I call the Taoiseach. He has 30 minutes.
Financial Resolution No. 4: General (Resumed)
Is it 40 minutes?
It is 30 minutes.
It is 30 minutes.
I imagine I will not take that long. Our country’s second Minister for Finance believed that the purpose of Government was to allow the greatest freedom for all - what he called "the greatest possibilities for the good of all". Yesterday, that message was at the heart of budget 2019 presented by the current Minister for Finance, Deputy Pascal Donohoe. It was a budget he summarised in his conclusion as "a responsible budget for a modern and caring Ireland that aims to be at the centre of a changing world." Budget 2019 is our attempt to achieve the greatest possibilities for the good of this country, for hard-working mums and dads, people starting out in work, those struggling to purchase a home, carers, the elderly and families.
Our message is simple. First, this is a responsible budget, balancing the books, and planning for the future in a prudent and sustainable way. That is because we believe in securing our prosperity and avoiding repeating the mistakes of the past. We have put a little money back into people’s pockets through income tax and universal social charge, USC, reductions, pension and welfare increases, pay increases, increases in the minimum wage and reduced costs for childcare and healthcare. We believe in rewarding work. We believe people should have the freedom to make their own decisions about how they spend their hard-earned money. This a budget that is Brexit proof because we believe in being prepared. We have also invested in public services and infrastructure.
Budget 2019 ensures we are in control of our destiny. It insulates us from uncertainty abroad and enables us to lay the foundation stone for building a better, stronger and more secure Ireland in the years ahead. Economic progress is not measured simply in economic statistics. It is seen in the difference it makes to families, the elderly, hard-working parents and people struggling to make ends meet. I refer to actions such as reducing the cost of childcare and making more families eligible for subsidised childcare, reducing the cost of medicines for those who have medical cards and for those who do not, and reducing the cost of visits to the doctor, which can make a big difference to people’s lives.
Budget 2019 is taking place at a time when we are seeing the benefits of the progress we have made. We are determined to share those benefits as widely as possible. It also comes, however, at a time the external landscape is becoming more challenging. International developments in areas such as trade and tax have the potential to impact on our economic well-being, as do rising energy prices and the possibility of higher interest rates.
We have also entered a critical time in the negotiations for the UK’s departure from the EU. Everyone in this Chamber knows that Brexit presents very significant challenges to our economy and society. This means we cannot deviate from the prudent path that has underpinned Ireland’s recovery to date. In this period of uncertainty, we must avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and manage the public finances soundly.
The main economic indicators show an economy continuing to perform strongly. In 2018 to date we are experiencing another year of very strong growth. GDP growth is forecast as 7.5% for this year and 4.2% in 2019. We all know, however, that in Ireland's case GDP is not the best measure of real economic progress. It is notable that other indicators, such as consumer spending, domestic demand, tax take and labour market developments, all confirm that Ireland's economy is growing strongly, but not as fast as GDP may suggest. Unemployment has fallen to 5.4% and total employment is almost 2.3 million, a record high. Over 360,000 new jobs have been created since 2012, mostly outside of Dublin, which is a notable achievement. However, this success has also contributed to growing pressures on our economy, especially in terms of housing, traffic and labour shortages. The economy requires careful management and choices if we are to avoid the mistakes of the past.
Every budget is about choices, and we can also see the choices that other political parties would have made courtesy of their published alternative budgets. The choices this Government makes are founded in responsibility. The economy is going well but that does not mean that it should be taken for granted or that we can take our eyes off the ball. Growth and economic expansion is not a given.
Budget 2019 proposes an increase in current expenditure of 4% in line with the level of growth the economy is experiencing. In the past, other governments lacked this level of prudence. Between 1998 and 2008, for example, the average increase in current expenditure alone was 11% per annum. That is 11% more spending every year to cover the day-to-day expenses of the country, at a time when the economy was not growing that fast. When we look back at that period now, and we recall the utter devastation of that crash, the recession it created and the harm it caused to people across our country, it is deeply dispiriting that so many parties in this House have not learned those lessons. The pre-budget submissions from Sinn Féin, the Green Party, the Social Democrats, the Labour Party and People Before Profit all show that the competition on the Opposition benches is to spend, spend, spend and spend some more, and then borrow some more to pay for it all. Prudence is absent and profligacy is the order of the day. This is just populism. Those same pre-budget submissions show that those parties do not understand the importance of stable and consistent tax policies.
As the Government demonstrated yesterday, there is a role for increasing taxation in certain circumstances, but those circumstances must be clear and we should avoid multiple tax increases for no policy rationale other than raising revenue. We changed the special 9% VAT rate for tourism back to 13.5%. That was a tax initiative introduced in 2011 at the height of the recession to create jobs in the service industry at a time when we had an unemployment crisis. The rate was to have expired in 2013, but was continued until this year. Along with initiatives like the Wild Atlantic Way and the abolition of the airport tax, the special VAT rate has worked. However, it is no longer needed. Employment in tourism has risen to 235,000 and Irish tourism has enjoyed a record summer, with record revenues and visitor numbers reaching their highest figures ever in the past year. It is now appropriate to end the incentive and use the additional money raised - some €600 million in a full year - to fund investment in housing, healthcare and other public services where the money is most needed. However, we are still investing in tourism long-term, because we recognise its value to the economy and in how we show ourselves to the world. We are also conscious of the employment it provides in rural areas. Budget 2019 allocates an additional €35 million to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport specifically for the tourism sector, including €4.5 million for successful initiatives across the country, such as Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands and the Wild Atlantic Way. We are also going to invest nearly €10 million to further develop our greenways, which have been successful in Waterford, Mayo and other areas.
When it comes to framing a budget, we believe increases in taxation should be thought through and their implications understood. We must avoid a scattergun approach with a large number of tax increases that would undermine economic confidence. Unfortunately, appreciation of that is limited among other parties. The Social Democrats alternative budget has over €1.5 billion in tax hikes in one year alone from 14 separate tax increases. The Labour Party alternative budget has over €1.6 billion in tax hikes from 11 separate tax increases. Sinn Féin’s alternative budget proposes an astonishing €2.9 billion in tax hikes from over 20 separate tax increases. The Green Party’s alternative budget has an astounding €3.5 billion in tax hikes from 13 separate tax increases. Not to be outdone, People Before Profit goes even further, proposing €16 billion in tax hikes. Those proposals cover just one alternative budget. They involve billions in tax hikes via dozens of different taxes at a time when the economy is growing well. Imagine what the Opposition parties would do together if they had five budgets, or in less favourable times. These policy initiatives would greatly undermine our economic performance and thereby limit our ability to meet the growing demand that our public services be properly funded. In marked contrast to that irresponsibility and populism, I must acknowledge the constructive and positive role played by Fianna Fáil, the main Opposition party, in this third budget under the confidence and supply arrangement.
As I travel the country and talk to different groups about the work of the Government and its plans for the future I usually explain our approach to the economy in terms of six principles. Sound management of the public finances and reducing our national debt, which still stands at over €40,000 per head, is one of those principles. My wish is that we once and for all break out of the cycle of boom and bust, of tax cuts one year, followed by tax hikes the next, pay increases given only to be taken away again because they were paid for with funny money, and stop-start investment in roads, public transport, healthcare and housing, which in the long term is more expensive. Instead of boom and bust, this Government wants Ireland to have what many other countries in northern Europe have, including sustained increases in living standards and sustained improvements in public services and public infrastructure year on year for a generation. That approach must become our new normal.
The Government has been determined to ensure that our strategy for budget 2019 is based on steady increases in public expenditure underpinned by stable and predictable tax revenue. Expectations have increased given the remarkable performance of our economy, which is a good thing in the round. However, not all these demands can or should be met. They should certainly not be met in the same year. Budget 2019 will be the first budget with no deficit since 2007. It has taken us 12 years to get to this point, including four years of good economic growth. It could be easily lost. Our prudent management of the economy to date has provided the scope to increase expenditure next year in a sustainable way, with record allocations for Departments such as health, education and housing. We are also committed to maintaining a broad tax base that generates a sustainable revenue stream necessary to fund public services. We cannot and should not build permanent expenditure commitments on revenues that may not be sustainable. For this reason, we are setting aside some of the historically high levels of corporation tax for the purpose of creating the rainy day fund. To be prudent, we are also projecting that revenues from corporation profit tax will actually fall next year. The rainy day fund will be set up with €1.5 billion from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and will be supplemented with an annual contribution of €500 million from the Exchequer starting from next year.
The second principle is to continue to raise living standards in a sustainable way for all our citizens. That can be done in four different ways: lower income taxes; better pay; increased pensions and welfare payments; and reducing the cost of public services, such as childcare, GP visits, drug costs, prescription charges and insurance. At long last, we have fully reversed the cuts made by governments of the past in weekly payments to carers, people with disabilities, the blind and lone parents with young kids. We have restored the 100% Christmas bonus to all social welfare recipients this year, and from March there will be a €5 increase in the maximum weekly social welfare payments.
Budget 2019 will also help families. We have increased the home carer tax credit by €300 to €1,500, recognising the value of parents who stay in the home to look after young children. The Government also recognises the importance of those first few years in the life of a child and what they mean for their proud parents, so a new paid parental leave scheme will be introduced next year to provide two weeks’ extra leave to both parents in the child’s first year. That will be in addition to maternity leave and paternity leave. We believe in helping the most vulnerable and so we are increasing the qualified child payment for children under 12 by €2.20 a week and by €5.20 a week for children over 12. We have also increased the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance. These changes will have a positive impact on child poverty in 2019.
A particular focus in our tax policy is reducing taxes for those who earn middle incomes. We have already taken the lowest-paid out of the tax net. The lowest-paid 30% in Ireland do not pay any income tax any more. That is a good thing. However, people on very modest incomes pay the highest rate of income tax. We do not believe that is fair. It is not the norm in other European countries and it is damaging our competitiveness when it comes to attracting talent and good jobs to Ireland. With budget 2019 we are continuing to reduce the tax burden on middle-income earners. For example, we have reduced the universal social charge, USC, to 4.5% for the third rate. We have also increased the entry point to the higher rate of income tax for all earners by €750, increasing it to €35,300 in the case of a single taxpayer and €70,600 for a double-income couple. We have provided for public sector pay increases and an increase in the minimum wage, and we are seeing increases in private sector pay as a result of our growing economy.
The third principle is achieving full employment, improving employment rights and ensuring universal access to a pension plan for everyone, particularly those in the private sector, two thirds of whom currently have no occupational pension to fall back on.
The fourth principle is our ambitious programme for investment in infrastructure. Capital spending on public infrastructure will increase by 24% next year. We are going from being a country with a relatively low spend on infrastructure to one that will be one of the highest spenders in the European Union in a few years' time. This year we will spend an additional €1.4 billion on schools, universities, roads, public transport and other important infrastructure projects. We are a young country. We are a country with an expanding population, unlike other countries in Europe. As such, we need to invest in infrastructure. As we are also a country that has just become wealthy in the past couple of decades, there are many areas where we need to catch up when it comes to public infrastructure. In part, this is being achieved through our ambitious Project Ireland 2040 plan backed up by a ten-year €116 billion investment in housing, healthcare facilities, education, transport, broadband and climate change, which will help bring economic opportunity to all parts of the country.
Under budget 2019, we are allocating an additional €53 million in capital next year to fund the first round of projects under the new rural regeneration and development fund. The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, and I look forward to making that announcement quite soon. We are investing in rural Ireland and ensuring that planned developments are ambitious and sustainable. There has also been a €60 million increase in funding for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, allowing for a new beef scheme and increased payments for areas of natural constraints. As part of budget 2019 we are also investing €286 million in new transport infrastructure, including the completion of the runway overlay project at Knock Airport; cycling and walking projects around the country; and beginning work on the road to Sligo between Castlebaldwin and Collooney. A further €40 million will fund rehabilitation and repair of pavements on regional and local roads.
Other measures in budget 2019 reflect this decision to invest in our future. The Department of Education and Skills will have a budget of almost €11 billion next year, an increase of €500 million from last year. This reflects our changing demographics and our belief in the importance of education as the great leveller and giver of opportunity. Part of that investment will involve the creation of 1,300 new posts in schools next year. We believe in helping children with special educational needs reach their potential. Next year we will invest more than €1.8 billion in their education. This means we will bring the number of special needs assistants to a record high of almost 16,000 in light of the enormous need for them.
To prepare for the jobs of the future we are providing more than 15,000 new places in higher education, including 1,200 craft and earn-as-you-learn places, 1,100 traineeships and 5,000 places to promote lifelong and flexible learning. We will also fund almost 3,500 additional undergraduate places as we invest in the building blocks of our future prosperity; the imagination, the creativity and the ingenuity of our young people and all those in higher education.
We recognise that one of the greatest challenges facing this country is the area of housing and homelessness. The problem is that these actions take time to have an impact given the lack of investment during the years of economic crisis. We have heard and been affected by the stories of those who are at the sharp end of this crisis, especially children. This Government firmly believes that every family should have a roof over their head and a place to call home. We are all concerned about the current levels of homelessness, as well as the shortage of housing supply. Under budget 2019, we have allocated a total of €2.3 billion for housing, an increase of 25%. We are also providing an additional €93 million in local authority funding for housing next year. We are determined to maximise and speed up delivery and help the people who need it the most.
We have allocated €1.25 billion for the delivery of 10,000 new social homes in 2019, taking people off housing lists and into long-term tenancies. Budget 2019 also allocates an extra €121 million for the housing assistance payment, HAP, next year so we can provide homes for almost 17,000 individuals and families for whom we do not yet have social housing built. While these kick in, we are making an immediate investment of €60 million in capital funding in order that we can help those in emergency accommodation right now and provide additional family hubs, thus reducing reliance on hotels and bed and breakfasts. We will also provide an extra €30 million for homelessness services next year. In addition, €100 million is being dedicated to a serviced sites fund to help local authorities make land available for subsidised affordable housing. This will be increased to €310 million over the next three years. In 2019 alone, we are increasing the planned funding from €20 million to €89 million. This will facilitate the delivery of around 6,000 subsidised affordable homes over the lifetime of the fund.
As everyone in the House will know, climate change is the greatest long-term challenge facing our world. Budget 2019 provides for an investment of €103.5 million for improvements in grant and premium rates for planting forests and introduces a beef environmental efficiency pilot, BEEP, to further improve the carbon efficiency of beef production. We are also allocating €70 million to the targeted agriculture modernisation scheme, TAMS, and providing an additional €70 million for environment and waste management programmes. Vehicle registration tax, VRT, is being increased on newly-purchased diesel vehicles as an environmental and health measure. We are also extending support for the transition to gas-powered buses and trucks as an environmental measure. Our policies in this area are informed by the work of the Climate Change Advisory Council, as well as the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action. They are influenced by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, report, and the Minister for Finance is committed to setting out the long-term trajectory for carbon tax to 2030. For those who may criticise our commitment to the green economy, it is worth noting that Ireland is now a member of the Paris Collaborative on Green Budgeting and the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, is due to issue Ireland’s first green bond shortly. These measures are helping to integrate climate change considerations into our broader economic and social activities.
The fifth principle is modernising our public services and ensuring better value for money for the taxpayer, for patients, for students and for families. Reform of healthcare is our biggest public service challenge and so we have published our plan for the implementation of Sláintecare, the all-party mission statement that will bring about universal healthcare in Ireland over the course of the next decade. Budget 2019 provides an additional €700 million to health by way of a Supplementary Estimate. We will also increase the health budget to €17 billion next year. This represents an increase of 15% in health spending in just over two years. This is now the highest level of health spending in the history of the State. We are determined to get value for money and better outcomes for patients. We need to make sure that money actually gets to the patient. By increasing the qualifying threshold by between €25 and €48 per week, as much as €2,000 a year for a family, we will make an extra 100,000 GP visit cards available in 2019. This is less than the 500,000 recommended by the Sláintecare report but is a step in the right direction. We must take account of the capacity constraints in general practice.
Budget 2019 also provides for a 25% reduction in prescription charges, from €2 to €1.50, for all medical card holders over the age of 70 and a €10 reduction in the maximum any family or household has to pay for its medicines each month.
For the first time in the history of our State we will invest €1 billion in mental health, a significant announcement on World Mental Health Day. It is again crucial that this money gets to the patient.
We have also raised the income thresholds for the affordable childcare scheme because we want to make it easier for families to find and pay for childcare for their young children and we want to encourage more parents back into the workplace. The base income threshold is being raised to €26,000 in net terms and the maximum income threshold will now be €60,000. We are increasing the multiple child deduction to €4,300. This means many more middle income families will become eligible for the affordable childcare scheme.
One of the greatest services the State can provide is maintaining law and order in order that people are safe on the streets and in their homes. We have a roadmap for a radical reform of An Garda Síochána in the report from the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and we are investing to make its recommendations a reality. Next year, the budget of An Garda Síochána will be increased by €60 million, meaning we can recruit an additional 800 gardaí. Taking account of retirements, this will increase the size of the force by 500 next year. This means that by the end of next year we will have increased the size of the force by more than 1,000. We are also investing €220 million in projects such as the forensic science laboratory, Garda ICT, Garda vehicles and Limerick Prison.
An additional €29 million is being provided for our Defence Forces, to replace equipment and improve infrastructure for our Army, Air Corps and Naval Service.
The sixth and final principle relates to our role internationally. Earlier this year, we launched our ambitious plan to double the scope and impact of Ireland’s global footprint over the next seven years, entitled Global Ireland 2025. Under this initiative, we are opening 26 new diplomatic missions around the world, representing the most ambitious renewal and expansion of our international presence ever undertaken. Crucially, we have also reaffirmed our commitment to global justice, reducing inequality and promoting peace through a commitment to increasing overseas development aid and continuing our strong track record as peacekeepers. Under budget 2019, we will increase our total overseas assistance budget by €110 million. As a result, our overseas development assistance will be at its highest level in ten years, at 0.31% of GNI*. We are slowly working on our commitment to reach 0.7% of GNI* by 2030. There are budget increases for our global-facing agencies, including Enterprise Ireland; the IDA; Bord Bia and Tourism Ireland.
When I became leader of my party and Taoiseach, I made a commitment to double spending on arts, culture and sport within seven years. That required an increase of approximately 10.5% per annum. I am pleased to confirm that the increases in the budgets for arts, culture, heritage, the Gaeltacht and sport all exceeded this figure this year. We are on track to meet the commitment and, in fact, we are slightly ahead.
As a Minister and as Taoiseach, I have maintained a special interest in the self-employed. When I was Minister for Social Protection, I had the privilege of extending to the self-employed access to paternity benefit, treatment benefits and the invalidity pension. The budget provides for further actions to assist our self-employed citizens. It includes extending jobseeker's benefit to the self-employed in 2019 and a further increase in the earned income tax credit. We will continue to increase the earned income tax credit until it is in line with PAYE workers.
Given the close connections between the Irish and the UK economies, Brexit will inevitably have a negative impact on the economy. Ireland’s contingency planning is well advanced and continues to be a central Government priority led by the Tánaiste. Recognising the importance of east-west trade, we have initiated actions to help prepare our ports and airports to take account of a changed trading relationship with Britain post-Brexit. This complements actions taken, including those announced in last year’s budget. More than €450 million has been allocated for business, including a €300 million Brexit loan scheme for business and a €2 million Brexit response loan scheme for the agrifood sector. As part of budget 2019, we will invest €300 million in a human capital initiative. We are also launching a future growth loan scheme for SMEs and the agriculture and food sector, with another €300 million behind it. We are also providing more than €110 million for Brexit preparations across several Departments. A total of €60 million in current and capital Brexit-related supports are being provided to improve resilience in the farm sector and improve productivity in the food sector. As part of the same long-term thinking, we are investing in integrating our transport, energy and communications networks with continental Europe, providing new resources for tourism development and promotion and helping Brexit-exposed firms to diversify international markets.
In addition to Brexit, changes in the international tax landscape, increasing trade protectionism and increasing geopolitical tensions all present challenges to our economy as do increasing fuel prices and the possibility of increased ECB interest rates. Automation, artificial intelligence and other forms of technological innovation are rapidly developing and are expected to change radically many jobs and enterprises and entire industries.
Domestically, the principal risk relates to potential overheating of our economy as we approach full employment. The best way to mitigate these risks is to grow capacity, improve the resilience of the economy and increase productivity. The Government has decided that we need a new economic initiative for Ireland to tackle the challenges facing us. The future jobs initiative will drive our development as a resilient, innovative, and globally connected economy, capable of coping with technological and other transformational changes ahead. It is aimed at enhancing productivity, labour market participation, innovation, skills and talent and the low-carbon economy. It will comprise a small number of impactful and deliverable actions in each of these areas. The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and I are leading a whole-of-Government effort to develop this plan and it will involve extensive consultation.
Sustainable economic growth is not a goal in itself. We prioritise it because this is how we ensure every person has the opportunity to succeed and have an equal chance to share in our nation's prosperity and that all parts of the country benefit from our relative prosperity. Budget 2019 is prudent and responsible, striking the right balance between improving living standards, overcoming our structural challenges and securing our economy against the challenges we are likely to face in the future. I commend it to the House.
Members have agreed a reordering of the rota so we will now hear from the acting leader of the Sinn Féin party.
I am taking this slot as Deputy McDonald is attending the funeral of Ms Emma Mhic Mhathúna. I extend my sympathies and those of my Sinn Féin colleagues to the family and friends of Emma at this very sad time.
Too often the annual budget is reduced to a mere accounting exercise, tweaking tax rates a bit here and tweaking spending a bit there. It can, and should, be something quite different. The budget can set out not just the numbers or the projections but an economic strategy and, more important, an economic vision to help meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
The budget should be about promoting an economy that works for all and not just for some. It should be an opportunity to lay the building blocks of a more equal and fairer society. Unfortunately, the Government and its partners in Fianna Fáil just do not get this. They offer only more of the same, tinkering around the edges and presenting a budget that lacks courage or new ideas. This is because they are wedded to a set of values that has failed. They are more interested in the markets than they are about serving our citizens.
It is ten years since the crash and I would have thought some lessons had been learned. Budget 2019 lacks any fresh thinking or vision. It is a product of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael horse-trading.
It is a lost opportunity. Instead of tackling the massive problems that face this State and our citizens, this budget is simply about plastering over the cracks.
There is no question that the economy is in a better place than it was on the eve of the bank guarantee in September 2008 and in the years that followed. The economy is growing, which is good. Unemployment is down, which is also good. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that in many homes throughout the State, families live month to month and lack security and stability in their daily lives. When wages arrive at the end of the month, and after household costs and services are paid for, many are left with nothing to save and nothing to plan for the future. The cost of childcare here is among the highest in the developed world. Renting a home here costs more now than it ever has. Energy costs are the fourth highest in Europe and rising. For too many, work does not pay what it should and families in this State pay 25% more to live day to day than the average family in the eurozone. These are indicators of political failure and they are indicators of an unequal society.
This budget represents more of the same. It is about the wrong priorities and the wrong choices. The Government has spun the line that everybody benefits a little from this budget but in the long run, nobody benefits from it. The price of a cup of coffee per week is no use to someone when that person needs a roof over his or her head or a hospital bed if he or she falls ill. The few bob someone will get in their pay packet as a result of tweaks to the universal social charge is no use when the next rent increase kicks in. The extra few quid in the old age pension will be wiped out with the next increase in a utility bill.
What we needed this week was a budget that did two things. We needed proper investment in services and we needed to tackle the ever increasing cost of living. We needed a budget that delivered fairness and equality and had sustainability at its core. That is not what we got. Look at the level of investment in public services and infrastructure. How are we supposed to attract new businesses and create better and higher-paying jobs if we do not invest in infrastructure? The Government can talk about Project Ireland 2040 all it wants but we will still wait years to reach a European average of investment. The World Economic Forum recently indicated that the single biggest obstacle to business in this State is poor infrastructure, and it is not just businesses that suffer. It is part of the reason we have a crisis in housing and health.
What have we got to address that? It is more of the same, including a lack of vision, commitment and investment. It is not going to deliver the level of investment needed to tackle the problems we have now or those coming down the road. The problems we face are very real in the here and now, and they must be addressed. Sinn Féin demonstrated how it could be done. Our proposals in respect of capital spending would have ensured an increase in public investment by €2.65 billion in 2019, with €1 billion of this allocated to the provision of housing because that is one of the biggest issues facing us today. Our total allocation would have ensured the construction of 15,000 social and affordable homes next year. It would have been right to invest for the long term as that is what is needed.
Shamefully, the Government chose to let the crisis continue. By every measure, the Government’s approach to tackling the housing crisis has failed. Rents and house prices are out of control and continue to rise. Tens of thousands of people are sitting on council housing waiting lists and not a single affordable home has been delivered over the past three years. An entire generation of young people has given up believing they will ever be able to own their own home. We have 10,000 people homeless and 4,000 children sleeping in emergency accommodation. Fianna Fáil, lest we forget, promised this year’s budget would be a "housing budget" but this is another empty promise from Fianna Fáil. Surprise, surprise. I had to laugh listening to the party's Deputies saying they had delivered on housing. Only last week they voted for a cross-party motion calling for investment in social and affordable housing to be increased to €2.3 billion. What did we get yesterday? We got just €120 million in capital investment, and a mere €14 million in new money for affordable housing. If that is a Fianna Fáil victory on delivering for housing, I would hate to see what a failure might look like.
The reality is that building social and affordable housing is an economic no-brainer. It reduces homelessness and the number of families and citizens in receipt of rent supplement and the housing assistance payment. More properties would become available for rent, rent inflation would slow and people would have more ability to save for their own homes. It leads to more houses being built. It really is quite simple, unless the real objective is to protect the profits of landlord friends. So, remind me again which option Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael went for. Yes, it was tax breaks for landlords and two fingers to renters.
The Government could have introduced a package of measures, as we suggested, to give renters a break, such as a three-year rent freeze for all existing and new tenancies with immediate effect. The Government said, "No, forget about that". The result is that rents will continue to rise. We proposed an emergency, temporary tax relief for tenants so they could claim back one month's rent annually. That would have put money back into peoples' pockets. What has the Government said? It has said, "Not a chance". We will now have more uncertainty, instability and hardship for tenants. These were the wrong choices arising from the wrong priorities.
The other big crisis we face is in our health service. The lack of investment of recent years has resulted in hospital waiting lists standing now at over 700,000 people. The crisis resulted in 100,000 people waiting on trolleys in accident and emergency departments. One might think this would be a priority for the Government but let us think again. Last year, we warned the Government that it was not giving the health service the money it needed, and our assessment was proven correct. The health service needs a realistic budget that provides for demographic pressures, pay agreements, carry-over effects and other committed expenditure.
Otherwise every year, we will have an additional HSE budget down the line. This year, the Government got lucky; corporation tax helped plug the hole in health but that will not happen every year. We do not just need the health service to stand still; we need it to improve. Sinn Féin's budget proposals on health recognised this. We proposed investment of more than €1 billion in the sector, first, to undo the legacy of chronic under-budgeting and, second, to improve services. That would have ensured an allocation of €600 million for recurring costs, including pay pressures; €124 million for demographic pressures; and additional provision for the public service stability agreement on pay. We would have provided €450 million for improvements, including 500 additional hospital beds, the recruitment of more front-line staff and the reduction of prescription charges. This Government has made the wrong choices and has the wrong priorities, which is a recipe for continued crisis in the health service.
Historically, women have come up short when it comes to political decisions and this budget is no different. Our sisters and mothers largely populate the lowest paid jobs in the public and private sectors. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the early years sector. On average, childcare workers' wages are way below the living wage. Yet again, they were completely ignored in this budget. The Government did not even bother to mention childcare workers. In terms of health, women's needs and care are rarely prioritised. We have yet to see any definitive action in respect of the Tuam mother and babies home or the few remaining survivors of the Bethany Home where women were treated brutally on the State's watch. There is no sense of urgency on the part of the Government to tackle sexual violence against women and girls. Over the past 12 months, there has been significant public debate surrounding the issue of consent. The report on sexual consent among third-level students illustrates just how prevalent sexual harassment remains. These are not new issues. The heightened awareness of them is new, yet the Government has not matched the public debate with preventative actions. Women and their children are still turned away from refuges due to a lack of places. Sinn Féin would have increased funding for domestic violence emergency and step-down accommodation as well as supports by €11 million and tripled the annual funding provided to the Rape Crisis Network.
The cost of childcare in this State is among the highest in the developed world. It is a massive issue with a wider social and economic impact. The cost of providing childcare amounts to paying a second mortgage every month for many families and, in some cases, it makes no sense for a parent to return to work due to these costs, which is not right. If we are serious about guaranteeing economic equality, we must make work pay and part of that involves lowering the cost of childcare. Again, we showed how it was possible. We would have increased the universal subsidy available under the affordable childcare scheme from 50 cent to €2.50 per hour. That would have been a sound choice that, on average, would have halved the cost of childcare for all families. I welcome some of the measures announced yesterday in respect of lower-income families but overall, those paying what amounts to a second mortgage for childcare today will still be paying the equivalent of a second mortgage next year.
Brexit is the most immediate challenge facing Ireland, North and South. It represents a massive threat to the all-island economy, Irish businesses and Irish jobs. The British Government has yet to put forward a credible proposal as to how a hard border on this island can be avoided. Sinn Féin has been clear that the best way forward is for Northern Ireland to remain within the customs union and the Single Market. That is what is required to protect investment, jobs, trade and the peace process. That should be the position of every party on the island and that is what has guided our approach. We have supported the Government and the European negotiating team in their endeavours and their attempt to get the best deal possible because that is what we want. We have not sought to play politics with any of this and I am sure the Taoiseach will acknowledge that. However, it has been clear that, regardless of any deal, businesses and farmers need more help to prepare for Brexit. Small businesses are most at risk and most in need of support. That is why we proposed providing record funding of €300 million for Enterprise Ireland. The Government has fallen well short of the mark in that regard and, at a time of economic uncertainty, that is simply not good enough.
Everybody here has noticed that Irish unity is being discussed almost daily. The prospect is more real than ever before so we must begin to prepare for it. That is why we called for the commissioning of a united Ireland economy report in our pre-budget submission. I would ask the Government to ensure that is carried out. It is not enough to talk about unity; if we want our country to be reunited, we must work and plan for it.
The Government has sought to claim some success in respect of lowering income taxes and the USC but these measures are pointless when the cost of living continues to increase. Sections of our society are not paid fairly. They have once again been left behind in this budget. Almost one quarter of the workforce earns less than two thirds of the State's median wage. How are those households supposed to deal with some of the highest living costs in Europe? Sinn Féin believes in providing a living wage for every worker. We proposed an increase of 95 cent per hour to €10.50 as a move towards the living wage. We also need to deal with the two-tier pay system in our public service. Nurses and teachers hired post-2011 should have woken up to reports yesterday that equal pay for equal work would become a reality for them. Sinn Féin would have equalised pay in the public sector within two years. Instead, these workers will have to wait almost a decade thanks to this Government. We also showed how a living wage of €11.90 per hour for workers in the public sector and the Civil Service could be introduced. Again, the Government has set its face against that. Once again, this was the wrong choice.
Yesterday, Deputy Pearse Doherty offered up straightforward, realistic and workable solutions that Sinn Féin would introduce in government. These are solutions that would have begun to tackle the housing and health crises and that would have increased household incomes and lowered the cost of living but Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil said "No". Instead, they have opted for more of the same.
The budget fails to meaningfully invest in services and it fails to tackle the rising cost of living in this state. It continues to hand out tax breaks to banks to the tune of hundreds of millions and does virtually nothing for renters or those on low incomes. It does nothing to end the housing crisis and, therefore we will not support it.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have illustrated once again that they are incapable of doing things differently. We needed a budget that delivered fairness and had equality at its core. We did not get that. But sure why are we surprised? That is the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil way - nothing different, significant or radical. There was no big economic vision for next year or beyond and no steps have been taken towards a more equal society that works for all and not just for some.
Yesterday we heard from the Minister for Finance a budget without a purpose. It was a weak, conservative budget. There was no vision attached to it but there should have been.
Budget 2019 is not like recent budgets. This was the first budget since 2007 when the Government genuinely had scope to bring about positive social change. The recovery of the economy for which so many people suffered and worked so hard has paid off with high employment and healthy public finances, giving this particular Government a significant opportunity to answer the vital question about our future, namely, what next? We need new ideas for the economy because we are running out of time for corporation tax to attract foreign direct investment. Both the OECD framework on base erosion and profit shifting, BEPS, and the European Union's push for common standards will ultimately reduce the unique advantage of the Irish taxation system. Many countries have simply reduced their own corporation tax rates, thereby reducing Ireland's relative attractiveness.
We should have heard some leadership on the future of our society in budget 2019. The Government could have earmarked €5 billion, as we proposed, from the ISIF to build 25,000 affordable houses. That would be dramatic and visionary. It would have signalled to everyone that this was a country that helps ordinary people to meet the cost of living. However, the Government just signalled more of the same, with a little extra money for the same failed housing policies. There are tax breaks for landlords and subsidies for private developers - where did we hear that before? - with much council housing announced again and again as social housing to be leased from private owners and not added to the council housing stock. The Government could have introduced a balanced package of measures to tackle climate change in a week where major reports reiterated the urgency and seriousness of a global temperature rise. That would have demonstrated that we would catch up on our emissions targets, which have had, and will continue to have, devastating impacts on our world. However, the Government fudged it by presenting secondary measures that failed to address the big issues. We need to use strong policies such as carbon taxes to redirect economic activity into a wholly new direction if our way of life is to be sustainable.
The Government could have introduced a plan to transform childcare and pre-school education or to finally implement the Sláintecare reforms. That would have set out a purpose or vision for the budget. That would have shown that no one would be left behind in this country and where every child and every patient would be given the best possible assistance. However, the Government just allocated small pots of money for specific projects with a little here and a little there, but no grand plan. There was nothing to give people confidence that public services are on a pathway towards the higher standards to which we aspire and look on enviously at in many other northern European countries.
From a Labour Party perspective, we have a clear vision about what any budget should do. The budget should help people. It should help those who have kept faith with Government through the hard times and who rely on Government to be honest when resources are available and to give them a fair benefit from those resources. There was a time the budget was a genuine national endeavour. In the past, budgets were about honestly showing the people what they have collectively contributed to the State and explaining what we can achieve together by combining our resources to build schools, fund hospitals and provide income support to those who need assistance. Budgets used to be about including everyone as citizens in vindicating their citizenship. However, this Government has made it clear that many people are being left to fend for themselves in a market economy where predatory landlords and vulture funds are ruining lives. The budget should help people to help themselves by giving them a secure base, affordable homes, affordable childcare and a genuine safety net in the form of health services, welfare payments and disability supports when they are needed. The duty of the State, as the President has said, is to provide people with a floor of decency, a solid foundation that allows them to move forward with confidence to make choices for themselves and to feel empowered to deal with the challenges that we all face in life.
The budget is funded from public money and we are all taxpayers. Those on the lowest incomes pay as great a proportion of their incomes in indirect taxes as those on higher incomes pay in direct and indirect taxes combined. Yet the Government has taken up a narrative, which I have heard repeatedly in recent weeks, supported by Fianna Fáil, that people paying direct income taxes are somehow more unfairly treated compared to those paying mostly indirect taxes. The facts do not bear this out.
The budget, funded by all citizens, should provide universal benefits for all citizens. The purpose of the budget should be to bring about a more equal society, not, as this Government has done, to reinforce the existing economic inequality that is increasingly visible in the form of houses and lifestyles. The budget should give us a unity of purpose, not, as this Government has done, sending everyone to online calculators to work out what the individual benefit will be for them personally, regardless of the consequences for others and society in general.
A mature budget process, such as we see in other jurisdictions such as Denmark and the Netherlands, should have provided us with a picture of what kind of country we aspire to, and a vision of where we are going. Where was that aspiration or that sense of direction? Imagine if in ten years, we had an ecologically-sound economy, and zero carbon emissions from our cities, as Copenhagen will achieve by 2025. Imagine strong supports for traditional culture and the contemporary arts, and true social inclusion that would allow every citizen to feel at peace with everyone else, and to feel their life was dignified and not jealous, angry or afraid, which are visible signs of a breakdown in social cohesion and shared purpose.
Labour's vision is to return the conversation to what we can do together, le chéile, as a single people and what good can be achieved collectively. The best of our people are more concerned with what they can do to assist others, asking nothing in return. The best of us seek to improve other people's lives and to see how we can make our communities and our world a better place, and that is what the budget should have set out to do. The job of the Government is to provide people with a vision, a sense of direction, a sense of purpose towards a better future.
Maybe I am being unfair. Maybe the Government has been, in fact, honest in laying out its vision. Fine Gael would tell us that it is rewarding achievement. That is why those on higher incomes or those with high levels of family wealth have been rewarded by cuts in income tax that will only benefit the top 20% or cuts to inheritance tax that will have a positive impact on only 10% of our people. Fine Gael would tell us that it is supporting ambition. They are promoting an economic system based on individualism where the strong will do better always than the weak. They have done little to change an unequal playing field for the many who are born with material disadvantage or with disabilities. Fine Gael would tell us that it is empowering people to be successful but the Fine Gael vision of opportunity for all is really just a way of fostering competition between our people.
We are all on a fair run but if one is handicapped at the start, well that is tough. Fine Gael's vision is about rewarding social status and the existing structures of social power. That is why the budget includes measures that are carefully crafted to reduce income and wealth inequality by not one cent.
What about our social welfare package?
Fine Gael seems to be quietly satisfied with the way things are - people in big houses seeking to pay less taxes, people in small flats, if they can afford them at all, struggling to pay rising rents, and nearly 10,000 people who are homeless including, shamefully, 3,700 children.
Fine Gael has demonstrated that it is expert in at least one art of government, and that is the art of image. Fine Gael presents itself as the new centre party. That is the focus and look that they are after but the Fine Gael vision of the centre is one that preserves the existing divides.
Fine Gael's communication advisers have been trying to find the right spin for this lacklustre budget. They tried calling it a budget for children and families. It is not. A budget for children and families would have included measures to benefit all of the children of the country with universal services, not meagre token measures. Fine Gael tried calling it a budget for housing and healthcare. It is not. If resourcing healthcare really was a priority, after eight years of Fine Gael health Ministers we would now have a handle on both inputs and outcomes in the health services, and we do not.
Budget 2019 was the test of the Government's claim to be the new centre of Irish politics. The image consultants who devised that particular strategy will have to go back to the drawing board because when we look at who benefits from budget 2019, it is not the people at the centre of Irish society. The median age of our people is 37 years. Half of our people are older than that; half of our people are younger. If we consider a 37 year old at the middle of Irish society, what is his or her experience? What are his or her concerns? Those aged 37 are concerned about climate change. Younger generations understand that. They get it. This Government got it wrong by not raising carbon taxes as promised and by failing to prioritise climate action, it is passing the cost on to the next generation. By failing to heed the urgent reports on the need for drastic action, the Government has failed on the greatest single issue facing humanity.
Since Fianna Fáil's spokesperson made a point of attacking Fine Gael on climate change, let Fianna Fáil share the blame too. Fianna Fáil has made it clear that its confidence and supply deal with Fine Gael has resulted in a series of tax cuts and spending measures that Fianna Fáil demanded but they obviously did not include climate action. Fianna Fáil decided to use its influence on different priorities.
Our 37 year old was 26 when the economy collapsed. Some in that category had several years of work under their belts by then. Others had just finished studying and were trying to start off in their professional lives or in their work. Very few of them were homeowners back in 2008 and relatively few of them have become homeowners since due to the amazing increase in rents that has absorbed so much of their incomes in the past number of years, while so many of our citizens are hell-bent on recouping their losses from the economic collapse regardless of how that effects the chances of the next generation. Policies and practices that have driven house prices up again have locked a generation out of the security of home ownership. For those aged 37, the rainy day fund makes no sense. A rainy day fund may sound prudent - it is designed to achieve that objective - but taking €1.5 billion from the strategic fund, an actual buffer for the State, and changing its name on paper is not creating any new money. Where will it now be invested? Taking half a billion euro out of tax revenue to fund this is the new policy to give us the semblance of prudence. Young families want to be able to afford a house now. They are holding off starting a family. They are waiting for a family home and they do not see the likelihood of gaining access to an affordable home when they need it now, not at some future date. Those who are renting only see their rent going up faster than their incomes. Even those on good money feel insecure about their tenancies and they feel insecure about starting a family. The depth of insecurity created by our dysfunctional housing system is causing deep and lasting damage to the cohesion of society itself. That must be clear to everybody in this House. Those aged 37 are well educated. They will not fall for the weasel words from the Minister yesterday that more houses will be built next year than in any year in the last decade. We have come through a disastrous decade of economic collapse. That is an idle boast.
The miserable €300 million over three years for a so-called affordable housing scheme is highly suspect. We are told 6,000 households will benefit, that is, 2,000 a year. That is a tiny number, given the thousands of families that are looking to buy an affordable house right now. How will these lucky 2,000 a year be chosen? Will this involve giving up public land for private profit? This is not a sustainable or adequate solution to the housing crisis but, I think, the Minister knows that. The scale is totally wrong. Tens of thousands of affordable homes and what we used call council houses are needed. The Minister knows that too, and he knows only the State can provide them. State building of homes requires very significant levels of investment - the same approach to the housing crisis that we brought to bear on the economic crisis.
