Wednesday, 5 December 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
[Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: ] It is a cruel irony that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, pays her special adviser €127,000 per annum. Fancy that. The Minister for welfare cutbacks awards her adviser €127,000. The Government should have ended that situation today. It should have capped the pay of special advisers. It should have abolished the special payments for committee chairpersons. It should have gone much further and placed a cap on politicians' pay. If this Government was serious, worth its salt and committed to fairness that is what it would have done but the truth is that under Fine Gael and Labour, a great deal was promised but in reality the same old boys club culture remains.
I can see in my mind’s eye the Economic Management Council, a very grandiose title. I can see the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Ministers for financial misery - four men in a huddle - reassuring each other, to borrow the words of the Minister, Deputy Howlin, earlier, that they would get through these difficult times. Good for them.
The Taoiseach: It is a bit different from the army council.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: It is a pity they did not consider how others - citizens, families, mothers and women - will make it through these times. So enamoured of themselves are they that they still pay themselves way over the odds by European standards. I will give the Taoiseach an example. The French President earns €20,000 a year less than the Taoiseach. French Ministers are paid €40,000 less a year than their Irish counterparts. I will spell that out for him. France is not in a bailout, and its population is 13 times that of our own. Are the Ministers opposite really worth it? Are they for real?
The health service is under unbearable strain; it is just not working. The Minister, Deputy James Reilly, is not up to the job of management or reform. Under his watch 870 hospital beds have closed, 1,200 nursing home beds have closed, 950,000 home help hours have been cut from the system, and there have been cuts to disability services.
We know also that last year's budget was a work of fiction. It is ironic that the very Department that requires a supplementary budget of €360 million, is now to be cut by €1.1 billion in a full year. How on earth will the Minister do that without damaging the most basic of care?
The Minister gives no credible detail in his budget in terms of the savings he proposes from generic medicines or private income from beds in public hospitals. We do not have the detail on this but it is fascinating that the Minister will make a cut of €44 million to primary schemes. He has hit the electricity and gas package for the elderly by €23 million and their telephone allocation by €61 million.
The Minister has targeted education again. Once again he will ask third level students for an additional €250. I do not know if the Minister sees the contradiction between his stated position for educational excellence for a knowledge economy and pricing students out of education but students can now see his two-faced approach. He sold them a pup at the last election. He will not do that again because the students are not fools.
It is less than three weeks to Christmas and families have scrimped and saved to provide for the holiday period. People do not have very much now, but they still have pride in themselves and in their families. They still have a sense of what is right, fair and just.
The need to take tough decisions is a constant refrain of this Government but tough for who? It confuses hard decisions with bad decisions. It looks for soft options and soft targets. The spectacle of a Government that talks tough when punishing its own people and yet time and again returns home from European Council meetings with its tail between its legs is truly pitiful. It is unworthy of those it represents.
Has the Taoiseach had the tough talk with Angela Merkel or the lads from the troika? Has he told them that we cannot and should not be expected to pay the debts of others? He has not. He disguises his lily-livered, gutless interaction with our European Union partners with guff about repairing our international reputation. Give us a break.
If the Taoiseach is unable to secure a deal on the debt burden, on the promissory note, and if he is incapable of deficit reduction that does not crush low and middle income families then he is not up to the job of government. It is that simple.
This Government is now 20 months in office and this is its second budget. There is nowhere for it to hide. It chose the well-worn path of the Fianna Fáil gang that went before it. Fianna Fáil brought this State to its knees and now Labour and Fine Gael are keeping it there. Fianna Fáil sheltered the rich, protected wealth and insulated privilege. Now this Government follows suit. Its choice is to protect those at the top and punish the rest. It should not come into this Dáil ever again and waffle about fairness. This Government is not fair. It could not handle fairness, and its budget today is testament to that.
An Ceann Comhairle: We now move on to time allocated to the Technical Group. Time is being shared among Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett, Stephen Donnelly, Thomas Pringle, Clare Daly, who will have four minutes, and Mick Wallace, who will have eight minutes. Deputies Finian McGrath, Seamus Healy, Catherine Murphy, Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and Mattie McGrath have six minutes each.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: I wish I could say otherwise but today is another day of shame for this Government. It is not a day of hard choices, as it kept repeating. It is a day of cruel choices inflicted by those who are protecting the privileged and the powerful on those who are struggling and in despair. It is a day when it has driven tens of thousands of families who were teetering on the edge of poverty into poverty. It is a day when it has hammered a few more nails into the coffin of the battered Irish economy.
I say to the Tánaiste that this Government had a choice. A few simple measures could have done away with the need for all the suffering it has inflicted on ordinary families today. If it had simply enforced, as we suggested, the 12.5% corporation tax rate and increased in a significant way the taxes on those earning in excess of €100,000 a year, as 88% of the population now want it to do, it could have done away with the need for all this suffering and despair and all those families being driven into poverty.
If the Government had done that not only could it have prevented these vicious cuts but it would have had the resources to reverse some of the most vicious cuts imposed in recent years. It could have abolished the universal social charge for those on average incomes. It could have lifted the special needs assistant, SNA, caps that have caused such suffering to some of the most vulnerable families. It could have reinstated the Christmas bonus for social welfare recipients and for pensioners. It could have reinstated the home help hours for the elderly and the disabled. It could have reversed the increases in registration fees and the cuts in grants for students and many more of the nasty cuts that have been imposed in the past two years. To do all of that would have cost approximately €3 billion. Those measures alone would have been covered just by making the corporations that made €70 billion in pre-tax profits last year pay a little more tax, and all that suffering could have been avoided.
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