Tuesday 20 March 2018

Howlin: mixed bag an attempt to minimise pain

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

PUBLIC Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has insisted that he wanted to minimise the effects of austerity on taxpayers as he announced €1.6bn of spending cuts.

He said that the Government had reduced the level of social welfare cutbacks from €440m to €290m – and had brought down the overall Budget target from €3.1bn to €2.5bn.

In his Budget speech, he insisted that he was not ideologically committed to austerity – and, like Finance Minister Michael Noonan, he sought to put the blame on Fianna Fail.

"Austerity is what is left after Fianna Fail in government drove the economy into the ground and left us beholden, like the famine victims of old, to seek relief outside this country," he said.

The key spending cuts

Mr Howlin confirmed that the dole for young people aged 22 to 24 would be cut from €144 to €100 and from €188 to €144 for those aged 25.

However, he said young people could still get €160 per week on the scheme for returning to education.

"It is in education and training that our young people should be," he said.

Mr Howlin signalled that many people would lose their existing medical cards with €113m to be saved from a review.

And another €25m will be saved by removing cards from people over 70 who do not meet the reduced income guidelines.

There were shouts of protest from the opposition when Mr Howlin announced that the free telephone allowance for elderly people would be scrapped to save €44m. He also inflicted a cut in maternity benefit for mothers on the higher tax rate, with the maximum state payment going from €262 to €230 per week.

The good news

Mr Howlin announced €37m in funding to provide free GP care for children under five. He said there would be an extra €20m to develop community mental health services.

Mr Howlin said that the Government had committed €10m to help the families in the fire hazard Priory Hall apartments in Dublin, which was a "a particular blot on the national psyche".

He also said there would be a €10m fund for ghost estates and €30m for 500 new social houses.

On youth unemployment, Mr Howlin said that he would provide €14m for a youth guarantee fund for those aged under 25.

National Lottery windfall

Mr Howlin told the Dail that the sale of the National Lottery licence for over €400m would allow €200m to go towards the construction of the National Children's Hospital and another €200m for local road repairs, sports grants and capital projects.

Public service recruitment

Mr Howlin said he was making provision for the recruitment of 1,250 new teachers, as well as more hospital staff and extra gardai.

He said this was possible because of the savings under the Haddington Road agreement with the public sector, with the pay bill due to come down by €500m next year.

He said that there would be no changes to the pupil-teacher ratio, meaning that schools will not be losing teaching posts or experiencing a rise in class sizes.

Irish Independent

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