herald

Saturday 1 November 2014

Crunch day... and Hogan's in Qatar at plush hotel

A NUMBER of Government ministers were in the firing line as families came to terms with the devastating cuts and tax hikes revealed today.



Some have failed to meet their targets, while one has missed Budget Day entirely.

Environment Minister Phil Hogan was at a UN conference in the exotic city of Doha in Qatar, staying at the exclusive Kempinski Residences and Suites, as Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin unveiled his hugely controversial property tax.

The conference is being attended by up to 200 ministers from across the world.

The plush residence charges a minimum of €200 per room per night -- with the overall trip expected to cost the taxpayer more than €15,000.

Mr Hogan is staying in the hotel with a number of Environment officials, including his spokeswoman Yvonne Hyland.

The minister has been strongly criticised for leaving the country while his Cabinet colleagues frantically finalise the remaining Budget measures.

Independent TD for Dublin North Central, Finian McGrath, described the minister's absence as a "disgrace".

"Minister Hogan is showing some neck to be leaving the country with homeowners terrified at how badly hit they will be by today's Budget," he told the Herald.

"And the fact that one of the most significant measures in the budget is under Mr Hogan's brief -- the property tax -- makes his absence even more disgraceful. He should be here, simple as that."

However, Mr Hogan's department claims that he has been in "regular contact" with his Cabinet colleagues.

Meanwhile, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton and Health Minister James Reilly were already under intense pressure even before the €3.5bn austerity Budget was announced.

The pair have signed off on combined cuts of over €1.1bn -- almost a third of the overall adjustments in Budget 2013.

However both departments have had their targets reduced in recent weeks -- changes that are sure to alarm Enda Kenny.

It has emerged that the Department of Health is to be handed an additional estimate of €360m next year in order to deal with the overspend in the HSE and other areas of health.

Government sources have openly admitted that Dr Reilly is "on his last leg".

He has already faced calls for his resignation from several quarters.

While Dr Reilly is in the Dail for today's Budget, he faces the embarrassment of a court battle with his next-door neighbour.

As revealed by the Herald yesterday, the minister is being brought to court in a dispute over a fence at the back of his seaside home in Rush, North Co Dublin.

Meanwhile, Dr Reilly's Cabinet colleague Joan Burton is also facing a difficult year in 2013.

The Department of Social Protection's initial target of €540m has been cut by €150m to €390m.

While this will make it easier for Ms Burton, she will have to stand over cuts to child benefit -- a move that will infuriate families.

hnews@herald.ie

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