October 9, 2019
We need a New Deal for workers and families – Sinn Féin President

“Work must pay, housing must be available and affordable, healthcare is a right, education must be truly free.”

These are the four key pillars of a “New Deal for workers and families” under which the government should have framed their budget, according to Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald.

Speaking in the Dáil she said:

“Sinn Féin’s alternative budget showed how the government could deliver a new deal for workers and families.

“We showed how this government could introduce measures that will have an immediate and positive impact on people’s lives. We showed how this government could reduce costs and raise incomes.

“We showed how to give workers and families a break.

“This budget was a missed opportunity. It was another do-nothing budget, from a do-nothing government, supported whole heartedly by their do-nothing partners in Fianna Fáil.

“We need a New Deal for workers and families. Sinn Féin’s New Deal would be based on four key pillars: work must pay; housing must be available and affordable, healthcare is a right; education must be truly free.

“This New Deal represents the way forward, would make the recovery real for workers and families and would be a welcome departure from the failed boom and bust politics of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.”

ENDS//

Note to editors: Full text of Deputy McDonald’s speech is below.

Mary Lou McDonald TD

Address on Budget 2020

Wednesday, October 09, 2019.

FINAL

Introduction

Taoiseach,

Budget 2020 has come at a time when change is happening all around us.

The withdrawal of Britain from with European Union presents many challenges for Ireland – social, political and economic.

Budget 2020 also comes at a time when workers and families are looking for a break. 

A break from wages that don’t go far enough.

A break from high bills.

A break from rip off costs.

People are looking for solutions.

They are looking for something new from government.

Of course, stability is important. 

But government must also show the vision and the endeavour to move forward.

To redefine what government delivers for people.

To remould how government delivers for people.

Change is difficult.

Change that is outside of our control, initiated by the decisions and actions of others, even more daunting still. 

But change can also be a canvas on which to create something new.

We know that where there are threats, there is also opportunity.

Yes, this is a time for caution.

We must take Brexit seriously.

Sinn Féin proposed a Brexit stabilisation fund of €2 Billion to meet the challenge.

This is the level of funding needed to properly respond to Brexit.

The figures announced yesterday simply won’t cut it.

It falls far short of meeting the scale of the challenge.

Caution and fear are two very different things, Taoiseach.

This is not a time for fear.

This is a time for innovation, for fresh thinking, for big ideas. 

It is a time for solutions.

Government priorities must be set to match the hopes and aspirations of the Irish people.

Not by the smallness of those who seek to damage our island for narrow political gain.

Sadly, your government has missed the moment.

You have failed to see the opportunity.

You have failed to seize upon the canvas that change presents.

Minister Donohoe has instead used Brexit to dig in.

He has used Brexit as an excuse to deliver more of the same.

Minister Donohoe says it is a budget for stability as Brexit looms.

The truth is that this is a budget that protects banks, insurance companies and landlords.

A budget that is built on policies that back vulture funds over households.

A budget that puts workers and families on the frontline to take the heavy blows should a crash Brexit transpire. 

A lack of vision.

A lack of ambition

A lack of belief.

That is what guides this Minister’s preparations for Brexit.

That is what guided the formulation of this Budget.

Instead of writing modern music, for modern times what we get is Fine Gael singing the same old and played-out song. 

Yet again, Fianna Fáil stands ready as the backing vocalists.

In the first verse you tell workers and families- “you must take the hits”.

In the second verse, you tell the powerful and ultra-rich – “we are on your side”.

Now where have we heard that before?

It is not so long ago that the same song was played for the enjoyment of bankers and bondholders.

That’s Fine Gael. 

Right on cue.

How utterly predictable.

How utterly uninspired. 

This budget comes at a time when recent reports have shown that this state has the fifth largest number of “ultra-wealthy” individuals per capita in the world.

This also a place where 137,000 workers live on the minimum wage.

A place where average incomes simply do not keep up with the cost of living.

A failed approach to budgets

The government approaches the Budget as a blunt accounting exercise. 

The same way as a corporation might present its books.

This is flawed thinking.

Government budgets should go far beyond that rigid perspective. 

Budgets are about choices and priorities. 

Budgets are about the lives of workers and families.

Budgets are about people and communities.

It’s the responsibility of government, of the Minister for Finance to look beyond the blunt figures to the human beings on the other side. 

Taoiseach,

The failure of your budget to prioritize the well-being of the people is a big mistake.

Be absolutely certain that it is the well-being of workers and families that will be the strongest bulwark against the impact of Brexit. 

Unfortunately, your government doesn’t understand this.

You have again resorted to measures which first defend the interests of those at the top.

Mistakes and missteps

The mistakes and missteps made by government in this budget mirror the bad policy decisions taken by Fine Gael since coming to power in 2011.

How do we know they are bad decisions? 

Because they are not working. 

Your policies, your budgets simply aren’t working, Taoiseach .

You are not delivering solutions.

You only have to look at the facts.

Last week, in University Hospital Limerick, we saw the highest number of people on trolleys in one day for any Irish hospital.

The highest on record. Ever.

You haven’t fixed the chronic overcrowding in our hospitals.

You have made it worse.

In our alternative Budget, Sinn Féin offered a suite of solutions as the first steps to a single tier, universal public health service over ten years.

Your budget ignored it.

Family homelessness on the watch of Fine Gael has increased dramatically. 

When you came to power in 2011, there were eight families becoming homeless every month.

