Fianna Fáil was forced to defend itself against sustained criticism for supporting the minority coalition but fired back at its detractors last night, claiming its influence had made the budget fairer.
Michael McGrath, the finance spokesman, said his party had been the only one brave enough to break the post-election deadlock last year and agree to allow budgets to be passed. He accused Sinn Féin of failing to put the country above party politics.
“They are good at attacking, which is what they do. However, our message to Sinn Féin is a very simple one; it had its chance to influence the government when it really mattered. The opportunity was there but Sinn Féin bottled it.”
Mr McGrath said Gerry Adams’s party was the classic “hurler on the ditch”. He added: “It is full of opinions and wisdom but when the opportunity comes to don the jersey, take to the field of play and take on some responsibility whether at Westminster, Stormont or in the Dáil, it runs for the hills.
“It is much easier to throw stones from the sidelines rather than to go into the battle and fight one’s corner.”
The TD for Cork South-Central said his party’s influence had delivered on many of the key priorities in the confidence and supply agreement.
“It is a budget which we, as a party, have sought to influence in the direction of a fairer Ireland. This means prioritising public services and investment in our economy. We have achieved this with the overall budget day package placing twice the emphasis on public investment over tax reductions. Were it not for our involvement, I do not believe today’s budget would have such a mix,” he said.
He cautioned the government, questioning the sustainability of Paschal Donohoe’s revenue-raising initiatives.
“Commercial stamp duty is, ultimately, a tax on property transactions. The yield will depend on the number and value of such transactions in 2018. However, the proceeds are being used to fund recurring changes on the expenditure and taxation sides of the budget. The impact of the change in stamp duty will have to be carefully monitored,” he said.
Pearse Doherty, Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman, responded to Fianna Fáil’s criticism. He claimed the universal social charge and tax band winding measures would benefit those who earned the most.
“Giving back €53 a year to a person on an income of €20,000 is pathetic. Somebody on €25,000 will receive €66 back a year. That is just over €1 per week,” he said. “Those on €30,000 are in line for the life-changing amount of €78 per annum, while they have to put up with the crumbling services the government is delivering,” he said.
He said the major benefits would go to those on the highest incomes. “To put it in context, particularly for those who want to purchase a house or who are trying to set off in life and are thinking about purchasing a house in the future, this €1.50 a week must be measured against house prices that are rising by €50 a day.”
Joan Burton, Labour’s finance spokeswoman, said one of the central lessons from the housing crash was not to rely on transaction taxes on property to fund tax cuts and increases in current expenditure, yet this policy was a pillar of the budget.
“This budget is framed by the past and seems set on repeating some of the mistakes,” she said. We are now ten years on from the eve of the financial crisis. Policies of unsustainable tax revenues laid the foundations of Ireland’s ruin. Unfortunately, the finance minister has been tempted to travel down the same path.
“I am amazed that Fianna Fáil seems to have totally forgotten how it blew up the finances of the country.”
Alan Kelly, her party colleague, described the budget as the “cup of coffee” budget because that was all people would be able to afford after their weekly income increase while Paul Murphy, the Solidarity TD, said it was the “band-aid budget” holding the minority coalition together.
“Ten years of crisis and Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour Party austerity created gaping wounds in our society. Between them, they removed more than €100 billion in terms of cuts to public services and extra, unjust taxes. Those measures created insecurity, homelessness and poverty. Now the government comes along and tries to apply a tiny plaster that will not cover up the societal wounds or make a real difference to people’s lives,” he said.
Richard Boyd Barrett, the People Before Profit TD, described the measures as “a budget of miserable crumbs”, saying it would do nothing to solve the most urgent social crises.
Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader, said that by failing to increase carbon taxes it had failed to prepare adequately for Ireland’s climate change commitments. “The budget 2018 shows no real vision for where our country goes from here. That lack of ambition is seen in particular in the absence of any big climate actions proposed. There is not a single rail-based public transport system ready to go, cycling infrastructure has been allocated a measly €3 million and there is no funding for a roof-top solar revolution,” he said.