We are entering a new era in Irish history, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin claimed as he announced a series of new funds for education, justice, job creation, and benefits.
The Labour minister also signalled that a moratorium on recruitment in the public sector would come to an end next year.
Announcing the spending elements of the budget in the Dáil, Mr Howlin said there was now flexibility in State spending to meet demands and investment in public services.
Current spending for next year would be just €50bn. There would be a net overall increase in expenditure over last year to €639m, he said. This will be spent mainly in social protection, health, education, justice, and housing.
Some €2.2bn will go on social housing over three years. This investment would deliver an extra 2,500 housing units in 2015 and over 6,700 housing units by 2017, the Dáil heard.
This will be helped by public private partnerships, the sale of Bord Gáis Energy, as well as the potential funds from private investors, TDs were told.
Mr Howlin also announced an extra €10m for accommodation and services for the homeless.
More money will also be pumped into JobPath, Pathways to Work, and groups such as Enterprise Ireland to help create employment.
Zoning in on social protection measures, Mr Howlin announced that next year would be the first since 2009 where there were no cuts in that area.
The new back-to-work dividend will allow families keep child-related welfare payments of €29.80 a week for a year after returning to work and 50% of payments in the second year.
“This Government succeeded in protecting basic social welfare rates in the last three budgets,” said Mr Howlin. “Now that recovery is taking hold, I believe it is important that the limited scope we have should be used to alleviate the pressures faced by those most in need in our society.”
While 25% of the Christmas bonus will be returned to welfare recipients this year, a similar bonus next year will depend on finances, he said, adding that the welfare measures had come about because of a fall in the number of unemployed people.
Announcing an end to the freeze on recruitment in the public service next year, Mr Howlin said departments would have discretion over staffing levels: “This marks the end of the moratorium on recruitment but in a targeted and focused way.”
Mr Howlin concluded his speech by saying challenges remain ahead. “As we enter a new era in Irish history, that is this Government’s commitment to the Irish people,” he said.
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