It was a busy week in Leinster House with the budget being announced on Tuesday. But what did our local Wicklow TDs have to say throughout the week.
As expected, it was a busy week for the Minister for Health.
Harris admitted that he was open to the possibility of making vaccinations compulsory amongst health service staff, stating that it was important that workers in healthcare facilities were vaccinated against the flu this winter.
Speaking on the matter, Minister Harris said, ” “My initial point is – win the argument; persuade people of the benefits of vaccination; work with the incredible champions that we have in the health service who are promoting vaccination.
“But, we need to keep an open mind on legislative changes that may be required,” said Harris.
In the Dáil, the Minister told the house that free contraception for women will be made available from 2021.
Harris said in response to Solidarity TD Mick Barry’s question, “It is my policy objective to make contraception free in 2021 and that is what I would like to see happen.”
He also outlined the progress being made on male contraception.
“We are putting vending machines into a number of locations throughout the country and our sexual health strategy very much aligns with this, not only in terms of reducing crisis pregnancy but in terms of reducing STIs (sexually transmitted infections) which are at a worrying level in our country.”
Fianna Fáil Spokesperson for Health Stephen Donnelly figures showing an increase in the number of medical doctors de-registering in Ireland over the past four years, while questioning officials from the Irish Medical Council before the Oireachtas Health Committee.
Speaking on the issue, Donnelly said, ” In 2014, 546 doctors took themselves off the medical council register. In 2018 this figure stood at 1,453 and if the trend continues, as the medical council believes it will, 2019 will also see an increase in the numbers de-registering.
“The majority of those who withdrew themselves from the register did so to practice medicine abroad. One third of them were graduates of Irish medical schools,” he said.
” The Government is not treating this issue with the seriousness it commands. We already have a shortage of doctors in this country. We are 40 per cent below the European average for medical doctors, we have the lowest level of hospital consultants per capita anywhere in the developed world and we have the highest waiting lists in Europe. “
He continued to liken adding new entrants to pouring water into an already leaking bucket.
Donnelly also welcomed the news of the €25 million increase in the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) in Budget 2020.
” In each successive year we have secured an increase in funding for it and we know that it is working – the inpatient day case list has fallen from a high of over 86,000 in 2017 to just under 69,000 in August.
“I also want to welcome the reduction in prescription charges and the €10 reduction in the threshold for the drug payment scheme. These measures are a key part of Sláintecare and Fianna Fáil has been looking for progress on them.
Sinn Féin spokesperson for Employment Affairs & Social Protection John Brady TD said that the €2 increase in the Fuel Allowance won’t cover fuel cost hikes let alone the carbon tax increase of €6 announced as part of Budget 2020.
“In Minister Donohue’s own words ‘the burden of the increase in carbon tax falls unequally’ yet despite this the Government seem to think that a €2 increase in Fuel Allowance will combat this. It will not nor, will it come anywhere near.
“For the 28% of households living in fuel poverty, this increase in carbon tax will not be offset by a measly €2 increase in the Fuel Allowance. This Government had promised to protect the most vulnerable in increasing the carbon tax, they have not done that. This increase will do nothing but add to the number of households experiencing fuel poverty,” said Brady.
Brady insisted that some of the measures announced for Social Protection in yesterday’s Budget are not all that they seem.
Expressing his views during Budget 2020 statements, the Sinn Fein Spokesperson for Employment Affairs and Social Protection said, “There are a number of social protection measures outlined in Budget 2020 which make the Government look good. Unfortunately, that is about all they do.
“The increase in jobseeker payments for the young unemployed to the full rate might seem like an end to age discrimination for young jobseekers. However, all the Government are actually doing is replacing age discrimination with a different type of discrimination.
” Those aged 18-24 years living independently and in receipt of housing support will see their jobseeker’s payment increased to the full rate of €203, but those that do not live independently will remain on €112.70,” said Brady.
Fianna Fáil TD Pat Casey asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the Garda national protective service and its roll out and operations in Wicklow Garda Division, and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Minister Charlie Flanagan responded by stating that he has “no direct role in this matter” and that he understands “Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities, to ensure their optimum use.”
Furthermore, ” The Commissioner’s plan allows for Divisions of sufficient scale to be self-sufficient in the delivery of services, which will included greater availability of expertise in addressing domestic and sexual violence in each area,” Flanagan said in response to the Wicklow TD.
Casey also queried the Minister for Finance his views on the restoration of the VAT rate to 9% to improve competitiveness in view of the fact this is the highest rate of VAT on tourist accommodation in the EU; the Brexit effects on British visitors; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
However, Minister Bruton in response said, “As the Deputy will be aware, it is a longstanding practice of the Minister for Finance not to comment, in advance of the Budget, on any tax matters that might be the subject of Budget decisions.”
Junior Minster for Agriculture Andrew Doyle responded to the Green Party’s budget proposals with stark criticism.
Doyle stated that the proposals were positive proof that the Green Party have an anti-rural agenda and the implementation of Eamon Ryan’s alternative budget would result in higher taxes, ongoing roads projects being shelved and future projects cancelled in Wicklow.
“Earlier this week we saw Eamon Ryan call for the reintroduction of wolves! They have no grasp of life in rural Ireland,” Andrew Doyle said.
“The Greens also want to increase tax on ordinary people with over €2.1bn in tax hikes, from 15 separate tax increases. They want to halve the tax relief on pensions. This will cost ordinary families €500m. It will drastically reduce the incentive to save for the long term, just when policy should be aiming at increasing pensions coverage.
“The Greens say they want ‘a re-orientation of the transport budget’. What they don’t say is this means a cut to the roads budget. Road safety and maintenance in Wicklow would be seriously impacted by the Green Party’s plans,” said Doyle.