Elderly, children and housing must come before tax cuts, warns FF leader
The Budget should focus on services for the elderly and special needs children as well as affordable housing, not tax cuts, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has warned.
Mr Martin predicted "intense negotiations" with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe in the weeks leading up to the Budget - and his remarks are likely to set the scene for a clash with Fine Gael.
The Fianna Fáil leader also hit out at Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, accusing him of "floating" the prospect of a general election when he should be focusing on preparations for a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Donohoe is preparing for a possible crash-out Brexit on the Budget, but has not ruled out potential tax cuts and targeted social welfare increases.
Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil's priority in the Budget is the provision of services.
He said the Government outlined there is between €700m and €800m available for new measures in the Budget, and said this "isn't huge firepower.
"All of our TDs are saying to us there are real pressures in the health service in terms of services at the front-line, particularly around the elderly, particularly around children with special needs and access to diagnostics generally."
He told RTÉ Radio: "We want to put the bulk of resources in at least maintaining and increasing the level of resources there."
Mr Martin mentioned the need for better home-help services and therapy for children with special needs.
Mr Martin said his party wants "stronger and faster delivery" of affordable housing. Asked about social welfare increases, Mr Martin replied: "Our priority is to services."
He added: "There will be intense negotiations in the four or five weeks leading up to the Budget and the specific details will be hammered out there."
Meanwhile, Mr Martin responded to the revelation that Mr Varadkar's supporters have been warned to be on an election footing "at all times".
The Irish Independent reported yesterday that Fine Gael headquarters has instructed constituency organisers to make "a major push" on preparations "in the next few weeks".
Mr Martin said: "Periodically Fine Gael and indeed the Taoiseach keep floating the prospect of a general election.
"I think what's urgently needed now... is preparations for a no-deal Brexit."
He said that's what the Taoiseach, the Government and Fine Gael "should be focusing on".
He urged them to "be more transparent, be more upfront with the public in terms of the implications of a no-deal Brexit for us, for our economy, for the SME sector, for the agri-food sector".
He said initiatives need to be announced "to protect those sectors as best we can in the event of a no-deal Brexit."
Mr Martin also said the Government needs to be "fully transparent" about talks with the European Commission on how checks and controls at the border can be avoided in the case of a no-deal Brexit.