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New Minister for Education must make fees funding decision

Labour Party Education spokesperson, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, has said that the new Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, needs to rule out student loan schemes.

Senator Ó Ríordáin said:

“The Government has been sitting on the report carried out by Peter Cassells into the future of higher education funding for months now. Three options were laid on the table, one of which is publicly funded higher education. The onus is on Ministers McHugh and Mitchell O’Connor to get the ball rolling on this extremely important issue.

“As Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are in stalemate over whether a student loan scheme or publicly funded third level education is the way forward. The two Fine Gael Ministers for Education needs to get off the fence and make their position on the funding of higher education known. Fianna Fáil are afraid to make their position known, less they upset anyone.

“This constant indecision by the two Government parties is ultimately hurting those directly involved. Third level institutions and students are suffering from the lack of certainty surrounding the future of funding. The lack of any movement in reducing third level fees or increase in the SUSI grant in last week’s budget, shows the lack of care this Government has given this vital sector.

“We in the Labour Party have made no secret about the fact that we believe it is time for college fees to go. Since the publication of the Cassells Report, we have argued against student loans.

“We know that employers benefit from a well-educated workforce and they should contribute just a little more towards the National Training Fund. The state should contribute a good bit more.

“My generation of students in the 1990s benefitted from Labour’s belief in free education, it is time for a whole new generation to benefit in this way too.

“Labour’s plan for full and equal access to higher education should become a reality in Ireland.”

 

TOPICAL ISSUES: ASD EDUCATION IN DUBLIN WEST

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Deputy Joan Burton

On Monday evening, Deputies Jack Chambers, Coppinger and I attended a packed meeting of parents, professionals, education providers, the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, and public representatives in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Blanchardstown, Dublin 15, representing people from Dublin 15 and Dublin 7. The committee which called the meeting comprises a group of parents of children with autism and professionals who have worked with children with autism in the area for more than ten years.

 

The parents who called the meeting on Monday night in Blanchardstown are firmly of the view that an innovation is required in the form of an ASD special school for Dublin 15. Dublin 15 and the adjacent parts of Dublin 7 along the Navan Road have a population of approximately 120,000, which is considerably bigger than either Limerick or Waterford, but there is no special school for children with severe ASD. There are 32 primary schools and 11 secondary schools in Dublin 15, but at primary level there are only 18 ASD classes with approximately 108 students and only eight secondary school ASD classes with approximately 32 students. The parents firmly believe that a special school is required for a portion of children with ASD who have complex presentations of autism and who present with significant needs. The majority of children with moderate to severe autism are non-verbal, are unable to cope to mainstream classroom settings and do not benefit from integration. There was a unanimous opinion on that at the meeting of more than 150 people.

 

Will the Minister agree to meet representatives of the parents and the professionals at the meeting and the local Deputies to enable us to have a discussion about when we can get this urgently required school for children with ASD?

 

Deputy Jack Chambers

Like Deputy Burton, I attended a meeting of parents, professionals and people involved in this new campaign. Many of the parents said that evening that six year old children had been expelled from a school through no fault of their own but because they have severe behavioural difficulties. As a country we have progressed in this area over the past 20 years, with ASD units established and special needs assistants provided for, but ASD, as the name suggests, is a spectrum disorder. With children with moderate to severe diagnosis, sometimes the classification we have in our education system does not match their requirements. We have had a policy of inclusion from the Department but that has resulted in some instances in the exclusion of many children from exercising their right to an education.

 

Parents in Dublin West want an autism special school established in order that there is a proper educational healthcare mix of occupational therapists, teachers and speech and language therapists in order that the children’s behavioural difficulties can be dealt with and their educational rights can be provided for. To hear parents saying their child was put on a reduced day, or that their child was eventually expelled because the education system we have cannot cater for them, where their child is then left lingering at home without any hope, prospect or opportunity to be the best he or she can be in his or her life, is a tragic circumstance in our education system and it must be rectified. Parents in Dublin West who may want to go to a special school often have to travel more than 30 km. Dublin West is a constituency close to the Minister’s, and we have a population the size of many other cities in the country. The parents’ campaign should be supported by the Minister and his Department. As Deputy Burton said, the parents would like in the first instance to present the data, facts and their own stories to the Minister in order that his officials can meet and support what the parents are trying to establish and that the children are given the best chance in life. That is what we are looking for and we hope to work with the Minister on it.

