The announcement by the Dublin government of its spending Estimates was greeted with a mixture of derision, criticism and accusations of waste by opposition parties.
With the government enjoying an ever-increasing the tax take, the Book of Estimates contained few cutbacks and even fewer details of the contents of the forthcoming annual Budget.
However, there was surprise at the announcement of an increase in the charge for hospital emergency services.
Sinn Fein’s Caoimhghin O Caolain said the Estimates “signalled the countdown to the next election.”
“Significant increases for child benefit and for childcare are welcome. However, we must await the Budget to see whether the Government will deliver the comprehensive childcare package it has promised.”
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams is to launch the party’s priorities for budget 2006 tomorrow with a document entitled ‘Putting Children First Now - Time to Deliver’.
Speaking in advance Caoimhghin O Caolain said, “The level of inequality and consistent poverty in this state today is testament to the fundamentally flawed approach of the FF/PD Coalition over their eight years in office. The attempt by the Government now to be seen to address this inequality is due in no small measure to the growing political strength of Sinn Fein.
“For Sinn Fein the real test is not rhetoric but the putting into effect of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. It means ‘cherishing all the children of the nation equally’ in practice.
“There is sufficient wealth in our society to ensure that, at the very least, no child should want for any of the basics of life and should be able to look forward to a full and rewarding future.
“The priorities that Sinn Fein presents for Budget 2006 are designed to tackle immediate needs and the most extreme inequalities. A much more comprehensive approach will be required to move towards an Ireland of Equals. In this Budget we again urge the prioritisation of those most in need - the children of the nation.”
At the weekend, Sinn Fein said it would consider raising taxes if extra revenue was needed to deliver fair social welfare and a better health service for all.
However, party leader Gerry Adams and the party’s Dail leader, Caoimhghin O Caolain, both insisted Sinn Fein would not reach final decisions about tax increases until it enters power and examines the State’s books.
Mr Adams emphasised that his party would first attempt better value for taxpayers.
Ridiculing Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s declaration ruling out Sinn Fein as a coalition partner, Mr Adams said there had been “a brouhaha” about Sinn Fein’s economic policy.
The focus on Sinn Fein showed that the other parties in the Dublin parliament believe “that Sinn Fein will have the mandate to be in government and that Sinn Fein will have the numbers.
“If it comes to it that a taoiseach-in-waiting needs to cosy up to Sinn Fein in a Dail chamber, or in a corridor then do you want to put a bet on it that we won’t be getting phone calls?” Mr Adams asked political correspondents during a briefing in Dublin.
He sharply rejected charges that Sinn Fein’s representatives in the South do not have enough experience to run government departments: “We couldn’t do any worse,” he said.
Sinn Fein would try to stand in all 43 constituencies in the next general election: “Whatever comes out of the election we will be seeking to negotiate a programme for government which would have two elements to it.
“One would deal with the here and now, equality. The utilisation of the wealth that is here to build equitable public services.
“The other main plank would be about the peace process, the delivery of the GFA [ Good Friday agreement], a strategy for Irish unity.
“We will be interested in going into coalition if we get agreement on such a programme. The decision would be taken by a special ardfheis,” he said.
Declaring his belief that taxes in the State are too low, he said: “This is a time of great wealth. We have the largest surplus in the history of the Exchequer.
“We would need to spend twice as much on social protection to get up to the same levels as other EU states. We are well behind.
“We have the largest gap between rich and poor of any industrialised country except the USA,” Mr Adams said.
“There has been a lot of ill-informed commentary that Sinn Fein would nationalise the banks. Sinn Fein would not nationalise the banks. We do believe that there is merit in having a State bank,” he said.