A grim pall of austerity settled over the Irish landscape Tuesday after two days of budget readings in the Dáil.
Minister for Public Expenditure, Brendan Howlin, announced cuts to spending on health, education and agriculture, with each sector facing a reduction of €543 million, €132 million, and €105 million
However, weekly social welfare payments have been ring fenced to the relief of many, although it was stated that the level of expenditure on social welfare could not be sustained indefinitely.
Other groups feeling the pinch as a result of
the budget include Irish students, who will face an increase in the cost of third level education, which the government is hoping will result in annual
savings of €18.5 million.
Mr. Howlin told TDs that "difficult decisions" had been made in preparing the budget, but there was a determination to create jobs and eventual economic growth with a government "Action Plan for Jobs."
Addressing the Dáil, he said: "We have been forced to make difficult and unpalatable decisions, but we as a government are committed to being honest and upfront with people in the hard choices that we must make."
Speaking on social welfare payments, he added:
"The sharp reality that the government is facing is that the level of social welfare expenditure now in place cannot be sustained from the funding base now available."
On Tuesday, Finance Minister Michael Noonan revealed tax proposals designed to raise up to €1 billion, including higher road tax and a two percent increase to the value added tax or VAT rate.
Political opponents slammed the budget announcements, with Fianna Fáil's Public Expenditure spokesman, Sean Fleming, dubbing them a "triumph of spin over substance, while Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald accused Fine Gael's coalition partner, Labour, of "ripping up" pre-election proposals by giving their backing to the cuts.
One Labour TD, Patrick Nulty, said that he would vote against the budget, this on the grounds that the budget provisions were "unjust" and would be harmful to Ireland's economic recovery.
Despite this and the concerns of other Labour backbench TDs, the line by line budget provisions are expected to pass upcoming Dáil votes.