Independent Alliance the voice of underprivileged, says Ross
Ministers claim they ‘fought hard’ for social welfare improvements in Budget 2018
Independent Alliance members Shane Ross, Finian McGrath and John Halligan at Government Buildings after the budget. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
Independent Alliance Ministers have claimed credit for a number of key budget announcements, insisting it had to fight Fine Gael for their inclusion.
The group lists the reduction in prescription charges, the social welfare Christmas bonus, the restoration of the telephone allowance and the increased budget for housing assistance payments as significant achievements in Budget 2018.
Minister for Transport Shane Ross denied such measures were guaranteed regardless and claimed the alliance was the voice of those who are underprivileged and marginalised in society.
Mr Ross told reporters he did not know whether Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil wanted them or not but they “agreed to them” on the alliance’s request.
The Minister said: “A lot of them we had to fight for. We fought very hard for certain issues.”
The group was involved in a series of tense discussions with Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe over recent weeks. A number of their key demands were not addressed in the budget, including the restoration of the bereavement grant and a financial payment for stay-at-home parents.
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Mr Ross acknowledged it did not get everything it had sought but insisted the group had ensured the most vulnerable in society were protected.
Minister of State for Disabilities Finian McGrath denied he threatened to resign over recent days in frustration at the lack of commitment in the area of disability.
Mr McGrath said he made it clear he could not support the budget if such issues were not advanced significantly. However, he insisted he does not and would never threaten his colleagues.
He said: “An agreement was reached late last night [Monday] and I am very satisfied that I made that decision. I do not threaten. If I could not deliver on issues that support disability and support carers I could not support the budget.
“In light of negotiations that happened last night and I am very happy.”
The group insisted it would be content to continue to support this Government and would be prepared to support the next two budgets. Its current agreement expires in 2018.
Meanwhile, Minister for Communications Denis Naughten praised MrDonohoe for his efforts in ensuring the issues he raised were addressed.
Mr Naughten, who is an Independent TD but not a member of the Alliance, had sought additional home-help hours, flood assistance for businesses and an extension to opening hours at the medical assessment unit at Roscommon University Hospital.
Mr Naughten said the unit would now open in the evenings and at the weekends in line with a key general election commitment made by him.
He said: “This is an issue I have felt very strongly about since long before I became a member of Cabinet and I am delighted that my continued work and commitment in this area has led to this announcement.”
Independent TD for Clare Michael Harty, who supports the Government, praised the introduction of a VAT compensation scheme for charities.
Dr Harty said this was an issue he had consistently lobbied Ministers on, insisting it would be a significant financial benefit to charities.