A break for working families with changed tax rates and more access to childcare are among renewed promises by the Coalition parties as they try to halt their sliding popularity with 18 months left to a general election.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton yesterday promised to “widen and deepen the economic recovery” so it is “felt in the daily lives” of people across the country.
They were speaking at the launch of a new coalition deal following a long-anticipated Cabinet reshuffle which saw James Reilly moved out of the Department of Health, which has been the biggest source of controversy.
He will be replaced by Leo Varadkar after Jobs Minister Richard Bruton resisted attempts to reshuffle him out of the department to make way for a Labour minister.
The Taoiseach also demoted arts minister Jimmy Deenihan, who graciously congratulated his replacement — the first-time TD from Cavan-Monaghan, Heather Humphreys.
Labour leader Ms Burton, who stays as social protection minister, went for more radical changes, with three new senior ministers, including Jan O’Sullivan who will take over at the Department of Education.
Ms Burton said she was giving an opportunity to people in their 30s and that the “class of 2011 should be given an opportunity to serve in cabinet as well”.
She sacked communications minister Pat Rabbitte, who blamed it on “chemistry and age” and left the Dáil chamber before Ms Burton delivered her speech about the reshuffle. Alex White takes over from Mr Rabbitte.
Former environment minister Phil Hogan was appointed to be Ireland’s next European commissioner, a role for which he is “totally unsuitable”, according to Sinn Féin.
“In recent weeks, he has put a number of party cronies on state boards — previously he sent out letters to constituents boasting about his role in preventing a Traveller family accessing housing,” said Sinn Féin MEP, Matt Carthy.
A statement of the Government’s priorities promises to:
- Reduce the 52% tax rate on low-and middle-income earners in a manner that maintains the highly progressive nature of the Irish tax system;
- Increase the household benefits package by €100 to compensate for the introduction of water charges;
- Increase access to subsidised childcare and after-school places;
- Publish performance summaries of all schools;
- Roll out free GP care to all over-70s, followed by all children aged 6-11 and, later, children between 12 and 17;
- Enact legislation for collective bargaining;
- Encourage new mortgage lenders into the market.
The economist Colm McCarthy last night warned there must not be a return to auction politics.
“We are running a sizeable budget deficit, the household sector is heavily indebted, and we know that the banks are still fragile,” he said.
“So I think the talk about recovery as though it is an established fact is premature.”
With the mindset focusing on the general election, he said, “there is a risk that the Government is going to take the view that any improvement in revenue is to be spent”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the reshuffle was like “cosmetic surgery” and that the public wants a “new direction, not just new faces”.
He said Mr Reilly should not be used as a scapegoat for mistakes and that medical cards were removed “on the orders of the Government, particularly the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin”.
New Cabinet NEW:
- Heather Humphreys (FG): Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht
- Gerald Nash, right (Labour): Business and Employment (Super Jnr)
- Alan Kelly (Labour): Environment, Community and Local Government
- Paschal Donohoe, right (FG): Transport, Tourism and Sport
- Alex White (Labour): Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
- Jan O’Sullivan (Labour): Education and Skills
- Charlie Flanagan (FG): Foreign Affairs and Trade
- Leo Varadkar, right (FG): Health
- James Reilly (FG): Children and Youth Affairs
- Michael Noonan (FG): Finance
- Richard Bruton, right (FG): Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
- Frances Fitzgerald (FG): Justice and Equality
- Brendan Howlin (Labour): Public Expenditure and Reform
- Joan Burton (Labour): Social Protection
- Enda Kenny (FG): Taoiseach
- Simon Coveney (FG): Agriculture, Food, Marine (plus Defence)
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