Independent Alliance pushing to remove prescription charges for OAPs in budget

Independent Alliance ministers are pushing for the removal of prescription charges for pensioners and nursing home residents and a financial package to help first-time buyers.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe met Transport Minister Shane Ross and other alliance ministers yesterday over the group’s three-page demands for the budget.

Alliance sources have dismissed reports that Mr Ross and junior minister for flooding Sean Canney engaged in a heated row on Wednesday night over how the group is represented at Cabinet.

Mr Noonan has agreed to come back for further talks next week.

Part of the demands by the alliance is for a review of the programme for government agreed between Fine Gael and the alliance and how it has been implemented.

An alliance source said: “There is stuff we want to see implemented or started.”

The list of demands includes a commitment to help first-time buyers. It has been suggested that buyers could get a Vat refund. The push to help first-time buyers was one of the alliance’s demands in government negotiations.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney has already said he is planning some type of first-time buyers’ grant which he hopes will be included in the budget.

Elsewhere, the alliance wants prescription costs reduced or eliminated for certain groups, including pensioners or people in nursing homes.

“We need to start the process of getting them removed,” added the source.

The Independent Alliance is also pushing for the lower paid to be the main beneficiaries from any reduction in the Universal Social Charge in the budget.

Mr Noonan told Fine Gael senators and TDs this week that USC cuts for the lowest two rates are the most likely. A 0.5% reduction for the lowest rate would result in some workers receiving an extra €2 a week.

The alliance also want measures to help the elderly and people on hospital waiting lists addressed. Fine Gael ministers have already signalled that the weekly pension is likely to be increased and that the national treatment purchase fund will be reinstated.

A review of a special farmers’ assistance payment, similar to welfare, is also being sought by alliance members. Alliance members say the threshold for claimants needs to be eased.

Alliance sources have dismissed reports that a row erupted between Mr Ross and Mr Canney this week over how the group is represented at Cabinet. The ministers had lunch together yesterday but sources say that when they met on Wednesday “strong words” were exchanged about what should be in the budget demand document that was being given to Mr Noonan.

Asked about the document and talks with his Fine Gael counterparts yesterday, Mr Canney told the Irish Examiner: “They are very constructive. There is good understanding and attention on both sides. It displays the partnership that is there.

“There has been the odd hiccup and there probably will be more. But we are determined to get the budget passed.”

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