EU free WIFI initiative approved by European Parliament – Hayes
Fine Gael MEP, Brian Hayes has today (Tuesday) welcomed the successful passing of the EU’s new Wi-Fi initiative. Speaking in Strasbourg after the vote the Dublin MEP said that the initiative known as “WIFI4EU” is an example of how Europe can be practical and useful in citizen’s everyday lives.
“I am very pleased that plans by the EU to invest in thousands of public Wi-Fi access points across the EU will begin shortly following today’s vote. A total of €120 million will be provided for the initial role out.”
“The programme will allow Local Authorities such as Dublin City Council, South Dublin County Council, Fingal County Council and Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council apply for funding to equip parks, public buildings and village squares with high quality Wi-Fi access.”
“Role out of the initiative will be on a first come first served basis. It is a great opportunity for the four local authorities in Dublin to provide a service to Dublin citizens. I strongly support the initiative and hope the Dublin authorities will apply to participate,” concluded MEP Hayes
MOSCOVICI CONFIRMS NO CHANGE FOR IRELAND IN FISCAL RULES – Hayes
Brian Hayes MEP today said that European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici has informed him in a letter that there will be no change to the EU fiscal rules for Ireland for the upcoming budget.
“Commissioner Moscovici has made it clear that there won’t be any special deal for Ireland to change the fiscal rules to give us extra fiscal space in the upcoming budget.
“There are issues with the methodology behind the fiscal rules but it is clear that for any changes to occur with the fiscal rules, there needs to be agreement from all Member States. The Department of Finance has been in regular discussions with the Commission and other Member States over many years to seek changes to the fiscal rules and has negotiated many improvements. But this requires patient negotiations and has to be done with all Member States, the Commission cannot grant special deals.
“The fiscal rules do have an impact on Ireland’s fiscal space in budgets. Yet because we are currently running a deficit, there are more constraints on our budgetary capacity for increased spending and tax cuts. What is really important is that we achieve a balanced budget next year, as Minister Donohoe has committed to. If we achieve a balanced budget by next year, then we will have reached our Medium Term Objective under the Fiscal rules – meaning that there are far less restrictions on our spending levels as we will no longer be running a deficit. We will be freer to invest in things like housing and infrastructure.
“Minister Donohoe said in July that we effectively only have about €300 million worth of fiscal space for tax cuts and increased spending. On the scale of the overall budget for the whole of 2018, which will be around €60 billion, this is a tiny amount to play around with.
“Sticking to the fiscal rules is absolutely vital. The fiscal rules are there to ensure that we don’t follow pro-cyclical fiscal policies and so that we can prevent major economic downturns. Politicians of all parties are blaming the EU and the fiscal rules for what we can and cannot do. This is a cop out. It’s what we in Ireland have agreed to and put into national legislation. We should be embracing the fiscal rules as they are designed to keep our economy healthy and to ensure that governments do not become reckless with spending.”
Hayes writes to Draghi to allow for more QE purchases of Irish debt
Ahead of the ECB’s Governing Council meeting today (Thursday), Brian Hayes MEP has written to ECB President Mario Draghi to seek to ease a restriction which allows the ECB to buy no more than 33 per cent of eligible bonds from a single state. This restriction may prohibit the ECB from buying more Irish debt in the remaining period of the Quantitative Easing programme.
“Given that the ECB’s Quantitative Easing programme will run until at least the end of this year, there is a risk that the ECB will be restricted from buying any more Irish debt as it is getting very close to the 33 per cent limit. Under the QE programme, the ECB has purchased almost €23 billion worth of Irish debt.
“In March this year, NTMA data showed that, in total, the ECB held €45 billion of the €121.6bn Irish Government bonds in issuance. However, this figure is skewed by the fact that due to the promissory note deal, these Anglo-Irish related bonds remain on the Central Bank’s balance sheet and are calculated as part of the ECB’s holding of Irish debt.
“The Irish Central Bank took €25 billion worth of long-term Anglo-Irish bonds onto its books in February 2013 as part of the promissory note deal. It has since sold off about €8 billion of the bonds but the outstanding amount is still over-inflating our exposure to the ECB.
“There needs to be some solution to this issue. There is a chance that we could get to October or November and the ECB would be completely restricted from buying Irish debt as part of the QE programme. We cannot be put at a disadvantage to other Eurozone countries – the QE programme was designed to purchase Member State bonds proportionally on the basis of economy size. This is the fundamental principle of the programme and must be guarded by the ECB.