 

Deputy Richard Bruton

I thank the Deputies for raising this important matter. It is an area in which huge investment has been made in my own time and, to be fair, in that of my predecessors. Since 2011, as Deputy Burton will know, we have increased spending on the support of children with special needs by 43%. It has risen consistently, therefore, even in the most difficult times, to €1.8 billion. It is a provision that is based entirely on the assessment of need, that is, not on any budgetary restrictions. Based on a professional assessment, the NCSE decides how children with ASD should best be provided for.

 

I do not have the figures with me but, roughly speaking, more than 60% are provided for in mainstream classes. The remainder are split evenly between ASD special classes within mainstream schools and special schools. In recent years, however, because of the advice that the inclusion model is the optimal model, the expansion and explosion of provision has been in special classes. The number of special classes has trebled since 2011 and continues to grow every year. It is the NCSE that advises me and the building units of my Department as to the appropriate need. There have not been many additional special schools. I am not aware of any new special school being created in recent times but that is not to say that it cannot be, if the NCSE believes that is the best approach.

 

The main expansion has been the effort to integrate children with ASD within units in mainstream schools. That is better for their development. If the NCSE advises that a special school would be an alternative placement, then the NCSE, through its special education needs organisers, SENOs, would seek an appropriate placement. The decision has to be made on additional provision year by year. One new power, of which the Deputies will be aware, that we took in the recent Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 was to give me the power, in certain circumstances and on the advice of the NCSE, to require a school to open an ASD unit where a school may be reluctant to do so.

 

Deputy Burton is right. There are 18 special ASD units in the area. There will be a need for additional units and we are providing in the 2019 budget for additional ASD classes to be opened throughout the country in areas where they are identified as being needed. I am sure Dublin 15 would be an area where that would be the case. I am not, however, the one who makes the call as to whether a placement for a particular child is best in a special school, a special class or in a mainstream setting. In any event, we provide support, as Deputy Burton knows. In my own relatively short period in the Department, we have appointed 1,800 additional resource teachers and 4,000 additional SNAs to support the integration of children into our school system. We will provide the best support advised by the NCSE and based on the individual assessments of each child. That is what we seek to deliver.

 

 

Deputy Joan Burton

The Department has to take responsibility for the education of these children. The parents have no difficulty with the ASD special units. We all know they have done very good work for the children for whom they are appropriate. It must be borne in mind, and this may come as a shock to the Minister, that for the school year 2017-2018 there were, as far as we know, 56 students on the home tuition grant in Dublin 15 and more in Dublin 7. That is an astonishing figure. These are children who have very specific needs. Their school and mainstream teachers are unable to cope with the behavioural issues. These include flight risks, self-harm from time to time, sensory overload – parents stress that in particular – and violent outbursts at times as the children are unable to express themselves effectively. The meeting with parents the other night would have brought tears to the Minister’s eyes. I urge him to meet the parents and the professionals. I know that would constitute a change of policy but this is a section of our children. They have been left out and deserve a chance to get the education appropriate to their lives.

Jack Chambers

 

Deputy Jack Chambers

It would be worth the Minister’s while meeting these parents so that they can describe to him the challenges their children face daily. As Deputy Burton has mentioned, 56 children are on a home tuition grant. Many of them have been excluded by our education system because it is not fit for purpose for them. I recognise there is a policy of inclusion in ASD units and some children thrive within those units. That is not the case for people with severe autism who are non-verbal and are not receiving the appropriate healthcare and educational interventions. Teachers cannot even cope with the difficulties in managing the children in that setting. We need to have a policy response. We are not doing that at present within the current policy construct that we have through the NCSE.

