Energy was high on the agenda for Irish Times readers as they examined the measures announced by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath in Budget 2022.
Readers taking part in a live online Q&A session at The Irish Times on Wednesday were particularly interested in the fuel allowance scheme, which is to help financially vulnerable people with their heating bills over the winter.
Mr McGrath announced a €5 increase in the fuel allowance which, unlike other welfare increase, kicks in immediately as price increases of close to 50 per cent by energy suppliers this year mean people are already facing significantly higher bills.
That €5 jump is an effective 18 per cent increase in the allowance, bringing it to €33 a week between September and April.
Other readers were more focused on what the budget did and didn't do in terms of helping families make their homes more energy efficient. More money was certainly made available through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) for energy upgrades by homeowners – €202 million – but readers were unsure who will or will not benefit.
And people working from home were interested in the details around the modest additional relief that will be available to them on their utility bills in the new hybrid working world.
There was less interest than expected in the area of property where a new zoned-land tax to be operated by the Revenue Commissioners will replace the discredited vacant site tax, although not for some time yet.
Readers were cheered by the decision to extend the help-to-buy scheme for first-time buyers of new homes for another year at least, pending a full review of its benefit, which will be carried out before the next budget.
Childcare, where the bulk of the package made available is earmarked for the private sector creche industry, was another usually high-profile area where few questions emerged. The exception was the issue of parental leave, where there was strong interest in news that the State will pay for two more weeks of leave from July of next year.
Early documentation indicated that this would be limited to parents who had babies or adopted children after that date. However, the Department of Social Protection subsequently clarified that the enhanced leave – with the State paying €250 a week in parental benefit – will be available to any parent whose child is not yet two years old – or has been adopted less than two years ago – on that date.
Parental leave can be taken in one tranche or spread across a number of weeks within the two-year period.
The decision of give young adults half-price access to public transport was welcomed by young adults but, predictably, less warmly cheered by others. One reader was concerned the scheme – open to anyone between the ages of 19 and 23 – could be used to cannibalise the even cheaper rates currently on offer to college students.
But the most significant outrage was reserved for another of the Green Party's pet projects – free contraception.
“Can you please explain to the women of Ireland why contraception is only free between the ages of 17-25 years old?” wrote Emma from Dublin.
The answer, apparently, is that this is just a first step – not unusual for governments in making budgetary space for new initiatives. A working group on access to contraception, set up by Government in 2019, recommended that young women and vulnerable groups should be prioritised when giving free contraception.
Green Party senator Pauline O’Reilly says the party is now looking to set out a timeline “for the development of a scheme for universal free contraception in the lifetime of this Government”.