Working families up to €2,000 better off after giveaway budget
The Government was last night hailing a 'family budget' that will leave the average working couple with two children more than €2,000 a year better off.
In their final budget before the General Election, Fine Gael and Labour made sure to spread the €1.5bn available among children, working people and the elderly.
While opposition parties claimed the electorate would "not be fooled" by the measures, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said it would "keep the recovery going".
"These are sensible, affordable steps that will keep the recovery going and bring its benefits to every family," Mr Noonan said.
And despite the raft of good news, Mr Noonan insisted last night that the election would not be held until the new year.
He said he was "absolutely certain" that it would be in spring.
Backbench TDs reacted to the Budget with huge relief, claiming that it now gives them a credible message to bring to doorsteps ahead of the election.
Labour's Joe Costello, who represents Dublin Central, expressed regret that the Budget contains few measures for first time buyers.
"It is the first budget that has been entirely positive," he added.
During their speeches ministers Noonan and Howlin repeatedly stressed that they wanted to make work pay and that families were the focus of their spending.
The €85m childcare package to be overseen by Children's Minister James Reilly is set to save €1,000 a year for parents.
Free pre-school places will be available for children for up to two-and-a-half years before they start school.
There is also increased funding for after-school care and a €5 rise in monthly child benefit.
Special funding will be provided to ensure children with special needs are able to take up preschool places.
"It's by no means a big bang, but it's a good first step on the road to affordable, high quality and accessible childcare for every family who needs it," Mr Reilly said.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar also confirmed that he is to enter negotiations with doctors in the hope of introducing free GP care for all children under 12 by the end of 2016.
Smaller classes at primary level and a restoration of half the cut suffered by guidance and counselling services at second-level are two of the main planks of the education budget.
Spending will rise €144m to a total of €9bn, the highest it has been since 2010.
An additional 2,260 teachers will be employed next September, the bulk of whom - 1,410 including resource teachers -will be recruited to deal with the additional 14,000 students at both primary and second-level.
As signalled the Universal Social Charge (USC) was slashed with the 7pc rate dropping to 5.5pc for income up to €70,044. The 3.5pc rate will be reduced to 3pc for income earned between €12,012 to €18,688. And the bottom rate of 1.5pc will drop to 1pc for the first €12,012 of income earned.
The USC cuts will mean the marginal rate of tax will be 49.5pc for all people earning under €70,444.
The minimum wage is also to rise by 50 cents to €9.15 an hour from January 1.
Mr Howlin last night paid tribute to the sacrifices made by public sector workers during the crisis as he said the time was right to restore pay levels.
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has found money to provide a €3 hike to the old-age pension, a €2.50 increase in the fuel allowance and the restoration of 75pc of the Christmas bonus which she described as an "iconic payment".
She said the Budget would help "ordinary families and individuals in ordinary jobs".
Gardai are to be being given special funding for the setting up of dedicated patrols to target the main travelling gangs behind the surge in rural crime.
An additional €205m is being spent on developing garda technology and IT systems as part of a big funding programme over six years. Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald insisted that the DNA database, which has been heralded as a potential major weapon in the garda armoury and has been promised for the past 25 years, is finally about to come on stream.
And she intends to recruit 600 new gardai.