Sinn Féin spokesperson on Fisheries, Martin Ferris TD, has strongly criticised the latest EU proposals to further reduce the number of days Irish fishermen can spend at sea. The measures would prevent Irish Sea fishermen from spending more than 15 days at sea, or 10 days in the case of some categories. The proposals come as part of an overall reduction in quotas based on new claims on the level of fish stocks in the Irish Sea, North Sea and off the coast of Scotland.
Deputy Ferris said: "The situation regarding the restrictions on Irish fishermen is rapidly reaching the stage where it will be impossible to make a living. The most disappointing aspect of the latest dictat is that it completely ignores the evidence on stocks, and the proposals for conservation, submitted here and in Europe by the fishermen themselves. Surely the knowledge of those involved in the sector has to be worth something. When I met Fisheries officials in Brussels last May, they claimed that fishermen did not participate in studies on stock levels. Yet, when they do, they are treated with contempt.
"This latest proposal must be fought tooth and nail by the Irish Government. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it again emphasises Sinn Féin's demand that the entire basis of the administration of the Irish fisheries be re-negotiated to reverse the shameful give away that took place in 1973. That deal has cost this country billions of Euro. Now it threatens the very future of every person involved in fishing and fish processing." ENDS
Sinn Féin South Down MLA Willie Clarke is demanding that British Nuclear Fuels explain why sections of discharged pipe from the Sellafield Processing Plant have been found washed up on local beaches.
Mr Clarke said:
"Sections of discharge pipe, over two metres in length and described by BNFL as being 'lightly radioactively contaminated' were being removed from the seabed as part of the Sea Line Recovery programme when they broke free from their retaining cages. This most recent 'mishap' is just the latest in a catalogue of accidents and near disasters which has plagued the Cumbria plant since its opening in 1947.
"Radioactive discharge pipes are now being washed up on our beaches and it is highly unlikely that local people will be reassured by the claims of BNFL that these pipes pose no health risk.
"The operation to remove the redundant pipes began earlier this year and was being used as a method to test the system before attempting to salvage the more heavily contaminated steel pipelines historically used for the highly radioactive reprocessing charges. BNFL has a number of serious questions to answer. If these steel reprocessing pipes had broken loose during their removal then there was a real risk of serious radioactive contamination.
"I will demanding a full explanation from BNFL - what exactly is missing in the Irish Sea, and what is the extent of the contamination caused. I will also be seeking an urgent meeting with the present direct rule British minister for the Environment, Angela Smith.
"The long-term impact of Sellafield on our environment has been very negative, the health risks major and the potential it has for causing a catastrophe cannot be overstated. This incident highlights yet again its abysmal safety record and illustrates the dangers of the nuclear industry in Britain. Sellafield must be closed and there must be an immediate end again to the dumping of nuclear waste in the Irish Sea." ENDS
Speaking during the debate on the Budget, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on Natural Resources, attacked those who claimed there is no alternatives to current economic thinking. As an example of this, he pointed to the scandalous give away of Irish oil and gas reserves, with the massive loss in revenue which that entails.
Deputy Ferris said: "One thing that is regularly thrown at anyone who advocates radical alternatives to current economic policies is that we do not present any other coherent means of financing a different approach. I do not accept that there are no alternatives, nor that the revenue to finance them could not be found.
"The Sinn Féin pre-Budget submission details some of these, but I would like to cite one particular example and it is an area that has once again come under some scrutiny in recent weeks. That is, the control and taxation regime that governs our natural resources. Or rather, and to be more specific, the lack of control and taxation over our oil and gas reserves. It is my contention that if the State exercised its proper role on behalf of the people in that sector, that oil and gas revenue could play a major part in financing future progressive developments.
"We have heard Minister McCreevy explain why even minimal changes to the taxation regime such as broadening the 20% tax band to exclude more of the lower paid, was not possible at the present time. And yet his party has proven itself in the past to be more than capable of introducing tax benefits for others which have been far more radical and costly in terms of lost revenue. The terms governing the exploitation of our natural resources - and exploitation is indeed what it should be described as - are a good case in point.
"It has long been known that there is massive potential in the oil and gas that lies beneath Irish waters. When that first became a major issue in the mid 1970s Sinn Féin was one of those groups which argued that the reserves ought to be taken under state control in the interests of the Irish people as a whole. Instead of this, and instead of the state proactively seeking to develop what was there, and investing the necessary finance and skills, they were content to auction them off to multi-national corporations. While initially there may have
been some attempt to maintain the public interest, gradually over the years the terms and conditions have been further eroded to the extent that we now have almost no real stake in what lies off our shores.
