Statements on the Economy

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Dáil Éireann 24 October 2012

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this important topic.

While Ireland continues to spend more revenue than it takes in, the task ahead of this Government will remain incredibly difficult as we seek, through a combination of increased taxation and cuts in expenditure, to balance the nation’s budget, an absolute necessity to get this country back on track.

Considerable progress has been achieved to date in terms of steadying the ship of state, latest indications are signalling a modest growth in GDP of 0.7 percent or thereabouts and given the significant deterioration in the economies of many of our trading partners, this success has been achieved in the face of strong headwinds.

Two years ago, in 2010, the state had a deficit of 10.8 percent of GDP and the aim for this year is to achieve 8.6 percent, with an overall aim of getting it below 3 percent by 2015.

Everybody in this chamber is only too aware of the role that the banking collapse played in the economic course of Irish history in recent years.  It was some time before the full brunt of the imploding property market was fully felt in banking circles, but the implosion has resulted in a bank recapitalisation which to date has cost the state €64.1 billion.

Of course, the difficulty experienced in the banking system was not just an Irish phenomenon and there is now a European-wide realisation that a way has to be found to break the link between sovereigns and their banks and it is imperative that any such assistance is made available to every country that has experienced difficulties to date.

The Irish people have been working extremely hard to uphold our side of the bargain in terms of the bailout received and real and measurable achievements have been made and thus I compliment Taoiseach Enda Kenny on his efforts over the weekend to ensure that the Irish efforts are recognised at European level and that we receive our just rewards in terms of any break between sovereign debt and banking debt that is established in the future.

Much speculation has surrounded this particular topic, and, given the difficulties being experienced by people throughout the country on a daily basis, it is becoming increasingly imperative that the negotiations at European level and the many high-level meetings are transposed into some measurable and advantageous deal, which will greatly help the economic sustainability of the country and most importantly, will provide hope that this is a difficulty which, while extremely serious and complicated, can, in time, be overcome.

The country is facing into one of its toughest budgets ever. There has been much talk of low-hanging fruit, but that is just a distant memory.  Each and every expenditure cut that will have to be made will be felt throughout the country, yet I fully respect the fact that the Minister for Finance and his officials are tasked with making these incredibly difficult decisions.

However, it remains absolutely imperative that this is done in the fairest way possible and in terms of increasing the tax take, that means that people that can afford to pay more will have to pay more.

Even in these desperate economic times, we do have choices and I believe that there are two groups that need to be shielded from the harsh cuts that will no doubt have to be made, these are people with intellectual disabilities and those with severe physically disabilities, particularly those in receipt of home help.

Cuts to the budgets of various organisations dealing with people with intellectual disabilities have been steady and deep in recent years and this year led to an impasse where parents of school leavers with intellectual disabilities were left in limbo as to what was happening to their children in September and if there would be sufficient money for places for their children.  Any further cuts will directly impact on the ability of these groups to deal with school leavers next year and, over time, this could result in a complete erosion of what are essential services for people with intellectual disabilities.

Consistent cuts to funding in the area of home help in recent years have left those working at the coalface in terms of the provision of home help in an absolutely invidious position.  As year-end looms, the pressure on everybody working in this service is increasing, as people seek to stay within budgets, yet sickness or ill health is no respector of calendar years and people with palliative care needs are as likely to be discharged home in November as they are in January.

These are two areas that I believe must be shielded at all costs from cuts in what will undoubtedly be the harshest budget that this country has ever seen, given that it follows steady, deep and much-felt cuts in recent years.

I believe that the rationale for these two areas to be protected is self-evident and I’m sure will be supported, as families of elderly people and people with intellectual disabilities worry about the future of their loved ones as the budget looms.  Of course, those working with people with intellectual or physical disabilities must also be remembered as the cuts to date have already made their working lives infinitely more difficult as they seek to work from day to day with ever-dwindling resources.

There’s no doubt that harsh decision will have to be made, but fairness and a consistent effort to shield the most vulnerable in society must be uppermost in our minds in the coming month as Budget 2013 is framed.