The Minister of State, Deputy D’Arcy, might remember that a few weeks ago I raised the issue of tax expenditures with the Taoiseach on Leaders’ Questions. I put to the Taoiseach that all 11 or 12 budgets introduced by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael during the decade or more of austerity were accompanied by Finance Bills which provided for continually massive tax expenditures. I refer to briefing paper 13 of 2018 by our diligent and excellent Parliamentary Budget Office, which estimated basic tax expenditure costs at over €5 billion in 2016, rising from €4.7 billion in 2014. Of course, the Department of Finance only began reporting on these vast expenditures in 2014. Members received the Department’s report on the 2017 expenditures on the day after the budget was introduced as opposed to with the rest of the documents relating to the budget.
Ireland has been a net contributor to the EU budget since 2014. It is one of nine of the current 28 member states that are now net contributors. Ireland’s contribution for this year will be €2.7 billion. How does the Minister envisage this sum rising in the context of our contribution in 2019 and 2020? It is a very large contribution. It is approximately twice the annual budget for the Garda Síochána. How would a no-deal Brexit and the proposal relating to the MFF impact on this?
I am delighted to have a brief opportunity to contribute to the debate. The next meeting of the European Council will take place in Brussels tomorrow and Friday, where there will be discussions on migration, including reform of the Common European Asylum System, CEAS, the economy and multi-annual financial framework, PESCO and co-operation with NATO, and, most important for us, Brexit. On Sunday last, 16 of the 28 EU leaders held a mini-summit hosted by the Commission on the migration crisis. We have noted the fallout between the Council and the Commission regarding the organisation of that summit. It is clear that migration will be one of the most contentious issues on which to find consensus during the summit. A pan-European approach to migration is essential, particularly as we think of people who have died trying to cross into Europe because they wanted to migrate here.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I am delighted on Europe Day to have the opportunity to contribute briefly to this important debate. Clearly the EU is facing major challenges over the next few years, and the decision of the British people to opt for Brexit has offered an existential challenge to its very existence. In virtually every EU country, of course, there have been ongoing and long-standing concerns over the levels of democracy, accountability and transparency in the EU’s quasi-federal structures. These concerns have often been too easily dismissed as populism by commentators who, of course, are devoted to the EU project. The conduct of the bailouts of euro members like Ireland, Greece and Portugal since 2010 has greatly exacerbated these misgivings and reservations among the European electorates. The great Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance Minister, is now forming his own Europe-wide political party, which we may see in Ireland.
Deputy Broughan recently asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Business; Enterprise and Innovation, Frances Fitzgerald to report on the number of staff requests by each State agency under the remit of her department in each of the years 2014 to 2017 and the number of staff subsequently hired in each year in this period.
When the Minister and the Minister of State are rambling around the country, they always say that access to working capital is the key issue for SMEs. How are Microfinance Ireland and credit schemes for indigenous companies performing, in particular the credit guarantee scheme, CGS, 2017? The counter guarantee scheme still awaits the publication of a statutory instrument.
The Government announced a new €300 million Brexit fund. How will that operate in particular to support SMEs?
On Thursday this week, I got the opportunity to speak on the Water Services Bill 2017. I recalled the long and successful struggle of the Right2Water campaign in Dublin Bay North and throughout Ireland and paid tribute to the tens of thousands of citizens who peacefully and steadfastly opposed water charges and the privatisation of water supplies. I warned that Part 2 of the Bill on water allowances, thresholds amounts must not be permitted to become an excuse for the reintroduction of charges through the back door and called for amendments to this part of the Bill and to the provisions on Irish Water itself.
I attended the Committee for Budgetary Oversight earlier today and it was good to hear that the Minister for Finance is to introduce a Brexit package to support Irish businesses, exporters and hopefully the Irish farming sector. Witnesses at a recent Committee for Budgetary Oversight, including the Irish Tax Institute, IBEC and the chambers of commerce, all called for additional supports for companies that will be strongly impacted by Brexit whether in 2019 or 2021. I hope that any such tax expenditure will have detailed costings and that a time cap is put on whatever provisions the Minister will bring forward. Undoubtedly some supports are necessary for Irish industry and agriculture and the EU 27 should contribute heavily to their funding. I welcome that the Minster for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, inaugurated the stakeholders’ forum. The reality of the vital necessity to protect the North of Ireland and its people, in respect of Brexit, came home to us recently when the UK Office for National Statistics, in conjunction with Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency and Ireland’s Central Statistics Office showed us quite clearly the incredible amount of interaction between the North and the South. There are 110 million Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland crossings back and forth annually and a huge number of rail passengers.
I also wish the Minister well in her new portfolio. I am sure she will miss the Department of Justice and Equality and the lengthy questions both I and other Deputies used to submit to her. I also wish the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, well in the portfolio he has retained.
Budget 2018 will be vital. I do not agree with removing any part of the Department and transferring it to another Department. In what appears to be a reflection of the hard right ideology of the new Taoiseach, it appears employment will be moved into the Department of Social Protection. These are different functions and responsibility for employment should be in the same Department as responsibility for jobs. What areas will not be included in the Department’s Estimates this year?
I echo the comments made by my colleague, Deputy Wallace, on defence matters. It is heartening to know that in his speech earlier the Taoiseach committed fully to the Paris climate change agreement and said that the 27 member states would stand together very firmly on that. I acknowledge his comments on migration and digital Europe. They are welcome but he needs to indicate clearly whether Ireland is living up to its commitments on migration.