supports. This is an increase from 80 every working day of the week this year. This would not be possible were it not for the priority the Government places on housing our citizens who need our help the most. It is homes that our homeless people and families need; one home for one family. Until we have those homes built, we will increase our expenditure to €116 million next year for homeless supports and we will continue to roll out our hub programme. We will move more and more families out of hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation into more suitable and ultimately more secure and sustainable accommodation. Thankfully the number of those who are homeless is comparatively low in Ireland when one looks at some of our peers. This is a good thing. It is also good that our people demand more of us and that they do not accept even that comparison. People want us to invest more and we are investing more.

Just as significantly as this increased investment and these new builds for next year, budget 2018 removes the remaining significant obstacles to building more homes, more quickly and at more affordable prices: by investing more in direct house building by the State as I outlined; by removing the capital gains tax incentive to hold on to residential land; by escalating penalties for land hoarding; by introducing new affordability measures; and by providing a new, more affordable finance vehicle for builders up and down the country.

As we build more homes, we must ensure that a new supply is delivered at more affordable prices. We know that progress is being made when it comes to building more homes, but a generation of people are being locked out of the housing market. Some affordability measures are already under way and are working well, such as the An Bord Pleanála fast-track planning process, which removes time from the process of house building and therefore removes cost. Another measure was the rent cap introduced at the beginning of this year, which thus far has shown a capping of inflation below 4%, which is a big decrease when compared with the increase of more than 8% last year. New areas will enter the rent pressure zones each quarter where necessary.

Earlier this week I gave the go-ahead for 18 of the 34 contracts to be completed under the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF. This fund will open up landbanks to support 20,000 new homes. On 70% of the sites involved, there will be homes coming in at prices below €320,000. Other sites will have specific affordability carve-outs at lower amounts. Last week I announced a move to new planning guidelines to allow for more affordable apartment development for city centres, an example of which is the removal of the car parking space requirement, which is a significant cost to development.

We can, however, do more and we must do more. A new entity announced yesterday by the Minister for Finance, home building finance Ireland, HBFI, will provide finance at commercially competitive rates to developers with sites ready to go but who are experiencing difficulty in obtaining funding. A second LIHAF infrastructure fund of €50 million will unlock even more sites, more quickly and at affordable prices. As members are aware, LIHAF 1 was well over-subscribed, so we can expect a second LIHAF call to be answered very quickly.

A new fund of €25 million will be provided over 2018 and 2019 to unlock local authority-owned land specifically to deliver affordable housing on those sites using models such as co-operative housing that have already proven to be successful but are now needed on a much greater scale. My Department is currently drawing up the criteria for access to this scheme, to be announced in the coming weeks, along with further affordability measures. The combination of the capital gains change and the more than doubling of the vacant site levy to 7% will tackle the problem of land hoarding and will release more land for building. More supply means more homes and that means more affordability. Any new home built, whether private or social, takes pressure off other parts of the system. The vacant sites levy increase of 7% from 1 January 2019 is a significant escalation and it will help to unlock new land.

With regard to vacant housing, vacancy teams in the local authorities are working to identify vacancy hotspots, with the cities due to report in a couple of weeks, and the rest of the rest of the local authorities by December. It is worth noting that as we have drilled down into the numbers of vacant housing, the true level of vacant homes in high demand areas looks to be far lower than previously thought. Nevertheless, the budget announcement regarding tax deductibility for pre-letting expenditure incurred in bringing vacant housing back into use for rental purposes is welcome. We also are considering other measures to address vacancy, including some important changes to the repair and lease scheme. These will be announced shortly under a vacant homes package.

Budgeting is about choices. Government is about taking responsibility and making decisions. In budget 2018, we have made the right choices and we have taken decisions when it comes to increasing our State building programme, supporting homeless people and ensuring that more homes can be built, more quickly and at more affordable prices. Additional money has been made available for regeneration, disability services, the elderly, Traveller-specific accommodation, pyrite remediation and climate mitigation. My departmental colleagues, the Ministers of State, Deputies English and Phelan, will elaborate on some of these other funding priorities across my Department’s broad policy remit. We are making progress when it comes to house building. We are making progress, albeit very slowly, in helping people and families who are homeless into more suitable, sustainable and secure accommodation. That progress should be welcomed. The budget should allow us to make greater progress next year in meeting these essential needs of our population.

I want to put into context the issues of the actual tax take. People are talking about the tax reductions in respect of the universal social charge, USC, and the widening of the tax band. The tax band will widen by €750 to €34,550. This is still below the average industrial wage and I have spoken on this issue for years. Ireland is an unusual jurisdiction in that people pay a higher rate of tax before they get to the average industrial wage. With this measure, the budget signals that we intend to move in the direction of trying to ensure those people do not pay the higher rate of tax on the average industrial wage. If one combines the USC reductions of the 2.5% rate down to 2% and the 5% rate down to 4.75%, together with the widening of the tax band, it is €300 million less in terms of income tax take. I believe that the tax take in 2011 was less than €11 billion.

That was at the bottom of the recession. The projected tax take for 2018 is €20.5 billion. That is the real restructuring in taxes between the recession and the boom. Income tax take is doubling, which is huge. That is why we are very clear that it is appropriate and correct that income taxpayers get a little bit back, namely €300 million. That is something that should be done. My time is up but I will try and get back in again if I can.

I welcome the education measures the Government has introduced, as far as they go. Putting the voting strength of our Deputies to good use in influencing the budget, Fianna Fáil has emphasised a number of key issues in education. First and foremost is the issue of class sizes and the pupil-teacher ratio. Many of the youngest children in our primary schools are being taught in super-sized classes of 30 to 40 children, in particular in constituencies around Dublin and new urban areas in Wicklow, where the Acting Chairman is from, and my constituency of Meath East. Fianna Fáil believes that class sizes must be reduced significantly over the term of the Government and wants to see the pupil-teacher ratio reduced to 23:1. As a first step, the Government has reduced the pupil-teacher ratio to 26:1 which, in fairness, is the lowest it has ever been. As the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, has acknowledged publicly, this was a condition of the confidence and supply agreement on foot of which it became a part of the programme for Government. Bizarrely enough, however, we had to fight for it in the negotiations over the last few weeks. In any event, it has been done and it will be implemented from September next year.

Over the term of this Government, if it lasts, the ambition should be progressively to implement one-point reductions in class sizes, year-on-year. We hope reductions are prioritised for the youngest children under nine years of age as this is where the lowest ratios are shown to have the greatest impact. That is what we want to see from this policy. The cost is relatively modest, requiring only approximately 305 teachers. Over a full year, the cost is approximately €15 million to €18 million. In the overall context of the budget, the figure for the period from next September to the end of 2018 is negligible but its impact will be significant. I am delighted that Fianna Fáil has prioritised this. Fianna Fáil has always prioritised education. This year marks the 80th year since Bunreacht na hÉireann was adopted by the people and became law. We will not go back into the history of who was opposed to it at the time but it was put forward by my party, led by Éamon de Valera. Primary education was really the only socio-economic right guaranteed in the Constitution, which shows the importance Fianna Fáil and Éamon de Valera ascribed to it at the time. Free second level education was introduced 50 years ago this year, again by a Fianna Fáil Minister, Donogh O'Malley. It is a theme throughout the history of our party and one we are keen to continue, in particular in the confidence and supply arrangement we have with the Government.

Average class sizes in Ireland are approximately 25, although many are much bigger. The truth is that there are many small schools, which brings the average down. The European average is 21. Approximately 130,000 primary school pupils are in super-sized classes of over 30 pupils. Almost 10,000 pupils at national school level are in classes of more than 35 pupils, which is not acceptable. The measure in this budget will go some way towards addressing that. My one concern, which is also one that teachers are raising with me, involves teacher supply. Where do we get the teachers to teach? There are a lot of teachers in training but there are also many who are going abroad to work for better pay and conditions in countries where they do not have to worry about their colleagues in the staff room being paid more. There is a severe shortage of teachers at primary and secondary level in this country. This is a matter I have raised a number of times with the Minister during Question Time over the last six months. He will have to take a much more serious and direct approach to this issue. As we seek to recruit more teachers, we will have to ensure that they are there to be employed. The Minister may have to take radical measures, one of which I suggest is to ensure that all teachers are paid along the same pay scales. There is no doubt that pay inequality is leading to some teachers moving abroad.

Fianna Fáil has also prioritised the restoration of guidance counselling in the confidence and supply agreement. Guidance counselling was abolished by the Labour Party Minister, Ruairí Quinn, in 2012. It was one of the most bizarre acts of the last Government and it came at a time when people really needed guidance. The economy was on the floor and students needed hope. Mental health issues were beginning to be identified and looked after, but guidance counselling was removed. It was a terrible decision. However, the truth is that guidance counselling has always been seen as the poor relation by officialdom. It is important that Fianna Fáil, the party which introduced guidance counsellors under Patrick Hillery and, indeed, Donogh O'Malley, is addressing this issue. Guidance counsellors were abolished by Fine Gael in the 1980s and abolished again in terms of their ex quota status by the Labour Party in 2012. We have ensured that they were brought back and recognised as absolutely necessary in our education system, in particular at secondary level. Our demand under the confidence and supply agreement, on foot of which we have agreed to facilitate the budget and tax changes that were implemented last night, was that 400 guidance counsellors would be restored.

The cost of restoring guidance counsellors is approximately €30 million. I am glad the Minister has said these guidance counsellors will be ex quota. It was a particularly difficult battle to fight as officialdom and the Minister taking its advice did not want to have guidance counsellors ex quota. Where guidance counsellors are not ex quota, they can be used for any job in the school which they are otherwise qualified to do. If a guidance counsellor is also qualified as a history teacher, he or she can be sent to teach history rather than to give our students the guidance that they desperately need. I am glad to see that "ex quota" is mentioned and I look forward to the circular that will issue on foot of the budget announcement. The Education Act 1998 imposes a legal obligation on schools to provide appropriate guidance and it is up to us in the Oireachtas to ensure they have the money to meet it. Fianna Fáil is glad to have played a key role in bringing guidance counselling back as a necessary function of our secondary level schools. The Minister for Education and Skills could clarify this, but I believe that when these posts are made ex quota, it has a marginal effect on the pupil-teacher ratio, resulting in more teachers coming into second level on top of the extra teachers posted in the budget numbers to address demographic need.

I am also glad to see there has been further progress in relation to postgraduate grants, which were the subject of another absolutely bizarre decision by the Labour Party in government during the last Dáil, supported, of course, by Fine Gael. The abolition of grants for postgraduate students denied the poorest and most vulnerable people in society the opportunity to achieve their full potential in the education system. Fianna Fáil has always been about allowing everybody to achieve his or her full educational potential. Everyone who works and studies hard can rise to the top and it is up to the State to provide an education system which facilitates that. As part of the confidence and supply agreement, we insisted on the restoration of postgraduate grants last year for the lowest income deciles, although it is fair to say that Fine Gael resisted us in the negotiations. There is further funding for postgraduate grants in this year's budget which means more people will be able to avail of them from next year. It is a very welcome development. I know for a fact that some masters degree courses, in particular in the science area on which a lot of employers depend for fully-trained employees, were finding it difficult to find students. That was wrong and it did not reflect where we wanted to be as a society or an economy.

I have concerns, which I will address in future education debates, about the cost of postgraduate courses which are very expensive here. Recently, we changed from a one-year higher diploma in education to qualify teachers at secondary level to a two-year postgraduate masters in education. It is a worrying trend. I am not sure that the case has been made that a two-year masters is necessary on top of a primary degree, in particular given the costs associated with studying for a masters for two years. It is something the House should examine. Sometimes, the well-intentioned bodies which are involved in making these decisions - I note that the Department has denied all knowledge, saying it is a matter for the educational bodies - do not take into account the cost for students. If someone sees that after completing a primary degree, he or she has to fund a two-year masters degree, he or she might be turned off going into a career in teaching. Even if a student gets a grant, he or she will still have to find money to fund his or her education. If there is no grant, it will be even harder. That is something we are going to have to look at, which is why Fianna Fáil will be calling for a review of this educational requirement for our young people.

We also welcome the provision of further funding for third level. Last year, there was a small increase in third level funding after Fianna Fáil very much put it on the agenda. It was important that we put it on the agenda because no other party had done so in respect of education. Third level was the poor relation. It is not like a local primary school. If it is built, that attracts a great deal of enthusiasm and support for politicians whereas third level is out there somewhere and it does not have the same local and parish pump relevance, which has determined a great deal of public policy over the years. It was important to say as a nation, an economy and a society that third level is crucial and it must be ensured the sector has sufficient funding to provide the education our children and other young people need and to which they are entitled. Fianna Fáil put that on the agenda last year and we forced the Government parties finally to admit there was an issue in respect of funding. They put in less money than we thought was necessary but they have gone a little further for next year. The National Training Fund levy will be increased next year and the subsequent two years by 0.1% per annum. We were the first party to support this. That was a recommendation in the Cassells report. The report is often debated in the context of student loans but it made many other recommendations, one of which is more State funding of third level, regardless of whether a loan scheme is in place. Another recommendation related to this training fund levy. I am glad that it is being put in place. I would like more of the money to be directed specifically at third level but substantially more will go in next year than this year and at least the Government recognises the need for third level funding. We should all agree with that as a society and as a nation. This is a public good which can produce good for our students, society and the economy.

I have concerns about other education issues which will be raised over the next year. One relates to the capitation grant and the cost of running schools. No move whatsoever was made in respect of the money granted to schools by the Government to run their own affairs. I was contacted by one principal in my constituency earlier who said that he intends to introduce the so-called voluntary contribution for the first time ever in his school. He will ask his board of management to do that because he simply cannot run the school on the budget he has been given. The Government must give more of a signal about this issue. A majority of the people who get up early in the morning are parents. They bring their kids to school before rushing off in rush-hour traffic to work and now they are expected to fund their schools because the Government will not fund them. We have concerns about this and progress will have to be made.

We welcome the provision of 1,091 new special needs assistants, SNAs, but no one knows whether the number that will be provided will be sufficient or too much or what the exact requirement will be. No forecasting model has been published in this regard. The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, has been asked to do this but it has not done so yet. We, therefore, do not know whether this figure is just off the top of the Minister's head based on what happened previously. We do not know whether it is too much or too little. I warn the Government about what happened last summer in respect of the allocation of SNAs. The increased provision announced in last year's budget was only allocated to individual schools and children during the summer while the schools were closed. That will not be acceptable next year and that has to change. This was completely wrong because it put stress on families and children. The NCSE and Department were still tying up loose ends regarding the allocations to children at the end of the summer and at the start of the school year, and that caused enormous stress for SNAs who did not know whether they would be in a job or what the position would be.

Fianna Fáil tabled a motion regarding the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, during the year. Ten new psychologists will be recruited under the budget provision. I did not read the Action Plan on Education today but my recollection is that number is significantly below the target the Government set in the plan. More action is needed in this regard. NEPS undertakes psychological assessments of students who need help and the organisation needs more focus and attention. If children can be assessed and diagnosed early, their lives will be much easier and better and there can be more focus on them rather than having them wait for assessments or paying for a private assessment.

The Government parties will provide €5.5 million for "a range of new policy measures, including the forthcoming languages strategy". If the publication by Fianna Fáil of its own strategy has pushed the Government to provide this little drop in the ocean, I am glad. This was not part of the confidence and supply talks but Fianna Fáil sent a signal that the press release issued by the Government during the teachers' conferences about the modern languages strategy was not enough. We wanted a strategy but none was forthcoming from the Government and, therefore, we published our own. The budget announcement is at least a signal that the Government will start to take this issue seriously because we are falling behind in respect of modern languages.

The Government is focusing on well-being saying it is a key priority but the well-being curriculum is a little up in the air. The guidance counsellor is very much part of student well-being and student advice and we have concerns about the well-being programme because it is pushing out academic subjects in some schools. We are not sure the focus is where it should be. Well-being can be a mix of things. It is not necessarily always about the individual child and its well-being. Other subjects can be shoved into the well-being curriculum and the Government parties can say, "We are doing all this for well-being. Are we not great?" I have serious concerns about and we will examine this further as we hold the Government to account.

Significant money is being allocated to junior cycle reform. Many teachers and staff are being paid to advise people on the new reforms and it is costly. A sum of €13 million in new and reallocated funding will be provided next year to continue the implementation of junior cycle reform. I wonder whether anybody has conducted a cost benefit analysis. That is a significant amount in the context of the education budget and we might need to examine this. If there is a constant reform agenda and people are constantly saying we must change, there will be attendant costs related to training and they must be examined in the context of value for money.

The capital programme has been extremely slow. A list of schools building projects was announced prior to the last general election which were to be included in the six-year capital plan. It was an election stunt as the vast majority of them have not been built or even gone to tender. In my constituency, schools in Whitecross, Julianstown, Dunboyne and Lismullen are seeking accommodation and they have been put on a long list, despite inclusion in the capital plan. We will have to examine critically why this announcement was made two years ago by the then Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and the progress the Department has made. How is it getting to grips with land costs, which through no fault of its own, are eating significantly into its budget?

The contribution of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government was okay but it was relatively brief given it is the most important subject. He was in and out of the Chamber in seven or eight minutes. That is unfortunate as housing should be at the centre of everybody's agenda. I talk about education because I am an education spokesperson but housing is at the centre of my agenda, as it is for every other Member. While many will criticise the Government parties for not making new announcements yesterday, Fianna Fáil would be satisfied if they implemented what they announced previously. We have been vocal in saying we do not want more announcements, press conferences and new initiatives and in asking the Government to build houses. Everybody would be happy if houses were built and we did not have more announcements, reviews etc. Let us build these houses and make sure they are made available. One significant omission in the housing element of the Budget Statement related to affordability. A young couple looking to buy a house may be earning too much to rent a local authority house but not enough to secure a mortgage and, increasingly, not enough to pay a normal market rent. There was nothing in the budget for them. As part of the capital programme review that will be announced shortly, Fianna Fáil will demand that the Government does something about affordable housing and affordability. We put forward a suggestion regarding VAT.

That is not to give anybody any support but to bring the price of houses down under a certain threshold. We were roundly condemned by all sides of the House.

That is because it was a stupid idea.

If the Deputy thinks it is a bad idea, he should give us another idea rather than sitting there laughing as if he knows everything, because we will work with whatever good ideas there are to try to get people into homes. Look at what was happening last night in the North. What Sinn Féin is doing is an absolute disgrace and all its Members of this House do is laugh at people when they put forward reasonable and proper solutions to the housing crisis.

The Government rejected our idea even though it said it was studying the VAT reduction. However, if the Government is rejecting that it should come forward with its own proposals on affordability for people who are in the gap where they cannot afford to buy and are too rich to be in a council house. Let us help those people. Let us get our people housed and educated. We can do this together by working across the House. There are different ways of doing this. It is not just the Government and the Opposition anymore; it is everybody giving their input. Sláintecare was the example and we can do something similar on a range of other issues while still holding our viewpoints and differences.

It is clear from yesterday that we have finally seen the shape of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and his approach to housing. He was appointed three months ago and at that stage he and the incoming Taoiseach announced a review of the Government's housing strategy. It was clear from listening to the terms of that review that the Government was not satisfied with the targets and delivery of the Minister, Deputy Coveney's plan to date. Since then, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has either directly announced, or his Department has leaked to the newspapers, 62 separate proposals over two and a half months, all indicating possible or proposed changes to the Government's housing action plan. However, when one looks at the detail of what was announced yesterday, both in the Budget Statement and at the Minister's press conference, one sees that virtually nothing has changed from the plan that has been in place for over a year.

