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Sinn Féin President elect Mary Lou McDonald TD gives her first major speech to party activists


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The Sinn Féin spokesperson on energy and natural resources, Michael Colreavy TD, has welcomed the decision to remove the refinery license at Bellanaboy, Co. Mayo, from the Shell Corrib gas consortium. The license was removed by the Commercial Court this afternoon due to a defective environment impact assessment made by the Environmental Protection Authority.

The Leitrim/Sligo TD said:

“It is quite clear, as the court ruled, that no license should have been granted prior to the impact assessment being made. It is evident too that serious questions still remain regarding the actual impact which the refinery as currently proposed will have on the locality.

“I also welcome the decision as it provides another breathing space in which the proper revenue regime can be applied to the profits from the gas when it does come on shore, and that the state takes a role to ensure that the Irish people benefit from a potentially massively valuable natural resource off our shores.”

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Sinn Fein Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD has described Budget 2014 as another major mistake from the government.

Deputy Doherty said:

“When in opposition Michael Noonan called the Fianna Fail’s budgets “major mistakes”. Today he made another major mistake.

“This budget should have been about reducing the tax burden on ordinary families, protecting public services and investing in jobs. Instead it is another anti-growth and unfair budget.

“This is Minister Noonan’s third budget and the third peddling the same policies which he himself said were counterproductive in opposition. Those policies have led us to the point where we are to expect nothing but 0% growth, high unemployment levels, emigration and poverty.

“The cuts to the bereavement grant and young people’s jobseekers’ allowance are brutal and mean. The opportunity to give people a break has been missed once more and the burden has been put onto the most vulnerable once more.

“Sinn Fein showed in our alternative budget how some of the worst cuts could have been reversed and the deficit reduced through fair taxes and a range of savings. By pushing for extra austerity this government has once more mad a major mistake.”

 

Full text of Pearse Doherty’s speech. Check against delivery

Minister I want to start off by reading you something.

“The Government has made major mistakes and they continue to make them today. The Government never learned that one cannot tax and cut one’s way out of a recession. One can only grow out of a recession. Consequently, their slash and burn policies were counter-productive.”

Minister, that is spot on.

I couldn’t have written that better myself – in fact I think I’ve said something like that in previous budget speeches.

But I didn’t write that Minister. You did.

You wrote it and delivered it in this chamber, when you were on this side of the house and Fianna Fail was on that side, in December 2010.

So what’s happened Minister?

Did you believe that when you said it and what has changed?

Because here we are, on your third budget announcement, and again you are peddling the same policies which you yourself said are counterproductive.

Those policies have led us to the point where we are to expect nothing but 0% growth, high unemployment levels, emigration and poverty.

Geallann sibh cuid mhór, ach is beag a chuireann sibh ar fáil.

 

1913 Lockout

Minister your government delivers its third austerity budget in the year we mark the 1913 lockout, a time when great Irish men and women stood up against greed, unfairness and the unending pursuit of profit on the backs of Irish workers.

One hundred years after the great event, the words of the poem that celebrated it should be engraved over the office doors of the Minister for Finance:

“What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone.”

Minister, Fine Gael and Labour have truly dried the marrow from the bone.

Along with Fianna Fail, you have inflicted upon the Irish people six successive years of austerity and over €28 billion in taxes and cuts; and you come in here today and tell the Irish people that that was not enough.

You tell them that ordinary families must pay more taxes, see their public services diminished even further and their safety nets taken away, while you fumble in the greasy till and protect the highest earners, including yourselves.

Ní thig libh a thuilleadh a fháisceadh as muintir na hÉirean.

100 years after the lockout, your Government has locked itself into austerity.

The Irish people, locked outside the gates today and protesting this budget will be ignored by you, as they are every year.

Like in 1913, this is a day when they deserve to see courage and leadership in addressing the economic woes inflicted on our State.

My party has categorically proven that this Government has a range of options in front of it when it comes to formulating the budget.

We submitted to you last week a detailed Fair budget proposal.

It would have reduced the tax burden for ordinary families.

It would have protected public services.

It would have invested in jobs, in a very real way, to create the numbers of jobs needed to kickstart growth in this economy.

And it was costed by your own departments, the only party to have done so.

Minister, I am more than aware of the problems facing our state.

Tá an imirce an dífhostaíocht agus an bhochtaineacht mar chuid de ghnáth shaol na ndaoine anois ar fud na tíre, ach feicimse seo ach go h-áirithe i dTír Chonaill agus Iarthar na hÉireann.

Is as Iarthar na hÉireann don Taoiseach, ach tá sé soiléir go dtugann sé cúl le cine agus go ndéanann sé dearmad ar mhuintir Mhuigh Eo a luaithe is a shuíonn sé isteach ina charr le aghaidh a thabhairt ar Bhaile Átha Cliath.

The Sinn Féin party does not shrink from meeting the economic problems we face.

We would face them with courage, with leadership, with honesty and most importantly, with solutions.

What you have given people today is another budget lacking in vision and lacking in fair solutions.

It is, for the third time, a complete capitulation by the Labour Party, who have sold their principles for the price of power and delivered here today more cuts to the very departments they claimed they would protect.

What they did?

Minister, you’re an expert at delivering these budget speeches now.

As usual, you lead off with all the guff about how great you are and bury the bad news.

You don’t make a €2.5 billion adjustment made up mainly of cuts without hitting people where it hurts.

This is a budget written by spin doctors.

The devil is always in the detail.

And you have gone back to the same hard-pressed families as usual and asked for more.

Hikes in excise duty.

Cuts to maternity benefit. That’s the second time you’ve hit mothers.

Cuts to illness benefit. Cuts to the drugs initiative of 7%.

A cut to the telephone allowance.

I mean – what is your goal with that one – hit the OAPs, but take away their phones so they can’t ring you to complain?

An increase in the rent supplement contribution.

You’ve abolished the bereavement grant. How low will you go?

There are measures that you have introduced as you try to soften the blow and I welcome them, because they are measures we called for.

