Cork North West TD Michael Creed has welcomed the provision of funding to Ovens National School to develop two new classrooms. Commenting on the allocation Deputy Creed said;
“I am pleased that funding is to be provided to Ovens National School for the development of additional classroom accommodation. The principal, teachers and board of management of Ovens N.S. have worked hard to develop this school and I am pleased that their application for funding has been successful. I hope that the work can commence on the construction of these new rooms as soon as possible in order to meet the significant growth in enrolments in the school.
“This Government has endeavored to continue investment in our educational infrastructure despite the difficult economic climate. I am confident that this funding will greatly benefit pupils and the staff of Ovens NS”
Cork North West TD Michael Creed has reminded residents in Ballincollig and Carrigrohane of the availability of tax relief for householders who make rental accommodation available. Outlining details of the relief Deputy Creed said:
“This may be of significant benefit to householders in the immediate vicinity of UCC, CIT and third level colleges in Cork City. There is increased demand for affordable student accommodation and the rent a room scheme could prove mutually beneficial for home owners with vacant rooms and students alike.
“Section 216A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides for the rent-a-room scheme. This scheme was introduced in Finance Act 2001 as an incentive to encourage individuals to let rooms in their principal private residence in order to bring about an increase in the availability of rental accommodation, particularly for the student sector.
“The scheme provides an exemption from Income Tax, PRSI and USC on rent received where a person rents out a room or rooms in his or her principal private residence and the rent received does not exceed €10,000 per year.
“In order to qualify for the exemption, it is necessary for the residential premises to be situated in the State and occupied by the individual as his or her sole or main residence during the tax year. The relief only applies to individuals. It does not apply to companies or partnerships. In addition, an individual cannot avail of the relief in respect of payments for accommodation in the family home by a child of the individual. There is no restriction where rent is paid by other family members, for example, nieces or nephews.
I welcome the opportunity to speak about the Bill. The first point I would like to make is that we in this House are in a very privileged position to be elected and representatives of the people. Obviously, that honour is something we should cherish and not in any way tarnish by our activities. I sometimes very much regret the willingness within political discourse to undermine the actions and words of our political opponents in such a way as to imply incorrect motives to them. Obviously, in the cut and thrust of political debate there will be disagreements on policy and ideology, which is very acceptable. However, very often we cross the line in our efforts to make political points to such an extent that, in fact, it draws the profession of politics into disrepute. Collectively, that is something on which we should reflect.
There are very many people who are willing to subscribe to a view that this Chamber is a heaving mass of corruption and self-indulgence. The truth is different and I acknowledge this across the political divide in regard to people with whom I would be uncomfortable ideologically. I would not second-guess the bona fides of all those sent here. It is true to say that, in all of my time here, there have been a small minority who have betrayed the public interest by promoting self-interest ahead of the public interest and, of course, we should always have adequate checks and balances and laws to deal with this. However, our willingness to undermine the profession of politics marks a slippery slope that will ultimately fracture the close links between public representatives and the public they serve. We would do well to reflect on the dangers of creating a “them and us” approach where the public’s confidence in the political process – not in Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Independents, Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin but in the process itself – is damaged. That is something on which we should reflect.
I acknowledge this is not the perfect week or day for me to be making these points. I put up my hands and say the current debacle in which the Taoiseach is involved in respect of the appointment of a Fine Gael candidate in a Seanad by-election to the board of the IMMA is regrettable, to say the least, and has not done much to dispel the image of malpractice and cronyism. In preparing for the debate on the Bill I took to reading what some might call works of fiction, although it is interesting reading. One is the Fine Gael manifesto in 2011 and the other is the programme for Government. It is interesting to note that a lot has been achieved in the area of political reform on which our absent friends in the press gallery are very often reluctant to report, whereas they use as a stick to beat us the things that have yet to be ticked off and delivered on.
I welcome this legislation, although I have some concerns which I will bring to the Minister’s attention in the course of the debate. However, it is important to acknowledge that quite a lot has been done, while other things remain to be delivered on. One of the interesting things I found in the Fine Gael manifesto of 2011 is, in the context of the current controversy, worth reading. It states: “Vacancies for all remaining paid directorships on public boards will be advertised on the website of the Public Appointments Service, and short-lists of qualified applicants will be presented to Ministers”. I welcome the Minister’s recent announcement in this regard. It is something that will serve to reinforce the fact that the overwhelming majority of Members today and during the history of the State have always been and were motivated by public service. We run a risk in continuously undermining and second-guessing their motivations and by making unsubstantiated political charges that we will actually bring the profession of politics into disrepute. I suppose what I am saying is that we need to play the ball all the time, not the man, something that is at times lost here.