 

I ask the Minister to meet the parents to see what their proposal is. They want the best for their children. He mentioned the assessment of needs process. We know that takes years. Our whole community healthcare intervention is not appropriate. The parents want the proper mix to be delivered for children with very complex needs. We should not be expelling six year olds from classrooms in primary schools and leaving them on home tuition grants to linger without any opportunity or prospect in life. That is not the Department that the Minister wants to run. A meeting would open his eyes. It certainly opened mine on Monday to see the depth of this problem and the sheer numbers of children left at sea in our education system.

 

Deputy Richard Bruton

I assure Deputy Jack Chambers that we are providing a policy response all of the time. As I outlined, since 2016 we have delivered 1,800 extra resource teachers, 4,000 extra SNAs, 500 additional ASD units, and 30 additional National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, staff. We strengthened the inclusion service of the NCSE itself to support parents, teachers and students. We have also reformed the way in which resource teachers are allocated to make it more in tune with the needs of pupils, and that is being done on the advice of the NCSE. We are starting to pilot, and it may include some of the areas mentioned by the Deputies, the integration of certain therapies into schools to deliver additional therapies, be that speech and language or occupational therapy. In addition, this coming year we are commencing the implementation of the NCSE’s recent report on how SNAs should be delivered in a broader context of having a regional centre that can provide a range of therapies, including nursing supports and other appropriate supports.

 

The advice of the NCSE to me has been that this is the way we should develop the suite of policies to support children best. I am always open to policy change but I do have to rely on the NCSE. It has not let us down in respect of the advice and the inclusive way in which it evaluates needs. Here in the House, we have taken additional powers. I now have the power, on the advice of the NCSE, to instruct a school to do things. That is a power we never had before. I am always open to initiatives and, as a result of this debate, I will ask the NCSE to assess the needs in Dublin 15 and adjoining areas, and to look at the proposal coming from the parents.

 

An election Budget that fails families

If it looks like an election budget, if it sings like an election budget, if Leos’s choir cheers it like an election budget, well then it is an election budget.

As I listened today I couldn’t help feeling a sense of déjà vu.

It was Minister Pascal Donohue who was delivering the speech but it is the voice  of my former College classmate Charlie McCreevy that came through as if we were back to the grand old days that we had foolishly thought to be banished forever.

I wonder how that former Minister is feeling today as he listens to Minister Donohue performing as the lead singer of a McCreevy tribute band blasting out his golden hits notably his Top of the Pops sensation When I have it, I spend it.

Budget prudence goes out the window when there is an election in the air.

Make no mistake :

the echoes of the crash a decade ago can be felt today and it seems that the current crop of Ministers are determined  to pretend that it could not happen again on their watch while all around us there are unmistakeable signs of future turbulence , not least the near certainty that the days of miniscule interest rates are slowly coming to an end.

I wonder do the Minister and the Taoiseach ever even glance over the grim document from late 2010 when the troika arrived to impose its dire programme. The original outline budgets sketched out then contained quite vicious interest rates that would have involved many billions of interest payments on the troika loans. Fortunately, the last Government did manage to secure substantial reductions which enabled an early exit from the troika’s grip and an independent capacity to raise funds at remarkably low rates due to a change of European Bank policy.

But these rates are temporary and it would be illusionary to think that the annual interest burden, already very high, will remain stable. Everything in this budget is built on that illusion that the cost of servicing debt will remain stable when all the evidence points to the opposite.

Surely the primary lesson of the events a decade ago should be to avoid the pretence that sudden windfalls of tax revenue can provide the basis for spending commitments that last far beyond the lifespan of the goose that lays golden eggs for a short period.

So it was a decade ago when low interest rates lured a delusional government to build in property tax shelters into the income tax code with catastrophic results of boom and inevitable bust.

What a price we have had to pay for those delusions.

Lost jobs, lost dreams, lost lives, a lost decade.

Yet it seems that those hard -learned lessons are to be casually ignored for no other reason than to gain political popularity.

Tax

The Comptroller and Auditor General has done us a huge favour by highlighting the startling finding that some of Ireland’s richest residents have a taxable income of less than the average industrial wage, with many paying income tax at a lower rate than the average taxpayer.

I wasn’t surprised at this report.

When I hear lobbyists urge Ministers to have a low tax system I know what they really mean is to have a NO tax system for their clients.

