'Spin over substance' - Offaly's Barry Cowen criticises government following Budget 2019
Offaly TD and Fianna Fail Spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform Barry Cowen has criticised the government in the wake of Budget 2019, delivered by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohue on Tuesday afternoon.
Budget 2019 is the third from the Fine Gael-led Government under the Confidence & Supply Agreement brokered with Fianna Fail following the 2016 election. It is the final budget committed to by Fianna Fail under that arrangement.
Speaking in the Dáil, Barry Cowen said, "many believed there would only be one and that Fianna Fáil would have used the precarious and perilous state of uncertainty for political gain, that we would be opportunistic. This could not be further from the truth."
"We have kept faith with the agreement often in difficult circumstances and messy compromises to maintain the centre ground in Irish politics. We have worked for the ordinary citizens who want their government to work for them. Other parties have been content to sit on their hands," he added.
He went on to acknowledge the positives achieved under the Agreement, including a Rainy Day Fund, successive cuts in USC, a €15 increase in the old age pension, €15 increases in the carer’s and disability allowances and a €15 increase in unemployment benefit.
He also pointed to the restoration of pay to our public servants, the reactivation of the National Treatment Purchase Fund, funding for mental health, the extension of mortgage interest relief for over 400,000 homeowners, increases in rent supplements and housing support payments, the re-opening of the Clár programme and Local Improvement Scheme and 1,600 extra Gardaí on the streets as positives of the Confidence and Supply Agreement.
"As we face into the deep uncertainty of Brexit the arrangement has provide stability. Preparing our state for Brexit runs through our approach to this budget like a seam of rock. By honouring the confidence and supply agreement Fianna Fáil has delivered for people across Ireland," Cowen claimed.
Cowen also went on to criticise the Fine Gael-led government, and referencing health, he said, "the Government’s health policy has failed, and yet they would like us all to believe that public healthcare is a lost cause, that no matter who is in Government it will not be improved."
"As Sean Lemass once said a 'Defeatist attitude now would surely lead to defeat, we cannot opt out of the future.' We can’t afford the fatalism the government has taken to our Health service. We need real ambition and energy to build it into a service our state can be proud of," he added.
"The recurring overspend in the Department of Health is symptomatic of this lack of focus. This year the Department will be €700 million over budget and once again the revenue from corporation tax will be used to fill that hole. For a Government claiming to be prudent and responsible, this is neither," Cowen said.
He also pointed to the area of housing as an are where Fine Gael have fallen short. He said, "too often the government has focused on spin over substance. Since coming into power Fine Gael has launched Construction 2020, Social Housing Strategy 2020, Re-Building Ireland 2016, 2012 Capital Plan, 2015 Capital Plan & 2018 Plan. These six separate plans exclude the numerous re-launches involved. That is more launches than local authority homes built in several counties so far this year."
"Housing is the key test for this budget and this government. It’s a fight for the right to have a safe and secure roof over your head as the basic starting point of any decent life. The homelessness crisis that scars our towns and cities, challenges us to act decisively."
"Now is the time for real ambition and genuine delivery. The state needs to get back building on the same kind of scale that defined the ambition of the 1930’s. Back then with a population of less than 3m we built 8,200 units year during the worst recession the world has seen. Last year we only managed less than half of that last year despite a surging population of over 4.7m."
"To address the housing crisis a major capital injection is needed. Today’s announcement falls short of that but it is a start. The €60m boost to homelessness funding must be the beginning of a campaign to end the nightmare of emergency accommodation so many families are locked into."
"A €100m fund per annum over the next three years will see some 7,500 units in train by 2021. This is a beginning and in combination with the new Land Development Agency should be able to play a greater role in delivering decent, affordable homes in the years to come. These units will be available for sale at a price of €200,000 for single earners up to €50,000 and joint income earners up to €75,000," Barry stated.
In conclusion, Barry Cowen said, "I am firm in my belief that Fianna Fáil has made a positive impact on the direction of this Government. Make no mistake about it, it is not a position we would have wanted before the 2016 General Election. But when Ireland required a stable government, Fianna Fáil chose to act and in so doing changed the direction the country was heading."
"This Budget is certainly not the Budget we would have written but there is little doubt that this Budget is a fairer one because of our input through the Confidence and Supply Arrangement. Through often difficult discussions and messy compromises, we have upheld our side of the agreement," Cowen concluded.
You can catch up on Barry Cowen's full speech and the entire Budget 2019 proceedings on Oireachtas TV online.