Tánaiste Micheál Martin's Budget 2024 Speech
Published on: 11 October 2023
The Budget is a fair, progressive and ambitious response to the needs of Ireland today and to the challenges it faces in the years ahead.
It marks a decisive moment when Ireland signalled its intention to build and protect public services well into the future.
It is a signal to those who invest in Ireland that we are serious about delivering our radical investment plans.
It gives a commitment to those who work hard and pay taxes to fund services today that those services will be there when they need them.
It provides direct aid to families at a time of need, while also moving forward with the modernisation and expansion of a range of services which they rely upon.
At a time when most political noise is devoted to parties focused on trying to exploit problems, the Budget shows a government focused on trying to tackle those problems.
It is a simple fact that each of this government’s budgets has been progressive. Each budget has prioritised helping those in need and building sustainable public services.
And each budget has shown our unmatched commitment to tackling the most urgent challenges of this generation – action on climate change, action on housing and action on building a lasting peace and reconciliation on our island.
Given the aggressive and dismissive tone of the opposition contributions to this debate so far, it is important to address the most fundamental issue for any budget – which is the underlying economic situation.
This Budget shows again a government which has been capable of steering Ireland through often dramatic economic challenges – protecting services and helping families.
Our core economic policy remains a balanced approach which is built on the pillars of creating jobs through active trade with the world, encouraging investment by being pro-enterprise and pro-EU, and investing in skills, services and infrastructure.
Many of these elements are in stark contrast to the core positions of much of the opposition – who in 50 years have been consistent opponents of the policies which have created jobs, funded social services and built our infrastructure. No matter how many soft photo opportunities are arranged and cynical reassurances are given that nothing will change, the bottom line is that there is a radical difference on core economic policies between parties here.
For our part, each budget in the past three years has shown a government capable of dealing with dramatic economic and social challenges.
We came into office when the fastest moving recession ever recorded was under way. Allied to the greatest public health crisis for a century, hundreds of thousand of people faced the prospect of losing their jobs and their companies losing their businesses. We overcame that deep challenge and Ireland was one of the most successful countries in recovering quickly from the pandemic.
We also faced the challenge of dramatic disruption in our most important trading relationship.
Through a programme of direct aid and seeking new opportunities we have succeeded in mitigating the impact of Brexit far more than was expected. We can’t let our guard down and must maintain this work, but by any fair measure we have achieved a lot.
And for the last year and half we have faced an international situation which could not be more grave in terms of economic and political instability.
Inflationary pressures not seen for over forty years emerged through a combination of disruptions to trade and the impact of a brutal imperialistic war against a European nation.
We’ve succeeded in helping to keep inflation in Ireland below much of Europe and have provided direct aid to families with the biggest price rises.
Today’s inflation is roughly half what it was last year and projections show that it will fall further next year and the year after.
In the avalanche of press releases we have seen from the opposition in the last 24 hours attacking the failure to spend more on every area what has been missing is recognition that their demands would have a direct impact on driving up prices further.
This reflects the very stark divide here between parties who want to have an honest debate about public policies and those who prefer to cynically ignore fundamental issues.
It’s the difference between the politics of substance and the politics of soundbites.
We are happy to stand over our policies and our focus is on our plans – but we do have a right to respond to the relentless attacks which we’ve heard over the past 24 hours.
The main opposition party has produced what it claimed to be the most extensive and comprehensive alternative budget.
It contains no economic analysis – because they would have to admit the success of our approach. It contains no multi-annual figures, because this would require them to be more specific. The word ‘business’ is missing from the document and it has nothing whatsoever to say about employment creation.
A claimed party of the ordinary worker has not got one word to say about the dramatic reduction in unemployment.
And when it comes to protecting our economy and services in the face of a potential recession Sinn Fein yesterday both supported the principle of putting money aside and attacked the act of putting money aside.
No matter how often you say “we have everything fully costed” or “we have shown the alternative” it just isn’t true.
