Opposition springs into action but can’t take the wind out of Coalition sails
BUDGET 2016 has given Government backbenchers a major confidence boost as they take to the doorsteps ahead of the General Election.
TDs in Fine Gael and the Labour Party last night said the Budget, for the first time, drew a line under austerity.
Labour TD for Kerry Arthur Spring said the Budget is "family centric", adding that the childcare package will come as a major boost for parents and children.
Mr Spring cited the introduction of paternity payments, the €5 rise in child benefit, and the additional pre-school year as being particularly welcome.
His party colleague Joe Costello expressed regret that the Budget contains little measures for first-time buyers.
But the Dublin Central TD said the only group that will suffer as a result of the €1.5bn package is smokers.
"It is the first budget that has been entirely positive," he said.
Labour TD Anne Ferris described the Budget as "quite fair" but criticised the decision not to fully restore the dole for the under-26s.
"Jobseekers have been hit and I would have liked to see that reversed," she added.
The Wicklow TD said there is only a "limited" amount of money to spend and welcomed the restoration of the respite grant and measures for micro-breweries.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael deputies said they were buoyed by the cuts to USC.
Kerry TD Brendan Griffin said the pledge to abolish USC over the course of the next government will provide "great hope" for families.
"And it is well-founded hope in the context of a prudent Budget. It is a great sign of where we are as an economy," he added.
Cork East deputy Tom Barry also welcomed the USC changes, which he said he has been calling for over a number of months.
Dún Laoghaire TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor said the cut in the pupil-teacher ratio underlies the Coalition's commitment to the education of school children.
She also heralded the provision of €8m for speech and language therapy, and the freezing of property tax bills until 2019.
"Irish people have suffered an awful lot. But we are now on the road to recovery. We must now protect that road at all costs," she said.
Mayo TD Michelle Mulherin said the package provided boosts for the elderly, including a pension increase, extensions to the fuel allowance, and the restoration of the Christmas bonus, and will come as a major boost to families.
Ms Mulherin also highlighted the decision to fully restore the respite grant, which she said is paid to "champions" who look after loved ones, many of whom are vulnerable.
The Fine Gael TD said the €550 tax credit for the self-employed is a "concrete and encouraging" measure.
"The unequal treatment of the self-employed has been a long-standing issue for years. These are the people who run businesses, hire staff and take risks, and they deserve this support."
FIANNA Fáil insisted the Government has made the country a "more unequal place" to live with every budget it has introduced during its term in office.
The party's finance spokesman, Michael McGrath, said the Coalition's budget for next year favoured the better-off and showed it was "Fine Gael ideology all the way".
Mr McGrath said the way the Government targeted lone parents, women and the elderly "will live long in the memory".
"Against all of this, you would really have to wonder what is the point of the Labour Party being in government at all?" he said.
"Little wonder they want another few months in office before facing the people - but it will make no difference," he added.
He said pensioners will "not be fooled" by the €3 increase in the weekly pension and will remember the many cuts introduced over the last five years.
Mr McGrath said there was nothing in the Budget to help solve the homelessness crisis, which has left 1,500 children sleeping in emergency accommodation.
The Cork South-Central TD said the Central Bank mortgage deposit requirement is "unfair" for first-time buyers and people who want to trade up when they have families.
"The prospects for people who want to buy their first home and people looking to trade up are pretty grim," he said.
He said the mortgage arrears crisis was not addressed in the Budget as there are still over 38,000 mortgage accounts in arrears of over two years.
He also criticised the Government for creating a two-tier society where rural Ireland has been left behind.
"The steady erosion of services to rural Ireland is a chronicle of betrayal by this Government. The basic services of security, health and finance are slipping away from the day-to-day lives of hundreds of thousands of people," he added.
SINN Féin said former Fianna Fáil Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy (right) would be "proud" of the Government's giveaway budget for next year.
Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said the 2016 Budget is the "epitome of the boom-bust politics of the past" despite the Government's pledge to avoid returning to such a scenario. "You truly have stolen Fianna Fáil's clothes. This is the kind of giveaway Budget that Charlie McCreevy himself would be proud of," Mr Doherty said during the Dáil debate.
During heated exchanges, he said child poverty and family homelessness have risen during the Government's time in office.
"Inequality is not just about the most vulnerable in society, it has a deeply damaging knock-on effect for low- and middle-income families, as well as the wider economy," Mr Doherty said.
"You and your colleagues have a neck to come in here with a tear in your eye after yet another homeless man has died on the streets of our capital city.
"What exactly is it going to have to take before you acknowledge the scale and depth of crisis in emergency departments and social housing?" he said.
Mr Doherty asked how many homeless people would have to die before the Government calls a national housing emergency.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the "big winners" in the Budget were the wealthiest in society and those who "wish to cannibalise public services for private gain".
"Far from offering protection, your government has exposed families and workers to an obscene jamboree of cutbacks, waiting lists and broken promises," Ms McDonald said. "Living from day to day, week to week, month to month just about making ends meet."
"You promised a democratic revolution but you have presided over a series of democratic somersaults and contradictions that leave this economy and our citizens damaged and vulnerable," she added.
INDEPENDENT TDs rounded on the Government for what they saw as an unfair Budget which failed to protect the most vulnerable in society and did little to address the housing crisis.
Social Democrats TD Stephen Donnelly described the Budget as "Fianna Fáil in the bubble again".
Independent TD Seamus Healy said the Budget "widens the gap between rich and power".
Renua Ireland TD Terence Flanagan said the Budget made no effort to address the housing crisis, which he claimed economists say "lasted longer than World War II".
"Ireland needs big ideas to resolve a housing crisis which affects every grouping and age in Irish society from the coping classes to pensioners," he said.
Socialist TD Ruth Coppinger (above) said it was a "myth" that this was a giveaway Budget after the years of austerity.
She said Labour "got into a row" with Fine Gael over housing and rent, but lost as there was nothing in the Budget. She said the lack of a major housing project in the Budget was a "kick in the face" to people living in emergency accommodation.
Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy said the Government is "giving the impression of a giveaway Budget", but in reality it was just "small change".
Mr Murphy said the average worker will only get an additional €5 from the Budget changes, while those earning more than €70,000 will get an extra €17.
He also said the Government will spend less on capital investment next year despite giving the impression of more major projects.
Independent TD Clare Daly said the Government should have called the election in November because people are "sick" of them and the Budget "won't change anything".