Harsh austerity budget still coming this year, Gilmore warns

A BITTER austerity budget is still on the way despite an improvement in Ireland’s debt tally, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore warned last night.

The Labour leader also said he understood public anger at the massive pay-off of over €700,000 given to top civil servant Dermot McCarthy — but stopped short of asking the outgoing government secretary general to hand part of it back to the taxpayer.

At the end of Labour’s two-day think-in in Carlow, Mr Gilmore said ESRI predictions of better-than-forecast debt rates in the coming years were welcome, but signalled they would not make December’s budget less harsh.

Mr Gilmore made it clear that cuts in welfare spending were on the way.

“The social welfare budget has to be reduced, and (Social Protection) Minister Joan Burton is working on doing that in two ways: First of all by addressing the whole problem of over-claiming, and she has made considerable prog-ress on that; and secondly, by the reforms that she is pursuing.

“Obviously the detail of that will be in the budget and the social welfare bill which will come with the budget.”

Mr Gilmore insisted the Government could not retrospectively act over McCarthy’s pay-off.

“I do understand public anger, and I think severance packages of that size are too high,” he said.

“That is why the Government has already moved to cap salaries in the public sector, which, of course, will also mean that pensions in the public sector will be capped.

“That is why, too, we have decided that those types of caps in salaries and reductions which are applied across the public sector should also apply to the judiciary, and that is why we intend to have a referendum on that matter later this year.”

Mr Gilmore also refused to rule out a sell-off of the National Lottery in order to raise funds.

The think-in heard from the party’s presidential candidate, Michael D Higgins, who said he would like to take part in a planned citizen’s convention to reform the Constitution if he wins the race for the Áras.

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