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Friday 9 December 2016

Opposition slams 'back-slapping' Spring statement

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin

THE Government yesterday revealed its €1.5bn pitch to voters ahead of the next general election as it finally unveiled the much-hyped ‘Spring Statement’.

The Coalition warned against returning to a “boom and bust cycle” but outlined plans to slash taxes and pump money into public services over the next five years.

But the Government faced accusations of ‘back-slapping’ amid claims that it failed to give any detail of how it planned to spend its billion euro war chest.

Speaking in the Dail, Finance Minister Michael Noonan pledged to cut income tax and the Universal Social Charge for every worker in the country and lure thousands of emigrants home with more favourable tax measures.

Mr Noonan claimed the country would return to full employment by 2018 as economic growth surges above 3pc every year for the next five years.

He said the pot of money would be split 50:50 between tax cuts and investment in public services but insisted any spending would be “prudent and appropriate”.

He also promised the billions of euros pumped into AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB will be fully recovered for the taxpayer.

And in a clear swipe at the previous Fianna Fail-led Government, Mr Noonan said he would not return to the “if I have it, I’ll spend it” policy implemented by former Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy.

Invest

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin announced he will have up to €750m to spend on public services in next year’s budget, based on economic estimates. Mr Howlin said everyone would benefit from the “fruits of economic growth” and promised to invest in social welfare, education, health and childcare, while increasing public sector pay.

“The economic crash has taught us that nobody owes Ireland a living. We owe it to ourselves to ensure we do not allow a return to this position again,” Mr Howlin said.

Throughout the course of the recession, Mr Howlin said the Government expanded its tax base to avoid over-dependence on property and transaction taxes which resulted in the collapse to country’s finances.

He also revealed he officially received permission from the Cabinet to begin talks with public sector unions as he moves to unwind the emergency legislation that imposed pay cuts.

Speaking after the announcement, the Taoiseach’s spokesman noted that the opposition did not question the Government economic forecast for the coming year.

In the Dail, Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and the Independents rounded on the Government for giving little detail about how they plan to spend the additional funding. Fianna Fail finance spokesman Micheal McGrath said the statement on the economy was “an exercise in self-congratulation.”

Independent TD Clare Daly called the event a “back-slappers’ convention” and said the “fanfare displays an arrogance that is becoming increasingly a hallmark of this Government”.

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