Labour would not have created a new fund, not a rainy day fund. We would invest €16 billion, as we set out in clear terms, to build 80,000 homes in five years. We would dedicate €5 billion from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, €3 billion from tax revenue over the next five years and create an investment vehicle - a national housing development bank - that would permit pension funds, credit unions - which are anxious to do it and which are in touch with us - and the European Investment Bank to invest in housing. Labour's investment would be economically sustainable. We would rent homes to all comers, providing local government with a revenue stream that would recover the whole cost and permit the building of further affordable and social homes for future generations as a revolving fund.
The investment of €17 billion in health is necessary. We do not argue with that but the Government has failed to provide accountability. I know the Taoiseach and, I am sure, the Minister for Finance are concerned about accountability. What is the State getting for the €17 billion?
Fianna Fáil increased the privatisation of the health system by pushing the vehicle it believes is the magic solution, the treatment purchase scheme. That is simply a way of privatising the public list. I remember when we faced pressures when I was Minister for Health, many moons ago. What we did then was allocate a pool of money to public hospitals. We asked them to bid for it by outlining how many additional procedures they could provide. We cleared waiting lists like that. When Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats came into power, they came in with a notion of co-located hospitals and privatised medicine. That is how the National Treatment Purchase Fund came into being. We need to create the capacity in the public system to deal with public lists. Running up public lists to the point where they are simply privatised is the wrong way to go.
I welcome some measures in the budget. I welcome the increase of €5 per week for social protection. It is only a 2.5% increase when the cost of living is taken into account. What could be done to lower living costs through public spending would have an impact on people's living costs. For example, €40 million would have provided schoolbooks free of charge for primary and secondary level children.
The 3.5% increase for the Garda is welcome. It should be focused on community policing. I believe it might be. That is certainly the intention of the Garda Commissioner in his plan.
We have gone through an extensive justice reform programme. I do not believe there will be push-back from the Government when I say we need to ensure that the reforms set out, which are truly ground-breaking and absolutely urgent, are sufficiently resourced so we will not repeat the mistakes of the past.
There is extra funding for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. It sounds good in theory but it seems to involve targeted expenditure rather than the development of a much-needed universal system of child care and preschool education that would benefit all families. I listened with care to the Taoiseach's speech. He talked about education being the liberator, the true equaliser. It starts in preschool education. As a former primary teacher, I can tell the House that when children enter the system at primary level, they sometimes never catch up with those who were socialised or who had numeracy and literacy skills before entering the school door. Therefore, early childhood education is a real opportunity to create equality. It requires very significant expenditure ultimately but we can make a start.
A higher minimum wage is necessary given the rise in living costs. It is shocking that so many people working in the child care and early childhood education sector are working on the minimum wage or a little above it. These are people with graduate-level qualifications. That speaks volumes about how much store we put in early childhood education in this country.
The minimum wage is €9.80. It is still €2.10 short of a living wage that would permit a basic, even frugal, standard of living.
The VAT reduction pertaining to electronic media, to the 9% newspaper rate, is probably a fair reflection of the development of modern technology and the changes that are happening anyway across the news industry. It will be an important support to newspapers and to journalism.
The increase in overseas aid is very welcome but we need to have a discussion - maybe the Government is having it already - on how we can spend the money effectively. I am concerned that, increasingly, because of fear over expenditure, Irish money is being pooled with UN money or other international funding packages. The unique expenditure of Ireland is not as clear-cut as it was. In the past, we had major initiatives, including on hunger. We need to go back to specific Irish initiatives, which means allowing for capacity, in selected areas of needed support, for bespoke Irish programmes that we would fund ourselves.
An extra €55 million has been committed for mental health. That is really important. I tried every year, in the worst times, under the significant pressure of our former colleague Kathleen Lynch, to ensure that an additional €35 million would be allocated every year for mental health provision. It is an area we need to acknowledge. This is World Mental Health Day. We should recognise that many people in Ireland experience anxiety and difficulty with their living circumstances. They may be in precarious work or precarious accommodation. We need to ensure there are supports for people under stress. We do not have them right now. Particularly in my region, we do not have them. Those who are being employed there are actually leaving because of the stress caused by inadequate facilities. This is an area regarding which we must stop paying lip service. We must prioritise in a real way.
While the best of the Brexit strategy is to push for no Brexit, which is obviously the best outcome for us all, preparation for Brexit should mean strengthening our economy and its resilience through infrastructural investment. I do not believe that creating a rainy day fund is the solution. I would much prefer investment in strategic infrastructure, such as the port of Rosslare in my constituency. It is telling that the Taoiseach mentioned all the major ports yesterday without mentioning Rosslare Europort. When I asked the Taoiseach about this after the development plan was published, his reply was that the authorities did not ask for money. That is not good enough. If Irish Rail is not prepared to invest, it should be noted that it is national infrastructure that is required. It will be required even more in the context of Brexit.
The Government's approach to taxation is wrong, as I have said. Tax is not a burden; it is a way decent societies collectively pay for hospitals, schools, child care and needed enterprise supports to benefit all of us. The decision to spend nearly €300 million on tax cuts is a mistake, as I have argued already. The USC and income tax changes do not really benefit those who are notionally squeezed, including renters, carers and those facing impossibly expensive child care costs. Rather than giving back workers some small change, the resources in question would really have made a significant difference in the services I have talked about. The expenditure of €284 million on USC and income tax cuts would have provided free schoolbooks at primary and secondary levels. This would cost €40 million. Placing a defibrillator in 3,960 schools would cost €6 million. Continuing the area-based childhood programme in deprived areas would cost €10.5 million. Adding capacity to the overstretched school transport scheme would cost €2 million. Reducing the student contribution at third level by €1,000 would cost €67 million. Adding €100 to the carer's support grant would cost €11.8 million. Ensuring all public servants are paid at least a living wage would cost €39.3 million. Restoring the trade union tax relief would cost €26 million. Providing free GP care for all children under 18 could have been achieved. The continued roll-out of the free GP care system, which we carried out in the worst of times and which has been halted since, would cost €80 million. We could have done all those things but the Government chose not to. Instead, those on the minimum wage will gain 15 cent per week, as my colleague told the House yesterday. Those on a living wage will gain 39 cent per week, and those on €70,500 will gain €5.47 per week. If they were asked, they would prefer investment in services in the way I have set out.
As with all budgets, it is not what is said that is the big part of the story. This budget was the first in a decade that offered the Government an opportunity to lead in a new direction after an awful decade, but the Government offered no vision and little hope of changed policies to do something dramatic and remarkable on housing, climate change or public services. "Stability" is the Government's new code word for "conservative", yet the housing and health systems are unstable and the cost of living is unsustainable for most families. As a society, we can do things better. We can afford to build affordable houses, develop a truly fair health system and provide high quality services. However, that takes leadership. People want a more equal, socially just and fair society. We can achieve that if we work collectively, but the Government and its supporters in the House rejected that path yesterday.
I am sharing time with Deputy Boyd Barrett. I will start with a quote about the financialisation of housing: "Housing and commercial real estate have become the 'commodity of choice' for corporate finance, a 'safety deposit box' for the wealthy ... with profound consequences for those in need of adequate housing." This quote is not from the Socialist Party or any left wing outlet but from the UN Special Rapporteur. It definitely applies to Ireland and the measures taken in yesterday's budget added further incentive for that process to happen.
The Minister will be familiar with IRIS REIT. It was encouraged to come into this country under the previous Fine Gael and Labour Party Government. It is remarkable that the previous speaker was in government until two and a half years ago. IRIS REIT bought ten sites in Dublin in 2013. At one of those sites, Lansdowne Gate in Drimnagh, it has increased rents by 40% since 2014. In Priors Gate in Tallaght, it has put up the rent by 31%. We heard at the weekend that it had similar plans for other residents, and I salute the residents of that building for taking their protest directly to IRIS REIT and forcing it back. IRIS REIT got a huge boost from the Minister yesterday. It has been exempted from capital gains tax to the tune of €30 million, which would build 200 houses. We have heard a great deal about granny flats and granny grants from the Independent Alliance. Granny flats and granny grants can be availed of by the likes of IRIS REIT and the large corporate funds that are swooping in to buy property in Ireland.
Do not forget grandads as well.
The cliché that landlords are exiting the sector is trotted out repeatedly. There has been a massive increase in the number of people who live in the private rented sector. I am neutral on the question of how many landlords are in the sector but I am aware that many more people are living in it. Landlords in Ireland make twice what landlords in Britain or Germany make and they make the highest profits in the EU. Yesterday, the Minister had a choice. There is an issue with some landlords not renting out their properties and keeping them vacant. There are two ways of dealing with that, either give them a tax break or tax them. The Minister opted to give them a tax break.
Everybody in the country thought that yesterday's budget was to be the housing budget. We heard from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that it was going to be about housing. It was not about housing, despite it being the biggest crisis in society as the future of children and young people is being stolen from them. Many young people are stuck at home and many workers are paying massive rents. Yesterday, the Minister again chose to incentivise landlords and the rental sector. There is a problem in this Dáil. People should declare an interest. I am sorry to bore the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, but this is our opportunity to contribute to the debate.
We are listening.
The Ministers are not. There is a massive conflict of interest in this Dáil. One in four Deputies is a landlord, including one in three in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which is an even higher concentration. Every day they are making, and voting on, policies that benefit themselves. It is an added problem that Members appear to be divorced from the reality. Some 4% of the population of this country are landlords. The proportion in this Chamber is 25%, yet that is not a problem.
The Government announced in Rebuilding Ireland that it would build more than 9,000 units. Yesterday, the Minister announced 10,000 units. Is that an increase of 400 social houses or not? Is it just a repackaging of Rebuilding Ireland? Some 16 houses were built in Dublin city recently. How will that suddenly be ramped up? Most of the money the Minister referred to, €121 million, is for HAP landlords. It is going directly into the pockets of the private sector again. The tax relief on building and renovations will definitely encourage more entities such as IRIS REIT and the investment funds to come into the country to do up properties, evict people and ratchet up rents again because that is a legitimate ground for increasing rent. It could result in a further increase in rents.
In the figures announced yesterday, the Minister referred to 70,000 social housing solutions. They are not social houses, of course. People do not get social houses very often anymore. Up to 50,000 of those solutions are to be provided through the HAP scheme. Last night, the Minister said on television that this would be an interim measure. However, this measure was being debated in the House just after I was elected to the House in a by-election in 2014. It is a four-year policy, not an interim measure. It was started by Deputy Jan O'Sullivan when she was Minister of State with responsibility for housing.
I also have a question about the rainy day fund. What does the Minister envisage it being used for? The EU's fiscal rules are clear that such funds can only be used to address external shocks and issues such as a bank bailout. Why would that money not be used for housing? Does the Minister not think it is wet and rainy enough for the tens of thousands who are in housing unaffordability?
What has he against young people? They are paying a huge price because of the housing crisis. Figures provided by the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, show this not only in terms of rents, but also in terms of the fees students are forced to pay in the student contribution. Under this Government and the previous Government, the student contribution rose by 263%. It was approximately €800 in 2007 when the crisis began and it is now €3,000. Students must fund that. Ireland has the fourth highest rate of suicide among young men in the world. Stress, housing problems and the like contribute to that.
It is estimated that the average age for buying a house is 36, and the mortgage can be for 35 years. One can see why young people are engaging in protests such as Take Back The City. There is a message for those who are engaging in those protests and getting politically active on the issue of housing, as many young people are. The people who took part in the repeal movement and who have been politicised and given confidence by that and the successful fight for marriage equality now see that they must turn their attention to the biggest problem they face, which is housing.
The message they have to take from what was announced yesterday is that the protests have to continue and they have to up the ante. We need a massive protest, but on a Saturday rather than midweek, which, hopefully, will happen soon through the Raise the Roof campaign. We also need a continuation of peaceful civil disobedience and occupation of housing on a major scale because this Government is not listening.
On climate change, of all the issues that have been commented on in the 24 hours since the budget was announced, be it on social media or via emails to our offices, it is the lack of action in this area. It was reported over the last few days that we have 12 years potentially to resolve this problem otherwise we face a serious environmental doomsday scenario. The only sector referenced in this regard was forestry. As stated yesterday by Deputy Boyd Barrett, rather than a continuation of the current forestry policy which is causing many environmental problems, we need an indigenous and diverse range of trees.
The budget provides for a meagre measure on hybrid vehicles. Why did the Government not opt for massive investment in public transport because it is the second largest contributor in terms of CO2 emissions. Like other countries, it could have introduced free public transport to encourage people to move from their cars to public transport. Unfortunately, it did not avail of the opportunity to do either.
Over the last ten years the Government repeatedly told us there was no money available. The money is definitely available now in terms of the €1 billion additional yield in corporation tax announced last weekend. It is anticipated that as a result of some of the tax changes made in this budget we will take in an additional €300 million or €400 million in corporation taxes next year and there is already a fund available in terms of the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. This money should be used for housing. It should not be put away for a rainy day at a time when people really need it. We also have the money from Apple. There is massive wealth in this society that could have been used to resolve the issues. This budget is a landlords' budget from a landlords Dáil.
First, I take this opportunity to offer my condolences and sympathies to the family of Emma Mhic Mhathúna on the day of her funeral. I was unable to attend the service this morning as I had to attend a centenary celebration for the victims of the RMS Leinster in Dún Laoghaire. All of us across the country owe her a debt of gratitude for her courage and bravery in speaking out about people who were the victims of the cervical cancer scandal. Most importantly, this is a sad day for her family and friends and I again offer them my sympathies and condolences.
I am disappointed that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has left the Chamber. He was not in the Chamber yesterday for many of the contributions on the budget and he will not be here today for many of the contributions from the same section of the Dáil, which says it all.
It seems to be what happens when we speak.
I am here.
The Deputy is not in government.
I thank Deputy Lahart. The problem is that the respect of the Government only extends to what it considers to be the political establishment. It does not extend to forces outside of this establishment even though on many of critical issues that are facing this country right now those who are not part of the establishment have played a key role in trying to mobilise forces to offer alternative approaches to deal with some of the most pressing crises we face, most notably the housing crisis. I propose to speak in detail about the housing crisis as many of us were involved in organising and mobilising for the huge Raise the Roof protest that took place last week and we tabled the motion seeking radical measures to deal with the appalling housing and homelessness emergency, which was passed by the Dáil. Those of us not in the establishment predicted this crisis five or six years ago. We warned the Government that it was going to happen, but the Government does not have the humility to admit it got it wrong or to accept that it should listen to those who warned that this crisis was coming down the line. The more things change, the more things stay the same appears to be the watchword of the political establishment in this country. However, we will continue to mobilise the resistance outside of this Dáil to the failed policies of this Government. To address the serious issues that face our society and our citizens, we will force the Government to listen or we will push it and the political establishment that has failed people out of the way to bring in a new dispensation which puts the needs of ordinary people ahead of the privileged profit hungry elite that it appears dominate the priorities of Irish society.
This budget desperately needed to be a budget that addressed the social emergency that is the housing and homelessness crisis, the disaster in our public health service, the existential threat of climate change, the serious crisis in our education system and the growing inequality and deprivation in Irish society but instead it is a budget of deception, with the Government seeking to fool the people that it is trying to address these problems. It is not, as some said, an election budget. Rather, it is a budget to avoid an election. It is an effort on the part of the two major parties to avoid an election and to quell the growing discontent about the housing emergency, the health crisis, climate change and the so many other inequalities and injustices that reign in our society. Most significantly, it needed to be the budget that addressed the housing crisis but it failed catastrophically in this regard. What we got was deception and the Government playing with numbers in order to deceive people into believing that it was taking the issues seriously and is responding to the heart-rending stories told by Amanda on "Morning Ireland" the other day or by Terry O'Reilly, from my constituency, a woman in her 30s who as a soldier served this State for eight years and is now sleeping in a car in Shankill. There are so many others in similar situations. Behind every one of the horrible statistics that index the housing crisis are human beings and families and the hardships they are enduring. There are 10,000 people in emergency accommodation, of whom 4,000 are children; 140,000 are families on the housing waiting lists; 70,000 are families in serious mortgage distress and, as is now becoming apparent in the context of the Take Back the City protest, a generation of young people who despair that they will ever be able to secure an affordable secure roof over their heads. Even if they get educated and get jobs, they will not be able to afford a place to live. What an indictment of this Government and the political establishment that as we move into the 21st century we still cannot resolve the problem of the slum conditions endured by working class people which James Connolly sought to address at the turn of the 19th century. Rather than acknowledge this problem and take the radical action necessary to deal with the appalling human tragedy that is the housing emergency, we got deception and smoke and mirrors from the Government in terms of what is in this budget to address that crisis.
The way the game is played is to make comparisons that deceive people, rather than throwing light on what the Government actually did in the budget. The headline is to say that €400 million more is being invested than in 2018, but is much more being invested in 2019 than was already promised in Rebuilding Ireland? Of course there is not. What was already in Rebuilding Ireland is all that will be delivered by the budget. The Government will only provide the resources that are necessary to deliver what it had already promised. Those resources were already pre-committed and outlined in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform paper on social housing output, which was produced in the summer. That is what is actually in the budget.
To answer the mystery on figures to which Deputy Coppinger alluded, I spent this morning and last night studying the figures to see how the Government could be claiming to spend all of this extra money without it materialising in anything different in terms of actually delivering housing, which is what will happen. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform paper on housing is informative because it neatly tables what was already in Rebuilding Ireland. Yesterday the Minister said that 10,000 new social housing units would be added to the stock in 2019, but that was in Rebuilding Ireland three years ago. The only difference is that the figure in Rebuilding Ireland was 9,540. The only addition to that will be 460 units. The big trumpeting of the housing budget and presumably Fianna Fáil's success in trying to get more resources from the Government means that the target has gone from 9,540 to 10,000. That does not even scratch the surface of the problem we are facing but it gets worse because the 640 units are not even new. Those 640 houses will come from Part V provisions. It is in the small print of the budget document and it relates to housing we hope to get from the private sector in the Part V arrangements. In other words, this was already included in the targets. In terms of new public housing stock, not a single extra house beyond what was already promised will be built.
The key point is that those original promises cannot address the crisis because the Government is relying on the private sector to address about 80% of the deficit in public and affordable housing. The Government's own targets say that 137,000 social housing units are needed and in Rebuilding Ireland the vast majority of that is planned to be delivered through the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and the housing assistance payment, HAP. The exact figures are for 83,000 RAS tenancies and 3,800 HAP tenancies. The vast bulk of what the Government hopes will resolve the crisis is to be delivered through the private sector by relying on private landlords and corporate property speculators like IRES Reit, Cerberus, Kennedy Wilson and Cairn Homes. All of these people who bought land and property from the State and the people through the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, at discount prices will now charge the State an arm and a leg to rent or lease it back to it. It will be a massive black hole in the public finances which will grow exponentially over the coming years but will not actually address the housing crisis because these companies can pull out of those arrangements at a moment's notice, leaving the State with nothing at all.
Here are a few random headlines which really tell the story of what is going on in housing; "Cairn Homes profit jumps 191%"; "Cairn Home founders receive €61.4 m in share awards"; "Profits at Ires Reit more than double during first half of 2018"; "Cerberus paid just €70,000 on Irish profits of €20 m"; and "Profits soar at one of Ireland's most well known developers", which is Park Developments. Anyone can go through the list, all that has to be done is to Google profits and property speculators and one will get all of these newspaper headlines. An obscene fortune is being made by these companies to which the Government, Fine Gael and specifically Deputy Noonan handed over €40 billion worth of NAMA assets for a song, for which they will now charge the State an absolute fortune, not to mind the extortionate rents that they are charging to tenants.
I allude again to the story I told yesterday about Ires REIT and the Sandyford residents. I went up there last week and found out that Ires REIT was seeking a 25% to 30% increase in the rent, exploiting loopholes that the Government left in the residential tenancies legislation. That is what is going on and against that background, the Government then brought in a new 100% mortgage tax relief for landlords on borrowings they make to either purchase or refurbish property. This is a scandal. The public will pay to incentivise people to speculate on property, increase rents and evict people. I really want to underline this point because it sounds good in theory to give a tax break to landlords to fix up their properties. That is until it is discovered that fixing up the property is one of the main loopholes that allows landlords to go above the 4% rent caps and to evict tenants by telling them they have to do substantial refurbishments and therefore the tenants must leave. We had to fight a case with Apollo Global Management in my area over this. It is another one of these big asset managers that bought an apartment block from NAMA and then sent letters to all of the tenants informing them that the company was carrying out substantial refurbishments and the tenants must leave. The residents got organised and fought that and the case was won but huge numbers of people do not know that they can fight or do not have the confidence to do so and even in that case, many of the residents have subsequently left because they know that Apollo Global Management is just waiting for the next excuse to get them out and so they leave because they cannot bear the insecurity and worry of knowing that the people who own the property are trying to drive them out. Huge numbers of other people are simply being driven out because of the tactics of these vulture funds.
It is a scandal and what makes it all the worse is that we will pay additional money to these companies. I said that the extra figure allocated for housing by the Government is not what it seems, but the bulk of it will be a €121 million increase in what we will pay out for HAP tenancies. However, that will not even deliver a single extra HAP tenancy. As bad and inadequate as HAP is, one would think that paying out an extra €121 million in HAP payments might yield a few extra HAP tenancies, but the Minister confirmed yesterday that the €121 million which will be added to the existing €300 million will deliver 16,760 HAP tenancies in 2019. How many tenancies were promised in Rebuilding Ireland for 2019? It was 16,760 so we will pay an extra €121 million to get the same number of tenancies that were already promised. What is happening there is that we are now having to budget an extra €121 million because the HAP landlords are jacking up the rents they are charging the State to provide the same number of tenancies. They are extorting the State and we have assisted them in doing so and provided them with tax breaks on all of it in the form of section 110 tax relief, which is beyond being a scandal. I hope that someone begins to investigate what is going on with section 110 tax relief because as I said yesterday we do not even know how much tax is foregone on that.
How can we address all of this rather than just critique it? We have enough land in NAMA and the local authorities to build 114,000 houses. If we put the €2 billion that has just been put in the rainy day fund into additional capital expenditure, we could deliver 20,000 council houses on public land every year starting next year. We could also fast-track the delivery of Part V housing. The Government boasts about planning permissions and says there are loads of planning permissions but they are getting planning permission and inflating the value of the property but not actually building anything so we never get the Part V social housing element. How could we address that? We could take the land now. As soon as they get their planning permission, we should grab the 10% - which should be 20% - and build on it now. We could get even more than 20,000 houses built. We could build on our own land. We need to freeze rents and evictions until we begin to provide the public and affordable housing we need.
I will comment on education. What the Government has done, or rather not done, in further education is an absolute scandal. Irish universities are tumbling down the international rankings. It is a very serious issue for the long-term future of this country and for its reputation and even for the Government's beloved foreign direct investment. Our education system is declining. We will take 18,500 extra students into the system next year. The increase in further education funding was 1%, about €13 million extra, which means the actual public subsidy per student in further education will decline significantly. I received a letter this morning from the Irish Universities Association saying this is one of the big scandals of the budget. Given the dramatic increase in student numbers in third level education, the Government's failure to add additional funds to third level education means there will be a further decline in the quality of third level education next year and in the years following. Even the Government and Fine Gael should consider that a pretty serious concern.
Tháinig mé isteach anseo in 2009. Bhí na buiséid roimhe sin agus na buiséid ó shin amach uafásach ar fad. Caithfidh mé a admháil go bhfuil feabhas tagtha ar an scéal leis an mbuiséad seo. Tá rudaí sa bhuiséad atá níos dearfaí ná na rudaí a bhí sna buiséid eile. Ach tá ceist agam; cén difríocht a dhéanfaidh sé? Bhíos anseo inné agus bhíos ag éisteacht leis na figiúirí a bhí ag dul thar timpeall le dul chuig áiteanna éagsúla. The figures - €30 million here, €1.4 billion there, €110 million there - all sound very impressive but we need the breakdown and we need the answers to questions such as "Who?", "What?", "When?" and "Where?" in order to get to the gist of what is involved here. It would indicate whether the measures will make an appreciable difference or are just a massaging of the figures.
I acknowledge the work of the Parliamentary Budget Office. I refer to one of the points it has made on the need for time before the budget to really analyse the figures before we come in here to react to it so that our reactions are evidence-based. I sometimes wonder about the wisdom of the speed and urgency with which we have statements on the budget directly after the Minister's statement. We knew much about this budget before it was announced in here yesterday. Ministers have press conferences about their own particular budget but they are not coming in to tell us exactly what is going to happen in their budgets. We have a budget here that appears to give a little to many, which would indicate a major deficit in the ideology of fair and progressive budgeting and consequently, an opportunity to make a real difference was missed.
While the European Anti-Poverty Network welcomed the €5 increase - and obviously an increase is much better than a decrease - I question spreading the increase so widely instead of focusing on one particular group, for example, those with a disability. We know they need an increase of €20 to €25 to make a real difference in their lives because they have extra costs and challenges that we do not have. Each year the Disability Federation of Ireland hopes the budget will address the inequality and, including this year, it has been disappointed every year. It is particularly disappointing when Ireland has finally ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. There was an opportunity to address the systemic inequalities for those with a disability, inequality which has almost been normalised post crash. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has a further €150 million for disability services and it will be interesting to see where it goes. The Minister of State mentioned services for those who have left school. I hope they will be quality services because I have met many people with a disability who are in services that are not addressing their needs. They are certainly not providing any stimulation for those young people.
The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, called this a caring budget in his speech yesterday and there are some aspects that are caring. In reality, the cost of living for many means this is more like a public relations budget. The USC reductions and income tax band changes might give the perception of rewarding the sacrifices of the working population after a tough decade but in reality the cost of living and the post net pay costs do not do anything to improve the standard of living of many. We have to look at the reality. The reality for workers on good salaries is that home ownership is likely beyond them and that the public health system means that private health insurance is now a necessity and not a luxury, not to mention educational costs. This low total tax intake will not be sustainable in future.
I acknowledge the work of Social Justice Ireland. One of the points it made earlier was the need for more revenue to maintain current levels of services and supports. That is not to mention the additional services when they are required. There was one figure that was interesting - Ireland's total reserve as a percentage of GDP versus EUROSTAT's mark for a low-tax economy, which is 25% to 34.9%. The reality in this budget, as it pointed out, is that those with higher incomes have gained up to ten times more than the amount gained by low-paid workers.
The Minister said our economy is growing at a healthy pace. What exactly does economic growth mean? Economists and statisticians will tell us what economic growth is about but what do those terms mean to those citizens here who are living in poverty? We know 8.3% of people live in persistent poverty and 21% of the population have experienced deprivation. We know the homeless figures, the numbers living in inappropriate accommodation, the numbers waiting on hospital appointments and the number of children and young people waiting on assessments and psychological services. I would like to ask what it means to those people who featured in a report commissioned by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice called Stories of Struggle, which was launched by the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty. Their experiences were of living below the minimum ethical essential standard of living. The stories were very clear on the implications for those families in terms of their physical and mental health and educational attainment. We have positives in economic growth. The unemployment rate is low and emigrants are returning but there are challenges in housing, health, climate change, Brexit and our debt. We need a fiscal policy that is not just about economic growth but a fair and just taxation system, sustainability, transparency in governance and decent services for all. They might be clichés but they mean a lot. They are about the vision we want for Ireland. Is our vision for a more fair and equal society? There is no doubt but that inequality is growing.
On housing, there is a role for landlords and developers but not for a total reliance on them to provide the necessary housing. Is it too much to ask that words like "ethical" and "morality" should be applied to landlords and developers also? HAP has a role but it is not the answer because HAP tenants are competing on an open market with those who can pay more. It is money down the drain. The priority has to be to prevent people becoming homeless. I see a movement of people out of homelessness but no sooner is one family out of homelessness than another is into homelessness. It is ironic that so many years after Davitt, Parnell and the Land League, we are still looking at two of the three Fs, namely, fair rent and fixity of tenure.
On the capital acquisitions tax, the increase on the band A inheritance tax threshold does absolutely nothing to tackle the basic inequality of the inheritance tax system whereby unmarried, childless, single people and same sex couples are victimised by an inheritance tax system that has 1950s ideologies all over it when it comes to the family unit.
The increase of 1% on betting tax is to be welcomed but it needs to be clarified where the 1% is going. Is it going back into the Exchequer or to the services that are needed for the increasing number of people with gambling addiction?
I will say the same about the increase on cigarettes. We know the cost to the health system, the numbers in need of care due to smoking-related illnesses and death. Will the 50 cent increase go towards the programmes and services that are needed for those who are addicted to smoking? I know it will fuel the illegal cigarette trade.
I see so much of that in Dublin Central. The pressure will be on those going on holidays to European countries to bring back hundreds of cigarettes. I have to wonder about the particular initiative. I am particularly interested in the drugs and youth projects and the services for those in addiction, whether treatment, rehabilitation or recovery but also the awareness programmes before somebody goes down that road. Those projects are still suffering from the 40% cuts. Additional funding now will only help them to play catch-up on what was lost and I certainly know the effects of that loss.
I had a dilemma last night about the 13.5% value added tax, VAT. I believe it could be more for certain aspects of the hospitality industry. It is embarrassing to learn about the cost of hotels in Dublin and other cities and in some of the particularly popular tourist spots. The jump to 13.5%, however, will hit smaller restaurants and businesses much harder. Surely there was a way for us to consider a more graded approach to that, based on the income, numbers employed, etc., rather than a one size fit all.
The Minister of State is responsible for overseas aid and the overseas development aid, ODA, increase of €110 million has been welcomed. It is moving in the right direction towards the 0.7% of gross national income, GNI, which is critical if the sustainable development goals are to be realised. We have to be vigilant about how our ODA is being used. To date it has been to a very high standard. It is untied and poverty focused but it cannot be diverted to the securitisation agenda. I hope the €110 million increase will be totally for bilateral aid because there are concerns about how funding can be swallowed up by multilateral aid. That was one of the points made by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade in its review of Irish Aid. We cannot, however, and this is crucial, give with one hand and take with the other. This is where policy coherence is absolutely essential. Unfortunately, we are seeing a very vivid example of incoherence because of what is missing in the budget in respect of climate change. There were very clear recommendations from the Citizens' Assembly and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that have been ignored and we will pay the price, economically through fines and environmentally. Did anyone wake up this morning with an impetus to do something to change some element of their own behaviour to slow down climate change as a result of the budget? This budget is one of carbon omission rather than emissions.
I do not disagree with the rainy day fund, particularly as it is coming from corporation tax but why is it not beginning immediately? The exit tax is progressive. It is scary if we rely on corporation tax to fund essential services. While the receipts are significant now there is no guarantee that will continue. Although 12.5% sounds fine on paper, we know that the effective rate is nowhere near that. When the Minister speaks of global tax reform I hope that the principles of tax justice will be at the core of our policies.
I note increased supports through the Arts Council and Creative Ireland and I hope we will see some positive discrimination in favour of local community initiatives in arts and culture. Many artists do not make a living wage and we need to consider their tax situation. People have been in touch with me who go through the horrors every time they are not working. They have to be in work but why would they take other work when they are waiting for work in the artistic and cultural fields? We should try to make their tax journey easier. In respect of capital funding to the arts, I hope that we are finally going to see real progress on Moore Street starting with the national monument at numbers 17 and 18.
There is a major role for the Committee on Budgetary Oversight and the Parliamentary Budget Office to judge by the display they have in LH 2000 now. We should consider getting regular and more structured input from them on whether aspects of the budget are progressing on gender-proofing, equality-proofing and disability-proofing because we need real transparency.
Like most people here I attended several meetings with groups before the budget. Mar shampla, bhíos ag an gcruinniú a bhí ag Conradh na Gaeilge agus tá sé soiléir go gcaithfimid tacú le infheistíocht sa Ghaeilge agus san Ghaeltacht as seo amach. I met two other groups and, when considering the big figures in the budget, we need to also think about the small organisations and the smaller figures that will make a difference. An additional €0.5 million yearly would mean that the Multiple Sclerosis Society would have more beds to provide more respite, not just for with the person with multiple sclerosis, motor neuron disease or a neurological illness, it is also for the family and makes a huge difference to them. I also met the epidermolysis bullosa, EB, group organised by DEBRA Ireland. EB is a horrible illness and a small amount of funding would make a difference. That would go into ring-fencing a care package, which is vital. There is also a need for the outreach nurse to become a permanent position because the outreach nurse can go to those children who have that illness rather than them having to travel because travelling creates more problems for them.
There were positive points in the budget but it is not coming across with the radical changes that are needed in order to make a real difference in the majority of people's lives.
Yesterday we were told that the Defence Forces would get €18.5 million extra in current expenditure in budget 2019. That is to deal with pay, training, retention strategies, human resources, HR, strategies and all the things that are so desperately needed to stop the haemorrhaging of trained staff from our Defence Forces. What planet is the Government living on? Did it notice the dignified gathering of retired and current Defence Forces personnel who assembled outside here last month, the people who highlighted the fact that there are people in our Naval Service sleeping on boats because they cannot afford accommodation and that Army families are reliant on the family income supplement, FIS, because they cannot put a roof over their heads or a meal on the table while the husband or wife goes out to serve this country? It is not as if the Government does not have the money because in the same budget that it gave a paltry €18 million to deal with those issues it has given €29 million to deal with capital expenditure in our Defence Forces. In each year between 2019 and 2021 capital expenditure is going to go up while current expenditure on our Defence Forces will remain static at a level that is much lower than the one put forward in the depths of austerity in 2013. What is going on?
I tried to put some of these issues to the Tánaiste last week. I asked if it was a case of all the money going on toys for big boys because that is actually what this budget is. The Government is putting €250 million of the capital budget into a new vessel for the Naval Service when it has nobody to crew it, when morale in the Naval Service is on its knees. It is ridiculous. I tried to put to the Tánaiste last week that there is a meltdown in our Naval Service that the Government is moving away from core values that the Naval Service was set up for, maritime defence and the fisheries protection. If I was a member of the Naval Service, when morale is already on the floor, I would have been absolutely gutted by the reply of the Tánaiste last week, to miss and even laugh at what has been long established as the core principle of the Naval Service, maritime defence and fisheries protection. Instead, in trying to answer me he lauded Operation Sophia. We have a Naval Service of 1,094 members, 54 members of which are involved in Operation Sophia. The 95% of Naval Service members would have been surprised at the response of the Tánaiste during Leader's Questions last week, that the work they do is in his opinion secondary or somehow less important than the work done in the Mediterranean. They would be particularly confused in the context of the White Paper on Defence produced, ironically, when he was the Minister for Defence, which describes fisheries protection as the day-to-day task of the Naval service with secondary roles including "to provide general maritime patrolling and will be in a position to respond to, for example, an aid to the civil power request, a pollution incident, or a search and rescue or recovery mission." There was no mention at all of military operations in the Mediterranean.
It appears that the Tánaiste does not understand what the Naval Service does or, even more sinister, that a decision has been taken to change the role of the Naval Service without any involvement by the men and women of the service or this House. It seems that he has been listening to people who talk about us having the best little navy in the world while, at the same time, the reality on the ground belies that statement. Operation Sophia, for starters, is not a humanitarian mission. The document establishing the operation states: "The Union shall conduct a military crisis management operation contributing to the disruption of the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean." It is a military crisis management operation, not a humanitarian mission.
When we moved the resolution in this House, the Dáil's approval was sought to redeploy Naval Service vessels from humanitarian search and rescue operations to security and interception operations. I found it shocking for the Tánaiste to come back and say that the work of our naval forces in protecting our coastal waters and our fisheries was, somehow, subsidiary. What was even more shocking was that he said, in complete and utter contrast to the reality, that no ship would go to sea if there were safety issues for the crew. That ignores the reality today that it is precisely because ships are going to sea with safety issues for the crew that these issues, for the first time in naval history, have entered the public domain. I refer to the fact that ships have not been going out and have not been capable of being crewed to go out to police our waters. This is not a green over blue conflict or anything like that. It is a recognition of the fact that not only are ships not going out, but just the other day a ship was sent out to sea even though it had scaffolding around its engine. That scaffolding was put in place during maintenance work on the engine and not removed. It blocked an emergency exit and ended up injuring two seamen.
There is a devastating shortage of trained naval personnel. While the Tánaiste might reply that staffing is at 92%, I assure the House that is utter nonsense because not all naval personnel are equal. Sending ships out to sea with people who have never been on a ship previously, but counting them to make up the minimum numbers, is not securing the safety of our naval personnel. The shortage of able seamen has become so acute that the higher naval command has taken ordinary seamen, who are basically apprentices and, in some instances, have never even set foot on a ship, and called them able seamen, partly qualified, PQ. Hey presto, somebody is put on a boat and put out to sea. That is what has been done instead of addressing the issue, being honest about the shortage and calling it what it is. That shortage is a result of the appalling working conditions to which naval personnel are subject.
The Government anchors down and does not do anything other than perpetuate the myth that we have a Naval Service in this State. The men and women on the front line are telling us we do not. Their lives and their working conditions have been undermined to such an extent that, for the first time in the history of this State, we do not have a Naval Service. Nothing in this budget has addressed that. The situation is critical. The point I tried to make to the Tánaiste last week was that this is not just about pay. That was ignored and the problem has been exacerbated by the budget. Pay is important. We know that our Defence Forces' personnel need more funding. They do, of course, need that but there is much more at stake. It is about chaos, mismanagement, cover-up and denial.
That is the root of the crisis in the Naval Service. The chaotic mismanagement was on full display last week when a directive came down from the officer in charge of the personnel management section abolishing the 72 hours' notice that applies before sailors go on duty. It was then hastily rescinded. The word is now out that the two years at sea and two years ashore model, or whatever has been applied throughout the history of our Naval Service, might be abolished to be replaced with a three years at sea and a one year ashore model. This is a rumour but how would a man or a woman working in our Naval Service feel with that type of attitude hanging over his or her head? Is it any wonder that people are leaving in droves? I refer to people returning from a tour of duty aboard ship thinking they are going to be reunited with their families, and then being told that they are going to be press-ganged on to another ship just to give the illusion that we have enough people to cover our bases. It is an absolute disgrace. Who would stay in a job like that? To say that it is an issue of pay is simply denigrating the crisis that is really there.
These men and women would all put their shoulders to the wheel if there was a crisis and this State was attacked. They are, however, being asked to do it to keep up an appearance that we have a Naval Service. That is while the systemic crisis that exists is being ignored. If it is bad for men, it is even worse for women. Why would women stay in such a family-unfriendly environment like that? Why would they stay in a job where a spy hole is discovered in their shower room and management does not even bother to tell them about it after it has been discovered? It is a job where no woman in 25 years has been promoted to chief petty officer. Who would stay in a job like that? That is especially the case when nobody in power even seems to admit the problems that exist, let alone solve them. It is absolutely catastrophic. This budget failed to address what should have been, and what is, a wake-up call for the Government.
When the Government wakes up, it will be too late. It is not possible to replace personnel who have been trained for three, four and five years. That expertise is just going to be washed down the drain. Responsibility cannot just be handed over to a new recruit. It does not work like that. Our Naval Service is hanging on a thread. Shame on those in authority in our Defence Forces. They have not articulated the desire of their members. They have reinvented themselves now, somehow, as champions of the pay and conditions of Defence Forces personnel. However, their choice of furthering prestige projects and to cosy up to the big boys in the EU has led to the personnel on the front line being the collateral damage. The budget was a terrible missed opportunity.
On the issue of pensions, Ireland is currently on track to have the highest pension age in the OECD in 2028 at 68 years of age. This increase results from a unilateral decision taken by Fine Gael and Labour at the behest of the troika. On top of that, there are now plans to change how people qualify for a pension from 2020. The issue of home carers has not been addressed. The Government has attempted to change the configuration and the total contributions approach to 40 years as opposed to 30 years under the 2010 national pensions framework. The public consultation about these changes was an absolute joke. The document that was published was riddled with miscalculations. The Government has had to admit that in responses to parliamentary questions I tabled. Public opinion was elicited through SurveyMonkey. That is something secondary school students use in their projects.
To make a comparison, while the Government, in this misnamed consultation carried out over the summer, received 270 responses, there were 16,000 responses in the consultation on personal possession of drugs. Let us be clear that this was not a proper consultation. What is being proposed is different from what was proposed in 2010. The problems are just going to be kicked down the road. While the Government is giving the illusion of dealing with the home carer's credit while, at the same time, not doing so, the position will worsen for people who left the workplace because of unemployment or periods of illness.