“There are two potential options that the ECB could pursue. Either the issuer limit could be increased from 33% to 50% – this would give the ECB wriggle room not just for Ireland but also for Portugal and Germany whose bond purchases are close to the 33% limit. Or the ECB could factor the Anglo-Irish related bonds out of the 33% issuer limit. This would make sense given that this was a special ad-hoc arrangement between the government and the ECB in 2013 that was designed to curtail the risks from the Anglo-Irish bank collapse.
“Whatever the future of the QE programme beyond 2017, it must be ensured that the programme is wound up properly with all participant Eurozone countries fairly treated. If the ECB stops purchasing Irish bonds while the programme is ongoing, this could send a very negative signal to the markets.”
Government should legislate for Rainy Day Fund – Hayes
Brian Hayes MEP today said that the government should put in place the Rainy Day Fund by way of legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas.
“The best way to ensure the success of a Rainy Day Fund would be to establish it by way of legislation. This would give it the stamp of approval from the Dáil and Seanad and would ensure that the Fund has a long-term horizon beyond the current and next government. Legislation would show that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are truly committed to putting money aside for the long-term.
“We should follow the path of the National Pension Reserve Fund (NPRF) which was established through an Act of the Oireachtas in 2000. The Exchequer contributed 1% of GNP annually to the NPRF which built up a significant buffer for Ireland and was very much needed during the financial crisis. Before the NPRF was used to recapitalise the banks, it was worth €23 billion.
“We should be looking to build up similar levels with the Rainy Day Fund. The government has set out its plan for the first three years of the Rainy Day Fund, whereby €500 million would be contributed to the fund annually from 2019-2021. After this period, I believe the amounts could be higher. A sensible option for the Rainy Day Fund would be to link the contributions to the level of growth – for instance, when we have a high level of annual growth, the contributions would be larger.
“Whatever the contributions, the best way of establishing this Fund is through legislation. The legislation should set out how the Fund would operate, who manages the fund, the investment policy of the Fund and several other issues.
“The Rainy Day Fund will provide a vital safeguard for our economy. As the Fiscal Advisory Council said, it is one of the ‘most effective measures available to any government to prevent a boom-bust cycle.’ It also will help us deal with the potentially massive pension liability coming down the tracks. People are living longer and demographics are changing; therefore we need to have ‘piggy bank money’ in place to have enough future pension reserves.
“But the upmost priority for the government must be achieving a balanced budget by 2018. If we achieve a balanced budget by next year, then we will have reached our Medium Term Objective under the Fiscal rules – meaning that there are far less restrictions on our spending levels as we will no longer be running a deficit. We will be freer to invest in things like housing and infrastructure. So balancing the books is vital.”
There will be more Setanta type failures with the current EU insurance regime in place – Hayes
Brian Hayes MEP today said that the lack of proper supervision for companies like Setanta insurance that operate on a cross-border basis in the EU will lead to more insurance company failures in Ireland if the EU insurance regime is not improved.
“We are bound to have more Setanta type insurance company failures with the current EU insurance rules that are in place. When a company that offers insurance on a cross-border basis, like Setanta did, there are 3 regulators involved in supervision – the home country regulator, the host country regulator and the European supervisory authority EIOPA. Yet the division of supervisory tasks is flawed and gives too much control to the home country regulator.
“In the case of Setanta insurance, the Central Bank of Ireland did not have enough tools at its disposal to ensure that the company was properly solvent and that Irish consumers were adequately protected. The Maltese regulator had sole responsibility for ensuring the solvency of Setanta insurance, even though Setanta conducted most of its trading in Ireland and all its consumers were Irish. The Central Bank of Ireland had no role or power to take action against Setanta for any solvency problems and was not able to properly investigate the solvency position of Setanta.
“At the same time, EIOPA, the European supervisory authority for insurance firms has little or no power to get involved when there are risks of insurance company failures. All EIOPA can do is recommend best practices and arrange good collaboration between national regulators.
“We need a strengthened role for EIOPA to be able to intervene when they detect risks in insurance companies that offer cross-border business. There needs to be a strengthened role for the host country regulator to be able to address solvency problems to protect consumers. The Central Bank of Ireland should be able to properly monitor any non-Irish insurance company that offers products to Irish consumers. It should be equipped with the right tools to ensure that such companies are financially viable and should be able to take action if it detects breaches to EU solvency requirements.
“If we get more of these Setanta-type failures, the more car insurance premiums could rise for motorists. The government should be committed to preventing any of these failures from happening and working at a European level to ensure that supervision tools are improved.
