As Ireland braces itself for its sixth austerity budget since the economic crisis began, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has pledged to protect frontline services and the vulnerable.
He gave one last assurance to the hard-pressed public just before the Government was due to announce €3.5bn worth of spending cuts and tax hikes.
The Taoiseach also defended the introduction of a new property tax – at 0.18% of the value of a home – which could see the owner of a house worth the national average price of €157,000 paying nearly €300 a year.
He said Ireland was one of the last country’s in Europe to have a property tax and that it was required under an agreement with its debt masters the Troika - the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission - to introduce it.
“We want to protect those frontline services and those people who are vulnerable in as fair a way as we can,” Mr Kenny said.
Government leaders have insisted that while the budget will be tough, it will bring the recession-shattered country one step closer to economic independence and growth.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin will announce €1.25bn in tax hikes and €2.25bn in spending cuts this afternoon.
Child benefit is expected to be slashed by €10, while back-to-school allowances for shoes and uniforms also face the chop.
Low-paid workers earning less than €18,000 a year are expected to pay higher taxes of around €5 a week due to reductions in their Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) tax-free allowance, while dole payments to jobseekers are expected to be hit.
The elderly will also suffer a blow with cuts to medical cards for the over-70s, which will mean more pensioners having to pay for prescriptions.
“In so far as we can, those who are vulnerable, isolated, lonely; those who need attention, those who need care, we have tried to protect that as strongly and to the best extent as we can,” the Taoiseach said.
From our live blog: "I literally cannot afford one more outgoing-it would sink me. I just cannot afford the home tax" http://t.co/3ij7F6My— breakingnews.ie (@breakingnewsie) December 5, 2012
As new figures today revealed the number of people signing on the Live Register fell by 1,500 last month, Mr Kenny insisted returning the country to economic growth and creating jobs was the Government’s priority for the future.
“Our ambition is to retrieve our economic independence to come out of this programme to be able to see the Troika go home and fly on our own, where we are attractive to investment and a location for jobs to be created,” the Taoiseach added.
The latest figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed the seasonally adjusted register, which takes casual and part-time workers into account, was 432,300 in November.
The statistics also revealed a monthly decrease of 1,700 males signing on in November, while females increased by 200.
In the year to November, the number of under-25s claiming unemployment benefits dropped by 8,387. The number of those over 25 fell by 3,903 from November 2011 to last month.
According to the CSO, Ireland’s standardised unemployment rate last month was 14.6% – down from 14.7% in October.
Earlier this week, Mr Kenny’s deputy Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said while there was no doubt the austere cuts and tax hikes in the budget would be tough, they will take Ireland to 85% of its bailout targets.
The country hopes to exit the bailout programme it entered with the Troika by the end of 2013.
It has been forced to endure massive budgetary adjustments every year since the economic collapse in 2008 – the biggest of which was imposed in Budget 2011 with €6bn of savage cuts and new taxes.
Ireland has experienced some €24bn in cuts and hikes since the onset of the banking collapse.
This included adjustments of 3.8 billion euro in last year’s budget announcement – among them a VAT hike and a savage 60% motor tax increase for the greenest vehicles.
A further €3.1bn package is expected for 2014 and €2bn of savings for 2015.