Let us consider some of the measures. The first is social housing. In October last year, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, announced the targets for 2018. According to his press release, the social housing target for 2018 was just under 5,900 units built and bought by local authorities and approved housing bodies. Yesterday, the announcement was 5,900 social housing units built and bought by local authorities and approved housing bodies. There is, therefore, no increase in what was announced yesterday, despite the fact that the Taoiseach and the Minister had given a clear indication a number of times in the House that they would go beyond the Minister, Deputy Coveney's target. The Minister also announced 3,000 additional social housing units above the Minister, Deputy Coveney targets. However, they are not to be delivered next year but in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

While those numbers are welcome, they are nowhere close to the cross-party Committee on Housing and Homelessness recommendation last year of 10,000 social housing units to be delivered every year over the course of the plan. That is 40% above what the Minister is currently proposing. The bottom line on social housing is not that the Government is not meeting its targets - it is meeting them without a problem - but that the targets are nowhere close to enough. The reason is that the Government is not investing a sufficient amount of capital in social housing. Sinn Féin's alternative budget proposed, within the fiscal space, an additional €700 million to provide an extra 4,000 houses in addition to the Government's commitments. That would have met the Committee on Housing and Homelessness target of 10,000. Until the Government starts to do that, and that will probably not happen until 2022 at least, it will not begin to get a grip on the housing crisis.

The same point can be made about vacant housing. One of the frustrating issues for members of the housing committee is the fact that it is quicker and cheaper to bring vacant housing stock back into use than to build new properties. There is a significant number of such properties. The census states that it is 189,000 while the GeoDirectory claims it is 90,000. Whatever the figure, if the Government was serious about this issue it could bring thousands of such units into use for social and affordable housing. We still have no vacant home strategy despite the fact that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, had finished it before he moved to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The much-discussed vacant homes tax that the Taoiseach said he would get the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to examine was nowhere to be seen yesterday. There is no increase in the budget for either of the funding streams for local authorities to bring vacant homes back into use. In fact, the language of the Minister is becoming increasingly pessimistic by suggesting that perhaps there are no units to be acquired. Sinn Féin's view is that whatever the total number of vacant units that exist the Government should proactively target 20% of them through increased funding and more of a carrot and stick approach, led by local authorities.

There is one issue in housing on which I agree with Deputy Thomas Byrne, although most of what he said about housing did not make any sense. The big absence in this budget is something for affordable renters or purchasers. It is important to clarify who we are referring to here. Affordable housing targets households whose gross income is less than €75,000 per year. That means the houses for purchase are priced somewhere between €170,000 and €260,000. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, refers to affordability at €320,000. My household would need an income of €91,000. Thankfully, a Deputy might be able to afford that, but ordinary working families cannot. Will any of the schemes announced or re-announced yesterday, such as the infrastructure fund, the new home building fund and the land initiatives, deliver houses for purchase at €260,000 or less? As far as I can see, the answer is "No". Sinn Féin outlined clear alternatives, such as giving local authorities an additional €400 million to deliver, in conjunction with the approved housing body sector, a stream of 2,000 affordable rental units and 2,500 affordable purchase units with a maximum price of €225,000. Unfortunately, the Minister ignored our advice.

As regards homelessness, there are no additional Housing First targets to get long-term homeless people, particularly single people, out of emergency accommodation. That is a real weakness. In addition, there was no funding allocated to the new quality standards office and its inspection regime, an important proposal from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive to set up an office across the State to roll out quality standards and inspections of emergency accommodation. There appears to be no funding for it which means, unfortunately, it may not happen. If it does, and I hope the Minister will clarify that in the coming days, it must ensure that all emergency accommodation is inspected, not just the accommodation directly funded by the HSE or the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, and that the inspections are fully independent and not carried out by local authorities or the Department.

Traveller accommodation is one of the greatest scandals of our housing system. A paltry extra €3 million is allocated for next year, despite the fact that an extra €40 million at least is required according to Sinn Féin's alternative budget. Local authorities are still not spending the money they are getting because the Minister is not putting adequate pressure on them. Last June, only 10% of the funding for this year had been drawn down. Even if there is a small increase next year there is no guarantee that it will be spent.

In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London, we all became more acutely aware of potential fire risks, particularly in multiple unit developments. It is surprising that there is nothing in the budget for enhancing fire safety in new builds, particularly to provide for mandatory inspections in all newly built, multiple occupancy dwellings in the future. Again, Sinn Féin made a reasonable proposal in this regard in its alternative budget, to spend approximately €800,000 on giving local authorities the staff to ensure that every development, apartment complex and multi-unit development would have a mandatory fire safety inspection by a local authority before getting its fire safety certificate.

There is no additional funding for domestic violence emergency accommodation or step-down facilities, despite this area being chronically underfunded. There is no recognition of the need to provide adequate figures, be they from Tusla or the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, on the levels of adult and child homelessness directly resulting from domestic violence.

Yesterday's budget is deeply disappointing with regard to housing. There are no increased targets for social housing delivery and there is no significant attempt to tackle the affordability crisis. In fact, the over-reliance on the private sector, which was the hallmark of the Minister, Deputy Coveney's plan, is repeated. Of the 25,000 social housing tenancies alleged to be delivered next year, 77% of them are in the private rental sector subsidised by the taxpayer. That is bad for the tenant and bad for the Exchequer. I thought the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, would bring something new to the job. I thought he would be the Minister who redirected housing policy towards a significant expansion of public social and affordable housing. On the basis of the evidence we have from yesterday and today, that does not appear to be the case.

I will not comment on the contribution of my colleague on the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Pat Casey, because he and I agree on many issues. However, I propose to comment on the remarks made by his party colleague, Deputy Thomas Byrne, who has left the Chamber. The idea that reducing VAT on private dwellings is a good policy beggars belief. It was one of the many failed policies that drove the boom and bust in the housing market in the period leading up to 2008. Crucially, there is no way of ensuring such a reduction would be passed on to the purchaser of the house by means of a reduced price. It can be pocketed by the developer without delivering any benefit. Even on the basis of Deputy Cowen's proposal, the reduction would not reduce the price of houses below €320,000 or €310,000, which is not an affordable price for those who need homes.

Contrary to Deputy Thomas Byrne's remarks, Sinn Féin has made clear proposals - they are in our alternative budget - to directly fund local authorities to provide a stream of affordable rental properties for those not on social housing waiting lists and to allow local authorities to work in conjunction with the approved housing bodies to produce, on a large scale, the types of good quality, affordable homes being built by the Ó Cualann housing association in Ballymun and sold for between €170,000 and €225,000. This is what Fianna Fáil should have been getting Fine Gael to do in the budget. It clearly failed to do so, however, and there is no point standing half in opposition and half in government criticising a budget for failures when one intends to vote for it when we come to decide on the financial resolution.

The central criticism Sinn Féin has made of the Minister's policies in recent years has been the failure to invest. The budget does not provide any money in addition to funding announced in June or July last. We proposed €1.1 billion in addition to the funding announced by the Minister yesterday. This funding will only get us to the place where we are beginning to meet real housing need. If we do not provide this level of investment, we will not achieve the required output of social and affordable housing and the housing crisis will continue to worsen. For this reason, I and my colleagues in Sinn Féin will not vote for this aspect of the budget.

Last week, thousands of third level students were on the streets outside the Dáil demanding increased investment in education and rejecting a student loans system. While the Government speaks of helping families in need, it has no problem with the ever-increasing cost of third level education becoming a crippling burden on thousands of students and their parents. Astronomical accommodation costs, a shortage of student lodgings and suitable part-time work are all factors making third level inaccessible for many. Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grant thresholds need to be adjusted to allow middle income earners to access the grant scheme.

An investment of €310 million has been made available for the period until 2021 to address the infrastructure needs of the higher education sector. In addition, an increase in the national training fund levy will generate €47.5 million of additional investment next year. While these are welcome announcements, there has been no meaningful investment in improving access to education by increasing SUSI grant thresholds or improving on-campus mental health services. There was no announcement of a new funding model for third level education or a decrease in fees. Are we not concerned about this generation being saddled with debt in later years? Do the generations struggling through our education system not matter?

Given the sustained economic growth in the past two years, it is unacceptable that the pupil-teacher ratio at second level remains higher than it was ten years ago. Expenditure on second level education as a percentage of GDP is below the OECD average. Last month, the OECD report, Education at a Glance, stated that spending on education in Ireland needs to increase. Second level schools understandably expected to receive an increase in funding in the budget. While the increase in guidance counselling posts is welcome, these new posts will only be a step towards restoring guidance counselling provision to the level reached before it was cut in 2012.

I will make one point on the housing assistant payment, HAP, scheme, which is often overlooked by the Government. A large number of landlords refuse to accept the payment. This issue arises consistently in counties Carlow and Kilkenny. Approximately 95 families in County Kilkenny are on notice to quit their homes and have nowhere to go. It will be impossible for them to find a home, even if they secure an increase in the housing assistance payment, because landlords will not accept the HAP. The Government must address this issue.

Accessing rental properties for which HAP is accepted remains a key barrier for families. Earlier this month, the Government's Special Rapporteur on Child Protection stated that emergency accommodation denied children several rights, including to health and education, and compromised their ability to develop.

On child care and the early years sector, it is exasperating that the budget makes no reference to child care workers or their conditions and poor pay, particularly as the Dáil unanimously passed a motion I introduced last July calling for the recognition of the sector and setting out the urgent changes required. The House agreed that "national and international evidence suggests that high quality early childhood education and care is beneficial for young children at the foundation stage of their development and that the provision of high quality early education and care is dependent on quality interactions between early years staff and the children they engage with, therefore, the immediate improvement of working conditions and salaries of those working in the sector is essential for quality improvement".

International research and evidence have established the intrinsic link between the working conditions of those responsible for children and the quality of care and outcomes. The reason Sinn Féin, in our alternative budget, proposed five times more investment in child care than the Government is that such an increase is needed to begin creating a high quality child care and early years sector that has, as its priority, the development of the child and all those who carry out the essential work in caring for and educating children. If the Taoiseach and his Government are genuine about their commitment to creating a republic of opportunity for all children and students from all sections of society on an equal basis, they must re-examine the logic of the budget measures before us.

The consensus among those engaged in political debate on the budget is that it has been unimaginative and is going nowhere. It is a steady-as-she-goes kind of budget which gives a little to everybody but will not make a difference to anyone. Those are the main criticisms that most people are making of the budget.

I have been looking extensively at agriculture in the past couple of days. Most of the farming organisations and all the political parties wanted funding for the areas of natural constraint scheme restored to its pre-2008 level. While I acknowledge that €25 million was allocated for this purpose in the budget, I look forward to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, informing the House how exactly this sum will be spent. I understand the Minister will speak later and I hope he will enlighten us on this issue.

We hope the areas of greatest constraint will receive most money and the designation in respect of mountain type land will be maintained. The budget was more than disappointing in regard to agriculture. We hoped some provision would be made for the suckler cow element of the beef data genomics scheme. The suckler cow payment was abolished many years ago and replaced with the beef data genomics scheme, which does not provide anything for producers of weanling calves, particularly in the west. This is the poorest part of the beef sector.

The sheep welfare scheme was introduced last year with a €25 million budget. This year, the budget for the scheme has been reduced to €20 million. While I acknowledge the underspend of €5 million in the scheme last year, most of the farm organisations wanted this money recouped and redistributed among sheep farmers. Not only has this not been done, but funding for the scheme in 2018 has been reduced. Sinn Féin's alternative budget proposes a €5 per ewe increase in payments under the sheep welfare scheme. Unfortunately, the Government did not take this option.

Much has been said about what the Government is doing to provide loans, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises and the agrifood sector. We hear that a pot of €300 million will be available for loans, with a €25 million loan fund to be provided specifically for agriculture. We are informed the main advantage of the fund will be that loans will be available at low interest rates. People must apply to the main banks for a loan. These banks are owned by the State which bailed them out nearly ten years ago. They are operating in the fastest growing economy in Europe, yet the Government has been forced to intervene and provide money to enable a growth sector of the economy to leverage loans from them. The issue is that the failure of banking policy in the past ten years has brought us to a position where adequate credit is not available to any sector of the economy and certainly not at a reasonable interest rate.

Interest rates across the entire Irish economy are almost double what they are in every other European economy. We must acknowledge this and the Government needs to examine it closely. Vulture funds are also buying up many of the loans in question and selling people short. This situation must be addressed.

All of this, including how these loans have been proposed as a solution, points to the problem that the Government does not have a long-term strategy for the agriculture sector. Food Harvest 2020 is concerned with the Government going around the world and finding new markets for our products and getting more Irish beef, lamb and dairy into various countries. The problem is that it is all at the low end of the price scale. We need to develop an agricultural economy that focuses on premium prices for the premium products that we produce. The Government does not have a strategy in that regard but there needs to be a plan for the agriculture sector's future.

For everything that is produced in our economy now compared with 30 or 40 years ago, the labour input has grown much smaller, as recognised in the agriculture sector. Forty years ago, a 200-acre farm would have had several people working on it and drawing an income from it. The farm's produce would have gone to meat or dairy processing plants, which employed multiples of the number they employ today. The labour input is much smaller, yet the taxes the Government continues to take from them are mainly focused on the labour aspect. That is a problem not just for Ireland, but for every economy and we must try to deal with it. It is not dealt with in this budget. Instead, labour is still considered the key source of the taxation that is required to provide services for people.

Whether one is to the right or left of centre or in the imaginary centre that does not exist at all, everyone must try to resolve this issue. Society needs quality food and services. To have them, we need a Government that has the resources to provide them, but the Government cannot do so until we invest in them. A budget is a time for people to look to and build for the future but that future can only be realised if there is investment now. This budget fails that key test. It makes no investment in the agriculture sector or any other sector.

I have been in the Dáil for a quarter of a century. Apart from the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I am the longest-serving Deputy to speak this evening. I have not engaged, and never will engage, in feigned outrage for the purpose of garnering publicity or column inches but when I feel strongly about an issue or disagree with a direction at policy level, I will make valid observations and comments informed by Labour Party values, philosophy and ethos. That is important.

It would be churlish of me not to welcome the fact that the budget has made improvements in a number of areas, which I hope will be reflected, however diminutively, in our people's living standards and quality of life over the next 12 months. Some of these improvements are minimal. However, I like the parable of the acorn seed - always value and welcome the first step and hope it leads to something great.

To be honest, I get a sniff of an election from this budget. Balancing the books is a laudable objective but it loses that laudability when it is done for a disguised purpose. The disguise in this instance revolves around the fact that, if we get to next October, the fiscal space will have been elongated and will not need any top-up from an obesity tax, which I suppose I will suffer myself, and rightly so, or other little taxes here and there in an attempt to generate the extra €800 million or so that would be needed to raise the fiscal space to what it was last year, that being, €1.2 billion. Next year, people can get ready for double that. My prediction is that, if we reach that point, there will be an election very shortly afterwards. I do not like this degree of cynicism because I do not subscribe to it. Whatever happens happens, and I welcome anything that helps our people.

From my background, I know that people have experienced significant difficulties, including some among my wider family, with their mortgages and in trying to make ends meet. If a budget makes the way more malleable for them at all, it is a first step. That is all it is, however, and I do not want to say anything further.

I am somewhat concerned that we may not have learned the lessons of the past. I had many debates with the then Minister, Mr. Charlie McCreevy. A reversion to a reliance, no matter how minimal initially, on transactional taxes must constitute a worrying development. This smacks of a reversion to the former Minister's economic philosophy, that being, if one has it, spend it. He introduced the savings scheme, or the one-and-four as I used to call it. It was useful. Unfortunately, though, it matured at a time when it accelerated the explosion rather than putting a damper on it. This philosophy is not dependable, as we now know. The estimate of nearly €400 million from commercial stamp duty indicates that there will soon be an over-reliance on revenues from this source, given that it accounts for almost half of the budgeted revenue in terms of the expansion of the fiscal space by €830 million to a total package of approximately €1.2 billion, which is somewhat similar to last year.

Another aspect was aired last night but, unfortunately, I had to attend a funeral and could not be in the Chamber. It related to farms. Deputy Fitzmaurice tabled an amendment in that regard and I understand that it was supported by approximately 30 Deputies. Had I been present, I would have been supportive of it as well, although that would not have changed the numbers much. This issue will have a significant impact on people who are trying to consolidate a farm. They might be over 40 years of age and not have all of the green certificates and Teagasc certificates. Three years ago, one could not get one of those certificates for love nor money. Thankfully, they can now be acquired online. That modernisation is good. I am not a party to it, but it is good.

Someone has told me that, when a small portion of land comes up for sale down the road, instead of paying €4,000 on €200,000, he or she will pay €12,000. That is a concern and I would be less than honest if I did not reflect it on behalf of a number of farmers although not too many - to be honest, three farmers have contacted me. It is not a bone shaker but something like this becomes crucial when someone has to find the extra bit of money. This is particularly so in light of the need to accelerate intergenerational transfers. Indeed, people might pass on some property to non-relatives. The Government could have stretched a bit and exempted such situations.

For 19 quarters in a row, there has been a steady decrease in unemployment levels and the rate is now 6.1%, which is welcome. The decrease stretches back to a time when we were in government for five years. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle lives in the north west, so he has probably been advocating on the issue I am about to raise. We must ensure that the decline in unemployment is spread equally. In the Border, midland and western region, part of which covers the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's area, it is hard to see all of this on the ground. One can see jobs, but they are low paid and the degree of continuity in them is questionable. The Minister of State, Deputy Breen, is present. He is from a part of Clare that needs a boost as well. I am sure he will work to ensure that the fruits of the decline in unemployment get down to such regions.

There must be clear policies. In County Westmeath, 39% of small retail shops are seeing increases in their rates. I will cite the example of our shop. The rates have increased from €400 to €2,300. The shop provides two and a half jobs. Someone might say that that is not much. It is not great but in a little area like Ballynacargy where there are fewer than 300 people, it is a help.

The new valuation system is wiping out small retail shops. People can pay all of the lip service and do all of the dances on the pin that they like, but let us be honest - rural shops are on their way out.

Let there be no hypocritical stances or calling for marches, because I will not participate in any of them. They are on their way out. People are not supporting them. People need to support their post offices, shops and petrol stations. I am very proud of the fact that if I was driving tonight, I would rather run out of petrol in Kinnegad than go anywhere else to get petrol than in my own home little place of Shanley's. I have done that since I came here. That is what needs support and I appeal to people to support them.

They are not helped by Government policy. One could go around picking up great ideas but they are not worth a sugar if one arm of the State, the valuation group, comes along and imposes 400% increases. They are on their knees. I have said before that in a few years there will not be a shop between Mullingar and Longford. If one is passing through Carrick-on-Shannon, one will not get a shop. There will probably be one in Rathowen; that would be the best place. It is a desperate situation.

The big argument back when we were in government was about trying to protect what we had in terms of social protection and other expenditure areas. There was no room for manoeuvre when cast under the supervisory arms of outside masters. I remember the awful times for our citizens and I know the political price we have paid for playing a constructive governmental role in trying to get the country back on track. I recall my short ten months as a Minister of State and the fight I had to protect essential expenditure on housing such as the disabled persons grant. It was €38 million and I spent weeks trying to protect it. I know people here do not give a damn; all they do is come in and slash it. I got sick soon after that. I am not associating the two. All I will say is that it was pretty tough.

