Monday 24 October 2016

A kick in the teeth for renters and homeowners

Published 12/10/2016 | 02:30

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe and Finance Minister Michael Noonan before they delivered Budget 2017 outside Government Buildings yesterday. Photo: PA
Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe and Finance Minister Michael Noonan before they delivered Budget 2017 outside Government Buildings yesterday. Photo: PA

'We want to create a fairer Ireland." That was the refrain common to Michael Noonan and Paschal Donohoe as they delivered Budget 2017, and that certainly came as a relief.

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After all, nobody wants to see the Minister for Finance and his sidekick come out and announce that they are doing their best to create the most unequal and rotten society they can think of.

This was always going to be the Budget of the Special Interests.

With a harum-scarum coalition barely held together by the frayed strands of the different goals of the ministers involved, this promised to be an odd Budget and, on that score, it didn't disappoint.

Despite coming with more leaks than a straw canoe, there were notable moments.

The elderly will get their much discussed fiver a week, despite the outrageous divide-and-conquer pre-budget approach of some politicians which suggested that any increase would somehow financially break the country. That all social welfare payments will receive that fiver increase will come as a relief to the beneficiaries, but will be a source of quiet grumbling for those who have failed to see any benefit for themselves while they continue to pay for others.

The big interest was on the 'squeezed middle', that much maligned rump of society who are in the unusual position of working hard for their poverty - as opposed to people on the dole, who get their poverty for free.

Ironically, this squeezed middle was perhaps the only special interest group that wasn't looking for a hand-out. No, they would have settled for some sort of imaginative tax relief, where they simply get to keep a bit more of the money they have already earned, rather than taking more from the Exchequer.

The reduction of the USC from 5.5pc to 5pc is being heralded as a victory for these middle income earners, because it means anyone on 50 grand a year will, like social welfare recipients, be a fiver a week richer. But the USC was always an iniquitous tax - being grateful for a reduction in this racket is a bit like being grateful to the school bully when he tells you he will only take a smaller portion of your lunch money.

Cigarettes were hit with another 50 cent increase. But at this stage we're so used to it, every budget just seems like a ritual beating for people who still like a cigarette. According to Noonan, this "is the only tax increase" in the Budget. Typically, that increase came in with immediate effect from midnight, yet the social welfare increases are parked until March - proving Governments are very efficient when it comes to collecting money, not so much when it comes to handing it out.

The much publicised idea of a first-time buyers' grant should be changed to first-time voters' bribe. Nobody is going to turn down 20 grand to help them buy their first home. But by restricting it to new houses, they're simply giving builders an extra 20 grand to add on to their asking price, while landlords are also getting some extra mortgage interest relief - two kicks in the teeth for struggling homeowners and renters alike.

Have we learned nothing in the last decade? Have the words 'property bubble' been removed from the national consciousness? But as much as we all thought we knew the contents of this Budget in their entirety, there was one surprise which will surely please us all - the €25m set aside for sheep.

Having been quiet during the negotiations, the sheep were obviously lobbying effectively behind the scenes and they can probably claim to be the real winners.

Which, when you think about it, is a load of bull.

Irish Independent

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