independent

Thursday 24 April 2014

Noonan the quiet axeman as Howlin goes for sympathetic approach

MICHAEL NOONAN'S measured, almost subdued tone belied some swingeing attacks on families, wealthier older people and workers.

By contrast his coalition colleague Brendan Howlin spoke of his fears, a nation's pride at sacrificing benefits and an end to unjustifiable spending.

Here is how the two men introduced a Budget with €1.25 billion in new taxes and €2.25 billion less money coming from Government.

- In slashing tax relief for pensions worth more than €60,000 a year, Mr Noonan shied away from any broadsides on the high earning classes. "Some people have been allowed by previous Governments to benefit from hugely generous pension arrangements subsidised by the taxpayer," he said.

- Mr Howlin detailed the €10 child benefit cut and raft of household allowances to be shelved. "We are conscious of the impact that this will have on many households," he said.

- Commending his section of the Budget to the Dail, Mr Howlin offered what his right-hand man preferred not to - an attempt at public empathy.

"In time, future generations will be proud that we, as a people, tackled this crisis head on," Mr Howlin said. "There remain difficult challenges ahead of us but Ireland and her people will prosper again."

- Without some of the histrionics and declarations heard in budgets of times gone by, Mr Noonan made the case for the anticipated standard and mansion class property taxes by saying Ireland was playing catch-up. "Property taxes are used across the world as they are better for the protection and creation of jobs than taxes that increase the cost of employment," he said.

- Mr Noonan declared PRSI reforms - doubling self-employed contributions, applying it to unearned income and bringing all workers into the loop - as forward-looking. "These measures will make a fairer link between the amount of contributions and the significant benefits received. These changes are progressive," he said.

- Hikes to duty on wine, beer, spirits and cigarettes and the sparing of excise on petrol and diesel were introduced with zero commentary - even if one euro on a bottle of wine and the freeze on fuel were among few surprises.

- Mr Howlin made a further attempt at making up ground with the man on the street by announcing the abolition of at least one political bonus, derided by opponents as a gravy train. "It is untenable to have a system of 'unvouched' expenses," he told the Dail.

- Elsewhere, his views on severance payments to outgoing ministers were clear: "I do not believe this is justifiable any more."

- As the Labour minister announced an increase to university fees by €250 in each of 2013, 2014 and 2015 he said: "This is necessary to help maintain higher education services at a time when the Exchequer is severely constrained."

- Earlier, his coalition colleague rounded off a reserved speech with little fanfare: "We are now well on the road to recovery, so let's look to the future with confidence."

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