There was a similar outcry over a decade ago when my own research highlighted a scandalous situation where some people with declared income in excess of a million euros managed to reduce their tax bill to zero by the skilful use of the now notorious property tax shelters.

It was impossible for the then Minister Brian Cowan to allow this to continue so reforms were introduced to limit the use of such shelters so that everyone paid a minimum effective tax no matter how many reliefs were available to them.

That reform paid dividends then and still produces excellent results according to recent Revenue reports.

I suggest that the notion of minimum effective taxes has still a lot to offer even in the cases of so called high new worth people who declare remarkably low incomes.

We know the old saying: Justice must be done and be seen to be done.

The same has to be true in the tax code.

Tax Justice must be done.

Tax Justice must be seen to be done.

The doctrine of minimum effective rates of tax is a valuable tool to achieve that end.

So too with Corporate tax.

Again, the C and AG has come up with valuable data on how different companies, foreign and domestic, approach taxation with some effectively paying a zero rate while others pay close to the headline 12,5 % rate.

This special corporate tax rate has proven to be a valuable instrument to attract foreign investment but it should not become a sacred cow in policy making.

Some companies systematically use various mechanisms to reduce their exposure to taxation to the barest minimum even to zero.

We can still retain a competitive edge in the market for foreign direct investment while insisting that companies here pay an effective tax rate perhaps 6 or 8%.

That would offer stability in the assessment of future tax yields rather than the current system of windfalls some years like this year but financial droughts on other years.

The Minister will boast of the extra personal allowances that raise the threshold for the higher tax rate.

Yes: that will be welcome to those on low and middle incomes but he knows as well as I do that wage and salary increases will eat away at the benefit very quickly through the notorious fiscal drag. This happened last year as workers found that the share of their income that went on taxation actually increased despite last year’s similar increase in allowances.

Ministers should be careful in their boasts about lower taxes. When reality bites it leaves a sour taste.

Health

I want to comment on the health Budget, that most voracious user of tax euros, a financial black hole if ever there was one.

I have to confess I gasped with amazement when Minister Donohue casually revealed last week that he had a windfall of a billion euros from corporate taxes this year and that he proposed to devote no less than to cover the Health overspend in 2018.

The Minister for Health is fond of his Instagram and Twitter accounts. ‘Please make it stop’ was one of his gems.

Well now this is exactly what taxpayers want when they observe the annual weary announcements of health overspends which have become a truly farcical feature of Fine Gael’s tenure in that Department.

How did the Taoiseach allow this to happen again though he himself was as much the culprit during his own dismal occupancy of Hawkins House.

How do other Ministers tolerate it as they face tight restrictions while Health gets a free pass?

I recall one year when I had nursed the Social Insurance Fund back from a €2 billion deficit to solvency. It appeared that October that I would have the funds to restore some valuable dental and optical benefits to PRSI contributors.

But Health was in crisis and needed every cent from my Department and from others too to avoid a total services meltdown and all my carefully laid plans bit the dust.

This farce has been repeated year after year.

In just 4 years the cumulative health overspend amounts to a eye watering €2 billion. In 2015 under a certain Minister Varadkar it was €600 million and subsequent years were not much better.

One could forgive it if there was a tangible benefit to be observed in better health outcomes, more operations, less trollies, expanded health promotion.

But not a bit of it.

Slaintecare is the joint project of all sides in this House. How can it proceed if financial projections in Health can’t even be accurate for months ahead let alone years?

The danger here is that a culture of indifference to financial controls sets in and managers shrug because no one, least of all the responsible Minister, is held to account.

If a Minister cannot do the job and deliver targets he or she should be shown the door and that goes for the current incumbent too no matter how many admirers he has on Instagram.

Climate Change

While today’ debate is focussed on the specific measures announced today, they actually only involve a rather small, even tiny, percentage of the total income and expenditure of the State for 2019.

The full picture is about €70 billion or more and you only get a true view of public spending priorities by digging deep into aspects of the Budget that get no attention at all in the Minister’s speech.

One feature of policy that ought to command attention is the continuing challenge of climate change because there can be no doubt now that that is a fundamental matter that will affect every aspect of economic and social life for decades to come.

