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Friday 9 December 2016

'Come up with a workable Budget', Varadkar tells FF

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar. Photo: Collins
Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar. Photo: Collins

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has warned Fianna Fail to stop "throwing shapes" and come up with a workable Budget proposal.

The minister believes too much focus on pensioners could result in the disabled, carers and other sections of society missing out in Budget 2017.

He is under pressure from Fianna Fail to increase the Old Age Pension by €5 a week at a cost of around €150m.

The increase is widely expected to form part of the Budget next Tuesday, but Mr Varadkar has said that Fianna Fail needs to be held to account for a growing list of demands that also includes an €100m for third level education.

Kites

"We've seen lots of individual Fianna Fail spokespeople flying kites and throwing shapes.

"It's incumbent now on them to produce a spending package that actually adds up to something resembling €600m," he said.

"Are Fianna Fail in their proposal going to provide any extra €200m for the continued suspension of water charges? Are they going to provide for extra gardai? I can't see how these promises can possibly add up," he said.

The minister said that he is conscious of the spending needed for health, childcare and first-time buyers, as well as social welfare recipients.

His key target in the Budget talks with Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe is the self-employed.

"There will always be competing demands. My personal priority in this Budget is to have new social protections extended to 350,000 self-employed people across the State.

"There's also a Fine Gael manifesto commitment to increase the State pension by €5 and there are other things I'd like to do as well for other groups, that maybe haven't been mentioned enough in the Budget debate so far," he said.

Asked about the suggestion from Fianna Fail's Willie O'Dea that the pension hike is non-negotiable, Mr Varadkar said: "I wouldn't like to say that we are going to give all the resources to one group in society and have nothing for the self-employed, nothing for the disabled, nothing for the carers and nothing around assisting lone parents getting into education and into work."

A poll conducted on behalf of RTE's Claire Byrne Live programme last night found that 77pc of voters support the increase in the pension.

Resources

It also found that 48pc of people would rather receive a tax cut in the Budget than see extra resources pumped into public services.

Some 44pc favoured improved services.

Mr Varadkar also indicated yesterday that he is unlikely to reinstate the Bereavement Grant as demanded by Sinn Fein in their pre-Budget submission. He said the grant would cost €20m.

On housing, Mr Varadkar denied that by introducing a tax rebate for first-time buyers the Government was "encouraging" young people to take on mortgages and get on the property ladder.

"Young people, and some of them aren't all that young, want to get on the property ladder.

"That's why we want to help them ... The Government isn't there to solve everyone's problems but it is there to help," the Dublin TD said.

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