Monday 18 December 2017

Budget talk off limits as troika arrives

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore once again told ministers to stop talking about the budget yesterday.

Although no individual minister was mentioned, Social Welfare Minister Joan Burton was regarded as the target of the reminder.

Ms Burton's suggestion that PRSI would have to be increased in December's budget has attracted controversy. Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore told ministers it was "unhelpful" to be commenting on the budget this far out.

The comments came as officials from the troika, the EU/IMF/ECB bailout team, arrived in Dublin yesterday for their seventh review of Ireland's rescue programme.

Up for review are the on-going reforms of the banking sector -- namely, an in-depth look at the banks' mortgage books. Progress on the banks' deleveraging plans will also be assessed as will plans for the impending reorganisation of the country's credit unions.

The bailout team will also be looking for progress on the unemployment with particular emphasis on efforts being made to reduce the average duration that people stay on the live register and tackling the issue of jobseekers refusing to actively look for work and attend interviews. The review will also focus on the impending sale of state assets.

Despite the ban on talking about sensitive budget issues, Ms Burton also spoke at the weekend about the taxation system, raising the tax reliefs high earners use to reduce their tax bill.

Mr Kenny refused to comment on speculation arising from Ms Burton's speech that PRSI would increase.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin asked the Taoiseach if he agreed a PRSI increase was the same as a hike in income tax. But Mr Kenny said he wasn't going to get into a debate about the Government's plans for the budget.

"I have absolutely no intention of getting dragged into your little game here. I have no intention of speculating on comment arising from the matters that you raise.

"These are matters for the government to decide as a government and as a cabinet, and I would remind everybody that that's in the people's interest, that when the decisions are made by government in respect of the Budget that there should be then open and public debate.

"Beyond that I don't want to go into it," Mr Kenny said.

Also yesterday, Mr Kenny updated the Cabinet and the Dail on the EU debt deal agreed in Brussels last weekend as questions remain over its scope.

But the Taoiseach reiterated the budget for next year would not be affected by the deal.

Irish Independent

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