"Some of the major changes introduced to the benefit of the corporations have been as follows; In 1987 the then Minister for Energy the famous Ray Burke, decided to do away with royalties; In 1992 Finance Minister, and current Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, reduced the tax on oil finds to 25%, the lowest in the world. Not only that but the companies can even write that off; Also in 1992, frontier licences were introduced which mean that oil companies can sit on areas of likely reserves for up to 20 years
"Ever since then, when these terms have been challenged, successive Ministers have claimed that they are necessary to encourage the development of the oil and gas sector. And yet the opposite had taken place and the number of exploratory drills declined after 1987. Right up until the present time when I have asked questions regarding these terms, and the likely benefits to accrue from recent finds such as that at the Dooish Well off Donegal, I am told the same thing.
"Well, where is the proof that all these great benefits, such as those referred to in this House by An Taoiseach two weeks ago, will come on stream? Does the state even know what is there or what the exploration companies themselves know lies in the sectors under their control. Because it has been admitted that the state actually has no means of independently verifying what the likes of Shell tell them.
"This is important because when the Corrib field was discovered in 1996, Irish rig workers knew that the find was massive. This was confirmed by a report by WoodMacKenzie which claimed that the field could contain up to seven trillion cubic feet of gas. At current prices this is worth €21 Billion. The Dooish reserve has been estimated to be worth 10 Billion. How far would even a minority share of this go to solving some of the fiscal problems cited by this Government as an excuse for imposing cuts on those least well able to bear them?
"Indeed we do not have to speculate because we have the example of Norway which by maintaining some control over its natural mineral resources has been able to channel the benefits into economic growth and prosperity for its own people and not allow it to be sat on by unscrupulous corporations like Shell.
"Last year alone the Norwegian Government earned €34 Billion from the state oil company Statoil. And that is not even to take into account the huge revenues it earns from the multi-nationals, which far from refusing to operate in Norwegian waters because of high tax rates - as is claimed here - are quite happy to pay the price for access to what is not called black gold for nothing.
"If this state had done what the Norwegians had done and put in place the proper structures and taxation and royalties scheme, we would be in a far stronger position and wouldn‚t have to be tinkering around the margins of direct and indirect tax rates and social welfare payments for those who can least afford it.
"I, along with every other Deputy here has thousands of constituents who have to count every Euro and cent in order to budget for their own and their families future. And yet, any improvement they ever see is in that range, one Euro here, 5 Euros there. And they are expected to be grateful for that, even in the knowledge that what is given in the pension or tax credits will be more than taken back in price rises, increases in payments for public services, and a whole range of new taxes including service charges.
"And yet the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrat Government that will expect people to be grateful, or to put up and shut up when things begin to bite, are only too happy to dispense massive gifts to their rich friends. The sort of friends like the President of Shell who can summon the Taoiseach and senior Ministers to meetings to threaten that they won't proceed with the Corrib Gas development unless the Government introduces new legislation to take them outside of the planning process.
"And remember that besides rejecting the pipeline planning application on environmental grounds, one of the authors of the report, Kevin Moore also pointed to the lack of economic benefits for the region. But I suppose if the proposed Critical Infrastructure Bill that Shell is seeking is passed, then they will no longer have to worry about the objections of those who are well aware of what they are at.
"To conclude, I make no apologies for going outside the limits of what is contained in the Budget. I do not accept that the current economic thinking which dominates this Government has, or even wants to, explore other means of not only balancing the State‚s books, but actually bringing in the kind of revenue that would ensure that all of our people could have a prosperous and secure future. And that that future will no longer be auctioned off to the kind of people whose only contribution to the Irish economy probably takes place at the Galway Races." ENDS
Speaking in the Dáil Budget debate Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said social welfare increases and alleged tax benefits for the lower paid had already been eaten up by welfare cuts and stealth taxes. On taxation he said Minister McCreevy had "done nothing to reform, nothing to target the highest earners, nothing to tackle multi-millionaire tax exiles or tax evasion. There will be more people on the higher rate of PAYE after yesterday's budget".
