Cork North West TD, Michael Creed has raised the importance of progressing the N22 bypass project with Transport Minister, Leo Varadkar TD, during a topical issues debate on the matter. Speaking during the debate Deputy Creed said:
“The realignment of the N22 is a critical piece of regional infrastructure. The work stretches from the eastern side of Macroom town, at Coolcower, to the western side of Ballyvourney to Sliabh Riabhach, and represents approximately 40 km of realignment involving five roundabouts and 20 bridges. This is a significant piece of infrastructure that will cost €200 million plus. I thank the Minister for his assistance in progressing this project to date. I thank him particularly for dealing with the CPOs that have been issued to landowners and their entitlement to a goodwill payment. As far as I am aware, all of the landowners along the route have, by and large, co-operated fully over a long number of years. As the Minister is aware, the project was delayed for a significant period in the courts, but this was beyond the control of the landowners.
“Most towns, like Macroom, have a natural hinterland which drives their economic development. Macroom is hindered by the lack of a bypass. Most of its western residents are pulled towards Killarney and most of its eastern residents are pulled towards Cork City, simply because of heavy traffic congestion in the centre of the town. A number of fatalities have occurred in the town, and in the past week an elderly citizen was knocked down because of congestion. A number of pinch points need to be addressed and will be addressed in the context of the bypass.
“We need to make up for the lost years. This project was drip-fed during the so-called boom years of the Celtic tiger during the previous Administration. We have an opportunity now to hitch our wagon to other infrastructural projects locally, particularly the Dunkettle interchange, which has a high ranking with the NRA. We need to catch up and I would like the Minister to assist us in this regard by working with the NRA and directing it to fast-track this project so that both projects can be bundled together”.
In his response Minister Varadkar said:
“The N22 project is the Ballyvourney to Macroom improvement scheme which aims to bypass Macroom town and involves the construction of 43 km of new carriageway from the end of the Ballincollig bypass to Ballyvourney. The project was the subject of a judicial review against approval of the scheme, but the legal challenge has been rejected. As a result, notices to treat have been served on affected landowners who, as Deputy Michael Creed mentioned, will be eligible for the goodwill payment as it went to An Bord Pleanála many years ago. I thank him for raising the matter with me some weeks ago. This means that once the land is bought, the project will be shovel ready. The NRA has made an allocation of €400,000 in respect of this project for 2013.
I have had some discussions with the NRA on the matter with a view to pursuing it as a public private partnership. The intention is to go ahead with the Gort to Tuam road project which is first on the list and has already gone to tender and then to deal with the New Ross and Gorey to Enniscorthy projects. As the Macroom to Ballyvourney and Dunkettle projects are the only ones with full planning permission – at that stage the land will be purchased – it is planned to pursue them either separately or as a bundle under a public private partnership scheme”
Cork North West TD. Michael Creed has this morning (29/11/2013) welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn that Cloghduv National Schools is to receive funding for a new extension to the school. Commenting on the announcement Deputy Creed said;
“I am delighted that Cloghduv National School has been included in the 2014 School Building programme. Funding will be provided for the construction of a new extension to the school under the Government capital investment scheme in education”.
“I am aware of the hard work and dedication to this project on behalf of the staff, board of management and parents of Cloghduv National school, and am pleased that their efforts are now being rewarded”.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on what I think is one of the most significant motions to come before the House. If the loss of our sovereignty in 2010 was such a significant event, it is important that the Dáil has its say on the matter, and I welcome the fact that the Government Chief Whip acceded to my request for a debate on it.
It is important to put the debate in some sort of context. When the troika came to town in 2010, our banks were bust, the number of unemployed people had trebled to 450,000 from 150,000 in 2008, our tax receipts had collapsed from approximately €50 billion to €30 billion, and our international reputation was in tatters. All of those issues combined led to a loss of market confidence in the Irish economy, and in order to maintain some degree of normality, we sought outside assistance through the troika’s programme. Three years later, in a tribute to the resilience and forbearance of the Irish public, whose sacrifices have ensured the progress that has been made, our international reputation has been re-established, and I commend Deputy Costello and the Tánaiste in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the leading role they have played in that respect. All of our Cabinet representatives have equally been responsible for that restoration of our reputation, which has enabled us to renegotiate with credibility some of the worst excesses of the bailout agreement as originally foisted on us by the outgoing Government of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party.
The exit from the bailout is a red-letter day, but in early 2013 we had a renegotiation of the promissory note. That represented significant progress on the liability that the Irish citizen carries as a result of this collapse. Market confidence has been restored. How else would we have accumulated a domestic backstop of around €20 billion to give us some comfort as we put our toe back in the money markets and try to fund ourselves? Of significance in the context of the sacrifices that the public have made, we have reduced the gap between what we spend on a daily basis and what we raise in taxes, and we are committed to reaching the 3% deficit target by 2015. That is the backdrop to all of this.
