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Monday 22 September 2014

'No more cuts' - Budget warnings from Health and Education ministers

Published 03/09/2014 | 02:30

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Minister Leo Varadkar T.D. after finishing the Grant Thornton Corporate 5k Team Challenge 2014. City Quay, Dublin. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Minister Leo Varadkar T.D. after finishing the Grant Thornton Corporate 5k Team Challenge 2014. City Quay, Dublin. Picture: Caroline Quinn

Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan have issued separate "no more cuts" warnings as negotiations on the Budget enter their final phase.

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Cabinet meets today for the first time in five weeks at the end of summer holidays, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton sit down for their first full business meeting since the upheaval earlier in the summer which saw her elected Labour leader.

But despite encouraging exchequer figures, and falling unemployment, the full extent of cross-cutting divisions over the Budget became apparent - showing how difficult it will be to find compromise.

Today's meeting will also hear a progress update from Health Minister, Leo Varadkar, on HSE investigations into the case of "Miss Y" who was refused an abortion in August. A final report will not be complete until the end of this month. Defence Minister Simon Coveney will also report on the problems facing the 130 Irish soldiers in the Golan Heights.

On Budget options, Fine Gael and Labour have already publicly displayed the tensions over who should gain from tax cuts, whether there should restoration of public pay cuts, and whether there should general wage increases.

But yesterday ministers from two of the biggest-spending departments, health and education, each issued a strong defence of their budgets which cross-cut the Fine Gael-Labour party divide.

Ms O'Sullivan of Labour said she had identified a number of "pressures" in the education area. She reiterated a call by the Tanaiste earlier this year that the areas of education and social protection be spared any further cuts in the upcoming budget.

"I will be fighting very strongly in relation to the education budget because we have pressures, particularly demographic pressures," Ms O'Sullivan told the Irish Independent.

"Again we have increased numbers in our schools, we have increased demand for special needs teachers. We're going to be employing maybe 1,000 extra teachers next year and 500 extra special needs teachers, so there are clear demands in the education budget."

Separately Mr Varadkar of Fine Gael made his own warning comments as a reaction to a Goodbody Stockbrokers report - which among other things called for more health spending reductions. "I think there should be some form of tax relief in the forthcoming Budget," said Mr Varadkar.

"Families and individuals have played their part in the recovery, and it's time to reduce the tax burden on middle income families in some way.

"But I also don't think health cuts should be used to fund tax cuts.

Contrary to what is suggested by Goodbody's in their recent report, tax cuts should not be used as an excuse to further target healthcare," Mr Varadkar said.

Asked about the ongoing inquiry into the case of Miss Y, the Health Minister said: "I will be giving Cabinet a progress report on the HSE review of the Miss Y case. Interviews with the people involved are still ongoing so I expect to have a report later in the month."

A spokesman said Mr Varadkar had received assurances that Miss Y was receiving all necessary care from health and social services and her baby was also being cared for.

Irish Independent

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