Opposition derides Budget 2010's "failure of vision"

Opposition parties were highly critical of Minister of Finance Brian Linehan's Budget today, citing a lack of ambition as the main failure of his proposals. In a Budget typified by cuts to lower earners and welfare recipients, Lenihan claimed that “the worst is over” in relation to the economic downturn, but he did not institute any significant investment programmes in an effort to stimulate the economy.

In a highly charged response to Linehan's Budget day speech, Fine Gael's spokesperson on finance Richard Bruton called the Budget a “tragedy” that failed to address the fundamental problems faced by the Irish economy. “Creating and sustaining employment should have been the be-all and the end-all of this Budget today,” said Bruton. He also criticised the Minister of Finance for not targetting high earners in his Budget, saying his own party had targeted a €600m contribution from the better off in society.

Bruton also said that the Budget was most damaging to the young people of Ireland stating that this Budget would force young people, the “building blocks” of Irish society, to emigrate. Furthermore, he accused the government of driving a wedge between the public and private sectors saying a “residue of bitterness” had been left over from the public sector pay debate. He was also critical of the proposed 15% ministerial pay cut, calling it a “deception”.

Labour party spokesperson Joan Burton echoed Bruton's criticism, saying Minister Linehan had taken the “soft option” with his Budget proposals. “You have hit people who are down,” said Burton, citing the “short sightedness” of child benefit cuts. She added that the savings made by those cuts would be wiped out by the interest payments on the €6bn Anglo Irish loan, saying that child benefit recipients were essentially paying to keep the bankers afloat. She also derided the Minister for his U-turn on the 0.5% VAT increase of October last year, calling it a “half point mistake” that forced shoppers over the border.

She said that the Budget was out of the “Leona Helmsley school” of economics in that it protected higher earners with the view that taxes were for “the little people”. She also criticised the fact that the disabled were not exempt from the welfare cuts saying even blind people would have to take the cut.

Sinn Fein's Arthur Morgan was equally critical. “Cuts to social welfare will deepen Irish inequality,” said Morgan. He accused the government of “robbing the poor to pay the rich” and criticised the government for failing to propose a third tax band. “Low taxes at the top are not stimulating to the economy and at the bottom we are not low tax...there is a huge degree of stealth taxation,” said Morgan. He also said the commitment to the knowledge economy would make Ireland a “laughing stock” given the poor facilities available to many educators.

Morgan also highlighted the increased danger of a brain drain, with more and more young people emigrating to escape Ireland's recession. “If there was any justice in the world, every member of [the Cabinet] would lose their jobs in the next election,” said Morgan, saying the stimulus package proposed in the Budget was “a joke”. “The only jobs [created] in this budget are for debt collectors,” said Morgan, calling for a general election as soon as possible.

The angry response of the opposition parties is likely to be echoed by many people throughout Ireland, particularly welfare recipients and public sector workers. For the low earners of Irish society, 2010 has suddenly begun to look that little bit bleaker.

Labour's Pat Rabbitte said that the party will oppose the reduction in excise duty on alcohol on the basis that it runs counter to the government's health policy.