Monday 20 November 2017

Ross's Independents scramble for last-minute Budget wins

Shane Ross of the Independent Alliance
Shane Ross of the Independent Alliance
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Shane Ross's Independent Alliance is desperately scrambling to get some credit for next week's Budget.

The Alliance is making last minute efforts to put its stamp on Budget 2017.

Tensions have developed between the rural members of the Alliance and Mr Ross, the Transport Minister.

Mr Ross is being blamed for failing to assert the authority of the Alliance in Budget negotiations.

Sources say serious differences were aired on the group's "red line" issues among the five TDs in the Alliance during a meeting on Wednesday.

The last minute measures pushed for by the Alliance include an extension of VAT refunds for house refurbishments for another two years. Independent Alliance Junior Minister Sean Canney and backbench TD Kevin 'Boxer' Moran also want an enhanced rural Ireland package, including an improved sheep grant and the expansion of the rural social scheme.

The group has also sought confirmation the money to beef up the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) will be made available from January.

The non-Alliance Independent ministers Denis Naughten and Katherine Zappone have both signed off on their Budget deals.

The two ministers are understood to be pleased with their packages, despite some wrangling over Ms Zappone's childcare package.

The biggest focus of Mr Naughten's Budget allocation is funding for the roll-out of the national broadband plan.

The Communications Minister will also announce a series of energy-efficiency measures, including grants for retrofitting homes and incentives for more drivers to use electric cars. Sources say he has received an allocation of more than €8m to tackle illegal dumping.

Ms Zappone's new childcare scheme will give additional financial help to families on a net income under €50,000.

Under the plan, parents will be asked to enter their incomes and PPS numbers online to find out the exact size of their State subsidy.

The package will be limited to children under the age of three. The decision to settle on a €50,000 threshold will ensure that low-income families benefit first from the scheme.

However, the threshold is likely to disappoint many Fine Gael backbenchers who believe it will fail to address the financial difficulties facing middle-income families. Fianna Fáil is expected to welcome the new scheme, but say the threshold needs to be increased over a number of budgets.

The first tranche of subsidies are due to be paid out in September of next year.

Irish Independent

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