Wednesday 7 December 2016

'I need extra cash for more than just OAPs' - Varadkar

Published 01/10/2016 | 02:30

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar Photo: Tom Burke
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar Photo: Tom Burke

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar will warn government colleagues that he must be given the resources to help more than just pensioners in the Budget.

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The minister is expected to sanction a €5 hike in the old-age pension at a cost of around €160m, which would more than wipe out any extra funding he is likely to receive from Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe.

The Irish Independent understands that Mr Varadkar will not oppose the increase in the pension but has concerns about the costs involved.

"There's no deal done on this yet but there will definitely be some sort of increase for pensioners," said a source.

Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea sparked anger within Fine Gael during the summer by demanding that the increase be at least €5 and sources say Mr Varadkar is aware of "political sensitivity" of the issue.

"It's definitely not the case that Varadkar is opposed to an increase for pensioners but the Social Protection budget has to benefit a whole range of people, including people like the self-employed that Fianna Fáil haven't put much focus on," the source said.

One of the centre-pieces of the minister's proposals is the extension of some previously unavailable social welfare benefits to the self-employed.

Mr Donohoe has now met individually with all members of the Cabinet and is in the process of "finalising bids". He has €610m for new day-to-day spending on items like pensions, education and health, as well as another €60m which will be allocated to capital spending.

As well as ministers, Mr Donohoe has meet with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Irish Farmers Association, the Construction Industry Federation and IBEC in recent days.

One of his toughest negotiations is with Children's Minister Katherine Zappone, who wants a new childcare subsidy to focus on low-income families rather than the so-called 'squeeze middle'.

She said yesterday that she makes "no apology" for her hard line. "I would hope to also be able to increase support for children in every family but as I said before that's dependent on the resources that are given to me," she said.

Mr Donohoe praised her "grasp and leadership" for childcare and said he was "working very hard" to reach a deal.

Irish Independent

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