Taoiseach Micheál Martin has launched a scathing attack on the Opposition’s approach to the Government’s €11 billion bumper budget.
He said there was a fundamental divide between those developing and implementing policies for economic and social progress “and those who play empty and cynical politics” and want to exploit problems rather than solve them.
Opening a two-day Dáil debate on the measures in Budget 2023, Mr Martin insisted the budget was, by any objective measure, “fair and progressive”. He claimed the Opposition was “flailing around” in its response and this demonstrated it was a good budget.
Earlier, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald had hit out at the €500 tax credit for renters, claiming it would be wiped out with rent hikes and that the Government had turned a crisis “into a disaster”.
But Mr Martin hit back and said Sinn Féin’s policies would “drive more houses out of the rental market”. He said Ms McDonald’s figures did not add up because her party had allocated €300 million for a €1,500 rent tax credit while the Government had set aside €400 million for €1,000 over two years.
The Taoiseach referred to claims that “this was a budget for wealthy people”. He insisted this was “nonsense and it is a conclusion which can only be reached by misrepresenting the tax packages and ignoring all of the direct supports we are funding”.
But he said the Government rejected Sinn Féin’s idea that “people of average and above incomes should never be allowed to benefit from any income tax change”.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also hit out at Sinn Féin, and claimed that under their tax proposals “the cake would shrink” and “there’d be less for everyone”.
He said the main Opposition party “would lump taxes on ordinary families by stealth by not adjusting income tax for inflation”.
“Put simply, a two-income couple each earning about €40,000 would pay more than €2,000 in tax under Pearse [Doherty] in 2023 than under Paschal [Donohoe].” He also said Sinn Féin would introduce four new taxes on high earners, worth €1.5 billion, and this would drive major businesses out of Ireland.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said €250 million extra for new measures would allow the Government to make GP care free for up to 430,000 more people, ensuring more than half the population would have free access.
He was abolishing the €80-a-night inpatient charge because he could not “stand over having debt collectors pursue patients for money that was technically owed for vital healthcare they received in our public hospitals”.
Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan said the Government parties and the Independents who support them had different perspectives but the Government was functioning with “trust between the three parties. That is important at this time of crisis.”
Their focus was to provide affordable housing, deliver health reform and accelerate climate action. “We have to stick to that course and focus on those three tasks while also managing an energy crisis that arrived on our shores in a way that no one could have expected.”
In her Dáil budget speech Ms McDonald claimed the budget “continues the cycle of failure”.
She said that “when the dust settles, people will see a budget with no real vision, no real ambition and no real appetite to deliver change”.
She said: “It is a damning indictment of Government that the spectre of forced emigration is now back with us.”
She believed that young people “look again to the airports, for the prospect of a life in Boston, Toronto or Perth” because “they cannot build a good life at home”.
Labour leader Ivana Bacik said Budget 2023 might “better be described as a treadmill budget, in which the Government is spending money to stand still, not to ensure any future progress or prosperity”. She believed “there is no sense that this budget will do anything other than provide a short-term quick fix, a sugar hit, which will wear off very quickly and likely before the new year” with the need for a new budget in the new year.
Social Democrats joint leader Catherine Murphy said it was becoming increasingly clear that “this is a regressive budget”.
She said: “Just 23 per cent of income earners in this country pay the top rate of tax, but more than 80 per cent of the benefits of the budget’s tax changes accrue to those workers.”
Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae said his phone had been “on fire” from businesses in Kerry hit with new commercial rates demands up to 300 per cent higher than what they were paying last year.
He said one business owner had received a demand on Wednesday for €68,000, up from €26,000 a year.
Another rates demand had risen from €3,000 to €16,500. He said the businesses affected were jewellery shops, bakeries and hairdressers and these rateable valuation changes were “totally insane” when the Government said it was protecting small businesses.