[Sinn Fein]

5 December 2001

Gambler McCreevy cannot recoup losses in last race

Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin described the Budget as an `inevitable failure'. He said:

``Gambler though he is, Minister McCreevy could not hope in his fifth and final Budget to make up for the opportunities he lost in his four previous efforts. This Budget is an inevitable failure because it is the last desperate gamble by a government which has squandered the best financial position enjoyed by any government since the foundation of the State.

``The Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats government has had two enormous advantages enjoyed by no previous government in the 26 Counties. Firstly, it has been in office at a time of exceptional prosperity resulting in budget surpluses in four successive years. Secondly, despite its slim Dáil majority, it has been able to plan for five budgets in a row.

``Those advantages have been scandalously squandered by the FF/PD Coalition government in every Budget including this one. Not only has it failed to tackle the structural inequalities which warp our economy and damage our society, it has actually worsened those inequalities and widened the gap between rich and poor over its term.

``The failure to extend medical card coverage is a disgrace and will go down as one of the great failures of this government. Minister McCreevy complains of tighter fiscal restraints but corporation tax cuts which are continued in this Budget cost 214 million in 2001 alone. That is more than twice what it would cost to extend the medical card to 200,000 more people.

``While Minister McCreevy can generously play to the demands of his friends in the gambling industry we see a situation where a significant number of workers earning below the minimum wage will remain in the tax net. And these same workers and their families do not qualify for the medical card.

``The improvements in social welfare could and should have come much earlier in the life of this government, as could the payment of increases from January. The Child Benefit increase is welcome but the Minister should have brought this forward to January also. Mothers and children will have wait until April to qualify for their increases and must wait a further month for payment.

``The Fuel Allowance increase of 2.09 per week is an insult. After four years of scandalous neglect the Minister's increase deserves disdain and the low level of weekly payment still does not even reach the price of a bag of coal.

``The government has restored interest relief on rented residential property and reduced stamp duty rates for investors. This will worsen the housing crisis by increasing property prices. It is a bonus for landlords while this government has totally failed to protect tenants from rising rents and the growing rate of evictions.

``I oppose the 5p rise in excise duties on petrol and diesel. This will badly hit those totally dependent on the private car and road freight for goods transport, particularly in the region I represent where public transport is virtually non-existent. Minister McCreevy admitted that he was restoring VAT to 21% because the earlier reduction had not been passed on but we can be sure this increase will be heaped on the consumer.

``A report by the European Foundation - an EU social policy research unit - published last week found this State fourth from bottom of the 15 EU countries in terms of distribution of wealth ? only Greece, Spain and Portugal fare worse. That is thanks to four years of Budgets from Minister McCreevy and now a fifth which is equally flawed and inequitable.

``The Budget shows the government has run out of steam. It should call a general election as soon as possible and I look forward to the contest.''

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