Sinn Fein Pre-Budget Submission
In its first Budget the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Coalition government had the option to make real progress towards the elimination of poverty and the building of equality in Irish society, or to continue the pattern of previous years and benefit the wealthy while leaving the disadvantaged behind. It took the latter course.
Budget `98 was thus a deep disappointment to all those who had hoped that the current robust health of the Irish economy would be used in an energetic way by a new government .
Budget `99 is a second chance to take the radical action needed to spread the benefits of economic prosperity across the dividing lines of Irish society.
In urging the government to seize this second chance Sinn Fein reject s the culture of Mé Feinism which pervades much of the `Celtic Tiger' economy and which government actions - particularly the last budget - have fostered.
A culture of individualism sees the wealthy few and the personally ambitious and greedy benefit most from economic activity to the detriment of the common good, and especially of the disadvantaged sections of society. Reducing the contribution to the public purse of those who can most afford to contribute is the wrong approach. Emphasis should be placed instead on enhancing the quality and quantity of services provided by the State in health, education, housing, social welfare, infrastructure and employment creation.
In pursuing the goal of Sinn Fein as against Mé Fein we advocate an economic approach based on the spirit of co-operation which is seen in the thriving community and voluntary sector. We urge the application to Irish economic policy of what James Connolly called ``the democratic principle of the republican idea''.
Taxation Create equity and end evasion
When will there be a fair taxation system? This is the one question that has been left unanswered by successive Ministers for Finance. Over the past five years the Irish public have witnessed one taxation scandal after another. There have been:
Politicians who have evaded tax; Banks who have deliberately allowed their customers defraud the State; High earners who pay little or no tax because their income and status allows them to exploit loopholes in the tax code; Companies who siphon funds out of the Irish economy leaving ordinary citizens with a disproportionate share of the tax burden. A taxation system where PAYE workers pay over 80% of total income tax.
There has been some simplification of the tax code, but the much needed root and branch reform of the taxation system has been avoided by successive ministers. Last year Charlie McCreevy ignored advice to use the considerable funds available for income tax cuts to help the low paid. We proposed using all those funds earmarked for income tax cuts to raise the tax free allowance enjoyed by all workers. This would help all workers but the low paid would be the prime beneficiaries.
The Minister cut not only the higher rate of income tax but also slashed the rate of capital gains tax by half. The result is a tax code characterised by abuse and structural inequity. This Coalition has already promised to deliver further cuts in corporation tax without making any firm commitment to the low paid.
The taxation measures in the 1998 Budget thus widened the gap between rich and poor. Tax cuts once again disproportionately benefitted the higher paid. This must not happen again.
The tax priorities must be:
Improving the income of the low paid. Using extra revenue not to boost the incomes of the highest paid but to improve services in health, education, social welfare, infrastructure and job creation.
Sinn Fein proposes:
Increase the tax-free allowances of single people by £1000 and co-habiting couples by at least £2000 annually. No more cuts in corporation tax or capital gains tax. More resources should be directed towards tackling tax evasion and fraud. Currently there is a disproportionate emphasis on tackling abuses of the social welfare code while the big tax fraudsters largely escape unscathed.
The Banking Sector -- The Irish people should enjoy the profits
The Minister for Finance needs to focus on the Irish banking sector in his budget. Banks in Ireland enjoy a return on their equity which is double the European average, making them among the most profitable banks in the industrialised world.
These profits are siphoned out from the accounts of Irish people and Irish businesses. It is often forgotten that the banking sector only exists because of the wider economic community not the other way round. Sinn Fein believes that ultimately the banking sector should be nationalised so that the Irish people are the true beneficiaries of this vastly profitable business.
In the short-term Sinn Fein proposes:
An increase in corporation tax for Irish retail banks with the resulting tax funds earmarked for community and local development projects in the most disadvantaged areas throughout the state
Agriculture - Development not dependency
Sinn Fein believes that there is no reason why the Irish rural economy should not be dynamic, empowered, thriving and growing providing rural communities with an adequate standard of living and maintaining the maximum amount of families on farms. But across rural Ireland thousands of farmers are leaving the land.
