I thank the Leader for extending time, so that anyone who wishes to speak will be able to do so. I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Harris and welcome him to the House. I have listened carefully to the speeches here and in the other House. Any fair-minded observer - there are many fair-minded observers on the Opposition benches - would acknowledge that there are very positive aspects to this budget and that overall, it is a positive development. It is modest in scope and I do not think anyone is being triumphalist or is crowing in any way, as that would not be appropriate.
We are looking at a budget that has been brought to us in the context of positive figures on economic growth and unemployment, which has been falling for 27 months in a row now. These are objective measures of positive developments in our economy. Also objectively, as others have acknowledged, the changes to the tax system announced today are progressive. They are aimed squarely at improving the economic position of low- to middle-income earners. The reduction in the top rate of tax is more than offset by the increase in the USC rate for higher earners. We are seeing an additional 80,000 low-paid workers come out of the USC on top of the 330,000 brought out of it in the first budget of this Government. We need to be fair when assessing the tax changes here. Their impact will undoubtedly benefit those who are in low- to middle-income brackets, and not the higher income earners. That is a very important point.
Today I attended the launch of the Amnesty International Ireland Report on ESC Rights, 'Bringing ESC Rights Home'.
Following the launch I used the opportunity through the Order of Business to ask the Leader to arrange a debate highlighting the economic, social and cultural rights that Amnesty Ireland have reported on.
Congratulations and many thanks to Carly Hamilton for highlighting the important issues and concerns that effect LGBT lives, particularly staff in the teaching profession who currently face discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation in religious run institutions.
Section 37.1 of the the Employment Equality Act is soon to be amended and this video captures the urgency of getting it passed soon.
I am delighted to hear the news that Minister of State Aodhan O’Riordain, Department of Justice & Equality, has this week announced his commitment to working with senators in the coming months to advance legislation that will amend Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act.