Fianna Fáil pledges welfare and pension increases in next budget

Tánaiste also promises to ban children using smartphones during school hours

Fianna Fáil has used its ardfheis weekend to make a series of pledges on tax reductions and welfare increases six months before budget day in October.

In a series of speeches, briefings and interviews over the weekend, the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and his Ministers made clear they expected further tax cuts in this year’s budget as well as specific welfare increases of €10 to child benefit, €12 to the old age pension and potentially a further round of energy credits.

The move is in stark contrast to last year, when Fianna Fáil was highly critical of pre-budget demands from Fine Gael for tax cuts and other budget measures.

Mr Martin told his party’s ardfheis that tax changes would favour “families on low and average incomes” and that above-inflation increases to the old age pension would continue. But in a series of interviews over the weekend he went into greater detail, saying he wanted to see a €10 increase in child benefit, €12 increase in pensions and further energy supports.


Asked about the budget plans on Sunday, Mr Martin told RTÉ Radio: “That’s something we’re going to push very strongly for and I believe that there will be receptive response to that.”

Mr Martin also used his ardfheis speech to promise to a “joint initiative” by the Department of Health and the Department of Education to ban the use of smartphones by schoolchildren during school hours.

“Clear, accessible guidance will be available to every parent on what to do concerning your child and the online world,” Mr Martin told delegates at the Fianna Fáil gathering in Dublin. “Every school will be given funding to support the banning of smartphone use during school time.”

But sources in health and education said the plans were at an early stage. “The Tánaiste has laid out the intention and we will have to work our how to do it,” said one source. “A lot of it will be up to schools.”

It is expected schools will be offered funding to supply pouches – already in use by some schools – in which pupils’ phones are locked away for the day and can only be opened by the school authorities.

Sources with knowledge of the discussions, however, said it would be some time before the arrangements are in place, though some were optimistic the measure could be implemented in time for the new school year in September.

All schools are currently advised to have acceptable use policies that set out rules over smartphone use.

In practice, many either ban or restrict smartphones during school time due to the potential for disruption and distraction, unless they are needed for classroom purposes.

At primary level, where smartphones are typically not permitted during the school day, the Department of Education has issued voluntary guidelines to support schools and parents’ associations to ban smartphones altogether.

It follows an initiative in Greystones, Co Wicklow – home of both Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Taoiseach Simon Harris – where all eight primary schools and parents’ associations agreed to a “no smartphone voluntary code” until children start secondary school.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times