Irish Republican News · December 5, 2011
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Families, elderly, students hit by budget cuts
Families, elderly, students hit by budget cuts
howlinbudget2012.jpg

Sinn Fein has accused the Fine Gael/Labour overnment of targeting the vulnerable and low and middle income families with the same failed austerity budgetary measures as pursued by Fianna Fail.

This year’s 26-County budget has been largely leaked over the past number of weeks, with many key details reaching the public by way of the German parliament last month.

As a consequence, the speeches by the Ministers for Public Expendite and Finance today and tomorrow, as well as a so-called ‘state of the nation’ address delivered by the Taoiseach last night, have taken the form of a three-day public relations exercise.

In his speech today, the Minister for Public Expenditure, Labour’s Brendan Howlin, unveiled 1.4 bn euro of cuts in the most opaque terms. He said a number of lump sum savings would be achieved through “efficiencies”, “changes” and “improvements”, and details of many of the cuts remain a mystery this evening.

Described as a “triumph of spin over substance”, Fianna Fail’s Sean Fleming said the biggest cut Mr Howlin was making was in employment.

“You are cutting public sector numbers, you’re cutting capital the expenditure programme,” he said.

“There is not a single initiative to create a job, next week, next month or next year. Everything you’re doing is cutting jobs.”

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald said it was a “budget of broken promises”.

Labour, she said, had made commitments, in a number of areas, knowing full well the state of the public finances.

“You see, there was no great revelations when you walked into Government Buildings,” she said. “The only revelation was for the public when it became clear that you were ripping up all of your pre-election promises.”

She said the decision to cut fuel allowance this winter would cost lives.

“By cutting fuel allowance, child benefit for 3rd and 4th children, payments for lone parents on CE [community employment schemes] and some job seekers’ payments the Minister is sucking 475m euro out of local economies,” she said.

“This cut will hit older people and those with disabilities worst.”

Increasing the student contribution fee for universities by 250 euro would make education the preserve of the elite,” she said.

“Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore insist that the State must pay out billions of euro to unguaranteed bondholders. The reality remains that this debt is unsustainable. The burden of private bank debt must be lifted from the shoulders of citizens. It is not their debt.”

PENSIONER ANGER

There were genuine concerns that after two severe winters, the cut in the social welfare fuel allowance would hurt the elderly the most.

Maureen Kavanagh of Active Retirement said the group was extremely concerned that it would hurt older people, who tend to use more fuel generally and to have less energy-efficient homes.

“Because of the cut to the fuel allowance - in addition to an increase in the carbon tax which will also affect home heating fuel - many older people will no longer be able to adequately heat their homes,” she said.

“This, in turn, will compromise their health and overall well-being and, we fear, will lead to increased levels of fuel poverty in Ireland.”

Youth groups said the decision to levy an additional 250 euro on students would put them under even more pressure at a time when families were already struggling to send children to college.

“Supporting children and young people to remain in education and training and supporting them into work should have been a priority in the budget. Instead, many of the changes are regressive and will damage the education, training and job prospects of the most disadvantaged young people,” said James Doorley of the National Youth council.

Youth organisation Macra na Feirme said cuts in maintenance grants to postgraduate students was “another blow to those determined to develop their skills base and contribute to the economic recovery.”

Sinn Fein also criticised last night’s national address by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, which it described as a “softening up exercise” ahead of the budget announcements.

Although styled as a ‘state of the nation’ address, it was ultimately categorised as a party political broadcast by the state’s Broadcasting Authority.

In his stilted, ten-minute address, recorded at Government Buildings, Mr Kenny sought to justify the austerity program with a folksy appeal for understanding.

The Fine Gael leader said the Irish people were not responsible for the state’s near-bankruptcy. He said the economy remained “fragile” and a “tough” budget was in prospect.

“Let me say this to you all: You are not responsible for the crisis.”

Cuts to “many worthwhile projects” would be implemented and while income tax would be left untouched, revenue would be raised mainly though indirect taxes. He acknowledged that this would be difficult for most people.

And an indication that he expects high levels of emigration to continue, Mr Kenny said he was “painfully aware” progress on job creation would not happen quickly enough.

“We have not so far been in a position to do everything we promised,” he admitted, revealing projects including Metro North would be postponed.

A referendum to abolish the Seanad [Senate] would be held next year, he added. “We are not able to do all we would like to in this Budget because we simply can’t afford to.”

But Kenny’s speech came amid a new scandal over pay raises he has personally decreed for his closest associates, and only served to fuel accusations of hypocrisy.

Sinn Fein’s McDonald said Kenny was delivering a budget targeting the very same people who he said were not responsible for the crisis.

“Budget 2012 is totally at one with the last failed government,” she said. “Fine Gael and Labour promised change. Today’s budget consigns all of these promises to the dustbin of two faced, sleeveen politics.”

MAIN CUTS FROM TODAY’S SPEECH

- Reduction in child benefit - payment for third child cut to 148 euro per month, with fourth and subsequent children down to 160 euro per month.

- A shorter fuel allowance season.

- Back to school allowance for two and three-year-olds is abolished.

- Cuts in public service overtime and allowances.

- No reduction in weekly social welfare payments.

- Cuts to jobseekers’ benefit to penalise weekend work.

- Cuts to the one-parent family payment, including a reduction in the age limit of the youngest child for receipt of payment.

- Third-level student registration fees will rise by 250 euro.

- Cuts to fee and maintenance support for new postgraduate students, and reducing maintenance grants generally.

- Employer redundancy rebate cut from 60% to 15%.

- The monthly threshold for the Drug Payment Scheme will jump from 120 euro to 132 euro.

- 50m euro will be saved through “efficiencies” of 2% in disability, mental health and children’s services.

© 2011 Irish Republican News