I am glad to have the opportunity to comment on this important Bill. Over the years I have spoken on many finance Bills and budgets. I do not know if one learns with the passage of time or not, but I am struck by two issues. Comparisons have been made between the current situation and the economic collapse, as if the two were the same and the same remedy should apply. Some Members still reiterate that there were options ten or 12 years ago. There were no options then. We were destitute and the country was bankrupt. There were no banks and no place to go. We had to beg, borrow and plead with our colleagues across the globe to restart the economy. There were no options whatsoever. However, at that time a series of Members stood up in the House day after day and castigated the Government for the policies it adopted. They swore that they would fail, that it would be sooner rather than later and that a huge price was going to be paid. A huge price was going to be paid anyway and there were no options. We had nowhere to go to borrow anything.
The banks in this country could not lend money to anybody. The country could borrow money only at a very peculiar rate, unfortunately for our sakes.
This pandemic is different. It came our way. Nobody invited it. We incurred it. It was just one of those things that happens occasionally, and we could not avoid it. People speak from time to time as if there were something that could have been done to avoid it. There was not. It was not possible to avoid it. People hold up other places and countries across the globe - not many - where better results were found. Some of the countries concerned have very little interaction such as the kind that takes place between this country and other European countries and our next-door neighbour across the water, notwithstanding Brexit. The amount of travel and interaction that takes place in this part of the globe is many times greater than it is elsewhere. It should not be forgotten that the London-Dublin air route is one of the busiest, if not the busiest, in the world.
We have to compare like with like and recognise that in a very difficult situation the previous Government and the current one have taken decisions that had to be taken in the first instance to protect the health of the people. What would be said if nothing were done or if the virus had been allowed to run its course, as suggested in other jurisdictions? Darwinism would take over and the fittest would survive, and after a time the virus would run its course and dissipate. It did not happen that way, though, and still has not happened. The virus persists. We therefore have to be careful and conscious and make the right decisions. We must recognise two things. We may have to tweak these measures again. We may have to come back to them again. I advise and ask the Minister that that be done for all the legislation we have put through the Houses in the past few days. We must recognise that we may discover other issues between now and the next budget that may require attention. If that is needed, let us do it, but let us do whatever has to be done at the right time, in the right fashion and in the right volume to ensure we can sustain our economy in the best possible way and at the same time defend our people against the onslaught of the virus.
I was amused to hear some of the contributions from some parts of the House. Things have not changed over the years. I heard phrases such as "too little and too late". The glass is empty. It never was half full. "Lost opportunity" is the favourite phrase nowadays. Then there is "more could have been done", "more should have been done" and "more is needed". Of course more is needed. More is always needed. When is enough enough? Nobody ever says something like that because one day - in the not-too-distant future, I hope - our economy will recover and learn to fly again. At that stage we must have spent on the one hand wisely and, on the other, strategically in such a way as to ensure that our economy is projected forward in a realistic and sustainable way and at the same time that we recognise that we cannot stay in this mode forever. It does not work that way. International communities and international trade do not work that way. We must therefore recognise that at the end of the day our economy must recover, and will recover, and that at that stage the economy takes over in the normal way and will survive, generate more demand and employment and self-generate. That is hugely important, and we need to recognise that it is still available to us and there for the taking.
I think back to 2011 and 2012, when various economists all over the globe wrote again and again that we were running the wrong way, that what we were doing would not work and that Keynesian economics was the way to go. Of course, one has to be able to borrow from somebody if one is to spend one's way out of an economic drift. These economists said there were options and that austerity, as they called it, was not one. It was out of necessity that the things that were done then were done. They had to be done. Severe risk had to be undertaken. The people stood up to the plate and recognised that there was a way out if we kept our cool, kept calm and made wise decisions, that we would be able to stand up again and revisit the situation in a few years' time. As a consequence, when this virus struck our economy was in a much more advantageous position. Obviously, we would prefer to be in a better position - we always will - but the fact is that we had done the right thing, despite all the criticism. By "we" I mean the people and the Government. I totally reject this notion in some quarters that there were several other options. There was none, and time proved that to be the case. Those who were in government at that time realise full well how few the options were, and because of this I think the right decisions were taken because the other options were not there.
Let us now look at what we need to do now. As the Acting Chairman knows, I have been critical of the lending institutions in this country and the way in which they handled the previous crisis. They could have done better. I am not being pessimistic. I am speaking as someone who has dealt with individual cases again and again and who continues to do so. This very day I dealt with a case in which a borrower had been contacted by a lending institution. The borrower informed the lending institution that I was an authorised third party, and the banker expressed doubt as to whether that would be legal. Such bankers need to learn quickly. All of us have the right legally to represent our constituents in one way or another, as we see fit and when and how often we see fit. We do not need to be lectured by any lending institution as to what our role is in society, in life or wherever else. Needless to say, I have reminded the banker of this.