Deputy Ó Caolain pointed out that there were "huge variations within that higher tax band —from workers on average industrial wage to the top executives who awarded themselves 50% wage increases last year".
The Sinn Féin leader said the Budget was "a blank page" as far as Health is concerned: "This Budget has again spurned the Fianna Fáil promise to extend medical cards to a further 200,000 people because this Budget was totally silent on health".
FULL TEXT FOLLOWS
Minister McCreevy has repeatedly asked us to judge him on all of his budgets. We do. Since 1997, this Government has increased inequality in Irish society and widened the gap between rich and poor. In 1997, some 18% of people were living on incomes of less than half the average. The figure today is nearly 21%. After six years of unprecedented economic growth, that should have been reduced to single figures.
This is a Budget of inequality which does absolutely nothing to narrow the gap between wealth and poverty maintained by Minister McCreevy in every Budget since 1997.
The Government's own National Action Plan Against Poverty and Social Exclusion says nearly 25% of children are living in poverty — that‚s about 300,000 children. 70,000 children are in consistent poverty where there is real daily hardship such as lack of a hot meal or lack of proper clothing. That is obscene in a small country like ours where there is so much conspicuous wealth. And it is a reality which was denied by the Taoiseach in the days leading up to the Budget and in the face of all the agencies who are working on a daily basis with marginalized communities.
That denial of the reality of economic hardship for so many in our society was clearly manifest in the Budget presented yesterday.
The Government has broken its promises to deliver substantive increases in Child Benefit and Old Age pensions to levels that will meet the National Anti-Poverty Strategy targets. An increase of €1.50 and €2 per child per week is an insult from a Government that has repeatedly claimed to be addressing child poverty.
Increasing child benefit for the first and second child to €142 per month and to €176 per month for third and subsequent children would have cost an estimated €216 million. The totally unnecessary and gratuitous cut in Corporation Tax from 16% to 12.5% in Budget 2003 cost the exchequer €305 million according to the government's own figures. That speaks volumes about the thinking that dominates this right-wing coalition.
The social welfare increases in this Budget are totally inadequate and are already undermined by stealth taxes such as local authority charges, the savage 16 cuts to welfare entitlements, and the cuts in CE schemes. It is disgraceful that the government did not use its increased revenue to reverse these cuts, especially the miserly and dangerous Rent Allowance cut.
The Rent Allowance cut is a Fianna Fáil/PD Catch 22 — you can't get Rent Allowance if you haven't been in a flat for six months but you can't afford to rent a flat if you don't have rent allowance.
The social welfare increases have already been undermined by inflation, by stealth taxes, by the savage 16 cuts, which remain in place, and by the loss of community services provided with the help of CE schemes. The Budget was delivered on the very day when this Government voted against a Dáil motion to reverse those CE cuts.
The minimal tax measures in the Budget have been presented as good news for the lower paid but they are no such thing. The Minister has done nothing to reform, nothing to target the highest earners, nothing to tackle multi-millionaire tax exiles or tax evasion. There will be more people on the higher rate of PAYE after yesterday's budget. There are huge variations within that tax band — from workers on average industrial wage to the top executives who awarded themselves 50% wage increases last year.
Last year in our Budget submission Sinn Féin asked the Finance Minister to undertake a survey that exposed the minuscule tax take from the super rich in Irish society. The Revenue Commissioners did the survey, as they had previously done in 1997, and the results for 2002 were just as damning. Of the top 400 earners surveyed, 117 had an effective tax rate of less than 30%, in a system where over 500,000 PAYE workers are paying the top 42% rate of income tax. 18% of the top earners were paying less than 15% tax. Some were paying no tax at all.
It is appalling that there are some 20 tax relief schemes where the exact cost to the State of the lost tax revenue is not actually known. In many cases it is simply putting money into the pockets of the wealthy such as the millionaire operators of the bloodstock industry. Nor do we have a proper assessment of the actual benefit to the economy of reliefs or an evaluation of whether direct State investment of funds in many cases would provide a better social and economic return.
We do know the benefit of Section 481 relief for the film industry and I welcome its retention.
It is workers on average and below average incomes who are being hit hardest by stealth taxes. Those taken out of the tax net with great fanfare yesterday are already having that benefit wiped out by increased health charges, ESB bill rises, local authority charges, bus fare rises (if you are lucky enough to have access to a bus) and motor tax and fuel rises if you depend on a car to get to work.
