Budget 2015: Statements
First Stage: 14 Oct 2014
Oireachtas Link: http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad2014101400031?opendocument
Tuesday, 14 October 2014
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.
In the speech by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, he very importantly noted that increases in spending would also be targeted on jobs, health, education, social protection, justice and housing. Like many others, I would have liked to see a further increase in the arts budget - although again it must be acknowledged that there is a €4 million increase in the current expenditure for the arts Vote. I would have liked to see the ECCE scheme for early childhood education extended by another year . However, I accept that the changes that have been made are positive, although there are more positive changes that could have been made. Let us not forget the words of the Minister, Deputy Noonan, that he is doing this in the context of trying to build a solid and steady economic recovery. He does not want to return to boom and bust policies of the past. I believe that is the appropriate balance to strike.
It is very welcome to see increases in child benefit payments. That will benefit people; I am one of those paying high child care costs and I know how high they are, specifically in Dublin. Child benefit increases are a drop in the ocean but they are welcome nonetheless. The return of the Christmas bonus is also hugely welcome for the very many people who will benefit from it, and indeed the small businesses that will benefit from the spend. This is very much supporting expenditure in the community as well. I also welcome the increased expenditure in justice, the investment in Garda vehicles and in Garda recruitment; the expenditure in education, with 1,700 new full-time posts which has already been referred to by many others; and the end to the public sector recruitment moratorium. This is very positive news as we will see recruitment in these areas for the first time in many years.
I have listened to many speeches by Opposition Members that made reference to auction politics and others that made reference to continued austerity. This budget cannot be both. The more accurate depiction of the budget from an objective perspective is that it strikes a balance in that it is neither an engagement in auction politics nor a continued austerity budget. It is not an austerity budget, as the Minister, Deputy Howlin, made clear. It marks the end of an era of austerity. Nor is it a return to the auction politics that characterised Fianna Fáil budgets in the past, the budgets of the McCreevy years which led us into the economic ruin which this Government faced when taking over in 2011.
I believe this is a modest budget, but one built on the idea of solid and steady economic growth and of moving us back to a sustainable prosperity of the sort which we all deserve after so many years of austerity. I commend the budget to the House.