You wouldn’t believe that from all the attention this gets today from the Minister.

He has cravenly given into the vested interests that object to carbon taxes.

This a is an entirely spineless capitulation that will mar his reputation for a long time to come.

Irish households create astonishing amounts of carbon emissions, way higher than most other European households.

Carbon taxes are a form of nudge incentive, well established means of coaxing a change in behaviour and attitudes.

The plastic bag levy worked and was widely imitated.

We should know what Ministers kiboshed the well flagged idea that carbon taxes would be a key ingredient in the campaign to reduce domestic emissions.

Name them and shame them because any procrastination will cost this State a pretty penny in years to come. 

June 2018 was the driest month in the Phoenix Park for well over 100 years.

We have just experienced a remarkable and memorable Summer following an eventful winter of storms and snow.

Long established weather records have been broken in a very short period of time and inevitably this gives rise to difficult questions about our level of preparation for the kind of tumultuous climate change that has been predicted by scientists for many years.

The plain truth is that Ireland has been way behind the curve in recognising weather and climate challenges. Even the Taoiseach has candidly admitted that our country is, by international standards, a ‘laggard’ when it comes to meeting agreed targets to reduce the kind of emissions that contribute to extreme weather events.

Future budgets will have to set aside many hundreds of millions to pay inevitable fines for non -compliance.

It is true that the National Plan does commit substantial resources to dealing with this matter in future years but I remain sceptical that any genuine sense of urgency exists to drive the necessary changes in all kinds of areas from farming practices to transport.

For example, we urgently need to fast track the upgrade of water infrastructure both to guarantee supply and to eliminate the shameful contamination of our beaches and rivers.

Have 2018’s dramatic events influenced the investment decisions in today’s Budget?

I was glad that the Nobel Committee decided yesterday to recognise the ground- breaking work of 2 economists who have analysed the impact of climate matters on the world economy.

By coincidence the prizes have been awarded on the same day as the International UN panel of climate delivered its starkest forecast to date. With brutal clarity it pinpoints the areas where remedial action can be taken by Governments acting both collectively and separately.

Unfortunately, the gap between the work of scientists and economists on the one hand and politics and policy making on the other has widened.

The latest forecasts will fall on deaf ears in the current White House but that should not hinder other countries and the EU in particular from pursuing policies on energy, food production and weather protection measures that recognise the importance of policy changes in this area.

If anyone has doubts of the long -term impact of dramatic weather events they should go to any coastal county in Ireland to see already at first -hand what could be in store for this and- future generations.

My own constituency is not coastal but it is part of Fingal County which is most definitely coastal. Any development plans for these districts have to recognise how events like Storm Ophelia this time last year can produce a lasting impact on the local environment.

A brief visit to Portrane will bring some home truths to even the most hardened sceptics.

I know the National Plan has loads of flowery paragraphs about this challenge and umpteen billions are allegedly earmarked to deal with it.

Remember this: Fine words butter no parsnips.

If there were to be a Nobel Prize for climate procrastination I guess Donald Trump would win easily but this particular Government would give him a run for his money.

Child Benefit

For yet another budget Child Benefit is ignored. I find this incomprehensible.

For most families in Ireland child benefit has long been a valued addition to the family budget helping to pay for food, clothes, shoes, and all the costs that come with babies and teenagers.

Child benefit is currently paid at a rate of €140 per month per child. It is paid in respect of nearly 1.2 million children to over 620,000 families

It is paid regardless of whether parents are in work or out of work, whether we are talking about a couple parenting together, or one parent looking after their children on their own.
In Ireland the cost of rearing children is not recognised in the tax code.
So, Child Benefit is our unique way for the State recognise some of the cost of rearing children.

I hope this Government has not set its face on a policy to erode the value of this benefit. There are many working parents of modest incomes who greatly value its role in managing a family budget. They should not be ignored

Living Wage

A Budget Debate offers a rare opportunity to look under the bonnet, so to speak , and see some features of the economy that can often be hidden from view but have a significant impact on the lives of people.

We talk here a lot about taxes.

I think we need to talk just as much about wages.

