FF calls on Government to rethink flawed budget strategy

Fianna Fáil will this week bring forward a Dáil motion calling on the Government to rethink the flawed budget strategy that discriminates against rural communities and the most vulnerable groups. The party will point to a series of covert cuts which force rural communities and vulnerable groups to bear a disproportionate level of the burden in Budget 2012 and call for them to be reversed.

Limerick Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins has said the Budget from Fine Gael and Labour hits those parts of the country that are already suffering the most the hardest.

“There are serious inequalities in this Budget that cannot go unchallenged”, said Deputy Collins. “The Government has identified a series of cuts to services in smaller communities, including shutting down Garda stations and small schools, increasing the cost of school transport and cutting payments to small farmers.

“Means testing and income criteria changes to the Farm Assist Scheme will hit farmers struggling to make a living, along with the Government’s decision to slash the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme and cut REPS. The most vulnerable farmers living in the least profitable land across County Limerick will be hit hard by these changes.

“Garda station closures are concentrated in smaller, disadvantaged communities with 31 stations closing across the country. These include Shanagolden and Doon in Co Limerick, despite confirmation that it only costs €2,000 a year each to keep each of these stations open. Rural communities will be left more isolated and more vulnerable to crime as a result. These stations were kept open when the State had a significantly smaller force than it does now, so why is the Government choosing to close them now? It makes absolutely no sense, financially or socially.

“Phased staffing cuts in small schools with under five teachers will also have a direct impact on these rural areas. These small schools also run the risk of declining standards due to a higher teacher pupil ratio. On top of this, the Government is doubling the school transport charge from €50 to €100 and the primary maximum family payment to €220. The increase in school bus costs will be felt most by hard pressed families along country roads for whom the basic right of attending school will bring with it greater costs.

“The government has slashed the budget for Community Employment schemes that provide vital services in rural areas and provide an opportunity for people to up-skill and re-enter the workforce. This will reduce work opportunities for those worst affected by the recession and directly impact upon critical services such as Crèches and local community groups projects.

“The abolition of the Local Improvements Scheme for rural roads will further hit isolated communities and households in rural Ireland by depriving them of investment in the roadways.

“Separate to the budget, but continuing the anti-rural theme of this Government, we see the Septic Tank charges and upgrade costs which will inflict a major additional burden on rural homes for the most basic service of sanitary disposal.

“Fianna Fáil accepts that tough measures were necessary in this budget, but the Government had choices about how to achieve the necessary savings. Unfortunately, they chose to discriminate against more vulnerable groups while the better off are well protected. Fianna Fáil warned what was coming down the tracks for rural communities at the hands of a Fine Gael / Labour Party government, but were flatly contradicted by local FG / Lab candidates. We will now put forward a motion in the Dáil this week that will give Fine Gael and Labour deputies, particularly those in Co Limerick, the opportunity to stick to their word and address the gross inequality in the Budget and reverse these deeply unfair decisions that affect their constituencies.”

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