However, the context in which you introduce them is brutal.

You introduce free GP care for under-fives when you are at the same time withdrawing medical cards from very vulnerable people.

You are pitting grandparent against grandchild to make pitiful savings and people can see through it.

I also welcome the decision to introduce a bank levy.

It is for too short a period however.

Your Government and the last Government pumped €65 billion into the banks.  A short-term levy does not compensate for that.  

But today we hear no mention of the game changer you promised last year – the seismic change from the ESM that was to ease the bank debt burden.

The fact is – the bitterness of what you are asking people to swallow today is made no sweeter by the handful of measures you hope to distract people with.

 

What they should have done

Minister, in the Sinn Féin fair budget alternative, we argued for a lesser adjustment to be made.

I am glad you heeded that call.

I am disappointed that you did it with a sleight of hand – introducing €2.5 billion of an adjustment in tax and savings, but also using money from the state’s cash reserves, from the sale of the lotto and other areas, to bring the actual adjustment up to €3.1 billion.

The Irish people aren’t naïve when it comes to the games of politicians.

They can see when they are being sold a pup because the Labour Party needs a fig leaf to cover its blushes.

'Céard dó a sheasann Páirtí an Lucht Oibre i dtólamh?'

What the Labour Party should have argued for, in addition to a lower adjustment, was a budget that gave the people something back.

That is what Sinn Féin’s fair budget proposed.

We set out a series of measures including:

·         abolishing the property tax for 1.8 million householders;

·         taking 296,000 low earners out of the USC;

·         restoring the full respite care grant;

·         reducing the cost of school books for children;

·         rolling out school meals to an additional 500 schools;

and increasing the fuel allowance season, all paid for and still allowing for an adjustment of just under €2.5 billion.

We proposed over 30 tax and savings measures, costed by your departments, to eliminate waste from public spending, reduce the salaries of politicians and high paid public sector workers, and ask those who could afford it to pay more tax.

Not only is this Government not prepared to give something back, but you come in and slash another €1.6 billion from essential frontline spending.

Over the last week we have heard parents of sick children and children with special needs describe the horrifically stressful situations they have found themselves in because they have lost medical cards.

Minister, the parents of these children should not have to become full time lobbyists to get your attention.

They should not have to spend precious time away from their children, who need them, writing letters and attending protests and ringing Government offices.

Nor should they have to produce a begging bowl to get what should be theirs by right.

Where is your threshold of decency?

I encountered one such group of parents and children this year.

It’s astonishing to imagine that up to now, the Government has been implementing a policy of providing profoundly deaf little children with only one hearing implant.

That’s the equivalent of providing a short-sighted child a pair of glasses with only one lens.

When the provision of two ear implants is better for that child’s development than one – why would you only give one?

And to make matters worse, when the one implant fails, which they frequently do, those children are cast back into the world of silence again.

I have heard the heartbreaking stories from the parents of these children who have had to witness their little babies distress, confusion and frustration when they go from hearing the world around them to hearing nothing.

These parents have ran a campaign all year for their children and for all of our children and they are in the gallery today Minister.

They are heroes.

The country’s purse strings are not yours and yours alone.

The money with which you run the State and pay yourself handsomely, comes from taxpayers’ pockets.

It comes from the pockets of these parents.

When you cut or underfund the health service – you are cutting and underfunding the service that taxpayers have paid for.

If your Minister cannot manage the Health budget, then he should be fired.  

If he has neither the guts, nor the will to take on the powerful lobby groups that suck money out of the health service like leeches, money that should be spent on medical cards and the provision of ear implants for deaf children, then he should be fired.

That is what An Taoiseach said he would do with Ministers who did not perform.

Mortgage Arrears

Minister, we have heard a lot of figures today. We should make sure though that we don’t forget some very important ones.

142, 892  - That was the number of mortgages in distress at the end of June this year.

It is a figure that has doubled under this Government.

Minister, you cannot even begin to imagine the worry that people who cannot pay their mortgages face.

You cannot put yourself in the place of a mother and father, who look at their young children every night and wonder, are they about to lose the roof over their heads?

It is not that these families will not pay their mortgages.

They cannot pay their mortgages.

Fianna Fáil housing policy saddled families with these unsustainable debts.

Fine Gael and Labour at every opportunity have protected the banks, and supported and enabled them in their moves against families with distressed mortgages.

Where on your priority list is the Irish family with a mortgage?

This year you were forced to acknowledge that mortgage distress is a problem because the stark facts on the banks’ balance sheets told you it was a problem.

What were your solutions?

You removed the Dunne judgment which protected the family home. You gave the banks the OK to send out nearly 15,000 legal letters threatening repossession.

And you allow Personal Insolvency Practitioners to cherry pick the most lucrative cases, leaving the banks happy in the knowledge that they have the final say.

In our fair budget proposal, we set out a plan for publicly funded personal insolvency practitioners, so at least every person in mortgage distress could be assured access to this service and have it free of charge.

Sinn Fein also produced legislation just last week that would have strengthened the hands of families with distressed mortgages in dealing with the banks.

Today you announce that you are going to cut mortgage interest supplement, a payment made to people with mortgages who have lost their jobs.

Is it our fault Minister that we look for logic where there is none in your policies?

Codlóidh sibh go sámh anocht fad is atá na h-athaireacha agus mathaireacha sin nach dtig leo a gcuid morgáistí a íoc ina luí dúisithe sa leaba agus iad buartha fán méid atá rompu maidin amárach.

Where you have been consistent is with the banks.

You are very clearly on their side.

You said you would implement the Mercer Report to cut bankers pay, yet you allowed the top bankers to make savings by firing lower paid staff , closing down branches and cutting customer care – while the likes of Richie Boucher, the head of Bank of Ireland, is allowed to continue to pay himself over €800,000 a year.

Not one of the 2,500 bankers who earn over €100,000 per annum has taken a pay cut.

Earlier this year to refused to use the state’s shareholding in the Bank of Ireland to force Richie Boucher to take a pay cut.

