Opinion Editorials

Budget 2017 is about protecting the economy and making people’s lives a little better.

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As a result of careful economic management of recent years we now have the resources to target investments in key public services that will make a difference to people’s lives here in Wicklow and across the country.

This was Michael Noonan’s 6th budget, since he took the reins the country has overcome huge challenges, challenges that many thought were insurmountable.

Unlike previous administrations we are not forgetting the key sectors that helped to drag us out of the dire economic crisis, in particular agriculture, tourism and SME’s. All of these sectors have been given new incentives in this budget, to maintain and continue their expansion plans.

Budget 2017 includes €58 billion investment in building Ireland’s public services. This will include 800 more Gardaí to be hired and trained in 2017 and 2,400 teaching posts. Fine Gael is also ensuring partial restoration of pay cuts imposed on civil and public servants during the crash. These are the building blocks for our future and we will continue to invest in capital investment projects, such as new schools and school buildings for Wicklow.

In Budget 2017 the Government focused on protecting the elderly and the vulnerable. A number of measures were introduced to make this possible. These included increasing pensions and social welfare payments by €5 per week from March, the introduction of a €30m health package for older people, including additional home care packages, transitional care bed and a decrease in the prescription charge cap for over 70’s to €20 per week.  These measures will have a positive impact on many older people in Wicklow.

This budget also introduced a ‘help to buy’ scheme for first time buyers. The scheme will help first time buyers get on the property ladder and increase the supply of housing. In involves a rebate of income tax paid over the previous four tax years, up to 5% of the purchase price of a new home, up to a value of €400,000. This measure will  increase the number of first time buyers who are able to get on the property ladder in Wicklow. I am very pleased to see lots of new homes being launched on a weekly basis throughout Wicklow and I hope that these new measures will mean that many first times buyers here in Wicklow will be able to become homeowners sooner.

Many farmers will benefit from this budget due to a number of measures, including an increased GLAS allocation of €211million, increases in the rural development programme and an allocation of €25m for an animal welfare scheme for sheep farmers. Farmers will be able to avail of ‘Incomes Averaging Step Out’; this allows farmers taxable profits to be averaged out over a 5-year period. This is being amended to allow an ‘opt out’ in a single year of unexpectedly poor income, which may be availed of for the 2016 tax year. For self-employed tax payers, including farmers, who do not receive the PAYE Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit of €550 is being increased by a further €400 to €950. I will continue to work to further develop agriculture in Wicklow.

In Budget 2017 Fine Gael was determined to make the lives of families in Wicklow and around the country a little better. Families in Wicklow will benefit from a number of measures, including the reduction in USC; this reduction will be seen in wage packets in 2017. An important step forward was also taken in relation to childcare and parents with children in fulltime childcare will now benefit to the tune of up to 960 euro a year under the universal affordable childcare scheme. Low to middle income families are set to benefit even more. I very am aware that for many families in Wicklow childcare costs are similar to that of a mortgage payments and I warmly welcome these moves to make childcare more affordable.

Budget 2017 is the first in three budgets design to protect the economy and make people’s lives better, especially the lives of hard pressed working families and our most vulnerable. We must continue to manage the public finances in a responsible manner and protect our economy in these uncertain times.

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