Capital was allocated under the action plan for housing some weeks ago. One of my greatest disappointments when I go out of here is that when I had a chance to be Minister of State, there was no money. There was only money for the regeneration of Ballymun and Limerick. We handed over the provision of social housing to the private sector. It was the biggest mistake ever. I came out of social authority housing, as did everyone belonging to me. We are very proud of that fact. People can condemn the Labour Party but our record in the provision of local authority housing stands the test. A former Minister, Liam Kavanagh, built more than 20,000 houses. Members should also consider the record of former Deputies Liz McManus, Emmet Stagg and Jim Tully. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is probably the only person here who knew and remembers Jim Tully. He would cross anything to make sure local authority houses were built. He gave the money down to local authorities because local authority people were able to negotiate, get landbanks and build.

One of the big concerns I have about local authority housing is that it should be integrated. We cannot have everybody on social welfare going into a local authority estate. We need an integrated mix of people of various earning capacities. That is very important. That is why there has to be a mix and why the local authorities should provide affordable and social housing and other housing, for example, for homeless people. Some 5,000 units were to be built. We had a fully costed budget. The Labour Party proposed that an extra 5,000 public housing units be built on publicly owned lands. We have over 700 sites available so there is no excuse. We should be well able to build them. If there are any local authorities saying they do not have the expertise, it is nonsense. When he was Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly gave enough money for 325 architects and engineers to be employed. That is true. I was on to him about it. There is a role for the private sector in building houses, affordable or otherwise, but there is only one way to provide social housing and that is through the local authority system.

It was a massive error to give over the provision of local authority housing to the private sector. It was a decision Fianna Fáil made in the late 2000s. Another important area that was given over to the private sector is the HAP system. Houses built under the supervision of local authorities were never or rarely the subject of structural problems. They were supervised by engineers, a clerk of works, gangers and other assessors and they were built to the highest standard. It was a win-win situation. We never had pyrite or anything like that when the local authorities were building houses. Everything was done right. I am a passionate advocate of local authorities.

Incentivising and supporting private developers in the market has failed spectacularly. It is a philosophy with which we in the Labour Party fundamentally disagree. It is a cause for concern. We must also focus on the provision of affordable houses. Deputy Martin Kenny referred to that area. We have no affordable housing scheme. There was no reference to a vacant house tax in the budget which Fr. Peter McVerry and Pat Doyle have been strong advocates of and identified as an important issue going forward.

We have a number of small measures such as the change in the vacant site levy which is a step in the right direction. A worrying trend is the level of rent increases which seem to be on an exponential growth trend. They will continue in that way in the absence of adequate supply and the only way to control rents is to cap them. That is what we in the Labour Party advocated. We did not go the full whack. People can say what they like about the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, but he was a strong advocate of capping rents. It is the only way. We can have pressure zones and things like that but there are several ways of getting around it. We should cap them and see how we go. It is time we took the constitutional provisions in one direction. There is a hierarchy of constitutional provisions and we should test them in the interest of the community good.

Health care is an important area and €685 million has been nominally allocated in additional health expenditure. If we drill down through the figures, many of the increases will be for staff costs. No doubt there will be a deficit to be addressed at the end of the year. We will have approximately €270 million available for new measures and new services.

Some €55 million has been allocated to the National Treatment Purchase Fund. This is an increase of €30 million on the 2017 figure, which I welcome, and it is to tackle out of control waiting lists. Many people are waiting to have cataracts removed and young children are awaiting urgent, special orthodontic treatment. Elderly people awaiting elective orthopaedic procedures, such as hip operations, are left languishing on waiting lists not for one year, but for several years. Their condition deteriorates and they are in excruciating pain. For those waiting on hip operations, the hip that is not affected becomes more problematic and painful than the one originally affected. I know that because I had them done. We cannot condone the ongoing situation that pertains to scoliosis patients. These scandals have to stop.

It is difficult to explain to our long-suffering citizens and brothers and sisters that we cannot provide the vital and additional resources to deal with these huge backlogs because we have to balance our books or achieve the medium-term budgetary objectives. If someone told me that, I would be very angry. One of the most demoralising situations as a public representative is to have to convey a reply from the HSE, a hospital or Minister to long-suffering patients that they can whistle for their treatment and must continue to suffer in peace and quiet. Often, the reply states at the bottom that if the person's condition deteriorates, their GP can relate that to the relevant consultant. It is a load of codswallop and only heaps despondency upon despair.

I welcome the reduction in the threshold for the drugs payment scheme of €10 and I hope it will be reduced to €100 in the next budget. A number of constituents have complained very bitterly to me lately about the costs of the scheme.

I welcome the reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio in the primary sector and the additional allocation of resources to cater for special educational needs. These young people must be given an opportunity to reach their full potential. We must continue to invest additional resources in the area.

The taxation measures will be introduced from January, yet the social welfare payment increases are deferred until the end of March, which is a 12-week delay. The tax measures for the low paid will hardly improve their living standards. Workers earning about €25,000 a year will benefit by just €1 a week, which will not get them a bar of Fry's chocolate cream. Those on €70,000 will gain €6 a week. It is interesting to note that higher earners will gain more. The social welfare increases will not come into play until the end of March 2018, which is a deferral of 12 weeks. That means the actual weekly value of the increase in 2018 will be €3.85. That is significant. The Christmas bonus was done away with by Fianna Fáil. We reintroduced it and worked hard for it. It was one of the areas in which we worked very hard. We got it back up. In terms of trying to get it back up to 100%, the Government should try to bring it to 90%. I understand the Government cannot do everything in one swoop but I appeal for the Christmas bonus to be brought back in full because it is very important.

Children and child care is an important area. There is no increase in the universal subsidy for child care. There is no move to introduce professional salaries for child care workers, not even the living wage. There is nothing in child benefit.

An extra €20 million has been allocated to extend the ECCE programme from 61 weeks to 76 weeks, which is a full two-year service. There is a 7% increase in ECCE capitation on full-year costs universally. There is no requirement on child care providers for this to go to support staff, increase salaries or support upskilling. There are no measures to cap the costs for parents despite €2.7 million being allocated to the ABC programme to fully fund that. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, needs to work harder on certain child care areas. I strongly support her in this regard. I am not here to criticise. She made a good start last year, but there is a disappointing falling back this year.

I am glad the Government has adopted the Labour Party's Brexit trade adjustment fund proposal with a Brexit loan scheme of €300 million. Deputy Martin Kenny spoke about the Border areas where there is crossover. Many of those people have appeared before the relevant Oireachtas committee.

I think Deputy Martin Kenny may have also mentioned that the designated areas have been treated badly for the past seven years and it is time to fix this. None of the rural development schemes ever provided adequate compensation for the income lost associated with the designation of lands - the NPWS scheme that was introduced and disappeared into thin air. Farmers with hen harrier designation have seen their lands totally devalued because of the blanket ban on afforestation, drainage requirements, control of rushes and all those other things. Many of them have been locked out of the NPWS scheme for years and also have been at risk of land-eligibility penalties. They have been left high and dry in that regard. A special NPWS scheme will need to be introduced for these designated lands.

I welcome the budget as a first step. I know where it is leading to and there will be a rare old battle trying to claim the kudos and the credits this time next year. I am long enough in the tooth to know that is politics. Our job in opposition is not to be carping all the time. If we see something positive, we welcome it. I know Fianna Fáil had an input into the budget and I am sure there are areas I welcome. Deputy Thomas Byrne almost claimed the budget as his, but that is going too far. A more restrained person, such as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, would be far more effective; he would know when to stop. He would always know when he is in front.

An bhfuil mé ag roinnt ama le mo chomhghleacaí? An bhfuil sé sin socraithe?

Is ceist í sin do na Teachtaí iad féin.

Roinnfimid deich bomaite agus deich bomaite. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Tá an-áthas orm deis a bheith agam cur síos a dhéanamh ar an maoiniú breise atá curtha ar fáil do mo Roinn i gcáinaisnéis 2018 a fógraíodh inné. Tuigim go rímhaith an dualgas atá orm úsáid na Gaeilge ar fud na tíre a mhéadú. Tugann an maoiniú bhreise de €2.5 milliún aitheantas don obair chrua atá déanta ar fud na tíre idir thograí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta. Tugann sé go dtí beagnach €62 milliún an méid airgid a bheidh á infheistiú ag an Rialtas sa teanga in 2018. Is léir ón infheistíocht atá déanta i mblìana, agus le blianta beaga anuas, go bhfuil an Rialtas seo dírithe ar theacht leis an tiomantas dár gcultúr atá le feiceáil i go leor de na heagraíochtaí díograiseacha atá ar fud an Stáit, laistigh agus lasmuigh den Ghaeltacht.

Cuireann sé áthas faoi leith orm go bhfuil €1.4 milliún breise cinntithe agam don Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge 2010-2030 chun tacú leis an phróiseas pleanála teanga. Tá treisiú an phróisis pleanála teanga cinntithe agam in 2018 leis an méadú suntasach ar mhaoiniú atá fógartha. Go dtí seo, tá an próiseas tosaithe in 23 de na 26 limistéar pleanála teanga agus, an mhí seo a chuaigh thart, d’fhógair mé go bhfuil an chéad trí phlean teanga Gaeltachta ceadaithe. Tá na pleananna sin anois á mbogadh ar aghaidh go dtí an chéim is tábhachtaí den phróiseas pleanála teanga, is é sin cur i bhfeidhm na bpleananna teanga. Cuideoidh an maoiniú seo anois le pobail na Gaeltachta tosú ar fheidhmiú a gcuid pleananna agus tionchar níos mó ná riamh a imirt dá réir ar staid reatha na Gaeilge le cuidiú leanúnach mo Roinn, Údarás na Gaeltachta agus páirtithe leasmhara eile. Ar ndóigh, cuideoidh an méadú ar mhaoiniú atá fógartha sa cháinaisnéis do chláir agus do bhearta eile Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta le tacaíocht a thabhairt don phróiseas pleanála teanga trí chéile.

Tá áthas orm go bhfuil sa bhreis ar €300,000 i maoiniú caipitil curtha ar fáil d’Údarás na Gaeltachta do 2018. Fágann sé sin gurb é €7 milliún an bunlíne nua caipitil i mbuiséad 2018 d’Údarás na Gaeltachta. Ní miste dom a lua freisin go bhfuil allúntas breise ar fiú €1.5 milliún in airgead caipitil curtha ar fáil agam don údarás i mbliana, chomh maith le €2.4 milliún anuraidh. Fágann sé sin go bhfuil €3.9 milliún sa bhreis ar an mbunlíne curtha ar fáil don Údarás thar dhá bhliain anuas - idir 2016 agus 2017. Táim sásta go dtabharfaidh an t-allúntas breise seo deis don údarás roinnt tograí caipitil tábhachtacha a bhrú chun cinn in 2018 agus tuilleadh fostaíocht a chruthú sa Ghaeltacht dá bharr.

Maidir leis na comharchumainn Gaeltachta, tá áthas orm go bhfuil maoiniú breise de €100,000 curtha ar fáil don údarás le cur i dtreo forbairt teanga, cultúir agus pobal sa Ghaeltacht in 2018. Tugann an maoiniú breise seo leithdháileadh breise de €350,000 san iomlán don údarás i leith an réimse seo thar dhá cháinaisnéis. Tá ról lárnach ag an údarás sa phróiseas pleanála teanga, i gcoinneáil poist ina chliantchuideachtaí agus i mealladh níos mó infheistíochta isteach sna ceantair Ghaeltachta. Táim muiníneach go dtabharfaidh a n-allúntas foriomlán deis dó a shainchúram a chomhlíonadh sa bhliain atá le teacht.

Is féidir a bheith cinnte de go n-aithním go maith an clár oibre fónta atá idir lámha agus beartaithe ag an údarás agus go leanfaidh mé orm ag déanamh gach iarracht chun tacú le feidhmiú an chláir oibre sin laistigh de na hacmhainní a bheidh ar fáil dom. Tá an-obair ar bun taobh amuigh den Ghaeltacht fosta, agus creidim go bhfuil aitheantas tugtha ag an Rialtas don obair seo. Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá trí Bhéarla. The Government will also continue to support the work of an Foras Teanga, which has been allocated €14.028 million in 2018, subject to NSMC approval. This funding will support the work of both Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster Scots Agency.

The allocation of €687,000 for my Department’s language support scheme is particularly welcome. This scheme supports people who wish to improve their Irish language skills, allowing them to undertake training at a variety of levels, both within and outside the Gaeltacht, helping to deliver the Government’s objective to increase the number of daily Irish speakers. These schemes have provided a modern approach to the language in recent years. I am committed to continuing to develop these in the coming years.

Níl anseo ach cur síos ar chuid den obair atá ar bun. Is léir go bhfuil an Rialtas ag tacú go láidir leis an Ghaeilge, leis an Ghaeltacht, agus le pobail na n-oileán. Aithníonn an méid a fógraíodh inné an sárobair atá ar bun chun úsáid na teanga a chaomhnú, a bhogadh chun tosaigh agus a fhorbairt.

This is my first budget as Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Since June I hope I have been clear in repeating that my priorities include the 113,000 children living in consistent poverty; working families, including lone parents; and people on fixed incomes who are entirely dependent on the social contract we have in Ireland.

We are very lucky that the recovery we are experiencing is a jobs-led recovery as reflected in the live register figures. It is important to remember why we need a strong economy. I believe it is only so that we can provide for the lives of people who, for whatever reason, for short periods of their lives are entirely dependent on the State.

Budget 2018 will balance the books while at the same time supporting the building of homes and enhancing education supports to children with special educational needs. We will improve our mental health services at community level. We will provide health care to our ageing population and to our young population. We will build roads, schools and even hospitals. Most important, we will try to build a fairer society that supports enterprise and employment, while also respecting the social contract, whereby people who are employed are prepared to support those who because of illness, infirmity, caring for a loved one or unemployment, temporarily cannot provide for themselves.

We know, however, that some groups are at a higher risk of deprivation and poverty than others. That is why I was determined that in this budget, the social welfare Bill would leave nobody behind.

Everybody deserves to share in an economic recovery. I hear that consistently in this House and I agree with it. That is why my dual aims are to improve the welfare of families with children and to maintain the relative positions of all the groups the State takes care of. I look forward to detailing the precise targeted engagements and activation measures contained within the budget package for my Department in the coming weeks and months but as the budget legislation is before the House tonight and I will be sharing colleagues' time, I will just touch on some of them.

I was pleased to be able to announce, with support, the €5 increase in the maximum weekly rates of payment for all social welfare recipients this year, commencing from 26 March. There are proportionate increases for those on reduced rates of payment and for those receiving payments in respect of adult dependants. In total, 1.3 million social welfare recipients and a further 560,000 of their dependants will benefit from these changes. I am particularly conscious of the role my Department has in reducing child poverty. Weekly rates increases will help in this regard as all expenditure on social welfare schemes, and on working age schemes in particular, is progressive and will help households on lower incomes. We were very pleased yesterday to announce, for the first time in eight years, an increase in the qualified child payment, which is paid each week to families with children. It will increase from €29.80 to €31.80 per child. This is an increase of 6.7% and will directly benefit 400,000 children.

I am pleased that the Department's budget package includes a number of measures which will specifically help families who are working, and particularly lone parents who are working. Lone parents returning to work will benefit from an increase in their income disregard, as will those on jobseeker's transition payments. The disregard will increase by €20, from €110 to €130 per week. This is in addition to the €5 increase in the weekly rate of payment and the €2 increase in the qualified child payment. We are also increasing the family income supplement earnings thresholds by €10 per week for families with up to three children. This will also be of particular benefit to low-income working families and will reflect the changes made to the qualified child payment.

The name of the family income supplement will also change to the working family payment. This reflects a number of initiatives within the Department that support families when they move from welfare into employment. This is a particularly excellent scheme. As I said yesterday, there are probably thousands of eligible families who are not claiming this working family payment. I urge people to get in touch with their local Intreo or Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection office to inquire whether they are eligible for this payment.

We also recently announced a measure to assist mothers of premature babies, which will extend the term of maternity benefit. The House will be aware of a motion on this issue which was tabled by Deputy Catherine Martin of the Green Party a number of months ago. I was particularly touched by a young woman who rang me approximately two weeks after I was appointed to my current role. She told me that her baby was still in Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin. She was due to return to work the following Monday but still had not pushed her baby in a pram. That is wrong and this measure will fix that. I am grateful that the funding we have this year has allowed us to do that.

We are also introducing a range of other targeted specific measures. The fuel allowance is, as Members will know, currently paid for 26 weeks of the year or the equivalent is paid in two lump sums during those 26 weeks. We are now increasing the duration of the fuel season by one week to 27 weeks. We are also introducing a new scheme, which is something like an old scheme but obviously different. It is called the telephone support allowance. When the old telephone allowance was abolished in 2014, the non-governmental organisations which look after older people reflected on the fact that it hit people who were living on their own or in isolation especially hard. This was because its abolition took away their resource to pay for a landline, which directly affected their security alerts access and the safety they felt in their own homes but, equally importantly, it affected their ability to keep in contact with their loved ones - their children and their grandchildren. I have listened to that criticism and we have heeded it. To that end, we have reintroduced a telephone support allowance, which will be paid to the value of €9.50 a month.

I also take the opportunity to highlight the "make work pay" initiative for people with disabilities, which is again something people genuinely do not know about. When a person who is in receipt of a disability allowance starts work and comes off social welfare payments, he or she retains his or her free travel pass for five years. Some people are genuinely not aware of this. Similarly, people with medical cards who move from welfare to work get to keep that medical card for a number of years. We are doing everything that we can to encourage people who would otherwise be entirely reliant on the welfare system to move into employment by maintaining the supports that make the transition period as easy as possible.

We are also providing two new incentives in the area of employment supports. While unemployment has come down significantly in the past year, with 48,000 new jobs created, I acknowledge that there are two particular areas of difficulty. One such area relates to people under 25, who potentially are not graduates, and the other to people who are over 50 years of age. We will introduce two new schemes that will specifically address the issues in those areas. I will detail those at the beginning of the new year. We have increased the national minimum wage by 30 cent and 155,000 people will benefit from this measure.

This budget is for families, for older people and, in particular, for the most vulnerable in society. As a Government we are making reasonable and, more importantly, responsible decisions to ensure that as our economy grows, we look after the people who are entirely reliant and dependent on the social contract we have. We have made real progress in reducing unemployment but the Government and I are determined to make sure that we go even further. It is conscious that not everybody can work and earn a wage. The Government is absolutely adamant that, whatever the reason those people are reliant on the State, they will also benefit from the recovery and that the social contract will not leave anybody behind in what is now a republic of opportunity.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to address the House on budget 2018 and specifically on the health aspects of that budget. The funding provided in this budget will mean that we can deliver better access, more help for families and more supports for disability, mental health and older and vulnerable people. In addition, the welcome increase in the health capital budget over the period to 2021 will allow completion of key developments, such as the new national children's hospital, and ensure that capital investment supports our strategic initiatives and our ehealth improvement, which was a very important aspect of the recent cross-party committee report on health reform.

The Department of Health's Vote has increased significantly in the past three years, which is a recognition of the Government's commitment to investing wisely to improve services and help make life easier for families. Once again, the Government is asking the Oireachtas to allocate additional Exchequer funding for the health sector for 2018. The gross current budget for the health sector for next year will be €14.798 billion. This is equivalent to an increase of €646 million, 4.6%, compared with the 2017 allocation of €14.152 billion. I am also pleased to announce a capital budget of €493 million, which represents an increase of €39 million on last year. This brings the total gross health budget for 2018 to almost €15.3 billion. I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, for his support in dealing with the many challenges facing the health sector and for the way in which he framed this budget.

