That Seanad Éireann notes the Budget Statement of the Minister for Finance.
I am trying to absorb the Budget Statement which is probably one of the shortest ever, although at least it gives us the chance to read through it. I welcome the decentralisation of 10,500 jobs which is a positive move. Looking at the distribution of those jobs, I regret that more of them are not going west of the Shannon. It is not an issue in which I have any constituency interest but it is a pity the jobs will not go there. I would very much welcome an unequivocal commitment in writing from the Minister for Finance that benchmarking will be paid, as agreed. That would be a positive move.
I have no doubt the self-satisfied members of the Government parties, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, have no idea what will hit them over the coming days, weeks and months when they start to get telephone calls on the issue of public service pensions. What is being proposed in the budget cannot be implemented. In my judgment – it is only my judgment because I do not have a vote or a call on this issue – no national agreement will be agreed while these proposals are extant. I suggest public service unions will not be in a position to accept a new public service pay deal while those daft proposals are in place.
There is a proposal to increase the minimum retirement age to 65 years. There might be an argument for that, although I do not subscribe to it. There are many teachers who could teach until 65 years of age and beyond and who would be delighted to do so. However, this proposal requires people to teach until 65 years of age. There are many teachers who would not be physically able to handle a class of 25 to 40 infants or an honours leaving certificate class at 65 years of age. The proposal is absolutely daft. If that is not bad enough, the next proposal removes the compulsory retirement age of 65 years and proposes that there should be no compulsion for people to retire at a particular age if they are "fit and willing to stay on". People on Zimmer frames will be holding down jobs and they will have doctors' certificates stating that they can work. They will be taken from their jobs in boxes. The Minister spoke about creating promotional opportunities but this is absolutely daft.
People may think it does not relate to Members of the House or to people who work here and that they should not care. As somebody who defended, argued for and negotiated pensions for Members of the Oireachtas – this proposal will not affect me – it is appalling to think that under the new regime, somebody who is elected to the Oireachtas at 21 or 25 years of age, is re-elected in ten or 20 subsequent elections and loses their seat at 51 or 52 years of age will not be entitled to receive a pension for another 14 years. Whoever thought this through is daft. It is a classic example of people in the pensions section of the Department of Finance sweet-talking the Minister, as they have always done, with nobody checking what is going on. Somebody deserves to get their backside kicked on this issue. It is an appalling vista and it will not work. That should be recognised and it should be changed immediately.
There is much wrong with this proposal but I do not have the time to go into it. I accept it was a recommendation in the public service pensions report. However, Members will note that a number of us on that commission submitted a minority report opposing it. The Minister said he would not implement the increased 1% and that he is not applying any changes to people currently in jobs. As I said previously, it would be better to cost it and if it is necessary to deal with the public service unions to take another 1% of whatever to pay them, it would be better.
I do not want to hear people whinging in future, as they have in the past, about retired Members of the Houses, or their widows or widowers, having nothing on which to live because we are beginning to institutionalise that situation. It is time people considered this before it goes too far.
I have welcomed some measures. Previously I asked for something small but an tábhachtach, sin an cinne atá déanta ag an Aire nach gcuirfear cáin ioncam ar na mná tí atá thar cheann na scoláirí a fhreastalaíonn ar chúrsaí sa Ghaeltacht i rith an tsamhraidh. It is only right given all they do and the measures they must put in place to look after students. There is little in it for them and it is a positive move which will be welcomed in Gaeltacht areas.
I welcome the proposal on public private partnerships. It is bad there has been no change in the tax bands, although not for people like us or for people with high incomes. We are going back on what we did some years ago when we brought people, particularly the lower paid, out of the tax net. We are now pulling them back into it. I do not see the logic of that for the sake of a small amount of money. Given the type of society and community we are trying to build, it is not a good way in which to move forward. This is penny-pinching, particularly in light of the Minister's prognosis for the next three years. He said that next year, he expects GNP to increase to between 3% and 3.3% and that economic growth in 2005 will be 4% and 4.5% in the following year. These are impressive figures but if we are going to make that kind of money, we must examine how we will share it out.
The proposal to take apart the public service pension arrangements is almost a guaranteed Exocet, which will destroy any chances of getting agreement on a new national wage agreement. I am certain people will not go along with this appallingly badly thought out proposal. I ask the Minister to take this message on board and negotiate a return from that position. If it is just a negotiating position, that is fine because we have all been there. However, if some people think they can make this stick, they are mistaken. Many people will use this proposal to build up a head of steam against a new agreement. It is a mistake.