This Budget has again spurned the Fianna Fáil promise to extend medical cards to a further 200,000 people because this Budget was totally silent on health. And it was equally silent on housing.
On disabilities, the €25 million increase in current expenditure in support of people with disabilities is welcome. But much more was needed — especially if the promised rights-based Disability Bill is to be implemented. The Government has again failed to meet its own commitment to increase Disability Allowance to the level of Contributory Old Age Pension. And it has again failed to even recognise a key requirement of people with disabilities — that is a Cost of Disability Payment Scheme to help meet the many extra costs people with disabilities incur as a result of their disability. These people are still assessed on the basis of means rather than needs.
This Budget was an empty package wrapped in tinsel paper marked 'decentralization'. Decentralisation is not a Budget measure but something which has been promised by Minister McCreevy every year since 1999. I welcome plans to move Departments out of Dublin but we must ask how long it will take to deliver these promises. There is no timescale for this programme but it is obvious that the main time period the government has in mind is run-up the local elections of June 2004.
When we will see actual delivery of the promised decentralization programme is another question. The surprised reaction of trade union representatives is ominous. The Fianna Fáil backbenchers who have been given this shiny present by Santa McCreevy might very well find that the shine will go off it after the June local elections.
Responding to the announcement of the rise in hospital waiting list figures, Sinn Féin health spokesperson Sue Ramsay criticized Health Minister Angela Smith for the spin she is attempting to put on the figures.
Cllr Ramsey said:
'It is very good news that in-patient waiting figures are falling. This is a reflection of the work put in to improving health services over the last five years. However, in her statement, the Minister fails to inform us that, overall, waiting lists have started to rise again.
'The Minister's refusal to look at anything but the good news smacks of complacency. That is a dangerous attitude to take - a lot of work still needs to be put in to ensuring that our hospital services can look after people promptly. To ensure that they do so requires more investment in front line services, and requires root and branch reform of the structures.
'Rather than avoiding the problem, we need a full-time minister that is prepared to roll her sleeves up and get on with the very difficult task of developing a health service that we can all be proud of." ENDS
Sinn Féin Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew MLA has accused the British government of failing working mums living in the Six Counties after a sharp rise in the number of complaints from constituents about the delays in processing working family tax credits and the impact on meeting childcare costs.
Ms Gildernew said:
"When the legislative changes moving responsibility for working tax credits into Inland Revenue were discussed in the Assembly‚s Social Development Committee, Sinn Féin warned that it was a disaster waiting to happen.
"Increasing numbers of people are coming to Sinn Féin to complain that they are facing delays of over 6 months in getting payments. This is hitting working mums hardest. It is impacting on their ability to meet childcare costs.
"The British government is failing working mums. It is undermining mothers returning to work and making it harder for them to move into the workplace. The situation is totally unacceptable.
"The sooner we get working institutions up and running the better. Those standing in the way of working institutions should realise that they are standing in the way of local politicians delivering local solutions. We need to be in a position where we can break away from British government policy decisions that are bad for local people."ENDS
Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Mid Ulster MLA Cllr Francie Molloy speaking ahead of meeting British direct rule Finance Minister Ian Pearson has warned the British government that it should not be talking crucial decisions above the heads of locally elected representatives.
Mr Molloy said:
"Sinn Féin will be making it clear to Ian Pearson that not only was it wrong to issue a draft programme for government and to expect consultation on it to be completed on the very day that election results are announced but that it is nothing less than a denial of democracy.
"Direct Rule Ministers have no right to slip this blueprint for government through under the cover of an election campaign. What right do they have to set the agenda for the new Assembly before that Assembly has even been elected?
"It is the business of locally elected representatives to decide what their priorities will be for the next three years. It is not the business of the Secretary of State to decide those priorities for them.
"Sinn Féin have called on the British government to withdraw immediately this consultation document ˆ we need to create the space so that the priorities determined by locally elected representatives and the communities they represent can set the agenda." ENDS
Note to Editors
Francie Molloy and Economy Spokesperson Dr Dara O'Hagan will meet Ian Pearson tomorrow, Friday 5th December at 2.45pm, at Castle Buildings.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Irish Language issues Bairbre de Brún has welcomed the announcement in the 26 County Budget today that Foras na Gaeilge is to be relocated to Gweedore and that income received by families who host people learning Irish in Gaeltacht areas will no longer be taxed.