It is absolutely critical the public has an opportunity to engage on the State pension situation. I am beginning to wonder if the Government hates people who are getting older. As somebody in that bracket, I am starting to get a little bit scared. The consultation on the proposed auto-enrolment pension system is also ongoing. The core principle of that is that everyone is encouraged to achieve pension adequacy, meaning a retirement income of 60% of one's pre-retirement income. That is a very good idea, and everybody would go along with it. However, the Government wants to achieve it by forcing people to hand over a portion of their salaries to private contribution pension schemes without their consent and with no opt-out for the first seven months. It also wants to lob a State subsidy at private pension funds on top of that. Auto-enrolment suggests that every employee is forced to donate 1% of his or her salary to a private pension for a minimum of seven months, whether he or she wants to or not. If he or she wants to stay in, he or she can increase his or her payments to 6% and the Government will add an incentive. It has been suggested that €1 will be contributed to the private pension for every €3 a person contributes. It means that a person on €25,000 will get €82 from the Government while someone on €70,000 is going to get €233 - essentially, the lower paid worker is subsidising the higher paid worker. The Government will also incentivise people if they contribute the equivalent of an additional 2% of their salaries. Someone earning €200,000 would receive a State subsidy of €4,700, part of which will be paid, let us not forget, by low-paid workers who cannot afford to make extra voluntary contributions. It is an absolutely appalling situation, and is feathering the nest of the private pension industry which already massively benefits from the fact that higher paid workers get so much more in tax relief than ordinary paid workers. It is a continuation of everything this Government stands for. It is Robin Hood in reverse, and amounts to a feathering of the nests of those who have more resources at the expense of those with less. It is an absolute disgrace, and the consultation must be extended on that point.
Ar an gcéad dul síos ba mhaith liom mo chomhbhrón a dhéanamh le clann Emma Mhic Mhathúna agus na daoine go léir. On this very sad day I want to express my sympathies with the children and extended family of Emma Mhic Mhathúna.
This budget represents a missed opportunity to really connect with the people who need support. While everyone has received a little bit, it is not enough. The Government has produced an election budget; it has one eye on an election and the other on popularity. On housing, I heard the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, the former Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, speaking on the radio this morning, advocating that we should keep doing the same thing and throw money at the problem. There have been no positive outcomes from that approach. There have been some outcomes, for example, the housing assistance payment, HAP, which people are being forced to use, and in terms of buying houses. Ordinary people who want to buy houses are being priced out of the market. It is folly. The Government has failed to ask, allow or coerce the county councils to build houses, as they always did through the decades. I do not know what has gone wrong. There is an ideological reason for this, as Deputy Clare Daly mentioned. The Government does not want the local authorities to intervene. The attitude seems to be to let them eat cake, and that the ordinary people can suffer and can wait.
The Government refuses to deal with the bailed-out banks. AIB has reported a profit of €750 million for six months of last year and almost €1.5 billion for the full 12 months. The Government is getting ready to sell that bank, which is another ideological disaster. My children, grandchildren and grandchildren's children will be paying for those banks through their pain and sweat. What is the Government doing? Ar aghaidh libh; it can do what it wants. It should tax the bank on the profits it is making.
It beggars belief that ordinary people are being penalised. People are being forced into the rental sector where their rents are being driven up. There are various caps in place. Rebuilding Ireland is a failure but the Government will not admit it. It keeps doing the same thing. Mahatma Gandhi said that doing the same thing and expecting the same result is madness. It is folly, and the Government is devoid of thought and ambition. The officials in the Department are the same. They have become too cosy over the decades and are not able to get out, roll up their sleeves and get on sites to allow the enablers to do their work or to support the small builders.
The living city tax should be extended to all of the rural towns in the country. No town should be ignored. There are many vacant spaces, and I believe that any shop that has been closed for ten years should be converted into accommodation. Such a move would do two things. It would revitalise buildings and town centres and bring people back into town centres, bringing life back into them. At the stroke of a pen, we could insist that county managers do away with the prohibitive 50% planning and development charges. Something could also be done about VAT, as I asked for in the programme for Government talks. The former Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, said that could not be done because there could not be varying rates of VAT. There are many creative ways to charge VAT, as we saw with the measure taken in the hospitality sector last night. If the Government does not want to give the dividends from this to the builders and developers, which I can understand, it can be passed on to those who buy these properties. They are going to spend money in the local hardware shop, employ local tradespeople and regenerate local economies. This is simple thinking, but the Government is blinded by spin doctors. I note that €1 million has been allocated to the Department of the Taoiseach in this budget for staff and expenses, at the drop of a hat.
The Government has failed abysmally on housing. The Minister of State can smile as much as he wants to. The Government has a sad record on housing, and it is reflected in what is happening around the country. The old reliables were also hit. Alcohol, diesel and fuel were left alone because there will be two or three increases before Christmas. The price of fuel is exorbitant. From that point of view I welcome the fact the carbon tax was not changed, but I am aware that it will have to be discussed because of climate change. The Government is putting labels on bottles of drink and introducing stupid regulations. It is nonsense. The real issues which matter to people are their wage packets, good living conditions, being able to live a life with a modicum of decency and with a roof over their heads, being able to educate their families and being able to get employment. The Government, despite all the different schemes it has announced, has failed miserably on those issues.
Turas Nua is browbeating people who have been on schemes for five or six years and have made huge contributions to their communities and who want to get back into the workforce. They do not want to be placed in jobs they have no interest in by Turas Nua. Turas Nua wants to get paid for every job it fills. I call it turas uafásach. It is an awful journey. It is not fair to push people who do not have literacy skills into computer rooms and into companies. The concept was bad in America and bad in England, but of course we adopted it here because big business came along and coaxed the Government into it. The Government is in bed with big business people. AIB and other banks pay no tax on their profits. The people own AIB; they have put their sweat, blood and tears into it. People have developed mental health issues because of the actions of the banks, the third force, and the sheriffs and many people have gone to their graves having committed suicide. People are being mistreated, and when they stand up relentless force is applied to them.
I have raised the issue of conglomerates for the last six or seven years. It arises in Tipperary in the shape of the Coolmore and the horse industry. It is a wonderful industry and has great prowess, with many expert jockeys and staff, winners and thoroughbreds. However, the Government has refused to tax the industry. It went to Coolmore in 2011, shortly after it was elected, and pulled into Clonmel to see what the industry was doing. Coolmore had Fianna Fáil in its pocket before that, and it now has this Government in its pocket. The Government has refused to tax stallion fees, a measure which was brought in by iar Taoiseach Charlie Haughey and which I commended at the time. He was a visionary leader and the measure was required, but the industry is now flourishing and a tax should be raised on it. An exit tax on intellectual goods was put in place last night. Stallions and stallion fees should be taxed as well, because the amount of money that is going into this industry from overseas is unbelievable. It is buying every perch and every half acre of land in Tipperary. Young farmers, medium-sized farms and family farms cannot operate or make their businesses viable or sustainable. We are missing an opportunity here, but the Government will not touch the industry at all. It is outrageous. It reminds me of the banks. The rich can get richer, but the ordinary farmers in Tipperary can go to hell or to Connacht.
The Deputy should protect himself by refraining from making comments about people having other people in their pockets. He has privilege in here. There are other places he might want to-----
I was a member of the party. I know all about it.
I cannot comment because I am in the Chair. I am only saying this in the Deputy's own interest.
Go raibh maith agat.
If the Deputy wants to say it outside, that is fine.
Go raibh maith agat. These fat cats will not be touched. They are wreaking havoc in our county. They will not allow any small farmer to exist. The farmers will not even go to the auctions. Farmers will not even go to solicitors or auctioneers to try to put the money together because they know they have no hope. It is a scorched-earth policy that we resisted from Oliver Cromwell and the landlords. We have a proud record of resistance in Tipperary, where the first shots were fired in the War of Independence and where we will celebrate the anniversary of the Soloheadbeg ambush in 2019. This is what we have now. The eerie silence and fear among people is shocking. The media will not cover it. Nobody wants to touch it because this is a glamorised, lucrative industry. It is all nice and glossy and it is big business but it is not being tackled. Questions can be answered by the relevant people. We know what is wrong.
Small business and SMEs are being crushed again. I welcome one part of the budget. I welcome the extension of the PRSI to the self-employed who will be able to make claims next year if they are sick. During the recession, the work available to many self-employed people collapsed. All of their employees rightly got their social welfare payments, but private employers could not get anything. Although this measure will not take effect until 2019, tús maith leath na hoibre. We need to support and nurture those people so that every second letter they get from Revenue is not threatening them with imprisonment if they do not pay within so many days. I support the retention of the corporation tax rate. We have nearly 5,000 foreign direct investment jobs in Tipperary. We need to keep those.
The Government has abandoned the tourism sector in its hour of need. The one little scheme the Government had was the 9% VAT rate for the tourism sector. These businesses are doing fine in Dublin. They can charge what they like because they have the population base and people flocking into the city cannot get any place to stay or live. However, in places like Naas and Kildare, the streets are empty at night. Buses and buses could be parked on them. Hotels are empty. They needed that 4.5% reduction in VAT. I could understand increasing the rate by 1% and flagging the intention to raise it further, but this is a smash-and-grab raid. I read the sector's employment figures into the record last night. The businesses have done the work. The visitor numbers and the additional revenue earned in the country because of that policy have been huge. The Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, is an east Galway man. He knows how badly this was needed in towns like Tuam.
Every town in the country is the same, apart from Killarney and Galway city. We do not have the footfall or the incentive to keep tourists. We have wonderful community efforts and endeavours creating greenways and blueways and trying to develop fishing or developing hillwalking in Tipperary. The Munster Vales is a huge organisation doing tremendous work under the guidance of Ms Triona O'Mahony. It is a three-county project covering Limerick, Tipperary and west Waterford. It is a great project but we cannot get the people to come without support for small businesspeople who benefitted from the 9% VAT.
The Government has abandoned climate change and shied away from it, but it is going to have to deal with it.
Agricultural and rural issues have been abandoned in their hour of need. We had a massive fodder crisis this year. It was very acute where I am as well as in east Cork, south Tipperary, parts of north Tipperary, south Kilkenny and east Waterford. The Minister told me the deficit was 20% and now it is only 11%. It is much more than that. Farmers made no second cuts. They are making them now, thankfully, but the crops are diminished. The Government has made no efforts in this regard. The IFA, ICMSA, cattle breeders and others begged us to do something about the suckler herd. It is evaporating in front of our eyes and the Government abandoned them in the hour of need. Those farmers wanted €200 a head, which was needed. The Government gave them €40, and there is so much red tape surrounding it that they will not be able to draw it down.
I refer to crime and justice. I said last night that the situation on that front is unbelievable. There was a lot of rhetoric and we have a new Garda Commissioner. I wish him well. The gardaí who are our front-line defence had their overtime restricted in September and face cuts for the rest of the year. There is no problem providing overtime for members in Dublin. Everyone is in gangs here in Dublin and the Government has to deal with them, but we are entitled to protection in our communities as well. The fear in rural areas is palpable. I salute the members of An Garda Síochána in doing what they do with the numbers they have. The cuts are just outrageous.
I refer to taxation and the USC. I certainly welcome the changes because they were needed. I welcome them but the change is too little and too slow. I welcome the restoration of the Christmas bonus and the payment increases in social welfare. However, there is a continuing situation here every year where the Government gives more to social welfare than to the working man. There is something badly wrong. We must make it profitable and viable for a man or woman to do a day's work. An honest day's pay for an honest day's work must be supported. The Government and the system are not supporting that. I met people in these Houses last night. They told me the budget gave €5 to people who have no work and €4 to the likes of them. That is wrong. I welcome the social welfare increases, but there must be balance and fairness. We must support the people who want to go to work. The Taoiseach is always talking about the fear agus an bean that get up early in the morning. However, he is not showing his regard for them. This is the fifth or sixth consecutive budget that does not support the man who wants to go work.
Many areas in the budget that leave a lot to be desired. The Government had golden opportunities to tax the fat cats. It failed and shied away from them. I welcome the policy on carbon tax. I did not want that applied to fuel because we are going to have fuel increases anyway, in spite of the fact that we have an energy regulator who is doing nothing.
The Government has not tackled the banks. It has not touched the receivership industry. I was contacted by a family in Fethard earlier. They live in one of four houses in a complex with all residents able to make their payments. The landlord who owns the property is in trouble with the bank and the houses are being handed to a vulture fund. That fund's staff will not even answer phone calls. The man who contacted me employs six people. His wife is self-employed in a different business. He pays his rent and wants to buy the house but he cannot get engagement. Just because the small developer - a small vulture one might call him - that owned the four properties did not pay his mortgage on his own house, they are being made to suffer and will not be allowed to engage with the vulture fund. The Government is allowing these entities to get away scot free. They are given carte blanche. The Government allows them to employ a third force, which is despicable. Mercenaries have been deployed, in some cases from Northern Ireland, to attack householders in their houses. They threw a 74-year-old woman out last week and broke her wrist. This is a Third World practice. It would not be tolerated in Dan Breen's time. It would not be tolerated by the men that fought for Ireland, and it should not be tolerated in our democracy that people are treated like that in this day and age. In many cases, gardaí are forced to intervene or to stand idly by while it is happening. It is totally wrong morally, physically and financially. Those people are being threatened and intimidated. They become sick, their families cannot develop to their full potential and the worry and strain is causing marital breakdowns and all kinds of mental health issues.
The Government just wants to ignore all that because it is cosying up to big business. What big business? We saw it last night. The big four accounting houses insisted that the Government amend the EU directive provisions in the House before midnight last night, because they have the power. I am talking about PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC, and their ilk. Ordinary small certified accountants pay rates, taxes and wages and do not get any supports. These fellows, however, can walk into the right places, the right conferences, the right breakfast meetings, dinners and speeches and get their way. We saw that last night.
I am delighted to get the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the budget that was announced yesterday. Last night, I lay awake thinking of it. This is a sugar-coated budget. It looks sweet and nice on the outside, but when one scratches the surface, it has not provided adequately for the people of Ireland, especially the hard-working people of rural Ireland. This budget merely hands out a few crumbs, with the illusion that these crumbs are more valuable to the people than they are. There are now two Irelands. I have been of that mindset for a hell of a long time but the budget yesterday proved it. One Ireland is in Dublin. The other Ireland, the forgotten one, is rural Ireland. In the programme for Government, to convince rural TDs to support the Government and in some way be seen to accept that Fine Gael ripped rural Ireland apart in the previous years, that party promised rural-proofing. It was to be the centrepiece of all Government policies. However, I will explain how Fine Gael continued on the same route Governments have been on for more than seven years. Its members turned their backs on rural Ireland and kicked rural-proofing, a promise in the programme for Government, out the window.
We all know that this budget is being dubbed a pre-election budget and the illusions created in it are an attempt by the Government to win over the people. However, I know the people of Ireland and rural Ireland will not be so easily swayed. The bottom line for everyone is how much money will be left in his or her pocket at the end of the week. Let us take the USC. In 2011, at the height of the economic crisis, we were assured that the USC would only be a temporary measure. Fast forward seven years and we are still paying it. In 2015, Deputy Michael Noonan, then Minister for Finance, stated in his budget contribution, "As resources become available we will progressively abolish the USC". Three years later, the USC is still alive and well.
The Government is sugar-coating the effect the USC is having on people. Yesterday, the Government announced that the USC will fall by 0.25%. This is a disgrace. It is a classic example of the crumbs I mentioned earlier that the Government is giving the people and expecting them to be grateful. The bottom line is the Government needs to keep its promises and the USC charge should be abolished with no more pussy-footing around.
Previously, the Government withdrew the death benefit of which a spouse or partner could avail when his or her loved one passed away and which was to help with the initial financial burden. It is a shame that the death benefit was stopped and it should be reintroduced. The Government had this opportunity yesterday but it failed to look after the very vulnerable people in our society.
Yesterday was a bad day for self-employed workers, who got a miserable increase of €200 in their hard-earned income tax credit. Bear in mind this increase of €200 is for the whole year so it only works out as a tax credit of €3.84 per week. This, in reality, will not make any significant difference to the income of a self-employed person. Not only this, but yesterday the Government increased the VAT rate for the tourism and hospitality sectors. Once again, this was simply a kick in the teeth to rural Ireland and nothing else. It does not affect a big city such as Dublin. It was a bombshell to rural Ireland. The Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, did not stand by the people but I did not expect him to do so because he has been against the people of rural Ireland since he came into government. Nothing has changed. He has done his level best to close all the public houses and restaurants in the past 12 months and this is a real kick in the teeth. It will lead to job losses. The rate is going from 9% to 13.5%. This will be a huge hit to the self-employed in the tourism and hospitality sectors. It will affect hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, cafes, hairdressers and various entertainment services. The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation has called this move a damaging blow to the industry ahead of Brexit. In my constituency, it will be a very challenging time for businesses such as Poachers in Bandon, an award winning restaurant, and hotels in rural peninsulas such as Schull and Castletownbere that struggle to keep their doors open in winter and in some cases have to close because of their overheads, including rates. They are trying to create employment in rural Ireland and this will lead to losses. Hotels in Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Dunmanway, Rosscarbery, the Timoleague caravan park and Chleire Haven glamping on Clare Island all employ people. I agree with the Government that they are getting back on their feet but the Government should help people to stay on their feet and not put people out of business when they get on their feet. The increase in the VAT rate is a blow too far and is a direct attack on rural Ireland. In the past month I have seen seven businesses throughout west Cork close their doors. I guarantee this will lead to further closures and job losses.
I welcome the €300 increase in the home carer tax credit but let us not forget the much-needed home care packages. In December of last year, my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group and I tabled a motion on home care packages. In this motion, we called for the home care packages scheme to be established into law to allow everyone an automatic right to the services within this scheme and to ensure those caring for loved ones got their carer's allowance within two months and did not have to wait six months or more. I see no provision in the budget to fast-track this allowance for people doing their very best to save the State tens of thousands of euro. They are not respected. The home help service leaves a lot to be desired. We needed a better budget and clarity on how the money is being spent. It is certainly not being spent properly in Cork South-West constituency, where people are begging to receive home care hours and staff are willing to give those hours. The people are being refused by the HSE, which states it does not have enough new employees. We need clarity on what is going on.
The Minister, Deputy Ross, promised he would introduce a granny grant. The grannies got no grant. They got nothing at all only a few extra quid at the end of the week in their pension, which will be gobbled up by the increase in the price of coal. The coal merchants will go out of business because they cannot cope with the price of coal. Nobody has another solution. Poor granny has been forgotten about. The Minister turned his back. He did get a grant for an extension for one granny in Ireland. I would like to know where that granny is because she must be a mighty popular woman. He is codding the people. Last night, on national television they were laughing at him. He is not in the real world at all. This is nothing short of farcical.
Speaking of the national airwaves, I noticed there was no mention of agriculture on "Prime Time". Every other thing was mentioned, as was every city and town and losses and gains, but no mention was made of agriculture. I will touch on this later.
The Government announced a 6.7% increase in funding to the Department of Education and Skills, which will allow for 1,300 additional posts in schools in 2019. In the past number of months, I have been approached by schools in my constituency highlighting to me the inadequate allocation of release days to teaching principals and the lack of regard for their mental and physical health with an increasingly unrealistic and unmanageable workload. Will the increase in funding to education resolve this matter? School boards are out on the streets on a weekly basis collecting to pay their schools' oil heating bills. I am part of a board that is out fundraising. Did the Government return the capitation grants to the levels they were at before the cuts? Has it addressed pay equalisation for our younger teachers? What has it done about class sizes? We need clarity on these issues. The devil could be in the detail of this budget, as it has been in many budgets over the years.
Yesterday, the Government announced an increase of €1.05 billion in health funding. I express my complete and utter disappointment in the Government for not providing adequately for people diagnosed with cancer. According to the Irish Cancer Society, every three minutes someone in Ireland gets a cancer diagnosis. Incidence of cancer is growing and by 2020, one in two of us will get a cancer diagnosis. Where has the Government made provision for cancer patients? My constituency offices are inundated with people who have been diagnosed with cancer and then have to apply for a medical card on discretionary grounds. This is a disgrace. Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer should be automatically entitled to a medical card. The Government has completely put its head in the sand with regard to providing for cancer patients.
Last week, I was at a function where a young person in the middle of a boxing match in the Maritime Hotel in Bantry fell over, twisted and put out his knee. We waited one hour and five minutes for an ambulance to arrive. There was no ambulance in Bantry General Hospital to collect him. He was only one and a half to two minutes away from the hospital. He lay on the ground for an hour and five minutes. The health system in the country is a shambles. The boxing club in Bantry and the Red Cross did everything they could to look after that young man but the Government has turned its back on the people of rural Ireland. Imagine if it had been a serious emergency. That young person, or any elderly person, would have been dead, about which there is no question. The Government has no answer for the people. There is no proper ambulance service. The ambulance had to come from Kenmare, although there was supposed to be an ambulance in Bantry General Hospital. What is going on? Where is the money going? It is clear the service is under-resourced.
What is happening to the money being allocated to our health sector? Why do we have such long waiting lists across the board? Why are tens of thousands of people waiting for cataract operations? There are 50,000 people waiting for eye surgery. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and I have two buses this month, two buses next month, and we are pleading for two buses in December, to take people from Kerry and west Cork to Belfast. We are taking them out of our country for a simple 15-minute procedure that could be done in Bantry, Mallow or Tralee. We are codding ourselves that we are resolving issues. We are plunging ourselves into crisis after crisis. I keep asking where the money is being spent. Our hip and knee operation waiting lists are appalling.
I sincerely welcome the fact there was no increase in the cost of petrol or diesel. I had been approached by many of my constituents prior to the budget who explained the detrimental effect it would have had on the business of silage contractors, business people with lorries and ordinary people doing everyday travelling. They are paying through the nose. I am glad the Government listened to me and to the people of Ireland when the damage an increase would have done was explained. This is a positive day for transportation businesses and for anyone running a can or van. I acknowledge this.
I welcome the increase in the Garda budget of €60 million, allowing for recruitment of 800 extra gardaí, but we need to know exactly the breakdown of how this extra €60 million will be spent. Will this money mainly be deployed in Dublin? Will the Garda stations that have been closed be reopened?
Will extra funding be allocated for more members of the Garda in rural Ireland? Will it happen in west Cork and will the extra funding be used to ensure Ballinspittle Garda station will be reopened? It has been promised, like the five others, by the Government but it kidded the people as it has not been reopened. Every month I ask and am told they are doing a bit extra. Mighty God, if that much was being put in every month, it would be reopened in six months rather than us having spent a year and a half talking about it.
There will be €286 million for roads and other transport infrastructure and an extra €40 million to repair regional and local roads and footpaths. Do we have a proper roads budget and will the Government outline where the money will be spent? In my own constituency in Lyre, near Clonakilty, a bridge has been closed to the public for approximately five or six years. Where has the money gone if we cannot open a bridge linking one community to another? Will this budget allow for a new bridge in Lyre to be built? Will there be money for the Bandon and Inishannon bypasses or will it all be pumped into Dublin? It needs a little bit but we need a little to survive too. Will there be new passing bays on the N71 or R581 or has the money been wasted with the likes of the beautiful plans for Castletownbere's street? The businesses there have told me they did not want that type of plan but tens of thousands of euro have been spent on it. We need to know where that money is being spent in the budget.
The Government announced an extra €57 million for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to support the sector, especially disadvantaged farmers. Over the past number of weeks we have pressed the Government on a suckler grant for farmers of €200 per cow. We were working under an assumption, as the Minister was saying he could not really give the details of what he was discussing. There was nothing there for them. The suckler cow farmer is on his knees. I presume the Minister of State is from a rural constituency and he must know it. There will be €40 for the calf but God help the calf, which has to be weighed along with the cow, as approximately €35 will be spent trying to get €40. The Government is finishing rural Ireland and the suckler farmer while it stands idle. The farmer needed that €200 per cow more than the Government could imagine. Farmers got up at 4 a.m. to protest outside of these buildings but the Government did nothing for the farmer except step aside. Those farmers will be wiped out, which is the plan anyway for the smaller farmer. There was no mention of fishermen in yesterday's budget but they are facing the biggest crisis of their lives because of Brexit. There is no mention of security for their income. We pleaded for a compensation package for those fishermen because of the bad weather.
As I already mentioned, the universal social charge should be abolished. We now have the hard-working man and woman being squeezed at every angle. These earners are paying far too much in tax and these workers are working full-time to try to put their children through college. It is an awful shame that this Government did not revise the SUSI grant and look at the thresholds.
With the permission of the House I propose to share my time with Deputy Catherine Martin.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
On behalf of the Social Democrats, I extend our condolences and deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the late Ms Emma Mhic Mhathúna. We pay tribute to her on the extraordinary work she did during her short life in improving the health services for everybody in this country, and women in particular. It really has been quite amazing.
The two big crises facing the country relate to housing and health, and it should be said that yesterday's budget fell very far short of what was required on both of those counts. I will concentrate my comments on the implications of yesterday's budget for the health service and the fact that it was extremely disappointing when it came to making provision for health and health reform in particular. That is especially the case in the context of a position where we have a fully costed ten-year reform programme that has cross-party support called Sláintecare. The Government has squandered this unique opportunity to do something of real consequence with the health service and ensure we bring about the kind of reforms that would guarantee access and efficiency in our public health service. This means people living in Ireland could avail of similar access, accountability and affordability in our health services to that which is available in all other European countries for citizens. We are an outlier in this regard because of the very poor quality of our public health service and the major problems relating to a lack of access.
It is a squandered opportunity with respect to health. The Government has been extremely disingenuous in the need for reform of the health sector. Over the past 15 months or so we have seen the Government paying lip service to Sláintecare. Many of us involved in the hard work over the course of a year that went into producing the Sláintecare have had serious concerns that the Government would not be serious about it and it would engage in cherry-picking the elements of Sláintecare that suited its own agenda or ideology. Unfortunately, that is what happened. The Government and the Minister, Deputy Harris, in particular have been very cynical about Sláintecare, using its "brand" to cover their shortcomings in respect of their inability to commit fully to the reform programme. Rather than committing wholeheartedly to Sláintecare, they have used the brand, taking every opportunity to name-check it without being serious about ensuring its delivery. We need from the Minister and the Government the courage to commit to Sláintecare but, regrettably, it was not evident in yesterday's budget.
As many feared, the Government has failed to fund the Sláintecare programme. Much has been made of the €17 billion that is the highest ever allocation to health, representing a €2.25 billion increase on the 2018 Estimate. The Government spoke about it as if additional funding in itself is enough. The provision of additional funding without a reform programme is to yet again throw money into the black hole that is our health service. What matters is how the money is spent rather than the amount allocated. The recent €700 million overspend saw no discussion; there was no discussion about how it arose or how it would be funded. The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council drew attention to the fact in recent weeks that the Government just happened to find an extra €1 billion from corporation tax to give to the Health Service Executive. They will take it now and next year as well but the Government will not ask any questions and there are no strings attached. There are no proposals for control of funding and this is an example of extraordinary profligacy with taxpayers' money on behalf of the Government. They are putting that money into the black hole again without any controls whatever. It seems the Government intends to keep chasing the deficit in health. It is a zero-sum game. Where will we be at the end, and will the budget continue to increase by €1 billion every year while no reforms are implemented and we get very poor value for money?
Where is the accountability? I note the word "accountability" was used in the Minister's speech yesterday, when he stated "I will continue to look at choices that we have to make in healthcare regarding how we can accompany all-time high levels of investment with improved governance, accountability, effectiveness and value for money." In essence, the Minister has said that even with an overspend of €700 million, we will continue to look at choices to ensure accountability and value for money. Those measures are included in the Sláintecare report but the Minister has merely said he will continue to look at choices. One must wonder about the name of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, as where is the reform in this regard? The Department seems to be asleep at the wheel when it comes to accountability, value for money and so on in the health budget. It is an extraordinary shift away from the kind of demanding figures it would have insisted on just a few years ago. The Government likes to claim it is responsible in the use of taxpayers' money but it is anything but with the health budget.
The whole purpose of Sláintecare is to change the way we deliver services so we move to a lower-cost model of care. There was no effort to do this in yesterday's budget. Sláintecare provided for a transition fund of €500 million. This was to provide for that shift away from the expensive hospital model to the community and primary care model and was for things like extra primary care centres; the e-health programme, which would result in considerable changes and savings in how we deliver care; training for additional primary care staff; and hospital beds. There is no indication the Minister gets it when it comes to the transition fund. As it is not in the implementation plan, the national development plan and the budget yesterday, it seems that fears about departmental capture of Sláintecare are very well founded. It appears that "implementation deficit disorder", the disease that has dogged the Civil Service for many years, impacts what has happened to Sláintecare. Many of us were concerned that there would be departmental capture of Sláintecare, which is what has happened. It took the Sláintecare implementation programme and changed it to its own departmental implementation programme which, of course, ignores the requirement for that transition fund. The transition fund aimed to ensure we got savings from implementing the full e-health programme in six years rather than 15 years. There was an allocation of €175 million for e-health. What did we get yesterday? We got a mere €25 million. We were talking about the need to ensure we have better services in the community for those 6,000 people on waiting lists for home care packages so we have better services in the community for the 600 people who are in acute hospital beds. Again, the idea was to move from the expensive model of care in our acute hospitals to community and primary care services. That needed to be funded but, of course, it was not funded. There was no additional funding for home care packages. There was no funding for community diagnostics. The idea was that there was to be a €500 million implementation transition fund but what we got yesterday was less than €200 million. When the Minister was asked about this yesterday, he said that the transition fund is a €200 million allocation. This is less than half of what was required but, of course, it is not even €200 million. It is actually €20 million under the specific heading of Sláintecare for pilot projects. At this stage, we should have moved way beyond pilot projects. What we needed was real and radical change and a shift in the way we provide health services.
Other aspects concern the package of care. They are about how we should improve access to health services and move away from that two-tier discriminatory system we have at the moment or how we should fully fund services for people so that cost is not a barrier to accessing timely care, particularly with regard to inpatient charges in hospitals and ensuring there is an adequate supply of home care packages. When it comes to Sláintecare, it seems the Government is merely tinkering around the edges and there is no real commitment to the kind of large-scale and radical reform set out in the Sláintecare programme. Undoubtedly, this is a missed opportunity.
A total of €70 million will be provided to the NTPF next year - an additional €20 million announced yesterday. Fianna Fáil has made a lot of this figure. The NTPF compounds the dysfunction that is in our two-tier health service. We have a public service that is supposed to provide services but rather than ensuring we get good value for money for those services, deal with the blockages that are holding up throughput of patients for their elective surgeries and introduce the reforms that are necessary in terms of hospital stays and the length of time of consultants spend working on their public contracts, we have said that we should leave things as they are and incentivise more work in the private service. This, effectively, is what the NTPF is doing. In many respects, it is paying people on the double for doing work that should be done in the public service and incentivising more of that work to be done in the private service. Again, this is not about reform. I wish Fianna Fáil would get that message. It participated in the Sláintecare committee and should have got that message loud and clear. The NTPF actually works against reform of the health service. It is a perverse incentive and we should not be promoting it further. We should implement the kind of reforms set out clearly in Sláintecare. What we need is more concentration on tackling those long delays and ensuring that the kind of reforms set out in Sláintecare are implemented.
I have serious questions about some of the accounts that were used yesterday. One would have to ask whether the health budget figures are already wrong because they simply do not add up. Two examples of that involve the NTPF. There has been all this talk about the extra €20 million but when one actually looks at the accounts on page 16, one will see that a mere €10 million in additional funding has been provided. Where is the other €10 million and where is it coming from? There is a figure of €491 million in the Estimates involving net pension costs for 2019. This is almost a half a billion euro. What is that about? There is no explanation of that and no comparative figure for the current year. How did we come up with that figure? Where has it come from? What does it represent? There is no detail on it whatsoever.
I note the comments of the leader of Fianna Fáil this morning on "Morning Ireland". It would seem that very late in the day, he started to express concern about the health budget. He said the health budget in respect of Sláintecare needs to be part of a review. It is a bit late in the day to review the allocation in respect of Sláintecare. Fianna Fáil claims it has its fingerprints on this budget. As it was in negotiations with the Government, it is a bit late to be talking about Sláintecare at this stage. Why did Fianna Fáil not put it front and centre in respect of the health budget months ago?
We have a choice. Do we continue as the only country in Europe that denies universal access to timely healthcare to a large number of our citizens and do we continue using health as a political football? It seems this is the desire of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. We are going to continue with an unreformed, divided and two-tier public health service that denies so many people access to care and will continue to have the knockabout with regard to health. It will continue being a political football. We had the choice to do that or do something of real consequence in terms of the health service and bring about the kind of reform that will make a difference to the current generation and future generations and bring us into line with the rest of Europe. Sadly, it seems that the Government squandered the opportunity to do that in yesterday's budget.
Ar dtús báire, I extend my sympathies to the family and friends of the remarkably courageous Emma Mhic Mhathúna. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis.
Here we are again with the third budget of Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and Independents. What does the Government have to show for it? All it has to show for it is an ongoing housing and homelessness crisis with 10,000 people homeless, 100,000 people on the social housing list and unaffordable rental and purchase prices in our cities and a higher education sector that is struggling after years of underinvestment. The cost of living is going up in every way for families, older people and students in areas like healthcare, schools and child care, not to mention housing. We have a capital city that grinds to a halt every day gridlocked. On Monday, we saw a terrifying report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that revealed to us how dangerous is our course as a country and as a world This is where we are. Last Monday's report was not a wake-up call; it was a siren - a screeching alarm that the Government cannot ignore - yet all the evidence seems to be that this is exactly what the Government intends to do. It is a stubborn refusal to listen to a reality that is staring it in the face and screaming.
If there is one thing we can say for certain about Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance, it is that they are terrified of real change. They are terrified of system change. Reform is not something for which they have any time. However, the report published on Monday showed that we cannot keep going along the same road and the Government needs to accept that fact. Yet, in his speech yesterday, it took the Minister 55 minutes before he substantively mentioned climate action, in the section right after betting. That states very clearly where this Government’s priorities lie.
There are many terms we associate with how Fine Gael likes to talk about the economy: prudence is one of them. They talk about prudence all the time, and condescendingly criticise Deputies on this side of the House for not being prudent and not dealing with reality. However, this budget does not display prudence, it has populism at its heart. It was very clear after the report on Monday that the ones ignoring reality are the members of the Government themselves.
On housing, the Minister has again proven that the only thing the Government recycles is announcements. Yesterday the Minister announced an increase of 10,000 homes to be built next year, but this increase would only be 2,100 homes, as the other nearly 8,000 houses had already been announced under Rebuilding Ireland. Today the Dublin Inquirer reported that what the Government considered to be an affordable housing scheme, and which they were working on for two years before it was shelved, is a scheme which would have been based on giving cash subsidies to landlords. Remarkably, the Government is still convinced that the private market will fix this crisis. That can be seen in the announcement of €1.25 billion for delivery of 10,000 new social homes in 2019, which seems to include rentals and acquisitions, and therefore, given that the rent assistance programmes cost €950 million in 2018 and are increasing every year by €150 million, it seems very likely that the additional €121 million will just cover rent inflation for current HAP tenancies.
The fact that the HAP programme has been Government’s most successful aspect of Rebuilding Ireland, combined with further tax relief for landlords in yesterday’s budget shows exactly where Fine Gael’s priorities lie, namely, with landlords and not with tenants. They are going back to landlords yet again with more giveaways, in the mistaken belief this is a long-term solution to the housing and rental crisis. This approach has failed for seven straight years. I do not understand why the Government thinks it will work this time. What the Government declares to be a success in terms of the HAP is lost in the reality that every day, 50 new people or families enter into rental distress and need to avail of the scheme. With rents going up and up, often by more than the 4% annual cap, which is not adequately enforced, and no real security of tenure for many renters, it is entirely a landlords’ market. It is because of this that it is tenants who are the ones entering into rental distress in their droves, as the Government refuses to take steps to properly strengthen their rights.
There is still little to no detail on what will be built on the State lands that are being made available, and nothing to convince us that the Government is turning away from the market-led approach to any degree that will see the scale of home building we need.
The announcement of a scheme for houses affected by mica in Donegal, while welcome for those affected, only highlights the Government’s unwillingness to deal with the scope of the issue of legacy defects. Where is the scheme for those who, due to the reckless actions of cowboy builders, have been forced to rectify defects, fire safety and structural defects, that is, those who, through no fault of their own, have been left with dangerous homes and substantial bills? Instead, we get a true Fine Gael way of tackling the problem, by dealing with one small aspect and leaving everyone else out in the cold. The Government cannot pick and choose who it helps based on which Minister lobbies the loudest. It is not fair to the people who the Minister refuses to meet.
Taispeánann an budget seo easpa uaillmhéine an Rialtais i leith phobal na Gaeltachta. Is cúis díomá é nach bhfuil ach €5 milliún sa bhreis á chur leis an nGaeilge agus an nGaeltacht agus muid i mBliain na Gaeilge. Níl aon rud ann faoi ghéarchéim tithíochta na Gaeltachta agus níl ach €1.5 milliún d'Údarás na Gaeltachta i ngaireacht scread asail don mhéid atá ag teastáil chun infreastruchtúr cuí a thógáil sa Ghaeltacht.
On mental health, while it was positive to hear yesterday in the Chamber that there would be an increase of €84 million in mental health investment, after looking at the budget document itself I can only see €55 million in extra spend outlined. Where is the discrepancy of €29 million? We need clarity on this and we need clarity on the breakdown of spend. I note that my colleague on the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care, Deputy Rabbitte, is in the Chamber. She can confirm how the committee repeatedly has tried to determine where the money allocated to mental services has been spent. It is essential that the money is spent on developing services, increasing staffing and cutting waiting times. We need accountability and clarity, both in the amount allocated and how it is allocated.
In education, there has been an increase in the capitation grant by 5%, but for schools it equates to just 4 cent per student per day, and continues to leave schools well below the capitation grant levels of 2010, leaving the voluntary contribution in place, burdening parents with the increasing costs of not only sending children to school but keeping the schools afloat. The increase in teacher numbers, and particularly the increase in funding for additional special needs assistants, is to be welcomed, but that feeling fades as soon as one realises these increases only just cover the basic needs that exist. This is not an investment for the future or putting a focus on education; this is just barely keeping up.
Things are even worse at third level where the increases are not even enough to keep up with growing demand. The additional €57 million in current funding is entirely inadequate. We are less than three years away from the Cassells report’s first major benchmark, as an additional €600 million per annum from 2021 will be required to keep the higher education sector afloat. Yet, the Minister for State with responsibility for higher education announced yesterday that this budget will change the landscape of third-level education in Ireland and that the Government listened to all the voices in the sector. I am dumbfounded by how out of touch the Minister is. The Union of Students in Ireland has declared it is extremely disappointed in the budget, saying it does little to nothing for students. The Irish Universities Association stated it was “patent nonsense for the Minister to continue to talk about having the ‘best education system in Europe by 2026’ while presiding over a funding regime that only provides a fraction of the funding per student of those best countries in Europe”, and "It is a serious cause of concern that the government has not prioritised the education of the future workforce of the country.”
The Irish Federation of University Teachers criticised the budget for falling far, far short of the resources needed under the Cassells report. The Teachers Union of Ireland called the investment in higher education in budget 2019 "woefully inadequate". Who exactly did the Minister of State listen to if she did not listen to the universities, the students, or the teachers?
The Government needs to stop seeing education as a cost and to see it is an investment in our future. To truly invest in our children's future, we must value our teachers and ensure that they get equal pay for equal work. However, as with their actions with regard to climate action, the Government seems uninterested in thinking about our future, it is only interested in what is popular right now.
This budget is the indication of a Government that is far off course. The Government continues to insist that we are on the right path when it comes to climate change, but the reality is it does not care, and apathy is more dangerous than denial when it comes to climate change. In the aftermath of Monday’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, this budget was an opportunity to be at the forefront and to lead in the climate action that is needed. Instead, members of the Government should hang their heads in shame as that lack of leadership is putting our children’s future at risk. This will not be remembered as a budget for our society, for equality, for our environment or for our children, but as a missed opportunity and a dangerous step in the wrong direction by a Government blind to the biggest challenge facing all of us.
The defining feature of this Government is an obsession with spin and political positioning, which means that one can take almost nothing it says at face value. The gap between the words and the substance has never been wider. Behind the spin, the evidence is of a Government that does not grasp the scale or urgency of the problems confronting our country. The Taoiseach and his Ministers are so focused on politics that they are failing to get a grip. Problems are routinely being left to become emergencies before any action is attempted.
It was once the tradition that budget day would involve a focus solely on policy changes, with the reasonable expectation being that there were other opportunities to review ongoing policies. Unfortunately, now nearly every area is shrouded in a cloud of meaningless figures which tells one almost nothing about new or additional policy decisions which have been taken.
It says something about the Government that it put out videos praising the budget before it had agreed what was to be in it. Because of this hyper-political and spin-dominated approach, no one can say that today we have clarity on exactly what is proposed for many areas. On the day after the Budget Statement, key information is still missing.
In the coming days and weeks, each Department will publish its spending plans. Legislation will also be introduced to enact the taxation and social protection elements of the budget. It is only when we see these and when there is an opportunity to examine new initiatives that it will be possible to see what is proposed for next year, and it is only then that we will see if there will be any change to the chronic failure to deliver in area after area.
If one looks at the priority given to funding public relations, the endless streams of expensive videos, the regional promotion of Ministers, the constant relaunching of policies, the scapegoating of others for failures and the hyper-political approach to every issue, it seems obvious this is a Government that prefers to campaign than to govern. According to many journalists, there is a prevailing mood among Ministers that they want to run to the country as quickly as possible because they are scared they will be found out if the Government lasts much longer. The Ministers for health and housing, we are told in media reports, are particularly terrified of having to answer for their performances next January. The Taoiseach himself spent much of this year trying to create an instability, which would allow him to collapse his own Government. Yet again this week, we read stories based on Fine Gael sources focused on when it suits them to force an election and not on getting to grips with the housing and health emergencies or the cost of living crisis. We need to put these games aside and focus on the issues at hand.
