Muted backbench budget response

Wed, Dec 5, 2012, 00:00

Back bench Deputies from both parties were generally down beat and muted in their response to the Budget with both Labour and Fine Gael TDS expressing criticism of different aspects to the changes.

There was widespread agreement on both sides that the Budget was tough, with consensus throughout Fine Gael and Labour that the cumulative effect of the cuts in child benefit, property tax changes, motor taxes, and removal of the €127 per week exemption for PRSI would hit families and would create difficulties.

However, a wide sample of TDs from both parties, it was evident that there was less enthusiasm for the Budget from Labour Party TDs, with party chairman Colm Keaveney being particularly critical. Some, including Brendan Ryan, said that they saw little to support in the Budget as late as last weekend.

However, all of the Labour Deputies who spoke to The Irish Times last night said there were enough ‘balancing measures’ in the Budget to win their support.

From mid afternoon, it was clear that no Government TD would vote against the Government or abstain, although Mr Keaveney said it was fortuitous that the vote on the Social Welfare Bill was not being taken until January.

On the Fine Gael side, there was far more cohesion in terms of reaction. While Dublin TDs, including Olivia Mithcell, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, and Eoghan Murphy have expressed strong criticism that the property tax will have a much harsher effect in the capital, there was solid support for the overall document announced yesterday.

Mr Keaveny said last night: “The Budget is very difficult for me in two areas. I am dissatisfied with the PRSI adjustments that will see the loss of the €127 income disregard.

“I am not satisfied wit the in child benefit.

“We are lucky that we are not voting on the social welfare aspects of the Budget tonight.”

He said he would work tirelessly between now and January to try to make Fine Gael change its mind and be “magnanimous and generous to children and their mothers.”

He would give no indication as to his voting intentions on social welfare legislation should the Budget announcement remain unchanged.

Dublin South TD Olivia Mithcell of Fine Gael said property tax was a big issue for her constituents and said the high rates in Dublin would mean citizens in the capital would be subsidising others.

The Dublin North Labour TD Brendan Ryan said that having read reports at the weekend “there was very little which I could have voted for when we lost the argument over the 3 per cent increase in USC for people earning over €100,000.”

However, he said that compensating measures which will see the State benefit in up to €500m from higher earners appeased some of his concerns.

“Child benefit is a big issue. It’s hard to swallow.

The cumulative effect of PRSI, child benefit and property tax will make it very difficult for middle earning families.”

He said that overall, enough had been done to secure his vote.

Fine Gael TD for Dublin South East also said that property tax was his main focus. “It’s going to be much higher in Dublin. I have lobbied the Minister for Finance to taken into account stamp duty that has been previously paid. It’s unfortunate that it has not.”

Kerry North TD Arthur Spring of Labour said there was no joy in implementing a tough budget especially after people have endured six tough austerity budgets.

“The only compensation is that we are 80 per cent there,” he said.

Mr Spring pointed to Labour influence in the tax package focused at higher earners and pensioners, and compensatory measures for the most vulnerable.

“It’s complex and hard to explain but there is a degree of fairness,” he said.

Fine Gael’s Paul Connaughton from Galway East said that the budget was good for agriculture on the tax side but tough on schemes during one of the worst years for farming ever. He acknowledged Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney had tried to protect smaller farmers.

He said he was disappointed that more had not been done to target the huge pensions of some bankers.

Ciara Conway, the Labour TD for Waterford, said that there was no doubt it would be difficult. However, she said that Labour’s Joan Burton had managed to preserve basic social welfare rates despite a huge amount of pressure.

She accepted that a 3 per cent increase in USC would have been easier to explain but said that the package directed at higher earners had included fairness.