IMF proposals for 'medium term'
Suggestions from the IMF about child benefit and medical card cuts were “not specific recommendations” for next year’s budget, the Tánaiste told the Dáil this morning.
Eamon Gilmore said the IMF’s commentary, which suggested means-testing child benefit payments and cutting medical cards for the over 70s, were on a “medium to long-term” basis.
They were not “specific recommendations made in the context of next year’s budget or in the context of the [bailout] programme”, he said.
He was responding to Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin who urged the Tánaiste to rule out cuts to either payment in the budget.
Mr Gilmore said the quarterly review by the EU-ECB-IMF troika operated on a short-term basis while the IMF’s review was done on a separate basis.
The Tánaiste refused to be drawn when Mr O Caolain asked him when he had first heard about the resignation of HSE chief executive Cathal Magee.
Mr Ó Caoláin pointed to comments from Minister of State for Health Róisín Shortall who said she had only heard of his intention to resign from the media.
The Cavan-Monaghan TD had asked the relationship between the Minister for Health and the Minister of State and asked if it would be “Reilly’s way or Labour’s way”.
Yesterday, the International Monetary Fund suggested means-testing for child benefit payments and cutting the cost of medical cards as part of a “comprehensive targeting of spending”, which the agency says is needed to deliver immediate reductions in Government spending.
In its assessment of the Irish economy, the IMF said “maintaining expensive universal supports and subsidies is difficult to justify under present budgetary circumstances”.
The household benefits package and spending on non-means-tested pensions were also cited as potential targets that could “generate significant savings, while protecting the poor”.
The State pension paid to all retiring workers who have sufficient PRSI “stamps” paid over their working life is the main non-means-tested pension in the State, though there are other schemes, including accelerated pensions paid to politicians and judges, regardless of means.
“There are many options to help save budgetary resources while minimising the impact on the most vulnerable,” said Craig Beaumont, the IMF’s Ireland programme director, at a press conference yesterday concluding the fund’s consultation process – separate to last week’s bailout review by the troika.
“Child benefit has risen substantially in the last decade and there is no means-testing for it. We’re just laying out the option that you could target it at families who are less well off,” he said when pressed for further detail.
He also cited the possibility of cutting the cost of providing medical cards to those who were more than 70 years of age. “The population over 70 is going to rise over time so the cost of those cards is going to keep rising.”