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Dáil Diary no 34 - 7 May 2015

Government Spring Statement - Just a load of election spin...

Last weeks Government Spring Statement said much about this Government- despite repeated attacks on Fianna Fáil when in opposition, for playing political games, we have seen this Labour/Fine Gael coalition behave the very same way. It is all more about spin than substance – it’s little wonder that people have become so cynical about politics. Here’s my Dáil contribution on the not so famous Spring Statement -

I imagine being in the Government is a difficult job and I do not presume for a second that it would be easy. What is most soul-destroying for me here is the number of times that people on the Government side say something, but do, or think, something else. They are pretending. I do not know how the Irish public in general feels about that but it does my head in. The spring statement is clearly the beginning of the election campaign and I dread to think what this place will be like if this drags on until next spring. I wish we could have the election soon as I do not envisage that this place will function terribly well while everything is in election mode. It would be great if we could have it soon and get it over with, so we could see what will happen next.

 I will read from a piece by Mr. Michael Taft re the ‘Spring Statement’, that was published today. He writes:

‘The reduction is equivalent to 3% to 4% of the estimated tax yield. Assuming all income taxpayers get the same percentage reduction, it would – for a single person on an average income of €36,000 – mean a tax cut of between €5 and €6 per week, though this could change depending on how the Government targets the cuts. Okay, better than nothing. But the Government estimates that inflation would wipe this out. You are running to stand still. And if your budget contains an item that is likely to rise above the rate of inflation, you will be well out of pocket. Last year, single bedroom rents rose by more than €13 per week. Your tax cut would subsidise half of that. This holds for child care fees, medical insurance, public transport fees, prescription medicine, etc. The Government will cut our taxes, delivering a few euros a week in our pockets. But taxes on our living standards, never mind inflation, will cancel that out, leaving us little better off.’

A major problem is the lack of public investment, and according to statistics, we would have to spend over €2 billion per annum to reach the EU average, which is a frightening figure. We need serious investment in many areas, and the funding would have a positive effect for every aspect of the economy.

One area that badly needs investment is Water. I asked a question about Irish Water last week and received a reply indicating that it was not a matter for the Minister any more but is relevant to Irish Water. I made the point in here before that 11 villages in Wexford were to get a waste treatment unit, with everything ready to go, but when Irish Water came along, the process was postponed. There was a decision to provide a temporary waste treatment unit for a village called Duncannon; however, this cannot go ahead because there is a problem with the site. The village was meant to have a temporary facility in place for the summer but now bathing water is being challenged. It means much to the local people if the bathing water is not up to scratch. Instead of a temporary facility in Duncannon, locals do not know what they will get. There does not seem to be much point in speaking to any Minister about this, and Irish Water does not seem to be answerable to anybody. Local engineers argue that the temporary unit should go where the permanent facility was supposed to go, in a village up the way called Arthurstown. Three villages were to be tapped into the project, namely Arthurstown, Ramsgrange and Duncannon. The pipework should be installed for the temporary unit, where the permanent facility will go. Will that happen or will we continue to pump raw sewage into the sea, as we are doing with rivers and sea in the other ten villages in question, around Wexford? The problem is not being dealt with.

I heard the Taoiseach say in here that he was not going to put up with underinvestment in water but he has done that for four years. The only investment we have had so far worth talking about is the installation of meters, which has nothing to do with dealing with our waste water problems. We are still poisoning the water table, our rivers and seas. It is not high on the Irish Water priority list. I wish the Government could tell Irish Water to do something about this and dictate, in a positive way, so as to deal with the problem we have with wastewater treatment. Before the former Minister and Deputy, Mr. Phil Hogan, disappeared, there was much talk about inspecting septic tanks and sorting them out. There have been bugger all septic tanks sorted in Wexford. I reckon half of them are faulty and poisoning the water table. That is not good for our health, but nothing is happening about it.

With respect to the environment and public transport, I heard the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport being absolutely clear that public transport has a crucial role to play in alleviating the consequences of climate change. In the ‘Investing in our Transport Future’ document, Rail is talked down, as if there is no point in going with it. Have we any hope, or appetite, for meeting the 2020 Climate Change targets? The Taoiseach at the United Nations argued that ‘leaders must show conviction, clarity, courage and consistency in their reaction to climate change’, but last week it was reported that the Taoiseach ordered Mr. Seán Kelly, MEP, to drop his support for a €5 billion ring-fenced fund for energy efficiency projects because the European People's Party did not want it. Give us a break. How can people take this man seriously if he says "black" one week and "white" the next?

Policing is no longer a popular subject with the media so people are able to get away with a good bit. I am sorry to say that despite all the promise of reform, we are getting too much feedback, mostly from gardaí but also from the public, indicating that things have not improved one iota. The reforms from the Government and the manner in which they are implemented has more to do with an exercise in spin than real reform. It is a major disappointment. People may get tired listening to us saying it but our hearts are broken by this issue. We do not enjoy saying this and we would love to be able to say we made a difference and things are now better.

In opposition the Labour Party wanted US military aeroplanes landing at Shannon Airport to be searched because it did not want them to pass through the airport without identifying whether they were carrying arms or munitions in breach of international law. Now that the party is in power, however, it does not want to search military aeroplanes landing in Shannon Airport and has instead provided them with diplomatic immunity. Troops and munitions are not entitled to diplomatic immunity, which extends only to diplomats. They say they want the truth but they don’t want it. Allowing arms and munitions to pass through Shannon Airport makes us complicit in the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. However, the Government pretends otherwise.

I do not believe the Government's statements on building social housing. We were informed that 677 new social housing units are to be built in County Wexford to tackle a waiting list of 3,600 people. The €25 million to be provided for this purpose in the next three years amounts to only €40,000 per house. Houses are not yet being built for €40,000. While some units will probably be leased, the figures do not add up. Moreover, there is not much sign that anything is happening on that front. Will someone on the Government side indicate how many houses will be built in County Wexford by Christmas 2015 or, for that matter, Christmas 2016 or 2017?

Housing is a massive problem which affects every aspect of life, yet the Government is not dealing with it. The housing strategy the Government promised was not a strategy. I could list 20 housing issues it has not addressed because I have spent my entire bloody life involved in housing. The Government is not dealing with the serious housing challenges we face and I do not detect any appetite to do so.

I heard the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, giving out on radio this morning. He believes everyone should be feeling happy-clappy and we should all welcome this wonderful document and praise the Government for everything it has done. The Government has been in power for four years. Yesterday evening, while walking from Leinster House to the Italian quarter, I was stopped by a man who told me he had been homeless for several years and asked me whether I could do anything to help him. I was ashamed to admit that I probably could not help him. When I asked him how he went about getting a place to stay at night he told me he telephones an 1850 number each evening. While he gets a bed some nights, he does not get a bed most nights. He also told me that he had asked how many people had slept on the streets of Dublin the previous night and had been informed that the figure was 220. The Government is not dealing with the issue of homelessness.

The increase in inequality in this Dáil term is a serious indictment of the Government...if inequality and child poverty are increasing, the Government does not have the right to tell the House how wonderful everything is.  And doing so makes me sick."

Mick Wallace.

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