It’s like when we see the leader of a party which has opposed every European treaty and every trade agreement – while obsessively attacking the EU – trying to keep a straight face when she tells an interviewer “Sinn Fein is pro-EU”.
The growing level of entitled arrogance we see from this party were seen over and over again yesterday – perhaps most starkly when a senior spokesperson told a female minister that they would “put manners on you”. This wasn’t a slip – it’s the type of thing we’re seeing more and more often.
The Budget does show very starkly that there is a profound difference in economic and fiscal policies between us and the main opposition party.
We believe in creating quality jobs – they have nothing to say about job creation.
We believe in supporting enterprise – they have nothing to say about supporting enterprise.
We believe in using exceptional revenue to protect public services in the future – they want to spend it all now irrespective of the impact on inflation or future services.
We believe in a strong European Union which helps us to compete in the world – they are relentless Eurosceptics.
We believe in setting out concrete plans across several years – they believe in policy soundbites focused on today.
We believe in taking sustained action on climate change and biodiversity – they oppose every concrete step to implementing this action.
And we believe in sustained action on housing including home ownership – they are consistent in opposing all new actions to help home owners.
It is a natural and reasonable feature of politics that the government is subject to intense scrutiny. At some point people will get around to providing even a fraction of this scrutiny to substance rather than the rhetoric of the self-proclaimed alternative government.
At some point the intimidation of legitimate journalism with law suits and the practice of disappearing when difficult questions are asked won’t work any longer.
We may even reach a point where the rest of the opposition stops cowering in the face of online bullies and challenges a party which sees them as mere vote fodder.
When this happens a lot will change.
Seo cáinaisnéis a chuireann feabhsuithe móra suntasacha ar fáil agus a leagann bunchloch chun na feabhsuithe seo a chosaint go ceann i bhfad sa todhchaí.
Cuireann an cháinaisnéis seo cúnamh díreach ar fáil do theaghlaigh ag am nuair atá siad faoi bhrú agus cuirtear infheistiú ar fáil chun dul i ngleic le dúshláin roimh ár dtír.
Is buiséad tomhaiste agus inbhuanaithe é seo a léirionn dul chun cinn dearfach do gach grúpa.
And this balance is reflected in the fact that we are implementing significant targeted improvements next year while also avoiding the inflation threat which a significant further increase would cause.
Providing for our Future
Throughout this government’s programme you find the substance of both addressing the needs of today and implementing changes to prepare for our future. This was shown again yesterday.
Minister McGrath announced a range of tax reforms which represent a highly innovative response to making sure that Ireland generates the businesses and products needed to remain competitive.
Many of the sectors which employ the most people today didn’t even exist 25 years ago. Through our tax, education, research and investment policies we made Ireland a world-leader in these sectors.
But we cannot take anything for granted and we have to assume that the pace of change will continue to speed-up.
That is why our new measures for early-stage companies and for research and development are so important. Allied to our major investments in critical research programmes, training and infrastructure, we are putting in place the foundations for jobs and growth well into the future.
As the Minister will show in the Finance bill, we are taking action to make Ireland a secure place to create and invest in new companies.
Securing our Future
More fundamentally, this Budget marks a decisive moment in terms of protecting public services and vital investment plans well into the future.
Anyone who pays even the slightest attention to the international situation knows that further economic shocks are highly likely to occur sooner or later. The question is whether or not Ireland will be prepared.
As a result of the new Investment Funds which we are creating, Ireland will have in place a major buffer to protect public services and investment plans.
Using money which we know with a high degree of likelihood is not a long-term and secure basis for increasing spending, we will create funds which mean that we can expand services and plan investments with much greater efficiency and certainty.
The larger fund is what economists term a ‘counter-cyclical investment fund’. In normal language this is a about investing money to make sure that you can cope with difficulties when they emerge in the future.
The other fund is about underpinning both general capital investments and, critically, funding our achievement of carbon neutrality and enhanced biodiversity.
