Tuesday 18 September 2018

Independents hit back at Fine Gael in Budget cuts row

Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath. Photo: Tom Burke
Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath. Photo: Tom Burke

John Downing and Philip Ryan

Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath has hit back at his Fine Gael Government partners as the row about health overspending escalates.

Some Fine Gael ministers have been privately blaming the Independent Alliance for being responsible for a major part of a health overspend expected to reach €600m this year. It is seriously denting prospects of an easing of the tax burden in the Budget due to be delivered in little over three weeks, on October 9.

The escalation in the row followed some terse exchanges between Fine Gael Cabinet members and Independent ministers at last week's meeting of the Government. Children's Minister Katherine Zappone and Mr McGrath are understood to have bluntly stated they expect a full funding allocation.

Privately, one Fine Gael minister was extremely critical of Mr McGrath.

"Finian McGrath should look more closely at his own brief. He is responsible for a large part of the health overspending," the minister told the Irish Independent.

But Mr McGrath has openly rebutted these criticisms.

"I make no apology for securing an extra €137m in funding for disabilities over the past two budgets.

"We must realise that this comes after 10 years of shameful underspending," he said.

The Independent Alliance TD for Dublin Bay North said he understood there are limited funds available and tough spending decisions have to be made.

"But in a situation like that one you have to pull back and decide on priorities. That is my argument and I believe you cannot allow the most vulnerable people, like those battling disability and their families, to take the brunt of spending reductions," he added.

In previous years, a surplus in welfare spending was used to bridge the health budget shortfall. This was mainly due to a significant fall in unemployment from a peak of 16pc in 2012 to the current level of 5.6pc. But the welfare budget is now just breaking even.

Irish Independent

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