Budget 2017: Last-minute demand to reduce funeral costs for grieving families
FF and Independents make demand
A last-minute demand to reduce the funeral costs facing grieving families has emerged as a sticking point as Budget 2017 negotiations enter their most critical stage.
Both Fianna Fáil and the Independent Alliance are seeking to ease the burden on families through the increase of the so-called 'burial grant'.
The one-off grant is paid on a discretionary basis to families who cannot afford to give their loved ones a proper burial.
Members of the Independent Alliance have raised the prospect of restoring the €850 bereavement grant, which was scrapped in 2014.
Fairness for the elderly has dominated much of the Budget discussions, with Fianna Fáil claiming credit for a €5 increase in the old age pension.
The party's public expenditure spokesman, Dara Calleary, claimed Fine Gael's record on older people was to throw them "under the bus, budget after budget after budget".
"They increased prescription charges, they cut bereavement grants, they cut services to older people. We have put this on the agenda," he said.
As revealed by the Irish Independent, Fianna Fáil is also pushing for changes to the inheritance tax regime to ensure there is no discrimination against childless couples and single people.
And the party is now seeking that the burial grant be "significantly increased".
Fianna Fáil's social protection spokesperson Willie O'Dea said such a grant has been "slashed" in recent years and will help those suffering hardship.
"It would be the most equitable way to assist people who have lost their loved ones and I believe it should feature in the Budget," Mr O'Dea confirmed.
Sinn Féin's alternative budget, which was released yesterday, also called for the reintroduction of the bereavement grant.
But responding to the submission, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar said: "Reintroducing the bereavement grant would cost €20m, which again is a lot of money. It would mean that perhaps other things can't be done."
The row comes as further details of the Budget neared completion, including a package aimed at supporting the self-employed.
Sources say Finance Minister Michael Noonan will increase the earned income tax credit for the self-employed by €550 to €1,100. This is part of a three-year plan that will see the self-employed receive the same tax break as ordinary PAYE workers by 2018.
Mr Varadkar is also planning a number of measures that would see the self-employed gain access to the PRSI benefits such as disability allowance and jobseekers' allowance.
Fianna Fail's Niall Collins said his party is taking a "strong line" on what he described as "an old chestnut".
He said that during the economic crash, many workers who paid into the system for years found the system "wasn't there for them when they needed it".
Government sources said "everything in that area is certainly under consideration" but noted the social welfare budget has yet to be finalised.
Fianna Fáil is also seeking a reduction in deposit interest retention tax (Dirt) in order to help savers.
In its pre-election manifesto Micheál Martin's party said that savers were getting "a very raw deal" and promised to cut Dirt from the current rate of 41pc to 38pc. However, this seems unlikely to be agreed as exchequer figures for the first nine months of this year show that income from Dirt is nearly €100m behind target.
Meanwhile, as the Budget battle between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil heated up, Mr Calleary accused Leo Varadkar of using the Budget build-up "as a soap box" for his leadership ambition.
Mr Varadkar had accused those in Fianna Fáil of "throwing shapes" with their demands.