Riddle me this Minister.

You have no problem standing up here and telling young unemployed people, elderly people and even children that they have to take cuts, yet you balk at the notion of telling bankers they must reduce their oversized pay.

How do you justify that Minister?

How do you justify it to yourself and the Irish people that a 24 year old can live on €100 a week but Richie Boucher can pay himself over €800,000 a year?

 

The need for growth

Minister, the Irish people and the Irish economy are feeling the effects of your ambitionless policies.

We face the reality of 0% growth in 2013.

Yet you introduce a budget today which goes beyond the necessary target next year and aims for 4.8% deficit to GDP.

Every point of a percent extra is €160 million of additional cuts and taxes.

You cannot seriously believe that putting the foot on the accelerator of austerity will do anything for growth?

This from the Minister who stated so vehemently that you could not cut your way out of a recession.

Sinn Féin has shown how a multi-billion euro stimulus package could create in the region of 100,000 jobs. 

That is how you drive economic growth.

Jobs and Government

When this Government came to power the unemployment rate was 13.5%. Now it is 13.3%.

That in addition to the 176,000 that having emigrated on your Government’s watch.

60% of those unemployed are now categorised as long term unemployed.

The Jobs Minister is fond of saying that the Government does not create jobs, and this is very true of this Government.

We are in a jobs crisis and the Government’s official response has been to hold press launches and produce reports.

You have announced today what you call a €500 million stimulus.

I welcome the extension of the 9% VAT rate, we called for it.

I am also pleased to hear the announcement of several other measures, including raising the VAT accounting threshold as we called for in the Finance Committee.

But Minister, €500 million is a drop in the ocean for the crisis we face in jobs, and let’s be honest, it comes on top of a lot of undelivered announcements from you and your colleagues.

You are serial announcers, but always choke at the delivery.

The only box you don’t tick in your plans to create jobs is creating any jobs!

When are you going to start giving unemployed people the priority they deserve?

There’s €6.4 billion in the NPRF. The response has to be proportionate to the crisis, but you don’t get that.

Benefit Cut to Young People

Today you cut dole payments to young adults under 24.

Minister, these people were doing their junior certificate when this crisis started.

Yet you expect them to carry the can for the mistakes of this Government and the last.

Since this Government came to power there are 18,000 less young people working in the economy.

1,700 are emigrating of every week. The vast majority are young educated and underemployed.

We now have generation Skype and a whole generation of heartbroken parents.

The jobs Minister has set out the priorities for next year’s Action Plan for Jobs. There is no mention of young people.

You announce €14 million for a youth guarantee. Minister, it’s pathetic. A proper youth guarantee would require hundreds of millions.

Let’s call this cut to dole payments what it is – an incentive to emigrate.

End of the bailout

Minister, in spite of all this harsh reality, you stand over there clapping yourself on the back because we’re almost at the end of the bail-out programme.

The Irish people want to see us leave this bail-out but it’s because they believe on the other side of it we reclaim our sovereignty.

You have told them that the decisions that have been made were forced on us by the Troika.

But Minister, your mask has slipped.

The Troika is not making you go beyond next year’s targets with more austerity.

The Troika has not said you have to go another €480 million beyond your target, with more cuts and taxes. That’s your policy.

The Troika does not tell you where the axe should fall or on whom.

You’ve been making those choices yourself and will continue to do so.

And, to top it off, as a result of what you have signed up to in Europe, we are going to be under German and EU surveillance for a long time, but with no quid pro quo.

No debt write-off, no commitment on the bank debt, and no ease up on austerity.

Next year’s budget like this one will have to be passed in Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin.

While you congratulate yourself on how well you think you’re doing, you’re only revealing how utterly detached you are from the realities faced by the Irish people.

They will have listened to your speech and they’ll have been asking themselves, how did I benefit from the bail-out?

Here’s what happened from their perspective.

You borrowed €67 billion from the Troika, €65 billion of which you put into the banks.

You then went back to the people every year, for six years, and said we need to raise your taxes and cut your public services to pay for your bailout.

And when anyone raised the truth of what was happening with you, you resorted to the press line you were issued – ‘oh, this money is needed to pay the wages of the nurses and the teachers and the guards.’

The poor nurses, teachers and guards have been trotted out to defend every rotten decision Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour have made – as though they have been somehow insulated from your policies and haven’t been taxed and cut to the hilt themselves all the way.

Minister, you have no cause to be congratulating yourself.

Fianna Fáil created this crisis.

Fine Gael and Labour deepened this crisis and will leave us with a debt legacy for this crisis.

In 2008, our deficit was just over 7%. In 2013, the deficit is just over 7%.

In the interim, you’ve taken €28 billion out of the economy, crucified Irish families and decimated public services, all while protecting the banks.

That’s not something to celebrate.

Conclusion

Minister, how you treat the deficit, can add to or fix the problem.

There is scope for a deficit adjustment next year from fair measures, as Sinn Féin has shown.

But you don’t do fair.

In An Taoiseach’s speech to nominate the Government in 2011, he delivered a powerful observation of where the State was at.

He said:

“Our republic is betrayed.

People are frightened of losing their homes.

Parents are rendered speechless at the sight of their children boarding planes to countries where Spring is Autumn, and our today is their tomorrow.

Employers are traumatised by laying off staff and shutting down businesses.

Workers pray for invisibility, as they queue for the Dole.

Families worry that the neighbours might see the Vincent de Paul calling to their door.

Dreading the postman: dropping bills like stealth-bombs into the hall.”

Well. What has this Government done to make the situation better for those people An Taoiseach described?

The answer is nothing.

You’ve just intensified their pain, their worry and their anguish.

Our Republic is betrayed, Taoiseach.

You have had three opportunities now to fix that.

Three budgets.

But there is nothing in what you offered today to put the economy on the right track or to offer people the solace they need.

The bills will still fall from the letter box.

The planes will still be full of our young people leaving.

The dole queues still snake around the block.

