The Dublin government stands accused of targeting children and other vulnerable groups in the Budget, rather than the banks and property developers responsible for causing the current crisis.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen was forced to deny that Irish banks and developers were being protected from financial setbacks by new policies, including the state purchase of the distressed assets of property developers.
Fianna Fail has long been accused of maintaining an improper relationship with property developers, some of whom have provided significant financial support to the party over the years.
The announcement of the plan to establish the National Asset Management Agency (Nama). came as it emerged that the Budget provisions will cost an average family with two children up to five thousand Euro annually. When added to the tax increases last October, the total cost of the taxes reach about seven thousand Euro
Mr Cowen insisted that Irish banks and developers will be forced to take “significant losses” as a result of his government’s plan to establish the National Asset Management Agency (Nama).
He admitted that up to 30 billion Euro of property to be purchased is based in foreign countries.
“The assets will be realised over time in a way that protects the taxpayer. Should losses be incurred by the State, a levy should be applied to banks to recoup any shortfall,” he said.
Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD warned that the establishment of the agency risked financial ruin for the state because of the unknown liability of the toxic bad debts.
“Owning supermarkets from Birmingham to Beijing is not the public interest and will be absolutely no benefit to the Irish economy.”
But the announcement of the bank bail-out was overshadowed by the harshest announcement of taxes, levies and cutbacks in memory.
Welfare recipients and people on low incomes in receipt of rent supplement, will now pay a minimum contribution of O24 a week, up from O18 in last October’s budget.
The maximum rent to which rent supplement applies will be reduced by up to 10 per cent and the rent supplement payments to tenants will be cut by 8 per cent.
Jobseekers under the age of 20 are to have their payments halved. The removal of the Christmas payment of social welfare recipients is also predicted to target the most vulnerable.
Fine Gael said Fianna Fail should apologise for what it had inflicted on the country. “As a Member of this House since the early 1980s, I have watched on two occasions how Fianna Fail-led governments have destroyed the economy of this country,” said Fine Gael’s Alan Shatter.
Fellow Fine Gael TD John Deasy said Fianna Fail had turned Ireland into a “nation of chronic debtors” and that Irish families would be weighed down with debt for decades because of Fianna Fail’s 12 years in government.
He also linked the economic crisis to croneyism and corruption in Fianna Fail. He claimed he was once encouraged by Fianna Fail councillors to take bribes for planning permission as this “was the way of the world and I needed to accept it”.
Social campaigning group CORI said the emergency Budget showed a “profound lack of understanding” of the social crisis.
“The Budget allows many of those who created the present series of crises, particularly the banks, to escape,” said Fr Sean Healy.
“At the same time, the vulnerable, particularly children, are targeted to pay for the misbehaviour and fraud of others.”
Fr Healy said while the Government had identified unemployment as a critical issue, there were many others concerning children, the elderly, people with disabilities and those who were ill - “all of whom have seen their services reduced over the past year”.
The abolition of the early childcare supplement and the proposal to tax or means test child benefit from next year will see supports for children reduced at a time when incomes were under serious threat.
Housing charity Threshold has said poorer, more vulnerable tenants have been put at an increased risk of homelessness by the changes in rent supplement payments.
Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said it was a “Budget on a timer” and people would not feel its full impact until they got their pay packets in May.
“That is not all, because there is more to come,” said Mr Gilmore. “The Minister for Finance signalled yesterday that taxes will go up again in the next budget and that we may be facing a tax on the family home and that charges for services may be increased.”
The Minister had taken the Christmas bonus off pensioners and others on social welfare and those on the minimum wage were brought into the tax net.
“This Budget is an abject admission of economic failure by Fianna Fail,” the Labour leader added.
“The Minister could not bring himself to say it yesterday because for Fianna Fail, ‘sorry’ is always the hardest word.”
Sinn Féin TD Aengus O Snodaigh slammed the Government’s attacks on vulnerable sections of society and described the decision to abolish the December bonus for social welfare recipients and the halving of the of the job seekers allowance for under 20s, as a “stupid and scrooge-like” policy.
“Some 80,000 people have lost their jobs since Christmas. The creation of 23,000 places in the budget on various training schemes does nothing for them, the other 300,000 who lost their jobs before them and those likely to be laid off during the next couple of months.
“Where is the plan to address their retraining or educational needs? There is none. There is nothing in the budget to help them.
“While I would not wish unemployment on anybody, I wish it on this Government. Many Members on the benches opposite would learn a lesson or two from a period of six to 12 months unemployment.
“They might then understand the consequences of their budget decisions on the lives of those worst affected.”