Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has placed fresh pressure on Fine Gael by insisting that the upcoming budget must include space for his party’s demands for increased pensioner and education spending.
Despite acknowledging the “constraints” on Government finances, the opposition leader warned his party “will not be making any apology” for prioritising the areas as budget negotiations gain momentum.
Speaking at the start of Fianna Fáil’s two-day think-in at the Seven Oaks Hotel in Co Carlow, Mr Martin said that while there is no reason for the budget to bring down the Government, it must include several of his party’s key aims because of its confidence and supply deal with Fine Gael.
And while Taoiseach Enda Kenny has recently reiterated that he has just €1bn for spending and tax cuts next year, alongside Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar noting that any mooted €5 pension increase could eat up his entire 2017 funding, the Fianna Fáil leader — who declined to say if he has a “veto” on the budget —warned his party’s priorities must be included.
“There will have to be space in terms of the priorities we have prioritised,” said Mr Martin. “The most familiar refrain on the doorstep over the last years was pensioners listing off a succession of measures on their net take home pay. They really felt it so they do need a break. So we don’t make any apology in prioritising the need of pensioners in the forthcoming budget.”
In recent weeks, Mr Kenny, Finance Minister Michael Noonan, and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe have warned their own Cabinet colleagues that the Government has just €1bn for tax cuts and spending next year.
However, Fianna Fáil social protection spokesperson Willie O’Dea has repeatedly called for a €5 pensions increase during the same period, despite Mr Varadkar saying this would use up his entire 2017 budget.
The Government is also currently examining the outcome of an independent report by Peter Cassells — who gave a behind-closed-doors briefing to Fianna Fáil TDs yesterday — on how to fund chronic budget shortfalls in third-level education, with the possibility of fees among the recommendations made.
Mr Martin said his party has “costed almost every single item” in its pre-election manifesto and is “now going through an exercise in what is possible this year” which Fine Gael ministers will need to consider.
When asked if his party will be “given sight” of the budget before it is published in three weeks’ time, he added: “Within the agreement, there is a clear commitment for no surprises, and you can take what you want from that.”
Meanwhile, Mr Martin has also said that his party will not scrap or renegotiate its deal with Fine Gael if Mr Kenny is replaced as leader, arguing that people need to “cop on” over claims that this will lead to the three-budget confidence and supply deal ending.
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