People still fear losing their homes and the St. Vincent de Paul is busier than ever.

Minister, your budget is as empty as the words An Taoiseach use in his speeches. 

 

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Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald TD sharply criticised the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for falsely peddling his €1.6bn cuts to public spending as ‘fair’.

The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform said:

“Today Fine Gael and Labour have let the people down as we witness again the actions of a government that is arrogant, out of touch and utterly indifferent to the devastation that a cocktail of cutbacks, unemployment and emigration has had on our society.  

“It is nothing short of astonishing to hear government ministers use and abuse the vocabulary of fairness. Many terms can be used to describe your policies over the past years in government; many words can describe your vicious austerity budgets. Fairness is not one of them.

“A fair budget would have given low and middle income households a break by putting money back into their pockets.

“Government’s targeting of low and middle income families has been relentless, attacking the living standards and spending power of the average citizen has been ruthless. Your assault on basic social protections has been calculated and cruel.

“Getting rid of the bereavement grant, withdrawing the telephone allowance for the elderly and carers and cuts to social protection supports by up to a third for young people out of work are shocking. We can only conclude that this government is determined to leave struggling households in their despair and to force many thousands more of our young people onto the emigration path.

“People across the state and those in enforced exile will now wonder whether recovery is actually possible on your watch.  

“You’re now almost three years in office, three long years and the truth is that people have not seen any real improvement in their living standards. In fact the experiences of disabled children who have had their medical cards taken away, people with disabilities who have faced cut after cut , young jobless people, all of them see no prospect of improvement.

“Government’s management of the economy is not a success story, no matter how hard Fine Gael and Labour try to spin it. This Budget could have been used to give real relief to struggling families. Sinn Féin set out those costed alternatives in our fair budget proposal.  Sinn Féin’s Budget 2014 proposals are truly fair because we have sought to give low and middle income families a break by putting money back into their pockets.” ENDS

 

Full text of speech, check against delivery.

Budget 2014: Mary Lou McDonald TD Speech 
Today we needed to hear a message of hope. We needed to see actions to inspire confidence. You needed to take decisions to give some relief to families and workers who have been battered by your austerity budgets over your time in government. 

Today you have let the people down as we witness again the actions of a government that is arrogant, out of touch and utterly indifferent to the devastation that a cocktail of cutbacks, unemployment and emigration has had on our society.  

The sight of the Finance ministers taking to their feet on a message of hardship to deliver tough medicine to the citizens is now an annual Fine Gael and Labour party event.  Your constant refrain of fairness serves only to underline just how unfair your government is. 

It is nothing short of astonishing to hear you use and abuse the vocabulary of fairness. Many terms can be used to describe your policies over the past years in government; many words can describe your vicious austerity budgets. Fairness is not one of them.

Tá meadú suntasach agus méadú scanrúil tagtha ar lion na ndaoine a bhfuil ag streachailt lena chuid mórgaistí. Is iomaí clann atá faghtha gan pingin rua ag deireadh na míosa. 

Tá na daoine seo tuirseach agus tá said ag fulainngt. Tá sos uathu.

A Fair budget would have given low and middle income households a break by putting money back into their pockets.

Your targeting of low and middle income families has been relentless. Your attack on the living standards and spending power of the average citizen has been ruthless. Your assault on basic social protections has been calculated and cruel.

It sits side by side with an absolute determination to protect the wealthy and wealth itself. 
Having listened to the twin ministers for hardship Noonan and Howlin, I can only conclude that this government is determined to leave struggling households in their despair and to force many thousands more of our young people onto the emigration path. 

And yet you seem to live in a world of make believe, applauding yourselves for what you call tough decisions.  Congratulating each other for the bravery of your stance.  

So for the sake of clarity, for the record. You need to know that families who can’t heat their homes, couples that can’t make their mortgage repayments and parents who skype their children in Sydney and Boston won’t be joining in your chorus of self-praise.

People across the state and those in enforced exile will now wonder whether recovery is actually possible on your watch.  
You do not have a viable plan for economic growth, for employment, for debt relief. You clearly have no clue about the provision of decent public services? What makes this all the worse if that you obviously don’t care?
You’re now almost three years in office, three long years and the truth is that people have not seen any real improvement in their living standards. In fact the experiences of people who are sick and have had their medical cards taken away, people with disabilities who have faced cut after cut , young jobless people and people at work, all of them see no prospect of improvement. 

Your legacy right now is one of hopelessness. The citizens of this state could not have been clearer in the mandate they afforded you in 2011. They voted for change. What they got has proved to be more of the same.

Today marks the point where almost 30 billion euro has been bled from the economy.  Economic growth stands at 0% for this year.  Unemployment at 13.3%, with a long term unemployment rate of 46%.

This is not a success story, far from it no matter what way you spin it.    

This budget, to borrow a word from an Taoiseach, delivers another almighty ‘wallop’ to the people. 
The real tragedy, the real scandal, is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

You had the option to give real relief to struggling families. Sinn Féin set out those costed alternatives in our fair budget proposal.   Abolition of the tax on the family home, assistance with school books costs, help to heat the home, extension of school meals …. We put all of these measures on the table. All of them were deliverable.

Sinn Féin’s budget 2014 proposals are truly fair because we have sought to give low and middle income families a break by putting money back into their pockets. 

You could have taken the almost 300,000 of the lowest paid workers out of the tax net.  You could have honourably reversed your cut to the respite grant and given carers a break. You could have called a halt to the constant ratcheting up of third level fees. 


All of these measures were possible but you set your face against them.
Why? Is all the tea and sympathy rhetoric routinely spouted in this Dáil by government deputies just bluff?  Or is it something else? Could it be that you hold the people in contempt? 

SOCIAL WELFARE CUTS
You have cut the social welfare budget by €290m.  Joan Burton and the great champions of working people in the Labour party stand over this. 