Today, after nearly nine years of Fine Gael in government, there are ninety families becoming homeless every month.

You haven’t solved the housing and homelessness crisis. 

You have made it worse. 

In our alternative budget, we proposed solutions to bring down the extortionate housing costs and launch a major programme of public housing construction to meet affordable and social housing need.

These measures would have done something real for those trying to get on the property ladder – young couples looking to realise the dream of their own home.

We also proposed an immediate rent freeze a much better measure than your failed rent pressure zones.

You ignored these solutions.

It is an indictment of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that the majority of people have far less money in their pockets now than they did when you came to power over three years ago.

You haven’t improved the affordability of life for workers and families.

You have made it worse.

In our alternative Budget, Sinn Féin proposed the introduction of a living wage of €12.30

Again, you ignored this.

Worse still you threw the 137,000 minimum wage workers on the bus.

Not one red cent for them.

Your government simply refuses to listen.

You slap down suggestions that you know will make a difference in the daily lives of so many.

You know but you don’t care.

That is poor leadership.

That is bad government.

It is a very short sighted perspective. 

It is clear that housing insecurity, health insecurity and income insecurity are now the main result of your government’s policies.

It is also clear that you are comfortable with that reality.

An ambitious social agenda

Government needs better objectives, better priorities and better solutions.

Government needs the political will to deliver serious achievements.

Achievements that will have real meaning in the lives of workers and families.

Let me make a few suggestions, Taoiseach.

How about a truly free education from the first day of baby infants to the last day of college?

How about a national health service where medical treatment is free at the point of delivery?

How about a housing system that places affordability and accessibility at the very centre?

I refuse to accept that these things cannot be done in the Ireland of 2019.

After all, we are not asking you to land on the moon, Taoiseach. 

We are not asking you to contend with the great mysteries of the universe. 

Even in the context of Brexit, an ambitious social agenda is possible. 

In fact, Brexit makes an ambitious social agenda absolutely essential.

This is well within the gift of politicians who want to create a better society.

And it is dismissed by those who do not.

Making sure everybody has a home.

Making sure everybody can see a doctor when they are sick.

Making sure everybody gets a decent education.

That is the responsibility of government.

It is your responsibility, Taoiseach.

How dare anybody try to present these goals as the aspirations of hypocrites or cynics.

These are the goals of decency, of fairness, of common sense.

These goals should be the very basis of any political agenda that is worthwhile.

These goals should be the priorities of any respectable state.

I am proud to hold such principles, Taoiseach. 

I make no apology for coming into this chamber to say to you and Minister Donohoe that I am a believer. 

I believe in the politics of equality and social justice.

I believe in representing and in standing up for ordinary people.

That is what I do.

That is what Pearse Doherty did yesterday in his response to your Budget

That is what every Sinn Féin TD on these benches does every single day.

We do this because we sincerely believe that every child should be supported in going as far as possible in life.

That every worker should have a decent wages and decent conditions.

That every family should have the right to a happy life.

The only way to ensure that this happens is to deliver economic justice.

That is what annual government budgets should do.

Budgets should be stepping stones in delivering a just society and a fair Ireland.

Unfortunately, your budgets do the opposite.

Your budgets hold back families, hold back workers and hold back communities.

It takes the village to raise the child. 

Families and communities are that village, Taoiseach. 

I know of a woman who sums up the responsibility of government quite succinctly.

She says “all children need and deserve three things – a good home, a good doctor and a good school.”

For that simple, yet profound vision to be realised, work must pay.

So we must raise incomes.

Work people are ask themselves what has happened to the principle of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.

Even full-time employment cannot guarantee families a life free of poverty.

Successive Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil governments must bear responsibility for this.

Your parties have followed a political agenda which is sustained on attacks on workers’ pay and conditions.

This has resulted in a frightening growth in precarious work and poverty wages.

It is nothing radical for us to demand that jobs are high in quality, sustainable  and that wages deliver a living.

You pour scorn on the ideas of economic justice and progressive taxation, not because you think these idea won’t work.

You pour scorn because you see equality as a threat to your power and as a threat to privilege.

You say that it is impossible for government to deliver world class public services and while also raising incomes.

I say that you are wrong.

You are wrong because you are wedded to a way of thinking that delivers only for those who are already making it.

You see no other way forward but the already discredited idea of trickle-down economics.

If ever there was a form of fantasy economics, surely it is that myth.

Look at what policies shaped by trickle-down economics have delivered here in this state.

An entire generation of young people who are worse off than their parents.

In times gone by couples would make sacrifices to save for a mortgage.

Today, the same sacrifices are made to pay an extortionate rent for substandard accommodation.

While the cost of utility bills and insurance go up and up.

The cost of making ends meet has become unbearable

The fact is that people are being ripped off left, right and centre.

For many families, saving for the future has been made impossible.

Relationships are breaking down under the strain.

The mental health of workers and families is suffering.

Stress.

Anxiety.

Depression

A paralysing uncertainty about the future.

While I am addressing the issue, I have to ask – how does this government still not recognise that we have a mental health crisis?

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are on their knees.

Communities and families are crying out for help.

Over the course of 2017 and 2018, 747 people in this state tragically took their own lives.

People are dying and this government has allocated a paltry €14 million in new money for mental health in 2020.

This is shameful especially when we know that early intervention can save lives.

None of the pressures experienced today by workers and families have occurred by accident.

So much of it is the result of bad government policy and too many lives are being ruined are result.

This needs to be put right.

This needs be fixed.