Saturday 20 January 2018

Ministers protecting own turf as Cabinet plans Budget

Fionnan Sheahan and Colm Kelpie

Ministers are protecting their own turf from cuts, despite the Government's alleged new approach to preparing the Budget, a cabinet member revealed yesterday.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny rejected suggestions of a rift between Fine Gael and the Labour Party over the level of pain to come in the Budget. "There is no split in the Cabinet," he said.

Mr Kenny stressed that the Government would meet the target of reducing borrowing next year, agreed under the EU-IMF bailout.

He said it was not yet clear whether the package of spending cuts and tax hikes would exceed the existing, predicted figure of €3.6bn.

Mr Kenny said the level of tax returns from the self-employed and corporation tax, plus the anticipated rate of economic growth next year would be needed before any calculation could be made.

The Taoiseach's efforts to dismiss tensions came after Labour ministers refused to back Finance Minister Michael Noonan's assertion that more than €3.6bn in cuts and taxes would probably be needed.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said again yesterday that cutting €3.6bn was "going to impose hardship" on ordinary people and that he was against any deeper cuts.

"I think to go further than planned would be counterproductive," he said.

Mr Rabbitte's position appeared to be clearly similar to the views of union chiefs.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Phil Hogan admitted that ministers were fighting to maintain as much of their own departmental budgets as possible.

Mr Hogan said ministers each had different emphasis at cabinet level as they were robustly defending their own department. But in the end, the Cabinet would come to a collective agreement, he said.

And Jobs Minister Richard Bruton denied cabinet ministers were at odds over the budget target, but said the Government faced difficult choices.

He stressed ministers were working in a "unified" manner, but would not be drawn on whether he agreed or disagreed with cabinet colleague Mr Rabbitte that there was no need to go beyond the €3.6bn target.

Irish Independent

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