You certainly seem to have a real problem with young people. What have they done to you?  Your cut of up to a third to jobseekers for people under 25 requires an explanation.  Is it that you think the under 25 are a layabout generation? Have you noticed that there are no jobs for them? Or are you simply giving them yet another reason to emigrate and become someone else’s problem? In making your announcement today you are only short of packing the cases and booking the flights for our young people. 

What kind of signal is Government sending to our young people? Graduates face indefinite periods of rolling unpaid internships. Minister Howlin recently admitted to taking on 35 such young people in his department, yet not one of these interns was offered a full time position – despite similar recruitment needs arising. Just recently the Minister has hired 3 additional researchers under the Jobsbridge scheme tasking them with the overhaul and simplification of the statute book. I give this specific example because it speaks volumes about this Government view of our young people. You are disinterested. You are dismissive.  You have no regard for them.  Minister Bruton’s coded language when it comes to 25 and under age group who find themselves without work is reprehensible. You people have failed to create the environment within which our young people can flourish. It’s that simple. 
You have failed to create the environment for job creation. You have cynically created the environment for emigration.  

The household package has been targeted again. 

Anyone who imagines that welfare recipients are living it up on their payments needs to get out more.  I challenge anyone, any member of this Dáil, I challenge Ministers Noonan and Howlin to get by on €188 a week. 

HEALTH CUTS

The decision to cut €666 million from the health budget is truly mystifying. This department routinely runs a budget overrun. Minister Reilly for all his bluster presides over that reality. Budget 2013 contained 1.173 billion euro in full year cuts. Minister Howlin presented a blanket figure with scant detail as to where specifically these savings would be found – and judging from today’s announcement this is now part of the course.  Minister Howlin clearly has as little control over the health budget as the Minister for Health. 

Your decision to extend free GP care to 5 years old and under is a welcome move but one that can only be taken in the context of the removal of medical cards from thousands of sick people. You have tried to deny the fact, but it is a fact nonetheless that removing discretionary medical cards from cancer patients and children with complex medical needs isHAPPENING and it is causing real hardship and distress. 

James Reilly tells the cameras that these people have fallen through the cracks – who is he kidding? Katie Connolly aged 5 from Cork has ‘fallen through the cracks’. Katie has Down Syndrome, asthma, a heart condition, juvenile arthritis.  Katie has been denied a medical card or a GP visit card.  

Media reports – no doubt leaked by Government insiders – tell us to have no expectation that this extension of GP care will be delivered in the New Year. Of course there’s no guarantee Minister Reilly will deliver on his commitment at all. The same Minister promised a GP card for all suffering with a long term illness within his first year in Government. Those people – with real and complex medical needs are still waiting for this promise to be kept. Katie and all of the other Katies the length and breadth of the state need to be awarded and keep their medical cards. 

Changes in eligibility rules for medical cards from will mean increased pressure on elderly people.

Your government has failed to realise the huge savings possible through the use of generic drugs and by driving value for money deals with the large pharmaceutical companies. 

Nowhere in today’s budget is there a recognition of the fact that the frontline is under unbearable strain. The waiting lists for surgeries and procedures grow. The HSE confirmed to me this week that it cannot provide physiotherapy services to school aged children- those over the age of five - with disabilities in the North West Dublin Region. The waiting list for this service for children under the age of five is over two years.  Waiting lists for the most basic of treatments such as speech therapy for children are as high as 2 years. And there is no joined up focus on such outcomes between departments. Todays 3 year old who needs speech therapy is tomorrows 5 year old who needs a special needs assistant because the necessary – and minor – intervention was needed early on in life.  
 
EDUCATION

Third level students and their families have been hit hard again by today’s announcement. To add to the insult of the SUSI debacle we have the injury of hikes in registration fees.  Your ongoing assault on third level students – and their families - has meant and will mean a real struggle for students to stay on and graduate from college. 

Add to this the people who have been denied access to further education because of underfunding of students returning to education and postgraduate students and we can correctly measure your commitment to the knowledge economy and economic recovery. 

Taxation
Fine Gael have once again had their way. The Labour party has allowed the burden of this budget fall on those living on modest incomes.

Your government refuses to consider an increase in income tax on individual income over €100,000. Your government refuses to entertain the idea of a wealth tax on assets in excess of €1million. In fact the Labour party’s position – in their infinite wisdom - is that the tax on the family home IS A WEALTH TAX. Your government becomes aggressive and irrational when those ideas are even aired because your government will not ask those who have more to pay more in a time of crisis. 

The contrast between your sensitivity for those at the top is in stark contrast to your treatment of those in the lower income brackets.

You persist with the farce of taxing the family home at a time when almost 200,000 families find themselves in mortgage distress.
There was a time when Fianna Fáil was rounded on by Fine Gael and Labour when in opposition for protecting golden circles. It is now clear that you pursue that same approach from the comfort of ministerial office. 

Increases in VAT and excise duties will hit people across the board irrespective of income level. 

Public servants and politicians
Public and civil servants have taken their dose of tough medicine over the last series of budgets. The Haddington Road Agreement is just the latest instalment in cuts and increased working hours for those workers charged with delivering essential services. ‘Doing more with less’ is how government spins it. 

It must be truly galling for public servants to see the outrageous pay and pensions still afforded to a small minority funded by the public purse. It must be infuriating for the average public sector worker to have their terms and conditions lumped in with a discussion of payments to current and former Taoisigh, secretaries general and government special advisors. 
Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore, Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin – the band of boys dedicated to cutting all round them – are all overpaid. In their scramble to find savings they seem to have overlooked this simple reality.


Jobs and Growth 
The so called stimulus plan presented today is little short of laughable. The key ingredient for economic recovery is investment. You are fully aware of this fact. 

On numerous occasions we in Sinn Féin have set out for you plans and funding streams for the necessary scale of investment needed to impact on jobs recovery. You have given us the deaf ear. You don’t want to know.

I believe that your failure to invest at the required level for jobs is your single biggest failure.  Half baked schemes to massage the figures on the live register won’t cut it, we need investment of scale. You have spent the last three years talking about jobs and stimulus and you have failed to deliver either. 