Ms de Brún said:"The announcement that Foras na Gaeilge is to be decentralized to the Donegal Gaeltacht is very welcome. This must happen and happen quickly. Sinn Féin will do its utmost in the time ahead to ensure that this happens."
Commenting on the decision to remove taxation from the income received by families who host Irish learners in Gaeltacht areas, Ms de Brún said:"I very much welcome the fact the fact that the income generated by families who host the many people who travel to Gaeltacht area to learn Irish will no longer be subject to tax.
"This measure taken with the decentralisation of Foras na Gaeilge will go some way to alleviating the very real difficulties which have been faced by those living in the Gaeltacht areas in recent times." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson Gerry Kelly has said that his party fully supports the stance of the families who have demanded that the British government keep their word and publish the Cory Report.
Mr Kelly said:
"The British government announced that it would be publishing the Cory Report on December 1st. That deadline has come and gone yet the families of those killed and being investigated have not yet been informed what exactly is happening.
"Sinn Féin have consistently supported these families in their search for the truth. We support their demand for independent judicial inquiries into the deaths of their loved ones. We will continue to do this in the time ahead.
"The Party President Gerry Adams raised this matter with the US Ambassador Richard Haas yesterday and he will be raising this matter with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Dublin this afternoon." ENDS
Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Finance spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has described Budget 2004 as a "Budget of Inequality" and an "empty package wrapped in tinsel paper marked 'decentralisation'".
He said: "This is a Budget of Inequality which does nothing to narrow the gap between wealth and poverty maintained by Minister McCreevy in every Budget since 1997.
"The Government has broken its promises to deliver substantive increases in Child Benefit and old age pensions to levels that will meet the National Anti-Poverty Strategy targets. An increase of €1.50 and €2 per child per week is pathetic from a Government that boasts that it is addressing child poverty.
"The social welfare increases in this Budget are inadequate and are already undermined by stealth taxes such as local authority charges, the savage 16 cuts to welfare entitlements and the cuts in CE schemes. It is disgraceful that the government did not use its increased revenue to reverse these cuts, especially the miserly and dangerous Rent Allowance cut.
"This Budget did nothing to end the gross inequality of our taxation system. Last year top Irish executives awarded themselves 50% pay increases yet the highest earners still pay tax at the same rates as ordinary PAYE workers.
"Tax benefits for the lower paid in this Budget are also totally inadequate and are also undermined by stealth charges and health charges like the raising of the ceiling for the Drug Payment Scheme and the increased charges for A&E. This has especially hit those whose incomes are above the qualifying level for the medical card - the 200,000 people were promised by Fianna Fáil that the medical card would be extended to them. This Budget spurned that promise because it was totally silent on Health.
"This Budget was an empty package wrapped in tinsel paper marked 'decentralization'. Decentralisation is not a Budget measure but something which has been promised by Minister McCreevy every year since 1999. I welcome plans to move Departments out of Dublin but we must ask how long it will take to deliver these promises. There is no timescale for this programme but it is obvious that the main time period the government has in mind is run-up the local elections of June 2004." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Culture Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has welcomed the Government's extension of the Section 481 Film Industry Tax Relief until 2008 as a "rational decision to save a vibrant Irish industry," but maintained that the Government's plan to raise the ceiling to €15 million from 2005 was insufficient to attract the big budget films that are the biggest earners for the local economy.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"While I believe that the ceiling should have been at least doubled to €21 million, I certainly welcome that Minister McCreevy looked at the evidence of the 3:1 return on investment, and the thousands of jobs that were at stake had he proceeded with his plan to eliminate Section 481, and finally saw reason. I also welcome that the Minister for Arts John O'Donoghue eventually took this issue on board after intense lobbying by the sector and by opposition politicians such as myself.
"The ordinary workers in the film sector who were galvanised into action by the bid to save their industry are to be congratulated for a well-organised and successful campaign. But others were not so lucky -- the most vulnerable people in this state did not get an eleventh hour reprieve. However, the film workers have proved the value of one important maxim: don't mourn -- organise. Their efforts and success in this regard is something I want to see replicated by other sectors that are differentially impacted or threatened by this Government's successive budgets and by the cuts that will still go ahead in 2004." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Arthur Morgan T.D. speaking following the Budget announcement has angrily criticised the Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy for ignoring the housing crisis once again.