The level of health services to be provided within the available funding will be set out in the HSE's 2018 national service plan, which will shortly be prepared by its executive. However, I will outline some of the issues which will be more extensively covered in the service plan. I am particularly pleased to have received funding for a new access programme, starting now and running through 2018, which will include €75 million to reduce waiting lists, €37 million for extra home care packages and transitional care beds and €20 million for extra capacity and support for our hospitals in 2018. Budget 2018 will increase investment in the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, from €20 million this year to €55 million next year. This significant increase in funding reflects my commitment to reducing waiting times for the longest-waiting patients. This will mean that approximately 18,000 additional procedures will be offered through the NTPF to patients next year across a range of specialties and procedures.

I have stated consistently in recent months that I am committed to reducing waiting times for scoliosis surgery for children and young people. The HSE and our hospitals have made great progress this year in increasing the numbers of surgeries undertaken.

This funding will ensure that we continue to bring down the waiting times and improve access to scoliosis services and make sure we never end up back where we were in respect of scoliosis waiting lists.

As well as the funding contained in budget 2018, I am delighted to confirm the release of €40 million of additional access funding this year. This will enable us to prepare for and manage the expected peak in demand for health services this winter. The funding will support measures in 2017 to reduce overcrowding through the provision of extra capacity and additional supports. It will help support our older people to remain in their homes through additional home care packages, home help hours and transitional care beds, and will drive public health campaigns in that period, particularly in respect of the flu vaccine.

I am delighted that we have also been able to make additional funding available this year for key strategic initiatives, including the phased implementation of the national cancer strategy, the national maternity strategy, and the continued development of the National Ambulance Service, leading to sustainable improvement in these services.

As I have already said, the new children's hospital project continues to be a key priority. This programme will merge three separate hospitals into one while maintaining existing services, patient safety and quality during the change process. That is quite a job. It includes the development of integrated ICT systems, operational integration and preparation for transitioning to the new facilities. Funding is also being provided for this year to continue the implementation of the all-island congenital heart disease network.

Reducing the cost of medicines for families is a key commitment of this Government and building on the progress made in 2017 when I reduced the prescription charge for over 70s, I am delighted to be in a position from 1 January 2018 to reduce all prescription charges for all medical card holders under the age of 70 by 50 cent per item with a maximum cap of €20 per month, down from €25 per month. This will save 500,000 medical card holders under the age of 70 up to €60 a year starting in 2018. I am also pleased to reduce the monthly threshold for the drugs payment scheme by €10, which will save families up to €120 a year in terms of their trips to their pharmacy. In line with the recommendations of the Sláintecare report by the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare, I intend to build further upon these initiatives in future years.

The nursing home support scheme will receive an increased allocation, bringing its budget to €949.7 million. This will ensure that funding under the scheme does not exceed four weeks throughout 2018, ensuring no one waits longer than four weeks.

The development of a shift to primary care is a key recommendation of the Sláintecare report. We are providing a dedicated fund of €25 million to begin to try to transfer services out from the acute hospital setting into the community setting. That includes wanting to do more with general practitioners, developing a new GP contract and fostering new developments with nurses in terms of community nursing and advanced nurse practitioners. This is not the totality of what I wish to do and, if we manage to negotiate successfully with GPs, I will update Government on the need for multi-annual funding as the Minister for Finance outlined yesterday.

We are also going to do more for mental health and such services will spend an additional €35 million in increased funding next year. I will work to reassure Mental Health Reform that we are absolutely committed to delivering the requirements of A Vision for Change in full between now and 2019. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, will speak more about that. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, will deal with disability services and the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, will deal with the national drugs strategy implementation and also funding for health initiatives for homeless people as well as the healthy Ireland fund. We continue to tackle important issues. We will also see 1,800 additional staff working in the health service during 2018.

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the opportunity to respond to, analyse, scrutinise and debate the budget. I do so in the full knowledge that this Dáil and the Government are not conventional compared to previous Administrations. It is in that context that one must respond to and pass judgment on the budget. Although I do not wish to repeat what I have said before when debating the governance of the country, I must reiterate the obligation and duty we had after the last election. Although the result was convoluted, there was an obligation to seek to form a Government. We tried ourselves and sought support for our own leader based on the much improved vote we had achieved, in an effort to give value to the votes cast in our favour. We did not get the required numbers and, that being the case, we reassessed the situation and saw fit to enter into a process of negotiation whereby we could be in a position to facilitate the formation of a Government while exerting our influence on the road it would take in order to address many of the issues that had been raised during the course of the election campaign.

What came out of that was the confidence and supply arrangement. The Independents opposite who now have an alliance that is part of Government would not enter any conversation with potential Government partners until such time as we had made that provision. There was a huge onus of responsibility on us and we took it seriously. We think it was the right thing to do. Its success or failure would be determined by the ability of Government to adhere to the principles agreed within the confidence and supply arrangement. Some said it was novel but it is very simple and straightforward. It is a matter of public record and, if anyone wishes to go through it or examine the issues that were agreed, they will see there has been progress on many of the elements contained therein.

Fianna Fáil contends and independent assessment has confirmed that previous budgets by Fine Gael-led Governments over the last five years were regressive and unfair, with a 50-50 split between taxation and the provision of public services. It is quite obvious that this approach failed miserably because public services broke down in the areas of health, housing and education. That was reflected in the ensuing election result. The electorate rejected the Fine Gael-Labour Party way. They rejected the contention maintained by many in Fine Gael that a recovery had taken hold throughout the country. Fine Gael campaigned to be returned to government in a position of strength and dominance to continue that notional recovery. It would have had the electorate believe that the recovery had reached every home and that there was regional development. In contrast, Fianna Fáil campaigned seeking an Ireland for all. We campaigned for fairness, and recognised the need for greater emphasis on improved public services. Convoluted as it was, the election result afforded us an opportunity to influence the Government. The opportunity was not to partake in government but to facilitate it while also retaining the right as an Opposition party to pursue policy agendas and resolutions to issues as they arise and as the public and our membership would have us do. It gave value to those who cast votes in our favour. As for the other parties that walked away from the process and saw an opportunity for another election or a series of them, I do not think they were fair or true to their voters. Having seen as a very young person the damage elections in the 1980s did to the potential stability of the economy and the country, it was the dutiful thing for us to do and I am glad in hindsight that we took that route. There is much potential remaining to be explored by virtue of having done so.

Such agreements have a huge element of trust associated with them.

The Government has to be true to its word. It has to follow through on announcements and provide action to match the rhetoric. That has not always been the case. There have been times when that trust has been tested. In the interest of those who gave us the responsibility we have, we were in a position to get over them to move on and deal with greater issues. For example, there was the Water Services Bill 2017 and the pathway put in place to deal with that issue. As important as it was, it needed to be dealt with appropriately, based on the compromises which had arisen from both parties. It had to be dealt with effectively and to allow the Dáil and the Government to move on and deal with more pressing items.

There are five pillar areas which underpin the agreement, namely, the economy; industrial relations and public sector pay; securing affordable homes and tackling homelessness; creating decent jobs and supporting enterprise; and cutting costs for families and improving public services. In the round, there has been some progress. When one looks specifically at the budget, it is not earth shattering, however. It will not set many records nor excite many people. It is modest, balanced, fair and progressive, as against what went before it with the Fine Gael-led Government in the previous five years. The budget at least contains the 2:1 split in favour of expenditure and investment in public services over tax reductions. The Taoiseach said as much last night. Without our influence and our confidence and supply agreement, he would not have said that. Instead, it would have been the Fine Gael way with a 50:50 split leading to an unfair diminishment of public services, specifically in the areas of health, education and housing, like what happened during its previous tenure.

There have been failings by the Government too. As time progresses, we can scrutinise its performance in more detailed fashion, comparing it to the rhetoric, announcements and commitments given in the programme for Government. For example, it has failed miserably in housing. To deal with the lack of real progress over the past several years, all sides of the House contributed to the all-party Committee on Housing and Homelessness. This was one of the first actions taken by the Dáil. We contributed to the consultation process initiated by the Minister opposite, Deputy Coveney. He had wide-ranging consultation with the stakeholders, the correct course of action, which culminated in the document, Rebuilding Ireland. There were parts of it with which we disagreed and elements we would have added. However, in the main, we recognised it for what it was - a good document which had potential. However, we pointed out its success depended on its implementation.

Unfortunately, the Government has flattered to deceive in this area. Targets have been set but missed, deadlines broken and action has not matched the rhetoric. There is more to this than the sound bite, a point which has become apparent to many. There is more to it than the photo op exercise or the glossy public relations stunt. The new special €5 million communications unit in the Taoiseach's office will find that out in time too. The Minister who went into this breach claimed he went out of his way to get into it. However, he sneaked out the back door in recent months leaving others to deal with it.

I did not sneak off anywhere.

There is a realisation on the part of the Government that it has failed in this area. Although the budget does not contain everything needed to address the issue, it may have the new palpable momentum needed to show the public that progress is being made. Now the funding is in place to meet the mild targets set. No extra targets could have been set next year. Housing assistance payment funding had to be put in place to meet the short-term demand caused by the fact that the commitments made in recent years have not been met. The lending vehicle for providing competitive finance to the building sector is to be welcomed. We sought this measure and we will wait for the legislation to see how effective it can be. We welcome the vacant site levy to stop land hoarding. We welcome the commitment we sought for capital gains tax exemptions which can have a positive impact.

Where are the affordable housing measures, however? Where is the help and assistance for the cohort who cannot qualify for a council house and who cannot afford a mortgage, let alone rent, especially when some people must pay up to 50% of their income on it? There is nothing specific in the budget to deal with that. I am told affordability measures will be introduced in the coming weeks. Local authorities used to assist this cohort in the past. This week, I asked my local authority in County Offaly how many local authority mortgages it had given in the past several years. In 2014, it gave one; in 2015, it gave two; in 2016, it gave two; and this year to date, it has given three. That says it all. The local authorities are at the coalface of the community. They hear the credit unions saying publicly they are committed to investing to assist this cohort, yet we still have not seen any progress on how that might be done.

I hope the Government will bring forward affordability measures and will be in a position to provide a vehicle to access funding, despite the concerns over the competition rules which can be overcome. There is a role for a repurposed NAMA which can address the shortfall in funding, put housing units in place and lease them to local authorities for 60 or 70 years because the Government is only spending 50% of what it spent in 2008.

There is nothing specific in the budget to deal with vacant housing units. We were promised a vacant house strategy but we have not seen one. There was a commitment to support the Vacant Housing Refurbishment Bill 2017 which I brought to the House last week. Will the Government support it with the relevant funding and mechanisms to make it work? Last week, there was party gamesmanship with the town renewal scheme. It was almost as if the Government took €30 million off the local authorities which they used to distribute in their sleep, gave it to the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, who then distributed it with much fanfare to Fine Gael Members around the country. That is just political one-upmanship. If the Government really wants to revitalise towns and villages, it must populate them. The Vacant Housing Refurbishment Bill 2017, which had universal approval, has at its heart, the willingness and mechanisms to do that. I hope the Government will ensure that happens.

In the coming weeks, the Government will be tested on balanced regional development with the review and implementation of the national planning framework document, along with the national infrastructure review. They have to be combined. We have to see a willingness on the part of the Government to subvent regions which are not being assisted in the way the east coast has succeeded in recent times. Take for example, the inner relief road in Edenderry, County Offaly, a town which has grown and needs to take advantage of its proximity to Dublin through the network of primary roads which has improved accessibility across the country.

That is vital for its success. The link road between the M6 and Tullamore and its bypass is vital for its success and to meet the demand for North-South infrastructural improvements. The east-west improvements that have been put in place have been positive, welcome and done their job but the need for North-South infrastructural improvements has been identified by IBEC and similar organisations.

Where, when and how apprenticeship programmes can benefit the regions needs to be considered in view of there being a deficit of apprentices in the construction sector, for example, and a fear in the sector and the economy that training programmes will not be able to cope if the Government is, for once, to meet expectations.

The Minister with responsibility for the designation of carbon tax funds is now present in the House. There was consideration of increasing carbon taxes further as a revenue-generating exercise to pay for other tax cuts in view of resources having to be split on a 2:1 split basis in favour of expenditure. In the context of having the privilege of representing my constituents, I must point out that there is a duty on Government to subvent their region when Bord na Móna and its excavation works dissipate in the coming years. Bord na Móna is making efforts to find new revenue streams and paths of competition and innovation. It is succeeding in some areas and failing in others. Previously, Bord na Móna products were exempt from carbon tax. The previous Government reinstated the tax on those products and doubled it. It is high time that my constituents' region is shown some appreciation by the Government and the members of the Government who represent it. There should be an innovation fund to assist replacement industry and enterprise to ensure that the energy sector and others are helped, assisted and promoted in order to allow alternative industry to emerge thereafter. That is an example of how the measures contained in the confidence and supply agreement can be used and augmented to assist regional development. Fianna Fáil expects to see that plainly and openly evident and highlighted when the relevant Bills are published in the coming weeks.

The budget is modest and nothing to write home about. There is some progress and certain areas in the health and education sectors have been catered for. Some efforts beyond that have been made regarding the National Treatment Purchase Fund. Those who negotiated on the part of the Government resisted the idea that such a measure was needed to deal with hospital waiting lists but Fianna Fáil insisted upon it and can now stand over it and point to the progress that has been made and the future potential in that regard. As regards education, improvements have again been made to the pupil-teacher ratio.

I looked at the confidence and supply agreement earlier today. I am beginning to think that all of its requirements will be fulfilled, apart from those related to housing. I do not know what that will mean for the future of the Government. The important things are implementation, deliverability, transparency and accountability. I know far more about the Taoiseach's special communications unit and the €5 million that was allocated to it yesterday than I do about the special housing delivery unit in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. That unit needs to identify itself, stand up, be accountable and start proving its worth. Fianna Fáil will be adjudicating and commenting upon the deliverability of aspects of this budget, in particular regarding housing.

I would like to share my time with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten.

The budget for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will increase by €23 million in 2018, which will comprise a €21 million rise in current expenditure and a €2 million increase in capital expenditure. I will address where that increase in funding will go as well as some broader priorities the Government has focused on, in particular regarding Brexit.

As the Minister responsible for ensuring cross-Government co-ordination of our necessary response, Brexit is my first priority and I will ensure continued good management of the Article 50 process and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement. The measures announced by the Government are comprehensive and include a rainy day fund which will have an initial €1.5 billion allocation from the Strategic Investment Fund and subsequent annual contributions of €500 million commencing in 2019. That will place us in a strong position to mitigate risks arising from Brexit. We have also budgeted for a significant increase of €4.3 billion in capital expenditure over the next four years. That is another important decision in terms of allowing us to plan infrastructure projects which best support the economic priorities the Government has outlined.

To aid businesses, we have announced a €300 million Brexit loan scheme for all SMEs and large firms with fewer than 500 employees and an additional €25 million Brexit scheme for the agrifood sector. Total Brexit response measures by the Department of agriculture will amount to more than €50 million in 2018. We are also doubling the number of Brexit-related posts across our economic agencies. The Tánaiste, Deputy Fitzgerald, has announced the detail of that regarding key agencies such as the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland. Bord Bia and Bord Iascaigh Mhara are also hugely relevant in that regard.

In my Department, we have already taken steps to augment our Brexit teams at departmental headquarters in Dublin and in major European capitals such as Brussels, Berlin, Paris and London. The budget puts those measures on a sustainable footing and allows us to further augment our Brexit team as the process continues. We also want to provide increased options and opportunities for Irish companies looking to diversify and trade in new markets overseas.

The Taoiseach has set an ambitious target for Ireland's engagement around the world by 2025 and the first initiatives in that respect will be the opening of new embassies and consulates which will allow us to protect our interests, extend our influence and position ourselves for growth opportunities in new and existing markets. I informed the Government at Cabinet this week of our intention to open two new embassies in Colombia and Chile. Latin America is a region where we are currently dramatically under-represented as we only have three embassies in a region comprising 33 countries and 645 million people. This is about exploiting untapped markets.

The new embassy in Bogota will assist in promoting trade and investment. Colombia is a country of almost 50 million people which has doubled its per capita income over the past decade. Since it signed a free trade agreement with the EU in 2012, our goods trade with it has almost tripled. Several Irish companies are active there and it is a potentially important education market. Our new embassy will also underpin Ireland's support for the peace process in Colombia, including the efforts of Eamon Gilmore, who is the EU special envoy for that process and has done an extraordinarily effective job in recent months.

Chile is a high-income country, a member of several trading blocs and among the most competitive economies in Latin America. It is a promising emerging market for Irish companies in several sectors, including technology, higher education, telecommunications equipment, renewable energy and aquaculture. The opening of a new embassy in Santiago reflects the growth in the bilateral relationship and our like-minded position on many bilateral issues. Ireland also has very close historical connections with Colombia and Chile.

A new consulate is to be opened in Vancouver in western Canada. Much of the economic growth and many of our citizens in Canada are in the west of the country and it is no longer feasible to tend to that growing relationship via a relatively small embassy 2,700 miles away in Ottawa, which gives one an idea of the size of Canada. As Members know, Canada is a key trading partner for us, with over 600 Irish companies supporting 25,000 jobs benefiting from Ireland-Canada trade. There is significant potential for further growth due to the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, coming into effect last month.

I further informed the Government of our plans to open an embassy in Amman, Jordan, which is a highly strategic location in terms of our work and investment in the Middle East.

This mission will allow us to build on our political partnership with Jordan, work closely with our Defence Forces and facilitate oversight of our humanitarian assistance, which amounted to €25 million in the region last year. Our political and humanitarian investment in the Middle East is enormous, and securing progress on the Middle East peace process is a big political priority for me, underpinned by the presence of our peacekeepers in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. I am also asking officials in my Department to examine the case for reopening our embassy in Iran, including an assessment of the opportunities for Irish companies to do business in the country and the potential support a resident embassy could offer. I am conscious that this is somewhat controversial from a political perspective, but the vast majority of EU countries have embassies in Iran, as we did in the past, and there are clear opportunities there for us to explore.

As for Asia, we are also in a position to announce the opening of a new consulate in Mumbai, India. India is another strategic partner. Last year we exported almost €3 billion in goods and services there, while IDA-client investment from India accounts for 2,600 jobs here. Mumbai is the commercial capital, and the new consulate will allow the establishment of an Ireland House and facilitate engagement by the State agencies in the western region of India. It will also assist with a growing consular workload there. In Japan, we are providing funding to begin work next year on a new state-of-the-art Ireland House in Tokyo. Japan is already our largest trading partner in Asia for services and is also a growing market for food exports. Our exports last year were valued at €7.7 billion, and Japanese investment in Ireland supports 4,000 jobs. Brexit opens the prospect of further investment, as does the new EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement. A new Ireland House will allow my Department and our State agencies to take greater advantage of these opportunities.

In Europe, we have benefited greatly from the Government's decision to maintain an embassy in every EU member state, even during the financial crisis. The wisdom of this decision has been plain to see since the UK's Brexit vote. I now want us to go further and to look at expanding our diplomatic and economic footprint across the European Union, with a particular focus on opportunities in commercial hubs in large EU member states. This is an additional body of work or assessment I will be asking my officials and my Department to take forward in the coming period. We must ask ourselves questions such as, for example, whether we need a presence in Munich. I think we do. We are conscious too of the developing discussion around the future of Europe and we will allocate resources to ensure the widest possible participation in this discussion. I fully share the Taoiseach's vision of making Ireland "an island at the centre of the world". It is vital we diversify and expand our horizons as we plan, unfortunately, for an EU without the UK. We will return to Cabinet with additional proposals in this respect in the coming months.

