Many to suffer amid tough Budget
Young families, the elderly and the sick have all been targeted in a scatter-gun Budget attack that will leave hundreds of thousands in Ireland poorer.
In the latest austerity onslaught, weeks before Christmas, the Government slashed child benefits, tripled prescription charges and rubber-stamped the hugely-controversial property tax.
Tax hikes that will drive up the price of solid fuel, cigarettes, alcohol and the cost of running a car leave little cheer in the run-up to the festive season. The sick have been hit through the respite care grant, which will be cut by 325 euro a year.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said the country appeared over the worst. "There are manifest signs that the country is emerging from the worst of the crisis and that the efforts of the Irish people, despite the hardship, are leading to success," said Mr Noonan.
The main features of the sixth austerity Budget in five years include taking 10 euro off Child Benefit every month, a 0.18% value-based property tax - rising to 0.25% only on the value over a million euro - starting next July and motor tax increases of between 10 and 126 euro in the new year.
One euro is being added to a bottle of wine, and 10 cent on beer, spirits and cider. Cigarettes will go up 10 cent per 20 pack, while there will be a three-fold jump in prescription charges for medical card holders from 50 cent to 1.50 euro.
Among the few positive measures revealed were a freeze on petrol and diesel excise duties along with a three-year exemption for property tax for first-time buyers and the purchase of new or unoccupied homes. There will be a voluntary deferral scheme on the property tax for those hardest hit by the recession.
In a bid to demonstrate politicians are not immune from the pain, TDs will now have to vouch for their expenses, while party leaders will have their special allowance cut by 10%. However, that made little impact with hundreds of protesters outside Leinster House, a small number of whom clashed with gardai.
Michael McGrath, Fianna Fail finance spokesman, said he saw no "empathy or understanding" from the Government, while Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald said the Budget was "deeply unfair to those on low incomes, to children, to single parent families, to homeowners in negative equity and to the elderly".
Changes to an employees' levy, known as PRSI or stamps, mean a worker's allowance of 127 euro a week has been abolished - cutting annual take home pay by about 260 euro.