Independent Alliance ‘feels taken for granted’ on budget

Government partners the Independent Alliance are refusing to back Leo Varadkar’s first budget, after a row over supports for the vulnerable and gambling taxes going on mental health services among other areas.

The five alliance members — Transport Minister Shane Ross, Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath, Skills Minister John Halligan, OPW Minister Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran and whip Sean Canney — left negotiations with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe last night, declaring that “not enough was on the table” after most of their 30-item budget wishlist was shot down.

“It certainly feels like we are being taken for granted,” one member told the Irish Examiner last night following a face-to-face meeting with Mr Donohoe.

Alliance members said they were “extremely vexed” as to the lack of progress on key areas like health and housing.

“He has to come back to us. We have to get movement on respite care and residential places and speech and language services. We need money on the table at this stage,” said one member.

“The big issues for us are the bereavement grant, more funding for health and mental health and we want something for families about to evicted from their houses. He hasn’t come back to us. He is constantly meeting officials and juggling figures.”

The Alliance has sought movement on over 20 specific items but are willing to sacrifice a number of those to see progress on a number of their key demands.

Members are looking for discretionary powers to be given to local authorities to use the HAP scheme to stop vulnerable people becoming homeless but this was not accepted by Mr Donohoe.

Mr Halligan has proposed an additional betting tax of up to 5% on all transactions to fund drug treatment services for addicts, but this two fell foul of Mr Donohoe.

A proposal to increase gambling tax and therefor create €55m in funds that would go on mental health and addiction services has also not been agreed.

The Alliance is to meet tonight to discuss its options ahead of a further two meetings with Mr Donohoe on Friday and on Monday.

Several sources at the meeting have spoken of their frustration as to the lack of progress made.

A source said “protecting the most vulnerable” and ensuring that “people can stay in their home”. This would include providing more home help hours and more carers. It is understood the the Alliance will be pushing for an increase in the carers allowances which forms part of a wishlist they have put to the Department of Social Protection.

Despite the tense meeting, Mr Ross, Mr McGrath and Mr Halligan appeared jovial in the Dáil public canteen after the meeting last night. At the same time, Mr Donohoe and secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Robert Watt also dined there.

The appearance in the canteen was seen as a means of trying to play down the gulf between the sides, less than a week from budget day.


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