#Budget18 reaction: Figures too low and too little too late: Focus Ireland

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has delivered his Budget 2018 speech. Here, we're bringing you the main reaction from special-interest groups and others.

HOUSING: Focus Ireland: Figures too low and too little too late

Focus Ireland is generally welcoming the Government's commitments in relation to direct building in today's budget.

But they also think the figures are too low and it's too little too late - two years too late when it comes to the housing crisis.

Head of Policy, Alison Connolly, says there was very little new information revealed by the Finance Minister.

She said: "A lot of the figures that you've heard today we've heard previously, in terms of new figures or additional social housing we are not seeing it."

Farming: Macra Na Feirme give positive reaction to new Brexit loan scheme

Farmers are giving a positive reaction to a new Brexit loan scheme announced in today's budget. 

It is to help small and medium businesses that may be vulnerable to changes in the sector. 

National President of Macra Na Feirme, James Healy says they would like more details as to how it will work.

He said: "We welcome the Brexit loan scheme that is there for farmers but feel that it needs to be targeted at young farmers who are the most exposed in terms of volatility.

"We welcome the €64m that is additional for the Department of Agriculture but again we want to see where it is going to be targeted to ensure it has maximum impact.

 

ARTS: National Campaign for the Arts: Disappointed with a modest funding increase

The National Campaign for the Arts says it's disappointed with a modest funding increase for the Arts Council and the Film Board.

The Taoiseach previously promised to double the budget for the arts over the next seven years.

Campaign spokesperson Cian O'Brien says today's not been an encouraging start.

He said: "Increases of just 5% to the arts council, which funds the majority of the artistic activity that happens around the country and 9% of the film board, are really disappointing."

CHILDREN'S RIGHTS: Budget will improve thousands of children’s lives

The Children’s Rights Alliance has said today’s Budget will improve the lives of thousands of children and families, but added there were a number of areas where children had not benefited enough. 

Children’s Rights Alliance boss Tanya Ward said: “The main news is that Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) got an additional €40m. That makes sense since because Tusla never started with the resources it needed and this year made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. This extra money will help with rebuilding our child protection and welfare system.  

“The other good news is that Government has stood up to big business and introduced a sugar tax on sugary drinks. Almost one in four children is overweight or obese in Ireland. Tackling sugary drinks will have an impact.”

Ms Ward also welcomed the extension of eligibility for the extended free preschool year. This means that all children will receive a full two years of pre-school benefiting up to 20,000 children.

However, she added: “This is not the year that childcare gets the big investment it actually needs...We’re disappointed that children over the age of 12 did not get a bigger increase.

“Unfortunately, there’s no extra help in this budget with the cost of going to school.”

HEALTH: GPs consider industrial action following Budget 2018

The National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) is considering industrial action following what they describe as news "there will be no meaningful resourcing of General Practice in Budget 2018."

The NAGP warns that if General Practice fails this winter, "the hospital system will implode".

"The Government have stuck their heads in the sand and ignored our calls for reversal of FEMPI (Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) in General Practice," according to NAGP Chairman Dr Andrew Jordan.

"The service is beyond capacity and requires urgent investment. All stakeholders agree that a cornerstone of healthcare reform in Ireland must be a move to more community-based care," he added.

ENVIRONMENT: Budget "completely fails" to deliver Taoiseach's "new ambition on climate change

Friends of the Earth have described the new Budget as a "complete failure on climate change".

"I'm not sure what planet the Government is on, but it doesn't seem to be one where Ireland has signed the Paris Agreement and committed itself to reducing climate pollution by 80%," according to Director Oisin Coghlan.

The minister announced an extra €38 million for energy savings schemes, on top of the €130m the SEAI delivered in 2016, but Friends of the Earth said "this is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed".

The Finance Minister also put aside €10m in 2018 to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles.

HOUSING: "Twisted irony" as Budget coincides with World Homeless Day

Inner City Helping Homeless has described the delivery of Budget 2018 coinciding with World Homeless Day and World Mental Health Day as "almost a twisted irony".

The organisation described the announcement of 5,900 social homes as in line with Housing Minister's Simon Coveney's previous plan for 5,869 homes.

"10,000 homes should have been the minimum target for 2018 and as we were continuously told that money wasn't an object then why isn't the budget reflecting that?" ICHH's Brian McLoughlin said.

Mixed reaction from SVP as Budget increases income supports but does little for lone parent families.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul welcome the increases in income supports, and overall increases in social welfare and housing supply measures, but is disappointed at there is very little for lone parent families and households with older children.

SVP is also "very disappointed" that education costs have not been addressed.