As I said, I consider it to be a great privilege to be a representative in this Chamber of the people of my constituency of Cork North-West. We live in a representative parliamentary democracy. I would be very slow to introduce or support legislation that in any way undermined the interaction I have on a daily and weekly basis with my constituents, or placed any impediment between my constituents and me or between any representative here and his or her constituents in terms of their unfettered access as individual citizens to their public representatives. That has to be something that should be subject to the closest possible scrutiny.
I made reference to the question of whether this was a heaving mass of corruption or whether most Members of the House were well motivated. I believe they are. It is interesting to note that Transparency International, which is an international body of some standing, reported in 2009 that we were the 16th least corrupt nation out of 180 nations it surveyed in its index of corruption globally. That is something for which this Chamber should take a bow. However, I accept that this must be assessed side by side with the results of various tribunals of inquiry, which have put a stain on the reputation of our system of parliamentary democracy. One can go back as far as the beef tribunal, the Mahon tribunal and the plethora of incidents that have been referred to by other colleagues in this debate. We must tread very carefully in respect of that interaction that is critical to our functioning democracy and the social cohesion we enjoy, and anything that puts an impediment in the way of the link between our representatives and the public. I would be very slow to support legislation that raises a question mark about the entitlement of a constituent of mine to step into my constituency office in Macroom or any of my clinics around the constituency from Ballincollig to Charleville. That would be a flawed piece of legislation. I raise this issue in the context of the Bill because I wonder whether this will be a lobbyist’s charter. If a citizen cannot walk into my constituency office unfettered, must he or she then pay money to get a lobbyist to come in? It is a very interesting time to have this debate because we are in the middle of the pre-budget season and lobbying is at its peak. Today alone I had breakfast with Teagasc and elevenses with the Irish Road Haulage Association, while tomorrow it will be the turn of the INTO and the Simon Community, while earlier this week it was the Society of the Irish Motor Industry. I have heard from the drinks industry and the IFA. One has the whole gamut of society from the business community to the trade union movement to non-governmental organisations. They often raise general issues about which individual constituents come to me for 12 months of the year. For example, the IFA, which is probably one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country, has had its day in Dublin and met with all of us. We jump when it says it is having a lobbying session because it is an important voice for rural communities, as are the other farming organisations from whom I have heard, such as the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association and Macra na Feirme. Very often, what happens is that subsequent to that lobbying session, the local IFA activists will come to my constituency clinic. As I understand, a particular interpretation of the legislation before the House could mean that the local branch of the IFA could no longer come to me. It would have to send its PR company or lobbyist. I see the Minister shaking his head and I hope that is correct, because that would be a real danger.
I am a lobbyist and I am lobbied. That is my duty as a public representative. I am lobbied all day every day, and rightly so. If a woman comes into my constituency clinic who has a problem with the Department of Social Protection about her social welfare payment, a parent comes to me who is concerned about the number of children in a classroom or the pupil-teacher ratio, or a farmer comes to me with concerns about Common Agricultural Policy reform, I am being lobbied. That is part and parcel of what I do. I must be able to differentiate between what is appropriate and inappropriate. Ultimately, I am held to account in the most telling of fashions, and I have been on the winning and losing sides of that telling procedure, which is an election every so often. That is the ultimate form of accountability. We need to tread carefully in terms of placing impediments before my constituents in having unfettered access to me, as is their right.
I know the other side of the argument and I understand the motivation behind the legislation. I think it is coming from a significant number – I will not say a small number – of high-profile events relating to planning corruption. As I said, I am a lobbyist and I am lobbied. I am a lobbyist when I come here. I am invariably at the back of the Chamber bending a Minister’s ear. It might be the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when I am looking for something in my constituency. It might be the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in respect of the N22 bypass from Macroom. It might be any one of a range of Government Ministers. Where do I fit in? I am at the receiving end of this legislation insofar as I am one of the aforementioned people who will have legal requirements placed upon them as people who are lobbied. On the other side, I am also a lobbyist.
In respect of the organisations covered, could the Minister dwell in his reply on why certain organisations are not mentioned? For example, the Judiciary, the gardaí and the HSE are not mentioned. I am interested in knowing why they are not specifically mentioned in the legislation, given the very significant roles they play. The HSE would seem to be a glaring omission given the size of its budget.
