100 years ago, in April 1923, W.T. Cosgrave presented the first ever Budget Statement to Dáil Eireann.
The Budget was introduced, just as the Civil War was ending, and the Government had a job on its hands to convince people both of its financial competence and the benefits of Irish statehood.
Finishing his speech, President Cosgrave said:
“When ordered conditions are restored, and normal life prevalent, we can safely anticipate a marked improvement in the economic condition of the country.”
Within a few months, a young engineer from Drogheda, Thomas McLaughlin, returned from Siemens in Berlin and started talking to the Government about a hydroelectric scheme for Ireland.
Despite it representing one-fifth of the resources available, the Government took the bold decision to fund the project at Ardnacrusha.
It was the start of Ireland taking control of its own economic destiny.
Today, Ireland is fully in control of her own destiny. We have our problems – as every country does – but we are able to shape the kind of country we want to be.
In a world of 200 countries, Ireland is consistently ranked in the top ten or 20 by almost every measure.
But, we can do more and can do better.
This is the fourth budget of this Government’s term. It’s a €14 billion package, helping people, families, businesses and farmers with the cost of living and setting aside billions of euro for generations to come.
This level of investment is only possible due to the hard work of the Irish people and some good political decision-making along the way. We shouldn’t take this position for granted. Not so long ago, this House was voting through budgets that reduced, not improved, people’s standard of living.
A Cheann Comhairle, inflation is moderating, but the cost of living continues to rise. The bills coming in the door have not fallen and it’s still more expensive to do the weekly shop and keep the car running.
So, we are helping you and your family, putting more money in your pocket with measures for the most vulnerable and the squeezed middle.
- A tax package that rewards work and allows you to keep more of your hard-earned money;
- A pensions and welfare package so that older people, carers, people on disability payments and lone parents get the help they need with rising costs;
- A focus on children, reducing school, college and childcare costs for families, and improving access to services;
- A package for businesses to help with higher costs, like wages and energy to protect jobs and ensure they don’t have to pass all these costs on to the consumer;
- One-off measures to help households with high energy costs this winter, including three €150 energy credits;
- Tax credits to help struggling mortgage holders, renters and landlords;
- More investment across the board – in healthcare, education and transport – to further reduce the cost, and improve access to the services people need;
- New climate actions, including a record budget for retrofitting and funding for microgeneration and the Just Transition;
- A significant package to better resource An Garda Siochana, help attract new recruits and build stronger, safer communities, and
- A record level of investment to drive regional development and help rural Ireland prosper.
Tá fhios agam go bhfuil an costas maireachtála fós ag méadú. Níl laghdú tagtha ar na billí atá ag teacht isteach agus tá sé níos costasaí fós an siopa seachtainiúil a dhéanamh.
I mBuiséad 2024, táimid ag cabhrú leat féin agus le do theaghlach. Táimid ag cur airgead ar ais i do phóca chun cabhrú leis an gcostas maireachtála.
Tá pacáiste maith cánach, cúnamh le costas seirbhísí cosúil le cúram leanaí, agus leas agus pinsin méadaithe chun ioncam daoine aosta, breoite, agus faoi mhíchumas a chosaint san áireamh.
Táimid ag cur deontas nua ar fáil do ghnólachtaí freisin chun cabhrú leo déileáil le costais níos airde agus pacáiste cánach chun cabhrú leo fás agus infheistíocht a dhéanamh sa todhchaí.
Soláthraíonn an Buiséad €100m chun an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn mar theanga bheo i bpobal na Gaeltachta agus chun úsáid na Gaeilge a spreagadh sa timpeallacht.
I know that the cost of living continues to rise. The bills coming in the door have not fallen and it’s still more expensive to do the weekly shop.
In Budget 2024, we are again helping you and your family. We are putting more back in your pocket to help with the cost of living.
It includes a good tax package, help with the cost of services such as childcare and increased welfare and pensions to protect the incomes of the elderly, sick and disabled.
We’re also providing businesses with a new grant to help deal with higher costs and a tax package to help them grow and invest in the future.
The budget provides €100m to promote Gaeilge as a living language in the Gaeltacht community and to encourage the use of the Irish language in the wider environment.]
Cost of living
A Cheann Comhairle, when it comes to any household budget, there are three elements to it, namely:
- i) how much you are paid
- ii) how much you get to keep after tax, and
iii) how far the money goes.