"Our experience is that reducing education costs is a major factor in helping to break the cycle of disadvantage." said Kieran Stafford, SVP National President.

On health, SVP welcomes the reduction of prescription charges but would like to see their abolition.

EDUCATION: Budget leaving students behind, says USI

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) welcomed an investment of €310m to address the infrastructure needs of higher education sector and an increase in National Training Fund levy to add €47.5m of additional investment next year.

However, the union is raising concerns over any investment in improving access to education through increasing SUSI grant thresholds, or improving on-campus mental health services, declaring Budget 2018 is ‘leaving students behind’.

USI President Michael Kerrigan said: "No income-contingent student loans were announced today, but neither was any meaningful new funding model on how third-level education should be funded.

"A €250 decrease in fee level would come at a relatively small cost to the state, and alleviated pressure on the payment of fees that have doubled over a period of six years."

Mr Kerrigan continued: "It hasn’t been a budget for students. It hasn’t really been a budget for young people. But there are some positive steps overall in funding our third-level campuses, and a shift away from implementing any form of an income-contingent loan scheme.

EDUCATION: Principals welcome lower pupil-teacher ratio

Budget 2018 includes several measures in relation to Primary Education which are welcomed by the Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN).

IPPN CEO Pairic Clerkin, welcomed a provision for the reduction of the pupil teacher ratio in primary schools to 26:1.

He said: “This is a step in the right direction and will have significant impact on teaching and learning outcomes for all our children”.

IPPN also welcomed the introduction of the new sugar tax.

David Ruddy, IPPN President said: ‘Our membership is acutely aware of the negative effects of sugar sweetened drinks on our children. This initiative also aligns very well with the work of primary schools throughout the country involved in healthy eating initiatives, physical education and active school programmes."

HOSPITALITY: LVA welcomes retention of 9% VAT and current rate of alcohol excise

The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA), which represents Dublin publicans, has described the current rate of alcohol excise and the maintenance of the 9% VAT rate, as a reasonable outcome for the trade.

Chief Executive of the LVA Donall O’Keeffe said: “It’s important to remember that Ireland already has one of the highest excise rates in Europe and with this and Brexit in mind we felt there was a strong case for a cut in excise rates on alcohol in this budget. We will target an excise reduction in 2019, as part of the Support Your Local campaign.

“With pubs being one of the largest channels of foodservice for both domestic consumers and tourists alike, we very much welcome the continuation of the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector, which is pivotal in terms of maintaining our competitiveness and jobs.

“While it’s modest, we welcome the increase of €200 in Earned Income Tax Credit for the self-employed and we are calling on the Minister to continue the process of equalising this tax credit with PAYE workers in future budgets.”

We needed a game-changer…We didn’t get it, says Congress

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has said that Budget 2018 falls “short on ambition and short on the measures needed to raise living standards and tackle the many deficits in our society”.

Congress General Secretary Patricia Kings said: “What we needed was a game-changer on housing and investment in better services, but instead we got a series of small measures that will not address our high cost of living, which is already above the EU average.

“At a minimum we needed to see the government commit to an emergency programme of social housing provision with a target of 50,000 homes over five years, along with a series of measures to penalise land hoarding, in order to tackle the biggest single crisis facing our society.”

Congress also said Budget 2018 was a “missed opportunity to bring an end to the scandalous practice of subsidising major, profitable corporations in the hospitality and tourism sector (with a lower 9% VAT rate), at a cost to low paid workers and taxpayers.”

However, Congress welcomed the increase in the minimum wage to €9.55 an hour, which will benefit some 155,000 low-paid workers, calling it a “positive step”.

CHILDREN: Tusla welcomes extra €40.6m

The Child and Family Agency Tusla has welcomed its extra €40.6m in Budget 2018, bringing the agency’s annual funding for 2018 to over €750m.

“(This) will enable Tusla to respond to increased demands on the agency, progress key service developments and expand the provision of community-based supports through Family Resource Centres (FRCs),” the agency said this afternoon.

Tusla will establish 11 new Family Resource Centres (FRCs) at a cost of €1.76m in 2018; €15 million will support existing services and the recruitment of 164 staff required to meet increasing demands; €10m will be used to build up frontline service capacity and to recruit 199 staff to address critical areas.

The ISPCC also welcomes Tusla's additional allocation.

Interim CEO Caroline O’Sullivan said: "Investing in child protection should be a national priority, and the investment of an additional €40 million today in Tusla is a really welcome step. Child protection and welfare benefits hugely from prevention work, and so we welcome these additional monies to help protect children."

'No sense of urgency' around homelessness

The Finance Minister has introduced an additional €500m for a direct building programme to tackle the homeless crisis.