“Last year an insurance company called Gable Insurance AG, a Lichtenstein-based insurance company, went bankrupt. It was selling insurance products in various countries including Ireland, the UK, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. The failure of the company led to huge losses for homeowners and businesses all over Europe. If we don’t get the EU supervisory framework for insurance right, painful bankruptcies will keep happening.”
Epilepsy must be prioritised by the EU – Hayes
Brian Hayes MEP speech to the 32nd International Epilepsy Congress – Barcelona Saturday 2nd September
“As President of the MEP Epilepsy Advocates Group in the European Parliament, it is a great pleasure to address you today. I work with politicians from all over Europe who have taken a specific interest in epilepsy and are willing to help.
“What many people fail to appreciate is that the European Parliament is the democratically elected voice of over 500 million citizens in Europe. Increasingly the Parliament is not only influencing, but also setting the agenda on issues that deeply affect citizens and can dramatically improve living conditions for the people we represent.
“As advocates for people with this condition, we want to play a role, along with other EU Institutions, in highlighting and campaigning for at least 6 million Europeans and their families. We say that on every street in Europe someone is connected to this condition. And while health systems and income levels across the EU vary from one Member State to the next, we all have a responsibility to do what we can to help people who live with epilepsy. The Parliament is here for the long-term in demanding that all health authorities across the EU stand up for people with epilepsy and respond to their needs.
“In Europe it is estimated that we see 400,000 new cases of epilepsy each year. 100,000 children and adolescents diagnosed with epilepsy each year. And about one half of those patients with epilepsy feel stigmatised.
“Across Europe, while we have seen real improvements for those who have to live with this condition, but that improvement is not universal. In some European countries epilepsy is not a recognised brain disorder leaving many people who suffer with the condition untreated and ignored. Europe, as is the case in many regions of the world, has a long way to go before epilepsy is properlyrecognised.
“The challenge of epilepsy is of course a global challenge. It is estimated that close to 65 million people globally live with epilepsy – many of them living in regions where the condition is neither properly recognised nor treated appropriately. Our responsibility in the EU must be about partnering with health authorities across the world to help and campaign for people who have the condition, to improve outcomes in their lives and to coordinate research. Our responsibility in the EU is not therefore just to focus on our region, but to help coordinate and advocate globally. We fully understand that Europe must be an international agent for change.
“In 2011 a Written Declaration on epilepsy was passed in the European Parliament with the support of 459 MEPs. That declaration set out a clear intent on the part of the European Parliament for Europe and all EU member states to do more on epilepsy and to do more together. It calls for more resources to be devoted to epilepsy research and to combatting the stigma attached to epilepsy. The majority in favour of the declaration was, at the time, the biggest ever majority in terms of parliamentary support for a Written Declaration.
“It’s time now for the European Commission to put this Written Declaration into action. As a brain disorder, epilepsy is well down the list of priorities. But we need that to change given the amount of people that epilepsy affects in Europe. The Commission and Member States need to prioritise epilepsy and put more resources into research and medicines to address the epilepsy treatment gap. Horizon 2020 provides a great opportunity to push the research agenda. We can also work with other parts of the world and tackle this disease as a global problem. Only then can we truly make the lives of people with epilepsy better.”
We should not be afraid of Public Service Cards for accessing State services – Hayes
25 EU Member States have National ID Cards
Dublin MEP Brian Hayes has today (Wednesday) said that the Government is right to continue the role out of the Public Services Card. The Fine Gael MEP has previously called for the introduction of a national ID card system, which the majority of EU Member States already have in order to improve public services.”
“I think it is right that a Public Service Card is required to access public services. Our methods of documenting citizens has become outdated and needs to be modernised. It makes public services more efficient and user friendly for everyone.”
“All 28 EU Member States except for Ireland, UK and Denmark issue their citizens with national identity cards with the majority of Member States making it compulsory to hold one. In many Member States the national ID card incorporates a person’s social security card, birth certificate, bank card and sometimes even driver’s license all into one.”
“The Public Service Card is not compulsory but if you require a State service it is only right that you should be required to have it. A passport is not compulsory but if you want to travel to another country it is mandatory. A driving license is not compulsory but if you want to drive its mandatory. The Public Service Card is no different.”
“There has been a considerable amount of scaremongering recently which is unjustified. The Public Service Card has existed for 5 years and has been successful in reducing social welfare fraud as well as speeding up welfare applications. The bureaucracy associated with accessing public services is often criticised. Expanding the use of Public Service Cards will streamline state services making them more efficient for everybody” concluded MEP Hayes.
