Sticking points remain as budget haggling goes to 11th hour

A special 11th hour Cabinet meeting for today has been requested by ministers in a bid to overcome a myriad of outstanding difficulties in agreeing tomorrow’s budget, writes Political Editor Daniel McConnell.

Five ministers, speaking to the Irish Examiner, have said they would think it would be prudent to hold a meeting today to overcome “urgent” issues relating to social welfare, health and housing measures.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe is facing a race against time to finalise his budget amid strong disagreement within Cabinet as to the make up of the spending increases. He is to meet with Fine Gael ministers Eoghan Murphy and Regina Doherty this morning to resolve outstanding measures as Independent members of Cabinet have revealed substantial work remains to be done.

“Movement is urgently needed,” said Independent Alliance Minister Finian McGrath last night.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr McGrath said: “Talks will continue Monday after a tough weekend. The blockages are on health, disability, housing, poverty, education, social protection and senior citizen issues.”

Finian McGrath

It is also believed that Mr McGrath told Mr Donohoe that if he does not get movement on funding the decision to support the UN convention on the rights of the disabled, then he will not be able to support the budget.

Mr Donohoe also has to meet with the Independent Alliance members of government today at 6pm, with alliance members deeply upset at the lack of progress on their priority issues.

“We feel like we are at the back of the queue. Paschal has forced us to wait until Monday night and if we are not happy what do we do? We are hardly going to collapse the Government over it and they probably know that,” said one alliance minister.

Several members of the alliance rejected comments from Mr McGrath in which he said he would resign if he did not get what he wanted from Mr Donohoe.

“That is total bullshit, Finian is going nowhere,” said one alliance minister.

While Ms Doherty is said to be “optimistic” as to her progress, several of her colleagues yesterday spoke of her displeasure as to the lack of progress on her €450m welfare package.

It has also emerged that a 4% rise in commercial stamp duty, which would raise about €400m in additional taxes in 2018, will be used to pay for income tax and USC cuts as well as spending increases in the budget.

“The rate was 9%, it is now 2%, so if you raise it to 6%, it is still below what it was,” said a government source.

Also, it is felt the Government needs to try and force developers to stop building commercial buildings in major urban areas, and concentrate on home building.

“There is a recognition that we need to incentivise more the building of homes and maybe target the developers who concentrate solely on commercial development. We have a housing crisis and more of the cranes in Dublin need to be for apartment building,” said the source.

While it is virtually certain that the weekly old-age pension will see a €5 increase, disagreement has broken out over the treatment of other welfare payments, like carers grants and payments to lone parents.

It is understood Mr Donohoe suggested staggering the increases to some payments in order to contain costs, but this has proven difficult to finalise given objections from within government and also from Fianna Fáil.

Paschal Donohoe

The Irish Examiner has learnt the housing minister and officials are to meet Mr Donohoe at 9am today, while Ms Doherty has to hammer out the details of her €450m welfare package. Mr Murphy was in his office yesterday working through his priorities but it is understood that many of the issues in his department are tied up with the Social welfare package.

The Irish Examiner has also confirmed that Health Minister Simon Harris has signed off on his 2018 budget as of Friday, except for potential cuts to prescription charges and changes to the drugs payment scheme.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

KEYWORDS: Budget 2018


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