This Budget makes progress on all three fronts.
Yesterday, Government accepted the recommendation of the Low Pay Commission to increase the National Minimum Wage by €1.40 to €12.70 per hour, an increase of 12.4%. That’s well ahead of inflation, just like the last increase of 7.8% this year.
It’s a big step towards achieving the living wage, a policy initiative that I took as Tánaiste.
Around 150,000 people will benefit and tens of thousands more will benefit from knock-on increases. For someone working a 39-hour week, it translates to a pay increase of €54 per week or €2,800 per year.
In the coming weeks, we also hope to finalise the terms of a new Public Sector Pay deal, which will be important for our public servants and also the ability of the public service to remain an attractive place to work in a tight labour market.
Reducing Income Tax
The second element of a household budget is how much you get to keep after tax.
I believe middle-income earners pay too much tax and USC. It’s simply not fair that average full-time workers are hit with the higher rate of income tax. And it’s not fair that the tax system erodes so much of any pay increase they do get, or money earned from overtime worked.
In the last ten years, we have shown that you can manage the public finances well, while reducing income taxes, increasing public spending and growing jobs. It’s not just about putting money back in people’s pockets, it’s also about keeping our tax system competitive when it comes to talent & skills.
Someone earning €40,000 today pays €3,000 less in income tax and USC than they did in 2014 and from next January they will be paying even less. That’s a huge saving. And it’s not one-off, its every year.
Budget 2024 gives working people more than €1,000 back through income tax and USC cuts, new tax credits and other measures such as energy credits.
We will continue to campaign for income tax and USC cuts in the years ahead, provided we can afford it.
Reducing the cost and broadening the scope of services
The third element of a household budget is how far your money goes.
We need to reduce the cost and broaden the scope of services available in Ireland.
The Budget is providing a combination of recurring and one-off measures to help. I will not list them all but there are some really important ones, such as:
- A further 25% reduction in childcare costs from September thus meeting our commitment to reduce the cost of childcare by 50%;
- Free school books for Junior Cycle students in post-primary schools;
- The extension of Hot School Meals to 900 more primary schools;
- A €1,000 reduction in the student contribution fee, and
- A €1,000 increase in the Post Graduate Tuition fee contribution.
A Cheann Comhairle, when I became Taoiseach again last December, I outlined my desire to make Ireland the best country in which to be a child and to reduce child poverty.
This is something we can do.
The minimum wage & knock on increases will help, as will the abolition of fees for low income part-time students.
It is important to put on the record that over the past decade, Ireland has made significant progress in reducing child poverty and promoting child well-being. Almost 50,000 fewer children are living in consistent poverty than was the case ten years ago, notwithstanding a rising population.
But, after years of progress, last year, poverty rates increased for the first time, in a long time, due to the sharp increase in the cost of living.
Our objective in this Budget is to restore the purchasing power of people’s incomes and push poverty rates back in the right direction.
By focusing resources on those early years, we can empower people to make the most of that start through education, equal opportunities and good jobs to work towards a better future. It’s not just about social welfare, though that is important too.
The new Child Poverty and Well-Being Programme Office in the Department of the Taoiseach has published an initial plan identifying policy priorities for acceleration and investment in the years ahead – actions that will make a difference – in income, services and employment.
We have already introduced free schoolbooks for primary schools, free GP care for all children under eight years and extended the hot school meals programme. We’ve also abolished in-patient hospital charges and reduced the cost of school transport & public transport for young people.
Budget 2024 builds on that with:
- A €12 weekly increase in all social welfare payments
- A double month of Child Benefit;
- A €100 lump sum for families receiving the Increase for a Qualified Child (IQC) on top of that;
- A €400 lump sum for families receiving the Working Family Payment;
- An extension of the hot school meals programme to hundreds more primary schools;
- €100 Increase in the Home Carer and Single Person Child Carer Tax Credit;
- A €200 increase in the Incapacitate Child Tax Credit.
I would like to thank Minister Heather Humphreys for her work in putting together this year’s welfare package.
In the round, some families could benefit by several thousand euro. For example, a renter, with one child, on the minimum wage, will benefit from a €2,800 increase in pay, €450 in energy credits, €750 rent tax credit, a €140 extra child benefit payment and possibly a range of other measures. That’s more than €4,000 of an uplift.
