21 November 2002
Sinn Fein Pre-Budget submission 2003 at a glance
Since shortly after the General Election when the true state of the public finances became known the Irish people are being prepared for a Budget of cutbacks for 2003. This was confirmed by the Book of Estimates published on 14th November, which saw major reductions in planned expenditure across all sectors of Government activity.
In successive pre-Budget submissions since 1997 Sinn Fein has argued consistently for a different course. We have called for Budgets which harnessed economic prosperity to foster equality and the redistribution of wealth. Instead Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats have widened the gap between rich and poor in our society.
As a result of this we still have
- A quarter of our children and a fifth of our adults in households with less than half the average income
- A simmering crisis in our unreformed, two-tier health services
- 50,000 households on local authority housing waiting lists
- An education system that denies equality of access to all levels to children of lower income families
- Inadequate infrastructure in transport and communications
- Unbalanced regional development
This was the context in which we approach Budget 2003. And we make no apology for presenting again in our pre-Budget submission many of the demands we raised in the years of record budget surpluses. These are issues of social justice.
Budget Priorities for 2003 must be:
- Concentration of resources on improvements in health, housing, social welfare, education, childcare and public services
- Reform of these services to ensure equality of access, efficient delivery and value for money
- Fundamental review and reform of the tax system with tax reductions for the low paid only and higher taxes for the very highest earners and profit-makers
Equality-proof the Budget
Discrimination and social and economic marginalisation go hand in hand. As a matter of priority, we want a budget that moves us closer to an Ireland of Equals.
We are calling on the government to Equality-proof this budget (including poverty-proofing) - in a transparent process. We want to see a ``report card'' on this budget.
All-Ireland Economic Development
As a result of the Good Friday Agreement there has been growing all-Ireland co-operation in the crucial fields of economic development, education, health, environment, agriculture, transport and tourism. It is essential that such co-operation continues.
Sinn Fein believes that the government should:
- Seek to expand the all-Ireland areas of co-operation
- Develop the potential provided by the implementation bodies
- Make available finances and resources to encourage further progress
Sinn Fein believes that we need a fair and just tax regime as a means to redistribute resources. We want to use tax revenue to invest in health, education, pensions and child welfare as well as investing in economic development and to aid business growth
We need to rebuild our tax regime based on the principles of equity and transparency.
REVIEW TAX REGIME
- We need a comprehensive tax review that would involve the social partners and would be time limited and that seeks to formulate proposals for a truly equitable tax system.
- We need an analysis of what those earning the top earnings are paying in tax if anything and to make the findings public
- We need a cost benefit analysis of tax reliefs and shelters
- Sinn Fein seeks to put an end to tax avoidance measures that benefit the super rich.
- Impose a new 50% super tax band for individual incomes more than ¤100,000
- To have the low paid taken completely out of the tax net by increasing tax credits
- To tackles tax exiles Sinn Fein believes that all income generated in the state should be liable to general taxation
- Research and development investment in the 26 Counties is only 40% of the EU average and must be increased. The social partners must be involved in formulating proposals for generating incentives not just for increased R&D but also for investing in the education and training of workers.
- Increase Capital Gains Tax to 40%
- Return employers PRSI to 12%
- Corporation tax rate should be maintained at 16%
- Rescind decision taken in last budget to restore mortgage relief on second homes
- Increase the rate corporation tax for the banking sector to 30%
- We need to ensure real poverty proofing of budgetary policy and finding the money to fund realistic increases in welfare provision
- Allow people to leave the SSIA early and without penalty, within a defined period.
- Seal the existing levels that people have bought into the scheme
Towards Free Health Care for All
Sinn Fein supports the right to adequate and appropriate health care services for all, regardless of ability to pay. Primary care is particularly important because of its role in achieving health gain in a cost-efficient way through prevention, health promotion and early intervention.
