Taoiseach says the cabinet have not decided on child benefit cut
ENDA Kenny has insisted that job creation and protecting the vulnerable are the Government's main focus at a Cabinet meeting to discuss the looming Budget.
Mr Kenny was forced yet again to play down speculation that child benefit will be cut as part of efforts to make savings of €3.8 billion.
It is believed €10 a month could be shaved off child benefits - a massive knock to low and middle-income families.
"All of the speculation I hear is speculation, the Cabinet has not decided on any of these details," Mr Kenny said.
"The preparation of any Budget, particularly if you have to take €3.8 billion out of the economy, is always sensitive, is always difficult and is always unpalatable.
"It would be lovely to stand here and say everything is rosy in the garden. Everything is not rosy in the garden and Government have a set of very difficult choices to make here and get the balance between the focus on jobs and job creation and the protection of those who are vulnerable."
There have also been reports that social welfare could be hit, with cuts of eight euro a week off dole payments.
Today's meeting of the Cabinet was the first of three successive days of discussions devoted to the Budget, which will be announced on December 6.
On his way into the meeting, Finance Minister Michael Noonan denied rumours of a rift among the two coalition Government parties or between the front and backbenches.
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton yesterday pledged to oppose cuts to child benefits in accordance with the Labour Party's pre-election promise to protect them.
But Mr Noonan said that everyone involved is aware that all cuts so far discussed have been part of the Programme for Government.
"Backbenchers are very loyal, they know the situation," he said.
"Most of what's been discussed has been part of the Programmes for Government and part of the election campaigns."
The Government will have to decide how it makes its €3.8 billion adjustment - €2.2 billion of which will be saved through spending cuts, and €1.6 billion through tax hikes.
Sinn Fein Social Protection spokesman Aengus O Snodaigh called for the Cabinet to raise revenue by taxing the wealthy and avoiding cuts in social welfare.
He also said it would be fraudulent of Labour to renege on its pre-election promises of protecting child benefits.
"Child benefit should remain a universal payment. It is the fairest and simplest measure to give it to every child at the same rate and use a third rate of income tax to recoup it from those on over €100,000 a year and by a wealth tax," Mr O Snodaigh said.
"Labour Party leaders promised before the election that they would not tolerate a cut in child benefit and people voted for them on that basis. To back on that promise and cut child benefit would amount to fraud."
The Taoiseach said yesterday that while the Cabinet has not yet signed off on any decisions, he warned that difficult cuts will be made.
He said his main objective was to protect jobs and maintain workers' taxes, which will mean having to make cuts elsewhere.
The Government's medium-term fiscal statement at the start of the month outlined that VAT will rise to 23pc, along with an increase in excise duties and carbon taxes.
The impending VAT hike has already created concern among consumers, some of whom have started travelling across the border to Northern Ireland for cheaper shopping.