By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Irish Examiner political reporter
The main opposition parties have claimed the pre-election Budget is "the final roll of the dice" from a "delusional Government taking the short cut to popularity with a plan Charlie McCreevy would be proud of".
Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin heavily criticised Fine Gael and Labour's €1.5bn tax cuts and benefit hikes giveaway and alleged well-paid families will receive "10 times the gain" of the low-paid.
They warned the plan would ensure Taoiseach Enda Kenny's "badge of honour" will be child poverty, homelessness and a health service catastrophe.
Responding in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath said despite the fanfare of a Budget that appears to offer something for everyone and the "general air of self-congratulation" there is nothing in this Budget that will address key inequalities in Irish society.
The Cork South Central TD said the Budget was the "final roll of the dice from a Government out of ideas and about to run out of road", adding it is a blatant attempt to take a "short cut to popularity" which puts any recovery at risk.
Mr McGrath said under this Government the better-off had been favoured while lone parents, women and the elderly were "targeted" for cuts.
He said the Budget 2016 changes would see high income couples get 10 times the gain as their low-paid counterparts and that if the Coalition "really wants to make work pay" it should focus improvements where they are needed - people on €20,000, €30,000 and €40,000 who needed the Government's help.
Mr McGrath - who suggested the coalition should be thanking the public and not itself for the recovery - said older people and the general public "will not be fooled" by the 75% return of the Christmas bonus and the last-minute decision to raise pensions by €3.
He said the Government's housing announcements "are nothing short of pathetic" as they do not include long-hinted rent certainty, rent supplement or tax relief changes, but noted it is "amazing you could still agree with giving yourselves a €900 tax cut".
The Fianna Fáil TD said the word recovery for rural communities "is not worth the press release it is written on" as Ireland is now a divided country economically, adding the risks posed by the giveaway Budget "are buried in the bowels" of the plan.
Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty was equally damning, saying the Budget was "the epitome of boom-bust" politics which "Charlie McCreevy would be proud of".
The opposition front-bencher was speaking after yet another Dáil row over how Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin left for a press conference before hearing the full rival party response. He said that despite all the rhetoric, people on €70,000 were gaining more than three times someone on €28,000 a year.
Mr Doherty said the latter group were the "real" squeezed middle as "50% of workers earn below" the figure, but that they had been ignored to such an extent that inequality was now Mr Kenny's "badge of honour".
The Sinn Féin TD said the Coalition had "truly stolen Fianna Fáil's clothes" by "stuffing €181.9m into the pockets of the top 14%" due to USC changes, while throwing "a few crumbs from the table to everybody else", asking if high earners had been out demonstrating on the street or banging on ministers' doors to receive the raises.
He said the Budget of "attempting to buy the electorate" and hoping people would focus on "self interest" instead of questioning how the list of benefit hikes could occur while Government was removing "€882m of tax you believe this State does not need".
After describing the Budget as "not credible" and "not resembling the proclamation of 1916", Mr Doherty referenced a recent RTE radio interview with a young girl living with her family in a B&B and wondering "how Santy is going to get in".
He said: "People are dying because they can't get a roof over their head" while officials talk about a surging economy, warning: "All of that is rubbish and you know it. This is the politics of old…It is as dishonest as it is wrong."