Government’s Affordable Childcare Scheme already being abused by some private childcare providers says Brian Hayes MEP
Brian Hayes MEP has stated that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone must urgently look at ways of safe-guarding parents against extortionate childcare fee hikes.
“The Government’s Affordable Childcare scheme, which comes into operation in the next week, is a wonderful and very positive big step towards supporting parents in providing quality and accessible childcare. Affordability for parents is also one of the cornerstones underpinning this scheme and I very much welcome and acknowledge the fact that investment in childcare, at €466 million, is an 80% increase on 2015. This is good news for parents, for children and for the majority of childcare providers.
“However, I have been contacted by a number of constituents in Dublin who have already been told that their creche fees will increase over the next few months – in one case, the fee amounts to a hefty 8%, which ratchets up for parents who have more than one child being looked after.
“According to the Affordable Childcare website (www.affordablechildcare.ie), ‘childcare fees are set by childcare providers and may be determined by many factors, such as rent, electricity, insurance etc. Childcare providers have been provided with an additional €3.5m ‘non-contact payment’ to administer these supports to families so any rise in childcare fees should not relate to availability of these supports to your family’.
“I do acknowledge the majority of privately run creches provide a vital service and offer great support to families. However, I am aware of one Dublin West creche which unashamedly informed parents that a 8% pay hike was being imposed to cover both the ECCE (Free pre-school scheme) and CCSP (Affordable Childcare Scheme) subsidies. This same creche only imposed a 7% hike 18 months ago. A 15% increase in that time period is extortionate.
“These hikes have got to be regulated by the Minister’s Department, and fast.
“Huge credit is due to Minister Zappone and this Government for introducing these latest measures which aim to support parents – but there is a real fear that parents and children aren’t going to be the real winners here. Privately operated creches must not be allowed take what the Government is giving them with one hand, while grabbing more from hard-working parents with the other.
“I am calling on Minister Zappone to shine a light on this area and ensure that those privately owned creches and childcare services which are hoping to make a killing on this scheme don’t win.”
OLAF must come before Budgetary Control Committee on Garda college investigation – Hayes
Brian Hayes MEP today said that the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) must come before the European Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee to answer questions about the investigation into the alleged misuse of EU funds at the Templemore Garda Training College.
“As a member of the European Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee, I believe it is absolutely vital that MEPs should get an opportunity to question OLAF on the investigation into the alleged misuse of EU funds at the Garda training college.
“The Budgetary Control Committee has a responsibility to examine how money from the EU budget, approximately €130 billion annually, is spent. The Committee also supervises the administrative and operational activities of OLAF to ensure that proper financial control systems are in place.
“While not wanting to prejudice any investigation, MEPs should have the chance to question OLAF on the procedural aspects of the Templemore investigation. Basic information on timelines, procedures and reporting obligations in the context of the investigation should be provided to MEPs at this stage.
“Essentially there should be an ongoing stream of information between OLAF and MEPs on any essential aspects of the investigation, while respecting OLAF’s general powers of investigation.
“Investigations into alleged financial fraud, especially when it comes to EU funds, must be handled with caution. MEPs, who monitor OLAF through the Budgetary Control Committee, must be equipped with a high degree of transparency to ensure that fraud cases are properly investigated.”
Hayes encourages more young Irish people to consider Erasmus programme
Irish students less inclined to partake in Erasmus than European counterparts
Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes, has encouraged more young people to get involved in the EU’s Erasmus Programme, pointing out that less Irish students participate in the programme than other European students.
“All universities in Ireland offer an Erasmus programme. But figures show that more than twice as many EU students come into Ireland for Erasmus, as Irish students go to other EU countries. On average 3,500 Irish students travel to universities in other EU countries, while about 8,000 students from universities in other EU countries come to Ireland.
“This year marks the 30th Birthday of the Erasmus programme. The programme was first established in 1987 and allows students living in the EU the opportunity to study in another European country during their time at university. Over the past 30 years, over 88,000 Irish students and teachers have participated in the programme.
“Students who go on an Erasmus exchange have a great opportunity to visit different countries. The programme allows students to experience these countries as opposed to just hearing and learning about them.
“The Erasmus programme is one of the most successful EU programmes. Its popularity continues to grow. Between 2014 and 2020 over €14.7 billion will be provided by the EU. There are great opportunities for Irish students to experience other EU countries. I encourage all students who are interested to speak with their University authorities about participating in the programme,” MEP Hayes concluded.