Human Rights Budgeting 26.11.14

Human Rights Budgeting: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate

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  8 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor: Information on Mary Mitchell O'Connor Zoom on Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMiddle income earners are burdened with costly mortgages, high child care costs and high taxes. In my constituency people have paid very high property taxes. Such people have contributed enormously in helping us emerge from the EU and IMF bailout programme.

Deputy Patrick O’Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I welcome the opportunity to speak. I thank Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan for tabling the motion. I said previously that the motions she brings before the Dáil are motivated by sincerity. Many Opposition spokespersons could learn something from her attitude and the positions she takes.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly Government Members could do likewise.

Deputy Patrick O’Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan The first line in the motion acknowledges the fact that the economic recovery is ongoing. While the recovery is fragile, it has been built in no small way on the policies implemented by the Government in the past three and a half years. We know the statistics on job creation. The only route out of the economic abyss the country was led into is through getting people back to work. The more people in work, the more one can build one’s tax base and have a social dividend to distribute. Unfortunately, when one’s credit line runs out and very few people will lend one money, then one has to make decisions in order to balance the books. Some people do not believe in that approach. Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan is not one of them. Some believe that if one digs a hole deep enough in the back yard, sooner or later one will strike oil. However, that never happens. I do not know of any such hole where one finds a crock of gold in this country other than those associated with Darby O’Gill.

The Government’s counter-motion goes a long way towards what Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan seeks to achieve in terms of the commitment to interdepartmental discussion on aspects of budgeting in future. We already have pre-budget submissions from many of the people referenced in the motion. The more of that type of open discussion we can have, the better. I would welcome more public discourse by Ministers, including the Minister of State, Deputy Harris. It is not necessary to put such an approach into legislation or to set targets or percentages.

I note the Finance Bill was passed by the Dáil in recent hours. Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan’s motion is relevant to the Finance Bill, which was opposed by Sinn Féin, who is represented in the House currently by Deputy Dessie Ellis. Sinn Féin’s proposal was to maintain the standard rate of income tax at 41% but to introduce three increments of 7% per annum, amounting to 21% which would increase the total to 62%. One must then add on 13% for the universal social charge, USC, and PRSI, coming to a total of approximately 15% and one soon reaches 75% for the so-called wealthy in society. According to Sinn Féin, a garda married to a teacher would fall into that category. Sinn Féin would seek to take 75 cent in the euro from them. If one was unfortunate enough to have 41 acres of marginal or bad land on which one had a few heifers or ewes, Sinn Féin would then impose a wealth tax on those people. If one had an antique chair that one inherited from one’s grandmother, Sinn Féin would also want to tax it. The counter-proposal from the Deputies opposite – I do not include Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan among them – is to tax people into oblivion in the hope that the country will recover. That will never happen. While I support the Government’s amendment, I applaud Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan’s sincerity in tabling the motion before the House.

Deputy Tom BarryInformation on Tom Barry Zoom on Tom Barry I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion and I thank Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan for tabling it. The issue is important and I accept we all have a responsibility to look at the social impact of decisions reached. Politicians have a responsibility to lead but also to try to bring people with them. It does not mean people will always agree with policy but I like to think the decisions we reach are intended to benefit society as broadly and equally as possible.

The Department of Social Protection has done a very good job in challenging times. Many people called for a cut to headline rates of social welfare but we did not do that. Many found themselves in need of social protection because they lost jobs through no fault of their own. The economic meltdown from which we are finally recovering is something we do not wish to revisit. To give back €1 billion in the budget, as we did, would have been almost unthinkable a few years ago. Other Deputies referred to the increase in child benefit payments, the back to work allowance, the family dividend and the living alone allowance. All of those things are important.

I accept there has been much criticism of JobBridge, but it is important for people to get experience. I would like the JobBridge programme to be expanded to allow employers to contribute an additional €50 or €100 to the employee and bring the earnings closer to a living wage. The proposal was not accepted. However, I hope the Minister will re-examine the proposal because it is important to give young people a chance to gain experience in a work environment, especially an SME environment where one has to be hands-on.

The fall in the unemployment rate to 10.9% is very important. It signals to people that we are moving in the right direction. When the full impact of the budget is evident, a couple with two children who earn €59,000 will find they gain almost €600 a year. It is important that people see an impact in terms of the money in their pocket. Everyone has contributed to the recovery by cutting their cloth to suit their measure. It has been a very difficult time and it is important to see a return now.

I wish to mention also the JobsPlus scheme. It is important to give an employer a subsidy of €10,000 to employ someone. Many social issues will be addressed by virtue of people being in work but the jobs must be credible. I hope the scheme will be continued for a number of years. We must concentrate more on such schemes.

The Department of Social Protection will publish a social impact assessment on budget 2015 using an ESRI switch model. It will be interesting to see the results. The social housing strategy has been published. A total of 35,000 new social housing units will be provided at a cost of €3.8 billion over the next six years. In addition, 29,000 construction jobs will be provided, which is important, as people involved in the industry have suffered greatly. I also welcome the investment in Irish Water of €500 million each year for ten years. Currently, more than 1.9 million are at work. Our target should be to have in excess of 2 million in work. Tonight’s debate will focus our minds. While the headlines figures are important, we cannot take our eye off the social impacts of decisions.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I welcome the motion and thank Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan for tabling it. It is important to have such a debate not just about the economy, but society, which is about people, families and communities. One must look at the context of the recession we have had for the past three years. Technically, we are in recovery stage currently but the primary goal when the Government came to power was to save the State. Budgets 2012, 2013 and 2014 were about doing what the troika had laid out for us in terms of closing the gap between what we spend and what we take in through taxation. That is a challenge. It is not an easy task for any of us and involved many difficult measures. The challenge was to increase charges and taxes or to cut services. We had to try to balance those options.

It is important to recognise that social welfare is a safety net on which many people will call during their lives. It is an important element of society that must be factored into overall Government spending. Its purpose is to support people in need. In the context of the troika, if we had not played by its rules we would not have been given money to spend on social services in recent years.