A plan of €500 million is but a drop in the ocean. 

You are happy it seems to leave the domestic economy crippled by a double whammy of cuts to disposable income amongst those who spend most – low and middle income families – and your inability to think strategically and invest wisely.

You had no problem pumping funds from the National Pension Reserve Fund to prop up banks but you singularly fail to use this fund – the €6 billion discretionary fund – to get people back to work.  You have resigned yourselves to mass emigration and high unemployment and that is scandalous.

CONCLUSION
Some people may have been lulled into a false sense of security with the announcement that today’s adjustment would be of the order of €2.5 billion rather than €3.1 billion.  That sense of comfort has been brought to a shuddering halt today.

Your friend German Finance Minister Wolgang Schoeble was on the airwaves today saying that ‘everything is fine’ in Ireland. Clearly everything is not fine, nor will it be if you continue on this path. 

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Sinn Féin’s Midlands Northwest EU candidate, Cllr Matt Carthy, has criticised the cuts in the budget targeting the young unemployed saying it was designed to encourage more young people to emigrate and fails the fairness test.

Matt Carthy said:

“This budget failed the fairness test. Sinn Féin had set out a blueprint for a fair budget. The government failed to listen.

“I am very concerned about the impact of this budget on emigration which is already at crisis levels. This isn’t about targeting the work shy, it is targeting the emigration shy.

“This move, like the original Fianna Fáil cuts for those under 23, is sending a clear message to young people who have not yet emigrated, that it is time to go. This will have serious economic and social consequences in the years ahead.

“Emigration is destroying communities and there is nothing in this budget that will turn this situation around. There needed to be a focus on stimulus and creating job opportunities for the young unemployed.

“The cumulative impact of this cut and the growth of unpaid and low paid work on the levels of poverty being experienced by young families is shocking.

“The cuts to maternity benefit will see new mothers losing up to €32 a week and will far outweigh the benefits of the GP card for under 5s.

comes on top of the removal of the tax-free status from maternity benefit last year. These cuts are part of a wider phenomenon that those least likely to vote tend to be seen as an easy target for government cuts. This is the case for the disadvantaged, those on lower incomes and young people. I would say to all of these people – when you next get a chance get out and vote and make your voice heard.”

ends

 

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Following the announcement in the Dublin Budget today that the Irish government intends to abolish Air Transport Duty (APD) Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, Daithí McKay has called on Stormont Finance Minister Simon Hamilton to follow suit.


Daithí McKay said:


“Following this decision today by Dublin to abolish APD the impact on the North’s airports will be enormous. It is now more imperative than ever that Simon Hamilton enter into immediate discussion with the British Treasury to have it removed here also.


“The present differential in APD north and south has created barriers to developing both tourist and business travel at our regional airports but this development will only act to further hinder potential future growth.


“Immediate action is required to level the playing field and to stimulate aviation growth – in turn this will ultimately lead to the creation of new jobs, increased tourism and help drive overall economic growth.


“APD charged here is already one of the highest in the world. Before this announcement today Air Travel Tax [the South’s APD equivalent] was €3 per passenger, whereas for flights departing our regional airports for Britain for example the rate is £13 per passenger - over 400% higher. This creates an unfair market situation, is inhibiting our ability to attract new carriers and routes and is unsustainable.


“While some steps were taken to reduce APD for direct long haul routes from here, what we now need is urgent action to abolish, APD on all flights leaving our airports.”

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Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Dessie Ellis TD has condemned the governments new budget for the coming year as another attack on the vulnerable which further slashes the housing budget. He made his comments in light of an overall 10% cut in housing funding in the 2014 budget in addition to a 15% cut the previous year.

Deputy Ellis said;

"This government in its 2014 budget has continued to try to misrepresent cuts as spending boosts. They are attempting to fool the Irish people hoping to be patted on the back for crumbs offered as they slash vital services.

Housing needs real investment. It has been cut by 1 billion euro in the last 5 years. There are 112,000 people on housing waiting lists and homelessness is at an all-time high.

“The government since taking office has successively cut spending on housing. The development of new housing has ground to a virtual halt, Rent Supplement has been cut and RAS accommodation is getting harder to find as rents rise due to shortage.

“The government are claiming they are investing 30 million euro in house building but this is in the context of an overall cut to housing of 10% which represents 58 million euro. This is money which is needed not just to build new homes but to maintain crumbling social housing already in place. It is a distortion to pretend they are investing money in housing when they are simply attempting to be seen to be doing something.

“The government are not interested in providing actual housing but continually restating the small promises of housing as yet undelivered and moving funding around to cover up their cuts. The massive shortage in affordable, appropriate housing will not be solved with empty rhetoric or headline grabbing gimmicks which do nothing for the people who are suffering in overcrowded, unsafe and insecure housing every day.

“The government desire to spin a cut as a boost in this case is an insult to these people and the Irish people as a whole."

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture and rural development, Martin Ferris TD, has expressed his anger at the impact the Budget will have on rural communities.

Deputy Ferris said;

“Among the measures that will directly impact on families and individuals are the cuts to invalidity pension for many people over 65, a cut to maternity benefit, and in the Jobseekers Allowance and Supplementary Benefit for young people. No doubt the Government is hoping that they emigrate.

“There are marginal positive changes within agriculture but an overall cut in the budget of over €29 million, including a cut to measures to promote food safety and animal welfare. That is surely misconceived in the aftermath of the horsemeat crisis. I also note the failure to restore the massive cut to the Farm Assist scheme introduced last year.

“Overall then, despite the positive spin, this budget continues the economics and politics of austerity and will do nothing to stimulate growth and revival in rural Ireland.”

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Sinn Féin Jobs spokesperson David Cullinane has said the government’s commitment to jobs is nothing but spin.

Speaking in response to the budget today Senator Cullinane said;

“We are told that jobs are the number one priority. We have spin from government on the promises on jobs to be created.

“However the reality is that the government has cut both the current and capital budget of the department by €28.5 million. A recent report into Enterprise Ireland found that the staff had been cut so far as to undermine the ability of the body to fully achieve its objectives.

