BREEN highlights Clare concerns with Budget 2009 during Dail Debate.

October 31st, 2008 - Pat Breen

I am delighted to speak on the budget.  Many Ministers were not too happy in Government Buildings today when they read the report about what they thought would solve the problem of the medical cards.  A political correspondent had three wise words in the Irish Independent, “listen, learn and inform”.  Unfortunately, this Government does not listen, does not learn and fails to inform the public.  It will pay the political price for its incompetence.

  This was the worst budget in history, as previous speakers have said, and it has tarnished the reputation of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Health and Children and other Ministers.  Hubert Humphrey, the American politician, stated: “It was once said that the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”  This budget failed miserably with all those groups, particularly our older people.  Many Deputies, particularly those in Opposition, saw the large crowd turning up in Dublin, more than I have ever seen gathered in frustration and despair.  The decision to withdraw medical cards for the over 70s shows how out of touch is this Government.  A budget that was supposed to tax the fat cats and protect the vulnerable achieved the opposite effect.  Since the budget was announced, we have had a series of announcements from the Minister for Finance.  We had a panic reaction from him, the Taoiseach and various Ministers.  The Taoiseach’s intervention failed and prolonged the anxiety for many people.

  We must have a universal health system.  For those who have lived their lives, paid their taxes and reared their children, this is what they call patriotism, not what the Minister does.  The Government must admit it got it wrong.  During Private Members’ Business, there will be an opportunity for the Government Deputies to support this Fine Gael motion.

  The Government also got it wrong for our children.

 

Deputy Pat Breen: Last night I spoke on the cuts affecting the elderly and today I will concentrate on the education cutbacks and how we have failed our children.  Yesterday we saw a large protest against third-level fees, with 10,000 students assembling outside Leinster House.  Every level of education has been affected by the budget, including second-level and primary education.

  To be parochial for a moment, we all know the problems in Ennis national school, where there are 14 prefabricated buildings.  A new school has been promised for a long time and yet there is no movement on it.  We are at the stage now where both primary and secondary school students are reduced to packing bags in shops in order to fund much-needed facilities in schools throughout the country, despite the fact we have had ten years of unprecedented wealth.  Our education system is surviving on a shoestring. 

The significant decision to increase the pupil-teacher ratio adds further pressure.  Yesterday and today I have been inundated with e-mails and telephone calls from concerned parents whose children are in Tulla national school.  It is one of eight schools in east Clare where the pupil-teacher ratio has been increased; in September 2008 it had 261 pupils with ten teachers and in September 2009 it will have 270 pupils with nine teachers, a ratio of 30:1.  The same can be said for St. Flannan’s College in Ennis, where they are operating with a reduction of five teachers and Coláiste Muire in Ennis, where the Oireachtas Members in Clare will have a meeting tomorrow.  It has seen a reduction of four teachers.  Every school in Clare will suffer.

  The children struggling at school who need additional help will be particularly affected and left behind.  In west Clare there is a primary school with temporary accommodation for children with autism which has six pupils.  I have had a number of phone calls from parents who are concerned about follow-up education for those students because facilities are not there in secondary schools.

  The Minister claims the pupil-teacher ratio is only increasing by one pupil but the Government must understand that many of these schools are operating above the optimum level anyway.  Not alone are we facing an increase in class sizes but we are also being hit by children’s needs in other areas.  The 32 cuts were highlighted by our own spokesperson, Deputy Brian Hayes.  In times of economic slowdown, we should be investing in our children’s future.

  I will turn to the failure of Government to meet the concerns of the needy.  With the 1% income levy, the original proposal was to target all sections of society, including pensioners, the lower paid and those on the minimum wage.  Fortunately, after a meeting with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and in an effort to save the national wage agreement, the Minister rolled back on the issue and excluded those on the minimum wage, up to €17,540 a year.

  Many people on the minimum wage must work overtime because they are on such low wages.  They will have to pay the levy if they work overtime.  Many small businesses depend on the level of overtime being worked by employees and under this proposal, workers will be penalised.  This will also result in a loss of production.

  I have limited time on the issue but I will speak about the failure of the Government with regard to the regions.  In particular, this relates to the €10 travel tax, which will affect passengers travelling through Shannon Airport.  It is an unfair tax which was clearly put in with an agenda for Dublin.  As far as I can see, other Irish airports do not appear on the radar.  The tax is inequitable and unfair and I hope the Minister will withdraw it.  Ryanair has issued a warning that it will reduce services through Shannon.

  Shannon Development got a grant each year of €3 million, which has now been reduced to €700,000.  In other words, Shannon Development will now have to take a sum out of its own budget.  I know it is a self-financing company but will its marketing be affected or will there be job losses?  What restructuring will go on in Shannon Development?  This is a blow to regions which have already experienced a number of blows and job losses.  I wish to talk about farmers before I conclude because the farming community has been badly hit in respect of installation aid and the farm retirement and suckler cow schemes.  A huge problem exists in this regard and farmers will rebel like the students and old age pensioners did yesterday.  As my time has expired, I will revert to this issue at some other time.  However this budget is both bad and failed and will affect all sectors of society, the middle classes and businesses.