Recently we have thankfully witnessed many consecutive months of net jobs growth, an exceptionally long such streak of reduced unemployment.

That, in itself, is undoubtedly good news and is a vindication of the relentless focus on jobs that my party pursued in Government.

The growth has brought the official unemployment rate down month by month.

And labour force participation, which counts the number of people working or actively seeking work, is also ticking upward.

That indicates that people who may have given up on finding a job are starting to return to the workforce.

Despite the sustained job growth there remains a deep dissatisfaction that the recovery has not been adequate to meaningfully boost the fortunes of ordinary families.

One reason for such deep public scepticism is that wages have yet to grow substantially in line with the growth in jobs and indeed in line with growing productivity.

So, people are deeply disappointed with the sluggish wage growth, because their expectations have risen after years of consistent job growth.

Now, in the 4th or 5th year into the official recovery, working people are justifiably less patient and no miniscule tinkering with tax rates will alter that until the longstanding stagnation of wage rates is tackled.

It seems that we have gone a long way to deal with the job quantity issue but we have lagged too far behind on the quality issue.

The gender pay gap has finally and belatedly come to the fore and needs a sustained sector by sector effort to close off this running sore.

In more general terms we should recognise that workers are fully entitled to obtain a greater share of the fruits of quite dramatic levels of economic growth.

To ignore this is to tolerate every greater and wider inequality and all the social disruption and strains such inequality brings.

Interestingly the IMF itself has come to recognise how inequality in incomes is now a serious barrier to economic progress in advanced economies.

The evidence is stark:  excessive income inequality actually drags down the economic growth rate and makes growth less sustainable over time.

We need to take this evidence on board and recognise its profound significance for wage policies and tax policies.

I want to make the additional point that a sustainable wage boost can encourage workers to make better provision for their pension pots. I am a strong advocate of auto enrolment in private pension schemes but that can be realistic only when workers have the capacity through better wages to save adequately for pensions.

There are now annual reviews of the minimum wage but I now feel this is inadequate.

It is the living wage that should be the focus in all policy making. It is a well -researched concept based on firm evidence and it properly incorporates all the elements that enable an acceptable standard of living.

Development Aid

I want to refer briefly to the budget allocation for International Development Aid.

The Taoiseach has been eloquent on his travels about Ireland’s Global Footprint.

It is a worthy ambition and has wide political support as does the decision to campaign aggressively to secure a UN Security Council seat.

It has to mean a lot more than Irish embassies and consulates in Tuvalu and Timbuctoo.

It also must involve a critical look at the commitment to reaching the UN Development Aid target of 0.7 % of GDP each year and also to ensure that Tax treaties cannot be abused to enable widespread corporate or individual tax evasion.

The gradual move towards the 0.7% did have to be postponed during our painful retrenchment period though many hundreds of millions were allocated annually even in the worst of years. Last year the cash allocation amounted to over €700 million.

Now is the time to set out a clear and obligatory timetable lest our diplomats have to embark on their vote seeking travels with one arm as long as the other.

War, conflict and climate change have caused immense suffering famine, drought and population displacement. Over 128 million people in 33 countries are currently in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, and over 65 million people have been displaced from their homes by war and conflict.

I worked myself in Tanzania for some years and I went back there last year on a private visit. I had the opportunity to spend some time visiting some very innovative and interesting projects financed by Irish Aid.

Some of these involve very modest financial contributions but do produce excellent results in health care and other fields.

There is, for example, a marked improvement in the treatment and prevention of malaria in Africa. So too with childhood TB and polio.

As GDP increases at a steady clip so too must Ireland’s aid budget. If Ireland boasts of some eye- catching economic growth figures then it follows automatically that the Aid Budget must increase correspondingly both in cash terms and in the percentage of GDP also.

It will mean that the Aid Budget will hit €1 billion quite quickly.

I recognise that this is no easy task and will require careful planning and financial management to secure value for money and good outcomes for the people and communities most in need. Good governance and independent oversight are always important especially when budgets increase rapidly. Apart from the moral issues involved there are definite practical and political advantages for this country in a more active role in this area.

