Budget 2019: Michael McGrath criticises ‘crisis-driven’ planning

Fianna Fáil spokesman says this year’s €700m overrun on health is not sustainable

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath  and Public Expenditure and Reform spokesman Barry Cowen criticised the budget announced on Tuesday. File photograph Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath and Public Expenditure and Reform spokesman Barry Cowen criticised the budget announced on Tuesday. File photograph Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

 

The Government has failed to get to grips with the housing crisis and the budgetary process on health was “chaotic”, according to Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath.

He told the Dáil that health was “the most difficult area to get feedback on” in the party’s negotiations as part of the confidence-and-supply arrangement with the Government.

Speaking directly to the Minister for Finance he said “we need to know Minister that what we have before us is an honest health budget”.

He was not suggesting that Paschal Donohoe was holding anything back. But “it seems to be the whole process of agreeing a health budget is crisis driven”.

Mr McGrath said that his party had not been privy to “all the over and back between the HSE, the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure in recent weeks, but we’re left with the distinct impression of quite a chaotic budget process for health”.

Hitting out at the €700 million extra needed for the health service, he said the Government had been bailed out by the unexpected €1 billion corporate tax windfall.“But this is not a sustainable basis for funding our health service. We have consistently argued for the need for a credible, multi-annual budget for health.”

Housing

Opening his comments on Budget 2019 with remarks on housing, the Cork South-Central TD stressed it was the Government “that has executive authority; it is the Government that controls the Department of Housing; it is the Government that is responsible for addressing the housing crisis and it is the Government that must accept its performance on housing has not been good enough”.

He hit out at the Government’s penchant for “big launches and PR events, but we have been short of homes built. Policies are being announced, launched, re-announced, re-launched but not implemented in practice.”

“The overall message is to cut out the obsession with spin, and focus on delivery, delivery, delivery.”

Mr McGrath warned that: “Brexit is the dark cloud that is hanging over this budget. This budget and a whole lot more could unravel on the back of a bad Brexit outcome.”

“Fianna Fáil continues to believe that Northern Ireland should be given the status of a special economic zone and that there should be no hard border”.

Both Mr McGrath and the party’s public expenditure and reform spokesman Barry Cowen defended the party’s involvement in the confidence-and-supply arrangement that has kept the minority Government in office.

They said Fianna Fáil was not in government but had used its influence.

‘Political Dicky Rock’

Mr Cowen was explicit in his criticism of other parties for not getting involved.

Quoting Brendan Behan he said “like eunuchs in a brothel they know how it’s done, they see it done every day but they can’t do it for themselves”.

He also described Minister for Transport Shane Ross as a “political Dicky Rock” with his proposals for a “granny grant” for couples wishing to divide their homes into two units.

The Offaly-based TD said his party had fought for the revamped affordable housing scheme. “We want every family to know that we are on their side,” he said.

He also paid tribute to the late Emma Mhic Mhathúna who died of cervical cancer and who had played a leading role in campaigning following revelations that some women were not told about incorrect smear test results.

“The stain on our health service is a stain on our society,” Mr Cowen said.