“We have the ludicrous position of the Minister for Jobs claiming that this is a pro-jobs and pro-enterprise budget yet fails to acknowledge that his own budget has been cut and the key agency for indigenous companies, Enterprise Ireland is under severe stress.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA Maeve McLaughlin has welcomed the announcement that an additional investment of £3.7m in Domiciliary Care.

The Foyle MLA and Chair of the Health Committee in the Assembly said:

“This is a welcome announcement and something I called upon just a week ago. However I would reiterate my call for a review of Domiciliary Care in light of concerns around 15 minutes care packages

“How Domiciliary Care is calculated for each area should be made public and of course needs to be adequate.

“Hopefully this is the first of a number of moves to strengthen investment in Domiciliary Care.”

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Responding to the social welfare cuts, other than those to young people's jobseekers’ allowance, on which he commented earlier, Sinn Féin’s social; protection spokesperson, Aengus Ó Snodaigh said:

“The government is cutting social insurance benefits including maternity, illness, invalidity pension and bereavement benefits with a view to saving €74 million. These are people’s hard earned benefits.

“The government do not have to do this. These cuts are entirely avoidable. The government could instead shore up the Social Insurance Fund with a small increase in contributions from those employers that can afford to pay more. Sinn Féin’s proposal to introduce a new employer’s rate of PRSI of 15.75% on wages in excess of €100,000 would raise €119.1 million.

“By cutting Maternity Benefit and abolishing the Bereavement Grant this government is picking pockets from cradle to grave. The latest cut to maternity benefit comes on the back of reduced maternity benefits from July of this year when it was subjected to tax.

“The Bereavement Grant is a small assistance towards the cost of funerals for workers with a solid contributions record. The cut to invalidity pension means 65 year old disabled pensioners are looking at a cut of €36.80 per week.

“The government continue to insist they have protected core weekly payments but that is simply not true. The government talks about ‘discontinuing rates and introducing new rates’ – how can you say that is not a rate cut?

“Abolishing the telephone allowance will increase isolation amongst older people.

“Mortgage Interest Supplement is being abolished in the absence of effective action to tackle the mortgage arrears crisis.

“The contribution of rent supplement recipients is being hiked with no sign of the long promised housing assistance payment.  Once again the Minister makes lazy and mean cuts instead of reforming the system, rent supplement will remain the long acknowledged poverty trap it has come to be.

ends

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Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has described the government’s medical card measures in the budget as “an act of fraud”.

He said:

“This government’s idea of universal healthcare is to give out GP-only cards with one hand and take back full medical cards with the other.

“We in Sinn Féin said the extension of free GP care to children under five would be a welcome start to universal access for all – but not at the expense of taking medical cards from other sections of the population who need them as this government is now doing. This is not universality – it is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“And on top of this, Fine Gael and Labour who, in opposition, raised the roof in protest at prescription charges for medical card holders have now raised those charges yet again.

“€37 million is to be spent on the under-5s GP card but €149 million is to be taken out of the overall medical card budget. That will mean more people currently in need losing their medical cards.

“Far from tackling medical card fraud this government are the fraudsters.

“In our comprehensive, fair and costed alternative budget we in Sinn Féin provide for the extension of free GP care to all children under 5 without depriving anyone else of medical cards.

“This is not universal healthcare – it is a shameless attempt at the universal hoodwinking of the public. It is the Labour Party trying to appear to be the giving left hand while attempting to conceal the robbing right hand of Fine Gael. They are both thieves and as thick as thieves.”

ENDS

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Speaking in response to budget 2014’s cuts to jobseekers’ allowance for under-25s, Sinn Féin’s social protection spokesperson, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said that the clear message from government to young people is that they should emigrate.

“When Fianna Fáil first cut the jobseekers allowance rate for the under 25s Back in Budget 2010 the Labour Party opposed the cut.  They called it for what it was.  

“Back then the Labour Party said: ‘It is abundantly clear that the real purpose of these reforms is to promote emigration’ and accused the government of hypocrisy for using the brain drain excuse not to tax high earners, while cutting back for those under 25.

“Despite those fine words and a promise not to cut social welfare rates, today the Labour and Fine Gael parties are kicking our young people in the teeth once again and this time they are kicking them even harder, giving them the choice of suffering even more hardship and poverty at home or taking the boat or plane.”

ends

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Sinn Féin Youth Affairs spokesperson Senator Kathryn Reilly has said that “budget 2014 gives young people just one guarantee – emigration.”  Her comments come following the announcement of a paltry €14m for the Youth Guarantee scheme and the dramatic cuts to Job Seekers payments for the 22 to 25 year olds.

Senator Reilly said:

“Budget 2014 is bad news for young unemployed people. Despite promising to provide a youth guarantee for the 53,800 young people officially unemployed the Government has slashed their job seekers payments.

“Young people aged 21 to 24 will lose almost 33% of their weekly payment while 25 year olds will lose 25% of their payment.

“Today the Government have broken their promise not to cut core social welfare payments.

“To add insult to injury the much talked about Youth Guarantee scheme is been given a paltry €14 million. This is just 4% of what is required according to best practice across the EU.

“Budget 2014 gives young people just one guarantee – emigration.

“It is clear that Fine Gael and Labour are not serious about tackling youth unemployment. They don’t want young people to stay and build a future here in Ireland. They want young people to leave.

“Since Fine Gael and Labour took office the number of young people out of work has fallen by more than 20,000. Many of these young people have left Ireland in search of work and a better future.

“Budget 2014 will force many thousands more abroad. Those that remain will be pushed further into financial hardship and poverty.” ENDS

 

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Sinn Féin MLA Rosie McCorley has called on Irish language groups to make sure they apply to become part of the new all Ireland structure for core-funded bodies.

The West Belfast MLA comments come after a recent meeting of the Department of Culture Arts & Leisure Committee in which a delegation from Irish language groups Ultach, Altram and an t-Aisaonad made representations.

