The Government defended itself on Wednesday against accusations that the budget did little to tackle the rising cost of living.
Minister for Expenditure Michael McGrath and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said that most Irish people would see some kind of benefit from the €4.7 billion Budget package they announced on Tuesday.
Both faced questions from the public during a phone-in on RTÉ Radio 1’s Today With Claire Byrne programme.
In call after call, listeners pointed to the spiralling cost of rent and the increased cost of fuel and childcare.
Listeners, who included nurses, pensioners and construction workers, asked why there was little announced on Tuesday to support renters, as well as a lack of measures designed to tackle lengthening hospital waiting lists.
Mr McGrath said: “To people who make the point that we spread the money too thinly, you have to back that up by saying where we shouldn’t have spent the money.”
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Both ministers stressed that, in successive budgets, the Government was trying to improve things.
“Budget by budget, when we’re making changes in taxation it’s not about division,” Mr Donohoe told one listener.
“It’s trying to make progress on all the priorities we’ve heard across this programme.”
At the start of the programme ministers listened to a clip from 10-year-old Adam Terry, who is still waiting for scoliosis treatment after four years and described the pain the condition leaves him in.
They described his story as “heartbreaking”.
“He should be top of the list,” Mr McGrath said.
“I don’t believe that money is a constraint there. The Department of Health and the HSE had over €22 billion in the current year.
“They’ll have the same next year.
#Budget2022: Never has a government spent so much to achieve so little!
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“And it is about prioritising and Adam and many others in similar circumstances, are the number one priority.
“It is frustrating for us in Government. This is a relatively new Government, and we need to fix this. And we will fix this.”
Various listeners accused the Government of letting down parents and the childcare sector in Tuesday’s Budget.
Frankie, a listener from Dublin, said she had two children in childcare and was currently paying more than €20,000 a year in fees.
She accused the Government of letting her, and people like her, down.
“We have two good jobs. It’s a second mortgage for us, and we don’t have enough money at the end of the month to do anything fun for us,” she said.
She said that she might have to leave her job due to the exorbitant cost.
On Tuesday, Mr McGrath said that the Budget would be a “turning point” in the Government’s approach to early years and the childcare sector.
It included a commitment to extending the universal subsidy in the National Childcare Scheme to children under 15 from next September.
Mr McGrath conceded the measure would not make a “big dent” in Frankie’s bills.
He said that the commercial rates relief had applied to creches, while €700 million have gone to the childcare sector through the wage subsidy scheme introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is a step change in investment in childcare,” Mr McGrath said.
He said that reforms were coming.
“The first thing we have to do is stabilise the system, because we’re losing too many staff.”
Paul, another listener, asked why more had not been done for renters.
“It feels to me that it’s all piecemeal solutions, and they don’t go to the core of the issue,” he told the radio programme.
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📊Repair our public finances
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Mr Donohoe, referring to the Government’s Housing For All plan, said that the plan was to build more homes.
He also said that renters hoping to buy a home could benefit from the extension of the Help To Buy scheme.
“I absolutely recognise the frustration and the worry that it’s causing so many at the moment, but the way in which we ultimately have the best chance of fixing this is by having more homes,” he said.
One caller, Mary Teresa from Donegal, asked what the Government is doing on a mica redress scheme.
Mr McGrath referred to plans for a revised scheme to address the concerns of homeowners whose houses are crumbling due to defective building blocks, but gave no details in Tuesday’s Budget.
He said the Government would have a full proposal in the coming weeks.
“I made the legitimate point, in the interest of taxpayers generally, we have to ask who can assist the State in meeting this cost.”
He said that this may include banks and insurance companies.
— Department of Finance (@IRLDeptFinance) October 12, 2021
“It doesn’t necessarily all have to fall on the State,” he said.
Speaking to reporters after the phone-in programme, Mr Donohoe said that there were “risks ahead” for the economy.
“We may face new risks with Brexit. We may face further challenges with inflation, on top of the ones we’re facing at the moment,” he said.
“But all that being said, the economy is recovering very quickly at the moment. We believe we’ll have an additional 400,000 jobs by the end of next year.”
Mr McGrath said that deciding where to prioritise, with a limited amount of money, was a challenge.
“You have a certain amount of money, and it can only go so far, and you can only achieve so much,” he told reporters.
He also said that some challenges facing the state weren’t always “money-related”.