The core objectives of any agricultural policy should be to maximise the amount of farmers working the land; to ensure a dignified standard of living for all and; to ensure the long-term future of Ireland's rural communities.
There is something fundamentally wrong when on the one hand the 26 Counties has a highly profitable and internationally competitive agribusiness sector while at the same time thousands of Irish farmers are being told their farms are not commercially viable. Last year in his budget speech Charlie McCreevy said ``Our agricultural and food industry remains central to the well being of the economy''.
The months since that budget speech have seen a collapse in beef, sheep and pork prices. 49,000 sheep producers have seen produce prices halved in a year. It is also estimated that 20,000 farmers do not have enough winter feeding to carry them through to spring.
Sinn Fein proposes that this year's budget must address itself to both the immediate crisis faced by Irish farmers as well as taking the first steps to ensure the long term economic future of rural communities. In 1996 there were 301,000 people working full and part-time on Irish farms. Securing their future must be a priority.
Sinn Fein proposes:
Extension of the Family Income Supplement to low-income farmers. A comprehensive review of both the Irish Government and EU subsidy schemes for farmers. The levels of direct payments to farmers have increased by 132% since 1992. Much of the funding flows disproportion ately to the larger farmers leaving the majority of farmers behind.
The collapse in produce prices has not been matched by a parallel decrease in shop prices for foodstuffs. If others are making profit from the farmers efforts then it is up to the government to intervene and ensure that Irish farmers are not being exploited in the marketplace.
Over the last 12 years significant tax breaks and incentive schemes have been made available for urban renewal projects. There has not been a parallel rural renewal scheme. Sinn F?in proposes that Minister McCreevy set up similar schemes in rural Ireland as exist in urban areas and balance out this inequality.
Finally we are constantly being told that the holdings of Irish farmers are not commercially viable. Surely this must be recognised as an incentive to rekindle the ailing co-operative movement. The minister could through a series of imaginative tax breaks and enterprise funding help create an environment where through economic co-operation Irish farmers could establish the structures and institutions to revitalise their own rural communities. Such a scheme would aid rural development and end the dependency cycle which is forcing ever more farmers off the land.
Stock relief to apply at a rate of 100% for young trained farmers for their first five years in business Area aid applications to be accepted from new entrants to farming all year round. Package of measures to assist local small abattoirs to upgrade their premises to meet EU and Irish standards.
Social Welfare - Real work not workfare
Up to 1.5 million people in the 26 counties are dependent on social welfare payments. They are not just the unemployed but pensioners, people with disabilities, widows and widowers, lone parents, farmers with small holdings, the self-employed on low incomes and lastly but most importantly the children of these groups.
The aim of government should be to create an economic environment where everyone can play a valuable part. However successive governments have been unwilling to produce policies to make the goal of full employment and maximum inclusion a reality.
Instead the policies of the Department of Social Welfare under its various ministers in the 1990s has been one of at best maintaining a subsistence attitude to social welfare recipients. At worst social welfare policy sought to cut back already meagre social welfare provisions and push social welfare dependants further into poverty and deprivation.
Recently Irish Governments have been dabbling in the reactive policies pursued in the USA and Britain where a system of harassment and excessive pressure is used to threaten social welfare recipients with loss of benefit if they do not participate in government make-work schemes.
Sinn Fein believes that the current social welfare payment levels are clearly inadequate to actually sustain an individual in adequate living conditions. Recipients with families are enduring entrenched unemployment, poverty, multifaceted disadvantage, social exclusion and endemic inequality.
The recent ESRI conference on Budget Perspectives highlighted these inequalities. They found that the incomes of the top earners in the 26 Counties have over the past four years increased more rapidly than those at the bottom. They also found that social welfare payments increased by 16% over the last four years compared to a 22% growth in average income.
