This evening, Deputy Broughan has blasted Fianna Fáil for bringing forward a motion on ‘Correcting Pension Inequities’ just 10days since they signed off on Budget 2018 with their coalition partners Fine Gael. Where was Fianna Fáil’s concern when negotiations were ongoing for Budget 2018? One can’t help but wonder if this was an agreed publicity stunt between the two right wing parties prior to Budget Day last week – let the Finance Minister call the situation ‘bonkers’ on air and then Fianna Fáil can swoop in to the rescue with a motion that will surely pass in the Dáil. It is, of course, the second such budget that Fianna Fáil has facilitated in the 32nd Dáil and yet neither have addressed the PRSI contribution band changes introduced in Budget 2012.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on budget 2018. In my own pre-budget submission, which I sent to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, last week, I highlighted the need for investment, in particular in housing, public infrastructure and necessary public spending. Indeed, recent opinion polls confirmed that the majority of the electorate wanted to see that kind of investment rather than have an extra €4 or €5 in their pockets. While there are a few small improvements in areas like housing, health and education in the Minister’s first budget, my overall first impression is one of deep disappointment and a sense of huge missed opportunities by the so-called Government of opportunity.
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.
The Dáil officially started back for the Autumn/Winter term on Wednesday afternoon, the 20th of September. Of course, the Committees were already back last week and the Budgetary Oversight Committee, of which I am a member, is meeting twice per week throughout September as we prepare for Budget 2018. This week and last we heard again from representatives from IBEC, NERI, ESRI, ICTU and others. Next week, we will meet again with the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohue.
In February 2017, Deputy Broughan asked the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, to report on the number of persons waiting for back surgery at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin 9; the average waiting time for this type of surgery and the immediate steps being taken to deal with the waiting times. Deputy Broughan raised this matter after the shocking and disturbing RTE Prime Time Investigates Programme ‘Living on the List’ was aired and detailed the painful conditions which are being left untreated for long periods of time.
Deputy Broughan welcomed the Minister for Social Protection, Regina Doherty’s recent comments about prioritising addressing child poverty and lone-parent families in Budget 2018. While last year’s increase to all Social Protection payments was also very welcome, a targeted effort must be made on lifting children out of poverty.
This was a week of long Dáil days in the final week of the plenary Dáil session. On Tuesday, I spoke in a short debate on the 22nd anniversary of the horrific Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina. On Wednesday, I attended and spoke at the Budgetary Oversight Committee which is completing its report on Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016/2021. Later that day I attended the Ceann Comhairle’s Committee on Procedure.
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?
Well it was the first full week of Leo Varadkar’s period in office as Taoiseach and it was predictable to say the least. He staunchly stuck to his party’s neo-liberal approach and defended the cronyism which allowed the former Attorney General to receive a new job without due process. Of course, the so-called Independents, such as Ministers Shane Ross and Finian McGrath, facilitated this move.
I asked the Taoiseach about this earlier but I still find the answers supplied to my colleague, Deputy Boyd Barrett, a bit dispiriting. The 43,000 pensioners referenced will still be at a loss as the months and years go on. Has the Minister made any attempt to begin costing and ensuring we can have a gender-proofed universal pensions with a move to a system of caring credits?