Conclusion

All budgets to some extent are political statements.

This one takes the biscuit as one of the most nakedly political and election budgets I have experienced in my time here.

Every sentence is designed to secure party advantage more than any other purpose.

Those who don’t learn from History are doomed to repeat it.

But it is the people who will pay the price.

 

 

 

Budget Bonanza for landlords and developers

Labour Housing spokesperson, Jan O’Sullivan TD, has said today’s housing proposals as part of Budget 2019, show no imagination on behalf of the Government parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and will do nothing to ease the housing crisis when it comes to rent.

Deputy O’Sullivan said:

“The budgetary measures leaked this overnight show that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have little regard for renters. Not one measure printed in any of today’s papers will do anything to help those who are stuck in the eye of the rental storm.

“Fianna Fáil’s so called affordable housing scheme is a direct subsidy to developers. It’s a cassic from the Fianna Fáil playbook providing a top up for big builders but doing little to deliver a real affordable scheme.

“Despite insistences from Fianna Fáil that this would be a “housing budget”, it is anything but. €300 million for a so-called affordable housing scheme is absolutely miserable in the context of what is actually needed.

“The proposed tax cut for landlords won’t deliver one extra rental property but it will line the pockets of those who’ve been benefitting from the record increases in rent.

“Ministers Murphy and English have often told us that they don’t want to hear any suggestions that won’t build houses quicker. Does giving millions of euros in tax cuts build houses quicker? Does it strengthen tenants’ rights? Does it bring rents back to controlled rates? No.

“The Government are quick to insist that this isn’t a giveaway budget and that an election definitely isn’t in their isights yet it seems to be speaking directly to an important constituency for them – landlords who have seen profit margins grow and their control of the market cemented

“Tax cuts like this will increase heir profits, reduce state capacity to help renters and are going into the pockets of people who they are also planning to sell public land too.

“We’ll be told today that the measures for renters will be announced in several weeks, but people who are struggling to make ends meet can’t wait.

“This is just another return to the days when budgets were great for developers.”

Everyone deserves affordable, quality childcare

Labour Spokesperson on Children Seán Sherlock, TD outlines Labour’s ambitious plan for affordable childcare for all, as part of Labour’s alternative budget for 2019. Measures include halving the cost of childcare, guaranteeing living wages for childcare workers and increasing paternity leave.

Speaking about the plan today;

“Our State has never invested enough in supporting families with young children or workers in the sector. Everybody deserves affordable, quality childcare.”

“We are proposing targeted investment in childcare so that over time we reach a spend of 1% of GDP on Early Years Education as recommended by the OECD.

“We want to see professional wages for workers in the sector, cost control for parents, and certainty for providers.

“We have already outlined how we would move towards a professional wage for workers by starting with a living wage of €11.90 for all staff in the sector in 2019, costing €15m.

“We need to do much more to make affordable, high-quality childcare accessible to all. We are proposing a freeze to overall childcare costs and an increase of the hourly subsidy on €0.50 to between €2.50 – €3.00. This would be worth €5200 (or €100 per week) to parents with children in full-time care.

“In order to support providers, we are also allocating €21.9m for an increase of €5 in the ECCE weekly capitation rates. We recognise that a high-quality childcare sector depends on a skilled workforce with decent pay and fair conditions.”

“Labour previously delivered two weeks of paternity leave, recognising that fathers should have the opportunity to bond with their new-born children.

“We now propose that eight weeks of paid parental leave should be introduced in 2019 following two years of Government inaction. This leave would be shared between both parents, with a use-it-or-lose-it clause built in to prevent mothers from always having to bear the responsibility of parenting during these early years.”

 

Costings:

• Increase universal childcare subsidy by €2.50 per hour €93.75m

• Increase the ECCE capitation rate by €5 per week €21.9m

• Introduce 8 weeks of shared, paid parental leave €59.6m

• Introduce a living wage for childcare workers €15m

 

ENDS

 

LABOUR’S ALTERNATIVE BUDGET 2019

LABOUR 2019 BUDGET proposals

On the 10 year anniversary of the banking collapse, the Labour Party wants to see a social recovery, and our view is the Government needs to tell people when will this happen. If not now, then when? Our fully costed Alternative Budget provides the investment needed to do so.

