Thursday 22 February 2018

Varadkar: FF must stop throwing shapes and show us spending plan

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: Damien Eagers
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: Damien Eagers
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has warned that too much focus on pensioners could result in the disabled, carers and other sections of society being left behind in the Budget.

The minister is under pressure from Fianna Fáil to increase the old-age pension by €5 a week, at a cost of around €150m to his department.

Ministers Paschal Donohoe and Michael Noonan. Photo: Tom Burke
Ministers Paschal Donohoe and Michael Noonan. Photo: Tom Burke

The increase is widely expected to form part of the Budget next Tuesday but Mr Varadkar has said that Fianna Fáil needs to be held to account for a growing list of demands that also includes an extra €100m for third-level education.

"We've seen lots of individual Fianna Fáil spokespeople flying kites and throwing shapes.

"It's incumbent now on Fianna Fáil to produce a spending package that actually adds up to something resembling €600m," he said.

The minister said he is conscious of the spending needed for health, childcare and first-time buyers as well as social welfare receipts.

His key target in the budget talks with Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe is the self-employed.

Read more: Pressure mounts on Varadkar for €5 a week hike in pensions

Listen: The awkward moment Leo Varadkar said Micheál Martin will announce Budget 2017

"There's always going to be competing demands. My personal priority in this Budget is to have new social protections extended to 350,000 self-employed people across the State.

"There's also a Fine Gael manifesto commitment to increase the State pension by €5 and there are other things I'd like to do as well for other groups," he said.

Asked about the suggestion from Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea that the pension hike is non-negotiable, Mr Varadkar said: "I wouldn't like to say that we are going to give all the resources to one group in society and have nothing for the self-employed, nothing for the disabled, nothing for the carers and nothing around assisting lone parents getting into education and into work."

A poll conducted by Amarách Research for RTÉ's 'Claire Byrne Live' programme last night found that 77pc of voters support the increase in the pension. It also found that 48pc of people would rather receive a tax cut in the Budget than see extra resources pumped into public services. Some 44pc favoured improved services.

Mr Varadkar also indicated yesterday he is unlikely to reinstate the Bereavement Grant, as demanded by Sinn Féin. On housing, he denied introducing a tax rebate for first-time buyers was "encouraging" people to take on mortgages.

"Young people want to get on the property ladder. And they want to move from rented accommodation to their own home.

"The Government isn't there to solve everyone's problems but it is there to help. Helping people buy their first home, I think, is a positive thing," he said.

Meanwhile, Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor admitted her tax proposal for returning emigrants won't be in the Budget, but would not comment on the Taoiseach's denouncement of the proposal. She claimed Mr Kenny's response "is not really the issue. The issue now is that we create jobs."

Irish Independent

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