I note from October’s Exchequer returns that income tax is approximately €94 million, which is 0.6% below target, and VAT is €286 million, or 2.6% below target. Is the Minister concerned by these figures, given the fact that these taxes together comprise two thirds of revenue? Are we already beginning to see the impact of Brexit on domestic demand? Are the budget 2016 and budget 2017 figures beginning to unravel?
In my speech on budget 2017 I welcomed the very small and partial restorations of social welfare payments by €5 per week. I also welcomed the increase from 75% to 85% in the Christmas bonus payment. Of course I would like to see the bonus fully restored because I know it is a huge help to social welfare recipients at a very expensive and stressful time of year.
In my pre-budget submission to the Ministers, Deputies Noonan and Donohoe, I called for a more significant increase for pensioners of at least €7 per week, a further increase in child benefit by at least €5 more per child per month and an increase in family income supplement thresholds by at least €5.
This is a question we put to the Minister very strongly at the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. Projections to 2021 indicate that capital spending is barely keeping pace with depreciation. Professor Tom McDonnell of the Nevin Economic Research Institute, NERI, made that point to us most strongly. In fact, the figures he gave us showed that they are below normal accounting depreciation rates. That is a matter of grave concern. We have talked about our infrastructure, including metro north and having a proper road network for the north west and west as well as all the other capital needs of the country, especially housing. Is it not the case that the Minister needs to ramp up capital spending?
Brexit represents one of the biggest challenges to the State since 1922. As I said in the first debate we had in the House just after the vote in the UK, there should be a Minister for Brexit here. Fianna Fáil has now taken a similar position. The issue is so important and critical to our future that we should adopt that position. The Minister has allocated certain moneys in the budget to address Brexit, including the farmers’ loan and the continuation of the 9% VAT rate, which is very expensive. Tourism from the UK is already down 12% in recent months. However, the actual figure the Minister has allocated for Brexit per se is very small. How does the Minister interact with the Taoiseach’s committee and what kind of funding will be needed in the next few years?
It was comical listening earlier to the response of Deputy Michael McGrath and Fianna Fáil, still torn between pretending to be an Opposition party and being a party of government. Of course, this a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil administration which has cobbled together the budget before us. This is the 11th austerity budget since autumn 2008 when Fianna Fáil began a decade of austerity and capped expenditure. I welcome some of the small restorations of payments in what is essentially a standstill budget. I sent in my own submission to both Ministers, which outlined a number of measures I felt could have been included with even a reasonably extended fiscal space, significantly beyond the €1.2 billion provided for in this budget.
Today in Dáil Éireann, Deputy Broughan criticised the Government’s Budget 2017, calling it a missed opportunity to finally end austerity. In his own pre-Budget submission to Ministers Noonan and Donohue, Deputy Broughan called for the Government to end the continued suffocating application of the EU Budgetary Rule with its Expenditure Benchmark, Convergence Margin and Reference Rate, and Debt Rule which combine to continue the austerity-era cap on Government Expenditure Ceiling.
Deputy Broughan, this week, received a reply to a Parliamentary Question he raised recently on the monthly expenditure of the Health Service Executive (HSE) on agency staff following a briefing by unions representing nurses and midwives. He was shocked to see the extent of expenditure on agency staff which has amounted to €197,931,000 in the first 7 months of the year. In January 2016, €27,349,000 was spent on agency staff, this increased to €27,431,000 in February, and again increased to €28,082,000 in March 2016. The increases continued in April 2016 up to €28,264,000 and May to €28,569,000 but decreased slightly in June to €28,202,000. The spend in July saw a large increase to €30,034,000.