Taoiseach Enda Kenny has rejected accusations he has “lost touch with reality” and pledged to show flexibility in the looming austerity budget.
Following hints from Finance Minister Michael Noonan that there is wiggle room for an adjustment below the planned and much-debated €3.1 billion, the Taoiseach insisted the next wave of tax hikes and spending cuts would be as fair as possible.
“While we have a difficult job to do in presenting a budget for 2014, we intend to do that in the fairest way possible to show, in so far as can be done, to show a degree of flexibility where it can be applied,” Mr Kenny said.
He said he was well aware of hardship endured by families across the country.
“Minister Noonan only this morning pointed out the need for government to reflect in so far as it can the difficulties and the tribulations that people are having,” Mr Kenny said.
“But it’s not just a case of abandoning people who are in difficult circumstances to their own lot.”
Earlier, the Finance Minister said the government does not want “to impose any hardship that isn’t necessary”.
His claims echoed those repeatedly made by Tánaiste and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore who has continuously called for a budget adjustment below the planned €3.1 billion.
“There is a little bit of flexibility and we’ll work in that space to bring in the best budget possible,” Mr Noonan said.
The Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Mr Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin held a meeting of the Economic Management Council before Cabinet yesterday to discuss the budget on October 15. The group is likely to meet again later in the week.
Ireland hopes to reduce its deficit to 5.1 per cent of GDP in 2014, and to get it down further to 3 per cent by 2015.
Labour has insisted it could reach that target without a €3.1 billion adjustment, but Fine Gael is yet to be drawn on a figure.
Elsewhere, Independent TD Seamus Healy said the Taoiseach had lost touch with reality.
He challenged Mr Kenny to reverse cuts to home heating allowances – a subject the Taoiseach refused to comment on, saying it is a budgetary matter.