Public debate about Budget should be encouraged - White

Minister says Government has ‘more breathing space’ after IMF loan repayment deal

Ministers should be able to speak more openly about Budget decisions, Minister for Communications Alex White has said.

Referring to the Taoiseach's public rebuke of Minister for Health Leo Varadkar this week for saying the Budget would put "an extra fiver or tenner" back in workers' weekly pay packets, Mr White said it had "become hazardous for Government Ministers to advocate or engage in debate" about what they would like to see in the Budget.

“Many will think that’s a pity, and that there ought to be more of a public debate about Budgetary choices. That would be my view,” he said.

“I think we should have a longer period of debate. I don’t think these issues should only be discussed for a week or two, or a month or two around Budget time.”


Speaking on a panel about the upcoming Budget at the Kennedy Summer School in New Ross yesterday  afternoon, Mr White said the Government had "some breathing space" after news last week that €1 billion more tax than expected had been collected so far this year.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan also indicated  taxpayers would benefit in the Budget from a new deal struck with the IMF to repay Ireland's bailout loans early.

Mr White said this extra money – estimated to be around €300 million – would “feed into the overall Budget arithmetic” and would not be “earmarked” for specific tax cuts or investments.

Speaking on the same panel, Independent TD Lucinda Creighton accused the Government of pursuing a "rapid and unsustainable property-fuelled growth" over a slower but more long lasting recovery.

"A stable economic future for Ireland can only be secured if we move away from the two-pronged approach of over dependence of foreign direct investment and property," she said. "FDI is hugely important and is the lifeblood of our economy, but equally it can be used to mask the underperformance of indigenous entrepreneurial activity."

Calling for a reduction in the marginal tax rate in the upcoming Budget, Ms Creighton said Ireland was now among the highest taxed countries in the European Union for middle-income earners. "If Ireland is to reward and inventivise working families, the number of middle-income families paying the higher rate of tax must be dramatically reduced," she said.

Independent Senator Katherine Zappone said spending on quality public services, especially in education, should be prioritised over tax cuts.

The savings achieved by the early repayment of the bailout loans, coupled with better than expected tax returns, means Ireland “can be fiscally prudent and still make our 3 per cent deficit target”, she said.

“This is the time to experiment,"she said. “We need to invest in affordable, publicly subsidised early years education, childcare and after school services. These areas are major barriers to parents’ participation in the labour market.”

Ms Zappone also called for a “more level playing field” for economic investment in job creation. “We need to give similar support to the big guys as we do to the little guys,” she said, with similar access to capital given to small builders as large developers, for example.

Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming said the last three "regressive" Budgets have hit lowst income earners the hardest, but there was an opportunity for the Government in this Budget to "correct those mistakes".

Women have been particularly badly hit by cuts in the last three Budgets to child benefit, the one parent family payment and tax relief for first-time maternity benefit, Mr Fleming said, and “this Budget needs to be gender proofed”.

He also called for a reversal of successive cuts to rent supplement, which he says have led to the current homelessness crisis.

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny, founding editor of Irish Times Abroad, a section for Irish-connected people around the world, is Editor of the Irish Times Magazine