Tuesday 14 August 2018

Budget 2018 explainer: The big budget players and what you need to know about them

Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

This year's budget looks set to be something of a fiscal feat with the government looking to make a relatively small amount of spare cash go a long way.

With an estimated €400m to spend the message has been consistent: this will not be a giveaway budget - but what little there is is hotly contested among various ministers who have been working to secure their share of the available additional spend.

Here we look at the key players in the negotiations as the term 'balancing act' looks set to be this year's budget buzzword.

Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Mark Condren

This will be Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's first budget since being elected Fine Gael leader and he will be well aware that his performance will be held to strict scrutiny. Since his leadership campaign Mr Varadkar has been working to build an image of his as a progressive party that is determined to reward those who "get up early" in his "republic of opportunity". Budget 2018 will be his first chance to truly paint a picture for voters of what that means for the country and their back pocket - he can only be ruing the fact that the cash simply isn't available to splash.

Paschal Donohoe

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Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Tom Burke

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has been playing his cards close to his chest in the run-up to this year's budget. He is facing substantial pressure to satisfy his party's narrative that this government is one that is determined to reward work but there is limited room for tax cuts, with any gains expected to fall a little flat among voters. Time and again he has said in public that the budget will not be a give-away budget, hammering home instead the idea that this year is about 'balancing the books' - but that hasn't stopped a considerable list of demands being made on the available cash.

Katherine Zappone

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Children's Minister Katherine Zappone Picture: Mark Condren

Last year saw first time minister Katherine Zappone emerge as a force to be reckoned with, as she secured funding for a universal childcare scheme which was a first in Ireland. This year she is looking to expand on her success as a novice and is said to have presented Minister Donohoe with a substantial list of demands as far back as August. She is also seeking a bigger department budget, formally requesting an additional €300m to bring her department's budget to €1.6bn. For the Dublin South West TD Budget 2018 will be about cementing her place as a serious player at the Cabinet table.

Eoghan Murphy

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Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy Picture: Mark Condren

First time minister Eoghan Murphy has inherited a housing crisis, a homeless crisis and a property market that is spiraling out of control so his demands for additional funding are unsuprising. There are any number of projects which require a cash boost and a number of new policies under consideration by the government to tackle the crisis. More money will be required for increasing the social housing build programme, bringing vacant properties back into use and funding homelessness supports. Additional tax relief for landlords is also under consideration, which would cost in the region of €56m. With Rebuilding Ireland under review and a new capital programme due at the end of the year the answers to Mr Murphy's demands may be largely found outside of the realm of the budget however.

Regina Doherty

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Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty. Photo: Tom Burke

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty heads a demanding portfolio where even minor increases in benefits can cost the stage a huge amount. While she has been vague about her requests, beyond a €5-per-week state pension increase, she has acknowledged she could easily spend €1bn "in about 10 minutes".

With such little room for maneuver this year Ms Doherty has placed her priorities on measures to address child poverty and is interested in improving supports for lone parents.

It is believed across-the-board social welfare hikes are under consideration but it has yet to emerge what these increases will be and how they will be funded.

Micheál Martin

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Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin Picture: Colin O'Riordan

In a political climate where all parties are ramping up their election preparation behind closed doors in order to be ready at a moment's notice this budget will prove vital to Micheál Martin. Last year's negotiations allowed Fianna Fáil to claim some wins in the form of pension increases but there is far less to work with this year. The party has placed a priority on education and wants to see the student-teacher ratio lowered. Fianna Fáil has instructed TDs to stick to the confidence and supply agreement when discussing the budget. With so few 'wins' predicted ahead of October 10, Martin will be keen to ensure the public perceives his party as being on the right side of them.

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