A Cheann Comhairle, I believe improved pay, terms and conditions can go hand-in-hand with jobs growth.
But I’m also very conscious of the need to help businesses as these reforms are phased in. Along with higher energy bills, it’s a lot to deal with, and we want to make sure those added costs are not all passed on to the consumer.
So, I was very keen to support Minister Coveney’s push for a new grant – the Increased Cost of Business Scheme (ICOB). It will help 130,000 small and medium sized businesses with grants worth up to €20,000.
There is also a really good tax package for business that will help them grow into the future. It includes:
- New capital gains tax relief for angel investment in innovative start-ups;
- Improvements to the Employment Investment Incentive Scheme;
- An enhanced R&D tax credit; and
- An increase in the VAT registration thresholds for services and goods for very small businesses.
You can rely on us to back business and jobs to ensure a strong economy.
A Cheann Comhairle, we have to step up our level of ambition on public infrastructure to keep pace with a rapidly growing population and economy.
2024 will be another record year for public capital investment, four times the budget we had ten years ago.
Extra funding alone is not enough; we need to get better at completing projects on time and on budget.
Far too many important public capital projects are taking far too long, including schools, housing, hospitals, Garda stations and public transport projects, among others.
Housing for All is working and, much like Project Ireland 2040, we are focusing on implementation – making sure the initiatives we have committed to are implemented – quickly and effectively.
Next year we are making additional funding available for homeless services, for our social housing building programme and for some of the vital schemes in place to help people buy their own home.
The Capital Budget for Housing will be a record €5.1 billion. The difficulty will be our capacity to spend it. We built 30,000 homes last year and we want to build more this year and more again in the years ahead.
We are extending the Help to Buy Scheme until the end of 2025 and extending its eligibility criteria to apply to those availing of the Local Authority Affordable Purchase Scheme. We’ll examine extending it to the ‘First Home Scheme’ also.
The Rent Tax Credit is a simple and direct way to put money back in renters’ pockets. It’s straightforward to apply for it, so I would encourage anyone who has not done so, to apply as soon as possible. In 2024 it will be worth €750 for an individual, €1,500 for a couple and €2,250 for three people sharing.
For every renter, there has to be a landlord, and the Budget introduces some tax concessions designed to keep them in the market for longer.
Sustainability and Climate Action
A Cheann Comhairle, recent severe weather events highlight the need to intensify our efforts to stop global warming. We must be the generation that turns the tide on climate change and biodiversity loss.
As I have always said, we should not see climate action as an obligation or a burden. We should embrace it as an opportunity. It’s about warmer homes, cleaner air, less time commuting, more remote and home working, more jobs and regional development.
Budget 2024 provides record funding to ramp up our retrofitting programme and ensure we have enough highly skilled people to meet the demand. Not only is retrofitting the right thing to do from a climate perspective, but it will also mean lower energy bills and warmer, more comfortable homes for thousands of families, including some of the poorest, who will receive a 100% grant to retrofit their home.
I want Ireland to become energy independent by harnessing our untapped renewable energy resources. This is our moonshot for the 21st century. Recalling Ardnacrusha and the spirit of the Free State, it’s our Shannon Scheme 2.0.
Stronger, Safer Communities
Budget 2024 enables the Government to continue our work in building stronger and safer communities.
It provides for:
- The recruitment of up to 1,000 trainee Gardaí and 250 Garda staff specialising in ICT and other administrative functions
- An increase in the Garda Trainee Allowance and
- Additional investment fighting the epidemic of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence.
We are reinforcing this record level of investment with tougher laws being led by Minister McEntee and making provision for longer sentences for serious crimes against individuals.
A Cheann Comhairle, Rural Ireland is at the heart of this Government’s work programme.
So much of this budget – from extra funding in capital infrastructure, to extra funding for businesses – is about sustaining our rural communities.
We are continuing the 20% transport fare reductions until the end of next year. We are increasing funding for the Local Improvement Scheme to improve access to homes, farms and outdoor amenities and we are increasing funding for Rural Transport Local Link Services.
The National Broadband Plan is also fully funded.
Over €700 million is being made available for farmers participating in agri-environmental actions, including through ACRES, ANCS, Forestry, Organic Farming and other agri-environmental schemes.
