Cork South Central: Hopes for the budget in constituency chock-full of cabinet ministers 

"There will be difficult months ahead." 
Cork South Central: Hopes for the budget in constituency chock-full of cabinet ministers 

Minister Michael McGrath said that while final decisions are yet to be made, supports will be delivered with the awareness that the coming months right through to March or April are likely to be difficult for people.

Cork South Central is the home territory for three members of the government cabinet currently drawing up the Budget for 2023 - Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath, and Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

Speaking in Cork on Friday, Minister McGrath said that it was down to the “finishing touches” of the Budget package, which would be presented to leaders over the weekend and approved by cabinet on Tuesday morning.

“It is going to focus very much on cost of living, supporting households, and supporting businesses… There will be difficult months ahead, and we're determined to do all that we can as a government to help - so there will be help that will come through pretty much immediately,” he said.

Minister McGrath said that while final decisions are yet to be made, supports will be delivered with the awareness that the coming months right through to March or April are likely to be difficult for people.

He said that the focus is on “alleviating to the greatest extent that we can, the pressures that people are facing” with supports directly linked to energy costs, targeting resources to those who most need it, and also introducing broader measures for those not in receipt of state benefits who “are feeling the pressure too”.

In the lead up to Budget day, the Taoiseach has also assured people that there will be “substantial” supports to alleviate cost of living pressures on people, and that the government will “go as far as [they] possibly can” with resources while insuring measures “don’t make the inflation situation worse”.

He said that the government "has to and will, in the context of the Budgetary package, do everything we can to alleviate pressure in this calendar year through a once-off cost-of-living package and get money into people’s pockets”.

Speaking in the last two weeks, Minister Coveney said that the government “hasn’t ruled anything out” in terms of how to deal with the energy crisis in the budget, and that all measures to ease the pressure on households and businesses are being considered, including a price cap or more electricity credits, or a "combination" of both.

“The Government is understandably cautious where a Government would intervene to set energy prices but we are living in unprecedented times,” he said.

Donnchadh Ó’Laoghaire, Sinn Fein TD for Cork South Central and the only opposition TD in the area, said that the common denominator in the cost of living crisis is energy, and that Sinn Fein’s alternative budget would provide certainty and affordability for people around their energy bills.

“We want to cut bills back to where they were last summer, and cap them at that level for the medium term.

"The government is talking about a credit type model, we don’t agree with that… we want people to be able to rely on their bills, for a reasonable period of time, being at an affordable level,” he said.

Deputy Ó’Laoghaire said that the other major issue “that has not gone anywhere” is housing.

“The affordable housing target set for Cork for the next few years is nowhere near adequate when you think of all the people who don’t qualify for social housing, but who can’t afford to get a mortgage. 

"There are hundreds and hundreds of people applying for a few dozen houses in recent weeks in terms of affordable housing – that has to be addressed, we need more funding for affordable housing and cost rental and cost purchase and bigger targets for Cork,” he said.

He added that a third focus of Sinn Fein’s alternative budget is reducing the cost of childcare, which is currently “like a second mortgage for a lot of people”.

Local councillors in the South Cork area say that the rising cost of living is the overwhelming concern they are hearing from Cork constituents.

Carrigaline councillor Audrey Buckley said that people are “screaming” for supports, in particular with the cost of heating and lighting their homes this winter.

“It’s cold, wet and damp in Ireland and the electricity and heating, [with rising prices] people won’t turn it on… it’s actually scary to think that way.” 

The Fianna Fáil councillor said she hopes to see immediate supports put in place, as well as more incentives and help for people, especially the elderly, to retrofit their homes.

Cork City South Central councillor Shane O’Callaghan said that as well as help with energy bills, he would like to see families getting greater help with childcare costs in the budget.

“Young families are paying astronomical costs for childcare, so either through subsidising creches or increasing child benefit I think that’s hugely important,” said the Fine Gael councillor.

Green Party Councillor for Cork City South Central, Dan Boyle, said it is “vital” for the budget to address the interlinked issues of energy prices and and dependence on fossil fuels.

“I feel it is vital that the budget addresses fears about the growing price of energy and our continued dependence on fossil fuels,” he said.

“If got right we can begin to better control inflation and invest further and more quickly in renewable energy,” he added.

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