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Budget 2014: Fine Gael and Labour have let the people down: McDonald

15 October, 2013 - by Mary Lou McDonald TD


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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