We have started a new journey now regarding overseas development aid, ODA. For the first time since 2012, we will spend more than €500 million on the Irish aid programme. We have increased the ODA budget by €26 million in this budget but we need to do a lot more. Over the next six months or so we will be putting a new plan in place to take to Government with a view to putting a ten-year plan in place to get Ireland where we promised we would be in terms of ODA.

Government seldom has all the solutions and never has enough resources. However, with what it has, when used wisely, it can make a positive difference to individual lives one issue at a time. When those issues lead to co-ordinated action, substantial change can come. The economy, our climate, the communications networks that link us together and support our jobs, enhance our quality of life and underline the viability of our communities are priorities that were chosen by this Government on its first day in office. They are connected, not stand-alone responsibilities. They are part of a wider programme across Government to pool our available resources as a people in ways that will make a measurable difference for a sustainable environment and self-sufficient, connected communities.

Action on climate is a marathon, not a sprint. On climate we cannot make the change on our own. However, in budget 2018 we are giving people the tools to help make the transition to a low-carbon economy. Approximately 30 different measures across Government were announced in yesterday's budget. I have secured a total capital investment of almost €1.1 billion from now until 2021. Except for housing, the biggest capital increase in 2017 and 2018 across Government is in my Department. This multi-annual budget will focus primarily on energy efficiency because energy efficiency and climate action are inextricably linked. Using less energy more efficiently is the most cost-effective way to combat climate change. Over the course of 2017 and 2018 there will be an 83% increase in the energy allocation. Next year capital funding will be invested in sustainable energy projects which will save 120,000 tonnes in carbon emissions, supporting 3,500 jobs, mainly rural, while also reducing our dependence on imported fossil fuels. Working with the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, we have agreed that public bodies that save energy can keep the money they save on their energy bills to put back into services, facilities and equipment. This is a clear incentive that sits alongside the obligation on public bodies to improve their energy efficiency by 33% by 2020. Government has allocated €9 million to help deliver on this objective in 2018.

A total of €106 million has been made available for forestry measures in 2018, which will help to establish 6,600 ha of new forest. Funding has also been allocated to continue the smart farming programme roll-out to a further 1,000 farmers in 2018. This collaborative initiative, run by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, within my Department, is crucial to delivering a sustainable recovery through the dual mandate of improving farm returns while enhancing the environment. For the farmers involved, smart farming has a real effect, identifying average cost savings across the sector and reducing climate impact by 10% on participating farms. Another welcome measure announced in budget 2018 for farmers was my allocation of €7 million to kick-start a renewable heat incentive scheme which will help to develop an indigenous biomass industry, helping to create jobs and reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Committing more resources to energy is accompanied by more resources for the environment and waste management. Over the next two years expenditure on the environment will increase from €42 million, when I took office, to €65 million next year. That is an increase of 55%. This year the Environmental Protection Agency will be allocated €35 million more to regulate, research and advocate for our environment. In a country in which one in five children has asthma and is literally gasping for breath every single day, we must address the issue and improve our air quality. We will make a real difference to air quality by taking smoky fuels out of the economy, but doing so also requires monitoring and measuring of air quality, which is essential to the policing of this measure. We currently have 30 air monitoring stations across the country, and next year and in 2019 I intend to provide 24 additional stations.

I have secured a doubling of the budget for next year to €10 million to incentivise the use of electric vehicles. The 0% rate of benefit-in-kind for electric vehicles for next year has been announced by the Minister for Finance along with a review of the benefit-in-kind measures on vehicles to be addressed in next year's budget. New grants to support the installation of home charging points will be available from 1 January for new and second-hand electric cars. Additional funding will be provided to support the provision of public charging with an increase in the number of rapid chargers. I also intend to launch a new electric vehicle public awareness campaign to drive uptake. It will include an awareness campaign, a public driver experience roadshow, public sector and commercial fleet trials and an electric car sharing programme.

The scourge of illegal dumping is something we as a people will not tolerate. More than €1.3 million will be allocated next year to deal with this head-on.

However, money alone cannot solve our litter problems. It requires behavioural change and personal responsibility. We have to enable people to take action to avoid, to reduce and to reuse so I have allocated €1.6 million to fund a national waste awareness campaign. Tackling waste, saving energy and ensuring we have clean air are all steps towards a cleaner environment and tackling climate change and they are part of the circular economy.

We have a huge challenge in protecting our environment, improving the air we breathe and addressing climate change. This is a massive task, one we cannot approach in isolation but only by all of us working together. Communities have to work with each other, the State has to work with the public across the country and countries across the globe have to work together. In the short term, I want air quality to improve, not just for the one in five children who suffer from asthma but because four deaths per day are directly attributed to poor air quality. If we can progress that issue, we can address the long-term challenge of saving our planet.

As Minister with responsibility for natural resources and inland fisheries, I welcome the clear focus in budget 2018 on sustainability. I firmly believe that the sustainable management of our natural resources are of vital national importance and to this end I am pleased to have secured €26.5 million for natural resources in budget 2018. The funding will allow my Department to carry on rehabilitation works in the former mining areas of Avoca, County Wicklow, and Silvermines in County Tipperary as well as ongoing works by the Geological Survey of Ireland in the Tellus and INFOMAR projects, costing €8 million, and it will allow us to progress the Geological Survey of Ireland's three-year project on groundwater flooding relating to turloughs in Roscommon, Galway and Longford. This project, for which €500,000 will be provided next year, will provide an advisory service and collect valuable flood data from high priority groundwater flooding sites.

Ireland's fisheries represent a very important economic sector and angling is estimated to contribute €836 million to the Irish economy every year. More than 11,000 Irish jobs are supported as a result of angling, particularly in rural and peripheral communities where fewer job opportunities are available. I am pleased to have secured funding of nearly €32 million to support Inland Fisheries Ireland to deliver on its mandate for the protection, conservation, development and promotion of Ireland's inland fishery resources, including sea angling. This will allow Inland Fisheries Ireland to carry out its very important work and includes an increase of over €1 million for pay and €300,000 to tackle the invasive African pondweed, lagarosiphon major, in Lough Corrib, an issue I first raised in my maiden speech in an adjournment debate in 2011. I am delighted that there is direct funding to Inland Fisheries Ireland for this.

As Minister of State in the Department of Rural and Community Development, I acknowledge the increase in funding secured by the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring, of €220 million, much of it going to programmes to improve the offering within rural Ireland. There are challenges in rural Ireland but there is potential too. There is an increase in both capital and current budgets which will allow a range of schemes, such as several which the Minister was able to open last year, including additional capital programmes for CLÁR, town and village renewal, the rural works scheme and the rural recreation scheme. These have the potential to create jobs and to keep people in these areas to maintain and increase the population in rural Ireland. The Minister has a role in Cabinet to ensure rural Ireland gets its fair share from all Departments and that all policies and plans are rural-proofed. He also has a role in ensuring that the rural strategy, signed up to by all Government Departments, is implemented in full.

I acknowledge that it has been a difficult week for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed. His family has had a tough time in the past week and it is difficult for him to be here so I pay my respects to him.

The Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, is 100% committed to the retention of the 9% VAT rate and he knows as well as I the importance it has to our County Kerry. I am grateful that it is being retained and I know he had his shoulder to the wheel all the time on the issue. The big fear we have now is for the future so I ask him to work in a practical and workmanlike way to ensure it is retained. I am worried and there should be no uncertainty about it. It means a lot to us in Kerry and in Ireland generally.

I acknowledge that the Government recognises how important the Irish language is, including the Gaeltachtaí and our mná tí. They were neglected in the past but there is a recognition of them in this budget and I positively welcome that. I want more to be done for the language because it is like an industry in itself. West of Dingle, in Ballinskelligs or in south Kerry, our Gaeltacht areas are very important and this should be recognised in the future.

People are getting increases in pay but they are being diluted by increases in car insurance, house insurance and VHI etc. I welcome the increases but I would like more to be done.

I recognise that additional people are being hired in An Garda Síochána and the Garda Reserve and I welcome it. Our gardaí get a lot of negative press and some people, including in this House, seem just to want to attack and condemn them but we rely on them for keeping law and order. We should compliment An Garda Síochána at every level. Things have happened that might not be right but if we keep looking backwards we will fall on what is in front of us. We must move on.

I was contacted today by many people from the disability sector who, I am sad to say, are not happy. They say not enough is being done for them and over the coming months I would like everything that can possibly be done for disabled people to be done, because they have a lot to put up with. They have a lot of additional expense and problems that able-bodied people do not have. In Kerry, I acknowledge the great work being done by the housing department in administering disability grants, be they for bathrooms, additional downstairs bedrooms, grants for mobility aids or all the various services the county council provides. I acknowledge the great work of the people who work there.

I remind the Dáil that the first time I opened my mouth in the House it was to argue with the then Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, that nothing was being done for self-employed people.

I do not care if they are a shopkeeper, a postman, a digger driver, a tractor driver or a farmer. They are the people creating their own jobs. They may have an extra bit of work from time to time when they might hire a neighbour or another person and they create a little bit of work. If that self-employed person gets a little bit more successful, then all the better. He or she could then hire two, three, four, five or 20 people. These self-employed persons are the ones we should be supporting. If something goes wrong for them, if they are not able to hire anymore and if they do not have work anymore, we should support them because they are, in essence, the backbone of Ireland. They are the important people to me. The big multinationals come in and I am delighted they are here. I am proud that Liebherr is in Killarney and I am proud of all the multinationals that come in. I believe, however, that the real people who are the employers of Ireland are those who will create one job for themselves first and then another and another. They are what it is all about. I respectfully ask the Government to look after the self-employed people and always to remember them.

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, was speaking earlier about electric cars. Everyone knows my association with the Minister as we are very good friends but I would rather see any penny spent by this Government on electric cars spent on anything else, be it in the disability sector or any other sector. Electric cars are a load of rubbish. We spent so long telling people to move from petrol to diesel and then we all did that. Every one of us is doing what we were told to do. Now we are being told this. My brother Danny and I would not get much business done while trying to get electricity between here and Kilgarvan to top up our electric cars. It is a load of rubbish. The Minister, Deputy Creed, would be the same, the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, would be worse off as he is a bit further and the Minister, Deputy Ring, would be as bad again. It is a load of rubbish. Stick with diesel and we will keep motoring away. I would ask that for God's sake something else could be done with the €10 million that is proposed to be pumped into electric cars. I ask that the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, throw it into the post office network or do something with it. Do not waste the funding on electric cars. It is a load of rubbish.

Has Deputy Michael Healy-Rae joined his brother's anti-climate change agenda?

He has him converted.

I am sorry the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, has left the Chamber. He was praised earlier this morning when I had a meeting with the junior minister of foreign affairs from Italy, the equivalent of the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, along with the Italian ambassador. Senator Paul Coghlan was also there representing the Seanad. We had a very productive meeting. They were very complimentary of the work being done by the Minister, Deputy Coveney. I wish him well in his work.

It is very important to bring in the big issue of Brexit. I cannot emphasise enough the problems and difficulties Ireland is going to have. The budget today is what it is, but Brexit is really the elephant in the room. It is going to impact on all our lives whether people are in farming, tourism, self-employment or working in a factory. Brexit will have so much of an effect even on experienced politicians. Many Members in the House have been here much longer than I. I respect experience and bow down to it all the time but even Members who have been here for many decades cannot imagine the problems Ireland is going to have.

I want to say to the Ministers and Ministers of State in the Chamber, and to the Minister, Deputy Naughten, in his absence, to do what they can to tackle the post office issue. We can save a lot of post offices but we must put our shoulders to the wheel. I do not say this argumentatively, I say it positively. I will back them all the way in the world if they just do something to help us to get to where we need to be, which is providing more services through the post office network.

Some people are happy enough with the budget and more people are not happy campers today because of certain elements, especially the increase in the stamp duty on commercial sites. It will hurt farmers who want to buy a piece of land. Farmers who are over 40 years of age who are trying to get on, in many cases find that the only way they can improve their situation is to increase their landholding. This seems to be the way it is as they have to increase output all the time. I have had a number of farmers on to me today and one in particular, having signed a contract in the last two months, is wondering if he will still be asked to pay that increase. It will mean €20,000 extra for him to pay if the new stamp duty regulations apply to him and if he does not get some concession. This man had entered into the contract and he said that if he knew that this was going to hit him he would not have gone ahead with it. He told me that every penny he had, and did not have, was pulled out to pay for the land. He was not prepared for this extra €20,000. He has asked if there will be some accommodation for the likes of him given that he has signed the contract to buy the land some months ago. This is one serious matter. The measure will hurt many farmers like him.

It will also hurt in the situation where a site is transferred from a parent to a son or daughter. If the site is valued at €40,000 or €50,000 it can mean they will have to pay some €3,000 more. Consider all the things the son or daughter must go through. He or she must get planning permission which costs, for example, €3,000 or €4,000. Taking other factors into consideration such as levies for roads, levies for water connection and ESB then he or she clearly has €22,000 or €23,000 spent before a load of concrete has been ordered or before any foundation has been dug. I do not know if enough consideration has been given to that. With regard to the increase in stamp duty on commercial sites there should be some exemption given for the transfer of a site from a parent to their children. I do not think it is currently there and I ask for this exemption. In order to get a loan from the bank the same person must pay €7,000 to an engineer to sign off the house as being built according to the planning regulations that were imposed on them.

It has also been highlighted to me today that it clearly does not pay for some people to work. Or, if they work too hard they are not being recognised for it. In order to draw down the help-to-buy loan a person must borrow more than 70% of the value of the house. The young person who may have 40% of the value of the house saved up is denied the 5% tax relief because he or she was too good. It clearly does not pay some people to work or to save.

Farmers are not happy about certain things. They are still wondering about the areas of natural constraint, ANC, payment of €1,000 that was taken off them back in 2008. Will that €1,000 payment be given back to them?

I do not know, maybe the Minister knows.

It was not the Healy-Raes anyhow.

I do not know, but do not be looking at me. I did not take it off them.

We will let that sit there, Deputy Healy-Rae.

They certainly feel that it was taken from them in tougher times and that it should be restored to them. We all hear about it when a house is robbed or if there is a break-in, but it is daylight robbery that farmers whose land is designated for hen harrier protection are not getting compensation.

The land is rendered useless because they cannot farm it as they wish or plant forestry. They are held back. They cannot sell it. It is as if they were held at gunpoint and had their farms taken off them and they are entitled to compensation because of it. I do not know what the position is regarding the purse strings. I have no way of knowing what is there or if the Government has the money, but these people are entitled to compensation. We are hearing in many places about effects on the climate and are told that if forestry was planted it would help. In many places, however, farmers cannot plant trees because to get a grant and be allowed to plant, they must plant 80% of green ground. Many of these farmers do not have 80% of green ground and on that basis they are being denied. Furthermore, they are not being allowed to replant in many instances. At the same time, they cannot return the land to agriculture, which is very wrong.

I am very worried that the additional €85 million will fail to lead to improvements in health services. Will it again be consumed by the HSE? When elected members had a say on health boards, we got better results. We should go back to that. Every year since, our services have deteriorated. While I recognise that it is an attempt to do something, 1,800 staff are clearly too few. More than half will finish up in the greater Dublin area while places like University Hospital Kerry in Tralee remain understaffed. Look at the ICU and what nurses there go through at night because they are understaffed. We need more beds because there are people on trolleys. There were many people on trolleys in the middle of the summer but there is no plan or idea as to what to do about it. Kenmare hospital is only half-open as is Dingle hospital. At times and for whatever reason, only half the beds in the district hospital in Killarney are in use. We cannot understand why and we do not know if it is a staffing issue. We are very far behind in Kerry in terms of facilities for people who have severe mental health issues. We need urgent assistance to address the problems of mental health in Kerry. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin, is aware of that.

Deputy Griffin is a Minister of State in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. We need to invest more money in capital projects all around the country, especially in and around County Kerry. IBEC says we are investing the least per capita of any country in the world. The Minister of State will tell me that we do not have the funding but the Government should be saying to the people in Europe that while we owe them money, we will pay them when we have it. The Germans did not finish paying for the First World War until about three or four years ago. That is a fact, but they are the people who have the money now. I am asking the Government to tackle them again. We should be allowed to spend money on capital projects. It will create work. Most of the money will come back again in PAYE and VAT while more people will be taken off the live register. I ask the Government to do that. It is something in regard to which we should all put our shoulders to the wheel. We will support the Government to do that because we feel it is very wrong that the current generation must pay all this debt. It should be spread out over a further 50 or 60 years so that two or three more generations share the burden. It is wrong that the current generation must pay for the whole lot.

I wish to share my time with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This is the first budget for the newly created Department of Rural and Community Development. I am honoured to have been asked by the Taoiseach to lead the Department. The Department's role is to facilitate the creation of jobs and infrastructure, connect people and support our communities. My remit is to deliver this through rural and community-focused programmes delivered by my Department and to work at the Cabinet table to ensure that other Departments get the backing they need to support rural Ireland and deliver on their commitments.

My Department received €220 million for 2018, which represents a 12% increase, the second highest of any Department. The average increase across Departments was 3%. This funding will allow the Department to support people, families and communities in rural Ireland. Funding for many key programmes has been increased. The increase in the town and village renewal scheme of €3 million brings total funding to €15 million and will benefit hundreds of rural communities. Funding for the outdoor recreation scheme will be increased by almost €4 million to bring the total to almost €11.4 million. Programmes like these are not only about improving life for rural people, they must also deliver jobs. Last month in Drumshanbo, I attended the opening of a boardwalk over a lake. The Government has invested €700,000 in a blueway project which was visited last year by 80,000 people who supported eight small local businesses hiring out boats and bicycles or providing other services. That has given Drumshanbo a great boost. It is a small investment but it has created jobs and helped rural Ireland.

The two Deputies opposite have been asking me for the last year about the local improvement scheme. I was delighted to be able to deliver €10 million this year and I hope they will talk to local authorities to ensure they spend it. I have secured a further €10 million for the scheme for next year.

We have thanked the Minister publicly for that.

I thank the Deputy. These schemes are very helpful to rural people and rural life. A total of €35 million will be available for the Leader programme to which I have made major changes to try to get Leader companies to deliver it. Next year, €40 million will be allocated. While I have €35 million for this year, I hope later on in the year to put in a further €5 million if required. I encourage the Deputies opposite to ensure that Leader companies take in the applications and deliver the funding. The funding is there. While there have been a few problems, I have dealt with many of them. I am looking to see how we can resolve matters to support Leader companies and ensure the money gets out into rural Ireland. The community service programme has been brought into my Department. I am delighted that more than €46 million will transfer with it. It is a very important programme which helps people from disadvantaged areas by assisting groups to create employment for them. SICAP, the social inclusion and community activation programme, will receive €43.2 million, which funding is badly needed in disadvantaged areas.

A great deal that is positive is happening in rural Ireland. Sometimes, the Deputies sitting across from me acknowledge the work that is going on and the fine quality of the people we have living and working in rural Ireland. There are major multinational companies investing in rural Ireland. While, of course, we have some disadvantages, we have many positive attributes also. We have a lot of people who want to stay in rural Ireland to live and work. My job is to ensure that every Minister at the Cabinet table helps us to get our fair share of the national cake and create an environment for jobs so that people can live and work in rural Ireland.

An issue which is causing a great deal of concern is broadband. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, and I are rolling it out on a daily basis and ensuring that local authorities address anything that might hold it up.

We have provided some funding. Last year my Department provided funding to every county to make sure there is a dedicated person who can be contacted if there is a problem. Many things are happening behind the scenes. Broadband services are being rolled out in many places, but we want more places to benefit and we want it to happen faster. We want to make sure broadband is rolled out to every corner of the country because it is the most important infrastructure.

