On Monday, I held my weekly information clinics in Darndale and Donnycarney. On Tuesday afternoon, I attended the meeting of the Budgetary Oversight Committee and questioned officials from the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (IFAC) on the Fiscal Assessment Report (June 2019). The Committee was later attended by the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform where we discussed the future of the Local Property Tax.
When this Government started in 2011, we had a second budget – a mini-budget – that year. In 2009, we had a kind of major budget to address the deficiencies in the 2008 budget. If there is a general election this year, it is probably inevitable that we will have a second budget. After the revisions and rescheduling that we discussed in the House last week, is it not likely that regardless of what happens on Brexit, the Government, if it is still in office, will have to come forward with another budget?
I am grateful for the opportunity to comment on the Bill and on the rainy-day fund. At the Committee on Budgetary Oversight last year, I strongly opposed the establishment of this fund at this very precarious and dangerous time for our economy and country. I felt then and still believe that all available current and capital resources should be allocated to addressing the serious needs of our people in health, housing, education, public transport and disability services and in the restoration of public sector salaries to pre-crash levels. Like many Deputies, I was out on the picket lines this morning with our nurses. Resources should also be allocated to the ending of all discrimination against younger public servants, particularly in health and education.
I also welcome this short but important Bill which amends the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act 2003. A key element is continuing funding for the commission until the end of 2021. I note that in the next three years funding is to be increased by 14% and capped at a sum of €422,270,000.
Another key function of the Bill is to place on a statutory basis the excellent Parliamentary Budget Office. I am a member of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight and was a member of the preceding Select Committee on Arrangements for Budgetary Scrutiny which strongly recommended the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office.
Deputy Broughan recently asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, to report on how many abhaile scheme vouchers had been issued since the introduction of the scheme by county. Abhaile is a free service provided to people in mortgage arrears and “its aim is to help mortgage holders in arrears to find the best solutions and keep them, wherever possible, in their own homes”. Abhaile is administered through MABS, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS).
I am delighted to have a brief opportunity to speak in support of the European Investment Fund Agreement Bill 2018. The Minister of State wants to pass this Bill urgently and to have provisions in place to implement the scheme early in 2019. There is a sense of urgency every day as we see events taking place at Westminster.
The Bill gives the Ministers for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Business, Enterprise and Innovation the power to enter into agreements with the European Investment Fund to facilitate the future growth loan scheme, which was announced in budget 2019. Initially I wondered why it was necessary. Why did the Attorney General state the Government could not establish the fund? When Mr. Andrew McDowell appeared before one of the finance committees – it may have been the Committee on Budgetary Oversight – he urged us to try to draw down more money from the European Investment Bank, of which he is our director, for infrastructural projects, small businesses and all types of business. Will the Minister of State comment on that?
On Tuesday morning I attended a board meeting of the Coolock Development Council, of which I am a member. At 11am that morning, I joined with hundreds of others as we walked with the Stardust Relatives’ and Victims’ Committee from Westland Row to the Attorney General’s office on Merrion Street. I carried one of the boxes which contained one thousand signed ‘Truth’ postcards and helped deliver the 48,000 postcards to the Merrion St. Later that afternoon, during Leaders’ Questions, I asked the Taoiseach if he will instruct the Attorney General to open a new inquest into the tragic deaths of 48 young people on the night of the 14th of February 1981. I welcomed news that the Attorney General, Seamus Wolfe, is awaiting the official papers to be served and will examine them once received.
The Minister may remember I raised concerns about the refinancing of some of our benchmark bonds in 2018 and 2019 with him, the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and the previous Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. Since 2008, our national debt and interest payments are approximately the same size as the budget that the Minister launched a couple of weeks ago. The overall size of national debt is projected to be more than 100% of gross national income. What are the Minister’s projections for the next four or five years, particularly in regard to refinancing?
This week I have been working on my quarterly newsletter, Northsider Vol 26 No 4 and hope to have it finalised and distributed in coming weeks. On Tuesday morning, I questioned the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, on the changing services of Family Resource Centres in working with families and children experiencing homelessness. Later that day I spoke in support of the Motion on Apprenticeships and called for a greater range of apprenticeships to be available. This is a very important part of our education and training sector and increased efforts must be made to improve participation rates, particularly among women.
Today I started my day by voting for Michael D Higgins for a second term as President of Ireland and by voting ‘yes’ to remove blasphemy as an offence from the Constitution. I wish him the very best of luck in today’s election.