This is the third budget under the confidence and supply arrangement which enabled the formation of a Government following the election. It is also the final one before a review process which will determine what happens next. I will outline later what our approach to that review will be. Before doing so, I will address what we know of this budget and our concerns about the delivery deficit which has so comprehensively overtaken Government.
It must also be put on the record that the preparation of this budget was, by some distance, worse than in recent years. Basic figures were not available until Monday night, well after the promotional videos were online. In the case of many areas explicitly within the remit of the confidence and supply arrangement, we must review the departmental Estimates before we are in a position to determine whether agreements have been honoured. If it is the case that information we sought was legitimately not available until hours before the Minister gave his speech, that has to be addressed. If it was available but withheld, that is serious and a matter that deserves explanation. This particularly applies to the health and childcare areas.
Overall, this is a budget which delivers no clarity about major challenges and leaves unanswered the core question of whether the Government understands the need for it to dramatically improve the urgency and effectiveness of vital initiatives. Because of the manner in which the budget has been prepared and the last-minute adjustments to both spending and revenue for 2018, there are serious constraints on what it is possible to do. While Fine Gael backbenchers have been sent out over the past week to claim that all other parties want to spend and tax recklessly, the fact is that Fianna Fáil has not only proposed a responsible and restrained policy but has succeeded in getting the rainy day fund established. The rainy day fund is the only current reserve in case of an economic downturn. The position of the public finances rests on the buoyancy of key elements of the private sector and healthy growth in international markets.
If one puts aside the political spin, one finds that the core strengths of the economy in recent years have all come from the foundations built by the people over many years, in particular, their commitment to education and training. One of the remarkable aspects of this Government is how little it has sought to change the core industrial and economic model of the State. It has spent so much time trying to brand itself as modern that it has not noticed how little it has changed.
Industrial development strategies are basically unchanged. Training and education programmes have been expanded rather than altered and the main sources of investment are as they were a decade ago. When the OECD conducted an independent review of the Government's much-hyped Action Plan for Jobs, it concluded that while the plan appeared to be a good idea, it was not possible to identify any clear role it has played in employment growth. This lack of any serious review of industrial and employment policy is a subject which we should return to when there is more time available but, in the context of a period of rapid change and the urgent need for greater diversification, the failure to significantly evolve our core economic strategies is a serious exposure.
The international situation today is tense and a series of events could quickly reduce growth figures. Equally, it may well be that the impact of Brexit is already hitting not only individual firms but the overall economy. The serious decline in economic sentiment and the wide number of indicators suggesting a concern about the future combine to paint a picture significantly less rosy than the complacency evident in the contributions of the Minister and the Taoiseach. We support the recommendation of the ESRI for a broadly neutral fiscal approach. Were underlying sentiment and established risks less serious, there would be a case for a surplus. The Government's claim to have major buffers against shocks is simply not true.
Within the overall figures for next year, there were still many choices to be made and much more could be achieved within existing allocations. The Government's approach has been highly conservative. The lack of substantive change was indicated yesterday by how often Ministers talked about global allocations to their Departments and presented existing activity as new. We also saw the re-announcement of large numbers of projects, often for the third or fourth time.
The most significant change in Fine Gael's budget policies since 2016 has been a move away from the regressive unfairness of its previous budgets. This change was forced on them by the confidence and supply agreement and all independent studies have confirmed that the worst edges have been knocked off the pre-2016 approach. Those regressive policies had nothing to do with lack of resources. When decisions were being taken, Fine Gael chose every time to make those with less bear a bigger share of the burden. This is a policy so ingrained in Fine Gael ideology that the Taoiseach used a series of regressive tax policies as the core of his leadership campaign.
The confidence and supply arrangement has succeeded in blunting Fine Gael’s regressive ideology. This claim annoys the Taoiseach. If he is not persuaded by independent commentators demonstrating how we secured a move away from Fine Gael priorities, he might listen to another well-informed voice. In commenting on the first budget under the confidence and supply arrangement, this expert stated that it was "the first fair and socially just budget" in years. Those were the words of the then Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar. It is reported that he quickly realised that he had been a bit too candid and stated, "I probably shouldn't have said that." Perhaps the next time the Taoiseach wants to complain about Fianna Fáil getting credit for stopping the worst of Fine Gael's instincts, he should consult Deputy Varadkar.
The social protection package includes modest improvements and we make no apologies for insisting that a minimum increase of €5 be given to everyone who receives a social protection payment. This has happened for the past three years and helps to partially address the increased cost of living. The first step in introducing parental leave, albeit from November next, will be a progressive move for new families. While we also welcome the reversal of some of the Government's past cuts directed against single parents, the effort of Fine Gael Ministers to lay the blame for them on the Labour Party are ridiculous. The Taoiseach and the Minister were both members of the Government that implemented those avoidable cuts and they share full responsibility for them.
One of the principal political claims for this budget is that it supposedly ensures that we can meet and overcome the challenge of Brexit. The Minister described it as the biggest diplomatic and economic challenge of a generation.
Next week, we will have an opportunity to discuss the overall situation relating to Brexit. It is clear there will be a deal because a failure to reach a deal suits no one. A chaotic Brexit is a lose-lose outcome that is highly unlikely although, of course, we must be ready. The fact that a deal is likely can be seen in the manner in which the Taoiseach has been trying to shift the ground from his claims last December and to broaden the focus beyond the supposedly "rock-solid" Northern Ireland backstop that both he and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, previously defined as the continuation of the status quo on both customs and regulation.
In recent weeks, the Taoiseach has started talking about having four objectives for the negotiations. Two of these, the common travel area and EU citizenship rights, are not actually up for negotiation, having been agreed between all sides without debate. His staff have actually been out rubbishing the idea that the UK as a whole could be covered by the backstop even though he himself suggested it last December. There remains much to be done on the diplomatic challenge and it is to be earnestly hoped that the Taoiseach and his staff will not revert to type and spend the next few weeks talking to the media rather than the people with whom we need to reach a deal. As for preparing for the economic hit of Brexit, we need to start understanding that the best-case scenario is terrible. The budget documentation assumes no impact for at least two years and then a loss of growth which is based on a departmental estimate that is two years old.
According to the only independent study commissioned by the Government on the economic impact of Brexit, the current likely outcome of either a deep free trade agreement or continued customs union membership would lead to a permanent loss of 4.3% of national income. Using the conservative GNI* figure, that is equal to over €5 billion per year, or over €5,100 per household. This loss will be felt, in particular, by the nearly 6,900 firms that export to the UK. The bulk of these firms are indigenous SMEs. This is the basis on which we must assess whether the Government's claims to be preparing Ireland for Brexit are true. Is the Government meeting the €5 billion Brexit challenge?
There is another ministerial roadshow under way at which various schemes are being relaunched and re-announced. When one looks at the hard figures, however, one sees a real cause for concern. According to a survey published by the Government last month, levels of preparation for Brexit are appallingly low, which appears linked to the complacency that followed the over-spinning of last December's deal.
According to the Government's own work, only 28% of exporting businesses have a Brexit plan, and only 13% of businesses likely to be impacted by Brexit have taken any mitigating action. In fact, unless there is a dramatic change it will be five to six years before all businesses threatened by Brexit will be ready for Brexit.
It is not hard to find a direct link between this lack of preparedness and the failure of the Government to deliver on its Brexit commitments. Last year, a €300 million Brexit loan scheme was announced. As of last month, 1.3% of companies that export to the UK had received a grant. Enterprise Ireland's Be Prepared grants are being awarded at a rate of six firms per month. InterTrade Ireland's Start to Plan vouchers are also being awarded at a rate of six firms per month. The €25 million announced last year for the farming and fisheries sectors has been untouched and was re-announced yesterday as a new initiative. The long-term loan scheme signalled last year has also been re-announced and may eventually start next year.
The Government has made a lot of noise about a recent decision to hire new Brexit officials. At some point next year, apparently, up to 400 will be hired and begin training. By contrast, the Netherlands, which has a similar level of trade with the UK, has already hired and trained 1,000 officials to deal with Brexit.
We should also remember that, this day last year, the Government announced it was retaining the special low rate of VAT for the hospitality sector as a critical part of its Brexit preparations. It appears the Government now believes the hospitality sector has become Brexit-proof.
In every single area, except marketing spending, there has been a systematic failure to deliver on Brexit preparations. One hundred and seventy days before Brexit takes place, the overwhelming majority of our businesses have not been helped to be Brexit-ready, and their fears of what lies ahead continue to grow apace.
This is a €5 billion threat, yet all we get is the same pattern of over-claim and under-delivery. The scale, ambition and implementation of Brexit measures are nowhere near what are required. We believe there must be an urgent review of what needs to be done to address the massive under-delivery of Brexit preparedness efforts.
The development of critical economic infrastructure is more important than ever. Even though there has been an unprecedented publicity campaign claiming everything is in hand, many critical projects are delayed. It is striking how many of the projects promoted this year will not be prepared or tendered during the full potential life of this Dáil and the next one. The people of Finglas have been bombarded with literature calling on them to celebrate the good news of metro north – a project that will not commence in the next decade, at the earliest.
Businesses throughout the country are suffering because of the abject failure to ensure they have access to a basic requirement, namely, reliable, fast broadband. They are becoming increasingly angry at a Government that claims to be modern but forces them to operate in the dial-up era. Before the Government can begin to address this chronic failure to deliver, it must first acknowledge the problem. The complacent self-congratulation and marketing-driven approach are causing real damage at a critical moment in setting the future economic direction of the Irish economy.
As Deputies Cowen and Michael McGrath stated yesterday, and as we briefed throughout this year, in the limited scope available to us to influence specific measures in this budget we particularly addressed the emergencies in the housing and health sectors.
The almost overwhelming failures of the Government in regard to housing have led to an unprecedented crisis. A combination of indiscriminate cuts to key supports and the ongoing complacency of the Government allowed housing pressures to escalate dramatically. Four Ministers and many more major announcements have come and gone, yet circumstances have continued to get worse. For the first time in our history, we have simultaneous emergencies throughout the sector, which mean that even people in secure, well-paid employment are struggling.
Ministers first denied there was a problem, then said it would not be tackled overnight and then started declaring victory. Twelve months ago the Taoiseach announced that "the plan is working". He even claimed the homelessness figures had turned the corner and were getting better. Despite this, there are today 800 more children homeless than there were on the day the Taoiseach took up office. Despite the ongoing efforts to massage the figures, there are almost 10,000 people homeless. The facts show that had Fine Gael chosen simply to maintain the level of house building in 2010, the worst year of the cutbacks, there would today be 6,000 more families in social housing.
It was a combination of Government neglect and bad choices that created this emergency, and a basic lack of urgency and competence has kept it going. We need a decisive change to get all elements of the housing system going, with social and affordable housing as the first priority. In our discussions with the Government, we were clear in our demands for a step change in housing funding, delivery on social housing and a new approach to help people on modest incomes to regain the chance of home ownership. We have insisted that a new era of State intervention must begin.
We also prioritised removing blockages from the system. We secured agreement to reduce the number of stages of planning applications by the local authorities to the Department from four to one. We also removed the ceiling of €2 million that requires authorities to apply for even very small developments. The ceiling is now increased threefold to €6 million. It should be even higher.
This will enable authorities to build up to 30 house projects without getting clearance from the Department. We pressed for extra social and affordable houses to be delivered in 2019. While funding was already announced under the Rebuilding Ireland plan, we secured an extra €210 million for social housing, €60 million to combat homelessness and an extra €310 million over the next three years for affordable homes. This affordable scheme will cover the cost of building homes on State-owned lands up to the value of €50,000. As the average cost of a home varies across the country, this will significantly help people get on the housing ladder. Based on an average price, this will deliver over 6,000 affordable homes.
We also prioritised the need for a mica scheme to address the horrific situation that thousands of Donegal and Sligo families find themselves in due to faulty bricks being used to build their homes, which are now crumbling around them. Deputy Charlie McConalogue and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher, were particularly adamant that such a programme would be included. This was announced yesterday and there will be money allocated in the REV in December.
The obvious question now is whether this Government is capable of delivering on its promises.
This issue is central to any discussions on the future of the Government.
The emergency in key areas of the health system has been growing steadily in recent years. There has been a sustained attempt to blame the staff and the structures of the system for problems, but the clear evidence is that the key errors trace directly to the holders of the office of Minister for Health. As part of a wider strategy of trying to persuade people that the health system is the problem, the Taoiseach and his Ministers have acted as if the now endemic and dramatic budget overruns are the fault of a system out of control. This is provably false. These overruns are a political creation and they are undermining the ability of the system to use its resources most effectively.
Thankfully, an IFAC study has shown the truth. In the years before Fine Gael took control of health, the HSE had built a strong record of budget control. Over successive years, the system came in on budget and any variations stemmed largely from overall economic impacts. This changed in 2011, and since then there have been regular and increasing overruns. According to the council, there have been two reasons for the overruns. First, there has been a failure to provide for the true cost of services at the start of the year. This is a political decision by Fine Gael Ministers to build overruns into the system as a feature. Second, there has been a lack of central overall management oversight, something caused by Fine Gael’s decision to abolish the highly effective HSE board. Given the chaos that has been evident in recent weeks over exact figures in health, we do not know yet whether another overrun has been made inevitable by the budget. We will examine this in depth in the weeks ahead.
We welcome the increased funding for health, but there must be more detail about what the core funding will achieve and whether there is any substantial movement on Sláintecare implementation. There is a need for transparency and honesty on this issue. The almost fraudulent budgets of previous years cannot continue in terms of the original Estimates which the Government certainly must know at the beginning of the year from its interactions with the HSE. We do not have the same interaction before the budget. That is an issue we intend to pursue. The dramatic expansion in waiting lists and waiting times since 2011 was a direct outcome of changes made by the Government. The significant increase in the NTPF is solely a result of our initiative, just as its restoration was in 2016. Its success in helping thousands of patients and beginning to reduce waiting times is one of the few bright spots in the sector currently. Proof of this can be seen in the fact that the Taoiseach talks about the fund regularly, in spite of his opposition to its restoration. There were comments earlier criticising the fund. The bottom line is that from 2002, when it was initiated, it brought waiting times down dramatically to three months for children and less than six months for adults, in line with global standards. When the then Minister, Senator James Reilly, got rid of the fund, the lists lengthened. One can see that in the curve.
We have also prioritised mental health services. Over the past two years, we have had a constant battle to try to get the Government to honour its commitments and to spend the agreed allocation. We have secured a significant increase for next year but it is important for people to know that it is not of the scale claimed by the Minister yesterday. For Deputy Catherine Martin's information, in the Budget Statement the Minister claimed that he was giving €84 million extra for mental health services. In fact, €29 million is simply to cover universal changes such as pay increases. A further €20 million is a re-announcement of funding agreed in the past and not delivered. This leaves a genuine new service increase of €35 million. We are pleased to have secured that, but it is important that people are not misled by the Government’s announcement. I believe we need to be honest with people about how the health service is being funded, how much new money is being allocated and where it is being spent. There are too many challenges and difficulties gaining access. With nearly 1 million patients on waiting lists, there will have to be a serious change in the approach to planning and delivering health spending.
Fianna Fáil has always been a party that invests in education. We delivered each of the major expansions in education access over the past 50 years. We have delivered a reversal of some of the worst education policies of this Government. These include access to guidance and counselling, postgraduate grants, core school funding and a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio. Overall this budget is incoherent and damaging for education, similar to the Government's education policy. There is little else aside from the modest increase in the capitation grant. In fact, education will receive a below average increase next year. The Minister tried to save face by announcing €300 million from the NTF that can be accessed for higher and continuing education between 2020 and 2024 but this has nothing to do with next year’s budget.
The funding crisis in our higher education system is set to continue. While the Government holds ceremonies to honour itself, its higher education policy is a complete shambles. The loss of the highly regarded chief executive of the Higher Education Authority seems to have been the result of frustration at the failure of the Government to understand what is happening. The money announced yesterday is tokenistic and is due to be allocated to maximise political control and minimise autonomy. To say to a sector caught in a financial crisis that there will be a competition for new funding is shameful. The idea that we need more competition for funding, with the Government serving as a jury, is fundamentally ignorant of how world class higher education works. We should seek to recruit excellent staff from overseas, particularly from Britain due to Brexit, and do everything to help students achieve as much as possible. Instead, we get lip service and interference.
The growing lack of transparency in decisions and the refusal to fund science at the international cutting edge are deeply disturbing. The budget includes capital funding for a new research programme which will give Ministers a role in deciding on funding for the first time in 21 years. That should not happen. The funding is welcome, but under no circumstance should it be allocated in this way. Throughout the Government there is an active effort under way to re-politicise grant schemes. The Taoiseach’s belief that politicians should take the credit for all good news is leading to a dangerous reversal of past progress. Ireland’s status as a place which values scientific excellence was built on our decision to make awards solely due to independent and international review. I know what I am talking about as I introduced the programme of research in third level institutions, PRTLI, which brought unprecedented investment into third level education. We brought international peer review into that and we kept politics out of it. That is the way it should continue. The science and research policies of recent years have been deeply damaging in terms of the neglect of core, basic research. If the Government moves ahead with its proposals, the damage will accelerate.
This budget raises many issues. Its true nature will only become clear when we see more details of departmental spending plans. The chronic and near systematic failure of the Government to follow words with action on the deepest challenges we face should concern everyone. As I have said previously, my party fulfilled a duty that others shirked, which was to enable the formation of a Government after the last general election. We have been entirely straight and honest in how we have honoured our agreement. We have done this in spite of many difficulties and what can only be described as provocations, particularly over the past year. I informed the Taoiseach yesterday that we will continue to honour the agreement between our parties and will enter a review of the confidence and supply arrangement. We will do that as we have always done, in good faith and without the spinning and briefing of which there has been far too much in recent months. We have no intention of accepting artificial deadlines or any proposal that would deny the thorough review we envisaged when reaching agreement in 2016.
No party has a divine right to power, no matter how much time it spends praising itself. The chronic deficit in delivery on housing, health, Brexit preparation and in many other areas means that it is impossible for the Government to argue that we should assume all is fine and just carry on regardless. We want a genuine review and a genuine discussion upon which to decide. In case anyone tries to use Brexit as an excuse for claiming there is instability, we have assured Ireland's European partners of the stability of Ireland’s negotiating position and that nothing will be done to interfere with a deal being done and implemented. The Government knows that. The Budget Statement has been delivered, but there is much information yet to be published. The details of the finance and social protection Bills are awaited. We will be constructive in dealing with them and, as we have been so far in this budgetary process, focused on ensuring a more progressive and effective policy for addressing the concerns of the Irish people.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on budget 2019 and its implications for the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under Votes 27 and 28. As Tánaiste and Minister with responsibility for co-ordinating the Government’s response on Brexit I would like to outline what budget 2019 means in terms of Ireland's readiness for Brexit and whatever it may bring. We are at a critical juncture in the Brexit process. EU and UK teams are now negotiating intensively with the aim of achieving verifiable progress before the October European Council meeting next week. I remain confident that a full withdrawal agreement can be agreed, including a backstop to guarantee no return of a hard border on the island of Ireland. While these talks continue in Brussels, it is vital that Ireland and Irish businesses prepare for Brexit. This was the focus of the Getting Ireland Brexit Ready campaign which we launched in Cork last Friday and which will include further events in Galway this Friday, Monaghan next Friday and Dublin on the following Thursday.
As set out yesterday, Brexit preparedness is foremost among the Government's priorities. The decisions to eliminate our deficit, increase the rainy day fund to €2 billion and to invest in key domestic infrastructure were about building our resilience and helping ensure Ireland is ready for whatever change Brexit may bring. This has been backed by strong sectoral responses across the full range of relevant Departments and agencies. This includes a new €300 million long-term future growth loan scheme, designed to complement the short-term SME loan scheme already in place and an overall agriculture package of an additional €80 million in funding across the farming and the food sector. In my Department, an additional €18 million has been allocated, primarily for Brexit-related expenditure in 2019 under Vote 28. Having already posted additional senior personnel to Berlin, Paris, London and Brussels, this will enable us to continue to strengthen our teams in other key EU capitals such as The Hague, Warsaw, Madrid and Rome.
Further funding is being earmarked for the Passport Service, which has seen a notable increase in demand for Irish passports from Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and Great Britain since the UK voted to leave the EU. Over 20% of total passport applications for 2017 came from these jurisdictions, with more than 82,000 applications received from Northern Ireland and almost 81,000 from Great Britain. This represents increases of 20% and 28%, respectively, on the 2016 applications. Additional funding is also being made available to support essential reconciliation work being carried out by civil society in Northern Ireland and across the island of Ireland, this work being urgent because of Brexit and the continuing absence of a Northern Ireland Executive. The Vote 28 allocation will help us to begin delivering on our global Ireland vision of an expanded international footprint for the post-Brexit world. This expanded presence will extend our support to Irish businesses in search of new markets. We will be opening offices in Mumbai, Frankfurt and Los Angeles and new embassies in Chile and Colombia in 2019, on top of the new embassies opened this year. It will also help us sustain close relations across the UK after Brexit, with the proposed opening of a new consulate in Cardiff next year. In 2019, we will also progress work on an exciting new embassy and Ireland House in Tokyo that will project the very best Ireland has to offer in one location. This is a major development, one of the most complex that we have ever undertaken overseas and a signal of the potential and opportunities that exist in terms of Irish-Japanese relations. This strengthened support for trade diversification is a crucial component of our Brexit response. In 2019, this will also include stepped-up preparations for Expo 2020 in Dubai, a major platform for Ireland internationally in a region with huge trade and investment potential for Ireland.
I am pleased to confirm that the Government will be in a position to significantly increase the funding available to overseas development assistance, ODA, in 2019, in comparison with the figures announced in budget 2018. This represents the highest year-on-year budgetary increase in ODA since 2006. This is a credible first step towards meeting the Government commitment to dedicate 0.7% of GNI to ODA by 2030, an objective that I believe is shared by all parties in this House, although Sinn Féin's proposal in its pre-budget submission of an increase in ODA of €10 million seems at odds with its commitments at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence when discussing these issues. Yesterday’s announcements included a €44.8 million increase in the 2019 Vote 27 for Irish Aid, the international development programme managed by my Department. This significant budgetary commitment by the Government to international development is a reflection of Ireland’s values but also Ireland’s interests. We all have a stake in making the world a better place. We will use these additional resources to fight against poverty and hunger, to continue to bring real and sustainable improvements to some of the world’s poorest communities and to increase our response to the unprecedented level of humanitarian needs worldwide.
Europe is struggling to respond to movements of people resulting from conflict and lack of economic opportunity. At the same time, countries objectively much worse off than EU member states are hosts to millions of refugees. The effects of climate change are looming for all of us. As a global island, Ireland has a responsibility to help with the collective response and it is fundamentally in our interests to do so. The UN’s 2030 agenda and the EU plan for Africa announced by President Juncker last month set out a path for how this response can be shaped. We must chart a path towards a healthier, safer world in which millions more people can work in dignity close to home.
I look forward to continuing to make progress in future budgets.
I propose to speak to the housing element of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government budget because of its importance. Last year, during the debate on budget 2018, I said that we were removing some of the remaining barriers to building more homes more rapidly and at more affordable prices. With 20,000 new places to live to be delivered this year, the reforms we made are working but we have more to do.
Next year will about driving even greater delivery now that the machinery is in place and delivering. This will be possible not only because the money is available but because we have the tools and systems in place to spend that money and because as a Government we continue to prioritise housing. Two years have been already spent rebuilding each part of our housing supply chain, including by introducing emergency measures such as fast-track planning, new guidelines on apartment building, new standards for council homes, the streamlining of approval processes, reforming procurement, investing in expertise, restaffing in critical areas in my Department, An Bord Pleanála and the local authorities, identifying and preparing land and investing in critical infrastructure.
Looking to what we can expect in 2019, there will be €2.4 billion in spending next year as part of the housing budget, over €500 million of which is new money and €370 million is money not previously programmed under Rebuilding Ireland. We expect the housing system to build approximately 25,000 new places to live in 2019. This will be measured independently by the CSO, but in terms of what is coming through the system this year, we are on track to achieve this target. This means we are one year ahead of the targets for housing supply generally as provided for in the five year programme under Rebuilding Ireland. Resources dedicated to homelessness will increase to €146 million next and an additional €60 million in capital funding is being provided this year, primarily for emergency accommodation, including family hubs. Money for homeless services kept people safe through dangerous weather, moved 200 homeless individuals into Housing First homes, reduced rough sleeping by 40% and created hubs for 500 families and it will do a lot more in the year to come. We will move 5,000 adults and their children out of homeless and we will continue to prioritise those most vulnerable in this crisis - people sleeping rough and families in hotels. Crucially, money is not an obstacle to moving families out of hotels. An additional €3 million in wrap-around supports is provided for Housing First. In addition to the funding that will support the delivery of single occupancy homes, 200 new emergency beds will be provided and the family hub programme will expand to accommodate 950 more places, bringing the total number of places to approximately 1,500 places, allowing us to accommodate families in hubs rather than hotels, which are not an appropriate first response.
The keys to 10,000 homes will go to families on council housing lists, some of whom are in emergency accommodation today. These will be 10,000 new social units delivered by local authorities and housing bodies. Some of these homes will be delivered through the acquisition of homes held by banks that are currently vacant. Under Rebuilding Ireland, we are using a number of delivery channels to help people who need our help and to help them as quickly as possible. Another 16,760 families and individuals will be supported by the State in the private sector using the housing assistance payment, HAP, and 45,000 HAP tenancies will have been established by the end of this year.
This is an essential part of the solution because these families need somewhere to live now while homes are being built. This was understood by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government when it recommended the delivery of 50,000 new council homes under Rebuilding Ireland, which we are also delivering. That said, in 2020 and 2021, we will house more citizens in council homes than through the private rental sector.
In 2011, when house prices were still falling and the country was plagued by 3,000 ghost estates, the affordable housing scheme was stood down. People did not need State subsidies to buy a home; it was quite the opposite. This year, I have recommenced the relevant provision of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and initiated a brand new scheme where local authorities can bring forward their own land for subsidised housing, to be built and bought in a co-operative way between the State and the house buyer. This will make housing more affordable by achieving discounts for the individual buyer of as much as 40%. That equates to a home worth €350,000 being available today for €210,000 or an apartment worth €300,000 being available to buy for €180,000.
Under the serviced sites fund, the local authority will take an equity stake, with the buyer to be repaid over time when the house is sold. The applicants will be selected openly and transparently by the local authority providing the homes. Importantly, repayments by purchasers will be ring-fenced in a special housing fund to help other families. Earlier this year, I added €15 million to the €25 million fund, which, with the local authority contribution, brought it to €100 million. This fund will now increase to €310 million, helping to make homes more affordable for young people and families and this is the largest affordability package in more than a decade. This money will operate in conjunction with the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, money that is also delivering more affordable housing, the Land Development Agency and its ambitious targets in this area and the new cost rental projects that are being progressed with the help of the European Investment Bank.
The Rebuilding Ireland affordable home loan was launched eight months ago on 1 February 2018. There has been great interest in this scheme to date. At the end of December, the Housing Agency had assessed and recommended 1,134 loans for approval, totalling some €236 million. An assessment is currently under way that will consider issues relating to the consistency in approval of applications and timelines as well as extending the affordable loan to vacant homes requiring refurbishment. People are paying too much to rent a home right now and, therefore, we have introduced rent caps, but these need to be strengthened quickly. Legislation later this month will provide that any breach of rent caps can be sanctioned and will also strengthen the powers of the RTB. Crucially, in this budget, an additional €4.5 million will be provided next year to support stronger RTB capacity and local authority inspections in the rental sector. This is a 67% increase in Exchequer funding for this purpose. The legislation will also further tighten up the operation of any exemptions under the rent pressure zone, RPZ, laws, enhance rental data through rent transparency, double the notice period for renters when a notice to quit is served after six months and seek to extend rent caps to student accommodation. The first rent pressure zones, RPZs, are due to expire at the end of next year and, therefore, I am considering an extension of this measure, given the continuing conditions in the rental sector. As I review this, I will also examine other provisions relating to the operation of the rent caps in line with the recent recommendations from the RTB.
Fundamentally, the problems being experienced by renters come back to the key problem in our housing sector today, namely the lack of supply. We are overly dependent on small, and sometimes accidental, landlords for rental accommodation. Between 70% and 80% of landlords own only one or two homes. We have to introduce measures that will help landlords to remain as landlords and for this reason, the Minister for Finance announced the full removal of the restriction on the amount of interest that may be deducted by landlords in respect of loans used to purchase, improve or repair their residential property.
We will, of course, continue to fund other important housing supports and services. Supports that will be funded through the increased resources in budget 2019 include funding of €13 million to support a range of Traveller specific accommodation schemes; €32 million to fund the remediation of a further 460 homes affected by pyrite; 9,000 council homes that will be improved through the energy efficiency programme with funding of €25 million; and a fund of €23 million to support the continuation of the mortgage-to-rent scheme and will allow for more than 400 additional households to be supported under the scheme. Exchequer funding for housing adaptation grants will be increased to €57 million and this will enable up to 11,800 home adaptations to be undertaken, facilitating people with disabilities and older people to continue to live in their homes. We will shortly publish a housing strategy specifically focused on older people.
On supports for older homeowners who may wish to reconfigure their family sized home to create a ground floor independent living area for themselves and a rental property upstairs, I have provided funding to the Abhaile Project, which will proof a pilot in Clondalkin. When this pilot project is completed, it will provide a powerful demonstration of what can be achieved in this area.
The national regeneration programme will be supported through funding of almost €72 million. Funding of €10 million will support the operational costs of the Housing Agency during next year and support the agency in its expanded role in the delivery of housing services and supports. As I indicated earlier, an additional funding of €4.5 million will go to the RTB, which will increase its funding to €11.5 million in the course of next year.
On defective concrete blocks, an issue which has affected homeowners in Donegal and Mayo, I am pleased that the Government approved in principle yesterday the development of a grant scheme of financial assistance to support effected homeowners to carry out the necessary remediation works to dwellings that have been damaged in those counties. This scheme will be finalised later this year at which point funding will also be allocated, and it will be delivered in stages over the course of 2019 and beyond.
In other areas relating to my Department, funding will increase for water services, local government and planning programmes as well as Met Éireann next year. This will amount to in excess of €250 million. The funding for Irish Water will be approximately €1.2 billion. Funding for local government will increase by €60 million to €185 million and there will also be an increase of €2 million in capital investment in fire and emergency services, bringing the total to over €11 million in 2019.
I acknowledge the presentation made yesterday by the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform on introducing a budget of €59.2 billion in current expenditure and €7.3 billion in the capital expenditure. In doing so, I acknowledge the work of officials in both Departments. This budget is being presented to the Dáil in contrast with the budgets presented when Fine Gael and Labour first entered government in 2011. It is being done on the back of record employment levels that have been achieved in the economy, which have allowed the Government to arrive at a situation where almost €66.7 billion in expenditure could be laid out yesterday.
I wish to touch on a number of small issues, particularly the greatest threat on the horizon which was referred to a while ago by the Tánaiste, namely Brexit. The most important insulation that the economy and people can have on the unknown known that Brexit places on the horizon is to ensure that we have a balanced economy, a balance of our finances and prudent expenditure. We saw an example of that yesterday from the Minister for Finance. Within the budget, there are a number of measures that I welcome. I welcome the changes in social welfare which will result in significant increases in rates and bands. This includes a €5 increase for all social welfare recipients along with the restoration of the Christmas bonus. Other payments have seen increases also and coupled with this we have been able to introduce a tax package worth €291 million which will see worker's USC and income tax payments being reduced, resulting in them having more take home pay over a successive number of years since this Government came to office. On top of that, on the expenditure side people all over the country will see increases in the numbers of teachers, SNAs, nurses and gardaí. These are the issues on which improvements have always been sought in this House from both sides to ensure that the Government can ensure public servants have a good and enjoyable quality of life. They have suffered hits and difficulties over the past number of years and with the negotiations that have been led by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and others, we have thankfully restored pay in that area as well.
Agriculture is important in my constituency and I welcome the fact that the Ministers for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Public Expenditure and Reform have agreed the continuation of the stock reliefs, which are important for both existing and younger farmers entering the sector. The beef environmental efficiency pilot scheme which is being introduced by the Ministers will also play a big part, particularly in my constituency where there is a significant exposure for the beef industry. Increased expenditure for Bord Bia will allow for the continued marketing of our products abroad, which will seek to insulate ourselves against any impact that Brexit may present.
I welcome the introduction of the film corporation tax credit on a regionalised basis. As Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, who is in the Chamber, and myself and others know, this is an important issue for Limerick as we have seen the development of a film studio in the mid-west for the first time in Troy Studios and I hope that this will incentivise the creation of greater employment in that sector in the region.
I also welcome the fact that the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, has secured an additional €57 million, which is also important from the point of view of my constituency due to the capital investments that can be made through initiatives such as the town and village renewal scheme and others.
Over the past number of years, the Government has tried to ensure that it has spent the profits of the economic growth that has been sustained, particularly in recent years when we have attained record levels of employment. The only way we will be able to continue that is to ensure the economy is managed in a prudent way. The budget was an attempt by the Government to make sure that the future economic fortunes of the country will be insulated to the best possible degree. We have also seen in that time that we have been able to invest in our public services, particularly with our young people in mind along with older people who require additional services. We ultimately wish to see this continue and I know that over the time ahead this will be one of the challenges we face as we enter into a period of negotiation and, hopefully, certainty on the United Kingdom's decision to exit the European Union.
Overall, we were set a challenge when the Government came into office - Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and Independents with the co-operation of Fianna Fáil through the confidence and supply agreement - to manage the country's finances and grow employment. We have done that. We will maintain our level of growth. The level of growth that is being projected over the next number of years is sustained and it is worth pointing out that the level of expenditure between 2014 and 2019 is less than half of that between 2004 to 2009. I welcome the budget. It is a fair and balanced budget that will make the biggest impact possible across the country.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the budget. The budget was brought in yesterday. There are a number of issues I wish to address within the budget and within the framework of the Minister's budget speech. I will talk about social welfare. There was an increase in the social welfare package. I will address a number of issues within the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The first is the huge delays in processing applications. Delays in other Departments may be seen as a cost-effective measure to try to reduce the cost of different schemes, thereby reducing the cost to the Exchequer. By and large, applications to these schemes which take 12 weeks, 14 weeks, 16 weeks and perhaps more to process are granted and then go back to the very start of the application form. The result is there is no saving of any description. This is particularly true of the carer's allowance. People make decisions to take on caring for an elderly relative or other family member such as a sibling who may need full-time care and assistance. To do so, they must give up their employment before they can make an application. They wait 14 weeks or 16 weeks for a decision to be made. It is not acceptable to take so long to process these applications. We have many more applications that are taking a great deal of time, sometimes 12 weeks or 16 weeks. Many people in the House fill in many application forms for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. They gain a huge amount of experience of applications proceeding through Departments and can advise their constituents. When applications are refused for some reason and a review is requested and new evidence is submitted, it should be done speedily. If a person appeals a case, one is facing a period of 12 months for the appeal to be heard. I had a very serious case recently. We went to our hearing and kept at it but it was almost two years before carer's allowance was granted to the applicant. First the Department said the person providing the care was not providing full-time care and assistance. When we got over that hurdle, the Department said the person looking for the care did not require care. It was clearly illustrated by the documentation submitted, which included medical reports and letters, that the case was absolutely above board. It took almost two years to complete the process of refusal, appeal and review. The person who was providing the care had no option but to provide the care for their relative. It is completely unacceptable.
Carer's benefit is paid for two years to people who come out of employment. It should be looked at. There is no doubt but that those who receive the payment are saving the State rather than costing the State. Sometimes the person they are caring for would otherwise have to go into full-time institutional care which costs €900 or €1,000 a week. The carer's benefit is only around €200 a week. There is a saving and the scheme needs to be looked at. The Department should look seriously at making sure there is a speedy decision made on applications.
The other issue is the farm assist payment. This year, accounts from 2017 will be looked at. Everybody knows 2018 was a very difficult year for farming. The eligibility criteria for people working in a partnership must be looked at. I am working with the Department to try to resolve a very challenging case. There should be recognition of situations in which partnerships are genuinely above board but do not fall within the remit of any of the Department's rules or regulations.
We have raised the issue of insurance in the House. We tabled a motion on insurance. Last week, we debated Deputy Kelleher's Bill on insurance. Insurance is at crisis point. I have met the Business Insurance Reform Group, led by Michael Hourigan from Newmarket and Declan Ryan from Kenmare, many times. They put huge effort into it and have gathered businesses around the country to explain the difficulties they are having with insurance. Some of the small businesses, hotels, restaurants and others in the hospitality industry are telling us there is only one underwriter and that enormous, if not extortionate, premiums are being sought. The other issue is the book of quantum. Some people only find out a claim has been made against them when they renew their insurance policy and it is increased because a claim has been paid out. As the old saying goes, the person who pays the piper calls the tune. In this instance the insurance companies are settling with the people who are making claims without ever referring back to the person who has the policy. A lot of work needs to be done on that. There is some give but the Government needs to show more sincerity in tackling the insurance industry. It is a massive issue which affects every aspect of life. Lately voluntary organisations that are organising charity walks, for example, or Christmas lights are having massive issues and events are being cancelled as a result of issues with insurance. The Government and the Dáil needs to highlight the issue of insurance and it affects all facets of society, including car owners, homeowners, communities and businesses. It is a major issue.
Storm Ophelia occurred in October 2017 and between then and the middle of August 2018, a variety of challenges faced the agricultural community. We had a very bad wet fall of a year. We had a very difficult spring. We had a very difficult summer in many parts of the country. Farmers are at the end of their tethers and they have invested very heavily particularly in the dairy industry over the last while. Farmers have been making decisions to build a business around agriculture to provide the raw material that drive giants such as Glanbia and Kerry Group and the massive number of exports we have and the jobs we have in rural communities. It has to go back to the primary producer, which is the agricultural producer. The advice from the organisations providing advice to farmers changes. The advice was that farmers could borrow €4,000 a cow to extend their herds. I am talking about 2015 when the quotas were abolished. We are now in 2018. I do not think there is anybody who could stand over those figures at this point in time. It simply was not a sustainable figure. Many people who took that figure are in serious difficulty today. We have to have sustainable agriculture and sustainable food production, whether that is on the west coast or the east coast. It has to be sustainable. There have been international shocks.
We are a globalised agriculture industry. If there is a drought in Ukraine, further shortage in the UK or a bounty of a harvest in the US, it will affect farmers in north Cork and other parts of the country. It is a global industry. We have to make sure the advice going to farmers is that it is a sustainable industry and one in which farmers can enjoy a reasonable return for their labour.
They work extremely long hours and it is challenging work. They faced many challenges last year. Many bills have to be paid to keep the agricultural industry going and the profits will be well back in 2018. The advice has changed on the renting of land to get experience. We have to be very sure of our ground in respect of agriculture. The massive crisis that is approaching in respect of Brexit and how that will pan out will have a detrimental effect on how we go forward. Agriculture needs to be considered. By and large farmers have committed to pay banks or other creditors, the co-operatives or merchants on the day the payment is due. Consequently, there should be no delays in that regard. There is anecdotal evidence from farmers that if they overclaim for a minute piece of land with a bush growing on it, even it is 0.01 of an acre and if the farmer challenges that, the payments will be held up. I have heard all the stories. The payment should only be held up for that amount of land, not for the bulk of the land. They are being told that if they do not sign a document they will get no money. That has to be reviewed because many people have talked to me about it. The agricultural consultants, whether private or from Teagasc, do not defend them because if they do, that will delay the payments and farmers cannot have that. We have to be serious about it. We need to make sure the agricultural industry is sustainable because it is the backbone of rural communities.
We talk constantly about rural Ireland, services and everything else. There is a large cohort of people who want to live in rural communities. Massive educational services have been built up there over the years, with national schools and post-primary schools. We want to make sure the sporting and community infrastructure and the community spirit in rural Ireland are vibrant in the future. We have debated planning permission here to ensure that planning is available. Fianna Fáil Members had a very serious meeting this afternoon on planning permission. If we do not give planning permission to young couples in rural communities we will be devoid of people. There will be no young people in schools or in rural communities. We have to decide whether we will have Ireland on the east coast or around the country. Planning permission is very important for that. Heretofore we have not dealt with it. There has been massive growth in the east. One could almost draw a line up the middle of the country dividing the west and east coasts.
There are significant challenges. We have talked about post offices, shops and businesses but many people want to live in their communities. In 2002 An Taisce was before the environment committee talking about the nonsense of having once-off houses. People who have been given planning permission since then contribute enormously to their communities, whether through active involvement or through the basic family infrastructure or the social support given by families to elderly parents or brothers and sisters who might need help. We have to take this seriously because all kinds of experts tell us all kinds of stuff but we need social cohesion and in the past the rural fabric served the country extremely well and we have to make sure we keep that alive.