Recently, we opened the Tuam to Gort bypass. That was provided for in the stimulus budget of 2012. Three major projects were announced then. The Tuam to Gort bypass has been a tremendous success given the number of people using it. It has shortened their journeys by more than half and hour and it has opened up the north west. We need to continue that now and develop that motorway route through Claremorris and Sligo.

What about the N5?

I was delighted that the budget addressed other issues that concern rural Ireland, particularly the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector. I compliment the Minister for Finance on this. The rate was brilliant again this year. It is fine for people to say that hotels in Dublin are doing well. They are and we are delighted tourism is flying in Dublin. It is good that the capital city is doing well, but that VAT rate is vital for rural Ireland. The Minister could have increased the rate but he did not. He made sure the rate will remain at 9%. That is why the Wild Atlantic Way is helping Mayo, Kerry and every other county along the western seaboard. It is one of the best pieces of infrastructure that has ever been produced in this country. It is unbelievable what it has done for tourism.

The Local Link programme, which the two Deputies opposite raised, is a rural transport scheme for which we provided €16 million this year. We have increased this funding by almost €10 million. We will have almost €26 million in that programme next year. That is a great programme. It helps rural people to leave their homes to visit their local towns and post offices and to meet and communicate with other people. That is a vital scheme and we need to work with local communities on it. We have great spirit and great people and communities in rural Ireland. These communities are working and driving on together to make sure jobs are created, and it is our job to make sure this happens,

I also have responsibility for the charities regulator. I launched a report last week and it is great that this body is up and running. We have to get rid of the rogue charities which collect money that should go to charity but does not. I compliment the regulator and its board, which is doing an excellent job. A €5 million exemption was provided for charities in the budget yesterday and I compliment the Minister again in this regard. Many charities are fundraising and they are involved in capital programmes. They will now be able to reclaim the VAT on those programmes and I am delighted about that. That is good for charities. This work is driven by communities and volunteers. We are lucky to have so many volunteers in this country. They are involved in the Tidy Towns. We should consider what that competition does for every town, village and community in the country. The volunteers regularly do works that the local authority cannot do. We have beautiful towns and villages throughout the country because we have leaders and Tidy Towns committees in our communities. Next year is the 60th anniversary of the competition and I hope we will make it special. It was great to see all the excitement among the representatives of the towns and villages recently. That was their all-Ireland. They go out every day of the year to work on behalf of their community and I compliment them.

The Minister for Finance has to be complimented on the social welfare budget. The Christmas bonus is up to 85%. In difficult times in a difficult economy with little money and few resources, the Minister did a tremendous job in the budget. He has to be complimented and I am delighted to be part of this Government.

My priority for budget 2018 has been to deliver on a package of measures designed to help farmers, fishermen and food SMEs navigate the challenges of Brexit while furthering the objectives of the Food Wise 2025 strategy. Next year, the Exchequer contribution to my Department's Vote will amount to €1.556 billion in capital and current expenditure. In addition to the Department's Vote, in 2018 Ireland will receive €1.2 billion in direct funding from the EU for the basic payment scheme and advance payments of 70% will begin to issue to farmers next week.

Brexit poses serious challenges for the agrifood sector. The provision of support for vulnerable farmers, fishermen and for investment, innovation and market development in a food sector challenged by this uncertainty is a key feature of next year’s budget. In 2018, we will continue to focus on building competitiveness and new market opportunities while protecting vulnerabilities at all levels across the sector. I am a putting in place a comprehensive €50 million Brexit package of measures to support continued growth in our food exports, which increased by 13% in the first six months of 2017. Ensuring our food exporters, especially our SMEs, are competitive from a cost perspective in the international marketplace is a basic element of how we will meet the challenges posed by Brexit. My Department, therefore, in conjunction with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has secured budget funding for a new €300 million Brexit loan scheme to be delivered by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, through commercial lenders. This scheme will provide affordable, flexible financing to Irish business impacted by Brexit. Given the agrifood sector’s unique exposure to the UK market, my Department’s funding for this scheme totalling €9 million ensures that at least 40% of the fund will be available to food businesses.

Following on from the very positive reaction by farmers to the agriculture cashflow support loan scheme, which proved that significant demand exists for low-cost flexible finance, I am also providing €25 million to facilitate the development of new finance schemes next year for farmers, fishermen and food businesses. This funding provides a significant opportunity to leverage Exchequer funding into a significant loan fund which will be flexible enough to meet a range of financing needs for the sector. Details of these schemes will take some time to develop and will be announced in 2018. I will also allocate €5 million for the provision of capital grant aid to companies to carry out investment in the areas of improved efficiency and enhanced productivity.

The budget focuses on building new market opportunities abroad, particularly for food exporters with a significant exposure to the UK market. Since the Brexit decision, my Department has placed great emphasis on enhancing its own capacity and that of Bord Bia in the area of market diversification and new market access. Following on from the additional €10 million that I have allocated to Bord Bia since the Brexit vote, I will put forward another €4.5 million in 2018 to assist the agency in its promotional and developmental work overseas. In the areas of innovation, research and new product development, I propose to allocate an investment of €5 million to fund research and innovation in the prepared consumer food sector, a segment which is especially exposed to Brexit. Later this week, I will announce the establishment of a national food innovation hub, a facility where research, innovation and diversification in food, necessary to address the Brexit challenge, can flourish. This is in addition to the substantial provision of €18 million for fundamental agriculture food and forestry research.

In light of the specific vulnerability of the seafood sector to Brexit, €40.5 million will be allocated to the continued roll-out of the seafood development programme to support fishermen and seafood processors in the coming year.

With regard to the rural development programme, RDP, in total €626 million will be invested in the rural economy, direct to farmers, through the RDP schemes. I am particularly pleased to have delivered on the programme for Government commitment to increase the areas of natural constraint, ANC, scheme allocation for 2018. This increase will bring the allocation to €227 million for a scheme that provides invaluable direct financial support to farmers with lands in the many naturally constrained parts of the country. While I am conscious, in response to Deputy Healy-Rae, that in adding €25 million to that allocation, we will not fully close the gap on the cuts that were introduced in 2009, it is a programme for Government commitment. It will be benefit a substantial number of farmers. The payment is usually made in September and October and, therefore, it will be made at the back end of 2018. The next question we will have to consider collectively is how that is allocated among the different categories of disadvantaged provided for under the ANC designation. I have also provided for an increase of €20 million for the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, bringing the total funding available in 2018 up to €70 million.

I welcome the taxation measures announced by Minister for Finance, which I sought in my annual agri-taxation budget submission, including the renewal of stamp duty consanguinity relief on transfers of farmland, which facilitates succession and the earlier intergenerational transfer of family farms.

That rate remains at 1%. It should be noted that farmers under 35 years of age who qualify as young trained farmers are fully exempt from stamp duty on farm transfers by gift or sale. These reliefs provide significant incentives to encourage earlier inter-generational farm transfer. There are also generous incentives in place to encourage long-term leasing of agricultural land.

With regard to promoting renewable sources of energy, where active farmers lease farmland for solar panel use, it will be considered as eligible for agricultural relief and retirement relief. There is a continuation of measures to promote and support entrepreneurship by increasing the earned income tax credit by €200 to €1,150. It is a welcome step in the right direction. I acknowledge it is not the completion of equity with self-employed people. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae spoke eloquently about the need to promote the interests of self-employed people, but this is a step in the right direction. There is a further distance to travel but taken in conjunction with a series of measures we have introduced in the tax and social welfare codes, by extending benefits to the self-employed that they did not previously enjoy, it is recognition that the Government acknowledges the point made by Deputy Healy-Rae. These people provide employment for themselves, first and foremost, and often provide employment for many others as well. It is right and proper that we should recognise those risk takers. They take risks, put their money up-front and often provide employment for other people. It is right and proper that they should have the benefits of the tax and social welfare codes reflect that. My Department and I will continue to work closely with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and his Department on exploring further taxation measures for income stabilisation.

In recent years there have been significant improvements in the tax code as a consequence of an exercise established by my predecessor, Deputy Coveney, when he held this portfolio. There is a total of €350 million in appropriate targeted incentives for the agriculture sector to reflect the challenges it faces, such as dealing with volatility. Last year we had the five year income averaging, but I acknowledge that we must continue to add to the toolbox available to people to navigate income volatility in the sector.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae also mentioned hen harriers. That is another sector that suffered a quite draconian cutback in 2009 when the scheme of compensation was abruptly pulled from it. Following a public tender process we have appointed a consultant to design a scheme for people whose lands are affected by that designation. I hope that before the end of this year, or at the latest early in 2018, we will be in a position to open a scheme to invite applications from farmers whose lands are designated under the hen harrier designation and that payments would be made later in 2018. That is a step in the right direction. It does not address all of the restraints. As the Deputy said, there is a series of restrictions on those lands. One is in the area of forestry. It has taken too long to address those issues under the threat response plan. However, we moving in the right direction in that context and I am happy that my Department, in conjunction with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, under the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, will shortly be in a position to conclude that process which I hope will see a further easing of some of the restrictions on forestry on those lands as well. The two measures will go some distance in addressing an issue that has been ongoing for far too long without being adequately addressed.

I have given a brief overview of the range of measures that apply in the agrifood and marine sectors for 2018. I am confident that I have secured the funding necessary for the continued development of the Irish agrifood and marine sector in line with the strategy outlined in Food Wise 2025 and in meeting the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

As spokesperson on disabilities for Fianna Fáil, I wish to discuss some of the measures introduced in the budget. With regard to the €5 increase in the disability allowance, as they say in west Cork it is better than a kick from a donkey. In other words, it is better than nothing, but it is not enough. The increase, which is due to be implemented next March, just keeps parity with other social welfare recipients. It does not take account of the extra costs that having a disability incurs. The disability groups I met before the budget had hoped for a €20 increase. I was hoping for that too, but perhaps it will happen next year. The 50 cent reduction in prescription charges is also helpful, but the phasing out of this levy must be the ultimate aim.

It is important to recognise the challenges faced by people living with a disability and to address the costs associated with it. We await details of the 2018 HSE service plan but at this point we are advised that it will focus on a number of priority areas, including residential places, respite places and personal assistant and home support service hours. Clearly, our continued role in the confidence and supply arrangement is based on progress in areas such as these and, therefore, the ultimate test is the delivery of these measures, particularly when we see that the 2017 service plan failed to match the 2016 personal assistant and home support service hours provided. If the current trend continues the service will be 120,000 hours short of what was provided in 2016.

On a more positive note, the €3 million in funding for the Decision Support Service to facilitate the implementation of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act is welcome and will aid decision making for adults with capacity difficulties. Overall, the €15 million for new disability measures is a disappointing increase. In that regard, I will seek to ensure that what has been promised will be delivered. I also welcome the additional 1,090 special needs assistant, SNA, positions. Fianna Fáil put the SNA allocation policy in place in 1998. The previous Government deeply eroded the policy. While I welcome the new allocations, I ask that the fiasco of last summer not be repeated. We had to wait until well into the summer before the allocations were made, so principals, pupils, parents and the SNAs did not know where they stood.

I also ask Ministers to address the huge disconnect between announcements and delivery. They should walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

I thank Deputy Murphy O'Mahony for sharing time. First, I wish to offer my sympathy to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, on the very tough week or so his family has gone through.

When Deputies get a chance to speak on a budget many of the issues their constituencies face are raised in the Dáil. As one listens to the debate one finds that the Government is saying that everything is absolutely fantastic while the Opposition is saying that everything is dire. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Nevertheless, we are charged with trying to improve the lives of the people we are so lucky and honoured to represent here, so I wish to raise a number of issues. The first is the M20. I understand there is a programme coming down the track in that regard but it is vitally important. When I raised this matter as a Topical Issue earlier this year there was talk that it was going to be short-circuited and that a different route would be taken. It is vital that the M20 is prioritised because it will open up all the territory on the western corridor. It would alleviate pressure on Buttevant and Charleville while also connecting them. Where I live is an hour from any of the motorways. If there is to be balanced regional development the movement of the M20 to construction at a fast pace is vital for our countryside to flourish and grow.

The Minister, Deputy Ring, spoke about rural Ireland.

Rural areas face many challenges. The Minister referred to the Leader programme. Community organisations are working extremely hard to improve their communities. The funding logjam in the Leader programme must be removed because the sooner the funding is released, the better. The various projects funded under the Leader programme will contribute to employment in small businesses and traders. A substantial amount has been spent under Leader and it is vital that funding is released irrespective of what system is devised for the programme.

People are once again submitting planning applications to build homes in rural areas. Reference was made to a report that would be published on one-off housing. A raft of one-off houses was built in rural communities during the boom years, particularly between 2000 and 2007. Those who built these houses, whether natives to the area or people from outside, are making a substantial contribution to the communities in which they live. In 2000-2001, the planning authorities adopted the line that no further housing would be permitted on regional and rural roads. Representatives of An Taisce argued before the committee on the environment at that time that it was nonsensical to permit one-off housing. I am glad that advice was not heeded. Planners have consistently stated that housing must be built in groups. Large numbers of houses were built in estates such as Lismire and Boherbue, which later became ghost estates.

As councillors are hearing regularly and I have no doubt the Minister, Deputy Creed, and Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, are well aware, couples seeking planning permission to build homes in rural areas are finding the system stacked against them. In addition to the cost of contributions, many are experiencing difficulties securing planning permission to build a modest home. People who built one-off houses in the past ten or 15 years are rearing children who attend local schools, join football teams and participate in all other local activities.

A senior official in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government told me recently that the Department was about to publish a report challenging the practice of building one-off housing on the basis that it is unsustainable. We must get a grip on this issue for rural Ireland. We talk about services but rural areas also need people. We should provide incentives to attract people to them. There appears to be a national planning policy in place, perhaps dreamed up by officials rather than politicians, that we should not bother with areas west of Mallow and people should move to the east. This is a major issue.

Since my election to the Dáil 20 years ago, all Governments have spoken about how they would save post offices and report after report has been published on the issue. Action is needed at this stage. Post offices will only survive if a transactions-led initiative is taken. It is high time we got to grips with the issue and decided to support post offices.

I have raised the issue of respite care a number of times in recent months. I have met a number of parents of children with intellectual disabilities, particularly over the summer, who are crying out for respite services but are unable to get them. Earlier this year, the Health Service Executive south and Department of Health gave a commitment to provide respite care for one weekend in every quarter. Some families have received only three or four nights of respite care in the past 12 months. This is a major issue. One can see the pain and anxiety this causes and the effect that the lack of respite is having on parents and others who need a break from providing full-time care. The last time I raised the issue, the Taoiseach was very dismissive, stating that responsibility lay with officials from the Department of Health as opposed to the Department of Finance. Officials from the Department of Health informed me, however, that the Department of Finance was reluctant to commit money for respite care.

St. Joseph's Foundation in Charleville does great work providing services in three or four counties. As Dr. Martin O'Donnell says, it works with people from the cradle to the grave. Some service providers are section 38 organisations, while others are section 39 organisations. This means some organisations are fully funded by the State and their staff have pay, increments, pensions and everything else funded. These voluntary organisations were established on the basis of goodwill 50 years ago. They now face serious problems finding revenue to fund increments. My colleague, Deputy Eugene Murphy, spoke earlier at the meeting of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party about the use of agency nursing by organisations that do not have sufficient funding. The State must fully fund all these service providers because we will be challenged on how we protect vulnerable people who need help.

The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring, has left the Chamber. The scheme under which alarms are provided to elderly people living alone has been highly successful. Community alert organisations and Muintir na Tíre are involved in this scheme, under which contracts are provided primarily to locally based security firms which monitor the alarms and ensure they are all operating. I have been informed that a nationwide contract for monitoring these alarms has been awarded to a company from outside the country. How will this work if the company is not based on the island? The community organisations tell us they build up a rapport with the various security companies which operated the services heretofore.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, spoke about the hen harrier, which is a major issue. I hope the scheme to which he referred will be up and running by the end of the year and the consultants who have been appointed will address the real issue concerning the hen harrier. New evidence suggests that advice provided ten or 15 years ago in support of a ban on planting and the installation of wind farms in certain areas may not be correct. While I wish the scheme well, I ask the Minister to ensure compensation is provided to farmers whose lands are designated. Broadband is another issue in rural areas.

People who are approaching retirement often contact the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to obtain records on the amount of PRSI they have paid. The changes introduced in 2012, which were a retrograde step, especially for women, have been widely discussed. Many of those who have contacted the Department have been told they must set up an account and log into the Department's website to obtain their records. I spoke to officials in the Department about this issue this morning. Many people do not have access to computers.

They cannot constantly sit in front of computers in Kiskeam, Rockchapel or anywhere else to get basic information like whether PRSI has been paid on their behalf over the years.

This brings me to broadband. In the past four, five or six years, broadband has been mentioned time out of number. The introduction of a new initiative was announced. In 2014, we applied to the EU for state aid approval. That year and throughout 2015, the former Minister, Alex White, took the application through the EU while preparing tender documents to ensure broadband connectivity in places that could not sustain commercial broadband. However, we are no closer to that today than we were three or four years ago. Where is the breakdown? The ESB-Vodafone joint venture has withdrawn from the tender process. The best solution in terms of fibre broadband was to use the ESB Networks infrastructure because that was the only way of getting to each and every house no matter how remote. What has happened? There is no seriousness about the issue. Depending on how remote one is, wireless broadband might not work. People must move house or travel up and down roads just to send emails, which is a basic service. At a meeting in Newmarket on Friday night, someone told us that people in one area there did not have basic mobile phone coverage, never mind broadband. There are major issues in this regard.

I wish to raise a further issue. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government is conducting a review of tenant purchases. This matter was raised in the Dáil last week. People must show that they have incomes of over €15,000 and have a repayment capacity. However, some are in a position to buy their houses outright, or their families are in a position to buy for them because of family circumstances, for example, if they are the beneficiaries of other people's legacies. In a number of the cases on my books, people can buy their houses outright but, due to the way in which the tenant purchase scheme is regulated, they cannot do so. When the State was building a large amount of social housing in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, there was an incentive for families to buy their houses when their situations improved. That system worked well for society because it encouraged people to mind the houses that they were tenants in and to better themselves in that regard. As the Taoiseach did the other day, the Department will challenge this statement by saying that we sold off our stock, but it had a significant impact on the well-being and infrastructure of society. The anomalies involved should be examined.

We face a significant difficulty in terms of medical cards for terminally ill people. I want to be careful in what I say because it will go on the public record, but families with loved ones who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses are being asked to fill out forms and get doctors' letters and consultants' letters. By and large, they are not in the frame of mind to deal with this. Every single politician in the House will have faced families in such circumstances. A simple letter from a GP, one who knows the family and the person's circumstances, outlining what the illness is should do. Last year, the HSE asked us to go back over something because the end of life reason was not written on the consultant's letter. The GP gave a letter to the family and, mindful of the sensitivities of the diagnosis, put the reason in language that had the same meaning. The HSE should read what is written on these letters and make a judgment on same. Irrespective of cancer patients' incomes prior to their diagnoses, given that a diagnosis can have a significant impact on a family's finances in terms of job losses and so on, the HSE should accept a GP's letter and grant a medical card without further delay. For people who receive such diagnoses, this major issue has a detrimental effect on them and their families into the future.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute on this debate.

Next is Deputy O'Reilly, who is sharing time with Deputies Brady and Ó Caoláin.