I am reminded of the line that the moment of absolute certainty never arrives. To be honest, I was a bit taken aback by Deputy Martin’s response last week when the Taoiseach announced the Cabinet’s decision. It seemed to me as though he were suffering from Stockholm syndrome, surrounded by former Cabinet colleagues Deputies Smith, Ó Cuív and O’Dea, as he was less than gracious about the efforts and the endeavour by ordinary citizens to get us to a stage at which we can exit the bailout. I listened this morning to Deputy Michael McGrath’s contribution – it is noticeable that not a single Member of the Opposition is in the Chamber for the debate at the moment – and while I agreed with many of his observations in respect of the context within which this exit from the bailout is taking place, there was an element of political cute-hoorism and having an each-way bet regarding the Government’s decision.
When faced with such a decision one must make it as wisely as possible. The moment of absolute certainty never arrives. Deputy Martin’s approach to this is regrettable.
In the context of this debate and as we contemplate the sustainability of our economic model, it is an appropriate time to raise the EU Summit of 29 June 2012 and ask where we are in breaking the vicious link between sovereign and bank debt. The Minister, his Cabinet colleagues, the Minister for Finance Deputy Noonan and the Taoiseach are as anxious as everybody else to build on that. However, to call a spade a spade, we have run into a cul-de-sac in our efforts to build on that. It is worth recalling that the summit statement stated:
We affirm that it is imperative to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns.
The Eurogroup will examine the situation of the Irish financial sector with the view of further improving the sustainability of the well-performing adjustment programme.
We are some 18 months on from that and, unfortunately, we have seen practically no tangible progress on that matter. Is it any wonder that politics stretches credulity on occasions with the public when we see that lack of progress on an issue of such enormous significance? We have pumped €64 billion into our domestic banks in an effort, originally, to stop the contagion. “Contagion” was the buzzword in 2009 and 2010 when they were fears across Europe. We were asked to take a hit for the team and we did so. It is a reasonable conclusion that we are having difficulty getting retrospective recapitalisation, although I do not want to make that conclusion. There is another way to skin the cat in respect of getting back that money for the Irish Exchequer. Our level of indebtedness is unsustainable and we need a game changer on this matter.
AIB and PTSB are State-owned and we have a 15% stake in Bank of Ireland. The Irish banks have a €70 billion tracker mortgage book on which all those banks are losing their shirts. That is somewhat akin to the €64 billion we put into our banks to comply with the terms of our bailout. It is good news for 400,000 tracker mortgage holders that last week the ECB sought to reduce its lending rate by 0.25%. That has been passed on to those 400,000 tracker mortgage holders, but at whose cost? There are reports that the 300,000 variable mortgage holders will see a commensurate increase in their repayments. That is grossly unfair.
As a way of dealing with the capital we put into our banks, is it possible to take the tracker loan book out of the three banks I mentioned by virtue of the ESM, ECB or however? PTSB has a survival strategy with the Commission. Because of the significant drain those tracker mortgages are on our banks, could we financially engineer a solution to the tracker mortgages that takes pressure off our banks and allows them to get on to the normal business of banking? It could allow the State to extricate itself from the banking business by selling its stake in banks that would be then viable and get something back for the money we have put into these banks in recent years, particularly the three I mentioned. It is grossly unsatisfactory that this issue has not been resolved yet. However, I commend the Minister and Government on their efforts in getting us to this situation where we are exiting. We have a backstop and market confidence, and we can go back to the market early next year to further build on that backstop. On balance, it is the right decision.
Cork North West TD, has welcomed confirmation from his colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan TD, that permission has been granted to the Avondhu/Blackwater Partnership for the approval of funding to the promoters of the Inniscarra Lake development committee who seek to host the World Feeder Fishing Championships in 2014. Commenting on the announcement Deputy Creed said:
“I would like to congratulate the Inniscarra Lake Tourism/Development Community Group who have worked tirelessly over the past year in putting together a plan that will not only bring the World Feeder Championships to mid-cork next year, but will also create a sustainable tourist attraction in terms of a multi-purpose amenity on the lake shore. I cannot stress the efforts made by this group in terms of planning and fundraising to make the hosting of next year’s event possible”.
“I am pleased that the Minister has granted permission in principle for this funding to be awarded through the Avondhu/Blackwater Partnership. I hope that the Inniscarra Development group can now continue their momentum and commence work on the site as soon as possible”.
“I look forward to seeing International competitors from over 30 Countries visiting this state of the art amenity in 2014 in what must be one of the most scenic areas in the Country”.