Over the past few years, particularly in 2016, we talked about respite care for people with disabilities. I posed several questions on promised legislation and was told that in 2017, it would be better. The respite care that was flagged for 2017 has not been made available. In 2015 and 2016 people were told home care or shared care packages would come on stream the following year but when the service providers go to the HSE, there is no money available for the package. The disability sector is under severe pressure. The waiting list for young people to get assessments and therapies is non-existent in some areas. Last week on the Order of Business, I mentioned St. Joseph's Foundation and what it has to do to balance its books. Returning to the topic of insurance there is only one underwriter in the country that underwrites the insurance industry for the disability sector. I refer to section 39 organisations which provide the services that the State would be obliged to provide. Through the foresight of Dr. Martin O'Donnell and others 50 years ago, these organisations were formed to provide care in the communities for people with disabilities. There is great credit due to the voluntary organisations set up under section 39 of the Health Act 2004. It is not good enough for the Taoiseach to ad lib, as he did last Wednesday morning, by saying the block grant has been increased by 28% for these organisations when he knows in his heart and soul that a great deal of extra services are needed. For example the insurance bill for St. Joseph's Foundation has increased from €140,000 to €560,000 plus, because only one underwriter in the State will provide the insurance for those organisations. They are seriously challenged in trying to provide the best resources because of increments, transport costs and so on. It is not good enough to say they are private organisations and the way they manage their money is different because they are providing State services. While this vehicle may have been set up 50 years ago, such organisations need the same level of funding as State services. There is no doubt but that the State Claims Agency should be supporting them. The only way to make sure there is a proper balance and that they do not pay extortionate insurance premiums is for the State Claims Agency to do it. That measure should be considered.
There are other problems for the viability of rural towns, such as broadband. The Government has announced many schemes for housing such as repair and lease and enhancing houses in villages. They are not working. They are not bringing towns and villages back to life.
Various Departments made statements to the effect that there would be an increase in home help hours. They are trying to roster people in shifts from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. I speak from deadly serious personal experience, the home help service is one of the best services in the country. It adds a great deal to the quality of life of elderly people. There is a change proposed now. Ever since the service started in the late 1990s, there have been many attempts to change and challenge it but it has proved year after year to be an excellent service. It is hard to imagine that the contracts are to be changed. That will cause a major problem.
Someone diagnosed with cancer, no matter what grade, will be financially challenged and should be given a medical card for six months.
There should be an automatic entitlement to a six-month medical card. I refer to what people have to go through to fill in forms and meet the challenges of getting the card. They are worn out by the time they have started chemotherapy or radium treatment. I know of many patients who were worn out from trying to get the medical card. The solution is for patients who have cancer to be granted medical cards for a six-month period. Please God they come through the treatment but this would ensure they are given support through the medical card system. There are many more issues we would like to deal with but I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his indulgence.
I call Deputy Jonathan O'Brien, who is sharing time with Deputies O'Reilly, Buckley and Ó Laoghaire.
I will be brief. I want to touch on three particular topics. One is the rainy day fund. The Minister might be able to enlighten us on how we are actually going to access those funds. We know that under the fiscal rules we are unable to do so. We know that because we got the information from a freedom of information request to the Department of Finance. That outlines the circumstances in which we could access the rainy day fund. We cannot access it to address the housing crisis, the health crisis or any other crisis. We can access it to bail out banks, deal with immigration or deal with terrorism. That is the information contained in the response to the freedom of information request. Perhaps the Minister might be able to explain why we are putting €1.5 billion and €500 million into a rainy day fund which we will not be able to access?
My second point is the VAT rate on the hospitality sector. I agree with the VAT rate being increased to 13.5% for the hotel sector. As a Deputy from Cork who comes up here every week trying to find a hotel room, I know the prices have doubled in the last number of months. There is no doubt that the hotel sector in the capital is booming but outside of the capital, it may be a different story. Unfortunately, there cannot be two VAT rates. I can understand the reason for the 13.5% rate. What I do not understand is why we are extending that to other areas within the hospitality sector. I was talking to the owner of a small business in my constituency this morning and he said that the increase to 13.5% is going to cost him an extra €22,500 next year. That is money that he was hoping to use to employ additional staff to expand his business but that is now on the back burner. Extending the 13.5% rate to small cafes and restaurants was a retrograde step.
The final area I want to touch on is housing. I cannot understand the Government's housing policy. I am baffled by it. The Government gave a tax break to landlords at a time when rents in this State are at their highest. Landlords are making more money now from their rental incomes than they have ever done in the history of the State. They are making more now than even in the boom times in the mid 2000s. What does the Government do? It gives landlords a tax break so they can make even more money. The people who needed the break were the renters. According to the Government, it has given a tax break to landlords to try to keep them in the system so they will continue renting. It will not, however, give a tax break to renters to keep them in their homes.
I said a couple of weeks ago that the largest number of cases coming into my office concern landlords trying to get around the rent pressure zone regulations. They are doing that in a number of ways. Landlords are handing letters to tenants informing them that they are proposing to sell their properties or that they are going to carry out major refurbishment works within three months of the tenants vacating the properties. Those tenants are being kicked out and, in many cases, they are becoming homeless because it is impossible to find alternative rental accommodation in Cork. That is particularly the case within the HAP limits. There are very few properties, if any, that will come under the limits. The landlords are getting vacant possession. They are not then carrying out any refurbishment works, they are not moving back in themselves and they do not have family members moving back in. They are re-letting the property in the space of two or three months at an astronomical price and they are getting it.
I have said before that we need to close that loophole. If the Government is serious about dealing with the number of people becoming homeless, then that is a loophole it needs to close because landlords will continue to exploit until it does so. Nobody should be evicted into homelessness. If a landlord genuinely wants to refurbishment his or her property or needs vacant possession of the property because he or she, or a family member, is moving back in, then there has to be somebody with the responsibility to ensure the family vacating the property does not end up in a family hub or a hotel room. That person must ensure the family is housed properly. If the Government does not start addressing that, it will never get on top of the number of people who are homeless. As the Minister said, the Government could take 5,000 people out of homelessness next year, but we will see if that happens. There will, however, be more than that going into the system. Those loopholes need to be closed if the Government is serious.
The budget yesterday needed to be the budget that addressed, in a real, substantial and comprehensive way, the housing and homelessness crisis. The Government has had plenty of warning. The crisis has been under way for several years and the warning signs were there for many years. This summer saw people's anger reach boiling point against the background of a mother and her children ending up on the hard benches of a Garda station. If, however, we were looking for the budget to solve the housing crisis, or to go some distance in that direction, that is not what we got.
The Government has favoured the landlord over the tenant and the vulture fund over the homeless. The commitment provided is far short of what is needed. Only an extra €80 million in capital has been provided for house building at a time when 10,000 people are homeless. We needed, and Sinn Féin proposed, an increase of €496 million for social housing, as well as an increase of €495 million for 4,600 affordable homes that would include cost rental and affordable sale. These are large sums of money, certainly, but that kind of commitment, scale and ambition is required to tackle what is one of the greatest infrastructural and social challenges in the history of the State. That is because we are dealing with something momentous, significant and extremely adverse. We are living in a time when there are not enough houses, especially ones people can afford, to house all of our people.
No effort should be spared to try to address that. We cannot afford modest efforts, such as we have here. They are modest because there is an attempt to serve all sorts of agendas at the one time and to do a little bit here and a little bit there. Misguided and difficult to comprehend decisions have been made to favour landlords with 100% tax reliefs that are ill thought out and, ultimately, could provide incentives for landlords to evict more people as a pretext for refurbishment. Many people will be particularly disappointed by the failure to deliver a significant package for affordable housing.
Every day I hear from families and individuals who do not qualify for social housing, but for whom a mortgage is an absolute pipe dream. Some of these people might have been on a social housing list at one time, before finding themselves over the limit. The difference or tipping scale can be quite slight at times. This a frustrating time for people in that category. They are scrambling around to find anything that offers security and permanence, or even semi-permanence. It is a wide category of people reaching across society. Many of them are young families and younger people who are, essentially, a locked out generation when it comes to the housing market.
Fianna Fáil has returned to the table, having made a big play of this issue ahead of negotiations, with what is essentially just €14 million in new money. This is also in the context of there not having been one single affordable house delivered under any affordable scheme since Deputy Eoghan Murphy became the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. This new commitment will not be remotely enough to address properly the enormous and growing need in this area. Many families do not feel as if there are any realistic options for them and feel that all options are temporary. Minister after Minister comes in here saying the housing crisis cannot be solved overnight. That is true. It is also true that a crisis was building up under the surface from 2010 or so. Fianna Fáil allowed lists to rise and it shares part of the blame. Fine Gael, however, has had nearly eight years. The crisis was allowed to get worse and worse, and even now, when it is the number one social issue and the political issue the public wants to see resolved, there is not the urgency in terms of dealing with it.
Bhí diomá orm freisin faoin maoiniú a cuireadh ar fáil don Ghaeilge agus don Ghaeltacht, ó thaobh phleánáil teanga, ó thaobh chaiteachas caipitil don údarás, agus ó thaobh maoiniú don bhforas. Bhí gá le thart ar €9 milliún ar a laghad, ach is i bhfad níos lú an méadú maoinithe atá faighte. Is deacair a rá go bhfuil an Rialtas dáiríre faoin Ghaeilge i gcomhthéacs Bliain na Gaeilge.
In terms of justice, there are some things to be welcomed and some disappointments. It is difficult to fathom the cut in the overtime budget of €3.5 million given the fact that An Garda Síochána is so significantly over budget already this year. I am sure many superintendents and sergeants will be trying to figure out how they can stretch their budgets this year in order to keep their commitments.
There has been some movement in the area of childcare in recent years, but not enough. The reality is that childcare amounts to a second mortgage for many families. There is a lack of vision in this area. We cannot build a sector as essential as early years education on the back of an increasing subsidy or on low-wage labour. If we are serious about a quality early years sector, we need to treat it as a public service, paid for by the public, with staff who are paid good wages, not poverty wages.
Budget 2019 is not a budget for the ordinary people of the country or those from east Cork, but one for landlords and the wealthy. Issues plaguing the people, such as housing and health, were spoken about at length, but very little in the way of actual solutions was offered. In east Cork there have been huge rises in rent in recent years. The lowest one will pay for an apartment is €900 a month; the majority cost over €1,300 per month. Many people are paying close to and possibly more than half their income after tax on rent. Some people rent rooms in houses with five or six strangers, which costs a minimum of €400 a month. We have touched on the issue of rent pressure zones a number of times. East Cork is not in a rent pressure zone, and due to the ridiculous model the Government has applied it never will be. A national averaging system is used, and east Cork will never make the national average and so will never be part of the rent pressure zone, ensuring the dog will constantly chase its tail. Instead of freezing rents, giving tax relief to renters and investing in social and affordable housing, as Sinn Féin called for in its alternative budget, the Government backed the people making huge profits from the country’s housing misery. The solution as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil see it is to give tax relief to landlords. Budget 2019 was heralded earlier this month as the housing budget, but it will deliver just 490 additional homes and will do nothing to tackle the highest rents in the history of the State, while 10,000 people remain homeless.
The Government also talks a good game on mental health but delivers less than it claims. Not only did the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, mislead the Dáil by claiming pay awards for staff as new funding but one prominent mental health campaigner told me there has been no funding allocated to cover unfunded services in mental health. Unfunded mental health services for people with very complex needs and requiring urgent private placements received no allocation whatsoever. Will these shortfalls be covered by delays in spending development funding? It also seems that a portion of the €55 million additional funding announced will go to a referral service and not to services which badly need it. This funding will be handled by the National Ambulance Service and not mental health services. The referrals will be to charity-based organisations rather than State-provided services, which are fully regulated. Will the Minister confirm this? What moneys are to be allocated to this service? How will he guarantee this is not simply more of the same policy of money going from mental health into general health at the expense of new service development?
I have sat on these benches for three budgets now. The only thing we received from the Minister in terms of the mental health budget was the figure of €84 million. I thank the office of the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, which provided us with confirmation that €29 million of that allocation has already been spent. The magic figure is €55 million. It is very frustrating. Sinn Féin gets its costings for any section of the budget from the same place the Government gets its costings, but there is no clarity and no transparency. We have been left with a blank page tonight; we do not know what the actual level of spending is.
Tourism received a massive blow. No funding was provided for Ireland's Ancient East; it was not even mentioned in the Minister's speech. The increase of VAT on not just hotels but on the entire hospitality industry is detrimental to rural Ireland. This is another budget of spin, which serves the wealthy and powerful and leaves the ordinary people of the country to struggle on. We can do much better. As Fianna Fáil decides whether to prop up the Government for another year, it would do very well to consider who it is serving.
This is also the third budget for which I have been in the Dáil Chamber. I have a new washing machine at home and it does not spin as much as this Government and its Fianna Fáil partners do in terms of this budget. When I look at the health section of the budget, behind the spin, the backslapping and the high-fiving that is going on, we see that the health service is now dependent on unreliable corporation tax receipts for funding. Not only are the additional measures announced absolutely devoid of any imagination, but the health section of budget 2019 has few or no costings for the few measures it does contain. It does not even provide a total at the end of the measures table. It is complete fantasy stuff. After hearing what was announced yesterday, I am even more concerned with the future of the health service than I was before this budget, and I was not exactly hopeful that this budget would do much. I set the bar very low, but the Government has managed to disappoint even me. It is using revenue derived from unexpected and unreliable corporation tax receipts to release funding to pay off the overspend and to bolster current spending for 2019.
For years the Fine Gael Party has come in on budget day and cut the health budget or left it underfunded. It then flaunts spending on necessary services the health service needs to merely stand still, and it has the nerve to call this investment. To be clear, this Government may spend money on health, but it does not invest in it. This budget offered the opportunity to set out a sustainable and credible funding path for the health service in order that it could address capacity issues, the recruitment and retention crisis and funding shortages and to deliver a sustainable delivery plan for Sláintecare. Instead, Fine Gael, with the support of Fianna Fáil used unexpected and unreliable corporation tax receipts for a quick short-term fix for the health budget. This is not just deceptive, but is extremely dangerous.
The budget has done nothing to address some of the biggest crises facing the health service, including the crisis of capacity and the recruitment and retention crisis among nurses, doctors and health workers. It has done little or nothing to address the serious capacity deficits delaying the provision of public hospital care and primary care to our patients. It has done nothing to address the reasons behind the recruitment and retention crisis among nurses, doctors and GPs. The Minister does not have to listen to me. He can hear the same thing from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, and the National Association of General Practitioners, NAGP. He can listen to Deputy Harty. These organisations are all saying the same thing. No measures to improve capacity and no measures seeking to address the recruitment and retention issue were included in the budget.
The budget sends a very clear message to healthcare workers who have left our health system and are working abroad. It tells them very clearly that we do not want them and that they should not come back because we are not going to fix the issues. It says that we are happy to outsource and privatise health, and to continue doing what we have been doing. So little has been offered to Sláintecare that it will not be able to deliver badly-needed reforms. Instead of investing in the public health system the Government has announced more money for the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, to siphon public money off to private healthcare in order to line the pockets of private healthcare providers. I have said this many times before, but it is worth repeating that investing in the private sector has not and will not ever improve the public health service. It lines the pockets of private health providers. The Minister should not take my word for it. Dr. Sara Burke of the centre for health policy and management in Trinity College Dublin has said that over a decade of pouring hundreds of millions of euro into the NTPF is proof that it does not address the underlying causes of the long waits for public patients in the first place. Some Deputies have claimed that lives will be saved by the NTPF.
I have an ideological opposition to private healthcare. Everybody knows that. However, if I believed that the NTPF would make a real and substantial difference to healthcare delivery in this State, I would back it 100%; I do not. All the expert evidence suggests that it will not work to address the underlying reasons why we keep referring to our health service as being in a state of crisis. We have been given uncosted and non-credible claims and statements. The section of budget 2019 that deals with the health service points to some new measures the Government claims it will deliver, but none of these is costed in any detail. In previous years, the summary of new measures to be delivered contained a detailed breakdown of the funding to be provided for each additional measure. That is absent from this budget. We also want to see if money will be put aside to address issues that I have raised here concerning Epilam, transvaginal meshes and the myriad crises and scandals that have resulted. This back-of-an-envelope calculation does nothing for those women. When they look at the budget, they see there is nothing in it for them.
I would like to share time with Deputy Sean Sherlock.
There was a lot of fanfare claiming that this was going to be a housing budget but it was not. It is a deep disappointment given that description. The additional funding announced for housing is minuscule, especially in the context of what is needed to address our housing crisis. We need significant money for housing and we got a tiny announcement of additional funding, which is largely directed towards developers and landlords. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan, is as conscious as I am that this is not what is required to address the housing crisis. It falls very short of what is required to address the crisis of homelessness and the acute shortage of social and affordable housing. The only conclusion I can come to is that the Fine Gael-Independent Alliance Government and their supporters in Fianna Fáil either do not care or do not understand.
There are tax breaks for landlords, serviced and publicly owned land for developers and no protection for renters whatsoever, or for those who are at risk of homelessness, many of whom are renting in the private sector. There is nothing for them. I thought there would at least be a focus on homelessness, particularly as the Government lost the vote on a motion in this House last week calling for protection for renters, significant expenditure on social and affordable housing and a number of other measures. It is deeply disappointing.
There is a much-heralded affordable housing plan, an idea that came from Fianna Fáil, which is meant to deliver significant numbers of affordable housing units. It proposes to deliver 6,000 homes over three years. That is 2,000 homes a year, which is abysmal when one considers the number of people squeezed out of the market, unable to afford a deposit or a mortgage and paying high rents from which they are not protected. My own city of Limerick is not in a RPZ. I could pick out 2,000 families in my own constituency who would fit into the category that is supposed to qualify for these affordable homes, that is, with an income threshold of up to €50,000 for a single-income qualifier and up to €75,000 for a dual-applicant household. Will there be a lottery for who will get these homes? Only 400 additional social homes have been announced.
We need something much more radical and fundamentally different. We published proposals to build 80,000 social and affordable homes over five years with a State-led approach, using State land. There is a significant policy and ideological difference in this regard. I hope the present Minister of State would prefer to be on the same side as us. We costed this at €16 billion. We would use what is available in the ISIF, of which €5 billion is not accounted for, as well as the €500 million per year to be set aside for the rainy day fund. Deputy O'Brien talked about the fund and what it can be used for. It is basically there to stash away money so that the banks can squander it again. It cannot be used for other measures we might want to use it for. It is raining now for nearly 10,000 people who are homeless, including about 3,700 children, and for the thousands more who cannot secure a home for the future. As well as the money I have just referred to, we suggest raising loans from the EIB. The credit unions are dying to invest money in housing. There are several ways we could get the money. There has been no understanding of the need for significant funding in housing.
I want to touch on an area which pertains to housing and to the other area I am spokesperson on, which is business, enterprise and innovation. I am sorry that the Minister of State at that Department, Deputy Pat Breen, has left the Chamber. Deputy Moynihan referred to the villages, towns and city centres that are not thriving. In the area of housing, the living over the shop scheme and various others are meant to revitalise our cities, town centres and village centres, but they are not working. There is the potential to address the housing and homelessness issue by making those places into viable homes. This would also help to create living town centres, cities and villages. I am one of the members of the Oireachtas cross-party group on retail. That group has proposed reviewing and revising those schemes so that they are viable. Some 282,000 people are working in retail, in every town and city in the country. That is a significant number of people. Strong submissions have been made, including a suggestion of viable programmes whereby people with retail premises can use the space for housing. The group has also argued for a strategic retail fund to help retailers to stave off the worst excesses of Brexit. I raise those issues because the retail sector is often forgotten. It plays a huge part in all of the places in which we live.
I have mentioned banks. Another area was addressed by that cross-party group. Apparently, instead of giving businesses an overdraft when they have cash flow issues, for example in the lead-up to Christmas, banks are pushing them into taking out loans. The banks are going back to serving their own interests rather than the needs of our society and economy. It is about time that they were prevented from putting their own interests first. That is something of which I was not aware and that the Government needs to know about.
I refer to equality budgeting and gender budgeting. There is a nice aspirational section in this document on the expenditure report that we received with the budget. It refers to equality budgeting. Last year, a pilot equality budgeting policy was announced. It was supported by the women's caucus in this House and by the National Women's Council of Ireland. We all expected that to move forward this year and expected progress on equality budgeting, including poverty proofing, disability proofing and action. All that seems to be in this section of the document on page 24 is preparation. Various policies and papers are drawn up. We need movement so that we can equality-proof and poverty-proof budgets. I am disappointed that there has not been progress on this.
The other area in which there was meant to be progress is green budgeting. One of the biggest disappointments, which my colleague will address, is the aspirational content of this document. It is about what the Government is going to do. As I said yesterday, "Oh God, make me good, but not yet", seems to be the Government's policy on climate change, a major challenge on which we need to take steps.
The Government has been completely cowardly on this. While there is mention in the introductory section of the budget document of green budgeting, we have had no serious attempt either to equality proof or green proof the budget and this is particularly disappointing. I wanted to make this point as well as the general points I have made.
I welcome the support for the film industry in my constituency. Troy Studios has done wonderful work and a great job of fitting out what was a disused industrial space. It is a real opportunity for job creation for many craft people, including those who make costumes and all of the other things that go with the film industry. There is a small reference to the M20, which is of interest to my colleague, Deputy Sherlock, but there is no money beside it. Disappointingly, there is no reference to the 60 bed modular unit that we understand the Minister has said he will fund, which is needed for the most overcrowded accident and emergency department in the country. It has the highest trolley figures in the country. I would like to see a very clear statement from the Government on this.
I join my colleague, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, in making the case for the M20 between Cork and Limerick. There is some mood music in what is said in the expenditure report but there is not actually a figure for the proposal to bring it to planning. It would be very useful if we had some clarity about this. It is not just about Cork or Limerick, it is about the south-west and the entire region of Munster in terms of balanced regional economic growth.
I want to speak on the issue of the affordable childcare scheme. I am very confused about what was announced in the budget yesterday. In his speech, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, spoke specifically about increasing the threshold for eligibility for the childcare scheme. He spoke about increasing the base income threshold from €22,000 to approximately €26,000 and the maximum income threshold going from €47,500 to €60,000. Fast forward to today, and at the press conference of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs I could glean very little that suggested an affordable childcare scheme is up and running, notwithstanding the announcements on increases in the thresholds. I took some notes, and I hope I will quote the Minister, Deputy Zappone, correctly. She will correct me if I am wrong. When she was asked about the qualifications for the increases and the IT infrastructure to underpin it she stated:
I would say the qualifications for the increases, effectively in raising the thresholds not only are going to be doing that which impacts the increases, but in order to implement that change, we will also have the information technology system in order to implement the way in which this will be administered.
What the information technology system will do is, as a parent, you will be able to sit at your computer, you will put in your PPS number and with your consent, information coming from the department of Revenue, and also the Department of social protection will feed into the calculation, along with the ages of your children, the amount of time you want them to go into childcare, and out of that to determine a subsidy per child, per week.
To that extent the qualifications are set, the net income thresholds are determined by the net income taking away tax, PRSI, USC, pension contributions. All of that will be very clearly laid out technically. But part of the objective calculation is to determine what is the subsidy rate for your household income and your circumstances in terms of children.
I am quoting the Minister. These are my notes based on what the Minister said, and she will correct me if I am wrong. The key issue is that we have had an announcement on an increase in the thresholds that gives the impression that an affordable childcare scheme is now up and running but the evidence 24 hours after the announcement seemed to be that the affordable childcare scheme is anything but up and running and there is still, in spite of numerous announcements, a lack of an IT infrastructure. When parents who head the announcement in the budget yesterday go to the website of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs there is no portal or IT infrastructure that allows them to see whether they fit the income threshold increases, whether they are eligible for the scheme or what they will be able to avail of in terms of a subsidy.
This is smoke and mirrors. If I look at the Department's documentation where it states there are changes to the affordable childcare scheme, it states these increased thresholds will mean thousands more families will benefit from the new affordable childcare scheme, once it is launched at the end of 2019, and they will see their childcare costs tangibly reduced. We have now reached a situation in the House where announcements are made in 2018 for budget 2019 that will not come into effect until the end of 2019. In effect, the people who are supposed to benefit from these schemes, those on base incomes up to the new threshold of €26,000, and those on up to €60,000, which is the new threshold for the maximum income, will not see the benefits of this until 2020.
What is another year?
I would like to hear from the Minister, Deputy Zappone, when she has the opportunity to come before the House, whether it is the case that these new thresholds will not apply until 2020. If that is the case we are being sold a pup with regard to creating an expectation. Thousands of families will assume they will benefit from increased subsidies but in reality they will not see the benefit of this for more than 12 months. If this is the new way of budgeting for the year and how the House does its budgets, we are not being fooled. We take great umbrage at the fact. If the Government is trying to sell us some smoke and mirrors at this stage of the process we will interrogate the figures to the nth degree. These are the political times in which we live. People will not be fooled. People will immediately realise that if the Government were serious about creating an affordable childcare scheme the one thing it would have had up and running at this stage is an IT architecture to give a portal to parents who are to benefit from the schemes. That has not even been set up. We need to hear from the Minister, Deputy Zappone, just exactly what is going on with regard to the announcements made by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, yesterday and made by her today.
On the issue of climate change, it is astounding that in the week when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has told us there is a narrow window of opportunity to keep global warming within 1.5° Celsius and that to avail of this opportunity we have to act now, the Government did not do anything in terms of a set of measures that would seek to decarbonise further the economy. In the Minister of Finance's speech, where he referred to climate change, what he actually ended up doing was stating he would invest more than €164 million in targeted measures to achieve Ireland's energy efficiency and renewable energy objectives in line with the Government's own mitigation plan.
In the same breath he announced €103.5 million for improvements in grant and premium rates for planting forests. There is a school of thought that carbon sinks through more forests are the way to go. It is one solution that we acknowledge. He would also introduce a beef environmental efficiency pilot scheme to further improve efficiency in beef production.
I represent an agricultural heartland and I must weigh up the local considerations we all have in representing all our constituents equally. The International Panel on Climate Change tells us there will be an existential crisis for humanity if we see increases of 5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100. I will not be too verbose about that but the Minister came here only to announce a scheme relating to better environmental efficiency for beef production, along with an additional €70 million for the targeted agricultural modernisation schemes, TAMS. There was plenty of opportunity through diverting money from the so-called rainy day fund to ensure we could decarbonise the economy in a way that could bring many choices, including transport, households and buildings. There could have been any number of imaginative schemes, and the point is there was a lack of imagination. The Government did not use its opportunity with increased resources to do that. I could go on but my time has expired.
In his budget speech yesterday, under the heading "Rental Sector", the Minister for Finance stated:
In the rental sector, I am bringing forward the full removal of the restriction on the amount of interest that may be deducted by landlords in respect of loans used to purchase, improve or repair their residential property. The rate was due to be 100% by 2021 but will now be effective from 1 January 2019.
This has a broad significance as a tax cut for landlords and is as good an example as any as to why this is a landlords' budget brought forward by a landlords' Government and presented to a landlords' Dáil. It also has a broad significance as the 100% tax relief will cost society €120 million per annum. We could build 700 houses on public land with such money. This change might also have more direct, immediate and serious consequences, and I will comment on those.
We know there are rent caps operating in designated rent pressure zones, and that cap currently stands at 4%. However, we also know there is a loophole in section 34(5) of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 that allows landlords to circumnavigate the rent cap where there has been substantial refurbishment done to the property. This loophole has given rise to a number of scenarios. One scenario is where a landlord refurbishes a property and increases rent by above the 4% cap, such as by 10%, 20%, 30% or more, with the tenants forced to pay the increased rent. Another scenario is where the tenant is forced to vacate the premises either because the refurbishment works are so comprehensive or because the ensuing rent hikes are unaffordable to the tenant. This has become quite a trend in Irish society. According to Threshold, which knows a thing or two about this, the number three reason quoted on notices to quit for eviction in the middle of last year was "substantial refurbishment". A new word has already entered the lexicon, which is "renoviction", and there have been many "renovictions" over the past year. Given all this, the question must be asked in this debate as to whether the Minister has introduced a new tax break that will not merely incentivise refurbishment but will go further and serve to incentivise a fresh wave of rent increases above the 4% cap, along with a fresh wave of evictions or even "renovictions"? It is not in any sense scaremongering to suggest the Minister's tax break may well incentivise both rent hikes and evictions.
I note the tax break comes into effect at a time of year when evictions tend to peak. It is effective from 1 January 2019. Early in a new year after Christmas is precisely the time when evictions tend to peak. The tax break is intended to come into effect in fewer than 11 weeks. I strongly suggest this tax break should be scrapped or voted down. I equally strongly suggest that should Dáil Éireann decide not to vote it down, it would be a powerful reason for the emerging housing protest movement to escalate its efforts and mobilise its forces again this side of Christmas.
The budget speech also made reference to the establishment of the Land Development Agency. Rather than building 100% public housing on public land, the Government is setting up an agency to privatise public land in return for a minimum of 60% private development at market prices, with a maximum of 40% social and affordable homes. However, it should be pointed out that the Government seems to define "affordable" as being market price minus approximately €50,000, which in many areas equates to houses being sold for more than €300,000.
Earlier today I listened to the Taoiseach trying to take a swipe at county councillors who voted on Monday against the privatisation of council lands for such an arrangement, or actually an even worse arrangement, at Kilcarbery and The Grange in the South Dublin County Council area. Solidarity is proud that its three councillors on that council voted against that proposal. The site at Kilcarbery and the Grange is public land and public housing should be built there, perhaps divided into 60% council housing and 40% public affordable housing. Public affordable purchase schemes could deliver two-bedroom houses there for €180,000, as the costed plan formulated by colleagues in the area, including council colleagues, demonstrated earlier this year.
Instead, thanks to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, we will now get not 60% but 70% of houses at market rates - market rates that are unaffordable for a large number of ordinary working people. Perhaps up to 20% of houses will be at unaffordable so-called "affordable" rates while perhaps as little as 10% will be council houses. This vote on Monday night flew in the face of the wishes of a strong campaign waged by homeless women from that community who enjoyed wide support within that community. For this reason, the proposal was carried narrowly at the council by 20 votes to 16. It seems the Taoiseach has hitched his wagon to a privatisation agenda and an agenda of unaffordable market prices and no amount of bluff and bluster, such as we heard earlier, and finger pointing from the Taoiseach can hide those facts from view.
There is nobody else here. Does the Minister of State wish to speak?
Before we resume, I will make the point that we have had to adjourn the House because Members were not present for the next speaking slot. We have had similar difficulties in the past. I am not criticising the Government because theirs was not the next speaking slot, but people should not be blasé about how business is transacted here. The Whips offices exist to ensure that people are here at the appointed time and that the House does not have to suspend. Notwithstanding that it is not the Government slot, I now call the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, who I understand is sharing his time.
I am sharing with the Ministers for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Michael D'Arcy. I thank the Ceann Comhairle and understand his concern.
The budget is strategic and fair and a budget for a changing Ireland. We are facing challenges that require a strategic approach. Everyone knows about the Brexit challenge, but, equally, we remain a country with a 100% debt ratio of GNI*. That puts us in a vulnerable position which is why it is important that this year we balance our budget. We have started to set aside money in a rainy day fund and have taken great steps to prepare for Brexit.
The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, will refer to enterprise. In my portfolio, we are significantly gearing up our capacity not only to provide skills to young people coming out of school and college, which is crucial, but also to enable more people to reskill during their lives. Given the impact of technological change, which is hitting every sector at a phenomenal pace, we must ensure that people have a chance to access education, particularly those who might not have had education the first time around. We are making provision for significant numbers this year. There are 5,000 re-entrants who are below NFQ Level 5, which is a relatively low level of education, and 7,500 additional people supported in employer-led initiatives, with 62,000 in all participating from within the work place. There will be 8,500 in the Springboard programme, which provides people with the opportunity to switch career. In recent years, more than 50,000 people availed of that to switch career. Those are courageous people who, as a result of the economic crash, saw that they needed to change direction in their lives, and have done so successfully. We must gear up for that.
Looking at education and its strategic role in the economy, the Minister's decision to increase capital expenditure by 24% is crucial if we want to build economic and social resilience for the years ahead. I have been the beneficiary of that with a 26% increase in infrastructural investment in education. That is crucial because we continue to have a bulge of young people. I am providing for 10,000 more students in school this year, and, at third level, we will see what had been a bulge going through primary and second level moving on to third level. The investment in third level, which in 2019 will double the 2018 rate, is also part of the €2.2 billion investment in third level which we will roll out over the next decade. That will transform the scale of investment and help us gear up the regions, in particular, so that we have strong skill magnets that are equipped to support the enterprises they lead. That provision in third level is important. The creation of a €300 million fund which will be implemented from 2020 over the following five years is a significant decision, as it will allow new approaches to the delivery of third level education, identifying skill gaps and the means to fortify particular sectors that were vulnerable and looking at new ways of delivering third level education in a way that people who have other commitments in their lives can avail of it.
I am also pleased that we can continue the important progress in schools. Not only are we increasing capital investment to provide more world-class facilities for students, we are continuing to roll out new resources in important areas such as SNAs, who are an invaluable support to young people with special needs. This year, we will also start the implementation of a new approach to supporting children with special needs in our schools that had been advocated by the National Council for Special Education. Next year there will again be a record increase in investment in education. There are many demands within the education system. Many will say that they would like more to be allocated for pay, capitation or new facilities but we are using the resources as judiciously as possible to maintain momentum, with the long-term goal that by 2026 we will have the best education and training service in Europe.
This is a fair and balanced budget for a modern Ireland and I am delighted to introduce my Department's budget for 2019.
I have secured an increase in my Department’s total Exchequer allocation by 9.1% year-on-year from €871 million to €950.2 million. This comprises a record €620 million in capital funding and €330.2 million in current funding, which includes an increase of €65 million in capital funding and an increase of €14.2 million in current funding. I had three key priority areas: Brexit, regional development and innovation, each important in their own right but also fundamentally connected.
I was determined to deliver a budget with Brexit at its core, building on the many measures we have introduced, and mindful of the evolving needs of business. I am delighted to announce a longer-term loan scheme worth up to €300 million, which will support capital investment by businesses to get them ready for the post-Brexit environment. The future growth loan scheme will be jointly funded by my Department and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The scheme requires legislation, which I hope to pass before the end of the year.
I have allocated an additional €1 million in capital funding to InterTrade Ireland, an increase of 17.5%, to support businesses on both sides of the Border. I am also allocating an additional €8 million to agencies and offices of my Department to enhance our global footprint. It includes additional current funding of €3 million for Enterprise Ireland and €2 million for IDA Ireland. As Brexit will have implications for our regulatory system for business, I am also allocating additional funding to a number of regulatory offices and agencies of my Department.
Regional development has never been more important with Brexit on the horizon. I am announcing an additional €5 million capital funding to enhance the programme of supports of our 31 local enterprise offices, LEOs, up 22% on 2018, to a record €27.5 million in 2019. This will include a new customs training programme for all business, exporters and importers, to be rolled out in partnership with Enterprise Ireland.
IDA Ireland’s regional property programme is critical to encouraging more foreign direct investment into the regions. I have allocated €10 million to the next phase of IDA Ireland’s regional property programme. The funding will be used to start building advanced facilities in Dundalk, Monaghan, Sligo and Athlone as well as Waterford, Limerick and Galway, in line with Project Ireland 2040 and additional need identified by IDA Ireland.
I am also announcing an additional capital allocation of €2.75 million to Enterprise Ireland to start developing regional innovation and technology clusters with institutes of technology right throughout the country. I have secured funding of €175 million for a new phase of Enterprise Ireland’s seed and venture capital scheme out to 2024 and I am doubling funding for the online retail pilot scheme to €1.25 million in 2019. I will also provide €1.8 million in additional funding over the next three years for design and craft makers to drive exports in the sector.
Moving to innovation, which is equally important in the context of Brexit as it makes businesses more resilient, my focus is on continuing the drive towards positioning Ireland as a global innovation leader. Our capital allocation for innovation programmes in 2019 will increase to almost €370 million, a 12.7% increase on 2018. A major capital investment next year of €20 million will be to support the roll-out of phase one of the disruptive technologies innovation fund. Funding allocated in 2019 will ensure that successful applicants can begin to deliver projects that will help us all to better prepare for our future. I am allocating an additional €10 million for a new dedicated programme for PhDs and research masters through Science Foundation Ireland, together with €6 million to boost existing research programmes. Furthermore, I have allocated €1 million to the Tyndall National Institute in Cork, Ireland's leading research centre in integrated ICT hardware and systems. I have put an extra €2.75 million aside for Ireland's membership of the European Southern Observatory together with €0.5 million towards our membership of the European Space Agency.
Finally, I have allocated additional funding to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement to support its establishment as a statutory agency. I am also increasing funding to the Workplace Relations Commission to provide for the extension of its remit in 2019 to cover An Garda Síochána and the Civil Service.
My Department is currently developing a new cross-Government strategy for the next phase of Ireland’s economic development, the future jobs initiative, together with the Department of the Taoiseach. The programme, which focuses on quality jobs, improving productivity and building resilience in our changing world, was at the foremost of my mind when allocating funding within my Department for 2019.
In prioritising three key areas of Brexit, regional growth and innovation, I am confident that our business community will be best placed to meet both the challenges and opportunities ahead.
For this week's budget, in the Department we sought to restore supports to our clients after a lost decade of cuts but also to target the resources that we have where we feel that they are best placed to help. As well as the €5 increase across most weekly allowances, we have provided for an increase in payments for qualified children, an increase in the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance, more generous income assessments for lone parents who are out working, an extension of the maintenance disregard for housing costs in the working family payment, an extra week's fuel allowance, an increase in the daily expense allowance, which was formally known as the direct provision allowance, a restoration to 100% of the Christmas bonus, an increase in the national minimum wage and additional funding to secure the free travel and the free television licence schemes. However, this budget is not only about incremental increases and I would like to emphasise two specific innovations which reflect strongly on our commitment to help working families.
For all parents, I am delighted to be able to announce the introduction of a new paid parental benefit scheme, which will allow both parents access to paid parental leave within the first year of their child's life. Both parents will have access to two weeks each of this benefit, which is non-transferable and which will be paid at the same rate as maternity benefit and paternity benefit, which would be €245 per week in the coming year. I am working with my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, and we will introduce the scheme at the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2019. It is our intention to incrementally increase this scheme up to seven weeks' parental leave over the next number of years.
We have also introduced a new scheme, which is jobseeker's benefit for the self-employed. In order to improve access to social welfare schemes for self-employed contributors we had already extended treatment benefits and invalidity pensions in previous years but as part of the budget this year, I have announced the extension of access to jobseeker's benefit to the self-employed from 2019. This will provide a safety net not currently available to those who are enterprising enough to establish their own businesses and provide employment, for themselves but, in many cases, for others too. The backbone of industry in this country are family-run small businesses and we are here to support them.
Looking ahead to next year it is my intention to further increase the supports that we provide for children who are at risk of poverty and to their families. That is why this year I have provided funds to pilot a hot meals scheme for schools. As part of the initiative, hot dinners will be provided on a pilot basis to a number of DEIS schools. If it is successful, and there is no reason in my mind that it should not be, I hope to be able to provide the funds next year to roll it out on a permanent basis.
I have also provided funds in this year's budget for an examination of the extra costs of living incurred by people who are living with a disability. This is a complex area but I have given a commitment. I am keen to address the concerns raised by the people who live with the reality of living with a disability and those who represent them. We will use the outcome of the study to inform potential measures to address the issues of cost over the coming budgets.
Now that the core rates have been largely restored I believe it is time to fundamentally examine the way in which we approach the business of setting our headline welfare rates. A number of other countries have shown us how, by instituting a process of benchmarking welfare rates, typically using a system whereby core rates are fixed each year by reference to market earnings and or price levels. Some advocacy groups have called for a similar system in Ireland and the Government, in the roadmap for pensions reform published earlier this year, has already committed to adopting this approach in respect of pensions. We indicated that we would develop proposals to deliver on this commitment before the end of 2018. My personal view is that this core approach could be extended to other welfare payments. I believe that this system, if implemented, would provide the context and framework for an informed rational and evidence-based approach to setting welfare payments.
This week's budget announcement, both on the increases and the new innovations, reflect this Government's commitment to working with families and the most vulnerable in society. We seek to strengthen opportunity and create an environment for every citizen to be able to prosper.
Yesterday's budget was ten years and ten days from the bank guarantee. For those of us who were here on that occasion, it is something we should never forget. Those were difficult times. It has been a difficult decade. I have called that period, "The lost decade," and it has been much more difficult for some than for others. It has taken a decade to balance the budget. That is how long it has taken us to get back into a space where we really need to be. Yesterday was not only about balancing the budget for 2019. We were also reducing the deficit by 0.1% from 2018, and by an equivalent amount for 2019.
