Deputy Seamus Healy TD
Deputy Seamus Healy, of the Workers and Unemployed Action group, has criticised Budget 2019 as "shamefully inadequate in view of the extreme crisis in housing and health and the need to fully restore cuts in welfare, disability provision, public service pay and pensions and other areas."
"Some might say that today's budget is a missed opportunity. It is not. It is a conscious and deliberate policy decision by Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and Fianna Fáil to protect the massive increase in wealth of the Irish super rich from fair taxation and to make further tax concessions to them. Prudent budgeting does not require limiting spending to the shamefully inadequate figures in today's budget.
The European Union's fiscal treaty does not require it either, and it does not forbid raising extra revenue provided it is recurrent. Significant additional income could have been raised if the Government was prepared to make the super rich pay their fair share in taxation. The Minister said numerous times that his income tax and USC measures are to ease the burden on those on low and middle incomes. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a budget for the super rich.
What happened in this budget? According to the CSO, 1.18 million workers are on incomes of less than €30,000 per year. Some 1 million of them are PAYE workers and 180,000 are self-employed. They comprise 40% of the workforce. There is no income tax gain for the 1 million PAYE workers in this category, not even a cent.
The income tax gain for the 180,000 self-employed is the princely sum of €40 per year, less than €1 per week. The EU tells us that inflation next year will be 1.3%, which will wipe out the huge figure of €40 per year. There is an increase of €5 in social welfare payments. Social welfare recipients must wait until next March to get it and it does not go anywhere near restoring the pre-cut levels of payment. For the third year in a row there is no increase in child benefit.
Contrast that to what has happened to people of wealth, the rich and powerful in our society. The CSO says that 53,000 individuals have incomes ranging from €150,000 to €2 million per annum. They get the full tax and USC benefits of this budget, totalling €13.1 million.
There is a golden circle of rich and powerful individuals in this society who have not been touched by the budget. There is no wealth tax on their assets, and they have huge assets. The top 10% of these wealthiest individuals have assets that are €40 billion above peak boom levels. They will not pay a cent on them. The overall financial assets are now €77 billion above peak boom levels and there is not a single cent of taxation on them either.
The 300 wealthiest individuals who have €100 billion will not pay a cent on those assets. Last week, the Comptroller and Auditor General reported on how these individuals avoided tax. He described it as tax avoidance by the super rich. Some 83 of these high net worth individuals, with in excess of €50 million in assets, declared taxable income of less than the average industrial wage of less than €36,500. It is shameful. With regard to the banks, Bank of Ireland, AIB and Permanent TSB had profits last year of €2.5 billion. They did not pay a euro in tax on them and they will not pay one euro this year or for the next 20 years. The last Government and this Government have exempted them from such tax.
These are the banks that the taxpayer bailed out. They are the banks that brought huge and savage austerity on the backs of families throughout this country. They continue to evict families from their family homes, but they will not pay a single cent in tax.
This budget continues the bonanza for landlords. The provision of 100% mortgage interest relief to them in respect of the purchase, improvement and repair of properties will be hugely damaging to the housing market. It will enable landlords to outbid young people in the purchase of houses and it will drive up prices even further. This provision should be withdrawn immediately.
This budget also provides an additional €121 million for landlords under the guise of the HAP scheme, on top of the €1.1 billion provided in 2018 under this scheme for landlords. This is hugely damaging to housing and families. The Government is again putting its trust in private developers and private landlords to solve the housing crisis, which they have never done and never will do. It is time the Government changed its policy on housing. We need public housing on public land and in huge numbers.
This budget widens the divide between the rich and poor. Ireland is a wealthy country. Taking GDP per head of population, Ireland is wealthier than Germany, the UK, the US, France and Italy. Overall, Ireland is ranked eighth in the world in wealth terms. The top 10,000 earners here have incomes totalling €6 billion per annum, which is an average of €600,000 each. They have received the full benefit of the income tax and USC reductions over the past three years and in this budget. The top 5% of all income earners on incomes of €180,000 per annum received income tax and USC reductions in the past two budgets totalling €172 million. Today, they again will benefit in full from the income and USC reductions and fabulously wealthy people will escape any additional imposition on their massive and growing wealth.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, SVP, budget submission months ago sketched the background to this budget. Its document entitled, Paving a Pathway out of Poverty, sets out the situation for ordinary people in this country. Some 780,000 people are living below the poverty line; 70,000 children are growing up in poverty; 10,000 people are homeless, including almost 4,000 children; there are 100,000 families on local authority housing waiting lists; there are 102,000 working poor; 48% of people went without heating owing to cost; 520,000 adults have poor literary skills and, last year, the society received 130,000 calls for assistance and supported families to the tune of €27 million.
This budget will do nothing for the people the SVP helped last year and have been helping for years. If the issues raised by the SVP are to be tackled, rich and powerful people in this society will have to be made pay their fair share. If national and local ssues are to be tackled successfully and if public services are to be improved and additional services provided, wealthy people in this country, which is the eighth wealthiest in the world, must be made pay their fair Share.