I will confine my remarks to the issue of health, although I appreciate that the Minister for Health is not present. I am sure that he will make it his business to acquaint himself with Sinn Féin's position, unlike the Taoiseach, who did not fully understand it.

No one in the Dáil or anywhere else will contradict me when I say that we are in the middle of a health crisis. This is not just something that Sinn Féin says. Rather, it has been acknowledged widely by people outside and inside the House. As such, the manner in which money has been allocated in the budget beggars belief. The money for the health service represents an underfunding to ensure that the priority of tax cuts can be achieved.

I was shocked by how regressive the health section of the budget was. I almost did not know where to start when trying to put my thoughts together. The Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, put it best by calling it deeply disappointing and regressive. The IMO also skewered the claim that this was somehow the largest health budget ever and rightly stated that that was nothing but spin and fake news. I would not thank President Donald Trump for much, but I will thank him for giving us the phrase "fake news" because it saves us from using other terminology. We all know what "fake news" is. It is spin, it is bluster, it is bluff.

The IMO came to its conclusion for the same reasons that we in Sinn Féin did, namely, the budget will not even keep pace with rising health demands or health inflation and the crisis will worsen. Yesterday's budget announced an extra €685 million for the health service for 2018, but it needs an extra €691 million next year just to stay afloat. That is the true nature of this budget. When faced with a choice between increasing investment in the health service to make it fit for purpose and cutting taxes, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil chose tax cuts.

Nearly 700,000 people are on hospital waiting lists throughout the State, but the Government's response is to allocate €55 million to the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF. This is an increased allocation of scarce public sector resources into what is essentially a private sector fund. That money will no longer be available for the public service. It will not be available for those people who need investment in the public service the most. Instead, it will be diverted into the private sector. It will not reduce waiting lists to any great extent. I will not ask the Government to take my word for this, but the word of Dr. Sara Burke, a well-known health policy analyst. Her analysis of the NTPF's impact shows that, while we get a small short-term gain at best, it makes no meaningful or appreciable difference.

The prudent and practical measure of directing this money into the public service, which has the staff, equipment and ability to perform all of the procedures in question from the complex to the straightforward, should have been prioritised in the budget. Instead, the money has been diverted into the private sector. This is the source of most of my concern. Not only will public funds go into the private sector, but our nurses, doctors and other qualified health professionals and health workers will follow that money into the private sector and out of the public service. It is clear that the Fine Gael plan is to realign the health service from a public service to a private for-profit model. Nothing else would explain the budget's measures.

What was there in yesterday's budget for the 549 patients on trolleys?

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association and the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine have stated that people die because they are left on trolleys. The €50 million for acute services has been split so many ways I have lost count. I have lost count trying to keep track of the many ways this €50 million will be spent. What the health service needs is for the beds that were closed to be reopened immediately. That is why Sinn Féin proposed investing €153 million to open 500 beds. That is a very clear target and a very clear statement. It includes staffing theatres and labs, non-clinical staffing and other running costs to address capacity issues. The measures announced by the Government in budget 2018 make a mockery of the seriousness of this situation.

Let us look at our older persons. Care delivered in the home is the preferred option for most older people. They want to stay living at home with dignity and respect and to live independently for as long as possible. What has the budget really done for their health needs? One of the selected measures, which the Government has put up in lights, is that there will be €32 million for funding for older people. That is to cover delayed discharges, care pathways and transitional care beds, as well as 45 additional home care packages per week to be issued during the winter. Those 45 home care packages per week will add up to around 675 packages. This will hardly address even the current state of unmet need never mind cater for those who will go on to need home help and home care. Our older persons are not getting their hours as it stands. There is not a Deputy in the House who does not have constituents coming to him or her saying they have been allocated a certain number of hours but they cannot actually access those hours. We have shown how we can increase home help hours by 20% resulting in 2.1 million additional home help hours and we have shown that home care packages can be increased by 15% which will mean 2,485 extra home care packages. Such meaningful investment in our older people would go some way to delivering for them and their families and ensure they can live with the dignity and respect they have earned.

In mental health, the Government repackaged old money and announced it as new. When one breaks it down, what was delivered was €15 million. That is not even new wine in old bottles. It is no wine at all. That is nothing for the mental health budget. It is an insult to people who are desperate and watching the budget to see if they will get any respite. The answer is they very definitely will not. Mental Health Reform has expressed extreme disappointment at the shortfall in the budget for mental health. Ireland's mental health services are under severe pressure, yet we see in the budget the big plan is to implement A Vision for Change, a ten-year strategy that is now 11 years old. It has not been implemented up until now and I am not confident it will be.

The Minister for Finance announced an additional 1,800 front-line staff in our health service. I would welcome it but unfortunately I am hesitant to do so because the latest census figures show that out of the 1,000 additional nurses promised as per the agreement with the nursing unions and the HSE, we see 13 additional nurses within the health service. That is 13 out of 1,000. Where will the Government get the 1,800 front-line staff from? How will it convince these people to come and work in our health service? Dr. Rhona Mahony, giving evidence to the Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution this morning, said we are already 140 midwives short, yet we see in the budget an announcement that the maternity strategy will be implemented. We do not have the staff to do this. The National Association of General Practitioners, the IMO, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, and all the organisations that represent staff within the health service have absolutely slated this budget for exactly what it is. It will fail people. It will not address the health crisis but it will put money into the pockets of those in the private sector. It will leave people on trolleys and on waiting lists. It will leave our elderly people in a desperate state where they do not know where they will get their home help hours from. As a consequence of the budget that was announced yesterday, our health service will be worse this time next year.

There are elements of this budget to be welcomed but in reality many of the social protection measures are the reintroduction of old payments that Fine Gael either cut or abolished, announcements of new schemes without any substance and name changes. Only Fine Gael could bring about a situation where for the second budget in a row, lone parents will be better off on one-parent family payment or on jobseeker’s transitional payment than at work and receiving family income supplement, FIS, now the working family payment. This will not be the case for all lone parents but it will certainly be the case for some. As a result of the jobseeker’s transitional payment and the one-parent family payment income disregards and the other secondary benefits that jobseeker’s transitional payment and one-parent family payment recipients can avail of, such as fuel supplement and the Christmas bonus, some lone parents will be better off moving from the working family payment to jobseeker’s transitional payment or the one-parent family payment. This does not fit very well with the Government’s mantra of work over welfare.

In June last year, the then Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, told me in reply to a parliamentary question that the working family payment was one of the most significant commitments in the programme for Government and that considerable work and analysis needed to be done on it. The result of that considerable work and analysis is a name change. We told the Minister at the time that introducing a new scheme to do the exact same thing as family income supplement was pointless, and I am glad the Government has finally come to that conclusion itself. While the working family payment was such a pivotal part of Fine Gael’s general election campaign last year, it is clear it was nothing more than PR and spin. Fine Gael knows all about PR and spin given it is spending €5 million of taxpayers' money to run its own spin unit.

We know from the Indecon report published last week that previous cuts made by Fine Gael and the Labour Party to the one-parent family payment have led to increased poverty among lone parents and their children. We also know that in the past 12 months some lone parents have not been able to afford to heat their homes or buy a warm coat. This budget comes nowhere close to addressing the concerns concluded in the Indecon report. Budget 2018 does nothing to tackle the discrimination faced by young jobseekers on reduced payments, reductions that are unjustified and discriminatory according to Social Justice Ireland. Budget 2018 continues this discrimination and, at the same time, widens the gap between our young jobseekers and all other jobseekers. There is now a gap of €90.30 between jobseekers' payments for 18 to 24 year olds and those aged 26 and over. Sinn Féin welcomes the State pension increases. It is disappointing that this increase will be delayed again this year, especially when it is needed in January and February to help pay heating bills.

The discrimination against our older citizens also continues in budget 2018 because it fails to reverse the changes that were brought about in 2012 or the pension cuts that impact more than 35,000 older people, mainly women. This has been acknowledged across the House. I listen week in, week out, to Deputies on the Government, the Fianna Fáil and other benches criticising it and calling on the Government to do something. The budget does absolutely nothing to address that discrimination. It is all just talk and waffle.

Fine Gael continues to punish tens of thousands of older people for taking time out of the workforce to care for their families and rear children. The answer we always get to this is that the total contributions approach is being brought forward to 2020, which is too far away. We need clarity as to whether this will be retrospective.

Will this take into account those already in receipt of reduced State pensions? There is nothing in this budget for 65-year olds who will continue to be forced to sign on for jobseeker's payment through mandatory retirement. More than 5,000 people aged 65 are on jobseekers' payments.

The recent announcement to extend maternity leave and benefit to mothers who have had their babies prematurely is welcome. However, the date imposed is unfair. Just today, I was contacted by a mother, whose twin babies were born 16 weeks early on 26 September, five days before the start date of 1 October, who, therefore, cannot receive the extended time off and benefit. I ask the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, to consider extending this to mothers currently on leave who have had premature babies. This would not cost much, but would be very beneficial to these families.

The budget is a missed opportunity and it ingrains the discrimination in our social protection system for older citizens and for young unemployed people.

Budget 2018 was an opportunity for the Government and Fianna Fáil to make a real difference in the lives of those who are living with a disability in Ireland. Priority should have been given to increasing disability incomes to help move disabled people out of poverty. It should have been about increasing personal assistant hours, so vital for the independence of those living with a disability. It should have been about taking some pressure off carers and providing adequate respite services. It should have been about accessibility - access to education, transport, employment and appropriate housing, but it was not about any of those things. Government policy continues to ignore the needs and rights of those with disabilities.

The Government is, of course, spinning this budget in as positive a light as it can. I accept and welcome the €5 increase to disability allowance but this will not come into effect until March. There is absolutely no reason people depending on social welfare should be forced to wait six months, until the end of March 2018, for this additional relief.

I welcome the funding allocated for the decision support service, as required for the ratification of the long-awaited United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. I sincerely hope that this will speed up the ratification process, although I would not hold my breath. I take this opportunity to remind the Government that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality is waiting for its Committee Stage amendments to the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I hope these will present in the very near future.

It is hard to imagine the frustration and disappointment felt following yesterday’s budget announcement by those tireless disability campaigners, the families of those affected by a disability and, most importantly, those living with a disability. Year in, year out they campaign vigorously for additional support services. They struggle and strive in order to be treated as equals in this country. They are plamásed on a continual basis being told that significant investment has been made and will be made, but the litany of promises continues to be broken. The funding provided by the Government is a tiny drop in the ocean given the level of investment that is required to ensure that real equality is achieved.

I heard reports in the run-up to the budget suggesting that the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities issues, Deputy Finian McGrath, was threatening to vacate his position in protest at the Government’s failure to properly reflect the needs of people with disabilities in budget 2018. What did he get to persuade him to stay in place? Was there even less provided for people with disabilities up to the time of his protest? I can see nothing in what was announced here yesterday that would have brought him in from the cold.

Sinn Féin has been listening to people with disabilities and that is what we all need to do. Each year we put forward proposals as part of our costed alternative budget that would make a huge difference in their lives and those of their families. Our proposals reflect the fact that Sinn Féin demands equality for people with disabilities. We assert that it is possible to improve the lives of all who live with a disability; it is simply a matter of priorities and choices. In this House and this institution we need to show greater collective intent in putting people with disabilities front and centre in our considerations, if not in budget 2018, then most certainly in budget 2019. The commitment for that needs to be made now.

The Government decided to invest €5 million in a communications unit for itself. What would that translate into? It would translate into very important measures of support that would help the most vulnerable in society. Ba chóir go mbeadh náire air.

I call the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle. I think he has been here the longest.

I propose to share time with the Ministers of State, Deputies Breen, McEntee and Kyne, if that is okay.

Five minutes each.

The Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, has spoken already.

Budget 2018 provides new opportunities, builds competitiveness and protects the agrifood and fisheries sector in the face of the Brexit challenge in the shape of an extra €64 million allocation to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Vote. I particularly welcome the support for the rural development programme, with an increase of spending to bring the programme to €626 million in 2018 and the increase of €25 million in the areas of natural constraint, ANC, scheme, honouring a commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government. I particularly acknowledge the efforts of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Creed, and the officials in the Department in securing that extra funding.

Tonight, I will focus on my key areas of responsibility: forestry, horticulture, organics and the greyhound sector. The year 2018 will see continued major investment in forestry with an allocation of €106 million for forestry development. This is evidence of the Government’s commitment to the further development of the sector in line with the forestry programme 2014-2020, recognising the role of forestry in helping to achieve climate change targets. This allocation will allow for the planting of over 6,600 ha of new forests next year and is an increase in the budget over what was spent in the past three years. Funding has also been provided for over 100 km of new forest roads.

I am keenly aware of the challenges that the horticulture sector is experiencing in light of recent currency fluctuations. The increase in the funding for the commercial horticultural sector secured last year is maintained for 2018 with a budget of €5 million in funding for capital investments, which in fact probably amounts to double that in actual investment.

Processors of horticultural produce will qualify for the Brexit loan scheme announced yesterday and an additional loan scheme for primary producers, including horticulture producers, is to be considered and developed as we speak. Bord Bia is investing in market development programmes to assist companies facing currency challenges and will continue to work with horticulture companies to improve competitiveness.

Organic farming is a growth industry in every sense of the word. The value of the market in Ireland has grown by double digits in recent years. The number of producers and the area under organic production has expanded also. I welcome the €11.7 million allocated to this important sector in 2018. A total of €10.5 million is being provided for the organic farming scheme and a further €1.2 million for development of the organic sector. This will provide for ongoing support to more than 1,700 organic farmers under the scheme, as well as wider supports in marketing, promotion and awareness, and capital investments by processors.

Additional support of more than €1 million is being made available to organic farmers under the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, organic capital investment programme. With 72,000 ha of land now under production, we have met all targets set within our rural development programme. The emphasis is now on developing sustainable markets for an increased volume of organic product to ensure the maximum value added yield.

The future of the greyhound industry is dependent on a strong Government platform, the industry having the highest standards of integrity founded on strong regulatory systems and robust animal welfare controls. The allocation of €16 million for the industry in 2018 will support the development of the greyhound racing sector in Ireland and ultimately provide a platform for its contribution to the economy. This will be further enhanced by the greyhound industry (amendment) Bill, which has progressed through pre-legislative scrutiny and which I will further advance through the Oireachtas this autumn.

I also welcome the opportunity to contribute to this evening's debate on budget 2018. This is the first budget in ten years about which we can say that we are balancing our books. The money that is going out is equal to the money coming in. This is a significant milestone which should not be underestimated. It means that, as a country, we are moving towards more secure economic waters in which we are balancing our economy and putting in place a sustainable plan to safeguard our national finances. The ratio of expenditure to tax cuts is 2:1. Twice as much is given over to capital and current spending as to tax cuts. We want to achieve two things with this. First, we want to reward work and make it pay for the 225,000 people who are back working. We need to make sure that it pays for them to go back to work so we are reducing the tax on work without narrowing our tax base. We are reducing the lower rate of USC from 2.5% to 2% and the higher rate from 5% to 4.75%. We are lifting the threshold of the lower rate of USC to ensure that those who are on the minimum wage, which is increasing, will not pay the higher rate. We are increasing the threshold at which the higher rate of income tax applies. This is to ensure that people who are on modest incomes do not pay the higher rate.

To look at expenditure, next year we will spend more than €60 billion, which includes €5.3 billion on capital infrastructure and more than €55 billion on current spending. We need to ensure that we use the recovery, for which the people sacrificed a great deal, to improve our services and support for families, but we must also recognise that there are those who cannot work and who need additional help.

If we look at investment in health, 1,800 new front-line staff will be employed. An additional €55 million will be spent on the National Treatment Purchase Fund and there will be additional home care packages, notwithstanding that we are working on a statutory scheme to ensure that those people who want to remain in their homes will be able to do so. We have allocated additional funding for mental health and, if I am not mistaken, if we take into account promises from last year's budget, those made this year and those made looking forward to next year, there will have been an increase of more than €90 million over three years, which is a significant increase.

Education will receive its highest budget ever. It is up €1 billion under Fine Gael and will provide 1,300 new schoolteachers and 1,000 new special needs assistants while reducing the pupil-teacher ratio to 26:1. In child care Tusla will receive extra funding. In justice there will be 800 new gardaí. There is additional funding allocated for disability provision. There is also additional funding for the most vulnerable in our society, including increases in social welfare payments, carer's allowance, unemployment assistance, disability allowance, the one-parent family payment and the family income supplement. All of this is progress. Of course there are areas in which we would like to see more progress, but it is a significant start.

I welcome the measure introduced to mitigate any negative impacts from Brexit. We do not know what the outcome of those negotiations will be but we will be developing a €300 million loan fund for small and medium enterprises and introducing a €25 million fund specifically for the agrifood sector. These are necessary and vital supports for our industries across the board. There will be additional funding to double the amount of people working on Brexit related issues in our State agencies, which is welcome. New supports for capital investment in the food industry, for Bord Bia and for marketing and promotion activities have been announced. These measures, along with the investment in developing a new rainy day fund from 2019, will assist our small and medium enterprises, our agricultural sector and Ireland as a whole in tackling the challenges which may arise as a result of Brexit or any other unforeseen threats.

My Department has received an increase in funding which will help Ireland in its task of doubling its global footprint. The fact that we did not close any of our embassies during the economic downturn has contributed to placing Ireland at the front and centre of the current Brexit negotiations. The announcement of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, yesterday of new Irish embassies and consulates is an important first step in expanding and our global footprint and diversifying our trade portfolio as we prepare for Brexit.

While Brexit is happening we in Ireland need to continue the discussion around the future of Europe. While the UK may be leaving the EU, we will not be, and, while we are losing a close ally, we need to build strategic alliances and lay out the type of Europe we want. That is why I welcome the increase in funding to my Department to support the future of Europe debate which I will be launching in the coming weeks. I am looking forward to leading this civic dialogue and engaging with people about what they want from Europe and how it can work better for them.

I welcome the €8 million increase in funding for the pyrite remediation scheme. This will see a total budget of €30 million next year. This will allow for an additional 430 homes to be remediated. It is an issue which has impacted upon many families, not least in my own county of Meath. Since the scheme was established, some 250 homes in Meath have been remediated which represents an investment of €17.5 million. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, for that.

Obviously while the pyrite remediation scheme deals with people who are already in their homes, I am acutely aware that there are those who are not - those who are struggling to find accommodation and those who are in emergency accommodation. I welcome the many measures which have been introduced to tackle this problem which we face at the moment while also recognising the different needs of the overall population.

This is not a giveaway budget. Yes, there are areas in which we would like to see more progress and we hope to continue work in those areas in the coming years but overall this is a positive budget. It seeks to put the people of Ireland first. We want to ensure fairness for those in need, to reward those in work and to protect our country from any future global shocks. We cannot go back to the boom and bust economic model which has failed us so many times. We need to provide certainty to families and businesses by making sensible, long-term investments which benefit us now and into the future. I support this budget as I believe it does just that.

The budgetary measures announced by the Minister for Finance yesterday are pro-business and pro-jobs. That allows my Department to build on the outstanding enterprise and employment achievements of recent years while also providing a range of supports to allow enterprises to effectively deal with the challenges of Brexit and other global developments.

This budget is of course set against a backdrop of significant achievement in recent years. As a Government it is encouraging to see that the incentives of the last few years are working. We all remember the days when unemployment was at 15.1%. Today it has dropped to just over 6%. There are also more than 2 million people back at work. These outcomes have not occurred by chance. They are the result of carefully considered and focused Government initiatives and prudent management of the economy.