In Budget 2003 Sinn Fein urges eight major steps:
- Extension of medical card eligibility to all those on or below the minimum wage and all those under the age of 18
- Review and expansion of number of diseases included in the Long Term Illness Scheme with asthma being a priority for inclusion
- Increase the levels of PRSI contributions. Money raised to be ring-fenced for spending in the health sector
- Increase in spending to eliminate waiting lists and inequality in health service
- Increased investment in health promotion and primary care
- Review of the National Treatment Purchase Fund
- Increased All Ireland Co-Operation on Health
- Health infrastructure equalisation, including guarantees to maintain and develop acute hospital services
Making Children and Childcare a real priority
What value economic development if the children of the nation are not properly cared for? We must ensure that children receive the best care at all times. That includes care by parents in the home, care by other family members, paid care by childcare workers in the home, early childhood education, crèches and other facilities provided by the community or voluntary sector or by private concerns.
To offset the rising cost of living, especially for those eligible for the Child Dependent Allowances Sinn Fein proposes:
- A Childcare strategy, which values equally all children and parents and ensures the provision of quality regulated childcare services
- A State-assisted and State-wide Childcare service in urban and rural areas
- Equalising Child Dependent Allowance to a weekly figure of ¤25
- Increasing Child Benefit by ¤31.80 and ¤38.10
- ¤15 million for high quality school meals for low-income children
- Increased investment in play and recreational facilities
- Expanding the Early Start Pre-School Project
Equal Access to Education
Perhaps more than anything else, education can fundamentally and positively transform society. At its best, it is child and student centred and cherishes all the children of our nation equally. To end the inequality that is inherent in the 26 County education system Sinn Fein proposes:
Primary and pre-school
- Increasing capitation grants to at least ¤200 per pupil per year for national schools
- Implementation of recommendations of Benchmarking process
- Extension of Early Start programme to all schools in the RAPID and CLAR areas
- Increasing the Back to School Footwear and Clothing Allowance to ¤120
- Commencement of new build and repair works at all schools highlighted by INTO
- Abolition of mandatory payment of exam fees to secondary school students
- Back to School Footwear and Clothing Allowance to be increased to ¤140
- Full implementation of the Report of the Task Force on the Physical Sciences
- The creation of over 1000 new teaching positions to bring teacher ratio to 15:1
- Reversal of cutbacks in education announced this Autumn
A fairer system for grant allocation. The graduated income limit categories need to be improved to be made more gradual
- Increasing grants to social welfare levels
The Celtic Tiger boom has come and gone but the housing crisis is still here and worse than ever. Commitments given by the government prior to the election to set specific social and homelessness targets have not been delivered. Sinn Fein believes that proper accommodation is a basic right and we support enshrining the right to housing in the constitution.
Sinn Fein recommends
- No cuts in the provisions for local authority and social housing programmes
- Reinstate the first-time buyers grant
- End tax relief for speculative buyers of second homes
- A code a practice to ensure the is no excessive profiteering by private developers of public infrastructure
- Restoring Capital Gains Tax to its 1997 level of 40%
- Review of Seaside Resort Tax Incentive Scheme
- Setting targets for the elimination of waiting lists
- A statuary ceiling on the price of land zoned for housing to stop speculation and reduce soaring land prices
- The statutory control of rents in the private rented sector
Investing in Irish Enterprise
Sinn Fein believes that the same quantity and quality of resources made available to foreign investors should be made available to indigenous enterprises.
- Rewarding Research and Development
- No cuts in job creation grants for Enterprise Ireland, Shannon Development and County Enterprise Boards as these offer much better value for money in terms of job creation than grants to the IDA
- Review of how funds are allocated by the Enterprise Trade and Employment Department because of lack of accountability
Public transport should no longer be treated as an add-on to government transport policy. Support for public transport is dependent on adequate levels of support from Government. Only then will motorists abandon their cars and take to bus and rail in significant numbers to reduce road accident deaths and damage to the environment by pollution.
Sinn Fein proposes
- Funding for public transport to be increased to level of EU average
- Implementation of Motor Insurance Advisory Board's recommendations
- The retention of Aer Lingus as a vital part of the state's transport infrastructure
The budgets of the last five years have seen an economic policy directed not at tackling poverty in Irish society, but at benefiting the better off and wealthier elements of Irish society. From tax cuts in the top rates to cuts in Corporation Tax and Capital Gains Tax, over the last five years budgets the richest 10% of the population received 25% of the benefits and the poorest 20%, a mere 5%.
While Sinn Fein acknowledges the economy is not as strong as it was even 12 months ago, this state is still a comparatively wealthy one.
