Burton to stress 'stimulus' effects of welfare in budget talks


MINISTER FOR Social Protection Joan Burton has said “no detailed discussion” has taken place between the Coalition parties on the content of the next budget but she would be arguing that social welfare benefits represent an “enormous stimulus” to the economy in a recession. Ms Burton was commenting on reports from Brussels yesterday that Taoiseach Enda Kenny had refused to rule out means-testing child benefit and cutting free electricity, phone line rental and travel for pensioners.

Such measures had been part of a European Commission “discussion” document, Ms Burton said, speaking at her department’s employment and advice fair, which continues at the Volvo Global Village in Galway today. Up to 300 jobs are on offer at the fair.

“In a time of recession, the kind of spending which the Department of Social Protection undertakes supports income needs for pensioners, for people who have lost their jobs, has been an enormous stimulus to the economy . . . It is spent in every town, village and small and big shop in Ireland, and that’s something that everybody who is in Government is acutely aware of,” Ms Burton said.

“One of the biggest problems for social protection spending is the deficit in the spend . . . but no discussions have taken place so far, and obviously the Government looks at all these matters very, very carefully,” she said.

Separately, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar said the budget would be discussed around the Cabinet table, and not in public. He said his principal concern was coming up with savings in his own department.

“We need to see a clearer picture as to where other departments are in terms of making their savings before we can make alternative plans for the budget.

“One thing we are going to do in years to come is open up the budget to European laws. The idea is to present a draft budget a couple of months before the real budget and discuss that. I don’t think it’s going to happen this year but certainly in future years, it’s a requirement under the fiscal treaty.”

Earlier in the day Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore refused to be drawn on the proposals contained in the European Commission document. “That’s a commission document and a commission opinion but this is still the month of June. The budget is not until December so we’re not going to get into budgetary matters at this stage and we’re certainly not going to discuss the budget in public. One of the things that happened last year in the run-up to the budget is that there were kites flown on all kinds of things which never happened. Very often they cause a lot of upset and disturbance to people,” Mr Gilmore said.