I agree with Deputy Patrick Nulty. The cut in the capital infrastructure programme represents a gross missed opportunity. However, the Deputy has a neck to make these points, as he is a member of a party which is in government and responsible for the axing of the metro north project, among others. If he was serious, he would make a stand like Deputies Naughten and Penrose and vote against the Government in the upcoming budget. His constituency colleagues told us before the general election that they would support the metro north project, but the Ministers, Deputies Leo Varadkar, Joan Burton and James Reilly, now have nothing to say about it. This is an insult to the people of Deputy Patrick Nulty’s constituency, but more than this it will have a detrimental impact on jobs in the area. This is a shovel-ready project that could immediately employ 600 people and would open up the north side of Dublin for economic development. It is a magnificent project which would transform the lives of citizens in the area. Given that it would cost the Government only €700 million in the course of the next couple of years, it is lunacy to shelve it. I appeal, even at the eleventh hour, to have the project be re-inserted in the capital budget.
Last week the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform tried to say this debate was about choices and that we either had to cut deeper into current expenditure on education, health services and so on, or cut the capital budget. He said he had chosen to cut the capital budget and was putting these projects on hold because the country could not afford them. That is utter nonsense. Choices must be made, but these are not the only ones. The biggest rise in Government expenditure between 2008 and 2010 was on servicing the debt, much of which had been accumulated by private individuals. The cost of servicing the debt went from €2 billion to €4.9 billion.
There can be no economic recovery until people are put back to work. Therefore, we cannot afford to cut the capital infrastructure budget. The private sector is not investing money. There is a strike of capital and we need the lead to be taken from the Government benches. There is no other way.
The Minister made the point that there was no money available for capital expenditure. Our answer is that he should go and get it. He should get it from the wealthy in the form of a personal assets tax. Some 46.8% of net wealth is held by 5% of the citizens of Ireland. It is not unreasonable to ask the people concerned to pay a levy in this regard. There are many ways of increasing taxes on higher earners. There are numerous ways of getting the money if the Government really wanted to do so. Clearly, that is not a choice it is willing to make. It wants to protect the wealthy to the detriment of job creation. That is just not good enough.
There are many projects which were costed, developed and targeted during the boom and which now need to be reconsidered. The Minister said they had nothing to do with him, but that is not an acceptable answer. A major sewage treatment plant is planned for north County Dublin as a result of the greater Dublin strategic drainage study. That project will ultimately cost €2.5 billion and no one in the area wants it to go ahead. The Government could save money by going back to the drawing board and looking at the alternative of providing smaller, more regionally based local plants which could be phased in over time. Given that the pinch point is not until 2020, there is no need to go bald-headed after this project. We pose this suggestion as an alternative. The Government could save money on the project and transfer it to the metro north projecty. All communities and businesses in north County Dublin would be very appreciative of that measure.
Some €30 million has been expended on land acquisition for the Nevitt landfill project which is at a halt, but families in the area have the death sentence of compulsory purchase orders hanging over their homes and do not know what is happening. However, we know that the project will not proceed. The Government should come clean, get rid of it and save the money allocated.
It is clear that the Government plans to charge for water supplies and, ultimately, privatise water services. The installation of water meters represents a shocking waste of money which should be used to reinvigorate the network.
In every local authority area an audit should be undertaken of the decisions made during the boom, to re-examine all the decisions made in these changed times and come up with an alternative budget. We would save a fortune if we were to do so. It is not good enough to say it is a matter for individual Departments. The Minister should order them to re-examine projects. That would free up money to be invested in worthy projects for which communities and workers are clamouring.