‘Smart alecky tricks’ denied

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has denied the budget amounts to a string of pre-election "smart-alecky tricks".

‘Smart alecky tricks’ denied

Mr Noonan launched the defence as he and Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin faced down public anger over the budget.

Put under the spotlight during the annual post-budget phone-in on RTÉ radio, Mr Noonan dismissed claims the financial measures represented a PR exercise in the run-up to the next general election.

He said he was not interested in bringing forward a series of “smart-alecky tricks”.

He said the tax relief on water charges would impact on 88% of households, adding: “We’re examining how to reach the other 12%. We’re trying to design the tax break so that it reaches the maximum number of people.”

Callers expressed concern about a range of budget moves, with one pensioner, John from Cork, accusing the pair of continuing a traditional government bias against older people.

“What have politicians down the ages got against older people? They seem to love to cut the gains that we’ve fought for and there’s no justice,” the caller said as he branded as “derisory” plans to restore to welfare recipients a quarter of the traditional Christmas bonus scrapped by the last government.

Mr Howlin defended the Coalition’s record with older people and insisted he was doing all he could for pensioners given the resources available.

Another caller, David, who said he was a “reformed smoker”, said he was still concerned about the hike in the price of cigarettes and tobacco products.

Defending the move after leaving alcohol levies untouched, Mr Noonan said pushing up the costs of cigarettes was a deliberate health promotion measure aimed at preventing younger people taking up the habit.

The fact self-employed people earning above €100,000 per year had to pay an 11% Universal Social Charge while PAYE workers paid 8% rankled with caller Brian, who insisted the rate should be equalised, whether that meant raising it or lowering it for one of the groups.

Mr Noonan insisted that untangling the situation would create other problems for the self-employed and his focus was on those earning below €100,000.

Donegal invalidity pension claimant James, whose wife is on illness benefit, said the budget had only benefited him in respect of the partial Christmas bonus restoration.

“Is it worth working at all?” he asked, referring to the “benefit traps” that prevent people just above a certain threshold receiving some welfare support.

Jane, the only woman caller on air, questioned why spare money had not been used to fund a second free pre-school year.

Mr Howlin said it had been decided to spread available monies across all families with the €5 extra per child benefit payment, as a second pre-school year would have cost €175m and only impacted on a small number of children.

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