Sinn Fein proposes:
An immediate increase in social welfare payments to levels that will allow an individual to live with dignity in truly adequate living conditions that will create the possibilities for greater economic participation in society. At the very least social welfare payments should keep pace with average earnings and be raised to bridge the gap highlighted by the ESRI report. The Government must reject workfare which is not an acceptable solution when formulating policies to reduce unemployment. There is a clear gap in policy objectives between the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs and the Department of Enterprise and Employment. If the Government really wants to help the unemployed and reduce welfare dependency it is imperative that these twodepartments work in unison. This is clearly not the case at present.
A real action plan on unemployment
In her 18 months as Minister for Enterprise and Employment Mary Harney has stalled on the minimum wage issue and targetted the unemployed. Sinn Fein deplores her decision not to implement the recommendations of the Minimum Wage Commission she set up until April 2000. Instead the Minister has pushed her own agenda through what she calls an Employment Action Plan. The centrepiece of this plan is a scheme to force young people off the dole into make-work programmes and courses.
At the same time elements of the economy, particularly the computer sector, are gripped by a skills shortage. But nowhere in Mary Harney's Action Plan are there proposals to invest resources in equipping the unemployed with the necessary qualifications needed to find employment in today's labour market.
Mary Harney, like many other ministers, has been unable or unwilling to jump off the merry go round of publicising IDA jobs announcements while playing down the ongoing job losses through closures of IDA factories. The current debacle at Fruit of the Loom where the workforce are in limbo, not knowing their fate, is a case in point.
Sinn Fein believes that there is a need for a real Employment Action Plan, which has as it objectives the goal of empowering the unemployed to get the education and other skills necessary to enter the labour market. An action plan would look at the issue of educational disadvantage and exclusion and study how this has generated unemployment.
An important part of this process would be a comprehensive review of the spending made by the Irish Government across a range of departments for tackling unemployment. We estimate that between spending on Education, Enterprise Trade and Employment as well as the unemployment provisions in the Department of Social, Communty and Family Affairs over £4.2 billion is being spent annually on either education, job creation or unemployment benefit payments. Out of a total spend of over 14 billion in 1999 this is a significant amount of money and the effectiveness of government policy must be questioned given that there are still well over 200,000 people unemployed in the 26 Counties. Tackling the Housing Crisis
The word `crisis' is often used but not so often appropriate. There can be absolutely no doubt, however, that there is a severe housing crisis which is particularly acute in our cities and major towns. One of the primary failures of the current government has been its lack of action in the face of this crisis. All the government has to show for itself is the minimal measures introduced as a result of the Bacon report. These were aimed solely at the private housing market. The voluntary code of practice for the building industry is totally inadequate and offers no real protection against `gazzumping'. The announcement of 4,500 local authority housing starts in 1999 falls far short of what is required. There are nearly 50,000 people on local authoirity housing waiting lists.
Sinn Fein proposes:
Major investment in a new and comprehensive social housing programme. The purchase of land for housing by local authorities, compulsorily where necessary. If it can be done for public roads it can be done for public housing. Community involvement in planning of new housing. Best design high density schemes merit examination. Proper maintenance and security on all local authority housing complexes and schemes to ensure tenant comfort and safety and the securing of well- kept housing stock by local authorities to meet future needs. New Housing Act to outlaw `gazumping'. Rent control and stricter application of standards in private rented sector. A renovation grant of up to £5000 to assist home owners to improve their properties. A special grant to encourage utilisation of urban and rural derelict sites for new domestic dwellings.
Transport - Get the people moving
Hundreds of thousands of people in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and other towns will waste more than an hour every working day, sitting in traffic, burning fossil fuels creating needless pollution of our environment, as well as generating anxiety and stress for themselves.
Tens of thousands travel in Dublin on a public bus system which receives the lowest amount of public funding compared to any other European City. Only 6% of Bus Atha Cliath's costs are met from the public purse compared to 50% for the bus service in Athens and Helsinki. In the case of Dublin hundreds of these buses will be stuck in traffic because of the refusal ofGovernment to construct a system of quality bus corridors throughout the city despite the success of the few which are actually in operation, and their starving of Bus Átha Cliath over many years of funds for new buses.