On the tax side, we are improving several reliefs designed to help with farm succession and Accelerated Capital Allowances for farm safety equipment which Minister Heydon has prioritised.
We should not forget that we only became a rich country relatively recently. Other wealthy countries have had a lead on us of several decades, starting their metro systems, for example, in the 19th century. We need to get better at executing big capital projects.
So, we are establishing two new funds for the future – the Future Ireland Fund and the Infrastructure, Climate and Nature Fund.
They are designed to achieve long-term benefits, avoid a ‘stop-start’ approach to investment and provide additional capital for climate action & nature restoration.
It will mean that we will continue to be able to invest in vital infrastructure and avoid cutbacks in the future if the economy takes a downturn.
A Cheann Comhairle, I remember when I was first elected to government twelve years ago, the first thing I was asked to do was take €400 million out of the budget of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport budget. I never want anybody, no matter what party, to have to make those kinds of decisions again – to have to increase income taxes or cut welfare payments or public pay or investment.
A Cheann Comhairle, I would like to take a moment to comment on the proposals coming from the other side of the House.
We know the drill at this stage. The opposition parties put together a long list of ways to spend the money available. Long before we publish the Budget, they say we made the wrong choices and the package doesn’t go far enough.
We also know that they will never say we’ve spent too much money. The idea of responsible public finances is a concern exclusive to this side of the House.
But there are a few surprises from the opposition this year.
Sinn Féin proposes no less than 19 separate tax increases amounting to almost €3bn, while the economy is still grappling with a cost-of-living crisis. Business is hit hardest in their tax plans but retirement savings too and not just for the wealthy.
Sinn Féin would leave income tax bands unchanged, resulting in income tax rises by stealth, especially for middle-income earners.
Buried at the back of their alternative budget is a massive cut in the level of tax relief on pension contributions. Sinn Féin has done this before to try and make their figures add up without explaining what it would mean in practice.
We are left to guess, but it almost certainly means that ordinary private sector workers and many public servants would lose out by thousands of euro every year, creating the wrong incentives to save for retirement. They should be pressed on this.
A common theme running through Sinn Féin’s policies is a failure to plan for the long-term. That extends from pensions, to enterprise, to climate.
Where is its enterprise policy? Where is its package to help businesses deal with the increase to the National Minimum Wage and rising input costs?
Sinn Féin pays lip service to the concept of climate action and ducks any of the hard decisions. It would go against the advice of the Climate Change Advisory Council, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action and Nobel Prize-winning climate scientists by refusing to outline a trajectory for carbon tax. Sinn Féin is Ireland’s climate sceptic party.
A Cheann Comhairle, Sinn Féin opposed joining the European Union and the Single Market, opposed EU citizenship and opposed the Euro. It opposed the ratification of major EU free trade agreements and it boasts that it has done so. It opposed our low corporate tax rate which helped to secure so many jobs and so much investment.
Sinn Féin advocated and believed that Irish unification could be achieved by force.
Sinn Féin wanted to burn the bondholders and reject financial help from the IMF & the ECB after the crash. Sinn Féin even flirted with “zero covid” in 2020. For 30 years Sinn Féin has got all the big calls wrong, and it will do so again.
The next big threat might not be an external one but an internal one, taking the form of a radical change to our long-standing and successful policies. This is not the change we need and it would be change for the worse.
Steady change, safe change is better for Ireland.
Ceann Comhairle. I’m conscious that we are well into our second year of war in Europe and there are so many other pressing issues around the globe.
The events in the Middle East over the last week are of serious concern. The loss of life is appalling, as is the impact on people going about their daily lives. We condemn attacks on civilians unequivocally.
A few years ago, I launched the most ambitious expansion of Ireland’s international presence ever undertaken – Global Ireland 2025 – with the aim of doubling our impact across the globe.
We have seen how effective we can be – even as a small country – working through international fora and providing humanitarian assistance to some of the poorest countries. Look at what we achieved during our term on the Security Council. Look at the work our peacekeepers do.
In this budget, we are increasing funding to Irish Aid by €60 million, reaching record highs. Total Official Development Assistance (ODA) from Government will amount to €2 billion. In doing so, we are tackling the root causes of conflict, malnutrition, climate change and irregular migration. It’s a good use of funds.
A Cheann Comhairle, I commend the Budget to the House.