Sinn Fein proposes:
- Indexing welfare payments in line with forecasted wage growth (7.5%)
- An additional increase of ¤5 to the lowest welfare payments to meet adequacy target of ¤150 per week by 2007
- Increasing Qualified Adult Allowance to a minimum payment of ¤90.30
- Increasing pension benefits to bring it up to the target of 34% of average industrial earnings as set by the National Pensions Policy Initiative and to further link it to increases in wage levels
- Increasing the Living Alone Allowance to ¤15 a week
- Individualising the pensions process so that spouses are entitled to an independent personal pension
- Ending the Limitation Rule which is a serious problem for women where two adults are on social welfare
- Resources for the National Steering Committee on Violence against Women
- Introducing a payment for parental leave at the level of maternity benefit to facilitate a greater take-up rate
- Part-time Unemployment Benefit for parents with young children who are unable to work full-time
- That the government withdraws its threat to abolish 5000 CE places
Supporting people with disabilities
It is essential that in Budget 2003 there is no attempt to roll back any of the advances made by the people with disabilities in the past decade. It must be recognised that in this, as in other sectors, the tremendous benefits of the past five years of unprecedented prosperity were not used for maximum benefit.
Sinn Fein calls for:
- Disability Allowance to be increased to the level of Contributory Old Age Pension - (¤147.30 per week)
- Increase in Mobility Allowance to ¤70 per week
- Phasing out of Means Test for Carer's Allowance
Agriculture and Rural Development
Among the measures that we would propose as part of domestic policy are those specifically designed to address current economic needs, and those we would see as part of a much broader long-term programme of rural development. At present we would like to see the following steps taken:
Establishment of a Commission into the future of Irish Agriculture to determine the optimum strategy to ensure the maintenance:-
- of the maximum numbers on the land;
- the protection of farm incomes;
- expansion of markets;
- and the transition to higher quality production integrated with a domestic processing industry.
As part of a concerted effort to reclaim our fisheries and protect the interests of Irish fishermen Sinn Fein proposes:
- Total opposition to any attempt to open up the Irish Box;
- Regulation of tonnage and megawatts to end speculation by the small number of big operators who control market;
- State support to assist locally based cooperatives to assist in the processing and marketing of Irish seafood;
- The framing of a coherent strategy to oppose aspects of Common Fisheries Policy that will further harm Irish fishing industry.
One of the greatest political scandals that has taken place in this state has been the selling out of our natural resources to multi-national exploration companies. The initial act in this saga was the radical changes made to the licensing conditions imposed on the companies by the then Minister for Energy Ray Burke in 1987. This abolished the states 50% stake in any find and also abolished royalties. This was followed in 1992 by the decision to lower the tax rate paid on oil and gas to 25%.
To counter this Sinn Fein proposes:
- Restoring the states 50% stake in all finds;
- Re-establishing a state exploration company;
- Ensuring all companies pay adequate royalities;
- Making companies pay tax at a restored 40% Corporate Tax;
- Abolishing the so-called frontier licences.
Invest in Justice for All
Everyone has an equal right to justice. Everyone has an equal right to security in their communities. Everyone has an equal right to good legal information, advice and representation regardless of income or place of residence.
Throughout the justice system, we need to identify areas and alternatives for more effective investment, to ensure justice for all, and to reduce demand for the capital intensive end of justice (court proceedings and imprisonment). We need a service audit and needs assessment to generate investment targets with the objective of modernising the justice system - from the policing service through the courts and the penal system.
Sinn Fein calls for the Government to:
- Increase social spending
- Invest in prisoner education and rehabilitative programmes
- Review deployment of An Garda Síochána
- Provide adequate funds to Legal Aid and Community Legal Services
- Investigate and invest in alternatives
- Institute a positive immigration policy
The Irish Language
The Government promised an Irish Language Bill in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 but now we are told it will not be ready before early 2003. This delay is totally unacceptable.
Sinn Fein proposes:
- Doubling of funding for Foras na Gaeilge to ¤28 million
- Increased percentage of funding from Foras na Gaeilge for the Irish-Language organisations to increase their professionalism and assist their efforts to promote Irish
- Ensure that TG4 has sufficient funding to enable it to continue it's excellent broadcasting standards
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