Refunds of water bills 'not likely to happen this year'
One million households waiting for their water charge refunds are to be left in the dark until at least the autumn as to when they can expect their money.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has admitted he won't be in a position to offer any clarity before the Dáil breaks for its summer recess.
The Summer Economic Statement (SES) shows the minister will have just over €300m for tax cuts and new spending next year - but water refunds alone will total in the region of €170m.
Families paid up to €325 to Irish Water between April 2015 and June 2016.
During the Fine Gael leadership contest, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said his preference would be to see families get their money back this year - but this now looks highly unlikely.
But Mr Donohoe said: "We have not as of yet made a final decision as to how we are going to manage it."
He said refunds could depend on the "overall performance of the economy" in the second half of the year.
"I will be clearer on that after the summer… I'll be then in a position to know what are the resources this year to deal with that matter."
Mr Donohoe confirmed his officials are in contact with the European Commission "as to how we will deal with the issue of water charges refunds because this relates to money that we have already collected from citizens over a number of years".
Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen said the Government has had "ample notice on the issue".
"They could even have said they'd pay it over two budgets if necessary. Leo and Paschal are obviously suffering from 'Pat Rabbitte syndrome - isn't that what you do in elections'."
Mr Cowen said the "bottom line" is the Government agreed to issue refunds as a result of the report by the special committee on water last April.
"They've been slow in providing legislation to given effect to those recommendations. We await and expect them to honour their commitments," he said.
Launching the SES, Mr Donohoe painted a positive outlook for the economy but warned that Brexit adds "significant uncertainty" to the Department of Finance's forecasts.
And he expressed concern the country could soon be generating more jobs than there are people to fill them.
He said the country has undergone a "remarkable change" but it was important to bring in a balanced budget next year.
"Then if you have a surplus after that it is the appropriate macro-economic response back to an economy that could have a risk of overheating," the minister said.
Mr Donohoe also highlighted expectations the country will reach full employment in the coming months.
"If the Government finds itself in a position towards the latter half of this year where we expect to see more work in general in our economy than there are people to do it, then that will have consequences for the budgetary framework in the coming years," he said.
On taxation, Mr Donohoe said he is now fully committed to merging the Universal Social Charge with PRSI. He said this was "the best long-term way to go for the further strengthening of our tax code".
However, he was unclear as to whether the process will start in Budget 2018.
"That is a big project. It involved integrating social insurance code into tax code. They are very different. It will take a number of budgets to do," he said.
The minister also promised the budget will "reward work" but said any tax cuts will not be decided until October.