Budget 2015 – Minister White’s Budget Debate Speech

Budget 2015 – Alex White’s Budget Debate Speech

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

Labour TD for Dublin South

Dáil Éireann, October 15th 2014, 5.45pm

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 Budget 2015 is the first recovery Budget. The era of tax rises affecting low and middle income earners and cuts in public services is now over. Budget 2015 will help secure employment and a sustainable economic and social recovery for Ireland and our people. Its reliefs are targeted at low and middle income earners, especially families who have borne such a heavy financial burden over the last number of years.

We said that austerity would not last forever and that our collective effort would not be in vain. It is a testament to the resilience of the Irish people and the sacrifices they have made, that we are now entering a period of progress and recovery.

No budget cuts were announced yesterday. The spending announcements of Budget 2015 have been designed to be sustainable, to assist low and middle income families, and to invest strategically in rebuilding our society. There will be an €800 million investment in social housing for 2015, beginning with 2,500 social housing units being built next year. Funding from Budget 2015 will result in 900 new classroom teachers, 480 new resource teachers and 365 new Special Needs Assistants.

The tax cuts of Budget 2015 are progressive measures that target low and middle income earners. An increase in the threshold at which USC becomes payable will take 80,000 out of the charge altogether. In total, this means that 410,000 people will have been taken out of the USC since 2012. Middle income earners who continue to pay USC will pay less. The first rate of USC will fall from 2% to 1.5% and the second rate of USC will fall from 4% to 3.5%.

Proportionately the benefits of tax relief are far greater for low and middle income earners than for those earning more than €70,000 a year. Therefore, contrary to the charges made by the opposition, the income tax changes are clearly progressive – lower paid workers get a bigger percentage reduction in their tax. Deputy Martin stated earlier that the largest benefit is being given to the highest earners. This is manifestly not so. The largest benefit – proportionate to income – is being given to lower and middle income workers. That is something that perhaps Deputy Adams needs to understand as well with his empty charges of tax breaks for the wealthy and a suggestion that the budget was rewarding the highest earners first and foremost. Of course, this is manifestly not so.

Ceann Comhairle, Budget 2015 strikes the right balance between boosting growth, stimulating employment, protecting low and middle income earners and reducing our deficit and debt levels.

The very parameters of this budget debate reflect the progress our economy has made. Tax revenue is ahead of profile. The CSO figures in September showed that the Irish Economy grew by 7.7% in real GDP terms and by 9% in GNP terms year on year.

Most importantly, employment numbers have increased, and unemployment is dropping consistently and steadily. The latest CSO figures released in September showed that unemployment now stands at 11.1%, down from the 2012 peak of 15.1%. There is every prospect that unemployment will soon be below 10% signifying that a strong recovery is in place.

The work of my Department is central to putting the economy back on a sustainable path. The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is committed to ensuring that the infrastructure exists for families, businesses, our society and economy to thrive and reach its full potential.

Delivering high speed, high quality and future proofed broadband to all parts of Ireland is a top priority for Government. It will provide jobs and improve social inclusion, including in rural communities, by creating the infrastructure that allows businesses and communities to thrive. To this end, we are in the process of ensuring that high speed broadband becomes available to every citizen and business in the country irrespective of their location.

We are facilitating the expansion of commercial provision. And we are actively preparing a State intervention to provide high speed broadband infrastructure to approximately 700,000 homes and businesses, which are otherwise unlikely to be served by commercial providers. Over the coming weeks, we will publish detailed maps which will show the areas where commercial providers are – or will soon be – in place, and those where state intervention is required. A full public consultation on these maps will follow, allowing operators, consumers and citizens to share their views. Intensive design work is progressing in my Department including the preparation of a comprehensive intervention strategy to be published in mid-2015, with a view to launching a major public procurement process to identify a preferred company or companies to implement this phase of the National Broadband Plan.

While 2015 will be a crucial year for the advancement of the National Broadband Plan, the introduction of a national postcode system will also be significant. A unique seven character code will be allocated to every letter-box in the State by the middle of 2015. This will become a vital part of the national infrastructure, with improved efficiencies for postal delivery and other public and private services.

As Minister for Energy it is my task to ensure a safe, sustainable, economic and cost-effective energy sector, no matter who the consumer is, be they householder, small start-up business, multi-national – or one of our younger citizens needing access to a warm comfortable room for play or for study or just for rest. Consultation is now advancing on the Green Paper published by my predecessor Pat Rabbitte, so that drafting of our definitive Energy Policy White Paper will follow in the first half of 2015, and publication by the summer of 2015. The ultimate goal is an Energy Policy that steers an appropriate course between sustainability, security and competitiveness for the ultimate benefit of society.

For the fourth year in a row, we will deliver Better Energy Programmes across the country. These programmes have successfully delivered significant energy savings, created jobs, tackled fuel poverty and helped reduce carbon emissions. The allocation for the Better Energy Programme will total €47 million in 2015, and will assist in energy savings of over 460 gigawatt hours next year – a significant contribution towards our 2020 energy efficiency targets. It will support an estimated 2,900 jobs and significantly reduce carbon emissions. The Better Energy Warmer Homes scheme will continue to receive substantial funding in 2015. The programme provides free energy efficiency measures to low-income households. Over 10,000 homes are expected to benefit from an energy efficiency upgrade in 2015, bringing to 118,000 the total number of households that have benefited under this programme.

My Department is also responsible for the national digital strategy which is a progressive programme of investment and intervention that is strengthening Ireland’s digital economy so that it supports further job creation.

The Trading Online Voucher Scheme, introduced in 2014, is being continued in 2015 with funding of €3m. The scheme gives small enterprises up to €2,500 towards the cost of online trading investment and aims to get 2,000 small businesses trading online.

Ensuring that citizens are equipped to participate in an increasingly digital world is another objective of the National Digital Strategy. In 2014, we passed a milestone of 100,000 people trained in the use of basic online technologies. In 2015 we will continue to fund this programme, which is delivered nationwide through a network of approximately 700 community based organisations.

In the last three years, the Government has delivered 100 mega-bites-per-second connectivity to every second level school in Ireland, allowing teachers and students to use technology to enhance educational outcomes. A series of workshops to support schools was also organised and we will continue to support this initiative in 2015.

We will also continue our support of the Digital Hub Development Agency, based in Dublin 8, which supports over 70 digital enterprises employing almost 800 people. The National Digital Research Agency, based at the Digital Hub, will continue to be exchequer supported in 2015. 2015 spending for the NDRA and the Digital Hub will be €5.5m.

Public service broadcasting is an indispensable element of our democracy and helps facilitate our national conversation – informing, educating and entertaining. Over €242.47m in TV licence revenue will flow through my Department’s Vote next year to fund the delivery of public service broadcasting by RTÉ and TG4.

The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources will continue its strategic role in ensuring that infrastructural development continues at a strong pace, in order to advance a balanced and sustainable economic and social recovery.

As Ireland moves beyond the painful era of economic crisis and into a recovery phase, it is vital that we do not repeat the boom and bust economics of Fianna Fáil or adopt the reckless and populist policies of Sinn Féin. The people of Ireland have worked too hard to reach this tentative recovery in order for it to be scuppered now.

The decisions the Government has made in Budget 2015 herald a new phase in the process of economic and social recovery for all of our citizens. We still face significant challenges but I am glad to say that our country’s darkest days are behind us.