Fianna Fáil last night secured a 26-pupil class size limit and “modest” across- the-board welfare hikes for pensioners, lone parents, and dole recipients in last- minute talks with Fine Gael.
However, while the welfare packages will be introduced at the same time in mid-spring, separate fuel allowance, and other increases may not be implemented until later next year in order to ensure money can be spread to various groups.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Fianna Fáil’s public expenditure spokesman, Dara Calleary, agreed the moves last night as the final battles of budget 2018 were fought out.
The Irish Examiner understands the issues included a widely flagged €5 pension rise, similar increases for the dole, extra supports for lone parents and a potential new welfare payment scheme targeted at children who are at risk of poverty.
If the increases are introduced from January, thereby taking in the full year, it would ensure significant improvements for those most at risk in society while also allowing both parties to claim they have looked after and prioritised specific groups.
However, should the welfare increases be delayed until March or April as expected - or potentially as late as June — it would free up hundreds of millions of euro in funding for other areas.
Mr Calleary and Mr Donohoe agreed on when to introduce the welfare rises, with a date of late March expected.
Separately, both rival politicians last night also finalised how the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools can be fully addressed, an issue which has been repeatedly highlighted by Fianna Fáil in recent months and remains one of its key budget priorities.
It is understood both parties last night agreed to a 26 class size cap, a one person reduction that has been long sought by parent and teacher groups.
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman, Michael McGrath, has already agreed his side of the budget with Mr Donohoe, with income tax band changes to be allowed on condition USC — which will merge with PRSI — is marginally cut.
It is believed these reductions will specifically see Fianna Fáil force through cuts to the USC in at least two rates and for Fine Gael to guarantee that the threshold of paying the higher rate of income tax will be raised above current €33,800 level.
Such measures, if introduced, are likely to mean people affected will be up to €4 better off each week next year.
It is also understood that senior Fianna Fáil TDs, including party leader Micheal Martin, were unhappy with a short video released on social media yesterday afternoon of Mr Donohoe thanking printing staff and handing over a budget document.
While Department of Finance figures have been keen to insist there is no suggestion that the video — which was recorded and released hours before talks ended with either Fianna Fáil or the Independent Alliance — involved the finalised budget 2018 report, the footage has been viewed dimly by Fianna Fáil members.
What sweeteners are likely to be offered?
By Juno McEnroe, Political Correspondent
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved