Saturday 24 February 2018

FF demands €200m broadband package as part of Budget

Fianna Fáil’s leader Micheál Martin with his daughter Aoibhe at Croke Park yesterday Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Fianna Fáil’s leader Micheál Martin with his daughter Aoibhe at Croke Park yesterday Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Niall O'Connor and John Downing

THE reversal of cuts to lone parents and a €200m fibre broadband package for rural Ireland are the latest measures being demanded by Fianna Fáil ahead of the Budget.

The party will also tell Fine Gael that it must reverse cuts to small rural schools and ann-ounce a new roads package.

As well as that, Micheál Martin's party is also seeking reforms to the pension system to address an anomaly that prevents some women returning to the workforce from accessing the full state pension.

As Fianna Fáil holds its annual think-in in Carlow today, senior party figures are heaping major pressure on Fine Gael as the budget negotiations intensify.

Fine Gael has already committed to heavily involving Fianna Fáil in the negotiations ahead of the Budget, which will be announced on October 11.

Only €1bn is available to ministers Michael Noonan and Paschal Donohoe. The Government has committed to divide this sum on a 2:1 ratio in favour of spending.

However, two veteran Fianna Fáil TDs - Éamon Ó Cuív and Willie O'Dea - have made fresh demands that they say must be taken on board by Fine Gael ministers.

Mr Ó Cuív told the Irish Independent that he has compiled a budget submission that sets out a suite of demands relating to rural Ireland.

The Galway West TD said "top of the list" is the roll-out of fibre broadband to every home, which he says will cost around €200m over a period of three to four years.

"The fact is the Government's approach to broadband is not good enough," he said.

"There are many large businesses in rural areas in particular that cannot get any type of adequate internet connection. Jobs are being lost as a result and it has to be tackled."

While accepting that Fianna Fáil does not have a veto on the Budget, Mr Ó Cuív said his demands will be "laid very clearly before the Government" when the two parties meet in the coming days.

"Fine Gael will have to listen to what we have to say. We are in a strong position to influence events."

Aside from broadband, Mr Ó Cuív said cuts previously introduced to rural schools must be reversed. He also says there should be a package for rural roads.

Meanwhile, Mr Willie O'Dea said Fianna Fáil remains committed to reversing the abolition of the One-Parent Family Payment where the youngest child is over seven years of age.

This was introduced in July 2015 by then Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, who argued that it was to encourage lone parents to return to work.

The Fianna Fáil welfare spokesman said groups opposing the changes, including St Vincent de Paul, cited studies that showed lone-parent families have a one-in-three chance of falling into poverty. The savings from the changes were put at €7.6m a year. The reversal of the cut will cost €9.9m, the Limerick TD said.

"In the interest of justice, Minister Leo Varadkar should do this," he said. "The present system must be the first time in the history of the State that people are supposed to be incentivised to work by making it less attractive to work."

Mr O'Dea, who has previously said the old age pension should be increased by €5, told this newspaper that measures are needed to address the anomaly that affects women returning to the workplace.

He said the pension rules were particularly unjust and especially affected women who stayed at home caring for families for years before returning to work, or those who cared for an elderly or sick relative.

Under the current rules a person qualifies for a pension by working 48 weeks over a 10-year reference period, provided they made a minimum of 10 welfare contributions per working-year. The problems arise where a person was working before 1994, under different rules that had extended the pension reference period of 20 years or more.

These pre-1994 rules counted periods of temporary or short-term working which bring down the average and seriously reduce entitlements.

Irish Independent

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