The West Belfast MLA said:

“I have great confidence in the northern based Irish language groups who have been to the forefront of the revival in Gaeilge throughout the North.

“Some of the groups expressed concerns about their future under the new arrangements. I have received assurances that there are no predetermined outcomes to the make up of the all Ireland structures and I would urge all the groups concerned to apply to be part of these arrangements.

“The northern groups have years of experience and expertise and I urged them strongly to engage with the process. Foras na Gaeilge will be in front of the committee in a few weeks and I will certainly be raising the groups concerns with them.”

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD commenting ahead of today’s budget said: “Finance Minister Michael Noonan has described today’s budget as a ‘tough budget’. We don’t have sight of the detail but going on the appalling record of this Fine Gael and Labour government this will be an unfair budget.”

Speaking from Leinster House this morning Deputy Adams said;

“There are many people across the state who are extremely worried about how they will be affected by today’s budget.

“Judging by government leaks and spin to the media it would seem that the young unemployed, the elderly, working mothers and those in need of medical cards are to be punished.

“This government, like its Fianna Fáil predecessor, has embraced forced emigration as a policy choice. Punitive measures against the young unemployed will actively encourage yet more young people to leave.

“There are other choices that Fine Gael and Labour could make.

“Last week Sinn Féin set out our alternative which shows how the deficit can be reduced without hitting the least well off.

“But this government is locked into austerity and that means forcing those who can least afford it to carry the burden of cuts and taxes.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin Agriculture spokesperson Oliver McMullan has called on farmers to ensure that they have adequate insurance cover that will protect them against damage caused by severe weather.

 Mr. McMullan stated,

“Last year due to the severe weather many farmers suffered losses to livestock and farm buildings.  When some of these farmers checked against their insurance they found that they had not adequate cover to recoup the damage caused by the storm leaving many farmers out of pocket.

“Those farmers who were not properly covered still have buildings which have not been repaired and will not be able to be used this winter.

“I am calling on farmers now to ensure that they have adequate insurance cover for their livestock and out buildings for the winter ahead by contacting their insurance broker so if we have another severe winter they will be covered.

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Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, Daithi McKay MLA has welcomed the results of the latest Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) monthly survey which indicates an increase in business activity with the crucial construction sector showing the beginnings of recovery.

Daithí McKay said:

“While I approach all surveys with a certain degree of caution it is nevertheless a welcome sign that there seems to be indications of increased business activity particularly in the construction sector. Recovery in this sector is of course crucial to any sustainable progress.

“I would therefore urge government to support construction in any way possible to encourage continued growth in the private sector. That means removing obstacles and instilling certainty by delivering on Programme for Government (PfG) commitments through decisive political leadership. It will require dismantling of obstructions being put in the way of major public sector works projects by those wishing to undermine and destabilise the political institutions.

“It demands responsible politics.

“What business needs now with signs of recovery is stability, certainty and deliverability.That will require political parties to show leadership and responsibility by delivering on their PfG commitments.”

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Sinn Féin Assembly Chief Whip Caitriona Ruane has said that the DUP must do more to bring about the sexual orientation strategy after the First Minister Peter Robinson and Junior Minister Jonathan Bell sidestepped the issue during question time today.

 Ms. Ruane stated,

“I asked the First Minister today during Question Time in the Assembly for an update on the sexual orientation strategy yet the answer I got was less than satisfactory.

 “In terms of equality it is important that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have the same rights as everyone else yet this is being denied day and daily by the failure not to bring a strategy forward.

“In order to do so, a sexual orientation strategy was set out yet the DUP have dragged their feet in bringing about a comprehensive document that we can work to bring about equality.

 “In a question on the 18th June 2012 Junior Minister Bell stated that the strategy would have been published with full consultation by the end of 2012 yet nearly a year later we still have no sign of it.

“I would like the DUP to explain why they are resisting gay rights as seen with the ban on gay men donating blood although the medical evidence has shown that this blood is screened and as safe as blood donated by other groups.

“The DUP have also opposed marriage equality and gay adoption which is totally against the principle of equality.

“I am now calling for the DUP to engage with the rest of the parties in order to have the Sexual Orientation Strategy published as soon as possible that will bring about equality for everyone.” 

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Sinn Féin MLA Maeve McLaughlin said Health Minister Edwin Poots should now reverse the ban he placed on members of the gay community donating blood.

The Foyle MLA and Chair of the Assembly’s Health Committee said:

  “The Health Minister is now passing the buck to the English Health Secretary after Friday’s court ruling when the judge called his ban irrational.

“What Edwin Poots needs to do now is reverse the ban on the gay community donating life-saving blood. He should also save himself further embarrassment and stop wasting more public finances by putting a halt to his appeal of the court decision to allow civil partnerships and same sex couples to adopt.

“If the minister is worried about losing face by doing a u-turn on his discriminatory ban then he should take consolation in the fact that he will be doing the right thing.”

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Sinn Féin Dublin Mid-West representative Eoin Ó Broin was today co-opted on to South Dublin County Council. The move followed the resignation of Clondalkin Sinn Féin Councillor Matthew McDonagh at September’s Council meeting.

Speaking after the co-option Cllr Ó Broin said:

“It is a great honour to be co-opted onto South Dublin County Council to serve the people of the Clondalkin Local Electoral Area.

“I have worked closely with Matthew McDonagh for the past number of years. He served the people of Clondalkin well during his time on the Council. I look forward to working closely with him in the time ahead.

“The coming period is going to be a challenging time both for South Dublin County Council and for communities.

“Budget 2014 will undoubtedly further reduce funding for local government, making it harder for the Council to deliver the services on which our communities depend.

“The Budget will also hit communities hard, with cuts to vital services, much needed social welfare supports and increased taxes and charges on working people.

“More than ever those communities that have been hardest hit by Labour and Fine Gael’s failed austerity policies need strong representation. Sinn Féin exists to provide that representation and to remind people that there is a fairer way than the broken promises and crippling austerity of the current government.”

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