Howlin warns over too harsh budget cuts

Minister says major adjustments would dampen economic recovery

Minister for Public Enterprise and Reform Brendan Howlin in Johnstown House Hotel, Enfield, for the annual Labour ‘think-in’. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Minister for Public Enterprise and Reform Brendan Howlin in Johnstown House Hotel, Enfield, for the annual Labour ‘think-in’. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Tue, Sep 17, 2013, 06:37

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin has warned against cutting too deeply in next month’s budget, saying an unnecessarily large adjustment could dampen the economy’s prospects for recovery.

Speaking at the Labour Party think-in yesterday in Enfield, Co Meath, Mr Howlin said he would discuss the budget on a daily basis with Minister for Finance Michael Noonan in the coming weeks but that concrete proposals would not be brought to Cabinet for up to a fortnight.

He said he was conscious any cuts in health, education or social welfare would have a significant impact on families and he hoped he could introduce measures on October 15th that would restore the economy to good health while “minimising the impact to the best of our ability”.

‘Domestic economy’

“We need to also ensure we don’t take so much out of the economy that we are dampening down the potential for the domestic economy in particular,” he said.

“We have a growing export economy . . . but a very flat domestic economy, where people do not have money to spend. We need to give people confidence and not do anything that would extract money from the economy that was unnecessary.”

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore yesterday insisted the Government had not yet settled on a budgetary target but that he believed the State could meet its obligations without an adjustment of €3.1 billion.

“It has seemed to us for some time that is possible to meet the targets that we have to meet for this year’s budget without a €3.1 billion adjustment. What the final figure will be is something that will be discussed over the coming weeks and settled closer to budget day.”

Free GP care

Minister of State for Primary Care Alex White told the conference he had a “reasonably well-informed hope” that a “modest” roll-out of free GP care would be announced in the Budget.

Asked about the cost of the plan and what group might benefit from the proposal initially, Mr White said he could not say for definite but that “children would be a good place to start”.

“There’s a good public health reason for starting with children – to get people, as it were, into the primary care system and have a system whereby parents of young children don’t have to face the obstacle of paying €50 or €55 to bring their child to the doctor.”

On the budget, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said the best way to ease pressure on her department was to get people back to work, with every 10,000 people who found work easing the burden on the social protection budget by €95 million.

“What I would personally would like to see is a lot of emphasis on getting extra people into employment. Getting people back to employment is critical in terms of the social-welfare spend,” she said.

Minister of State for Research Seán Sherlock said he believed the budget would be crucial for Labour coming into the local elections next year and that the “choreography of the budget has to be such that we have to be seen to be giving a little bit back or trying to ease the burden for people who are struggling”.