Ireland

Harris urges ‘everyone to take a bit of a deep breath’ over coalition budget row

Minister Simon Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)
Minister Simon Harris (Brian Lawless/PA) Minister Simon Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)

Minister for Justice Simon Harris has said there is a “need for everyone to take a bit of a deep breath” over rows within the coalition Government about budgetary measures.

The comments come after his Fine Gael party colleagues and ministers of state Martin Heydon, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill and Peter Burke called for a tax cut of 1,000 euros for full-time workers earning 52,000 euros in an article published last Monday.

This was seen to cause tension with their coalition partners, as the upcoming budget will be from Fianna Fail Finance Minister Michael McGrath.

Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended the junior ministers’ actions and disputed the idea that the publication of the piece was a tactic to associate tax cuts with his party in the eyes of voters.

Asked to characterise the health of the coalition, Mr Harris said: “A political party in Government has expressed a political view, other political parties in Government will express political views.

“I can point to many examples of many different parties in this coalition and other coalition governments giving their views.”

The minister added: “From time to time, political parties can obviously decide that they want to extol policy priorities for their party.

“But the fundamental issue here is the Government is cohesive, the Government is coherent from a policy point of view.”

He said the programme for government “clearly outlines” there will be a tax reduction in the budget.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)

Speaking elsewhere, the Fianna Fail Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien said tensions between his party and Fine Gael have been “overplayed”.

Mr O’Brien said he had the “honour” of working at Cabinet with colleagues from Fine Gael and the Green Party.

He said: “This government has worked very well together, very difficult times coming through the pandemic, cost-of-living crisis, war in Ukraine, very difficult decisions that have had to be made, and it’s been a very cohesive government and I expect that to continue.

“The events of the last week, I think, have been somewhat overplayed.”

Mr O’Brien said the best place to put a budget together is at Cabinet taking in the views of all three parties.

He said: “The programme for government actually drives what we’re doing.

“That was an agreed programme for government by all three parties and that underpins what we will do in this forthcoming budget.

“Thankfully, we’re in a position where we do have a good economy, and that economy should serve our people as well.

“And we will make sure three parties in Government, that we put together a progressive budget again, that supports jobs, supports people, supports housing, and tackles the main issues that we have in our country right now.”

Earlier, his party colleague and minister of state Jack Chambers said he was surprised by a public call from three junior ministerial colleagues for tax cuts for middle-income full-time workers.

“I have to say I was surprised by the article, I’m not sure who the people who penned it are trying to convince within Government because in the programme for government we’ve agreed to tax reductions,” the Fianna Fail TD for Dublin West told RTE.

Minister of State Jack Chambers
Minister of State Jack Chambers Minister Jack Chambers (Andrew Downes/PA)

He rejected claims from Sinn Fein that the reported coalition tensions caused by the opinion piece last week represented a “fake fight”.

“We’ve also in the Fianna Fail manifesto, we were committed to reducing tax for middle-income earners,” Mr Chambers said.

“But as part of the budgetary policy, it’s not as simplistic as throwing out figures five months out from a budget. It’s a sophisticated process on getting the balance right.

“And Minister McGrath will co-ordinate that across Government. I’m confident he will be trying to strike the balance from a Fianna Fail perspective.”

Heather Humphreys
Heather Humphreys Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys (Damien Storan/PA)

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said it is “a bit early” to speculate on budget measures.

The Fine Gael minister was asked by reporters in Co Monaghan if she supported Social Justice Ireland’s call to raise core social welfare rates by 25 euros in the next budget.

Ms Humphreys said her priority has been to look after pensioners, people on disability and carers.

She said: “It’s only at the end of May and it’s a bit early to be speculating on what’s going to happen in the budget.

“I will work with my colleagues across Government, and last year I brought forward the biggest social protection budget in 14 years and I will certainly, and I know my colleagues in Government will want to support those most vulnerable and most in need.”

Ms Humphreys said: “This Government has never been found wanting when it came to supporting people.”

She said all child benefit recipients would be getting an additional 100 euro top-up payment in June and added there will be an additional 100 euros for the back-to-school allowance.