26 November 1998 Edition
Time to share prosperity
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 - due on 6 December - 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 Féin rejects the culture of Mé Féinism 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 Féin as against Mé Féin 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 ideal''.
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 Féin 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.
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 Féin 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 Féin 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 disproportionately to the larger farmers leaving the majority of farmers behind.dependency cycle which is forcing ever more farmers off the land.
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 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 Féin 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 raisedto bridge the gap highlighted by the ESRI report.
A real action plan on unemployment
Sinn Féin believes that there is a need for a real Employment Action Plan, which has as its 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
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'.
Health for all not for health for wealth
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
Sinn Féin 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 healthcare 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
Sinn Féin 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.
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 Féin
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.
Sinn Féin 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 Féin 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 provision 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 Féin 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 Féin 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.