THE Government has indicated there will be cuts to social welfare in the December budget.
Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuív said there would “inevitably” be cuts to the social welfare budget given the pressure on the public finances. However, he played down suggestions of an across-the-board cut to payments.
Similarly, Taoiseach Brian Cowen refused to confirm or deny reports that the Cabinet had discussed a 5% cut to all welfare payments – including the old-age pension and unemployment assistance – at its Cabinet meeting last Thursday.
But he said the Government would have to examine all areas of public expenditure, even areas “that one wouldn’t normally be looking at”.
“What I would say, of course, is that every department of state, including the Department of Social Protection, has a contribution to make towards the budgetary adjustment – there’s no question about that. And that was the case last year as well.”
Asked about the implications of this for people on welfare and low wages, he said: “The scale of the gap between what we’re spending and what’s coming in has to be closed – and that means a contribution has to be made from all areas of public expenditure, even those areas of public expenditure that one wouldn’t normally be looking at in normal times.”
Mr Cowen was speaking at Fianna Fáil’s annual Wolfe Tone commemoration in Bodenstown, Co Kildare.
In his address to the commemoration, he suggested Fine Gael and Labour would need to support actions, not just targets, if a consensus was to be achieved on budgetary strategy.
“I am very pleased that the main opposition parties have stated that they accept the core target to reduce the deficit to 3% by 2014 that we have agreed with the EU. This is a good start, but agreeing to targets is not necessarily the same as agreeing to take actions required to meet them,” Mr Cowen said.
“It would substantially help Ireland’s position if we were to show the international community that there is a unity of purpose to go from words to actions.”
Mr Cowen said he would approach the talks with the main opposition parties – which are expected to begin this week – “with good faith” and a hope that “responsible cooperation” could be achieved.
But as has been the case since talks of a consensus began, he indicated it would ultimately be the Government’s responsibility to make decisions.
“The Government is determined to deliver on its constitutional responsibilities, the most obvious being the duty to prepare and introduce the budget together with protecting our international standing,” he said.
Mr Cowen also sought to differentiate Ireland from Greece and Portugal, two other countries mired in debt crises. “We have 80 times the level of US investment in Greece and 23 times the level of US investment in Portugal.”
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