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8 December 2005 Edition

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Budget - pretending to tackle inequality

Twenty-Six-County Finance Minister Brian Cowen was announcing details of his budget as An Phoblacht went to press this week. In an initial reaction Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín O Caoláin TD said Cowen was attempting to erase the memory of previous Fianna Fáil/PD budgets which rewarded the very wealthy and allowed the gap between rich and poor in Irish society to widen.

O Caoláin continued: "The government is now attempting to be seen to address inequality. If that effort results in some positive and long overdue measures then that is welcome. All credit to those who have campaigned long and hard for social justice and economic equality.

"The attempt by the government to catch up is due in no small measure to the growing political strength of Sinn Féin. In the wake of Sinn Féin electoral advances in the 2004 local government and EU Parliament elections, the Taoiseach discovered he was a socialist.

"In the closing months of the current Dáil, as a General Election approaches either in 2006 or early 2007, we believe this pattern will continue. This Budget is part of the picture.

In further comments he said that The Early Childhood Supplement of €1,000 per child per year was a disappointment. "It will do little for those who cannot afford the very high cost of childcare places for their children. Similarly the increase in Child Benefit should have been greater. There was no movement on Child Dependant Allowance which has been frozen for years and could and should have been increased."

He said that if there was one fatal flaw in the government's political strategy it was located in the biggest spending government department "and it is in the hands of the Progressive Democrats — Health. The government may hope that the measures announced today will take the heat out of childcare as an election issue. They won't. Not enough has been done."

He said that even more significantly, the fundamentally flawed approach to health services would come back to haunt the government "as surely as that approach has caused misery to so many people and prevented the development of what should be the best health service in Europe".

O Caoláin also pointed out that nothing has been done for the 73,000 new social housing units required by 2012 and as recommended by the National Economic and Social Council. "For a decade this government has totally abandoned housing policy to the market and the losers have been those people in the 48,000 households on the local authority waiting lists.

"This Budget also fails to address the spiralling cost of house prices which place homes beyond the reach of people even on incomes above the average industrial wage."

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