Sinn Fein welcomes the increases in spending earmarked this year for investment in bus and rail services. They are however only a very small first step. The Irish Government must commit itself to a major strategic investment programme in the state's bus and rail services.
A proper system of quality Bus corridors should be introduced immediately. The cost of such a system would be minimal compared to the costs of setting up LUAS. An expanded system of bicycle lanes in Dublin is also a priority. Alongside this there is a need for a major investment in quality buses.
Throughout Dublin's peak traffic hours passengers are forced to wait long periods for a bus. This, along with the passenger conditions of some buses, is a major disincentive to using public sector transport. An extended fleet for these rush hours could be used for the rest of the day to provide a quality local bus service for Dublin's extensive suburbs.
The years of ignoring the rail service must be ended. There is a need for a more comprehensive rail strategy that will upgrade the Dublin-Galway, Westport, Sligo, Waterford and Wexford lines.
Finally the Dublin Government should investigate the strategies used in other European states and cities which have reduced car use and successfully promoted public sector transport. In some cases a mixture of eco-taxes and new innovative legislation have been very effective in reducing traffic congestion.
The concentration in recent years on national road and motorway construction has contributed to the neglect of non-national roads. This neglect must end. New emphasis and major funding must go to our non-national roads.
Health for all -- not for health for wealth
One of the worst inequalities in Irish society today is our two-tier health system. Huge medical advances in prevention and treatment have been made but we still have a system where those with wealth can gain immediate access to the best care while the majority must take their place in the hospital waiting lists. Many others put themselves and their families in impossible financial circumstances in order to avail of medical care.
Private medical care targetted at the most well off and the better paid in our society is prospering. At the same time - and despite the current upturn in the Irish economy - the public health system is lagging behind. This means that if you want a vital test or operation and you're on the medical card or dependent on the public hospitals you will have to wait months or even years but if you have the money - or can borrow it - you can book into a private clinic and get treatment next week.
There are 34,000 people on hospital waiting lists in the 26 Counties. Hospital beds have been forced to close at the end of 1998 because of lack of funds. There is a severe shortage of nurses. Hospital staff, especially nurses and junior doctors are forced to work extremely long hours which creates a real danger to the welfare of both patients and staff. All this points to three major ills in our health system:
Lack of long-term government planning and bad management and organisation Inequality within the system Underfunding.
Sinn Fein proposes:
Comprehensive review of training, staff organisation, working practices and pay in the health services to end the inequality between well-paid consultants who operate profitably in both public and private practice, and the hard-pressed staff of public hospitals who do most of the health care work. Major increase in health spending in the Budget designed to eliminate waiting lists. Irish National Health Service Act to provide free care and medication for all who need it. Recognition in all government policies that ill-health is linked to poverty.
Education - seize the moment
It is in the field of education above all that the present health of the Irish economy can be used to most advantage. None of us knows what the economic future holds so it is essential that the school-going children of today gain the maximum benefit from the ample finances now in government hands. This will be a sound investment, equipping the working citizens of the future to weather the economic storms which may come. It is unacceptable in 1998 that 78% of primary schools still have to engage in voluntary fund-raising to ensure that they have adequate materials to fulfil the requirements of the Department of Education's curriculum. Nearly half of nationals schools have no secretary and nearly half are not swept or cleaned daily. Small schools in isolated rural areas are particularly badly affected.
Sinn Fein proposes:
Continuing priority and increased budgetary provision for primary education. Increase primary education funding from £50 to £120 per pupil per year Reduce the average class size to under 30. Radical action on remedial teaching with increased numbers of teachers and adequate access to remediation to all schools More flexibility in determining staffing needs of schools to ensure that schools are not left understaffed.