These Funds show that Ireland is doing things differently. We are determined to show that we can underpin major improvements in public activity not just today but well into the future.
As well as increasing available funding due to their investment activity, they will also strengthen confidence in our economy and public finances. This will have a direct impact on our ability to borrow at better rates – reducing interest payments and increasing the funds available for public services.
The investment fund means that there will be much greater security the major capital plans which we have set out and will build upon. There has always been a conflict between the need to prepare annual budgets and capital investment projects which operate over many years. By providing this extra security there will be a number of vital benefits.
It will help build the capacity and maintain confidence to deliver the plans, and it will encourage long-term innovation.
I will address the environmental element of the fund later, but it will ensure that Ireland will become a leader in sustainable action on an existential issue.
These funds represent a dramatic innovation and they will define how this Budget is remembered.
I have been attempting to find out what the main opposition party’s position is on these funds is. There was no credible guidance in its pre-Budget proposals and there is even more confusion after yesterday.
That party’s two spokespeople managed to say everything and nothing – and to do so at length.
Deputy Doherty told us that Sinn Fein is in principle in favour of a long-term fund but in practice thinks the money should be spent now.
Deputy Conway-Walsh said that Sinn Fein is in favour of long-term investment in climate action but that the money should be spent in the short-term.
So Sinn Fein is both in favour of establishing funds to meet future needs and against actually putting money in these funds.
It wants an each-way bet. It says it is against inflation but is also in favour of pumping far more money into the economy.
The Funds which we announced yesterday will be seen as a moment when Ireland took decisive action to both invest in urgent actions and to protect its future.
Action on Cost of Living
For the first time in forty years a sustained period of inflation is being seen internationally. Major increases in energy costs due to Russia’s war of aggression against have come on top of continued disruption to supply chains and other pressures driving up prices.
Most of these pressures are not domestic – something which has been confirmed repeatedly by independent surveys and the fact that Ireland’s inflation rate has been consistently below that of many other countries.
However, the fact that prices are going up because of international factors is largely irrelevant to families trying to cope with the rising cost of essential items.
So it is absolutely correct that we should intervene to help, both in terms of costs increases which are likely to be permanent and those which will most likely be temporary. This is exactly what we have done in this Budget.
Every family will benefit through a range of measures and the largest amount will again go to those most in need.
The permanent increase in core social protection payments of €12 per week is a major financial commitment but it is both sustainable and essential.
A range of improvements in other social protection schemes will be implemented.
I am proud that we have as a government yet again delivered a major social protection budget.
The tax relief contained in the budget are fair and ensure that people are not penalised because they benefit from the increase in the minimum wage we are implementing or are pushed into paying higher rates because of average wage increases.
These are sustainable tax reductions which provide significant relief but do not undermine our tax base which ensures that we do not rely on windfall receipts to fund public services.
As these progressive measures on social protection and taxation show, the desperate attempt by those wedded to ideologies of the past to try to paint us as somehow right wing doesn’t stand up to the most basic scrutiny.
To address the exceptional increases in energy prices a new series of special payments will be made to benefit every household in the country.
The unprecedented series on increases in interest rates seen in the past year and a half means that many people have faced steep increases in their mortgage payments.
No honest person could ever commit to fully offsetting all interest rate increases, but there is a lot which can be done and we are doing so. It is low and average earners facing major increases who will receive this special payment, up to €1250.
As part of our commitment to both expanding access to childcare and making it more affordable for families, for the second year in a row we will fund a reduction in childcare costs by 25%. This is already, and by some distance, the government which has provided most for meeting the costs of childcare and other costs faced by families.
Families will receive a double payment of Child Benefit this December, and Child Benefit will now be paid up to the age of 18 for those who remain in full time education.
Taken together, all these measures demonstrate that this is budget for families.
Across government other measures will be implemented to help make services more affordable and accessible.
This Budget also reflects the fact that delivering more homes is a core priority for us.