Funds to homeless services are being increased by €18m, bringing the total available for emergency accommodation to €116m, while an extra €31m is being made for social housing expenditure.

The additional funding for the Direct Building Programme will build an extra 1,000 social homes a year over the next 3 years.

Francis Doherty from housing charity the Peter McVerry Trust said it was mixed news on the housing front.

“Overall, we don’t get the sense of urgency from the Budget,” he said, “with a number of measures put out to 2019.

“Minister Donohoe said they were going to accelerate social housing provision from 2019 onwards. That leaves a gap of 15 months before we really see social housing really ramping up.”

DEFENCE: 800 new gardaí 'not enough'

The Garda Representative Association has said the additional 800 gardaí announced in today’s Budget did not go far enough.

Spokesperson John O'Keeffe said: “The GRA has always said the best optimum level of gardaí is about 17,000. WIth an 800-member recruitment, retirement, illness and so on, it’s simply not going to reach those levels in the next couple of years.

“(Recruitment) is always going to be welcome - we can’t crib about that - but don’t forget we had no recruitment between 2008 and 2013.”

Health staff - recruitment difficulties

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has said it wants to see more details on plans to recruit 1,800 more staff for the health sector, as announced in the Budget today.

General Secretary is Phil Ni Sheigh said: “The problem we have is we already have a promise from the HSE that they’ll recruit 1,224 additional staff by December of this year. They’ve only managed to get 13 at the last count.”

CHILDREN: Barnardos say it's an 'odd' Budget

Fergus Finlay from children's charity Bardardos said some of the measures in the budget were odd.

“I thought it could have been a lot braver, and a lot more ambitious,” he said.

“Some of the choices were a bit odd - there’s a much bigger investment needed in childcare, for example, than the €20m announced.”

MOTORING: AA - Budget is no help for motorist’s biggest bills

AA Ireland has warned that very little was done to help make the commute to work more affordable for motorists.

The AA welcomed the decision not to increase taxes on either diesel or petrol but said that an opportunity to remove additional fuel taxes introduced during the recession has been missed.

Conor Faughnan, AA Director of Consumer Affairs said: "“In previous years we saw the tax on both petrol and diesel increased significantly as an ‘emergency measure’ in response to the financial crisis. Despite our improving economic situation as a country, these taxes have not been removed.”

The motoring organisation is disappointed to note that there was nothing in the budget to address the high cost of motor insurance, where government levies add 5% to an annual cost that affects 2 million motorists.

Despite the lack of action taken to lower fuel prices, the AA has expressed its support of the introduction of additional measures to encourage people to purchase fully electric vehicles.

HEALTH: Pharmacists - Small Movement on Prescription Levy not enough

The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) welcomed the decision to reduce the prescription levy from €2.50 per item to €2.00 per item for those under 70, but expressed disappointment that, the levy was not eliminated for particularly vulnerable patient groups, such as homeless people, those in residential care settings, or patients with disabilities and described this as a “lost opportunity”.

The IPU also welcomed the slight fall in the Drugs Payment Scheme (DPS) threshold to €134 from €144, but is disappointed that a bigger reduction was not announced.

Daragh Connolly, President of the IPU, said: “Even with a reduction to €2.00, the prescription charge remains four times higher than when it was when first introduced in 2010. The prescription levy remains a harsh and unfair tax and impacts mostly on those on fixed incomes and in financial hardship. It is unacceptable that, on a day of a giveaway budget, the most vulnerable in society still have to pay a levy that frequently they cannot afford. This can result in some patients not taking their medicines, leading to higher levels of illness and an increase in hospital admissions. Even at this stage we would call for common sense to prevail and that the levy, at the very least, is not applied to vulnerable patients.”

Mr Connolly said: “The reduction in the DPS threshold is a step in the right direction in assisting hard-pressed families in covering the cost for their medicines. Much more should be done to reduce the threshold further over the next number of budgets.”

HOSPITALITY: Restaurants Association of Ireland welcome retention of 9% VAT rate

Adrian Cummins, Chief Executive of The RAI commented, “In our Pre-Budget Submission, we set out objectives that we wanted met. Today, in Budget 2018 our key issues have been addressed. The Retention of VAT at 9% into 2018 and beyond is crucial, not only to the sustainability of restaurants and businesses in the tourism sector but also to job creation and the continued growth of our economy.”

The RAI also called on the Government to reduce the current rate of excise duty in their Pre-Budget Submission 2018. While there was no reduction, the RAI are relieved that there was no increase in excise duty in Budget 2018.

