Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Budget confirms that Fine Gael and Labour are out of touch of the realities of people’s lives – Mary Lou McDonald

14 October, 2014 - by Mary Lou McDonald TD


Responding to the budget today Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald said if Sinn Féin were in charge the water charges and the tax on the family home would be abolished.

Deputy McDonald said;

“After successive budgets in tens of billions have been hacked from the economy and public services; after years where you, like your Fianna Fáil predecessors have dipped your hands into the pockets of low and middle income families; this budget was billed as marking an end to austerity.

“This was to be in your words a ‘neutral’ budget. It is anything but that.

“This budget confirms, once again, that Fine Gael and Labour in government are out of touch with the realities of people lives, that you cannot grasp the struggle to get by experienced by people the length and breadth of the country.

“Today was your opportunity to give families a break. Your chance to give real relief to those who have sleepless nights filled with worry – fearful of losing the roof over their head, of having the electricity cut off, of not being able to buy a winter coat for their child.

“Time and again you have been told that huge sections of our people are struggling to get by. Time and again you have ignored our calls to cut these families some slack.

“If I were standing in your shoes today the water charges would be abolished, gone.

“If Sinn Féin were in charge the tax on the family home would be abolished, abandoned, consigned to the political dust bin of really bad ideas.

“True to form Fine Gael concentrates its efforts on the better off. True to form the Labour party goes along with this.”

Full text of the speech delivered by Deputy Mary Lou McDonald below

After successive budgets tens of billions has been hacked from the economy and public services; after years where you, like your Fianna Fáil predecessors have dipped your hands into the pockets of low and middle income families; this budget was billed as marking an end to austerity.

This was to be in your words a ‘neutral’ budget. It is anything but that.

This budget confirms, once again, that Fine Gael and Labour in government are out of touch with the realities of people lives, that you cannot grasp the struggle to get by experienced by people the length and breadth of the country.

Today was your opportunity to give families a break. Your chance to give real relief to those who have sleepless nights filled with worry – fearful of losing the roof over their head, of having the electricity cut off, of not being able to buy a winter coat for their child.

Time and again you have been told that huge sections of our people are struggling to get by. Time and again you have ignored our calls to cut these families some slack.

You should have taken to your feet today to announce the abolition of domestic water charges. You can afford to do this. You can balance the books without inflicting this additional charge on families but you choose not to.

It is dishonest and farcical to bleat about economic recovery when you - in a deliberate and calculated way - levy another charge on families who cannot afford to pay.

There is no fear of you Ministers having your water supply reduced to a trickle, no fear of you waiting for the sheriffs knock on the door. Yet these are the penalties that your government will countenance for people who cannot pay. How do you stand over this?

The alleviation measures announced today are simply tactical, designed more to save your blushes than to respond to the realities of people’s lives.  

People in their tens of thousands have taken to the streets to tell their government to axe the water charges. They are telling you loud and clear that this is a bridge too far. They are telling you that they cannot pay, that they have no more to give. Why are you not listening?

In our pre budget submission we have demonstrated for you that you can balance the books without introducing this charge. Is it sheer stubbornness or arrogance that motivates you?

It’s not just people relying on social welfare who this will hurt, but people at work too. Those that are now called the ‘working poor’ – the ones with no disposable income at the end of the week, the ones who count the cents till pay day.

You are hurting these people and you are doing it with your eyes wide open. You know, because you have been told, that your water charges will break many of these families. The contempt that you show for them is breath-taking.

Forcing people into poverty is not something to be proud of, there was a time not so long ago that the Labour party understood this. Your government has again today confirmed itself as peddlars of poverty and to make matters worse you want a round of applause for your efforts.

I for one am sick listening to your refrain of how difficult it has been for you taking the difficult decisions; As though you are deserving of sympathy. Have you ever given any real thought for those at the receiving end of your difficult decisions?

Have you for one minute considered the recklessness of a tax on the family home while 126,000 family homes are in arrears and countless others scrimp to meet their mortgages?

You have the scope to call off the water charges and to put an end to the tax on the family home. This would leave €800 million in the pockets of hard pressed families – where it is needed to keep those families afloat, where it would be spent in the local economy supporting jobs in those same communities. That would be a real break, real assistance for people struggling to keep their heads above water.

If I were standing in your shoes today the water charges would be abolished, gone. If Sinn Féin were in charge the tax on the family home would be abolished, abandoned, consigned to the political dust bin of really bad ideas.

You ridicule Sinn Féin’s pledge to abolish these punitive taxes. You sneer at any suggestion that those in society who are wealthy might be asked to contribute more. You want us to believe that your way is the only way.

Well, you are wrong, and no amount of your hot air can disguise the devastating consequences of the choices you continue to make.

True to form Fine Gael concentrates its efforts on the better off. True to form the Labour party goes along with this. Reducing the top income tax rate by a percentage point will benefit only 17% of workers. Of those, it is those on the biggest incomes who will gain most. The better off you are, the more you earn, the bigger the benefit.

Contrast that with your approach to low income earners.

According to OECD data (2014), Ireland is now second only to the United States of America in numbers of low paid workers. That’s some achievement under the Labour party in government!!

Your gesture to lower paid workers is pathetically inadequate. You should have completely removed the Universal Social Charge for all workers who earn less than €17,542.

You should have introduced a third tax rate of 48% on individual income over €100,000. That’s an additional 7cents in the euro on individual – not joint – earnings over €100,000.

