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Opposition TDs hit out at lack of ‘certainty and hope’ but minister says ‘there’s no crystal ball for the pandemic’

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This afternoon, the government unveiled its Budget for 2021.

Updated 20 hours ago

OPPOSITION TDS HAVE hit out against the government for announcing a Budget parties claim fails to offer hope to people facing into uncertainty.

This afternoon, the government unveiled its Budget for 2021, revealing how it plans to spend €17.75 billion – the largest budget package in the history of the State.

Some of the measures included self-employed recipients of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment being allowed to earn up to €480 per month without losing their payment.

The one-week Christmas bonus will be given this year to people on a welfare payment for four months up to December, including those in receipt of PUP. While the carbon tax kicks in from tonight for auto fuels.

Speaking in the Convention Centre today – the site for this year’s Budget – Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said this budget needed to give people certainty, but it has failed to provide it today. 

He hit out against the increase in motor tax which he said will only affect those who can least afford a tax hike and those in rural areas who are heavily dependent on the car.

As the measures will impact older vehicles, Doherty said it will disproportionately benefit wealthy drivers and punish those who cannot afford electric vehicles.

“At this time, this is not the carrot and stick approach. This is the stick,” he said, adding that it is the wrong time to introduce such a measure as bills are piling up for households.

This budget needed to provide certainty that incomes won’t fall off a cliff, that health can weather the storm. This budget has failed to provide that certainty.”

Doherty said frontline workers had been let down by the failure of Government to tackle the two-tier pay system in the public sector.

He said: “Despite all the fine words, you couldn’t find it in yourselves to deliver pay equality for our frontline workers, our nurses, our teachers and other public sector workers. That was the least they deserved.”

He asked why there was no reference to the Spend and Save scheme, which is redundant at the moment due to people being advised to stay in their own counties, he said.

Doherty said a voucher scheme should have been sent to homes to encourage support for the hospitality sector. 

Speaking at a departmental briefing this evening, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said that the future of the PUP would be decided in the new year. 

Humphreys says it was first introduced for six weeks, then 12 weeks and was then extended again. She said it remains open but needs to be “sustainable”. 

Asked whether the PUP can be extended beyond March, Humphreys says there’s ‘no crystal ball’ in the pandemic.

It’s up for review next year. I mean we don’t know really, we have no crystal ball when it comes to the pandemic. So we will certainly be reviewing it again in January and we’ll see then what the situation is in terms of Covid-19 and how people are doing and are people going back to work or is it still needed.  

The minister also said that the review would consider the planned reduction in the PUP rate due in February.  

Evictions

Sinn Fein’s Mairéad Farrell said the emergency ban on evictions and rent increases needs to be re-introduced, stating that the housing section of this Budget is a “kick in the teeth” for those on the social housing list.

She said the government should no longer give the “céad míle fáilte” welcome to vulture funds, stating that it is outrageous the UN has had to step in and criticise the government’s treatment of vultures funds in Ireland.

Childcare is the glaring gaping hole in this budget, she said. 

Meanwhile, Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said it is “remarkable” that there are no income tax increases.

Labour Social Protection spokesperson Seán Sherlock slammed the failure of the government to restore their mean cut to the PUP.

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“The first main cut of this new government has been copper fastened in the Budget with no action to restore the €50 taken off the weekly pandemic unemployment payment. Nor did they restore the extra four weeks of fuel allowance that were paid earlier this year, taking account of the impact of Covid-19 on older people.

“We heard a lot of noise from Fianna Fáil backbenchers in recent weeks about the PUP but they have failed to deliver any restoration in the budget. TDs and Ministers played politics with people’s livelihoods by flying kites that the payment cut was likely to be either reversed at the Budget. It didn’t happen.

“In the context of the billions of additional support being pledged to fight the pandemic, restoring this mean spirited cut would have cost about €10 million a week. Or about €120m to the end of the year.

“If €350 was good enough in March and April, why is it not good enough now?” he said.

The Social Democrats have also queried if enough is being done to provide supports for the health services as it heads into winter.

People Before Profit’s Bríd Smith said nearly 28% of households in the country are in energy poverty and some 400,000 people go without heating at some stage because of costs.

She said the carbon tax measure would hit those who could not change their behaviour or switch to renewable or energy efficiency ways of heating homes or transport.

“This hike and the changes in taxes on petrol and diesel can assuage the Green Party’s conscience over climate but it will not deal with the core issue or address the levels of emissions. This increase will hit the most vulnerable and won’t change the personal behaviour of people who live from week to week- it just punishes them for systemic failures,” she said.

TD Richard Boyd Barrett criticised the government for not restoring the PUP  said how are people meant to pay their mortgage, their rent, their bills if their work has been closed down, he asked. 

He called for the rent freeze and eviction moratorium to be re-established stating that some peoples’ circumstances have not changed since March and are now facing losing their homes. 

– With reporting by Rónán Duffy

Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty has criticised today's Budget.

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty has criticised today’s Budget.

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