Budget 2013 not an à la carte menu, insists Varadkar

 

Government members can not pick and choose the Budget 2013 measures they are willing to support or object to as if it were an “a la carte menu”, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has said.

The Fine Gael TD for Dublin West said the Government had laid out a €3.5 billion package and that it was not “really reasonable or honest” for deputies to cherry-pick what aspects they would vote in favour of or against.

Fine Gael and Labour TDs last night backed the first of the measures that came before the Dáil after they were outlined by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin.

However, Labour Party chairman Colm Keaveney said it was fortuitous the vote on the Social Welfare Bill was not being taken until January, as he was unhappy with the changes to PRSI allowances and children’s benefit.

Mr Varadkar said Government members would have to accept the measures as they were not choosing from “an a la carte menu. The Budget is a package”.

“Fine Gael being the party we are would have preferred less on tax and Labour being the party they are would have preferred less on spending cuts,” he said.

“But we were elected to form a national Government and work together to come up with a compromise…and that is the Budget and both parties will stick by it now.”

Mr Varadkar joined Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore in defending the sixth austerity Budget in five years, saying he believed the measures set out yesterday were fair as everyone would now have to contribute more and those who had the most were giving the most.

“Almost everyone I’ve met feels that it was unfair and in some ways that is the nature of a budget like this,” he said. “Maybe people don’t feel it was fair, but I think they do feel it was equally unfair to everyone.”

Admitting it was a “tough budget” Mr Gilmore said the Government set out to ensure that those who were most vulnerable were protected.

“This is a budget that affects people all over the country. We have always said that this was going to be a tough budget, the toughest that this government will be doing,” he told RTÉ.

Mr Gilmore said the budget targeted wealth.“There are no cuts in basic rates of social welfare, and, that we would ensure that those who have the most contribute the most.”

“This Budget… will produce over €500m in additional taxes on wealth...It’s the largest package of tax measures on wealth in this country that I have seen in my 23 years in the Dáil,” he said.

Almost every adult in the State will be hit by a range of budget measures including a property tax, reduced child benefit, extended PRSI and cuts in the entitlements for the elderly.

Fr Seán Healy of Social Justice Ireland said the Budget would make Ireland a harsher society and do damage to the economy.

“It is unjust that corporations maintain and receive tax relief in Budget 2013 while families continue to suffer the brunt of budgetary adjustments,” he said.

Questions submitted by irishtimes.com readers revealed a degree of confusion surrounding the new property tax and whether exemptions applied to those who have paid stamp duty in recent years. Other concerns included changes to PRSI and changes to pension payments.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the budget was about jobs, opportunities and businesses” with an emphasis on the small and medium enterprises sector.

“The decision of the Minister for Finance to bring in a particular package for small and medium enterprises will have direct impact for the benefit of many middle income families and those currently on low incomes to get out of the particular sector.”

Mr Noonan expressed the hope this was the last austerity budget, and he predicted the adjustments in 2014 and 2015 would be much smaller. He also said this was the last December budget and he hoped to publish the 2014 budget next October.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Pat Kenny programme, he defended the PRSI increases, saying they represented good value for people on lower incomes by guaranteeing benefits.

An extra €5 a week for somebody on €25,000 “will guarantee their benefits, but particularly their contributory pension. It's about the best value for €5 that anyone can ever get,” he said.

Speaking on the same programme, Mr Howlin said cuts to child benefit protected core social welfare payments. He said the coalition made a decision “to try and fix a very broken economy and to do it with as much sensitivity, protecting the most vulnerable.”

Mr Varadkar said the Government could not take €3.5 billion out of people’s pockets “without hurting them and without offending them and that’s what we have had to do. It’s not something we wanted to do”.

“We’d much prefer to be able to cut taxes, add grants and increase spending, but we can’t. We have to do this and we have to stick by the Budget,” he told reporters in Dublin while attending the publication of a Road Safety Authority guide.

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