The only way to deliver housing for all that need it at prices which they can afford is to build and renovate more homes – and to directly help people at critical moments for them.
And action is required not on one area, but on every type of housing.
Our population has risen faster than at any time in our history and new homes are required in every part of our country.
When the Housing for All was published Minister O’Brien was met with the angry cynicism of opposition claims that there was no chance that its targets would be met.
Through his relentless activity and willingness to find new answers to long-standing problems he has delivered more new homes than promised and pushing to go much further.
A new era in social housing has begun – with over 11,600 new social homes provided for next year.
A sustained effort to aid people in buying a new home has seen 45,000 benefit from our various housing schemes.
From increasing support for apprenticeship to fast-tracking public services for new housing – an intense programme to increase the capacity to build new homes has been implemented. According to the CSO, by the end of last year the Minister’s actions had led to an increase in house completions by over 40% since 2019.
But we will not stand still. Much more must and will be done.
Next year an unprecedented €6.6 billion will be spent delivering on housing.
This marks an increase in every sector. Includes extra investment in homelessness prevention, support for older people and people with special needs and in various affordable homes schemes.
And direct help is being provided for the rental sector.
To help renters personally, the tax credit with be increased by 50% to €750 and specific action will be taken to increase take up of this benefit through increasing awareness. Funding will go to protecting renters and to ensuring that core standards are enforced.
But we also need to maintain as much supply of rental properties as possible. There many layers to the absurdity of the Sinn Fein idea that you can remove nearly all rights of those renting properties and reduce their income but expect to maintain the supply of rental accommodation.
A number of proposals are being implemented which will reduce pressures on rents and reward long-term supply.
Given Deputy O’Brion’s prominence in the media and his pretence at being a housing visionary it is remarkable that Sinn Fein has not actually published a full housing policy – just a series of policy soundbites.
This is not surprising, as it is a repeat of their behaviour when controlling housing in Stormont. After 2 years of a housing crisis they produced nothing but a consultation process.
Sinn Fein has however proposed abolishing nearly all affordable homes schemes and believes that the only priority for government should be social housing. We couldn’t disagree more.
We must have more social housing and we are delivering a step-change in the provision of social housing – but people have a right to seek to own their own homes and it is right that government should seek to help those on modest incomes who want to afford a home.
If the opposition is sincere in wanting to see more housing built then we look forward to their support for the new planning legislation which will address the unacceptable delays and costs which stand in the way of many reasonable developments.
As part of this they might reverse their policy of near-systematic objection to housing proposals in Dublin – where they have lead the charge in delaying thousands of homes of all types which could already be under construction or completed.
Next we will continue our commitment to increase the range, quality and accessibility of health services.
Given the negativity which so often surrounds such a large and complex public service which is caring for a rapidly rising population, proper perspective demands that we also acknowledge major steps forward.
I’m sure the House will agree that the dramatic improvements in both diagnosing and treating major diseases, and especially cancer, is a success which must be acknowledged.
So too is the vital reform involved in getting a new public-only contract in place, with over 800 consultants already having signed up to it.
Through the extension of free GP care, the abolition of in patient charges and other measures the cost of accessing healthcare is being pushed down. For context, up to 60% of our population now hold a GP card or medical card.
Taken together with increased provision and improved quality outcomes, this is genuine progress.
As we emerged from the pandemic a major backlog in treatments had to be addressed.
I want to commend everyone in our health system for their work on this and the fact that waiting times are now so much better than in the system we were told we should copy.
Next year the National Treatment Purchase Fund will move further on this and a range of important improvements in other services will be delivered. The extra €68 million provided for CAMHS reflects our commitment to extending this vital service.
The provision for education also demonstrates a sustained commitment to reducing costs, developing supports and preparing for the future.
This year’s historic move to the provision of free textbooks for primary schools will be extended to the Junior Cycle of second-level school – benefitting over 200,000 pupils. Relief in relation to school transport costs will be extended and hot meals will be provided to 900 primary schools.
