Friday 20 April 2018

FF urged to say how it will pay for €727m 'wish list'

Micheál Martin arrives at the Fianna Fáil think-in yesterday Picture: Conor McCabe
Micheál Martin arrives at the Fianna Fáil think-in yesterday Picture: Conor McCabe

Cormac McQuinn, John Downing and Niall O'Connor

Fianna Fáil has been accused of compiling a budgetary 'wish list' that doesn't add up.

The party's frontbench team has already sought spending in social welfare, tax reform, housing and policing that comes to more than €727m.

But the party has yet to explain where funding for proposed changes in childcare and health will be found.

Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar challenged Fianna Fáil to "pony up" with a costed list of priorities, rather than a wish list that "doesn't add up".

With just €660m available for extra spending next year, Fianna Fáil's proposals seem likely to exceed the available funding when fully costed.

Speaking at Fianna Fáil's Carlow think-in, party leader Micheál Martin insisted that the plans are costed but didn't say if they would be published before the Budget.

He said there "will have to be space" for priorities that are written into the agreement with Fine Gael. "We're conscious we can't do everything in one year but we do want to see progress on... key areas in the first year and the first Budget".

Earlier, its finance spokesman Michael McGrath took to the airwaves and spoke of priorities but did not provide many specifics on costs.

Leo Varadkar said: "There is €600m available for new spending next year. Fianna Fáil also need to find €200m to continue the suspension of water charges.

"That leaves just €400m to cover the very long list of priorities Deputy Michael McGrath listed on the radio."

Fine Gael ministers are also being told to pare back their requests for new spending which last week were revealed to total more than €3bn.

An Irish Independent analysis of measures sought by Fianna Fáil frontbenchers show they want at least €727m in spending measures. In Social Protection that includes €150m for a €5-a-week pension hike.

Fianna Fáil's education spokesman Thomas Byrne said increasing third-level funding was a "key priority" the party wants to see in Budget 2017. He pointed out that the Cassells report into higher-level funding recommended at least €100m in increased support for the sector and said this was the level of funding Fianna Fáil would like to see provided.

Other priorities are the restoration of postgraduate grants (€53m), the return of guidance counsellors to schools (€30m), and a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio.

Justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan said he'd like to see €60m for increasing garda numbers and the continuing funding of initiative like Operation Thor, which has been targeting burglars. He said that Fine Gael had agreed to boost garda numbers to 15,000 over three years and that he wanted to see a start to that in Budget 2017. He also wants to see overtime continued to fight gangland crime.

Housing spokesman Barry Cowen said the party would like a special savings scheme to help first-time buyers raise a deposit for a property.

He said it would cost €28m in the first year and €84m by year three and that this would be instead of the tax rebate that Housing Minister Simon Coveney is proposing. Mr Cowen said his other priority was the reinstatement of the housing adaptation plan for the elderly which has been costed at €25m.

Health spokesman Billy Kelleher said that €15m must be set aside for an expansion of the National Treatment Purchase Fund to help reduce hospital waiting lists.

While he didn't provide sums for other measures he wants, priorities in health include recruiting specialist nurses and a cut in prescription charges.

Children's spokeswoman Anne Rabbitte conceded that Fianna Fáil's preferred option to help with childcare - a tax credit for parents - won't be included in the Budget.

The Government's proposal is to provide State-subsidised childcare with payments to crèches. Ms Rabbitte said she would like to see an increase in the planned income threshold for that, from €47,000 to €60,000.

Irish Independent

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