Deputy Seamus Healy TD (Tipperary) Speaking in Dáil Tuesday April 28 2015
This Spring Statement is effectively an election manifesto of sorts with the bulk of the promises made to be implemented after the next general election. It is a series of political promises but we know well what happens to political promises. They are made to be broken, according to the former Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, who said that is what politicians do at election time – they make promises they fully intend to break after the election. That is what happened in 2011 and this Government cannot be trusted or believed. What we have heard today in this Spring Statement is effectively pie in the sky.
Fine Gael-Labour Party Promises of 2011
It is important to note what this Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition promised in 2011 and what it did with its promises and commitments. We heard a lot about a democratic revolution but we hear very little about it nowadays. Fine Gael told us that it would burn the bondholders and that not another cent would be given to the banks. The Labour Party went even further and said that it would be Labour’s way and not Frankfurt’s way. Its infamous Tesco-style advertisements promised no cuts to child benefit, opposition to domestic water charges and so forth. It contained very specific promises and lines such as “Look what Fine Gael have in store for you” and “Fine Gael – Every Little Hurts”. The Labour Party in government went on to cut child benefit, with a loss of up to €1,500 for many families. A Labour Party Minister is now implementing the introduction of domestic water charges, having gone around north Tipperary in the last election campaign asking people to vote for him to ensure that Fine Gael could not introduce such charges. We were also told that the Labour Party would protect the vulnerable, a point to which I will return later.
This Fine Gael-Labour Party Government continued the austerity of the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government and did exactly the opposite to what it had promised. Government policy in the past four years has deliberately increased the income and assets of the super rich in society. It ensured that austerity affected only low and middle income families while there was a recovery for the wealthy and the super rich. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, spoke about sharing the fruits of economic growth. He said that a functioning society is a fair one, where the fruits of economic growth are shared among all of the people, which demonstrates both dishonesty and hypocrisy. We know for a fact, as referred to by other speakers, that very wealthy people have increased their income and assets hugely during the course of this recession. An article in the Sunday Times last weekend pointed out that Ireland’s super wealthy now have a combined wealth that surpasses the heights reached at the peak of the Celtic tiger era. Ireland’s 250 richest people have increased their wealth by more than 15% in the past year to €75 billion, equivalent to 30% of Irish GDP. The number of Irish billionaires has increased from nine last year to 13 this year. There have been huge increases in the financial assets of the super rich as confirmed by the Central Statistics Office. The increase in assets from the time of the bust in 2008 to 2013 was €93 billion or an increase of 51% of GDP and there have been further increases since then. The situation is exactly the same with regard to income.
Wealthiest People In Ireland
A very small proportion of very wealthy people have huge incomes. The 10,000 wealthiest have average incomes of €595,000 per year, a figure supplied to me by the Minister, Deputy Noonan. That wealth situation was confirmed about a month ago by the Sunday Independent rich list of the 300 wealthiest people in Ireland. Those 300 people have €84 billion between them. So the super-rich have done very well out of this recession while ordinary people have paid for it which they had no hand, act or part in creating.
On the other hand, it is instructive to look at what has happened to ordinary low and middle-income families. A recent Central Statistics Office report, the SILC report, shows that 400,000 children are living in households experiencing multiple forms of deprivation, of whom 135,000 are suffering daily material deprivation. The number of children living in consistent poverty has doubled from 6% to almost 12%.
The Labour Party claimed it would protect the vulnerable and particularly social welfare recipients. What is the record of the Labour Party and the Tánaiste in social welfare? She protected the social welfare recipients and low and middle-income families but I am afraid the cuts she introduced in recent budgets have devastated ordinary people and undermined the social welfare system.
It is important to mention some of those cuts, which I call the dirty baker’s dozen cuts: child benefit was cut by up to €1,500 per annum per family; cuts to the back-to-school allowance; cuts to maternity benefit; cuts to the fuel allowance; abolition of the telephone allowance; cuts to the household benefits package; cuts to jobseeker’s allowance; new qualifications for State pensions particularly affecting women who are out of the workforce to rear their families; the carer’s respite grant was cut by €325; farm assist payments cut; back-to-education allowance cut; exceptional needs payment cut; increase in eligibility for State pensions; taxation of maternity benefit; abolition of illness benefit for widows and lone parents who work; huge cuts, of course, to one-parent families with another huge cut coming on 2 July; cuts to rent allowance; and abolition, unbelievably, of the very small bereavement grant.
The so-called recovery is a recovery for those who are already wealthy and it certainly means continued austerity for low and middle-income families. The public does not trust or believe the Government. They know that what the Government says does not transfer into action. They know that middle and low-income families have been crucified by the Government. They want to see the Government going to the country and calling a general election. The Government has absolutely no mandate for what it has done. The public believe that it simply cannot be trusted. This Spring Statement is simply an election manifesto of sorts, one that the public will not believe and one that should be put to the country sooner rather than later.