Pressure to cut taxes due to budget surplus a risk to public finances

Pressure To Cut Taxes Due To Budget Surplus A Risk To Public Finances
The budgetary watchdog also estimated that inflation-proofing the tax system by indexing income bands and credits would cost €1.3 billion in 2024. Photo: PA
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By Cillian Sherlock, PA

Updated at 10:20

Political pressure to cut taxes in response to large budget surpluses is now one of the key risks to the public finances, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (Ifac) has warned.


As The Irish Times reports, the budgetary watchdog also estimated that inflation-proofing the tax system by indexing income bands and credits would cost €1.3 billion in 2024.

The Government has allocated just €500 million for tax measures in the budget.

Ifac said the Government faced “a difficult set of choices” between adopting new tax and spending measures, maintaining existing spending and staying within its own 5 per cent spending rule, warning it could not do all three.

Fiscal Council chairman Sebastian Barnes said: “Ireland really does need to improve how it plans for the long term.


“We’re facing very big pressures, primarily coming from age and pension costs, also from climate change, the cost and implementation of Slaintecare and healthcare measures in general and from the possibility that we may want to increase defence spending at a time when many other countries are doing that as well.”



Unemployment rates are at record low levels and capacity constraints have emerged as a significant challenge.

“Workers are scarce, particularly in construction, and there are risks that wage and rent pressures persist,” the council said.

The Government expects the underlying deficit, excluding excess corporation tax receipts, to narrow to 0.6 per cent of GNI* this year.

Domestic economy

Modified gross national income (GNI*) is a metric which attempts to give a better view of the Irish domestic economy by removing some multinational activity, as compared with the standard metric of gross domestic product (GDP) which is the value of goods and services produced in a country.


In 2024, the Government projects it will run its first underlying surplus in 17 years on this basis under the National Spending Rule.

The rule effectively seeks to limit permanent expenditure increases by the estimated sustainable nominal growth rate of the economy, at 5 per cent per year.

The net debt-to-GNI* ratio would decline by 23 percentage points between end-2022 and end-2026 (from 69 per cent to 46 per cent) with windfall corporation tax receipts projected to account for about two-thirds of this fall.

The Fiscal Council, an independent body established to assess and evaluate Ireland’s fiscal policy, highlighted several methodological shortcomings in the Government’s SPU.



It pointed to no provision beyond this year for Ukrainian refugees and the Mica redress scheme, while the costs of the auto-enrolment retirement savings system and the Christmas bonus are not factored into its projections.

It added that the PSRI receipt forecasts are out of date.

However, it said the key issue is that public finances are being boosted by an exceptional but unreliable inflow of corporation tax receipts from foreign multinationals.

Just three corporate groups accounted for 30 per cent of receipts from 2017 to 2021.

The council said: “There is a risk this could reverse due to firm-specific factors or changes in the international tax environment.

“Moreover, when these receipts are spent, they inject money into the economy and add to demand as they are based on overseas profits rather than domestic activity.”

In addition, there are long-term challenges in relation to climate change and an ageing population, it said.

The council was critical that the Government’s fiscal forecasts end in 2026, which is the minimum required by the rules.


It recommended that the Government should stick to the National Spending Rule in 2024 to avoid overheating the economy or increasing reliance on unreliable tax receipts.

The council said choices will need to be made between new tax and spending measures and existing spending as “stand-still” costs of maintaining existing policies and investment plans fully use fiscal space under the rule.

It said: “Long-term planning needs to improve, including developing more credible plans to manage ageing pressures in health and pensions and climate-related costs.

“These are not adequately reflected in the current fiscal projections.”

Mr Barnes said the Government should follow the National Spending Rule to avoid repeating past mistakes.

To go beyond the spending rule would mean using temporary revenues and corporation tax windfalls to finance permanent spending and risks fuelling further inflationary increases.

The council warned that with capacity constraints, scope to raise investment may be limited.

“The proposed new Long-Term Savings Fund could play a key role in saving corporation tax windfalls and supporting the sustainability of the pension system in the future,” Mr Barnes said.

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