Third level proposals:
Abolish registration fees. Increase grants. Fairer system of grant allocation. Special measures to provide student accomodation in the context of addressing the overall houing crisis.
Tá sé geallta ag an rialtas Bille Teanga a chur os comhair an Oireachtais i 1999. Bheadh sé mar chuspóir ag an Bille seo ní hamháin cearta teanga a chosaint iad ach a chur chun cinn. Is céim tábhacthach é seo agus eilímíd beart de réir a mbriathar ón rialtas. Ach taobh leis an mBille seo tá gá le maoiniú ceart don Ghaeilge ón Stát. Le blianta beaga anuas tá an maoiniú seo tar éis sleamhnú. Má leanann an sleamhnú seo ní bheidh an Stát féin ná earnáil dheonach na Gaeilge in ann Bille Teanga a chur i bhfeidhm.
Molann Sinn Fein:
Méadú £500,000 sa bhliain le Ciste na Gaeilge. £10 milliún do Chiste na Gaeilge thar an tréimhse cúig bliana seo romhainn Aithint do ról lárnach Chomdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge agus méadú ar lármhaoiniú na Comhdhála.
The Irish Language
The government has promised an Irish Language Bill in 1999. The aim of this Bill would be not only to defend the rights of Irish speakers but actively to promote them. This is an important step and we call on the government to honour its commitment. But alongside this Bill there is a need for State funding for Irish. In recent years this funding has decreased. If the decrease continues then neither the state nor the Irish language voluntary sector will be in a position to implement a Language Act.
Sinn Fein proposes:
£500,000 increase for Ciste na Gaeilge (the Irish Language Fund). £10 million allocation for Ciste na Gaeilge over a five-year period. Recognition of the central role of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge and an increase in its core funding.
An ageing population profile and greater longevity will ensure that the rights and interests of older people will become increasingly important. Older People should be recognised as Social Partners in future Partnership negotiations. They demand and deserve their place.
Sinn Fein proposes:
Linkage of Old Age pension rate to average industrial wage. Government to bring pension up to 40% of average industrial wage. The Medical Card to be granted to all persons over the age of 66. Proper recruitment, selection and training for home helps. Abolition of the current system of payment of `expenses' at different rates by different health boards and the introduction of adequate rates of pay and a standardisation of the service across the State. Provision of necessary funding to local authorities to introduce a central heating system to all Old Person's Dwellings (OPDs) in their housing stock. Voucher system for free travel on private transport by older people in rural areas which are not served by public transport. Grant entitlement to free travel to spouses of pensioners when not accompanying.
The Labour Court recommendations in relation to the Irish Sweepstakes workers should be implemented in full
Supporting the most disadvantaged
The rights and needs of the physically and mentally handicapped and their carers must be a government priority. Recongnition needs to be given in particular to those who care for the handicapped at home, thus saving the State hundreds of millions of pounds annually.
Sinn Fein proposes:
A spending allocation of £60 million in this Budget to cater for the needs of the mentally handicapped and their carers. Special priority for the pro vision of badly needed respite care. Financial support for the 50,000 full-time carers through the replacement of the Carers' Allowance with a much expanded scheme of payment which recognises the value of carers' work and is not, like the present allowance, treated as an income support payment only. £17 million allocation for basic supports to over 4000 wheelchair users.
Aid, Development and Debt
Sinn Fein deplores the Irish Government cuts in the Bi-lateral Aid and Humanitarian Assistance Programmes. This is a backward step at a time when the government should be increasing the Overseas Development Aid (ODA) as a percentage of Gross National Product (GNP). It is particularly regrettable as this move comes just days before the 50th Annniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December.
Sinn Fein proposes:
Substantial increase in ODA so as to reach .45% of GNP by 2002. Reversal of government decision to join the International Monetary Fund debt relief initiative. Instead the government should take the lead - as it has done in its recent initiative on nuclear disarmament - in calling for the cancellation of the massive debt on poor countries which is a direct cause of daily misery and starvation.
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