Sunday 21 January 2018

Varadkar warns Cabinet: hands off my health budget

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photo credit: Frank Mc Grath
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photo credit: Frank Mc Grath
Finance Minister Michael Noonan
VARADKAR: Territorial shots
John Drennan

John Drennan

HEALTH Minister Leo Varadkar has issued a sharp warning that he will not allow any further cuts to the health budget.

The Minister's preliminary shot in what are expected to be tense negotiations over Budget 2015 came in response to a report by Goodbody Stockbrokers, which said economic growth meant the Government may have the capacity in 2015 to reduce the income tax burden.

The stockbroking firm urged continued restraint on public sector pay and pensions, and said the Government should aim for proposed savings in the health budget.

But Mr Varadkar told the Sunday Independent: "I don't think health cuts should be used to fund tax cuts."

Mr Varadkar said there should be some form of tax relief in the Budget.

"Families and individuals have played their part in the recovery, and it's time to reduce the tax burden on middle income families in some way.

"Contrary to what is suggested by Goodbody in their recent report, tax cuts should not be used as an excuse to further target healthcare," said the Minister

Mr Varadkar's uncompromising stance will certainly grab the attention of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and his main rival in the spending stakes, Tanaiste and Economic Management Council member Joan Burton.

The new Health Minister previously told the Sunday Independent his main political priority was ''to focus on putting a realistic budget in place for next year, which we can stick to''.

Mr Varadkar has also attempted to rebuild relations between the Department of Health and Brendan Howlin's Department of Public Expenditure, which became increasingly fraught during the colourful tenure of Dr James Reilly.

But given the expected €500m over-run this year alone, the challenges facing Mr Varadkar are stark with little room for manoeuvre.

A senior figure in the Department of Health told the Sunday Independent: "Putting a credible budget together continues to be our priority."

Responding to Mr Varadkar's comments one senior political source noted: "That's typical of Leo's cute style - he may be talking to Goodbody, but he is really looking at his Cabinet colleagues in the eye."

Sunday Independent

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