I make no apologies about reducing taxes. The tax reductions were modest, at €291 million. To put it in context, at the lowest point of our tax take in 2012 we collected €11 billion in income taxes and in 2018, the estimated yield will be almost €22 billion. There is no jurisdiction anywhere where one could say that one would double the quantum of incomes taxes to be collected in such a short period without there being chaos, carnage and difficulties with the public but the people of Ireland are the ones who deserve credit in this regard. They got on with the job. It was not easy. It has been a tough decade, and as I said, it has been tougher for some more than others. Therefore, I do not apologise.
The tax reduction involves increasing the threshold, the point at which taxpayers move to the higher rate, by €750 at a cost of €138 million, and reducing the universal social charge rate of 4.75% to 4.5% at a cost of a little over €120 million. The total tax package of €291 million was not much more than the restoration of the full Christmas bonus. I believe that the people are well entitled to get some small tax decreases.
Something I, in my role as Minister of State with responsibility for financial services, want to highlight also is that there are challenges and one of these is the sustainability of mid-career staff whose positions will be challenged by technology. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, spoke about the National Training Fund increase of 1% to build up a pot of €300 million. That €300 million will be required for the retraining and reskilling of employees who will lose their positions because of the development of disruptive technologies, which is a train coming down the track that will challenge many workers in many different sectors. We must set aside an amount of money to do so and I am really pleased that we are doing that.
There was criticism for not increasing carbon taxes. Of course, we have a carbon tax at the rate of €20 per tonne. With the increase in the price of oil, in particular, in the past number of weeks and months, and as we are moving into the winter period, it was appropriate, in particular, for commuters, that we decided not to go with the change in carbon tax. That said, there were other areas, such as the increase in the VRT, namely, the 1% surcharge on vehicles that will be registered from 1 January 2019, that will bring in €25 million.
I am very pleased the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, launched Ireland's first sovereign green bond today. I travelled with the NTMA to London and Paris last week highlighting this. It is a new sovereign offering related to green products. About five countries, including Ireland, have a national sovereign bond at this stage. Ireland's €3 billion offering today was oversubscribed, at a rate of less than 1.4% over 12 years. That we can borrow on the international markets at those rates just goes to show how stable our finances are.
Some €17 billion has been allocated for the health service. We have enough money going into the health budget. Another €7 billion is going to the private health sector. We are spending €24 billion overall on the public and private health services. It should be enough money. The challenge is to ensure that people get a proper service. There is a challenge for all of us in that regard.
The Minister of State might give the party leaders a lesson on timekeeping. He has done very well. I call Deputy Thomas Byrne. Is he sharing time with his colleague?
I am. Members are elsewhere tonight.
They are. There must be something exciting happening.
The doorsteps of Ireland might be busy tonight. I do not know.
I am happy to speak here about the budget but it does not hide our severe disappointment regarding education. Education is the undoubted poor relation in this budget. I was surprised to hear some Ministers saying privately yesterday that education has done great in the budget. It shows a distinct lack of understanding of the current needs in the education sector.
There are two views on education and its purposes. Those views separate Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. One vision holds that education serves society and enables the citizen to participate fully in society to the best of his or her ability and to realise his or her potential. That is the Fianna Fáil view of education, which has been demonstrated by its putting of the right to free primary education into the Constitution under de Valera in the 1930s. Thirty years later, Donogh O'Malley announced free second level education and free transport to get people to school. A charge has been imposed since then. Fianna Fáil has invested in the institutes of technology. It effectively started and furthered special education to the widest extent through the education Act under Deputy Micheál Martin. Our view is that everybody should be allowed to reach his or her full potential, regardless of what one needs or wants to do in society. That can be to serve the economy or to become a good worker. The narrow view of education - the Fine Gael view - is that education serves enterprise. We have heard that from the Minister of State, Deputy Michael D'Arcy. To Fine Gael, education is solely about meeting the needs of the workforce and employers. The Fine Gael view is that education is simply a feed into the economy and workforce. The party does not understand that there is a much broader view of education, a much more rounded view. While it does serve the economy and workers, it serves society primarily.
The enterprise agenda in the Department of Education and Skills has won out big-time in this budget. A very worthy organisation called Skillnet does tremendous work with employers. I certainly have the height of praise for it. In the budget Skillnet receives an increase of 29% while funding for primary and secondary schools is increased by 5%. Therefore, the increase for business is almost six times greater than that for schools. This is in the education budget, not the overall Government budget. That is where Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael differ. Our priority in this budget was to increase funding to schools. I cannot believe the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, did not tackle that as one of his main initiatives. He did not seem to have any interest in it in the negotiations with his colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe.
Second, it appeared that the miserly amount given to allow schools to run themselves properly was something to do with Fianna Fáil making it a key demand. Fine Gael would rather see children, principals and schools suffer than Fianna Fáil getting a victory. That is a pathetic way to deal with our education system. There was a distinct lack of interest in the school funding scenario in the face of rising costs, bills that principals and teachers must pay out of school finds, fundraising that schools are forced to do, and charges schools are forced to impose on parents. This conflicts totally with the constitutional guarantee of free education. Therefore, the two parties have totally different visions. This budget has set that out clearly for the future.
The major achievements in education over recent years have really stemmed from the confidence and supply agreement. Let us look to the return of guidance counselling. Fine Gael and the officials resisted this greatly. They simply wanted it gone, or, if it were to come back, it was to be provided by businesspeople going into schools, as was said to me. Admittedly, there is a place for businesspeople going into schools, but it should be at the direction of guidance counsellors. We want schools to engage with businesses. The vision of what education is about and the interaction that I had sums up the approach of the Government, namely, that education is all about business. Business is part of society but it is not the whole picture.
The postgraduate student maintenance grant has been brought back. I admit there was little resistance to this because its abolition was one of the worst cuts of the recession. The removal of the grant was simply about cutting a large section of poorer people from the highest levels of education. It was seen in our universities and research centres that students could simply not afford to do Master’s degrees or postdoctoral degrees because of the removal of the postgraduate maintenance grant. It is now back thanks to the confidence and supply agreement. We in Fianna Fáil are proud of that.
The pupil-teacher ratio was reduced last year in accordance with the confidence and supply agreement against significant and hardcore resistance from the Fine Gael Party. The pupil-teacher ratio is now at the lowest level ever. I am really proud to see schools with smaller classes and more teachers because of this provision in the confidence and supply agreement and because of the pressure exerted by Fianna Fáil to make sure it happened. That is what we are trying to do. We have an unending focus on education, resources, funding schools, creating more teaching space, making sure guidance counselling is resourced, and making sure schools can do the job they are supposed to do.
Much of what the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, set out in terms of extra teachers and extra special needs assistants is driven by demographics. There has been a considerable and welcome explosion in the population of young people in the country in recent years. This is continuing to work its way through the education system. When we hear the Government and Fine Gael boasting about the largest number of teachers and schools and the highest rate of expenditure on education, it has by and large to do with demographics and very little to do with new initiatives, the reform of education or trying to make things better in our schools.
The capital budget has increased substantially for 2019. If, however, one reads the small print of the budget, one will see there is no increase at all for 2020. Therefore, the funding seems to be front-loaded next year. The increase secures the reintroduction of the minor works grant, which is gone this year, apparently; the reintroduction of the summer works scheme for next year; and €50 million at third level, which has been already committed. Therefore, a large part of the increase for next year is already taken up with standard items in the annual capital budget for education. Therefore, we are sceptical that the money allocated for capital expenditure and the increase for next year will actually meet the needs of our education system and buildings.
Forty-two new schools were announced by the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, on 13 April. It is now close to 13 October, six months later, but practically nothing has happened in regard to the 42 schools. There were four patronage processes. The truth is that parents in the areas where the patronage processes took place are none the wiser as to where the schools will be, when they will open and who the patrons will be. What is now happening in the areas for which the schools are planned is that parents are visiting in anticipation of their children starting school next September but they have no information whatsoever on any of the schools.
It would be timely for the Minister to give an update on whether any or all of these projects will proceed as he has announced. It is not good enough to announce these schools in April last and then follow up with little information to parents.
I welcome the spending of the surplus from the NTF, but the title, "human capital initiative", is a sign of the enterprise culture that is taking over the Department of Education and Skills, which is very worrying. I accept that employers are paying the NTF levy and that they must be consulted on where it is spent, but one of the principal purposes of this initiative is, as the Minister said, to meet the future skills needs of the economy and provide additional investment in higher education. It is about meeting the future skills needs of the economy rather than serving society. That is the difference in vision.
There is some improvement in special needs provision, but we do not know whether it will be enough. Much of the increase in the budget is for demographics and will not mean much change.
I will comment briefly on climate change. It has been the laggard under this Government, which has shown no interest in it whatsoever. Schools and the education system could be at the forefront of tackling climate change but there is nothing in that regard. We do not opt for renewable technologies in our schools. I was told it could not be done in respect of solar panels because the sun shines during the summer when schools are closed. It is a ludicrous argument. We must tackle climate change as a key part of the capital budget for education. The minor works grant next year should have a focus on climate change, be it by improving insulation, improving windows to keep schools warmer and drier, improving roofs, making heating more efficient or by improving the lighting in schools. There should be an emphasis on that and it is about time the Government showed seriousness of intent in that regard.
There are two visions for education. At some point in the next year or two, there will be an election. We do not know when, but it will certainly take place. We will review progress, and I have done some of that in this contribution, but, at that point, the public will have a chance to decide between the two visions for education I have outlined today. I will appeal to the public to examine what education should be about.
Budget 2019 has been framed with an unprecedented housing and homelessness crisis, issues in health such as extensive waiting lists, bed capacity and the recruitment and retention of staff, and crucial Brexit talks looming large. With that in mind, Fianna Fáil is committed to providing stability during the crucial Brexit talks. While other parties refused to play any part in forming a Government, Fianna Fáil stepped up to the mark. Our approach to this budget was to provide that stability and to address serious policy issues. We want delivery on issues that matter and the delivery of better outcomes.
Budget 2019 will provide the funding, but the onus is on the Government and the various Departments to deliver. Delivery is the key issue here - delivery of homes, delivery of access to health services, which can no longer be dependent on one's address or a postcode lottery, and delivery of the services paid for by the taxpayers. In agreeing to a third budget, we have provided economic stability for 2019 while we face the consequences of the UK exiting the EU. We are all hopeful of a Brexit deal as it is in the interest of the island of Ireland. The focus of the Government should now be on successfully concluding the Brexit talks.
As my party's spokesperson for older people, I welcome the measures that will give some additional comfort to pensioners. The additional week's payment of the winter fuel allowance, increasing it to 28 weeks per year, the €5 per week increase in the pension and the reduction in prescription charges will put more money in older people's pockets. The return of the 100% Christmas bonus is welcome for those on limited fixed incomes, and it is an essential payment for older people. However, once again, no consideration was given to the living alone allowance which remains at €9. This is my third budget debate and my third time to raise this issue. This budget did not address the living alone allowance, but we must recognise the higher costs faced by people living alone. When a couple depends on the State pension and one of them dies, the surviving partner is plunged into a financial crisis as well as trying to cope with the bereavement. After six weeks the pension entitlements of the deceased stop and the remaining spouse or partner receives €9. However, it still costs the same to run the home and to pay for light, heat, insurance, telephone and general utilities. I hope to see some movement on incrementally increasing this for those who are dependent on the State pension as their only source of income.
The state of our health services continues to be hugely challenging. I stood outside Leinster House today to pay my respects to Emma Mhic Mhathúna. To see her coffin passing and her five children following it was heartbreaking. Emma wanted a health service that we can all be proud of, not a political football. It is essential there is all-party agreement on delivering the recommendations in the Scally report as a matter of priority. We owe this to Emma, to Julie who also passed away this week and to all the women affected.
I welcome the additional funds for the NTPF and the waiting lists. Orthopaedic procedures for knee and hip replacements and cataract procedures can clearly improve the quality of life. It is essential that we get delivery on these.
The HSE service plan for 2019 will outline how the increase in health funding will benefit citizens. I hope there will be funding for the roll-out of a national dementia advisers programme to support people and families who are given a diagnosis of dementia. There are 55,000 people living with dementia in Ireland at present, with a further 11 people diagnosed every day. It is expected that the number of people living with dementia will exceed 100,000 in the next 20 years. Despite this, there are just eight dementia advisers covering 12 counties. Large areas of the country are without access to this important service. Access to services such as this should not come down to a postcode lottery. People with dementia and their families need the support of dementia advisers. I believe there will be movement on this issue. I spoke to the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, last night and to give credit where it is due, we have been working well together on this over the past 12 months, so I am hopeful. Additional specific ring-fenced funding to support people living with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis is also vital.
Older people deserve to enjoy their retirement in the comfort of their own homes. However, this is not always possible as ill health can become an issue. Home help hours and home care packages have also been increased, but we must wait for the details of these increases. They are vital to free up acute hospital beds, step-down facilities and to support nursing homes. The lack of home care hours is a constant issue and I compliment carers who do heroic work every day.
The housing situation is at crisis point. All sectors are affected and are under pressure. Some 10,000 people are currently homeless, including 3,700 children. Housing is the key test for this budget. Everyone needs and deserves a safe and secure roof over their head. The dream of home ownership continues to be a dream; previously it became a reality for most. Affordable housing is essential to having a functional housing market. Many couples are outside the limits to apply for social housing, but it is impossible for hard-pressed couples to afford the cost of housing and the deposit required as most of their income goes on rent. In this budget, we secured a new €100 million per annum affordable housing fund. This investment will construct at least 6,000 homes by 2021. The fund will act a subsidy to local authorities for building the unit which is then sold to the buyer at build price minus the subsidy. The money from the sales is then recycled into building more homes. It will be open to single earner households with income of up to €50,000 and households with dual incomes of up to €75,000. The average home price will be just over €200,000.
Social housing is also a major issue. The capital budget for social housing has been increased and there is an expansion of direct build targets for the Rebuilding Ireland programme. The budget has increased from €1.065 billion to €1.25 billion, with some 10,000 units due to be built, acquired or leased next year. This is a start but, again, the key issue is delivery. A further €60 million has been targeted at homelessness. While not sufficient, it is a step in the right direction for ending the scandal of homeless families living in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation.
Last week as I entered the carpark of a local hotel at which I was staying, I noticed four children, two of whom were teenagers, and an adult getting out of a car. The children were in school uniforms and as they collected their school bags and clothes and headed into the hotel at approximately 9 p.m. I wondered where they were going to do their homework, play, eat and wash. We must put an end to this dependence on accommodating families in hotels. It is a disgrace and it must be tackled as a matter of priority.
The budget has also allowed us to reform the planning process to speed up the approval process for local authorities. Planning for projects of fewer than 25 homes will now go through an accelerated process. This should allow local authorities to fast-track small developments and cut through bureaucracy and red tape. Local authorities know their areas. They know where the demand is and they know how to deliver. They did so for many years, but not so in the last ten years. They must now be equipped with sufficient skills and expertise to carry out their core duties of delivering housing.
I am disappointed with the increase in the VAT rate for the tourism sector. I accept the Minister's point that the reduced rate was a short-term approach to kick-start the tourism industry. However, the boom in the Dublin hotel industry is not comparable to the hotel industry in Dungarvan or Waterford city or to the small tea rooms and restaurants that provide much needed employment locally that will suffer as a result of this increase. The rate could have been increased over a two year timeframe to reduce the impact on small businesses that have committed to bookings for up to two years in advance.
This is not a Fianna Fáil budget but from opposition, we have done our best to give effect to our own policies.
I am delighted to have the opportunity, albeit brief, to outline the expenditure plans of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for 2019. A total of €1,616 million is planned expenditure from the Exchequer in 2019 plus, in the context of direct support under the Common Agricultural Policy, EU receipts of €1.2 billion. This is a critical Vote in respect of the rural community and, in particular, the agriculture, agrifood and fisheries industries. The objective which we sought to achieve in the budget was to build resilience in the sector, particularly in the context of a very challenging 2018 for the livestock sector in terms of the market and weather events experienced. This sector is the most exposed to Brexit. We put together a €78 million package, €44 million of which is allocated to building resilience inside the farm gate. The principal planks of this are an increase in the areas of natural constraint, ANC, payments amounting to €23 million. This follows on from an additional €25 million provided last year, which amounts to a 24% increase in ANC payments over two years, bringing us back to the level of €250 million last seen in 2008 when the cuts to ANC were implemented by a Fianna Fáil Government. I am glad that this Government is in a position to restore this important payment. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will be aware that last year, in terms of the additional €25 million, the most disadvantaged areas received €13 million, the intermediate tier received €9 million and the least disadvantaged of the ANC categorised lands received €3 million. I will consult with stakeholders to repeat this kind of targeting of those payments in 2019.
The other substantial element of the package for the farming sector is the initiative under the environmental efficiency package for the beef sector. This will deliver a €40 payment per weanling for the suckler beef sector. The purpose of this initiative is to encourage the reporting of data to the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, which will assist in the journey the industry is on to improve the genetic merit of the beef herd. This means small suckler cows delivering bigger quality weanlings, a herd that is more fertile, calves every year and is easy calving and, simultaneously, drives down the carbon footprint. This delivers to the farming community while at the same time acknowledging the overhanging policy obligation in respect of the climate change agenda.
There is also significant support for the agencies in the context of Brexit, with €5 million for Bord Bia, €6 million for Teagasc, €13 million for supports for the SME sector, €3 million for the artisan food sector and €7 million for recruitment of staff and associated ICT costs. Overall, it is a package of €78 million. What have not received as much commentary in the context of the budget are the taxation measures. Yesterday, we published the cumulative impact of the agri-taxation review which was initiated by my predecessor, now Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney. This is delivering in excess of €200 million every year to the agricultural community. Many in the agricultural community would be delighted if they were able to invoke the provisions therein, particularly with regard to taxation, but the challenge for many of these industries, particularly in the livestock sector, is not having a taxable income and, hence, the supports I mentioned earlier.
This budget also addresses the issues of generational renewal, the restoration of stock relief and stamp duty exemptions, etc., for young farmers, which will be of benefit to the dairy sector in particular because it is an area where there are reasonable levels of income. It also provides for the extension of the income averaging to families with an off-farm income, be that the income of a farmer or a spouse, who up to now were excluded from availing of this provision. Overall, it is a balanced package. Agriculture is our biggest indigenous sector, which employs, inside and outside the farm gate, 175,000 people and it is the most exposed to the challenge of Brexit.
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will be aware of the provisions in the budget in regard to the marine sector, which will enable us to proceed with critical infrastructure investment in Killybegs and Castletownbere in 2019. Funding is also provided to the Marine Institute to enable it to commence the process of replacing the RV Celtic Voyager research boat in 2019.
All in all this is a balanced budget. The most unsung thing about this budget is that this is the first balanced budget in over ten years. This is the best guarantee we have of avoiding the boom and bust cycle that has bedevilled the Irish economy for many years. This is equally of significance in the context of the budget.
Is cinnte go mbeidh mo chomhghleacaithe eile ag labhairt fosta. Ar dtús ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá fadúda an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge. Nuair a tháinig mé isteach sa phost mar Aire Stáit san Roinn Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta in 2014, ba é an cloch is mó ar mo phaidrín ag an am sin ná an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge. Ag an am sin bhí mé ag ceapadh go mbeadh an straitéis iontach fada agus is sin an fáth gur thosaigh mé i mbun comhairliúcháin chuimsitheach maidir leis sin.
Tagraím don phlean gníomhaíochta cúig-bliana. Tá sé sin déanta anois agus tá caidreamh níos fearr idir mo Roinn agus an Roinn Caiteachais Phoiblí agus Athchóirithe mar shampla. Tá an dualgas ar achan Roinn timpeall an Bhord Rialtais fosta, mar shampla an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna agus is é sin an fáth go bhfuil an polasaí oideachais fós le baint amach. Tá an dualgas orainn san Rialtas ní hamháin don Ghaeltacht ach chun an earcaíocht san earnáil phoiblí a ardú chuig 20% de dhaoine le Gaeilge. Beidh sin déanta nuair a bheidh Bille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú) 2017 déanta an bhliain seo chugainn. Beidh sé foilsithe roimh an Nollaig. Chomh maith leis sin tá ról mhór ag an údarás. Tá sé freagrach as na poist agus beidh €1.5 milliún breise sa bhuiséad caipitil agus chomh maith leis sin beidh an t-údarás freagrach as rudaí ar nós airgead do na comharchumainn. Beidh €500,000 i gceist sa chiste sin agus táim sásta leis an gcinneadh sin. Fuair mé sonraí an tseachtain seo caite agus i rith na bliana bhí na comharchumainn uilig i dteagmháil liom agus le mo comhghleacaithe. Bhí mo comhghleacaí an Teachta Kyne i gcónaí ag labhairt fadúda an tábhacht a bhaineann leis na comharchumainn. Chomh maith leis sin, tá an plean forbartha déanta agus tá an ciste agus an gealltanas déanta maidir leis an bplean forbartha agus buiséad caipitil deich-mbliana.
Tá suas chuig €178 milliún i gceist. Chomh maith leis sin, tá cúpla togra i nGaillimh agus ar na hoileáin mar shampla. Tá na céanna ar Inis Oirr, Inis Meáin, Tóraigh agus Machaire Rabhartaigh i gceist ansin. Tá cinneadh déanta maidir leis an gealltanas sin agus beimid ag bogadh ar aghaidh leis. Tá €1.5 milliún fá choinne na n-oileán an bhliain seo chugainn agus beimid ag déanamh iarrachta ar son na hoileáin amach anseo.
Tagraím don phleanáil teanga. Tá an bunlíne ag €2.6 milliún i mbliana agus tá an cinneadh déanta don bhliain seo chugainn go mbeidh €3.2 milliún ar fáil fá choinne pleanála teanga. Ba mhaith liom mo aitheantas agus mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis na daoine uilig a bhí ag obair go dian ar an talamh agus nuair a raibh mé i dteagmháil leo ba léir go raibh siad ag labhairt fadúda cúrsaí pobail, cúrsaí sláinte, daoine óga, seandaoine, oideachas agus achan rud agus bhí siad ag obair go dian ar son na teanga agus sin an fáth go raibh mé thar a bheith tiománta. Tá an pobal tiománta agus beidh an bailiú nirt i gceist fosta. Táim thar a bheith sásta leis sin agus faoin éileamh a bheidh ann an bhliain seo chugainn fosta. I mo cheantar, tá cúpla post socraithe anois i gCloich Chionnaola, Rann na Feirste agus Gaoth Dobhair. Tá dream ollmhór a bheidh ag obair ar nascanna agus ceangail idir cúrsaí oideachais, sláinte agus cúrsaí eile. Beidh mo chomhghleacaithe anseo i gceann deich nóiméad ach mar fhocal scoir, gabhaim mo buíochas leis mo chomhghleacaithe agus mo chuid oifigeach a bhí ag obair go dian ar achan phlean chun go mbeimis réidh fá choinne an bhuiséid seo.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to say a few words today on the budget that was announced yesterday. First, it is not that often that we get the opportunity to speak on a budget that has been balanced for the first time in almost ten years. Reference was made earlier on to the fact that we have had a balanced budget and to sum it up, one could say that we have a prudent budget. It is very steady and very responsible and as I said, for the first time in a long time we will not have the boom to bust cycle and we will avoid the situation we have had in the past. Twice in my lifetime I can remember this country being brought to the brink of economic disaster - in 1977, when Fianna Fáil promised the sun, moon and stars and almost destroyed the country and ten years ago when total incompetence brought us to the brink of economic disaster. For the first time in a generation, it could be said that there is light at the end of the tunnel and there is economic stability.
I wish to concentrate on the agricultural and rural sectors, but agriculture in particular. The agricultural sector does not often get much attention in this Chamber and it is important to again highlight some of the issues the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine explained a few minutes ago. An extra €57 million has been allocated for the agriculture budget in the coming year in view of the fact it has been a difficult year for the farming sector. This allocation is important as weather events have ensured it will be an expensive year for the whole agricultural and farming sector. Extra and more expensive foodstuff and fodder has had to be sourced and that has been difficult for farmers.
We must look at the bigger picture for this year and the last number of years. The two big issues facing Irish agriculture in the coming years will be Brexit and the climate change agenda. These are two issues that need to be seriously concentrated on over the next period of time. In advance of the budget there was much talk about a subsidy for suckler cows and there is no doubt that the suckler and beef sector in general has been going through a difficult time. To a certain extent, there have been many missed opportunities to address the whole beef sector and where it is currently. Providing a subsidy for suckler cows alone will not sort out the problems. We need more markets for our beef products. We need to ask ourselves what we will do with the products we have at the end. We need the meat industry to step up to the plate and take responsibility for where the product will go. We also need the supermarkets to step up to the plate and take responsibility. There are many unfair practices that need to be addressed and we need to tackle these in a strong way as we move forward so that we can have a fair and transparent market for our products.
I welcome the new beef environment efficiency pilot scheme that was announced by the Minister yesterday. As someone who was very much in favour of the previous beef data and genomics scheme I believe the two schemes together will bring important advantages to the beef sector as we move forward. It is about a more efficient animal being available to the market going forward. As the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, said a few minutes ago, for the first time we will have real data available on the weight of cows and weanlings going forward. Some €20 million has been made available for this scheme with €40 per head for calves. Some 500 animals can be applied for under the scheme. Bearing in mind the climate change agenda about which we are talking, it is important that efficiency is stressed as we move forward. We have to have a more efficient beef sector in the future.
I thought the previous beef data and genomic scheme was very good but it got off to a bad start and lessons must be learned from how that was delivered in the past in the context of consulting organisations. As we move forward with the new scheme, which will be useful, it is important that all stakeholders are involved in whatever discussions take place in advance of it being rolled out so that we can have a straightforward process and that we avoid the hassle we had in the past.
I also welcome the extra funding put into the areas of natural constraint, ANC, bringing its funding back up to €250 million, which it was prior to the economic disaster which Fianna Fáil left us with ten years ago. It is ironic that its Deputies have all left the Chamber.
As I said, one of the biggest challenges facing the agricultural sector is Brexit and the uncertainty around that. The industry must be aware of that and it is important extra funding is put in place. I welcome the €27 million of capital in Brexit-related supports that will be available. Bord Bia has a huge part to play as we move forward and it is important it has a €46.5 million war chest available to plan and develop extra markets in the future.
It is also important to welcome the taxation measures introduced yesterday. The extension to the stock relief up to 2021 and the stamp duty extensions, which are all beneficial to the agricultural sector, are to be welcomed. The averaging of income to include all farm income also makes it more beneficial for the agricultural sector.
There was one area with which I was disappointed. There is much income volatility, particularly in the dairy sector. We will see income fluctuating substantially in every sector and it is important we allow for that. A good proposal was put on the table by the Irish Co-Operative Organisation Society, ICOS, in the last number of weeks, which was very worthy. It proposed to put a rainy day fund in place for the bad years whereby the sector would set aside a certain amount of funding to a rainy day fund in the good years for the bad years. It has a lot of merit in the same way as the rainy day fund being introduced at national level. It could also be beneficial at a sectoral level and I encourage the Minister to have a look at this in the finance Bill or as we move forward to next year.
The other sector I said I would comment on is the rural affairs sector. I welcome the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, to the House for this debate. This whole budget has been very welcome. It is important to point out that an extra €53 million has been allocated to this area. The money allocated to this area has been very well spent over the last period of time. I refer to some of the schemes the Minister has introduced in the past number of years since he came into office as it is important to remind everybody about these schemes. The town and village renewal scheme has been crucial.
Last week €0.75 million came to County Carlow. In total, over €2.5 million has been allocated from town and village renewal scheme money to County Carlow, one of the smallest counties in the country. It has benefitted every town and village, including Myshall, Tinriland, Tullow, Clonmore and Ardattin. It has benefitted small villages right around the country over the last period of time. It has also given the communities an opportunity to come together to plan, strategise and put structures in place so they can be sustainable into the future. It is a very welcome fund. It is great to see there will be more funding available for that in the coming year.
It is great to see the CLÁR funding. It is another fund that was abandoned a number of years ago by Fianna Fáil as it left the sinking ship. It has been reinvigorated again. It is a scheme that helped in rural areas, whether in the local community centre or through safety measures in schools. It has a huge knock-on effect right around the country. The local improvement schemes are very efficient schemes. The rural sector is important. We hear time and again about the demise of rural Ireland and that it is on its knees. That is far from the truth. Many very good things are happening in rural Ireland. If it were not for these schemes, we would not see communities coming together to make sure they have a sustainable environment and sustainable community going forward.
I compliment and welcome the budget. From an agricultural perspective there was an acknowledgment that the beef sector had a very difficult year. Some of the schemes that have been introduced will be very beneficial as we move forward. There needs to be liaison and consultation with different organisations to make sure that whatever scheme is rolled out will be streamlined and user-friendly. From a rural perspective, I compliment the Minister on getting an extra €53 million into the schemes. They are great schemes that will be of huge benefit to rural Ireland going forward.
Tá sé an-tábhachtach go bhfuil an t-am seo faighte againn. It is very important we have this debate and can participate fully in it. It is really important to note that since 2011, over 380,000 people who were unemployed have joined the workforce. They and their families are in a much better position as a result of the improving economic situation and the work ethic, confidence and investment policies of our Government and commercial and business people. It is hugely important that the growth continues. This will be the first time in at least a decade that our budget will be balanced. It speaks a lot about the sensible, practical, pragmatic, business-like way this Government is running the country. I acknowledge the support the main Opposition party has given in the context of the policies we are pursuing, particularly in this budget and in health and housing.
One measures a society by how it looks after those who are weakest. As a result of the improvement in our economic position and the increased number of people working, it is right and proper that social welfare payments have increased, particularly the €5 per week. Pensioners, people with disabilities, widows and so on will appreciate this contribution their income. They cannot work and they may never work again. They cannot participate in the growing economy where incomes are growing by about 4% per annum. The restoration of the Christmas bonus to 100% is hugely important for people on lower incomes at a most difficult time. Christmas is a hugely important family time and people will be able to have a successful Christmas with relatives and friends.
For those who are ill, the prescription charges have been reduced. The €10 decrease in the monthly payment for the drug payment scheme is a continuing reduction in a charge which is, in my view, a tax on sickness. Hopefully, it will ultimately be done away with. One can earn €25 more per week and qualify for a GP visit card if one is under the new threshold. It is hugely important for people who are working but who cannot benefit. It is a huge advantage to them.
There has been significant investment in the future of our young people and in education. There will be more than 1,300 new teachers and 950 additional special needs assistants. These are hugely beneficial to our society and to students who are at disadvantage.
Climate change is happening. Tonight the biggest storm in over 100 years will strike Florida and the coast of America. We will have a storm this weekend. We must prepare for climate change and step up to the mark. The Oireachtas committee, which has been established with the consent of all parties, must do as we do on other issues. We must put together a programme of improvements and establish how to benchmark improvements in climate change, make sure houses are more efficient, change our transport policy and incentivise those reducing their use of energy and penalise those who use too much. That is the way forward. It can only be done in an organised way by the Oireachtas stepping forward. It is a very difficult debate for many people, and I understand that. We must step forward together as an Oireachtas with planned and thought-through policies that people are aware of and which we can debate and discuss. That is hugely important.
In terms of the health budget, I am concerned about the Health Service Executive. In our office, we call it the hide and seek executive because it hides and it is not accountable. There is no transparency. It seeks and gets more funding. It is hugely important the Government holds the HSE to account in terms of increased transparency and increased accountability about how it is spending the money and where it is spending it. It must get at the bureaucracy that controls everything and which leads us into many crises without the political system being fully alerted to or aware of them.
I welcome the fact this is the biggest housing budget in the history of the State. It means there will be at least 10,000 more social housing units next year. Over the next ten years, we intend to build over 150,000 social housing units, which will significantly address the deficit that is there. I welcome the commitment to the Land Development Agency. I welcome the fact that all State, local government and semi-State-owned land is being, and will be, made available and will be actively pursued in terms of getting houses built and getting services to them. That is absolutely the way forward. I acknowledge that homelessness is a hugely difficult problem, particularly for those who are homeless. The work that is ongoing by our voluntary agencies, such as the Peter McVerry Trust, is hugely important. We need them more and more and we need to support them in what they are doing.
The last point I will make is about landlords. About two years ago landlords in my town were getting €700 or €800 a month for their properties. Now they are getting double that. Landlords have never had it so good in terms of the incomes they are charging. They have never been as well off, with incentives to continue as landlords. There are incentives to repair properties. I do not gainsay that. I will make a point about rent pressure zones and empty or abandoned homes that have been vacant for a significant period of time. Social justice demands that homes in rent pressure zones that lie empty for significant periods of time, which are not principal private residences and where the owner is not out of the country, sick or in a nursing home should be taxed if they are not made available. Fine Gael, in government, must step up to the mark on this issue. The people want this. In my town, there are homes that have been vacant for more than two or three years. They could and must be put into commission. In County Louth, the county council has taken over 92 empty homes which were abandoned or left vacant in the past year.
It has compulsorily purchased them and at an average cost of less than €100,000 per home it is putting families into them as I speak. That is the way forward. It is making use of scarce resources needed in a time of great difficulty for families. On the one hand, people who are homeless are living in hostels and in very difficult circumstances, or in homes that are overcrowded while on the other, there is the scandal of long-term empty properties. That must end and this Government must bring in this tax. There is support in the community for it. I have discussed it with voluntary agencies and they believe that is part of the way forward. This Government cannot have landlords with all carrot and no stick. We must use the stick to make sure every property is occupied.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak again on this year's budget. I acknowledge the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, and the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Moran, who are in the House. Both are dedicated hard workers. I thank them for their input into Kerry. The Minister of State, Deputy Moran, has visited flood areas and has assisted us with finance, and is still working on projects. We are hopeful of getting finance for other very necessary projects that have needed to be addressed for the past seven or eight years. I thank the Minister, Deputy Ring, for funding the local improvement schemes. I asked him about this several times at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Community and Rural Development and I am glad that he acceded last year. It has meant a lot to what are called public-private roads in Kerry. They are not private roads. They are public roads but they were never taken over by the local authority and the last 100 yd. or half a mile to a person's door is the most important part. I appreciate the fact the scheme is being brought back. There is a request in for more funding and I hope we will get that in the not too distant future to carry on that very important work. I also have to acknowledge the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Doyle, who is here as well. He is working very hard in his role.
Class 3 roads are small link roads that do not really come under the community involvement scheme but there is very little funding for them. They have been waiting a long time. Some have been in a desperate state for 20 years and some people tell me their road has not seen a bit of tar for 40 years. Many Governments have come and gone in that time. Will the Minister, Deputy Ring, address this? Last night I mentioned the need for the Killarney bypass, which is a matter for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, but I do not know whether he knows much about roads or has an interest in them. Nevertheless, I ask that the bypass be progressed because it would mean so much to the town of Killarney through which large volumes of traffic pass every day. For example, 18,600 vehicles use the current bypass daily. That is increasing all the time. I ask that it be put into a programme that gets funding. We were told in 2003 that it would progress in 2006. That is 12 years without a move on it.
I spoke last night about the health service. Morale and confidence in our health service in the county of Kerry is at an all-time low. The Ministers have been told several times no elective orthopaedic procedure has been carried out there in the past four months. People are roaring with pain and are suffering. That is terrible. All the stops must be pulled out to ensure these people who have waited so long will not have to suffer through Christmas and into another year without being seen. I asked the Taoiseach about this on the Order of Business. Some 124 people have been assessed and are waiting to have a procedure but there are more who need to be assessed. We do not know the figures for them but they are many. They telephone me and other public representatives every day. I ask that they be treated in private hospitals or sent to Cork, Limerick or Dublin. We will be taking them on buses to Belfast in the coming weeks. It is not right that our health service is letting all these people down.
I have asked that the Minister for Health go to Tralee General Hospital unannounced to see what is happening in the accident and emergency department there, where elderly people aged 80 and 90 years are waiting 24 or even 48 hours to get a bed. It is chronic. This is not good enough. We are told that in Cuba, which is a dictatorship, if a person presents for a hip operation today, he or she will have it tomorrow. That happens in other countries which have much less than we have.
The Health Service Executive is top heavy. There has to be managers, and there are good people there, but it is overloaded with managers and there is not enough front-line staff. With the €700 million extra that is being given this year, will we see any improvement in the services for the sick people and those who need attention? I worry that we will not. It is more money but we will be standing still.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, was in here earlier but the agricultural sector is very disappointed, especially those in the suckler cow sector. They are very hurt that they did not get anything in line with what they looked for, or even near it. The story of the €40 per calf if a farmer is in the beef data and genomic scheme is of no benefit at all because people have lost confidence in that scheme. They see the quality of the beef sector reducing under the scheme and when the five years is up many will get out of the scheme. Those in the suckler cow sector are in a dire situation. Farmers are not getting anything like what they should have got at the marts around the county. Prices are way down. The farmers who used to buy that kind of weanling on the eastern side of the country do not have the feed to buy them this winter.
When there is less competition at the mart, the price will not be long falling. To give one example, there was a man who used to take 720 heifers from one mart in Castleisland and when the mart telephoned him to ask why he was not coming to it he told them he was selling his bales for €50 a bale and was buying no heifers this year. That is what those in the suckler cow sector are up against. There is something every year. They are all reducing the size of their herds now. That will mean that in a very short time our beef industry will be in trouble because if farmers do not have the calves, they will not have the weanlings or the two year olds, the beef to sell to the factories.
I was listening to Deputy Deering, a Fine Gael Deputy. He said there was unfairness in the market and we all know there is. The beef processors and the factories are not being fair to farmers. If he knows that and he is supporting the Government, I ask the Government to follow up on this to see if anything can be done about that unfairness in the market. We all know there is unfairness and that something needs to be done.
The other thing that hurt me very much last night was the "Prime Time" programme. The budget was being discussed on the programme. It was like the word "agriculture" was taboo. It was never once mentioned in the programme and I watched most of it. I will excuse myself if I missed it because I could not watch all of it. All the time I was watching, however, agriculture was not mentioned at all. Can that be imagined? Agriculture was not mentioned at all on in the "Prime Time" programme on the national broadcaster in our country on the night of the budget. That signals to me and to people in rural Ireland that those people do not matter. What matters is what affects Dublin and the urban areas around the city. That is what is talked about and there is no interest in what is happening down the country. I can tell the national broadcaster, however, that when the farming community is struggling it follows on that the rest of the country will struggle after that. Farmers are the backbone of the country and always have been. They are not prospering and they are not being looked after and helped by Governments. I will not just blame this Government. Farmers need help just as much as anybody else.
On housing, there is much talk about landlords. They are being criticised all of the time. From my knowledge of landlords, 99% of them are fine. I heard the previous speaker talking about rents of €1,400 a month. That is happening in places - it is reaching that in Killarney - but more than half of that €1,400 is going from these landlords to the State. That has to be remembered. I asked here several times if some incentive could be given to landlords or some help could be given to reduce the tax taken from them. Give them some incentive to see if the rents can be kept down. The landlords have costs as well. I am not saying that €1,400 is a reasonable sum. It certainly is not but neither is €700 for people on social welfare. At the same time, the landlords provide the house, they have borrowings and they have to pay many different things. Out of whatever they get, most of those people are paying 50% or 52% because if a landlord has a couple of houses he or she is over the limit that brings him or her into the higher tax bracket. That has to be remembered by anyone talking about housing and landlords. Much of the cost of rent is going back to the State. I sincerely hope the State can do something. I have been asking the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to see if something could be done about this to bring down the cost of rents.
I mentioned the tenant purchase scheme. It is being reviewed for a long time. When will the review be complete? It is very unfair because there was no tenant purchase scheme for a number of years. Then a certain number of tenants reached pension age. A pensioner now, however, cannot buy out his or her house even though he or she might have the savings to buy it and might have been paying rent for 30 or 40 years. It is very unfair that these people cannot buy out their homes. I welcome the €5 for pensioners and social welfare recipients. It is not much but it is still to be appreciated. The extra funding for the back-to-school clothing and footwear scheme, special needs teachers and the capitation grant of 5% is welcome because schools are struggling. I know this is not anywhere near enough but at least the Government is recognising there is a problem. We will keep pressure on the Government to ensure that funding is increased again next year.
I turn to the €466 million taken out of the tourism sector. People in Kerry are hurting seriously from this VAT increase of 4.5%. It was thought, at the worst, that it would go up by 1.5% over three years and there would be a chance to get ready for it. It is an awful slap in the face to them. Many of these small businesses are closed from now until St. Patrick's Day. It is very seasonal for them. It is different up here in Dublin. It will not hurt the hotel or hospitality industry up here at all. Many people are criticising, and critical of, the rainy day fund. Those people are saying they are being doubly hit. They are being hit with a lack of services, more tax and all of the different things that have happened to people because of the breakdown in the economy in 2008. The Central Bank looked for the Government to put this rainy day fund in place. The Government is paying money back to Europe for what happened in the last depression and also getting ready for the next one at the behest of the Central Bank and the other banks. Many people are very critical of this. The amount of money being put into the rainy day fund each year now would match what was taken out of the tourism sector in this budget.
I welcome the change where sole traders and the self-employed, if their business goes wallop or whatever, will be entitled to social welfare. I raised this in Kerry County Council for many years. We had a promise from Deputy Joan Burton that if she got into office, which she did in 2011, she would sort out that anomaly. She did not. I am very thankful it has been done now. I see the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, is claiming credit for it.
I will take that 100%.
