Kenny vows to protect vulnerable
As Ireland braces itself for its sixth austerity budget since the economic crisis began, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has pledged to protect frontline services and the vulnerable.
He gave one last assurance to the hard-pressed public just hours before the Government was due to announce 3.5 billion euro worth of spending cuts and tax hikes.
The Taoiseach also defended the introduction of a new property tax - at 0.18% of the value of a home - which could see the owner of a house worth the national average price of 157,000 euro paying nearly 300 euro a year.
He said Ireland was one of the last countries in Europe to have a property tax and that it was required under an agreement with its debt masters the Troika - the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission - to introduce it.
"We want to protect those frontline services and those people who are vulnerable in as fair a way as we can," Mr Kenny said.
Government leaders have insisted that while the budget will be tough, it will bring the recession-shattered country one step closer to economic independence and growth.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin will announce 1.25 billion euro in tax hikes and 2.25 billion euro in spending cuts. Child benefit is expected to be slashed by 10 euro, while back-to-school allowances for shoes and uniforms also face the chop.
Low-paid workers earning less than 18,000 euro a year are expected to pay higher taxes of around five euro a week due to reductions in their Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) tax-free allowance, while dole payments to jobseekers are expected to be hit.
The elderly will also suffer a blow with cuts to medical cards for the over-70s, which will mean more pensioners having to pay for prescriptions.
"In so far as we can, those who are vulnerable, isolated, lonely; those who need attention, those who need care, we have tried to protect that as strongly and to the best extent as we can," the Taoiseach said.