TRANSPORT Minister Leo Varadkar risked the wrath of thousands of struggling families by suggesting the Budget will be so easy they will be able to afford to take a holiday next year.
The minister's bizarre comments come just a week after experts said every family was going to be €600-a-month worse off as a result of the string of austerity measures.
Despite the array of financial headaches facing the public, Mr Varadkar claimed households would still have money "to take a holiday" because "it won't be all bad".
"Incomes will remain untouched," he said. "The only people whose pay is being cut are ministers and senior civil servants. That means incomes will be the same next year.
"You'll have to pay €100 for your house and 2pc on a new TV or fridge but that's it. That means people will be able to take a holiday, which they might not have been able to afford this year."
But the minister's remarks came on a day when it emerged:
- The jobs crisis had deepened with another 1,700 signing on the dole last month.
- The total number of unemployed rose to 448,600.
- A new rise in health insurance premiums of up to 10pc was expected next year.
- Spending on credit cards collapsed.
- One in 10 went without heating at some stage this year.
- Poverty levels hit a critical stage with one in five classified as living in deprivation.
Consumers' Association of Ireland chairman Michael Kilcoyne said Mr Varadkar had moved into the world of "make-believe".
Next week's Budget is expected to unleash a raft of cuts and stealth taxes on families. A cut to child benefit, higher college fees, a medical card charge, a VAT hike and a property tax are all on the table.
Mr Varadkar said: "No government wants to raise taxes or cut spending. It's not because it will create jobs and boost the economy, because it won't do any of those things, but we're borrowing €12bn a year."
But the Government plans a 2pc hike in the VAT rate which will affect utility bills, clothes and alcohol and cigarettes, while 1.5 million homeowners will be forced to pay a €100 annual household charge.
Other likely changes include an increase in the carbon tax, which will affect home heating, fuel and petrol costs, along with a hike in motor tax.
Mr Varadkar's comments were made at the launch of the Tourism Ireland 2012 marketing campaign at the Convention Centre in Dublin.
The Irish Taxation Institute last week warned that the string of eight austerity Budgets up to 2015 would cost the average family €600 a month.
The ESRI has published similar figures saying the hikes worked out at €7,000 a year for the average household.
Consumers' Association of Ireland chairman Michael Kilcoyne said many families would be hit hard again next week by a VAT increase, introduction of a €50 septic tank inspection charge, hikes in petrol and diesel and higher home heating costs.
"My only reaction is there is no doubt about it, nine months into the job and he (Mr Varadkar) has moved into the world of make-believe," he said.
"He's just not living in the real world. The Government is moving from direct to indirect taxation -- and that hits people on fixed incomes far more.
"A car and petrol isn't a luxury if you're in the country. People absolutely won't be able to take a holiday next year. There's many that unless they have free travel, won't even be able to go to another town."