Hundreds of thousands of Irish taxpayers were the subject of a sweeping and savage range of cuts and taxes this week in order to pay for the gross mismanagement of the 26-County economy by the Dublin government.
In one of the toughest financial packages in two decades, Mr Lenihan warned that “everybody had to play their part” to bail the government out of its financial crisis.
A one per cent levy was placed on all salaries up to 100,100 Euro and 2 per cent above that level, while subsidised health care for Irish pensioners was all but eliminated
Although government ministers and some senior public servants took a voluntary 10 per cent pay cut, the state has seen a wave of public anger at the measures.
The government was accused of failing to manage the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ period of economic growth to smooth leaner times.
Opposition leader Enda Kenny said the budget was “savage, crude and totally lacking in inspiration”.
Sinn Féin’s Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain described the budget as a “disgrace” and labelled it “a programme for emigration”.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan blamed turmoil in international financial markets for the most critical Irish economic crisis in a generation.
“We are a small nation facing a major challenge in these uncertain times,” he said.
“We must all pull together if we are to return to more prosperous times.”
Mr Lenihan admitted that the one per cent levy, which increasing tax on those on minimum wage at the same rate as those earning several times that amount, demanded “solidarity” and “patriotism”.
He said: “There is too much at stake. We all have too much to lose by not acting now.”
Levies were placed on second homes and car-parking spaces while further excise duty was heaped on to wine, cigarettes and petrol.
A 10 Euro air departures tax for each passenger was described as “anti-consumer, anti-tourism and anti-business” by Aer Lingus.
Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore accused Mr Lenihan of mercilessly targeting middle-income families and the poor while protecting the interests of the super-wealthy.
The state’s largest trade union, Siptu, said the one per cent levy on middle and lower-income workers would inflict hardship.
“The principle applied should have been to ensure that those who benefited most from the ‘Celtic Tiger’ should have paid the most,” Siptu general president Jack O’Connor said.
“This levy should have had a threshold and been graduated to ensure that no-one on average industrial earnings, or less, should have had to pay anything.”
Nell McCafferty, journalist and writer, said: “If you leave aside the elderly, the women and the children, no-one else feels any pain. That makes Brian Lenihan a bully.
“I think Brian Lenihan should have inflicted on himself the same pain as he did on people over 70. He is giving up his pocket money and expects the elderly to give up medical care.
“I’m shocked at what he’s doing to older people. He’s putting unnecessary worry on them. Old age is not something to look forward to under his rule.
“There is nowhere for elderly people to go except downhill and he is kicking them all the way.
She added: “The stand-off between him and Enda Kenny on who is giving up the most pocket money is obscene, all it is is pocket money. These men will still be earning about 150,000 Euro a year plus expenses.”
Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Caoimhghin O Caolain said it was “quite amazing” that the Minister for Finance described the state’s financial program for 2009 as a “call to patriotic action”.
“Where were the calls to the wealthy to be patriotic during the Celtic Tiger years,” he asked.
“Many of the so-called patriots, the tycoons and multi-millionaires who were pampered by this Government, are tax exiles who pose as great Irishmen and women when they are in this country but who hide their riches away in tax havens so they don’t have to pay their fair share here.
“For those who weren’t tax exiles there were massive tax breaks throughout the terms of office of Fianna Fail-led governments over the past decade. The wealthy were allowed to avoid tax in a myriad of different ways while ordinary PAYE workers bore the burden as they always have. Property was God and Charlie McCreevy was the High Priest, followed closely by the present Taoiseach in his years as Finance Minister.
“On the very day of the Budget one of the largest hospitals in the country, the Lourdes in Drogheda, was turning away emergency medical and surgical cases because their Accident & Emergency department could not cope. Then we saw the minimal increase in the Health budget for 2009. It is well below inflation and will lead to massive cutbacks across the health services. I have no doubt that people will suffer and die avoidable deaths as a result.”
Mr O Caolian said the Finance Minister would be “standing at the airport” to take tax out of the pocket of emigrants leaving the country.
“Sinn Féin rejects this Budget as we reject the policies which fostered inequality, which led directly to this recession and which have now spawned this monstrous Budget.”