Issues need to be dealt with in my constituency of Tipperary. There is an urgent need for acute inpatient mental health beds in Tipperary. These beds need to be put in place to replace the beds lost when former Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch, unfairly, unjustly and, in my view, outrageously closed St. Michael's unit in Clonmel. Moneys from this budget must be ring-fenced to ensure beds are opened to replace those that were wrongly closed and to properly resource, staff and fund community mental health teams and CAMHS teams in Tipperary. Mental health services in the county are substandard, acute beds are non-existent and these issues need to be tackled urgently. I have raised them on numerous occasions and will return to them in the near future.
Communities in rural towns throughout the country, including Tipperary town, Carrick-on-Suir, Thurles, Nenagh and Roscrea, have been abandoned by this Government and by previous Governments. They need support from Government so that they can develop economically and socially and create jobs, boost the retail trade, build public housing and support community facilities.
The Project 2040 plan is not fit for purpose when it comes to rural Ireland and, in particular, rural market towns. This plan must be revisited urgently to ensure towns such as those I have mentioned are targeted for development and job creation.
I have referred to the health services in Tipperary but I would like to address the issue of the assessment of needs for children with disabilities.
Under the Disability Act 2015 assessments of need are required to be ompleted within six months of a referral but throughout the country, including in Tipperary, this provision is not being adhered to. The HSE is breaking the law in this regard. I have been contacted by numerous families who have been told in writing by the HSE in Tipperary that their child will not be seen for two years. It is vital that young children are assessed at an early age if they are to benefit from the services that should be provided for them.
There is also a white elephant in Cashel, County Tipperary, in what was formerly Our Lady's Hospital. That hospital was upgraded at a cost of some €14 million and fully fitted out as a hospital, but the ward areas have been closed for years now. That refurbished area was to be opened up as a 65 bed hospital to provide step-down, palliative care and district hospital facilities. It is a shame that it is still vacant and it should be opened to provide a back up to the other hospitals in the area - South Tipperary
General Hospital and University Hospital Limerick.
On roads, I welcome the additional investment of €40 million for the upkeep of local and regional roads. Regional roads and local roads, in particular, are in an absolutely atrocious state across the country, including in Tipperary. The figure which Tipperary County Council management has indicated would be needed to upgrade the roads in the county to a reasonable standard is €196 million.
Obviously, €40 million nationally will not go very far on that. I wish to raise the question of the upgrading of the N24 to motorway status again. That is the lifeblood of social and economic activity all the way from Limerick to Wexford. The upgrade would include the bypassing of Tipperary town, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir. That needs to be done as soon as possible.
On education, the increase in capitation is welcome even though it is not huge. It would appear that some money has been made available for leadership and working principals. I hope there is enough money in that to ensure that principals are able to properly carry out their functions on an ongoing basis and have the time and space to do same. There does not appear to be a change in class sizes, nor does there appear to be any provisions in place regarding official panels, which are badly needed.
I have spoken consistently about housing in this Chamber for a number of years.
Like earlier speakers, I must also say that the provisions in this budget on housing are disappointing to put it mildly. The fact of the matter is that there is a housing emergency out there. It is time this Government acknowledged that emergency and implemented the Private Members' motion which was passed here last week, requesting the declaration of a statutory emergency by the Oireachtas. Unless and until that is done, the housing situation will get worse. On a daily basis I have families contacting me who are homeless, have got notice to quit or are couch-surfing with relatives and friends. The situation has gotten worse over the last 12 months and the provisions in this budget will certainly not make any effective difference to it. We need the emergency to be declared and we need evictions to stop.
There is a need for families to be allowed to retain their tenancies in sale situations so that they are not forced out of their private rented accommodation into homelessness. We need a huge emergency building programme of public housing on public land and we need to do that quickly.
I ask the Government again to look at the proposal by Irish Water to bring water from the Shannon to Dublin. This is a hugely wasteful proposal which will be a waste of public money if it goes ahead. The pipes in Dublin are leaking over 50% of the water that goes into them. It is a situation that is seen nowhere else in the western world. In most European countries and cities the maximum leakage is in the region of 10%. The highest figure that we know of is in London which is at 25%. Apart from the words of the Fight the Pipe Ireland organisation in Tipperary and Ms Emma Kennedy who has done an analysis on this, a professor in Dublin City University has recently said that going ahead with this project is akin to throwing money out of an open window.
As I have said, this is hugely wasteful and completely unnecessary. The pipes in Dublin need to be replaced because otherwise water will be sent from the Shannon into the ground in Dublin because the pipes will be leaking out over 50% of the water.
I am not at all happy that this budget deals with the real world in any way. This Government, the Independent Alliance and Fianna Fáil have lost all contact with ordinary people and this budget book of Estimates proves that.