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Sunday 21 January 2018

Children's allowance means tests on table for Budget

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

Finance Minister Michael Noonan put the means testing of child benefit and removing the automatic right to a medical card for the over-70s on the table for the Budget last night.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) heaped pressure on the Government to implement these and other measures to cut spending.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore attempted yesterday to play down the demands from the IMF, saying it was not about this year's Budget.

He said the IMF review was about "medium to long-term recommendations".

"It is not a case of ruling out something in terms of next year's Budget. These are recommendations made for the long term. They are done and the IMF does this for every country.

"It is not something the Government has to follow and it is not part of the programme. We will deal with the issues relating to the Budget when we come to budget time," he said.

But when asked about the IMF view on means testing, Mr Noonan left the options open.

"There is no question they (the IMF) are adding conditions to the programme. Apart from exclusions in the Programme for Government, everything else is on the table," he said.

The Programme for Government specifically mentions not cutting the basic rates of social welfare, but says nothing about changes to child benefit.

Meanwhile, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton is sitting on a report on future policy on child benefit. Her spokesperson said the report of the expert group on child benefit was still only in draft form.

Ms Burton previously said she wanted child benefit for people earning over €100,000 to be taxed, but said this was a matter for Mr Noonan.

Fianna Fail social welfare spokesman Willie O'Dea said he would vigorously oppose any plans to introduce means testing for child benefit.

"Means testing the payment is a blunt instrument and will end up taking the payment from middle income families who are relying on child benefit to maintain a basic quality of life for their children," he said.

Last day of dail teRM

Irish Independent

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