Thursday 19 September 2019

Hugh O'Connell: 'Groundhog day as Independents unveil shopping list that targets older voters'


Ministers John Halligan, Shane Ross and Finian McGrath Photo: Tony Gavin
Ministers John Halligan, Shane Ross and Finian McGrath Photo: Tony Gavin
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

The Independent Alliance's latest Budget demands have an eerie familiarity about them. As in previous years, Transport Minister Shane Ross and co are targeting the grey vote with a shopping list for the final Budget of this minority Government.

This draft discussion document was circulated to Independent Alliance ministers and staff in recent days. It has not been met with universal acclaim. "A typical Ross invention," said one Alliance source. "Some of it is reheated and rehashed."

Some of it is definitely highly ambitious. A 10pc levy on the purchase of blocks of new homes is unlikely to meet with favour in Fine Gael, a party that has spoken in support of so-called cuckoo funds. Other parts of the document are tinged with realism. It notes correctly that a previously mooted levy on insurance company profits may actually end up harming consumers.

It is also not an exhaustive list of what the Alliance is looking for in Budget talks. For example, it is understood that a liveable wage for childcare workers of €12.50 is being pushed for by junior minister John Halligan.

Then there is Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath, who is on record as seeking targeted supports for children in poverty as well as a €5 hike in the weekly State pension. The latter seems to be off the table after Paschal Donohoe this week ruled out a repeat of across-the-board welfare increases, because of Brexit.

But many of the proposed measures have a clear focus on the elderly. Some will attribute this to Mr Ross's desire to ensure favour with constituents in Dublin-Rathdown. But it is also an article of faith in Irish politics that older voters show up on election day, so why wouldn't politicians want to appeal to them? Mr Ross and his colleagues are just that bit more obvious about it.

The document includes a radical plan to overhaul the Fair Deal scheme. It is eye-catching but uncosted. Proposals to restore the bereavement grant - cruelly cut by Labour five years ago - and a plan to give unpaid leave to workers to look after their elderly parents are also included in a clear pitch to older people.

There is no mention, however, of the ill-fated 'granny grant', a plan to give grandparents who look after their grandchildren €1,000 per year. It featured heavily in last year's Budget debate - but it was not delivered, nor was the 'granny flat grant', a plan to help homeowners convert their properties to accommodate elderly relatives.

In the end, the Alliance had to settle for an increase in the gambling tax - a measure it wants retained this year - and a last-minute deal to increase the threshold at which inheritance tax is paid by €10,000. This year the Alliance wants it raised again by €30,000.

But come Budget Day on October 8, and as in previous years, the Independent Alliance will likely have to explain why many of the aspirations outlined above have not been delivered.

Irish Independent

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