Deputy Morgan said
"This Budget will have done absolutely nothing for people attempting to house themselves and their families. What is in here for the 48,000 people on housing waiting lists in this State, 85% of which have an annual income of less than €15,000 per year? The Government has chosen to attack rent allowance for the second consecutive year. This measures will, I have no doubt, bring about an increase in homelessness where vulnerable people will find that they cannot get into the private rented sector.
"It is a year since the Government abolished the first time buyers grant, leaving people in that category much worse off. The Government should have reinstated this measure in today's budget and applied it to new and second hand homes.
"The failure to address the problem of local government funding is also exasperating the housing crisis. Because local government is not being properly funded local authorities are imposing heavy development charges which are passed onto the new house buyer making houses increasingly unaffordable. Some authorities are seeking to get out of housing provision altogether.
"It is scandalous that this budget does not include an immediate ending of tax relief for speculative buyers of second homes and the restoration of gains tax to its 1997 level of 40 per cent.
"This budget shamefully fails to make adequate funding available to increase the total social housing rental stock to bring about the reduction and elimination of housing waiting lists. This Government seems to think such a housing waiting list and the huge difficulties with affordability of housing is a perfectly acceptable part of life for the disadvantaged of this State." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Development, Martin Ferris TD, has criticised the failure of the Budget to adequately provide for the future of rural communities at a time of radical change.
Deputy Ferris said:
"There are some positive aspects to the Budget. I welcome the commitment to further decentralise Government Departments and hope that this will be extended. Sinn Féin also welcomes the increase in the tax relief on leases and the lowering of the qualifying age to 40. More, however, needs to be done to encourage the entrance of trained younger farmers
"I also note that nothing has been done to reverse the cuts in the budget available to Teagasc, and that this will continue to have a detrimental effect on the levels of research and training available to farmers. In general I am disappointed that more has not been done to establish the kind of programmes that will be necessary to help farmers adapt to the changes brought about by the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy
"What is required is a new strategy that will allow farmers to take advantage of decoupling, and to prepare rural communities in general for the future. The Rural Social Scheme announced in the Budget and the funding made available for it, will be inadequate to fulfil that task. Besides, rural communities will suffer as much as everyone else from the consequences of the failure to protect public services." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Social and Community Affairs Seán Crowe TD speaking during the Budget debate in the Dáil said: "This is a minimalist budget designed to placate backbenchers in the run-up to elections next year. It has done nothing to address the gross inequality that exists in Irish society."
Speaking after the publication of the Estimates a few weeks ago, Father Peter McVerry said that the poor in society had been shown the two fingers by the Government. Any hope the Government might have had a change of heart between then and now disappeared as Minister McCreevy made his budget statement. The Government has not just given the poor and the disadvantaged the two fingers a second time it is asking it to be grateful for the abuse. The seventh in a seemingly endless sustained and vicious assault on working class people in Ireland.
The most regrettable aspect of it is that the Minister had an alternative. He had many alternatives and they were outlined for him in alternative budgets and pre-Budget submissions made by a range of organisations, including Sinn Féin. He chose not to use them and in doing so I have no doubt his name will become a curse for hundreds of thousands of people across this state.
This is a minimalist budget designed to placate backbenchers in the run-up to elections next year. It has done nothing to address the gross inequality that exists in Irish society.
His miserly increases in social welfare, barely keeping above inflation, have already been wiped out with other cuts in social welfare already announced in the Book of Estimates and through the introduction of numerous stealth taxes during the last year.
Again, on Taxation, Charlie McCreevy has left his big business buddies and high flying executives untouched.
However, unfortunately for those on low incomes, the Minister again failed to take minimum wage earners out of the tax net. He had an opportunity to take everybody on the minimum wage out of the tax net with little extra cost in relative terms yet he flunked it once again.
Sinn Féin in principle welcomes the move towards the decentralisation of Government Departments but wonders about the timing of such an announcement considering that it has been on the cards for over four years. I will reserve judgement until we see the detail because my fear is that this is being done at this time to impact on next year's local elections and to allow Fianna Fail and PD councillors to make grandiose claims about job opportunities in there particularly constituencies.
At the end of the day this is yet again another failed opportunity. Charlie McCreevy had tinkered at the edges of our taxation system when fundamental and real reform was required. He has not done anything to end inequality.