There will again be an increase in teacher numbers – with the pupil teacher ratio continuing at an historic low. The hiring of 1,200 Special Needs Assistants will continue our commitment to supporting those with special needs.
Critically, we will push forward with our programme of developing and modernising our schools. 500 school building projects will be funded next year.
Environment and Climate Change
Playing our part in tackling the climate emergency and protecting our natural environment is central to our work in government. While we may have many debates about specific measures we are united in our commitment to action and, in this Budget, we have shown our willingness to put in place transformative levels of funding.
This will be remembered as a government which dramatically increased Ireland’s sustainable energy sector, developed comprehensive environmental renewal programmes and helped communities to benefit from the transition to a low-carbon economy.
The environmental element of the fund announced yesterday reinforces this and will ensure that action will continue and will grow irrespective of the international economic situation.
Agriculture and Rural Communities
I very strongly reject the idea that meeting essential environmental goals must be at the expense of farmers and rural communities. Farmers have shown time and again that our largest indigenous industry is willing to embrace change and innovation.
The challenge is to work with farmers and the wider agrifood sector to implement a range of innovations which can make an industry which is already less carbon intensive than in the vast majority of countries and go even further.
Research is ever more conclusive that we can have both environmental sustainability and strong beef and dairy sectors if we move from research to action and work in partnership on planning and implementation.
Minister MacConalogue has very skilfully negotiated the CAP Strategic Plan and other measures to secure core farm incomes in the years ahead and to add very significant national funding to aid transformation.
Taken together, this Budget includes over €700 million in agri-environmental funding. Specific funding for schemes on organics, forestry and dairy-beef will benefit thousands of farmers and the wider sector.
We will continue to ramp up measures to both improve the condition of our waterways and show that we can have low levels of pollution without there being any justification for the full removal of higher permitted levels of nitrates.
The cross-department initiative on tackling water pollution is an important initiative which will begin to be felt next year.
Foreign Affairs and Defence
I will separately be addressing my own Departments and their plans for next year. However, I will make a few comments here.
The extra €60m for overseas development aid will make an important difference in a range of areas, but most importantly in developing our long-term commitment to helping less developed countries to finance urgent climate adjustments.
At COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021, I pledged that Ireland would provide at least €225 million per year in climate finance to developing countries by 2025. The budget provision of a total additional €42.5 million in climate finance ensures that we are on schedule to meet this commitment.
We will also be increasing our support for humanitarian aid – and unfortunately the need for this aid remains as high as ever.
This government is determined to address the unmet need for much deeper engagement, understanding and reconciliation between different communities on this island. Supporting the Good Friday Agreement and pushing forward with the Shared Island Initiative are priorities for us.
In relation to Defence it is a remarkable part of the last 24 hours that the opposition has been angrily attacking the capital allocation to Defence when the detail of this has not been outlined. That will come in the coming weeks.
What I can say is that at €1.23 billion, the 2024 Defence budget is the largest ever, allowing us to further enable progress on the modernisation and transformation of our Defence Forces, and providing for an increase of an additional 400 personnel.
This funding covers the full year costs of extending enhanced healthcare to all Defence Force personnel and also supports a greatly enhanced Defence Forces recruitment campaign, which is essential in the journey towards getting our Defence Forces numbers where we want them to be.
During the government’s term to date we have worked with the people of Ireland to overcome a series of profound challenges.
As a country we have come through them strongly and we are generating the resources to implement a sustained series of measures in the next year to help families with rising costs, to develop essential public services and, crucially, to make sure that we have the resources we need to not just improve services today but to protect them in the years ahead.
It is a balanced and fair budget. Without stoking further price rises it involves a significant increase in public spending and reductions in personal taxation.
The investment funds which it puts in place serve the interests of both those who need action today and who want services to be available to them in the future. They will sustain improved supports for people and action on critical challenges like housing and the climate emergency.
I commend it to the House.