I know he was self-employed himself and that he understood it. I had so many people come to me crying about it and they were proud people. They had paid thousands and thousands of euro in tax when their businesses were going good. When they went wallop, they did not have a penny and they could not get a penny. It was wrong and I am glad that has been addressed in this budget. I am thankful for that. While I have been critical of what happened in the tourism sector and I am disappointed with agriculture and the suckler cow situation, I am very glad of that aspect of the budget because it was very unfair. We have been told that the tourism VAT increase could jeopardise 5,000 jobs. In Kerry, there are 6,800 jobs in the hotel and hospitality sector.
If anything was to go wrong and jobs were lost, I do not know which companies could employ those people. Employment is hard to get in that area, and I feel let down by the lack of new employment coming into the county. If not for Fexco, Leibherr, Munster Joinery, Cronin Readymix and other private sector companies, one could put up a gate at the county boundary and at Rathmore because there is no new employment coming into the Kerry. I am very disappointed about that.
There has been much ado about the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme. The problem I have is that one can buy a second-hand house under that scheme but there is no fund for people who want to renovate a house. As a result, people wishing to fix up properties are stuck in limbo.
It is a great pleasure to contribute to the debate on the budget. I compliment the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, on the budget. It is very balanced and fair and is targeted at the people who need most help and also at the areas of housing and health, both of which will receive substantial funding.
I am glad to welcome my colleagues, the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Moran, and the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Doyle. I compliment the former on the job he has done in dealing with the very serious flooding experienced throughout the country in recent years. The Minister of State has done a tremendous job. I was glad to see his Department receive extra funding in the budget because we are already having problems with rainfall, particularly along the west coast. We have had some very bad weather already this year, including heavy rain. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, on the job he has done.
I also compliment Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Doyle. I listened to the previous speaker and while he was fair, he was also incorrect in his comments on health and agriculture. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, and the Minister of State did a tremendous job for the agricultural sector yesterday. That sector has endured a very difficult year. There has been wet weather, dry weather and a fodder crisis. The Minister and the Minister of State have done an excellent job in supporting and helping farmers as much as possible. I accept that the farming community was not 100% satisfied with yesterday's announcements, but it was certainly very pleased with the amount of funding that is being invested in farming. I compliment my colleagues on that.
I worked closely with the Minister for Finance. I was Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport when he was Minister there. I learned a great deal about him there. He has a good conscience. He understands what is going on in urban and rural Ireland. Yesterday, he announced a social welfare package worth €20.5 billion. The latter represents an increase of €361 million on the allocation for this year. I am glad to see the Christmas bonus being restored, a development Deputy Danny Healy-Rae welcomed. I was also glad to hear about the payments that people on social welfare received yesterday, because they have gone through a very difficult time. The Minister for Finance responded to the needs of these people yesterday.
Deputy Danny Healy-Rae referred to rural Ireland. He has given me an opportunity, as Minister for Rural and Community Development, to thank the Taoiseach for putting my Department in place when he took office. My Department has existed for one year. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae recognised some of the schemes that are in place now, and I want to talk to him about Kerry. I know he is from Kerry; I hear him talking about it every single day. I spent two weeks on holidays in Kerry this year. I did not recognise the Killarney to which the Deputy referred because I could not get into or out of the town any evening unless I arrived by 3 p.m. I had to wait until 10 p.m. otherwise because the place was so busy. I could not get a restaurant booking and I found it difficult to get a hotel. I love Kerry and I go there every year. I visited the Deputy's county three times this year. On each occasion, I found a different Killarney and a different Kerry to the ones about which he speaks. I want to put that on the record. I met business people from Kerry who told me how well they are doing, how good business is and that tourism is up by 8% this year. There are 230,000 people employed in tourism. Those business people were happy punters. They informed me that business is going well and asked me to ensure that American, British and other tourists keep coming to the country. Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland are doing a good job for tourism.
It is a different story in Cahersiveen and Waterville.
I did not interrupt the Deputy. He also mentioned my Department and welcomed some of the schemes we have put in place. He has given me an opportunity to put information relating to those schemes on record. Many people complain about the LEADER programme, but 1,300 projects have already been approved under it, to the value of €43.4 million, including a further €5.6 million in approvals being processed at the moment. The town and village renewal scheme is tremendous and has given many towns in Kerry and elsewhere a lift. We have approved funding of €53 million for 675 projects since 2016 under that scheme.
The Deputy knows the importance of the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme. Walk schemes are in operation throughout the country. I know there is a bit of difficulty with the scheme in Kerry, but it will be resolved because there are plenty of business people there who know what the walks and the greenway mean to Kerry and the rest of the country. We have invested €23 million in 500 projects since 2016.
I know the Deputy likes the CLÁR programme because he has contacted me many times about issues relating to Kerry. We dealt with all of those issues, including those relating to schools, rapid response, ambulances and tidy towns. The CLÁR programme has been funded to the tune of €25 million to date and has activated 1,200 projects since 2016.
The Deputy's favourite scheme is the local improvement scheme. This Government brought that scheme back. To date, €28.2 million has been invested in it. I am looking at what I can do with that money before the end of the year. Some 1,100 roads have been tarred or upgraded thanks to that scheme.
The social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, was launched again a few weeks ago. It will invest €190 million between 2018 and 2022. That programme targets disadvantaged areas and disadvantage itself on a one-to-one basis. Many people who were in SICAP are now working and some are even employing others. The scheme is targeted at areas that need it.
The community enhancement programme has benefited many towns, villages and communities. In 2018 alone, €12.5 million has been allocated to that scheme. The community services programme has invested €44 million this year. It helps 400 organisations in this country. It is a great scheme.
I was delighted to provide funding for the senior alert scheme. In 2018 alone, €10.5 million has been invested in the scheme. Some 13,000 people have personal alarms now and can feel safe in their homes. They have pendants and if they want to call An Garda Síochána, a neighbour or anyone else, they can do so. I put that scheme in place and made sure, along with Pobal, that it was well advertised. There are 13,000 people around the country who are availing of that scheme.
My Department has also taken a new library initiative which has provided €8 million for digital services and facilities this year. Every library around the country was grant aided. I have extra funding for libraries this year as well, because I believe they are very important.
My Department has also provided €1.4 million for the Tidy Towns initiative. Every Tidy Towns committee received funding because they are tremendous voluntary organisations which deserve to be supported.
Funding has also been provided for agriculture shows. I want to keep the shows alive. I want to keep rural Ireland alive and these shows illustrate what is good in rural Ireland. I was delighted to be able to provide €800,000 for shows in 2017 and €600,000 this year for that scheme.
The walk scheme is already funding 39 trails and continues this year. Some 1,900 people are participating in that walk scheme at a cost of almost €2 million. I have got an extra €2 million this year so we will be able to double that scheme. Men's Sheds is a great organisation that I wanted to support. I am delighted to be able to give it €500,000. It works with and supports the community and is certainly worthy of support.
My own budget this year will have a €62 million increase. That is a 27.5% increase. We are going to spend €55 million on the town and village renewal scheme and €1 billion on the rural regeneration scheme. We already have more than 250 applications for it. That scheme is closed now. We intend to have allocations between November and December. That scheme will help regenerate rural Ireland.
I listen to people talking about this Government's commitment to rural Ireland on a daily basis. This Government is committed to rural Ireland. It is putting its money where its mouth is and people are responding all over the country. They tell me they want more funding for the town and village renewal scheme and all the others, but they are very happy with the funding rural Ireland is receiving.
How much time do I have?
The Minister should keep going. He is flying.
I want to allow my colleagues to speak.
Just to clarify, there are ten minutes left and three colleagues yet to speak.
I beg the House's pardon. I want my colleagues to get their time.
The next on the list is Deputy Andrew Doyle. There are only ten minutes for the three remaining speakers.
I will be as quick as I can. I am very pleased to be able to speak on the budget, and I commend the Minister for Finance on bringing forward a responsible, prudent and balanced budget. Budget 2019 protects the agrifood and fisheries sector in the face of the Brexit challenge and supports those in the most disadvantaged areas. It seeks to build resilience. Deputy Healy-Rae was right in saying that agriculture is one of our biggest and most important indigenous industries. Indeed while jobs were being lost and every other area was showing a downturn, the agrifood sector has consistently shown growth in the last several years, notwithstanding the fact that the last 12 months have been very challenging.
The Government and the Department, apart from the measures outlined in yesterday's budget, have responded to the various different crises through transport for fodder, extra fodder cash crops and the like. The Department responded to what was asked of it by the farm organisations. In particular I welcome the €23 million increase to the allocation for the areas of natural constraints scheme, ANC. That brings the total 2019 allocation to €250 million and restores ANC payments to their level prior to the economic downturn. My colleague has outlined the main details of the other schemes. I will concentrate in my few minutes on the areas of my responsibility, namely forestry, horticulture, organics and the greyhound sector.
Forestry is a viable land use option that can provide an alternative income stream for farmers complementing the overall farm enterprise. I welcome the continuation of support for the development of forestry with the allocation of €103 million for 2019. This level of investment by the Government recognises the ongoing contribution of the forestry sector and its importance both to the rural economy and to achieving climate change mitigation targets. This year has seen a reorientation in forestry policy following the mid-term review completed earlier in the year, with a higher grant available for broad-leaf plantings. We have seen significant growth in the percentage of broad-leaf trees being planted. In addition to that, we are funding other forestry initiatives, including NeighbourWood schemes and the recently launched woodland environment fund.
Ireland's horticulture sector is one of the sectors most challenged by Brexit, though it faces several other challenges. However, it still has significant potential for development. Funding for capital investments in the commercial horticulture sector has been increased by an additional €1 million, or 20%, to €6 million for 2019. This comes in response to strong demand for investment within the sector and the emerging challenges posed by Brexit. Budget 2019 puts the resources in place to maximise the industry's competitiveness and give growers the potential to capitalise on the opportunities that lie ahead.
With regard to organics, the Irish organic market is now valued at more than €200 million. Funding in the organic sector has been increased to €11 million with a further €1.2 million for the sector's development. This €12.2 million is evidence of the Government's commitment to this important sector, and we await a high level group's completion of a strategy for the period up to 2025.
Finally, I am delighted to announce the increase by €800,000 in the allocation to the greyhound industry, bringing the total to €16.8 million. The Irish Greyhound Board earlier launched a strategic plan for 2018 to 2022, and I will shortly be introducing the greyhound regulation Bill to the Seanad. This will be published in the coming days and will provide a sound framework for improved governance and regulation in the greyhound industry.
The next speaker is Deputy Canney. There are only five minutes left.
I will be as quick as I can. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving us time. I will shorten my comments by saying that I welcome the budget. The housing crisis has affected many families throughout the country and certain areas within the health system have also created a crisis. I welcome the home care and home help packages in the budget, which are very important.
Farm incomes are the mainstay of the rural economy. Through meeting many farmers on an individual basis over the years, I am acutely aware of the declining farming income. I welcome some of the targeted measures in the budget. Some €57 million of current expenditure has been allocated to a small number of targeted measures. Further funding has been allocated to Brexit protection, to create new markets and retain competitiveness. The restoration of the ANC is vital to farmers in Galway East. The most innovative measure is the new scheme for the weighing of calves. This will not only improve accuracy in beef quality control, it will also give some additional income to our farmers.
Given the long commutes of people in rural areas and the fact that it is costly to transport things around rural Ireland, I am delighted that there is no increase in the carbon tax. This is very important. I also welcome the €2 million for the community involvement schemes. In particular, Deputy Ring mentioned that rural and county roads are getting badly needed funding. I am delighted to see that the community involvement schemes are also mentioned, as well as the road drainage scheme. The rural regeneration and development fund of €53 million will give rural towns and villages the opportunity to become vibrant, living communities. I look forward to the announcement of funding.
The self-employed have done so much for our economy. I welcome the overdue decision to make them eligible for jobseeker’s benefit, along with increasing the earned income tax credit by €200. Workers will also benefit from the universal service charge and the increase in the starting rate for the upper tax band.
In summary, most of these measures are contained within the programme for Government. The challenge for me has been to ensure that we continue to deliver that programme.
I will finish by saying that rural Ireland is waiting patiently for the delivery of a proper national broadband service. I look forward to the completion of that tender process at the earliest possible date. High-speed broadband has become an essential requirement in our daily lives. Not having this service creates a disadvantage for business, education and farming. This is another programme for Government commitment which I want to see delivered in the shortest possible time.
I thank my colleagues for allowing this to happen. This side of the House unfortunately does not get very many opportunities to speak, sadly so. If I were to describe this budget, I would describe it as progressive, prudent and socially aware. That was something we could not do for the last ten years. The people of the country expected this progress to take place. They expected the social awareness programme to emerge and they were not disappointed.
It will be good for the country, the people and the economy. Let us not forget there are challenges still ahead of us. The housing issue remains very serious. The Government and the Minister have put huge efforts into addressing this problem. It has not gone away. It requires a concentrated effort from here on and the expenditure provided for in the budget will obviously be of considerable assistance.
I was on the special housing committee that sat two years ago. I still believe that as long as there is a multiplicity of housing agencies throughout the country doing the same thing, tripping over each other and all involved in administration we will never solve the housing problem. I pointed out when I was on the committee that we needed to go back to putting the emphasis on the local authorities to build local authority houses. The phrase "social housing" should disappear from our vocabulary altogether. The resources are in the budget to do this. If we can do this and concentrate on this issue from here on in we will deal with the housing problem. It is pitiful to have to talk to, look at and interact with the people who are about to become homeless or have been homeless for the past number of years and in some cases for up to four or five years. We have to address this issue as a matter of extreme urgency.
I want to make references to the health service where huge efforts have been made. It is a very difficult and challenging area. The Minister has made massive efforts in dealing with it. In recent days, somebody mentioned that the health service does not seem to be able to work within budget. I wonder when was the last time the health service worked within budget. To the best of my knowledge it is at least as long ago as 2002 and the problem existed before that.
The budget is timely. It is built on the back of the efforts and sacrifices made by the people. Otherwise it would not have been possible to produce this particular budget now. It will do well for the country and the people will respond to it in like fashion, and will continue with the important job of rebuilding our society.
No one can say that Fianna Fáil has not provided stability during an immensely difficult period. Outside the bubble of this House, the daily grind of getting things done is what matters to the people we all represent. There is an obsession with spin across the floor of the House, and we have not been short of PR events and policies announced, launched and re-announced with no follow through. The launch of Ireland 2040 took place in Sligo to deflect from the lack of investment for the region in its original draft. Fianna Fáil is focused on delivery and not on spin, focused not on photo opportunities but on progress in crucial policy areas on behalf of the Irish people, despite constant provocation from most quarters. We are not in government. We are the main Opposition party and we want to get on with that job.
This is a Fine Gael and Independent Alliance budget but it is a further progressive budget after five years of regressive measures by the previous Government. We have used our position to reduce right-wing tendencies and halt indifference to the housing crisis. We have reset the direction of our Republic into one where opportunities are available for the many and not just the select few. Sinn Féin has overseen a world record breaking period of no government in Northern Ireland, issued a pre-budget document with a €700 million black hole in it and took a ten week holiday when the Government formation talks took place in 2016.
Somebody had to take up the cudgel, in all fairness. It and other parties have no credibility in taking decisions, as they dived for cover in 2016. At that time, either we formed a Government, as happened, or we went back to the country. If we had gone back to the country it would have been the very same thing all over again. At the end of the day, parties would have had to get together to try to form a Government to represent and deal with the issues affecting all of the people. In agreeing this budget we have provided economic stability for 2019 when we will all face the consequences of the UK exiting the EU. We are all hopeful of a Brexit deal and it is in the interest of the island of Ireland that we get one.
We have secured an increase in the social housing budget and a €310 million package for an affordable housing scheme over the next three years. This will be aimed at families and individuals who are above the social housing thresholds but cannot afford to own their own home in their local area. Not a single affordable home has been built since 2011, when the scheme was abolished by the previous Government. We all know from our daily work as politicians the number of people outside the income limit who cannot get on a housing list. They cannot get local authority support. They cannot get loans because their incomes are too low. They are caught in a bubble. These are the people we have to help.
There is sufficient State-owned land to build more than 42,000 units. The new scheme will aim to build 2,500 affordable units per annum, with construction starting in 2019. Households on between €30,000 and €75,000 per annum will be eligible. Based on the Rebuilding Ireland home loan criteria, this will cover single income earners above €30,000 but below €50,000 and joint income earners above €30,000 but below €75,000. These households are above the social housing thresholds but cannot reasonably afford to buy a new home. We propose using the Central Bank limit of 3.5 times income as the definition of affordability. Given that the average household income in the State is €57,000, according to the CSO, this means a home of €200,000 is the limit of affordability for most of these people. It takes 59 weeks for a project to go from planning to completion. If the financing is put in place and spending is started in 2019 the 2,500 new units should be place by 2020 and every year after that.
Fianna Fáil has focused on reducing the USC for low and middle income earners. The 4.75% rate has been cut to 4.5% as a result of negotiations. There is also a change to the tax entry point and the minimum wage is due to be increased in January 2019. We have increased social welfare payments by €5. This a total increase of €15 under the confidence and supply arrangement to pension payments, carers allowance and unemployment assistance. There are also USC cuts for low and middle income earners. We have ultimately taken the more difficult path of responsible politics and worked to give effect to our manifesto while keeping faith with our pre-election promises.
Fine Gael, which has been in government since 2011, has stood idly by while rural Ireland, agriculture and farming are going through a very bad patch. The beef genomics scheme, which was referred to earlier, is destroying the beef herd. It is not working. Farmers in the scheme get paid €80 a calf or cow but farmers outside the scheme are gaining another €200 or €300 per calf because they are not in the scheme. There is something wrong when this is happening. It should not be happening. Half of the farmers will not benefit from the money announced yesterday for the suckler scheme because they are not in the scheme. It is a pity this is happening. It needs to be addressed because there is no doubt it is not working.
The agrifood sector is facing a major challenge with the onset of Brexit. Most of our food produce is exported to the UK and this is under serious threat, particularly if a hard Brexit takes place and we see a return to tariffs and trade barriers. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine underspend in capital expenditure is inexcusable given that agriculture is likely to be hardest hit by the UK leaving the EU. There is a complete lack of understanding locally and nationally about how difficult it is to have a small family farm in the west of Ireland. It will be extremely difficult for these people to survive without support and help.
There is no doubt the health service is at breaking point. There are people on trolleys in hospitals where there are closed wards. These wards should be opened and funding should be in place to employ the nurses to deal with these patients, particularly during the winter months. Hospitals are struggling at present, when the weather is quite good.
When we get to winter, people, and elderly people in particular, get the flu and have to go to hospital. We saw what happened last winter when hospitals were bursting at the seams and were unable to cater for the people they had to deal with.
I had a phone call today from a man who applied for a medical card and, as politicians, we all know what it is like dealing with medical card applications. The information sent in might not be right and people get a text or letter six or eight weeks afterwards indicating more information is needed. If the additional information is sent, it can take two weeks before it is looked at, before a request for further information or the application being shut down completely and the entire application is disregarded. That is wrong. I spoke to a man today who sent all the required information and the application had been closed off for three or four months. When the application was made again, we thought everything was in place but he got a text today indicating his house must be valued. What does that have to do with a medical card application when the man is nearly 70 and he should be entitled to the medical card because of his income? I do not understand it and something should be done.
A number of years ago, anyone suffering from cancer would automatically get a medical card. That was in the days of the old health boards, but something has changed in the recent period, unfortunately, and people with cancer do not now automatically get a medical card, although they should. There is enough of a strain and stress on families, including husbands, wives and children, and people need support in such times. It is tough on any family to get such a diagnosis and all people want is a medical card to get them over the hump of the bad times, perhaps for 12 months. It would give them a little confidence and financial support in order that they can recover quickly and without the stress or worry of not knowing what costs are ahead of them in trying to get sorted.
Some time ago I called on the Government to support the provision of disabled persons' parking cards to people with dementia and those suffering from Alzheimer's disease. These people must attend hospital regularly, and the people accompanying these patients must get close to hospital entrances in cars. It is not like a husband or wife can drop his or her partner at the door of a hospital if he or she has dementia before parking the car somewhere else. These patients must be accompanied at all times or else they can wander off. I know it has happened in two cases in Sligo. Such a provision should be considered as it would provide a little support for these people with no big cost involved. It would recognise the difficulties that people go through.
Three years ago we did an unusual deal with Fine Gael in the form of a confidence and supply agreement. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Scanlon and I know, it was not simple and the process has undoubtedly had its shortcomings. At the time, only one other possibility faced the country as everyone else ran away, and that was a second election that could have cost €40 million. A second election at the time would not have sorted our difficulties and there would have been much instability, with the possibility of a third election. Despite the difficulties arising from the deal and despite the Government failing on a number of matters, the stability brought by the deal was still important for the country. It was a unique arrangement but it had to be done at the time.
There are many shortcomings in this budget, and many issues I would like to have seen addressed are missing. The €2.3 billion allocated for housing will not solve the problem but we have made a major contribution to a solution. Affordable housing will not come on stream for a while but such housing will come. I acknowledge that the Government's policy on housing has been all over the place and not delivered. The issues of people paying high rent, homelessness and the associated stories are upsetting and heartbreaking. I am sure everyone in the House, irrespective of views and beliefs, wants the matter sorted.
There is to be an additional €30 million for homelessness services and €60 million in capital funding for emergency accommodation. That €90 million is a lot of money. It would have been better if we could have put it into long-term accommodation but the money is required now to ensure as few people as possible are left on the streets. The serviced site fund of €310 million, with co-financing from local authorities in supporting more affordable housing over three years, will be a help. I acknowledge the problem will not be solved overnight as there are many matters to be addressed in the housing sector. We must go back to local authorities being allowed to build, and I hope this is the first step in that direction.
There is a €17 billion budget for health, and despite the size of the allocation, we have the worst waiting lists ever. There are some terrible conditions in hospitals. In my constituency, the staff and patients of Portiuncula Hospital have been waiting for the 50 bed unit to get the go-ahead. It is shovel ready while there are desperate conditions at the hospital, which I have visited. The management, staff and patients will say that the accident and emergency department of the hospital is unfit for purpose. We must remember that everything is ready to go for that unit but the Government has not given the go-ahead. The hospital is vital to health services in Roscommon and Galway. We should remember that when the plug was pulled on the accident and emergency department at Roscommon University Hospital, commitments were given at the time that the next hospital in line, Portiuncula hospital, would get the money for extra facilities and upgrades to the accident and emergency department there. That has not happened but it must happen now as a matter of urgency.
I welcome the extra allocation of €20 million for the National Treatment Purchase Fund. I accept that this will not solve all our difficulties or problems but I hope it will in some manner reduce the waiting lists. We can consider the inpatient and outpatient figures at University College Hospital Galway, with 50,000 people waiting on procedures. How in God's name will that be reduced sufficiently? I do not know. I admit there are many shortcomings in the health service.
I welcome that self-employed people will now be able to qualify for social welfare if required. Probably all the Deputies in the House have seen cases, especially with people in small or family businesses, where there may have been an illness or accident but the affected person could not get any form of support or relief. The measure being put in place now must be welcomed, and it is only right that it is to come about.
I will speak briefly about our roads and the absolutely ineffective stewardship by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. He has not given county councils sufficient money to rebuild many damaged roads.
An enormous amount of damage was done in one part of my constituency in south Roscommon due to the inclement weather last winter and part of this spring. This area needs €11 million to bring the roads up to a proper standard. This is one part of the county. Despite all the damage done and the amount of money the local authority had to spend because of that inclement weather, nothing has come from the Department. The engineer and local councillors came to me in recent weeks and met the Minister and one of his officials but nothing came out of it. Many of those roads are approaching collapse and are certainly not fit to use so that matter definitely needs to be addressed by an injection of funds.
Agriculture is important in my constituency. The attempt to do something for the suckler cow sector has been very poor. Many of these farmers are struggling and cannot make money. Many of them are going to leave that sector, which is vital for the west, midlands and north west. The dairy sector is very important for the south and south east but the suckler cow sector is of immense importance in my part of the country. There are so many jobs in co-operatives, marts, agricultural stores and agri-machinery. There are hundreds upon hundreds of jobs that are connected to agriculture throughout the country and are vital so we must address the suckler cow scheme and fund it properly. While I welcome the commencement of some moneys in that regard, it is way short of what is needed to ensure this sector does not collapse.
I will address my area of responsibility, namely, flood relief works. We are being told there is an increased budget for that sector this year. I have not broken it down yet but, again, the slowness in getting any of those schemes, which are so badly needed to protect towns, villages and communities from destruction, up and running is very concerning. More storms are coming this weekend. Certainly the west and north west will be hit. Again, we go back to climate change and the necessity of addressing this issue and protecting people from some very violent storms and different types of weather patterns that we have previously experienced. The Government stands accused of not treating this matter seriously. We still have problems going back over recent years where damage was done. No proper drainage was carried out this year, which saw the driest summer in 15 years. No maintenance was carried out. The work on the Shannon and other areas was poor. Why is work not being done? It is essential that it is done. The Government needs to address this matter urgently.
There are four speakers so I will be sharing time. We will be taking five minutes each.
We are under strict orders to take just five minutes. This is the third budget from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael under the so-called confidence and supply agreement. It is the third time we have had endless hours of debate on the budget where Fianna Fáil Deputies rolled in one after the other to tell us what was wrong with the budget and blamed the Government for what was not in it but then with a brass neck tried to claim credit for what they saw as the good parts of it. Deputies from Fianna Fáil talked about the need for investment in roads, broadband, health, housing and medical cards and a long list of demands they made with no sense of irony because they keep the Ministers across the way in their positions and jobs.
Deputy Eugene Murphy spoke about shortcomings in the budget. He singled out housing and said that his party made a major contribution. He is right about that because this was a landlords' bonanza. What this budget delivered was almost €44 million of tax breaks for landlords and hundreds of millions of euro extra for schemes like HAP and RAS that will put more money in the pockets of landlords. There will be €14 million in additional funding for affordable housing for all of the families in the Deputy's constituency and the constituencies of all the Deputies in this House who need affordable housing. The Deputy then said that we do not know when the affordable homes will come on stream. We do not know: that is the reality so the policy is we do not know when and how but we have made some announcement in the budget and trust that the Government will deliver. The Government has not delivered. It has not delivered any social or affordable housing of any substance over the past three years. There was a huge amount of hype over the past number of months that I believe was deeply cynical and unfair on all those people who are victims of the housing crisis - all of those children who are sleeping in emergency accommodation. We heard many of their stories very publicly. It affects all of those families who are in need of social and affordable housing and all those families in this city and across the State who are faced with very high rents. What was the policy solution of this Government? It was "let's throw more money at landlords because they need it." There is not one single measure to reduce rents or deal with the rental crisis in this budget yet the hype leading up to the budget was that this was going to be a housing budget. It is not a housing budget; it is a landlords' budget that has Fianna Fáil's fingerprints all over it.
We then come to health, which is one of the biggest issues facing people in this State. Over 1 million people, one in five people, are waiting to see a hospital consultant yet the Government has still not invested enough money in healthcare. We told the Minister last year that he had not put enough money into the health service even to stand still and that there would be a big black hole at the end of the year. What happened? There was a big black hole of €700 million. Rather than investing in healthcare properly, which is what the Government should have done, and underpinning our healthcare system on solid foundations, the Minister threw the €1 billion that came from extra corporation tax, which is not stable and may not be there year on year, at the health service to try to re-jig the books and caught all of the Opposition off side. That is not the way we invest in healthcare.
Every year, it becomes even more difficult to come into this House and listen to Deputies and Ministers from Fine Gael, who I said last week represent a privileged class and have given up on 50% of the population. They represent the landlords and the wealthy. As a Deputy, I have received three pay increases from this Government and three tax cuts and I do not need them but there are many families who do need support and were not given it by this Government. It represents the top 10% of income earners. It has given up on almost 50% of the population, which needs support. Shame on Fianna Fáil Deputies who speak out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they come with a long list of grievances about all the stuff that is not in the budget and on the other, in the words of Deputy Eugene Murphy, say it is "a major contribution to the health crisis." The Deputy should be ashamed of himself for saying that this budget was a major contribution to addressing the social and affordable housing needs of so many of our citizens because it is not. Once again, the Government has delivered for the people it represents, namely, landlords, speculators and developers.
For the record, I did not say that.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the budget. I will focus on education as I am education spokesperson for my party. On paper, what has been announced sounds fantastic - €1.8 billion in supports, particularly for children with additional needs. It sounds like a great headline but, unfortunately, that is all it is. It is a headline because much of this is not new money and is not for new projects. It is for things we are awaiting from previous budgets. There is a proposal for ten additional NEPS psychologists. Anyone who has ever had to deal with psychologists in the education sector knows exactly how in demand they are.
Most schools must limit their assessments to two each year. That is how scarce the resources are. Sinn Féin's alternative budget called for 20 additional NEPS psychologists, which itself is a drop in the ocean. There is so much demand for children with even slight learning difficulties to be diagnosed to get the help that they need in school. Of the €1.8 billion headline, only €21 million is for new measures for children with additional needs. It is very disingenuous to announce things like that. Many might say that is just the political system but it should not be and we in here should not stand for it.
There is nothing for third level students in the budget. There is nothing to deal with fees or the cost of living, including the enormous rents. It has reached the stage where many students have had to drop out or commute crazy distances, which obviously has an impact on their ability to learn. The proposals in the Sinn Féin budget, namely, to reduce the student contribution charge by €500 this year and €500 every year thereafter, would have been of great benefit to students. It would also be a great help to their parents, many of whom struggle to put their kids through college, often taking out credit union loans and so on to keep them there. It can reach the stage where they cannot keep that up, particularly when there are two or three children in college at the same time. It is not fair and it should not be the case that a person's education is based on how much money is in his or her pocket. Sinn Féin also suggested that the distance requirement in the SUSI grants be reduced. Anyone from a rural area will know that one must be 45 km away to qualify for the full level maintenance grant. We suggested that this be reduced to 24 km, which is much fairer.
I welcome the increase in capitation. I hope it will be of some benefit to students when it comes to the voluntary contribution issue that we deal with every single year. I also welcome the back to school clothing and footwear increase. I must point out, however, that it is only €25 whereas Sinn Féin had suggested it be increased by €50.
What really struck me about yesterday's budget is that it gives no hope whatever to anyone who is struggling. It was clear from the number of messages I have received from people about housing. There is nothing for anyone trying to get a mortgage. There are so many different issues in housing. There are people waiting years on a housing list, or who are in emergency accommodation, or who are trying to get a mortgage, or who stay in overcrowded family situations for years, which puts serious pressure on their families and their own mental health. Today is World Mental Health Day and everyone is talking about how it is okay not to be okay, but for anyone in a very difficult housing situation, it is something that has an impact on their mental health. We need to see genuine measures. The Minister is in cloud cuckoo land on housing. He cannot be living in the real world. It is impossible because from the measures he has proposed, he certainly is not dealing with the cases that all the rest of us are dealing with. There is nothing for renters or anyone looking to put a deposit together to buy a home.
I am conscious of time and will conclude by mentioning childcare. I welcome increased investment in the area but there is nothing for workers in the early years and childcare sector, which is a predominantly woman-led workforce. It is precarious work in which workers often must sign on for social welfare during the summer. There is no job security and the wages are abysmal. In Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission, and I wish the Government had taken on this measure at least, we suggested that there be a wage scale which would begin at the living wage of €11.70 per hour for those workers. There is no point in Deputies here attending briefings by different groups in the audiovisual room and expressing their sympathies when they then come into the Chamber and vote in favour of measures that go against what all those groups are asking for.
As Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on business, enterprise and innovation, I will focus most of my contribution on this area.
I was very disappointed and underwhelmed by the budget proposals for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation that were announced yesterday, with many old projects just being relaunched. The few new proposals that were announced are unimaginative and disappointing for businesses. I do not believe the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has taken account of the level of assistance businesses may require from our State agencies next year due to Brexit.
Sinn Féin was able to cost our budget without the €1 billion extra in funding that was kept quiet until two days before the budget, and we were still able to provide far more funding for the key offices and agencies under the remit of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. For example, we provided €27 million extra in funding for Enterprise Ireland to help Irish small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, and exporters in the year of Brexit, but the Government allocated only €3 million for this key jobs agency. This agency’s services will be in high demand next year due to Brexit, and the Minister has completely underestimated the State support that will be required for businesses during the Brexit transition. In addition, we allocated €2 million extra for InterTradelreland to help cross-Border traders, 50% more than was announced yesterday.
As would be expected with Fine Gael, white-collar crime got allocated just one sentence in the 241 page budget document. Despite the investigation and prosecution of white-collar crime in Ireland being practically non-existent, just €1 million extra was allocated for the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. That is completely inadequate and will do little to deter white-collar criminals.
I am puzzled by the new €300 million future growth loan scheme that was announced. The current €300 million Brexit loan scheme that was launched in the previous budget has been a complete flop. Just ten SMEs have accessed funding through the Brexit loan scheme to date, accessing funding of just €2.49 million, less than 1% of the total €300 million pot. Why announce a brand new scheme when the current one is not functioning and businesses clearly cannot access it? Will the Minister address the shortcomings in the current scheme, or does she just hope this new rebranded and renamed one will take the bad look off the other one?
The Government’s failure to introduce radical new housing measures will also continue to severely affect businesses. IBEC has stated that, “Ireland’s housing market is clearly not functioning at present,” and that: “Ireland’s housing problems have now clearly moved beyond being the social issue of our time and have also become a major risk to our future economic prosperity.”
The level of investment in apprenticeships was also completely inadequate. Just 1,200 extra apprenticeships were promised for 2019. This is dwarfed in comparison with Sinn Féin’s proposal of 4,411 extra places and ten new courses for 2019. It is clear Fine Gael has not grasped the serious skills shortage that is developing in our economy nor has it factored in the number of workers who will be needed to deliver our capital commitments. We need a radical investment in this method of training and education, as much to give young people choice in third level as to provide workers for growing and emerging sectors in our economy.
Documents obtained by my colleague, Deputy Jonathan O’Brien, through freedom of information revealed that the €500 million rainy day fund is designed to protect banks, not the economy. The briefing notes make clear that the rainy day fund will not be used in response to Brexit, nor can it be used for general spending in health, education or public services, but it could be used to bail out banks or financial institutions. Hiding away €500 million of taxpayers’ money for banks is shameful and it is already raining for many of my constituents when they must try to access housing services or the health service.
It was disappointing to see the lack of ambition or imagination that went into proposals for the business, enterprise and innovation portfolio. In contrast, Sinn Féin proposed a new scheme that would help rural public houses, provide funding to develop and grow our co-operative sector to reduce our reliance on the multinational sector, and mean joining CERN, the international scientific and research organisation. We also allocated €250,000 to a fund for a report to examine the economic benefits and challenges a united Ireland would bring. With a Border poll now firmly on the agenda, we need detailed research for this debate. Unfortunately, the Minister has no interest in this and has refused twice to commission such a report. Unfortunately, no such new ideas were announced by the Government yesterday, with many old announcements repackaged, rehashed and rolled out again.
As Sinn Féin's spokesperson on disability rights, I am thinking primarily of all those persons with disabilities and their families at home tonight, perhaps watching proceedings, who feel very let down and abandoned by budget 2019 and by this Government. There is nothing in the Government's budgetary measures announced yesterday that suggests that the rights and hope contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified last March, will be delivered any time soon. The additional funding announced yesterday will not even allow the disability sector to stand still. An additional €150 million was the grand total of the Government's announcements. Almost €60 million is immediately consumed by the €5 weekly increase in disability payments.
I am sure most people with a disability would welcome any increase in their weekly subsistence payment but is far from enough. It has been well documented that persons with a disability incur a distinct additional cost to their daily living expenses as a result of living with a disability.
There will also be, I expect, a significant slice of this funding allocated to restore pay to section 39 organisations. I ask the Minister to address this issue and declare the cost of what I acknowledge is a deserved pay deal. I fully support and applaud these workers. They have fought long and hard to have their pay restored. These funds, however, should have come from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, not from disability funding.
Regarding the health measures announced, again we will be at best standing still. The announcement of 100 additional therapists to be allocated to the task of addressing the backlog of assessments of need is certainly welcome. The fact remains, however, that there are children, adults and older persons all over the country awaiting assessment for various needs related to their disabilities.
For the first time ever, a cross-party and independent Oireachtas group, supported by disability sector representatives, was formed this year to frame a budgetary submission to complement the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. The Cabinet and every sitting Member of the Oireachtas received the submission. Its contents were not reflected in budget 2019 yesterday. Sinn Féin gave serious address to the measures sought in our alternative and fully costed budget. It was a joined-up budgetary strategy targeting welfare supports, transport, housing, employment, education and health. This strategy requires a whole-of-Government approach. Following yesterday's budget, it also requires a sea-change in mindset. Despite all the grand speeches delivered in March last on the ratification of the UNCRPD, the Government still does not get it.
Last week, I met representatives from the Independent Living Movement Ireland. These disability advocates were not looking for medical solutions. They require a social and inclusive approach which will provide support for the physical acts that their disability will not allow them to carry out. Sinn Féin is committed to provide an additional €25 million for personal assistants, creating an additional 1 million hours of direct support. The Government committed to commission research into the cost of a disability. Persons with a disability do not need more research. Their advocacy groups have carried out all the research that is needed. What they require is an acceptance of their need and a willingness to act on it.
The optional protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has yet to be ratified by the Government. Following yesterday's budget, the reason is clear to all. Budget 2019 proves that there is no political will to act appropriately on and show good faith with the ratification of the convention. Persons with a disability and their families will not accept this failure. They will not accept being marginalised once again. I put it to the Government that it cannot change what it refuses to confront. The Government needs to confront the glass ceiling that still exists between legislators and policymakers and persons with disabilities. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Independent Alliance - I should not leave it out - need to smash that glass ceiling and give our citizens with disabilities their rightful independent place in Irish society.
The Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, is sharing with the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak tonight.
Both at home and abroad, members of the Defence Forces continue to serve the nation with pride and distinction. It is an organisation that Irish people hold dear. It is only fitting that budget 2019 reflects the Government's commitment to the Defence Forces.
The Defence Forces are unique. Whatever emergency may arise, the organisation stand ready. On all occasions, whether during the most recent storms, flooding, snow or the Pope's visit, members of the Irish Defence Forces have excelled. As Minister of State with responsibility for defence, I have seen that at first hand.
Next year, almost €1 billion will be provided to the Defence Forces organisation, representing an increase of €47.5 million or 5% on last year's budget. The budget also sees an additional €29 million set aside for capital expenditure. This significant contribution will allow us as a Government to invest heavily in equipment, military barracks and facilities in every military installation in the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps.
I am pleased to inform the House that, in 2019 alone, we will spend €109 million on armoured vehicles, aircraft and barracks. In additional, I have invested more than €11 million in the acquisition of other armoured vehicles to increase force protection for Defence Forces personnel serving overseas. Twenty-four armoured utility vehicles have been acquired from Centigon, a French company, and ten armoured logistical vehicles are on order for delivery by the end of 2018 from an Irish company, Westward Scania Ireland. Five of these armoured trucks have been delivered and the next five are due to be delivered in a number of weeks. The combination of all these efforts will enhance force protection for our personnel and will be a key enabler for overseas missions.
The level of capital funding in budget 2019 will allow the Defence Forces organisation to undertake a programme of sustained equipment replacement and infrastructural development across the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service as identified and prioritised in the White Paper on Defence 2015 and ensure the Defence Forces have the capabilities necessary to deliver on all the roles assigned by Government.
With regard to the modernisation and renewal of Defence Forces built infrastructure, the following projects are ongoing or will commence in 2019: ordnance storage facilities in the Defence Forces training centre, Curragh Camp, County Kildare; training facilities and gyms and gym equipment in Sarsfield Barracks, Limerick and Stephens Barracks, Kilkenny; accommodation facilities in the Defence Forces training centre, the Curragh Camp and Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin; an accommodation upgrade in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, County Dublin; catering facilities in Custume Barracks, Athlone; and the upgrade of fuel storage safety system in the naval base, Haulbowline. Many other projects will begin in 2019.
The 2019 allocation will allow Defence Forces personnel to continue to meet Government commitments on our overseas peace support missions. As of 1 October 2018, Ireland is contributing 616 personnel to many different missions throughout the world, including the deployment of Naval Service personnel engaged in the Naval Service EU naval mission, Operation Sophia, in the Mediterranean. Irish troops serving overseas represent our country with professionalism, dedication, distinction and courage and it is important for me, as the Minister of State with responsibility for the Defence Forces, to let them know that Ireland is proud of them and thank them for their service.
While I am proud of our investment in equipment, we will also continue to invest in our people, the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann. The 2019 gross pay allocation of €515.6 million provides for the pay and allowances of 9,500 members of the Permanent Defence Force, 550 civilian employees and 355 civil servants in the Department of Defence. Budget 2019 also provides for an extra €6 million to continue the increases in Defence Forces pay as provided for under the public service stability programme. This runs parallel with a range of other mechanisms under which pay is being addressed. The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 provides for increases in pay ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over the lifetime of the agreement. The first increase, due from 1 January 2018, has been paid to Permanent Defence Force, PDF, personnel and a second increase was applied from 1 October 2018. Further increases in pay are scheduled for 2019 and 2020.
