The point I was making was that a return to fees or an increase in the so-called student contribution charge could be on the agenda in the course of this Government and the student movement needs to be awake to that and needs to be prepared to mobilise to defeat it, as has happened in the past. We have a situation where the student movement has been on the front foot and has demanded correctly the scrapping of this nonsense of a student contribution charge. Commitments have been given by various political parties in the past about that but then, when in power, they have done nothing about it. We need to be fighting for free at-the-point-of-access education at all levels to be properly funded by progressive taxation.
I will speak now on the scandalous decision to include in this Bill the provisions for an extra €16,000 a year for a super junior Minister, who is already on a salary of €124,000 a year. This is happening at a time when one in four people in this country is currently unemployed, and at a time of great crisis. As a socialist and as a general principle, I would say that all elected representatives, Deputies, junior Ministers, super junior Ministers, senior Ministers and the Taoiseach, should be on the average wage of the people they are supposed to represent as opposed to living lives that are different and separate from the lives of the people who vote for them. On top of the whingeing and campaigning by various Deputies looking for an extra €40,000 as a junior Minister or an extra €80,000 as a senior Minister, it really adds insult to injury to have a situation where an extra €16,000 is going to be provided to a super junior Minister, someone who is already going to be extremely well-paid. People asked on social media, very appropriately, whether a clap would not do. Would a round of applause on a Thursday night not do it? It is meant to do it for our healthcare and Debenhams workers, and from the point of view of those who are facing potential eviction.
It says a great deal when one looks at the actions of this Government and of the majority of Members of this Dáil over the past week or so. There is the decision to go ahead with cuts to the pandemic unemployment payment to people who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic and whose incomes will be further cut in a series or progression of cuts over the next six months or so. There was a vote yesterday by the majority in this Dáil - Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party - to effectively gut our motion to support the Debenhams workers. There was another vote yesterday against the provision of affordable childcare and there was the miserly decision to only extend the eviction ban to 1 August.
Presumably, if the Chief Whip can get enough people to vote for it, the Government and the majority of Members of this Dáil will vote through a pay increase of €16,000 for an already very well-paid person. This goes to the heart of the priorities of the Government and who it represents. It is outrageous and mind-boggling to people who see this crisis and the unfolding economic depression and then see the Government voting to pay itself more money.
There is an added layer of gross hypocrisy with Fianna Fáil's position in this. Fianna Fáil did very little in the previous period in government, when it pretended to be out of government but was actually in government. Occasionally, it would pick an issue to make a stand on to show that it was different to Fine Gael. On one issue, when Fine Gael was in government in 2017, Fianna Fáil decided to make a stand on an important issue. The press release on Fianna Fáil's website was titled: "FF Will Block Any Effort To Fund Additional 'Super Junior' Position – Byrne". It continued: "Thomas Byrne TD has confirmed that his party will block any attempt by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to introduce salary top-ups for another 'super junior' position". Fianna Fáil took a principled stand that it would not stand for another super junior being paid.
Yesterday or the day before, the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, who is a member of Fianna Fáil, drafted or had his Department draft the relevant section to say that they will get the extra money. What is different? It is who has their snouts in the trough. Fianna Fáil now has access to this money. One of the three will be from Fianna Fáil. It therefore wants this to go through. It is the kind of thing that rightly makes people deeply cynical about politics. They are right to be deeply cynical about establishment politics. Fianna Fáil is capable of opposing one thing when in opposition and making out that it has a principle against it, then when it can benefit from it, it is not just willing to vote it through but positively drives it through to ensure that all three super junior Ministers get not just €124,000 a year, but have it topped up to €140,000 each year in a time of global economic crisis, mass unemployment and so on. It disgusts people and, assuming that the Government goes ahead with this, people will take note. In the grand context of the global budget, Ireland's tax haven status and so on, €16,000 is not much compared with the many billions held by the very wealthy, but it will be seen as an emblematic example demonstrating the approach of the Government, its out of touch nature and what its priorities are.