Budget another lost opportunity – BREEN

April 17th, 2009 - Pat Breen

Commenting during the Dail Debate on the supplementary budget, Deputy said “I am delighted to be able to speak on the motion before the House this afternoon.  I am disappointed, however, that the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, is the only Member from the Government side in the Chamber.  They cannot all have returned to their constituencies, because I am sure most of them would not be welcome there, following the most severe budget of all time.  They must be hiding somewhere, whether in the House or elsewhere.  Of course there was not the same applause for the budget on this occasion as there was last October.  It was a muted response, very different from the celebrations last October.

  The Minister for Finance claims the budget sets out a plan to renew our economy over the next five years and those who have most must give most.  The budget is bereft of ideas.  In my constituency, County Clare, for instance, nearly 10,000 people are out of work and unfortunately the budget contains no measures to deal with this crisis.  It contains no measures for employment creation, no stimulus package and the reality is that those with the least will pay the most while, once again, the Galway tent syndicate will be bailed out.

  How can the Minister claim this budget is fair when workers earning as little as €289 a week will have to pay an income levy, following the decision to reduce the exemption threshold from €18,304 to €15,028.  The only disincentive to work should be its unavailability.  However, because of this budget people on low incomes will be forced to remain on social welfare and driven into the black economy – that is the reality.  One of my constituents told me after the budget that the difference between him going to work and staying at home was €5.  His asked why he should get up out of bed in the morning for the sake of €5, and I believe that is the position of many people on low incomes.  I am pleased, however, that the Government did not hit carers who play an invaluable role in Irish society.  I hope more funding will be given to them next time around. 

  I want now to deal briefly with a very important issue affecting my constituency, which has to do with resources, namely, publication of the HIQA report.  The report was supposed to provide answers for the families of those patients whose cases of cancer misdiagnoses led to the inquiry.  Unfortunately, however, there were no answers and instead the report endorsed the policy and objectives of both the HSE and the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, namely, the implementation of the teamwork report and the further downgrading of Ennis General Hospital.  That is regrettable, in the same week when the accident and emergency services at Ennis General Hospital saw its doors being locked at 8 p.m.  The report claims that the current 24-hour emergency care is unsustainable and should be discontinued.  It recommends that we should have a day-time minor injury-led service.  In the context of the resources, I was told today that it was up to the HSE to make them available.  I appeal to the Minister for Health and Children and to the Minister for Finance to make available the necessary resources to upgrade the hospital.  This is extremely important, as we have had so many promises down through the years.  Unfortunately, the essential resources have not been put in place and this is a very sad day for the dedicated staff of the hospital and the people of County Clare.  It is the wrong way forward and sounds a death penalty for the hospital.

  Returning to the budget debate, I believe lessons had to be learned from the October budget, but unfortunately, the Government have not learned them, particularly as regards older people.  The decision to withdraw medical cards from the over 70s has been a complete fiasco.  Many older people have had their medical cards wrongfully removed and now the HSE is extending the deadline by three months for returning these medical cards to them.  Many older people in my county live in fear, especially those who live alone in isolated areas.  The Minister of State will be aware of this scenario, since he lives in Roscommon where there are many rural areas.  The provision of the panic button and the personal alarms was a great support for older people and a source of comfort for them and their families.  This scheme is now to be axed and that is wrong.  The Government got it wrong last October and it has got it wrong again. I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, as a good friend of mine, to review this decision and not force our elderly people to live in fear of their lives in their homes. 

  Many of those on social welfare will get another hit at Christmas, when their bonuses will not be paid.  Many people looked forward to that bonus.  It was an opportunity for them, perhaps, to give a present to a loved one at this joyous time of year, which now, unfortunately, will be a sadder time for a great many people, especially with the rising cost of living.  It will be difficult for people to cope with the adjustment to the cost of living.

  The farming community, too, is in the firing line once again, as it has been over the course of successive budgets introduced by this Government.  Some 12,000 farmers have signed up for REPS 4.  The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, had committed a budget of €355 million for REPS this year.  In spite of the fact that farmers have now signed up for a five-year contract, they are once again being hit by a 17% cutback in this scheme.  That is incredible and wrong because they will also have to pay their income levy.  The budget measures hit farmers not just once or twice, but in all the other areas in which costs have increased. It has become expensive for farmers to produce beef and other food, particularly because of the increasing price of fertiliser and animal feed.  The abolition of the €14 million fund for the fallen animals scheme is also worrying.  This scheme compensates farmers for the cost of removing dead animals.  Forestry supports are being reduced by 8%. 

  My constituency office has been contacted by a number of farmers who have been crippled by this budget.  There is no incentive to encourage young people to take up farming because profits are already limited and the budget only presents further obstacles.  The removal of installation aid from young farmers in last October’s budget was anti-farming.

  The Government will be hit in the local elections on 5 June.  I do not know if I feel sorry for the Fianna Fáil candidates who will face the people’s anger when they knock on doors.  The €150 million reduction in the local authority roads fund will have significant implications for rural areas and road safety.  Rural roads accounted for more than 70% of fatalities in 2007.  God help the county councillors who will be elected in June because they will face major challenges.  Fine Gael is opposed to increasing rates because they will have a huge impact on small and medium-sized enterprises which are already struggling to survive.

  The budget represents a lost opportunity.  People no longer have faith in the Government and they do not believe it is capable of leading the country out of recession.  Strong leadership is required but this is not coming from the benches opposite.  We cannot afford failure because the future of our country is at stake.  The Government should step aside because it is failing the people.  I could say more but I must give way to my colleague, Deputy Durkan.