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Fianna Fáil rolls dice in the budget flyer game at weekend ardfheis

Leader and Minister for Finance trail raft of fiscal initiatives months in advance of what is likely to be a crucial general election budget

One of the familiar refrains for Fianna Fáil in recent years has been complaining about former Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar’s budget “flyers”.

Last year, Fianna Fáilers were especially annoyed at what they saw as Varadkar’s attempt to bounce them into middle-class tax cuts in the budget for which he would then try to take credit. The trigger on that occasion was a newspaper article by three Ministers of State in May advocating tax cuts for the “squeezed middle”.

Fianna Fáilers tut-tutted at this blatant attempt to roll the pitch for the budget to Fine Gael’s political advantage. Not helpful, they complained, for a budget that had to be agreed by three parties. Not collegiate. Not conducive to heathly Coalition relations. Not on.

That was then, this is now. With a new Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach in place, Fianna Fáil has decided to take the initiative itself on the budget flyer issue, lest Simon Harris beat them to it.


As the party gathered for its ardfheis in Dublin at the weekend, Tánaiste Micheál Martin outlined several budget priorities for his party six months before the budget is due.

In his ardfheis speech to delegates, Martin avoided any specific commitments on tax and welfare. But in media interviews he was clear about what he would be seeking in the budget.

He told the Business Post that tax credits could be increased, mirroring and surpassing last year’s level. “That would mean in effect that for every employee, pensioner, self-employed person, the first €20,000 of their income would be exempt from income tax,” he said.

“That’s new, it’s something we’ve worked on as a party and it’s something we’ll be bringing to the table,” added Martin.

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In the Sunday Times, he declared his support for welfare increases, a €10 increase in child benefit, further cuts to childcare costs, further energy credit and a €12 increase in the old-age pension.

Not to be outdone, Minister for Finance Michael McGrath was using the ardfheis weekend to assure workers he wanted them “to keep as much of their hard-earned money as possible”, in terms very similar to those used by the Tánaiste.

So one of the messages of the ardfheis was: get ready for another big giveaway budget, with the Government parties jostling to claim credit for it.

Fianna Fáil also defended the Government’s record on housing, echoing similar messages from the Fine Gael ardfheis last weekend and the week’s ceremonials at Leinster House. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael may get few votes from those who still feel locked out of the housing market but they reckon that 100,000 new homeowners since 2020 might have a more benign view of the Government’s performance.

It is also noticeable that Fianna Fáil was talking about homeownership, rather than just housing.

Martin also used his speech to announce an initiative on smartphone use in schools. “Every school will be given funding to support the banning of smartphone use during school time,” he said. “And to the social media companies, our message is clear — take concrete steps to get underage children off your apps or we will impose those steps on you.”

But while work is apparently under way on a package of proposals, there is no sign of a clear commitment that students’ phones will be banned when the new school year gets under way in September. The appeal of such a move to parents would be immense.

Martin’s announcement over the weekend – when he likened it to the smoking ban – means that if it happens, the credit will be his and his party’s. But if he doesn’t, it will be another unfulfilled promise. And with elections now dominating every aspect of politics, the stakes for success or failure of such initiatives are higher than ever.