Don’t hit the least well off the hardest in tough Budget

Fine Gael TDs tell Noonan Budget must be fair

Galway Fine Gael TDs have come out against proposed cuts to the Brothers of Charity services and insisted that next month’s Budget must not hit the most vulnerable or least well of in society the hardest.

Fine Gael TDs Brian Walsh (Galway West ) and Paul Connaughton (Galway East ) have acknowledged that Budget 2012 “will be harsh”, but they are calling for fairness in how it is implemented.

Over recent weeks there has been intense speculation over what will be in Budget 2012, including a possible annual €50 charge for medical cards; new charges for home help and community services; and a possible €10 reduction to child benefit payments.

As well as this, householders are already facing the imposition of a household charge and water meters next year, while many in rural areas are concerned over septic tank charges, plus a two per cent hike in VAT.

“It is going to be a tough Budget,” Dep Walsh told the Galway Advertiser. “We have to take measures to rectify the economic situation. We are spending €17 billion more than we are currently bringing in, and that is a situation which cannot continue.”

Nonetheless Dep Walsh said Finance Minister Michael Noonan has stated that the Budget must be fair and that “everything is being done to make it so”.

“The Government has already ruled out any tax increases on income from employment which will protect take home pay,” he said, “and this will be a Budget of which the cornerstone will be the retention and creation of jobs.”

He also understands that the proposal to lower the rate of the Universal Social Charge for people on lower incomes is also receiving consideration.

However the introduction of the household charge could become a major bone of contention between the Government and the public. Numerous meetings have taken place in Galway city and in towns around the county as to how the charge can be boycotted. The VAT hike has also been strongly criticised.

“The increase in VAT was included in the terms of the EU/IMF bailout that was agreed last year with the previous administration,” said Dep Walsh. “The introduction of a household charge was also dictated by the terms of that agreement, and it has been set at the lowest possible rate of around €2 per week.”

The latest concern to the public will come in terms of the proposed medical card hike and other cuts to family and health services. However Dep Walsh said none of this should be regarded as definitive.

“These items have arisen as a result of speculation and perhaps leaks which have occurred which have been motivated by ministers and departments seeking to gauge public opposition to certain proposals to assist them to arguing against those measures at Cabinet,” he said.

Yet Dep Walsh is “very concerned” about any possible increase in the medical card charge and has expressed those concerns at a recent Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting.

Both Dep Walsh and Dep Connaughton have also come out against the proposed cuts to the allocation for the Brothers of Charity in County Galway.

In Galway, the Brothers of Charity cater for more than 1,000 people with intellectual disabilities and Dep Connaughton warned that cuts to funding here “will have a devastating effect”.

“It is imperative that funding for organisations that provide services to people with disabilities are maintained,” he said. “Any cuts will discourage people already volunteering with such organisations, demoralise staff, and result in redundancies.”

He also said such cuts will have “a direct and negative effect” on people with intellectual disabilities themselves.

“They are very often not in a position to lobby politicians or demonstrate outside Leinster House or take on any of the very visible campaigns being mounted by other groups,” he said. “It is imperative that their needs be taken into account in this Budget.”

Dep Walsh told the Galway Advertiser that he is “not comfortable” with the proposed 3.5 per cent cut and has “made his feelings known” to the Minister for Health James Reilly.

Dep Connaughton has also spoken out on the need to protect services provided by Ability West, which provides services and supports to more than 480 children and adults with intellectual disability in 55 centres in Galway city and county. A voluntary organisation, it relies heavily on fundraising events.

“Any change to the funding of such organisations will have a huge impact on every one of those 480 families,” said Dep Connaughton, “many of whom are already struggling financially.”

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