That is what a fair government would do. That is what the Labour party once upon a time advocated.  

Despite the rhetoric, your record on job creation is nothing to crow about over 370,000 people remain on the live register. Over 56,000 of these are young people. Emigration is official government policy, actively incentivised by cuts to social welfare for young people.

While increased support to Jobs Plus, as proposed by Sinn Féin, is welcome, you should have brought your shameful and exploitative Jobs Bridge and Gateway schemes to a close and totally replaced them with real job opportunities in Jobs Plus and by way of increased investment in Community Employment schemes.

Far from being neutral in your approach you have again favoured policies that deliver least for those that have the least.

You have spent almost four years in government crying crocodile tears for the low paid, for the struggling, coping classes and yet today you fail them again.

You make a virtue of the fact that you are not announcing new cuts to departmental budgets but you are silent on those cuts already announced that will take effect in 2015.

Your 1% cut to the capitation grant for primary and secondary schools will be devastating.  We all know how schools struggle to make ends meet, we know that they are underfunded. Parents will again be asked to bridge the shortfall – many, many of them aren’t in a position to up their voluntary contributions. So how will the school insurance or lighting or heating bills be met?

The €250 increase in the registration fee for third level students will mean that education is beyond the reach of many of our people. At €3000 per annum this registration charge will act as a real barrier to further education.

Your budget does far too little to make getting children back to school more affordable, providing no additional resources for school books grants or the Back to School clothing and footwear allowance.

The failure to provide sufficient resource teachers, SNAs, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists is unacceptable. Disability services have been run down on your watch. Parents and teachers are distressed and children are suffering because the basic services necessary for them to develop and flourish are denied to them.

Our health service is under severe pressure. Workers on the front line and patients know all about this. You have made no guaranteed, specific provision for the additional nursing staff and midwives that are so desperately needed.

An additional 1000 posts, as advocated by Sinn Féin, would cost €40 million. This investment is absolutely essential.

There is nothing dedicated to enhance our ambulance service. A spend of just over €6million would provide two additional ambulances and personnel in each of the four regions. This would address the inadequate cover that currently exists.

Is government aware of this shortfall? If so why do you fail to address it?

The vagueness of your commitments on funding for mental health services and suicide prevention in particular is very disappointing and indeed alarming. There isn’t a community or a family across this land that hadn’t been touched by this tragedy. It is the sharpest end of the mental health challenge faced by us as a society.

 The levying of prescription charges has caused hardship for many citizens particularly senior citizens. You have made no clear commitment to lift this burden. On your watch these charges have soared from .50c to €2.50.  You had promised to abolish these charges altogether. Do you remember that?

Neither have you made provision for discretionary medical cards. After all the hardship visited on people coping with serious illness and disabilities, including children, who had their cards taken from them it is incredible that you have not made explicit provision to guarantee that this sorry saga will not play out again.

Extending the BreastCheck programme to women aged between 65 and 69 years would cost €2.9 million; a small investment in the health of those women.

Of all the cuts you have introduced the cut to the respite care grant was especially mean spirited. It showed a complete disregard for carers and the invaluable service they render to their loved ones and the state.

That cut should have been reversed today. Shame on you for not doing so.

Lone parents should also have been given a break in this budget. Of all groups in our society, those families headed up by a lone parent have been hardest hit in your austerity programme.

 You have done nothing today to address excessive pay in the public sector – among the small cohort at the top who are paid too much. This is probably no great surprise but it illustrates again the favour you extend to the privileged few.

Your budget does nothing in respect of pay for an Taoiseach, an Táinaiste, Ministers, special advisors. All of whom remain overpaid.

Once again you have missed the opportunity to deal with this issue. No wonder people are cynical about politics and politicians. 

Your have finally woken up to the fact that we are in the grip of a housing crisis. The homelessness and rough sleeping figures are truly scandalous.

So too is the fact that almost 90,000 households are on local authority housing lists. Many of them for years. Add to that the 74, 000 families in receipt of rent allowance.

The state’s failure to provide housing for these families is costly in human and financial terms. Costing €30million annually in emergency accommodation and nearly  €500 million in subsidised private rent.

This cannot continue.

We have argued for an investment of €1billion from the strategic investment fund to kick start the response to this crisis. This could provide 6,600 housing units over the next eighteen months.

Your plans outlined today fall well short of what is required. Why are you so timid in the face of this crisis?

Families traipsing from one B&B accommodation to another, sleeping on sofas or in cars is a reality in the year 2014 in Ireland. There is no end of austerity and hardship in view for these families.

Untold damage has been done by your policies over your term in office. You have consigned people to long term unemployment, to the emigrant trail and to the indignity of feeling like beggars when they go seeking basic services to which they are entitled for themselves or their loved one.

You may choose to ignore that damage, but the damage is very real.

You may clap yourselves on the back for an austerity job well done and you may even be delusional enough to believe that your vicious cutbacks have ‘worked’.

But know this; that you preside over a country in which citizens continue to struggle for the basic necessities.

That there are mothers and fathers forced to choose between feeding their children or making the rent payment.

That there are senior citizens who choose between which prescription they can afford to fill and which to set aside.

That for countless families their young people are gone, forced to build their lives and find far away from home.

These are not measures of your success but testimony to your failure.

Today you had the chance to start, in real terms, to repair and rebuild. You have missed that opportunity.

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