"It is the children living in poverty in Ireland who have been most betrayed by this Government. Despite 300,000 children living in poverty in this state Minister McCreevy has shown contempt, where he should have shown compassion. The Government promised the people that Child Benefit would be increased to €149.50 and €185.40 by Budget 2003. They broke that promise. They then renewed it, saying they would achieve those figures in Budgets 2004 and 2005 under Sustaining Progress. The increases announced today fall far short of coming close to those figures; €16 short for the lower rate and €20 short for the higher rate. These are the increases the Government must deliver next year in order to make good their promise a mere two years late, but at the current rate of spending they will fall well short.
"While Sinn Féin welcomes the increase in the amount of money provided for school buildings in this Budget, we are aware that it is far below what is needed. The move to multi-annual funding is welcomed but €200 million a year is €100 million less than what INTO and the Department of Education agree is needed over a five year period. That is what is needed to eliminate the school building waiting list. That is what is needed to ensure our children are educated in safe and secure environments.
"We also need more support to get children into those schools. The National Education Welfare Board received little joy in the Budget Estimates. It can currently only cater to 26% of schools, despite the recommendation of an independent consultancy that they need a staff of 363 people to fulfil its legal obligations, by the end of this year, the new staff the Government is providing leave it with less than a third of that number. The Minister has failed to provide sufficient funding to meet the needs of the NEWB, to meet the demands of the Education Welfare Act, and the children who fall through the cracks in our schools every year will pay the price. Young people have a tendency to pay the price at the hands of this Government. The urgent need for a mere €5 million for funding for youth work, outlined by the National Youth Council of Ireland, has also been ignored by the Minister.
"The Minister has often spoken of how prosperous this State has been over the last five or six years, the success of the Celtic Tiger, and he has not been slow in taking credit for it. Such statements show a basic lack of understanding of economic theory. Almost a hundred years ago James Connolly, (a man I quote often in the hope the Labour party might recognise the name), pointed out that such economic growth "...is purely capitalistic prosperity-that is to say, prosperity gauged merely by the volume of wealth produced, and entirely ignoring the manner in which the wealth is distributed amongst the workers who produce it.
"Talking about the wealth produced in society without looking at how it is distributed is the kind of shallow, childish economic thinking that Minister McCreevy is capable of. If the economy is growing but the workers and the poor are not benefiting from it, they might even be worse off and certainly the rapid increases in relative poverty indicate this is so, can the Government truly claim that the growth is benefiting the people?
"In conclusion, this Budget, like last year's and the one before it, represents a failure by this Government to tackle inequality in Irish society that will have implications for many years to come. This Government has failed the working class, it has failed the poor, the disadvantaged, the vulnerable and the voiceless. As long as it remains in power, inequality and poverty are inevitable
as the Government pursues the interests of the business class." ENDS
Speaking in advance of an address to the Historical Society in Trinty College, Dublin tonight, Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP said that 'the minority rejectionist position must not be allowed to place a stranglehold on future progress'.
Mr McGuinness said:
"In last weeks election almost half a million people voted for pro-Agreement parties. That is 70% of the total electorate. Their voice must be heard and not drowned out by the rejectionist camp who gained around 30% of the votes.
"It is my belief that a way can be found through the current difficulties. But I am a realist. We have since the election sought meetings with the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister and the other parties. We need to build a pro-Agreement axis which will either compel the DUP into the institutions or, if they refuse, will leave them behind.
"But the increase in the DUP vote first and foremost poses a challenge for the British government.
"The DUP can refuse to participate in the institutions, that is up to them. But they cannot be allowed to veto the other elements of the Agreement. It is therefore up to Mr Blair along with Mr Ahern to proceed with their commitments on the other outstanding matters. The minority rejectionist position must not be allowed to place a stranglehold on future progress " ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, has described as "outrageous" a response (attached below) he received from the Minister for Justice in which he stated that he could not provide details of the per capita ratio of Gardai to population on a Divisional and District basis.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said: "It is totally outrageous that the Minister for Justice does not have this information, and that the Garda Commissioner is unable to provide it. This is very serious as it indicates a serious defect in the systems for evaluating how Garda resources are deployed.