In addition, from my experience in this area, and this comes into focus in the context of this debate as well, some people will arbitrarily decide a business is not working and not viable. Who decides that? Is it the person who owns the business, the person who runs the business, the people who are employing the staff or some so-called expert who, on the basis of a desktop examination, will come to a conclusion? That may well be fine in the upper echelons of banking worldwide, and I know that it happens all the time, but we are in a minuscule situation in comparison with that and we have to deal with what we have ourselves on the domestic front. This means assisting in every way possible, including legally, the people we represent, acknowledging and rewarding the efforts they are making and challenging those who do otherwise. That is what instils the much-needed confidence in the country. It instils confidence in the people, the business sector and the domestic sector in general. That confidence is a necessity. I hope this financial stimulus will instil that confidence and will be selective enough to ensure that the people at whom it is targeted will be in a position to avail of it, that it will not prove to be beyond their reach and that they will not get frustrated in their efforts to avail of the assistance involved. This is a big package. It has been dismissed by Members of the House - for political reasons, obviously. Sometimes people should stand up and say that what they are saying is political and not factual. This is a big package, and more may have to come. We should treat it with the utmost respect and treat with respect also the manner in which it was put forward to target particular areas that will have maximum positive impact on the economy and, as a result, regenerate the demand that is necessary to keep the economy going.
I have been amused by some of the debate over the past few days on social welfare law and how it has changed.
I am afraid some of the Members who spoke either did not deal with many queries on behalf of their constituents over the past 15 or 20 years or knew what they were saying was incorrect. The fact of the matter is there always have been issues in that Department because of a huge budget. When I was a Minister of State, that Department had the biggest budget of any Department in the country. There always must be safeguards. My objection in the past has been to the manner in which some of the rules were applied. It comes as no shock to me and I hope my constituents were not the only ones targeted over recent years. Again and again, I had to intervene on behalf of constituents to such an extent that I became persona non grata in certain quarters but my job and my duty as a public representative is to represent my constituents, rich or poor, in all states and at all times and to assist and advise them in their best interest and that of the country. I would like to think I can still do that and will attempt to do that.
The points that have been raised appear to have been raised in the context that new, intrusive regulations have been introduced. They have not. They have always been there and operating. I do not say they were what I would have wanted but they were there. There was severe scrutiny of individuals up and down this country over the years. I have as much experience of that business as anybody in this House and more than many. I went to the appeals system more often than I can account for. Sometimes I won and sometimes I lost but, generally, I won on the basis of the rules that were there and the manner in which they should be interpreted.
I want to make the point that we should be factual, particularly in opposition, and God knows that we in our party spent a lot of our lives in opposition. We need to put forward points of view that are realistic and fairly accurate. Otherwise, we generate antipathy among the public, not for any individual - although that has happened in the past, as well - but antipathy to the institution we represent. Generating antipathy towards the institution we represent in this House is wrong and does not do anybody any good. It serves the short-term purpose of popularity for those who do so but it does not address the issues the people are concerned about.
I believe we are doing what is necessary in restoring the economy. In relation to the boost for the housing deposits, for instance, I am not certain that is going to work because it certainly will not reduce the cost of housing. One thing we learned over the years was that the more the housing market is supported directly with a direct injection, the more expensive houses become. What we really need, and in this I agree with the last speaker, is to build more houses. We need to build more local authority houses and more affordable houses. There is no sense in saying it cannot be done. This has been said to me again and again over the past ten or 15 years. Of course it can be done. It was done when we had less aptitude in that area in the past. We were able to build houses to meet the needs of the country down through the years when we had little mechanisation and very little money. We, as a country, did what we had to do in those circumstances and it was successful.
We can spend all the time in the world crying about what we have not got, calling for more, becoming depressed and depressing everybody else. We can shout and roar and point to our individual constituencies and say how bad they are. We can depress the people we represent more than is needed. People go through a lot of trauma. There was trauma during the financial crisis. There is trauma during this crisis and we will continue to go through it. We need to assist them and assuage their fears insofar as we can. We need to be realistic. We should not exaggerate. We should try to do the best we can for them and to do it in the way we would like to have it done to us. We have had various scares over the years and Deputy Jim O'Callaghan referred to the fact that there is a crisis on the horizon all the time and there always will be. That is the way it is. However, we have to be prepared for it and prepared to do the right thing to assist those who need assistance, to do it in a positive and supportive way and to recognise that one day, we will turn that curve and it will be to their benefit and ours. We need to address the issues of concern as shown by the people in the most recent general election. There is no doubt that there were issues there. It is the job of the present Government to deal with it. In the financial crisis, we had to restore the financial structures, the banking system and the economic system of the country and we had to restore confidence in the country, both national confidence and international confidence. That was done. The next phase is to restore the social fabric of the country and its people and to make it meaningful for them so they know the Government they have in office at any given time is mindful of their needs and concerns and that such a Government is willing, ready and able to respond.
Denigrating and castigating ourselves will not do anything for us. We have to revive ourselves and our enthusiasm. We have to look forward in the clear knowledge that we can do it and we will have to do it. That is the way it has always been and always will be.