Brexit, as we all know, is one of the greatest challenges in the history of the State. The introduction of the €300 million Brexit loan scheme for business is indicative of the Government’s commitment to facing the challenges head on. Importantly, the scheme, which provides affordable financing to Irish companies impacted by Brexit, is open to all trading companies of less than 500 employees, not just those who are clients of Enterprise Ireland. In further recognition of the relevance and contribution of the enterprise sector, my Department has been allocated a record high of €560 million in capital funding. This will increase the capacity of the Department’s agencies to respond to the challenges of Brexit and to increase innovative capacity. Provision has been made for an additional 50 staff across the agencies in the Department, bringing to over 100 the number of additional staff allocated to deal with the response to Brexit.

The Government is acutely aware of the need to ensure that economic success is felt in all the regions, not just in the greater Dublin area. Vibrant and competitive regions are important not just from an economic perspective, but also from a social point of view. As a Government, we want to encourage and support all regions, cities, towns and communities to achieve their economic and social potential. Recent Government initiatives have been placing a renewed focus on regional development. We have the regional action plans for jobs which contain specific, measurable targeted actions, which are producing real results.

In terms of our Department’s performance, I am particularly encouraged by its record in creating employment and increasing enterprise capability in all the regions. In 2016, almost two thirds of new jobs created by Enterprise Ireland supported companies, and over half of those created by IDA Ireland, were located outside Dublin. Indeed, four out of every five jobs currently being created are outside Dublin. This is a massive recognition of the Government’s commitment to regional development, because jobs, as we all know, provide the energy and drive for the pursuit of a host of other social objectives.

This brings me to the local enterprises offices, LEOs. Their funding has increased to €22.5 million for 2018, an increase of almost 20% on the figure of two years ago. This will allow them build on the 34,000 jobs they are currently supporting throughout the country.

I am also delighted that €25 million has been allocated to Enterprise Ireland to fund a competitive call for proposals early in 2018 that will further support regional enterprise initiatives.

I will move on to the Health and Safety Authority as I am aware time is limited. Of note is the increase of €400,000, which is important. The additional funding will support the authority in undertaking a wide range of preventive, awareness-raising and enforcement activity across a variety of sectors, particularly against the backdrop of increased employment and economic activity in all sectors, not just the construction sector but agriculture as well.

IDA Ireland, meanwhile, through its winning strategy, continues to secure major gains for Ireland in terms of its pursuit of global investment opportunities. We are committed to the pursuit of the opportunities presented by advances in technology. We are fully aware of the economic opportunities offered by the digital economy and are positioned to ensure that we take full advantage of them.

Our commitment to the digital economy is complemented by the Government’s commitment to data protection. Since 2014, there has been a significant programme of investment to increase the resources of the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner. This firmly establishes Ireland as one of the best in its class in terms of its data protection regime and is fundamental to providing business confidence that further encourages business growth and foreign direct investment. In budget 2018, the office has been allocated a total budget of €11.67 million which represents a 55% increase on the 2017 allocation. The 2018 funding increase will allow for recruitment of approximately a further 40 staff, bringing total staff numbers to around 130. The additional funding will also facilitate the roll-out of further awareness-raising initiatives relating to the general data protection regulation, GDPR, which will come into law in May 2018.

In conclusion, I offer my assurance that Ireland is open for business and well positioned for the years ahead. The measures announced in budget 2018 provide further evidence of the Government’s commitment in this regard.

We have four minutes remaining in this time slot. Deputy Kelleher is to speak and there is then another Government slot of 20 minutes. I have only one speaker listed for that slot. If the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, were to wait until after Deputy Kelleher, there is likely to be more time.

I was looking forward to hearing the Minister of State's contribution.

Does the Deputy want me to go first? It is fine with me for Deputy Kelleher to go first.

I welcome the opportunity to speak. In my time observing budgets in this House in the last few years, I have observed that the set-piece on budget day is no longer what it was. There is an evolving system of how we present budgets in this House. There is a broader public debate out there which is important. With the budgetary process that has been proposed and amended in recent years, the Oireachtas has more input which is healthy and should be encouraged and fostered. All Departments should be more proactive in interacting with the various Oireachtas oversight committees to ensure there is a continual flow of information between the Departments and the committees, not just around the actual Estimates in a historical context but on a proactive basis as well.

There is no doubt that the economy is in full recovery. The growth projections for the next years are very positive. Unemployment has dropped quite dramatically and there is huge potential and opportunity for the State to reinvest in social capital and infrastructure as well. As a people and a society, we must become more cohesive. We must ensure that we disperse the largesse that the State has in the key areas that need support. The areas that need State investment and prioritisation are health, education and housing.

If we are to talk about failure to acknowledge problems and do something meaningful to address them, we do not have to look further than 500 yards from here any night of the week. People are sleeping on doorsteps on our main thoroughfares. That is the manifestation of the abject failure of the State to deal with a problem that should be solvable and should not be beyond the capacity of the State, the people, the Government or the Parliament to resolve. We have over 8,000 people registered as homeless. Families are sleeping in hotels not just for weeks but for years now. There is no point in us pretending that this is not a result of policy failure. It was obvious for a number of years that the failure of the State and the Government to intervene in a meaningful, timely manner would create these difficulties. It is now evident every night of the week on Grafton Street. Outside Brown Thomas last night there were five people sleeping when I walked past. That is what is happening.

Those involved in the building of houses, primarily the banks including the pillar banks that were supported by the State, adhere to the idea that house prices should inflate. It is obvious that there is now a policy for inflation of house prices. A few key players benefit from that. Those who do not benefit are those in the sleeping bags outside Brown Thomas and those across all of society who are under huge pressure. We have conditioned ourselves to inflationary house prices as a policy that benefits the banks primarily and then the Government in the form of taxes. The banks do not want to fund builders to build houses. The fewer houses that are built, the better for the banks because more people will be looking for fewer houses. That repairs the impaired balance sheets of our pillar banks. Let us be under no illusions. The fewer houses that are built, the better for Bank of Ireland and AIB and all the other banks involved. They benefit from the fact that no houses will be built because house prices will continue to go up and they will have less of an obligation to set aside money for bad debt and for impairment. The Government will be quite happy as well with the property taxes and everything else that flows from this inflation.

We have a situation which manifests itself in the person sleeping rough on the street. We are also making another generation slaves to bricks and mortar. They will not have any opportunity to invest in the real priorities such as their children's education, time with family, time interacting and volunteering in a community. We will put everybody who is not already on the treadmill on it over the next years. They will run themselves to death either financing a house or paying out massive rent because there are not enough houses being built. Either way, they will be flogged to death on that treadmill. It is dislocating society. In years to come, we as parliamentarians will look back and say it was the one thing we failed miserably on, addressing that fundamental issue of dear houses sucking the life out of individuals and families. They should be able to spend their money on helping the child who might need extra resource hours. Parents with an extra additional income should be able to use it to support their child in some other meaningful way. What they are doing is piling it week in, week out either into a mortgage or into an exorbitant rent. We have failed to address this. Everybody is involved in it in one way or another but nobody is willing to stand up and say we have to change how we plan our society in terms of houses.

We must also change how we zone and develop land while ensuring house prices are not inflated significantly. The Republic has a population of approximately 4.7 million people and, per square kilometre, is not densely populated. However, it has the highest house prices in Europe. It beggars belief we are back in the same position in which we found ourselves ten years ago. Young families are queueing up to buy houses for sale and committing themselves to 25-year mortgages. In those 25 years they will have children, but they will be unable to invest the time and human capital in their children's education to raise a family. Instead, they will spend the next 25 years on a treadmill, subsidising some hedge fund or pension fund, as well as the banks through exorbitant house prices.

This is not just a Government issue but also a societal one. If we do not address it, we will condemn another generation such as mine to paying expensive house prices. It is unnecessary. Houses can be built for €200,000, yet three miles from here a three bedroom semi-detached house costs between €600,000 and €700,000. Young people are being herded out to the suburbs again. We are not building a sustainable society or economy in our cities and towns. If the Government is going to do anything on the housing issue, it must be to change from viewing houses as an ATM for the State, banks and hedge funds to putting a roof over one's head and a place where an individual or a family can put down roots in a community.

In the past few years inpatient, outpatient and day case lists have escalated to the point where there are now 670,000 people on some treatment waiting lists, with 10,000 on secretive lists, the hidden lists about which we know. Potentially there are other lists about which we have not yet found out, but we will keep on scratching. More importantly, we have conditioned ourselves to regard 549 patients on hospital trolleys as acceptable. This morning's figure of 549 did not even make the headlines in the newspapers. In 1988 when the first admitted patient had to stay overnight on a trolley in an emergency department, it was a shock to the system. The consultant who had witnessed it said he could not believe a patient admitted to a hospital had to remain in the emergency department overnight. This morning 549 patients were on trolleys when they should have been admitted to hospital. It has become a non-event and a non-issue which we do not discuss any more. We have conditioned ourselves to accept mediocrity in the health service. We have a health system which is at a standstill. There are now 670,000 people on some waiting list. Whatever else is done, we have to accept that we are failing abysmally.

There was cross-party consensus on the Sláintecare report. Some members had concerns, but they all signed off on the major points of how health care should be funded in the years ahead. In the short to medium term, regardless of whatever ideological views or objections Members may have, we must ensure the National Treatment Purchase Fund is properly funded and will become proactive in driving down hospital waiting lists. From past experience, we know that it does work. It is included in the confidence and supply agreement and welcome that €55 million has been committed to it for spending next year.

The next issue might be slightly parochial, but there is a larger vision which will interest the Minister of State from Galway and the Minister of State from Limerick, opposite. The M20 motorway project is a critically important infrastructural project. I do not say that because it would just be good for Cork. In connecting Galway, Limerick and Cork, along the west coast, it would provide a counterbalance to the pressures on the east coast, primarily in Dublin. If we were to be imaginative, it would also help in providing a wonderful area in which to live. There are universities in Limerick, Galway and Cork, and there are international airports, a rail network and deep water ports which would be within a two-hour journey from Cork or Galway if that link road were in place. It would become one of the finest and most sought after places in which to live, not just in Ireland but also in Europe. Investment in the project is critically important to ensure we will have an alternative to Dublin. Equally, it would open up the entire west coast to investment and accessibility for living. I urge the Government to examine the project and not push it down the road as it has in the past.

The other important part of the project is the provision of a proper north ring road in Cork city. We need the M20 motorway project in an international context and the north ring road for the constituency of Cork North-Central.

What about the Galway city bypass?

Yes, I support that project, too. It is hard to get to areas in the west from Cork through Galway.

The Deputy had better mention Roscommon and Kildare, too.

It is hard to get from Cork to Limerick, too. If Cork, Limerick, Galway were interconnected, the region would be an influential place and engine for economic growth, not only for Ireland but also for the rest of Europe. It is the part of Europe that is nearest to the United States and significant opportunities would be provided.

The budget has provided for initiatives in certain areas. The key issue in the next few years will be the provision of housing. The Government's success or failure will resonate for years to come. It will be judged on how we restructure and reorient housing policy. We do not need to condemn another generation to the slavery of bricks and mortar.

I thank Deputy Billy Kelleher for sharing his time.

It is important to remind some Members and the public that Fianna Fáil entered into a confidence and supply agreement in May 2016. I was a new Deputy at the time and could not understand why it was taking so long to put a Government in place. There was stalemate. In fairness, Fianna Fáil took a brave decision and did the right thing in working with Fine Gael to put a Government in place. Does it suit every Fianna Fáil Member or grassroots supporter? No, it does not. Does it suit Fine Gael? No, it does not, but it was the right thing to do for the country. I am convinced of this because many of the electorate to whom I speak tell me to get on with the job and do it correctly.

In the confidence and supply agreement we have achieved certain measures. By the way, it was to cover three budgets, of which this is the second. As far as I am concerned, our conditions are being honoured. It does not solve everything, but we are not the party in government. We have had certain measures included in this budget, as in the last one, which will alleviate some difficulties. It is important to realise that as part of the deal with Fine Gael, there is a 2:1 split in favour of expenditure and investment in public services over tax reductions. Again, the public believes that is a good way of progressing.

We must ensure that services are improved at every opportunity. There are major problems in housing and health.

I welcome the increased funding for the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF. It has been proven to work. Some Deputies are very critical of it but the figures from when it was previously in place under a Fianna Fáil-led Government show that waiting lists were reduced. I have no doubt that the funding for it this year will result in many operations being speeded up and waiting lists reduced in many areas.

I also welcome the €25 million allocation for the areas of natural constraints, ANC, schemes that are very important to farmers, as Deputies Kelleher, Kyne, McLoughlin and O'Donovan will know.

The retention of mortgage interest relief at 75% is crucial. Deputy Kelleher has spent much of his time in the Dáil talking about the cost of houses and saying that so many people are homeless in our society. It is important that mortgage interest relief is maintained at 75%. It pierces my heart every time I hear about children not having a roof over their heads. I always think of my own two children who are now 19 and 14 years of age and wonder how they would feel or react if they were living out of a hotel room or bad accommodation that they would have to leave in the morning when their parent or parents would try to get them to school, then be collected after school, be fed at some stage and go back to the bad accommodation in the evening. It is horrifying and an absolutely horrible situation that we cannot solve the housing issue. I am very concerned for people who grow up in those types of situations.

There are failings in the budget. I am not happy with the provision it makes for broadband or child care. The funding provided for child care is poor.

I am still looking for the rainy day fund. As Fianna Fáil spokesman on flood relief and the Office of Public Works, OPW, I am not talking about the rainy day fund that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, referred to yesterday in terms of putting a few bob away for a rainy day. I have been talking to the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, about this issue. Another rainy day fund needs to be discussed in the House, which is relief for those who have been hit by flooding. Climate change is now a massive issue here and unless we get more funding and put more ideas in place, many parts of the country will encounter grave difficulties. Members know what recently happened in Donegal and what has been happening along the River Shannon for many years. It is getting worse and rainfall levels are changing. We are facing a massive difficulty in that regard.

There are many other issues I want to address and I will probably speak on them when there are further discussions on the budget next week. Overall, the budget was as fair a deal as we could get. There are failings in it and they need to be addressed but overall I hope it will go through and we will see what will happen in budget 2019.

With the indulgence of the Ceann Comhairle I will share my time with Deputy McLoughlin.

I agree with everything that has been said and I will not list off what has been done or the impacts the budget will have. I was first elected to the Dáil in 2011 along with the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, and Deputy McLoughlin. Some Deputies have been Members of the House for far longer than me. Budgets at that time were far more difficult and I have no doubt that when Fianna Fáil was in government in the years immediately prior to 2011 it was not pretty either. It is hard for politicians to make difficult and unpopular decisions but there is no harm in reflecting on the impact of those decisions on families and people that depend on the State.

There is no doubt that some of the decisions made between 2008 and the middle of the previous Dáil, at which stage things started to improve, took an awful toll on individuals, families and communities. Many people lost their jobs or houses and some had to emigrate. Some could not cope with the mental, physical and other strain that was put upon them and paid the ultimate cost.

In the context of budget discussions it is very easy to reel off everything that is right or wrong but the most important thing the House could do would be to take a collective view that a small bit of cop-on is needed as to our obligations as voices of the people or Teachtaí Dála. We have an obligation to be honest with people and to ensure that whatever happened before does not recur. I am no stranger to political theatre and all Members engage in it from time to time but recriminations about the past are just that and they do not help with dealing with present or future issues. All Members are guilty of it and sometimes fall into the trap of looking backward and engaging in recriminations. I do not disagree with what was said by Deputies Kelleher and Eugene Murphy regarding how the job of a Government is to address present and future problems and to ensure that it learns from the past, tries to move on and does not repeat the same mistakes. All Members know the definition of a person who keeps making the same mistakes and expects a different result.

Deputy Kelleher said that we are looking at the budget in a different political context and other Deputies, including Deputy Eugene Murphy, mentioned the responsibilities of political parties. Some Members absent responsibility and that is their prerogative. Instead, they come to the House and rant and rave about everything that is wrong. There are many things wrong but those Members offer no tangible solutions.

Although we are by no means out of the woods, we are in a situation where we have the benefit of hindsight and can ensure that the foundation stones we put in place for the future are solid. They are not perfect but everything we put in place is future-proofed. All Members of the Oireachtas collectively have to cop on and realise that this is not just politics or telephone number figures plucked out of the sky that do not impact on people. People with real problems and real lives are affected by our decisions and we have to be more honest and upfront with them.

We cannot do everything overnight. Some Members believe we can but they have never costed anything in their lives and are not going to start now. The public regard such Members as way out there anyway and expect no more from them than that. Most Members take their jobs responsibly, such as those from whom I heard very responsible contributions during today's debate. Many Deputies have highlighted problems and a lot of gaps but very few who made contributions to the debate had suggestions as to how the gaps can be filled without impacting on other areas. It is great that there is more money circulating in the economy and we hope that will continue. However, the Government has to make choices and the ultimate choice is to try to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people while focusing on those who need it most.

The Government was formed after a bit of a hiatus. As Deputy Murphy said, nobody envisaged what happened. Nobody voted for the current minority Government arrangement but it is what we were left with when those who could command a majority - who are not currently in the Chamber - decided they would not. Members who believed the responsible thing to do was to remain in opposition to keep in check those who would otherwise run amok did so and that has to be respected. Nobody voted for these arrangements but people now respect that the Members who decided to saddle up and take responsibility, whether in government or through constructive opposition, are doing so in the best interests of the country because we have learned from our collective mistakes. No Member is claiming he or she has not made a mistake. Any that would claim never to have made a mistake have never made anything and are about as useful to the public as a chocolate teapot. I have no problem taking criticism or abuse and I get my fair share of it from an online group who constantly look for a new name to call me. There are no prizes for guessing who those people are. However, they have nothing to offer Ireland at the moment and nothing concrete to suggest within budget or reason.

Members should be honest with people and tell them there are massive problems such as those in health, which has received the largest budget allocation, although I will refrain from going through the figures.

There are huge problems in housing and in regional Ireland. If there were not, we would not be here. If there were not massive problems, we would have to ask ourselves what we are doing here. We must take, as I said, a collective decision of political cop-on. What we have at present is probably the way it will be for a long time, given the trends that have emerged in Ireland - voting trends, not opinion polls. We will be left with a different political dynamic. The two largest political parties here controlled 80% of the vote when I was a young fellow. Now they control 50% of the vote or thereabouts. I believe the new political reality is here for a long time to come. We can decide to take on board the knockers, the moaners and the people who have nothing fruitful to offer or we can decide we have an obligation to the people who elected us, whatever about the people who elected other Deputies, the citizenry that expects a responsible Government to tell it the truth, learn from the past and ensure we try to do things better than what happened before. People are withered from the "she said, we said, they said" and all the problems. They are living with the problems. Their children lost their jobs and houses and had to go to Australia. Will recrimination bring them back? No. However, we might provide their grandchildren with an opportunity their children may have lost. It is not that this budget fixes all the problems overnight, but it does give us a charter, a blueprint and a way out to where we can go as a country again. If one considers the remarkable transformation that has happened in numbers - I know some of them are telephone numbers - in a very short period, it is remarkable what the people have managed to achieve.

That is a good point on which to interrupt the Minister of State and ask him to propose the adjournment of the debate. We have just passed 10 o'clock.

I will finish on this. There are an awful lot of very positive measures in this budget, even if not everything is all right. As a Minister of State in the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, I pay tribute to the officials who have put the budget together and who worked very hard, including the Minister, who took on board everyone's suggestions. What we now have is a way out of where we have come from and a better trajectory for where Ireland needs to go to. I move the adjournment.

Deputy McLoughlin will be in possession when the debate resumes.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.05 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Thursday, 12 October 2017.