Mr Cummins said: “Despite calling for a reduction of 15% in excise duty in our Pre-Budget Submission, we are happy to see no increase in excise duty for a third year in a row. It should be noted that excise increases not only impact restaurants, hotels and pubs. These increases introduced during the financial crisis as an emergency measure have created significant cash-flow issues for distributors and importers, as many have to pay excise as an up-front cost.”

TOBACCO: Increase in tobacco duty "unfair" and "irresponsible" say campaigners

Campaigners say a further increase in tobacco duty is “unfair” and “irresponsible” because it discriminates against the less well off and will fuel illicit trade.

John Mallon, spokesman for the smokers’ group Forest Ireland, said: “Ireland is already the most expensive place in Europe to buy tobacco. Raising the price of cigarettes for the sixth consecutive budget is unfair because it disproportionately hurts those on lower incomes.”

“Evidence shows that a hike in taxes fuels illicit trade. It’s no secret that Ireland has a serious problem with black market tobacco. Increasing the tax on tobacco is irresponsible because it will only make the situation worse.”

He added: “Paschal Donohoe talks of building a fairer Ireland. Raising tax on tobacco does nothing to achieve that aim. It robs law-abiding consumers of their hard-earned cash and enriches criminal gangs.”

The Irish Vape Vendors Association welcomes the Government’s decision not to apply an excise tax on vaping in the budget

They said: “keeping vape products affordable will act as a further incentive to smokers who wish to switch to a safer alternative.”

HOSPITALITY: Hoteliers welcome retention of 9% VAT rate

Joe Dolan, President of the IHF said the rate has been instrumental in the recovery of the tourism industry.

He said: “The 9% VAT rate has been the single most important fiscal initiative for Irish tourism in the last decade and we are pleased the Government has retained the measure.

"It demonstrates that it has been highly effective in job creation and also acknowledges that we have a pro-tourism Government who see the value the industry brings to every part of our country. The decision is a critical vote of confidence in the tourism industry at a time when it faces significant risks, most notably from Brexit.”

The Irish Cancer Society has welcomed the Government’s announcement that the price of cigarettes will increase by a further 50c tonight.

Donal Buggy, Head of Services and Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society said: “The Irish Cancer Society is pleased that price continues to rise. The price hike will encourage people to stop smoking and ultimately save lives.”

“Increasing the price of cigarettes is the most effective way of stopping children from taking up smoking and in encouraging people to quit. This can be seen in significantly reduced rates of smoking in Ireland among children and adults in recent years. Child smoking is at an all-time low of 8%, while overall smoking prevalence is at 23%.”

HEALTH: Irish Cancer Society welcomes reduction in prescription charge and drug payment scheme

The Irish Cancer Society has welcomed moves to reduce prescription charges by 50c and to lower the amount cancer patients will have to pay under the Drugs Payment Scheme, but it is challenging the Government to go further.

Donal Buggy, Head of Services and Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society said: “Cancer patients have borne the brunt of charges introduced and increased over the course of the economic downturn and we welcome the news that from 1 January the prescription charge will be reduced to €2 per item to a maximum of €20 in a month, along with reductions from €144 per month to €134 in the amount patients have to pay under the Drugs Payment Scheme. This builds on the small decrease in prescription charges for over 70s in last year’s Budget.”

However, Mr. Buggy said: “the Government must go further to ensure the calamitous effects of statutory charges forced on patients during the recession are reversed.”

HEALTH: Sugary drinks tax provides “a landmark day in the fight against obesity” says Irish Heart Foundation

Irish Heart head of advocacy, Chris Macey said: “The introduction of a sugar sweetened drinks levy is probably the single most important action Government can take to tackle Ireland’s obesity crisis. As a result, this is a landmark day in the fight against what is now recognised as perhaps the biggest threat to the health of the nation.

“The Minister’s announcement demonstrates a significant commitment on the part of Government to meet its duty of care to protect the health of children in particular. We are also encouraged by indications that the measure is already proving effective by prompting beverage companies to reduce sugar content to ensure products fall below the threshold for the tax.

“The evidence shows the tax alone will reduce obesity, but its impact could be further magnified if at least a portion of the proceeds was ringfenced to fund measures targeted at children’s future health, particularly in disadvantaged areas where obesity rates are highest.

This could support a wide range of measures, including the development of new family food initiatives, further expansion of the school meals programme and providing free drinking water in all schools.”

Mr Macey also welcomed the 50-cent increase in tax on cigarettes, saying the measure will continue to drive down smoking rates, particularly among teenagers.

He said: “It is estimated that the tobacco industry needs 50 young people to take up smoking every day in Ireland to replace those its products kill or who manage to quit. Every tobacco tax increase represents another nail in the coffin of this vile industry by acting as a disincentive to young people to take up the habit.”

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