McCreevy criticised Martin over ‘unacceptable’ spend requests
FoI reveals pledge on greater financial discipline over health spending
Charlie McCreevy speaking to reporters while he was minister for finance under then taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Secret cabinet papers show he pledged to bring greater financial discipline to bear on health spending and dismissed “recurring” increases proposed by then minister for health Micheál Martin. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times
FoI documents reveal Charlie McCreevy criticised then minister for health Micheál Martin over “unacceptable” health spending requests ahead of Budget 2002, while other ministers at the time were warned that they “need to face reality”.
Secret cabinet papers show Mr McCreevy, then Fianna Fáil minister for finance, pledging to bring greater financial discipline to bear on health spending and dismissing “recurring” increases proposed by Mr Martin.
“What is being contemplated by the Department of Health in relation to the health services would lead to a huge increase in the overall tax burden…This is not on,” Mr McCreevy said.
Mr McCreevy audaciously announced he would not borrow in 2002 in what was billed the “last of the Cheeky Charlie” boomtime budgets. He said he was budgeting for a surplus in the pre-election budget that followed the September 11th attacks and preceded Ireland’s euro changeover.
Child Benefit rates increased in the budget for 2002 by £25 per month for first and second children to £92.62 and by £30 per month for third and subsequent children to £116, while old age pensions went up by at least £10 a week.
However, previously confidential documents show Mr McCreevy warning cabinet colleagues they had “failed to appreciate the new economic situation”.
The Irish Times sought copies of all cabinet papers relating to budget 2002 under FoI. A standard FoI request was placed initially with the Department of the Taoiseach at a cost of €15.
However, to release the documents a further amount of €52.37 was requested. This “search and retrieval” fee was calculated on the basis of one staff member working for two-and-a-half hours at a rate of €20.95 an hour.
Cabinet records are currently protected under section 19(1) of the FoI Act. However, records covered by Section 19(1) that were created on or after April 21st, 1998 and which are at least 10 years old when an FoI request for their release is received, are eligible for release unless other specific exemptions in the FoI legislation apply to them.
Five-year-old cabinet papers will become accessible for first time under proposed legislation to be published by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin early next week.