The debate on the annual Finance Bill is an opportune time to reflect on the state of the economy and how it has progressed or otherwise over the preceding 12 months. A statistic that should bring some comfort, albeit not sufficient comfort for those who are unemployed, is that 30,000 more people are at work today than on the same day last year. The scale of the task this Government faces is put into context by the fact that between 2008 and 2010 more than 200,000 people lost their jobs. We are slowly making progress. Some of the debates in this Chamber on this and other matters are too sterile and predictable. We need to acknowledge what has been achieved and face up to the scale of the problem. In regard to the predictable claptrap about the sixth or seventh austerity budget, the budgets are austere because it is difficult to return to a situation where we are cutting our cloth according to our measure. The Government has made some progress in satisfying the markets, which is necessary before it begins to filter down. One of the other significant issues, apart from the number of people back at work compared to last year, is that the markets are showing some confidence in us now. If we had been able to go to the markets when the Government came into office, the cost of borrowing would have been approximately 15%; it is now approximately 5% or less. That is significant progress and, although it does not mean a lot to people out there still searching for jobs, it is a necessary staging post on the road to recovery. The Government is travelling, although perhaps not fast enough, along the road to recovery to meet the needs of many thousands who are still unemployed. It is making progress.
I caution the Government against raising the bar of expectation on the basis of leaving the bailout in December of this year. That does not mean a lot to the individual who finds himself unemployed because we will still not have an enormous amount of money. As we see the troika members booking their flights leaving Ireland, which is welcome, and we regain our economic sovereignty, we will continue to be in a delicate position for many years to come as we struggle to generate wealth and distribute wealth in a fair and equitable way. I agree with Deputy McHugh. The opportunity is now to plan for a balanced, regionally sustainable recovery. That is not always evident. The overwhelming objective of Government is to get the economy right along broad principles but it cannot lose sight of the objective of having it regionally sustainable.
I welcome the provision in the budget to introduce a new suckler cow welfare scheme or something of a similar nature. I would like the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to consider a commission of inquiry into the beef industry. It is profitable for factories, retailers and everyone in the industry except the farmer. It is a multibillion euro industry earning us enormous sums of money in exports, with over 100,000 people involved at farm gate level. However, very few of them make a living and most suckler cow farmers die in debt. We must look at a way to ensure the farmers who are the foundation of the industry can make a reasonable living. I welcome the Minister’s initiative but a more fundamental appraisal of the industry is necessary.
The Minister for Finance is not known for his timidity but the Government measures on alcohol are timid in the extreme. We have a serious societal problem with alcohol abuse. The stock response is to raise excise duties but we fail to grasp the real problem, which is the imbalance between consumption on licensed premises and through off-licences. That is the real societal problem and we wake up on Saturday, Sunday and Monday mornings hearing on the radio about someone being stabbed in a domestic setting because of excess alcohol, perhaps fuelled also by drugs. We must ensure that we encourage alcohol consumption on licensed premises rather than through off-licences. In the former, there is peer group interaction, supervision and intergenerational solidarity. There is a real weakness. I have heard reference to the idea that minimum pricing is not possible because of some issue in Scotland and a review of Scottish legislation. We are a sovereign nation and the only law that has been interpreted in respect of this area upholds the right of states to introduce a minimum price for alcohol. The Minister needs to do so.
The single parent tax credit is the issue on which I have received most representations. We must acknowledge that while some parents may wish to abscond from their parental duties, the majority of people take their parenting responsibilities exceptionally seriously even if their marital circumstances have broken down. It is unfortunate that the Government falls into the response of assuming that most men walk away from parental duties; they do not. The Minister has sent a signal that he will deal with this in some way by apportioning the tax credit to one party or the other where either party may not have a taxable income. Where there is a court agreed apportionment of custody in light of financial circumstances, the credit should also be apportioned on that basis. If there is a 50-50 agreement on parenting, the credit should be apportioned 50-50. It is a significant asset, amounting to approximately €1,600 a year. Hitting someone unilaterally overnight by taking it away is a financial blow that many cannot survive. I welcome the signal sent by the Minister for Finance of some movement but more needs to be done to achieve equity.
Cork North West TD Michael Creed has this morning (Tuesday) congratulated Kilmurry Historical & Archaeological Society on receiving funding of €410,873 for the purpose of developing a state of the art museum and community centre in Kilmurry village. Commenting on the announcement by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan TD, Deputy Creed said:
“I am very pleased that the hard work and commitment of all those in the Kilmurry Historical society has been rewarded by the award of this funding, through West Cork Development Partnership. Significant planning and development work has gone into this ambitious project which will provide a significant tourist attraction and a historical reference point for the Mid Cork region”.
“The award of this funding is the culmination of generations of effort on the behalf of several families in the area to create a museum and historical focal point in Kilmurry. The existing museum was established in 1965 and in 1978 the O’Buachalla family donated the site for the new development which until now has remained undeveloped. I would like to pay a heartfelt tribute to all the families who have invested generations of commitment into this facility”.
“Kilmurry historical society, have been actively fundraising to help contribute to the significant costs of the project estimated at €547,831. This funding which has been now approved by my colleague the Minister for the Environment Heritage and Local Government, Phil Hogan T.D. will supplement the fundraising activities of the Historical society and I hope that this project can progress as soon as possible”.
“I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of West Cork Development Partnership in supporting this project throughout”.