On balance, it is a step in the right direction. I would like to be reassured by the Minister that this in no way interferes with the traditional engagement between a public representative and his or her constituents. I know there is a view out there and among our absent colleagues in the Fourth Estate, who are not listening to this debate now, that rural Deputies in particular are excessively involved in clientelism and spend too much time listening to our constituents and that the country would be far better if we did none of this menial stuff and got on with the business of fine flowery intellectual contributions in this Chamber about the important issues. I consider myself to be best informed in debates by virtue of practical experience because of the engagement I have with ordinary people – I do not use the term in any pejorative sense – whose lives are affected by the daily decisions we make. The challenge as public representatives is getting that balance right. Obviously, we must be our own moral guardians in the interim between one election and the other, when the public will adjudicate on us. I acknowledge that the actions of a small minority within this Chamber have betrayed the overwhelming commitment to public service that is manifest in all Members across all political parties.
Cork North West Fine Gael T.D. Michael Creed has described the Government approach to tackling the problem of alcohol abuse as borderline shambolic. Speaking during a Dáil debate on the Sport Ireland Bill, Deputy Creed said:
“At present, the Government’s approach to this issue is borderline shambolic. It is stumbling around proposals for minimum pricing and is now long-fingering proposals in that regard. Abusive alcohol consumption is a cancer in Irish society and is closely associated with sporting organisations, which is very regrettable.
“I believe that at the stroke of a pen in the morning, the Government could reinstate the ban on below-cost selling of alcohol as was provided for in the groceries order that was abolished in 2006. The Government appears to have abdicated its position on minimum pricing until such time as the European Commission rules on the Scottish proposals, which are now under appeal there. The Minister of State should be in no doubt but that we are dealing with a powerful vested interest in the form of the drinks industry. Members have seen the tobacco industry flexing its muscles on plain packaging, but equally I have no doubt Members are witnessing arm twisting behind the scenes by the drinks industry with regard to minimum pricing.
“According to figures provided by the National Off-Licence Association before an Oireachtas committee hearing, incredibly Irish taxpayers subsidise the below-cost sale of alcohol to the tune of €21 million per annum through refunds to the multiples that have grossly offensive advertisements in the daily newspapers every day of the week, as well as in every Sunday newspaper, which are designed to increase footfall in order that they may sell other products to consumers”.
Fine Gael Cork North West TD Michael Creed has today (Wednesday) welcomed the announcement by Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Simon Harris TD,that an amendment is to be made to ease the rates burden on many local sports clubs. Commenting on the amendment Deputy Creed said:
“An amendment to the Valuation (Amendment)(No.2) Bill 2012 will mean sports clubs that previously paid rates on its bar and on sporting buildings, will now only pay rates for the part of the building that generates income i.e. the bar in most cases. In practical terms this will reduce significantly the size of the building for which sports clubs must pay rates and it will provide a welcome boost for clubs provided by volunteers for volunteers.
“Local sports clubs are the backbone of the community in this constituency. These clubs are run by people giving freely of their time and many are largely financed from fundraising in the local community.
“Buildings that are used for the sale of alcohol or food, retail outlets etc. will be rated but buildings that are used for community sport will be exempt. If a sports club’s only commercial facility is the bar then it is only the bar and ancillary facilities that will be rated.
“This is an example of a piece of legislation that will have a very real impact on local communities. The Government is committed to improving facilities and services in all regions of the country. The economy is improving because the policies pursued are working and changes such as the amendment announced today are another indication of our dedication to supporting local communities across the country.”
“I was delighted to be invited to turn the sod for the Ballincollig Men’s Shed Project on Saturday last. The objective of the Men’s Sheds is to maintain and enhance the well being of the participating men. Men’s Sheds are a worldwide organisation. In Ireland there are over 170 sheds with over 5000 members. For more information visit http://www.menssheds.ie I’d like to wish the Ballincollig Movement the very best with their project”.
Cork North West TD Michael Creed has called on the Minister for Finance and his Cabinet colleagues to prioritize a staged reduction in the USC over the coming years. Commenting on the publication of the latest Exchequer figures Deputy Creed said:
“While it is crucial that we continue to meet our targets in terms of reducing the deficit, it is now clear that there is a real recovery taking hold in our economy. The forthcoming budget must map out a strategy for bringing this recovery to every household in the Country between now and the end of this Governments term. Laying out a timeline for the reduction of the USC is one clear initiative which can spread the rewards of recovery wider and farther than other measures such as public pay increases”.
“The USC has been the tangible burden of the economic crisis visible in all pay packets over the past number of years. It is important that Government can signal a return to ‘normal’ economic circumstances by reducing the burden of the USC which was first introduced as a solidarity contribution to the economic recovery. Reducing the USC would be a positive initiative that would put money back in the pockets of hard pressed families. This in turn can lead to increased consumption in the domestic economy and act as an economic stimulus”.
“Calls from some quarters to consider increasing public sector pay are premature at this juncture. As an economy we must remain competitive and attractive to investment. A push to inflate wage demands does not help. Cutting the punitive USC goes further in increasing everybody’s wages without placing an extra burden on employers”.