Taoiseach insists tomorrow's budget will be as fair as possible
AS Ireland braces itself for its sixth austerity budget in four years, Taoiseach Enda Kenny gave one last assurance it will be as fair and affordable as possible.
Spending cuts and tax hikes worth €3.5bn will be announced tomorrow but Government leaders insist it will bring the recession-shattered country a step closer to economic independence and growth.
While final preparations point to Budget 2013, new Exchequer figures showed the state finances were behind target in terms of tax take, running at €171m behind profile at the end of November.
But the Taoiseach said it was important to be positive about the challenges Ireland faces.
"We've worked very hard to make it as fair, as equitable and as affordable as is possible," Mr Kenny said.
"These things are never easy and this is a challenge for Ireland, and the Budget tomorrow will be a step further for this country exiting the programme that we are in and retrieving our economic sovereignty, restoring the opportunity to grow our economy and create jobs which I think is in everybody's best interest."
Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin will announce €1.25bn in tax hikes and €2.25bn in spending cuts.
A new property tax of 0.18% of the value of a home will be among the measures. This could see the owner of a home worth the national average price of €157,400 paying nearly €300 every year.
Dole payments to jobseekers will also be hit, back-to-school allowances face the chop and some elderly people will be forced to pay for prescription drugs due to a cutback in medical cards for the over-70s.
Earlier, Mr Kenny's deputy Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said while there was no doubt the austere cuts and tax hikes in the Budget would be tough they will take Ireland to 85% of its debt bailout targets.
The country hopes to exit the bailout programme it entered with the Troika - the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission - by the end of 2013.
Ireland has been forced to endure massive budgetary adjustments every year since the economic collapse in 2008, the biggest of which was introduced in Budget 2011 with six billion euro of savage cuts and new taxes.
But Mr Gilmore insisted such measures are nearly a thing of the past.
"It will therefore put the end in sight for this type of budget," said Mr Gilmore.
"What we are seeking to do is to protect the most vulnerable, and those that have the most will contribute the most."
Some €24bn in cuts and new taxes have been imposed since the onset of the banking collapse and economic crisis.
This included adjustments of €3.8bn in last year's budget announcement - among them a VAT hike and a savage 60% motor tax increase for the greenest vehicles.
A further €3.1bn package is expected for 2014 and two billion euro of savings for 2015.