[Sinn Fein]

1st December 1999

No new vision in Budget 2000

Finance Minister McCreevy's Budget contains no new vision and falls far short of the widespread expectation that the biggest Exchequer surplus in the history of the State would be used to take a major step from inequality to equality in Irish society. This was the response of Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin to the third Budget from the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats government. Giving his initial response to the Budget 2000 details announced on Wednesday Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

``Minister McCreevy told us in his speech that he was setting a new vision and a new strategy for the future. The measures he announced belied that claim. Given the size of the massive budget surplus in his coffers there was a distinct lack of vision and a lack of strategy to use that wealth to build a more equitable society. The Budget will prove a deep disappointment to those who believed that this government would use the opportunity to create fundamental and lasting change and move from inequality to equality in Irish society.

``There have been some positive changes in the tax system to take the lower paid out of the net. However tax reductions for those on lower income do not go far enough. Instead of concentrating the tax reductions on this area Minister McCreevy has spread the reductions across the board, trying to please all sectors and once again failing to narrow the gap between the higher and lower earners.

``The Minister cited the National Anti-Poverty Strategy in relation to his social welfare increases. The NAPS says that welfare ``must provide sufficient income for all those concerned to move out of poverty and to live in a manner compatible with human dignity''. The Budget once again fails to meet this criterion. A budget of vision would have linked welfare payments to average incomes. Sinn Fein was among those who argued that social welfare payments should be set at 50% of average incomes.

``The 4 per week increases are therefore inadequate given the massive resources available.

``The Budget is a failure in terms of Childcare. While the funds to increase childcare places are welcome the key measure needed - a really substantial increase in Child Benefit - has not happened. An increase of 20 per child per month as sought by Sinn Fein in our Budget submission would have really assisted people with their childcare needs. And having made much of bringing social welfare increases forward to May 2000 it is disgraceful that Child Benefit increases will not come in until September 2000.

``One of the glaring omissions in this Budget is its failure to address the Housing Crisis. There are no imaginative tax measures to free up housing, such as the Capital Gains Tax increases proposed by Sinn Fein to curb property speculation. Instead we have the continuation of piecemeal measures with local authorities starved of the funding to accommodate those on our massive housing waiting lists.

``This Budget is very disappointing for people with disabilities. A paltry 5.35 million is included under the heading of Social Inclusion. The welcome funding of the Vantastic service in Dublin underlines the lack of such provision elsewhere. There is nothing whatever towards the provision of Personal Assistants for people with disabilities. A budget of vision would have established an Independent Living Fund.

``The Minister has failed to provide the necessary substantial increase in the Carer's Allowance and the new measures announced offer meagre redress.

``There is little in this Budget to benefit the most hard-pressed of the farming sector. I point in particular to the failure to provide any special measure to assist the pig producers of the Border region. Unless immediate action is taken many more of them face being driven from the industry altogether.''

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