New entrants to the Defence Forces will also benefit from the measures recently announced relating to amendments to the pay scales for new entrant public servants recruited since January 2011.
As I mentioned, an allocation of over €6 million has being provided in the 2019 Estimate to meet these increases.
I must also mention the ongoing work in the Public Service Pay Commission which, at my request, is prioritising matters such as recruitment and retention within the Defence Forces. This is following a joint submission from civil and military management. I look forward to the commission submitting its proposals, which will form the basis for moving forward. Budget 2019 demonstrates our ongoing commitment to veterans and their families. Some €10 million in increased funding is being provided for pensions.
I have made it very clear on many occasions that there are many challenges within the Defence Forces. I would be the first to acknowledge them. These are challenges that I, as Minister of State, am meeting head on. I am determined to fix the problems. Budget 2019 demonstrates our commitment as a Government to ensuring we continue to develop the Defence Forces investment in people and equipment. As Minister of State, I will continue to ensure we make progress on the issues affecting our serving personnel.
It would be very remiss of me tonight not to mention the many other positive measures in the budget. I refer to sports capital funding, town and village funding, social welfare increases and the housing allocation of €2.3 billion, the largest investment ever in housing. We all know the Government faces a huge challenge regarding housing. The Minister responsible, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will meet that challenge head on.
We must also consider the area of Brexit. Every decision made by this Government has taken account of Brexit. Reference must also be made to our investment in the health service.
There is a myth that rural Ireland is in decline. Just this week I was happy to announce, in conjunction with the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, funding for towns and villages in my constituency. Parishes and villages are receiving from €30,000 to €200,000: Barntown, Wexford, is receiving €100,000; Blackwater, €200,000; Clongeen, €100,000; Galbally, €100,000; Courtnacuddy; €32,000; Ferns, €99,000; Kilmore, €200,000; Murrintown, €74,000; and Saltmills, €85,000.
The Government must be going to the country.
Courtown and Riverchapel are receiving €197,000, Fethard, €82,000, and Askamore, €63,999. There are many other such areas right across the country.
When Opposition Members are talking about the decline of rural Ireland, I ask them to look deep into their hearts and recall whether previous Governments were able to announce such funding to small villages and parishes right around the country. The moneys I refer to are being allocated in parallel with the sports capital grants. I was delighted on Sunday morning to be in Blackwater where the Government invested well over €100,000 in the local GAA club for the good of the youth of the parish. There are many other examples right across the country.
Somebody referred to the flood relief schemes. This Government has delivered more money for flood relief than every other Government put together. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, on the job he is doing on flood relief. A huge amount of groundwork has to be done. In my town, Enniscorthy, well over €40 million has been provided for flood relief. We have been waiting on this not only for years but for generations. It is delightful to see that a scheme will start shortly.
There has been investment in agriculture. This is so important to our economy. Agriculture was important during the lean years of the recession. That has been acknowledged. There is also an investment in third level education. I am looking forward to seeing the technological university in the south east when the institutes of technology of Carlow and Waterford come together.
There are many other areas I would like to address but time is against me. I am passionate about the issues referred to. The Government has delivered in respect of them.
The Minister of State has covered a lot of ground.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis ráiteas a dhéanamh maidir le buiséad 2019. Táim buíoch don Aire Airgeadais, Deputy Donohoe.
As Minister of State responsible for natural resources and inland fisheries in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, I wish to put on record the increases in public services funding outlined in budget 2019. I firmly believe the sustainable management of our natural resources is of vital national importance. To this end, I am pleased to have secured funding of €26.2 million for natural resources in budget 2019. This funding will allow my Department to do the following: develop the Tellus geo-environmental mapping project, including a new collaboration between Geological Survey Ireland and Teagasc, producing advisory maps for the farming sector, and to progress Ireland's marine mapping programme, INFOMAR; deliver new groundwater flood mapping for the next phase of the OPW flood programme, based on Geological Survey of Ireland's work related to turloughs in Roscommon, Galway and Longford; develop a range of initiatives at Geological Survey Ireland, including the Geoscience Ireland business cluster; support new research collaborations that will leverage significant European funding for the areas of raw materials, geo-energy and groundwater, in addition to supporting new drinking-water initiatives with both the National Federation of Group Water Schemes and Irish Water; and continue ongoing rehabilitation works at the former mining areas of Avoca and Silvermines.
Ireland's inland fisheries represent a very important economic sector. Angling is estimated to contribute €836 million to the Irish economy every year and support over 11,000 Irish jobs, many in rural and peripheral areas. I am pleased to have secured funding of nearly €30 million for Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, and €2.8 million to support the Loughs Agency in delivering its mandate. This funding will underpin IFI's core work programme of protection, conservation, development and the promotion of Ireland's inland fisheries resource. It carries out inspections, rehabilitates rivers and streams and assesses 147 rivers, sections of rivers and estuaries as part of our internationally recognised annual salmon management programme. The funding will facilitate IFI's licensing of commercial and recreational salmon angers. It will allow for an upgrade of IFI's seagoing capacity and the delivery of rigid inflatable boats, which are high-spec and very much up to modern health and safety standards. One of those has been delivered. Two more are to be delivered this year. A programme of replacement is to be implemented. I will soon launch an eel hardship scheme for the period 2018 to 2020. That will be announced in the coming weeks.
I also work with the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, in his Department. The Department has seen increased funding for the Western Development Commission, the Dormant Accounts Fund and broadband development. With regard to the Western Development Commission, additional funding of €500,000 has been made available for 2019. This increases the total budget for 2019 to €2 million. This has been welcomed by the board and new CEO, Mr. Tomás Ó Síocháin. I congratulate him and acknowledge the work of the acting CEO, Mr. Ian Brannigan. Based in Ballaghadereen, they are very much focused on regional development. They very much wanted an increase in current funding to allow the commission to develop the western development fund and leverage that money to provide supports and loans to businesses. I certainly welcome the funding.
Another important initiative, the Atlantic economic corridor, aims to build an offering of scale along the west coast. The Western Development Commission will have a role in that. We all know we need to develop the west as a counterbalance to Dublin and Leinster.
The available funding for Dormant Accounts Fund measures will allow new measures to be supported. There is a €1 million allocation to support the enterprise hubs along the Atlantic economic corridor. There is an allocation of €1.2 million to support the development of volunteer centres in a number of places around the country where there are volunteer information centres. Eight counties will see an upgrade from volunteer information centres to volunteer centres. That will be welcomed.
There is to be additional funding for the senior alert scheme, amounting to €1.5 million.
With regard to rural broadband and mobile phone coverage, the role of the Department is to support the local authorities in preparing for the roll-out of the national broadband plan. We hope the contract will be signed this year by the Minister, Deputy Naughten. My Department provides €35,000 to each local authority to support a broadband officer, whose role is to facilitate the roll-out of telecommunications infrastructure. It has also been involved in providing updated maps on mobile phone coverage. I hope as part of the work programme for 2019 to consider what initiatives we can have to support the provision of mobile phone infrastructure.
The mobile telephone and broadband task force has produced its annual report. It is a wonderful initiative in terms of getting people together from the Departments involved, including my Department, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and ComReg. They are there to come up with solutions to the problems. They have roles within their Departments and that collaborative spirit has yielded results in improving the infrastructure we need for broadband and mobile telephony.
As other Members have said, Brexit is one of the great challenges this country faces. I am pleased that the budget acknowledges that and provides a package for Brexit proofing for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. There is an increased commitment to capital expenditure. Continued capital investment in infrastructure is one way to ensure that both the economy continues to grow and there is a balance in employment, particularly regional employment, so that is welcome. We have also seen the establishment of the rainy day fund. It is important that we are prudent and have a managed and balanced budget. That will be a benefit in view of the possible threats that will arise from Brexit. We have been very conscious of that, as is evident in the commitments in the budget and the statements from the relevant Ministers in that regard.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine stated earlier that he is conscious of the difficult years farmers had in 2017 and 2018. I welcome the additional €23 million for the areas of natural constraint scheme, formerly the disadvantaged areas scheme, to bring the payments back to pre-2008 levels before the recession took hold. The introduction of a new beef environmental efficiency pilot scheme is also welcome.
The national broadband plan is the Government's commitment to ensure that all houses that are not currently connected will be connected to high-speed broadband. The contract is expected to be signed this year and the Government has given a commitment to provide €75 million for 2019 to ensure the broadband plan will get started. I expect there will be additional funding in the revised budget later in the year. It is an important recognition of the commitment to the national broadband plan and to having those houses connected.
Overall, this is the first time in a decade that the budget is balanced. It is prudent and Brexit proofed. It is putting money back in people's pockets. We are giving recognition to people who are being taxed at the higher rate too soon. For the second budget in a row we have increased the threshold at which one hits the higher rate and over the two budgets it amounts to a €1,500 increase in the threshold. There have been further cuts to the universal social charge and an increase in social welfare rates as well as a return to the 100% Christmas bonus. This is a return to something people had got used to but which had been taken away from them in the lean years of the recession.
I welcome this budget's commitments. It is always difficult to make choices on how to fund these programmes but I believe we have recognised the challenges that exist and have acted responsibly. It will ensure that the country continues to grow, create jobs, sustain the jobs we have and grow the investment and revenues necessary to keep the country going.
As Fianna Fáil spokesperson on primary care and community services I will concentrate mainly on the health service, but I will also refer to tourism and the VAT rate and briefly comment on housing. I understood that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, would be present but I am sure the Ministers of State, Deputies Kyne and Cannon, will beat a track to his door in the morning to report to him on my contribution.
First, I welcome the spend of €17 billion that is planned for the health service next year. That puts Ireland very high in the OECD list for spend per capita, which must be welcomed. However, we are not good at getting value for the money we spend. If I saw a Supplementary Estimate for €700 million coming across my desk it would set alarm bells ringing. Some Departments are run on less than that amount. The reason for such Supplementary Estimates is the total lack of accountability and governance in the HSE at present. We must get to grips with that.
What disappoints me most about the budget for health is that, according to my reading of the figures, there is only €20 million allocated for the implementation of Sláintecare. Sláintecare is the blueprint by which we can improve our health services. I am not asking for more money to be spent on Sláintecare as an add-on to the budget but that we examine how we can spend our money better.
The Minister should examine something that I have had an issue with for some time. It is an example of how business is done in the HSE and how it could be done better. The budgets for the home care package and the fair deal scheme are in separate silos. If an elderly person is discharged from hospital and their relative goes to the community health nurse seeking home care, that person will have to fight on his or her knees to get ten hours, perhaps, will not get weekend support and often will not get enough to keep their elderly relative at home. The recommendation from the community health nurse will be to consider the fair deal option. Many families will do that, get accepted for the fair deal and their loved ones will go into a nursing home. The cost of each fair deal to the State is approximately €1,000 per week, at its lowest. The cost to the State of keeping somebody at home would be half of that and probably a good deal less. If one department was dealing with those two budgets together, the Minister would automatically get better value for money. I do not understand how the HSE operates its expenditure sometimes.
Another issue is the roll-out of e-health. Each time I have visited a hospital with a relative the triage nurse first takes the information, which takes 15 minutes. Then a junior health nurse does the same, as does the junior doctor, the house officer and the consultant. Up to five people are getting the same information and wasting an hour. If one person gets the information electronically and sends it to everybody else there is an automatic saving.
With regard to the roll-out of primary care and the new GP contract, I welcome, and hope it is true, that the new GP contract and the reversal of FEMPI for GPs are back on the table. We must have a new GP contract to deliver Sláintecare and to attract and keep new GPs. Currently, the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, is negotiating. However, there is another body, the National Association of General Practitioners, NAGP, that represents many doctors but it is not at the negotiating table. The Department tolerates that. I do not understand why they are not told to get their heads together, get around the table and work together to sort out the contract. The protectionism that takes place is unacceptable and must be resolved.
My profession, the pharmacy profession, is hugely underutilised and has much to offer the health system. Its members suffered FEMPI cuts as well and there has been no talk about their reversal. Pharmacists should be treated with the same dignity and respect as other health care professionals. On matters such as minor ailments, vaccinations and women's health issues the pharmacy profession has a huge amount to offer and is hugely underutilised. The Minister, Deputy Harris, has a personal interest in pharmacy so I ask him to examine this and build on it.
I am not sure whether the Minister for Health realises the opportunity that Sláintecare represents. It is an all-party report. Delivery and implementation of the report over a ten-year timeframe would have the full backing of this House. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a Minister for Health. I am not sure if the Minister understands that; I hope he does. It is only through implementing Sláintecare that we will solve the crisis in our health service and rebuild confidence in it. We need to work together to ensure that the report is implemented. It is easy for me to refer to waiting times, trolley crises and so on but that is not going to solve the problem. Most Deputies are interested in sorting out the health service. Sláintecare presents us with the opportunity do that. I hope that opportunity will be taken.
On the 13% VAT rate for the hospitality sector, the argument for retaining the 9% rate has been lost. Coming from Kerry, which is hugely dependent in the context of tourism, I fought very hard for the 9% rate to be retained. Starting from now, I ask that quarterly reviews in respect of the impact the increased rate on the industry be conducted. If the finding is such that we are losing jobs and visitors, the net impact of the 13% VAT rate will be a loss in revenue to the State. If, as the industry fears and as we have been predicting, this happens, the increase should be reversed. There is no point in pursuing a policy that is going to cost us money and valuable employment.
I welcome the €40 million additional spending for tourism but I ask that it be spent wisely, particularly on the development of walkways. There are three such projects in Kerry, namely, the Tralee to Fenit walkway, the county bounds of Limerick to Listowel walkway and the south Kerry greenway. These are three huge projects that have my full backing. I am not saying one thing to one person and something else to another. I am not saying one thing to the farming organisations and something else to others. I support these projects. They are bigger than any one organisation or individual and they need to be brought across the line.
I welcome the €300 million investment in the affordable housing scheme, which was promoted by Fianna Fáil. I hope that the increased spend will result in the delivery of units. For far too long we have heard the excuse that houses cannot be delivered overnight. However, overnight has now become four or five years. I hope that the renewed effort will deliver in address of the housing crisis. The Minister of State, Deputy English, is in the Chamber. In 2016, we spent €230 million on the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, acquiring approximately 36,000 units, but these are only temporary solutions. At today's rates one could service a €1.2 billion loan with €230 million every year and for €1.2 billion we could build 38,000 houses. A refocusing of our efforts on building units will free up this money.
We need to do both.
This will have a knock-on effect on the private market and the rent pressures will ease.
Before coming to the Chamber, I watched the contributions of previous speakers on the monitor in my office. I heard Deputy Cullinane tear strips off Fianna Fáil for its housing policy. As mentioned earlier by the Taoiseach, on Monday night last Sinn Féin voted against a development in Dublin comprising 1,000 affordable, social and private houses. As far as I am concerned, one cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. One cannot be all things to all people. Fianna Fáil is not afraid of taking difficult decisions or of responsibility. Unfortunately, as far as I am concerned, Sinn Féin can get off the pitch when it comes to housing because it will not make a difficult decision and it will not deliver one house. When it comes to the politics of hypocrisy, I will not listen to it.
I do not like hearing about the decline of rural Ireland as if it is happening everywhere. There are issues with rural Ireland. I live in a rural area and I am aware of those issues but constantly talking rural Ireland down does not serve it well. According to the census, populations in the vast majority of areas in rural Ireland are growing. There may no longer be 20 small shops in particular areas but there are two large shops employing more people than the 20 shops they replaced. This is the way of the world now. While there are issues with rural Ireland, and I will fight to retain as many services as we can, I am tired of some Deputies, particularly those who come from the county, talking down Kerry. Kerry and other rural counties are fine places to live. As long as we strive to deliver projects for all counties they will remain so.
I too welcome the overall thrust of budget 2019, which the Government claims is the first balanced budget in ten years. I support this fiscal policy. It is how the spend is distributed that always creates conflicting views in this Chamber.
As Fianna Fáil spokesperson on sport, I welcome the increased allocation for the area of responsibility of the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin. It is acknowledged that participation in sport and recreational activities can play a vital part in one's well-being. During the summer, the Government launched its National Sports Policy 2018-2027. Given the success of many of our athletes on the world stage in the past number of months - exclusive of what happened last weekend - it is evident this country is able to punch above its weight in competing with some of the best athletes in the world. The success of this sports policy is dependent on funding. According to the press releases of sports national governing bodies, NGBs, including the Olympic Federation of Ireland, the budget 2019 allocation is on the right track. I welcome also that VAT on sports activities is maintained at the current rate.
Moving away from sport, it appears from the Budget Statement that the agriculture sector is no longer a priority area for the Government. Following the election of the previous Government in 2011, agriculture was seen as vital to getting our economy up and running again and, to this end, initiatives such as Food Harvest 2020 were implemented. However, the only reference to the sector in the budget was in the context of climate change and the rural development programmes. Rural development funding was mentioned earlier. I welcome the increased funding for this area. I read an article recently in my local paper which referenced that the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, is to review LEADER spending. The Minister has previously stated that he believes too money is being wasted in the administration of delivery of LEADER funding. It should not be forgotten that it was a former Fine Gael Minister, Phil Hogan, who destroyed the functional and operational procedures of some of the best LEADER companies.
I know that Mr. Hogan mentioned that there were some places where LEADER funding was not being properly utilised but I assure the Deputies across the way that in previous LEADER programmes any money that was spent down my way was in the Avondhu Blackwater Partnership, east Cork area development, ECAD, in east Cork and Ballyhoura Development CLG. It was well distributed and at the minimum of cost and administration usage. The Government should review that area. I know the Minister, Deputy Ring, has vowed to set his portfolio on this but he has to look at it. Even lately I approached him about how to adjust funding for various projects and the complications and red tape have only gotten worse, not better. We have created an extra tier in distributing the money that the Government provides to these local development companies and that should be reviewed. I am not a fan of these local community development committees, LCDCs, because it is just another tier in the operation of distributing money into rural Ireland.
We mentioned climate change and the Government is being attacked for not doing enough in this budget. It is correct to say that it did not get enough of a mention in the Minister's document and we will be playing a catch up game again with the rest of the European countries and at the same time we would not want to be led by the former President of this country who tells us that we should consider eating less meat. I was a bit taken aback by that. Everybody is entitled to their own eating habits but much scientific research has been done which shows that meat is healthy as opposed to unhealthy in an overall context and being a country that is dependent on agriculture we must drive on that sector of our economy. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine announced funding for the year but trying to get money out of him is akin to trying to pull one's tooth out with a string. We acknowledge that there are problems that need to addressed and I welcome his start on the beef issue, similar to the suckler premium request. We were looking for €200 a head and all we got was an average of about €40 when it is broken down. By comparison, last year the Minister gave €25 for each ewe. Again, that involves paperwork. Agriculture will always play an important part in the economy in this part of the world and we must not lose sight of that.
I must touch on housing. It was mentioned by a previous speaker, and we take a knocking from various parts of the House over where we stand on it, but Fianna Fáil has always been good to deliver housing, be it private or social. The contributions from our party spokesman, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and Deputies Michael McGrath and Cowen welcomed the increased funding for the affordable housing initiative. I ask that a big push be put into the serviced sites initiative. Provision of serviced sites is a big problem in our towns and villages because they create a problem in terms of people trying to access housing for themselves and we need to roll out that money as quickly as possible. Everybody says that this is all for Dublin but we must not forget that there are housing problems in our towns and villages around the country. I will not try to defend the landlords and I will not talk about the big vulture funds who own massive complexes. However, we must not forget about the individual landlords and the important role that they have played in the last ten years. Many of them have carried a major burden on their shoulders in debt and were charging legal rent. We should keep that in mind when we look at rent caps. If we did not have them we would have a worse housing crisis with more people on the sides of the road. I acknowledge their role, but at the same time we must return local authorities to their old functions of looking after social housing because they were some of the best people to do that. I said to the Minister in the last few days that he needs to get over the red tape and fund the arrangements. I will give an example of the Housing Agency's approach to giving approval for funding. I had a case in Cork where Councillor Alan Coleman, a former colleague of mine in the county council, told me that Clúid Housing had the paperwork all completed for a project but the Housing Agency only meets every so often and it needs at least three weeks' notice of intent to draw down money and with that a deadline can be missed and one can end up waiting six or eight weeks before the money can be touched. Every week counts at the moment in trying to get a house built.
I thank the Deputy.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport-----
He is missing.
-----is missing but I welcome the increased funding in transport. I mention some of the announcements I have seen for my area such as the Dunkettle interchange and planning being given to go ahead with the M20 from Cork to Limerick. However, the Office of Public Works, OPW, needs to be more forthcoming with its money in regard to the likes of Fermoy weir. Overall I welcome the budget but there are concerns and I could go on for another while.
We hear about the Dunkettle roundabout every morning on AA Roadwatch.
Yesterday's budget was a welcome step towards the society we want to become, a welcome step towards a recovery for society and a welcome step back towards a just society. As T.K. Whitaker put it "the door to happiness opens outwards." This budget truly embraces that principle. My constituency predecessor, Declan Costello, was the author and architect of the original "Towards a Just Society" document. It was "a rights-based, forward-looking commitment to justice and to the common good of all in Ireland" in the words of Mark FitzGerald. The principles and spirit of that philosophy are woven throughout this budget. As Dr. Ciara Meehan put it in reference to this document "the central message remains important." Social reform and progress are not luxuries which we must wait for until after economic development has reached a certain point. There is never a bad time to invest in the future or to consider social mobility. The Minister, the Minister for Finance and this Government understand this implicitly.
This budget is incrementalist. That could be seen as a criticism in some senses but I see it as a positive aspect because it clearly builds on last year's budget so that we can see over the two budgets how issues are incrementally progressing. Pensioners are €520 better off over the two budgets. Some people phrase this as €5 per week or €260 in this budget but it is €520 better off over the two years and we are building on last year's progress again this year. The minimum wage has increased again to €9.80. Only eight years ago Fianna Fáil reduced it for the first time in the history of the State. This Government has now increased it five times since 2011 and this will be the third time since 2016. The higher rate tax band at which people enter the higher rate of tax has now increased by €1,500 over the two budgets, again illustrating that incremental progress. There was a €750 change last year and a €750 change again this year. We would like to do more on all of those fronts but it is incremental and we are clearly forging a path towards progress, equality and fairness there.
An accusation was made in the Chamber earlier that I bombarded constituents with information on local developments and investments. I make no apologies for representing and communicating with my constituents regularly. On the Luas project to Finglas, as outlined under Project Ireland 2040, I made sure that it was included in the final plan after being excluded from the draft plan. I called a meeting with the National Transport Authority, NTA, through the Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport and got a solid, public commitment that it will move to design and land procurement for this project next year on conclusion of the MetroLink design. Unlike what Deputy Micheál Martin said earlier, this plan is real and it is happening.
Sometimes with budgets, not everything can necessarily be measured. We can obviously measure the outputs, inputs, taxation and finance but on all sides of this House we are sometimes guilty of focusing too much on numbers such as GDP numbers, bond yields, poll ratings, first preference votes and which groups got how much in the budget and which groups might have missed out. However, it is often how the changes make people's lives better that matters, and how people feel about the budget. It is the security of knowing that a new hot school meals programme will be trialled across DEIS schools next year with a view to rolling it out thereafter, something that my constituency would take a lot from and which would mean a lot to many of my constituents.
It is the safety of knowing that next year we are allocating €2.3 billion to housing, including the delivery of 10,000 new social homes and a truly affordable housing scheme, on which my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy English, is doing great work and about which he will talk in some detail. It is the comfort of knowing that while we invest in society, our citizens can reap the benefits of a strong economy with more people at work than ever before in the history of the State. The measures to look after workers are strong. Everything that should be up is up. Everything that should be down is down. Employment is up. USC is down. Home carer credits are up. Child poverty will be down. The minimum wage is up. The entry point for the higher rate of tax is down. This is important.
Does the budget do everything I want it to do? No. There is more to be done, such as a further increase in capitation, a reduction of the pupil-teacher ratios in DEIS schools, ensuring we get primary care facilities everywhere we need them right across the country and ensuring those who rent get a fairer deal than they do now. We can do all these things and more but it will take further budgets and further incremental progress.
Time is both our friend and our enemy in this House. It gives us opportunities and challenges. Brexit is one such issue. It is both a challenge and an opportunity. This budget insulates us from the former and embraces the latter allowing us to embrace opportunities and insulates us from challenges. The negotiation - or review as some call it - of the confidence and supply agreement is also a challenge and an opportunity. Many tonight have commented on that political aspect of it. It is well-trodden ground but ultimately this budget embraces the principle of opportunity by showing we can work together on all sides of the House and set out a reasonable, positive and balanced budget which will allow our citizens to live their lives in a healthy economy and a compassionate society.
I will hand over to my colleagues, the Ministers of State, Deputies Cannon and English.
This is an opportune time to speak about how far we have come as a country since 2011, from a time when we had completely relinquished control of our nation's finances to today when we have regained control of our destiny. It is no coincidence that over the past seven years we have been fortunate to have been served by two Ministers for Finance with the talent and wisdom necessary to make the right decisions on our behalf.
Let us reflect for a moment on that tumultuous time in our nation's history. In 2011 our unemployment rate was just under 15%. We had 330,000 people out of work. Our national borrowings were increasing by €7 million every day and our Government debt was rated just one notch above junk. Ireland's reputation as a safe place to invest and to conduct business was on the floor and 900 of our people were leaving our shores every week. Fast-forward just seven years to 2018 and even the most cynical observer would have to acknowledge that the Ireland of today is a vastly different place. Our unemployment rate is now at 5.4%, its lowest level of the last decade, and we continue to create almost 1,000 jobs every week with renewed international confidence in Ireland as a place in which to invest. Thankfully, 500 emigrants return to Ireland every week. As we focus today on the deeply responsible approach taken by the former Minister, Deputy Noonan, and the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, in managing our nation's finances, it is important to reflect on what our hard-earned additional resources can enable us to do.
As Minister of State with responsibility for international development, I strongly welcome the commitment in the budget to increasing Ireland's investment in our overseas development programme by €110 million next year. That is the largest such increase in over a decade. That commitment is a reflection of our Government's determination to walk the walk on our commitment to the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and our commitment to reach the UN target for development assistance of 0.7% of GNI by 2030. It is also a statement of intent consistent with the ambition outlined in Global Ireland about our place in the world and our responsibility to make a positive contribution to global affairs beyond this island. This ambition is a reflection of who we are as a people. It is also profoundly in our national interest. As a small country, an effective multilateral system is essential to our well-being and playing our part in a genuinely global effort to resolve challenges that simply do not recognise borders anymore is where we need to focus.
The values at the heart of Ireland's development policy are deeply rooted in our own country's history of famine and migration and our determination to respond in a spirit of solidarity and respect to the poverty of others. That draws on the historical, political and social experience of our people and how we understand the challenges of poverty, conflict, injustice and migration. Our history also inspires us to support other countries in empowering their young people through education. Our aim in Irish Aid is to reach the most vulnerable and neglected through education and to positively affect their lives. In so doing, in enabling everyone to maximise their potential, we all benefit. It is through education that human genius is unlocked and that people are enabled to live longer and more productive lives. Every one of us in this Chamber knows it has been the experience of the Ireland of our lifetime. It is only 50 years since free secondary education was introduced through the visionary work and determination of Donogh O'Malley. In that time we have changed from a nation which exported its young people, uninformed and ill-prepared, to a country which now has one of the highest levels of third-level education in Europe. It is a country that has a highly skilled and adaptable workforce and which is able to afford our citizens a standard of living that our grandparents would never even have dreamed of and an inclusive education. Access to education was the key to that transformation. Inspired by our own experience of the transformational power of education, we recently doubled our contribution to the Global Partnership for Education, contributing €25 million between now and 2020. We are working with the Global Partnership for Education to ensure that 264 million children who are left out of school are not left behind. There is a particular focus on girls, who are disproportionately neglected in that regard.
Let us be clear, investing in development co-operation is not just an exercise in altruism, it is also an investment in our global neighbourhood. It is about our safety and well-being. It is about containing disease and helping to respond to conflict, displacement and national disaster. It is about exporting support for a rules-based international order. It is about helping our friends to turn their demographic challenges into opportunities and dividends and into building their economies and in turn creating opportunities in which we will most definitely share in the future.
Yesterday the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, made that deeply symbolic commitment of additional funds to our overseas development programme. That commitment sets us on a definite path to success in terms of building on the trusted global partnerships we have nurtured for decades and in forging new ones for the future. It was a good day for Ireland.
I thank my colleagues for sharing time. I welcome the budget. It is quite a good budget. It is a prudent and balanced budget, which is key. We were using the money of the taxpayer wisely in this budget. I have listened to people today and in the past weeks comment on the different options and choices. Budgets are about choices and direction. I heard many speeches today about delivery and about what will happen with the budget. Governments make the choices in budgets to help them deliver what people need.
It is a coincidence but I was struck on budget night by some of the RTÉ programmes which looked back at 1986 when Irish people were queueing up to board planes to head off for jobs abroad. In 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, Irish people were boarding planes and heading off. That was because of choices made in this House by Fianna Fáil-led Governments and choices at budget time which did not protect the future of this country and did not protect those people and their families who had to board the planes. People need to remember that when it comes to budgets and how we spend our money, which is taxpayers' money, it is about choices and making the right choices to protect the people who live in this country, to protect our families but also to protect and secure their futures.
I listened to Deputy Micheál Martin earlier today. He spoke again about delivery. He questioned what Fine Gael and this Government of Fine Gael and Independents will do to deliver. I will say this much: what we did deliver on is hope. I remember the election in 2011 and meeting people on their doorsteps.
They said there was no future in this country. They had no hope for their children. That was how they felt. There was misery in their eyes. I am proud that we have delivered a balanced budget today. We have delivered nearly full employment. We have delivered hope. People's future is protected and safe because we are using budget choices to make long-term plans. The aim of the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, my party colleagues and our Independent colleagues is to make long-term sustainable decisions and choices with taxpayers' money. That is what we will continue to deliver.
What did Deputy Micheál Martin choose to do when he was in government? What did he deliver? He delivered more than 300,000 job losses. People got back on planes and headed off again. The election budgets in 2001 and 2002 increased current expenditure by 20% and 15%, respectively. In the election years 2006 and 2007, it increased by 11% and 12%, respectively. They were choices to recklessly increase spending. That is what the Deputy delivered and those budgets were built on sand. A couple of years later we had to cut spending by €20 billion and we were making decisions on where to find €7 billion to cut out of a budget. Thankfully, yesterday and today we are increasing expenditure by an extra €4 billion or €5 billion. That is a question of choices and delivery. Deputy Martin is not credible when he asks what we will deliver. We will move on to what we will deliver because this budget is for the future. I know that if we stick to these kinds of budget choices and long-term decision making, while also dealing with today's issues, we will not see people queuing up again to get on to planes or boats to head off somewhere else. They can plan for their future in this country. That is our job.
I acknowledge that extra employment, returning emigrants and other pressures have contributed to difficulties in providing services. The Government has no problem acknowledging that there are many difficulties in health and housing and that we are still playing catch-up on some education supports and across the board but we are honest about that. It is not spin when we are straight up and factual. It is wrong to argue this is just about spin. We come in here month after month, produce the figures and tell it as it is when it comes to housing, health or anything else. We do not try to hide. We are straight up about it and about how we will fix and solve our problems. We have put a plan in place.
People also have to judge choices. Sinn Féin gets to make choices. Its choice is not to make any decisions. It chooses not to go into government in the South or the North.
That is nonsense about the North.
That is true.
The Minister of State knows that is not true about the North.
That is its choice. I have to judge it on its choice which is to do nothing but talk.
We have had five or six years of jobs budgets which are very important. Deputy Micheál Martin was the first to claim, as did others, that the Action Plan for Jobs had nothing to do with job creation, yet when we produced the action plan and said we would create 100,000 jobs, everyone laughed and said we could not do it. When the target was achieved and more than 200,000 jobs were created, the mantra was that these were not real jobs. That has proved untrue because they are real jobs. People are back working and earning.
We acknowledge that people are still finding it difficult. They are back at work but they have bills to pay and are trying to catch up on their mortgages and debts, while raising families. We know that is difficult. Our budgets reflect that, trying to make life a little easier budget on budget, using the tax and social welfare systems to make it easier for them to manage and pay the bills. We know that people cannot get back to where they were overnight. They have work and hope but it takes time to rebuild their finances and get on top of things like that. We are trying to acknowledge that with the tax system and make changes every year with the income tax bands, the universal social charge, USC, changes and so on, to make it a bit easier, to help to make work pay. We know it costs money to provide accommodation and raise a family. We make changes in services, childcare, education, colleges and so on.
We are delivering housing. We are the first to acknowledge that it is not enough to solve the problem this week or next week. However, the housing problem cannot be fixed by drawing pictures of houses. They have to be built. We have to go out and find them. Fianna Fáil delivered 3,000 ghost estates. That was the first issue we had to handle when we came into government. Now we have a plan and I challenge anybody to track and watch that plan. That is factual. It is not spin from me or from the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. We show the Opposition the figures for what is happening monthly. An additional 7,000 social houses, paid for by the taxpayer, came into the system in 2017, the first year of a five-year plan. This year, 8,000 new social houses, paid for by the taxpayer, will be delivered. I can bring the Deputies opposite to each site and show them the houses.
Next year, using yesterday's budget allocation and the €2.4 billion expenditure of taxpayers' money that will be spent through Departments, local authorities and non-governmental organisations, NGOs, 10,000 social houses will be delivered. Nobody else is doing that. Others talk about it and aspire to it but we do it. We are delivering it because that is our job and we recognise that housing is priority number one. In this budget, which is a housing budget among many other things, we are committed and can say we know that 5,000 adults and their children who do not have a house today will be in a house next year because that is what the plan delivers. More than 7,000 adults left homelessness in the past 18 months through our budgetary decisions and choices. We will be judged on that. It is factual, not made up and not spin. It is there to be seen. We acknowledge that there are thousands of people who do not have a house tonight. Nobody wants children or families raised in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation. We will invest in hubs to make it a bit easier but we want to deliver houses and we will deliver social, private and affordable houses and that is what we are doing in government. This budget aims to continue that good work.
I will try to bring a bit of reality back to this debate after the Minister of State's Alice in Wonderland speech.
It was factual.
I am the Fianna Fáil Party spokesman on agriculture, an industry that this Government has forgotten. It is the driving force of rural Ireland. In this budget there was only token recognition of the crisis in agriculture. A total of €20 million is being provided the suckler cow sector. If the Government thinks that will preserve our beef herd, it is sadly misinformed. We do not know what will be the small print of this allocation or the hoops farmers will have to jump through to qualify for this money. It is a completely inadequate response to trying to preserve the beef herd.
My party and farm organisations have made a case for low-cost loans. Even though what was promised in last year's budget has not been delivered in this sphere, there has been no recognition in budget 2019 of the major cash crisis on Irish farms. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is reneging on his responsibility. There is significant merchant debt after one of the worst winters and one of the worst springs that we have ever experienced, and a summer when farmers incurred substantial costs trying to keep their livestock fed.
The pig sector is under severe strain and badly in need of a cash injection of low-cost finance. For a Minister to allow a budget to be published with no move whatever to address this issue is appalling. Farmers waited for this budget hoping that there would be recognition of the crisis they face. Unfortunately, when they read through it they found it inexplicable that there were no low-cost loans made available to them.
There has been great media coverage of an extra €23 million for the areas of natural constraint, ANC. That is welcome and will be a help. It is money that goes directly into farmers' pockets. We should not forget, however, that 25% of the country's farmland is outside ANCs. Those farmers who in many cases are under significant financial pressure are not recognised in this budget.
Another issue on which all of the farming organisations lobbied very heavily was that the Government should do something in the budget to try to address the issue of volatility. In a year when cashflow is non-existent on farms, many farmers are facing a significant tax bill in the next couple of weeks. All of the different farming organisations made proposals on how to deal with this issue in future. An example was how money could be deposited in a good year, with tax at paid at the corporate tax rate, and then retrieved in a year like this, when farmers are under dire pressure for cashflow. This was, again, completely ignored by the Minister and there was no recognition whatsoever of the problems that creates. It is very disappointing and very anti-family farm. It is forcing farmers to go down the company route. I grew up on a family farm and I am proud of the contribution family farms have made to this country. For the Minister to ignore consistently the valid lobbying that was done to try to help farmers and farm families battle against volatility is very hard to explain and understand. It is also very disappointing.
There was €5 million extra for An Bord Bia in the budget. We have to recognise that in the last couple of years, funding for An Bord Bia has increased substantially. The task it faces, however, is changing enormously as well. In the context of Brexit, €5 million is just a drop in the ocean. Half of our beef finds its way to the UK market. The Minister has spoken about alternative markets and live exports. If he thinks that giving €5 million to An Bord Bia is going to achieve that, then he is sadly mistaken. We have few live exports leaving Ireland at the moment. This is at a time when meat factories are exploiting the situation and paying an awful lot less for our beef than what is available in the UK market. The only way to counteract that is with live exports. A properly funded An Bord Bia would, one would hope, be able to establish markets to allow those outlets to progress. With Brexit, the huge storm clouds that are gathering and the great damage that could do to our agrifood industry, €5 million for An Bord Bia is a very poor response.
The greyhound fund and Horse Racing Ireland both received an increase in funding the budget, which is welcome. There was €800,000 for the greyhound fund and €3.2 million for Horse Racing Ireland. I hope both Bord na gCon and Horse Racing Ireland will put that into prize money so that it will find its way back down to the grassroots of the industries. That is welcome funding. There is a proposal in the budget to double betting tax from 1% to 2%. I am not against that in general, but unless there is an exemption for on-track bookmakers, we will find that realm of the industry will become extinct. The numbers of on-track bookmakers, in greyhound racing and in horse racing, have dropped greatly in recent years. An increase of 1% in the tax on their turnover will put most of those out of business. On-track bookmakers are a very important part of the fabric of the industry. They bring glamour to it and what they contribute is unique. It would be a sad day if a Government decision forces us into what would be a tote monopoly. I hope the Finance Bill might address this. The loss of revenue for the Government would be small, and that exemption should be made for on-track bookmakers.
I will make some points on education. I was very disappointed with some things not in the budget. On the issues of working principals and administrative days, there was much lobbying done in recent months by working principals to try to get one day per week for administrative duties. I met many principals in recent months. In my county, a significant number of principals have taken early retirement or resigned from their posts because of the workload they have to carry. A sum of €10 million would have allowed working principals one administrative day per week. They had a proposal where five schools could work a rota and a teacher would be rotated between five schools. To me, that was a common-sense proposal. With autism units being established in many schools, these principals have to deal with an increased workload and more staff.
I will give an example of a principal in a four-teacher school near me. That principal has 22 staff under her authority. She spends every night working until 9, 10 or 11 trying to get the paperwork done and to keep it up to date. This situation is untenable in future. Working principals must have their issues addressed and I was very disappointed that this year's budget did not address them.
There was also no extra funding for DEIS schools in this budget. We have urban schools in my county that failed to get DEIS status last time around. We never got proper answers from the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, as to why they did not qualify. We were hoping there would be extra funding and that we might be able to reapply and get a fairer crack of the whip this time around. That has also been overlooked in budget 2019.
Today in the audiovisual room, I had in a charitable group that represents children suffering from severe autism. Principally, they were parents of children with non-verbal autism. It is a serious indictment of our society that we have no funding in place to train specialist dogs for these children. The evidence shows that dogs trained especially to deal with these children have a hugely beneficial effect on the children. Children with a dog for a companion lead far more vibrant and inclusive lives. We had in three parents who outlined their experience. A sum of €500,000 would train 20 dogs per year for this charitable organisation. It has 200 parents on the waiting list for dogs at the moment but there is no State funding. This is something I hope might be addressed by the Minister with the extra funding in the budget for children with special needs.
Another disappointing issue in the budget was the lack of a reversal of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, cuts for general practitioners, GPs. To keep GPs in rural Ireland is becoming ever more difficult. The reversal of the FEMPI cuts is essential to make it more financially attractive for GPs to take up positions, especially in rural Ireland. This, again, was not addressed in the budget, and I am gravely disappointed that it was not. I know there will be negotiation with the GPs on contracts in the future, but I would have thought that the budget was the place to have this addressed.
The previous speakers have referred to housing and what is being done in housing. Fianna Fáil has put its imprint on this budget as regards housing. Every day, and it is the same for every Deputy, there are large numbers of people coming into our clinics who just cannot get access to affordable or social housing. The proposal put forward by Fianna Fáil on affordable housing in this budget is a most welcome development. Building 6,000 affordable houses for people by 2021 is a start.
It is only a start. It is the first step on the road to achieving affordable housing in this country. It is essential that people in what can be called "reasonable jobs" are able to get access to affordable housing. This scheme must be expanded and greatly improved on. It is the first step towards that and it is welcome.
The capital budget for social housing has been increased, with an expansion of direct build targets and the Rebuilding Ireland programme. At the insistence of Fianna Fáil the budget has increased from €1.065 billion to €1.25 billion, with some 10,000 units due to be built, acquired or leased next year. This is a start but delivery is the key.