Wednesday 21 March 2018

Howlin has €750m for welfare, health and schools

James Reilly
James Reilly
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Public Expenditure Minister Howlin has pledged that the Government will pump €750m into social welfare, education and health.

In his Spring Statement speech, Mr Howlin outlined a number of key areas where increased expenditure will be needed in the coming years as the economy recovers.

He said investment in schools, roads, public transport, social housing, childcare and broadband would be the cornerstone of his spending plan.

And last night, Mr Howlin wrote to public sector unions after receiving permission from Cabinet to begin unwinding emergency legislation that imposed pay cuts.

"As a result of the decisions we have taken, the State's finances are now in a demonstrably better position. The imperative now is to ensure that we act responsibly," Mr Howlin told the Dáil.

In a speech that offered little by way of detail, Mr Howlin highlighted the broad areas where spending would be needed in the coming years.

He said the country would need an extra 3,500 primary and secondary school teachers by 2021, while the number of third-level students would increase by 20,000.

He said the Government would plan to meet these demands and insisted the increased demands were a "positive development".

He also noted that the Coalition had built 150 schools and given jobs to 1,700 new full-time teachers since it took office.

The minister pledged to continue to invest in education and upskill the workforce to ensure the country's citizens were at the "forefront of new technology".

Mr Howlin said the "fruits of economic growth" would be shared by all citizens and highlighted increases in the child benefit payment and living alone allowance in the last budget.

He said reducing employment was the "best route to recovery" and the Government would continue to make getting people back to work its key objective.

An effective childcare policy is another issue the Coalition will address in the coming months, and one of the focuses of the strategy will be getting mothers back to work after childbirth.


Mr Howlin said he is awaiting the outcome of the working group established by Children's Minister James Reilly, which is reviewing the issue.

"A successful childcare policy helps people, who wish to do so, to participate in the economy. We need to find a balance between the needs of children, parents and the wider economy," he said.

In June, Mr Howlin will publish his capital spending plans, which will also set construction goals over the next five years.

Yesterday, the minister took the first steps to begin unwinding Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Fempi), which imposed public sector pay cuts.

He said as the economy continues to improve, the chance of a successful legal challenge to the legislation increases.

Mr Howlin confirmed he would start restoring public sector pay but in doing so would not "jeopardise the public finances".

He would not discuss his plans for reversing the cuts in the Dáil yesterday. However, he said he was proud of how the public service responded to extra workloads and productivity changes during the recession.

"As well as being more efficient and productive, the new public service must be more responsive to the needs of service users and more strategic, focusing on longer-term outcomes," he said.

Irish Independent

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