“We are proposing a number of measures to support incomes, invest in public services and provide real benefits to families.

“There is an existential crisis for our country in health and housing, and we propose to commit nearly an extra €1bn in health, and further capital investment in housing to ensure 10,000 social housing units are built by local authorities in 2019.

“We also outline a series of tax measures to fund this, and I have proposed that there should be no further reductions in the USC which should be renamed the Health Contribution.

“We would raise child benefit by €5, provide a universal payment in the summer to parents to meet the costs of clothing and footwear, outline proposals to deliver free education, and halve the cost of childcare for parents.

“We would also invest in our arts and heritage, public transport and climate action. We also propose a number of key measures to prepare for a hard Brexit to support business, invest in R&D and prepare for the worst.

“The Government must also now answer serious questions that arise from the C&AG report on income tax, showing those earning over €50m making little or no income tax contribution

 

There is a need to shift policy from hoping the private sector will do most of the heavy lifting on housing

Labour’s spokesperson on Housing, Jan O’Sullivan TD was today speaking in Dáil Éireann in support of the cross-party motion to enact emergency measures aimed at addressing homelessness. This followed the large ‘Raise the Roof’ housing demonstration outside Leinster House.

Deputy O’Sullivan said:

“Today must make a difference.

“It must make a difference for the thousands of people who are homeless, the tens of thousands who fear losing their homes and all those low and middle-income earners who see no prospect of a secure home to rent or to buy.

“Those people cannot wait in despair while the Government tells us it will be alright, trust us, we know what we doing.

“The reality is that people don’t believe that anymore and they won’t wait anymore.

“There has been a huge rally outside this parliament of trade unions, campaign groups, housing agencies and students’ unions and particularly of concerned citizens who want a fundamental shift of policy to deal with the housing crisis.

“Inside parliament opposition Parties and groups have come together with a common voice and specific proposals that we believe are essential to break the cycle, speed up the delivery of social and affordable homes and arrest homelessness.

“In my view, the most important part of the motion is the need to shift policy from hoping the private sector will do most of the heavy lifting, because they won’t, to publicly led action.

“That means committing sufficient money and public land to build social and affordable homes now and it means protecting those whose homes are rented, rather than the owners of those homes.

“These are the core demands in the motion.

“Changing the Constitution to include a right to a home would alter the balance between the rights to property, already enshrined, and the right to the fulfillment of one of the most basic needs of any person or family, the right to have a secure roof over your head.

“All of the actions called for in our motion make sense if you look at the housing crisis from the point of view of those who need a home rather than those who own property.

“That is the policy shift we are asking for and that the crisis demands.”

ENDS 

 

Sale of Luggala Estate a once in a generation opportunity for the state

Following the passing of Garech de Brún earlier this year, the 4000-acre Luggala Estate has come onto the market. Under the stewardship of the de Brún family, Luggala was kept open to the public to access. The estate is a gem of Wicklow hillwalking.

The Luggala Estate is currently up for sale and already there are concerns from organisations representing mountaineers and hillwalkers about barriers to future public access for locals and tourists alike. Some signage marking areas as private property and closure of previously public access routes suggest that future public access will be limited, or potentially cut off altogether.

Given the popularity of the estate for both local and visiting hillwalkers, and the immense cultural history of the estate which has been used by the movie and music industry many times, this sale offers the state a once in a generation opportunity to bring Luggala into public ownership.

In response to my questions in the Dáil on the issues the Minister has expressed her hope that the estate will continue to be open to the public. I am calling on the Minister to take immediate action and purchase Luggala for the use of the public for generations to come.”

 

 

SUBMISSION TO BUS CONNECTS

Thank you to everyone who contacted me or attended my public meetings in connection with Bus Connects.

Attached is the submission I gave to the National Transport Authority (NTA) today (I have omitted the personal submissions from constituents as these include personal details)

The NTA advise that the revised second draft of the new bus network will be published in January. I have requested the NTA put the next draft out to a renewed public consultation

JB BC SUBMISSION-minus appendix