"The Minister was only able to provide an overall figure of one member of An Garda Siochána to every 325 people in the State. But this tells us very little if we don't know how these Gardai are distributed in particular Garda Districts and Divisions. If we don't have this rather fundamental information then how on earth can we hope to deploy the resources that are available to the best advantage of the communities the Gardai are supposed to be serving. As things stand we have no way of knowing if current deployment patterns are optimal. How can the Minister or even Commissioner respond with assurance to communities who believe that they need more police resources? How, indeed, can the Minister argue that 2,000 more Gardai are needed - much less where best to deploy them - if he cannot objectively determine where there may be a personnel deficit? It smacks of either unwarranted secrecy or incompetence.
"Clearly the Minister is letting himself be fobbed off by the Garda authorities on this issue. Their response is just not acceptable and I would call on Minister McDowell to insist that these figures be made available to himself and to the public on an urgent basis.
"This total lack of transparency and accountability to the public is a prime example of why Sinn Fein is calling for the establishment of civilian oversight in the form of an independent Policing Board in this State." ENDS
Question and answer below
Question No: 311 To the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform
QUESTION: * To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the comparative per capita distribution of Gardai by division and by district - Aengus Ó Snodaigh
*For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 2nd December, 2003.
ANSWER: I have been informed by the Garda authorities that population statistics were last published by the Central Statistics Office in 2002. At that time the population stood at 3,917,336 while current strength of the Force is 12,031 which equates to one member of An Garda Siochana per 325.6 head of population.
As Garda Divisional/District boundaries do not correspond to District Electoral Divisions it is not possible to provide the Deputy with the information sought on the comparative per capita ratio of population by individual Garda Divisions and Districts.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will lead a party delegation to meet the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at 2pm tomorrow, Thursday 4th December, at Government Buildings.
Also on the delegation will be Martin McGuinness MP, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, Bairbre de Brún MLA and Ard Chomhairle members Mary Lou McDonald and Dessie Mackin.
Sinn Féin candidate for the North West EU constituency, Pearse Doherty, has criticised the government for announcing Friday 11th June next as the date for the European and Local Elections. Mr. Doherty said that a Saturday election would be preferable in order to fully accommodate students and young people who work away from home.
Mr. Doherty said:
"Any arguments used against holding weekend elections in the past are now completely redundant considering the second referendum on the Treaty of Nice was held on a Saturday. This is simply evidence that Fianna Fáil are afraid to allow young voters the opportunity to pass judgment of the performance of the government parties in Europe and in local council chambers. The fact that it is proposed that polling stations will close at 9pm rather than 10pm, as was the case in the general election, compounds these suspicions.
"It is unfortunate that the elections will be held during the leaving certificate examinations. Sinn Féin would have been happier to see a late May election date to avoid this clash. However, the least that we should expect would be that young voters and those working away from home would be accommodated by a Saturday election.
"I am asking Minister Cullen to reconsider his decision and I am proposing that a Saturday election be called."ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will lead a party delegation including newly elected MLAs Alex Maskey and Bairbre de Brún to meet with US Special Ambassador Richard Haas in Belfast this afternoon.
The meeting will take place at 4.20pm.
Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South West and Spokesperson on Social and Community Affairs, Seán Crowe, has described today‚s comments by the Minister of State for Social Welfare, Mary Coughlan, as "completely outrageous". Defending the decision to extend the period by nine months before a person can qualify for the Back to Education Allowance, Ms Coughlan accused many Europeans of giving up work in their own countries and coming to Ireland for the 'craic' while claiming the allowance.
Deputy Crowe said: "Once again Mary Coughlan has managed to not only denigrate the very real problems faced by people reliant on social welfare as they try to get back to employment but has made a gross and unjustified generalisation against fellow Europeans.
"To defend your Governments cuts in the Back to Education scheme by blaming Germans, French, Spanish or other Europeans for coming over to Ireland for a bit of 'craic' and sponging off the state is completely outrageous and smacks of the type nonsense more commonly found on the Tory benches in Westminster.
"This Government has presided for six years over policies and strategies that have widened the gap between rich and poor. There is no excuse for this Governments €58million worth of savage cuts on social welfare and Ms Coughlans remarks clearly show that she is scrapping the bottom of the barrel to defend the indefensible.
"The Back to Education Allowance is widely recognised by those who work in the sector as an important bridge for those making the transfer from welfare dependency to employment.
"If there are people abusing the system then the Minister needs to target those individuals instead of punishing everybody. However, we all know that the reality is that this Government is intent on introducing a series of savage cuts in social welfare and is now using increasingly desperate and wild allegations to explain away their attacks on the least well off in society." ENDS